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Learning patience through cycling adventures

During my last week in Medellin before going back to Rhode Island for the summer, I was invited to go for a ride up to Parque Arvi in Santa Elena with Lenin, our friend Anne-Marie and her friend, Juan. The host of the ride was Juan Del Bosque (Juan of the forest), and he was in the process of building a house and campsites on land that he owned within the park. We were to meet at Bici Rolling bike shop at 9am. Four of us left from Lenin’s house shortly before 9am, and we arrived about ten minutes late to the bike shop. Nobody had seen Juan yet, but his bike was still in the shop getting fixed, so we hadn’t missed him. We sat in front of the shop waiting until about 10am, when Juan finally showed up. However, his motorcycle was broken and he needed to drop it off at the moto shop before leaving, so we waiting a bit longer at Bici Rolling for him to do that. While we were waiting, Anne-Marie’s friend, the other Juan, disappeared. Nobody really saw him leave, but Anne-Marie had his bike, so we figured he’d be back. We got hungry before either of the Juans came back, so we decided to go to a nearby market while waiting for some fruit. While we were gone, both Juans had come back and left again at different times. So we waited some more. I think it was about 11 when we finally left, only missing one of the Juans, with plans to meet him along the way.

Anne-Marie and Juan del Bosque climb up through Medellin’s Buenos Aires neigborhood.

We were finally approaching the edge of the city, on the road that would take us up the mountain to Santa Elena, when I got a flat tire. Of course, it was the one time nobody had remembered to bring any tools or patch kit, so we walked a few blocks uphill to the nearest bike shop where I passed my wheel through a barred window and waited while my tire was repaired. Back on the road again, we only progressed another few blocks up the hill before stopping again, this time to buy fruit from a stand on the side of the road. Looming above the fruit stand, directly overhead, a man on a very rickety ladder was replacing one of the streetlights. There was very little space to move in between the fruit stand and parked cars. Remarkably, working with another man, they managed to lower the old light and raise the new one using a rope without hitting anything or knocking the ladder over.

While at the fruit stand, Anne-Marie started talking to an older man who had also been cycling up the same street. He was concerned that she wasn’t wearing enough sun protection and wanted to give her a cycling jersey and hat that he had at his house. After finishing the fruit, we all followed this man to his house, which was on the way up the mountain, and we took turns watching the bikes and going inside where he picked from his ample collection of jerseys to give something to each of us. This man’s name was Jorge, and he lived alone at the age of 65, with a mild case of Parkinson’s disease. Moved by his generosity, Lenin invited him to join us on our ride to Parque Arvi. He had just come back from a ride to the tunnel on the road leading to Santafe, and he was worried about slowing the group down. Lenin and Juan assured him that it was going to be a relaxed ride, which ended up being a bit of an understatement.

Jorge and Lenin, followed by Anne-Marie, make their way up the mountain and away from the city.

The five of us continued up the mountain at a painfully slow pace. Juan del Bosque, who was supposed to be our leader, ended up being the limiting factor for how fast we could go. While his bike was in the shop to get a new chain, what he really needed was a whole new drivetrain. The chain ring and cogs had worn down so much that the new chain fit poorly over the gears, slipping easily if too much pressure was applied to the pedals. Seeing that the entire ride was uphill, this presented a considerable challenge for Juan. For me, it was a struggle to ride that slowly, so I would ride ahead and then wait for the others to catch up. I tried to let everyone else get ahead a bit so I could pedal by at my own pace for a while, but Jorge would always stop when he reached me and wouldn’t allow me to give him a head start.

We couldn’t have gone more than a few kilometers from Jorge’s house before we all stopped again, to buy some food from what looked like somebody’s house. As we sat there eating, I wondered what I had signed myself up for. The day was more than half over, and we were definitely still less than halfway up that mountain. It looked like it was going to rain soon, and I had undoubtedly consumed far more calories than I had burned so far. At this rate, I wasn’t sure if we would make it before dark. I felt anxious to pick up the pace and make it to Juan’s house before it got much later, but it was impossible to get everyone to move faster so I just had to abandon any hope of controlling how the ride was going and resign myself to a very long day of riding (and stopping).

Taking a break to take in the scenery along the way to Santa Elena from Medellin

There were plenty of reasons to stop along the way. There was a random military checkpoint halfway up, although they didn’t pay us any attention. Juan and Anne-Marie switched bicycles at one point because his bike was slowing him down so much. Jorge wanted to rest. Once I had surrendered to inching along at a snail’s pace, I actually started to enjoy the journey and find humor in all the roadblocks along the way. I was even suggesting additional stops, to take photos or to get treats from a bakery. It rained on us more than once, and as we crested the high point on the road and started to coast, the sun dropped behind the distant mountains. We stopped at a grocery store in Santa Elena before going the final distance to Juan’s place to get food for that night and breakfast. The last stretch of road to Juan’s house was questionable at best, and I feared we would have to turn back. It was soft, wet gravel, narrow and difficult to ride, taking us deep into the forest. Lenin and I arrived first, and waited for what seemed like forever for Juan to catch up and lead us the final few meters to his house.

