One Week Out

Yup. I leave in one week! Many thoughts are running through my head, as I am sure happens to anyone before they take on something big. The reality is sinking in…

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The completed cockpit. 

Things I am nervous for:

  1. Riding a route that has been referred to by Outside Magazine as “leg pulverizing” and “the most difficult border-to-border road ride ever designed.” Those aren’t exactly encouraging words. BUT lots of folks do this route. If they can do it, I can do it. It’ll just hurt a bit.
  2. Riding through the desert in SoCal. I’ve never spent much time in the desert. How hot will it really get? (Weather.com says 80 ish) How much water should I carry? Can I wake up early enough in the morning to beat the heat?
  3. Underestimating my budget. I’m planning on doing lots of wild camping, asking for hospitality at churches and fire/police stations, and using a site called WarmShowers where cyclists host other cyclists. What if I end up in campgrounds more than I am thinking? That would be okay, but I’d rather spend less on lodging if possible.
  4. Relying purely on my own problem solving faculties. I trust myself and my abilities, but part of my motivation for this trip is that I’ve realized how much I rely on others. I think having people to lean on is important, but so is being able to look to myself. I’m nervous that it’ll be a learning curve.
  5. Feeling homesick. Out walking in the woods with Mr. Bike this evening, I was recognizing how very much I love Montana, the people and places that are my home. What if I spend my whole trip just longing to be at home? Would that waste the experience, or would it just teach me more about myself? I will miss my husband. SO MUCH. I’m not even sure how to describe the feeling. He is my companion.

There are also lots of things I’m excited for:

  1. Challenging myself with a task that is mentally and physically difficult, that I am choosing to face intentionally. I want to craft resilience and grit in myself (edu jargon!). It’s what my friend calls “Challenge by Choice.” Another friend from college is traveling the world with her husband, and he put it nicely on their blog P&E World Tour: this is an adventure that “is not fun while you’re doing it, but it is fun to talk about later.”
  2. Seeing beautiful places that I have never seen. I get to ride through Yosemite and Sequoia and King’s Canyon, Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake, Olympic, Northern Cascades. I get to see giant trees, and climb giant mountain passes, and examine strange desert plants. I hope the stars are amazing.
  3. Connecting with people in a meaningful way. Often during my “real” life, I feel that I fly by people without really engaging with them. The old “Hey, how’s it going?” “Good, how ’bout you?” conversation. But I’m hoping that doing something interesting will allow me to meet interesting people and hear their stories. There should be more storytelling with each other.
  4. Meditating through movement. I am a quiet soul, a body at rest. I do yoga, and can spend hours on a Sunday morning gazing at the ceiling above my bed and journeying through my imagination. I like that about myself. But, I think my life needs more movement in order to stay healthy and to relieve stress. I’m excited to practice moving.
  5. Facing the unknown. There is a lot about this trip that I have no idea or plan for. Timing? Meh, could be spot on, could be way off. Route? Yikes, maybe I’ll abandon the mountains for the coast. So much of life feels regimented and planned: go to college, get degree, get job, marriage, house, kids. My teaching life follows the same schedule and habits most days. I am excited to relax in not having a totally figured out plan. That’s what makes it an adventure, is I don’t know what to expect.
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Bluebird day for the final shakedown ride.

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Get Out of Town, Shake it Down

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As the date for my trip approaches, I’m trying to iron out all the kinks and pretend like I’m preparing effectively for this massive undertaking. While fewer miles have been put on my Skye than I would have liked, we have managed some adventures. For Mr. Bike’s and my 7th anniversary, I made a three-day weekend, and we went bike camping for a shakedown tour. The goal was to drive outside of town, and park the car with “just in case” gear while I rode 50 miles to a campsite and Mr. Bike would ride half out and back to grab the car and drive down. We decided that camping outside Yellowstone would be ideal, with a stop for a soak at the magic waters of Chico. So away we went, on what was indeed an adventure. Here is what I learned:

