There and Back Again

I’ve now been back home for as long as I was away (longer, by the time I’ve finished writing this and you’ve finished reading.) It seems a good moment to sit down and write.

Nearing the ‘end’ of the ride I felt a nagging obligation to find something before going home, so I’m a bit self-conscious about this post: what if I don’t have enough to show for having gone there and back again? No Goblin swords or Dragon’s gold. I’ve been experimenting with possible opening lines, ways to sum up the odyssey experience in a sentence or two. Here’s one.

Adventure is so unsettling, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone except that it’s ridiculously fun when it’s not miserable and cold and wet and lonely.

True fact.

Here’s another.

I didn’t know that I was on a quest for some thing until I got lost, and didn’t know that I was fighting free of some thing until returning home again.

Also true.

I was talking to a friend about this last blog post, about my urge to sum up the experience and offer the world a tidy narrative of my journey and he said No Don’t Do That! Life has no ribbons no hospital corners no neat conclusions! And neither does your journey! It was a road of growing questions and questions on questions and they continue to live with you. It was a road of great extremes: huge unutterable joy, vast newness, awe to the point of numbness…and also deep darkness: times of loneliness, fear, doubt, confusion, longing. It was messy! And life continues so, if in a subtler way; life continues so.

Change is easy to experience on the road because it’s so fucking obvious: Jesus there’s a YAK! They don’t have those in Berkeley! The search for the miraculous becomes subtler when living a more stationary, predictable life. But really…I wonder if this predictability isn’t a false assumption…? I think I know what’s going to happen next because my toothbrush stays in one place and I always know where I’m going to sleep.

When I first got home the bizarre novelty of the familiar wacked me upside the head and I remember thinking to myself: things change in a hurry…and they stay the same in a hurry, too. I was already grieving for the moment when I would forget the miracle of every kind and comfortable thing.

Cycling into Madison (‘twas a gorgeous summer evening but I was bone tired and so really didn’t care) I paused next to a commuter cyclist at a stoplight. He looked at my rig and said where are you going? I told him and he said “wow I’d love to go on a bike ride where I didn’t have to turn around and go back at the end of it.” Didn’t have to turn around. Here’s the thing. I knew all along that at SOME POINT I was going to turn around. Most probably. I was theoretically open to the idea of falling in love and moving to Canada but really I was planning to go home and then go to rehearsal (insert shameless plug for The Coast of Utopia: currently in previews, we open March 29. Shotgun Players. Berkeley. Be there.)

Even though I was excited about the work ahead of me, returning home brought on this sense of grieving. As the train pulled into the Emeryville station I felt a desperate braking in my heart: please pleeeeaaasssse waaaaaaiiiiittt it cried. Don’t. Go. Backwards.

For days I resisted unpacking the boxes I’d stowed away to make room for my sub-letter. What was in those boxes that made me so scared and sad? Three of them were labeled Chaos Boxes: for the stuff that resists easy labeling, the stuff that is left over after everything else is organized and stowed away.

On the road I found a kind of freedom I’d never felt before. It was a freedom to be who ever the hell I wanted to be, and to be different in each moment. Most of my conversations were with complete strangers so I didn’t have to be Caitlyn the This or Caitlyn the That: I could just be a person talking to another person on the side of the road. Plus every environment was so new: I didn’t have a vocabulary for dealing with many of the scenarios I encountered, so I had to make it up. This was both empowering and liberating and often frightening.

I remember talking to a friend one day as I sat in the middle of my room in utter terror, surrounded by boxes. You don’t want to what? You’re scared to…unpack? Call me crazy, but the boxes seemed to contain aspects of some kind of static identity--a pre-Odyssey collection of assumptions about myself and about the world. I was afraid that whatever was in those boxes would steal away my sight, teach me to forget how to live with eyes wide open. I didn’t want to unpack the old boxes of stuff until I’d unpacked the new boxes of not stuff I’d collected on the road, then maybe the old and the new could duke it out. But metaphysical boxes tend to unpack themselves when they damn well feel like it…so I was going to have to be patient. I let the ‘real’ boxes sit unopened for a good long time and lived my life around them until I needed a washcloth or a stapler: little by little the chaos boxes emptied themselves. And once I was good and rested, the invisible boxes began to open too.

People keep asking me three things: what prompted the journey, what’s your biggest take away, and what’s the next Big Adventure. I have no answers for these questions! Adventure is too wild for summary and would probably get pissed off and bite me if I tried to capture and label it. I will say this: I could have done ANYTHING and I chose to go home to friends and family and make more theatre, so my bet is that the next Big Adventure will have something to do with love and art and staying in one place. I was recently talking to a wise friend who said that fighting to stay put for a spell was one of the biggest mountains he ever climbed in his life; staying still does not mean missing out or going backwards…though it can often feel that way, especially to young grasshoppers like myself. The world is happening everywhere, at every moment, and chasing after some kind of quintessence is probably the only way not to catch it. I have an inkling that there are certain kinds of riches that can only be mined by holding one's horses.

One narrative of the journey seems to be about the dance of choice and chance and the role I play in creating my own happiness along the way. Whatever it was that I was questing…it wasn’t out there beyond my reach; it’s right in front of me as long as I choose to see it. I know this sounds woo woo and like whoa so obvious but you guys I rode 2,400 fucking long sweaty miles during which time I forgot and remembered this over and over and over and over. It’s not out there, it’s right here. It’s not out there, it’s right here. Happiness seems to have something to do with choosing to see what ever comes next with a Yes of Course! Rather than: Really? That? What scares me though is that if I simply accept what’s in front of me…is that the end of the story? No I tell myself: it’s a paradox: I can’t move forward to the next true thing until I see and accept what’s in front of me now. Plus: what the hell’s wrong with an imperfect moment?

Sir Peter Hall says that the expected is the enemy of the living theatre. Now yes okay we can’t just go onstage and “be unpredictable” that would get us fired. What’s interesting though is that in order to come alive to the unpredictability of the moment one must slow the fuck down, listen deeply and let go deeply. It’s another paradox: in order to dance with chaos one must be positively still.

I am humbled by the fact that life’s big questions must be forgotten and found over and over again: maybe that’s why we go on quests, to remember what we already know but keep forgetting.

Plus…adventure is pretty damn fun, too.

Kindness like a Hammer in my Mind

October 7, Day 94: 42 miles from Burlington, VT, to Montpelier, VT

We made it to Montpelier just moments before an epic downpour that ripped most of the fall colors from the trees, leaving a motley landscape of evergreen brushed smoky gray by bare branches and set afire in places by the bright hangers-on. We only got a little wet. Vermont got a lot of wet.

October 8, Day 95: 39 miles from Montpelier, VT, to Woodsville, New Hampshire

I was moving slow legs didn't want to pedal they just wanted to go home. It was a gorgeous day, and I felt badly that I was too blue to enjoy it. I kept telling my body that it had made it this far and Should be able to make it another few hundred miles...but that didn't seem to help. My slow pace meant that we only made it as far as Woodsville by we called it a day and found a motel. It was tooooo cold for camping.

October 9, Day 96: 60 miles from Woodsville, NH, to Conway, NH

There is a road in New Hampshire called the Kancamagus Highway, affectionately known by locals as "The Kank."  It winds through the White Mountain National Forest, and crosses the Appalachians (and the AT.) It is a stiff climb. I was not up for it. I hitched a ride over the pass with a very kind leaf-peeper named Mark, and the ever-intrepid Olivia cycled the beast. She loved it. I just wanted a nap and my mom. Come on body! You're so close! I kept saying. But my body said hey you listen to me: we're done. I said legs: pedal! And they said no fuck you! And I said no really legs keep pedaling and they said no really fuck you! My nerves had had enough of Adventure. Time to Go. Home.

I had reached a place of adrenal exhaustion or legs are mondo buff, but my nervous system is tired as hell from meeting so many new people and experiencing so much...newness. I think of a passage from my favorite book--Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett. In it, the heroine, Tiffany, talks about opening her eyes...and then opening her eyes again, in order to really really See the world. It was unutterably amazing but it wore her the fuck out.

October 10, Day 97: 8 miles from Conway, NH to Fryeburg, Maine

A good night's sleep and I was still a slothy cyclist. Concerned that there might be something up with my blood sugar, Olivia (an RN and all around superhero) took me to the local fire station to have me checked out. I was fine, they said, I'd just been on my bicycle TOO LONG. My spirits had been lagging for quite a while, and I realized that it was time to stop resisting my body's call for reprieve. It was time to get off the fucking bicycle.

I dismounted and hailed a ride to Portland, Maine, from whence I would get a train home...while Olivia cycled on to Bar Harbor. I passed the Bike Odyssey torch to her in the form of my SPOT tracker and Chief Joseph--the little ninja figurehead on my front fender. We bade farewell and Olivia pedaled on to Bridgton, Maine...

October 11, Day 98: Resting in Portland, Maine

It felt awful good to be done cycling. And the prospect of going home...was so delicious. But I couldn't leave Olivia out on the trail by herself; she had voiced concerns early on about the weather--would it be too cold? Should she stay home in Oakland and let me finish early? And I said naw dude it will be fine! Come on out! So she flew to Montreal to meet me and do the last leg. And now I was bailing and leaving her to brave the elements...alone. NOT COOL FRIEND BEHAVIOR. So...I rented a car. Yes, a car. And strapped Theo to the trunk.

