Lately I’ve been thinking about money, and my career path, and how these two intersect with my bike tour dream.
I estimate that I will need about $36,000 of (net) income to get me through this year on my bike. And I will no longer have the income from my current day job. (I very much hope my day job will even continue to exist, but given the shaky state of the US economy, particularly in the retail sector, that is far from guaranteed at this point, and this fact stresses me out a bit as well, after 17 years in that job.)
That has not happened. My income from these sources has remained a trickle, a meager supplement to the income from my day job. If I’m being realistic, I have no reason to believe that I can suddenly “manifest” this dream career in the next year, to give me the cushion I’ll need to pay for the trip.I find this disappointing on a few levels. I worry about my future, my possible retirement. Technically, I have the savings to pay for this trip, but that would take a massive dip into my retirement savings, and that feels really scary and foolhardy.
I also find it disappointing because I judge myself as a failure in this respect. Being some sort of therapist or life coach has been my dream ever since 8th grade, and I have never found a way to make it work for me financially. The clients I do have love what I offer—I know my work has deep value—but I’ve never been able to find an effective way to “market” myself; like most people in healing professions, I recoil at the very idea.
I have spent thousands of dollars on business coaching with two different coaches. This only left me depressed and hopeless about my prospects. I have offered free sessions to try to entice new clients. I have participated in trades. (The ongoing trade with a massage therapist was definitely a win-win!) I have done countless sliding-scale benefits, trying to make my work as financially accessible as possible to potential clients, while also donating a portion of proceeds to many different nonprofit causes I care about.
I don’t want to make “sales funnels,” or sign up for expensive mailing-list software, and write just the right blog posts, and post just the right videos, where I look professional enough but also down-to-earth, and I speak vulnerably yet powerfully, and I lure people in to want to work with me.
Ugh! No! I don’t want to do any of this.
And so… I’m kind of a failure. And it feels depressing.
So, I was thinking about this these past few days. Like… what do I need to do to “meditate right” and “manifest right livelihood” in just the right way? Or, what do I need to force myself to do, against my will, to “make it happen” in more conventional ways, such as going to grad school or some sort of coaching school, slogging through my learning disabilities and racking up debt which I then may or may not be able to repay? Or spending a lot of money to hire some kind of perfect coach to either force me to do the icky marketing, or at the very least, update my aging, non-smartphone-optimized website?
Racking up debt, doing things we hate, going against our own values, experiencing various forms of humiliation… that’s how we succeed under capitalism, right?
Yeah. No. I’m not doing those things.
I had a bit of an epiphany today, after these ruminations, on a phone call with a dear friend. (Hi, Erin!)
Those of us who believe in magic (sometimes surreptitiously, because we’re not allowed to do so openly in this society without being mocked or dismissed)… those of us who do our best to “manifest” the magic we want… the thing is, it does exist. It does happen. And it’s incredible to behold.
Sometimes (always?) it does not work in the ways we might want. Like… sometimes we have a core struggle in life. Mine appears to be that of manifesting right livelihood.
It’s deep. It’s thick, like a dense forest. It’s not something a bit of meditating, and visualizing, and journaling, and talking about it to many people, and going to networking events… etc… can produce.
It is a core struggle. Probably lifelong.
And… maybe the way to approach it is not head-on. Maybe it’s more of a dance. Maybe it’s about having a wish and a vision, but mostly focusing on the magic and the beauty that does continue to unfurl around us, sometimes serendipitously and sometimes with a slight push from us.
I don’t want to slog in service of my dreams. I want the means to be consistent with the ends.
Thinking about this trip lights me up. I don’t know if it will somehow lead to my “succeeding” financially as a coach or healer… actually, I suspect it won’t. I’m starting to grok that this may be part of the point. Maybe that’s not even my actual destination in life.
The point is to follow my passion. My passion lights up others. As I traverse this land (and even before I start) I will meet so many amazing people. We will light each other up. We will become parts of a powerful network. Untold magic will result from this trip. I am 100% certain of that.
And I will make it happen, financially, somehow. I’m taking this trip.
Thursday was another beautiful summer-like day, and I wanted to make the most of it. After I got off work around 4:30, I spontaneously decided to check out a new all-vegetarian Ethiopian food cart I had heard about. Google Maps told me it would take about an hour to bike there. I thought, Sounds perfect! Having had a late Clif bar instead of lunch, I trusted that my appetite would be perfect by 5:30. The route was pretty much a straight shot, and pretty flat. I would be done with dinner by about 6:15, and should even be able to get home with some light left in the sky.
