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Posts tagged ‘cycling’

grey-ness

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We’ve been flirting with rain.  The wintertime landscape is clouds and pale light, the grey skeletons of trees, the dull gold of winter fields.  Today the temperatures dropped, and it finally feels a little bit like winter.

It must be the light on days like these, but I love riding home in the late afternoon in the fading grey-ness.  It is windless and silent.  And  I feel like I have fallen into some vintage photo, the colors are so subdued – grey, buff, steel blue and hints of ivory and amber.  Almost monochrome.  (With the exception of my very red, red bicycle, of course.)

My “good” cameras have been left at home on these rain-risk days … for now, just some of the iPhone snaps.

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riding toward year-end

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Hard to believe it is December.  Even harder to believe when the temperatures are in the 70’s (F).

Christmas decorations are on mailboxes, trees and houses as we pass by … in shorts and short sleeves.

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The Sandhill Cranes have started to arrive on their annual migration.  Many of them won’t even continue on to places further south; huge numbers are now wintering here at our nearby Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.

It all feels strange.  But I will enjoy the warm days on my bike, and on my back porch.  Snow and cold feel like some kind of fantasy.

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no sign of winter

The leaves hang on, their color in the late afternoon light is magnificent.  Days remain fairly warm, and it feels as if there is no sign of winter.

We’ve spent some days camping, biking, and hiking close to home … enjoying the autumnn-ness before it all falls to the ground and the season of holiday frenzy begins.  My boys – except for one spending a semester in Scotland – are all due home within the day.  My kitchen is scented with apples, cranberries, cinnamon, and pumpkin.  I am excited for the long weekend of catching up, and conversations around the dinner table … and hopefully few bike rides.

Happy Thanksgiving.

moving forward

Everyone has been there at some point in life.  You’re dealt a bad hand – a very bad hand.  Maybe you lose everything you own in a natural disaster.  Maybe it’s a personal loss, a health crisis, a job loss or financial catastrophe.  A death.  Or some unfathomable combination of the above – but always something unexpected and completely un-welcomed.  We’ve pretty much all been there, and I think we can all relate to the sense of despair and even the darkness it brings.

I say this in the same breath in which I give thanks that my own life, at the moment anyway, is safe and secure and at peace.   Where all is well.   Where I am healthy, well-loved, and surrounded by those I love in the same circumstances – and completely conscious of how truly fortunate I am.

I made the decision to opt out of deploying with Red Cross for the disaster relief efforts in the wake of Sandy.  Personal schedule commitments made it impossible for me, but I have been glad to support several friends who are out there working hard to help.  I can’t do much, but sometimes a brief conversation by text or email provides a much-needed release from the stress in the field, and I am glad to listen and offer up some encouragement – maybe even a dumb joke.

Within days of my decision, I learned of a disaster that had struck a little closer to home – one that involves a beloved relative, aging and the cruel agonizing illness of a partner, and accompanied by its own form of hopelessness and breaking points reached.  I am not yet sure how, or if,  I will be able to help.  What I have to offer may not provide the relief that is ultimately needed.

Somehow, what always circles back into my mind as I think of all of my friends and family in circumstances where life feels impossible is this:  I want to take you for a ride on a bicycle.  It may be ridiculous I know.  But when dispair and frustration envelop you, when you become trapped in the tunnel-vision of despondency and desparation … I want to get you out of scenes of devastation and hospital rooms, away from beds and doctors and ruin, and I want to take you out in wide-open space with blue sky and clouds above.

I want you to feel the rest of the world and all of the beauty it still holds.  I want you to see that it is possible to move forward – even if it is only to the top of the hill – and to experience the effortless sensation of flying down the other side.  I want you to feel your breath and your heart still at work, and understand how miraculous it really is.  And even if it is only a brief intermission from the bad drama that will still be played out, maybe it will be just enough time to sort some things out, to unravel the tangle of knots that bind you – and to see that there is a way out of even the darkest tunnels.

For my friends, for my dearest M … I would take you for a ride if I possibly could.  Life is still beautiful.  Please believe.

cycling and waiting

Cool, crisp weather and turning leaves are the only performance enhancing substances I need …

Leaves turn and the weather churns up the East Coast.   I ride and wait.  I’m unsure at this time whether or not I will deploy if called up by the Red Cross. The Client Casework  function typically hits the ground later on, after the Disaster Assessment and Mass Care teams – and at this point, the coming month, timing could be tough for me.   So for now it is a game of wait and see.

