A Day on the Southern Tier – Emory Pass, New Mexico

Emory Pass was a surprise to me. On the Southern Tier my focus was so much on being a tour leader and the group dynamics that I wasn’t spending much time thinking about my own cycling. But the days on the saddle were my treats. I got to focus on me and my bike and making the two work together to get me down the road. Emory Pass in New Mexico was one of the biggest treats of all.

FullSizeRender 5In the morning we cycled away from Mountain Springs RV Park. I had pulled the van and trailer into the RV park and thus gotten to know the hosts better than I would otherwise. I chuckle thinking how they gave me the rules but then told me “you don’t have to follow the rules either.” They had an office rec room that we all used that afternoon and evening, the only place of the trip where came into serious contact with national news of what was happening in the new Trump presidency. Matt and Steve set themselves up on the couch in their and did a mixture of reading, writing, and watching Senate confirmation hearings for several hours.  On most trips I take, I buy a pair of earrings. My earrings from this trip were from the display case of jewelry that the RV host makes herself.

In the morning, everyone took off on their bikes for the day’s ride up Emory Pass. IMG_0942The husband host telling me that it would be cold in the shade as I climbed up so I made sure to put on layers before I took off, a good twenty to thirty minutes after the last rider left camp. There were always last-minute chores that needed to be done to get all my stuff and then the group stuff ready to go for the day.

The climb that day was breathtaking. I was on my own and turned on some music for the long climb. I would eventually catch up with someone. The climb took a good two-to-three hours to get to the top of the pass. I passed through the various state campgrounds that would have been possibilities for camping if they had not been still closed for the season. By all of them, there were signs warning of flash foods, the kind of signs we saw regularly through our travels in the southwest and until Austin. I had started making little videos as I road, thinking about how my 90-year old mother would love to watch them. She is my biggest fan when it comes to my travels and seeing my photos. She can no longer travel the world as she used to and so relishes  the the worlds I bring to her through my adventures. In those videos, my delight in this long climb is evident. Long climbs, in contrast to rolling hills, end in a culmination, the top of the climb — the view it brings and the satisfaction of accomplishing the ascent and then the reward of the descent.  Watching those Emory Pass videos now bring me right back into the heavy breathing and mindset of my long climb.

IMG_0962Up on the top, I expected there to a crowd of my fellow riders. I still did not really understood that they were not riding like I did on the Northern Tier. They were sticking to being road riders, keen on making the distance for the day. They were not soaking up the ride itself, taking long breaks for picnics, meeting locals along the route, and reading the historical markers. I was looking forward to a long stop on the top of Emory Pass with time to eat my lunch and take in the views. I was pleased to find Sue and Annie up there at the top next to the sign recounting how Lt. W.H. Emory traveled through the area on an exploration expedition for the U.S. Army.  We shared the excitement of the reaching the summit. For a tandem to do that climb was an even greater feat than for the rest of us. We snapped each other’s photos and then they were off. No long IMG_0964stop and lunch for them. That left Fuat sitting on a rock on a little incline eating his lunch. He was just finishing up so he gave me his rock to sit on while I ate. I was learning by then that it would always be Fuat at the end, simply because he was the only one cycling like I did across the Northern Tier, willing and wanting to soak it all in, to “smell the roses” and in his case listen to and watch the birds.

He and I finally took off, with me speeding down the mountain side and then stopping to take photos. He took the downhills more cautiously but we both then reached the bottom together. You kind of feel like the day should be over after such a long climb but there was still more of the day and I had a tour leader mission to accomplish as well. I needed to cancel our Las Cruces hotel reservation so that we would not be charged well over $1000 for a night’s stay. Instead we would be staying at a KOA campground instead. We had used up our allotted hotel budget for this part of the trip back in Tempe and at the Apache Casino motel. But there had not been a cell signal when I needed it for the last day and a half. I stopped again and again checking to see if I had the bars to make the call.

In Hillsboro, we met an older gentlemen in his workshop FullSizeRender 19making leather chaps. He headed me toward a rise out of town where I might be able to get a signal, but it wasn’t until Fuat and I made reached the last ascent to the top of the mesa that I found a strong signal. Up there thIMG_1031ough, the wind was blowing hard, at least 20 mph, and I needed Fuat to hold my reservation confirmation sheets while I finally got through to a hotel.com support person in the Philippines and cancelled those rooms one by one.  What a funny site that was, that long conversation to Southeast Asia from the top of a mesa in New Mexico.

