Wednesday, January 31, 2018

New Work Up @ Yea, Tenderness

At the terrific journal Yea, Tenderness I have a new piece up starting the week of January 28. It’s entitled:
The 7 Stages of Replacing Things

Based on the 7 Stages of Grief—losing things and grief, same thing. In this day and age I’ve found that Amazon Prime can work virtual miracles. We have the ability to get WHATEVER we want—and usually within 3 standard shipping days.


Alas, not everything can be replaced. 
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Monday, January 29, 2018

Here’s Something to Cheer About!!

At the terrific journal Yea, Tenderness I have a new piece up starting the week of January 28. It’s entitled:
The 7 Stages of Replacing Things

Based on the 7 Stages of Grief—losing things and grief, same thing. In this day and age I’ve found that Amazon Prime can work virtual miracles. We have the ability to get WHATEVER we want—and usually within 3 standard shipping days.


Alas, not everything can be replaced. 
No automatic alt text available.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist=My Trips, part 3




When I bought my new bike, a Torker, it was sold to me as a commuter bike with a way more generous gear ratio. Perfect, I thought, for long-distance cycling. Just because I had a few extra teeth though didn’t mean I should plan to cycle the Highlands of Scotland or attempt a JOGLE, but that’s exactly what I did.

JOGLE, from John O’Groats to Land’s End in Cornwall: in fall 2016, 1,100 miles in 20 days, one spent holed up in a gale in a caravan. Only later after getting home and thinking more about it did I reckon I needed better gearing for touring.







Halifax, Nova Scotia – Deer Isle, Maine: June 2017 brought me a new bike adventure. 638 miles over 12 days, definitely more relaxed and several ferries. I spent 2 days cycling the carriage roads of Acadia Nat. Park. But on the very last day of my trip a problem reoccurred—I threw a spoke on my back wheel. This same thing happened in England, but just dismissed it as a result of cycling so many miles sometimes over dirt and gravel. But the mechanic in Blue Hill told me my bike was not built for touring.




So when I got home I began to research. I went from 28 spokes to a brand new rear wheel bought used for $8 with 36 spokes. I also began to upgrade my gearing. From 13-26t to my lowest gear is now 34. I had compact gearing 34 – 50 in front. I bought a used triple crank for $15, 42 – 20. This will be a world of difference on my next trip.


Which I’m planning now in the bone-chilling dead of winter. How about you—ready to come along?!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist=My Trips, part 2


So as I mentioned in my last post in 2013 a friend moved away and I was left trying to figure out if I would continue long-distance cycle touring. Pursuing it alone.

A test trip was a ride I planned from Grand Rapids to Chicago the third week in April 2014. It didn’t start very auspiciously. I forgot to pack my front wheel in the box, so that when unpacking at the Grand Rapids bus station I got a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. A phone call to emergency UPS the forgotten wheel, costing as much as the gas saved if I’d just driven there and back. Then the day I was to leave there was a lot of rain. I really wanted to postpone. I did delay until noon. That night I stealth camped by Lake Michigan and the wind was ferocious. The next day on the Blue Star Highway working my way down the coast it was cold. I remember trying to swing my leg over the top bar and being unable to straddle it. I simply had too many layers on. I was off itinerary and stayed that second night in a woods outside of New Buffalo. I went to sleep and woke up to stillness the next morning. I poked my head out of my cozy, warm sleeping bag and unzipped the tent fly. There were several inches of new snow on the ground. I got a phone call asking if I was still alive—it was 23 degrees! Yes, but come pick me up! I made it as far as Michigan City.

Göta Canal and Gotland (Sweden): in September 2014 I decided to solo vacation and flew to Sweden to visit friends. Before leaving Chicago I downloaded Top 10 Things to Do in Sweden and one of them was to rent a bike and cycle the Göta Canal. Problems ensued. One of which was pronouncing the town I was trying to get to in order to rent/hire a bike. It took a combination of trains and buses and each time I could not say where it was I was trying to go. Sjötorp. Plus my credit card did not work.

