Hi there everyone!! I hope you’re all well. I just wanted to tell you all this: Since my bike trip is being paused right now while I raise more money to continue I have started a different blog for my ramblings OFF the tour. This way I’m not filling up your inbox with blog posts that have nothing to do with biking for those of you have followed me based on my bike tour. I’m adding the link to the latest post and I would love to have any and all of you come and follow THAT blog if you’re interesting in hearing what I have to say. Hope to see you on that side!!
To be a spiritual warrior,
one must have a broken heart;
without a broken heart
and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability
that is in one’s self and all others,
your warriorship is untrustworthy.~ Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala.
I just recently came across this quote and found it so beautiful I have hung on to it. I wonder when I read it, however, if having a broken heart automatically makes you a spiritual warrior, or if there’s more to it. I say this because while I know my soul has grown strong and healed a lot in the past two years, but at times it shakes like it would like to hide under the bed. I try to hide this by hardening myself to emotion a lot of times. I avoid anything that will make me feel something, be it books, movies, or songs. Alternatively, things that shouldn’t make me cry will leave me sobbing brokenheartedly. My mom tells me I have a gentle heart and that’s why I’m affected by things like this. I don’t like showing my emotion over certain subjects but I also used to cry at the drop of hat when my heart was hurting. I used to be embarrassed by that, as if there’s something wrong with crying. I know that there isn’t and that’s just who I am, but I’ll be honest that it doesn’t mean I don’t still keep my distance from emotional subjects. So have I become a warrior?
Two years ago today I said goodbye to one of the most important people in my life. In the end of August 2012 my Grandma passed out at my Aunt Cathy’s house. Upon further testing it was discovered that she had a tumor on her brain. A surgery was scheduled to remove what they could of the mass. The day or so before the surgery I Skype-chatted with her, in case things didn’t go well in surgery. Up to this point I didn’t REALLY realize the seriousness of the situation. After surgery my mom called me right away to let me know that Grandma has pulled through it and they had gotten almost all of the tumor. The doctors told her that she had at least 6 months to live. Six months seems like it could have been forever but for me it might as well have been the next day. To this day I honestly don’t know why I didn’t call her every single day after that to talk all day long.
I got the phone call on Friday September 26, 2012 that Grandma had stopped eating and communicating and basically if I wanted to see her before the end I had like 12 – 24 hours to get to Illinois. I of course booked the first flight I could get and afford to take. The next morning my boss drove me to the airport (so thankful) and I landed two hours later in Illinois. My Aunt Kim picked me up and we headed to the nursing home where Grandma was being cared for. As we walked hand in hand towards the building she warned me that Grandma looked a little different. All I could notice was that all the trees in Illinois had changed colors already and in New York we were still green. We walked down the hallway and into my Grandma’s room. I actually wasn’t sure what to expect and remember feeling shy and slightly terrified (not of her, but of the reality of what was happening). Kim told me that Grandma’s skin gets dry so I could rub lotion in for her, and then she went for a coffee, leaving us alone. I couldn’t even bring myself to look at her face, I was so in shock. I took her hand and started rubbing lotion into them. They were so soft, just like I always remembered and immediately I started to cry silently.
After a minute of just watching me, Grandma said ”No, no, no, don’t cry. You’ll make me cry and I don’t want to be sad about this.” I said “But, I LOVE you, I love you!” Couldn’t she understand? I had to cry, she was leaving me and I was never ever going to see her again. I don’t believe in heaven so when she was gone we would never talk again. She was quiet for another few minutes as tears poured down my face. She finally stopped me rubbing lotion in, and squeezed my hand. ”I want you to be happy, Maria. Just be happy in your life.” Happy? How could she think I would ever be happy again?
I was exhausted after a night of no sleep so when Grandma said she might nap I crawled into her hospital bed with her with a blanket under my head for a pillow, cuddled up to her and cried and cried. She reached over and patted my arm in a way that was so familiar it hurt my heart. I fell asleep, eventually and woke up a little while later. Grandma had decided she was going to eat some food and the nurse was going to clean her up a little. Kim and I went to the nearby nail salon to buy some pink polish so I could paint Grandma’s nails, something we had always shared. When we came back she had a ton of food in front of her and was eating it all. I got to work filing and painting her nails, and then my nails so we would match. While I was painting her nails she kept saying things like how beautiful she would look in her casket, to my horror (I was still trying to deny that this lively, chatty woman was dying). She told me about her guardian angel, a large black woman with orange and purple colors. Today, I have a changed view of guardian angels and thinking back to this I am so thankful to her angel for letting us have that whole day together, making a few last memories.
My sister arrived shortly after this and I gave her some time to spend with Grandma. After this my mom arrived and we went to the cafe to sit and have lunch. The other big news of the day was that our cousin, Matt, was proposing to his girlfriend, (now wife!) Valerie that night, so we were all waiting to hear about that. He had a big romantic thing planned in front of the big fountains in Chicago and it was supposed to be perfectly beautiful.
Back in the room Grandma seemed to be living it up, eating Chinese food, bratwurst, beer, cheese and crackers, nuts, jello anything she wanted she could have and eat it she did. We (my sister, mom, aunts and cousin David and his girlfriend (now fiance!) Cheri,) all sat around with her giggling about stories from when she was younger. The subject changed from shaving, smoking pot and terrible cooking. The news arrived that Val had said yes, as we assumed she would, so we (the cousins) were planning to get together in Chicago (about an hour away) to celebrate with Matt, Val and their friends! Again, today, I wish I had stayed back and spent time with Grandma but my sister has repeatedly told me that she knows Grandma wanted us all to be together. It was the first time in twelve years that the four of us had all gotten together at the same time.
That night was a bit of drunken blur, memories coming in at interesting times: cheers to Grandma! Crying at the dogs in the humane society window watching us walk past, and getting sick in a gas station (I think) and being pissed that I didn’t redeem myself after that last time I drank with David and got too drunk haha. It was a beautiful night full of a lot of love, tears of joy and sadness and hugs all around mostly from me. My cousins like to joke that they have no doubt of how much I love them because after two beers I insist on hugging them and telling them I LOOVEEE YOU SOOO MUUUUCCHH over and over again. Hey, it could be worse.