To call it a house is a bit of an overstatement. It was definitely a work in progress. Juan had been building this place from wood and materials that he procured himself or bartered for. He didn’t use money, and he procured all of his food and clothing by working for it, trading, or scavenging. He had a dog who just showed up one day while he was working and never left. The dog ran up to us, barking, when we approached the property. The main structure was like a small two-story cabin with no walls on the first floor. It was more like a bedroom on stilts, with a kitchen area and fireplace underneath. We were all wet from the rain and freezing from the change in altitude, but we made a fire, cooked dinner, and made ourselves comfortable for the night in one of the tents that Juan had on the property.

Riding back to Medellin through Parque Arvi

The next morning we got to see Parque Arvi as we biked back down the mountain a different route. The ride down was over much faster than the ride to the top, but I think the long ride up was more memorable. It’s still hard for me to relax when cycling, and I usually want to ride as fast possible for the distance that I plan to ride. However, this experience taught me that it can be okay to slow things down, be patient, and just enjoy my surroundings (and the company) during a ride.

Cycling in and around Medellin

Cycling is among Colombia’s most popular sports, second only to football (soccer), and you will find all sorts of riders out training or commuting on the roads both inside and outside of the cities.

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A mural outside of Parque Salado in Envigado

 

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One of the ciclovias on Avenida Poblado

Aside from the heavy traffic and air pollution, Medellin and its surrounding areas are incredibly conducive to cycling. Following Bogota’s lead, Medellin also hosts a Ciclovia every Sunday from 7am to 1pm, closing 42 kilometers of roads to motor vehicles so people can feel safe to bike, run, walk or skate freely. Some of these same roads host a smaller version of Ciclovia every Tuesday and Thursday night between 8 and 10pm. Additionally, there are over 100km of ciclorutas (separated bike paths) within the city. For the BMX riders, there are parks and pumptracks sprinkled throughout the city, including a pretty big one named after world champion Mariana Pajon, a native of Medellin. While there’s no velodrome (yet) in Medellin, there is a decent track where roadies can train, riding circles as fast as they want out of traffic.

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Bike touring through Antioquia and Caldas along one of the highways

If you’re comfortable riding with traffic, the autopista (highway) is one of the fastest ways to get around town, and it is not off limits to cyclists. While there are many bike routes throughout the city, they can be slow due to the numerous pedestrians who are not paying attention to their surroundings while strolling down the bike paths. Most road cyclists will end up riding out of the city on one of the highways and inevitably end up climbing switchbacks up one of the steep mountains on the outskirts of town. It is not uncommon to see pelotons of professional cycling teams training on these roads every week. Possibly the most popular spot to ride on the weekends is the road leading to the airport in Rio Negro. It’s basically straight up a mountain for 16 kilometers, but you can find hundreds of riders on both road and mountain bikes cycling up Avenida Las Palmas on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

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The ciclorutas throughout Medellin are painted at intersections

The worst part about riding in Medellin is undoubtedly the pollution. Medellin is currently the 8th most polluted city in South America, and you can really feel it when you ride a bike. Most of the buses and trucks emit thick clouds of black smoke that encompass you and your bike as they accelerate away from you, and the numerous motos are not much better. Traffic can be very slow, and you really have to be careful when going around buses and taxis because the motos are usually speeding along in between the lanes of cars. I regret not having a GoPro to take video footage of one of my rides through traffic, because I think the video would be quite exciting.

bicitourOn our first full day in Medellin, Dallas and I took a tour of the city with BiciTour Medellin. Carlos and Mateo were excellent guides, and I was lucky to be able to ride with both of them a few weeks later when I had finally acquired my own bike. The tour is a great way to learn about Medellin while seeing more of the city than you would be able to on foot. They will teach you about the city’s violent history, show you some of the graffiti, buy you salpicon, and take you to Pueblito Paisa, a model colonial village with one of the best views of the city.

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Taking a break in a park during one of the Sicleadas

Every Wednesday night SiClas organizes a ride called Sicleada that leaves from Carlos E. Restrepo park at 8pm. The route changes weekly and is never repeated. It varies from easy, flat rides within the city to fairly difficult rides that include climbing the surrounding mountains of Medellin. This ride draws over 1000 riders every single week and is a great way to meet people and make friends. The ride is usually more or less 20 kilometers, and very slow. Volunteers block cars from intruding on the ride from side streets, and the front of the group waits at the top of every hill for the rest of the group to catch up before moving on. There is always a break about halfway through, where some of the riders sell homemade sandwiches, cookies and juice. People are talking, laughing, whistling, playing music, and generally having a blast throughout the entire ride. If you ever find yourself in Medellin on a Wednesday night, you should rent a bike from SiClas and do it – this is an experienced not to be missed.

enciclaAnother encouraging program in the city is EnCicla, a free bike share service. Drawbacks to this are that it can take a few days to get a card to use the program, since you have to apply with ID and a utility bill to prove you are a resident. The other down side is that the service is only available on weekdays from 5:30am until 7pm. There are some stations that are manned by a person and others that are automatic. Because it’s a free program and doesn’t generate any income, it’s expensive to operate. Maybe in the future it will be more like existing bike share systems in the US that are all automatic and available 24 hours a day, but this will probably require them to charge a small fee to rent the bikes.

