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 spokeandstories.com 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. - https://t.co/cNFWjnrkQE… "

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?

5088

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. 

Jessica

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)

Day 84: Crossing my own finish line

September 15: Butter Pot Provincial Park to St. John’s, 41 km

By ten in the morning, I made it to St. John’s.! I couldn’t even eat my muffin or yesterday’s breakfast sandwich at camp, I was so excited or anxious, not sure which. Google offered two ways to get downtown and I was stressed for about 5 km that the route that I selected, which took me off the TCH, would mean missing the city sign. What relief when I spotted it! There was a path through the tall and wet grass and I positioned my bike next to the sign in pure joy, just like other cross-Canada riders before me have done. 

After three month of being inseparable from my bike, Glory, I turned her over to the helpful bike shop guys to get her boxed up for the flight home. 

And just like that I walked with my bags to the hostel. A surreal feeling of completion and one that took some grit to accomplish. At some point, maybe this will all sink in but for now, I am going to drink some good coffee and beer and enjoy being a tourist in St. John’s on foot. 

Stats: 

ZERO flat tires

8100 km of road (5000 miles); 10 provinces; 6 time zones; 84 days on the road; 73 biking days; 49 nights of camping; 9 ferry boats, biggest day of climbing 1962 m (Cabot Trail); total trip ascend 47,643 m (156,000 ft or more than five times up Mt. Everest); one great riding partner, Jessica; support crew of so many, especially my Justin. 

Canada is a big country. Next time, I am biking across a smaller one!

Day 82 and 83: The Final Countdown

September 13: Gander to Clarenville, 146 km; September 14: Clarenville to Butter Pot Provincial Park, 155 km

Blue skies and sun returned. Everything is more enjoyable when the weather is better. Take me out for a beer and I’ll tell you about the hill climbs, the headwind and the remoteness. I was grateful to see other cyclists, chatted it up with the few fellow campers and gas station attendants “enjoyed” my company as I finished my just purchased chocolate milk or coke. Highway motels with a “dining room” were appreciated when the sky stormed. It only seemed right to camp the last night of this journey and I rolled into the Provincial Park with about an hour of daylight. Although I planned to cook up the dinner I have been carrying since North Sydney, I ate my subway sandwich instead, showered and went looking for moose. The park attendant assured me that every evening at dusk there is a moose hanging around near the comfort station. Not having seen a moose since BC, I waited and waited but no luck. Just rabbits. I can’t believe I have cycled all of Ontario and Newfoundland without seeing a single moose. 



Stats: 

Two days of hilly miles 

Newfoundland beer 

Sharing stories on the side of the road with fellow cyclists and an Ironman 

49th night in this tent; Campground closes in four days

St. John’s tomorrow!!! 

Day 80: Jackets and motels

September 11: South Brook to Bishop’s Falls, 105 km 

I am starting to get worried that if this weather keeps up, I will bike across all of Newfoundland but not really “see” it. I salvaged the day by playing tourist in Bishop’s Falls, my destination for the day. 

I couldn’t resist a dam selfie. 

Stats: 

105 km
People are heating their homes; furnaces have been turned on

Wore 3 jackets

A motel stay; the rainy and windy night confirmed my good decision. Based on the forecast, I might have a few motels ahead. 

Day 79: Getting there

September 10: Deer Lake to South Brook, 135 km
I have carried this paper map of Canada with me for almost 5000 miles and for the second time on this journey I sat down to update this low tech option. It’s satisfying to see the end in sight. Canada is a big country. 

The first time I heard the term “brook”, it was from a construction guy who was telling me how close the cayote was. The conversation occurred somewhere between Cheticamp and Ingonish on the Cabot Trail. I don’t think I ever heard this word before this trip but between Cape Breton and Newfoundland, I have seen it on many, many creek signs and finally took a picture. One of two today. 

Stats: 

135 km

Roadside burger and fresh (potatoes were pulled out of the ground this morning) fries 

Another campsite by a lovely lake. Salmon jumping. Only two other campers other than the seasonals. Temperature is dropping but I wasn’t cold last night in my sleeping bag, down jacket, long sleeve wool shirt, tights and warm socks. 