The next morning we slept in a little, hungover, and then drove back to the nursing home. That day Grandma was not awake. She was in a lot of pain and not conscious. It was a day spent facing the inevitable and watching fall leaves blow outside her window. That night, sleeping on my Aunt Cathy’s couch I cried myself to sleep, knowing I had to go back to New York the next day and it would be literally the last time I ever saw my Grandma ever again.
Bright and early we headed to the nursing home. Again, she was not awake at all, she was getting a lot of morphine for pain and was breathing loudly and laboriously. At 11:30 the pastor arrived and we started chatting with her. During a pause in talking we noticed that the harsh breathing had gone silent. We all stared at Grandma waiting for the next breath. 5 second of silence and another breath. Silence. Silence. Silence. Another breath. She opened her eyes, her beautiful blue eyes, that always sparkled when she laughed, but there was nothing in them. It was very clear, like nothing in real life had ever been clear to me before, that her soul wasn’t in her body. We all started comforting her and everyone was telling her it was okay to go and be at peace. I had my face in her neck and was screaming inside my head for her to please not leave me, please please not yet. Was it selfish of me? Probably. But I can’t change how I felt. Finally the breathing just stopped, she was gone. 11:42 AM. I had spent all weekend crying silently, not wanting to upset her, but now that she was gone, she was really gone and I couldn’t stop the loud sobbing, I couldn’t even breath. I honestly thought I would choke from crying and not being able to breath. I didn’t want to let go of her hands and her neck, because she was still my warm Grandma. If I let go, the next time she would be cold. As my other cousins arrived we sat around Grandma’s body and told our favorite memories of her. i I eventually had to leave to go to the airport and return to New York. I was given a moment alone with her and while I was hugging her a nurse walked in to pick things up. I remember the fury I felt with her at being interrupted saying goodbye to my Grandmother. She couldn’t know, obviously, she was just doing her job, but I will never forget the level of anger at her I had. In retrospect, I know I was projecting my anger and pain on this nurse, who thankfully, realized what was happening and left.
My mom and sister drove me to the airport and I cried all the way through security, in the bathroom and onto the plain. Flying home there was a full moon outside my window the entire way. I landed and took the bus from the airport to Grand Central, where my friend Rachel met me and hugged me while I lost my shit in the middle of the sidewalk at 11pm. I have never been so grateful for a friend to just hold me and cry with me. I eventually took the train home and went to bed.
The following week I was a zombie. I would wake up crying, go through work motions, and then cry in the shower, not eating and cry myself to a dead sleep at night. I had no idea what to do with myself with the knowledge that I could no longer call my Grandma up and hear her voice. Everything was dull colored and depressing. No more visiting her in Florida, watching her flirt with her church friends, show off her new bathing suits, enjoy chocolates together and hold her hand.
That weekend was a three day weekend and I had to get away. I had to have a place where I could just sit and stare. So I went to Rachels. Friday night I arrived at Rachels around 8:30 or so and we went to sleep at 9. I woke up with a start around 2:30 am. Now, Rachel has a cat named Raskol, and he is….rather noisy. I knew I needed to get back to sleep before Raskol realized someone in the bedroom was awake and began his nightly antics. I clicked shuffle play on my ipod and put on my headphones and of course the song that came on was ”I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, a version which my grandparents would often sing to each other (Grandpa badly, Grandma adorably) in the car when we would visit when we were younger. I changed the song immediately and lay back down. I was suddenly overcome with the knowledge that if I didn’t sit up RIGHT THAT SECOND I was going to have a panic attack. I sat up and took off my headphones. My head was spinning, like when you’ve had too much to drink, despite having nothing to drink, and I couldn’t see a damn thing. Despite this odd blindness, I knew without a doubt, 100% that my Grandma and Grandpa were standing together at the end of Rachels bed, smiling. I couldn’t SEE them I tried and tried to rub the stars out of my eyes, but I couldn’t see anything, but I knew it was them and I could feel their love, I could feel their smiles. After a few minutes I laid back down and instantly fell back asleep.
The next morning when I woke up I felt like a new person. Or rather, the old me. I could smile, the colors were bright again and the sun was shining joyfully. To this day, I don’t know what happened that night, like exactly. But I do know that it was real and I know it because of the drastic emotional change in me the next morning. I woke up feeling so loved and happy that I don’t even want to try to make it logical. I still don’t know what I believe but I believe in Grandma and Grandpa at the foot of the bed. Since then many things have happened to continue my belief that I am being watched over by my Grandma daily in many situations, where bad things could have happened and should have, but didn’t.
This brings me to my initial topic: being a spiritual warrior. I know it was a long way to get here but continue to bear with me please.
I spent the following year asking myself what my Grandma had meant by ”be happy”. Wasn’t I happy? I loved my job so much, the kids I cared for were my heart and soul every day. I had made friends and had a steady paycheck. So what would she say that for? I was happy, right? As time went by I realized that I was not in fact Happy. I was happy but not with a capital H. I was satisfied, comfortable and content. But my soul wasn’t singing every day the way I think it was supposed to be. As I began wondering what I needed to be doing to bring myself that happiness the idea of the bike tour was presented to me. When I officially started making plans with Tom, the man I was supposed to tour with, the excitement I felt for the future, for the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted and rely on no one but my self, proved to me that I needed more from my life.
When I would try to explain this to people many didn’t understand how the idea of going ”for a bike ride” was going to help me grow up, or fulfill myself and I had to just let it go. Not everyone is made to understand. I set out looking for a SOMETHING with the label happy on it. If it was a place, a person, anything but I knew it was physical.
