Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Just like touring . . . except when it isn't

Roger and I were offered the loan of a friend's tandem bicycle, and so we've begun to ride again together. I much prefer the tandem to my own bike, even though this ride is NOT the Silver Queen.

For one thing, I prefer being with Roger, and not worried about whether I am falling behind or holding him up. And my hands get numb so quickly; I am way more comfortable being able to change up my position to keep myself more comfortable. Another issue, which may seem odd given that I have spent six months riding a bicycle lately, is that I actually haven't been responsible for piloting the bike at all in that time. I sat on the back, pedaled, called out hazards and cars coming up from behind, and occasionally used the disk brake. But I never shifted, braked, or steered. Turns out my bike handling skills are really rusty! Never a particularly adept cyclist, I am at this point like a complete novice. When we have gone out with our friends, I am extremely nervous in the group. A nervous cyclist is a plague on the pelaton! You don't want to be riding near someone who is nervous.

Mostly, since getting back to Redlands, I have ridden on a few short rides with Roger. I spent one week going out with Marsha, another of our friends that was coming back from some down time and wanted to take it slow. That works for me, usually. But Roger wanted me to join the group again, and so we took off last Tuesday on Harro's tandem - a nice white Burley. As I said, it's not the same ride, but the bike is comfortable and it fits pretty well. The frame is smaller, so our seat posts are up higher, which gives me a different perspective on the road. I've found that I can't stand comfortably to pedal because my legs hit my handlebars, but that's not too big a deal. Our first outing, I felt like the bike was real "twitchy" but in truth, that was probably more a factor of losing the weight of the packs than the difference in the bikes. The stoker position does not have drop handlebars, and I have found myself reaching down for them several times - so that tells me our next bike will need drops like I had before! (We were on the way down San Tim Canyon yesterday with a great tailwind, and I took both hands off the handlebars, intending to settle into the drops. I almost fell forward onto Roger's back as I realized quickly there was no place for my hands to go!)

I miss my bell.  I may have to ask Roger to move it over to Harro's bike so I can have it while we are riding it. It's funny how many times I have moved to ring it - but there's nothing there. I also have found that I really, really want to have my disk brake - even though I don't typically apply any pressure to it.  I tap it from time to time just to give myself a feeling like I have some control. I'm afraid there is no remedy for this.

On our first outing with the new bike, we headed over to Riverside. Roger was feeling something "odd" in his pedals, and finally figured out what was going on. He had apparently not tightened them well enough when he put our pedals on the cranks, and his right pedal was working itself out. We stopped and he tried fixing it by putting the bolt in from the back side, hoping to straighten out the threads. This seemed to take care of the problem for a while, but on the way back home, we had to stop again when, all of a sudden, his foot - with the pedal attached - came loose from the crank arm!
Roger is just a passenger for now!

This time there was no remedy. The threads were all munged up at this point, so we determined that we'd just ride back home on my power.  This is the "just like touring" part of the post. So many times on our trip, we had to improvise a fix for some little (or rather large) problem. Most of these problems caused me anxiety at first, and then relief and sometimes amusement as we figured out what to do to address them (We'll zip-tie the rack to the frame! but of course!) This little problem was not worth any anxiety at all!  By the time it occurred, we were over by the warehouses, with nothing but flat riding to get home. We'd planned to take a portion of the Orange Blossom Trail, and that worked out well as we didn't even have to contend with auto traffic for most of the trip. We even had one of our buddies doing "traffic duty" like the motorcycle cops do for a funeral procession! Clay would ride ahead to the street crossing, then stop in the road so we could ride through without having to stop.  He'd then come up from behind, catch us, and do it again. I felt like a minor celebrity in a motorcade!