From my blog post: It was mid-afternoon as I alighted from my last bus in a puddle-filled street. It had been raining off and on all day. That was not part of the picture I had imagined. I tromped down to the metropolis city center, an ice cream shop where there was virtually no one. The waitress/cashier/cook asked me who/what I was looking for. I told her I was there in shn—nops—to hire a bike and ride the famous canal. Her response was that it was past the season and there were no bikes.

I refused to take no for an answer. You see, I had it all planned out in my mind. I’d ride and it would be beautiful and sunny. She said to try the shop down the street and over the bridge.

Gracias. Not really, but I knew they must have a word for thank you. Not one I could pronounce, mind you, but a word that related how I felt at the time.

I walked over and indeed saw what looked to be one bike at a little convenience shop. A man, probably originally from India but who spoke perfect English told me he could rent me a bike. I told him I wanted to ride the entire canal and leave the bike at the end. I informed him that the tourist bureau had told me it was possible to do this. I might have read it at the Göta Canal website. Yes, he said, but it was past season. That pesky sentence.

Indeed it was really quiet where I was in the unpronounceable town. Most of the shops were locked and bolted, the shades pulled down. I was beginning to understand.

The kind man told me I would need so many kroner for the bike and then so much for the room because if I biked until 8 pm I would need to stay the night. The rate he quoted me sounded like college tuition. I burst into tears. It had already been a long day.

Suddenly his wife was there beside me telling me to take a deep breath.

Together they operated the Sjötorps Vandrarhem och Rum which I assumed was a bar. Come to find out that a vandrarhem is like a nicer hostel. The rate they quoted equaled about $36 US dollars. Okay. Gulp. Breathe. Drying tears. Yes. YES.

Within 30 minutes I was on the bike and pedaling beside the canal. Living the dream.


I watched the long slow Swedish sun dip and hang above the horizon for about as long as it took to ride 30 miles that evening. I slept in a nice soft, clean bed and when I woke up the owner told me which bus to take. I was ashamed to tell him my other problem.

The Euro credit card has a security chip in it while the American ones, the ones always getting hacked, do not. I couldn’t use my credit card on the bus to buy my ticket and the driver did not take cash. No problem. And, somehow he fixed it with the driver. I was able to board and go on to the next town I couldn’t pronounce where I met up with Lotta.

Because of this man and his wife I was able to hold together for a little longer a picture in my head. Really without a number of people like them my trip would have been over before it even began. Everyday there were small miracles that allowed me to travel. Not always did the picture in my head line up with the current situation, but I was getting better at navigating the margin of difference.

I also hired a bike on the island of Gotland and because it was “out-of-season” the rate was super cheap, plus they held my extra baggage for the 3 days so I only had to take with me what I needed. The weather was beautiful and the ride was actually relaxing. I stayed the first night at a hostel in Fårösund and the second night at a farmhouse in the middle of the island south of Roma. Actually the whole trip was a lesson in how to do it by myself.


Jacksonville-Key West: Thus, in 2015 January 31 – February 9, I rode from Jacksonville to Key West. 550 miles in ten days. My longest trip yet. I did a combination of Warmshowers and campgrounds.

Minneapolis – Chicago: 2015 July I left on Greyhound for Minneapolis in what was going to be a week-long heat wave with temps in the upper 90s. About 500 miles in 6 days, 5 nights. I suffered from dehydration and hills. Mosquitos didn’t help.







Pittsburg, Pa – Washington DC via GAP and C&O Towpath. I did this the fall of 2015 and it was an excellent ride. I was starting to feel confident. I can do this! Over 300 miles in 5 days, 4 nights. I used FREE trailside hiker/biker shelters. I bused to Pittsburgh via Greyhound and put my bike together at the station and Amtraked home without having to box the bike, just roll it on for $15.








Then, I bought a new bike. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A One-Woman Riot

At last year’s Women’s March a small cell phone video went viral. Milck aka Connie Lim came out of the shadows. Her song “Quiet” became the movement’s anthem.

