Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gunshots and Headwinds

Day 11 of 64: 91 miles. As I ride into Lincoln, Montana, I am suddenly aware that the tiny houses and cabins and buildings I constructed with my set of Lincoln Logs years ago actually have some reference to architecture in the Northwest. 

Here they are -- larger versions of the green slat-roofed and redwood cities I constructed on my living room carpet.   With the majority of the riders, I camp on the grass outside of Lincoln's High School, and the word quickly spreads that thunderstorms may cross our grounds.   That night we are awakened twice to the sound of gunshots; I am baffled.   Premature fireworks? A tire blown on the highway?  

The next morning someone on staff mentions that in Montana residents venture out in the middle of the night and shoot their guns aloft to ward off bears.  In the process, they may scare a camper or two, which, evidently, they not only don't  mind, but somewhat enjoy. 

The next  morning, the 70 cyclists are forewarned that we may be cycling 90 miles into 20-35 mph winds and intermittent 40mph gusts.  Headwinds, where you fight against nature to move forward.  They predicted headwinds, but, at least for a key part of my ride, they were wrong.    The headwinds we expected are tailwinds; and coming in out of Helena, I am moving without pedaling.  Looking over the shoulder of the road, I see the knee- high grass gesturing in cresting, falling waves toward my destination.  This moment is one I am grateful for: in part, because in the last 10 days of riding, my skin has been sodden, numbed, burned, blistered, peeled off, and burned again.  I have pedaled uphill into gust after gust amid rain and snow and headfirst into caustic winds.  After all such matter, the air carries me for miles.  I no longer pedal.  Chasing, catching, and carrying me is a wind of 40 miles per hour, pushing me along, easing the burden of forward motion.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Of Rain, Snow and Sun; Of Bavarian Cities and Apple Capitals

June 18th, Day 3 -- from Skykomish to Wanatchee, WA 

We begin in the rain with an upward ascent.  This means you bear down in low gear going very little distance again and again over a long period of time.  And you are wet.  Many are in raingear of many colors: acid-orange, shrill-yellow, neon-green.  One couple ties plastic bags over their footgear.  The wet gets everywhere, soaking your socks, thickening your gloves.  My glasses need wipers.  I reach the summit and see the snow of the ski-lodges of Stevens Pass.  When I descend from that peak, I speed -- free miles in which I barely pedal.  But the acceleration makes the wet wetter and the cold colder.   When I dry, I come upon a Bavarian village -- the town of Leavenworth -- whose government leaders chose to create an Alpine tourist attraction in Washington state.  I ride past the umpapa of sound and hotels like gingerbread houses. Soon I pass the signage of Wenatchee, which makes claim to be the apple capital of Washington.   I wonder if Wanatchee apples will be crisper, wetter,and colder than the apples back east.  

Of Boys and Men

June 17th,  Day 2 -- from the Pacific to Skykomish, WA:  The first day of riding is manageable, but all is new.  We gear up and get out on the road in fits and spurts.  From age 17 to 75, hailing from Australia, the UK, Quebec, the Netherlands, and across 4 corners of the US, we begin together, though the group quickly spreads out according to cadence.  By the end of the day, many know who the "riders" are, those who power up hills, those who manage their bike with grace, those who can fix a flat and, well, those who cannot.  I ride somewhere in the middle, unaware of how ill-prepared I am for the coming days. 

We arrive in Skykomish, with a total population of 198 -- just under the student population of the school where I teach.   On Day 2, we sleep in the local school and from what I can glean from the framed photographs on the wall, I deduce that one teacher teaches across 5 grade levels and each graduating class is 12.   We dine cafeteria-style at the end of the ride.  No one knows each other yet -- but we will in the coming days.  I excuse myself to the restroom and realize that the facilities are scaled to boys not men.  I remember the porcelain of lower school restrooms and how small I once must have been. I return for dinner, tray in hand, looking for an open seat amid a table of strangers. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

On the Connection between Bikes, Buddys, and Bullying.

Someone yesterday asked me what the connection was between biking and bullying.  And I thought, nothing, nothing at all...and then I thought, everything, or well, realistically speaking, something.   I thought back to when we first get our bikes -- lower school?  5th 6th 7th grade?  We knew what a bike meant then -- it meant the flight after school, the getaway after dinner.  But to where?  I never really biked AWAY.  I always biked TO.  To a friend's house.   So off I went  by bike to see a buddy.  The bike helped me forge that important connection outside of my immediate family, outside of school hallways.  Aren't buddys made after school?  And don't our bikes carry us there?   So as I am biking across the country, sleeping in one Middle School after another, I wonder, to what extent do friends, real connections at this age, help kids cope with harassment, torment, and bullying?    

Monday, June 18, 2012

From NYC to Seattle: A Starting Point

Part 1: From the brownstone floors of the Upper West Side, Manhattan.   

I cleaned my apartment until 2am.  I cleared paper like brush, scrubbed the basin of mildew and water spots, swept under a bed where I had not swept for a very long time -- and still there was dust, and still there were chores undone.  I leave and lock, knowing some parts of my life are always undone while I live it.    

Part 2: From the gymnasium floor of the Boys and Girls Club In Everett. 

40 of the crew sleep in the gym like middle school summer campers.  There are ladies conversing in French in corner, a man with apnea taking in oxygen, another with the largest air mattress I have ever seen,  and still another who sleeps in his cycling shorts.  I imagine he'll wake with his shoes on and just clip on a go.  It's 9:45pm and its lights out. Tomorrow we will ride 64 miles, the greatest part of which will be east.  But first we will ride west for 8 miles -- to the coast -- to dip the back wheel of our bikes into the pacific.  Peaceable: It's in the name of those waters and reminds me so often of how anyone  must make my way in the world.  This summer I ride against bullying -- and the west coast waters remind me to go forward gentle and steady -- they remind me how often I do not, like so many angry, outraged, vengeful.  Tomorrow I anoint my back tire in Pacific Waters.  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On the morning of my departure, after 3 hours in camping store, and countless hours of cleaning, I imaging this to be somewhat of what the next 64 days will entail.  Nice to have a medic around, right?