We still had a descent to the Caballo Lake reservoir and then seven miles south into a head wind but we finally made it to camp just as dinner was served.  This was IMG_1042probably one of the days that was marked down in the black notebook someone was keeping on me as a day I arrived late to camp, but we did save over $1000 and I did have a beautiful day of riding.

http://www.nmts.org/rides/emoryPass.htm

A few more photos and then a short video on my climb up and then one on the descent.

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Kind words as I return to Nitty Gritty ride leading

Last night I led a Nitty Gritty bike ride. My recent role as a cross-country tour bike leader did not end happily and so this first time out with Nitty Gritty had special significance for me. Once again my bike community helped me on road to recovery.

We were a group of 23. “They are coming out because it’s you,” Diane, Georgia and Evan said. I don’t think that’s totally true but a happy ride with no grumbling about the route or directions was very reassuring.

Later in the ride, Steve chuckled to me as he told me I was “bossy” after I had made some comment to the group. He was referring to an incident from the first days on my cross country trip when my co-leader had a “difficult” conversations with me because he felt he needed to tell me that some of the riders had been saying I was “bossy” when I had told people to look at the sunset, the first magnificent one that we could see from camp. The tour participants were all in the midst of conversation pre-dinner while I was on dinner duty with another rider, Evan, and so I said the same thing I would have said if hanging out with a bunch of friends camping. This “difficult conversation” with my co-leader was irritating and hurtful, if only because I knew we had weeks and weeks to go working together. I have worked with and supervised hundreds of people and students. This was not a difficult conversation that needed to have occurred.

And so when Steve laughed and called me “bossy” for some inconsequential comment I made on last night’s ride, I smiled and then asked him why this was making him chuckle so much. He told me that I was one of the most relaxed and laid back persons he knew and that “bossy” was basically an absurd adjective to be used for me.

Steve and I have ridden together for a only a couple of years, but we often ride at about the same fitness level and place in the pack.  We don’t know each other like family and co-workers but we know each other well enough.

It is words like those from Steve that are making all the difference to me these days as I recover from my first cross-country tour leading experience.

Note: Isn’t “bossy” one of those words that are used derogatorily about women and not used for men?

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Maggie, the river is free

MaggIe, the river is free

Yesterday afternoon, I planted some okra seeds in the vegetable garden. The temperature was near perfect and my river beckoned me to it. The North Oconee isn’t mine, of course, but the part that runs through our backyard does feel like mine. And it’s the river MaggIE and I used to paddle on. Not a big paddle, anything we would plan out in advance. For us, it was the equivalent of taking a walk; we’d paddle upstream and then mostly float back . MaggIE lived across the street from us, and the river makes a big horseshoe right past our house and then runs behind Maggie’s house. We used to say we would secede from the rest of the world when things got bad in the world. We’d hunt deer and fish, and I would go off on my bike and barter with the other survivalists beyond out wall.

I pushed the kayak down into the river. The water was a perfect depth for paddling and I navigated through the shoals. My mission was to check and see if the river was clear of the trees just upstream that had been completely blocking the river for months and months. It was. The river was free and so I paddled further up into the secret world of the North Oconee River where Maggie and I would go on paddles after work in early evening. We’d chat and be quiet. Maybe we’d see a beaver pop its head out. We’d look at the plants and she’d point out birds. 

Maggie died of colon cancer six years ago, and I still miss her. I thought of her on the trip a lot and how she’d loved so much what I was doing. It was six Mays ago when her cancer became really aggressive and killed her in early June. The last normal talk we had was out on her deck and I told her all about my first Athens Savannah Double Century ride. She told me all about her week at the beach, her last trip.  

Yesterday on the river, I saw two crows chase an owl out of its perch and sprint in front of me to the trees on the other bank. And I thought of the owl that I saw the night Maggie died. The hospice nurse told Gary, Dottie, and Theresa that maggie might stay in this in-between state between life and death until dawn, so I thought I’d go across to my house and rest some. First though I sat on Maggie’s steps to look at the stars for a bit. It had been a very intense evening. An owl flew from a tree close by across the sky, and I said, MaggIE, go off with that owl into the next world. I walked across the street and the phone rang almost immediately. Gary told me to get back over there. MaggIE had died.

It was a coincidence, I guess, but I like to think that Maggie did fly off with that owl, that her spirit is out with the birds soaring about and resting on tree branches observing the natural world that gave her such comfort. 

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Another way I love bikes

One thing I know, I like bikes.

Last night I returned to the Bike Athens shop across the street from the Varsity. These days recovering from the trip have been rough. The mornings are good but by mid to late afternoon I get tired and moodier. I should basically not grab on to any emotions that arise during that time. The first half of the day I feel calm and focused and optimistic. Those are the feelings to focus more on. 