And then, when is it NOT like touring? Well, that's easy. We'd planned to do a long ride yesterday, out to Bautista Canyon. This is about 90 miles - one of our favorite long days that goes out towards the mountain southeast of here, and then up a lovely canyon. This time of year, the sycamores and other plants are really beautiful, and we were thinking it would make a good head-clearing trip for us. And then, before bed Monday night, we checked the weather. Ooops! Thirty mph headwinds all the way home were projected for Tuesday, beginning about 11:00 am and strengthening through the afternoon. So . . . no. We decided not to do the ride. We can do it anytime - there's no reason to battle wind like that if you don't have to. And that's the part of this post that's NOT like touring. When we were on the road, I think we only took one day off due to weather. That was in Tucumcari, New Mexico, where we were facing similar winds and were able to see that the next day would be much better for us. Other than that, we rode. You pretty much have to, unless you really have no schedule at all. Since we wanted to get around the loop in something approaching six months, we could not just sit around and wait for better weather. I remember the most drastic example of this was our passage through Oregon. Rain on eight out of ten days. Had we waited for clear skies, perhaps we would be waiting there still!

And then yesterday, having decided that we would not fight the winds but instead look to ride them home, we elected to go over to Beaumont and return home down San Tim Canyon. This is one of our favorite routes when the winds are strong. One of our friends that came along was happy to join us as he'd been off the bike for a bit and wanted something "not too taxing."  Well, the ride back down the canyon was splendid - right up to the point when it was not. We had a good time all the way to Live Oak Canyon, coasting along for much of the way and enjoying the fall colors. But wouldn't you know it? Someone had hit a utility pole adjacent to the road, and the pole was down with live wires between Live Oak and Alessandro. So instead of being a few minutes from the end of our ride, we were faced with a climb up Live Oak Canyon and over Sunset. Our "fast and breezy" ride home turned into another hour on the road. And guess what?  That's just like touring!  You never know what you are going to run into when you're touring, because you haven't ridden the roads before. You hope that Google Maps is giving you good information, but you never really know 'til you get there. "Bonus miles" are a common occurrence on a tour, as you find your way, retrace your route from a wrong turn, or learn the restaurant you hoped to dine at has gone out of business.

So we will continue our excellent adventures both on and off the bike - just like touring.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mourning what is lost

We've been contacted by the insurance company about the accident, and so far, all the conversations have gone well. Their representative has to say what she has to say, so for now, it's all, "once we determine fault for the accident" and "we will certainly need to look into that" and other code for "I am not promising you anything." But we have the police report, and it is clear:  this guy ran into us from behind, he was ticketed, and he is at fault. Once the insurance company gets the police report, we will be asked to provide information on our losses, and we'll go from there.

So that's on my mind. What have we lost? I have put together a list of the clothing and gear we were wearing that was damaged or destroyed. It's surprising how quickly that list adds up! Helmets, clothing, gloves, shoes - all of it "times two" since we were both scraping the pavement.  Our packs were damaged enough that they really cannot be used again.  Of course, we have some medical expenses (and more to come, as we evaluate Roger's knee injury and find out what has to happen there to make him whole again). And then there is the bike.

Ah, the bike. Turns out probably the bike is NOT okay. At least, that's what the guys down at the bike store have said. They "totaled it." Like a car. I was surprised how hard this piece of news was for me.
Together on the tandem

Leading the way on our departure. 

The Silver Queen was my graduation gift from Roger when I completed my MBA eleven years ago. We've probably ridden 50,000 miles on her - 10,000 of them this year. She has borne us through rain, and snow, and sleet; sailed along through deserts, mountains and everything in between.  We packed her up and took her to Texas. We've toted her up and down California, to Oregon, to Arizona, to Colorado, to Texas. We have spent so many, many miles on her, under fair skies as well as stormy weather, zooming along on a flat or descending San Tim Canyon or sweating and grunting to climb up a hill. TOGETHER. That's the thing.  We have ridden her together. It's ridiculous to say it, but I really love that bike.  I love riding that bike with my husband. And it is hard thinking that I am going to have to put her out to pasture now. It is really hard to realize that I was riding that bike with my husband when someone hit us from behind, and ended all that.  Equally difficult, in a different way, is recognizing that it's possible the bicycle saved our lives. Had either of us been hit while riding a single bike, we might have been much more seriously injured. The bike and our packs absorbed a lot of the impact, certainly. Our combined weight kept us from being propelled as far when we were hit. It's just physics, but if feels like she took a bullet for us.