Looking back in reflection on the first leg of my bike tour I have come to a realization. I couldn’t be looking for SOMEthing to make me happy. I had to be looking for ME to make me happy. I needed to learn to stop relying on other people to make me feel worthy, to feel loved, to feel needed. When I started to need MYSELF every day to feel worthy, to feel able and needed, things began to change in me. No one but me was going to get me up this hill, no one but me was going to push me through this wind, no one but me was going to set up my tent, talk with hosts and strangers, and no one but me was going to hear the wind whistling by me as I blew down the hills I, ALONE, had worked so hard to climb. Through all of this my Grandmother showed herself, in the yellow butterfly that has followed me through from Texas all the way to San Francisco, in the orbs that will show up in moments on photos when it couldn’t be the sun glare, in moments of great emotion, like when I first saw the majestic Saguaro Cacti on the mountainsides heading into Phoenix. She is with me all the time, I talk to her all the time and I definitely pray for her help when I need her. I also told her she was ruining my makeup this morning as I cried while writing this blog. I know she has put me here at this place at this moment to further understand how I need to be strong on my own. Yes, I still have moments of breakdowns, when my heart longs to hear her and hug my family so badly that it hurts and I feel short of breath with wanting. But I also know that however long it takes me to heal from the grief, I can never thank her enough for giving me the push and confidence down the road to finding myself and my soul. I think I can say I am a spiritual warrior, because to admit my weakness has to be a strength needed to be mighty. And I am a small biker in the world but I am learning to be big and strong in my heart and soul, and that’s a step, isn’t it?
I heard this song during a movie this weekend and it really hit me powerfully. Here’s the link, I’m sure you’ll know why. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YLEaRPffEg
This little puppy was watching me go in. I bent over to try and pet him but she was SUPER skittish and back away but at the same time kept coming back like she really DID want to be petted. After 5 minutes I gave up and went inside. Half an hour later when I came out I had forgotten all about her. I put on my helmet and turned around to put on my backpack and she was standing RIGHT behind me wagging her tail so hard, clearly VERY pleased to see me. As SOON as I bent down she ran to me for petting. I sat on the ground and crawled into me lap and flipped over on her back for a belly rub! I sat with her for another 20 minutes because she was just so sweet and tremlby like ..I don’t know if she was so used to getting love. When I stood up I picked her up and she cuddle right in and tucked her head in the crook of my neck and I WAS SMITTEN. I moed us to the sunlight and we cuddled for another ten minutes before I had to HAD to leave. She kept jumping up and begging me not to leave and it was SO HARD, but she had a collar and a nice little layer of fat so I know she did have a home somewhere. I needed some hugs and cuddles though especially after being chased by 4 separate dogs today. ❤
So here’s my first photo dump from my camera!! Click on the words Photo Dump. If you’ve read through my blogs you might recognize some of the stuff I’ve talked about if not you can either ask me or at another time I’m going to go through and caption them all.
I suppose I should take up where I left off hmm? WELL.
The night I left the Sheehy’s I made a wish on a flying Chinese Fire Lantern like the ones in the movie Tangled. That was SUPER cool!!
Thursday I spent with my cousin Julie who had come to pick me up from the Sheehy’s. We spent the day running errands, going to the store, enjoying lunch and dinner together and trying out all the different flavors of Angry Orchard’s Hard Cider which is delicious by the way. I think my favorites are Cinnamon and Crisp Apple flavor.
Friday Julie had to go to work so I had the day to myself to explore the area she lived in. The nearest town is called Waxahachie and about 20 miles away. I decided to bike over there and explore for the day. All I needed to bring with me was my electronics bag with my solar charger, phone, ipod, blah blah blah. I have two bungees that hold that on there in a criss cross. So I’m biking along and everything is great when I encounter the first dogs I have met. Two big Chows running to the entrance of their property and there’s no fencing and they are NOT happy to see me. I managed to bike past as fast I could to their satisfaction where they didn’t feel the need to give chase but the relief I felt was short lived as I realized I would have to go past them again on my way home!! I decided to think about that later. So I continued on my way and at one point I took a wrong turn so I corrected myself and continued on. Just as I’m about to start getting onto the highway I realize that one of the bungee cords holding my bag on is missing! So I circle back retracing my steps and am basically just heading home (I’d been out for about an hour). As I’m going I pass a really beautiful field that I wanted to take a picture of my first time going by so this time I pulled over into the field and took a photo. I then continued on and five minutes later I realized that THE OTHER BUNGEE CORD WAS GONE AS WAS MY ELECTRONICS BAG. The one with my passport, key to my bike lock, keyboard, solar charger, phone and basically all my important things in it. SOOOOO I circle back on my circling back and as I’m passing the field I stopped to take a photo in I see my electronics bag in the field. At the same time I notice this out of the corner of my eye I see a movement from the road. I look back and see two enormous German Shepherds racing across their yards (UNFENCED, UNTIED I might add) towards me barking. I think to myself that at least I know where my bag is and bike away thinking they’ll lose interest but NOPE. They begin chasing me down the road. At this point I’m having a panic attack because I have no idea where I am and there is no one around me it’s all field. A van is coming down the road behind the dogs and attempts to slow them down so I can get away but they don’t realize that I’m panicking about my freakin’ bag! I’m sure they were thinking to themselves “what is this chick DOING we’re trying to help her and she’s just sitting there with her hand on her head” because that is literally what I was doing. Well so I bike off in hopes of stopping the first car I see and asking them if they know the owners of the property with the dogs but no one comes. So on I go until I come across a man working in his garage. I give him a run down of the situation and he offers to take me back home and scoop up my bag. So we load up my bike into his truck and are off. We stop for him to hop out, grab my bag and then continue on our way. That’s when I realized I don’t know what house is Julie’s! The houses are kind of similar around her so I don’t know her house number! I call Julie who gives me her house number and the man drops me off with my bike. I wave goodbye and go inside to read for the rest of the day, a very danger-FREE activity. Later that night it occurred to me that this would be an issue I might run into more often. Julie brings it up to her husband, Jim who gives me a couple of mace like bottle of spray called Halt! It is specifically for aggressive dogs and sprays up to ten feet. This makes me feel better and I put one in my basket and one in my bags. We closed the night out by watching a movie that of course I can’t remember the name of now but it was about a man who does the Camino del San Gabriel I believe is the route name. It’s a two month journey from France to somewhere I think in Italy. (Really, I’m terrible with details) Anyways it’s with Martin Sheen and was just fantastic and I highly highly HIGHLY recommend it.