Put on your face
Know your place
Shut up and smile
Don’t spread your legs
I could do that

[Verse 1]
But no one knows me no one ever will
If I don’t say something, if I just lie still
Would I be that monster, scare them all away
If I let them hear what I have to say

[Chorus]
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

She didn’t start out thinking she was going to write a hit, go viral, or even make a lot of bucks. Lim, a self-professed geek and outsider who said she never felt like she fit in, composed the song from personal experience. From an NPR interview:

It has been stuck in my (laughter) throat and my consciousness for years and years and years. I have been trying to find a way to heal myself from the burdens of being silenced.
***
"I've been an independent artist for eight years. And I remember around year five or six, there was a person interested in managing me and he was kind of scratching his head. He's like, 'Well I don't know how to break a Chinese American artist here. Maybe you should go back to China.' And I kind of panicked because I don't view China as my home. I view America as my home. I've been presented that strategy many times, especially when I was first coming up. But I've just been really stubborn about wanting to do my art here. And so, I've just been following my instincts and trying to stay as grounded as possible."
***
I was just different, even physically. I was a chubby kid, and I became really ashamed of how I was different from the standard stick-thin, polite, classy, elegant Asian-American female image.

MILCK: (Singing) It runs deep, it's insatiable - that hunger to be seen, to be understood.


She’d demo-ed the song and with her manager was shopping it, but there were no takers. Finally with the Women’s March approaching she rehearsed with women via Skyppe and performed it at the march in Washington DC. From there she appeared on Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal and the song took off.

She could have easily given up. Her story was a common one. Why would anyone want to listen to or buy her song? We all have experienced this—the put downs, the negativity. Being invisible. Wondering at our own worth, the value of art. Lim took a chance to step out and just perform the song. And when she did, great things came from it.

She turned her grief and pain into an anthem. Her words became identified with a movement. Thanks Milck for not giving up.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist=My Trips, part 1


January 2018, and I’m dreaming of my next cycle long-distance tour. I have to—it’s negative 7 below zero outside. It’s necessary to have something to look forward to.

But as a way of introduction here is a list of some of my past tours.


5 years old: rode my bike with training wheels across the highway. The pedal fell off and had to walk it home. Got home after dark, but never fessed up about what I’d done.

Middle school: a bunch of us took on our bikes—after a carbo-load breakfast where I ate a whole loaf of bread for French toast. After a few miles I got a stomach ache and had to turn back. Not sure where we were going actually.

Still in middle school: after helping my sister deliver the Sunday newspaper (starting out in darkness) we decided to ride our bikes to Xenia (Ohio). I got as far as Spring Valley on my banana seat bike before the miles or hunger sent me back home. I remember we made it as far as a ski hill? in Spring Valley—does anyone know anything about this place. Can’t find info about it on Internet, so I’m wondering if I just dreamed the whole thing up??

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Sometime while in college: loaded up my bike for multi-day trip, rode from Centerville to Hillsboro where I spent the night at a state park. The next day I called a friend to come pick me up, cancelling the trip.

Sometime in the 90s: rode my bike with a group of novices Chicago to Bushnell, IL. We did everything wrong but accomplished what we set out to do. I consider this a victory. It was less than 250 miles and took us 4 days, 3 nights. A decade later did the trip again in 3 days total.

Also in the 90s: smallish rides where I’d ride out, spend the night, and then back. Once more myself along with 2 friends did the I & M Canal, 3 days and 2 nights one of which was so cold our water bottles froze. We discovered a great stealth camping spot that has been a go-to for me in years since, right along a canal lock where there is a 3-sided hut and a huge fireplace.

Image may contain: tree and outdoor
Katy Trail: I believe we took 4 days and three nights, one of which was in a bicycling hostel. It was a blast.

Around Lake Michigan: this is part of a series of trips I took with my friend Stefi. We had big hopes with this one, but fell short. We had to get picked up somewhere after Grand Haven. We took the train to Kenosha and made it to Oostburg using the Interurban trail. But our second day we failed to make it to the Badger ferry (Manitowoc – Ludington) for the early afternoon so rode to Point Beach State Park. On day 3 we got down the coast but was stopped by darkness. Later that evening we were treated to a fireworks show the region puts on to celebrate end of summer/back to school. On day 4 we spent the night outside of Holland. We’d only budgeted time for a 5-day ride and at this rate we’d need a few more days, so called for a ride. Eventually I would close the gap on this ride solo after Stefi moved away to Minnesota. Since then I’ve done it a couple of times. Each time feeling a sense of satisfaction.

