Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympics!

For the past two weeks I've been up in Whistler with my family watching the Olympics. We attended seven cross country races, five of which Holly raced, and a had a brief view of the downhill portion of the women's combined. The weather was gorgeous for the first week, sunny and warm-prefect for spectating, not as great for skiing. I've never watched so much Olympic competition in my whole life, when we're not at an event we've been watching it on TV. I think I've seen just about all of all the competitions (besides curling). It's going to be so strange to be away from all of this shortly.

My brother, Scott, always takes tons of great pictures and does write-up after trips like these, so I'm counting on him to get more of the essence and my report will be more brief. As usual, I've also been putting this off for about a week now, so I've just got to get it done.


The Olympic rings in the Whistler Village with a memorial for Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger, at the bottom.

I was very impressed with the transportation here. Not being allowed to drive or park most places, VanOC has buses running all the time. My parents rented a little townhouse just about 2 km outside of the Whistler Village, which was a perfect location. A short bus ride, or walk brought us into the village where we jumped on another bus that took us to the Whistle Olympic Park, the cross country venue. The buses ran constantly and besides being kicked out of the venue earlier then we wanted, it worked great. The volunteers were also wonderful, there were so many everywhere and were always cheery and friendly. Being from all over the US and Canada, they didn't always have the right info, but at least always had a smile.


From wehre the bus dropped us off, it was a 25 minute or so walk uphill to the venue. Here's the family walking from the bus towards the venue.


Saying a quick hello to Holly before her first Olympic race.



Holly going to the finish


A view of the stadium.


Mass start for the ladies' 15k pursuit


Another gorgeous day at the Whistler Olympic Park during the sprint heats.

Some of the Norwegian fans. I absolutely love how dressed up so many people get. The Norwegians and the Swedes, being nordic centered countries, have some of the most dedicated fans. The costumes and chants are so much fun to observe.


Holly racing under the spectator bridge before the last hill entering the stadium.

On the days we didn't attend races we've gotten some skiing of our own in. Two days of tele and two of nordic. Nordic conditions were slow and sloppy with all of this warm weather, but felt great to be out. The tele skiing was awesome, this was only my second and third times lift skiing, and first at an area like this. I was amazed at how big it is, how man lifts, the length of runs, everything was incredible! It was also perfect because there were no lift lines and we were told the slopes were empty compared to the usual crowds. Although my tele isn't good, on the second day, I felt like I was starting to get a little better.



Some of the family ready for an awesome day of telemark skiing.


Scott up top at Whistler, couldn't ask for anything better.

On another day off, we left Whistler and drove down to Squamish for a little hike. Dad wanted to go up the Grand Wall, something he'd rock climbed years back. The trail was very steep with tons of rock steps and staircases, Scott and I almost felt like we were back in the Adirondacks with the tail design. Having not hiked in a long time, especially something so steep up and down, my legs killed the next day!

Up on the Grand Wall

That evening we visited Holly in the Athletes Village. Security was tight everywhere, but especially at the athletes village where we had to be registered to get in, leave out passports at the entrance, and be out by 9 pm. Holly gave us a tour of the place. It was much like a college campus with lounges, computer labs, game rooms, medial facilities, gym, and cafeteria. We had dinner in the cafeteria while watching all of the Olympic athletes around us. It was fun seeing some of the top competitors, trying to identify which sports people were from; the bobsledders were the only obvious athletes, being nearly twice the size of anyone else.



The family on our visit to the Athlete's village.

video video


This has been an amazing two weeks, I'm so glad that I flew back! Witnessing the best athletes in the world compete, right alongside my sister was incredible. Holly did so well and had such great support, people coming from all over the US to cheer her on. I'm so proud of her!