October 12, Day 99: Caitlyn morphs into a SAG Wagon: meets Olivia in Brunswick, ME

The origin of the term SAG is could be Support And could be Support Aid Group...or it could be something else entirely. But basically it means the car that carries your stuff and rescues you if you need it.

October 13, Day 100: SAG for Olivia from Brunswick to Camden, ME

I've been thinking a lot lately about stories. In a way, Reality is created by the stories we tell ourselves...and others. I can write myself into a story about a girl who takes on too much and gets her ass kicked by the world and Fails...or I can write myself into a story about a person who chooses to adopt a more Gentle way in order to see a mission through safely...and enjoyably. I could go further and write a story wherein I am a wise lady who decides to adapt the mode of Adventure in order to accommodate a change in circumstances. It is mighty challenging for me to take on this more forgiving and generous story for myself, but I am trying. Hard-core tends to be my mode of choice: not always for the sake of being impressive (though yes sometimes just to be impressive) but also because of a desire to go far and deep and to the order to suck the marrow out of life. I think perhaps there is a lesson here about gentleness and healing...and being able to say hey: that's good enough. Good enough. I haven't learned it yet but I am doing my best. Cycling up mountains is hard. True fact. But learning to accept oneself: this is harder.

When treading on shakey new legs through places of darkness or transition, I often think of another Wintersmith quote; when Tiffany has to make a trip to the Underworld, she is told to "think of something solid, ye ken--a Stone or a Hammer. Whatever you do, dinna Wish or Regret or Hope." 

So: for kindness' sake I hold to hammers in my mind. No Regretting. Just Gentleness like a boulder, an anchor for my soul.

October 14, Day 101: SAG for Lady O from Camden to Penobscot, ME

Way back in July, Rachel and I stopped for a picnic at the Historic Lochsaw Ranger Station while cycling along the Clear Water River in Idaho. We saw a van with Maine plates in the parking lot and thought cool! We did not find the owners, so after a feast of avocado and corn tortillas and fruit, we pedaled on... But lo: a few miles up the road  we were hailed by a woman on the side of the road--Linda, we'd learn. She was standing by a van...with Maine plates. The ranger had told her of my trip so she stopped to give us her card and promised a place to stay in Maine. Wow! I thought. And guess what...I'm typing this from Linda's home in Penobscot: Right. Now.  Now that's cool magic.

October 15, Day 102: The last day of the journey, officially.  Bar Harbor.

    This day hasn't happened yet--this day is tomorrow. I keep thinking of the expectations I'd had setting out, my ideas about what this Odyssey would be. I didn't even know that I had expectations, but the subconscious ones that I had (because yes I had them) were all wrong. Mostly. So often--and especially in these later, tired days of the journey--I've found myself chasing after the adventure that I think I'm supposed to be having and forget to pay attention to the one I'm actually on. I push it aside like an annoying small animal trying to hump my leg or something: Get off me! What the fuck?! I'm supposed to be like enjoying myself--feeling care free and Certain while at the same time discovering the secret of the Universe and the meaning of life and all. But instead I feel confused. I want to tell these imperfect motes of doubt and confusion and darkness: Go back from whence you came this is not the dance I wanted to dance! But shit kids, demons just get darker in the dark.'s to dancing with demons in the sunshine, and to a beautifully imperfect ending to a beautifully imperfect jaunt across North America *with* my bicycle. May it be what it will be. Goddess grant me the courage to accept every quirky moment of these last steps with gentle grace and kindness because I think that maybe: the opportunity to ditch the Ideal in favor of the Real...this may be the Golden Fleece I was after...all along.

Radically Gentle

September 19, Day 76: 46 miles from Niagara Falls, Ontario to Burlington, Ontario

I did not want to get on my bike today. But I did. It helped that my host Joan joined me for the first few miles, and saw me off at the ferry across the canal. What can I say? It was a lonely long day of pedaling and missing my dad and missing my mom; sometimes, I guess, that's just how it goes. The day brightened when I was met by Marty and Chang, my hosts in Burlington. They fell in love cycling across Canada this past July, and last summer Chang cycled across Canada completely solo, camping all the way. And she didn't speak a word of English: that's what I call Bold. She made us the most delicious Korean meal, complete with home made kimchi. When I get home I am going to 1: hug my mom and 2: make a batch of sauerkraut. Fermented veggies oh how I love thee.

September 20, Day 77: 36 miles from Burlington to Toronto

When I arrived I was greeted by the wonderful Deborah Barndt. She is a photographer and professor of community arts at York University and she is awesome. She took me to her monthly song-fest gathering--a group of friends who have met once a month for the past 23 years to eat food and sing songs together. Now that's what I call healthy. (Who wants to start a monthly East Bay song-fest gathering? Anybody? I'll host the first one!) We ate and sang and laughed and talked until the dark hours and then pedaled home. Splendor!

September 21-23, Days 78-80: Yoga in Toronto

The Octopus Garden Yoga a place of greatness. They offer a week of free classes to all new students, and I eagerly took the offer. One afternoon I was rushing about doing errands and then found that I was going to be late for Jesse's amazing Vinyasa class if I didn't book it. I hurried most un-yogi-like to the studio, swiftly changed clothes and did my best to duck into class without being a pain-in-the-ass late-comer. I slid onto my mat in stealthy silence and proceeded to follow instructions, eyes closed. I started thinking, my...this is an odd sequence for the beginning of a class. Then I starting thinking: my, this is not familiar at all...I opened my eyes to look around and realized that I was surrounded by pregnant women. In my haste I had ducked into the wrong studio to join the last few moments of a pre-natal class. Most women in the room were looking at me, and the instructor, hiding an amused smile, asked if I was perhaps in the wrong class. Yes! I leaped up and scooted out the door and as I raced down the stairs to the right and proper studio I heard a roar of laughter erupt behind me. At least my hurried stupidity caused a joyful moment for a bunch of soon-to-be-mommies.

September 24, Day 81: A lift to Montreal

OK guys so I'm getting tired and not just tired in my body but tired in my feelings and mostly tired of riding my bicycle through unfamiliar landscapes all by myself. So I decided not to ride solo anymore and instead get a lift to Montreal where I would spend some time exploring and pretending to speak French before meeting up with the wonderful Olivia Dempster, my riding buddy for the Last Leg.  It was a good choice.

September 25-Oct 3, Days 82-90: Ce qui ce passe à Montréal reste à Montréal.  

Lots of writing and lots of reflecting and a little bit of falling in love. That's all I will say about that! But here is a poem, commissioned by Olivia to be written from Montreal.

  The Poet

He labors on and on and on

to please the one above:

Divine small days spent shaping

Sad wet clay

--an Ornament, for his love. 

And knowing nowhere was there space enough

For what he had to do--he'd have to find it


His soul among the stars--

To place a prayer on God's left ear

he breaks with fear to find the words:

and makes a little call--

A declaration maybe, or a gift-- 

Just to say "we're here." 

October 4, Day 91: 47 miles from Montreal to Napierville, Quebec

My what light a friend brings in.

October 5, Day 92:  60 miles from Napierville, Quebec, to Burlington, Vermont

Burlington...I think I love you. 

October 6, Day 93: Yoga and chocolate and rain and rest in lovely Burlington.

 As I near the "end" of this particular road--a self-constructed path that terminates at the Atlantic Ocean in Maine--I can spy in the distance a great big call board tacked with signs announcing the many latent expectations I'd had for this journey. I did not even know I had these expectations until I came to a certain brink and then a list of stiff commands appeared: Caitlyn, please come home a better person: stronger, wiser, more impressive and more sure. Please Caitlyn, please, find something certain to take home with you. 

 And guess what: I haven't found much in the way of certainty. I know I love my home and I know the world is big. I know that there are big problems that I wish I could solve but don't know how. I know that I love words and I know that finding them and writing them and speaking them is one way that I find God. I know that I love Other People and that they also scare me greatly. I know that love is the bestest thing but that it makes me want to run away and hide or else stand paralyzed on the spot. I know that I can do big hard impressive things, and that that in itself doesn't really matter; that sometimes the hardest thing of all to do is to be unimpressive and radically gentle.


Curiosity, Subversive Glory...and Gingerbread Cottages in Michigan

September 3, Day 60: 50 miles from Ludington Michigan, to Reed City, Michgan.

On my way out of town I was hailed by a fellow cyclist--Gary, I'd learn. He has clearly seen many summers, most of them on a bicycle.  Every year he cycles from Michigan to Florida, to escape the snow. He gave me wishes for a safe journey, and insisted that I choose one of the beautiful pendants he makes from copper wire, as a token of peace and goodwill. I chose one made from an oval glass ring and woven with wire to create a peace symbol. When we parted he looked me in the eye and with true knowing said, "peace," as he held up his hand with the old sign. I felt the benediction all the way to my boots, and cycled on, with new lift and comfort.

I slept that night at Saint Paul's Lutheran church in Reed City. The pastor is an amazing tiny woman of sixty-five: fit and fiery, spiky blonde hair and more piercings than I have ever seen on any protestant pastor.  She took me for a ride in her red Mustang to show me the trail head for the next day's ride, and we came across two other cyclists, looking distressed. They needed a place to camp for the night, so they joined us and we had a fireside room sleepover, complete with popcorn made in the church kitchen. Anna and Amy are two Australian-American bad-asses: they just finished their ride from New Orleans to Toronto. Bravo.

