fall reflections

here we are. just living in seattle like normal people.     

it’s quite easy to forget that just over a month ago, we were biking across the united states.  in fact, amidst the chaos of learning to love a new city and being a student again, i don’t think about the trip all that often.  but when i do, i am flooded with wonderful memories and all of the emotions.

we get asked about the trip less often now then when we just arrived.  because of this, our reflections have been reduced to sharing a funny picture or laughing about a random stop in a random town somewhere in middle america – inside jokes, essentially.  i hate that the trip has been reduced to that.  but, you know, life goes on.  incredible things happen and adventures end and new ones begin and it’s all part of the journey, right?

a friend from the transam (we met him in newton, kansas), kevin, has a blog.  he asked us to write a reflective post about our trip that he could feature this week and i am so thankful he did.  while i wrote papers about organizational theory and policy problems in schools, david put some wonderful words on paper (well, on the computer screen) about our trip.  and i definitely couldn’t have articulated anything better myself.  

david’s reflections from our trip can be found HERE, on kevin’s blog.  while you’re there, check out his other features! and some of the pictures he took on the transam are pretty incredible.

happy fall!


we made it!

on monday afternoon, we hopped off the ferry from bremerton, wa and biked the final 8 miles of our trip through seattle to finish at golden gardens park in ballard.  our final week of biking through the pacific northwest was full of moderate terrain and beautiful scenery.  we biked along the west coast and through pine forests and along little lakes and smelled the sea.  as the trip was coming to a close, i was overwhelmed with excitement to call this region home.

thinking back, it doesn’t seem real but we did it!  in 68 days, we biked 3500 miles on a tandem bike across the united states of america.

so many people have been following our journey this summer and we can’t thank you all enough for your support and encouragement.  we’ve been congratulated so many times on our “amazing accomplishment” but it feels so much different than any thing else that either of us has achieved.  sure, we reached a goal and we did something that was physically kind of crazy but instead of being proud of ourselves for finishing, we’re both just kind of sad that it’s over.  i mean, we spent 68 days together — literally together, on the same bike — and loved it.  and now we have to go back to the real world?  the real world where we have to go to separate jobs and pay bills and we can’t just hang out together all day?  it’s hard to just check the bucket list box and move on.

the completion of our trip feels a bit anti-climactic since we won’t be returning to where we started.  we’ve have thrown ourselves immediately into a new challenging adventure – settling into life in a new city.  over the course of the bike trip, we saw new places and met new people and were integrated with the country in a very unique context.  while we depended on a lot of people to help us along the way, we weren’t building any sort of community.  we also got pretty selfish about our routines and habits and most of the time i was content staying in our own little two person tandem bubble.  but now we’re in seattle and reemerging into a life where our days are more complex than pedaling for 8 hours.  the transition back to being engaged in community is tough.  especially being in a big city, i’m having a bit of culture shock.

in the coming weeks and months, as we learn how to live life again, i’m hoping to post some retrospective anecdotes from our trip.  there are so many good stories to tell! so stay tuned.

sometimes, plans change.

we’ve gotten into a groove.  we have a routine of getting up, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, and pedaling the day away.  sometimes the pedaling is harder than others but we know when we need to stop for breaks and how we need to energize and how to decide where we should stop and sleep for the night.

just the other day while we were riding along, I was mentally resting in the ease of our routine and getting excited about the fact that we’re in the homestretch of the trip (3 weeks left!) and that they should be a breeze, logistically.  but then people started asking, “aren’t you worried about the fires?”

and we weren’t.  we decided that if there was a fire in our way, someone would tell us that the road was closed and we couldn’t continue – it would be fine.  but as we kept biking north through Montana, the air got thicker and hazy and smelled a bit like a campfire.  we realized that those weren’t thunderstorm clouds and there were air quality warnings listed for so many of our future destinations.  tonight we’re sleeping in darby, mt where the air quality was deemed “hazardous” just the other day.

the fires in northern Idaho are pretty bad, we’ve learned, and they are on our route.  like, the towns along the road we’re supposed to bike on have been evacuated because of flames.  we probably shouldn’t bike there?

so what do we do? we’re not sure.  we’re getting a ride to Missoula, mt tomorrow and plan to ask the folks at adventure cycling association to give us some advice.  we’ll have to get around the fires and through Idaho somehow and that might not be with the route we originally planned.

regardless, we’ll finish the journey that we started.  we just might not follow the map exactly.  we’re still learning to be flexible along our way.

glorious tailwinds

yesterday, we biked our first century! 107.62 miles from newton, kansas to larned, kansas. we hadn’t planned it. in fact, we were feeling a bit tired and tight from our rest day in Newton and wanted a short day.  but we kept checking the weather and the wind was at our backs all morning and the forecast the next day was miserable (104 heat and strong headwinds) so we thought, “this is a good idea.”   