Saturday Julie and I explored Fort Worth and kind of historical areas of town along with a beautiful water garden. I wish I had a way to upload the photos I took with my real camera not on my phone but when I have access to a computer I will I promise! That night we went to the movie Winter’s Tale which I loved. It was right up my alley with it’s magical fantasy-like story. We went to Walmart afterwards where I got heavy duty tent stakes because the ones I have that CAME with my tent were just not doing the trick. That night I packed up everything and went through a few things that I could afford to lose from my bag. I mapped out my trip for the following day which apparently would end with me still being in Forth Worth and not in the greatest of neighborhoods according to Julie so we planned. The New Plan was that she would drop me off the next day in Cleburn, TX where I would then bike 30 miles to Granbury, TX where I had a host family I could stay with.
As planned Julie and I departed for Cleburn and of course as soon as I headed off I had to pee. I had nothing but open country road ahead of me and no signs of life. The first house I stopped at there was no sign of a dog so I went up and knocked hoping to beg for the use of their bathroom. As I’m knocking who comes around the corner of the house but a a big collie dog. I think my heart stopped functioning for a second as I grabbed my Halt. I opened with ”hi doggy!” (more like hi doggy? as I was basically asking if the dog was nice) because I really don’t WANT to spray a dog with Mace unless he’s hell-bent set on ripping my throat out. The dog wagged his tale and limped to me. That’s when i noticed that he was a very old guy. We became friends and he followed me as I walked to the other side of the house knocking. No one was home so I bid my new little friend goodbye and biked away. Finally after about 5 miles I couldn’t wait any longer. I couldn’t just go on the side of the road either because pretty much all of Texas property is fenced in and even though I was on a pretty much abandoned stretch of road I didn’t want to risk having a truck pass me while my pants are down.
I very VERY cautiously approached a house and knocked. When an old man answered I explained my situation and he let me in to use the bathroom. Off I went feeling much better.
So, concerning dogs. In the days before the problem arose I would be super bummed if I couldn’t find a property with it’s gates opened. Now I spend my time praying that the gates will be closed and tightly dog proof. I made it to Granbury around 3:30 which was the best time I had made so far on my trip. I rolled up the host house and was greeted graciously by Rick and his wife Jeanne. It was their daughter’s 18th birthday that Tuesday so they were having a birthday dinner for her. I hurried to shower and change into presentable clothing. Dinner was delicious, a spinach burritos (they weren’t burritos but of course I cannot think of the word…not empanadas…uhhhh something with an E darnit.) Anyways we had chocolate mousse for dessert which was SOOO good. Jeanne’s mother and her mother’s friend were also there and they made great company! The bed I was in was SO comfortable that I ended up sleeping in the next morning and starting a few hours behind schedule. I was really sore though from being back on the bike after 4 days rest so it was fine.
Monday was pretty quiet, I was biking to a town called Stephensville. I was exhausted from the start, however and only made it about 12 miles. First I knocked on the property of a big house and company that specialized in making Chicken Coops. They had a phone number up so I called that. (Mind you as I’m standing at the gate I have my mace in my hand like a crazy person but I’m just not taking any risks with dogs.) The woman I spoke with on the phone rolled up in her golf cart and was VERY nice. She told me that she was going out of the town that night or else she would have let me stay but that I could try the neighbors. I did just that and they were very gracious and let me camp. They also had three horses (a baby!) and a puppy. (a chocolate lab!) I befriended the puppy and worked on the pony. She was super sweet with blue eyes. I think I was more nervous than she was. If you know me than you know I’m not a huge horse fan because once when I was little I went on a horse tour and my horses started running with me. …Ever since then I’ve been afraid. But this little girl was sweet and let me pet her nose which was really soft. I set up my tent and went to sleep.
On Tuesday I was determined to make better time than the previous day. I decided that it was faster to go North instead of continuing on to Stephensville. I had no problems that day with dogs except at the end of the day when I was turning up Hwy 281, noticed it was about 4pm and I needed to stop for the day. I approached the first big property. Of course a dog came out and by this time I hd already dismounted my bike and walked up to the gate. (Mace in hand) The woman who finally came out told me that I could NOT stay on her land but I could try Natty Flat. …What’s that? I was like okaaay and knocked on the the next door neighbors house. No one home. I really had to pee. I kept going. Then I approached a huge property with a GIANT rocking chair in front of it. There was also a sign stating that this was Natty Flat and Texas Hill Country Furniture and Smokehouse. …I assumed this is what the woman had been talking about. I leaned my bike up on the wall and entered the store. Laid out my situation and the girls thought I could camp there. They called their grandfather in to confirm and he asked me a few questions about myself and trip and then said yes. I was exhausted and very grateful. Once I put my bike away we looked at the map and routed out the way I could take next with the least amount of hills which was great because I’d heard that I would have had some big ones if I had gone the way I planned previously. There were a lot of very friendly dogs on this property including little puppies which I cuddled up of course. One of the girls bought my dinner that night which was very sweet of her and it was delicious. I had fudge for desert which I could have eaten forever. After the smokehouse closed one of the employees, Colin, came over to my tent and said if I wanted to I could climb the giant rocking chair which is apparently the largest cedar rocker in the world and they built it there themselves! I know I’ve seen photos of it but I love that I came across it purely by accident! So I got to climb up into the chair which was about 25 feet tall!
Colin told me that for breakfast I absolutely HAD to eat something called a fried pie. So I went to sleep and the next morning woke up to discover that I had a flat tire.