I wasn’t on the Brompton; my daily commuter bike remains my beloved red 1979 Free Spirit.
I enjoyed the ride to the cart pod, and savored my kik alicha at a picnic table in perfect weather. My (pre-sanitized) hands got pretty messy with the meal, but I knew I could wash them at home, about seven miles away.
I threw away my dinner trash and put on my helmet. But as I began to roll the bike, I noticed the chain had come off.
In the 24 years I’ve had that bike, this has happened probably only five or six times. It never occurs to me to worry about it. Partly for this reason—and partly because I’m just lazy and hate doing bike repairs, and partly because for the past two years I have been paying for bike roadside assistance through Better World Club—I haven’t bothered to carry any tools with me. And, as I soon noticed with dismay, even the grease-covered rag I normally carry in my backpack in case of such events had been removed in preparation for my North Carolina trip, and I had not yet replaced it. So, my stash of paper napkins was the extent of my bike-repair preparedness.
I sighed, and hoped I could easily put the chain back on with my hands.
Nope. (But now my hands were filthy.)
It was thoroughly jammed. Only once before had I encountered this problem so badly, about ten years ago. I was at my workplace at the time, and two coworkers helped me and struggled with it until they finally righted it.
Those two were nowhere to be seen at the cart pod. I looked around to see if there was someone I could ask for help, or to borrow a tool. I felt embarrassed. Vulnerable. Stupid for being so unprepared. In pre-COVID times, I would have thought nothing of simply walking the bike to a bus stop and making the (lengthy, two-bus) trip home that way. But these days I’m doing my best to avoid enclosed auto spaces.
My eyes fell on a father and daughter sitting at the next table over, waiting for their food. I stepped awkwardly toward them. (The pandemic makes every social interaction more fraught: I wanted to get close enough that the father could hear me through my mask, but not closer than six feet.) I asked if he had any sort of tool I could borrow, to put the chain back on. He said no, but that maybe he could help with his hands. I felt further chagrined as he interrupted his chat with his daughter to blacken and grease up his own hands, before concluding that he couldn’t get it to budge either. I thanked him for the effort, and decided to look up nearby bike shops. Could I find one still open?
Google Maps showed a dearth of such, but there did appear to be one a few miles away that claimed to offer mobile repair. Great! Who knows what I might shell out for this, but it was exactly what I needed. I called the number, but got a voicemail box. Dejected, I hung up. A few seconds later, I received a text:
“Thank you for contacting XYZ Bikes. Please send a text with your name and description of which bike or service you seek. Thanks!”
Hmmm… maybe this could still work?I sent a brief explanatory text, as well as a photo of the chain’s predicament and my location.
After about ten anxious minutes, I decided it was time to call Better World to redeem one of my two annual roadside-assistance service calls. Maybe this could be an important “trial run” for me, with very low stakes. Yes, actually, this was a good thing! I could get in some practice close to home, on a pleasant-weather evening with buses not too far if I needed them.
I needed to find a place to make the call, though. The cart pod was noisy: music on the loudspeakers mingled with the rush of traffic on the busy road, not to mention all the ambient conversation. I walked as far away from it all as I could, and looked up Better World Club on Google, grimacing as I realized that if I had a membership card or number, I didn’t have it on me. I found the phone number and called it.
What I heard in “answer” was an extremely jarring sound, which cranked up my existing tension by several notches.
I hadn’t known it was possible for a phone connection to sound like this in the 21st century. I flashed back to a 1999 quote by comedian Dave Barry: “What, exactly, is the Internet? Basically it is a global network exchanging digitized data in such a way that any computer, anywhere, that is equipped with a device called a ‘modem,’ can make a noise like a duck choking on a kazoo.”
The sound I was hearing through my iPhone could best be described as 90% kazoo-choking duck, plus 10% what sounded like a standard automated phone menu:
“Press 1 for…” I had turned up the volume as high as it would go, to try to compete with the cart pod sounds, and this static blaring into my ear was an assault on both my senses and my sanity.
Cranky, bewildered, and increasingly anxious, I wondered how to respond to this. I pressed a series of 1s, hoping to somehow reach a live operator. This had little apparent effect; the squealing static continued. I moved the phone away from my ear and glanced at the home screen, wondering if I should hang up and call back, or…?
