Category Archives: bicycling

How to bicycle through Argentina (or Norway).

Tinkering with the idea of embarking on your own pedal-powered adventure? We want you to know about a really goosebumpworthy opportunity to go on your first (or twenty-sixth) bike trip with a great organization, for (wait for it) a great cause.

We have a bike crush on Two Wheel View – a Canadian non-profit that runs bike trips for students in Canada, Argentina, and Norway and provides students with leadership, environmental, and cultural exchange opportunities along the way. In short, they’re nifty.

In order to keep down the costs of their trips for students, they also run charity support rides for adult adventurers with a few extra bucks to spare. Riders sign up for one of two 16 day tours this spring (argentina!) or summer (norway!), and commit to raising at least $1,500 to support Two Wheel View.

The founders – Rick and Tanya – are an incredible pair with many years of experience leading bike touring educational programs under their belt… and they got their start sort of like we did, on an epic bike trip that changed their lives – I can only imagine the trips they lead will be just as incredible.

If you’re interested, check ’em out here.

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Trail Blazing: Some Food For Thought

 

I would be (in this order)…

1) conversing with a variety of creatures in the canopy of one of the Giant Sequoias I met in Yosemite

2) chatting with the coffee farmer that grew the beans I’m now drinking (mmmm)

3) exploring the inside of Barack Obama’s head

 

And I think Brandon would be:

1) inside a local microbrewery, picking the brains of the hippity hop brewers

2) photo-documenting every moment of every Occupy demonstration worldwide

3) fluent in Spanish, ordering a burrito somewhere in Central America

 

How ’bout you?

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Ride Somewhere Far

If we get bad grades, we are not failures. If we decide to take a gap-year, we are not drop-outs. If we want to re-think our educations, we are not threatening our futures. What we do threaten is the dogma of success that continues to weigh down the spirit and creativity of a new generation of potential leaders and thinkers. This is not an attack – it is a plea.

Take a moment to consider the pieces of our lives that we’ve normalized with one another – ask yourself, what are some pervasive influences of our high-speed culture? The parts of our dreams and expectations for our futures that have been passed to us like a homogenized contagion. The voices of our mentors encouraging independence and creativity, but hesitant or disapproving of life paths radically different than their own. There is clearly a security that we feel in being able to all relate about trending interests, entertainment and gossip – “do you have the new igadget?!” – to be asked about our college plans and hope to receive approving nods and shoulder pats – “so what schools are you applying to?”. But how do we actively challenge that norm, especially of our educations – and succeed?

Taking your education into your own hands may be an incredibly intimidating task when you’ve been led through the hallways of block period schedules for so many years. It may even take some seriously ground-breaking conversations with parents and friends for them to understand that your needs are rational – but it’s true! – we all have diverse needs and we all learn differently; it’s a bit silly to have needed Harvard Research to recognize that – but it’s helped! The acceptance of alternative schooling is clearly on the rise but still, our education system has evolved at a fraction of the speed as our cultural consciousness. It is normal, critical even, that you feel empowered to change it and catch up. The initiative, the inspiration and the adventure that others will see as you revolutionize your education will be a catalyst for more to do the same.

Ok – so what does bicycle touring have to do with any of this?

Imagine, at 17-years-old, three months of travel in a local or remote region meeting professionals in the fields of your interests; strangers excited about your adventure; support from your mentors, friends and family; all the while receiving academic credit, but most importantly, discovering and developing practical and social skills for the rest of your life that traditional schools can only attempt to embody. Bicycle travel is an inexpensive, healthy and exciting vehicle to bridge life and experiential education. Not to mention – far less dependent on costly fossil fuels!

So much of our youth is a search for identity – but we continue to spend the majority of our time at this stage with a large group of similarly confused individuals of the same age. Somehow we are convinced that peer pressure and age-segregated pass-fail systems with a handful of team sports will create legions of critical, creative and competitive thinkers; and that if we just stick it out for another four years we’ll probably have a nice paycheck and a golden retriever, or poodle if you prefer. Sure, this system works well for some – but what has it taught us and at what cost?

The Wise Routes Project is an experiment in living. A shout-out to jump on a bicycle and go far with your questions and curiosities. If school bores you, say so! Everyone is your teacher and it’s time to discover your interests now so that later programs can serve you well. Make learning something you enjoy – and convince the rest of us that it’s worth it.