Late yesterday afternoon, I almost changed my mind about going over to Bike Athens after going to the allergist. Dr.Hunt confirmed my own diagnosis of what happened to me on the trip. Daily exposure to high pollen levels was bombarding my system across the country. A little over two weeks ago at Blackwater State Park east of Pensacola, Dr. Hunt explained, the mast cells in my bronchial tubes were totally overacting to a combination of pollen, cold and damp air, and stress levels and released extra high levels of histamines causing my bronchial tubes to restrict. Understanding the physiological explanation for the tight chest and restricted and shortened breathing I experienced makes me feel less crazy about what happened. 

Anyway, I made the effort and went over to Bike Athens instead of returning home. How comforting to return to the bike shop and work on a cheap Huffy kids’ bike. The bike will eventually go through one of our social services agencies to some child in need or desire of a bike. ( Shouldn’t every kid have a bike?) Last night Diane and I struggled to fix its cheap brakes and then just ditched the originals and installed some new ones, not new but recycled from some other donated bike. Don served as our bike mechanic expert for our consultation and occasional turn of a bolt. So refreshing to work with kind people who worked with me and laughed with me. I’m definitely in recovery from that ST trip.

I made occasional mean comments about my trip, and Don poured me some PBR beer in a coffee cup and then topped it off for me a bit later. Eventually Diane and I had it ready for a test ride, and I rode it around the parking lot. The huffy had been being worked on since the start of May and other volunteers had okay’d its drive train but it wasn’t shifting into the big ring. We fiddled with its limit screws way too long and finally got it right enough so we could sign off of it being ready for some kid. Back in Mississippi I had to adjust my limit screw on my back derailleur to keep the chain from dropping off the small ring and jamming into the frame. I guess expensive bikes do have better components. That adjustment took just one turn of the screw. 

This morning I continued my bike work and finally got my touring bike back together. Peter at Joe’s Bikes in Tallahassee did an incredible job packing up my bike and using all my bike related gear as packing material. To do so, he had taken off several components, thus, giving me more opportunity to practice my bike mechanic skills. I succeeded and clean the bike thoroughly as I did so. Very satisfying and calming work, with NPR’s “On the Media”‘ and our neighborhood birds keeping me company.

That’s it, another way I love bikes. 

My bike still in the box from Joe’s Bike in Tallahassee. Thanks, Peter.

I put my bike back together today. It is all cleaned too.

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Goodbye, Moby Dick

I just finished Moby Dick this morning.

I continue to wake up early as I did on the bike trip, but now instead of not falling back asleep, I return to slumber eventually and continue to regain the hours of sleep I missed on the Southern Tier trip.

Moby Dick was my companion on that trip, the audio book that transported me away each night to a thoughtful narrator and the tale of his journey. I would put the timer on each night; it would eventually shut of the book after an hour, well after I had already fallen asleep. Moby Dick became my sleeping pill all, sending me to sleep after just a chapter or two. The next night, I would scroll back through the list of chapters and attempt to find where I had left off. In reality, there were chapters I heard again and again and others I missed almost completely. 

IMG_1317.PNGMoby Dick was my constant throughout so many ups and downs of this past journey, and it’s helped me make the transition back from those last days in Tallahassee through to this morning when I finally finished chapter 135 and the epilogue. For years, I couldn’t get much past the opening pages after “Call me Ishmael” and Ishmael’s first days in New Bedford and his sharing that bed with Queequeg, who soon became his “bosom friend.” I don’t think I ever even had read to the day they boarded the whaler Pequod.

Like on my own trip, the tension rose until the very end when the white whale obsessed and maniacally haunted Captain Ahab had his final meeting with Moby Dick. Perhaps now that I have finished Moby Dick, I can go beyond the tension of my own epic journey tense climax in Florida.

This morning at 5 after I returned to bed from the toilet, I scrolled to the last chapters and then fell asleep again. When I awoke around 7 am, the novel was over but I had missed the ending, so again I scrolled back one last time and listened to the last few chapters. I thought then of my own recent journey and opened up my blog on my Iphone. I was still snug under the covers.

On WordPress, you get reports on how many people are reading your blog. Yesterday, I got a notification that my stats were “booming” and could tell there were people reading more than just my recent posts. I wondered what they would see if they went back to the start of my Northern Tier trip so I clicked there and got pulled back into my first cross country trip.