September 4, Day 61: 70 miles from Reed City, Michigan to Midland, Michigan. 

I arrived at a house at the end of a long green drive and next to a cattle ranch. I was welcomed warmly by my host, and ushered inside: a wall of cigarette smoke nearly knocked me over and the sound of pit bulls raged from a locked bedroom. Huge lipsticked smiles and more warm welcomes from the wife in the kitchen, as she puffed away and tended to an ambiguous chunk of meat floating in amber liquid on the stove. Cognitive, or some other kind of sensory dissonance set me scrambling for a way to categorize this place: good? Bad? Safe? Unsafe? Was this perhaps the devil's lair, attended by demons disguised in true-seeming smiles? In my struggle to place this place in a world, any world, that I could understand, thoughts of gingerbread cottages and other back-wood tales began to fester: should I eat the meat? It could, perhaps, be a filet from the tender haunches of the last biker that came through here...

I pitched my tent outside, electing the familiar territory of my sleeping bag over hard-to-characterize hospitality.

The lives lived here were so different than mine...I had no right to judge, not knowing or understanding the context of these lives. Were these people good and kind people? Gut says yes. Does their domestic style strike terror into my very heart: why yes also.

When I reentered the house, the bicyclist-fileting woman was helping her twenty-year-old daughter to understand her statistics homework for junior college. Her husband had gone to teach a night-school EMT class. The dogs still raged upstairs and the air was still unbreathable but Goodness was, it seemed, the reigning paradigm.

I decided it was safe to eat the meat. And it was pretty darn good.

September 5, Day 62: 56 miles from Midland, Michigan to just outside of Caro, Michigan.

Today was a long long day through sugar beets and corn and sugar beets and corn. Saddle sores ensued. Time for a break! 

September 6-8, Days 63-65: Resting and writing on Shana and Doug's beautiful homestead.

I arrived at twilight, frizzy haired and nerve tired, weary to the bone.  Like a goddess of calm, Shana walked slowly out to greet me, a little sleeping babe wrapped to her torso. She picked apples and cooed to baby Liam and urged me go inside and be at home. I did. I did for quite a few days and it was most welcome. Thank you Shana.

September 9, Day 66: 50 miles from Caro, Michigan to Capac, Michigan.

I stopped today at a little market, hoping to find some kind of fruit or vegetable. Instead I found human skulls in a smoke-filled chamber presided over by a mysterious Lady from Lancashire.

I surveyed the stores--shelves of candy and of tuna--before noticing the glass case near the register. NO PHOTOS please, it begged. More than a half dozen skulls of varying states and sizes were enclosed there. The proprietress put out her cigarette and parted a beaded curtain to stand behind the counter and in front of me.

"Are those...human...skulls?"  

She nodded gravely.  

"Where do you...get them?" 

" and there," was her cool North Country reply.

Upon closer inspection I noticed that one was small, very small; an infant, perhaps. 

"And that one..." 

"Is a child, yes." 

This lady had a cool accent but she was freaking me the fuck out so I decided to beat it. As I made my hasty way out the door she wished me safe travels and promised me a prayer and I thought: how very kind these scary Michiganders are...

 September 10, Day 67: 40ish miles from Capac, Michigan, to Camlachie, Plympton-Wyoming, Ontario, CANADA!

HOT was the day. I arrived at the home of my host and was greeted by a beach: Lake Huron, green-blue and serene. I peeled myself from the saddle and launched my weary body into the waves. Glory. In. The highest. It was like swimming a prayer.

September 11, Day 68: 25 miles from Camlachie, Ontario, to Forest, Ontario...and back again.

I started riding. It was too hot. There were too many trucks. There was too much of not enough shoulder. Why am I riding and not swimming in Lake Huron? I thought and turned back. A sticky hot thunder storm left me soaked to the socks in under five minutes and I flagged down a truck: Kent and Steve took me back to Camlachie and I jumped back into Lake Huron and to Glory. 

Next morning my lovely hostess took me and the rig to London, where she works. Huzzah huzzah for Ned and Carey. 

September 12, Day 69: 39 miles from London, Ontario, to Stratford, Ontario.

There was a mighty head wind on the home stretch; a pick-up pulled over and waved to me. It was Jim, my host in Stratford. He had noticed the shape of the wind and came to rescue me. This is one small example of the great thoughtfulness and generosity of this man. Thank you, thank you, Jim.

September 13-14 Days 70-71: SHAKESPEARE!

The Stratford Festival runs twelve plays in four theatres over eight months. Every year for the past lots of years. Christopher Plummer has often graced the Stratford stages and Brian Dennehy has worked there for the past nineteen years: they boast some of the strongest actors on the continent. This season's Mary Stuart was a revelation. Seana McKenna's Queen Elizabeth was the most powerfully honest performance I have ever witnessed. Full of grace and patience and command: I stand in awe.

Though I had the great privilege to witness some phenomenal performances (Ron Pederson's Lancelot Gobo left me utterly destroyed) I found that in general the trend was toward the traditional and clever--especially in design and direction--rather than the innovative and the raw. And but for a few, most actors gave disembodied performances with self-consciously perfect diction. Good Speech is great but come on you guys! "The expected is the enemy of living theatre," says my new guru Sir Peter Hall! I hope I hope that there is something more bold and exciting in store with a new artistic director at the helm... 

September 15, Day 72: 37 miles from Stratford, Ontario, to Cambridge, Ontario

Jeff and Leigh you are the BEST!

I arrived in Cambridge just as rain began to fall and was greeted by The Biggest Smile I have ever seen...also known as Mr. Jeff Evans.

Jeff and Leigh fed me delicious food and inspired me with stories and their plans for a year-long bike tour around the world. There is nothing so fortifying as true camaraderie.

September 16, Day 73: 40 miles from Cambridge, Ontario, to Ancaster, Ontario (via Paris and Brantford. )

Yay for playing board-games with fourth graders!!! 

September 17, Day 74: 51 miles from Ancaster, Ontario, to Niagra-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Layers and looking silly are the key to successful early morning riding in Autumnal Ontario. I set off at 6:30am yesterday, a fluffy neon yellow velo-bundle with a headlamp blinking cyclops-like on my helmet. The morning was magical; even if it is balls-freezing cold, cycling at dawn is pure bliss.

My bliss faded hours later when I was still cycling and was still many miles from the Shaw Festival and a 2pm matinee of Lady Windermere's Fan. But glory arrived when I finally found myself cycling right up to the ticket window at the Shaw Festival. I felt wickedly subversive showing up to the Shaw on my laden bicycle, wearing smelly biker clothes and a feather in my helmet (I changed into a dress behind a bush after locking up the bike and buying a ticket.) Tickets go for more than a hundred bucks which is a crime: theatre is a Right not a Privilege, so fuck all I'm going to the theatre however I can, stare and sneer at my strange tan lines and unconventional mode of transport: I love and need this stuff as much as you do so there. Thus went my moment of subversive glory. Oh and hey they do offer a discount for under-30s so, you know, some kudos there. But only some!

September 18, Day 75: Rest day in Niagra Falls!

Wonderful Jim of Wonderful Statford has a Wonderful sister in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I stayed with Joan and her husband, Mike, last night and today and it has been so, so lovely.

The most common question I get on the road is: why? People want to know what possessed me to do such a mad, mad thing. Or if I might be cycling for a cause. I have struggled to answer this, stumbling over sentences about craving adventure, about wanting time to write, wanting to meet new people. These are all true but not quite on the money. Before dinner this evening, Mike took me FLYING in his tiny ultra-light plane: we flew over Lake Erie as the sun set on the left-hand and the full moon rose on the right. Wonder wonder wonder and I realized: curiosity is my cause. That's it. Because this world is just so freaking cool.

Angel Dust

August 21, Day 48: 60 miles down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to just south of Red Wing, Minnesota.

Yes Red Wing is where Red Wing shoes come from. It is also where frozen piecrust was invented. It is gloriously beautiful and there are also about fifty million hills between it and Minneapolis; the Midwest, it turns out, is not as flat as people say it is. Let me rephrase. The Midwest is not as flat as I had foolishly assumed it to be. And they have Weather: by four o'clock I found myself cycling into a thunder storm. A bit lost, I stopped at a house to ask for directions. A nice woman answered and set me on the right path before looking skyward and then down at me and said: ride fast.

It had been a very hot day and I rather like thunder so I wasn't too worried; I understand of course that lightning and steel bicycles are a zingy combo and though I love Theo dearly I am prepared to abandon her should Electricity become an issue. I rode on enjoying the fat water drops as they bounced off my helmet and caught clumsily in my eyelashes. Thunder rumbled and then roared in the near distance. I was having fun.   

A few hundred yards ahead I spied a red pick-up parked on the shoulder and a young woman, about my age, peering up the road toward me, hand over her face to block the rain. She was getting wet and didn't seem to like that very much. But she was more concerned about me at the moment, it turned out.

 "Are you OK???" she asked, looking at me as though I were a Snow Crane flying in the Bahamas.

 "Um. Well. Yes?"

 "Where are you from?"


The woman looked utterly abused.


 "I well I'm, I'm riding a bicycle you see..."

 "You wanna RIDE!? I'm going to Red Wing I can give you a ride I hate thunder I saw this comin and I said shit I'm getting outta here you want a RIDE???"

