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!

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Three Special Rides

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Going on a bike ride makes a day good.
Going for two bikes rides makes a day great.
Going on three rides?
Makes a day practically perfect.

Yesterday I had one of those practically perfect days.

The day started out crisp and cool, just above freezing and I had to take advantage of it. After all, there are not many cool days left, summer is dangerously close and so are humid mornings.

First, I went to a friend’s house and we prayed about the trip together which was a huge encouragement to me. I feel so much support from friends and family.

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On my morning ride I met some cows.

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It took some time, but finally this cow became curious and trotted over.

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What is it?

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It tastes good!

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We quickly became friends for life.

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But Mr. Bull did not want us to be friends for life. Uttering my apologies, I took my bike and left.

 Then I rode up the road which my and brother and I will be taking to leave to Colorado. After 10 miles though, I turned around and headed back home.

It was surreal to think that in a week’s time Noah and I will ride up this road but there will be no turning back. We get to ride new roads, mile after mile, day after day.

I almost broke down in tears as I flew down the hill into the little valley I am proud to call home. I feel blessed beyond belief that I am in a place in my life where a trip like this is possible. It is even crazy that this is something I want to do! Just a few years ago I despised all forms of exercise but now I have discovered the joy of exploring new places on a bicycle and everything has changed. And the thing I am most thankful for about this tour is that I get to share it with my brother Noah, it is so amazing that we get to ride to Colorado together.

Speaking of Noah, yesterday was his 19th birthday so for the second ride he, my youngest brother Jono and I went to a pizza place for lunch. It was great to ride with not one, but two of my wonderful brothers. My brother Jono, as always, kept us entertained. He brought along a Bluetooth speaker and at times instructed us to sing along with the music.

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Then a few hours later, it was time to go for a group ride in Croghan. So I rode my commuting route, which always feels weird to ride during the daytime and met up with six other cyclists for a 16 mile ride. I really enjoy chatting on rides and finding out the story of how different folks began cycling. Sadly, this is my only time I was able to ride with the group, I am thinking that next Tuesday I will want to pass so that I can make sure I get a really good night’s sleep before my brother and I head down the road.

After the ride, I went home while the sun was setting and the moon and stars were making their return for the night. Once again the air became cold and I pulled into my parent’s driveway worn out but in the good “I had a lot of fun” way. And I got home just in time to eat peanut butter pie and sing “happy birthday” to my brother.

Days just don’t get better than this.

Walking to work with my bro.

DSC01813One of my younger brothers moved into his own apartment in the “big city” just a few weeks ago. Last night I called him up to ask if he would want to walk to his workplace with me the following morning. He usually drives the two miles to work but he has expressed an interest in walking so I thought maybe if I showed up it would give him a bit of motivation.

I did the calculation in my head-it is 27 miles to his house, then two miles of walking-he starts his shift at 8:00…I wanted to set my alarm to make sure we had enough time!

Walking took a little longer than we anticipated  and we ended up at his workplace at exactly 8:00. It was great spending a bit of time together, he is such a sweet guy. Maybe we will get the chance to do it again sometime!

It drizzled on the way home but the sun was shining and the smell of the fallen leaves made me smile. Then the shifting cable for my rear derailleur snapped. Yippee! For the last 15 miles of the ride  my bike was effectively a two-speed. Highest gear in the back, big or middle ring in the front. I had to climb any and all hills out of the saddle, with a painfully slow cadence.

After a few miles I went past a field with four Galloway cattle, two of them with striking white belts. Naturally, I stopped to say hi. For a while they wanted nothing to do with me, but finally, after an excessive amount of coaxing, one of them galloped clumsily toward me. The others soon followed. Awww…now I could see their adorable faces up close. Eventually, they went back to their grazing and I went on my way.DSC01741DSC01754

Five miles more and I once again stopped, this time to hang out with some gorgeous horses. They were super friendly. Every time I am around horses, especially draft horses, I am amazed at their quiet strength.

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I am a Belgian Draft Horse. I am quiet, regal and wise.

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Just kidding! I am a big clown!

The road took me past an Amish schoolhouse, where about fifteen pupils were outside playing noisily in the grass. They waved at me, smiling. Then the bell at the top of the schoolhouse began to swing back and forth.

Clang. Clang. Clang.

Recess was over. They scurried inside.

I was slowly grinding up the last hill before home when a German Shepherd rushed into the road behind me. I love dogs but I was bitten on my bike last summer. Now every time I see a dog running behind me I can’t help but be nervous. Without the use of my gears there was no way I could beat the dog up the hill, so I stopped and clipped out, ready to calm the dog down.

But I had totally misjudged the dog’s intent. She ran up to me whining and when I started petting her, she flopped to the ground and asked for a belly rub. Poor thing, I think her owners were out for the day and had left her in charge of the farm. She was lonely.

So thanks to a bunch of friendly animals, the ride home was a great one, even without gears.

Race Recap

Did I mention that I was racing this Tuesday evening? No?

Well the reason I didn’t tell you that I was racing is because I did not know that I was racing either.

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I got to stop and visit with a lovely herd of cows.

Here’s how it happened. I biked to the big city today to watch my little brother’s soccer game (he scored two goals and his team won, yay!) and to do some clothes shopping. It turned out to be a 60 mile trip in total.

The ride home was beautiful. I saw the sun set in the west and then a gloriously orange harvest moon appear in the east. So big and so bright! As the sky grew black, it’s light became even more brilliant.

About twelve miles from home I passed through a small village. An Amish horse and buggy pulled onto the road right behind me.

