Saturday, April 30, 2011

The little things

holding onto hope

Hi friends. It feels like there's so much to tell you. I swear there are so many stories that I haven't quite figured out how to tell. I'm just barely keeping up with the status of my mind/body/soul. Capturing the juicy moments and retelling them in pretty prose seems like a long ways away, if it'll ever happen at all.  Still, I needed to write to tell you these things tonight, as a way of staying grounded in reality, in community, with the sense that people on the other end know how things are going and are there rooting for our wellness and our joy.

The big fat truth right now is this shit is physically demanding. And my body is so so tired. And my mind isn't too far behind my body. But my spirit knows how to frickin' fly. And that's really what I'm riding on more than anything else--a whole lotta mojo, excitement, and big fat love. That's it. Without those things I'd be totally shot.

Things with Brian are really really good. Our differences are glaringly obvious--we cause pain in each others asses on a daily basis--but it couldn't matter less. The pain-in-the-ass-ness is a nice point of reference as to how committed we are to communicating honestly and working with each others truths. There's just so much love in this thing and for that I am really really thankful (infinitely). I feel so lucky, every day, to be together on this adventure. I know we will look back on this with such amazement and joy. I feel like we already are.

I've been reading Lessons of a Lakota by Billy Mills and he talks about how to be happy no matter what. I'm practicing this as much as possible--choosing my perspective, meditating on things that make me happy, deciding to laugh when it rains and pours and blows gusts of wind in my face on a daily basis (or laugh at the fact that I'm crying). Quite honestly, I have very low expectations for things outside of my control. I'm not quite fatalistic (usually), but I'm not surprised (and therefore not let down) when the weather is crap, my body feels like shit, or plans are changed with the flip of a switch. These things feel like nothing next to the fear-ridden places my mind went before the trip. Spend enough time in worried anticipation, deal with all your demons before hand, and nothing will phase you when shit hits the fan. I wouldn't say it's the best method out there, but it's what I've used so far.

You belong among the wildflowers

I'm really enjoying taking photo after photo on my iPhone and I hope all the instagram updates don't feel like a flood on your stream. I lugged my beautiful DSLR camera with me, but I've hardly used it and I'm thinking about mailing it home to lose some weight on my bike. We're trimming down here in Bloomington. My knees have been hurting and carrying less weight might help. At this point, I'd be happy with one dress, one pair of pants, two shirts and a sweatshirt. That's pretty much all I've worn for a month and the ease of never having to choose an outfit really suits me. Especially when the outfit I do have is damn cute! We've been talking a lot about writing a series of gear posts--what's good, what's bad, what's needed, what's not--in the food, clothing, and bike gear categories. Would that be of interest to you? Oh my god, I've done you a total disservice by not writing about the way I smell. Okay--I'll do that, too. You'll laugh your ass off, I promise.

Also, I can't tell you how often people ask me how much weight I've lost. For the record: none. Do I look skinnier? Probably. I'm honestly not thinking about it, though. We eat a LOT because we're hungry all the time. (Although, I'm feeling less hungry these days than when we first started, which is apparently the way it goes with this kind of thing). My body does crave vegetables like nobody's business and I do my best to listen to my body's cravings whenever possible. Hell-o... this thing's gotta last me seven more months!

Speaking of which... my body is practically begging me for a deep tissue massage. Next week we'll be in Florida for Bri's brother's wedding. I know what I'll be treating myself to... budget, be damned!

I'm really missing comfort tonight. Which is part of the reason why I needed to write this simple post with little updates about the little things that occupy my existence right now... To know that someone on the other end is reading, that there are people out there who are with us, somehow... even if that's a total illusion and it's just fine to be in this alone... Tonight, my heart is just wanting comfort in the shape of really being seen and known. You know how that feels?

During my happiness meditations, the feeling of being with my parents keeps resurfacing--the tickle of my dad's bearded face, my mom's roaring laugh, being fed snacks and silly reality TV shows, being held by the people who raised me. It has me teary eyed and smiley. This body feels so far from home. I am stretching so much and it's enlivening and painful and expansive and scary. I feel really alive and really thankful.