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Mountain bikers bomb down a trail from Tres Cruces, in the heart of the city.

The cycling community in Medellin is expansive, and there is something for every type of rider. Groups on Facebook, Meetup, and Couchsurfing exist for mountain bikers, road cyclists, and casual riders who just want to socialize. The people are friendly, and it’s very easy to make friends and find people with whom to ride. I did have a bit of trouble finding a good road bike, and it’s not easy to find a good, inexpensive second-hand bike. Most shops sell new bikes for the same price that they would cost in the US. They do come with an ownership card that includes the serial number in case your bike ever gets stolen, which is a system I think should be adopted everywhere. If you know where to look for used bikes, they can be very cheap (30,000-100,000 pesos). But depending on what kind of riding you plan on doing, I’m not sure how reliable these bikes are.

Now that I’ve written enough material for three blog posts (and I could go on), I should conclude by saying that cycling around here is really great, no matter what kind of biking you’re into. There are obvious concerns with exercising in such heavy air pollution, but I think my positive experiences and the excellent views have outweighed the risks.

Bogota and cycling

“If we’re going to talk about transport, I would say that the great city is not the one that has highways, but one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can go safely everywhere.”  – Enrique Peñalosa, mayor of Bogotá from 1998-2001 who was just reelected for 2016

Monserrate on a clear day, with no fire, was ever elusive to our hiking attempts

Monserrate on a clear day, with no fire, was ever elusive to our hiking attempts

We wanted to take a bike tour, so we woke up early on Friday, but it was still raining as we finished up breakfast so we decided to postpone it a day. Instead, we visited the gold museum and then tried to hike up Monserrate for the third time.

The climate in Bogotá is cool. The city lies at around 8,000 feet and is surrounded by mountains, but you warm up substantially while walking up all the hills. It makes it hard to pick what to wear, and we were constantly either shedding or adding layers. It was just after 3pm, and the hike to the top is about 5 kilometers. The sun doesn’t set until 6, and we wanted to check out the sunset from the top. We had more than enough time to make it before it got dark, but when we arrived at the gate at the bottom of the walking path, the police informed us that it closed at 2pm.

This is where we began our bike tour, in the Candelaria just a few blocks from our hostel.

This is where we began our bike tour, in the Candelaria just a few blocks from our hostel.

We still wanted to take a bike tour, but the tour starts every day at 10:30 and ends at 2:30, so we would have to try once more to hike Monserrate on Sunday if we did the bike tour on Saturday. Sunday is when Ciclovia happens every week, so it would be a pretty active day if we were to bike around the city in the morning and get to the mountain before 2pm to hike, but it was our last day in Bogotá, so we had to try to squeeze it all in.

Our bike tour on Saturday was what we really should have done on Tuesday, our first day in Bogotá, to learn about the city and get a good idea of where we wanted to check out in more depth (and learn what we probably should avoid). Our tour guide led us along with another expat couple living in Peru and a German man through the streets of Bogotá for four hours, stopping at various points to explain the history of what we were seeing. We stopped at a local market to try some popular Colombian fruits and at a coffee roaster to try some of the coffee that gets exported from Colombia. Most Colombians drink cheap instant coffee, while all the good beans get exported to other countries.

There is government-funded graffiti everywhere in Bogota, and it all has a meaning.

There is government-funded graffiti everywhere in Bogotá, and it all has a meaning.

The story of the graffiti was most interesting to me. All around the city you can see beautiful, colorful murals. Graffiti used to be illegal, but some of the artists got together and formed collectives to demonstrate that their art actually adds beauty to the city and can communicate social or political messages. Eventually, the government, tired of wasting resources to lock these people up and paint over their work instead of focusing on more dangerous criminals, had a change of heart and actually started supporting the graffiti artists. Now there are paintings all over the city that are financially backed by the government, all with a political or social message to share with the public. A similar story was told to us during our bike tour in Medellin, where we also saw many colorful graffiti murals. I think this model should be adopted everywhere, along with Ciclovia.

During Ciclovia you can find all sorts of people enjoying the streets without car traffic. Cyclists, pedestrians/runners, street vendors/performers and dogs dominate the roads from 7 to 2 every week.

During Ciclovia you can find all sorts of people enjoying the streets without car traffic. Cyclists, pedestrians/runners, street vendors/performers and dogs dominate the roads from 7 to 2 every week.