How wonderfully refreshing to read those first blog entries through the Cascades. After the very awful ending of my first tour leading experience, I have been in need of some serious healing. My Athens community has helped me with that again and again — to see people who are happy to see me and who respect and enjoy my company. I have started talking about what happened at the end of the trip,  and without exception, there has been nothing but incredulousness. Here I have friends and people who know who I am and the work I do. They have no doubt that someone screwy was going on, as it was.  With each interaction, my self-doubt dissipates a bit. 

Reading those entries from my Northern Tier trip provided more healing. On my Southern Tier trip, I again had wonderful times like I did on that first cross-country trip. Riding across the nation, you can’t help but thinking about the landscape around you and the people who have lived there over centuries, about the harsh outdoors they survived in, about the cruel ending the Native Americans nations experienced, about the motivations, strength and loneliness of the settlers who kept pushing further west. I met other cyclists on the road, traveling solo like I had two years previously and felt a connection to them that I never felt with my fellow Southern Tier cyclists.  On the days I drove the van, there were my conversations with Walmart staff across the country that transformed my feelings about Walmart and there were the kind helpful people who checked me in at RV parks, state campgrounds, and motels.

And like on my Northern Tier trip, there were the wonder of discovering what was around the bend and the picnic lunches and convenience store stops and the wind and sky and birds and trees beside me and rivers and creeks I crossed.

What a journey it was. So, goodbye Moby Dick and thank you for the constant comfort you have given me these past two and a half months.

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Healing bike love

Today I rode with my Nitty Gritty bike friends and was enveloped by love, friendship, laughter and happiness. How soothing and healing that was for my soul

We were happy to be bike riding and together before, during and after the ride. You wouldn’t think it would be that hard.

Thanks, Evan, for your fine leadership and great attitude. And thanks Georgia, Carmen, Karen, Melanie, John and Steve. Such a joyful afternoon.

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Stories, Memories, and Reflections from the Southern Tier – 1

This southern tier trip was transformative and traumatic and wonderful for me. So much of life isn’t just one word or two but not every period we go through is transformative.

When I entered Arizona cycling over the Colorado, I saw the Arizona flag and got transported back to my twenties and being at Arcosanti and the pair of running shorts patterned with the AZ flag that Richard gave me back in the way beginning of our relationship. Arizona for me has become a dependent clause in the story of my life — Arizona where I went after Binghamton (undergrad years) to go to Arcosanti, city of the future, and where I went to graduate school for my masters. That had been Arizona for me for years now until I crossed back into the state.

I had forgotten the details, the scent of the desert, the names of the cacti, the intensely dry air. I had forgotten the sunsets and the sky. I had forgotten the 22-year old who went to Arizona as her next adventure, who thought life would be just one adventure into a different world and experience one after another. And life was a big adventure after my almost four years in Arizona, but it was a 35-year old adventure. The adventure of marriage and motherhood and a career that I was passionate about and a deep attachment to my community.

At a rest stop in Arizona, the picnic tables were full, so Fuat and I sat down on the other end of a table were two men sat eating their lunches. As ACA leader, I was supposed to ride sweep and allow the last rider to have “his or her own ride,” but from the first day, it became clear that Fuat, a quieter and more reserved guy,  didn’t really want to ride alone. He lives his life quietly building boats in the Adirondacks and growing much of his own food. He signs up for organized rides because he loves bike touring and he wants the company of others. With me riding sweep, he got not only me but the varied people I would strike up conversations with during the day.

That day on that I-10 rest stop (out west on the Southern Tier, the route takes you on the interstate in empty areas where there is no other road), a small conversation about the delicious homemade food the two men were eating led to a taste of the food and an encounter that will stay with me a lifetime. Kousay Al-Ani was the talker of the two. His friend, a cousin’s husband Rasoul, had immigrated from Denmark he said. He didn’t look Danish and with a few more moments of conversation, we learned that he had been in Denmark for several years, but he was really an Iraqui refugee who had found refuge in Denmark and was now resettling in Kansas City. Kousay, on the other hand, had immigrated to the US from Iraq over twenty years ago. He is an engineer and clearly an experienced U.S. contact for many family and friends, close and distant, coming to the US from Iraq.

fullsizerender 26We talked some more about places we had in common. I told him about my friend Hadeel and her son Ahmed, a twenty-six year old, who we had just had over for dinner back in Athens. Hadeel is a super education, modern Iraqi women, with a masters degree in plant and pest management. She had to escape her cosmopolitan life in Baghdad because agricultural research work she had done had been funded by the US and now she was seen as a collaborator. Ahmed is one of he last of of Hadeel’s children to have gone through the refugee resettlement program. All her children are super educated. In Athens, he is attending my old workplace, Athens Technical College, and driving for Uber on weekend nights.