What makes you feel really happy or alive or thankful? You have no idea how much I'd love to know.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Will the rain ever stop?...We still got to Indiana

Columbus was an awesome break with great people! We stayed with the lovely couple, Susan and Gretchen, and their awesome dogs, Lilly and Bart, for two nights. Rach knew both of them from the University of Maryland and now they both work at Ohio State University. Staying with them was like staying with family. They were so welcoming and fed us lots of yummy food--chili, thai burritos, uniquely flavored ice cream! They also showed us the university, which was beautiful. The first night there, the tornado sirens in the city went off at 3am and Susan knocked on our door and said, "We have to go to the basement". We went down to the basement and watched the weather. Luckily, the storm wasn't being hit as hard in Columbus but we did see that the area where we camped the night before was hit the hardest!

Susan, gretchen, Bart and lilly!! Our lovely Columbus hosts!

Unfortunately we only planned one day of rest in Columbus before we headed on the 3 day, 150 mile trek to Lawrenceburg, IN (just outside of Cincy) to visit my brother Michael, his wife Nadine and their little girl Little Nay.

I was definitely getting excited to see family for the first of many times on this trip. So we left Columbus on Thursday, April 21st. We had a little of a slow start that morning but thankfully we were going to be on rails-to-trails for 70 miles of the 150 trek to Lawrenceburg. I love rails-to-trails (so relaxing!) but it should really be rails AND trails, to get more cars off the road and people in trains! As always, it seemed like it took forever to get out of the city, plus we made a wrong turn or two. But it was smooth sailing after that. We entered flat farmland and then the Prairie Grass Trail which led to the Little Miami Scenic Trail--both beautiful and relaxing. We ended up going 75 miles that first day, which was great and set us at only 78 miles from Lawrenceburg. It was the longest day of our trip so far!!

Long rail trail

Today's view on the trail

The next day we woke up to more rain coming down on our tent and the prediction was that it was going to rain all day. I know this really brought down my moral at first because, I just wanted 2 days without rain, which seemed impossible. We were lucky and the rain held out for the most part. Of course, during the middle of the day we had a detour as a police officer came up to us to let us know that a huge tree fell down on the trail and we would have to get around it by going on the other side of the river. Fortunately for us it was the easiest detour of the trip.

Track marks
This is the outline our tent made since it rained

We ended up doing 45 miles to get to the suburbs of Cincinnati, OH and stayed in a hotel in Blue Ash, OH because they were predicting serve thunder-storms for the night, which did indeed come true! As we were checking in I was talking to Brian, an employee at the hotel, who proceeded to tell me that Cincinnati was about to break their city record of most rain in April. And then we watched the weather channel, which showed that the same record-breaking rain is true for much of Ohio and Indiana this year. It is RAINING EVERYWHERE!!!

Seriously... It's raining across the ENTIRE country!!!

But at least we were staying dry in a cheap hotel and the next day's forecast was looking up--scattered thunderstorms only. With 32 miles to go--I thought we were in the clear. But Rach thought otherwise..."I have a feeling it's going to POUR on us the whole last hour riding."

One more

Unfortunately for us, Rach was right. When we were about 12 miles away from Lawrenceburg, after climbing a butt-load of hills, the storm came! And I mean storm. It was raining so hard that it felt like pellets were hitting our skin. Over the sound of falling marbles we shouted in laughter, "This is crazy!" "It's like showering on our bikes!"

But here is the best part. We were riding along the Miami river on River Road (luckily, the river stayed off the road for that part). Less luckily, we needed to turn right on Lawrenceburg Rd, which was closed due to "High Water Levels". From where we were standing we didn't see anything, so we decided to go past the closed road sign to investigate. Riding along, we got closer to the "high waters" but weren't convinced that they were actually that high, since we could see the yellow road lines a few inches below. We thought (for about 2 seconds) about walking, but with the shallow water and short distance (about 0.2 miles), we said f* that, and got on our bikes to ride! We let out roller coaster yells through our giggles and knew that if people saw us then, they'd really think we were crazy. But we were having a ball! And thankfully, our bags are super waterproof. Something that I should note is if we didn't do this we would have had about 10 mile detour!!

Road closed due to high water... We rode it anyway

We finally got to my bro's and got a warm shower and some good relaxation time and Nadine made us amazing spaghetti. We also got to get things ready for the Easter egg hunt for Little Nay the next day. We are sticking around here until Tuesday (weather depending) and then heading to Bloomington, IN!! Stay Dry!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Passing by Another Empty Factory

America's greatest closed down factory

"Hey Rach, check out this empty factory. Wonder what it was used for?"

This is the typical statement that I say to Rachael as we pass an empty factory. We have passed so many along the way and I don't know what most were used for. With the help of some people in Pennsylvania, I know some were steel mills or glass factories. Often times we see these abandoned factories while riding on the rails-to-trails network, which turns old railroad tracks into bike paths.