I spotted a new text from Better World, an Arizona phone number: “Reply with your vehicle’s location in the following format: Street# StreetName, City, State or click the link to automatically locate you.”
I hastily clicked the link, and the squealing-static automated voice blessedly gave way to the call ringing to an actual person.
This person was not much help. She asked if I were sitting in the vehicle. I explained it was a bicycle, and she seemed to understand, but then asked several questions that indicated she thought I meant a motorcycle.
I was not enjoying this customer-service experience.
Eventually she transferred me to the “bicycle division.”
A woman with a Southern accent and matching slow-paced demeanor answered, assuring me that she was happy to be providing me service this evening. By this time I had burrowed myself behind a closed food cart, next to a building wall, to get as far away from the noise as possible. The daylight was quickly fading, and I was losing patience: All I needed was a tow. Why was this so complicated? Why did this agent seem completely unconcerned with the urgency of my predicament?
I strained to stay polite and explain that I needed a tow for my bicycle.
This seemed to please her, and she continued to speak slowly but enthusiastically: “Oh! This is my first experience with a bicycle issue. I may need to ask my supervisor for help.”
“OK.” [Really? Does no other bicyclist use this service?]
She asked the “make and model” of my bike. [Again, really? I knew that the only service they would provide would be to send a tow truck. How much detail did they need?] I explained that it was a Free Spirit, a Sears. I didn’t know the model; it was from 1979.
“OK… now wait… did you say 1979, or 1976?”
[Are you freaking kidding me???]
“Haha, OK, that’s what I thought you said. But I just wanted to make sure.”
The conversation continued along these lines for probably another ten minutes. At one point she read out loud from her list of “vehicle options,” wondering if my bike might qualify as a “recreational vehicle”? [Please, no, this is not an RV.] At another point, she happily assured me that she had found my location on the map: “Buckman Field!” No, I told her—struggling to un-grit my teeth—that was seven miles west. “Ohhh… haha, OK, the street number is 15700, not 1500!” [I’m glad one of us is enjoying this conversation, ma’am.]
Her last question was whether I would prefer to receive a text or a phone call from the towing company—once she could locate one—to let me know when to expect them.
“How about both, to be on the safe side?”
“OK, sounds good…”
We got off the phone at 7:15. It had been 45 minutes since I had discovered the problem with the chain.
I walked back to my bike and sat in the waning light. I watched the workers at the Ethiopian cart close up shop.
Argh. This had started out as such a pleasant evening. How long was this ordeal going to last?
And what if I were on the top of a mountain right now, in Southern Oregon, in the dark and the rain? Or how about the middle of the highway in New Mexico, miles away from any tow trucks, or possibly even cell service?
What on earth am I getting myself into here?
How can I rely on people to help if I need it?
I guess I really do need to brush up on my bike-repair skills.
7:30. I get an automated call from Better World, telling me that ABC towing company, in Vancouver, Washington, was going to respond to my call, “in 120 minutes.”
Two more hours?
I mentally repeated the above hypothetical scenarios. If Portland, Oregon can’t produce bike roadside assistance faster than three hours, what hope do I have elsewhere?
I thought, There is no way I’m sitting in this nearly empty food cart pod at the edge of town for another two hours. I’ll walk to the bus, and cancel the tow.
Right then, the Ethiopian cart guy who had taken my order approached and asked if I was OK, if there was something wrong with my bike. He offered me a ride home, on his way home from work, and I was touched and humbled by his generosity.
But this was clearly my problem, not his, and I did not want to sully his car with my greasy bike. I thanked him for the offer, and indicated I would take the bus.
I set out to walk the 14 blocks to the bus stop. The road was unpaved and potholed, and I thought with a chuckle, Well, I guess my bike tour’s adventures are already beginning!
I felt dejected. Morose. This experience had shaken the sense of security that I had allowed myself to feel after enrolling in the roadside-assistance plan.
Clearly, though, this was all surmountable. I hadn’t even left Portland and its city-bus range! The evening was warm, and dry. I had options.
And… I know that I will always have options. I will undoubtedly face much more difficult obstacles once I begin the tour. And, I will find some way around each one. It will be an adventure, and that means there will be lots of fun, plus some big challenges and difficult times.
People do this.
I can do this.
The gravel under my feet turned to pavement, and the level road gave way to a slight downhill. I thought, Hey, maybe I can’t pedal, but at least I can coast, eh? I hopped up on the saddle and rolled about half a block. I even tried pedaling for a second, just to feel how badly the chain was stuck.