At this point I was only about a mile from the city of Red Wing and had plenty of daylight left...and I badly needed a bath and the raindrops were doing a swell job. Plus, I really was enjoying myself.

 "Thank you so much but it's not far and--"

 "You SURE I can give you a RIDE, it would be easy WHERE ARE YOU GOING???"

 "Not far, just up the ro--"

 "YOU'LL BE OK???"

 "I'll be OK."

 "Are you sure YOU'LL BE OK???"

 "I am so sure, thank y--"

 "Because I can give you a ride, are you SURE??"

Now I was beginning to doubt whether I really was OK; this kind woman was so afraid of storms that she was starting to make me afraid of them, too. A hint of old fear winked at me: monsters under beds, shadows in corners. After a moment's hesitation wherein I reminded myself that there is no boogey man and that there is absolutely no way a monster would fit underneath my sleeping bag without my noticing, I assured her, again. 

 "I am SURE. Thank you!!!"

She drove off, turning back to wave at me like a war-bound soldier's honey on a train platform. I did not know whether to be gladdened and grateful to the Universe for sending me a road angel when I did not need one...or concerned that the rain would turn into the boogey man and eat me.

I w as fine. The rain made me cleaner. And it did not eat anybody, as far as I know.

August 22, Day 49: 62 miles from Red Wing, MN, to Winona, MN

I've never had much faith in miracles--not really. Serendipity, Providence: cute little ideas that give comfort to some silly people but really don't have much to do with Reality. Now I'm not so sure. 

This was another hot and humid day, and gorgeous as the ride was (have you any idea how many LAKES there are in Minnesota? The answer is a LOT) I was a bit pooped and not so bright-eyed. I trudged along, and somehow my sad and soggy will power got me to Winona, just as it was getting dark.  

I spent my last day in Minneapolis setting up Warm-showers hosts (couch surfing for cyclists) for my ride through Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was a large logistical victory. I had made one error however, and I was about to discover it.

I had gotten email responses back from all my hosts, saying yes! Come stay! (Thanks be to all divine things for I'd thought that I had Winona lodging all squared away, but then, just as my cell phone was about to run out of battery, the sky out of light, my legs out of go-power and my spirit out of oomph, I realized that although I'd emailed two Winona families, the one whose address I'd hastily scribbled down was not the one who had replied affirmative to my request for shelter and pleasegodashower.  

So I was at the bottom of a massive hill at twilight, clutching a soggy address that might or might not be the address of someone actually at home and not on vacation on some amazing Minnesota Lake (note to those who might want to embark on a similar endeavor in future: avoid seeking shelter in places with words like 'summit' or 'heights' at the ends of their names. Bad. News.)

Of course there were many possible solutions. There are almost always many possible solutions. The first one I was going to try, however, was to push onward up this ruddy mound of earth called something bloody Summit Heights Staircase of Bicyclist Chaos and Doom, and see if these folks I'd emailed and not heard back from might actually be home. The climb was steep. Very steep. My load was heavy and it was getting dark and I was hungry very hungry and this was really not fun anymore. But I trudged on, pedaling up and moving forward really only a little bit. Finally: fuck this I want to go home, thought I, and gave up, dismounted, and began to push my two-wheeled pack-horse up the hill. I  missed my mom. I missed my house. I missed Oakland and Berkeley and Cutting Ball and Shotgun and my friends and all the things I know and love. I cried some and continued trudging. This. Ruddy. Sucks.

I thought to myself: if the Universe wanted to send me an angel sometime, this would be the time. Because if things didn't change pretty fast I was goin home to California where the sun always shines and my bed stays in one place and my toothbrush does, too.

A moment later, a car approached and a friendly face said:

"Hey! Are you the biker from Oakland!?"

I positively wept.

"YES!"  And then: "How did you know that??" 

It was Jim and Ladybug (mutt extraordinaire: she once killed a full-sized buck) the host who had indeed replied affirmative, but whose address I'd not written down before the cell phone died. They just happened to be out on an evening walk--unusual for them--they normally go in the morning--and Jim recognized me from photos on my website. Ohthankgod I said, and ohmygod I meant it.

Jim and his wife Rosemary are remarkable. They've just finished walking the Camino de Santiago, and also frequent Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California (as do I.) They eat Vegetables and they Meditate and they are deeply Kind and Patient and their house is a haven of peace and equilibrium. I felt as though I'd come home to kindred spirits--my long lost Minnesota Zen family. I so desperately needed a respite and safe haven--it felt like a miracle. was.

August 23, Day 50: Sailing with Jim and Stephen on Lake Onalaska.

My spirits were not quite ready to face the wide world the next day, so I stayed on and Jim took me sailing with his vivacious friend Stephen, who, when asked if sailing without all the fancy equipment (as we were doing) was more pure, replied, "yes and purity is highly overrated."  

August 24, Day 51: 70 miles from Winona, Minnesota, to Norwalk, Wisconsin.

Tunnels and friends galore! I rode on the Sparta-Elroy Rail Trail for much of the day, the First Ever Rail Trail in the U.S.! It was a railway until the turn of the century, and was converted into a bicycle trail in the 1970s. It. Is. Magnificent. There are three tunnels on the trail, one of which is three quarters of a mile long and pitch dark in the middle. No light visible from either end...and bats...and water trickling down mossy limestone walls...yes...

I met an awesome posse of touring bicyclists in Sparta (the bicycling capital of the U.S., at least according to Spartans) and they very kindly welcomed me into their troop. We camped together in Norwalk at the foot of an old abandoned dairy. Can I just say: people are wonderful: Maggie and Todd and Maxim and Victor and Kristin and Aaron and Jill and Alex and little baby Lennon in the bob trailer: road friends are the best. They always find you when you most need them. God, it seems, is Other People. Not what Sartre said.

August 25, Day 52: 62 miles from Norwalk, WI, to Baraboo, WI.

In Baraboo I found more kindred: THEATRE PEOPLE! 

My host Rob is amazing. A techie of many talents, he often works down at the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. I'd never heard of this place, a fact which now amazes me: Ken Albers and John Pribyl of Oregon Shakespeare Festival fame currently work there. And the work is extraordinary: simple, true to the word, patient, and alive.

August 26, Day 52: Waiting out the heat in air-conditioned cafes.

August 27, Day 53: The Circus in the morning with Lady Tilda, and APT in the evening. Life you are so good to me.

Rob's girlfriend's rockin nine-year-old daughter Matilda had the brilliant idea of going to the circus on this morning. Baraboo is where Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey got started, and is where the Circus World Museum currently stands. 'Tis mind blowing, kids.  

And after the circus...some Tom Stoppard. APT just knocked the shit out of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. I've never seen the play so well done. En fucking core. 

August 28, Day 54: 45ish miles from Baraboo to Madison. excellent. 

August 29, Day 55: 80 miles from Madison to Milwaukee; only 50 of them actually happened on a bicycle.

Riding happily along toward mile 50 of the day, I was feeling oddly sluggish. I realized that I was phenomenally Hungry, so I plopped down in the middle of the trail and proceeded to eat Food while the Mosquitoes ate me.

I glanced down at my rear tire. Flat. Another cause for sluggishness. A front flat is puzzle enough but fixing a rear flat involves chains and gears and greasy mucky fingers and complicated feats of physics. Although I have ridden 1,300ish miles on this journey, I am no great hand at repair (largely because Theo is a badass and does not let rough roads get her down.) 

I unloaded and upended Theo and proceeded to try to like...fix the issue. This being my first rear flat of the journey, this fix was bound to involve a commitment of time and patience.  I fumbled with wheels and greasy parts for a long while, and was finally making some sloppy headway when lo: another angel appeared.

Rich is a retired critical care flight paramedic and spends his free time rescuing cyclists in distress. At least that's what happened to his free Thursday afternoon last week.

He pedaled up just as I was thinking oh jeez I'm not sure I quite have the mechanical chops to deal with this. He helped me to solve the rear-wheel-with-disc-brakes flat puzzle, and after riding with me to a bike shop for a better pump, said hey it's getting late and you've still got thirty miles to go, I've got my car here and can drive you to Milwaukee. Thanks. Be. 

August 30, Day 56: 30 miles from Milwaukee to Fredonia, WI. 

Another rear flat and hey guys: I'm starting to get good at fixing them now. 

I was going to stay and work and write on a farm in Fredonia for a spell; suffice it to say that the farm was not what I was expecting so I quickly changed plans! There were silverfish and cockroaches involved, but no actual danger.  

August 31, Day 57: 24 miles from Fredonia to Sheboygan Falls, WI. 

Wisonsin towns have the coolest names.

September 1, Day 58: 30 miles to Manitowoc, WI, and a ferry ride on the SS Badger to Ludington, Michigan.  

My hosts here--Ruth Ann and Gene--ran an Indiana bed and breakfast for five years; I went upstairs to find a neat pile of clean towels laid out on a beautiful bed, and yes, a little piece of dark chocolate on the wash cloth. Angels. Abound.

September 2, Day 59: A rest day in Ludington. Oh, yes, for Rest.  

See Change

August 5, Day 32: 55 miles from Missoula to Seeley Lake

A morning of logistics and errands made for a late departure--we finally departed at 2pm and made it to camp by nightfall. Things change swiftly on the road, and today was a day of many swift shiftings; we left the city and quickly found ourselves swimming through unearthly Montana Sky-scapes: confronted with such vast wonderment, my soul cycled along drop-jawed, no room anymore for city worries.