Ciclovia was started in the late 1990’s by mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who was actually born in the US. Over 100 kilometers of roads are shut off to cars every Sunday from 7am to 2pm in an effort to entice people to be more active. With a feeling of safety in the streets, Ciclovia now attracts around 2 million people every week. They come out on their bikes, inline skates, on foot, with their dogs, with their running clubs, and with every level of intensity from recreational stroller to athletic guys in spandex on carbon race bikes. People sell food, offer bike repair services, give dance lessons and perform in the street – there’s something for everyone on every block, and you could spend all day riding and still not see it all.

The real downside to Bogotá (and Cartagena and Medellin) is the air pollution. From the moment we stepped out of the airport we could smell diesel fumes from all the traffic. It’s sometimes so bad that I physically couldn’t breathe in. It’s not a good environment for intense physical activity, but outside of the city I imagine the mountain air is relatively fresh and clean.

Here is the plaza around the church on top of Monserrate.

Here is the plaza around the church on top of Monserrate.

We returned our rental bikes to our hostel by 1pm so we could get to Monserrate before they closed the walking path. Upon arrival, the gate was closed, and a sign informed us that the mountain was closed for landscaping or something like that. We tried four times with no success, and we were flying out the next morning for Cartagena so we just gave in and bought tickets for the cable car. The line was long, and the car was packed, and of course we were in the middle so we couldn’t really see out the windows at all, but the view from the top was pretty good. The entire city of Bogotá is visible from Monserrate, but we couldn’t help but think of how much more rewarding it would have been to hike up there ourselves instead of standing in a crowded cable car. C’est la vie…

The view from Monserrate includes the entire city of Bogota.

The view from Monserrate includes the entire city of Bogotá.

New Job for Nomadic Cyclists

Dreary Providence at the cusp of winter and spring

Dreary Providence at the cusp of winter and spring

Dallas and I have persevered through the worst of winter in New England, while apparently the rest of the country has had the warmest winter on record.  It’s probably the worst timing for us to be leaving, when we should be reaping the reward of spring and summer after having suffered through such misery for the past 3-4 months.  Summertime is really the only reason to ever live in Rhode Island.  I’m sad that I won’t get to experience it to it’s fullest in the Ocean State, but we have a pretty good reason for leaving now.

Hiking in sunny Boulder, after our job interview

Hiking in sunny Boulder, where it’s warm enough to go topless, after our job interview

We applied as a team for a job with PeopleForBikes, a non-profit based in Boulder, Colorado, whose mission is to increase cycling (and cycling infrastructure) in the US five-fold by 2025.  This is a seasonal job, and the ultimate opportunity for Dallas and I to play an active role in bicycle advocacy while remaining nomadic and (hopefully) still cycling every day.  The job is sponsored by Volkswagen, so we will be getting a brand new car to travel around the country to various events, setting up our tent and giving out prizes to people who sign on to our movement.  We are very excited to be starting this new chapter of our lives, but at the same time very sad to be leaving Providence so suddenly.  We will be back.

Multi-use paths are everywhere in Boulder!

Multi-use paths are everywhere in Boulder!

Dallas and I are going to be the East Coast Crew – they are still looking for the ideal candidates for a West Coast Crew, so if you’re ready to drop everything and travel around the western half of the US for the next 6 months, you can apply here!  Part of our job involves blogging and posting to instagram – so if you’d like to follow us on our PeopleForBikes journey, the blogs will be posted here, and you can follow PeopleForBikes on instagram (and if you don’t already, follow nomadiccycling on instagram too!).  And, after reading all of this, if you haven’t already joined the movement, you can sign up here!

Winter Cycling

Before the first big snow storm, when the bike path was still somewhat easy to ride on

Before the first big snow storm, when the bike path was still somewhat easy to ride on

So many people have been shocked and maybe impressed that Dallas and I are riding our bikes through the winter.  At least once a day someone tells me, “I can’t believe you’re still riding in this!”  Well, to be honest, I would much rather ride my bike in this snow than drive a car.  Don’t get me wrong.  Cycling in the winter has its own drawbacks and discomforts, but I feel I have no right to complain about the choice I made not to have a car, even in the worst of winter conditions.  I have no regrets and am happier than ever to ride my bike instead of drive.  Here’s a few reasons why.

