Forty-eight Hours in Ulaanbaatar

Two mornings ago, Bekah and I flew in to the Chinggis Khaan International Airport and disembarked, breathing in the crisp, dry air. Our visit in Mongolia’s capital city has been a whirlwind since then; involving a staggering amount of jet lag, inordinate amounts of sleep to ease the aforementioned jet lag, the assembly of the bicycles, a trip to several stores to collect the last of our supplies, eating the best Korean food I’ve ever had and planning and downloading the rest of our proposed route.

These events have all been brightened by friendly and helpful people. Even when there was a language barrier, they were willing to go out of their way to help us out. Obviously, I can’t draw any sort of conclusions from the meager amount of time we have spent here but so far my experience in this city of 1.3 million people has been overwhelmingly positive. The staff at the hostel cautioned us about the traffic, mentioning that Mongolian drivers are unused to dealing with bicycles, but so far they seem completely fine to me!

But the time has come to head out of this unique city and into the Mongolian countryside. And what a countryside it is! With the exception of several remote islands, Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. This fills me with varying emotions. On the one hand I am so thrilled to explore the vast expanse this country has to offer, but on the other hand I keep questioning myself: do I really have what it takes to be here and have I really planned enough for this crazy adventure?

I guess it is time to find out.

You can find a link to our tentative route on the Mongolia Tour page.

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Cycling Adventures in Beautiful Brazil

When I left the United States on January 18th, I had a plan. A simple plan.

  • Buy a bike in Ji-Parana.
  • Buy a turbo trainer so that I could use the bike effectively in a small village.
  • Take the bike and trainer to the village.

Buying a bike was simple. Thank you, Streetbike! Finding any sort of bike trainer, however, proved to be impossible. My sister and I had visited every bicycle shop in Ji-Parana and they had all told us they had no turbo trainers. But the last bike shop, Palace of Bicycles, held out a beacon of hope. They did not have a turbo trainer, but they were sure one of the other shops did. So the super helpful lady at Palace of Bicycles picked up the phone to call the other bicycle shop. She had a bit of trouble convincing the folks at the shop that they did indeed have a trainer, but with her persuasion they decided to take a look around. Sure enough, they soon found it hanging on the wall, in plain sight.

I was in business at last!

Once we made it out of the city, over six hours of bumpy red dirt roads and across a river, we made it to the village and to my sister’s small thatched roofed home. I set up my bike on the hard dirt floor and then it was time to ride!

I had never ridden a bike on a trainer before. I had certainly never ridden a bike in such humid heat before. Let me tell you that this distinct combo of bike trainer and humid heat produces an amount of sweat that is extremely overwhelming and absolutely disgusting. I had rivers of sweat running down my arms and dripping merrily onto the dry dirt floor! Dabbing the sweat away with a towel helped temporarily but once a few seconds passed my arms became the Rio de Sweat once more.

As I kept riding the trainer every day, I soon grew accustomed to my new cycling (aka sweating) regimen. I was quite pleased with my bike/trainer setup. But the children in the village were not only pleased by my shiny red and black bicycle, they were enthralled! All of them took at least one turn pushing the pedals. Two of the girls, however, made it part of their daily routine to gleefully ride my little bikey. And once they discovered that three girls could ride on the bike-all at the same time-they realized my bike was way cooler then I was! Is there anything more joyful then three little friends giggling on a bike?

I had to leave the jungle and my newfound friends far too soon. But my Brazilian bicycle adventures were far from over, there were many more memories to make in the last ten days while I was in Ji-Parana.

In Ji-Parana, I rode my bike “for real”, without the turbo trainer, for the first time in ten weeks. I felt so giddy to be riding down a road with beautiful fields on both sides and with the wind, the glorious wind in my face. The traffic on the road was light and the cars gave me a respectful berth. But at the very end of my ride, something happened that shook me to my core.