Also hard to deal with is the sudden, abrupt end to our trip. Just like that, it was over. We were trying to imagine what it would be like to be back home, to be done with this endeavor. We'd been discussing it for the last week or more of our trip. And then - boom! Here we are, back home, trying to remember what we do with our lives day to day. Flopping around a bit, to be honest. That will get better, is getting better, but it's still sort of weird to be home, with nothing specific to do, after so long on the road.
Two cyclists, one shadow

We will certainly get another tandem. Roger is already out on the web sites, perusing models and doing some research. The bike shop did an initial assessment for us on replacement cost; if we replace the Silver Queen with another bike of like kind, our next bike could cost almost as much as our car. And we will certainly ride her all over the place, just like we have this one. But you never forget your first love. And I really, really loved that bike.

I loved the way it fit us, I love how it handled. I loved that Roger got it for me, and what that meant about our relationship and what he wanted for us. I love that we rode it together, and that we have had so many wonderful adventures on it, together. I love that I cannot get lost when we are on the tandem; Roger cannot ride away from me or take the wrong turn! We arrive together on the tandem. I place my life in his hands when we are on that bike. That's a pretty powerful thing, and so it's not just a bicycle for me. It represents quite a bit more. It says something about us, and about our relationship, that we choose to ride a tandem.

So - I know those things won't change, even though we'll be on a different bike. So - I'll get over my loss, because what matters will endure. But symbols are important, and they endure. So as a symbol of our love and trust, the Silver Queen will always have a place in my heart.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Welcome home-coming

Roger and I had originally planned to ride home on November the 5th. We wanted to come through the Cajon Pass, meet our friends at the McDonald's on I-15, and then stop by one of our local breweries on the way to the club's usual ride starting place (at the Stater Bros. lot on Alabama and Barton, also known as "Stell's" for the coffee shop there.)
We received a beautiful bouquet and gift basket from friends

Well, the accident changed all that - we certainly were not going to ride down the pass once the tandem had been wrecked - but I still wanted to celebrate our return to town and have a chance to say hello to everyone and put a bit of an exclamation point on our trip. It didn't feel right to have just arrived in town, battered and bruised, in our friend's pick-up truck, and in the dark of night, to boot. That's like a big ellipsis on the trip, and not at all satisfying . . .

So we put the word out via the newspaper, our FB posts, the club web site, and our blog, that we would be at the Escape Brewery on Saturday anyway, inviting people to come and say hello and visit for a while. I had no idea what to expect. I figured there would be at least a few of our cycling friends there, since we all like to drink beer! Other than that, I just couldn't speculate.
Cycling buddies at the party

Since arriving home, Roger and I had gone on one short ride on Thursday, starting out with the morning group and circling back after a few miles so that we probable went about ten. That was plenty for me. My bike feels very flimsy and insubstantial after the loaded tandem. Plus, while I have just finished riding a bike for hours each day over the past six months, in reality, I have not piloted a bicycle in all that time. So my bike handling skills, not very good under the best of circumstances, are really rusty. Still, we wanted to ride over to the party, not drive, so we arranged to meet the club riders Saturday so we could do at least a token ride with them Saturday before the event. We talked with one of our buddies and asked that she let us know when the group was on the way home, and that way we could ride out a bit and come back with the group.
Bridge buddies

That worked pretty well. Saturday we got our call, headed down Barton Road, and soon saw the vanguard of the group returning. As it turned out, there had been a little mishap with a couple of the riders, so this group was waiting at the top of hospital hill for the rest of the group to untangle itself and join them.  We waited with them and then headed back to Stell's when the others caught up. Actually, we ended up at the pizza place for a slice and a beer, and then we rode on down to Escape at 1:00 pm for our "homecoming party."
Roger shows friends the map of our travels

I was surprised and delighted with the crew that came by to say hello, give us a hug, and hear a bit about our trip. We had friends from the cycling club, our church, and the Redlands Conservancy come out. Our good friends and neighbors were there, and there were even a couple of people that neither Roger or I knew, but who had been following the blog, and they rode over to say hello.  It was another example of the warmth of this community, and made us both feel really fortunate that we call Redlands home.
Friends and neighbors

Neighbors and friends!
And we are glad to be home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I'm ready for my close-up . . .