After I discovered the flat tire (thankfully before I had loaded up my bike, and I believe my Grandma had a hand in that so THANKS) I decided to eat breakfast and then deal with it. I had gone a good distance the previous day so I didn’t really need to go until about 10:30. I went into the smokehouse and ordered a fried pie, peach and apple. I honestly think that the peach fried pie is the best thing I have ever bitten into. Like…ever. My mouth is watering just typing about it. It’s basically a pie except that the pie crust is like an empanada (that word just keeps coming up doesn’t it? lol) and then deep fried and glazed. DOESN’T THAT SOUND LIKE HEAVEN!?!? HOOOO. I’m not joking it was just so. freaking. yum. …Now that I’ve devoted literally an entire paragraph to the pie I will move on lol.
I changed my tire VERY successfully (be proud of me Brands be proud) only to realize that…my bike pump sucks. At first I couldn’t get it to be the right tire valve (Shraeder is my tire) I picked up my phone to call Kerry, my dad, my sister, my mom…anyone who I could whimper to. And then I thought to myself okay, none of those people are going to be able to help you right now. They’re all going to say that sucks, that’s too bad, what are you going to do? Who can you call etc etc and that will get you nowhere. Whoooo could I call…Perfomance Bike! So I called the Dallas Performance Bike (since I’d bought the pump in a perfomance bike) and the guy walked me through my bike pump ( I felt really stupid afterwards.) Well so after I hung up the phone and start pumping I then realized that my pump does inDEED suck. It would only pump so much air into the tire, so little that it doesn’t even register on the gauge. Luckily one of the guys at Natty Flat had a pump that was electronic and ran off of his car!! Later, upon discussing it with my sister I realized that my Grandma totally had to have a hand in all of that. Off I set onto the road 2 hours behind schedule but determined to make some headway since it was supposed to be a long day.
It didn’t take me long to get up the highway to Interstate 20 which I actually loved because the service road was separate from the actual interstate and basically deserted with the occasional truck. I am getting very paranoid about dogs. I’ve mastered this kind of equivalent to tiptoeing past a dog. I have also started seeing dogs where there aren’t dogs. I had a panic attack going up a horrible hill because I saw two fluffy short tails wagging and then I realized they were goats. Go ahead and laugh because I sure did (crazily and with a lot of relief).
So that day about 15 miles down the road I stopped for lunch leaning up against a road sign. I saw a park ranger in a truck just chillin’ behind me and decided to ask him how far the Gordon exit was which was where I was heading. This guy man…I could just shake him. Allow me to explain. Once he found out of my bike trip he had all kinds of depressing information. 1. Rattlesnakes. He says oh you’d better be looking out for them!! They come out onto the road and if you don’t buckle down at night they’ll come into your sleeping bag with you. You’ll start seeing them every 20 feet or so. I spent the rest of the day looking out for not only dogs but rattlesnakes. Greeeat. 2. He started lecturing me on how I should be using a bike trailer instead of carrying my bags on my bike because I’m wearing it down. I’m trying to be as nice to him s I can but I really felt attacked like, hello dude, I’m in the middle of TEXAS FROM NEW YORK. I’M HERE ALREADY, would you like me to just quit so I can go get a trailer so I don’t wear down my bike? A bike I bought FOR THE TRIP MIND YOU. I was very irritated but just made conversation and went on my way.
5 miles down the road I took the Gordon exit and realized it was about 4pm (stopping time). I was approaching a big property with a truck idling in the entryway so I pulled up to the truck and asked the man if I could camp on his land. He said “I don’t see why not!” and drove off to town. As I pulled my bike into the property I realized my luck. This was a huge field of land a pond and a boat in the pond! It was just gorgeous. I set up my tent and by this time Donny (the man) had returned. We sat in front of his trailer and discussed my trip, football and life over cans of Coke. I asked him about rattlesnakes and he kind of stared at me puzzled for a second before saying “…it’s winter, there aren’t any rattlesnakes out yet” I told him what the park ranger had said and he told me the guy had been trying to scare me because the rattlesnakes wouldn’t be out for another month and a half or so. I felt better but still nervous. I ate my Clif bar dinner floating on my back in the rowboat in the little pond and watched the clouds of the setting sun.
It was my so serene, my favorite day! There was a power pole across the field from my tent near the entry to the property so I plugged in my ipod. Later that night I needed to go and get it but it was pitch black out and I was terrified. II had my Dad on the phone with me the whole time while I babbled on about rattlesnakes while keeping my ears perked up for a wild pig Donny had said he kept seeing. I have never been so scared, even with two flashlights. I glanced up at the sky and realized that because I was so in the dark the stars were ENORMOUS and so bright, but I only enjoyed them for a second before going back to Rattlesnake duty.
That night the wind blew like I had never experienced and I was so thankful that I’d bought my extra strength tent stakes because surely I would have been uprooted and blown away. In the morning I had NOT blown away but it was chilly so I slept in a little.
So I departed from Donny’s about 10:30 in the morning and I knew it was going to be a rough day. The wind had not died down much since that night. Every single pedal was a battle directly into the wind. It was a pretty quiet uneventful day except passing through the town of Strawn for lunch. I met several women who were very interested and curious about my trip. The woman who worked at the place I ate helped me find a place to stay that night, about 5 miles away). I had confirmation from the local Sheriff as well that I could camp there so that me feel better. Up Highway 16 I went until I found the historical old schoolhouse that would be my campsite. I picked a place far enough from the schoolhouse that I wasn’t creeped out (it was old and a little spooky) but still hidden from the traffic of the highway which was right on the front stoop of the schoolhouse’s property. I peeped into the window of the school and all the old desks were cobwebbed and…it was very eerie seeming. I had been warned about coyotes being out and that they wouldn’t bother me so I wasn’t TOO concerned … until I found some coyote poop near my campsite. I got a little nervous but decided once I was in my tent to just not leave ever again. Ass I was drifting off to sleep I heard the coyotes begin to howl for the first time which was beautiful sounding and also very spooky considering my location. I slept a little nervously about being so close to the highway but knowing I was hidden unless someone stopped in the middle of the night to see the school which I knew no one SHOULD be doing.
