Virginia

Photo: Mer Soleil, Amelia Island, FL

Photo: Mer Soleil, Amelia Island, FL

Fredericksburg, VA

Stayed with a Warmshowers host in Norfolk, an awesome girl who works as a civil engineer and had her last cross-country bicycle tour from San Diego to Virginia cut short when she was hit by a car in Arizona.

Norfolk is gnarly to ride through. Not in a good way. There were no good bicycle routes, so I wound up riding past landfills and porn shops, getting lost, and eventually winding up on the correct ferry despite having been mis-directed by several locals.

Made it to my next Warmshowers hosts in Williamsburg, which lent itself to much more pleasant scenery as I rode trails through the Jamestown Settlement. My hosts had a beautiful, giant house right on the river—the entire back side of their home was glass, lending itself to incredible panoramic views of the sunset, and my room had its own private deck over the water.

Set out for Richmond the next day, where I stayed and rested for a couple days at the Bainbridge Collective, an awesome house full of like-minded freelancers/artists/weirdos.

I'd ridden my most grueling five days in a row: about 320 miles in total, with some gnarly headwinds and hills. In the middle of those five days I felt my body shut down entirely; my ass was sprouting painful saddle sores [over bruises, no less] and my brain was barely functioning, especially after a few terrifying jaunts over shoulder-less highways and bridges with fast traffic [as much as I've tried to avoid dangerous roads, I've found myself having to take them on occasion]. Oftentimes I'd have to re-stock on food in gas stations, with no other nearby alternatives. 

My body hates me a little bit, but it'll thank me once I learn to crush wine barrels with my legs.

In any case, that last fifty-mile day over rolling hills felt like a breeze...I've become so much stronger. At the beginning of this trip, fifty miles was the ceiling for how much I'd ride in a day, and it would take me all day, on flat ground. 

Anyway, I fell in love with Richmond at first sight [my hosts in Williamsburg had given me a great bike route for getting to it—riding through unpopulated countryside and small local farms, and then dropping around and down a hill, suddenly, to see the skyscrapers of RVA barely popping up ahead over a dense foreground of green].

I rode into the city, on a trail along the river, through grimy chunks of industrialization, past run-down warehouses and winding alleyways, under overpasses thick with seafoam-green-stained metal brackets and woven together so densely it felt like a fantastical subtropolis.

If ever a city has beckoned me to pursue some urban-spelunking...this one's got to be a goldmine. It brought the video game Fallout to mind; a juxtaposition between anachronism and post-apocalyptic gloom. I absolutely loved it.

The house instantly felt like home. In a span of a couple days, I wound up at a free vegan cooking class, getting a beer flight at a local brewery, enthralling the resident alley cat with my feet at night, wandering Carytown and eating gourmet cupcakes, naked lizard-rock basking and swimming in the warm river, watching Red Dwarf projected onto the huge blank white wall of the tall-ceilinged house, watching cage dancers at a local goth/fetish club, decompressing in my skivvies with a new book [The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, a gift from a friend I'd made in Charlotte] on the incredible back porch, eating amazing cheese steaks from the place next door. 

The residents of the house all seem to be pretty busy and active people; I had the house to myself for good chunks of time despite there being six-or-so residents, and didn't even manage to meet all of them in the couple days that I was in town. The ones I did meet were supremely easy to fall into and out of socializing with, and I hung out with in a revolving-door fashion...I'd be sitting on the back porch and one of them would come home, grab some chocolate milk or a beer or a cigarette, and sit on the back porch and talk to me for a while until it was time for either them or me to head off to whatever other plans we had next. When someone was free, they'd take me on a short adventure [i.e., most of the above paragraph], and drop me back off at the house when it was time for them to go to work or whatever else they had going on. Awesome people; before I even left town I already wanted to come back and visit again.

Also hung out a couple times with fellow traveling model Rachel Dashae, who is a total sweetheart and fucking adorable.

From Richmond, rode on to Fredericksburg. Sixty miles on a hot day with a couple thousand feet of climbing, which I managed to do [on very little sleep] in the same amount of time that it had taken me to ride 35 miles on flat ground at the beginning of this trip, a couple months ago. 

Everything's changed on this trip. My aptitude at coping with fear, fatigue, frustration, pain, discomfort, monotony. I feel infinitely more humble, and infinitely more confident. I'm not at a point where I feel I can even come close to doing any of my inner processes justice via blog entry [nor do I feel inclined to publicly share them, at least any time soon], but this trip has changed my life in a pretty huge, unprecedented way.

And I'm still only just over halfway done. No idea what else is in store.

Fredericksburg is rounding out to a pretty balanced couple of days:

Stayed with another Warmshowers host in an enormous house full of snakes [one of which may be getting named after me—quite an honor], with a six-story-tall yard made up of backyard terraces and a complicated system of wooden decks, shrouded in thirty species of tree...there's a bocce ball court waaaay down at the bottom of the terraces but you can't really see it from the house. 

Got a couple shoots lined up—knocked one out today with Transient Photography, who was absolutely lovely to work with and talk to, and am shooting tomorrow with Touched by Gray Photos, who's been very well vouched for. 

Tomorrow I'm visiting my great-aunt; she's eighty-five and has broken her foot and could probably use some help around the house. It's been years since I saw her. 8]

And! Triumph! I finally succeeded in sleeping in, after weeks of failed attempts, which was probably facilitated by visiting a buffet after riding over from Richmond and, for the first time in my life, being able to make the most out of the all-you-can-eat factor...i.e., I had five full plates of food.

Good stuff. And I've got plenty of shoots and shenanigans lined up for once I get to the DMV!

Photo: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Photo: Noisenest, Durham, NC

North Carolina [Durham through Outer Banks]

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Norfolk, VA

Many people, shoots, soul-searching-solo-stints, and harrowing holy-shit-I'm-going-to-die-today experiences later...and I'm behind on the whole blogging-updates-thing, still. [Also, still have a few cards I haven't mailed out. However, if you DID receive one, please let me know...trying to keep a head count to make sure mail's getting where it's supposed to].

This is going to be another compensatory here-I-don't-have-time-to-write-about-all-that's-happened-but-have-some-photos-instead posts, for the most part.

Everyone I meet keeps joking that I should just write a retrospective book. Wild on a bicycle. Ha. [Incidentally, I just finished reading Wild this morning.] 

Which sounds ridiculous to me, because the most essential, formative, hilarious, beautiful, exciting, monumental parts of this trip are the ones that I don't feel remotely inclined to publicize—certainly not for a long, long time. I think that's just how life is, at least if you're living a good one. 

But I'll give you a little something, context-wise, before passing out from exhaustion now that I've made it to Virginia. Which, over the last couple days, I kind of thought would never happen.

Headed from Charlotte to Durham, where I worked with Noisenest, Aureole, Bman, J Clarke. All awesome folks. I spent a lot of time running around with a flashlight in a creepy warehouse basement full of broken dolls and stuffed animals.

Photo: Aureole, Durham, NC

Photo: Aureole, Durham, NC

Photo: BmanPhotos, Clemmons, NC

Photo: BmanPhotos, Clemmons, NC

From there, went to Beaufort, NC, and stayed with Kevin at her new adorable little beachy-1800's-house-with-dolphins-for-neighbors there. We originally met at the Everglades Hostel in southern Florida for a night...then randomly bumped into on the street in St. Augustine a couple weeks later. Serendipity, boom boom.

Kevin and I went out in the morning on my rest day in town, though the pouring rain sent her back home. I spent a day wandering around aimlessly in the rain on foot, singing and enjoying how ghostly the town appeared, off-season and on an off-weather day. I wound up on a dock, doing yoga, and then after assuring myself that Kevin's house [i.e., a warm shower and a bed] were within quick-sprinting distance of the dock, I impulsively jumping into the cold water, fully-clothed. 

ut instead of running to Kevin's house once I climbed back out, I laid out on the dock and enjoyed a brief period of the numb chill, knowing it wasn't too cold. A bit of rain, a bit of a breeze, some muted sunshine peeking through for reprieve. 

On what's been such a socially dense trip, I'd almost forgotten how high I get off slow chunks of solitude [granted, those come on a bike, too—but since I've started pushing myself to do longer days, I'm often just distracted by how much my ass hurts].

Went out on my own at night for some food, and [after I elbowed off some rather aggressively chauvinistic drunk military bros] wound up befriending Jim, the only other non-local at the one open diner [we picked one another out instantly as fellow aliens in what was otherwise a rather homogenized social scene]. Jim's been steering his boat along the Great Loop for a year, and we hung out and swapped travel stories for hours on his thirty-foot catamaran. 

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 11.15.42 PM.png

From there I rode the ferry to Ocracoke on the Outer Banks, and for the next couple nights I mostly kept to myself, wanting to continue the trend of solitude I'd recently felt inclined towards. People often tried to stop me as I pedaled past, beseeching me with offers of hospitality or meals or drinks or rides, usually with open-hearted generosity [though with obnoxious and condescending persistence in one or two cases] but I'd smile and decline and continue. It felt important to put myself in a bubble for a couple days, for some reason, and the Outer Banks felt like the perfect place to do it. Besides the single-serving friends I made for a few minutes at a time while on the ferries between islands, or when stopping to eat, I kept to myself.

I ninja-camped along the way in hidden spots. I read on the beach. I found a seven-foot dead mama shark, her baby still in amniotic fluid. Beautiful and incredible and sad.

In other news, I've been pushing myself harder than ever. Riding longer miles [at one point I my map lied to me and directed me to a road that doesn't actually exist...which turned into a 45-mile mistake when I had to backtrack], through the worst headwinds of the trip, for consecutive days. Rode over a bridge during sunset rush hour that wound up having no shoulder and rather aggressive traffic, and thought I was going to die. Heh. Whoops. Won't get any rest till Richmond. Oy.

And I'm going to have to take a couple days to recalibrate my appearance before commencing with Virginia or DMV shoots. These last days have inevitably left me with saddle sores [owww] and dark tan lines, despite sunscreen and so on. Which I'm sure most clients would not be very excited about. So that'll delay things by a bit.

But on the bright side, I've got some awesome Warm Showers hosts lined up for Virginia that I'm really excited to stay with [good change-up from the ninja camping, as nice as it is]. Whoo!