Our accident in the desert was relatively minor, as bicycle-automobile collisions go. While we each sustained injuries, we were fortunate to be able to converse with the emergency personnel and bystanders who assembled immediately to assist us, and we probably could have gotten up and walked away from the crash (although we'd have been pretty wobbly!) That's not always the case. Both Roger and I have been present when friends of ours have gone down in all-cyclist crashes, and we've had several friends killed by motorists, just in the past few years. We certainly understand that we might have suffered far more serious injuries or even been killed, and that's a very sobering thought.

Our friends here and throughout the country have been so very supportive and kind in the aftermath of the accident. Many have expressed their consolation that we were struck down so close to the finish line. And I admit - that's a bummer!  We both have been a bit at loose ends, feeling the loss of the routine we'd established over the past months as well as mourning that it didn't end as we had anticipated.  However, we have a very high degree of confidence that we will get ourselves back out to Kingman in the not-too-distant future, and complete our planned journey.  It's just not okay to leave the map with that big gap!  We have to close the loop - finish the ride - and ride on up to our home on the bike. That's the way the script ends, and that's how we're gonna film it!
Will the circle be unbroken?

In the meantime, to respond to questions about both our own and the bike's condition, here's a little post on how we are doing. Since we don't know yet the full extent of the bike's injuries, I won't comment on that at this time.  But we have now gotten our own inventory of afflictions well in hand, and are (mostly) healing up nicely. We have trouble imagining the physics of the accident itself. To wit, our injuries and how we ended up on the pavement make it hard to figure out what actually happened. I'll try to explain that by listing what happened to me.

This one got infected

On my left side, my ankle, knee, elbow and shoulder suffered abrasions. The leg and ankle were discrete, hard-impact hits - not big sections of scraped up road-rash like abrasions you would get from skidding. My left shoe, left shoulder of my jersey and t-shirt are all worn through from the impact. In fact, the wool t-shirt appears to have almost "melted" where I hit the ground. However, the right side of my face and my sunglasses were well scraped up. Both hands have minor scratches and my gloves were ripped up, so they must have scraped the pavement as well. My helmet is cracked on the left side. I ended up lying on my back, with my right leg draped over the bike behind my saddle. I was impaled on something back there, which gave me a pretty deep gash behind my right knee, and I got a big bruise just above my tailbone, where I must have hit as I landed on my back. So how did all that happen?  We must have flopped around a good bit before coming to rest.  By this point, most of this has gotten more or less healed, although the wound on my ankle was infected and I had to take some antibiotics to clear it up. I am heading out to have the stitches behind my knee removed today.

Roger also has a bruised tailbone, although it's sore without seeing any obvious bruising. He had scrapes on his left side, and a whopper of a bruise on his abdomen, but his right knee has been his most troublesome lasting injury. He has seen an orthopedist and is scheduled for an MRI soon; we think he has a torn lateral cruciate ligament. That might require a procedure to repair. We should know more soon.
These cleared up right away

We are in contact with the driver's insurance company, and we've put together an inventory of the various clothing and gear that was damaged or shredded in the accident. So, we're hopeful that we'll be "made whole" although, as anyone who's been through this knows - that's a tricky proposition. It's hard to go back to a place where you haven't been hit. I am just now trying to ride my bike a bit, and it's difficult to get over the feeling that someone is looming behind me, just about to pop me into the air. I'm sure time helps with that, as well as with the bruises and scrapes. For now, it's wait and see time.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Every ounce counts

We left our home on April 23, 2016. By April 26th, we were in the Post Office, sending home two "if it fits, it ships" boxes with about 15 pounds of stuff. Our pruning was prompted by an issue we had with the rear pack: the bolt holding the pack to the bike had sheared while we rode away from Buellton. Granted, we'd had the "endless bowl of split pea soup" for lunch, but I don't think that was what caused the problem. We just were carrying too much weight.
If it fits, it ships!