And… the pedal seemed to work.
I pedaled again. The gears engaged.
This wasn’t possible. The chain was hopelessly jammed. Was I dreaming? Had this entire scenario been an elaborate anxiety nightmare?
I hopped off the bike just as I hit Burnside Street. Pulled onto the sidewalk, and examined the cassette.
As a hobby photographer, I have been enjoying playing with golden hour light since this past spring. Early in the pandemic restrictions, I would walk five blocks to what I thought was my “boring” neighborhood park, to enjoy some fresh air and outdoor time. But the sloth of the lockdown held a gift for me: the first few weeks of severely reduced working hours had me, mostly happily, staying in bed until 1 or 2:00 in the afternoon more often than not. By the time I had showered, eaten, and decided to go to the park, the light would be starting to turn. And it was absolutely enthralling.
There is a Japanese phrase, mono no aware (“the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last”) that describes the “extra” beauty of an aspect of nature that arises when we know that the beauty is fleeting.
This could aptly describe the end of summer, the end of a flower’s blossom, the end of a day … so I think that the golden hour, while visually stunning in its own right, also benefits from this concept.
Today was a spectacular Portland September day. The high temperature was around 80 degrees (27 C), and after work I spontaneously decided to bike to one of my favorite food carts, Uncle Tsang’s Kitchen. The ride took me along the beautiful Springwater Corridor. After a wonderful outdoor meal of vegan Chinese food, I headed home a different way, through the Westmoreland neighborhood. As I was rounding the bend at Bybee Blvd, I glanced to my left and was visually struck—not for the first time—that there was a beautiful overlook of the Willamette River just there, and there seemed to be some benches. Tonight, I finally paused long enough to check, and sure enough: I saw three picnic tables, two of which were occupied, and the last one just waiting for me.
As I parked my bike next to the table, I was overcome with the beauty of the light. It was about 6:30 pm, and the sun was dropping in the sky, saturating all the river trees with a golden glow. I marveled at it, and began photographing somewhat obsessively, as is my wont.
Finally, I relaxed and simply sat at the table, soaking in the moment. After thirty years in Portland, to sit in this spot was another first for me this summer. The temperature was perfect. The light was perfect. This wonderful dream of a bike tour hummed in the back of my head.
And… I realized that a big part of my motivation for taking this trip is to maximize the golden hours in my life. I hadn’t thought of it in quite those terms, but that is what I’m dreaming of: to follow the light and the warm, pleasant weather all around the continent. Of course I know I will encounter days—probably stretches of weeks—that will deviate drastically from these ideal conditions. But… I hope that on most days of this tour, I will greet the golden hour tired but satisfied, and I will be able to sit—alone or with friends, new or old—outdoors, in some new spot every few days, feeling the warmth of the lowering sun and basking in its magical glow.
This summer is drawing to a close in Portland. If all goes according to plan, by this time next year I will be in southern Oregon or northern California. Tonight, as the evening ebbed, the summer ebbed, the year ebbed, my time in Portland ebbed… I savored the mono no aware.
Some of you know that I am a huge fan of train travel. I have criss-crossed the United States several times on Amtrak, as well as traversed large segments of each coast. One time, frustrated by an order-ahead system that never seemed to work when I needed it, I even ran a successful petition campaign to get vegan meals on the everyday menu of the dining cars. (RIP.) Ever since my first cross-country train trip in September of 2000, I was hooked. And, I’m fondly looking forward to supplementing this upcoming bike tour with a few rail segments.
But, I wasn’t able to dive right into train travel; the time and money were outside of my means at that point in my life. Over the years, I slowly accrued more vacation time at work; switched around my schedule to four days per week, which allowed more long-weekend trips without even touching my vacation time; and I started using an Amtrak credit card to build up miles and earn free trips.
However, I also discovered a “mind hack” to help me bring about this new, dreamed-of reality as a rider of the rails.
In 2012, I flew to San Francisco to watch my favorite band Marillion perform, since that was the closest they got to Portland on that tour. I had only visited the Bay Area once before, very briefly. As a transit geek, I was thus excited to experience the BART, which I had only heard about. I was staying with a friend in Oakland, so I would take the BART to and from the concert.
Having paid my fare and taken a seat on that light-rail train, I was anticipating the evening’s show when I had a sudden thought: “Hey, wow, I’m a rail traveler! Here I am, in another city and state, sitting on a train and enjoying the scenery. I guess this is how I get around these days! I have manifested my dream!”
