Three years and we keep pedaling to find balance in a strange new world–an update from Seattle

This morning Facebook reminded me that it was three years ago, on September 1, 2017, that we dipped our wheels in the Atlantic Ocean in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 70 days after we began in Seattle. I hardly need a Facebook memory to pop up to remember the trip of a lifetime.

In fact, for the last year, Irena and I have been actively remembering our spoke and stories by writing them down. From October to March we met regularly to remember, write, and tease out the details of landscapes, mishaps, milestones, and triumphs. We took an adventure writing and nature journaling workshop for my autumn birthday with Charlotte Austin and Claire Giordano. At Irena’s dining room table, we reviewed this blog for bones, and fleshed out facts. In the dark basement of her neighborhood pub, we sipped ciders and savored the memories, trying to help readers taste the adventure in the effervescent bubbles, and smell the mint across the prairies. We reviewed submission guidelines for Adventure Cycling Magazine and all sorts of other publications, and posted deadlines to our calendars. We pitched to REI, Ignite Seattle, and we even lined up a speaking gig with Swift Industries Stoked Spoke Storytelling Event in Seattle for March 25th that we called Reflective Stuff: Stories from a Cross Canada Bike Tour.

Swift Industries on Twitter: "Stoked Spoke Adventure Series kicks off  tomorrow night! Come join us. -… "

A gathering of like-minded coffee-drinkers who want to learn the art of brewing

Our storytelling began with the crux of our trip, the break in Thunder Bay, and a phone call with Irena’s husband. I was pretty sure he said “Give her some of your reflective stuff”. In my fabulously fatigued fog, I heard him say reflections, such as poetry, philosophy, and musings. But, to a caring husband whose wife is about to ride solo across Ontario, reflective stuff means high visibility gear so that his wife doesn’t get “smooshed” on those narrow or non existent shoulders.  

Regardless, it was clear that our trip across Canada still leaves us with much reflective stuff. 

All the while we were actively planning and training for our next adventures. Falling hard for gravel and grit, Irena was gearing up to ride the Continental Divide Trail. While I continued to love the art of traveling by bike, I designed a Spoke and Hub tour out of a base camp with friends in Luxembourg. I was going to ride a spoke in each of the cardinal directions, more or less, to Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich, and Heidelberg, taking the train back to the hub.

Then, the very week we finalized our slide show presentation, Irena was asked to work from home. Days later, I would be given 2 hours notice to leave my classroom (by bike of course), not to return to the classroom for instruction the rest of the school year. Our Stoked Spoke was rescheduled.

new date spokeandstories at stoked spoke

Clearly, we still had hope. 

Remember Hope?


When they closed the Canadian border, we cancelled our end of March ski trip to celebrate our storytelling event (which never happened at all), I promptly sent my passport off for renewal. Even in a pandemic, I had to keep pedaling. 

While in quarantine, an April 2 newsletter from Warmshowers caught my eye announcing a new podcast and calling for stories. “Tell us more about your story and why you want to share it with our community?”  

With piles of paragraphs in printouts marked up with red and purple pen edits, I pulled something together quickly and sent it off. Eighty percent and out the door is better than 100% never done–This had become my writing guideline this year.

I was giddy when weeks later I was contacted to schedule an interview.

But then my flight to Europe was canceled, and it became clear that my passport would be significantly delayed, and that this pandemic wasn’t letting up anytime soon. I began shifting my plans. I even sketched out a map of the adventure in shifting, and finding balance in the movement, including the low points of cancellations and closed campgrounds, and the highs of the podcast launch and release.


You can find my episode of the Warmshowers Podcast called Bike Life by clicking this link. My episode is number 6 called Opening Doors Opens Hearts. The gist of is that one can find balance by continuing to pedal. On a cross country bike trip, or in a pandemic.

It’s hard to know what lies ahead, but you know you have to keep going. 