So what did we send home? Well, we decided we could do without:
- the liners for the sleeping bags
- the camp shower thing (warms water in a bag so you can clean up)
- toe covers
- a warm layer for each of us - long johns, in essence
- some socks
- glove liners
- bike shorts
- a little sun hat
- extra sunglasses
- a larger towel (purchased specifically for this trip, alas!)
- a thermos for making our coffee while camping
- underwear
- pocket knife
- crescent wrench
- bandanna
- small folding umbrella (honestly, I do not know what I thought we'd do with that!)
- our second safety vest (I kept mine)
- a t-shirt
- a carry-all sack
- some waterproof shoe covers
- an insulated bag for cold stuff

None of this junk was outrageous on its face. Well, maybe the umbrella! But even that I thought might be necessary when we were off the bike and having to hang out in town when it was raining. My bad. We did not hang out when it was raining. We rode when it was raining, and for that - as well as for hanging out, for that matter - we wore our outer layer waterproof jackets.
Modest provisions for food while camping - but it all eventually came home

Mostly, we were guilty of thinking that we were going on a camping trip, and so much of this stuff was destined to make our camping easier or more comfortable. I'd imagined having access to many more campsites of the type we have here in the mountains or national forests - fairly close to the road, but limited in services. As it turned out, we never camped anywhere that we did not have access to showers or at least running water in the bathroom to clean up. So we certainly did not miss the shower bag. Sleeping bags without the liners served us just fine. We had plenty of clothing - never missed the extra pair of socks or undies. We kept losing our bandannas, so we had to buy some more, but that was easy to do and might not have been avoided even if we'd carried that other one 8000 miles.
Pretty sure most of this got sent home, also! (Hated to lose my binoculars, but . . . oh, well.)

Roger lost a pair of sunglasses (in the river in Washington) so maybe it would have been nice to have the back-up pair. But we were also able to replace those, no problem. And the coffee thermos? Well, we didn't get a chance to sit and enjoy a second cup of coffee when we were camping. We made and drank one cup each while having our oatmeal breakfast, then packed up and headed off. The take-away message for me: if you are camping on your bicycle tour, you are not really "camping" in the sense that you are going to be out there enjoying your time in the great outdoors. You are limited in what you can carry and how far you are willing to go to find that campsite. When you get there, you want to clean up, eat (pretty simply), and get to bed. No s'mores around a campfire, unless someone else invites you over. Mornings are usually the best time to ride, so no lingering over fresh fish or flapjacks for breakfast. The campsite is just where you are until you get back on your bike, so you don't need the stuff that you'd typically expect to have on a camping trip. Eventually we decided we didn't even need the cooking supplies, and sent them home, too. Then we finally determined that our last couple weeks would all be "on plastic" (aka, in hotels) and so we sent the tent and sleeping bags and packs back to Redlands with a friend.

We later sent even more stuff home. I gave up on the "miracle skirt," recognizing that I wasn't going to wear it in the afternoon if I was worried about mosquitoes.  Too much exposed skin! We were given t-shirts occasionally and usually sent them or another one home. Random stuff like the elastic brace went into the boxes as well. (Turns out that would have been handy in New York when Roger's arm swelled up like a football, but the Medi-clinic gave us a compression sleeve so we were fine, anyway.) What few souvenirs I collected (a couple of national park brochures and some beer coasters) rode along with us until we filled the next box home. I loved the little string of lights that fit my computer's USB port, but those went home as well when I acknowledged I was not sitting in a dark tent typing up my blog anymore. Ditto the solar panels, which proved superfluous for us because our campsites generally had electricity anyway.
Used it up, replaced it