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Good Luck to the Power of Ludicrous

Conway, SC

Left my partying in Savannah and made a short jaunt to Ridgeland, SC, where I forked out for a hotel room for the first time on this trip. After the last month's overload of amazing people and hyper stimulation, I wanted a night to just sit. Get on the Internet. Be sober. Take a long shower. Order delivery pizza.  

I didn't leave my room once. It was glorious.

The next day, started to push myself a bit harder. Decided in the morning I'd make it all the way to Charleston, 85 miles away, or run myself into the ground trying. My longest day till then had been about 47 miles. 

Rode through miles of unmarked dirt road—got held up and lost a few times when those roads would suddenly end. Finally came upon a Wendy's, the one food option [or settlement of any kind] I'd seen in at least an hour of pedaling. Rode on through shoulder-less interstate. 

My state of being alternated between being too physically tired or sore [it may be time, soon, to fork out for a better saddle than my $30 score...] to notice my psychological state, and being overtaken, suddenly, by a creeping sense of mortal terror, suddenly too afraid and cracked out on adrenaline to notice my physical state. I thought about venomous snakes in the tall grass, and about aggressive guard dogs, and about being stranded out in the boonies [I hadn't really thought ahead about just how remote some of the stretches I was riding along really were...I'd often be faced with the choice between extremely dangerous interstate and safer, quieter, but completely off-the-beaten-track dirt roads], about running out of water, about being hit by a car, yadda yadda.

My mood would spike in a moment of euphoria as I'd pass some beautiful swamp reminiscent of Princess Mononoke and think, Man, you're gorgeous, but I'm a bit too worried about not dying to take a picture of you, which would inevitably have me laughing out loud. A couple times I was overtaken by mysterious nausea and, unable to justify the source of it, began to feel a bit panic-attack-y, as semi-trucks shoved their way aggressively through the wind to get in front of me.

I hit a long stretch with no water, no signs of other people except maybe an odd hunting stand [which I initially thought were kids' playhouses], and I'd get tired, so tired my legs would kind of just stop working on their own without my conscious insistence at each pedal stroke to follow-up accordingly. But I knew if I stopped for another break, here, I'd never get back up. If I took a power nap here, I wouldn't make it to Charleston—I'd started the day without a plan for Charleston at all, but by noon a girl on WarmShowers had texted me saying she could host me, which gave me new motivation to get there, and not have to find some random hidden spot to sleep.

At one point I had a long stretch—several hours—where I didn't see another soul, another building, nothing. I began to ration my water, kicking myself for not having brought even more. I was running out of food, too, since I hadn't really needed to bring much with me at any given time until now.

Finally I saw the sign of a BP's gas station, and in my profound relief, I ran inside and spent $50 on snacks and drinks and protein bars, tripping over myself and dropping things the whole time. At a fucking BP's.

A man outside offered to watch my bike for me and chatted me up. Nice guy. Kept asking a lot of the same questions. I nodded emphatically as a substitute for conversation, as I shoved a ham and cheese sandwich in my mouth and glugged down a canned doubleshot. Every time I've just gotten off my bike, I'm not really ready to be human yet, but invariably people want to ask questions. I try to accommodate as best I can...but "as best I can" is not a whole lot, sometimes. Especially when someone starts in on a religious tirade, as my new acquaintance soon did.

During that last leg of the day, when I was once again switched into "too physically tired to be scared anymore" mode, all my hypothetical fears that I'd been trying to push to the back of my mind came to a head. I was chased by a humongous dog and just barely managed to outpace it until it finally gave up. Shortly afterwards, I nearly ran over a huge rattlesnake as it was abruptly crossing the road. 

And, fifteen miles from my host's house, I got hit by a car on the I-17.

For the record, at least through South Carolina, the I-17 is a tightly-stretched, shoulder-less road. Every time [and there really weren't many times] an eighteen-inch-wide strip of asphalt jutted past the white line into the grass, an infatuated-schoolgirl-giddiness overtook me. I spent much of my time on it looking over my shoulder and bailing out into the dirt, just to be on the safe side. I have learned not to extend the slightest trust to drivers.

The car smashed into my front pannier and sent me over into the patchy, rumpled grass. I picked myself up and brushed myself off, too stunned to have any sort of an emotional reaction. I looked at my bike, and at myself. Not a scratch or a dent. Not even a small one. I wondered if I was in shock, and if maybe I was actually in mortal peril but my conscious mind was refusing to acknowledge it.

...Nope. I was fine. 

The car, on the other hand, skidded over the lanes to its left, and then over the grassy median, landing there pointed one-eighty degrees from its former position. Not sure how I managed to send a car flipping around backwards, but hey.

Anyway. Charleston could be a contender for my favorite US city. I don't typically like downtown bar scenes, but I liked the one there because people on the street were friendly. I don't mean crass or invasive. Just straight-up, open-smile, "high five, homegirl," passing-by friendly. Re: my housing situation, I was in the company of a bunch of badass independent ladies all around my age, including one couchsurfer from Germany on a four-month solo excursion of the States. A bunch of us ran around Botany Bay on Edisto Island where we smeared clay all over ourselves. I reunited briefly with Kai, a cyclist I met back in Key West who, upon graduating high school in Oregon, decided to bike the entire perimeter of the Lower Forty-Eight. Which makes my own trip look kind of wimpy in comparison.

After Charleston came another long stretch. I rode seventy miles on the first day, which was only slightly less exhausting than my last long day had been—each time I push myself a bit further, the next time I do that same distance it feels so much easier. Nonetheless, at some point, my sunglasses bounced off me and I didn't even notice until maybe half an hour had gone by. Gnats began to get stuck in my eyes as I rode. 

I'd planned to get as far as I could [I wouldn't make it all the way to Conway in one day] and then stealth camp behind some trees. I thought I'd be riding through a good stretch of State Park. Instead, I traversed endless miles of plantation land, riddled with some pretty aggressive "Keep Out"-esque signs [like, "Whatever the camera doesn't get, the gun will," and so on] which had me a bit uneasy. Plus, half the land around me was submerged swampland.

Eventually I got to an actual town and found a spot between two old brick buildings in a church, where I could just wedge my bike and my tent and pretty much be hidden from the road on all sides. I'd resigned myself to a thrilling night of trying to catch sleep in a sort of shifty place when my Conway host for the following night [Anzhelika Lewis, a fellow model] called and insisted upon coming the rest of the way to pick me up, since I wasn't too far from her house by then and she said the town I was in was a bit on the sketchy side.

I deliberated a little bit, because I'd sort of just resigned myself to the night and was looking forward to being in a new situation that scared me. But I was also coming down with a pretty bad cough that I couldn't figure out.

So she and her husband Rick came and got me, fed me well, and I passed out on the most luxuriously wide and rigidly bed-like couch I have ever slept on. Wound up being a good call, because all that night and the next day I had a persistent, painful cough-sneeze thing going on and could barely function [not a cold or flu, guessing it's a combination of allergies—particularly given that I've ridden long stretches through traffic—aggravating residual/chronic bronchitis, but what the hell do I know].

Fortunately, I've gotten to recover over the last couple days by basking on the deck of a seventh-generation plot of family land by the woods in my birthday suit, with a good book, with horses grazing in my periphery, drinking gallons of water and eating loads of Savannah Bee Company honey. Sadly, lots of allergy meds and cough medicine, too [both things I try to avoid taking except in dire situations]. Such a well-placed extra bit of downtime.

And once I was feeling like a human being again, I did a last-minute shoot in Myrtle Beach involving hard hats and muscle cars and broken metal grinders and a four-foot tall pipe wrench. 

With a certain perspective I could probably claim this was a tough week...but my luck's been through the fucking roof. In retrospect...really can't complain.

WEEK 1: Key West to Miami

Miami, FL

At this moment, I'm sitting home alone in Miami Springs. A big roly-poly dog is scootched up to me, vigorously licking the ear of the other dog currently keeping me company. A few feet away, the cat supervises the proceedings with a sage air. It's the eighth day of my trip. I've logged about 205 miles so far.

Things have been full and fast, so I haven't had time to update. My only moments of stillness and slowness have been while I'm on my bike, going ever ever ever forward [and, obviously, I'm not writing while I'm riding].

The first several days of this trip saw me following the Highway 1. Just one long road, for days. I began to feel like the earth was my treadmill...like I was still, and it was the world that I was churning beneath me with my legs. That, with enough patience, I could draw any place to me that I wanted to go. 

Granted, I was also delirious from long days spent exerting myself underneath ceaseless south Florida sunshine.

Here's the CliffsNotes version of my time since we left off, then. Oh. Quickly:

  • Rebelle Society published a ditty of mine from shortly before my trip: Open Letter from an Allegedly Doomed Woman
  • I've visited and donated to a couple awesome non-profits this week: Key West Wildlife Rescue in Key West and the Turtle Hospital in Marathon [listed below in this post, and also added to my list of suggested causes—and take note that I am open to suggestions of non-profits to visit along my route via my contact form].
  • I've been on a quest for the perfect key lime pie, and for other local treats [like craft beer from Florida]. This seems to be the place to look, no? Anticlimactically, after trying four different highly-hyped pie places in the Keys [Key Lime Pie Company in Key West, Kermit's Key Lime Shoppe in Key West, Ma's Fish Camp in Islamorada, and Mrs. Mac's in Key Largo]...I have to admit that my favorite pie came from Kush in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami.

Day 3: Last day in Key West

Donated to Key West Wildlife Rescue [awesome place; you can visit for free though it's really not geared towards tourists...it's just a very transparent non-profit devoted to rehabilitating and releasing injured wildlife, particularly local birds; I have added it to my list of recommended causes]; underwent serendipitous stranger-recognition while gawking at a kitesurfer [I am hereby adding that of my list of things to learn] when a one of the kids I'd been observing recognized me from my WarmShowers profile; first time on a bar trivia team [where I could finally apply my high school fascination with the ShamWow commercials]; went with Will and Kerry Better than Sex: a dessert-only bar [so dark they give you flashlights] where we had grilled chocolate-and-brie sandwiches with caramel dipping sauce and strawberry champagne “soup” and homemade Irish Creme and so on. Many drinks were imbibed, many laughs were had, and I fell asleep before quite making it to bed at Will and Kerry's.