As great as this break has been, I'm now anxious to get back to my bike in Memphis. Now that I have no more distractions, I'm looking forward to just riding. It's time to get back in shape and finally get to the Gulf Coast!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Five Months in Five Hours

Today, it has been exactly five months since I first rode out of Seattle. Today, I flew out of Memphis, TN back to Seattle (for the Olympics, I haven't given in yet). The flight, with a transfer in Phoenix, followed the route I'd ridden about as closely as a plane can. I was in the air for five hours, that's one hour in the air for each month on the ground. Crazy!

Although I hadn't anticipated this extra flight and time off the road, I'm SOOO excited about it. Riding the last miles out of Arkansas, across the Mississippi River and into Tennessee, I was all smiles and giddiness. Following my sister's blog, which she's doing an amazing job keeping up, and now with all of the press and such for the Olympics I know it's going to be an unreal experience.

The last few days of riding across Arkansas were cold (high 30's at best), extremely flat, and nothing exciting. I spent an extra day with Felicia at the Heifer Ranch to stay out of the cold one more day; then I booked the last 200 miles to Memphis. The forecasts worried me, but turned out to be just fine. The worst day forecast was for snow when I rode into Memphis, fortunately the sun even graced my arrival as I crossed the boarder!

When I stopped in Forrest City, AR to warm up and eat a bite at a gas station I talked awhile with two delivery guys. One told me I must be "hardheaded and stubborn," I couldn't disagree with him. He said that if I were his daughter he'd of chained me to the house; I'm glad I wasn't his daughter (he was kind of joking). Mom and Dad, thanks for your support. I often get the question, "What do your parents think of your trip?" It's nice to be able to say that although they may worry at times, they're excited about my adventure and supportive of my choices.


This was the worst the roads got, had to ride through a bit of slush in places, but I'd feared much worse.



Eastern Arkansas is terribly flat, this was pretty much my view for 150 or so miles. Good for making time at least.


Yay, finally crossing the Mississippi!

Once in Memphis, I spent a little time wandering around downtown to see a few sights. In the evening, I met up with Dan, my warmshowers host who is graciously storing my bike and gear while I'm gone. A little while back I'd started to think it might be fun to lead cycle tours in the future. Dan has lead many trips through Adventure Cycling Association, so I bombarded him with questions that evening as his basset hounds fought for my full attention. After a quick cleaning and drying out of gear, I packed it all up ready to leave it behind for a bit. I'll admit, with this weather, I wasn't too sad about leaving.


All about their music here, tons of history.



Yup, definitely in Memphis.



The motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. It looks exactly like all of the pictures. Now it holds the National Civil Rights Museum. I didn't have time to go in then but really hope to once I return; I've heard it's well worth it.

The farther east I ride, the more incredulous people seem when they ask me how far and long I've been riding. I've now made it 6,400 miles. Maybe I've just become jaded by most folks reactions, but whatever I've accomplished doesn't seem to warrant their responses; I don't think I'm doing anything that crazy, difficult, or unique. I've met plenty of others who have gone far beyond me either in cycling or other realms I would never dream of setting foot in. Maybe I'm so unfazed because I myself cannot comprehend the distance; it' s hard to put all the days together, to fill in the puzzle. It's only when I glance at a map of the entire US that it sinks in at all, but mostly I still just look at what I have left to ride. Maybe it's because while some people may view this as a big adventure, trip, or vacation, to me it's just become life. I hate to say it's routine because that was one thing I was trying to escape from, but in a way riding each day has become routine. However, if life requires some sort of routine, I'll take this type over most anything else.

Once I get back to my bike it'll take me another month or so to get to Florida's Atlantic coast, my half way point. I wonder if it will all sink in then. Now I'm still riding away from the northwest, from that point on I'll be riding back. I've now given up my only excuse for not doing my whole loop; I'm not going back to the Forest Service this summer. As hard as a decision that was, knowing I'm leaving behind a place, job, and people that have come to mean so much to me, I know I'd always regret it if I left this trip unfinished (there's my hard-hardheadedness for you). I set out to do a loop and although I foresee Canada as a challenge much bigger then I've yet come across, I'm committed to crossing the country. If anyone is looking for an adventure, I'd love some company now and then this spring/summer!