Roger was constantly trying to shed stuff to reduce our weight. His greatest contribution was losing about 15 pounds, right off the bat! He had to buy a belt to keep his pants up (Goodwill, Sandpoint ID - $2). He endlessly bemoaned the weight of our toiletries kit. But this was one beachhead I was willing to defend to the end! We'd stayed with some Warm Showers hosts who shared photos of the stuff they'd packed for a multi-week trip down the Pacific coast. It was appealing - that tiny baggie with little tubes of sunscreen, toothpaste, Vaseline, lotion and shampoo. But I was not interested in trying to find another tiny tube of toothpaste every week. Honestly, in six months' time we would have needed dozens of those! So we carried a normal size tube, and we replaced it when we used it up - twice! I had full-size containers of my Olay face lotion and night creams. I used those up and replaced them, also. We picked up shampoo from the hotel stays, but we carried stuff like dental floss and I even had my pumice thingy for my heels. Because - and this was critical in my approach - a six-month or more trip is NOT like being away for two or even three weeks. You can repair the damage you do to your face and your body in a couple of weeks pretty quickly. But if you go out for half a year and don't take care of yourself, you're going to be a mess. I did not want to come home a wrinkled, sun-baked old woman. I know myself - when I am running out of something I scrimp on it to make it last. I wanted to be sure that I had enough of these basic care products so that I could do this trip and still feel good about myself and my grooming.  One VERY important product that we made sure to have PLENTY of was our chamois creams. Roger had a big ol' tub of some stuff he'd found, and I had my tube of Chamois Buttr. Because, really - you do not want to be scrimping on that. It makes a huge difference to our comfort on the bike. And I know - you can buy those tiny packets of cream, which don't weigh anything at all. But in 6 months, using two of those a day, we'd have needed several gross of those things. At $1 or more each, it would have cost hundreds of dollars, and we would have been constantly looking for them. So no - we carried big tubes, and replaced them when they got low so we would never run out!

And so all of this is just to say:  if you thinking about a bicycle tour, you will get all sorts of advice about what to take, and what to leave behind. And I am fully certain, based on conversations with every cyclist that we met, that you will pack more initially than you will have with you by the time you've ridden a week or two. BUT - and this is key - YOU GET TO DECIDE WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU. Everyone's pack will be different. Everyone will have that certain something that they just can't do without. So don't let anyone bully you into getting rid of, or taking, anything. Think it through, do your best to imagine what your days will be like, prepare for that, and then realize you can send stuff home or buy what you need pretty easily.
Really thought we'd need these, but no.

In our case, we knew that we were going to be riding through three seasons, at a minimum. It was cold in the mountains when we started, we had tons of rain in Oregon, we rode through the height of summer, and then it cooled off again. We needed to accommodate all that in our clothing and our gear. Some folks we met thought we had an awful lot of stuff with us, but then again, we met single people on bikes who were carrying as much weight as we were - just for themselves. Some people do no camping, so do nothing else. It all works out in the end. You do eventually get better at hauling your weight around as you strengthen on the trip. And then when you send some stuff home, you get that little boost from the decreased weight. So fun!
Beer coasters were about my only souvenir!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The little things

We arrived home last Monday night, with help from our friend Jeff, without doing any shopping. So, though the house has not been empty while we were away, it was devoid of one of our chief staples - COFFEE! Our housemate drinks coffee, but she is strictly a decaf girl, and that doesn't cut it for Roger and me. I rummaged around in the cabinets on Tuesday morning and found a couple of those single-serve packages that you get in hotel rooms, and that held us until we headed down to the coffee shop to meet our riding buddies at 11:00. Then we enjoyed a nice latte - one of our favorite treats.

If we'd been thinking, we would have purchased some coffee right then and there, but we weren't. (As I recall, we left the coffee shop with some friends in search of a slice of pizza and some beer. Consequently, we were not thinking about coffee!) Consequently, I woke up Wednesday morning thinking once again, "we don't have any coffee."  Argh. It was about 5:45 when I first awoke. I think we've been rising early partly due to the many time zones we've crossed lately, and partly because of the discipline we developed about getting out on the road earlier rather than later. (I suspect our accident may also have something to do with it; being hit and having to recover from that trauma is actually pretty taxing, and we've been heading to bed early.) Anyway, I lay there for a while, and then when I heard Roger stirring, I whispered that I was going to go get some coffee and eggs and bacon, and that he should go back to sleep.
Early morning sky

Thus it was that I found myself in the parking lot at our local grocery store around 6:30 or so. I didn't even know if the store opened that early. I had in mind it usually opened at 7:00, so I was surprised to see the doors open and the place bustling. Our coffee shop gives you a cup of coffee when you buy a pound, so I stopped in there first so I could do my shopping with my free java. And then I just walked through the parking lot to the store. I was so taken with the beauty of the palm trees against the morning sky. I had to stop and take a picture of them.

