Dementors, Loss, and Adventure

The mountains are swathed in rainy, snowy mists and the clouds have settled low around our town. Even though the spring green is beginning to pop, that special grey-day green, the weather is getting people down. It seems that dementors are about.

img_1067Photo Credit: Lutz Braum @ Snapshots For Sore Eyes

Each time we’ve left home for a mini-adventure lately, something has happened to put a big damper on the fun. When on spring break (the last time I actually wrote a blog post) our car was broken into and almost all our camping gear was stolen. Turkey hunting with friends a week ago, our dog escaped their back yard and went on an adventure of his own that resulted in a steep vet bill and one sad dog who is trapped in a kennel while his dislocated hip heals. Remarking on the seeming bad luck to my friend, she pointed out it might not be such a great idea to be calling attention to the bad luck right before I go on a grand cycling adventure (probably) by myself.

But it’s hard not to feel like there’s a force of darkness trying to suck the spirit out of my plans. Losing so much of our outdoor gear was especially disheartening. Our tent, Mr. Bike’s backpack, hiking boots, sleeping bags and pads, bike helmets, rain jackets, and the list goes on. We hadn’t realized just how valuable all of that stuff was to us until we suddenly didn’t have it. It had taken years to set ourselves up. Typically, I think, when telling stories like this it would be expected to go on about how being robbed taught us an important lesson about not being attached to stuff. And normally I would agree. Except when you use the stuff regularly and in ways that has greatly enriched our lives. Mr. Bike gave me our tent for my 21st birthday; he set it up in the snow and cooked me french toast over a whisperlight stove. His backpack was his corresponding birthday present from me. Our adventures have shaped us. I tried to not be particularly upset, and managed well until an insurance payment and tax refund came in allowing us to replenish the missing items. Buying things that I’d already owned, and which had served perfectly well, put me in a funk. I’m sure that we’ll make new memories, and really each thing we had to replace is part of the “remember that time we tried to have an adventure and got totally robbed?” story.

I could have borne it better if just a week after replacing most of our gear we didn’t have to fork over another arm and leg for our dog. Mr. Kepler Ginger Dog had a day out chasing gophers across the interstate, where he encountered a car. He survived, unbelievably, only a little worse for the wear. His hip was dislocated, which was not so easy to put back. Currently he lives in a kennel and stares out at us very sad and unable to understand why we have locked him away. Our hypothetical conversations of the past wherein we laid down our limit, what we considered to be a reasonable amount for dog repair, were suddenly irrelevant. So, money. At that point, I started to consider that maybe I shouldn’t go on my trip. Maybe I should save the money and put it to more “responsible” purposes. But Mr. Bike won’t let me quit, and I don’t really want to either.

Even though the dementors are closing in, I am ready to go adventure. Perhaps dragging and lagging, feeling down, and feeling tired are the perfect reasons to go. Reset. Rest. Make my own luck. And as bad as getting robbed and having to find my damaged dog on the side of the interstate were, I know that there are darker things out there. Several of my friends have lost loved ones this spring. Several more are in the process of losing loved ones right now. Darkness comes everyday. In doing things that matter, spending time with family and friends, trusting ourselves, working through hard things we can add a little light to the picture.

Driving to School is Ruining Our Students: A Plea for Biking More


My bike, lonely in the rack. Winter though it seems, the roads were actually very dry and warm this day.

Our country is physically unwell. We don’t move enough, and we sit in chairs too much. Our young people are following in our automated tire-treads to a lower life span than the previous generation. I believe the habits of limited activity are set young and that in addition to less time for unstructured play,  our habit of driving everywhere ( especially to school) is hurting people. Instead of driving to school or work, we should walk and bike. That “we” includes our kids. Stop the car madness. Start fostering healthy activity and independence by moving our own bodies where they need to go.The National Partnership for Safe Routes to School offers many reasons for human-powered travel to school. I will focus on a few. Bike/walk to school to improve academic performance, to boost self-confidence, and save young people’s lives.

Now, in the interest of full-disclosure, I feel that my cycling adventure this summer is one way that I am attempting to combat my own habits of physical inactivity. I am a body at rest, who stays at rest unless I make the (rare) conscious effort to get in motion. I relax by finding stillness, sitting down to read a good book or taking a nap as opposed to those whose bodies are constantly in motion, who rest by getting active. It is not a bad thing to take a moment to sit down, or to find quietude in my body and spirit. But it is also good to get moving.

My first year teaching I made it a priority to walk or bike to school. I lived a little less than a mile from my classroom. I remember one particular day when Winter was starting to kick in. I’d forgotten gloves, and when the snow started to lay down a thick blanket I made an off-hand comment to the effect of how cold my hands would be on the way home.

“Is your car heater broken, Mrs. Warn?” asked a student who overheard me.

“No. I’m walking.”

“You walked here? How far away do you live?”

I shrugged, “About a mile.”

