Friday, June 10, 2011

Solo across Canada journal entry 2000

Wonderful days

 I’m in Canmore now, in the mountains, it’s snowing and I’m camping off the sides of the roads, hiding in the trees, cooking pasta in hollows curled up Indian style with a big flannel blanket someone donated to me out on the plains wrapped over my head.
The simple dreaming wonder of just being alive is incredible; I can't put into words how I’m really feeling about it all. The peaks are huge staring giants pasted with strips of dusted snow, the valleys are full sweeping sighs of endless rusting pines, and it’s up, over, down, around. I snake smoothly along the river, and it may never end, it may never begin. I’ve lost track of time or days or noon or night. There’s nothing but humming loaded bicycle tires, chilling wind, boiling pasta water, and freezing temps.
            I woke up yesterday to the first real heavy snow of the trip. The water bottles in the tent had become clear plastic blocks of ice and I couldn't get out because the zipper had frozen together from the snow and sleet. And just then a large farm horse nudged curiously at the tent and I laughed out loud and said well now what, yes then, now what. When I did finally free myself I was astonished to see the brown fields of yesterday covered in waves of white and my bike completely buried in a snowdrift from the evening wind. I stood in my underwear, staring at the scene, thinking to myself, is this really my life?
            The mountains are a great relief from the plains however. I spent the last 2 weeks fighting a 40 mph curved cloud Chinook head wind everyday for 6-7 hours at a crack which would move me roughly 30-40 miles a day depending on my motivation. I’ve never done anything that compares to the mental or physical suffering I’ve endured these past weeks. I’ve lost at least 10lb despite my constant eating, and feel as though I’m wasting away to nothing. When I look at my sunken cheek distant eyed stare reflection in gas station bathroom mirrors I appear a stranger to myself, but at the same time can’t recall ever feeling stronger or happier than I do right now. 
            So I push forward; I always say forward because even small, slow movement is forward movement. It’s a series highs and lows, the lows further than I can imagine myself sinking and the highs elation like I never thought existed. I see more clearly what I’m made of and in the past weeks have pressed harder than I ever thought I could have. It’s become more than a trip, it's become a series of moments shaping into something I couldn't have previously understood, gradually changing the way I see myself and the world around me. It’s far more than I ever bargained for and it's not nearly over yet.  All of the road ahead, all of the road behind.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cycling Journal Entry 1999

What a week it’s been. I’ll start where I left you, in Athens, on a pleasant sunny Sunday.

                I strolled downtown to the campus where I laid simple careless eyes at a flat back dizzy grass napping sky for hours. Smiling innocently as Frisbees flew overhead and great college cries of right on rang in my ears; hanging on then into the evening at dreaming Blue-Sky coffeehouse with the hipsters and the heads, playing long city shadowed bongo drums down lonely empty streets and talking of dangerous travel through Mexico with newfound coffee friends. And all of it winding down far too quickly as I gave in to tired eyes and fading head, eventually slinking back quietly to my Best Western parking lot for another safe evening of Volvo slumber.

As usual another free morning coffee and breakfast were a perfect start to the day; slipping in and out of the lobby undetected before heading off to Raleigh. And you’re all saying why Raleigh, but let me tell you of the long lazy drive across swaying tree North Carolina blue highways. Precious moments of rapture as everything slowed down and became beautiful; humming Volvo wheels drifting to a destination that wasn’t one. Can words do it justice?

The first day in Raleigh was a pan flat road race. We headed out early from Jamie’s, got ready in the lot, and bang, off we went from the gun. I was attentive straight away and made the first split but while pulling through waited a bit to realize the gents behind weren’t coming along and was suddenly gapped. With the leaders in full flight and having just come through at the front it was over. There were 8 places and 9 guys up the road. I figured at this point I would conserve my energy for tomorrow and pulled out after only 10 miles.

                We got to the race Sunday only to be greeted by a block long, wall like hill the organizers were planning to send us up for two hours straight. Not really my cup of tea as most of you will know my desperate difficulty with rises in the road. I lined up with butterfly nerves which were instantly quelled when the announcer called a 50-dollar prime on the first lap. Suddenly my mind switched to calculator mode as I figured that would cover my entry fees for the last 2 days and knowing there was no chance of making it to the finish I quickly made the call. I was in the pedals like a shot, out of the saddle, and racing for my life down that first straight. Up the right rise, around the false flat head wind straight, down the far side of the block; rippling tires on shifty pavement and click, click, down shift and kick up the hill completely gassed as the announcer called my name. “Now you can go home son” he bellowed half in jest, but he wasn’t far off. I cracked completely 3 laps later and with embarrassed head down ducked off the course before the hill and rode back along the boardwalk alone to cool down. As I crossed the brick covered downtown path with racing numbers still pinned on a 3 man street band sang Mr. Bo jangles…dance. We smiled at each other as I rolled by, he must have known.

                That evening I would finally see the Atlantic. Giggling maniacally as my bare feet touched the freezing water and delicious undertow pulled dark sleeping sand from beneath my feet. All the way across the country; I never imagined I would make it. But as the sun set slowly behind me and I stood alone on the windswept sand staring out into the empty ocean it felt strangely enough as if it were the nothingness itself which held all the answers.