Five Month Inventory:

Miles: 6405.7
Flats: 29
Tubes: 12
Tires: 4
Jars of PB: 20
Nights under a roof: 51 (wow that went up!)
States: 10
Nat'l Parks: 21
WS/CS Hosts: 9
Bike-free days: 25
Rain: 21
Riding in Rain: 10

Headed up to Vancouver/Whistler in the morning! Go Holly! Go USA!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Anicha

Anicha (change), this is the universal law of nature and has played so true in the last few days in many ways. The day I wrote my last post was the worst day I'd had in a long time. This was mainly due to the weather; it rained 36 hours straight and was in the mid-low forties during the day. This was the first day of this trip where it's rained all day long. I know, I'm still a total fair-weather rider, but it was miserable. This was also the first day that the weather has actually affected my riding, I got so cold that I only made it 30 miles. My tent was soaked from the night before and I was determined to get under shelter that night. Fortunately, I reached a small town and found a shelter between a church and a graveyard. Finding no one to ask permission from, I was desperate to change into dry clothes and get some food, so set up. This was the first time I've camped right in a town so it was a little strange and all night I had dreams of people coming and messing with my gear; but it all turned out well and I was so happy to have been under cover.

With only light rain the next morning, I rode ten miles to the next town in my long underwear so that I could find a dryer. I couldn't bare putting my soaking wet clothes back on knowing I'd be miserable again all day. Although my gloves and shoes were still drenched, the rest was thankfully warm and dry. The rain stopped, and although it was still cold, this was one of the best days I'd had in a long time! I got into the Ouchita National Forest: nice hills, forests, and tons of creeks and rivers all over. Arkansas is actually really pretty! I know I sound crazy, but it kind of reminds me of Vermont.


Happy to be in Arkansas.

Days like this seem to come right when I really need them. I can't help but think that such a turn around in a day was at least partially due to the benefits mediation. It didn't have to be a good day, could have just been mediocre or even bad due to the cold, wet feet, and first flat tire in many days. Usually my mood doesn't flip so drastically in such a short time, maybe this idea of constant change is really starting to sink in. Whatever the reason, I like it!

I also saw another armadillo riding that evening! It was the first live one (lots of road kill only) that I've seen since the day I saw my first ones. They still just crack me up and I laughed a through the last few miles of the day. I felt great riding all day and even felt fast for the first time in awhile, I didn't want to stop for the evening I felt so good. That night I camped up a Forest Service road and enjoyed the quietest night and darkest sky I've had in a very long time. It was a good day.



Looking back at the hills.

The next day my legs were tested by hills like I haven't been in since West Texas. Arkansas has some big, long hills. The ride flattened out in the afternoon and I made it to Felicia and the Heifer Ranch! The ranch is really neat, they have a huge area, all sorts of animals, and lots of young people working on various aspects of the ranch: farm, livestock, education, and maintenance. It's group housing, so very busy; yesterday everyone was cooking/baking for fun and for a Superbowl party in the evening, but everyone seems to share everything they make which is fantastic, such a neat group of people. Dumpster-diving at the Whole Foods in Little Rock seems common place here and the other day people brought back three huge crates of fruits and veggies. Felicia and I decided to make applesauce with a bunch of the apples, then made applesauce and oat muffins which were fantastic! It's so good to be around such a great cooking environment.


On our walk around the farm, we found the goats had broken through three fences and were running around the farm.



Rasha, the male camel here, his slobbering means that he likes us, a lot!



Visiting the pigs.

Felicia is working for the farm part of the ranch. They do a 70 person CSA in the summer/fall and grow much of the food for the ranch's dinning hall. Most people here work in education. This is a big destination for school groups, church groups and such. They have ropes courses and two "global villages" where groups spend one to three nights. The villages represent different areas of the world, mostly where Heifer does work, such as Thailand, an urban slum, Arkansas (where you stay in a school bus), etc. The kids spend their time learning about how people live in those different areas, tending to stock and preparing their food.