Natchez Trace: Stefi and I did this in 2013 from Nashville to Jackson, MS. It was our first trip where we packed the bikes up and put them under a bus. We had no on-line navigation, just paper maps. We did have the advantage of cell phones. We took Megabus to Nashville, rode to the beginning of the trace. We ended the trip in Jackson where we stayed with a couchsurfing host and rode our bikes to a bike shop where we boxed them up then begged for a ride to the train station. I remember the train was awfully late getting in at the station.




Columbus – Cincinnati, OH: I talked Erin into doing this one with me. We again Megabused to Columbus. I don’t think Megabus goes to Columbus anymore and for sure they stopped being so easy to get a bike on. I stopped taking them for this reason; I hated the hassle. The ride took 3 days and 3 nights. In Cincinnati a friend met us at a diner with bike boxes where we tried and failed to get them entirely broken down and simply resorted to stuffing them into adapted boxes and loading them onto Megabus back to Chicago.
 
Meanwhile, friends moved away. I wondered if I could do this thing by myself.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Greatest Showman: A Movie Review


The Greatest Showman
Director: Michael Gracey
Starring:
    Hugh Jackman
    Zac Efron
    Michelle Williams
Zendaya

The Greatest Showman is a made for the movies musical about P.T. Barnum, the king of bunk and humbug, the creator of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. The late great circus. Kids now will grow up wondering what’s a circus.

This is the kind of movie I wouldn’t normally go to, but, what the hey, it was 7 below zero, I was out with the girls, and I was desperate for something different. For another world. For magic. Besides it was $5 Tuesday.

From beginning to end this movie extravaganza is a miracle of motion. It has all the exuberance and appeal of a great, big Glee. A show stopper. What does that phrase even mean? But from the first number to the credits it was engaging. No slow moments.

And the theater was packed. People wanted to see this movie. Whole families, classesmates, youth groups, etc date-night. I was surprised as I’d not really heard a lot of hoopla about this film. Except my neighbor who came home and said she’d seen it with her daughter. She looked like she’d been to a revival.

It was the kind of experience that when it was over, everyone clapped and cheered.

I read a review that said the story was shallow. Hello! Has this critic ever seen Bye Bye Birdie or Hairspray? Musical theater tends to simplify. They have to in order to get the audience to stay in their seats. Start loud and big and keep it up. Thus, the themes are not complicated, but easily accessible. What I liked about The Greatest Showman was how we were able to meet and quickly recognize so many characters. True they weren’t nuanced or fleshed out, but at 105 minutes we were introduced to a cast of characters that I could identify with. From the retinue of freaks to the beautiful Jenny Lind, to Barnum’s wife played by Michelle Williams.

That’s quite a range.

But the freaks (sorry, their word not mine, but hang in there, this makes sense): the bearded lady, tall, fat, short man etc felt contemporary. These are the ones society marginalizes, who are taking their cases before the Supreme Court and asking to be recognized. Not assimilated or ignored. They know they’re different, but in a great number, “This is Me” we find unity within diversity. The sense that we all have something “wrong” with us, something that made us feel different or stand out, a reason to not be accepted. We’re not ashamed. Instead of alienating, the circus audience cheers. Just like we in our seats sang along. I was moved by the passion and power of “This is Me.”

Freak doesn’t mean fake. Kevin Young in his book Bunk seems to be making a case for authenticity. I agree. It’s just who gets to judge. Obviously there is truth and historical fact, but as we all know there are many tellings of battles. In his book he gives us his version.

The song “Never Enough” lifted me out of my seat. I’ve been replaying it on my computer since I’ve gotten home. Love, love it, Yet with all the talk of humbug, I was saddened to find that the voice of Loren Allred was dubbed in for Rebecca Ferguson. It’s the song Jenny Lind a shy Swedish singer appears on stage to perform. A sensation from Europe, so we wait, wondering if we’ll be under or overwhelmed. Will she live up to the hype? Oh boy when she opens up, she is the Swedish Nightingale.