The reaction from my freshman was both endearing and horrifying. “A MILE?!?!?!?!” one yelled. “Are you an Environmentalist, Mrs. Warn?” asked another. They offered to get their parents to drive me home.

Could you imagine riding home with some student’s parents? Yikes. But more to the point, I was as equally horrified at their fear of a mile-long walk as they were that I’d take one. I live in Montana, too. Most of my students are fairly active in sports and outdoor life. But the thought of walking to school, aside from being kind of nerdy, was definitely not on their list of ways to get around. Beyond that, they thought of a mile as being some insurmountable distance. My husband relates this to the use of the mile as a standard fitness test, one which has become a dreaded gym activity.

The average American walks about 5,000 steps a day, or 2.5 miles, which is far less than other countries. The recommendation is that we walk 10,000 steps (5 miles) in order to stay healthy.  Beyond this, I see every day that the long hours of sitting in a desk deeply harm our students’ ability to learn. By lunch time they are fried. And despite a deluge of research and many organizations like the National Education Association strongly suggesting that active students do better academically, we still don’t enable our students to move around.

It’s a frightening problem when I hear students every day complain about the distance of the walk from the parking lot to the school (.2 miles from the middle of the lot). It makes me sad when I try to do physical things in my English class, and students choose to sit on their bums and look at their phones instead. Healthy activity is a habit. The more we do it, the easier it is. So, let’s get young people moving by encouraging them to walk or bike to school.

You wonder, “What about pedestrian accidents? What if I live too far away? But cars are so convenient!” In my next post I will offer some thoughts as to making walking and biking more accessible and some of the extra benefits they can offer. For example, neighbors of my school have cited traffic as a major concern in a string of bad-neighbor behaviors. Perhaps filling the bike racks instead of the parking lots will not only make us healthier and smarter, but will make us better community members as well.

Sunshine, Wind, and Maps

The weather here is a lovely (and worrisome) 50 degrees. The evidence of street sweepers shows in the smooth and clear road shoulders, but there’s few spots they’ve yet to visit. Gravel-strewn corners are interesting. It’s spring cycling time! Mr. Bike and I went on our first outside ride of 2016.

Boy howdy! Wind! But it was fresh and sunny and exciting. It felt like a beginning, even though I’ve been riding inside for a month now, getting out in the elements felt much more real. Now, it was only 1.5 hours, and I wasn’t carrying any weight. But it felt good to feel good on a bicycle.

Speaking of my bicycle… I’ve been preparing her for the ride as well. I bought Andromeda* in October, second hand from the sports shop just down the street. She belonged to a pair of bikes that were owned by an older couple, and sadly lived in the garage for a long time. So I’m glad to help her get an adventure in. Her lonely time also means that most of the components are in really good shape for a 10 year old bike. I’m making some revisions though. Changing the seat, for example, for better padding and comfort, but also because I felt silly with a leopard print, embroidered butterfly seat. Once I get the full set up, I’ll put a picture of all the changes.

The biggest story right now is that I’ve got my maps from Adventure Cycling!!! This means that I am actually figuring out my route and starting to envision myself on the trail. I’ve no idea what I’ll encounter, or if I’ll make it all the way, but even getting started and doing what I can will be a cool adventure. See the “Home” page for the description of my route and dates.


*All our bikes, except for Aspen, my dear 1980 Nishiki commuter, are named for the stars. We’ve had Star, Luna, Red Shift, Blue Shift, Dark Matter, and Perseus.


Character Alignment and Chamomile Tea

I am a person who knows how to be comfortable. My pillows are always fluffy, though I’ve been told that “Klingon Warriors do not fluff pillows.” I don’t wear clothes that leave lines of pinching in my skin, nor shoes that hurt but look oh-so-hot. And though I make no claims to rigidity or perfectionism (my desk will attest to the opposite), I do move through the world with predictable routines and expectations for the way things should be done. When introducing character analysis to my students in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, we discuss the axis of character alignment. The nerds among you will appreciate the following examples:

From Giant in the Playground

While I’d like to think that I’m V, a chaotic good free-spirit, I’m probably more of a Picard. There is a Prime Directive controlling my world, and it is “Be logical. Avoid conflict.” This serves me fairly well by minimizing the amount of discomfort that I have to face. But it also creates certain anxieties that plague me. Worry about upsetting others makes breaths come short, fluffy pillows make it easy to stay in bed on sleepy-grumpy weekdays.

So why this trip? The lovely warmth of my chamomile tea saturates my hands as I ponder my reasons. Think of those  evenings in your life that follow trying days. People were on your case, meetings lasted forever, you had so much to do, you were fighting a cold, something was wrong in your world, and still you managed to kick ass. You took care of business, worked out, cleaned the house, enjoyed the company of your family and friends Comforts at the end of days like that really hit home.