I woke up on Friday morning FREEZING cold and able to see my breath. There was a light frost on the ground. I was cold dangit. I knew that I had a relatively long trip ahead of me. The next town was Breckenridge and it was at LEAST 30 miles from Highway 180 which I hadn’t even reached yet and since I had literally no phone reception I didn’t know how close I was. Once I turned onto 180 I saw that I had about 32 miles ahead of me. No town to rest at. It was gonna be a warm day and I needed to think wisely with my water. To make a long day short: I did great and arrived in Breckenridge around 3:30 pm. I had no issues with dogs, I didn’t run out of water and I wasn’t exhausted and dying! It was a 36 miles day for me, which is the best I have done so far . I got permission from the local parks department to camp at the city park. It was an utterly uneventful night broken only by another frozen morning.
The next town was 30 miles away (Albany, TX) and while I hoped to get there I wasn’t very optimistic because once I got up and moving I realized something was wrong with my left leg. As I biked I felt it pulling oddly but figured it wasn’t warmed up yet. It didn’t really HURT it just felt weird. At some point I realized it was just straight up injured because it had started to really hurt and even after putting icy hot on it and having no result or change I looked at my leg and the muscle was actually swollen. I started walking my bike. I called Kerry and asked her to google how far I was from the town. 11 miles. Crap. No sooner did THAT happen but I found myself across from a property where I was suddenly being confronted by two big white German shepherds. I thought to myself it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay…they’re behind a fence. And then I watched in horror as they WIGGLED UNDER THEIR FENCE. So at that point they’re preparing to cross the highway barking angrily at me the whole time and I’m starting to call to them to keep back and then they’re still coming so I start screaming for help from their owner who never shows up. So THEN I start trying to flag for help. A truck stopped thankfully and I explained to him about my leg and the dogs who had of course since wiggled back under their stupid fence. Well the truck driver ends up being even more gracious than I could ever hope for and gives me a lift into the town I’m heading to, Albany. I exhaustedly pedal to the library to see it’s closed, so then I just go down the street hoping to find something and I happen upon a methodist church. As I’m rolling my bike up the front ramp the pastor comes out and asks me how I am. I explain myself and ask if I could camp on the church’s property for two days to let my leg (which at this point is KILLING me) heal. He says to me that if they were (the church) to put me up somewhere would I do that? Of course I said (I haven’t showered for 5 days at this point haha so the thought of a shower was enough to have me dying for water) So the Albany, TX United Methodists Church put me up in a motel (a very cool looking one, very old fashioned looking on the outside, I have a photo on my camera so at a computer I’ll post it). II took a glorious shower, and then promptly fell asleep while icing my leg. Eventually I woke up and organized myself for the next day where I had told Pastor Tim I would speak at church about my trip.
Sunday morning Betty, Pastor Tim’s wife picked me up for church breakfast. During the service I got up and told the story of my trip and how my Grandma inspired me etc etc. After service I got to speak with several nice members of the church all of whom told me I should be prepared for the three hills outside of town. After service we went to lunch at a different church where I stuffed myself with coconut cake haha Later I was dropped off at the motel where I had a pretty low key evening and an early bedtime.
Monday morning arrived much too early. I had tossed and turned all night with worry and nightmares about dogs attacking me. I had hoped to leave at 10 and didn’t depart util 11. Pastor Tim was kind enough to bring me breakfast and coffee which really helped get me going.
The first hill was IMMEDIATELY as soon as I started up the road. I was really hurting within 5 minutes. I was grouchy, I was scared of dogs,it was gloomy and I was angry with myself for being so slow. I did something I never do while riding because I don’t want to run my battery down: I called a friend. Kathy picked up and told me she was babysitting her niece but she could still talk. She stayed on the phone with me and chatted with me, made me laugh and calmed me down about basically everything for all three of those huge hills until I lost signal. By then I was in a much better mood, I had changed my playlist to something more upbeat and my leg was feeling a little better. Thank you Taco for cheering me up and making me remember that I want this trip to succeed. I only was going 25 miles that day to a town called Lueders. Monroe, a man in the congregation in Albany had told Pastor Tim about his friend Cindy who lives there who I could stay with! It was about 4 miles north of Highway 180. Once I got out of my funk I was flying down the highway and enjoying myself again. efore I knew it I saw the turn off to go up to Lueders! I called Cindy and made my way to the camp which turned out to be a large motel-like facility with a fun looking lake and summer christian camp for teens! A friendly woman named Jodi told me Cindy wasn’t back yet but she put me in a room and let me settle in telling me that dinner was at 6pm. ….OOOOH DINNER.
I changed my clothes and went exploring, befriending one of the local dogs on the property named Woodrow. He is a chocolate lab with golden eyes like my sister’s dog Ben, who I adore with all my heart.
That night I walked up to the dining hall for dinner and was introduced to an entire mission group of seniors who were there for a few weeks to help repair things around the camp. Everyone was very friendly and curious about my trip. Towards the end of the meal a woman came up to me and introduced herself as Cindy. Immediately I felt like it was seeing an old friend, we hugged and she sat right down. After dinner I helped clear the dishes and clean the kitchen. That night we agreed that maybe I could stay for a few days in exchange for helping out cleaning rooms and stuff Cindy would give me a ride to Snyder a town about 4 days down the road. This would be perfect for me because I could then let my leg get all the way better AND it was supposed to get REALLY cold the next few days.
So friends at this point I am still in Lueders, TX. I’m enjoying myself immensly as I get advice from everyone on the mission team. Cindy has been putting a fear of wild hogs in me. Did you know that if a wild hog catches you IT WILL EAT YOU. STRAIGHT UP EAT YOU. And wild hogs are, apparently, QUITE prevalent in Texas, NM and AZ. So, if I don’t die by dog or rattlesnake, I will die by hog if not that mountain lion and then bears. A woman asked me last night about if someone were to come into my tent and I used the term ”breaking into my tent” and she goes how does one ”break into” a tent. I think I choked on my food from laughing so hard, because it’s true. Everyone here is so funny, they all banter and joke amongst themselves which reminds me of how my grandma interacted with the people at her church.
Until next time! …unless I am eaten by wild hogs.