[I was originally supposed to leave this day…but got sucked into spending another. Little did I know that I’d be tempted to do the same almost every other night since, either due to the places I’ve been or the people I’ve met. Being a rolling stone—at such a quick pace, and on a schedule, moreover—has been bittersweet that way]. 

Day 4: Key West to Knight's Key

First day of riding. Knees sore. Right side burning [my arm protector—white little-girl stockings with the feet cut off—kept sliding down off my shoulder; as a result I now have a Disney-Pocahontas-esque armband]. Iguanas, iguanas everywhere, by the hundreds, some the size of dogs [invasive, I've been told].

Made my way, needle-and-thread-style, from island to island, along narrow bridges and roads overtaken on either side by turquoise ocean. I looked at other islands drifting solo in the ocean as I cranked my creaking legs to get me past them, unconnected by roads or bridges, and experienced a feeling that they were looking back at me, and offering their silent regard, like a stranger you lock eyes with momentarily from across a train platform, with a fleeting moment of mutuality.

Stopped for lunch and was swooped in on by strangers from all angles wanting to know what I was doing on my bike...wanting to know what my cause was [wanting to lecture me about how I needed a cause, and about what my cause should be], wanting to know why I was going alone, wanting to know how old I was and who my parents were and so on. Wanting to know if I was aware that "little girls" get raped and run over by cars. Wanting to know if I was aware of the bike accident statistics in Florida [I was painfully aware, because there was another "Drive Safely" memorial commemorating fallen cyclists about once every tenth of a mile]. Wanting to know if I had a gun; wanting to convince me that I needed to get one if I had any brains. 

Some wonderful, merciful people were also intrigued, but more understanding of my exhaustion, and made the nice gesture of simply offering their business cards and telling me to get in touch if I needed a host in their home state. Made it rather hard to decompress and eat after thirty sunny miles.

Ended the day with a harrowing, never-ending push across the seven-mile bridge as it began to grow dark. I imagined being run into by a drunk kid in a truck, pitched over the edge [it was Spring Break, after all], floating in the ocean, in the dark, unnoticed, miles from shore. And so on. In short, it was pretty fucking scary, and I almost peed myself in relief when I finally saw the twinkling lights of another island up ahead.

Wound up spending the night at an RV park in Knight's Key [the staff were really sweet and inquisitive, and threw some perks my way], sitting in a lawn chair and shooting the shit with Tom, a retired elementary school music teacher from the midwest, and Dale, a kooky ex-army truck driver who showed me some neat tricks for lighting matches. Slept on the ground, out in the open air, not even in need of a sleeping bag in the heat.

Day 5: Knight's Key to...flea-bitten hammock outside Tavernier?

Visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, which is doing amazing things; the offer paid tours in order to help fund their operations. They rescue sea turtles [ravaged primarily by litter, of all things, but also by general ocean pollution and boat accidents] and rehabilitate/release as many as they can back into the wild; a few turtles are injured to the point of being unable to survive in the wild and stay on as permanent residents. What an adorable, awesome place [got to peek in on a turtle surgery—removing tumors from a green sea turtle due to a virus that has been spreading in their species which attacks their eye—during which an assistant was manning a ventilator, because turtles are conscious breathers, unlike us...they have to think about breathing in order to keep doing it, so they never "sleep" quite the way we do; their sleep consists of holding their breath for an extended period]. I learned so damn much about turtles [random fun fact: a turtle egg's position in its nest determines its sex...eggs laid first, in the cooler bottom part of the nest, develop as males, whereas eggs laid last, in the warmer top part of the nest, develop as female; the interesting thing is that most reptiles' sexes are determined with their eggs in the opposite way]. Anyway. I could go on and on. [Did you know leatherbacks can dive several thousand feet, deeper than whales, and that their shells are completely soft?...God, I need to stop].

Took a lunch break in Islamorada, which is where the stress [compounded by the fatigue from a long ride in the sun] came in.

It began when I walked into a bathroom and saw my face for the first time in two days. Oh, boy.

Now, if I were traveling purely for pleasure, I wouldn't give a damn how I looked. For realskies. The last time I went backpacking by myself, my entire face peeled off in what was nearly a face-wide second-degree pus-tastic sunburn [I was at 10,000 feet above sea level, see...], and I hadn't been fussed about that.

But the fact is, this is not just a cycling trip, but also a modeling trip. A trip I couldn't afford to do in the first place unless I were modeling along the way, anyhow [even with the savings I'd scrounged up for it for a year...since I spent six months last year volunteering full-time, my annual earnings had been laughably close to zilch]. My reflection stared back at me: red, blotchy, burnt, swollen, and with severely sunburnt eyes. Like a Darth Maul shade of red...

Would definitely have to nullify all that before arriving in Miami [where shooting would begin]. Didn't know if that was possible. Began to think that this whole trip, this idea of combining these two disparate things, had been some wildly conceited, ignorant mistake on my part. Hubris.

...And also realized my prospects for lodging that night were slim. I didn't know any models or photographers around Key Largo or Islamorada. Couchsurfing and Warmshowers had yielded nothing. Campsites were all booked full [and I could've showed up and asked some campers to share their space, except the main campsites were all either south—the wrong direction—or too far north to make it before nighttime]. Hotels were all not only exorbitantly expensive, but booked full. Spring Break, you know.

Whoops. Well.

I wound up getting a lead to call Florida Bay Outfitters, an outdoor store, since their staff might be in the know about last-ditch stealth-camping options. A really nice guy on the phone gave me directions to a quarry where I could post up.

Of course, I get to the quarry, and am immediately ravaged by biting fleas and biting ants. Well...not the worst thing. It grows dark. My imagination goes berserk. I become a bit paranoid about the dark standing body of water I'd have to camp right by [since I've been told there are crocodiles and alligators in freshwater bodies in the Keys...granted, attacks are *aaaaalmost* unheard of, I'd been assured]. I have no tent. I think, a chilly iguana might cozy up to me at night to get warm—and while they're generally docile, I wouldn't want to be at the receiving end of the claws or tail-whip of a startled iguana that I might awaken in the morning. Etc. Etc. Every noise sounds like someone, or something, coming at me. If only I had a tent, I wouldn't feel so exposed [but I so rarely camp with a tent, honestly...then again, I've never camped before standing buggy water in Florida before].

I try to settle in, fleas notwithstanding. I flipped a coin, and it told me to get moving. I resolved to go on a walk, under the full moon, to explore the place and quell my nerves, and ran into a man leaned against a rock. I call out to him and shine my light at him. No response. I walk right up to him and he's cool, cool, cool. Placid as the black water. He tells me he was on Lance Armstrong's team for seven years. He tells me he's ridden all over the country on a WalMart bike. He tells me I can put my food in his tent to keep it safe from raccoons.

...He was probably fine, honestly, a nice, maybe slightly eccentric old man. But it was too dark to even see his face, and in my frazzled state I erred on the side of paranoia...and I shuffled off. I tried to flip a coin again and, I shit you not, the coin disappeared when it fell to the ground. I searched for five minutes with my headlamp before I realized how absurd it was to be devoting five minutes to finding a penny when I hadn't established camp somewhere.

So I left the quarry. I came upon a church and a children's center, complete with creepy moonlit playground [the slide was a giant yellow fish that swallowed children up as they slid down it]...with a hammock concealed in the backyard. Perfect.

I posted up there, woke myself back up at 4:30am the next morning after a couple restless hours of sleep [a wind chime by the children's center sounded suspiciously like the whipping of a heavy chain...] and continued on in the dark, stopping to rest only once the sun had come back up and my primal imagination could retire for the time being.

Day 6: Key Largo to Everglades Hostel in Florida City

Woke up, scuttled through the dark to the one Starbucks I'd seen or heard of on the Keys [the only place in Key Largo open at 6am, as far as I could tell]. Charged my electronics. Felt delirious, off almost no sleep and a couple days of heavy sun-blasted riding against headwinds. Was probed at by curious fellow patrons [one of whom bordered on invasive] whom I didn't have the heart to inform I was far too tired to make small talk with just then. More refrains of, "You should have a man with you, you should have a gun, why don't you go do something more sensible, don't tell me you were biking just now in the dark, that's so stupid, now see here young lady, I am a stranger but I know what's best for you, etc., etc., etc."

[Don't get me wrong, most of the strangers I met have been exceedingly kind, encouraging, and even wildly generous...but that morning, and it was barely morning, still dark, after such a frazzled and anxious preceding night, the criticisms I was receiving from strangers were winding me up in a much more prominent way, and I was too exhausted to engage them, or to disagree].

I continued on when the sun was up and passed out under a tree for an hour [photo at top of post].

Headed to the outdoor store that had tipped me off about the quarry the night before. I owed them one, and I needed some supplies anyway [least of all sunglasses...needed my eyes to not be sunburnt anymore]. The girl at the register wound up giving me a discount out of pure goodwill, and the guy on the floor had an extra cheap tent in his car that he just gave me for free.

Then, ten miles out from Homestead, an SUV pulled over in front of me, and Maru, a woman who'd been working at Ma's Fish Camp yesterday [where I'd been hemming and hawing and trying-not-to-freak-out over having no clue where I could stay, or even where I could sneaky-stay], jumped out of the car and yelled my name.

"...Whoa, hi!"
"I was thinking of you this morning. See, I was tired. And then I thought, well, why am I tired when you're biking to Maine. And then I thought about you biking to Maine...and that made me more tired."

She wound up giving me her number and making a tentative offer of dinner-or-something.

I carried on, in considerably better spirits, feeling like the Universe was giving me kudos after having tested all my anxieties the previous night [though, of course, I'm somewhat inclined to believe that we live in an absurd Universe rather than an organized one, but hey, what the hell do I know...].

The Everglades Hostel is the shit. It's like a little Rivendell in the middle of urban sprawl. I showered off and was pleased to see that my eyeballs and face had made a miraculous recovery in the past 24 hours from their rotten-tomato-ness [as evidenced below; photo taken thirty feet off the ground in a net hammock high up a tree]. I didn't make it to Everglades National Park [on the bucket list for later], but rode around and took some pretty sunset photos.

In the evening, I socialized with some awesome people from all over the world [including some French kids who let me practice on them and who told me I had a great French accent, which felt validating whether or not they were being sincere] and somehow managed to splash beer into my eye...ghost pepper beer, that is.

Day 7: Florida City to Miami Beach

It rained in the morning, which gifted me with a day of cloud cover [for which I was decidedly thankful]. 