This is movies. This is entertainment. We want to be deceived, taken for a ride, we want to be WOWED. The Greatest Showman doesn’t disappoint. It’s church, y’all.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bunk: Book Review


 Image result for bunk kevin young
Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News
Kevin young, Greywolf Press 2017

I was really excited about getting my hands on this book. I’ve mostly known Kevin Young for his poetry. His publishing creds are impeccable, and the above title was longlisted for the National Book Award in non-fiction.

It was a busy holiday spent hanging out and when not hanging then reading. I finished a couple heavy-hitter books. With more holds piling up on the shelves at the library. So with Bunk I started with the back and read around, eventually starting at the beginning. Maybe because of this “pecking” it felt like a couple different books to me.

Part Six: Unoriginal Sin was about appropriating and misappropriating material and culture not part of one’s milieu. What I appreciated most was Young’s narrative voice. Have you ever wished while reading non-fiction for the author to interject—yo! Now it gets serious, or any number of observations. Sure it deviates from the objective, from the analytical, but I found the voice extremely engaging. And, it tuned me in. Young did have a bias or a bone to pick. It was a side to history and the theme that didn’t feel overworked. It was fresh, brain tipping, causing me to slide into a whole new perspective.

Clearly Kevin was exploring themes and instances of hoaxery that have intrigued myself. For example: Rachel Dolezal, the white lady pretending to be Black that ended up heading up a local NAACP chapter. Some stuff is so weird it sounds made up, and some of it is made up. That’s the point, he points out. You’re stealing our story.

He also delved into the convoluted world of plagiarists and those who tell false stories. At my blog I’ve covered some of these people. It is like a hall of mirrors, who is taking from whom. What might first appear benign is later proved to be fatal. You’re stealing someone’s story.

And by stealing you are diminishing. Sort of like how I feel when politicians re-arrange words to make some new soul-killing policy sound super great. Like in my neighborhood how the local alderman drones on about “housing first” for the homeless all the while using Nazi tactics to terrorize them and eventually uproot them and ship them to Elgin. “Not in my backyard.” What developers do when they pay into a low income housing pot instead of offering low-income housing, making them seem altruistic but in the end disenfranchising.

Like a day in Trump tweet world. Everything is upended.

Image result for eng and chang
Eng and Chang
The first half of the book discusses P.T. Barnum and the whole idea of othering: Freak Shows. The phenomena of putting something over, pulling the wool over our eyes. It’s here where I had mixed feelings. There’s a big difference between exhibiting a headless chicken that’s managed to live than say Lance Armstrong doping for decades and claiming Tour de France jerseys and prize money. One has to do with base curiosity and the other with an intentional fraud.

Then I went to the movies.

Monday, January 15, 2018

While golfing . . .

Yesterday an alert went out:
BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND
SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL
A mother called her son in Texas—
Stay on the line until . . .
A father held his son—
Don’t worry, while the whole time
He was shitting his pants
He held him so tight, sobbing
A group of friends strolled down to the beach—
If this is it, we’ll go together
A young girl walked away from her job,
The one she hated, she thought about calling home
A couple stayed in bed, let’s stay here forever, they said
People ran to their bathrooms and hid in the tub
A mom lowered her children into the sewer,
First lifting the heavy manhole cover
A man went into a church to pray
But no words came, only unholy utterances
The teenage boy wished he had been more bold
The teenage girl had no regrets, she smiled at everyone
He didn’t know what to do
She knew one thing that had to be done

Only after—
There was no all-clear—
More of a general resignation, a tweet
Did the realization dawn:
We are still here.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist: Aren’t you lonely?

Yes. And no. My head is so engaged in the process that while riding it’s hard to be bored. Especially for the JOGLE. Everything was so new and fascinating (and, at times, overwhelming) that getting bored or lonely was way down on the list of what I was processing.

Then at night in my tent or dorm or hotel room I was just so happy to be done and relaxing that loneliness never came up. I think the times when I really wish for someone to share the experience with (aside from if I get a flat—hahaha) is when things are going great or something is so beautiful you wish someone was there with you. Though the truly sublime moment is hard to articulate. During those times sometimes silence is the only response.