I picked up my bacon, eggs and bread for breakfast, then got some other staples like yogurt, milk and fruit. I got inspired to shop for dinner also, and selected some nice fish that was on sale. I casually picked up sweet potatoes, apples, broccoli and pears that looked great - firm, fresh, unblemished. I marveled at the amazing options before me. The organic produce section had been expanded since we left. Every single box, can or bottle in the store had been carefully pulled to the edge of the shelf so it just looked so pristine! Near the check-out stations, there were three guys in suits. I jokingly mentioned to another worker that "the men in black" were there in the store - was something special going on? Turns out I had arrived on the very edge of the unveiling of a store remodel, so the suits were there to complete the final inspections before the official opening.

The mundane nature of my errands hit me hard as I headed to the car. I was just shopping for a few groceries, picking up a pound of coffee, saying "hello" to the people who worked in my favorite store. To a few of them, I noted that I had been away for six months, so I was pleased to see them again. It was nothing special. But it brought tears to my eyes, nevertheless.  In that early morning shopping trip, I realized I was home.

These small rituals, favorite haunts, daily habits - they are the stuff of life. We undertook a "big thing" when we decided that we were going to ride our bike around the country.  I wouldn't try to dispute that. But it was, after all, merely a collection of "little things" that we did each day.

There can be great tedium in the little things. There's nothing spectacular about making dinner every day, or buying groceries, or doing your laundry. And yet, there is also comfort in the familiar. At least for me, that is so. I enjoy having some idea of how my day will go. I respond favorably to the sense that I can control aspects of my life, can choose what I will do and how I will do it, even while acknowledging that I am not going to do anything particularly engaging or unique most of the time.

Even when I have a chance to do something very different, my brain tends to find the structure and the order within. How is this experience like or unlike something else I have done? Within the overall boundary of our trip, we developed a few rituals that helped to calm some of the natural chaos associated with packing up your stuff and moving it 60 miles down the road every day. One of these was having a cup of coffee while we were getting up and getting dressed. We almost always were able to find that first cup of coffee, which we sometimes shared and which Roger usually prepared and brought to me in bed.

It's the patterns that are created by the little things, I think, that I find so appealing. The big things are disruptors - they break patterns or splash across them like big splatter paintings - and they are beautiful (and sometimes fearsome) in their own right. But I find the patterns beautiful, also. I like how they weave in and out of each other - the structure, the color and texture that they bring to my life.

And so I headed home, eager to have a cup of coffee with my husband.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Roger and I had many conversations over the course of our trip, starting with the first week we were out on the road, about how the trip itself might change us.  We figured that we'd lose some weight - it wouldn't be possible to ride a bike for hours every day, six months running, and not lose at least a few pounds! And I had hopes that I would be stronger - that my legs would get more powerful as I rode more consistently, pushing that load around the country. I didn't have too much in the way of expectations beyond those two things.
My short hair cut before the trip

They have both come to pass, by the way. Now that we are home, I find that I've lost three or four pounds. Roger lost about fifteen!  Is there any justice? I do feel stronger - that was obvious pretty early in the trip. We were able to handle everything the road required, and other than general, overall "tiredness" at the end of most days, we both felt like our bodies were holding up well enough and our legs, in particular, were doing the job.

What never did happen - and as we were talking just a few days before our trip ended, it was obvious we had both expected this even if we'd never voiced it - was that it never really got any easier to do what we were doing. We'd both thought that at some point, it would be so routine to go 60 or 70 miles that we would not feel like we were working that hard to finish our day's ride.  Apparently we either expanded our expectations for what we needed to ride in a day, or the conditions were getting more difficult day by day, or we just turned out to be slackers in the worst way - because it really never did get "easy." We were always whooped by the end of the day.