I must admit that when I rolled into Miami, my first impression was that it looked exactly as I expected it to. The soggy-lush vegetation, abrupt colors and nouveau riche architecture, the tile shingles. I don't know. It was hard to put my finger on, but Miami looked very Miami, as I had envisioned it. Neither a good nor a bad thing, just a thing. 

Managed to meet up with my buddy, fellow traveling model Theresa Manchester, at an intersection, whom I last saw when we were both on our debut tours in Australia; she'd invited me to stay with her in a swank seventh-story beach condo for the night that she'd been given the green light to invite me to. We ran down to the beach for a brief shoot, only to be decimated by pounding, torrential rain within minutes.

Theresa called out, "I told you, a year ago, it rains everywhere I go! Even Miami! If we ever go to Hawaii together, it'll rain there too. Watch. I'm leaving tomorrow, and the sun'll come out once I'm out of town."

I'd had a couple beers by that point and couldn't stop cackling. I jumped into the ocean and just sat in it for ages, up to my neck in turquoise water, it was so warm! 

[Stay tuned for resultant photos in a future post; there were some good ones; Theresa's damn competent with maneuvering a camera, not just with being in front of one.]

Anyway, the night continued with Cuban food, hot tubbing, and understated conversational tomfoolery. I broke out in giggles about once every few minutes at the absurdity of being in a city again—the valet guy who may or may not actually have been a valet guy who may or may not have scammed us, the way the staff at the beachfront condo don't allow you to handle your own luggage because, apparently, rich people aren't capable of such things, the weird little dogs we kept seeing. We chatted late into the night; I scrounged up some sugar and olive oil and attempted to scrub the saddle sores off my ass as best I could since they'll be no-no's come photo shoot time [man, sitting on a bike all day, for days...it can fucking hurt].

Day 8: Miami Beach to Miami Springs [i.e., wandering aimlessly around Miami]

Biked to Haulover Beach so I could do some tan line damage control, except it was chilly and overcast and rainy. Biked to Wynwood, stuffed full with stunning street art—would definitely like to spend a bit more time exploring there. Ate and drank at Kush, which was amazing [and the purveyor of my favorite key lime pie since arriving in Florida...ha]. Came home, got to know the roly-poly dogs and cat with whom I'd share my new hosts' living room for the next couple nights. I had [another] dinner with one of them, Henry, as well as one of my favorite conversations I've had since beginning this journey [I've been eating a lot].

I'm ceaselessly amazed, when traveling and living so ephemerally, at how many great people I manage to connect with in such a short time...some people feel like strangers after years; some feel like old friends after minutes.

Tomorrow marks my first rest day from cycling since I was in Key West. Also! Tomorrow, the photo shoots begin! Working with Rumi, who hired me when I was last in the DC area, and then with David, my other host here in Miami Springs. Whoop whoop whoop.

Silver Lining Syndrome

Key West, FL

Fourteen story cruise ships loom over the tiny island like high rises. Everything here is a palm tree.

Geckos, pelicans, squillions of turtles, roosters, ibises, a macaw, six-toed cats, flamboyantly-attired bugs.

I am delirious.

I arrived at SFO with three hours to spare before departure. One cut-open and re-taped 68-pound bike box, one unpacked duffel bag, $150 in fees, several reviews of print-out policies and diplomatic discussions with supervisors later, and I managed to elicit enough sympathy of a deadpan bureaucrat for him to conjure up a creative solution to the fact that their computer system wouldn't let me check my bag. At several points I was pretty much convinced it wasn’t going to happen. 

Against a backdrop of rain and lightning uncharacteristic in the Bay, I said my goodbyes to Alex and Nathan who were both there to see me off.

Then there were other trifling incidents on my way to the gate: I must have grabbed my expired license instead of my current one on my way out the door [d'oh] and the TSA guys were convinced that there was something in my left pocket [there wasn't—nor was I happy to see them]. Two hours after arriving, I got through security checkpoint, somewhat frazzled.

My flight was delayed, which was fine by me. I dragged myself into the nearest airport bar and wound up ruthlessly bantering with an exceptionally handsome lawyer [he looked strikingly like a young Hemingway] who was sporting a black eye.

About three hours of sleep later [couldn’t get back to sleep after my layover in Atlanta] and I was spat out of Key West airport, blinking wearily at the sun.

Since then I've repeatedly been punk'd by serendipity and boggled at others' generosity. Must be Silver Lining Syndrome or something. Or the Universe is trying to teach me that I shouldn't bother trying to plan anything, ever.

Exhibit A: Every single one of my several hosting options had fallen through or gone MIA at the last minute. My arrival coincided with spring break, so finding a hotel or even campsite at such a late stage would not only be expensive, but possibly quite difficult. And I had a giant box with a disassembled bike, and all my gear, and nowhere to put them or reassemble them. I didn't really know what I was going to do [hide myself and all my crap behind a bush for the night?], but shit felt dire.

Silver lining: A friend I made during my brief stop in Shanghai last year got in touch out of the blue, and it came up that he had US hotel points that he couldn't use and that were about to expire. So I wound up with a free night at a deluxe king suite at the Hyatt, with a balcony drooping right over the shoreline; below me were beached humans flopping on the sand in front of a musician with comically poor taste in covers. I looked at them and thought: If I knew anyone here, I could easily host a fifteen-or-so people shindig and still have wiggle room. What a crazy amount of space and luxury to waste on one person.

I got on with it. Little toy cars and fake choochoo trains and pedicabs rolled by as I quaffed black coffee in a cafe patio done up in bamboo and rope, digesting a lobster and shrimp omelette, and I felt compelled by the weather—76 and all undiluted sunshine—to change into something froofroo and skimpy for a change. I wandered to the Hemingway house [which was lovely and frothing with cats, many of which were polydactyls].

Then I holed up in my room to try and figure out my bike situation, so I would be mobile and unencumbered the following day. I planned to get that out of the way, then maybe nap, then reemerge a bit before sunset and get up to shenanigans.

Exhibit B: What actually happened is that I spent six delirious sleep-deprived hours in that room trying to reassemble my bike and going bonkers, realizing I was missing essential bolts, realizing just how poorly designed my front rack was...not to mention pretty much incompatible with my frame. I attempted to jerry-rig solutions with hair ties, with limited success. The horror.

Around 8 or 9 pm I gave up. I didn't know what I was going to do...ask the guys up front if they could hold onto my giant box and see if I could bribe a bike mechanic to help me bring it to a shop? If there was a shop. Everything I looked up was geared towards cruiser rentals for tourists. But I knew I was done making decisions for a while. I resigned myself to exploring the alleged Key West party scene, though I wasn't feeling very chipper by that point. I wandered Duval Street aimlessly [it struck me as a beachy cousin of Bourbon Street]. I failed to locate oysters before succumbing to hunger and eating conch.

Silver lining: wound up hanging out all damn night with wonderful, fun people. Chilly and Kerry, a local couple who work for a cycle touring company and have gone on a few tours, and Kai, freshly-graduated from high school and four months into his first tour circling around the country from Oregon...

...Moreover, Chilly just opened up a shop in Key West and came by my room the next morning on a promise of coffee to use his mechanical sorcery to get my bike completely set up, and teach me a few things [and conjure up a better front rack]. So, basically, he's a life saver. And quite innovative. Will update with a link when I have one. 

Plus, in a few short hours, I miraculously found people to stick in my gifted-super-fancy-room-for-one-night so I could make better use of the space before giving it up. And to cover in the miles of bubble wrap strewn all over the floor from my bike box, so I could make better use of it before disposing of it.

The one negative takeaway from last night was that, at 4 or 5am, quite drunk, I thought ordering myself room service breakfast for the next morning would be a brilliant idea. I'd never ordered room service before, it had occurred to me. First time for everything! Breakfast in bed!

Mediocre gravlox, mediocre coffee, good-but-very-very-very-small portion of grapefruit juice.

I learned a valuable lesson this morning...and that lesson cost me $40.

Exhibit C: Rode to prospective host's house today. Door had accidentally been locked by a roommate, I could not reach anyone by phone and the house was empty [and my would-be host was working until late, but I didn't know where she worked]. There was Kerry and Chilly's house where I'd just come from, but I'd locked it on my way out and they'd be gone for several hours. I really, really wanted a nap. With nowhere to go, a loaded bike, and no energy, I went and got a key lime pie [well...duh] and Internet for the time being, thinking perhaps I could just slump, unconscious, onto a table in a cafe, and maybe no one would mind.

Silver lining: Wound up being treated to dinner by David, an exceedingly candid, hilarious, fantastic man whom Nathan calls his "fairy godfather" [ahah] whom I'd been advised to meet but hadn't heard from and had given up on meeting. He called, and I was neither asleep on a couch [the original plan], nor with other people, so with what may perhaps have been a bit of initial trepidation on his end, he offered to come get me and feed me. And it was a fit of fantastic conversation and, on my end, copious chuckling.

And now I am set up with with an air mattress thanks to Chilly and Kerry, so all is well!

See what I mean? Some cosmic force disapproves of my attempts to make plans, apparently. 8P

had been planning to leave Key West tomorrow...but I can afford one more day. It deserves another day. Plus, I still haven't given myself a proper opportunity to sleep since getting to Florida [speaking of which...I should get on that right about now]. 8]

Extrapolating on the last few days, but people can be so damn kind, and so immediately authentic. Sure, being smart and funny and charming are also virtues I admire. But really, kindness and candor are so underrated and, in the long run, probably matter a lot more.

Blast off!

On our last night together for the next four-or-so months, Alex and I were noodling around and decided to make a little rough recording of us playing/singing as something of a souvenir, you know, in case the world ends this spring. Tralala:

Bike is ready to go in a box big enough to supply not only a cardboard fort, but likely an entire cardboard gated community.

Bike is ready to go in a box big enough to supply not only a cardboard fort, but likely an entire cardboard gated community.

Tonight will soon see me deposited unceremoniously at SFO. 

Fingers crossed that my bike survives its cardboard box armor. The cheapest bike bags I could find were several hundred dollars a pop [closer to a thousand for a hard case]...and then I'd either have a big bike bag with me for my whole trip, or would have to deal with shipping it somewhere or giving it away. And, as it stands, I'm already going to have to pay a minimum of $150 to fly with it. I'm hoping TLC and bubble wrap will be serviceable substitutes for waterproof casing, bang-proof casing.