Traveling solo has also opened me up to riding with others. Such as on my JOGLE I ran into Alex and we rode together on the Great Glen Way. It’s fun to meet people and compare notes.

Riding companions are important to have when overwhelmed or when particularly physically challenged. They can help spur you on, encourage you up the mountain. But they can also slow you down. I don’t think I have to enumerate the pros and cons of riding solo. Sometimes it’s just how things turn out. The most important thing is to not let it stop you. 


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist=Learning to Fix the Bike


If you read back through my half dozen bike diaries you’ll soon see a pattern: I don’t really know how to fix my bike. Plus I’m a scaredy cat about it, but necessity is the mother of invention. Maybe not invention, but of working around problems that do come up.

Tire repair: I’ve already relayed here how much I hate changing a flat. Never mind repairing an inner tube while on the road. Anyway, I do know how, it’s just doing it that’s hard. Always carry a couple spar inner tubes and a pair of tire irons. Now a days there are plastic ones in cool colors that stick to each other and are handy.

Brakes: there’s a tumbler on the side that widens and narrows so that you can tweak any kind of rubbing. I also use that thing that throws them open for removing the tire without deflating it. For replacing the pads I’ve got the kind that are already set for the right angle and all I have to do is loosen and insert fresh pads. The one thing I do know is that you have to replace BOTH sides. (Not both front and back, though often this is the case too.)

Gearing: this is a can of worms but know this—there’s 2 tiny screws and one sets the limits for going too far one way while the other sets the limits for too far the other way. Most likely in a pinch you can tweak this on your own and then get someone to help you refine it later on.

Cable snapping: this has happened and there’s nothing to be done except replace it. Some people carry an extra. I’ve never found this necessary as I’m never too far from a shop.

Lubricant: super important, yet super inconvenient when flying. You aren’t allowed to carry any kind of chain oil etc. so must buy this first or second thing. In Nova Scotia I had some problems finding what I needed and with all the rain I was afraid of my chain rusting. I went to a hardware store and read labels and bought an aerosol spray. You want something that doesn’t collect a lot of dust and grit from the road, but yet covers. There is wet and dry lube, and some intermediates.

This about covers most of the stuff I’ve run into. I carry a hex handy tool with several sizes and a couple loose screws in an old sock so that they don’t roll around in my bike bag. Hopefully, this info will help you in deciding if you have the basics before taking off. Performance bike shop often offers free workshops with their “spin doctor” that have come in handy, and also the local bike co-op offers classes for basics, fine tuning, and for women (and those who identify). Search for these resources online.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist: Stealth camping

I love camping. I love the silence and communing with nature. What I don’t like are the crowds at state parks and commercial campgrounds. I hate camping tent row to tent row, right next to someone, hearing them through the thin walls of nylon.


I feel much safer stealth camping.

First off, hidden away in the forest, I feel better leaving stuff and riding into town for a meal. There are stories of people getting robbed at commercial campgrounds. There are no locks for those zippers. I also get a better night’s sleep away from kids screaming and people playing their guitars/radios until midnight. You wouldn’t believe how loud your neighbors can be. You’d think we’re all out here to appreciate nature—until the bottle gets passed around while sitting around the campfire. You’re left stewing in your sleeping bag wondering how much longer are these #%&@ going to do this?

Some principles I use when stealth camping. 1) Pulling off the road. I look for dead-end roads. I try to go pretty far from the road as the occasional noise of passing vehicles can keep me awake. There are also logging roads. 2) Go up rather than down. The higher you go the less likely people will come up looking for you. 3) Nature reserves that are closed after dark are great. Usually these are off-limits to cars but easily accessible to cyclists. I stay there and use the bathrooms unless locked up by a grounds keeper. 4) Edge of town I look for graveyards. There’s usually water and they’re quiet. Nobody thinks to bother you at night. Unless you believe in ghosts.

I use a tent that blends in. I like to camp near clumps of trees or under them for added protection. My favorite is finding abandoned campsites in forests where there is a fire ring and sometimes a three-sided hut.

What about a bathroom? Let me simply say I leave no trace. You will not find tissue on the ground in the a.m. When I leave and no one knows I’ve been there.

