Friday, November 25, 2011


Kamala: The spinning of the pedals is the heartbeat of the road. We're drawn to it and feel guilty if we don't do it. The slowly-passing landscapes seep into our souls. Years later when traveling a route by a gas-fueled motor, we remember the details, like where we sat, where we changed a flat, where we saw sheep, and oh yes, that hill (up or down). The trips take us back to a simple life where we can no longer hide from the elements but work with it as we experience each tier of our hierarchy of needs. Shelter behind a wall that shields us from the wind while we eat lunch becomes sanctuary. Our muscles are our engine that powers us forward. The earth passes beneath our wheels. Mountains become hills then transition to flat plains. Life issues are debriefed through therapeutic conversation.  All bicycle touring trips are odysseys. Just like that of Odysseus, our epic adventures include pleasure, villains, traps, challenges, and struggles.

A little over half of this year's 700-mile two-wheeled journey was over roads we've pedaled before. The last part was new. The old hilly foes of Alamosa and Nogal Canyons shrunk to reality and posed no new challenge. We let the wind's influence be our guide this trip. We were coming home sooner but the wind had different ideas. When we could only muster 3 mph we both said, “Forget this!” We turned around and decided to see where it led us. Magically, we were blown to our trail's end in Amarillo to Charley's cousin's home where we visited Oklahoma farm memories, family histories, and his 99-year old aunt. We transitioned to a mini-van and brought us and our gear home to plan our next two-wheeled adventure.
Hope you enjoy the video.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bicycle touring and making predictions

Charley: Life is unpredictable. Most of us know that at our core, but then there is something in most of us that strives to make sense out of all this chaos buzzing around us and thus make the world a little more under our control and therefore more predictable.
You would think that we'd learn the futility of placing too much importance on predictions, but no. It's not just that our predictions flop and fizzle, It's that sometimes we get it right and, at least subconsciously, pat ourselves on the back for being so damn smart. And, like Pavlov's dogs salivating at the bell but getting no food, we just smile and go on making decisions based on our own or expert predictions.
Now as a bicycle tourist I make no claim to being better at this prediction fantasy, nor immune from making them, only in recognizing the folly in them. As we pedal through unknown territory we lay out the maps, we listen to the weather, we ask questions of locals and consult the Google Gods. All, to our sometimes sorrow, we've learned are fallible. Still there is the day, week, distance ahead, so we pull what information we can scrape up and consult what experts are available and predict the day's ride. Now I know that sounds quite reasonable when one is considering things such as; Will it rain? Headwinds or tailwinds? What's the you terrain like? A place to camp? Is there a bike shop? However, Tarot cards, flipping a coin, or reading sheep entrails would probably work equally well. I've already decided that on our next tour I'm going to carry a copy of the I Ching and refer to it's hexagrams on all important decisions. Hey, I might even become an economist.
"An expert is a person who has made all of the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field." N Bohr


Kamala: “Why do you carry so much gear? You camp out?” Well, we don’t always camp out but it really comes in handy. We did a spring-break mini-tour back in 2002, We came upon a couple who were in their 50s. He had always wanted to do a cross-country bicycle tour. There he was, his wife at his side and his dream was now a reality. What did they carry? Almost nothing. They each a change of clothes and bare minimum tools. All went into two little (I mean little) panniers. I worried about them. Such long distances through the desert meant you HAD to get to your destination. What if something went wrong? What if ‘weather’ happened? What if . . .? From our experience it is not always possible to reach destinations and carrying all of our stuff gives us options.

Take yesterday for example. We have been going 58,  61,67 miles a day. While the days have been long, they also have been smooth. Tailwinds have added an extra perk. But ask any cyclist, what is their biggest enemy and I’ll bet they’ll answer, “Headwinds.” That is what happened yesterday.

We’re  working at slight incline all day and battling against a headwind. Our destination is 60 miles away and we start the day at 8:00 in the morning. By the time we make 36 miles at Melrose, NM at 2:30 in the afternoon, we know we’re in trouble. We can’t top 7 - 8 mph and the math means (which I constantly calculate and recalculate in my head while spinning pedals around) 3 or more hours of grinding. After Melrose, the incline mellows and we are able to get the speed up to about 9, but the northeasterly wind is icy cold. Our bones are chilled. Charley begins to look at the alternatives around us; we are going to wild camp. Finally, a small group of water elms appear along the road. Charley stops and goes checks it out. Wow! What a sanctuary! Looks like someone else saw it too, because they left a camp stove gas cylinder and a clearing where they pitched a tent. The trees provide perfect camouflage from passing cars. I watch as traffic passes by, and I can see that drivers are just mesmerized by the road directly in front of them and they don’t see us. We set up with stiffening cold fingers just in time. As Charley gets into the tent, the sun says goodbye for another day. We snuggle in our cozy down bag to warm up. The train rambles by on a nearby track tooting its horn of safety. We fall asleep, warm and snug, ever grateful of the cargo we haul around.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Leaving an old friend

Charley: Alas, we're leaving an old friend behind in Albuquerque, our tent. It has accompanyed us on several adventures but it has begun to take on more and more weight in the form of duct tape patches. Not long ago Kamala replaced one of the door zippers by robbing an old sleeping bag. Each new patch made it a little it heavier. We thought it had one more trip left in her, but after the other door zipper began to malfunction we had to consider putting her out to pasture and even though Kamala worked her magic, deftly bringing said zipper back on line, we both knew it was time. So we are of mixed feelings as we leave our old Mountain Hardware behind in Albuquerque with friends and take off on the next part our journey with a brand new REI half dome. A new tent is good, but because of our habit of atttibuting anthropomorphic qualites to things there's just a touch of sadness in our spirit.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Charley: Bicycle touring lends itself to the wandering side of our spirits. Sure, there are goals, but they are loose and malleable. Wandering infers a mindset that is more empty and open than one who is seeking. In another life we were seekers, seeking God, wisdom, success, money. You know, all that golden floss of youth, but somewhere along the way all of that kind stuff just fell into the background and we became more and more enthralled with this world that we are passing through with all it's beautiful, strange and interesting creatures.
Wandering allows a person to witness the world with more empathy, from the struggle of the ant heroically carrying off a piece of our picnic scraps to the emotion charged experience of wave after wave of hundreds of honking, squawking, talking geese landing on a darkly mirrored pond at dusk.

People tend to open up and tell you their story once they sense you are not out to judge them or use them. Like the itinerant worker who invited us to share his food and told us stories of his homeless, 1500-mile bicycle trip, his fascination with the bible, aliens and Edgar Casey and his positive experience with a highly tattooed ex-con who had spent more than half his life behind bars. In addition, the fellow at the Laundromat who explained that he was using retirement to explore the Caballo Mountains, looking for archeological sites. His biggest find was a giant carving of a skull and a radiating sun, probably of Aztec origin perhaps marking the entrance to a mine. As he shared his passion while meticulously folding his clothes, he came upon a George Strait T-shirt which he exclaimed, “I met George Strait! I shook his hand! We drove all the way to Houston to see him!” He went on to explain how his ‘better-half’ loves country music and bought seats in the front row but would never tell him how much she paid.  To start off our trip, friends on the west side of El Paso, welcomed us into their home to start of our first night’s rest . In addition, this trip our wandering has lead us to a couple of doorsteps of Warm Showers hosts’ homes. We were welcomed in, fed (even though they don’t have to do that), and made to feel comfortable and at home. When we left the next morning we had made new friends.
Poster at Hatch restaurant