One Watery Mistake I Will Never Make On A Bike Tour Again

Arriving home in Lewis County fills me with the wonderful, comforting sense of belonging. I fit here. Although I have spent four months in two far-flung corners of the earth; first, the lush tropical environment of the Amazonian rainforest, then the open, everlasting expanses of Mongolian terrain and sky, as I return to Northern New York, I feel as though I have never left. But, I must admit, part of me is missing.

Before leaving for Brazil and Mongolia, I had a misconception buried in my subconscious. Deep down I believed that by visiting the rainforest of Brazil and the wild steppe and taiga of Mongolia, I would somehow master them, and could check them off some imagined list.

Mongolia?

“Been there, done that.”

The Amazon?

“Oh yeah, it’s super cool.”

What a lie I told myself!

Instead I am returning to the United States to find that I am leaving a big part of my heart in a tiny jungle village with my sister and friends. Another bit of my heart has been scattered across Mongolia.

Oh, Mongolia! You captured my heart in numerous ways and I am still reeling, trying to find a way to wrap my mind around the journey you took me on!

It is high time to tell some stories from our bike tour but I am not sure where to start. So I will begin in the most logical fashion and I’ll start at the end.

The Final Day

Light filtered into my tent and my first conscious thought was,

“Is it time to wake up yet?”

Sunrise comes early in the northern Mongolia spring, the sun shines brightly by 5:45, but this morning I had missed the early sunrise and it was almost seven. I lay in my tent and basked in the sun’s free warmth, because warmth is a rare luxury in this corner of the country. Bittersweet thoughts swirled in my mind. Today was a monumental day, our last day of actual bike touring. On one hand, it is a relief to finish a bike tour and realise that your body and bike are still functional; but on the other hand, AHHH!!! CAN I PLEASE JUST KEEP BIKING HERE FOREVER?

But then a more important thought crossed my mind. We needed water.

The night before, Bekah and I had found a small lake and were quite thrilled by the prospect of having a beautiful place to set up our tents and refill our water bottles. But the closer we rode to the lake the more our initial thrill dissipated. It began when Bekah made a comment about something smelling rank. I glanced over to make sure her nose wasn’t pointed in my direction because I not only smelled rank, I felt the rankness rising from my body. Hot showers were nearly nonexistent on this bike tour. But soon we both discovered that the source of the smell was not us (this time) it was the lake.

What a stinky, stinky lake.

Closer inspection revealed a shoreline composed of thick, grey mud with a layer of white powder to top it off. And rotting carcasses of dead animals. Refilling our water bottles with that muddy sludge? Not gonna happen. We went to bed disappointed.

But mornings are a prime time for water-refilling expeditions so I sent off on my bike to see if the other side of the lake was a bit more, ummm, watery. Less dead bodies would also be a plus.

As I rode, my mood slowly rose to a glorious height. Waterfowl chattered softly amoungst themselves, the gentle sun turning their tan feathers a cheerful golden color. Protective mares led their new, spindly legged, wide eyed foals to the water’s edge. The land rose up from the lake, curving towards the sky in series of hills in every direction. And speaking of the sky, the light hue of that azul masterpiece was the perfect backdrop to the calm of the Mongolian steppe. The track I had chosen to ride on was just sandy enough to rouse my muscles from their night of rest and into the comfortable heat of a moderate cycling pace.

Contentment.

As my mind reached past this contented state, I morphed into a downright determined state of mind. This ride was going to be successful. I was going to find drinkable water. And once I get my mind this set about something, there is no turning back.

So turn back I did not.

A few miles further along the shore, boulders jutted out into the lake. Perching carefully on one of these rocks, I skimmed enough clear water off the surface to supply Bekah and I with fresh water for the entire day. I chortled happily to myself. Success is so sweet. I rode back to camp, the cool, heavy weight of the water bag slung tightly across my back, my own triumphant treasure. Bekah congratulated me as the conquering hero that I clearly was and a jubilant mood abounded.

We had visitors during breakfast and at first they were not of the human variety. Large herds of livestock started swarming past us to get down the lake’s edge. Behind us, sheep and goats slowly grazed their way down to the lake. Flanking us to the left and right, horses tossed their manes playfully in each other’s direction, trotting effortlessly along the shore. Front and center, the yak herd reigned supreme, snorting loudly to each other. A contingent of yaks plunged past the sludge and into the lake, stopping only when their massive bodies were half submerged by its depths while a responsible yak stayed on the shore with a nursery of young calves.

The atmosphere was what I imagine an African oasis to feel like: diverse animal species coming together to enjoy a morning by the water. The only part that was missing was the African part.

Then the human visitors showed up, two curious herdsmen, whose animals I was ogling so closely. We showed them where we had come from and where we going and one of them was utterly fascinated by my fold out map of Mongolia. He even pointed at the different Asian countries on the front of the map, wanting to know and/or confirm each country. The other herdsman arrived a bit later and despite the language barrier he made it clear that he was very impressed and congratulatory of our cycling tour. Bekah shared some food with them before they went on their way.

It was time to get rolling. We slowly gained in elevation as we headed away from the lake and back toward the paved road that would take us to Murun.

An hour or so later, I reached the paved road and stopped to refill my water bottle with the lake water that Bekah had painstakingly purified. As Bekah joined me on the road I drank deeply.

The taste that met my lips sent my brain spinning through one of those flashback montages where the clueless character in the story finally pieces the truth together.

My great conquest, my treasure; carefully purified and then filtered, was, of course, salt water.

Salt water!

The horrible stench, the white powder that caked our shoes and dried on the top of our water bottles became very clear signs that we had camped on the edge of a salt lake.