I saw a dog. I thought the dog hadn’t seen me, so I kept riding past, unperturbed. Somehow that single dog multiplied suddenly into a pack of three dogs, all lean and fast. I sprinted with all my might, with my vulnerable legs only inches away from a dog’s leering teeth. Foolishly, I had provided myself with no protection for such a scenario, even my water bottle was tucked into the bag on my back. I screamed,”NO!!!” at the top of my voice, but the dogs didn’t even flinch.

There was no way out but through. I went for it, accelerating like my life depended on it. My life didn’t depend on it, of course, but my left leg sure did. The triumph of leaving a pack of athletic dogs in the dust was soon mine and once I could breathe again, I looked up to see three guys leaning on their motorcycles, laughing at me! What to me had been a narrow escape and glorious victory, had been to them the unexpected sight of a screaming girl weaving her way amongst three canines. Feeling that my version of the event was more justified, I plastered on a huge smile that hopefully said, “I was totally in control of the situation and bested those fierce beasts” as I passed them by.

On the rest of the ride I berated myself. Free roaming dogs in Brazil aren’t aggressive, they just like to chase things. If I had slowed down to a boring pace when I first saw that dog, my legs would not have been put in such peril. Lesson learned. I decided to continue riding the same route in the days to come to make sure I got over my fear and could put my new plan into action.

And it was on that very same road that I met a group of cyclists out for a ride. I couldn’t help myself, I had to go talk to them! They were very friendly and although I could barely communicate with them, camaraderie among cyclists crosses language barriers and we had a great ride together. I even tried to tell my dog story to one of them in very, very broken Portuguese. One of the cyclists did speak English and he told me of his travels which have taken him all over, even to New York City. It was a wonderful experience and I even got invited to come back and ride again sometime!

Two of the group cyclist’s photos are courtesy of Salles, who shared them with me!

What made my time cycling in Brazil really special were all the rides my sister and I went on together. Most of them were shorter rides, running errands all over Ji-Parana, but on two occasions we left the city behind and enjoyed a quieter, more rural road. I might have even been lulled into thinking we were back in Lewis County together if it weren’t for the tropical trees and pairs of macaws flying overhead.

As I leave Brazil, I bid a sorrowful goodbye to this beautiful country and it’s wonderful, friendly people, but most of all to my dear sister. It is hard to be excited about returning to the United States even though a bike adventure, more thrilling then I ever dreamed, is right around the corner. It’s time for me and a friend to go on a bike tour. It’s time for Mongolia!

Why I Quit Winter Cycling

Anyone who knows me well has reached the conclusion that when it comes to winter in general and winter cycling specifically, I am a bit crazy. I love winter.

I couldn’t imagine not enjoying the sparkling jewels littering the sun-lit snowy fields, the pure, achingly frigid air that fills the lungs or the delightful snowflakes that fall so gently. I couldn’t dream of spending the winter months anywhere other than Lewis County, plowing my mountain bike though snow drifts to my heart’s content. I couldn’t fathom anything that could draw me away from the all encompassing season of winter, away from the cold, the ice, the wind and the snow.

But a single phone call turned out to be so significant that I happily abandoned my glistening, snowy fields on January 18th, with scarcely a second thought. You see, last summer, during a Skype call, my sister invited me to spend a few months living with her. Due to certain circumstances in her life it would be beneficial to have another person come and stay with her for awhile and she knew that I wanted to experience the world she lives in.

My sister, born and raised in the frigid northeastern United States is now a missionary in the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil. I knew that by accepting her invitation, I was making a trade: giving up the final months of white winter snow in exchange for the hot, humid, rainy and green jungle of Brazil.

But to be honest, I had no concept of how brilliantly and aggressively green a rainforest truly is. Plants grow in the rainforest with astounding speed. The fertile soil of the Amazon Rainforest, the hot humid climate and endless supply of rain combine forces to ensure rapid growth. Giant corn stalks in the jungle gardens? Sugar cane stalks that tower over my head? They were planted only a handful of months ago.