I chuckled in my seat, marveling at what this little mind-trick had done for my sense of self. I knew this wasn’t an Amtrak train… but I was able to “live into” my dream, by recognizing the similarity of what I was experiencing to some important aspects of what I dreamed of experiencing. It took my transportation geekdom to the next level: no longer was I merely experiencing another municipal transit system—albeit a well-known one I had looked forward to riding—but I was now a person who vacationed in various cities via rail.
The shift was powerful. Within one year of that moment, I became an international passenger-rail tourist: In January of 2013, I took a two-week “California rail adventure,” stopping in five cities. In June of that same year, I took my East Coast Empathy Tour, offering on-the-street empathy in four major metro areas while traveling between them on long-distance trains. And then in December, I took a 30-years-in-the-making two-week trip to Australia, where I traveled by train between Canberra and Melbourne.
I’m choosing to start that mind-shift again now, on my bike. As I enjoy my morning or afternoon commute, or take a spin around the neighborhood to do errands or explore a new food cart, I now think to myself, “This is my life! I’m a bike tourer. This is how I get around, wherever I go, and I enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery.”
I’ve always enjoyed biking for transportation here in Portland anyway. But now, I can feel that it’s part of something much larger. I am riding into something much larger.
I had sensed from the start that as I began to write about it, and to share the writing on various platforms, people would start to come together to offer advice, encouragement, and the like… and that I would begin making connections amongst inspiring people and resources.
That’s how this all works. If I’ve learned anything from living my life, and working as a life coach, it’s that when we put our scary and exciting visions “down on paper” and begin to talk about them with others, things start to come together in really inspiring ways.
When I shared yesterday’s blog post to my Facebook page, I wasn’t sure if it would garner much engagement, because I thought “the rain” was a pretty unexciting topic, even if it was top-of-mind for me, and felt very relevant to my vision and planning.
But when one of my friends read the post, she tagged three of her friends whom she knew to be bike travelers, and two of them weighed in with some great pointers and encouragement. One of them also re-referenced the third person, who hasn’t (yet?) chimed into the conversation himself, but who has apparently written several books about his own bike-touring adventures! I want to read these books. I think the more I learn firsthand about others’ experiences, the more I will get a feel for what I want, what I should perhaps avoid, and how I can best prepare for this adventure.
Most importantly, though, one of these friends of my friend—Matt Picio, whose name I recognized as a multifaceted leader in the local bike community over the past ten years or so, but whom I had never met—imparted some wonderful words of wisdom, and I want to share them with you too, because they apply to so many areas of life and dreams, not just bike tours:
“Someone told me once that everyone on a major tour hits ‘the wall’ at some point, where they are ready to give it up and go home. If you get past it, then nothing will faze you anymore and you can ride pretty much indefinitely at that point. It was true for me, and for me it was in Virginia City, Montana, slogging uphill after a few particularly brutal days riding from Twin Bridges through Sheridan and Alder. I was ready to be done, and go home, and I had a couple of soul-searching phone calls with friends. What got me past it was having to get to somewhere I could catch a train home, and riding over the crest and downhill into Ennis, MT, I truly experienced why Montana is called ‘Big Sky Country’ – it was a breathtaking, humbling moment coupled with a several mile 30mph+ descent into Ennis that reminded me exactly why I was out there, and why I wanted to ride.
Your moment will probably be different, but whatever it is, remember that everybody has theirs, and if you can (safely) push past it, you’ll be able to do whatever you put your mind to on the tour.”
I loved this nugget of wisdom. It was another example of something I had sensed, and imagined would be true on my journey, but to see it expressed so eloquently by someone who had actually done a similar trip really helped to reinforce the principle.
“Oh – one last piece of (unsolicited) advice. Never let anyone tell you ‘you’re doing it wrong’. I was notorious among people touring the US that year for carrying a cast-iron skillet. (For the record, it weighed 3.5 lbs and I lost 33 lbs during the trip – so really, did it weigh that much? I ate really well.) A couple I met toured with a full Coleman stove strapped to her rear rack. And one guy I met in Gothensburg, NE had a 70s suitcase with buckle straps bungied to his rear rack. Whatever you choose to tour with is YOUR CHOICE. We weren’t doing it wrong, and you won’t be either. The best mental skill you can have on tour is a willingness to accept everyone where they are at and not take anything personally. Everyone will have an opinion – you’re doing it wrong, you shouldn’t be touring alone, you shouldn’t be touring with a partner, it’s so dangerous to be on the roads, etc. Let them roll off you and enjoy the moment. … This is your tour, your life. You’re not doing it wrong. It’s yours.”