My other baggage [i.e., everything I'll be lugging around on my bike every day] clocks in at about 40 pounds. Hm.

This is the part where I wax sentimental and thank everyone. You know, in case my plane crashes on its way to Key West and this whole year of planning turns out to be some ludicrous anticlimax.

...Or something.

So get your barf bags ready!

Firstly, thanks go to everyone whom I could probably call "fans" [those who've been following my progress and supporting my journey whom I know neither personally nor professionally] even though using that word feels horribly pretentious and dismissive. 

Thank you to those who've helped sponsor this trip. I wasn't sure how to feel when I first put up that sidebar: a few people had emailed me, asking me for an easy way to contribute to my trip, which surprised me. So I offered the option, but with a sort of uneasy, ambivalent trepidation and what I like to call "first world guilt" [guilt is rarely, if ever, a productive feeling...but can be a tempting one nonetheless]. I mean, yes, I'm financially independent [and generally financially responsible]—but I'm also someone who has the privilege to customize my life according to my values, my whims, my passions. And yes, I do realize that some of that "privilege" has actually been created by my actions and choices [I have plenty of friends who are perfectly capable, with relative freedom in their lives, most of whom have considerably more in their bank accounts than I do in mine, telling me that they wish they could do what I do...and really, the only thing stopping them is themselves]—but it's undeniable that the other chunk of that privilege really is due to the circumstances and opportunity of my birth and immediate surroundings. I am of able body and sound mind [well, more or less], my genetics allow me to make a career out of my image, and I grew up in a first-world country without insurmountable obstacles between me and my dreams. None of that was a result of my choices or virtue...that part was just luck. Yes, I've worked hard to build the life I have—but for some, it doesn't matter how hard they work, external circumstances will still block their path.

Anyway! As a thank you, I've got plenty of handmade cards protected in their own little waterproof freezer bag fortress stashed in my panniers that I will fill out and send intermittently on my trip. I've also got some extras, in case anyone else wants to jump aboard and contribute while my trip is in progress! Should be fun! You won't know when yours is coming [hint: sometime between March and July]! I've spent a lot of time on them, so I hope you'll all be stoked! Exclamation points! Whoo!

Also, thank you, thank you to those of you who've sent encouraging emails [not the dick pics, though—you guys can keep those to yourselves, eck]. A few months ago I was wondering whether this was even a trip worth documenting online, this trip that is ultimately about my own journey. Me: cycling, pushing myself, getting in shape. Me: trying something new and hopefully having fun and being challenged and learning shit and, you know, "finding myself" in the middle of nowhere and all that jazz. Me: modeling in big cities. Regardless of what I choose to do afterwards with my time or money, this trip in and of itself is an individualist pursuit.

I didn't know if my trip would feel relevant to anyone else...so receiving encouraging words and contributions from people who've found me inspiring or relatable [or totally alien], or from people who've wanted to share things with me that they think I'd benefit from [cycling resources, inspirational videos, photographer suggestions, places to visit on my way, book recommendations...] has meant a lot. In the context of this one-woman adventure, it almost gives me this sense of anonymous solidarity. Anyway, while I'm a capricious correspondent [especially on the road], I'd like to keep this trip as interactive as possible by taking people up on those recommendations as much as I can, and reporting back here, so don't be shy!

Also, while many of you found me through my modeling work, which is what I would've expected, some of you found me through my articles from back in 2013, which I find especially flattering in this age of throwaway click-bait web articles that you share on Facebook and then promptly forget. I've admittedly put writing on the back burner [I don't count keeping this blog as "writing"] and hadn't submitted anything for publication since 2013...and am starting to think that I am really out of excuses for not having done so ["Wah, I don't have time right now to write something good, so why bother at all?"] so as an exercise in telling perfectionism and procrastination to shove off, I submitted a little ditty today. Fingers crossed!

TLDR: Really, I'm damn tickled that people have been inspired enough by my stumblings through life to freely invest even a modicum of their attention, good vibes, and money, towards supporting it. 

Enough on that. That brings me to the second "thank you": to those photographers who've hired me on this trip.

I know hiring me on a trip like this requires an extra leap of faith, particularly since many of you have not worked with me before. This is not a normal modeling tour. This trip has been very polarizing to photographers: they either think it's the coolest thing ever and feel even more inclined to hire me than they otherwise would...or they think my going on a bike trip is a frivolous and unprofessional impediment to my performing aptly as a model. 

To those in the former group, thank you for respecting both my profession and my spirit, and trusting in my reputation.

It's taken most of my life to grow into those cheeks

It's taken most of my life to grow into those cheeks

And, finally, getting a bit more personal.

Thanks go to my dad, for helping to push me during this last training period, sharing his knowledge and taking me on weekend training rides that kicked my ass. He was, and as of now probably still is, a better cyclist than I am. Rewinding: I've always been a difficult kid, and it took a while for my parents to realize I ultimately functioned better with a laissez-faire approach. That I will figure things out, even if I insist upon doing so the hard way. My parents did not spoil me, even when they could have, and I was working my first job [shoveling horse shit in Utah] by fourteen. Of course, I hated that at the time, but looking at how helpless a lot of my former classmates now seem to feel, adrift in their lives and bogged down in school loans [and, in some cases, incapable of doing things as simple as booking their own flight itineraries or buying groceries]...I'm very grateful to have been raised a bit differently. 

A friend of mine discovered this photo on Lightning in a Bottle 2013's promotional page. some random stranger had taken it without our knowledge, which makes me like it all the more.

A friend of mine discovered this photo on Lightning in a Bottle 2013's promotional page. some random stranger had taken it without our knowledge, which makes me like it all the more.

 

Lastly, thanks go to my primary partner/accomplice/inamorato, Alex, who provides endless constructive support, but is never coddling. He is a rare breed for many reasons, but for starters, he has never demonstrated entitlement or possessiveness towards me, gives me ample space when I need it [whether I want it or not], and is never afraid to be completely accessible and vulnerable. Not a common set of virtues to find in the same person. Plus, he sets a good example: he loves everyone with an open hand; he sets his own standards for himself and doesn't dwell on judging the virtue [or lack thereof] in others and is an eternal child: infinitely goofy and infinitely wise, and very good at laughing at himself. My life has been infinitely better since we haphazardly collided out in the desert in 2012.

...Oh, yeah. And also, he knows a shit ton about bikes, makes good food, and makes me laugh.

And, as fate would have it, my other favorite man [not one of the aforementioned two] is flying to Taiwan out of the same airport, around the same time, so we'll be able to get up to some shenanigans before my red-eye. So I've got lots of lovey-dovey in my day, hence the nausea.

All right. Time's a-wasting. Airport, ho!

 

 

Calm before the storm...

Photo: Anastasia Kole

Photo: Anastasia Kole

Photo: Anastasia Kole

Photo: Anastasia Kole

After a week of scattered panic and dithery excitement, I'm in that sort of zen-mind-resignation phase. My flight's in twenty-four hours. Today I've gotten all the essential things done [the non-essential/non-urgent things can wait]. Now...there's really not a whole lot else I can do, except relax, enjoy my last nibble of California, and wait for things to fall into place.

Other than the fact that I have no accommodation/hosting/reservations/anything sorted upon my arrival [my original host fell through], everything should be solid. And that's a minor bump, really. If I didn't pride myself on being resourceful, I wouldn't have ever put myself up to this crazy pipe dream of an adventure, anyway.

I haven't done much modeling in the last month, but wanted to make a couple honorable mentions anyhow:

A. Shot with the incomparable Anastasia Kole [who flips onto the other side of the lens as Anastasia Arteyeva...such amazing work on both sides of the lens; I'm sure you're as twitterpated as I am]. She swung by the house in which I get to squat for a month, painted my face, and set me loose in the backyard while Alex conjured up some incredible homemade sushi [Bay Area restaurants, eat your heart out—none of you know how to make sushi rice properly, first of all] and poured us glasses of Argentinian malbec.

freya-gallows
freyagallows-portrait
freyagallowsanastasiakole

...then we threw Alex in front of the camera, for good measure.

freya-gallows-alex

B. Was visited by my very, very close friend and relatively new aspiring nude model, Enoli! And am pleased that I was able to score both her and Alex spots sitting for Cuong Nguyen's charcoal portrait workshop, resulting in the awesome works-in-progress below. I've modeled for Cuong for years and he is such a skilled artist; a few years ago he honored me by opening a museum exhibition in the Bay Area that featured ten paintings each of me and of Michael [his go-to male model].

model-portrait
alex-portrait

Left: oil painting, first portrait Cuong ever made of me [years ago]; middle: seven-foot-fall oil painting; right: pastel portrait.

freyagallows-portrait
freyagallows-cuongnguyen
freyagallows-pastel

Cycling-wise, I've logged some good miles this month. Last week I clocked in around 8,800 feet of climbing in six days...and ended those six days with a voucher for one of those awesome $20 Chinese foot massage spas [so underrated: they can be much fun, and there's something surreal about being seated in rows, it's like being on an airplane...with fish tanks]. Ahhhh. 

Though as my trip's gotten closer, I've had to forgo riding in order to figure out plans and bookings and emails and packing and last-minute shopping and research and online drudgery [plus, I've admittedly taken a bit of time out to say proper goodbyes to my closest friends and family in the area: a private beach where I had a solitary morning picnic accompanied by a baby sea lion, a few ludicrous wine-fueled nights in with friends, a couple dinners and some yoga].

Currently a bit nervous about my newfound lack of an attack plan for my first hours in Florida with a boxed-up bike I'll need to put together and pack upon arrival...but I'll figure it out. My whole life's one big stumble, anyway, which is what keeps things interesting.

 

Beta Testing Along the SF Peninsula

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

There's a lovey-dovey photo for you.

That's the closest I'm going to get to acknowledging this wacky tradition of expressing our individualistic love by way of cliched, obligatory corporatism and collective bad taste. [In other words, Happy Valentine's Day.]

Hey guys! So I finally went on my first overnight trip, as a way of dipping my toes a bit further into what the "real" trip is actually going to be like.

Day 1
San Jose, CA

As usual, Chaos/Serendipity/The Universe/The Force/what-have-you did a better job planning out my adventures than I ever could have.