And so I ride … while I can.  Fingers crossed.

cycling into fairytales … Slovenia

Cycling along the shores of Lake Bled, especially on a day when low clouds tease the mountain tops and mist drifts through the spruce forests, you can easily become convinced you have ridden into the pages of a fairytale.  Out of the corner of you eye, veiled in eddies of mist, small white petals of woodland flowers – like tiny wings – tremble as a drop of water falls from a spruce tip.  Something stirs the forest floor.  A medieval castle, impossibly built high on a rocky cliff, rises above the steeple and stairs of an ancient church that sits, isolated, on its own small island.

You suddenly believe in fairies, dwarves, legends, and kings.

This is where our cycling adventure began, and where I first began to fall in love with the country of Slovenia.  It was impossible not to.

Just to give some clarification and perspective on the cycling, we once again used trip planning services of VBT (Vermont Bicycling Tours) as we had such a wonderful experience previously on our trip through Tuscany.   They supplied us with our bikes, arranged our lodging, moved our off-bike bags, and provided us with two of the most wonderful Slovenian guides – Damjan and Matej.

Each day, our two guides would provide maps and suggestions of things to see, places to stop, additional cycling routes and loops – and translation help when we needed it.  On several days, they would appear en route, bringing us wonderful picnic lunches.

As lifelong residents raised and educated in Slovenia, Damjan and Matej had extensive cultural, geographical, political and historical insight – information that they shared openly with us, providing context to the often-dramatic changes the country has endured.   On bikes, they let us customize our own trip to our own desires, and at our preferred pace – yet were always there to help when we needed it.  Even though we were part of a larger group of 19 cyclists, we were free to ride on our own (as Mark and I did), choose our own route options, and make our own adventures.   On several evenings, a number of us gathered to enjoy a beer and some engaging conversation and stories from the day – it was open, genuine, fascinating and enjoyable, and the friendships we made were one of the trip’s greatest gifts for me.

Upon leaving Lake Bled, we headed to the area around Kranjska Gora and Podkoren, and the stunning mountains in the region of Triglav National Park.   The mountains here are breathtaking, with profiles and colors different than any other mountains I have seen – from Alaska to the Rockies.  They are stunningly vertical and dramatic, their luminous granite peaks rising out of deep blue-green forests.   Icy mountain streams, with beds of white stones, are pristine and crystal clear – and it is claimed they are safe to drink from (altho we did not – but I did stop and wade in).

In the village of Mojstrana, Mark and I made a side visit to the Slovenian Alpine Museum.  Here we learned about the area’s mountaineering history, along with hiking, trekking and climbing opportunities within the region, and the network of mountain huts that are available to the public.  They also cited the fact that over 75% of the Slovenian population are members of the Alpine Association of Slovenia – a testament to how beloved and culturally significant the mountains are to Slovenian people.

While our cycling was mostly along the valley, we did cycle up to site of the World Cup ski jumping area and did a brief stint on the Vrsic Pass – a popular and challenging cycling route, climbing nearly 1200 meters over 11 km, with 24 switchbacks up to the summit.  We arrived rather late in the day, and I am not ashamed to confess that my legs fell off well before the summit.  But it’s a ride I have added to my bucket list, and I definitely plan to return.

We also rode up to Lake Jasna – where a bronze statue of an Ibex stands over the stunningly clear turquoise lake, surrounded by mountains peaks.  It made me think of a story Matej shared with us, the Trenta folktale of one of the most well-known and symbolic figures of the region – the legend of Zlatorog, the golden-horned chamoix.  Rich in detail, filled with old taboos and enduring truths, is basically goes something like this…

Zlatorog is the name for a majestic white chamoix with golden horns.  He roamed the mountains with the White Fairies, helping humans who ventured into the mountains, guarding the treasures hidden deep within the mountains, and keeping the valleys green and beautiful. In a valley village below, an innkeeper’s daughter was being courted by a local hunter, who professed his love and brought her flowers from the mountain meadows.

One day, a Venetian merchant arrived in the village and tried to win the heart of the young woman with gifts of gold.  The hunter, in his jealousy, decided the only way to win back his love would be to kill Zlatorog and take the gold that was hidden beneath the mountains – treasure that was dutifully guarded by the golden-horned chamoix.

The young hunter left on his mission, managed to track down Zlatorog and took aim at him, killing him.  Drops of blood fell from Zlatorog, and magically turned in to beautiful blooms – the Triglav roses – that still flourish to this day.  Zlatorog nibbled at a few of the flower petals and miraculously came back to life – only to take his revenge on the hunter, steering him into a deep abyss and to his death.