August 6, Day 33: 58 miles from Seeley Lake to Swan Lake

Swimming is the Best Thing. 

August 7, Day 34: 42 miles from Swan Lake to Columbia Falls

Today was hard. Homesick and weary, I did my best to navigate our team to Columbia Falls: one wrong turn lead us five miles down a (very scenic) gravel road to Nowhere. Well...not exactly nowhere, it led us precisely to the middle of a hay field; hay fields are nice but they make for problematic cycling. We turned back to cycle UP the gravel road. The silver lining: I found an excellent wild turkey feather to stick in my helmet--a reminder that even the road-to-nowhere can bear fruit. 

August 8, Day 35: 33 miles from Columbia falls to Avalanche Creek Campground, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

More Delicious Thunderstorms. 

August 9, Day 36: 33 miles from Columbia Falls to Saint Mary Campground, Glacier.

So many cool new friends! We pulled into the hiker-biker site at Saint Mary to find meet John, an awesome and hilarious cyclist from Manhattan; we spent the afternoon laughing. Looking over our very thorough camp kitchen (I have my priorities) he teased us about our heavy load, asking us, "haven't you ever heard of a jet-boil?" This man has cycled up from Cabo San Lucas fueled by twice-daily meals of oatmeal and peanut butter. Our cooking system may be heavy but hey check out our typical supper: black bean soup with braised cabbage and quinoa--a veritable feast by bike-packer standards.

Swimming in the Saint Mary River (this river is made of glacier sweat: COLD) that afternoon, we met three more friends: Brad and his two boys--Zach, 12, and Braedan, 6--of Alberta, Canada. They invited us to their campsite for supper. What a sweet family. And later: a cloudy attempt at meteor-watching with the park rangers, John and Brad and the boys. We found a family of friends here at Glacier; even in this vast unfamiliar place, I felt so at home.

August 10, Day 37: 30 miles from Saint Mary, through Middle Earth, to East Glacier Park Village

Setting out on this day we'd no idea that we were in for 30 miles of challenging hills. Nor did we know that we were about to be transported to Middle Earth; this day wins the prize for most-stunning-ride-to-date.

August 11-13, Days 38-40: Hiking and exploring in East Glacier with Artist-Botanist Jo and Ranger Sam!  

Did you know that bears eat mostly bugs and berries? I did not know this. Nor had I ever tasted a Huckleberry. We ate lots and lots of them on our climb up toward Painted Teepee Mountain. Jo and Sam are the best: they taught us all about Glacier and told us tales of wolves and bears and beavers and also fed us the most amazing food. Sam and Jo: I love you so! See you again soon, dear friends! 

August 14-15, Days 41 & 42: 1,100 miles on the Amtrak from East Glacier to Minneapolis

Yay for changing plans!

On the 12th, my lovely riding partner Rachel took the train from East Glacier to Chicago to teach art to K-8th graders (she's a mighty brave and generous soul.) The bicyclist slated to relieve Rachel and join me on my ride across the plains had to tend to other non-bicycle business, so I had reconsider my prairie-travel-options. North Dakota is a tricksy place to be at the moment: a huge oil boom has turned its western edge to a west wilder almost than California in the 1850s. Not a great place for a lone lady rider. Another option: go north to cross the plains in Canada. And option three: hop on a train to Minneapolis--a city I've always been curious about--and use the slack time afforded me by the train to track down some family history. Needless to say, I went with option three.

 August 16-20, Days 43-47: Minneapolis, Glorious Minneapolis. A week of Exploring, Heritage Hunting, Re-routing and Folk-singing!

First of all, I don't care what people have to say about biking in Portland: biking in Minneapolis is better. Bike lanes and bike-only paths--gorgeous and wooded--abound. And lakes. So many lakes. And hey guys did you know that the Mississippi River flows through Minneapolis? I did not know this. It is SPECTACULAR. 

My grandmother grew up in a house built by my great grandfather in Minneapolis in 1910; I did't get to meet my grandma before she died, so I have long been curious about her story. A distant cousin supplied me with an address, and I was able to track down the old house in the Kenwood neighborhood. It's beautiful. And Big. The current owners--Cornelia and Dominic--welcomed me inside and showed me the deed to the land, bearing not only the names of my great-grandparents, but my grandmother as well, with whom I share a middle name. Cornelia also showed me all over the house--through the rooms and nooks in which my grandmother lived in as a girl. I reached out to touch old radiators--the laundry chute and the cupboards--elated by the knowledge that they were doubtless touched by my grandmother decades earlier. Tres. Cool. 

I'm currently staying with a wonderful couple in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. Terri is awesome and works for Habitat for Humanity and drives a scooter; she took me for a ride and you guys, meet the epitome of FUN: a twilight scooter ride through the Twin Cities.

Being a public radio geek, The Twin Cities of course make me think of Garrison Keillor, and guess what: Kevin worked for years as the banjo player in the band touring with A Prairie Home Companion. Plus: Garrison was his eldest son's first babysitter. Who. Knew. Every Tuesday night, Terri and Kevin host a folk music jam in their living room (Terri sings and plays mandolin.) Tonight, I get to join them. How lucky am I.

Tomorrow I set out upon my adjusted adventure: to cycle down the Mississippi (because you guys: it is SPECTACULAR) and eventually find my way to a farm near Milwaukee, where I will stay and volunteer and write for a bit before continuing on across Michigan and up to Canada. Yahoo! 



Believing in Make Believe

This is the story from Day 19, the 55 mile journey I took with Rachel from Mary Hill to Crow Butte Park, along the Washington Side of the Columbia River.

 The day dawned bright and promising as we left our waterside camp to cycle onward through The Gorge, watching as the scenery turned from verdant riverbank to austere red desert. Spectacular walls of striped rock rose up on our left, while the Columbia continued faithfully on our right hand. The road ahead loomed long and the morning air hovered high with the promise of deep heat; sweat like morning dew grew up on my arms, and we moved forward into the brightening day. 

And then. Coming round a bend, we saw that our first five miles would be Vertical ones. Forced unexpectedly into go-mode-maximus, my body had to figure out how to meet the struggle--and quickly. Thus began a crash course in cycling geometry. 

There is a sweet balance point for riding with power and ease, and I found it for the first time on this day--'twas a matter of necessity. I would lose it and find it and lose it and find it several times before my body finally built a map: the fire in the gut fuels the feet as they swim in forward circles, body levitating in the saddle to follow the spine as it tilts wind-ward, pointing the way ahead. It feels like flying. Like running on the Air. And it's all in the thinking about it; I imagine my feet to be swimming and my feet swim. My knees and back no longer carry the burden and pain disappears. It's make-believe-magic.  

After many miles and many hours of powerful riding through desert and rock and brush and riverbank, we came to a little park with a pier out into the river. We jumped in. We ate lunch. It was glorious. Then we got back on the bikes and rode another ten miles to the nearest town for popsicles and a brief air-conditioned respite. By now the day's promise had ripened into a fire-y bloom and the black pavement echoed up a screaming mirage of HOT. It would be another twenty five miles to the campsite; we were droopy but we would make it. Armed with bottles of ice water and an iron determination to protect and propel my party to safe haven, I led the way back into the heat. 

As navigator and the Person Who Had the Idea of Doing this Crazy Thing, I felt a mother-bear-like duty to take care of my riding partner. We were both just beginning to find our strength, so this afternoon's challenge was to be an epic one: heat and hills. The landscape bleak and brown and desolate, I wondered that the Columbia was only meters away; we cycled along its curves, gazing to the right to sip wishful sips of it with thirsty eyes. The road sizzled. The miles crept by, each one more slowly than the last. Our team was fading, moral was sinking. Fear was creeping in. Fear is a big problem. Fear is to be avoided at all costs. By some nasty trick of back-mind alchemy, fear takes a possible journey and turns it into an impossible journey. What to do? I was surprised by my mind's instinctive solution--to play Pretend.

Either my brain was addled by the heat, or this stuff really works: I imagined us as Lewis and Clark, desperate on the trail, leading a sick soldier to safety--we had to make it, for the sick man's sake. I was Merriwether Lewis, Rachel William Clark, the bikes our trusty horses. It was 1805 and it was hot and we were strangers to this brutal landscape: of course it was scary. Somehow, this game of pretend magically transferred my fear and suffering to the imaginary sick soldier that we were transporting, leaving me free to enjoy the powerful ride, to be strong and free and racing. Is that strange? Maybe. But it worked. 


Sudden Hellos and Too Soon Goodbyes

Day 23: 67 miles from Walla Walla, WA, to Pomeroy, WA, home of Norma and Don, the sweetest kindest road angels ever.