We didn’t have to go very far. We both adventured by bike this summer in Washington State. Irena would end up adventuring on a few bike packing tours. One on the Olympic Adventure Trail, and one she called a suffer-fest at Mt. Saint Helens, “delivering everything! From wildflowers to stunning views to rowdy trails to heaps of fun.”

I designed a two week loop around Puget Sound from my home and documented it in a visual storytelling essay I called Pedaling the Puget, here, and on Instagram @Olivemybike. I hope you’ll ride along and take a look at the loop and enjoy the Sound.

I came back to find my passport finally renewed, and the decision to begin school entirely remote for the 2020/2021 school year. There was nothing else to do but ride on. So, on Monday August 17th, with still no knowledge of when school would actually start, I took off on a last tour, solo for 6 days out to Port Angeles, on the Olympic Discovery Trail. In this map above you can see Sequim and the word “Angeles” hanging at the edge of the map at the top of the Olympic Peninsula.

As I prepare to welcome my students this week into a remote and digital world, I’m reminded again that it’s hard to know what lies ahead. Even when you have a paper map and GPS. You have to get out there and ground-truth it and see it for yourself. When mountaineering, you can’t see 39 ft cliff in a 40 ft Contour interval. When cycling you can’t know how steep the road is in a strong headwind. When tide pooling, you can’t see orange sea stars that cling to the underside of a barnacled boulder in a tide chart. The cycle of life on a bike demands that you be in the moment, and in nature.

And that we don’t just exist, we live. 

“I’ve survived a lot of things, and I’ll probably survive this too.”–J.D. Sallinger (on the bridge through Sequim Bay State Park on the Olympic Discovery Trail.)

To our followers and supporters across countries and paths and years, I truly hope this finds you well and healthy.  I hope you are finding balance in moving forward, be that on a bike, or in life, or in our case, both.

Ride on, write on, right on. 


Seattle, September 1, 2020

The continued path 

Happy New Year.

We had planned to share a reflective post.  A few times, earlier than this, actually. In September, sitting together at a bar in Halifax, we drafted a top ten list (see below). In November, we attended a TEDx Seattle conference together, and pondered the metaphor of being asked to fold down our name tags to indicate the tangible marks of interactions and wisdom of others we met in the day, with connections to those who “marked our maps” along the way, and along the road. In December, we texted each other photos of our independent journey across a long awaited bike path across Lake Washington. (included)

Why now, then, on this new year’s day in the sunshine in Seattle? The final stroke of inspiration comes this time directly from the paddlers we had met in Kenora, who wrote yesterday of their own overdue reflection. Cass wrote on their blog that life got in the way; they were busy doing good things. Her gem is here, “And that is the essence of what was so incredible about our summer. There was very little to get in the way.”


Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.

Keep pedaling. Ride on, write on, right on.


In fact, since our independent returns to Seattle, Olive and Glory have never been far from. We both have the luxury to ride regularly, and have been blessed this fall and winter with unseasonably drier than most days. I continue to commute, park Olive behind my desk and great students at the door next to a poster of me wearing wings from a public art piece along the Route Verte in Montreal.  Irena increased her bike commuting, taking Glory the long way to cross the lake until last week. Last week our region opened a much overdue, new 14′ wide bike lane on the north side of the state route 520 bridge, ultimately shortening and easing her daily commute! I rode in the sunshine on the opening day and texted Irena a photo. She rode it the next day, to work, and texted me back.

So here we are, Olive and Glory, Irena and Jess, all smiles, riding a new path, at long last!

Here’s that top ten:

10 provinces

9 pictures with giant things

8 ferry boat crossings

7 thousand kilometers

6 worn out bike shorts

5 time zones

4 quad tan lines

3 full moons

2 gals on bikes

1 big country


Thank you all for following along, riding along, encouraging us, hosting us, entertaining us, feeding us, inspiring us, supporting us, and celebrating with us.