Can you visualize the insanity that has been happening in my brain these last few weeks as my departure date looms? I have had so much to think about and straighten out and confirm and just DO that I feel like I’m losing it. Want to hear all about it? OF COUUURRSE you do!
Where can I start? I think I’ll begin with my front rack.
So. I biked over to Brand’s about three weeks ago to make sure that the front rack I wanted would be compatible to my bike and I am so glad that I did because GUESS WHAT? MY BIKE (of course) needs a special rack! Because Evelyn has a suspension front fork I needed to special order my front rack. Can you imagine if I hadn’t checked about that that day? It would take a week for my rack to arrive, IMAGINE if I hadn’t checked on that until shortly before I left! I’m sure you can, so you can understand how that just notched up my panic that much more. Byron (the manager) reassured me that it would be in within a week and I need not panic (although that didn’t stop me). I had decided that I was going to keep my bike basket on the handlebars because with the rack I ordered I wouldn’t be using that space at all and anything extra to hold shit would be that much more helpful. I’m trying to tell this post in chronological order so we’ll come back to the topic in a few minutes, stay with me here.
Next order of panic was all the last minute items I was making sure I had that were coming in the mail. I was very intentional in not ordering anything less than 2 weeks before my departure date and I am so glad because I would have perhaps completely lost my marbles with worry. The last thing I ordered was the trunk for my rear rack where I planned to keep my electronics. I was super pumped about it until after I’d placed the order (in the last week of December) and read that it was shipping from Hong Kong and was estimated to arrive AFTER FEBRUARY 28TH. FEBRUARY. 28TH. I am leaving February 5. THIS WOULD NOT DO, no it would not do at all! I sent off an e-mail to the company pleading with them to let me pay for faster shipping or some alternative but I never received a reply so I was left to wring my hands until it arrived. THANKFULLY (oh god so thankfully!) it arrived within about two and half weeks and I have never been so happy to see a package in the mailbox. It fit everything SO perfectly! Solar charger, camera, battery recharger, wireless keyboard (because I won’t be taking my laptop with me and will be blogging from my phone but could NOT picture myself posting blogs via touch pad lol), etc etc etc. It’s just the right size plus has enormous side pockets that even fit my water bottles should I want to shove them there; this worked out perfectly because at that time I hadn’t decided yet to keep my bike basket and was wondering how exactly I would strap my water bottles to the contraption that is Evelyn the Bike.
My friend Caitlin gave me a blanket that is very thin physically but very sturdy warm material so I am bringing it with me. As I posted earlier this month I was now needing to figure out how exactly to organize my rear seat up and after much fiddling and rearranging bungee cords I figured it out. [For more details you can flip back through posts to see the photo]
Sam, the Guitar
I have two guitars that I have been trying to re-home because I couldn’t bring them with me much as I wanted to. My very first guitar, Sam, was a very sentimental item close to my heart. When I found out from Kerry that the local guitar shop was buying back guitars I was ecstatic and immediately brought it to them. What I WASN’T prepared for was realizing how much Sam really meant to me as I was handing her over. Sam was the first guitar I ever bought, I learned to play on her. She is a Fender and not a great one but she was beautiful and had lovely sound. She didn’t have a single scratch on her and was always shining, waiting, calling to me to come play with her. Whenever I was lonely, whether it was in my studio apartment in Illinois (I got yelled at by my downstairs neighbor for this), whether it was playing guitar with my dad, writing songs at the local church in Long Island where I attended years ago, writing my own songs that would allow me to play in a bar in Urbana, IL (my hometown) before I moved to New York, playing in the front yard with the little girls I love during the summer making up songs about the family dog, or just me singing and strumming. She has been with me through many heartbreaks of all kinds and played loyally while I cried through songs that meant a lot to me, even though I am kind of a shitty guitar player. I understand that I’m rambling but what I’m trying to potray is quite simple: I loved her and she loved me. So when I handed over her to the man behind the counter I was not prepared for the suddenly tears that burst upon me. I cried as I signed paperwork, handed over identifications and accepted the cash for her. I cried as I touched her strings and smooth wood one last time and I sobbed as I walked away. The employee who helped me was actually choked up because I was crying so hard and he gave me a hug and told me how proud he was of me (he knew about my trip). I will never forget sitting in the car and crying so hard for about 20 minutes after leaving the store. All the way home I wondered if I had made a mistake, if I could have shipped her (I couldn’t it would have been over $100) or something else. Should I turn around? What to do, what to DO? I eventually talked myself to logic, reminding myself the reason that I had had to sell her in the first place but it wasn’t easy. One day in the future I will have a new guitar and it will also be lovely but I will always remember Sam, my first guitar love.
Two huge mental setbacks and potential actual setbacks:
I was informed about two weeks ago that it is illegal to use interstates by bike in Texas, California, Oregon, Washington and much of Arizona and New Mexico (unless there is no alternative way to get to where you’re going). Needless to say this created an enormous panic in me. Much of my plans were on the interstate in Texas as least until I could get to Route 66. I went onto all of the social media pages that I was on that had to do with Bike touring and asked over and over again what I could do instead. I was directed to a book called Bicycling the Pacific Coast, by Tom Kirkendall. I promptly ordered it and paid for speed shipping hoping with all I had that it would arrive before I left. When it finally came I’m reading it through and it says something along the lines of how terrible of an idea it is to bike UP the Pacific Coast due to the headwinds. THE HEADWINDS?! Something that I had stupidly not even considered! I immediately entertained the idea of changing my route completely, like COMPLETELY. Instead of heading up the coast I was like okay I’ll go east first then up the east coast! …No, no, then I’ll be back in NY by May, what fun is that? I’ll go up through the midwest! …No, that’s too cold. I tossed all these ideas eventually and headed to Facebook biking pages again asking about statistics concerning the West coast headwinds. Finally someone told me that the headwinds begin blowing south around the end of April beginning of May (if I was lucky) This means that I needed to bike my ass as fast as I could to get to Washington. If I make good time I think I’ll make it to the Canada/U.S. border shortly after the headwinds start and will only have to endure them the last leg of the west coast. Problem sort of kind of solved.