Riding in the snow can be peaceful and fun, before it gets salted and all serenity is destroyed by filthy traffic

Riding in the snow can be peaceful and fun, before it gets salted and all serenity is destroyed by filthy traffic

I am still getting outside and incorporating activity into my daily commute (and sometimes for fun as well, although we have both been heavier on the yoga and other indoor forms of exercise these past few months) – as long as I’m dressed appropriately, I feel much better than I would if I were sitting in a car (and in the crawling traffic jams that seem to be everywhere during snowy rush hours).  From the moment I step outside I am moving, keeping my body warm.  The snow adds a bit of a balance challenge, and the cars sliding around add a danger factor (how exciting).  I have to ride my bike differently in the winter, watching out for snow and ice and taking my turns cautiously.  I may have to change my course to avoid hills or roads that present hazards I would rather not deal with.  I have a little more trouble looking over my shoulder for cars because I have to turn half my body around to see beyond my hood, which I have pulled up over my helmet.  I adapt to these challenges, and I even enjoy them for a time.  I feel more confidence on my bike as I learn how to improve my balance on these challenging surfaces.

Embrace winter and have fun in the snow!

Embrace winter and have fun in the snow!

Driving a car in this weather actually seems like hell.  There is no room on the roads for cars to pass each other on many of the side streets, because the snow is stacked so high along the sides of the roads.  The sidewalks are so inconsistently cleared that pedestrians are forced to walk in the street, creating yet more obstacles for drivers.  Cyclists are forced to ride in the middle of the road, if there ever was a bike lane, because all the snow is in the parking lane and cars are parking in the bike lanes.  Where there are parked cars, they stick out, adding to the difficulty of navigation.  Why drive when you end up sitting in a line of traffic, catching the same red light for 3 or 4 (or more) cycles before you finally arrive at the intersection?  Why drive when there’s nowhere for you to park your car?  What are you supposed to do when you finally do arrive are your destination and there’s a parking ban because of the snow?  It’s more work to have a car in the winter than it is to bike, in my opinion.  If you’re not spending hours shoveling your car out of your driveway, you’re spending money for someone else to do it for you.  Unless you keep your car in a heated garage, you spend the first 10 minutes of your trip just sitting there freezing, waiting for the heat to kick in.

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Skiing in the park near our house – look at all that snow!

The one thing I could live without are cars.  And salt on the road.  I know the salt makes the roads less slippery, but it really destroys my bike.  If you are riding in the winter, make sure you clean off the salt to prevent corrosion on your bike.  It’s not an easy task.  If it weren’t for cars, the roads probably wouldn’t get salted.  I wouldn’t have to worry about them slipping on ice and sliding into me, or driving way too close because the roads are half as wide as they normally are.  I wouldn’t have to turn around so far to look behind me before making a left turn because there would be no cars to plow me down from behind.

These Bar Mitts have been the best Christmas present - before I used to have to stop mid-ride to warm up my hands on the way to work. You can see form the photo that locking up a bike becomes a little...different, in the winter.

You can see from the photo that locking up a bike becomes a little…different, in the winter.

As I mentioned, cycling does have its own drawbacks and discomforts during the winter season.  But I believe they are far outweighed by the positives.  The worst part about winter cycling (besides having to watch out for scary cars) is that my body can never seem to distribute heat evenly.  My hands and feet and face are most vulnerable, while the rest of my body will be overheating.  Maybe I just haven’t figured out the right gear – and this changes daily depending on the outside conditions.

These Bar Mitts have been the best Christmas present - before, I used to have to stop mid-ride to warm up my hands on the way to work.

These Bar Mitts have been the best Christmas present – before, I used to have to stop mid-ride to warm up my hands on the way to work.

My dad gave me a set of Bar Mitts for Christmas, which have been a lifesaver (or hand saver).  They keep the wind off my hands and I’m able to wear lighter gloves, but depending on the temperature, but hands will still freeze with heavy winter cycling gloves inside the Bar Mitts, or they will be sweating profusely along with the rest of my body, while my feet are still solid ice cubes.  This is a personal problem, and everyone needs to experiment with different layers in different conditions to determine what works for their own body.  I’m afraid I’m just doomed to have perpetually cold feet (even in the summer).  A face mask can help keep the cold wind off my face, but then my glasses usually fog up if I breathe.  These are problems I can deal with temporarily, but they do require that I bring a dry change of clothes with me wherever I’m going.  I still think it’s better than driving.  All that said, I am ready for winter to be over!

Goodbye to a good summer

Since our last update, Dallas and I have ridden in the MS bike tour (Ride the Rhode) and raised nearly $2000 for the cause, thanks to our wonderful friends and family who supported us.  We’re not sure where we’re going to be for next year’s tour, but registration is already open if anyone wants to sign up and get an early start on fundraising!  This year, we opted to ride a full century (which ended up being 105 miles) the first day and 75 miles the second day.  We lucked out with perfect weather and no incidents on the road.  The terrain was not too challenging, but not too flat and certainly not boring.

What Cheer? Brigade's 2014 west coast tour poster

What Cheer? Brigade’s 2014 west coast tour poster

Immediately after the bike tour, I set off for the west coast to meet the band on tour, where we continued down from Portland, Oregon all the way to Tijuana and back up to finish at a beautiful wedding in the redwoods outside of the bay area.  After playing every day for two weeks, I couldn’t help but improve my mediocre trumpet-playing skills.  I’m afraid that after not playing for two weeks (on our most recent vacation to Costa Rica), I am probably worse off that I was before tour.