This was another wonderful affirmation, exactly when I needed it. Just yesterday at the optometrist, I told the doctor about my plan, and he was excited for me, but then he began speculating about what kind of bike I “should really be using” for a trip like this, rather than my Brompton. He wasn’t the first I’ve encountered, to hear my dream and then try to “edit” it, to “optimize” things for me. (And clearly he will not be the last!) I’m pleased to say that I mostly did take Matt’s advice, before even reading it today; I smiled and let the optometrist enjoy his own “twist” on my dream—perhaps he will even end up making some part of it his own!—while remembering that I have my own vision, and I can take others’ advice, but only if it truly feels right to me.
I’m back in Portland, after a wonderfully refreshing break. The area had a small bit of rain while I was gone, which mercifully cleared out most of the smoke, and put out many of the fires.
Today, I was back out on my bike—returning from an eye doctor appointment—in my first “real rain” of the season. That’s how we know fall has arrived in Portland. Contrary to popular belief, it does not always rain here. Our summer months—July, August, and most of September—are reliably and almost completely dry. It’s the other nine months where things get soggy. Unfortunately, within the past few years that dryness has now seemingly reached a climate-change point where it turns the West Coast into a tinderbox pretty consistently by the end of the summer.
Still, many of us do struggle with seasonal depression, and the rain and gloom and cooler temperatures are a part of that… particularly for those of us who bike for transportation.
Thus, I experienced quite a mixture of feelings today, swathed in my rain jacket, rain pants, helmet cover, and rubber boots, wearing sunglasses over my dilated eyes as I navigated the rain and gray skies for the 15-minute ride home. (I arrived soaked and dripping, and hung up all my gear in the kitchen, signaling the return of another seasonal ritual.)
I noticed how so many of the trees seemed to have begun turning, even just in the week I was away. The equinox happened the other day. And now, here is the rain.
It will be intermittent, interspersed with warm and sunny days, probably until mid-October, when the season will really settle in. I expect I will do much less pleasure bicycling, focusing more on commuting and grocery trips, beginning around that time.
This leads me to ponder how I will navigate the weather on my bike trip. A large motivator for the trip is to “follow the sun” and pleasant temperatures around the country, effectively opting out of the cool and rainy months here at home. But I know that I will still encounter some rain, and possibly other challenging weather—maybe even hail or snow in mountainous regions—so I will need to be prepared for this. How will I choose what to pack, to be able to protect myself adequately, yet also keep things as lightweight and non-bulky as possible?
A friend forwarded me an ad for a bike trailer today, and I looked at it and wondered if it would be a good style of trailer for me. What were its pros and cons? How would it compare to other options, in size, shape, style, portability/convenience, price…? What kind of bags or “luggage” will I end up taking, and how will they interface with whatever style of trailer I end up using? As I mused aloud about these questions to my friend—who lives on his bike, up and down the West Coast—he reminded me that planning has its place, but the magic of “living by bike” lies largely in taking the leap, and allowing what unfolds to unfold.
[This is a post from a week ago, September 13th. I wrote it at the airport, just before boarding my flight, and managed to post it to Patreon and Facebook before my flight boarded, but didn’t have enough time to upload it here. Once I boarded the flight, I entered full “vacation mode,” and chose to allow myself to prioritize vacation mode rather than posting. I hope you will also allow me that grace, after the fact. I’m posting this here today for continuity, when I begin blogging again after re-entering “reality” after my trip, probably tomorrow.]
— I’m sitting at the Portland airport right now, early Sunday morning, awaiting my flight to the East Coast for a week’s vacation that I booked about three weeks ago. I’m going to visit someone I’m looking forward to spending time with, but escaping the smoke is an unexpected benefit.
Things keep changing so rapidly in life these days, and often for the worse. For the past several days here in Portland, the air quality has been the worst of any place in the world. Breathing easily has become something we can no longer take for granted. On Friday I biked home from work, about 20 minutes, in air that was deemed unhealthy for as little as five minutes. But at my desk in my workplace, and in every room of my home, the smoke seeped in as well. Last night I woke up about once per hour, each time noting the diminishing air quality.