Seeing all this make me think of the possibilities and opportunities for our economy to thrive through these hard economic times.

-We should have a program rebuilding railroads next to the trails to provide more adequate transportation options for people on the country side and fight climate change at the same time.
-We should reopen these factories to help produce products that we are buying through cheap, unfair labor/trade policies with countries in the global south.
-Workers should run these factories so owners don't just all of the sudden close down the factory and then leave a town in shambles with nothing but low paying service jobs and a lot of liquor stores.
-We should work with communities to find out what they need rather than just tell them what they need.

To the average person the possibilities seem endless about how we can really solve this economic crisis. I have had the great opportunity to speak to so many people in these towns about the economy. One person, a former railroad worker in Connellville, PA said to me, "All politicians and business executives should take pay cuts." Another amazing woman in Western Maryland Appalachia, said that there needs to be more options to the people living in rural poverty other than just the coal mines.

These possibilities are not on the minds of our politicians and corporate leaders (which often seem to be the same). They say that we all need to tighten our belts and brace ourselves for cuts to social programs. At the same time, corporations such as General Electric and Bank of America are not paying any taxes and GE is actually calling for $3.2 billion in tax credits. Just think about it--if these corporations actually paid their taxes, that would cover all the budget gaps that all the states are facing.

Also, Obama has continued war campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now Libya. According to people in Washington, DC and on Wall Street, the only option is to cut, cut, cut (but only in social programs, not our huge military budget). Make no mistake this is the policy of the Republicans and Democrats, who both get a majority of their money from Wall Street.

After 2008, when Obama was elected on hope and change, he in many ways became a continuation of the Bush Administration. Last time I checked, the wars are still going on, we are still giving money to Wall Street, Guantanamo Bay is still open and the Bush tax cuts are still in existence.

The only way that we can see actual changes to get us out of this crisis will be through an independent left-wing movement separate from the Democrats. You can look into the history books of this country (just make sure they are not the ones in our schools) and find that anytime a big change happened it was because of an independent movement that pushed the people in power to take action.

Imagine the Abolition of slavery with no Abolitionists.
Imagine the New Deal with no workers movement.
Imagine the Civil Rights Act with now Civil Rights Movement.
Imagine the Gains of Women with now Woman's Rights Movement

The thing is, you can't separate them. If we are going to get change in this country and take on the attacks on ordinary people, we need a movement. We can't do this alone, so wherever you are, go to meetings, meet people who want to change things collectively. Go to protests, even if you have never been to one. The Middle East and the Midwest in the U.S. has once again shown us the power of protest. We are NOT going to change this by only tweeting or facebooking. We need people on the streets. Now get off your butt and get involved!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Every Second

Wind break outside if dalston, Ohio

If you were my best friend and we were talking on the phone, this is what I'd tell you when you'd ask me how I'm doing:

Every second is a new lesson.
I still cry every other day, but I really don't care anymore.
I am so much stronger, mentally, than I've ever been before.
Not one single tangible goal matters to me. The only thing I care about is practicing love.
Tangible goals are still made. But practicing love is the eggs I put my basket in when all else goes to shit.
When you practice love with all your heart, it will definitely--definitely--take you outside of your comfort zone.
You will consciously choose to do things you've never consciously chosen to do before.
And you will feel terrified and weak and on top of the world and insane and more alive than ever before, all at once.
And every other lifestyle will seem like a boring, half-hearted alternative.

You can do anything you want. Anything at all. As long as love is your primary motivation.
But you have to be in it for the whole package.
And the whole package--when you're really practicing love with all your heart--includes the risk of being with things that suck. I mean, things that really suck.
You can choose to be with the sucky stuff in compassion or in drama.
Eventually, you realize that being with the sucky stuff in drama makes it a whole lot harder.
So compassion becomes your saving grace and you begin to thank God that the sucky stuff ever came up at all because it taught you how to soften your heart.
How to laugh at what you can't control.
How to cry just because you needed the release.
How to hold sadness or fear or fury with the kindest kind of force.
You begin to know that you are truly capable of anything. Anything at all.
And that the strongest mental tool you could ever dream of is forgiveness.