Dallas and I ran together for the entirety of the LOCO marathon in Newmarket, NH this October

Dallas and I ran together for the entirety of the LOCO marathon in Newmarket, NH this October

While not bike touring this year, we have been able to do a few races together, including the 10 mile Blessing of the Fleet race in Narragansett, a half marathon in Worcester, MA and two marathons in Erie, PA and in Newmarket, NH.  I also participated in several cycling events, including a few Women Bike RI group rides, the Woony River Ride, and the Gran Fondo New England.

The summer in Rhode Island was one of the better ones that I can remember, with almost no rain and not too much heat.  As always, it ended too soon.  We have been incredibly fortunate to have barely any excuses not to be outside every day, but I still feel like I didn’t get my fill of outdoor activities before it turned cold.

My first (unofficial) cyclocross race

My first (unofficial) cyclocross race

Still in Providence, Dallas and I are buckling down here for the winter, but in an attempt to combat the depression that comes with this season I bought myself a cyclocross bike.  I’m not very good at it yet, and so far every time I start riding on a cross course I find myself thinking that maybe I’m not cut out for this sport.  That feeling usually subsides after 2 minutes or so, as my mind is consumed with staying on my bike and not crashing into anyone else.  By signing up for races this winter, I hope to motivate myself to get outside during the dark months to practice (and hopefully get better).

Dallas and me on a boat outside of Quepos, Costa Rica

Dallas and I on a boat outside of Quepos, Costa Rica

Speaking of trying things outside of our comfort zone, Dallas and I went to Costa Rica for the first two weeks of November.  While traveling comes naturally to us both, we did get to try some new things while we were there.  Dallas let me practice my Spanish (which is worse than my trumpet playing) on some of the locals whenever we went out.  Dallas also went surfing – I could not, because of a knee injury from my cyclocross bike, but I watched.  It was apparent that he was having enough fun to abandon his usual apprehensive feelings about being in the ocean.  This trip was our first time traveling together internationally, so while we were concerned at first about how we would do, we came out of it only wanting to go back out and experience more new places together.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I’m taking this day off from work at the cave in order to write and bake lots of desserts for tomorrow’s gathering with family.  On Friday, while all the crazy people are out battling each other to buy stuff, Dallas and I will be celebrating Buy Nothing Day by bringing our coats to a coat swap (just when we need them most)!

Picking Up Again

Where to begin?  In waiting for the perfect inspiration to post, I have allowed too much time to go by and too many things to happen that writing a thorough update has become overwhelming.  I will do my best now.

Time has a way of passing faster when you’re not paying attention.  I am lucky to have enjoyed my time so much in the past few months that I was barely aware of its passing until another notch on my personal timeline hit and I am celebrating, or experiencing, my 30th birthday.  While I wouldn’t call it a celebration, it is an experience – and a little reminder that time does keep going, and nobody has yet figured out how to control that.

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Liza Jane, during a trail run in Durango

Dallas and I were dog sitting and house sitting in Durango, Colorado for about 6 weeks.  Dallas went back to California on Christmas Eve to sell our bikes and collect some belongings while spending the holidays with his family.  I stayed until New Year’s Eve, and attempted to rent a car to drive to Denver to catch a flight to Detroit for my cousin’s wedding.  After walking around Durango for 3 hours between a few different car rental companies, I conceded to defeat.  Despite having plenty of savings in the bank to buy a car, let alone rent one for a day, I was turned down by every rental company because I didn’t have a credit card.  This is one of the most ridiculous things about the US.  These companies would be perfectly fine renting a car to someone who is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt as long as they have a credit card, while the people who are careful never to spend more than what they have are punished for not having any credit.  I had to get to the Denver airport the next day, and there was literally no way to do it.  For $400 and an expensive cab ride to the Durango airport, I could have bought a plane ticket to Denver that would have gotten me there a few minutes after my flight to Detroit took off.  I felt utterly defeated and helpless.

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This is Coda

  Naturally, I began scouring craigslist for…anything.  Durango doesn’t have enough of a presence to require its own craigslist page, so I was searching the entire western slope of Colorado, with no luck.  I began expanding my range to areas south of Durango. Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Farmington, Phoenix…I was desperate.  Eventually, I found someone who was driving from Phoenix to Cleveland.  While I was originally hoping for a ride to the airport, I ended up securing a ride for myself all the way to Michigan.  AND I got to stay in Durango for an extra day and hang out with Liza and Coda, the two dogs I was sitting.  As luck would have it, my flight out of Denver was canceled and I was able to get full credit for the price of the flight I would have missed anyway.  The drive took two days, but Ray had done the drive many times before and dropped me off safely at the hotel where my family was staying in time for the wedding rehearsal dinner.