I’m not sure when it’s ever a good idea to bike 100 miles. and then today, we biked another 60+ miles! and we’ll bike again tomorrow. what is wrong with us?!! in all honesty, I cannot believe that our bodies are handling this daily torture so well.  

when we were marathon training, we had to be incredibly careful about resting, stretching, eating, etc so that our bodies would perform.  but this summer, we just shove convenience-store food (lots of poptarts) down our gullets during 5 minute butt-breaks mid-ride, reach our destination and collapse.  sometimes there’s stretching before bed but not always.  and then we wake up and do it again the next day. and our legs (and digestive systems) are still functioning.  it blows my mind, really.  

outside of our tailwind-filled ride yesterday, we have experienced some headwinds and they are tough.  the wind can shift at any moment which can make them unexpected.  and then there’s the added challenge of cars (and some really big trucks) passing in either direction which causes the air to stir.  so wind has been challenging.  at one point a few days ago, we were pedaling hard downhill and barely breaking 10mph, which was sad. 

for the most part, we’ve enjoyed kansas?  it’s a pretty long state, though, and the landscape doesn’t change a lot.  it’s started to look a bit like a screensaver of prairie land filled with cows.  it is the most different landscape that either of us have seen and that has been really cool- to truly experience a part of the country that was entirely unfamiliar.  we keep pedaling (slightly uphill) toward the rockies and are really excited for the day that we’ll all-of-a-sudden be able to see them.   

today marks the beginning of our 2nd month on the road.  it’s hard to believe we’ve been biking for one month. sometimes it seems like it’s been only a few days and other times it feels like it’s been an eternity.  most of the time, we’re still having fun.  of course, the heat and the wind and the sometimes not showering and the soreness and tiredness and dirty clothes can get frustrating.  there are also logistical challenges that we hadn’t expected (we don’t bike through a lot of large towns in western kansas).  and most mornings, when the alarm goes off at 4:30, I really don’t want to ride a bike.  but once we get moving and the sun rises, I am really thankful for all this time that I get to spend with my best friend (literally attached to him pedaling across the country).   

the disaster before carbondale

monday morning, we had big plans.

we had biked a long 66 miles the day before and had crossed into illinois.  the bike was making some noise, so we were hoping to get to carbondale, a somewhat daunting 76 miles away, by the early afternoon to visit a bike shop before it closed at 5.

we cruised into elizabethtown, il on sunday evening and had a lovely campsite setup.  we were camping in the backyard of a b&b right on the ohio river, which provided a wonderful sunset view, plus! there was a pool that we were welcome to use.  we went to the floating restaurant nearby and ate some delicious fried catfish and got to bed early in order to wake up the next morning at 4:30am to get on our way to carbondale.  our spirits were high and we were excited for the big day on monday.  

  we woke up to the early alarm (only hit snooze once!) and got moving quickly.  we were almost ready to go at about 5:30 when it started raining.  so, we waited.  we checked the radar (because it’s always 100% accurate) and saw that it should pass soon.  no worries! just a tiny bit later than we hoped.  once we started biking (around 7), we made it about 3 miles before the rain started up again.  it looked to be clear skies ahead so we loitered under a tree before heading out again.  just another mile later, the clouds opened and it started absolutely pouring on us.  thankfully, there was a church just off the road with a covered front porch.  that covered church porch kept us dry for an hour and a half while it rained and rained and rained.

amazingly, our spirits were not entirely crushed once we got on the road again after the rain.  after a few more miles, the bike was acting wobbly and i noticed that the back tire was looking funny.  maybe it needed some air?  it definitely wasn’t flat but it probably shouldn’t be shaking the way it was…. as david and i were communicating about whether and where to stop and check out, there was a very loud explosion.  that came from our back tire.  “well, that’s a flat tire,” said david.

so, at 9:45am, 13 miles into our day, david started changing our first flat tire.  he was very speedy at changing the tube and we thought we were in business, until we realized that the side walls of the tire were shredded and would definitely not be patch-able with what we had (and we aren’t carrying a spare).  soooooooooooooooooo, how to bike the remaining 60-some miles to the bike shop in carbondale?