And that, my friends, was the beginning of my first ever eight mile road race. (But not my first ever Amish horse and buggy race.)

For the first few miles I was able to keep the pounding horse hooves at bay, but as I was climbing a hill, the clatter of horse and wheels grew loud and I knew the safe, courteous thing to do was let them pass me. So I eased up while they overtook me.

I was able to get a good view of the vehicle and its occupants. This wasn’t a typical closed buggy but a open, lighter carriage. Seated in the carriage were an Amish couple and I am going to go out on a limb here and say that they were two young lovebirds out for a nighttime drive.

They continued down the road setting a pace of 17-18 mph. Once I got over the hill I was able to catch up to them and I spent the next mile or so biding my time to attack. We came upon a slight downhill grade and I went for it, crouching into the drops and pedaling like mad.

Three miles later they caught up to me, again while I was on a hill. (Someone needs to work on her climbing skills…) This time when they passed me it was with clear intent. No more games, they were in it to win it. But so was I. So I clung as close as I dared as they ramped up the speed to 20-21 mph.

Passing cars must have observed us quizzically. A bike with flashing lights following behind an Amish carriage with flashing lights. It is an odd combination, I admit.

I had caught my breath while following behind the clattering wheels and now the question became, when do I make my move and win this thing for good? We were coming up a small slope and I decided to attack once we were over the rise, if the coast was clear.

I took one last swig from my water bottle and mentally prepared myself. This time I wasn’t gonna back down. Full throttle all the way. But as I was thinking these motivational thoughts, the horse and carriage turned left, off the road.

NOO!!! Game over. I lost!

But even though I lost, the last four miles of my ride felt like winning. I passed another horse and buggy and I went full throttle anyway even though there was no one left to race. I pulled into my yard feeling like a million bucks. As I took my dogs for a walk, I could feel the effects of my ride, my body was flooded with a crazy rush of endorphins.

I  had the time of my life riding furiously in the crisp night air. And from the way the Amish couple looked back at me, I am pretty sure they did too. The attitude of the horse, however, is unknown.

I do have some major bones to pick with the race organizers though. Can’t they at least inform all participants in a race where the finish line is located?

A day on my bike.

DSC00855My day was free of commitments and in a wondrous twist of magic, the weather turned out perfect. I simply had to go for a nice, long, meandering bike ride. My destination was chosen, a state park that I had never visited before, but I brought a paper map with me so I could go down roads at whim and still end up at the park.

I have only ever biked in my immediate local area, so the majority of the routes that I take, I know rather well. But today I was able to bike many miles of road that I have never seen before. It became a proper adventure.

As a Christian, I can’t help but see the beauty of the world as an extension of the glory of God. Today I saw His handiwork everywhere and it made me gasp in delight. Forests stretching as far as I could see, hawks soaring through the air, deer bounding through corn fields, the gurgle of happy streams, lazy cows chewing stalks of grass; so many lovely things! Is there a better way to explore the world than on a bicycle? If there is, please don’t tell me, I refuse to change my mind anyway!

Eventually, I arrived at the state park and found out it has only one attraction. But what a wonderful thing it is; a roaring waterfall of decent size and strength. (I have been to Niagara and Horseshoe Falls, they have spoiled me, I suppose.) I ate lunch by the waterfall, made friends with a toad, hid my bike so I could walk down a wooded trail and then packed up to head home.DSC00871DSC00860

There was a headwind to deal with on the way back but I was in no rush so I took my time. But after an hour I was hot and my body was starting to feel the strain of biking all day. I made an executive decision – it was time for an ice cream break. Mint chocolate chip in a waffle cone was just what I needed to boost my energy and cool me down. The power of ice cream got me home in no time.

Why cycling is bad for socks.

Some people love socks. They carefully choose a pair of socks each morning to fit their outfit and mood. They wear exciting, colorful socks that are fun to slip into. At least I think there are people like that out there, but I don’t know for sure because I am not one of those people.

Each morning, I grab a pair of socks. If they match (or close to it), don’t have holes (that will be visible to others) and don’t stink, I shove them on my feet and then don’t think about them again for the rest of the day.

But starting several weeks ago, shoving socks onto my feet became a harder than normal task. I often wear knee-high socks (that only reach mid-calf, naturally) and they were rebelling against me as I tried to pull them up. As I have mentioned, I don’t think much about socks so I simply tugged harder and then went about my day.

Also starting several weeks ago, sometimes I would notice the hem of my sock biting into and rubbing against my leg as I walked. But as I have mentioned, I don’t think much about socks, so I would readjust them and go about my day.

Another funny thing started several weeks ago. When I peeled a pair of socks off of my legs at night I uncovered angry, red, slightly itchy lines where the sock had hugged my skin too tightly. Ouch! I believe I have already mentioned, I don’t think much about socks, so I would rub my calves a bit and get ready for bed.

I should have seen the signs. I should have put two and two together. I should have known!

But this morning in the bathroom as I was pulling on my biking clothes, everything finally came together as I happened to glance in the mirror. What I saw there made my jaw drop. My. Calves. Are. Huge. I guess biking over six hundred miles a month, for a few months causes certain muscles to go through growth spurts. Funny how that works.

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I stopped to chat with this cow and naturally we both bragged about our calves.

Now I have a conundrum on my hands and I won’t sugar coat it for you, this is a tough one. I have to choose between buying new socks or cutting back on cycling. It is going to be a hard choice to make so I think I will go and make a “pros and cons” list to help me sort my options.