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When you travel with a purpose, when you ask lots of people questions to spark roadside/fireside/marketside/toiletside/yougetthepointside conversations around a theme that you care about, it’s impossible not to start noticing patterns, spotting trends, breathing connections. Your brain starts to zip around in a zillion different directions connecting one experience to another, these words to those ideas, his message to her actions… I visualize sparks flying. I visualize a spiderweb forming around the places we’ve been, grabbing people, schools, unschools, straw-clay houses, bicycles, gardens, and maybe a few of those pesky raccoons. I visualize a gazillion messages from a gazillion very different people linking like quirky little puzzle pieces and morphing into a larger picture.

The puzzle Brandon and I sought on our tour was around education – what it is now, what it should be, and what “success” and “learning” mean to different people. The image that I now visualize is no grand epiphany, no stroke of rocket science, but crystal clear nonetheless. I want you to visualize it with me so let me toss you a few puzzle pieces.

Michael is one of the newest arrivals to Ionia, an intentional community we visited in Alaska. He is 3. He likes trampolines, squirrels (which he pronounces “koyal”), and hitting you with a wooden spoon. He dislikes pants, feeling small, and having his face wiped off. When Michael turns 5, he won’t go to kindergarden, he will continue to play, explore, wander, and grow at Ionia without formal schooling, unless he asks for it. The community (about 40 people) will help him learn what he wants to know as he demands it.

At the Purple Thistle Center in Vancouver, BC, tweens, teens, and early-20-somethings gather to reclaim plots of unused city land and plant food gardens there. The co-founder, Matt Hern, drives us to another part of town to salvage cardboard from strip-mall dumpsters to bring back to the crew. As the group digs and lays cardboard, they talk about their plans for the garden, how the food can be made accessible, city-politics, and what’s going on tonight…

Gardening on Unused Land!I recently read this article is about a school called Unitierra. It says “Our ‘students’ do not belong to communities. They are their communities. Of course, they can enjoy themselves and have very long nights of pachanga and many fiestas. But they have a responsibility to their communities, that is, to themselves.”

City Repair in Portland, OR is bringing city residents together to reclaim public spaces where neighbors can interact. They are covering neighborhood intersections with giant murals and sometimes gardens to re-instill the age-old tradition of people talking when their paths converge. Mark Lakeman, the founder, believes that when communities reclaim public spaces, ages, races, professions, ideas, and stories collide… a pretty powerful learning experience for all.

This TED talk about the Barefoot College movement… pretty nifty.Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA

In Arcata, CA we were hosted by the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology. We participated in their weekly volunteer day, where heaps of students come together to lend their hands and minds to improving the CCAT (educational) space for all: building structures, planting things, making artsy signs, cleaning up the space, and sharing food and stories.

Our Bike Parents!

We met Werner and Lotti, a retired, bike-touring Swiss couple, for the first time on the Washington Coast. They invited us to their campfire one cold night and we spent hours asking them questions about their lives. On “success”, Werner, a retired Swiss banker, said, “When I was working, success was to climb up the ladder and get in a good position. But later I found it more successful when we made enough money to stop working and we changed our life completely. […] we do a different way of life now. We travel. We don’t spend as much money as we did before. We are much more happy now.” We ended up running into Werner and Lotti in many different places along the coast. We think they’re pretty badass for doing a six month bike tour at their age. We call them our bike parents.

I could go on and on with the snippets, but I think you get the point…

More and more people are recognizing that education is embedded in – and even synonymous with – community. And it makes a whole lotta sense. When we are surrounded by a diverse community of people (not just the ones we are grouped with in school because of our age) we have the potential to learn a lot from each other. The transfer of knowledge is vast and ever-unfolding. We share stories, skills, and experiences. We challenge and give depth to each other’s ideas. We get more creative. We are all teachers and we are all students. Our actions have real world relevance and are held accountable by people that will be with us long after school lets out for summer.

Most schools still run on the principle that kids learn best when they are removed from their home communities, grouped with kids their own age, and seated indoors for 6 hours a day to do what the teacher tells them to do. But PEOPLE (you, me, those kids, many of their teachers, and oodles of folks that we met along the bike tour) know that “real life” is more diverse, more complex, more evolving. Many alternative schools are recognizing (or starting to recognize) the importance of community in different ways. Sudbury schools, for example, create democratic communities by removing grade levels and allowing full “age-mixing” between students of all ages and stages. And I’ve been swooning over the philosophy of the Puget Sound Community School in Seattle (thump thump).

