Sunday, January 29, 2017

Another one of those moments

I mentioned in a previous post that on a bicycle tour there aren't too many "this is happening" moments, at least not compared to the length of the trip.

Suffice to say: I might be eating my words, because I just had another one, and I'm sure at least one or two more are coming.

This one happened just today, when I started looking at ukuleles.

I know, I know... who looks at ukuleles? And who cares? Well, the reason this was a big deal to me is because I was looking at ukuleles and not accordions.

I've played accordion on and off -- mostly off, admittedly -- for the past ten years or so. It's been more of a retirement project that I'm getting a head start on than any serious commitment, but I do consider it part of my identity. Accordions match my personality: they are goofy and expressive. I have a meaningful relationship with my two accordions. They don't make music unless you help them breath -- you take their lungs in your hands and pump air in and out and in exchange they make music for you (we call their lungs "bellows"). They have a distinct smell which reminds me of pipe smoke and tweed.

So, I'm attached. And I'm trying not to be over-dramatic here, but if I didn't play accordion for 2-5 years, I'd wonder if I was leaving a part of me to go do something else (of course, "leaving a part of me" probably deserves a post of its own).

However, even the lightest accordions weigh 10-15 pounds. I'd want to bring one that's capable of doing more than a few chords on the bass side, so I'd be looking at about 20 pounds. I expect my total load to be no more than 50 lbs, meaning the accordion would add 40% to the extra weight on the bike. The bike can handle it. But that's a lot of extra work, over 18,000+ miles, for a bit of self-expression. Accordions are fairly expensive compared to other instruments, and a bit more sensitive to the elements: they make music using metal reeds waxed on to wooden blocks. That's a lot of different materials contracting and expanding in the cold of the Himalayas or the heat of the African desert; the wax could freeze or melt.

Ukuleles weigh about 1.5 lbs; a case, 3 lbs. They are much less expensive, and while extreme temperatures are less than ideal for the mahogany, they can weather a desert or a mountain pass much better than an accordion.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I resign myself to the researching of ukuleles and their cases.

This is happening.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Answer to all your Questions

Upon hearing that I am considering pedaling my way around the planet, the two most common questions I get are:
1. Where will you go?
2. How will you cross the oceans?

These are usually followed by logistical questions such as:
- Where will you sleep?
- What will you eat?
- How will you overcome the language barrier?

While there are probably good answers to all of these, providing good answers to every question regarding cycle touring in some ways defeats the point of cycle touring.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the saying, "Some people die at 25 and aren't buried until 75." If you've never lived every day different than the last -- sleeping in a new place, meeting new people, departing the old, not knowing where or what you will eat for the next meal -- it makes sense to want to answer every question to the finest detail. But when you live on tour, whether on a bike, on your feet, or in a van, you quickly learn that the best way to tour is without preparing for every possibility to a "t." You learn to have faith in your ability to find what you need to survive: Food, water, a place to sleep, and company.

Of course, I can tell you what happened last time (or you could read it yourself on that blog) and I could predict to a certain extent what will happen this time. I'll probably go east. I'll most likely fly across the oceans. Chances are I'll sleep in a tent not far from the road. But if I knew all the answers, that would take away from the experience. Many people think cycle touring is imprisoning -- you can't go far each day, you don't have all the luxuries of home. You don't know who you'll meet. Nothing is certain.

I plea that, on tour, the only prison left is your fear. Fear can be more of a cage than the expectations of society or the stuff you own. Either you expand your comfort zone or you are perpetually uncomfortable. It is terrifying, yes, but it is rewarding. How many of us live by the phrase, "do one thing every day that scares you?" How many of us will reach our graves and wish we hadn't planned so much? Having only your fear to conquer is the freest you will ever be.

I know, I'm getting dramatic. But I really think we let our fear stop us too often. Everybody tells me, "I could never live like that." And that's fine -- I'm not trying to convince you to live otherwise. Maybe I'm just the kid outside the classroom window, making faces as if saying, "This could be you! Skip class and play outside!" Cycle touring isn't the only crazy idea I've had, nor would someone calling me crazy be the first. It's not my job to convince anyone of anything. It's my job to do crazy shit with my life. Most people look at me funny. But every now and then, I inspire someone.