After this, Zlatorog – in his fury – used his horns to gore through the mountainside, carving deep channels and tearing up the beautiful green hillside, leaving the steep dramatic rocky landscape and deep mountain lakes that exist today .  Zlatorog left the valley with the White Fairies and has never returned…

On the edge of Lake Jasna, looking up at Mt. Triglav, and in love with this beautiful, friendly and magical country,  I can’t help believe it is all true.

of music, mountains, and folktales…

I am not an exceptional cyclist.  Yet somehow, I have managed to have extraordinary and exceptional journeys.  Slowly.  Purposefully.  Sometimes accidentally.  On two wheels.

For me it is the love of slow travel.  It is not about pushing through to a destination, or about arriving. Rather, it is a conscious savoring of each meter, each mile along the way – under my own power, and to the beat of my own heart.  It is about letting the day unwind before me as it will.   It is about the diversions and accidental discoveries.  It is about seeing the beauty through all of the senses – through touch, sight, sound, smell and taste.

We – my beloved and I – spent mid- through late September traveling and cycling through three magnificent countries – Austria, Slovenia and Italy.  We began in Salzburg and finished in Venice.  And in between, we fell in love with the mountains, the people,  and the villages of Slovenia.  We were in the land of the Julian Alps, a region whose heritage is rich in music, folklore, and mountaineering.  It often looked and felt like something taken out of a fairy tale … and in a way, I suppose it was.

It is difficult for me to write, at least publicly and impartially, about this adventure.  There is so much that goes beyond even the best words and photos.  But for the benefit of our boys (who are spread far and wide right now), our families, a few close friends – and anyone else who may be interested in a glimpse of this region as seen from the saddle of a bicycle – I will share briefly and as well as a I can.  I will spare you all a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account, and instead provide a few posts and a few photo galleries about each of the regions.  Just to give you a taste.  Just to (hopefully) inspire you to visit this region a create your own journey…

We arrived in Salzburg several days before we were to begin cycling.  Salzburg is a picturesque city, surrounded my mountains and watched over by the old fortress – the Festung Hohensalzburg, or the “High Salzburg Fortress”.

At the heart of Old Salzburg are magnificent baroque churches and architecture, the meticulously manicured Mirabell Gardens, and the gentle blue-green ribbon of the Salzach River.

The city is rich in its musical heritage, with Mozart being the biggest draw for me.  It is the birthplace and childhood home of Mozart – and the resting place for his wife and father.   It is home to the renown Salzburg music festival and the Mozarteum University.  And more recently, it was the home of conductor Herbert von Karajan – as well as being the setting (and home of Maria von Trapp ) from The Sound of Music, which was filmed in and around the city and continues to be a major tourist draw.

Like many other old European cities, Salzburg is wonderfully bicycle-centric.  In the heart of the city, bicycles are the rule, rather than the exception.  The streets are mostly void of vehicular traffic, with the exception of a few delivery trucks and a network of electric buses.  People walk or bike, or use some combination of the two – coupled with public transportation when needed.  It is a beautiful thing to see.

After three days of walking and seeing Salzburg on foot, we were ready to get on our bicycles … but that will have to wait for another day, another post.

To be continued …

return to routine

Summer is sweet.

With their summer research projects wrapping up, the boys briefly returned home for a couple of weeks before heading back to university life.  It’s been pleasant days of biking and playing around – morning runs for coffee, paddling on the river, family bike rides, catching up with old friends, dinnertime humor around the table.  Summer is sweet.

But eventually, as the sunsets come a little earlier each evening, it begins to feel like time to return to familiar routines.  Back to school, back to friends and regular schedules … all as it should be.  And as much as I love them and will miss them as they leave, I think we are all ready to turn the next page, to return to the story.

I have enjoyed the break of being away from things – putting down the camera more often, leaving the computer to sleep, and spending more time in one-to-one conversation rather than cyberspeak.  I’ve loved the warm, lazy days with my family … and yet as the weather begins to cool, and the books and bags are packed for the semester ahead, I happily anticipate rides yet to come, and the return to routine.

Meanwhile … scenes from summer days.

summer rhythm & mental clarity

My summer days tend to follow a different rhythm.  Morning swims.  Evening rides.  Abbreviated daytime trips to avoid the air that feels like being stuck in a convection oven, or avoiding the heat-induced thunderstorms.