And I almost forgot a most important connection — so much happened during the time I was away that the more recent memories of the trip have blocked some of the earlier very significant ones. The group met officially on a Sunday, but starting Friday some of the riders had already started arriving in the hostel. That Sunday morning, though, I had another important event — Anne and Abdelatif were having a lawyer and city clerk sign their marriage papers. The process had been going on for months it seemed and involved layers of bureaucracy. In September there will be a large wedding celebration, traditional Moroccan style and we will all be there for it.  The civil union took place at Abdelatif’s family home, with lots of family delighting in the union and dancing about. Clare and Alessandro in Paris, me in San Diego, Richard at home in Athens, and my sister Rosemary all were present at the ceremony on IMO, an international version of SKYPE with each of us in our own square on the screen. I told Kousay about this and wrote down the word “Congratualations” in Arabic for me to share with the newlyweds.

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Kousay and I exchanged contact information, and I told him if he were ever in Georgia, he could stay with us. We are Warmshowers hosts for touring cyclists, but I extend the same invitation to many people I meet when cycling. Kousay and I had the same level of enthusiasm for this chance encounter. We both wanted to take photos and had big grins on our faces. Rasoul’s English was limited and so though he was quite sweet, he also couldn’t quite understand the conversation. I’m not sure what Fuat thought at this point, his first encounter with my random but special conversations with people on the road. He seemed to like it but not with the same wide smiles that Rasould and I had.

There is something about traveling that makes it easier to encounter other people honestly and share moments and kindness and laughter with them. During the trip, I realized that this ability to make these kind of connections with strangers is a gift that I have. It wasn’t something that everyone has. It’s not something that I have to try to have. It is just there. It is the same thing that connected me to students from all sorts of backgrounds during my community college career. It’s what made each day on my Northern Tier trip special and kept me from ever even thinking about being lonely. It’s what enabled the encounter with Irene working in the children’s bookstore at The Louvre that led to sixteen-year old Clare spending two weeks with her family in Paris. It’s why the cashier and owner at the Sandy Cross convenience store back past Watson Mill Bridge State Park asked me what they could do for cyclists and planned a tentative bike ride during which cyclists would stop at their restaurant for chicken salad sandwiches.

With Kousay and Rasoul, I couldn’t help thinking how people’s fear of others from foreign cultures and nations is so sad. They miss out on so much, and in too many cases, this fear leads to prejudice and violence — sentiments that seem to abound since the Trump election and presidential victory.

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I am going to write more about this trip. I didn’t get to write like I did on the Northern Tier, something I missed but something there was little time this time across the country. The demands of tour leading  were more intense than I expected and much different than what the the Adventure Cycling Tour Leader Training and manual laid out. There’s much more to say on that, and it doesn’t have a happy ending. That’s the traumatic part of this trip. I never want to lead another tour for Adventure Cycling, and the tour director there never wants me to do one either, though I had very few conversations with the man himself.

For me to write about that experience will take time and much of it will be private for the time being. If I didn’t have the confidence in my own abilities to lead groups of people and my years of excelling in the workplace, from being a waitress to a teacher to a dean to involved community member, I would be devastated. Instead, my ego, my honor and my integrity have been been bruised and seriously so, but there’s no doubt in my mind and heart about who I am and my competence, intelligence, and abilities and no doubt that I will recover completely and be more wiser about how the world works.

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Another trip across the country

The end of Southern Tier 2017. Love being outside, watching the world from my bike saddle, but in the end it’s the people who make the difference. It’s all these people who have touched my heart with their smiles and shared moments and a kind word. These are the memories I’m focusing on.


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I love Tallahassee, FL

Thank you, Bill McLain, for your Tallahassee “Bill’s Tour” city tour suggestions.  Made it to the old and new capital and even heard the house discussion on the proposed bill for a UGA alumni specialty car license plate (timed that perfectly!). Also made it to Cabo’s and Andrew’s for quintessential Tallahassee food experiences.

Included in the photos are several of the people who made my stay in Tallahassee so special.  Missing are two of the most important people, Cady and Paris, who were angels who appeared in my hotel and guided me through my time there. Thank you, you two.

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Stronger everyday

A collage of photos during the last couple of days. The bottom two are the most recent from the ride into Tallahassee yesterday. On the #southerntier #happytobealive #ridingabike and #biketouring . Each journey brings strength not only from the good days but from all the challenges that bike touring brings. I am stronger and happier than you can believe. Though still a bit exhausted.  So so so fortunate for so much.

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