Self forgiveness.
For all the times you forgot to practice love when your own heart was enduring the suckiest of suck.
When your own body was pushing to its very last breath.
When your own spirit was doing everything it could to hold the rest of you together.
And you still called yourself names.
And you still berated yourself for all the traits you didn't have.
And you still let yourself spiral down into the weakest of places, uncared for and alone.
For this too, you can make amends.
For this too, you can know that you are no less than anyone else.
For this too, you can forgive yourself.
We are all subject to the wrath of our inner demons.
So much so, that it's the most miserable place our comfort zone knows.
The place we stay a few decades too many.
The place in which we set up camp and begin to call home... the way it is... who I am.
The place we can leave to practice love--a love that is long overdue.
But a love that has no time limit or expiration date.

Truly, it may sound like something only people like me do.
People who choose to ride their bicycles across the country.
People who write blogs and use words like "soul" or "spirit".
People who cut off all their hair or have life coaches or play ukuleles.
But it's not.
It's for people who know or hope or wonder if their heart has a secret it's been trying to tell them for years.
It's for people who can barely pretend to whisper that secret out loud.
It's for people too absolutely terrified or confused or skeptical to even admit they know something's missing.
It's for people who have a longing.
Any longing at all.
And a desire to fulfill that longing.
It's for people who believe, somewhere in their hearts, that love was the force that birthed them.
And it's about time we enter back into that place, with practice, with gentleness, with each other.

Every second is a new lesson.
I still cry every other day, but I really don't care anymore.
I am so much stronger, mentally, than I've ever been before.

I believe so deeply that these words I've written are true.
That we are made for love in all it's many forms.
That we are made to practice together.
That you and I both can do anything we want. Anything at all. As long as we are guided by love.

Welcome to the adventure.
It's absolutely insane.
And absolutely magnificent.

I hope it treats you as well as it's treating me.
Tough love.
Some breaks.
Infinite lessons.
Deep fulfillment.

You have my deepest blessings. Keep me updated, will ya? :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Unpredictable 230 miles from Pittsburgh to Columbus

First off, Pittsburgh was a great time. The city was awesome and had what seemed to be a million bridges and a million great people. We stayed with our friend Alaina, who went to school in DC and performed at one of Rach’s Small is Beautiful Arts Festivals at our house. Their house reminded us of our home – full of friendly, welcoming folks and a whole neighborhood of community. We also met fellow adventurers, Collin and Faith, who were building a raft to sail down the Mississippi from Pittsburgh to New Orleans!! Hannah, Michelle and Collin took us out to see this great the Armadillos, a folksy rockin’ band, and we danced the night away. We strolled the strip, hung in the local coffee shop, and caught up on some much needed rest.

Our beautiful Pitt host

After two rainy days in Pitt, the sun came out for our first of 5 riding days on our way to Columbus, which was 230 bike-friendly miles down the road. We mainly took PA-51 north of the city toward the Ohio boarder. The trek was mainly uphill on old highways with big shoulders.

We ended the first day of riding in East Palestine, OH, which was just over the boarder into Ohio. The small town had a main street, a great park, railroad tracks and suburban houses like sardines. The dense town made it hard to find a discrete place to camp, so Rach befriended a group of kids on bikes for their advice. They suggested the city park in the back where the cops don’t check. “You shouldn’t get in too much trouble if they find you back there!” We got the same advice from another stranger who was hiker who lived in town so off we went.

We stuck out like sore thumbs in this town as Rach mentioned in her previous post. The park was packed with townspeople watching the high school baseball and softball games. As we were relaxing in the shade a man named John Cozza walked up to us and said he saw us taking pictures at the Ohio boarder. After a long conversation we found out that he owns a pizza joint in town, so he ran and got us two free pizzas, which were delectable! We found a great, hidden away spot by the creek in the park to guerilla camp for the night and made it out without any trouble.

Guerilla camping in east palestine, oh!!

Hallelujah! Ohio!

The next day we headed off for our next 50 mile leg to Canton, OH—home of the Football Hall of Fame, as well as the place Eugene V. Debs gave his Anti-World War I speech that landed him in jail. Midway through the day we decided to use one of our much appreciated Marriott gift cards that we got from our wedding. Eastern Ohio was DAMN HILLY and we needed a true rest! After a slight detour we got to the hotel in Canton and relaxed like royalty in a bed too big for a small family, doing our normal hotel routine of stuffing our faces and vegging out in front of the big screen.

The next day we woke up to high winds and pouring rain so we decided to stay at the hotel one more day with a discounted rate, thanks to Rach workin’ her magic J. It was relaxing to have another day off with all those hills we had faced, but we knew we had to leave the next day no matter what.