Keep pedaling. Ride on, write on, right on.

officially graduated (1)

Jess’s journey home

September 3 and 4

Shortly after my rockstar ride partner Irena rolled away from the hostel in Halifax I loaded up and rode to cyclesmith bike shop. I had called a week earlier to set up the boxing day and was instructed to be the first one in the shop at 11. At 10:45 I watched all the employees check in the back door before they held the front door open for me at 11. 

Sue planned to meet me there.  Sue lives on Cape Breton and offered to visit and assist with my departure from Nova Scotia since her parents and childhood town is near the airport.  I met Sue three summers ago when she served s the awesome adult chaperone for the arctic Girl Guides trip I lead.

It was swell to catch up with her and her husband Basil for a lovely lunch, a needed nap, and then a special dinner of homemade seafood chowder, fresh salad (with maple vinaigrette), and oat cakes with ice cream. Oat cakes started appearing on the menu at Timmy’s in New Brunswick, and Irena and I had some there and from the bakery in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. These Sue offered, with vanilla ice cream, were delicious. She explained that 50 years ago, every home in Nova Scotia made them and it was always on offer with tea or coffee when visitors came by. A local treat.

Very early Monday morning, we wrapped my bike box in a tarp, secured it in the bed of the truck, and drove to the airport, runway lights bright in the dark. 

And then, by the miracle of flight, what had taken me 71 days to cross, zipped backward under my wing. A stop in Calagary, and then on to my emerald city, cloaked in a smoky haze from nearby fires. The west was hot and dry this summer and it was a shock. Seattle will be 34 °C Tuesday. 

The kindness of strangers to bike travelers continued in town as some fellow Seattlites helped me to light rail on both ends.

I met my neighbor/friend at my station for the last leg home. His girls made me welcome signs for both my doors. 

And my driveway neighbors/friends invited me to join them for dinner in the back yard: grilled fish, and veggies, wine, stories of mutual travel and wonder. My subletters, she told me, were great, the little boys from Oslo saying “they were borrowing my house and staying only a bittle lit”

The sun burned red. I climbed into my bed as the moon glowed red. 

I am home.

 Day 71: fish and ships 

Rest day, tourists in Peggys Cove, Lunenburg, Blue Rocks, 0 km biked, September 2

This gem of a lighthouse is one of the most photographed places in Canada. Rightly so. The ancient granite rocks and small fishing hamlet, totally rocked, and reminded me of Henningsvaer, Norway, also on the tip of the Atlantic. The wind whipped, and the clouds danced back and forth, teasing us. It was cold, as you can see from Irena’s selfie.

We continued down the coast another 90 km or so in a little rented car (gasp!) to Lunenburg, one of only three urban UNESCO sites in North America. We were charmed by the colorful buildings, tall ships, and maritime culture. The Blue Nose II, Nova Scotia’s sailing ambassador, sat in port and then later set sail with a group of tourists, with the 1100 square foot main sail impressing this salty gal, and the mast of the schooner from BC impressing the other.

Of course, we had our last lobster rolls for lunch at the Salt Shaker Deli.

By later afternoon we drove out to the point, Blue Rocks, for ice cream out of this tiny general store. It was a delight to sit in the sun, listen to the surf, smell the salt, and just relax a bit. I took a number of photos with the Nikon so stay tuned.

We returned to town winding through the South End, “the nice part of town”, and past Dallhousie University. We wandered the boardwalk one last time, gawking at the huge German cruise ship (11 decks) that nearly turned on a dime near McNab Island and headed out toward NYC. We strolled to The Old Triangle, a Nova Scotia Irish pub for music and delishes fishes dishes, including this gravlax board. Irena had the fish and chips, and I had the Newfoundland Salt Cod Cakes.

On the back of a kids menu we scribbled some notes–highlights of the adventure, a top ten list, and catch phrases for each province. Nova Scotia=Fish and Ships.

With a final radler we toasted each other, this accomplishment, and the continued safe travels for the next part of the stories.

Remember, Irena continues on from Halifax to St. John’s Newfoundland. One more province, and another time zone. Follow along.