Hot, sweaty, and not so cheery, Rachel and I rolled into Pomeroy just in time to greet the hottest of the heat. I'd just been gifted with my first flat tire of the journey, so we were on the look-out for a bike shop that we might replace the spare tube we'd just installed. We passed a lovely red brick house and the tail-end of a garage sale; the proprietor was a twinkly eyed woman with a ready laugh and generous smile--Norma, we'd learn. We asked for directions to a bike shop--there was none, but would we like to come swim in her pool? Um: YES! Hours later we were swimming and feasting with Norma and Don, in their pretty back patio. Where are you sleeping tonight? ...The campsite at the fairgrounds... We have 3 spare bedrooms for the grand kids! Yes: Norma and Don took in two hot and soggy cyclists and turned out two road ready human beings. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Day 24: 37 miles from Pomeroy WA to Lewiston, ID

On our ride through the Columbia Gorge we kept running into and occasionally riding with two fabulous Chicagoians--Roger and Barb. They, like us, were wiped from the heat and the morning's climb, and decided to call it a day once reaching Clarkston / Lewiston (twin towns named after guess who.) We went to visit Roger and Barb at the Motel 6, to chat and dodge the heat: picture a tiny motel room stuffed with 4 fully loaded touring bikes: 'twas a sight to see. My God look at all these bikes! said I. Roger responded in perfect Chicago tones: What? Is there a bicycle in here?!

Another road angel found us this day; when buying groceries we asked, again, about a bike shop. You should ask Brad, he's a biker! And lo: Brad advised us and offered us bunk beds under a real roof. Not only that, but great conversation, a kitchen in which to cook supper, a real bike pump, and the company of Mojo, the baddest ass cat I have ever met.

Day 25: 34 miles UP from Lewiston, ID to Winchester, ID

Old Winchester Grade Road: you are mighty, but we were mightier. So many switchbacks, so much up-ness. But trees again! We'd been through so much desert and field; to live among evergreens for a spell was heavenly.

Day 26: 56 miles from Winchester to Syringa, by way of Kamiah, ID. 

This was a morning of roller coaster hills through wheat fields; really, it was like a grain-themed amusement park for bicycles. Except that it was hot and steep and not so amusing. But then we found the Clearwater River and followed it for two days through the Clearwater Forest. Magic.

Day 27: 40ish miles from Syringa to just bellow Powell Junction, ID.

I went to wash my clothes and me in the river and neglected my shorts for a little moment: splashy panicked half naked biker then chased them downstream. They were retrieved. Peace was restored.

Day 28: 30ish miles from our campsite-by-the-river to just over Lolo Pass, and our camp in the Montana timberland.

The day dawned damp and grey. A clap of thunder woke us sharply and Rachel's eyes met mine as we registered at the same moment: Imminent. Thunder. Storm. 

We dodged raindrops to pack up the bikes and prep for the day's climb: today was the day we were to climb Lolo Pass; for two days people had been asking--you going up or down? Up. Oh....Lolo...they'd murmur, looking at us with fear and pity before backing away slowly from the crazy people with the bicycles. 

Already Wet after only five miles, we stopped for shelter and cocoa at the Lochsa lodge. There we met Jack 'Chives' Bradley, a fellow touring cyclist, also going UP. I saw him from across the drippy driveway of the lodge: a friend a friend! I shouted and ran toward him. Bright red Ortleib panniers and stout camp cookware bungeed to the rack: this was an ally. Behind a mane-like sun bleached crown and bushy beard were shiny sea eyes; this boy was of the California coast, 'twas written in that turquoise gaze.

We three sat and drank warm drinks and used the internets to tell family we were still living: we'd been sans all communications for days.  Three cups of coffee later and the rain would not relent. But neither would we: the three of us would climb Lolo together in the Wet. 

And guess what? Lolo ain't got nothin on Old Winchester Grade Road. We climbed that baby in no time, crisp air and pines and rain wrapping us in a misty embrace as we pedaled ever upward, imaging ourselves on a quest through Middle Earth: Rachel was Frodo (she kept getting flats...) Chives was Strider, and I was Sam (cause I do the cooking.)    

At the Top there was a visitor center with guess what: FREE COCOA for Frodo and Strider and Sam! Like a dream, the sun emerged as we began our descent, and coasted into Montana wearing fresh dry clothes and high spirits.

Flat tires are generally a drag, but meetings and partings on the road are all about timing, and Rachel's rear wheel was on our side this day, even if it was hard to see at first. While stopping to fix Rachel's third flat of the day, two more cyclists rolled up: Aaron and Sergei, of Santa Cruz and Brooklyn (by way of Voronezh, Russia) respectively. These two are made of nothing but tall young man muscle and bright smiles. Now a band of 5, we rode on.

Bees have to land to sting, yes? Not in Montana! A fly-by sting and two Benadryl decided our destination for us: we'd have to stop rolling before I got loopy and drooped from the saddle. Chives found a nice patch of timberland, Rach and I asked the nice people in the cabin next to it if we could camp--they said yes--and we made a fire and food. Lots. Feeding 5 cyclists in the wilderness requires Quantity: our food sacks were considerable lighter next day. After sleeping through Epic Thunder and Lightning and Rain, a morning fire and a another meal of Quantity, we rode on together, into Missoula. 

Day 29: 27 miles to Missoula!  

Our merry band was the bomb; I'm not sure I have the words yet to express the joy of finding and riding and camping with this crew.

Days 30 and 31: Missoula Missoula Missoula

This morning, after spending two days together as a posse in Missoula, Rachel and I bade farewell to our three new friends. The road has a way of flinging random humans at one another for brief wondrous moments...and then the inevitable parting happens and makes way for more meetings. I'm getting slightly more accustomed to these sudden hellos and too soon goodbyes, but this goodbye for sure made me sad. It's funny, though: though I feel a pang of loss, the parting ignited a sort of warmth:    I'll think of Aaron and Sergei and Chives on their way to Yellowstone, as Rachel and I trek north to Glacier, our posse peeling off in perpendicular directions, each wanderer made warmer by our brief collision. A sort of energy is generated by these collisions and divisions--a little force is sparked that grows and lives on beyond the goodbye. And it is outside of us now, wandering worlds where wanderers wander...this bud of warmth generated by our posse of 5. 


Lewis and Clark and Mermaids

Days 11-13: Wandering about the Bend-Sisters-Redmond area: what beautiful mountains. The Three Sisters they are called--North Sister, Middle Sister and South Sister. Though really they should be Olga, Masha, and Irina.

Day 14: A hike to the top of Multnomah Falls, a fishing lesson, and Oregon trivia: did you know that the Deschutes River is one of only three rivers in the world flowing from South to North? When in Bend, I decided to jump into the Deschutes; this is not necessarily unadvisible, but sludge and river-weed are a big part of the experience...which I was not expecting. I swam for quite a while, floating along with the gentle current; then I found myself in a mossy jungle of ambiguous river vegetation. I tumbled ungracefully to my feet for a small moment before sinking knee-deep into profoundly porous green river goo. This process continued for a very clumsy and splashy ten minutes or so, and as I approached shore I saw a tiny little girl watching me in awe. 

"Did you have a tail?" she asked.

 "I'm sorry?" I said, mud and sludge sliding down my legs. 

"A tail. Did you have a tail? Did you grow those legs just now? "


"Are you a mermaid?" 

The girl's mother looked at me pleadingly from the shore.  I have a policy of not lying to children, but this wee girl was so eager, and seemed right on the edge of believing that magic might exist in her own River. I decided to evade the issue.

"It's a secret." 

"I can keep a secret. I won't tell anyone."

"Are you sure?" 

"I'm sure." 

Now, I never did believe in Santa Claus or faeries, but I liked to pretend that I did. And I delighted in finding signs that such magical creatures MIGHT exist. It was fun. And the hope that mortals might have some way of touching realms beyond ours, realms with different rules, different possibilities...this both comforted and inspired me, gave me hope for the future of the 'real' world. 

This little girl was so serious, desperate, even: grasping to know the boundaries of the possible. And perhaps some proof that other dimensions might lurk behind immediate sight. I wanted to keep her hoping, keep her reaching and dreaming.  

"OK," I said, still covered in slime and probably goose poop, "Yes. But only in the Deschutes River." 

"Are you telling the truth? "

Jeez Louise little gal, don't make me lie to you some more!  

"YES! YES! But don't tell anyone." 

She looked skeptical but pleased. Her eyes locked to mine, she continued marching along the shore toward her mother, her gaze full of big questions and big cares. 

Days 15-16: Portland is an amazing place, y'all.  Here I met up with my intrepid new riding buddy: Rachel. She is a force of nature. I am so lucky to be rolling with this lady.

Day 17: 56 ish miles from Portland to Hood River. Gorgeous. WINDY. Columbia River, I love thee so.

Day 18: 55 miles ish from Hood River to Mary Hill. Headwinds nearly got us down, but a nice lady fed us ham sandwiches and prayers and we carried on. 

Day 19: 55 miles ish from Mary Hill to Crow Butte Park.  This day comes with a story, but the story will have to come later, because dinner beckons. And dinner, my friends, is my new favorite thing. The story involves Mr. Meriwether Lewis and Mr. William Clark.

Day 20: 40 miles from Crow Butte Park to Hermiston, OR, to stay with Mark Tullis. Amazing Man. Carves arrow heads out of obsidian using elk-horn tools, which he also makes himself. He fastens the heads to shafts using a paste he creates with pitch (tree sap) charcoal, and elk poop. This man is for real. He has also been a sailor, a corrections officer, a hunter and general bad-ass man of the outdoors, a father, a mechanic, a bicyclist, a motorcyclist, philosopher, historian and the best dang host one could wish for. Talk about a good soul. Thank you, Mark.

Day 21: 55 miles from Hermiston to Walla Walla to stay with Bob and Emma and Bina the wonder dog! What kind and generous hosts! And so fun! They keep feeding us watermelon. My cup runneth over.