So that's something that did NOT change.

What did change? Well, starting on the first day of our trip, we made changes to our planned route. When Roger started mapping out our escape from the LA area, we had hoped to stay at a campsite in the mountains on Day 1. But we learned the campground was closed, and instead found a Warm Showers host in Palmdale. That was farther than we wanted to go, but there weren't really any places to stay en route, so that's where we went. Talking with our hosts that evening, we changed our route for Day 2! They said the route we'd planned would take us through an area with no services, and suggested another road instead.  Those two days set a precedent that continued throughout the trip. We'd have a plan, and then update the plan depending on accommodations, services, terrain or weather. We made changes as well based on traffic, congestion, the season, and the availability of our friends and family. When I learned that my sister would be out of the country about the time we expected to be passing through Texas, we relaxed our pace - calculating that we'd be overtaxed by an effort to arrive before her trip, but could still get home on time if we planned to come through after she returned. That's why we decided we had enough time to take a break from the bike and enjoy a week with Roger's family at the Family Camp at Ashokan.  Even night to night, we'd change our plan, opting for a cabin instead of a campsite if the weather looked iffy.

We thought we'd be camping more than we ended up doing, so that also changed. Eventually, we sent home our cooking gear and finally even our tent and sleeping bags, opting to do the last several weeks entirely indoors. This change in our approach to lodging was a hard one to make. Neither Roger nor I wanted to risk being stuck somewhere without a place to stay, so we hung on to the camping option longer than we probably needed to. It was a lot of weight to carry around.

I got very used to dressing from among the few pieces of clothing I'd brought along. It was not long before I started getting an itch to get back to my closet, and throw out half of the stuff hanging there! If I could be comfortable wearing one or two outfits for six months, what on Earth did I need with all those clothes?! This feeling has persisted now that I am home, but I confess I am overwhelmed by all our stuff. Of course, that is a common feeling when we return home from a trip, however brief. The suitcases in the hall (in this case, the packs) need to be opened and cleared, the dirty clothes washed, the other things put back where they belong. Since we've been away so long, and have had others living in our home, many things around the house "migrated" a bit from the place where I or Roger normally expect to find them. So I am gradually putting things back the way I like them - exercising my OCD in small ways to return my kitchen, bath, bedroom and basement to a more familiar state. Once I am more comfortable in the place, I believe that I really will be able to tackle the more difficult task of weeding out some of this stuff and trying to return to that very simple life we had on the bike.

My friend Bev says I am suffering from culture shock, and I think she's right. She used to experience something similar when she returned from a mission trip overseas. When you have become accustomed to living out of a suitcase, it's weird to be back in this sea of possessions.

Roger and I have a good friend who is embarking on a multi-year tour around the world on his bike. He's interested in exploring the different locales and seeking stories to capture as he travels. I get the feeling (and I may not be quite straight on this), that part of what he seeks is also some relief from the "sameness" of everyday life.  So how do Roger and I judge this aspect of our trip? Did we find our lives to be very different, or somewhat the same? Certainly there were moments of great beauty and excitement. Some days were really delicious - beautiful scenery, great riding conditions, interesting people and places fed our souls and exhilarated us. But some days were just tedious - long, hard days of pumping our legs around and around without even being able to sense that our landscape was changing.  More even than the experiences on the bike, which tended to help us define the days as "different" from one another, our experiences off the bike solidified for us the natural rhythms and day-to-day routines of managing our life as bicycle tourists, and there was quite a lot of same-ness to that. So I'd call it a draw. Life, it seems to me, is just as exciting and exhilarating as you make it - or as dreary and dull - regardless of where you live and what you must do to earn a living. It's all in your perspective and approach to each day.

Oh, and that haircut? I got my hair cut very short before the trip so that I would not have to fool with it much (after all, it was under a bike helmet for hours every day.)  Even so, I had to get it cut about halfway through the trip, and I'm due for another trim now. Some things never change!
Go where the road leads you