Bicycle touring has been a new exercise in community for me. I always used to think of community as something that was attached to a place – a home, a school, a church. But when you tour, there are lots of people that you see over and over on the road and at (large, shared, cheap) hiker/biker campsites… and when you meet, everyone is fascinated by one another. “Where did you start your tour? Where are you going? What did you think of that hill into ____ville? Did you see that RV practically riding the shoulder? Ridiculous! Did you catch that view point with the sea lions on the cliffs? You look young… what’s your story?” Most nights that we camped at sites with other cyclists, we offered or were invited to share a campfire, so stories were shared, wisdom imparted, and relationships deepened (Verner and Lotti, for example, became great friends and teachers).

When we stop thinking of “education” and “life” as separate entities, divided by concrete walls and diplomas, we begin to see and grow from the wealth of opportunities imparted by the “teachers” of our own diverse communities.

The Legend of Leggett (or, The Hearty California Coast Butt-Kicking)

We first heard the Legend of the Leggett hill two months ago from a scruffy old ranger in northern Washington. “You’ve heard about Leggett haven’t ya?” he asked. Reading our blank faces, he continued, “It’s the biggest hill on the whole coast. It’ll take you 2 1/2 hours just to get to the top. And just when you think you’re done, and you’re coasting downhill thinking it’s over, then then next hill hits you. And what’s really happened is that you’ve allowed your legs to cool off from Leggett and the second hill is even STEEPER. They call it ‘killer mountain’.”

The myths only got scarier from there. We heard of cyclists ditching all their gear in the middle of the hill, hitching their way up, or even renting a U-Haul for the Leggett stretch to avoid the misery of the climb. So naturally, I was terrified. Every steep hill we climbed on our way down the coast was, in my head, training for Leggett. If the climb was 800 feet, I would think “this is less than half of Leggett” and wonder if the Killer Mountain would strip me of all dignity and sanity when the time came.

It didn’t help that passing north-bound cyclists would say of each upcoming hill “I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what we’ve already done”. It also didn’t help that our elevation maps literally had to double their scale in order to fit Leggett on the grid.

Around evening campfires at the hiker-biker sites when the macho cycling dudes would compare their gear, cycle technology, and general macho-ness (“oh that hill out of Crescent City was hard for you? I thought it was a speed bump…”), no one joked about Leggett.

Wednesday was the fateful day. We got lots of rest the night before, stretched for a good half hour, ate a big breakfast and chugged some strong coffee before heading off. It wasn’t long into the day’s ride that the uphill began. ‘Here we go’ I told myself. There was no turning back. I switched into my easiest gear and let Brandon ride ahead, focusing only on my breathing. Inhale. Exhale. Around each curve there was only more uphill. Inhale. Exhale. One mile in Brandon stopped to wait for me and have an electrolyte-full snack but I decided to keep my pace and chug on. Inhale. Exhale. In that moment, I decided that I was going to go the whole way to the top of Leggett without stopping. This, I decided, was my chance to face the beast. Inhale. Exhale. If I could do this, then for that day, I would be my own hero. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Whew.

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In 45 minutes, we were 2000 feet high, at the top of Leggett, and I felt invincible. Though much steeper, the second hill (~700 feet) didn’t break us either. I did that one without stopping too.

I intended to end the blog post here when I wrote it in my journal on Wednesday night. To end with some message about taking it little by little, building strength, and not getting psyched out by the hype, the myths, or the macho macho men. To say “I AM A POWERFUL WOMAN”. Roar!

But ALAS! The California coast (route 1) is KICKING my BUTT! I have been humbled by the road. My muscles ache again like they did at the beginning of the tour. Rather than one long uphill like Leggett, the topography of the California coast looks more like the heart rate monitor for a rabbit on crack. Every downhill is followed by a steeper uphill. California doesn’t seem to understand the concept of “flat” – so I am reminded again and again (and again) of the greatness of the earth beneath my feet.

It’s all overwhelming, eye-opening, confidence-testing, and beautiful.

divine appointments: journal selections

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July 17th – waning gibbous
The darkness of this night and my fatigue have settled together into a familiar contentment. The purple thistles breaking through concrete and rivers of motor vehicles are nothing like traversing an Alaskan alpine meadow, but i’ve realized the benefit of treating it as such. This is a wild new place to me after all. How do we begin our learning here? Meeting people appears half the process; make your voice a gesture of kindness and be vulnerable to answers you aren’t looking for.

July 20th – last quarter
Vancouver is beginning to feel familiar as we revisit commercial street for coffee and ride downtown for the library and towards the water. It is our 4th day here and it continues to fill our heads and hearts with challenges of philosophy, smiles in a sleeveless breeze and tasty hidden treats. This evening we settle into our new couch surf on 22nd Street, south of W. Broadway where the Bike Doctor assembled our steel traveling machines. And oh, those bicycles are so happy to cuddle, locked together or to play, loaded with our gear cruising through foreign but welcomed new territory of broken asphalt.