Unfortunately, the next day brought 35-40 mph winds! Bring. It. On. We trekked forward on our bikes with a day full of obstacles. First, a burned down bridge on the Sippo Valley Trail made crossing a little river near impossible. We tried to see if we could get our bikes across somehow, but ended up getting nice and muddy with no viable solution in sight. Hello, 45 minute detour. The trail went on for another 9 with gusting winds in our faces, nasty moods, and slow crushed rocks for a stretch. Once the trail ended, we said hello to our next-favorite thing: hills! Rach and I had some lovely arguments about what to do considering the crappy conditions, then she asked two people with pickup trucks if they could hitch us a ride 15 miles up the road to where the next trail picked up. (Trails=flat and usually paved). They both said no, “not on a Sunday” so we continued onward. After a while we decided to take a brake where we strategically leaned our bikes against a telephone poll and curled up behind them to block the wind. Just as we were eating a snack and apologizing to each other about our argument, Tom came by in his pick-up truck and asked if we needed help. Rach yelled, “I would kiss you if you gave us a ride!”

Major obstacle... That's a burnt down bridge

My favorite person in the universe right now--Tom--who gave us a 12 mi lift to avoid heavy winds!!

Meet Tom: Our New Savior. He was an aviation mechanic who worked for this company that specialized in building planes for disaster relief missions. He showed us some of his airplanes that were just down the road, then lifted us all the way to Frederickburg, OH, where the 15 miles Holmes County Rail-to-Trail started! He was so kind and told us about the Amish population that we were biking near, the trails he knew of, and his work with the airplanes.

Tom brightened up our day and reenergized us to go 15 more miles. We hit the trail with a great attitude and we realized the trail was not only for bikes, but for Amish horse and buggies. We ended up eating at Burger King in Millersburg, OH and then continued to the small town of Killbuck, OH where we pitched our tent guerilla style. At the end of the trail that day we met George, a true free spirit who was so excited for us that he took our picture, videotaped us telling our story, and got our contact info.

Sharing the trail with the Amish horse & buggy

At this point, we were two more biking days away from Columbus. The next day the winds were down and it was supposed to rain but never did. We had to face more hills in the morning when our legs were cold, which was especially rough on Rach’s knees. We stopped in Danville, OH for lunch and had a much-needed break after the hard morning. After Danville we got on the Kokosing Rail Trail, which was amazing. It was 13 miles of paved relaxation and went just past Kenyon College, all the way to Mt. Vernon, OH. We ended up going a few miles past Mt. Vernon to a small town called Brandon, OH (about 38 miles outside of Columbus), where we pitched our tent behind a Baptist Church. We had the church’s neighbor, Andrew, get us in contact with Pastor Marvin and his wife Jill just to clear the air. They were a lovely couple who gave us eggs from their chickens and made sure to tell all the important people in the town that we were not troublemakers.

That night a storm hit that was the loudest we’d experienced the whole trip. What sounded like marbles dropping on a tile floor made sleeping soundly quite the challenge—so in went the ear plugs! We woke up to more rain with the threat of thunder-storms all day. After some discussion, we decided we would do different things for the day. Rach hung out with Jill and some girls for their home school quilting lesson while waiting for Gretchen (one of our hosts) to come and pick her up, while I went through the rain into Columbus. This was the best decision we could have made because we had been together non-stop for 18 days (with the exception of a half day in Pittsburgh). I got to Columbus before the storms started and hung out until we went back to pick up Rach. Once we were all in Columbus our beautiful hosts, Susan and Gretchen (who both work at OSU), cooked us a lovely dinner and treated us so well. We’re so happy to be here resting in this great college town!

Quilting ladies

Brian going out on a solo adventure today while I wait for friends to pick me up

560 miles down!! Next up… Lawrenceburg, Bloomington, and Indianapolis! Then a week off in FL for my brother Mike’s wedding. THAT WILL ROCK!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

He Trusts You, He Trusts You Not

Hallelujah! Ohio!

Life on the road has literally been up and down (especially here in Ohio) and of course always up and down metaphorically. For the first week or so, I cried every single day. Not sure why. I think my psyche was just getting used to such a nomadic, tiring lifestyle. But now I'm feeling excited to be on the road, honored and grateful for all the diverse places and people we're interacting with. When else would we spend the night in Myersdale, PA or East Palestine, OH? Let me tell you: these towns are interesting!