Day 22: REST DAY. THANKS BE. In the morning we wake at 4am to beat the heat. For now: we shall drink cider and watch Harry Potter. Life. Is. Sweet.  


The Biking Part!

On July 5th, the BIKING part of Bike Odyssey began!

 Day 1: Berkele y Marina to Skyline Wilderness Park in Napa. 39.9 miles. Mostly flat, except for a beastly climb around a very attractive (not) oil refinery just before the Carquinez Bridge. 'Twas a test of will. 

Family and friends came to the marina, where we dipped our rear wheels in the Bay, gave hugs and rode away--it was a wonderful send-off. I had the most spectacular bike posse for day one: the ever excellent bike master Dan Iron Man Moberly, actor and adventurer extraordinaire Michael Kelly, and bike genius Daniel Lauzon, of Biketopia.

  Day 2: Skyline Wilderness Park to Lake Solano Regional Park. 35 miles. DUE. UP.

Not wanting to leave my friends, I lingered at camp over breakfast and conversation until nearly 11am. While I was re-packing my panniers--seeking to eliminate weight--my buddy Eli began a game of pannier-pong, tossing walnuts from a nearby tree into my bags. Very helpful.

We finally set off, Neil 'Rabbi' Colin Satterlund shouting the Wayfarer's Prayer after us as we pedaled away. He also affixed the prayer to my top tube and fender, written in sharpie on theatrical spike tape. A Ganesh from Neil to sits on my prow--my handlebar bag--and I feel thoroughly blessed: bearing prayers from all corners, and in the language of the theatre tribe.

We pedaled though vineyards and farm land so idyllic, and so different from what we were about to encounter. About an hour later came THE MOUNTAIN that wouldn't stop giving. Really it was a hill, but to us it was a mondo mountain beast; an unrelenting climb, uber steep and viscious. Happy day two on the road, campers! Dan of course was happy as a clam, speeding up and up and pulling over at turn-outs to wait for me as I trudged upward and upward. I would approach the turn-out to see him standing there, smiling sunbeams at me, and he'd say, "how you doin sunshine?" The only possible response to Mr. Daniel Scott Moberly's enthusiasm is redoubled enthusiasm. "Fabulous!" I'd say. I don't know if I'd have made it up that mountain without Mr. Dan.

Day 3: Lake Solano Regional Park in Winters to Riverdog Farm, Guinda. 35 miles. Theoretically. We are champions and decided to make it 50. In other words we got lost.

The day was mostly flat through farmland and field. Hot and beautiful. We stopped for a picnic lunch in Esparto, where we met a hitchhiker named Jacob, a young army reservist traveling around the west taking pictures. He finished basic training last year, and works as a combat photographer when deployed. He can't be more than 20. We saw him get out of the car he was hitching with, and his travel solar panel flashed it he sun: he's one of us! I shouted, and waved him over. Such a sweet man.

After lunch we cycled onward up route 16. Now, if you're paying attention like a navigator should, you would notice that one needs must hang a left in Esparto if one wants to stay on route 16.  Giddy on beauty and tired from heat and pedaling, I neglected to notice, and this navigator lead her team afield. But let me tell you: it was worth it. Sunflower fields as far as the eye can see. And the cutest roller coaster vineyards: up a bit and down a bit and up a bit and down a bit. Then came a dead end. A dirt road stretched to out left and right: this can't be right. We consulted the skies, and their satellite wizards told us that we were not where we had planned to be. We turned around and 17 or so miles later we were in Capay, where I collapsed in front of a diner. A nice man gave us free root beer, and we wandered into a convenience store where we saw a newspaper for the first time in days: plane crash at SFO. It was an odd feeling, being away from home and hearing scary news of San Francisco. For the first time I felt far away.

We pedaled on, and just a few miles down the road the bolts attaching Dan's front rack to his bike (The Blue Meanie) decided to make a dash for freedom, and ten pounds of gear were left to hang haphazardly from his front wheel. Dan went hunting down the road, looking for two shiny washers and their bolts. I went hunting through my pannier for the mondo zip tie Marvelous Marius had found at the campsite in Napa. We had wee zip ties, but my roomie Marius found one gorilla zip tie hanging out in the grass and bequeathed it to me in case of emergency. And lo! The next day it was needed. I found it in my pannier and used it to secure Dan's rack. A few wee zip ties later, and some duck tape for good measure, and The Blue Meanie was back in action. 

We rode the last ten miles to the farm, and there waiting for us was Dan's dad David, and shortly there after Tim pulled up with Thunder and Qulio, Riverdogs 4 and 6. The most welcome welcome for two hot and hungry cyclists: Tim pointed us in the direction of a storehouse full of watermelon, plums, corn and summer squash and invited us to cook dinner in his kitchen a mile up the road. He went off to run an errand, and we felt like the Boxcar Children as we found our way up the dirt road at twilight, searching for the little farm house that would be our home for the night.

There are few places more beautiful than the Capay Valley at twilight, except perhaps the Capay Valley at sunrise. After bidding farewell to Dan and David, having a great conversation with Tim, and sleeping under the stars on the farm, I set off at dawn to meet Lorraine. She's the farm veterinarian who was to meet me at the junction of Highway 16 and road 44, to give Theo (my Surly Troll) and me a lift to Ashland. Thus began...

 Day 4: A lift in a pick up to wonderful Ashland. 

This day was hot and tired. I bade farewell to Lorraine and had a picnic lunch in Lithia Park. For the first time I felt my rootlessless: just me and Theo, out in the world. After lunch I cycled to the home of ML, my wonderful Warm Showers host for the next two days (couch surfing for cyclists.) There I showered (my new favorite activity) ate and slept. Lots.

Day 5: King Lear! 

Day 6: Ashland to Klamath Falls KOA campground: 54 gorgeous miles. 

There is a surprising kinship between bicyclists and motorcyclists.  I wave and smile at them as they go past, and they wave and (sometimes) smile back. I imagine them grunting behind their helmets. Often they give me a thumbs up or a peace sign. My favorite motorcyclist wave was from a burly mustachioed guy on a Harley, sitting in that bizarrely badass and comical splay legged motorcycle recline: he put out his left hand as I passed him, as if to give me a low-five, and flashed a suave 'Peace' in my direction. So slick. I had just been invited to the badass club. Saweeet. 

Day 7: Klamath Falls to Mizama Village, Crater Lake. 54 miles. Big ones. 

I met up with Alsandair Miner in K Falls, a recently retired Army officer and pilot. Talk about badass. (He also sings a beautiful tenor: pulling into mile 60 on day 8 with Alex singing Bhoemian Rhapsody behind me: this will forever be my picture of victory.)

After a ten mile climb up to Crater Lake, we were ready for dinner. Fernch fries and ketchup, ladies and gentlemen, have never tasted so good.

Day 8: Mizama Village to Crescent, OR. 64 miles. Mostly downhill. And fast

After another huge morning climb, we made it to the rim of Crater Lake. It is very blue and very beautiful. Then we had to go down. Now, losing nearly 1000 feet in elevation in 12 minutes on a fully loaded bicycle, this is an experience to remember. Terror and awe in equal parts. Thank the gods for disc brakes. 

We stopped at a diner in Diamond Lake Junction for lunch; John Bates' doppelgänger runs the place! I told him about Downton Abbey and he was flattered and surprised. Kevin Moore is his real name, and he serves a mean burger. If you ever find yourself in Diamond Lake Junction, go have lunch with Mr. Bates.

Day 9: Big Pines RV Park, Crescent, OR, to Bend, OR. 44 miles for Alex, 15 for Caitlyn. 

Big Pines Park is just off the 97 in Crescent. 'Tis a place of wonder: laundromat, shower house, and genuinely flat tent campsites. Also: friendly folk and heated restrooms, a boon on this morning, which dawned a crisp 34 degrees. We packed quickly and got on the road, but I was soon to realize that my right knee would Much rather have stayed in Crescent.  

Thus began my first hitching adventure. We pulled into a gas station and Alex helped me to scope out the crowd for a good ride: we settled on a couple with a pick-up; what they must have thought when two fully loaded cyclists came zeroing in on them, I do not know. Ron and Jilly Anne were great: they argued most of the ride over who was the better fisherman. I'd put my money on Jilly Anne: she'll go out with just a line tied to her wrist and a hook in the water. Bad. Ass.

I arrived in Bend at the home of Fred Christiensen and his awesome family. I pulled into  their driveway and shortly thereafter Fred pulled up on his bike, followed by his nine year old son, Jacob; both had just completed a quarter century ride for cancer research. Jeness, Fred's wife, appeared shortly, too: also wearing a number on her back. Their daughter Rebecca is fourteen and trains twenty hours a week with her Nordic ski team. But it's July, you say! Ah, but there are land skis on which to train during the off season. Rebecca is an impressive teen.

We went inside and Fred immediately handed me a tall iced glass of OJ. In the past I have not much cared for iced drinks; now I build shrines to them. He gave me an ice pack and a wrap for my knee and showed me where i was to sleep: the most lucious bed I have ever seen. Last night was the best night's sleep I can remember having in a long while.

Alex soon arrived and we chatted with nine year old Jacob over lunch: Jeness made us chicken skewers and quinoa salad: heaven! Jacob, too, is a wonder. When Alex asked  him if girls have cooties, Jacob shouted, "that's sexist!" I like this kid, I thought.

Later, when having a discussion about the great beasts of the world, Alex asserted that Man is the top of the food chain; Jacob disagreed.