Remember the Bike Rack?
So I called Brands after a week to see if the bike rack had come in and halleluiah it had. Here’s where a problem came in. That was the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It was the same week that my Advanced Bike Maintenance was scheduled there. Day one of the class was putting together a mountain bike. Day two was working on your own bike. This was perfect because I was going to bring in my bike, learn how to put my front rack on and then leave it there after class to be shipped. OF COURSE we had a blizzard that week so class was postponed to the following week! So I brought in my bike that first week and they were gracious enough to put the front rack on for me and left my bike with them a few days later and just had to not know how to put on my front rack, hopefully it won’t be too difficult. On the bright side Performance Bike just called me like an hour ago to tell me that my bike had arrived and that if I have any trouble putting on my rack they can help me for free. SO THANKFUL FOR SMALL THINGS!!
Moving On and Out
I have been packing and unpacking my bags over and over and over again just so that I can document what I have, where it is, where it’s going and learn the speediest way to get to what I need. So as the last items came in I needed to finalize the packing. I also needed to make sure anything that smells like anything (toothpaste, soap, food, Clif bars etc) were all in odor proof bags because I WILL BE DAMNED IF A BEAR FINDS ME. As you know bears are becoming my primary fear lol. Part of this packing had had to wait until the very last days because of my clothes. I had already gone through my belongings to donate what I didn’t need, shipped to my mom what I DID need to keep (sentimental items and the random clothes that I would keep) and thrown away what I didn’t but when it came to clothes I was waiting because I didn’t want to find my bags all packed and have no clothes to wear…which kind of happened anyway. I packed all my clothes up and realized I had nothing to wear but the onesie pajamas I was wearing at the time. I had to go back into my donation bags and pull out two outfits for Sunday-Wednesday lol. I have a suitcase set, two large suitcases and a carry on. My plan had been that my panniers would go in the large ones along with my tent, sleeping bag and extra supplies. The carry on would carry my clif bars and bike basket. So the first suitcase packed smoothly, perfect! I’m searching through the house looking for the second one and IT IS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN. Eventually it was discovered that it had been left somewhere on vacation and meant to be shipped back to me but that never happened! Uh..okay but I need to have a second suitcase it was not an option to not have a second large bag. I found a huge one in the basement that fit everything in it perfectly. The only issue was that it’s one of those older ones with one hand on the side that you carry. So I now have one large rolling suitcase, one small rolling carry on and one enormous 50 lb suitcase that I have to carry. This won’t be a problem until I get to Austin. Why? Well because I’m taking the city bus to the first hosts house and will have to figure out how to get the suitcases on the bus with me. I briefly considered taking a taxi but it was going to cost me $40 and that just can’t do. But at least I have a suitcase, right? When I get to Austin I will be donating the suitcases because I won’t need them anymore.
So my plans when I get to Austin are in theory, all planned out. When I land I will be taking a bus to another bus and that will drop me off about a block from the host that I am staying with. The following day my friend is coming from Houston and we will then go to the bike shop where my bike was shipped to from Brands Cycle here. I will put my bike back together and do my damndest to put my front rack back on with the help of the bike shop down there. I will then bring my bike back to the host’s house (her name is Courtney and she sounds amazing! She’s bike toured the country solo as well which is why I’m super excited to meet her, whenever I hear about a woman doing what I’m doing I am desperate to get all the information I can) for the night. I will set out on the road officially on Friday, February 7th, if all goes according to plan. Right now we’re in the middle of a snow storm and we’re supposed to get more snow on Wednesday morning which is when I’m flying so …we shall see. Fingers crossed for good flying weather.
Last night at Kerry’s Super Bowl party I met a woman named Emily who road tripped across the country recently and she told me about this App called Road Trippers. I cannot rave enough about finding out about this app, like seriously. It maps out where you want to go and you have the option to opt out of interstates (BINGOOOOO) which is the best news I’ve heard in forever (although I feel like I’m saying that a lot haha, I’m just being appreciative okay?) This will take a lot of stress off of me wondering how the hell I’m going to get from one place to another without getting lost because I can’t use an interstate.
Closing out this post a quick blurb about my going away party last week. Kerry threw me a little going away party with the usual gang of friends in the area who go out to karaoke, including my friend Kathy who came out from the city. It was so great to have one last night with friends who have been listening to me talk and talk and talk about this trip from the very beginning. Kerry sang me a beautiful song called ”My Wish” by Rascal Flatts, that I had never heard before but will never forget. I have since added it to my playlist and every time I hear it I think about Kerry who has been a significant constantly reassuring friend through this entire trip planning. Without her support I think I might have talked myself out of it from the very beginning.
Just an idea of the song:
I hope that the days come easy and the moments pass slow,
And each road leads you where you want to go,
And if you’re faced with a choice, and you have to choose,
I hope you choose the one that means the most to you.
And if one door opens to another door closed,
I hope you keep on walkin’ till you find the window,
If it’s cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile,
But more than anything, more than anything,
My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, and your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you’re out there getting where you’re getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this, is my wish.
If you’d like to hear it you can click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3TeskgpWvE
I think I’ve covered everything that I can as of right now! I know that was a lot to read and bless you for making it to the end of that novel haha! I’ll be updating hopefully once a week whenever I can get to a public library or coffee shop with internet to post a new blog and plan out that weeks journey! It’s upon us friends! The day I’ve been working towards for the past 7 months!! WHOOHOO! See you out there!!
The Beginning Part One:
I will start with this quote from June Jordan. I stumbled upon it awhile after I had already decided to partake in my new endeavor and I feel like it’s perfect.
When we heard about the hippies, the barely more than boys and girls who decided to try something different … we laughed at them. We condemned them, our children, for seeking a different future. We hated them for their flowers, for their love, and for their unmistakable rejection of every hideous, mistaken compromise that we had made throughout our hollow, money-bitten, frightened, adult lives
― June Jordan,
Passion: New Poems, 1977 1980