Friday, May 13, 2011

First day in shorts

The winter snow slowly melts into March, into April, and at some point I leave the house for my morning commute and don’t have to turn on headlights. I go from 3 layers and a wind suit to thermals to vests back to just a wind jacket until eventually the golden day comes, the day I contemplate for 6 months trudging through the snow and sleet and blizzard Wisconsin cold; the first day riding in shorts.

                The sun is creeping over the garage as I stand in the driveway. It’s early but reasonable. I take my time straightening leg warmers, arm warmers, wind vest; it’s going to be a beautiful day. I nudge onto the saddle and quietly coast down the driveway. The air is cool but for the first time this spring the sun is winning the battle. I soft pedal and stretch my legs, ease my back, roll my shoulders. I press gently as the first false flat comes and goes. My glasses fog slightly as I lean in and back and stand for a moment over the top. I turn into the tree canopy and pick up speed, jump quickly over the next rise and begin a long gradual drift down hill. I can hear the birds in the trees, smell the ground coming to life, taste the dampness from the road. Sunlight flickers through the branches and I peel back a sliver of leg warmer as a test before deciding today is the day. I bend down to unzip the cuffs as I continue to coast along, strip both legs down over shoes, then sit up and tuck the warmers into my back pocket. I laugh out loud a bit as the cool air touches my winter leg hair for the first time. I readjust my shorts, shake out my feet, swing soft lazy glass cranks as I continue to coast through the trees. I lean left around a long sweeping bend and even the moderate speed feels exhilarating. I break from the canopy and ease into a long uphill false flat. The spinning slowly turns to a press, to a push, to long drawn out big ring circles as I decide to test myself a bit. I start to sweat, my legs warm up, I feel strong, smooth, finally free of the heavy winter coverings. I can feel my toes, feel the arches of my feet, feel my ankles scoop at the bottom of each stroke. I remember what it feels like to ride a bike instead of just pedal. I shift down and stand smoothly out of the saddle over the last of the rise, stepping a slow controlled tempo, then back in the saddle breathing easy steady smiles. And the birds sing loudly and the sun blankets the fields and spring blends into the simple wonderful days of summer and as always I continue to roll along.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bicycle Times Article

Morning commute.

It’s dark when the alarm goes off, dark and cold. The air wraps my chest when I pull the covers; the hardwood floors sting my feet. I stumble into the front room to get dressed for my morning commute. It’s an hour on the bike, an hour on the bike at 4 in the morning, an hour on the bike at 4 in the morning in January, in the Midwest, in a below zero blizzard.

It takes 15 minutes to put everything on: base layer, thermal layer, wool sweater, wind suit, wool socks, toe covers, booties, balaclava, hat, gloves, mittens, glasses, scarf, backpack.

My pedals bang the door on the way out; the freezing air fills my lungs for the first time, my glasses fog instantly. I switch on my headlights, kick the snow off my cleats, clip in and roll down the driveway. I gradually gain momentum, my glasses clean, my eyes water, I see my breath in the headlights, I push the pedals, I move into the dark and I smile because I’m the only person alive.

The snow is 6 inches deep, I relax arms and let the front tire find it’s own way; I lean into the pedals, into the saddle, into instinct. I’ve beaten the plow again which makes the tree canopied country road mine. I make squeaking compressed first tracks directly down the middle of the road so the plow driver can see it when he comes through.

I hear deer running next to me in the darkness, I hear my breath, I hear the snow scrape my fenders, I hear my tires meander, I hear the darkness. I turn over the pedals and I move forward and I move forward and I creep slowly through my headlight tunnel and I dream about the reasons and I consider the options and I smile, and I smile, and everything slows to the pace of heavy lazy snowflakes sparkling in my cold air headlights, and the world is a beautiful place. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February in Wisconsin on the bike

The road drifts out into the headwind forever horizon with no legitimate end to the suffering. I push a moderate gear at a moderate pace but it feels as though I’m barely moving forward. It’s February in Wisconsin and I’m commuting again. I’ve spent more years of my life than I can count commuting on the bike; voluntary or involuntary it’s always the same. It’s always 20 minutes of getting dressed with layers and shoe covers and 2 hats and wind suits. It’s the shock of cold when you hit the wind for the first time. It’s the stiff legs and back, the awkward pedal strokes as if you’re riding in a sleeping bag; it’s the first 15 minutes of questioning and regret after leaving the house. It’s the snow covered salty wet roads, the confused traffic, the rusty frozen chain, the ice packed rubbing brakes, the fogging glasses. It’s headlights and snowplows and tire tracks. It’s pressing legs, and cold full breaths. It’s time standing still as you move gradually forward across endless barren sleeping farm fields. Its solitary confinement mixed with a base connection to the earth. It’s instinct, decision and accomplishment; pride, strength and tenacity. It’s simple, beautiful, daydreaming moments one after the next. It’s another February in Wisconsin on the bike.