Originally I was going to do a big loop up starting in the South Bay, up through the city, over to Sacramento, down through the East Bay. Largely the appeal of this particular route was to visit some good friends. 

Then there was weather, which displaced my trip by two days...which was enough to foster schedule conflicts with all of the friends I intended to visit such that they'd be unable to hang out or in many cases even offer crash space. Mwop, mwop.

But I needed to get at least one practice trip in this month.

So, without much of a plan, Alex and I rode up to Pacifica to stay with Elena Zhukova, a conceptual advertising photographer who's been photographing me since I was a modeling greenhorn and she was an art student in San Francisco [i.e., for a while], and her husband Aleksey.

Barely six miles into the ride, Alex's old tire was shredded, and so I ferociously guarded our bikes while he ran off to get a new tire and tube—a delay that bit an hour or two into our day. There was one stretch so unrelentingly steep that I wound up walking my bike for about a tenth of a mile [cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater]

When we got to the Pacifica, we decompressed for a while, poking at bugs [we found a cluster of maggots outside] and battle droids before being treated to an awesome home-cooked dinner of fish and vegetables, and liberally supplied with beer, wine, and bourbon.

Conversation that evening was punctuated by the hum of the ocean and the crackling of the outdoor heater. I leaned on a pillow stuffed with $15,000 in shredded dollar bills. Eddy the dog leaned on me. It seemed like a first taste of what my trip might turn out to be like on its best days: long mornings of cycling through beautiful country, rewarded in the evenings good food and company and a delicious feeling of satisfaction that was a paradoxical hybrid of "having discovered somewhere new" and "having made it back home"

Day 2
Pacifica, CA

Originally we'd planned to move along the next morning, but it turns out that Aleksey is an avid cyclist, so he offered to take us on a ride the following day around Pacifica and Half Moon Bay!

In one stunning loop, I rode behind Alex and Alex [there are so many Alexes] as we climbed through steep eucalyptus forests, down along Devil's Slide [stopping to explore old military bunkers en route], past surfers on the beach, past helicopters taking off and landing on an airstrip in fields of wildflowers, past the smells of fish and chips and waffles and seaweed, past upscale marinas, through a surreal mountain tunnel, and I had a harrowing first off-road excursion along the edges of sea cliffs. At first I was going kind of picture-crazy, but eventually had to give up on taking photos in favor of just enjoying the view and the present moment [the best moments in life are typically ones when no one has the time or inclination to take photos, anyway].

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 5.32.27 PM.png

That night, we modeled for Elena, resulting in the topmost and bottommost photos in this blog entry. 

...and enjoyed a warm February night and a couple bottles of cold IPA out in the yard.

Day 3
Pacifica, CA

The trek back down to the South Bay, to tend to my neglected inbox and finish planning my much larger trip that's looming ever closer [eep!], was quite educational. 

We'd decided to do a winding, hilly detour along trails in the mountains, which lent themselves both to giving me more practice off paved roads and to stunning panoramic views that I largely didn't bother photographing [was too busy looking]. 

It was in the mountains that I wound up on the phone with an old friend from high school who, it turned out, had scored $10 tickets to the opera Carmen in a small house in San Francisco, and would be heading there from Redwood City [which was more-or-less where we were headed that day]. 

So we bombed down bumpy switchbacks, past equestrians, stopped to grab some fish and chips, coasted along the 92, no problem...and then rush hour hit.

And we were on a steep two-lane highway, with no shoulder, with sheer drop-offs, with blind turns, and we'd gone too far to easily turn back. Hills are one thing, rattlesnakes are one thing, weather is one thing...but cars. Drivers. Those freak me the fuck out. Because, no matter how defensively I ride, no matter how many bright yellow or blinky or reflective things I stick onto myself or my bike, I have no ultimate say in whether the drivers coming up on me are paying attention, or of sound mind, or sober, or whatever. Aggressive, reactive, impatient drivers are all too common. So are absent-minded, text-messaging, daydreaming drivers. And drunk drivers, or sleepy drivers. And drivers zipping around tight corners at 90 MPH. You get the picture. Besides avoiding situations where I'm likely to be hit in the first place, there's really only so much I can do once I'm on the road.

Existentially jarred after almost getting booty-bumped by two semi-trucks in a row, Alex and I pulled off and sat in a patch of grass next to a kitschy old sign that said Santa's Tree Farm, the only distinguishable landmark in sight, debating whether we ought to chug on through and hope for the best, or wait for traffic to die down or, I don't know, hitchhike. After our heart rates settled down we decided to mosey on through, walking our bikes through a few particularly bad stretches.

Lesson learned: be more attentive to traffic patterns and look at my entire route before proceeding, particularly if it's going to be on a highway [before setting off, we'd scanned Google Earth very briefly, seen that a chunk of the 92 had a nice shoulder and four lanes, and called it good]. Hurp dap.

By the time we got to Redwood City, we were a bit exhausted for the opera [even at $10 a pop, it's not all that worthwhile going to a show if you sleep through the whole thing]. Fortunately our buddy Carlos was in town, and facilitated our recalibration to life with Mexican food, card games, and a gift of rum he'd infused with vanilla beans, before we headed off to visit my parents in order to spend the weekend going on bike rides with my dad [whom I'm just now beginning to keep up with].

Final tally for this trip?

104 miles ridden
6,167 feet climbed

Not too shabby for someone who got her ass kicked by a few-hundred-feet climb on a twelve-mile loop just over a month ago!

My improvements have been noticeable on a day-to-day basis, and as time goes on it becomes easier [more exciting, less daunting] for me to motivate myself to push that little bit harder. Thankfully, the beginning of my trip won't involve so much climbing [since my whole route through Florida and Georgia will be pretty much flat].

Two weeks left until my flight, and I've still got so much to figure out!

Tomorrow? Morning yoga, going on a ride [of course] with my dad [he's promised to subject me to some more hills], catching up on emails [I know, I know, I'm really behind—forgive me], studying maintenance/repair/my pack list/my route yet again while not panicking.

Fortunately, I've also got a voucher for one of those wildly underrated $10 cheap foot massage places [and, as a trained massage therapist myself, while I think there's no substitute for deep, specialized, specific body work done by a qualified and intuitive therapist...these cheap line-the-clients-up-in-rows-like-we're-in-an-airplane places can be a whole different kind of awesome to non-snobs, and really are underrated].

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

video Block
Double-click here to add a video by URL or embed code. Learn more
video Block
Double-click here to add a video by URL or embed code. Learn more

Bridging Between Two Worlds

Photo: Annie Montgomery

Photo: Annie Montgomery

Both long-distance cycling and freelance modeling are, by now, pretty well-established ventures.

However, I'm pretty sure no one's been foolhardy enough to try to combine the two in one trip until now. I typically assume I'm not the first to have done anything...but I think it's safe to say I'm probably the first to plan a trip quite like this.

While I have a propensity to dive right into things, I've put a lot of thought into this. I'm not completely naive: touring as a model and touring as a cyclist are, by default, pretty incompatible things. Each demands certain things that the other naturally complicates.

So, here are some problems, and the solutions I've slapped together [I'm sure I will discover more problems and come up with more solutions along the way].

Problem #1: Tan lines. Tan lines. TAN LINES. Cannot be showing up to shoots with gnarly tan lines.

This is one I've mulled over for quite a while, and I believe I've finally gotten it handled:

  • White pantyhose! I read about a pro cyclist who does this because he's prone to burning, and supposedly the white layer even kept him cooler during his rides. For my arms: white children's pantyhose with the feet cut off.
  • Obviously, sunscreen on all exposed areas. No-brainer.
  • Tan-through t-shirts [I didn't even know this was a thing until recently].
  • Scheduled, periodic jaunts along nude beaches [or in the private backyards of whichever of my hosts won't mind], particularly when first arriving in a new city where I've booked work. [I tan quickly and never burn, so in the past I've been able to eliminate tan lines in a day or so this way before my modeling trips.]
  • If needed/For touch-ups: slightly tinted/bronzing/shimmer lotions [i.e., not fake tan] that will help refract light and make lines disappear without making me look orange [this will also help minimize any other marks or blemishes].
  • Worst-case scenario: I want to avoid tanning booths [I have never visited one in my life], but in a pinch, it'd be better than disappointing a client. 

Problem #2: Modeling demands a certain amount of prerequisite girly-gear [makeup and wardrobe]; cycling demands that I pack light, and bring practical items.

Fortunately, I almost always model nude [and, when I am modeling with clothes on, it's often been provided for the shoot], I almost always have good skin and tend to pose completely bare-faced [except for shoots with an MUA]. However, for those occasional shoots where I am asked to do my own makeup or supply some clothing items, it's a mark of basic professionalism that I be able to deliver on these modest fronts.

Makeup: 

  • Nixed the bulky packaging on items like bronzer/highlighter/shadows in favor of a couple little replacement units that are meant to be part of a palette once you've used up that color. They have no packaging except for a disposable plastic cover.
  • Sample size items [like lipstick and eyeliner]: Not only are these either free or very cheap, but they're tiny and can easily be replaced if I use them up [though that's unlikely; I go through makeup very slowly since I don't wear it during my daily life, nor at most of my shoots].
  • One worthy splurge: got a Lorac Pro Palette! Super versatile [enough colors for any basic eye look], and the case is almost paper-thin! High quality makeup, and a good value compared to competing products by other brands.

Wardrobe: 

  • I can't reasonably pack heels or boots, but I'll be bringing some lingerie/underwear sets/swimwear. Smooshes down into nothing, and weighs nothing. If I have room, there are a couple of fun items I have in mind that I'd like to pack, too [diaphonous and ornate dresses/skirts, a crazy bodysuit...]. We'll see!
  • I've made sure that most of the clothes I'll be cycling in are photogenic enough to serve as casual wardrobe, too [basic T-shirts/tanks, sports bra, etc.], rather than bringing cycling-specific clothing that I can't model in.

Problem #3: Modeling requires regular Internet access and lots of online busy-work drudgery; cycling through remote areas sometimes precludes getting Internet.