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My beautiful cousin Rachel and her new husband, Ben, along with the rest of the wedding party

While I love my cousin Rachel, I wonder about her sanity when it came to picking a time and location for her wedding.  I’m pretty sure everyone who was flying in had trouble related to snowy weather conditions, and there were just as many delays or cancellations on the way out.  I amazingly managed to fly out of Detroit somewhat on time, but the plane I was destined to take from DC to Providence was stuck somewhere else so I ended up spending an extra 7 hours in the airport after that flight was canceled.  Had I been allowed to rent a car, I probably could have driven to Providence in less time.

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Back in Providence, I am dog sitting again. This time for Kyla, the husky.

Dallas met me in Providence a few days after I arrived.  It was his idea to come back to Rhode Island and try it out for a while.  We hadn’t had an income since September, and we really needed to take some time to rebuild our bank account balances.  I vaguely questioned Dallas’s sanity as well for choosing to come to Providence in January, but he really didn’t know any better.  I am happy to be back in an area where I’m surrounded by familiar faces and places, and I think my friends and family are happy that we’re here (for now).  Now I just need to figure out how I’m going to save enough money to hit the road again in a few years.  Dallas just started a job at Brown, so send him congratulatory messages!  He will be working part time with full time benefits, and he may choose to stay long enough to earn a degree while he’s here.  This means we could be here for a few years!  But I have every intention of still completing my bicycle journey around the world.  During this pause, I am thinking about starting a business to help support our goals and mission of promoting bicycling!  I will update as things unfold…

Reflections of life in the Bay Area

Dallas and I decided to go to Durango, CO to visit with our friends and pet-sit for them and their friends over the holidays.  In the month that we were living in the bay area, we were able to get by working random jobs found on craigslist.  We also could not have stayed as long as we did without the hospitality of Dallas’s sister, Sherilyn, and step-mom, Sandra.  We also were warmly welcomed by Dallas’s friend Linus and his family, his cousin Tommy and his girlfriend, and his Aunt Lisa (who makes excellent banana bread) and her husband John.  I am very grateful for Dallas’s friends and family and so glad I could meet them!

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Apparently, I have really nice feet. Who knew??

Dallas was lucky to find a part-time job as an assistant for a man who had just had foot surgery and needed help running errands, picking the kids up from school, and general help around the house.  He was just able to start driving again the week we left California, so the timing worked out pretty well.  I found gigs as a foot model for ankle jewelry being sold on Amazon, and spent another three days as a background runner for a Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial.  Sandra also gave me some work, as she needed help tagging assets for one of the biotech companies that employs her as their facilities manager.  For the amount of time we had in the area, we did pretty well.  Living as a temporary resident of the bay area, I was able to observe and take note of a few unique characteristics.

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Biking around downtown San Francisco, everyone is in a hurry.  There are also lots of traffic lights (and tons of traffic).  I got to practice my track stand and acceleration from a stop countless times on each commute, while other bike commuters rolled on through most of the lights.  This never happened in Portland.  I wonder if the difference is that there is more enforcement of traffic laws applied to cyclists in Portland, or if they are just better educated since there is a higher percentage of bike commuters there.  San Francisco has more tourists, and many more people riding around on rental bikes, but it is clearly the commuters who were riding on city streets and disobeying traffic signals.  I also noticed that the bike share program, which was recently initiated in the bay area and is expected to be one of the largest in the country after its planned expansions, is getting plenty of use in the city.  In Redwood City, however, where there is a hub of bike share bikes, I didn’t notice anyone using them.  It is definitely promising to see so many people commuting by bicycle, and so many bike lanes in the area, but it has a ways to go to catch up to Portland (which, doesn’t even have a bike share program, yet).  Most of the bay area is accessible by bike, but (especially as you get further from the city) there are plenty of inconveniences and obstacles for cyclists to endure in order to avoid autocentric areas and unsafe roads, heavy with multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic.

Another noticeable thing about the bay area is the smog.  We actually lucked out with pretty sunny weather every day that we were there, but some days you could see a tan haze hovering over the city.  This is apparently normal, especially in the summertime.  Every time I went outside, there were numerous planes in the air.  Sometimes you could see ten or more planes in the sky around the airport, which wasn’t too far from where we stayed with Sandra.  This, plus all of the traffic on the roads, probably leads to some pretty unhealthy air quality.

While I really enjoyed my time in the bay area, I’m glad that we didn’t stay long enough to get caught up in whatever the big hurry is around San Francisco.  Everywhere we turned, everyone seemed so rushed and stressed out, and most drivers seemed angry.  I’m sure it’s because the cost of living is so high, people have to work so much just to pay for their home, food and gym membership – they probably don’t have any time to spend at home, eat good food, or work out.