On the ranch


The view this morning, snow! These next few days are looking to have some very cold riding, and more snow later in the week.

So, the other big change is a change of plans. After initially passing off the idea of flying back to the Northwest to go to the Olympics, I realized that was silly, I really wanted to go. Setting out on this trip I had a number of goals/objectives that I wanted to live by, one of which was that I didn't want this year to be all about riding, it's about having fun and giving myself a year to do the things that I really want to do. It's about learning to be flexible, trying new things, and fulfilling dreams. As a kid I'd always dreamt of going to watch the Olympics, when I found out they'd be in Vancouver I thought for sure I'd be there. With my sister racing there is no better time to fulfill this dream. This does push things back a bit along my route, but I'm realizing that that's fine, there's a reason that I don't have a set route or timetable. So, I'm headed to Memphis and flying back to Seattle to spend two weeks up at Whistler going to Olympic events, not too shabby!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ah, Enlightenment...

...well, maybe ten days is a little hasty to expect enlightenment, but I would say my meditation course was definitely an enlightening experience. The course was ten days long and taught the Vipassana meditation technique developed 2500 years ago by the Buddha Gotema.

Upon entering the course we agreed to abide by a number of regulations. For instance: no speaking until the 10th day except to the assistant teachers to ask questions, no physical contact, or even eye contact with fellow mediators, no books/music/writing, no vigorous physical exercise (walking only), no intoxicants, etc. I thought the not speaking would be difficult, but it was really easy, and not just for me, everyone said it was. It was strange to be around 50 some people for 9 days without ever speaking to them or even knowing most of their names (I really enjoyed talking to people once the Noble Silence was lifted). The not reading was hard. There were a few points where I felt like I needed to got out of my own head in order to stay there and I was bored, I was so tempted to get one of my books. However, I realized that the not speaking/reading, etc did have a very good point, those add to the distractions and thoughts in your head and defeat the purpose of trying to keep a clear mind, so eventually I was grateful for those rules.

We also agreed to stick closely to the daily timetable.

A typical day went like this:

4am wake up
430-630 meditate
630-8 breakfast/rest, I always had to take a nap after breakfast
8-9 group meditation
9-11 mediate
11-12 lunch
12-100 rest, this was when I got to walk in circles, had to do something to burn off a little energy
100-230 meditate
230-330 group mediation
330-5 meditate
5-6 tea break, new students could eat fruit, old students couldn't eat after noon
6-7 group mediation
7-830 video discourse on the philosophy of the technique by the man who spread these centers across the world
830-9 meditate
930 sleep!

So, the days were long and for just sitting all day, very full. The technique worked in a progression, adding new elements each day. The first 3.5 days we did Anapana mediation where we just focused on our natural breath. This is meant to help quite the mind and gain control over it, also to make you be in the present moment. The firs two days were really tough, my head was going crazy with thoughts jumping all over the place. The second day was worst then the first and I was frustrated, even wanted to leave. However, I told myself I had to at least give it four days trial. By the third day my mind calmed down, I was still very distracted, but at least could think fluidly and have full, clear thoughts.

On the fourth day we began Vipassana mediation. Here we started to mentally pass over every part of out bodies to feel the sensations present. The idea behind this is that if you can gain awareness of your sensations and remain objective to them, you can be in control of your reactions and be rid of your miseries.

Each evening we watched discourses on the philosophy. I really enjoyed these and the days that I struggled with most, they were what kept me there. The ideas are all based on Dhamma, the universal rule of nature-that everything changes. By learning to accept this law, not only intellectually, but through experience of the ever-changing sensations in your body, then you can free yourself from the causes of all misery: craving, aversion, and ignorance. The ideas are all based upon fact, experience, and nature, they're non-sectarian and have nothing to do with any God. It's a beautiful philosophy, simplistic and all about love and compassion for all beings. The three big stages are morality, control of the mind, and purity of the mind, once all of these have been mastered, along with a number of smaller everyday life things, you can reach enlightenment.