Day 70: The dipping of the wheel

Shubenacadie to Halifax, September 1

It’s funny that the two families who helped with today’s celebratory photos were from Vancouver. So close, and yet so far. One group asked us what our hardest part of the journey was. It’s a natural question. True. But we wish not to dwell, or recount, those parts. Rather, it’s the joys, and the highlights; we savor the gems along the way, the colors, the smells, the slant of light, and the people. Each thread, each tale, each photograph, we’ve woven into the tapestry of this remarkable landscape, this adventure.

Today we arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, via the cute little doughnut shaped ferry from Dartmouth.

Today we dipped the front wheels in the Atlantic Ocean.

Today we stood together in awe and admiration.

Today, I finished my journey of thousands, and thousands, of kilometers across nine provinces of Canada!


45 miles


Part III of this journey is nearly done. We will enjoy some sites together, before Irena continues solo to St. John’s, Newfoundland, in part IV of this adventure. 

Day 69: Penultimate and Published Press 

Meadowville to Shubenacadie, August 30

The day started in our new team jerseys (Thanks Alanna!) as we road out of Pictou County.

In the middle we met some other bikers, boys on their way home from a friend’s house and then a couple doing hill laps on the red pavement.

 And then we hit the REAL middle, half way between the North pole and the equator, 45°N Latitude, in Stewiacke.

At the end, after I double-fisted a thirst quenching Orange Julius and a blizzard, I swam in little Lake Lynch. 

Later we fed fish and painted box turtles, the white bread sucked under by the wild, the moonlight reflection remained floating above.


61 miles

We are in the local Nova Scotia news! The young adventure to Churchill Manitoba three summers ago. We met up with her last weekend and this is her article about our cross country bike adventure.


Day 67: lucky lucky, number nine is just fine

Charlottetown, PEI to Meadowville (Unincorporated Pictou County), Nova Scotia, August 29

The breakfast table of the Charlottetown hostel was full of travelers, passing the jam, or the fresh banana bread. We told of our journey briefly, listened to others, then pulled our final things out of our nautically decorated private room of the hostel.

We crossed the bridge of the Charlottetown harbor, snapped a few final photos, and grabbed some snacks for the day at the corner gas station. When we inquired about the route back to the Confederation Trail, the attendant showed us a map of this suburb and pointed to an alternative way. Then, a woman at the check out, in her colourful BIKE PEI jersey, turned her ears our way. Ruth is the Community Relations Coordinator for the Confederation Trail.  She was wise with her route suggestions, handing a stack of a maps to the gas station attendant. Making note of the newly laid trail that she thought would be a challenge for our loads. “Take this [insert route number] road first, then connect with the TransCanada.”

She was our first angel of the day.

Next was Levi, the proprietor of the hostel. About 16 km into our day, Irena checked her phone and found a text from him stating that he had my passport at the hostel and wanted to get it back to me. Turns out that the guy who checked us in hadn’t returned it to me. Their bad, and “I’d like to make it good,” Levi told me on the phone when I called back. “This is so good!” Irena claimed. Better now than at the airport in Halifax, she rightly reasoned. “In a dream world, you’d drive it out to me, as we are trying to make a ferry,” I negotiated. “Sure, I’m coming right away and stepping on it.”

We were trying to make the 2:45 ferry to Nova Scotia. It was going to be closer now than we’d planned. 

At 1:15, I put my legs to the test, and sang that good ole Salt N Pepper song, “push it real good”, as I went a serious push pace for more than an hour. Thankfully the road no longer climbed, and instead rolled slightly downhill to the water. Regardless, the race pace was on. I was relentless in the push. When I pulled into the toll both, I visualized a red ribbon, and raised my first with power pump. Made it! There was Irena, already having purchased the tickets, and stalling by talking with the attendant about how her friend was on the way. I felt a rush of immense joy.

In line behind the motorbikes, we pulled onto the huge ship, and the motorcycle guys all knew what to do, fetching the ratchet straps and hooking them to their bikes and the D rings in the floor of the vessel. Irena and I wondered what to do with our bikes and got a bit of assistance, either to stash it in a corner or secure it with similar straps to a pole.