So far, we're like celeberties everywhere we go. Sometimes we're approached with kind curiosity, other times with crude mistrust. Yesterday morning, in the East Palestine McDonald's, a circle of older gentlemen were enjoying a morning cup of joe together. Jokes and gossip and quiet sips filled the room. Then we walked in and all eyeballs were glued on us. I got all of 10 steps toward the bathroom before a larger man walked up to me, smug look on his face, and sternly asked, "Where are you from?" as if his question was the gate between me and the bathroom, and my answer was the password that would get me in or keep me out. In the sweetest southern accent I could muster, I responded, "Maryland." *Big smile*. He looked me up and down for a good 10 seconds. "What are you doing here?" (His voice implying that visitors are few and far between in this town that has zero lodging accomodations). "Well, my husband and I are riding our bicycles across the country." Looking out the window at our overflowing bikes he asked, "How heavy is that thing?" With his mood beginning to soften, I answer, "About 60 pounds...but 60 pounds isn't that bad when it's on your bike." And finally, his smile broke and eyes widened, "Well, golly, you must be mighty strong!!!"

Phew! For a minute there I thought I was going to piss my pants for more than one reason. The bathroom was near, so after a few more friendly exchanges, I took care of business, then proceeded to endulge in some very fancy McCafe fixings. At this point, word had spread that the outsiders--once suspected as potential thefts, rapists, murderers or simply stated, weird-o's--we're actually two young kids smitten with love and that adventureous American spirit that these men respected. One by one, round wrinkled men approached our little table asking the usual questions about our route, finances, time and accommodations, then offering their connections to our journey. "I hear you're headed to Seattle! I lived there for a few years--would catch my own clams in the morning! Beautiful place!" ... "My brother and sister-in-law live in Gathersburg... I've been visiting them every year for 60 years!" We smiled and made small talk, like any wise semi-celebrity-outsiders would, then finally, a half hour later, ventured out into the sunlit morning for the endless hills of eastern Ohio.

Oh, those hills. I have a whole post to share with you about those hills. But for now, I'm just writing to report how thankful I'm feeling and how amazed I am that we have the opportunity to really be with this country in a way I never imagined possible.

Today we're sitting out a nasty storm in a fancy Marriott hotel (thank you wedding gift cards!) and watching plenty of television. (Never before have I appreciated television as much as I do now--with my brain and body t-i-r-e-d!) What's life like where you are? We'd love love love to know...

Big hugs and kisses from the semi-celebrity-weird-o's ;)


Weather is Complicated

Hey all, so we are stuck in Canton, OH one more night on our way to Columbus, OH. Today it is raining all day with winds up to 25 mph. This can be so frustrating for me as I am a man who likes to be on schedule and I just love getting out there on the road no matter what. Though I do know it is not smart to go out there today!

It looks like we are going to try and push to have two 65 mile days to get to Columbus by Monday, but we'll see how that goes as we push through some heavy winds tomorrow.

Rachael asked me what was the root of me wanting to get on the road in bad weather today as we were trying to decided on what to do.

What a good question.

I had to think about this for a little bit because I do like biking in all kinds of weather: snow, rain, sleet, winds, etc. I said to her that it is fun and there is a certain rush that goes with it when you are on the bike you really feel all elements coming at you, unlike when you're in a car.

But also to me the weather is something we can't control* and often times we try to avoid it at all cost and lock ourselves up no matter how good or bad it is. Therefore we are trying to avoid the bad things in life and on this bike trip trying to avoid the weather at all cost would force us to only see the good side of mother nature. Mother nature has so much to offer us and sometimes it is rough and sometimes we will have to stop and sometimes we have to keep going.

I know many people think it is absolutely crazy to go ride in bad weather but sometimes a little bad weather is humbling for the soul. On this trip so far I feel so much at peace and more connected to nature than I have ever felt and that includes facing the good and the bad times (even when I was yelling out curse words when my feet were soaked while we were biking in the rain once). The weather is kind of like the whole trip--you can't control all of it and sometimes you have to go with the punches and sometimes you have to lock yourself in and that is the beauty of it all. It looks like today we are locking ourselves in, but that is ok because we will face mother nature again tomorrow.

*I said we can't control the weather but we can to some extent as we are facing Climate Change and we need to take that on as a movement ;)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cumberland to Pittsburgh & The Great Allegheny Passage

We have arrived in Pittsburgh after 1 really hard day and 3 pretty good days of riding.  We left Cumberland after a wonderful stay!  We had the great host of Heidi Gardner who hooked us up majorly with her friend’s empty house that was in between renters, so we had a whole empty house to ourselves.  It was great and we were so grateful!  Heidi gave us a wonderful driving tour of Cumberland. (Man it felt good to be in a car! haha).  We went to some of the highest points and got a great view of the village-like city. 