So, the answer to all your questions... where will I go? What will I eat? ...I don't know. And that's exactly the way it should be.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Happiness on a Bicycle Tour: Food Extravaganza

By Frosty Wooldridge - reposted with permission - original here

Notice the man with that cantaloupe melon “smile” on his face? Why is he so happy? What makes touring cyclists live with a smile on their faces, in their hearts, and upon their spirits? During this ride down the Continental Divide, Denis and I pedaled across I-80 in Wyoming.

We crossed under an overpass when a small truck loaded with watermelons, cantaloupe melons, and Persian melons. The truck stopped. The guy got out to fix his trailer hitch. Talk about a hot day! We cooked under the summer sun. Dry, parched mouths filled with cotton balls! Lips hung up on our dry teeth! We guzzled water, but never kept up with thirst in the blazing sun! Upon seeing the melons, we pedaled over to the fellow fixing his chains.

“Sir, can we buy a melon off you?” Denis asked.“Sure, all you want,” he said.We bought one watermelon, two cantaloupe melons, and a fabulously delicious Persian melon. He drove off. We used the top of the covered trash can lid as our lunch table. For the next 30 minutes, we gorged ourselves on melons. Juice drained down onto our jerseys.

That indescribably luscious taste of melon filled our stomachs and delighted our souls. Our taste buds did handsprings on our tongues and danced around in merriment to the essence of fruit splashing like a creek over each and every section.

“Frosty,” Denis said. “I am dying of sheer melon magic running all over my tongue. Absolutely heavenly, marvelous, tasty, delicious and scrumptious!”

“Dude,” I said. “We’re living the dream. I’ll remember this watermelon lunch break for the rest of my life.”

That’s what’s so great about bicycle touring: surprise, emotional bliss, culinary joy and a certain charm that radiates throughout your whole being. Food never tasted so good and a cantaloupe melon puts a smile on your face from ear to ear. Life is good on a bicycle tour!

Denis LeMay, Frosty Wooldridge, Continental Divide, Canada to Mexico, on tour, extravagant joy with every bite of food!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

This is a thing that is happening

For many of life's larger events, there's usually a moment when you realize, "This is actually happening." For college, it might be the moment you get your acceptance letter or the moment you board the plane; for your first "real" job it might be the moment you get your paycheck. In my favorite show of all time, Chuck, the female protagonist is generally agnostic about her upcoming wedding until a friend suggests she choose the dress first instead of last. She tries on the dress, looks in the mirror, and lo and behold... "I'm getting married!"

I'm not sure when it happens for bicycle touring. Touring is notorious for being largely inconclusive. There are landmarks, sure -- when you buy your bike, when you leave, when you hit a certain distance marker -- but when you complete less than 2% of your goal every day,1 it can be hard to feel like you've ever started. And often you don't make it to the end -- when I biked the States I stopped early, completing only 4,032 of my intended 4,250 miles. Not that there is anything wrong with any of this. But for whatever reason, touring seems to be more of a one day at time thing than a blink and you might miss it thing. When your entire lifestyle changes for months on end -- what you wear, where you sleep, whether you'll have enough water -- it's hard to assign any one event as a landmark event.

So today I had what was probably one of few landmark moments. There will be a few -- getting vaccines, quitting my job, buying my first plane ticket, boarding the plane, etc. Today was getting vaccines. I had to worry about things like meningitis and encephalitis and rabies. Some of these I probably learned about in high school but didn't think I'd ever need to bother. Well, rabies is always lethal ("If you get it you die" was the rather succinct way my provider put it). Encephalitis is either general sick feeling or lethal and you don't know which until you're healthy or beyond saving. To make matters worse, rabies is a series of three shots that, at my healthcare provider, are $600 each. Japanese encephalitis is two shots at $300 each. Neither is covered by insurance.

If I choose to get them at the costs above, they will be the biggest purchases of the tour.

The moment I realized I might be spending $2400 to keep myself from dying because of a dog or mosquito bite... that was one of the moments my tour became very real, despite departure being at least 4 months away.

1Depending on the length of the tour and the distance you ride, you might complete more or less of your tour. When I rode across the States, it was 4,032 miles, averaging 54 a day, or 1.3% of the distance each day. Biking around the world will be about 18,000 miles at 54 miles a day, or 0.03% each day.