During my jungle visit, I’ve been keeping my eye on a banana plant with two tiny offshoots emerging from its base. Banana plants grow to astonishing heights, which makes my mind classify them as trees although technically they are giant perennial herbs. Offshoots continue the lifecycle of the banana “tree”, as the main stalk dies, the new shoots take over. Every so often, while I was washing dishes under the mango tree, I would happen to glance past a few hens scratching in the dirt and maybe a roaming dog or two to see those two little tendrils stretch their paper thin fronds toward the warm sun. Over the course of the past ten weeks, I have see this pair of banana shoots grow and grow and grow some more. By the time I left the village this Tuesday, those two offshoots that once were barely peeking out the soil have grown strong and tall, with leaves reaching past my head.

Jungle magic.

Much of 2017 was bleak and gray for me. Like this blog, my life was dormant. Sure, I kept on going about my everyday life, but some essentials were missing: the spark of new ideas, the passion for new adventures, joy, wonder and my enthusiasm for life. My relationship with God became stagnant as well as many of my relationships with my friends. That’s all I will say about it for now, but I do want to write about it in the future, I don’t want to pretend that that time of sadness wasn’t real or didn’t happen.

But to get to the heart of the matter, I had become so focused on myself that I had stopped growing.

I didn’t realise that when my sister invited me on this jungle adventure she was offering me a chance to grow. But that is exactly what happened. It wasn’t nutrient rich soil or daily rainfall that sparked my growth, it was love.

  • It was the love between my sister and I that grew deeper everyday as we went on thrilling little jungle adventures with her friends, laughed at jokes old and new, gave each other countless big hugs and prayed and sang together. My sister encouraged and challenged me to keep following Jesus and loving him more.
  • It was the love of the people who live in this tiny jungle village who opened their arms to me as if I was a treasured member of their family instead of a strange foreigner with very white skin who can’t speak their language.
  • It was the love of the children who played silly games with me, made bread with me, giggled when I dramatically acted out stories in English and gave me great big hugs when it was time to leave.
  • It was the love of a God who has always been right beside me, loving me through all my ups and downs.

Oh, how wonderful a thing it is to be loved! And how wonderful it is to love in return!

It turns out that love, mixed in with a good dose of jungle adventure and a splash being a part of something bigger than myself is just the right soil for me to grow in. Looking back on my almost three in Brazil, I feel just like those two little banana sprouts.

I have grown.

Jungle magic.

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Now you may have noticed the title of this post is, “Why I Quit Winter Cycling”. But does living in a remote jungle village force a person to quit cycling as a whole? I wasn’t sure when I left the United States in January, but I desperately hoped the answer would be no.

Little Snippets of Fall

Fall has been wonderful. Here are a few pictures from my bicycle adventures this season.

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Looking down on the Black River Valley in the fading daylight.

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Seeing the stately green forests suddenly splashed with frantic color fills me with wonder. It feels like a whole new world.

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Lately I have been rebelliously riding my road bike where no road bike should be forced to go. I don’t leave the house planning to go off paved roads…but it somehow happens anyway.

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My bike and I have also been quietly stalking foxes through fields.

But the best adventure of fall happened a few weeks ago when my mom and I were able to go on a mini, three-day bike tour. We were dropped off in Rome, NY by my dad and then spent the next three days riding along the Erie Canal. It was the first bike tour my mom has been on since she and my dad rode down the Pacific coast, 34 years ago but she was an old pro. We took our time each day to wander 30-40 miles along the canal, chatting the whole way. My mom even braved cold rain on the last day just to ride with me! wp-1477338603674.jpeg

There are a lot of wonderful things in this world but I must say, bike touring with someone you love is right up there at the top of the list! We ended our tour happy, excited and with hopes of possibly riding the entire canal trail (360 miles) together next year.