One of my favorite stories is once on my way home to Chicago from Grand Rapids I couldn’t make it to the state park so I pulled over into some woods. After heating up some soup, I settled in for the evening. I slept so soundly in the quiet cold that I didn’t realize until the next morning when I unzipped the tent that it had snowed. All around me was a white world—soft and unstained. A winter wonderland. The only trace when leaving was the trail my tires made through the snow.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Solo Woman Cyclist: Things fall apart

Not only was this a famous line from Yeat’s THE SECOND COMING. (“Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere. The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best ... ”), but it can also apply to long distance touring.

Generally things fall apart. A flat, a thrown spoke, loose screws, a sheared off bottom bracket.

The first thing you need is to have a few basic tools. Then you need to know what to do with them. My new bike (Torker) gets by with an allen wrench multi tool. You’ll also want something to true your wheels and tire irons/levers. Unless you’re going to Timbuktu or Tajikistan, you’ll probably not be too far from a repair shop. Some people take spare tires, I only carry spare inner tubes. I rarely ever patch while on the road.

You need to know how to fix a flat.

The problems that have occurred while riding, even if I don’t know how to fix them, I know how to diagnose them. Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to work around problems. If my brake pads are whittled down to slivers, I know how to bring them in closer. When my wheel got out of true and the brakes were grabbing, I knew how to open the brakes up.

For catastrophic breakdowns there’s always hitching a ride with your bike to the nearest shop.

So, no, I’m no mechanic. I fake it a lot. The most important thing is to not let this knowledge or lack of knowledge deter you from setting out. I’ve learned a lot from hands-on necessity while on the road.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Making Sense of Chaos



As I mentioned in an earlier post, a post last year, from 2017: 
2017 was the pits. Let’s hope 2018 holds more for you, me, all of us.

Aside from the fact that 2017 was the pits, there’s another interesting fact: I had a very productive, successful writing year with many things to celebrate. It just didn’t feel that way. From that earlier post:

** Not only a book contract for a novel I’ve been trying to sell forever, but 13 acceptances of “Other Writing” plus an eBook, Flash Memoir: Writing Prompts to Get You Flashing. Whew!

It simply doesn’t make sense when I think of how chaotic and frustrated I felt. But as I also mentioned in an earlier post, a post from last year, from 2017, podcasts got me through the year. From the podcast, Hidden Brain, I learned that chaos can actually be good for our creative process. Messy inspiration.

In Praise Of Mess: Why Disorder May Be Good For Us, November 29, 2016. I realize this podcast was pre-Trump. How could the moderator know that disorder would extend to all facets of government. That a tsunami of Trump was about to roll over us. No one. No one predicted his election.

Shankar Vedantam interviewed Tim Hartford, author of Messy: How to Be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World. They talked about several measured scenarios where subjects experienced increased productivity in the midst of disorder. In the midst of messy there is also a sense of liberation. Maybe it’s about letting go. One scenario had a boss come in and re-arrange a workers work space, remove personal affects. Not only did productivity decrease, but on the same scale work place satisfaction. People are happier working even in the midst of chaos as long as they feel safe.

Sort of like studies conducted on children in wartime. The ones evacuated and separated from family felt more stress and fear than those who remained with their family in war zones.

In the podcast Tim Hartford cites a live performance by jazz improvisario Keith Jarrett. His Köln concert, which by all measures should have been a historic failure turned into one of his most listened-to albums. The only reason he recorded it according to Hartford was because he wanted later to show how not to do a concert. You see it was organized by a young 17-year old German woman and she was absolutely embarrassed—the piano Keith had requested was somehow replaced by an out-of-tune second-rate broken-down baby grand found backstage.

A snafu on a seismic scale. It’s like NASA trying to get Apollo 13 back to Earth using an old manual, socks, and rubberbands. Circumstances demanded action, there was pressure, deadlines, or else catastrophe. Or if not catastrophe, people might laugh at you. This enough is impetus to attempt the impossible. So Keith Jarrett proceeded, even though he knew it would be awful.

And what happened . . . was magical.

Anyway, this is about perception. I didn’t think 2017 felt great. I didn’t think what I was working on was that great. The work was hard and confounding. In the end though I was able to create through chaos.