I know this is a very quick, and maybe not so clear overview of what Vipassana is and the experience was like, but I just had to get something out. Although I struggled with the course at many times, I was so happy to have finished it and am working on incorporating it into my life. I've kept up mediating twice daily so far, we'll see if I can make it last. If anyone is interested in going to one of these centers, they have them all over the world, and wants to know more, I'd be happy to explain better. I definitely encourage anyone to give it a try!


Inside the women's dorm. The gong that woke us up, told us when to mediate, and eat.

A view of the mediation center. The mediation hall is straight ahead, the men's dorm on the left, kitchen/dining areas on the right.
Here is the website if you'd like to find out more: http://www.dhamma.org/

Leaving the mediation, I felt more at peace then I've ever felt, it was such a fabulous feeling! Although it's been cold, it did feel good to ride again, though I've been taking it a little slow, making shorter days as my legs definitely feel ten days of inactivity. Nothing of great interest to report for the most part. Camping has been great, good, safe spots.

Business cards on the toilet of a gas station bathroom, that's just wrong.


Lots of swampy areas.
I arrived in Texarkana yesterday and crossed into Arkansas! Although I really enjoyed my time in Texas, it felt great to cross into another state; I'd been in Texas since the end of November!


Yay, finally crossed out of Texas!
Riding into Arkansas, I was obviously in a different place. The towns that I've ridden through so far have been some of the poorest, most run-down I've ever seen. It's strange how just crossing a boarder things can change so much. The riding has been fine, very flat but I've had a head-wind which has been slowing me down the last few days.
As I was looking for water and a place to camp last night, I rode longer then expected and finally came to a gas station in Mineral Springs. Inside were two gentlemen that I talked with for a while, very nice but made me a little nervous. The conversation went something like this: "You're not riding alone are you?" "Yeah, I am." "Do you know where you are? You're in Arkansas. Things change when you get into Arkansas. You'd better at least have a gun." Now, I've had countless conversations similar to this throughout the country, but for some reason, this time was different, this time I did get a little nervous. I'm in the south, in Arkansas, in a very red-neck area that I don't have a clue about. I'm sure it will be fine, I'm just going to be a little extra aware.

Hard to see, but all the trees are covered in some sort of vine, making even them look run-down, Arkansas seems to be a rough place so far.
It rained all last night, it supposed to rain all day today and most of tomorrow. Yeah, great fun. At least I have something to look forward to. In a few days I'll be at the Heifer International ranch in Perryville, AR to visit my good friend Felicia! In giving me directions to her place she wrote, "keep going straight, past the camels and bulls, ...past the water buffalos," not too many places can you give directions like that. I'm pretty excited!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Congratulations Holly!

My sister is an Olympian!!! She was named to the US Cross Country Olympic Ski Team on the 26th.

I know this news is a few days old now, but I just got out of my mediation where I had no communication with the world so just found out the other day. I just wanted to give a huge shout out to Holly for all of the hard work she has done and continues to put in. Holly is currently in Canmore, Canada getting ready for the World Cup races there prior to the Games.

She's been getting some great media attention that you can find if interested and is now updating her blog daily.

http://hollyskis.blogspot.com/
http://www.athleta.net/chi/2010/01/28/holly-brooks-is-an-olympian/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DgD-SHkkbU

The whole family has been organizing like crazy figuring out how to watch her race, my plans are still unknown.



So, yes, I finished the mediation. It was difficult but ended up really good and I feel wonderful! I'm putting together a post and will have it up the next few days. Now I'm back on the road, making my way out of Texas and trying to get these legs to move after 10 days of sitting.