  • Well, this year I finally caved in and got a smartphone with a data plan [chose Verizon for optimal coverage in remote areas]. 
  • I also got one of those charge-storage devices, which I may or may not switch for a generator that charges my phone while I pedal.
  • I started promotion and booking very early for a change, to get a head start. Obviously I'll still be booking while I'm on my trip, since many clients can't commit months in advance—but I've gotten the time-consuming phases of cold calls and checking for genuine interest, compatibility [compensation and content], good model references, and other eliminative busy-work out of the way. So, once I'm on the road, I will only have to manage a small number of genuinely interested possible clients, and can focus directly on scheduling with them [rather than broad-beam promotion], so if I go a couple days at a time without access to my email I won't fall far behind.

Problem #4: Showing up exhausted to shoots. Or missing a shoot due to unforeseen emergencies [bad weather, technical difficulties beyond the scope of what I'm equipped to prepare...though I've been pretty neurotic about making a well-stocked tool kit, it could still happen]. I've been asked about this a lot. Cycling aside, I'm a professional. I need to show up fresh to my shoots, of course, and be able to make a 100% commitment that I will be there.

  • The overall answer is simple: I'm creating a clear buffer between my riding days and my shooting days, as well as between one shoot and the next, to account for tiredness and even unforeseen delays. 
  • For starters, I'm not booking nearly as prolifically as on other modeling tours. In several cases, I'm only reserving space for one photo shoot in a given city, since the logistics of getting to every shoot will be complicated. Usually I'm happy to do lots of 2-hour shoots, and to do traditional media sittings for artists, but this time around I have to be very selective about what jobs I can reasonably accept, since I am relying on far fewer jobs to carry me financially, and each one really needs to count. One hard thing has been turning down many jobs that I would otherwise love to accept, simply because they would thin my schedule out too much. I could risk booking more work, but I need ample cushioning between my jobs to make up for lost time in the event that something delays me—I couldn't have gotten this far as a model, nor convinced people I was capable of pulling this trip off, if not for the trust I've established and consequent reputation I've built...one of my challenges on this trip will be making sure that I protect and honor that reputation. Fortunately, I have a lot of amazing clients who have offered to host/feed me in addition to hiring me, or who want to hire me for two half days or a full day—or even two full days!—which helps offset the fact that my availability is 5-10% what it would be if I were driving or flying. And I've also been surprised by the number of photographers who are also cycling enthusiasts and who've given me invaluable advice! Thanks to each of you who have been flexible, resourceful, supportive, and generous through the planning stages; I wouldn't be able to do this trip without you!
  • I've considered the mileage and other factors [elevation gains, potential for wind, the fact that I'm not super fast and will be carrying a lot of weight] of my entire route. Every day, every mile of it. Multiple times. And I've set myself conservative goals of when I expect myself to be in each next city destination—conservative enough that I'll still be able to make them without a problem if I were held back by a day, or even a couple days [i.e., a projected mileage of no more than forty miles in a given day, although I could, and almost certainly will, technically ride quite a bit farther through most conditions]. 
  • Also, I am only shooting during overall rest periods/rest days. If we have a shoot booked, it means that I'm getting to your area at least the night before we're meant to shoot, with ample time to stretch, get cleaned up, and get a good night's sleep. During my shoot days, I will be reliant on public transit and carpooling, and will not be arriving to shoots on my bike [except in specific cases where photographers have asked me to ride/bring my bike because they want to incorporate it in the shoot—which is awesome, by the way]. I may be a bit bonkers for doing this trip, but I still value professionalism and integrity and have planned meticulously so that I show up to every job as a camera-ready model rather than a sweaty, depleted gremlin! 

So, those are some of the main conflicts I think I've resolved. We'll see what other challenges crop up that are unique to the wonky circumstances of my trip.

Update: Had to push my trip back a bit due to fantastically unusual [for this area] weather...the South Bay Area tends to be a benign and virtually weather less place, but we've had such "torrential" rains that there's been flooding on the roads and trails and lots of road work. I was on the fence for a bit, since wind and rain will be inevitabilities on my actual trip, and I've been cooped up doing indoor exercise for the last several days. However, tomorrow's meant to be sunny and, fingers crossed, I should be good to ride the 60-ish miles from here to my friend's house on the peninsula! 8]

On Being Tricked into Buying Too Much Specialized Crap

Photo: vkphotography

Photo: vkphotography

In any recreational or extreme sport I've done, I’ve found that the best product is not always the “specialized” product marketed towards your purposes, though it is very often the most expensive, and are largely arbitrary or aesthetics-driven [part of the “uniform” of a yogini, a climber, a skier vs. snowboarder, a cyclist…]. Once upon a time, there was no REI. People climbed in wooden clogs and protected themselves with lengths of rope. People bundled up however they could and threw their stuff into knapsacks; there were no space-age high-performance fabrics, no ergonomics specialists. 

Come to think of it, I see this all the time with photography, too, where some poor shmuck will feel like being a photographer means he has to buy $9,000 lenses that he has no idea how to use, or that he has to use six different soft boxes to light a model for one studio shoot. Contrarily, many of my favorite photographers use the most rudimentary, jerry-rigged, low-fi gear of all. It's all about the driver, not the car! 

Of course, when it comes to the sports I have experience with, my approach is also "adapt" rather than "prepare".

Like backpacking. I almost never bring a tent when I'm backpacking. I rely more on a map and compass than I do on having enough food. On my last solo backpacking trip, three weeks in Yosemite, I tested out my pair of Vibram five fingers because they were marketed for hiking—when they inflamed my tendons, I just hiked barefoot, no biggie.

[In that vein, after much deliberation I've decided to go with my sleeping bag, a tarp, and a mosquito net. It's not enough to make things exceedingly comfortable...but it's enough that I'll be self-reliant if I can't find a host or one falls through, and won't weigh nearly as much as a tent.]

But I have a lot of experience backpacking; it isn't daunting anymore. I lived in the backcountry non-stop for half a year when I was nineteen. Backpacking and hiking were my only modes of travel, leaving plenty of room for trial and error, and exploring my limitations. I've hiked fifteen miles on an empty stomach with a full pack at 10,000 feet above sea level. I've taken off-trail shortcuts. I can afford to take some risks and cut some corners because I can calculate what the risks are.

And even if you're not quite as much of a nut job as I am, if we're talking backpacking, skiing, or rock climbing, I could also easily tell you what "must-haves" really, really are not must-haves, suggest cheaper/lighter/better substitutes for specialty gear, and tell you which items you can get away with buying used or low-end. My partner's dad just scored a pair of $800 Rossignol skis from two years ago, including bindings, for $5 at a Savers. They look like they may have been used once; one wax and they were good to go. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Cycling, on the other hand? I'm clueless. I haven't had those years or even months of rigorous beta testing. What climbers call a gumby, what skiers and boarders call a gaper, what skaters call a poser, what photographers call a GWC. When I first decided I would go on this trip, all I knew how to do was get on my bike, pedal, brake. I am in a self-guided accelerated-learning course, not only in terms of physical conditioning, but also studying [ergonomics, necessary gear, bike components, DIY repairs...].

So, I've been researching. But the demographic of experts doesn't really see me as part of their audience. Cycling, in particular, is a hobby that seems to attract people with lots of money and very little free time, but a predictable lifestyle that allows them to make long-term commitments.

The Complete Guide to Long-Distance Cycling, the book I'm currently reading, is a great example. I've learned a lot from this book, but it's also done a good job of using a doomsday, worst-case-scenario approach in order to convince me that I need to buy a million things [like several pairs of padded shorts, and leg warmers, and a million toiletries, and so on] in order to avoid an untimely end [or at least the ER]...and that I cannot possibly train effectively without a cycle computer, heart monitor, and stationary bike. If I were a middle-aged professional with a predictable annual schedule, consistent cash flow, and superfluous paranoia, I might take a lot more of that advice.

But that's not me. I'm a crazy quasi-hippie who burns bright and fast, but not always steady. Frugality is compulsory for me. And my life runs in fast, dense chunks, rather than a steady flow: I can more easily devote every waking moment of one month to intense learning and training than I can devote two days a week for several months. 

So, I've sought out experienced cyclists at various bike shops, sporting good stores, and REI, and barraged them with questions, hoping to find some who share my adaptation-oriented, minimalist sentiments. 

My favorite so far has been an older guy who told me he tours in cargo pants and old tshirts and doesn't bother with special rain gear or gizmos, and doesn't like to wander around towns "looking like a cyclist". A man after my own heart. 

I've been buying equipment in little batches as I've learned more about what I might need [or really, really want and have a good use for].

A few cool items and tips I've picked up:

  • Proud of this one: For cycling shoes, I'm using a pair of Scarpa rock climbing approach shoes on clearance [got a kudos from some cyclist employees at REI for that one]. Cheaper, and better, than those "casual/street" cycling shoes recommended for tours [since I want something that'll double as a street shoe]. These are low profile [to fit in cages], laces go all the way to the toes [for easy loosening if/when my feet swell after a long day of riding], the soles are stiffer than "street" cycling shoes but more walkable than super aggressive racing shoes. I re-laced them so that the bows are on the outsides of the shoe and less likely to get tangled up while I'm pedaling, even if they come untied. Plus, they'll be useful when I next go hiking or climbing. Score!
  • Discovered that several items are cheaper at REI and sporting goods stores if you get them in a color that's being discontinued. I was going to pass on a sporty rain jacket/windbreaker and find another way to deal with the weather...till I learned that it'd be $35 less if I was just willing to get one in light purple.
  • I've been offered sponsorship of a GPS/safety watch, so we'll see if that pans out! Will obviously be posting more about it, if so. 8]
  • Skipped a lot of the bucket list things: the jerseys, the hydration pack, the solar charger, the route maps [which would be great...except they're $15 a pop and I'd need to buy about seven]. However, I did cave in and get one pair of padded bike shorts [considering the mileage of this trip, I think that is a totally reasonable luxury] and one of those little charge-storing doohickeys [which I might exchange for a generator that charges my electronics while I'm cycling...supposedly there's now one that's safe to use for a phone].

I've also got some very specific items with me in order to smoothly bridge the worlds of cycling and modeling [i.e., avoiding tan lines and blemishes, and having basic makeup/wardrobe without substantial bulk and weight], and feel I've managed to be pretty clever about some of my solutions—but I'll save that for another post.

Update: Tomorrow is my biggest test yet, where I show myself just what I'm cut out for [I hope]. I'll be starting my first multi-day trip: about three hundred and fifty cycled miles in six days, largely moderate terrain but with a couple intimidating climbs.