Beautiful crossing with a lovely snack, but took less time than we thought. I could have used more rest. A little more than an hour later, we were in Nova Scotia, with Alana waiting for us in her orange Pictou County Cycles kit. She and Irena hadn’t seen each other in years since when they last both lived in Victoria.

She was our photographer for the momentous provincial sign. Number NINE! We have cycled to NINE provinces, and this is my last.

We followed Alanna out the ferry road to the round about, and continued on paved and dirt roads to her farm house home, in rural unincorporated Pictou County, all the while hearing stories of the local dairy, the family farms, and the community she has returned to for work in as a home health nurse. 

Sipping beers and munching sugar snap peas right from her garden as the sun set behind the 80 acre property was another win of the day.


57 miles


Ceilidh (pronounce that!)

Awesome gifts from Alanna 

And the seasons are changing: we can feel it in the weather and see it in the fields



Day 65: I wear my hair in braids

Borden Carleton to Cavendish, August 27

The length of day is getting shorter. But the adventures are so varied, and the days so full, I need to divide it into parts.


We returned to Gateway Village for breakfast, a photo shoot,  and a meandering mornign to discover the best views of the bridge. That bridge! Really, a magnificant feat of engineering and more. Thanks Sue N, for your surveyor work on the project!

II: The ride, the rain!
It was only 30 miles, but after yesterday’s headwind and hills, it felt surprisingly tough. Plus we left the rail way grade of the Confederation Trail to cross to the north side of PEI. “There, towards the rain,” Irena navigated with a pointed finger. Jackets had already come on and off again thrice, plus sunblock. So what would it be? Sure enough, a deluge. It was amazing how fast we were soaked all. the. way. through. Faster than I could look around for any open barns or rooflines. Shelter, by then, was moot, and I kept on riding into Cavendish.

III: Anne:

“The trees are my familiar friends”  in the Haunted Wood and Balsam Hollow near Lovers Lane, and the way the waves say hello. L.M Montgomery set Anne of Green Gables on her beloved PEI. We took a walk through the hertiage site, the woods, and stopped in to join the Sunday Picnic to get a photo with the fabeled friend.

and later drank our Raspberry Coridials on the beach.

IV: Sea Food by the Sea:

At the boardwalk touristy spot we dried off and had lobster rolls for lunch, Irena’s first. 

They are different than the Boston area lobsta rolls, in that here on PEI the lobster is tossed lightly with mayo and celery and served in the bun cold. We rallied to cook a campground dinner of PEI mussles (the 2 pound bag fit into our pot!) with garlic butter, lemon, pasta, and beers. Dessert–jiffy pop, just because.

V: Sunset, Surf, and Stars:

I swam in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The briney plunge a ritual, the ceremonial dipping of the curls, a mineral film on drying skin thanks to the evaporative power of the returned sun. A sunset over eastern salt water. Bold stars, and the sound of surf lulling us to sleep.


32 miles

A mounty sighting!


Day 63: Connections

Coles Island to Dieppe, August 25, via 112 and 106

We woke to a morning of magnificent mist on the Caanan river at our quiet campground. The light spilled through slowly, glowing brighter.  We peeled a few of the farm fresh eggs I had boiled last night for breakfast.

The air was cold. It was 11 degrees C. I had on a wool hat, and jacket, and Irena and I both were shaking out our fingers from the cold. The road, however, was empty. So much so that we often rode side by side. I think we saw all of two cars in the first hour. I did notice the raptor when Irena rolled by it, spread wings and talons as yellow as the center line. Yet I also noticed it was moving, twitching, really. Maybe it was the YA book series I’d read this summer, Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children about magical bird women leaders, that compelled me to stay with it for some extended time. I spoke to the bird as if she too had guided me. I hoped I soothed its suffering, in some way. I’m still so curious about how raptors and cars can have these collisions.