Meanwhile, the fires blaze throughout Oregon and throughout the entire West, destroying millions of acres of wildlands, as well as entire communities. I have friends and acquaintances who have lost their homes, and I am overwhelmed to think of what that must be like. The odds of the flames reaching Portland and destroying or damaging my neighborhood are very slim, but the specter of the possibility has hung over us all for the past few days. Would we need to evacuate? How? To where? Just this morning, I heard that although it’s unlikely the flames will reach us, Portland might still be evacuated simply because of the choking smoke.
A week ago, I was bicycling through beautiful parklands, oblivious that this would become our new reality so quickly.
As I have written before here, I have feared my ability to be able to continue blogging continuously in the coming year. Sure enough, overwhelm and fear have overtaken me this week, rendering me incapable of much other than zombie-walking through the motions of work and home life, pondering the human condition and mortality.
So… I’m reminded of how important pacing is, in all aspects of life. It will be important for me when I’m cycling through my days, around the nation. It is important as I prepare for this journey. It is absolutely important for all of us as we navigate an increasingly complex, ever-changing, and scary reality.
We need to protect ourselves. We need to help and support each other, through tragedies and challenges. We must not allow ourselves to become burned out.
So, for the coming week I will take a hiatus to rest my lungs and my mind in North Carolina. I will trust that when I come back, I will return to blogging.
I’m not on my bike today. I’m sitting here on the couch instead, feeling slightly dazed, with orange sky around me from all the fires in the area. Here in Portland it’s not really too bad, but my Facebook feed is full of photos and accounts from friends in suburbs and more outlying areas—here in Oregon and also up and down the West Coast—including friends who have had to evacuate, and friends in prison in Salem who have had other prisons “evacuated into” their population.
What a surreal and frightening reality.
I am reminded again that I was bicycling blissfully several days ago, not thinking of fires. One place that has been evacuated is Estacada, where I biked about a 50-mile round trip a couple of weeks ago to sample vegan cinnamon rolls at a locally owned bakery. I wonder how the owners and workers of that bakery are doing. Have they had to leave their homes? Will their homes be there when they return?
Friends are posting that they don’t know where they will go if they need to evacuate. I don’t have a plan for myself at this point, and I really hope I will not need to.
Thinking about this reminds me of a life principle:
“What is possible right now, in this moment? Whatever it is, do that thing!”
This applies when conditions are “good”: optimize them! Do the very coolest thing you have access to in that moment. You don’t know how long that cool thing will be available to you as an option. It also applies in difficult or more limited situations, like right now: maybe I could pack an evacuation bag, just in case. Get some affairs in order. Organizing a few key things in my life is crucial in an emergency, but also helpful even if the emergency doesn’t come to pass.
I’m thinking ahead to my plan to bike around the country. In all likelihood, I will encounter many unexpected obstacles, including forest fires and/or other natural disasters. I will need to work with whatever is possible in any given moment, and accept whatever reality I encounter, with creativity and pragmatism.
What realities are you facing in this moment? What can you do with those conditions, in this moment, to best serve you or others?
Today feels very different from yesterday. This is the Labor Day weekend in the US: the cultural, if not meteorological, end of summer. People usually spend it outdoors. If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few days, you know that I was outside on my bike on Saturday and Sunday. Today I thought I might take a rest, partly because the weather forecast showed heavy winds, which are almost unheard of at this time of year in Portland. I figured it was some 2020 weirdness, and I was just going to flow with it by staying close to home. Maybe talk to some people about their dreams, and possibly write about that here.
I suppose it was indeed 2020 weirdness. The physical events descended, and then seemed to crescendo, and my emotional response followed.
In the late afternoon, not only did the winds pick up and lend a surreal feeling to my brief trips to the laundry room and corner store, but the sky filled with smoke from nearby forest fires. The winds carried the particulates quickly. I went inside and made sure my windows were closed, even though it was hot and I would have otherwise appreciated the ventilation. Local friends on Facebook began reporting that the power had gone out in their neighborhoods as a result of downed trees from the wind. The sky darkened; the sun glowed a surreal red; the neighbors who had been out chatting in the back retreated to the safety of their homes.
Scrolling my Facebook feed, I also learned that a group of “Proud Boys”—aggressive white supremacists—had been holding an armed rally today at Oregon’s state capitol building in Salem, 50 miles south of here. A friend of mine posted that she had gone to the capitol as a peaceful counter-protester, and one of the rally’s attendees had snatched the sign out of her hand and pepper-sprayed her in the face when she had been pleading with him not to hit someone else with his baseball bat.