But in the interest of complete disclosure will end this post with a confession.

Yes, fall has been splendid. But I am getting downright antsy. I don’t even think it is my fault. Not at all.

It is the fault of everyone constantly speculating about how we are going to have an early winter, a cold winter, a really snowy winter.
It is the fault of the mornings that fill my lungs with stunningly, bracing cold air.
It is the fault of the trees for beginning to lose their leaves. The barrenness is begging to filled with something.

November is almost here…why can’t there be snow?

Post Tour Blues

wp-1471624387968.jpegIt has been a month since I reached the Pacific Ocean with my trusty little Trek. I spent four days slowly wandering up the Oregon coastline, spending each evening walking on a sandy beach. And then, at long last I reached my final destination and the end of the TransAmerica trail: Astoria, Oregon.

That afternoon I bid farewell to the coast and rode inland. The next day I biked into Washington and boarded a train headed for Vancouver, British Columbia. While waiting in Vancouver for my connecting train, I met up with Gary from PedalWORKS and we rode around Stanley Park and the Olympic village together. The views were lovely and that is quite telling because it was a rainy, gloomy day. On a clear, sunny day with sparkling water it must be stunning! Gary was a gracious host, he made navigating through the city a breeze and he even gave me a bicycle map, which kept me from getting lost for the remainder of the day.

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Going through the Canadian Rockies on the train.

 

Then I took a train to Edmonton, Alberta before jumping on a bus that brought me to the city of Calgary, where my grandma lives. I stayed in Calgary for a full week, visiting my dear grandma each day and riding to somewhere new in the city. On Saturday, Jean from Cycle Write Blog and I met up for a ride. Jean showed me around to some of the beautiful artwork in Calgary and shared from her wealth of knowledge about the history and culture of the city. Jean also brought along a map which ensured that I never got lost again.

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Calgary

 

After my week was up, I took the bus back to Edmonton and back onto the train I went. I spent 60 hours on that train and during that time I went a bit stir crazy and caught a bad cold. But finally I made it to Toronto where my parents were waiting to pick me up, they gave me great big hugs  which was an act of valor of their part since I hadn’t been able to take a shower in three days.

On the way home we stopped to visit my great-aunt and we were also able to meet up with my uncle for ice cream.

And then finally, finally, finally I was home.

My dogs cried and so did I. Noah gave me a great big bear hug, I had missed him so much after Colorado!

Then life went back to normal. Except normal didn’t feel normal anymore. It was great to see family and friends again, the joy of familiar faces made me smile. It felt good to be working and earning money again instead of constantly spending it in small towns across the country.

But I miss the simple touring life. I miss riding my bike all day, every day. In fact, once I came home, I must admit there have been a few days that I didn’t want to bike at all. Because what is the point of riding 25 miles on the same old roads when just a few weeks ago I was riding 70 miles a day on new, exciting roads? I have been in a slump.

I have been hauling my bike out anyways of course and though I have been riding without much joy, I always come back home feeling a little better. With every passing ride, however, it is obvious to me that I lost something while on tour, a bit of my heart perhaps. I yearn for freedom, for endless open skies, dramatic vistas and most of all, the snow-covered, majestic mountains of the west.

But finally this week I am feeling more “myself” again, thanks to some lovely people. A coworker rode home with me on Monday (first time that has ever happened!!), my mom has ridden with me two days in a row and last night I rode in the most exciting group ride of my life. (And during that ride I reached 8,000 miles for the year, yippee!)

I am actually feeling energized and motivated this morning, today is gonna be a great day. It is time to be thankful for all the wonderful things right here in Lewis County, New York. September starts tomorrow and I am ready to enjoy it, I can’t wait for the beautiful autumn leaves!

I made it to the ocean!

wp-1469738068087.jpegOn Tuesday, I rode like I was on a mission. For days, people had been telling me how close I was getting to the ocean and finally I had reached the breaking point. I didn’t want to hear about how spectacular the Pacific was anymore, I just needed to see it for myself. So I did a mega day, ending my ride at the 125 mile mark.