July 30th – new moon
Three days of unpredicted bliss out of False Harbor on San Juan Island. The florets of a white panicle sprinkled our tent like ocean spray nestled into an eden like path from the home of our couch surf hosts. Greeted with fresh bread and long conversation. The Orcas reward us here and engulf our kayaks with tremendous grace and deep surface breaths. We have had an unforgettable experience in an often forgettable amount of time.

August 18th – waning gibbous
45 miles ride from Quinalt lake and rain forests and we’ve arrived to Ocean City State Park on the beach in southern Washington. This morning a gentleman offered us cheese sticks after an unsolicited rant about the sexual relationship of Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedy brothers.

September 9th – waxing gibbous
My body is aching with a satisfaction
determined revolution on the incline
vistas expanding to a depth
never had this feeling of life
been awakened for so long
Road Grit. Sun Burn. Dirty Clothes.
this may be success.

September 13th – full moon
Today we hiked 6 miles through redwood groves, into fern canyon and out onto the wild and foggy beach. The spectrum of fragrance washed over us in hints of sea-salted pine and decomposing vanilla. My breathe was aware of hanging wisdom, thousands of years old, dripping from the groaning crowns of intertwined giants. A found bottle of red wine in the bear bin finished the evening with a game of cards and now we consider rest. Life is upon us it seems and I’m too pleased to wait for it.

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…and you can too!

Half way up a 1200 foot climb out of Crescent City, CA last week, Brandon and I pulled off the road at a “vista point” to calm our breathing, wipe our sweat, and stretch our achy calves. Judging by their speed and unwillingness to move over, the cars were not as exhausted by the climb. But one dark blue sedan had paused in the gravel pullout, waiting patiently as a group of six college students sporting ‘HSU’ sweatshirts and sweatpants struck poses by the scenic overlook. As we cycled past them, one girl called over “you guys are so intense! I could never do that!”

“Sure you can! It’s tough sometimes… but you could do it” I replied, tossing my leg up on the bike seat to stretch my quads. “Where are you going?” another girl asked. “San Francisco,” Brandon replied. “WOAH!” the group chimed in unison. From there the questions exploded, “why are you doing it? how long does it take? where did you start? how many miles a day are you doing? are you exhausted? is it expensive?” and so on. We loved the energy of the students and the awe in their wide eyes as we proceeded to lay out, step by step, how to do something they had considered certifiably insane only moments before. As we rode off to tackle the rest of the hill, we buzzed with energy from the conversation. Why haven’t these students ever heard of bike touring? Why does this feel impossible or inaccessible to so many capable people?

Just about every time we stop our bikes, we’re inundated with a similar set of questions – usually from creaky retirees that rent RVs to roam the coast for the month of September. “I wish I could do something like that,” they say, “but I’m too old!”. Usually I reply “you still can!” Of course I don’t mean to be insensitive to people with health or body conditions that prevent them from riding a bike, but age alone shouldn’t be the excuse… there is a 92 year old on a bike tour out here and LOTS of folks in their 60s!

There seem to be oodles of people that think bike touring would be an amazing experience but are SURE they can’t do it. These are the most common reasons we hear:

1. I don’t have time
2. I don’t have the money
3. I am not in good shape
4. I wouldn’t know the first thing to do

Over the last two months, we’ve come to realize that many of these challenges are more manageable than most people assume. Let me elaborate…

1. Who says a bike tour has to be a long trip? We’ve met people that are cycling for just two weeks or even two days and hey, that’s pretty rad! Traveling by bicycle allows you to see the world at a different pace… to breathe deeply the air you’re moving through, to move with bumps in the terrain, and to feel the struggle of the climb (which gives you a much deeper appreciation of the mountain). It opens doors for meeting people and thinking differently about our world. Who says it has to be long?

2. Touring doesn’t have to be expensive either. Sure, if you want all the top notch cycling gear, it will add up fast, but we’ve met quite a few young people out here that bought a $100-200 bike on Craigslist, worked with a local bike co-op to fix it up, and borrowed gear to save on additional costs (through freecycleDC, a fellow cyclist lent me her bike panniers – saving me a couple hundred bucks on new ones – thanks Jenny!). We each spend between $0 and $6 per night on accommodations ($0 for couchsurfing.org and warmshowers.org hosts, friends, and ‘guerrilla camping’ (camping stealthily…); $5-6 each for state park campsites in this region). That means that in 2 months, we’ve spent under $200 each on rent! The biggest expense on the road is food… and if you plan it right you can do that pretty cheaply too (bulk couscous + bulk dried lentil soup mix + some fresh veggies from local farmers markets + Tillamook extra sharp cheddar cheese = delicious, easy, CHEAP camping dinner).