Nearly 40 miles we quiet, calm, and isolated. So when we reached the junction of highway #2 in Salisbury, we were rather shocked by the huge crowds, the parking lot, and the live accordian player pushing and pulling out songs from the Maritimes. Passerbyers sang along and bought his CDs. We chatted with another cycling team, and a lively Harley couple about journeys by bike.

We continued now towards Moncton on route 106, passing the chocolately red mud river banks and the distinct strangness of the incoming tidal bore.  We wove through the red brick downtown Moncton towards the trail and paused at beautiful murals of the local bike coop La Bikery.

That’s where Marco met up with us. We had an escort/guide to his home.

I had met Marco and Jocelyne in Oka weeks ago and after contacting us through this blog, they offered to put us up in New Brunswick. Their hospitaility was top notch! We floated in their pool drinking beers and having fabulous chats, about sports, Acadican culture, healthcare, and more. I learned about ringette, an all women’s ice skate game that pre dates women’s hockey in Canada. They served us a delicious salmon dinner in their great outdoor entertaining space, and then quickly cleaned it all up to drive us around to one of their favorite beach spots for sunset: Shediac. The smell of the salt water, the boats, the warf, the hubbub! On route back, they took us to a favorite spot for special dipped ice cream. (think DQ, but without the crunch and in TONS of flavors–I had salted dark chocolate; Irena had salted caramel).

We are so greatful for kindness and connections.



60 miles

world’s largest (model) lobster

Day 61: when the rain washes you clean 

​Hartland to Fredericton, August 23

The radar said it would be over by morning. I heard the rain begin on tent around 2 a.m. and by 6 it stopped. I zipped open the tent to find the humidity hung thick, dripping off the maple. We staged in the laundry room yet again. 

Thankfully Irena had noticed a shortcut through the cornfields, allowing us to skip a long descent on the golf course driveway. 

We headed to Woodstock for breakfast at Timmy’s 20 km away. I thought I might begin to miss those retired men always sitting wondering about us and sometimes striking up a conversation. Today it was a woman her 70s with a bright yellow shirt who approached us, to tell us she still rides all the time and was proud of us. This season she told us she had ridden 80 miles one day and 45 the next. We were inspired.

I checked the radar again and we looked to be in the clear. We wanted to make up time and distance from our missed destination from yesterday, so we opted to ride the highway. Route finding has been tiresome, so at least we knew the highway was predictable. What we hadn’t planned was how hilly, and how far services/exits would be. Hills were long climbs in granny gear not unlike BC mountains, yet with none of the spectacular views. Skies were darkening, winds lifted, and I seemed to smell what was coming. I tucked my towel, now dry, in my bags just in time. Rain fell in thawps on my helmet, my handle bar bag.  Then it simply dumped. milikan style crowns of huge rain drops on the highway danced on center stage in front of me. Ribbons of water in wakes from my fenders. Speckled glasses and the shear volume of it made it hard to see. In minutes I was drenched. Puddles in my shoes. There was no where to hide.

Somehow it was laughable;  I simply smiled. In fact it reminded me of home,  commuting in a sudden storm, more common now than Seattle’s historic drizzle, thanks to global weirding.
It lasted only a half hour. My grandma used to quote Mark Twain “You don’t like the weather, wait a minute”. Everything is temporary, ephemeral. When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know. 
I left a sitzmark on the pavement in front of the gas station, that ironically was closed for gas, but open for the convienece store. 
And then the sun, and the decision to get off the highway at kings landing and ride the 102, and a chat about cyclists  akin to biologist  (lumpers and splitters) made us both happier. 
But what really made me happy on this long day was seeing Amy pull up beside me, window down and waving. For the second time in as many years this adventurous, spontaneous, full- hearted Maineiac has driven across borders to reconnect, offer hugs and baked goods, and the sweet joys of an easy and treasured friendship. Thank you Amylyn. 

She had arranged an air bnb for all three of us and we biked to it along a great trail in this capital city. 


77 miles

One great friend