Daytime hours have been filled with books, reading, and the other (often ignored) exercises in creativity.  While I miss long daytime rides, the wandering and exploring, I feel good about the time I’ve spent on these other things, the expanded productivity … all while waiting for cooler, dryer weather to return, and resuming my more rambling ways.

And – as evidenced by my lack of posts lately – I have enjoyed taking some time to unplug and disconnect.  I’ve been reading a fascinating book, Fast Media, Media Fast,  by Dr. Thomas Cooper, professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College in Boston.  It’s about making a conscious choice to disengage – to fast – from the barrage of always-on mass-media, the distractions of the e-world, and the devices that we are increasingly becoming dependent and even addicted to.

I appreciate that he does not take an “anti-” or negative approach; he does not want eliminate media any more than someone fasting from food wants to eliminate food.  Rather,  he wants to use the break – the diet or full-blown fast – to re-evaluate and examine how we approach and use media.  The goal behind the experience is to examine our thinking and opinion-forming process without the influence of 24-7 breaking news and 1,000 channels of cable television;  to take stock of our lives outside of e-mail, text messaging, twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube and blogging – and to physically experiencing the world directly rather than thru secondhand sources and without an electronic screen in front of us.   Which for me, would eliminate the use of  not only my television, radio, and iDevices but also my camera.  My bike stays.

While I have not yet started a full-blown fast, I have gone on some degree of a media diet, and plan to attempt a full, fasting, disconnection – if only for a week or two – within the next month.   I just want the experience, even briefly or temporarily.

I want to hear myself think again.  I want to re-evaluate the “ratio, quality, enjoyment and originality of what I ingest (as a consumer) versus what I express (as a creator)”.  I want to lose some “unneccessary mental weight”.  And I guess I want the challenge of finding “a Walden in my own mind.”  I want my daily off-bike routine to have more moments like those I experience while on my bike –  the direct experience, the mental clarity, the sensory balance, the perspective.

Wish me luck…

a katy trail adventure … part 1

My husband and I just spent 5 days traversing the the state of Missouri on our Xtracycles, from west to east on the Katy Trail – the country’s longest Rails-to-Trails project and the longest (and skinniest) state park in the country.  The Katy is also part of Adventure Cycling’s Lewis & Clark route within MO, part of the trans-national American Discovery Trail, and is one of the first trails to be listed in the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Hall of Fame.  Its honors are well-deserved; it is a remarkable trail.

The Katy is not only a wonderful cycling trail, but also a fascinating historical journey that traces a fair portion of the first weeks of Lewis & Clark’s voyage up the Missouri River, as well as chronicling the history of the railroad towns that once flourished along the MKT (Missouri-Kansas-Texas) Railroad, often called the KT, or Katy. The trail also serves as a beautiful witness to the state’s agricultural heritage.

I initially wanted to condense things into a single post – which proved a little difficult (I need an editor).  For anyone who might be interested in visiting the Katy, and who may be looking for another view of cycling the trail, I decided to offer up a little more and split our account into two posts and a photo gallery.  In this post, I will include an overview, and a description of the physical trail.  In the second post I will touch on things like lodging/camping along the trail, food and water, sights and side trips, and my own impressions of our bike adventure.  The gallery will contain a few of my favorite photos.

Clinton, MO – home to the western end of the Katy Trail, and our starting point

OVERVIEW

We basically rode end-to-end, starting in the small town of Clinton on the west end of the state (SE of Kansas City) to St. Charles (a susburb of St. Louis) in the east.  We did not ride the recently added 12-mile eastern extension to Machens out of St. Charles, as our last day was long and we did not have enough time.  We left our car in St. Charles, and took a roughly four-hour shuttle ride to Clinton on the afternoon before we began cycling.

Over five days, we rode a total distance of 261 miles (420 km); 225 miles (362 km) was on the trail itself; the remainder was riding in and out of small (and large) towns along the way.

As you know by now, I am not a stats-keeper when it comes to cycling.  I don’t keep a trip computer on my bike, but my husband did have one on his bike – and thanks to him I can share at least a few of the numbers that some people may be interested in (and which are the sum of both on- and off-trail riding):

  • Day 1:  Clinton to Sedalia – 42 miles
  • Day 2: Sedalia to Rocheport – 55 miles
  • Day 3: Rocheport to Jefferson City – 41 miles
  • Day 4: Jefferson City to Hermann – 54 miles
  • Day 5: Hermann to St. Charles – 69 miles

history lessons along the way

As for speed while on the bikes, we were fairly slow (as usual), stopping often for scenery, conversation with other cyclists, photos, and history lessons.  Cycling on even the best crushed gravel trail is slower going than rolling on pavement.  While riding we ranged between 8 and 11 mph with our bikes loaded pretty generously (I think roughly 25-30 lbs each).  We carried clothing (street and cycling) and personal items, rain gear, tool kit, bug spray and sunscreen, a small first aid kit, camera gear, snacks, water – and a couple of “luxury” items that included books, my journaling stuff, an ENO hammock and two small backpacking seats.