I also read that that same group of Proud Boys had rallied in the sleepy outer Portland suburb of Oregon City, earlier in the day. A different friend posted a testimonial from a local mother in that area who said that her Black son had been repeatedly racially harassed in that town, including by a local police officer who pointed a taser at him. The officer had responded to the call of several bullies who had used racial epithets toward her son, who had been simply minding his own business in his car in a parking lot at the time. As a result of these recent incidents, she felt that her son was unsafe in Oregon City, and they were planning to move.
I had cycled right through Oregon City just yesterday, on the way to that beautiful park in West Linn. I did think briefly of my white privilege at the time, wondering how different it might be for me cycling through small towns if I were not white. And then, today, I read these two stories.
Just a few hours later this evening, another friend posted a story about a 12-acre brush fire that had damaged four buildings in Oregon City tonight. I had biked right past those buildings yesterday, along a beautiful riverfront path. Lots of families were out along the path and on the water for the holiday weekend. It all seemed so calm and pleasant… and now, today, the literal and metaphorical winds have changed, bringing natural disaster and violent racism in their wake.
The juxtapositions are a lot for me to sit with tonight:
Sunday vs. Monday
Pleasant weather vs. fire and smoke
White vs. Black
Safety vs. danger
A lovely, challenging bike ride vs. holing up on the couch, windows closed
There is a context to this dream I’m moving toward. We are living in times that feel apocalyptic, ecologically and socially. Beneath the outward normalcy of bike rides, days in the park, and people going about their business, lurks a palpable, collective sense of fear that the world is starting to burn, literally and figuratively.
Will this nation even be hospitable enough for me—in a variety of contexts—to see this trip through, a year from now? What will have been destroyed in the intervening time? So much hangs in the balance this coming November, but regardless of who ends up in the White House in January, so many destructive processes are already underway, and building momentum. How will we, collectively, find our way out of the place we now find ourselves? How will we dream into a better future for all of us, and for the planet that sustains us? This is a big part of what I want to do with my time and energy on this planet, however much time and energy I may have left. I want to help us all to dream into the future we want, and to then take the concrete steps to get from here to there.
Do you have ideas? I would love to hear from you, to help you hold the vision and flesh it out if need be. If you’re open to it, I may write about your dreams here. We need to start now.
I am finding that blogging about my fears seems to help dissipate them. I love this, and hope it continues. (I recommend some version of this to anyone reading: if you don’t have a blog, maybe post about some of your fears on Facebook, or tell them to friends. See if it helps!)
Case in point: Yesterday I wrote that I had a hard time getting myself out of the house in time to go to the nature park I had hoped to visit in West Linn. While that ended up turning out fine, because I chose to make a new plan and do some “hill work,” and enjoy beautiful views on Mt. Tabor instead… I am pleased to report that today, after my livestreaming concert ended at about 2:45, I got everything together in time to head out the door at 3:15, bound for the park. (Mary S. Young State Park, if you’re in the Portland area and want to visit yourself.)
I had a lovely ride, and found the park to be incredibly beautiful, with forested trails and river access. I decided to take a different route on the way back, so that I could do a bit more hill work and enjoy more beautiful views in the Tryon Creek Natural Area, as well as the River View Cemetery. The views and time spent in the perfect-temperature September evening were definitely worth it… but I did find myself facing another, now-familiar concern: How do people build up the stamina to handle all the distance and hills I will need to cover on my trip? How will I be able to do this? I estimate that I climbed less than 500’ on this trip today. I covered about 30 miles total in my loop. And I didn’t have any luggage or gear, except what I carried in my small backpack. On my nationwide journey, I expect to travel probably an average of 50 miles per day, and sometimes as much as 60. Elevation gains could reach 3000-4000’ on any given day. And I expect to have either a trailer with a suitcase, or possibly some version of packs rigged directly onto the front and rear of the bike. (I’ll figure out such logistics later, maybe next summer.)
How do people do this? It seems really challenging. I know people do it. How do they do it? I’m in decent shape, I think, and at 47, frankly I’m on the low end of the typical age for Brompton touring folks.
So… I guess if they can do it, so can I? I sure hope so. Maybe after a week or so of putting in the miles every day, I’ll just get used to it? All I can do is hope so, and continue to give myself local excursions to practice between now and then. Maybe next summer I can begin “training” in earnest, with more and longer trips, and carrying a load.