Rachael’s friend from college, Meghan, lived in Frostburg (about 15 miles away) and Meghan and her mom, Susan, were so generous that they picked us up from Cumberland and took us to their house and made us a wonderful homemade dinner!!  These women were truly amazing telling us old stories about their family and the people who live in rural poverty in Appalachia.  Please take a look at our tweets for more information about all of that!!  

After two wonderful days in Cumberland with amazing people we headed onto the Great Allegheny Passage to march towards Pittsburgh.  Unfortunately, the first day of the ride was a rainy and uphill for 25 miles.  From Cumberland to the Eastern Continental Divide we went from 600 feet above sea level to 2300 feet.  It wasn’t too steep but it was long.  Did I mention it was also really rainy and about 45 degrees outside?  As we were going along the trail we couldn’t wait to get to that high point because then, we would be going “down hill”.  Once we hit that divide, our hopes were devoured, as the crushed limestone felt like quick sand and we couldn’t go faster than 4 MPH. Personally, after been so calm on the C & O, I started to curse and yell like crazy as It felt like we were going nowhere!!  

As the rain started to come down harder we decided to shorten our day and stay in Meyersdale, PA at a really cute, cheap motel with an awesome diner!!  We dried off and as Rach would say, “vegged” out watching crappy TV and showering. Pancakes bigger than the size of our heads were what we called dinner for all of $3.  Meyersdale is also known as the Maple City, so those babies were drenched in goodness.

The next day seemed to bring better weather and a better trail.  We went about 40 miles and stopped at the Ohiopyle State Park.  It was an absolutely amazing ride. As we biked we had the Youghieny River on our right and random waterfalls on our left.  So far this was the most beautiful part of the ride.  We stopped to camp in the state park and got off the trail around 3:30—an early end for us. But of course, there was a twist! We had to lug our fully loaded bikes up a very steep and rocky hiking path for a quarter mile only to find out we had to go on the other side of the campground, up some more hills, to register and get to the sites that were actually open.  Yeah--it’s weird that primitive campsites can be “closed”.  What more do you need than a bench and a fire pit?

We were so excited for the next day because it was supposed to be sunny and hot and finally, NO RAIN!  We biked our way out of the park into Connellsville, PA, where we stopped at a Wendy’s and got into a great conversation with an old railroad worker and his wife.  He spoke to us about our trip, the state of our economy and how we need to change EVERYTHING.  The conversation was highlighted by his comment when referring to Governor Walker of Wisconsin, “I’m surprised no one has shot that guy yet.”  It’s quite amazing to see where our conversations with people go.  I am a political guy who is an activist but I’m by no means steering these conversations—the people we talk to are!! 

We reached a free camp ground at Cedar Creek Park, PA and we were so surprised at the amount of amenities that this campsite had, with running water, good bathrooms, flattened spaces for tents, the works.  It was so nice not to sleep with the rain cover on our tent.  We of course got into plenty of conversations with people when we got to the park.  One person took our picture to put on the Great Allegheny Passage flickr account, while another warned me about wearing my Packer’s bandana in Steelers country.  We noticed that everyone wants to talk to you if you have a lot of crap on your bike and everyone is extremely nice!! 

Our final day of riding into Pittsburgh was going to be great as long as we’d be able to beat the scattered thunderstorms.  We got an early start and reached McKeesport, PA by 11:00 am for a big lunch.  Getting closer to Pittsburgh we saw a lot of old shut down steel factories that used to employ most people in the towns.  McKeesport had boards up on almost every building. 

After lunch we headed to Duquesne, PA, where the trail ended about 15 miles outside of Pittsburgh.  As it was about to rain and the road wasn’t really good for biking, we decided to take one of the Port Authority public buses into the city.  It started to rain as we were waiting for the bus, and the ride was long and crowded.  We got off the bus at the University of Pittsburgh where we immediately met a fellow bike enthusiast, Louis, who was planning a trip from Pittsburgh to Raleigh, NC.  Got his number and looking forward to getting a beer with him during our stay. 

We biked to Market Square where we rested and got 3 offers from fellow bikers with places to stay.  It’s really amazing how people in the biking community really take care of each other.  We are staying with this wonderful woman, Alania, and her housemates in a beautiful house with guitars and art everywhere. It definitely already feels like home and I can’t wait to enjoy Pittsburgh for the next couple of days before we head to Columbus.  That’s all for now!!