My training over the last few weeks has seen me improving enormously, but I'm still pretty nervous. I'll have Alex with me, and will be carrying minimal gear, since this is going to be my first accurate taste of what touring is going to be like. Wish me luck! Will post photos and so on afterwards, of course. 8]

Bucket List 2015

Photo: Lee Nutter

Photo: Lee Nutter

Not that I've really got any idea, but I think one aid towards both happiness and fulfillment is to never plateau—to never live off your past in a way that excuses you from investing in the present.

2014 was full of firsts. I visited Southeast Asia for the first time, had an idyllic first modeling tour in Australia [and made it to all but two of the states and internal territories], spent six months getting splinters and busting my balls to make a seven-story-playhouse-sculpture and learning a lot of new skills [and a few rough life lessons] along the way, got work remodeling houses on the side, and other things.

The year before that, I published my first writing pieces, worked as a masseuse at an upscale spa, learned to fabricate gigantic fire cannons, and climbed into a sixty-five foot bamboo tower in nothing but a hard hat and climbing harness in order to adjust heavy fuel lines, did farm work for the first time, etc.

In times of inertia or fatigue or self-doubt, it's easy for me to feel discouraged, even envious, of my past self. Like I can't live up to my former energy or willingness to take risks. Like I'd rather just watch documentaries.

Which is it's in my best interest to suck it up and keep chugging onward and upward—so that, a month, a year, five years from now, I'll have to outdo myself again. 

So! Goals for this 2015:

1. Successfully complete my East Coast Model/Bike Tour [at the very least, “successfully” means I’ll see the trip to its end, and that my body, mind, and modeling reputation will all still be intact when I do—though, of course, I’m hoping for much more]

2. Expand my modeling network:

  • Not counting my East Coast trip, tour at least three US cities I’ve never been to before.
  • Meet more badass traveling models. 
  • Be open to planning a future tour with another model—something I’ve always been simultaneously attracted and averse to. [Can’t force it, but I want to be receptive to it.]

3. Improve my French throughout the year through daily practice [I've been good about this one so far]; move to northern France for the summer for a manor renovation project.

4. Debut modeling tour in Europe!

As for the winter and beyond…I’m not planning that far yet, but I’ve got several pipe dreams lined up that could all settle into the end of my year nicely if no other unforeseen opportunities arise:

Could do a Southern Tier road trip and model in the warmer states. Could go to Australia and New Zealand. Could teach another ski season. Could work a season in Antarctica. Could do my yoga teacher training. Could hide in South America or Southeast Asia. Could do a writing residency. Could join a yacht crew. Could very easily be enticed by something different from all of the above. Far too soon to know. 

To wax universal, if I may:

You are not your past accomplishments: prior successes do not validate your laziness, complacency, or self-coddling today. You are not your past failures: do not continually punish yourself for having tried and failed, nor even for having done wrong, provided that you did what you could to set things right and have put the lessons of your mistake into practice.

UPDATE: Continuing to go on longer rides on harder terrain and cross-train around the Bay. Soon going on my first multi-day ride; stay tuned. 8]

I'm starting to get it.

Visual proof, for you non-believers! As for my tour, picture this, but with a lot more luggage piled/strapped/jerryrigged on. And probably a lot more blood, sweat, and tears.

Visual proof, for you non-believers! As for my tour, picture this, but with a lot more luggage piled/strapped/jerryrigged on. And probably a lot more blood, sweat, and tears.

The appeal of cycling, I mean.

There's the obvious stuff that doesn't take being on a bike for long to work out: great exercise, not spending money on gas, reduced carbon footprint. Blah, blah, yes. That's not what I mean.

I mean the real appeal. What makes people go kind of crazy for it, and spend lots of money for it. Granted, I know there are a lot of different reasons people are drawn to the sport and my experience is not a universal one—but I've been discovering my reasons. And that the real magic of it is far more subtle.

Since it's subtle, I'll try to illustrate what I mean, rather than tell you outright.

I tried riding to the climbing gym/yoga studio instead of driving for the first time about a week ago [I've now ridden there several times since].

In that one ride, I passed homeless shanty towns in jungles of concrete underbrush and chain link overgrowth, nestled just out of view of roads and train tracks.

I saw some true feats of resourcefulness. There were sophisticated little villas made of tarps and reclaimed mattresses, with a makeshift shower system, common hangout areas, little sculpture gardens made of found junk. One residence had a decadent entrance constructed of felled trees and planks of wood that made an imposing stair set and tunnel. I saw structures that the average white collar employee, if he hit hard enough luck, would never dream up, let alone realize. As I zipped under a bridge, a group of traveling dirtbags with bikes [what I'll be soon, in other words] whooped supportively and yelled, "Get it, girl!"

I rode along a river [rampant with signs of a recent flood], through a park, passing one guy who was swaying to the sheet music he was reading, another guy baffled by his mountain of camping and cycling gear strewn over a picnic table, and an obese squirrel wrestling with an entire loaf of bread. I rode through an international airport, and behind a decadent hotel.

Then I turned on a random road because a sign was posted in front of it with my first name and an arrow, and I'm a pretty avid follower of arbitrary circumstances and coincidences [i.e., when in doubt, flip a coin]. That road led me to a bike shop, where I had some very helpful conversations, and to a good cheap dinner spot.

I got to the gym, having logged about seventeen relatively flat miles, warmed up and ready to keep moving.

 

The alternative, in a car, is about twenty-minutes on congested suburban main roads.

[PS: I've logged 135 cycling miles, six hours of yoga, seven hours of climbing, and a wee bit of jogging in the last four days! And somehow managed to keep mostly on top of my emails, promotion, and errands. Mostly. I'm doing stuff, I swear!]

Recent ride around a lake, which was teeming with turtles and birds, but conspicuously devoid of bipeds.

Recent ride around a lake, which was teeming with turtles and birds, but conspicuously devoid of bipeds.

Crunch Time!

It’s begun. From now until the end of February, I can spend virtually all my time preparing for my trip. 

This sudden freedom-to-be-single-minded isn’t random; I’ve spent a year trying to get to this point. I’ve saved up and hustled skrilla over the last year to allow myself this cushion of time, and finagled the perfect situation: I’m house-sitting, so I get a comfortable private space with no rent, in a place with mild weather. There’s no WiFi, which has a silver lining in that it forces me to get out of the house to get online and makes me less likely to waste the time that I do spend online. Plus, I’m relatively close to two REI stores; several great grocery stores; and Planet Granite, my favorite climbing gym in the country, where I’ve just bought a one-month membership. All are within a seventeen-mile bike ride.

So, I’ve been getting emails pestering me for updates on what I’m doing, or interrogating me about my training methods, previous experience, packing list, etc. 

And I’m stoked on the interest [really, I am, that’s not just me being PC—the positive reception I’ve received so far was honestly pretty unexpected and has got me feeling ecstatic] but I honestly do not have time to answer all these emails [my time on the Internet’s already being spent studying the terrain and conditions of my route down to the mile, scheduling bookings, investigating camping and making arrangements with hosts, and learning about bikes from the ground up]. 

Here’s the full disclosure; hopefully it’ll satisfy everyone’s questions. 

Training

Last week and this week:

  • 2+ long rides per week [increasing what “long” means each time; yesterday I did a thirty-mile ride, so my next ride will be thirty-five or forty]
  • 2+ shorter rides per week done to my maximum capacity [anaerobic], ideally with a steep, sustained climb
  • 2 rest days [meaning no long or hard bike rides], only bicycling for small, local commutes [i.e., errands like grocery runs or going to cafes to catch up on emails, or doing small loops around local trails and roads]
  • Cross-train daily, but particularly on rest days. For cross-training, I’ve been climbing and doing yoga at PG, and doing NeilaRey.com workouts at home [a fantastic site, with something for everybody: some of the workouts are far too easy for me, but others completely demolish me].
  • Incorporate weight loads in some of my rides, incrementally increasing the weight. 

Yesterday’s thirty-mile ride was my first with weight, and while I only packed ten pounds, it showed me just how crucial minimalist packing is going to be on this trip. If you ask me, riding with a loaded bike is worse than hiking with a heavy pack, and I know plenty about that: at the end of my season working for the Parks, I had to hike out our last twenty-five miles with seventy pounds on my back…and on top of that, had to drag a friend’s eighty-pound pack for the last couple miles when half our crew came down with some crazy flu. Now when I go backpacking, I’m obscenely minimal, so much so that I’d never suggest to anyone that they ought to pack as little as I do.

Some people have asked me about what computers or heart rate monitors or what have you I'm using; the answer is "none".

I've been using the free versions of Strava and Ride with GPS apps to plan/track my rides, that's all.

Research

  • As of now, I’ve read most of The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling, and have been obsessively Googling articles and watching Youtube videos to answer my questions [and, before that, to figure out what the questions were that I should be asking, because I had no clue].
  • I’ve been scouring sites like Adventure Cycling Association and East Coast Greenway and repeatedly, neurotically plugging my route into Google maps, one chunk at a time, to check miles and terrain and make modifications. Over and over. Revising and revising. I’m finally at a point where I’ve got the skeleton for my complete tour; there’s some wiggle-room and I’ll be making some changes, but I basically have my dates outlined, and it’s looking like the tour will take exactly [or close to exactly] four months from Key West, FL to Bar Harbor, ME.

Diet

Pretty simple. High protein. Aiming for about 125g a day [since I weigh between 120-125 lbs].

Otherwise, healthy/varied in general, low junk. [Though I’m a sucker for free food, and cave whenever the opportunity arises.]

Other

Since a few people have wanted to nerd out about gear, I’ll jabber on about that in a separate post.

Upcoming Agenda

  • Planning a couple multi-day bike trips in February. As of now, I'm dreaming up one up the coast, and one down the coast; hopefully I'll have time to do a few more before I leave California
  • Continuing cross-training 
  • Continuing bookings. I don't expect to have everything finalized by the time I head out on my trip, but I want to at least be past the filtering/reference-checking/cold-calling/figuring-out-who's-actually-serious phase. [Psst: Got a serious interest in hiring me? Contact me ASAP! We don't have to schedule or confirm anything right away, but I need to get you on my list.]
  • Looking into hosts and camping
  • Buying the rest of the shit I need [I've got a little stack of REI vouchers for February, ka-ching!]