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A view of the city from Coyote Point Park in San Mateo

On a positive note, San Francisco is one of the greatest cities in North America.  There is literally anything you can imagine available at your fingertips.  There are numerous selections of restaurants and markets for any kind of food you could want – plus, there are courier services that will deliver the food to you if you don’t want to leave your condo.  Pretty much anywhere is accessible via public transit, and there are transportation options for everyone – trains, subways, buses, streetcars, electric trams, ferries, cars, and bikes.  As for entertainment and recreation, there are museums and theaters that attracts all of the big names in art, music or acting and there are parks and gyms for any kind of activity you would ever want to do.  For water sports, you can go swimming, sailing, kiteboarding, kayaking, rowing or windsurfing on the bay, along the Pacific coast or on one of the lagoons (we witnessed part of a rowing regatta in the lagoon behind Sandra’s house two days before we left).  There is excellent road cycling and mountain biking just outside of the city.  AND it seems there are job opportunities everywhere – San Francisco seems like the place to be if you want to start up a company or are involved with any kind of technology.

Dallas and I took a one way flight to Durango, but we left our bicycles behind so we do expect to be back in the bay area to pick up where we left off on our cycling adventures.  Until then, we will definitely be borrowing mountain bikes and skis, and doing a lot of trail running with other people’s dogs!

Day 12 – Weott to Leggett, CA

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It was too cold to sit and eat breakfast in the forest, so after breaking down our tent, Dallas and I rode about 3.5 miles before we found a space where the sun penetrated through the trees.  We sat in the warm sun and shared an apple, banana, pear, and an energy bar.  We only had to ride another mile before coming to a coffee shop in the town of Myers Flat.  Three shots of espresso and two cookies later, we were back on the road.

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This was one of those rare days where I was ahead of Dallas for most of the day.  I was able to keep a fairly good pace once I got going, but would stop and wait for Dallas every few miles.  The stopping and going was draining though, and overall we progressed at a slow pace.  We stopped again outside of Garberville to eat our tuna and crackers with some pistachios, a grapefruit and dark chocolate.  Even though we were on the road before 10am, we had only gone just over 20 miles by 2pm.  As the day went on, the terrain grew hillier, and the second half of our ride involved a LOT of climbing.  Dallas was feeling undernourished and sluggish, and I was feeling frustrated for having to stop and wait.

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As we crested a hill just a mile or two before Leggett, I saw signs for food across the street.  I suggested we fuel up over there (The Peg Room) while deciding our next move.  The burgers we ordered there were incredible, and they had outdoor picnic tables where we could sit with our bikes.  It was starting to get dark, and we had completed just under 50 miles since morning.  A couple that showed up while we were eating told us they had biked the coast two years ago and that there is a pretty tough hill coming up to Leggett.  It didn’t look like there were any other campground options for another 27 miles, so we ultimately ended up camping across the street from the Peg Room.  Maybe we can get breakfast there too!

Day 11 – Eureka to Weott, CA

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Just off the 101, tons and tons of lumber stretch for a while to the right and tons of logs to the left

Getting started this morning was a struggle.  Dallas and I didn’t roll out until almost 11am, then stopped less than a mile down the road at the grocery store for another 20-30 minutes before we really hit the road.  I think the long days and miles without much rest in between has been wearing on us, and it has been tough to motivate ourselves out and onto our bikes for another long ride.  Personally, I have been dealing with some knee pain and saddle sores, while Dallas has struggled with an ingrown toenail and mental challenges.  Miles have been going by painstakingly slowly lately.

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This place is wonderful

Fortunately, it was another beautiful day, and it’s hard not to be happy out in the sunshine.  The traffic and hills were not too bad today, and after lunch we got to experience riding down the Avenue of Giants, through the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  We stopped about halfway through our ride in the quaint town of Rio Dell, where we had amazing Mexican food at Tonetta’s.  The Avenue of the Giants took us off the highway and into the forest, where it grew darker and cooler under the super tall redwood trees. 

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Riding down the Avenue of the Giants

The Avenue also took us through a small town called Redcrest, where we made one last stop for hydration and a bathroom break.  The lady working at the shop where I bought some lemonade asked in a hoarse voice if I thought it would be a good idea for people who use bicycles for transportation to be required to have registration and insurance.  I’m curious to know what other people think of this, but I like that bicycling is accessible to people of all ages and income levels, and I’m afraid requiring registration and insurance would only be an obstacle to discourage cycling.  I do think that it’s a good idea to teach cycling to kids in schools like they do in other countries, such as the Netherlands and Denmark.  Maybe having them pass a course in school so they can earn a license to ride will make cycling more popular as a transportation method.  As for insurance, I all insurance is generally a rip-off.

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In the forest it's dark in the daytime

We continued through the forest until Burlington Campground, after having gone just about 50 miles.  Dallas and I had just enough time to pitch our tent before needing our headlamps to see.  Now, under these giant trees, it is really quite dark.  Our campsite is pretty close to the road, but hopefully traffic will be light enough for us to get a good sleep.  I think we’re both so tired that it probably wouldn’t matter anyway.