Love and miss you each! 
-Bri & Rach

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

190 Down, about 6000 to go!

Yesterday Rach and I successfully completed biking the whole Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath from D.C. to Cumberland, MD (184.5 miles). It took us five days, with a 36 mile day, 40 mile day, 30 mile day, 50 mile day and a 35 mile day. I think coming onto the trail we overestimated it quality. The whole thing is made of crushed rock/mud/stone/tree roots. Some parts were really great but some were extremely bad and it definitely slowed us down and was physically demanding. Around Hancock, MD we were given a break and able to bike on the Western Maryland Rail Trail, which is a 22-mile paved path that runs parallel with the towpath. Also we experienced a 6-mile detour through some hilly country roads (yeah that did kill our legs a little bit).

 When we hit the 100 mile mark from the Green Vine Co-op

At one point we were on the Western Maryland Rail Tail and saw the canal to our left and Route 70 on our right, so you could see the progression from boat to train to car. It was kind of funny though seeing how the two former ones actually took us full circle back to walking and biking. Look for more about this in another post :)

The towpath in general was amazing because of the view it gave us of nature. For the most part in between towns we did not see another soul on the path for miles and miles The towns were Point of Rocks, MD, Harpers Ferry, WV, Shepherdstown, WV, Williamsport, MD, Hancock, MD (by far the best!!), Paw Paw, WV (got to go through a 3000+ tunnel), Oldtown, MD and then Cumberland, MD. With FREE campsites every 5-10 miles we always had a place to stay along the way. We ended up needing to stop in towns a lot not only for breaks but to pick up more water because unfortunately all the water pumps at every campsite were not on and will not be on until April 15th.

Arriving into Cumberland, MD

We did however experience some extreme weather from cold rain to sunny 40s and 50s, to a hot sunny day in the upper 70s and a night filled with rain (yes our $30 tent is holding up quite well!).

When we rolled up to Cumberland we were dirty and tired and stopped at the first hotel we saw off the path. It felt great to shower and rest for a little bit. Both of us have never biked this much in 5 straight days. We are going to be checking out of this hotel this morning and then go and stay with some friends of Rachael's. We will be sticking around in Cumberland until Friday morning so if you are around and want to hang out give me a shout!

I'm super excited to ride up to Pittsburgh because there is a another trail that is about 150 miles all the way up to Pittsburgh and it's PAVED!! It sounds like it will be much better on my bony butt. It's called the Great Allegheny Passage and it's part of the rails to trails program. Looks like the trail is going to be really up hill for the first 26 miles to get to the top of the Appalachian mountains but then it is downhill the rest of the way, check it out:

Now it's time to rest up, clean up and catch up with the world!!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 1: sick, excited, friend-filled

We left at 10 am after a yummy breakfast with our parents at the green vine co-op.

Pulling away, I shouted as loud as I could, "we're riding our bikes across the fucking country!!! Yaaaaahoooo!!!!"

Brian, the sickest I've seen him all year, rode steadily along, staying loyal to his dream despite it all.

Jodi and ruby joined us for the first 20 miles of our muddy loaded tour, and it felt like home just a little bit longer--talking side by side on our bikes about normal things like work and relationships. I wonder what form our friendships will take under these conditions. If day 1 was any testament to the way things might look, it's a good thing we've got unlimited texting. Anyway, we trudged on through the wet dirt and pebbles until we finally got to Great Falls, Maryland (which is on the C&O Canal, which we're riding on, by the way).

We stuffed our faces with delicious homemade power bars, then walked the path through the rushing maze of waterfalls.

(woops.. Took waterfall pics w/fancy cam).

After a small birthday celebration, feat. homemade choc chip and pb cookies, it was time to say goodbye.

I basically sobbed on jodi's arms, then got on my bike and sobbed some more. So much that I couldn't shout "I love you too" in response to jodi's "I love you!" which, of course, only made the tears flow louder.

Then, to make a long story short, bc I don't want to kill my battery. We biked 20 more miles, set up camp on the windy river, enjoyed our pre-cooked kale and other treats, and napped in our tent until our second rendezvous with t and Andrew.

They brought everything we could gave ever dreamt of: cute checked table cloth, fried chicken, and birthday s'mores.

Warm sleep with still no serios rain. Hitting the road before rainfall.

Totally thrilled to be here. Bri's feeling more alive than ever.