Day 78: Soul Crushing Wind

September 9: Barachois Pond Provincial Park to Deer Lake, 120 km

The headwind on top of all the hills was soul crushing today. I moved slowly. 60 km of remote Trans Canada Highway with barely any traffic and no services. With all the lakes, rivers, hills and trees, this island reminds me of BC. It’s still early for fall colors. 

Corner Brook, a city with all the amenities, was welcomed. Tired, I took a long break. Traffic picked up as I got back on the road and a day cyclist came up next to me. We briefly chatted and he offered to take me on a quiet road, paralleling the highway. Richard and I rode side by side for the next 20 km and I learned all about his family, work, wife and Newfoundland life. We passed by a ski area. As a fellow cyclist, he had lots of info about the road and services along the way. 

It was a welcomed distraction from the headwind. When we were ready to part ways, he told me to take his number in case I have questions about the island or need some help. Such is the Newfoundland way. 

Stats: 

120 WINDY and HILLY kilometers

Honks of support (I think) from passing cars and trucks

First day of Moose hunting and I saw quite a few quads loaded on trucks probably going hunting 

Country music blaring couple camp sites over late into the night; it’s Saturday night.

Day 77: Solitude in between Mileposts

September 8: Port aux Basque to Barachois Pond Provincial Park, 152 km in Newfoundland 

Milepost 0: ferry dock; changed my watch half hour forward; breakfast and gear sorting at Tim Hortons


Milepost 1: Provincial sign & Visitor Center 

Milepost 57: gas station 

Somewhere in between still having fun 



Milepost 61: motel where I considered staying until I saw it and thought it looked like the kind of place where serial killers find their victims

Milepost 94: steep downhill to my home for the night where I managed to talk my way into some laundry detergent and a site near a picnic shelter. Laundry done and bike stays dry. 

Day 76: It rained and rained and rained some more

September 7: Ingonish to North Sydney, 107 km and a night ferry to Channel-Port aux Basque

I decided to have a second cup of coffee when I saw the down-pour outside. Maybe it will pass – I was hopeful. It rained last night but the morning looked ok. I wondered when I will have an opportunity to dry the tent fly. I am often thinking about the tent. Not seeing a change in weather, I decided to leave by 9 am. So It Rained. Sometimes hard. Sometimes just a drizzle. Every once in a while there would be a short break. Clouds were low and if there were any views to be enjoyed, I certainly didn’t see them. I was soaked all the way through but figured that I wouldn’t get cold as long as I kept moving. So I cycled. 

No pictures were taken until around 1 pm. I took my gloves off to give my wrinkled hands a break just before a gusty stretch to my little “short-cut” ferry. I watched the waves, kept both hands on the handlebars and was barely moving. 

This was the scariest little ferry boat ride; I had a good grip on a door handle as waves splashed over the deck and the ferry attendant casually carried on conversation. He advised me that “5 km into the wind and then you have a mountain to climb” on the other side. 

It stopped to rain briefly by the time I reached “the mountain” and I was delighted with my first sign for the Newfoundland ferry. A steep down the mountain on the other side and few more climbs to the ferry terminal in North Sydney. 
I took a picture of a cool bridge in the distance but when I finally got close, I was concerned how to get across. No signs of bikes not being allowed, in fact a “share the road” sign but no shoulder or bike lane and the wind blew so hard, that I pushed my bike across the bridge. Every time a car came by, I leaned into the railing. This was not a fun adventure. 

The ferry terminal in North Sydney is new and fancy and the town has all the expected amenities. I managed to sneak into the laundromat, before they closed, to dry my wet clothes. Grocery shopping complete and leftover pizza packed, I biked back to the terminal only to get soaked again. 

Sleeper cabins were all sold out so I paid $20 extra for a recliner in a quiet area. Curled up in my sleeping bag, earplugs in, it was like an oversized airplane seat with leg support. 

Stats: 

107 km wet and windy

A Giant grave 
End of the Trans Canada Highway 

One enormous ferry and no good place for a bicycle. The loading started over two hours prior to departure. 

Wet shoes drying