Yesterday, early in the afternoon I reached the Oregon coast. Oddly enough, my first ever glimpse of the ocean was not from the seat of my bicycle but from the vantage point of a car. While I was registering to camp for the night, I asked how to best reach the beach on my bike. The lady, named Kim, picked up on my excitement and questioned me,

“Do you want to see the best view of the ocean?”

I said yes. She took Liz (a fellow tent camper) and I in her tiny red bug and we went on a sightseeing tour. First we stopped at a graveyard. Kim explained that the early pioneers had a habit of selecting land with choice views of the coast on which to bury their dead. We walked past gravestones to take in the sweeping vastness of the world’s biggest ocean. Then we went to see a herd of sea lions. Along the way, we chatted about our travels.wp-1469738144761.jpeg

Liz is Australian. Until recently, she lived in a houseboat. One day she went to a friend’s birthday party. When she returned, her boat and all her possessions had sunk beneath the waves. Her outlook on her loss?

“It was just stuff. Not having that stuff anymore freed me up to travel.”

I was quickly learning that Liz was a gem. While talking about the ocean she mentioned how the mere sight of the ocean makes her soul soar with joy. It makes her taste freedom.

There was something in the tone of her voice that I instantly identified. I blurted,

“That is how snow makes me feel.”

All three of us were surprised by my outburst. I guess my longing for vast stretches of sparkling snow is never quite buried even while meeting a new ocean.

After Kim’s tour, I ate my supper on the beach and then strolled along the coast, letting the cold waves nip at my toes. Before turning back, I faced the thundering water and sang my heart out to God. I tried to take in the significance of the moment: I had made it to the ocean!

But it all felt so unbelievable, all I did was ride my bike for goodness sake! Had I really made it across to the other side of a continent? How had this happened?

It all started when two young people decided to go on an epic adventure on their bikes. They rode thousands of miles, on a mission to explore new places.

In case you are confused, I am not talking about Noah and myself. I am talking about my parents.

In 1982, they were preparing to move from Montana to Maine. Before the move, they decided to explore the Pacific coast and along the way celebrate their 1st anniversary. Because my parent are smart, they choose bicycles as their mode of exploration.

So for ten weeks, they rode on steel frame, ten-speed bikes along the Pacific coast, all the way to the Grand Canyon. My mom carried 90 pounds of stuff in her panniers and my dad carted around a whopping 120 pounds in his panniers. That’s how you get in shape on a bike tour!wp-1467584708770.jpegwp-1467584678938.jpegwp-1467584598505.jpeg

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Thirty-four years later and still awesome!

I have been hearing stories about their tour ever since I can remember. While I was planning our tour from New York to Colorado, those stories gave me confidence.

-Confidence that Noah and I would have fun and make memories that we can recount for decades.

-Confidence that if our parents could ride 2,000 miles without cellphones, the internet or bicycle-specific maps, then we could certainly make it with those resources!

This entire trip, I have felt a bit like I am re-living a part of our family’s history. This feeling intensified when I hit Santiam Pass on Monday. Santiam Pass was the first mountain pass my parents climbed on their tour and it was the final mountain pass of my tour. As I spun up the incline, I imagined where they may have rested or what they said to each other when they saw Mt. Washington off in the distance. It felt surreal to be “walking in their footsteps” or rather, riding in their pedalstrokes!

Then last night, after meandering up and down the sandy beach, I stood next to my bike, looking out into the ocean until darkness fell. I thought about what had compelled me to ride all the way to the Pacific. It was a love for my bike and the excitement of riding new roads and seeing new things, new places, new animals and meeting new people. But it goes deeper than that.

All along, it was in my blood.