My morning’s ride to get water, once bathed in the light of a glorious victory, now was revealed to be a fool’s errand. Our once precious water was soon trickling down the road as we emptied our water bottles. The utter ridiculousness of the situation kept me amused for miles. What a bizzare way to end a bike tour.

But I was also worried, how were we ever going to make it Murun alive without any water?

(To calm the fears of my friends and family, I promise I that the the above sentence is sarcastic. Murun was only twenty miles away at that point and it turned out that sixteen of those miles were down hill. Plus, there were gers dotting the hillside, if we had really needed water we could have asked at any of the homes and refilled our water bottles. And Bekah did have a smidge of water left.)

By the time we reached Murun, we were a bit on the thirsty side but still elated. We had completed our cycling tour, now all we had to do was crowd onto a bus with our bikes and survive the thirteen hour trip to Ulaanbaatar. It was time to head to Northern New York. ‘Cause no matter how much I miss my sister or fall in love with a country in Asia, when I am in Lewis County my heart still feels at home.

Errands to Run

 

horses

These horses were running away from me, not because I was scary but because they are doing the running version of the Errandonnee this year. They have errands to run!

The Errandonnee has begun!

 

Yesterday, I ran my first errand-bringing up a jello salad to my church for a funeral dinner that is being held today. Since the salad was in a large bowl, I used my bike trailer to give it a safe and gentle ride.jello salad

My bike likes going to church. While all the cars have to stay out on the parking lot and endure the rain and snow, my bike gets the VIB(Very Important Bicycle) spot. I ride my bike right up to the entrance and lean it against the building where it stays nice and dry no matter the weather out.bike at church

Then today I rode back and forth to work. I also rode back and forth to work yesterday, but I couldn’t take any pictures because the shutter on my camera refused to budge. So now I am using my old camera which has an annoying scratch on the lens. I apologize for the weird blur on all the photos, I will work out a solution as soon as I can, or else I will go bonkers from having to deal with the blurriness.

I had a beautiful ride in to work, the sky was bursting with glittery stars and the moon was a stunning orange crescent. The temperature was close to zero and the crisp cold air felt wonderful.

Throughout the day the temperature rose until it reached 26 degrees for the ride home. The sun was out and shining brightly and there was a gentle breeze.

If the weather forecast is to be trusted we are going to have a warm week. Tonight I am going to take the studded tires off my mountain bike and put on a pair of smoother, hybrid-ish tires. My bike and I should be flying tomorrow!ice

Errand 1
Deliver Salad to Church
Category: Non-Store Errand
Distance: 2 Miles
Big bowls of food may not fit in my panniers, but a bike trailer is up to the task.

Errand 2
Commuting
Category: Work
Distance: 20 Miles
Cold, clear night skies are the best!

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.

DSC01630

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?

First place in a horse race.

DSC00750Today I ditched my church. Instead I went up to the church my brother and sister-in-law attend. It was a special day for them; their four children were being dedicated and I simply couldn’t miss out on that.

While I normally get up to my own church by 8am, this church’s service started at 10am so I puttered around my house for a while, feeling like I had all the time in the world. Eventually, I looked at the clock and realized that I should be leaving right now if I wanted to bike the thirteen miles to the church and be on time.

Scurrying around my apartment,  I grabbed an outfit for church and threw on my biking clothes, making it out the door as fast as possible. Once on the road, I gave myself an inspirational speech.

“Move those legs like lightening or you are gonna be late.”

(I am a master of inspirational speeches, as I am sure you can tell.) Moving at as fast a clip as I could muster, I checked the time when I reached the halfway point of my journey. Oh, okay, I was actually going to be early. Sure enough, I pulled into the church parking lot along with the pastor and his wife with a good thirty minutes to spare before the start of the service. What a waste of an inspirational speech.

The church service was lovely, especially the dedication. My brother explained the meaning behind all the children’s name and we all prayed for each child that God would bless them and strengthen them as they grow.

After the service, my entire family had a barbecue at my brother and sister-in-law’s home and we were able to hang out for a few hours together. Hanging out with my family is one of the my favorite things in the whole wide world and it is about to get even better because my sister (who has been gone for 18 months) is going to be back home in ten days!  Just ten more days, I can’t hardly wait!

Then it was time to bike back home. I was pretty full from lunch so I took it nice and slow for most of the way home. But then I found myself catching up to an Amish horse and buggy. There were quite a few cars in back of me so I pedaled slowly behind the buggy while they passed us. When the coast was clear, I made my move into the middle of the road to pass the horse and buggy.

There are quite a few Amish families living in my area, I have seen and passed them on the road many, many times. They are two speed vehicles: I have never seen an Amish horse cruising along the road at any other speed than a walk or steady trot.

But when I pulled into the middle of the road to pass this particular horse and buggy, something weird happened. I noticed the horse trotting a bit faster than a normal pace. Could it be? No way! But then my beliefs were confirmed when the horse broke into a charging gallop. The Amish were racing me!

A grin spread across my face wider than the entire continent of Antarctica. They wanted to race, huh? It was on. With a quick glance to make sure the road was still clear behind us, I swung into action. I pedaled with a hot fury and soon I was in front of the buggy, pacing parallel to the horse. A horse in full gallop is a beautiful thing, but seeing all that power out in full force added with the noise of a rattling buggy was slightly un-nerving. I had a moment of self doubt and slight fear but then I kicked it up one more notch and found myself in the lead. I continued to pull ahead with the horse putting out a valiant effort for a few more moments until it was slowed back down to a walk.DSC00743

As I disappeared from sight around the next corner, I knew exactly what the horse was thinking.

“If I wasn’t pulling this huge black thing, I would have so beat her.”