hitch-hiking with a tandem bike is difficult.  lots of old ladies in small cars stopped to ask if we needed help, which was much appreciated, but we needed a truck. or a minivan. and someone able and willing to drive us over an hour to a bike shop.  AAA did not find it amusing when i called asking for “my vehicle” to be towed.  apparently they only service licensed vehicles and even though our tandem is currently our only home and vehicle, they wouldn’t help me.

finally, we found a retired schoolteacher with a minivan and some free time who was willing to get us to carbondale.  i’m not sure how genuinely he wanted to help us but as he said, “if i don’t help you, what will you do?”  that’s a good question, sir.

so, all of the things went wrong. but! we made it to carbondale before the bike shop closed! they even stayed open 2 extra hours to fix her up for us to get on the road the next day (she needed quite a bit of TLC).  while we were waiting for the bike, we had some tasty food and coffee at a local bakery and secured a place to stay for the night through warmshowers.

later, when our bike was fixed, our host for the night cooked us dinner (with fresh vegetables!) and we had local craft beers.  as we were fixing my chacos with super glue (the soles had totally separated and the pink duct tape just wasn’t cutting it anymore), our host karen said, “oh, what size are you? i have a pair of chacos that i just can’t make myself like.  i’ve been meaning to give them away and would love for you to have them.” welp, they’re my size AND green.  we slept in an air-conditioned room, on a mattress and had some of the best sleep we’ve had in a while.  on this day when so many things went wrong but ended up right, we were reminded that the plan for this trip is not in our control.  we’ve got to be open-minded and trusting and optimistic that’s it’s going to be ok.

 today marks 3 weeks on the road and we’re close to 1000 miles on a bike.  we reached missouri (on a bike! how crazy is that!) and have had some “excessive heat warnings.”  we feel like we’re getting into a groove and have found a way to find routine in the ever-changing circumstances of each day.  tomorrow, we’ll get into the ozarks and we hope that having the hills of appalachia under our belt will help us to tackle them.

central time zone

we have crossed into the central time zone! the past few days have been full of much gentler terrain and we have felt wonderfully victorious.  we have also been able to spend time with family of friends and have met lots of new people.

 we know the ozarks are coming but keep telling the eastbounders we encounter that they can’t be as bad as appalachia.  tomorrow, our hope is to enter illinois- our 3rd state! 

here is a link to our garmin profile if you want to check in with our progress each day.  it should sync with each new ride (as long as we have cell service which is not a given). 


we’ve encountered our first pool.

let me just tell you. virginia goes on FOREVER and has so so many mountains. these mountains are too steep (I mean SO steep!) and should not be biked over.  yet, we’re biking over them. 

we are in the middle of nowhere, appalachia.  I’ve always taught my 4th graders that the southwestern most region of virginia is a plateau– the appalachian plateau.  I’ve looked on the map a few times at where we are and if we’re not in that region of Virginia then I’m not sure it exists.  and then I look around me and see no plateau. I only see beautiful, green, rolling mountains.  the mountains we have to bike over. 

we had one of our toughest days today.  a few days ago, outside of chartlottesville, we climbed afton mountain and spent 26 miles on the blue ridge parkway.  it was beautiful! but it was also really hard and we were excited to have those miles under our belts.  our pep talk to ourselves is that, “we climbed the parkway! this hill won’t be bad!” however, today, the hills were worse. 

these past few days of steep hill climbs have crushed us. we’ve had to ask for help from a lot of people- our friends, families, strangers.  it’s really hard to let people help you– especially when you really need it.  and we’ve been amazed at how excited people are to help us.

we’ve been anxious that we’re pedaling too slowly and that we might not make it to the end in time.  we’ve had to swallow our pride a bit (a lot) and decide that it’s about the journey and pedaling each day.  we’re lucky to be able to spend all day every day together on a bike meeting new people an seeing new places.  of course we still hope to make it to the west coast in time but we’re not worried about that yet.  we’re focused on tonight and preparing for tomorrow.

today, as we rode into council, va (in a kind stranger’s pickup truck with our bike in the back) and got dropped off at the pool and park where we’re camping tonight, it was a lovely moment of hope.  hope that we will have more pools at the end of hot days.  hope that kind strangers will continue to help us when the hills are too steep.  we’re full of hope each day that we will have fun together, pedal some miles, find a place to sleep, and meet people along the way.  thanks to everyone who has helped us on our trip so far! 

tomorrow we hope to leave VA and cross into KY!  knowing very little about kentucky topography, I am hopeful that it has more flat land (or just more gently sloping land) than virginia does.