We opted to “inn hop” rather than camp, staying at small inns and B&B’s in towns along the trail – which we enjoyed immensely.  More on lodging and camping along the trail in more detail in the next post.

THE TRAIL

One of the best things about the Katy Trail is it’s friendliness to all levels of cyclists.  Due to (or despite?) the flat terrain, you can make your ride as easy or as challenging as you’d like it to be.  You can break things up into portions, ride the entire trail from end to end, or out and back – in as few or as many days as you want to spend, adjusting your daily mileage and speed to your desire and ability.

Small children can enjoy the ride as much as the most hard-core distance and speed-seekers.  We met a young couple riding end-to-end with their 2-year old daughter in a bike seat, taking 9 days to cover the distance, allowing plent of break and playtime along the way.  We also met two guys from nearby NC who were taking four days to ride a little less than end-to-end, but including a spur trail trip up to Columbia.  We met a pair of cross-country cyclists traveling from Maine to California for a cause (FoodCycleUS), and they were using the Katy to connect with the next leg of their 4500-mile journey.  Near bigger towns, we saw both fast and slower-moving fitness riders on a variety of bikes out for a few hours of workout time.

two friendly guys we met from nearby NC; our paths crossed several times

younger couple cycling from Maine to California for a cause: FoodCycle US (foodcycleus.com)

couple from Kansas City, out riding for the day

The terrain is basically flat to very gently rolling, with the western end of the trail having the widest range of elevation change – which isn’t much.  Cycling west to east as we did, I believe there is roughly 19 miles (?) of very gradual uphill; easy cycling, but you will eventually realize you were, in fact, pedaling uphill.

Also on the west end between Sedalia and Pilot Grove, there are some very gentle “rollers” – if you can even call them that (?).  I would describe them as gentle and extended undulations; still easy cycling, but you will be pedaling all the way – both uphill and down.

While your legs may not feel overly challenged along the way, you will be pedaling continually and will know you have ridden some miles at the end of the day.  After fifty miles or so you may feel more discomfort in other body parts – from seat to hands to the annoying spot from the nosepiece of your sunglasses.  It’s the strange result of long periods in a static position and cadence, where you tend to feel little things.

There is really no “coasting” on the trail; even along the most hard-packed portions, the surface still provides enough rolling resistance to slow any coasting momentum to a standstill within several yards.  Your best chance to actually climb a hill or coast will he heading into an off-trail town on pavement.

While long stretches of the trail can be well-protected from both sun and wind by nice tree cover on both sides, there are lovely portions of wide-open spaces that wind through wheat, corn and soybean fields.  In these places, the wind can either be in your favor or against you – adding a little variety to your ride.

The trail and it’s surface are incredibly well-maintained – by far the best conditions we’ve experienced (comparing to VA’s Creeper Trail and New River Trail).  The MO State Parks people do an exceptional job maintaining the trail and trailheads.  The surface is hard-packed crushed limestone, and was remarkably rut-, divot- and pot-hole free, as well as debris-free (no downed tree limbs, etc.).

You will, however, have to contend with significant amounts of fine, powdery white dust.  Even with fenders it ends up covering and sifting into everything.  It was in our water bottles, in our hair, coating our shins, and seeping into bag openings – and, of course, coating our bikes.  It took my Pelican dry box to protect my camera gear from rain; it ended up being more useful in protecting against dust.

We experienced only one stretch of soft trail conditions near the high point outside of Windsor.  Basically it was fine and loose, much like riding through patches of sand, sucking the momentum out from beneath your wheels.  Fortunately it was limited to only a mile or two.

One of the most surprising things to us was how few people we encountered most days.  On the first day, we rode 20 miles before seeing another person.  There was so little trail traffic that we were able to ride abreast most of the time.  We knew that autumn is peak time on the trail, but we still expected to see more traffic.

Tomorrow, I will try and post second and last part of our Katy Trail experience … until then, happy pedaling!