3. Not in shape? You will be! Take it slow and start just doing short, easy days to build confidence. Plan lots of extra time to accomplish the distance (if you finish early, you have more time explore the place you’re in!). We’ve met two guys out here that have lost 50-60 lbs on their tours. We didn’t train beforehand, but now our muscles are building up and the long steep hills are getting easier. As a woman, it is such an amazing feeling to be so strong and un (well, less) phased by the physical barriers before me.

4. Check out the Adventure Cycling Association, Bicycle Touring Pro or the laundry list of bloggers on CrazyGuyonaBike.com for tips on how to plan your trip. Depending on where you’re based, there may be local cycling groups (find one near you!) that can help as well. Or call us! Later this year we’ll be releasing a book on how to use the bicycle tour as a vehicle to learning about yourself and the world around you. We’ll share loads of ideas and resources to help you build a more intentional learning experience into your bike tour… so keep an eye out!

We find ourselves now in Arcata, CA, where crunchy coffee shops, tall Redwoods, and ridiculous amounts of resources at Humboldt State University give us a few days of repose and alternative means of exploration. On Thursday, to ring in my 24th year of life, we explored the Redwood forest and wandered the Arcata marsh. We sat in on part of a birding class and got to hold “study skins” (stuffed dead birds) of many of the birds we’ve seen along our journey. We journaled and reflected while sitting on a redwood log 30 feet above a waterfall, and observed part of an organic gardening class at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (a really amazing living/community space that is hosting us while we’re in Arcata!). We are constantly amazed with the opportunities opening before us on this bike tour down the coast and would love for more people to be able to explore the world this way too.

We’re less than 300 miles from San Francisco right now and pedal a little bit slower every time we think of how close we could be to the end. Luckily some of the biggest climbs lie ahead…

A photo from the coast…

Golly the Oregon coast is spectacular… and we are lovin on the tailwinds! Were on our way to Sunset Bay state park tonight, checking in by iGadget from a roadside espresso shack. If you, dear reader, are anywhere near the west coast right now, please… PLEASE go eat some roadside blackberries. There are far too many going uneaten despite our futile attempts to gobble them all. Such a tragedy…

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360º

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by brandon

We’re close to celebrating our first 1000 miles of rolling atop a pair of circles. Circles transport us and bring us to new places. Circles bring us together and open conversations. Circles represent sustained systems. Seasons. Energy. Circles are strong. Look into the forests, meadows, oceans and atmosphere and you see circles everywhere.

Why then are we so square? In 1785, the Continental Congress passed the National Land Ordinance, which laid a Roman colonial grid over all lands west of the Ohio River. This included all future cities and towns. It sure has made it easy to ride my bi-circles across town and grab a cup of coffee, but has the convenience sacrificed or neglected cultural strengths of a more organic design?

It’s easy to think about circles while they spin underneath you for six hours a day. And difficult not to smile at how absurdly simple of a pleasure it is to do so. Quiet rotations on pavement hum into the damp Pacific fog hanging above empty roadways fortified by ferns. Rhythmic clicks of a well oiled chain spin around and assist orbiting human parts on two sides. A setting orb burns into the horizon of a spherical planet beneath a visibly circular sky drawing a curtain of circular twinkles.

We had the recent privilege to meet with Portland activist and architect Mark Lakeman of City Repair, a community initiative to take back and create public gathering spaces in local neighborhoods. Mark also likes circles. They are an inherent piece of his philosophy on ecological design and living. “The grid based intersection is a denial of the cross-roads of our lives,” he explains, alluding to the idea of our broken connection of commerce and community. Mark speaks in careful circles too; interrupting himself for the story of his experience with a Mayan elder communing with a butterfly and then pausing to return mid-way through his point. ” Our social structure is not linear. There is a loop, and it will only close when we get powerful”. He scratches at the mud caked to his forearm, ” and I don’t necessarily think we need to fight against anything. We just need to decide what dream we want to live at the most local level and create it.”

Mark is definitely creating it. With other volunteers from City Repair we created it too; lathering dry straw with a mix of water and clay to be packed into the wall of a new garage space for a neighborhood resident. The reward of our participation was not in currency or barter, but instead in new friends and strengthened skills. The lesson I’ve found is this – Just as the bi-circles we ride propel us forward, the revolution of our social circles will move us toward a new way of experiencing how we relate to and provide for one another. Curves and bends of a breeze will move in circles around us wherever we are. Create something there.

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