As much as I love a fluffy pillow, I love better the perfect rest found by laying my head on a bag of clothes at the end of a long day backpacking. I love peeling off ski boots and socks at the end of a bluebird set of runs.  After grading a stack of 95 papers of varying skill,the kickback of a cold beer makes it all okay. Challenges you can’t control suck the life out of you, but the challenges you build with intention shape you. And I’m the first to admit I need a bit of shaping. Perhaps we can push ourselves to try on the types of characters we want to be.

I don’t know if I can bike 3400 miles in 70 days. I don’t know if I can spend 8+ hours a day on a small strip of only-slightly padded plastic, or if I can fix a busted spoke on the absent shoulder of a road with giant trucks barreling by at 75mph. I’ll have to work on the mindfulness part, the appreciating pain part. But at least I know I’ll enjoy the little things at the end of the day.


Some Details

So my first post on this blog served to outline my purposes and educational goals. This post will give a few more details, particularly for those of you who are, ahem, going to join me. You know who you are 😉

An actual itinerary with more specific dates is dependent on the upcoming arrival of my route maps from Adventure Cycling Association. So far, this is what I know about my journey on the Sierra Cascades Route:

Overall, I have 70 days with 53 days biking at a minimum, which averages to 65 miles per biking day. I’ll be trying to keep lodging cheap, using WarmShowers (a biker’s Couch Surfing) and camping. No hostels or hotels for this teacher gal. I’ll take roughly 1 rest day per week, with an occasional extra. Except for my flight date, all dates below are approximations.

I’m flying out of Bozeman and into San Diego on June 13th. My bike will be traveling via I’ll need to pick it up when I get into town. That first day, I’ll hang out in the city exploring and getting my gear in order and then I’ll bike to the border at Tecate to really get things underway. The rest of June and the first week of July will be spent in California traveling North visiting places like Sequoia National Forest, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Lassen Volcanic, and Mt. Shasta.

Oregon gets 9 days, roughly July 9-18, staying in the National Forests in the center of the state past Crater Lake and Mt. Hood. Then I’m going to switch trails to go through Portland and over to the ocean and connecting to the Washington Parks route.

Washington gets 14 days, the last two weeks in July and a bit of August.  I’ll visit Olympic and North Cascades National Park, plus there’ll be a ferry ride in there somewhere. As a landlubber, the idea of traveling by ferry is strangely exciting to me, though it’ll probably make me motion sick.  I’ll jump to the Canadian border at Sumas before joining the Northern Tier trail to head back towards Montana. Canada!

Idaho and Montana get another 14-16 days in the middle two weeks of August (at least it’s not the desert!). I’ll be visiting Glacier, staying with my parents in Kalispell for a day or two, then stopping by Adventure Cycling’s headquarters in Missoula before finishing in Bozeman just in time to set up my classroom and start another year of teaching. My estimated finish date is Aug 22nd.

(An exciting incentive: we can avoid most of the summer’s presidential election hype. It’s gonna be huge! We’ll feel the bern as we unleash the American dream!)

Photo Credit: White House

Photo Credit: Voice of America

Beginnings and Early Days

Welcome to Teach.Wander. Learn. This is a story about an English teacher going on a cycling journey this summer, hoping to gain a little something along the way. The Adventure Cycling Association‘s road route along the Sierra Cascades crosses some awe inspiring terrain and will push me to my limits. But I’m going. This is my commitment. And this is also the story of my experiences teaching, the classes I plan, the students that drive me and drive me up the wall. Welcome.

I woke up early this morning. On a weekend. Something Mr. Bike will tell you doesn’t happen ever. My mind was all over the place. I was thinking about what to say to the “world” regarding my upcoming cycling adventure. This post could tell you about the agony over naming my blog (there were various escapades into alliteration and a brief flash of disappointment that another teacher already named their bike blog “Pedalgogy”), or about how I’ve put off really committing, or about how I’ll miss Montana in the summertime, miss adventuring with my hubs and dogs and friends.

I could also tell you that I’m excited to do something big. I’m excited that I’ll be able to say “I remember when I biked from Mexico to Canada and home. It was awesome.”

Grit is my goal. Foster some real grit and be able to share it with other people. Over the next six months leading up to and through my trip, I would like to create the building blocks of a community for teachers who want to be refreshed in their ideas and their spirits. Long-term, I would love to see a program for teachers to create courses of self-study paired with adventures that challenge them, where they can get professional and educational credit for pushing their own boundaries.

On a related note, let me extend an invitation to you, teacher or not, wherever you are at in life, come with me if you can for all or part of my journey. I’ll be biking 3400 mi from San Diego, CA to Bozeman, MT over the course of ten weeks: June 13th to August 22nd, 2016. Along the way, in addition to planning my fall courses, I’ll be studying EcoLit, Photography, and Place-Based Writing to make me a better English teacher. I’d love to have some company.

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Testing to see…

One thing I plan on learning a great deal about is how to publish on the web, how to use a resource like WordPress. I feel my students could make some really cool stuff, and share it with the world. But I need to know some of the how-to first. So where does this post end up on my website?