  1. Headwinds are hard! All the way from Livingston to Emigrant, the wind was blowing hard. I maintained a 3-5 mph average, which is not fast at all. The diamond reflector things make good pullouts for a brief rest, and I learned that there are 17 of them in a mile. With the wind, I stopped short, even though I’d planned to go 15 mi further. Lessons learned? Start early in the day to accommodate conditions out of my control. Oh, and when the weather report says  “S” in regards to wind, it doesn’t mean blowing to the South. So be cool with low gears.
  2. Have plenty of food on hand. In our eagerness to get going, combined with a late start, we didn’t really contemplate the timing and necessity of carrying a meal in addition to snacks. We were both very, very, very hungry at the end of our rides, and it made the physical work that much more difficult.
  3. This is weird to say on the internet, but underwear isn’t as necessary for daily life as I thought. However, they do seem to keep my bum warm. Cycle shorts are made to be worn without the pantaloons, but with the wind, my tush was cold.
  4. A highway with more traffic and more shoulder space is better than a road with lighter traffic and no shoulder. Taking the scenic East River Road for a “quieter” ride, we discovered that blind corners and no shoulder is a nervous-making combination. So I’ll take a little more traffic if it means a more developed road.
  5. Did I mention food? Touring and other long distance activities, according to the internet, are good excuses to eat such nutritious food as pop-tarts. But pop-tarts don’t get one very far…
  6. Did I mention wind? Tailwinds are incredible. You can hear everything around you for miles. You’re zooming on with barely a stroke of the pedals. My return trip back towards Livingston two days later made me feel like a Goddess of speed and athleticism. This time, I had way more food in my panniers and hardly ate a quarter of my snacks that had previously been insufficient against the headwind. Lesson learned? Take advantage of the good days.
  7. My gear worked out pretty well, with only a few more adjustments to make. I’m excited to add front panniers to balance the weight and offer more organizational opportunities, as this shakedown I only had my rear rack set up. I’ve heard varying opinions on which way the 60-40 weight balance should go: front or back? That bears further testing.
    1. Wool mittens are warm, but lack mobility and control.
    2. My tent will be huge with just me, so I’ll be able to have all my gear inside at night.
    3. I’m uncertain what my plan of action is for bears (aside from bear spray, duh). Will a bear bag suffice? Or do I need to get one of those awful, bulky bucket things?
    4. Small adjustments to the seat and handlebars have drastic impacts on comfort.
  8. People are amazing!!!!!! Let me add some more exclamation points!!!! I stopped for food at the Emigrant market on the way out (and really to await rescue from the wind by Mr. Bike), amazing things happened, aside from animal cookies and chocolate. Within the first fifteen minutes I had awe from the ladies at the register that made me feel amazing, a kiss on the hand from a gentleman named Louis, and a free room at Chico from a guy named Colin (coh-lin) who told me he works there. He noticed my bike while I was in the lobby stuffing my face with the aforementioned animal crackers and struck up a conversation with me. We chatted about his bike tours (plural) across the country, and my plans. He was very encouraging and excited about meeting a new cyclist. When he asked where I was staying and discovered that I was planning on camping, he offered to see if Chico had any unused rooms that I could use. Unbeknownst to me, Colin is the owner of Chico Hot Springs and worked it out for me to have a free room. Deep thanks to my road angel. I’m not even a hundred miles from home, and already people are helping me out and pushing me forward.
  9. I love my husband. He likes bicycles. He encourages me, he trusts me to go on this adventure and make the most of it. He is a badass that goes over mountains with me. This shakedown was the perfect anniversary. We have such fun together, trying to roast marshmallows with barbecue tongs and camping among huge boulders. We had a fancy dinner at Chico, which we shared it, partly because holy $$ batman, but also because we like each other. I never see people really sharing with those they love that often. And we do. Cool beans.
  10. This is going to be hard. Really hard. And I’ll want to quit. And I’ll doubt my ability to be successful. And I’ll miss my hubs/dogs/home/Montana. But I think that I can do this. I think I’ll even have fun, and get strong, and learn all kinds of new things. I think I’m excited.
  1. Resting from the wind. 2) Back in the wind. 3) Andromeda rides with camels. 4) I skunked him at cribbage. Mr. Bike is on a bad losing streak. 5) Beautiful Paradise Valley.

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

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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.

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*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.

Prost.