 

Dragged from New York

It is a beautiful day out and I am in the middle of Oregon, just a few hundred miles from the coast. I feel like I am gonna explode from excitement, I get to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time in the next few days!

But before I arrive in Astoria and finish up my tour I thought I would share exactly what I have been dragging along with me from Northern New York. My philosophy in gathering gear for this trip was the idea of traveling “medium-light”. I don’t have a proper touring bike so I wanted a load that wouldn’t strain my road bike (or myself) beyond our capabilities. It probably wasn’t the wisest choice to bring a road bike but the cool thing about bike touring is that you don’t need to have the perfect setup to make it work.  I have seen all kinds of people, with all kinds of setups, on all kinds of bikes riding across the USA.

So let me introduce you to my gear. This is the complete list of stuff I have (unless I missed something), but I didn’t get pictures of quite everything and it isn’t perfectly organized either…that’s my bad. I also don’t have the time to jot down all the details about each piece, so if you want more specifics about an item, just ask.

I hope this is not my only bike touring expedition so critiques and suggestions are welcome!

wp-1469468358097.jpegMy Clothes
Two Sugoi Icefil jerseys
Two pairs of Garneau shorts
Long sleeve shirt
Wool socks
2 pairs of ankle socks
Pearl Izumi cycling gloves
Full finger gloves
Sunglasses
Columbia Arcadia II Rain Jacket
Rain pants
Tee-Shirt
Pair of Capri’s
Underwear

wp-1469468376054.jpegCare Items
Sunscreen
Toothbrush and tooth powder
Comb
Extra hair tie
Shampoo
(I have been using the shampoo as all-purpose soap, from doing laundry to washing my bike.)
Lip balm
Deodorant
Chamois Cream
Razor
First Aid Kit
Pack towel

wp-1469468288326.jpegProtection Program
(I am just being silly, the knife is used for food prep.)
Counter Assault Bear Spray
ResQLink+ Beacon
Knife
wp-1469468308712.jpegFood
Fork and spoon
Can Opener
Sardines
Tuna
Creamy Peanut Butter
Random snacks
Salt/Pepper/Sugar Packets

wp-1469468327822.jpegwp-1469468230636.jpegStuff for the bike
Bike Levers
Mini Pump with gorilla tape wrapped around it
Two Park Tool patch kits
Spare Tire
Spare Tube
Cornstarch
Chain Lube
New Shoe Cleats
Random extra screws and bolts
Allen Key set
Zip ties
Cables for brakes and shifters
Bungee Cords
2 Fiber Fix Kits
(Thanks for the suggestion, Rootchopper and Doug!)
Chain break tool
Spare Brake Pads
Tool with flat and philip screwdrivers
2 Sets of bike lights
Bike Lock
Taco Seasoning
Gatorade powder
ReplaceSR tablets
(I take 3-6 a day so that I don’t have to worry about buying sports drinks for electrolytes.)
wp-1469468206549.jpegTech
Tablet with Case
USB charging cords
Battery Pack
Camera
(I lost my phone a few days ago…)

Sleep System
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 Tent
Marmot Sleeping bag
Thermarest Prolite Womens
DIY Groundcloth
(aka tarp cut to size, thanks mom!)

wp-1469468271315.jpegOther Stuff
Maps
Wallet with Bike Lock key
Bug clip thing
(I haven’t used this yet, I have my doubts whether it would keep bugs away.)
Chemical handwarmers
Pens
Paper
Glue Stick
People’s info and notes
Microfiber wipes
Passport

Hydration
Two 28 ounce water bottles
2 Liter Water bag

wp-1469468253103.jpegMore Other Stuff

Helmet
Sleeve for map
Bike Computer
Schwalbe Marathon Tires (28mm)
(No flats yet!!)
Saddlebag with super secret stash of Clif bars
(If you guess what kind of Clif bars I have in my stash, you can have a free one! You just have to come to Oregon to get it.)
Worn out bike shoes
Sneakers