"Really?" said Alex, "what has dominion over Man?"

"The future," replied Jacob, simply. 

Day 10: Play day in Bend! 



Ode to a Brussels Griffon

One of my neighbors is an amazing dog named Brimley--he has a Mohawk. Yah: I said he was amazing.  The other day I witnessed what is apparently a common smooshy-faced-doggie phenomenon: the reverse sneeze.

Alarming as it is, I was nonetheless impressed by the athleticism of the event.  Brimley took a wide four-legged stance, haunches tensed and ready for the Big One. Then: waves of sneezy wheezing rocked his little muscly frame. It was a jowly soft-palate explosion, incorporating whiskers, buckteeth and Mohawk in a fifteen second Rumba to exorcise the allergen from his nose. He remained strong throughout; the wide four-legged doggie stance should be an inspiration to us all. 



On Hope, Haircuts and Healing. Or: A lesson in Alliteration.

Hope takes a fair amount of muscle to maintain; it seems to have something to do with seeing, and seeing generously. 

I’ve been going on a lot of extremely long walks this week: I roam the far reaches of Berkeley and Oakland pretending to be Ralph Waldo Emerson. (Bike Odyssey is taking a brief Transcendentalist Walking-and-Writing detour while the wrist heals.)

In his essay Nature, Ralph says: “Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all….”

Yesterday I, as Ralph, wandered the world striving to see past My Experience of the day to the Day Itself.  The goal: to transcended my eyeballs, or for my eyeballs to transcend themselves, or to see without my mind saying hey eyeballs this is what we think of what you see so you should see it this way and only this way. The challenge: a haircut gone awry.

The day before yesterday, while romping around with Ralph, I decided that it was time: tired of one-handed hair washing, I set off on Mission Haircut.  Striding up Russell Street, all was peachy keen--the sun and heat swirled through me and wrapped my neck and limbs in a kind of delicious hot soft-serve. I was pumped on the novelty of my new mode--walking--and surveyed the world with eager Traveller’s Eyes.  

The Haircut Experience was a neat one, too; Curtis--my groomer for the day--has impressive skill. I was amazed by the way he wielded the scissors, carving through hair with deft hands--like a zephyr with ten digits.

Swept up in the liberating winds of sculpting and shearing, I said, “let’s take off more!” …and then a wee bit…more! And…another inch…why not! Winds of freedom be my cause! I stepped out of the chair and thought my what a ride! I stepped out onto the street and thought yippee I’m free!  I looked at my reflection in the shop window and thought my that’s short… My transparent eyeball self began to cloud with motes of doubt.

In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Francie’s mother advises her not to crop her hair to a bob like the other girls, saying, “a woman’s hair is her mystery.” ...Did I just shear away my mystery? Gobs of hair dropping to the salon floor like so many lost secrets and sideways glances… Was I now an open book--a naïve little girl gaping at the world with no feint toward sophistication to defend her? A sexless eyeball with only curiosity and verve to entice you. Oh shit.

I continued walking, now lamenting the loss of my womanhood. The sun, once caressing, was now just hot. The breeze got in my eyes and made me spit my hair out: stupid breeze!

Mean egotism had made a reappearance and this eyeball was now cloudy.

Fuck, thought I.

I began an experiment in stretching past thoughts of hair and mystery toward other bigger things, and it was surprisingly difficult--I thought: really guys? A bad haircut and I can't see straight? What a wimpy transcendentalist! But, I am learning that it takes effort to continually find wonder in the familiar. 

So. I sit down to listen, and to write.

A Poem for Emerson:

a cacophony of Aliveness sings its chaos song

just beneath the veil of everyday sight; 

an immense Everywhere force

alert in every blade of grass and swinging door. 

bodies in motion keeping things in motion:

cells multiply and divide like maniacs

in every sidewalk-crack, weeds insist their way into being.

Above it all indifferent winds rustle,

heat swells and cold darkens. 

What a world what a world.



The First Unexpected Adventure! Or: The Art of Falling. Or: One handed blogging

Today is the day for wheel-dipping and departing, so says my kitchen calendar in big blue letters; now there’s a big purple SIKE! written below that.

Two days ago I was rushing about on my new Surly Troll doing last-minute errands in preparation for Bike Odyssey. I was also practicing the art of clipping and un-clipping my cycling shoes without toppling over: initial success. Very good, thought I. Soon, though, came a dance with gravity wherein I measured a critical moment…the amount of time it would take to unclip my foot was greater than the amount of time it would take to hit the ground.

Thus began Unexpected Adventure Number One!

There were tears and lots of oh fuck fuck fucks I’m fucked I fucked the Odyssey, Bike Odyssey is fucked I’ve failed I’m fucked. That happened. But I have the great fortune of living with two wilderness first responders, aka first-aiders extraordinaire. I called them, they rescued me. We assessed the damage: a very bruised and swollen left wrist, extent of injury unknown, and an almost assured adventure delay.

This first item is now beyond my control, aside from obsessive RICEing (and believe me I am RICEing like a pro. Also: arnica, both topical and pellets, Advil and quite literally speaking words of encouragement to my wrist. The swelling’s gone down; I blame the talking to myself.) The second piece of damage, however, IS in my control. The adventure need not delay. I have declared it begun!

If travel is about seeing the world from new vantage points, then unexpected injury is most certainly a form of epic travel. Everything changes. And my oh my it is quite a ride. Disappointment, doubt and demons unnamed roam the periphery of the traveller’s mind, looking for any excuse to pounce. Look! The dog peed on your gear! That is the final straw you are fucked you are not supposed to go on an adventure; you are a crazy woman how did you ever come up with this ridonkulous scheme anyway? Are you NUTS? And the demons say yes yes you are you talk big but really you’re just a fragile little thing. Stay home and mind your own business, dearie.

But what might that be? My business? Who the hell knows. I think it might have something to do with living.

So I told the demons to fuck off and continued packing with one hand, the other dutifully elevated in the air above my head. Next morning I woke early for a field trip to the community clinic. All my clothes are in boxes (boxes that take two hands to open) save my cycling gear and a pair of pajamas, so I wandered out into the world in my PJs and tussled hair (I have yet to perfect the art of one-handed hair-doing) in search of mondo pronto healing.

Here’s the thing about being in obvious distress in public, especially early in the morning: people are puzzled into wanting to help.  “Hey lady, why you raising your hand in the air? You got a question or you want me to tickle you?”  Or: “why are you in such a hurry? And why aren’t you cranky, you gotta be in pain.” And sometimes: “When was the last time you saw a hair brush? Do they have a word for ‘bra’ on your planet?”

And then there’s the kindness: upon boarding the bus the driver commanded me to sit, seeing my elevated ace-bandaged arm. “I can see you’re gonna have trouble hangin on. Rest yourself.”

I got to the community clinic and took a seat in the lobby. Another patient sauntered in--a grizzled survivor of the sixties with a cowboy strut.  His stride said: I know how this place rolls, little fella, you’re a wee cowboy but I can teach you the ropes…maybe. He took a look at me: small anxious lady in PJs, one hand mysteriously suspended in the air. He looked me up and down, gauging my likelihood for rodeo success.

“Well,” he said, “at least you’re young and beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I said, and meant it.

Another clinic cowboy sauntered in; this was clearly not her first rodeo either. A seventy-five year old tomboy with neon pink running shoes and white pixie hair, her eyes said she’d seen a lot and my it was interesting and sad but crying about it was just less fun than doing other things about it.  She sat beside me.

            “Do you need something?” She asked.

            “No, I’m just elevating,” I said.

Grizzled Sixties chimed in, “She’s takin care of that hand.”

            “I see,” she said. “What did you do?”

            “I fell.”



A truly helpful and compassionate advice nurse came out to the lobby to take a look at my wrist. He took my hand gingerly in his and gazed through a pair of long badgery eyebrows to the blue bump on my palm. His forehead tweaked in a wrinkle of concern.

            “You’re planning to do what now?”

            …um, bike across North America…?

            Pause. “Let’s see if we can get you a brace.“

The rest of day one of The First Unexpected Adventure was a scrambling and grasping toward seeing and accepting my new adventure starting-place.  It felt like being home sick from elementary school for the first time, and getting to see home during the quiet weekday morning while everyone’s at work…seeing the week from the inside out. Or like flying through the air to see a forest canopy from above...and then plunging unexpectedly to the forest floor...and seeing the leaves from the under-side...which is an interesting and beautiful side to see them from. 

On day two of The First Unexpected Adventure, X-rays were rayed at me--I am now radioactive--not really. The first thing that was cool about this was that my mom was the x-ray tech x-raying me, so she sure x-rayed me well. Plus it was fun because I got to hang out with my mom.

The second cool thing about this was that the x-rays showed no broken bones. Here’s the catch--and it’s a funny catch because nature just seems to roll like that--I landed on a patch of my palm where lives a little bone called the scaphoid bone. If this is broken It’s bad news. But! And this is nature fucking with us all--a fracture line doesn’t show up on an x-ray until after it has begun to heal…after about a week.

It is unlikely that I have a fracture, but there will be more x-rays next week just to be sure (I will be a super-tastic-radio-active-x-ray-beast soon--not really.) These will yield more information about what shape the Next Unexpected Adventure might take. For now: a week of more unexpected adventures here on the forest floor, checking out the underside of this gorgeous canopy.