Things I have learned from bike touring

1. People are generally good and will help you if they can
2. You can ask for anything if you ask it the right way
3. Pretty much everyone is approachable and has a story they are waiting to tell you
4. People can appreciate and bond over core principals of life
5. Although some people haven't experienced anything outside of their community, they want similar things
6. There are an infinite number of things to notice and be entertained by if you are in the right mind set
7. Being on a bicycle makes you see and appreciate more than you ever could by walking or would by driving
8. Strip malls and giant parking lots destroy the culture and feel of a city
9. A welcoming community is where you can be anywhere and not feel out of place
10. A clean bike chain is a happy bike chain
11. Don't ignore weather reports yet don't let them stop you
12. It is ok to wear the same shirt for a week straight
13. You can do anything when you have to
14. A life with out struggle or want is a life spent trying to pass time, waiting for it to seem real
15. When you set a goal and achieve it, it is ok to feel proud and celebrate
16. You are only as good as the things you contribute to the world
17. The most beautiful roads are the hardest to ride
18. It is good to pursue things that make you uncomfortable; progress comes from overcoming reservations
19. Life experience takes on more meaning the more you reflect upon it
20. There is a pulse and a beat to society that you can hear if you are open to it and it is beautiful

- Charlie

Keeping with the Joneses: Since South Dakota

             How to fill in what has happened since nearly a month ago. I regret not staying more consistent but I shall do my best to now explain the course of events and more importantly to explain how they are significant or impactful.  

              South Dakota was a long state, in its actual mileage yes but primarily in what became its monotony. Corn and Soy stretched as far as the eye could see and on the horizon stood giant windmills. It was those days in South Dakota that the magnitude of our trip really started to hit me. In the morning when we would get going it was common that we had only three to five different directions for the whole day. Go straight 25 miles, turn left 5 miles, turn right and go straight for 30 miles, destination will be on left.

Sometimes we could faintly see the area where we would camp that night from the place we would start in the morning. The landscape was so vast and we were so small, I actually felt totally alone sometimes, except for Charlie of course. We chased the setting sun all the way across South Dakota, spent a day going over to Mt. Rushmore and then continued on into the wide open state of Wyoming.

              I believe that on one of the days riding in Wyoming we saw more wild life than we did cars. The land is dry and to call some of the homes isolated is an understatement. The land itself however, was gorgeous. For 30 miles we could see a looming cliff face with colors kaki, red, and dark purple at the top. We peddled for two and a half hours with the same cliff face in our vista and in that time we watched clouds pass over top, the shadowed mountain looked emotional in the darkness and the earth had its own story to tell. This style of slow, almost methodical travel has an interesting effect on the mind. On an average day we will bike for nearly 8 hours and I am not present during most of that time. For much of it is in fact mindless or nonsensical, our minds wander from subject to subject with no rhyme or reason. I have images burned into my brain from the west because a whole day was spent reaching that one mountain or rolling through that one valley. That said, it is in the stillness of a long day such as these that our minds are free to explore or ponder and reflect on busier times gone by.

              One afternoon Charlie and I were taking a break on the side of the road, there was nothing but open land and barbed wire fences. It was totally silent, the wind did howl but besides that there was no noise. It was so empty that when we spoke it seemed as if the words were stolen from our mouths and sucked into the silent void of our surroundings. There were no walls for the sound to reverberate off of, not passing cars to talk over, only the wind to carry my words away.

Finally, after another five days and the comfort of Charlie’s parents visiting us in Wyoming for a few nights we approached something more than the cowboy ranch land. The Rocky Mountain range stretched to the far corners of the horizon line and I don’t remember seeing anything or feeling so in awe until this point. The flat planes which were, for the most part, our daily staple were interrupted by the eruption of the mountain range and as we came into Yellow Stone national park we saw firsthand just how active the area was. Sulfur pits, geysers and boiling hot pools littered much of the park and so did wildlife. Besides all of the tourists in Yellow Stone the Wyoming nature was a dominating aspect of the landscape and it was a surprisingly good feeling that it seemed animals in Wyoming have the space they need to be wild and thriving.

              From there we had to make a hard choice, funds were beginning to be an issue and we have a time restraint to be back by the end of September, because of this we skipped Idaho. My father flew out to enjoy Yellow Stone with us and we realized before he came that we were running out of time and money. My father brought a bike rack for the car and drove us to the Oregon border. What we had forgotten was that our initial estimates had not included detours to both Detroit and Minneapolis so our trip had be altered by over 500 miles already. We unknowingly chose to see Michigan and Minnesota in place of crossing Idaho. We caught the ride, were dropped at the eastern Oregon border and continued on.

Driving was an experience in itself, things whizzed by and although I saw the land scape I did not feel it, I never heard the noises, felt very little of the climate, and the AC filtered much of the air. In one day we did what Charlie and I would have done in over 10 days. For this I am sorry, but for Minneapolis, Detroit and everything in between I am thankful. I do not regret the ride although there is a whole in me and I cannot say that I biked every inch, which is what stings the most.

Oregon welcomed us with open arms, it is funny now that I am a bike rider to think of how thankful I am for road signs which alert cars of my presence. As we approached blind turns there was always something before it started that said “share the road” or “watch for cyclists” I could hug the person that thought of someone like me and organized the raising of that sign. A bicycle is a vehicle by code, but the streets don’t always make that easy and many car drivers don’t seem to know that I am aloud to ride in the street. There can be and has been some serious hostility by drivers but Oregon is kind and welcoming as I said.

One night we stayed in a small church in a town of about 100 people, the food in town was incredible, everyone said hello to each other and in front of every business was a sign which read “bicycle friendly community” it was outrageous considering the trail blazing we had to do in many of the other states.

              On the other hand Oregon was an introduction back into a very mountains region and our legs recognized the change, but after four days we made it to our resting point, Eugene Oregon. Eugene is home of the Oregon Ducks but also to a long history of counter culture, bike enthusiasm and an environmental ethic. Eugene was also the closest we had seen to a green city or bicycle Mecca like we hear about in Europe and Portland, although Minneapolis held its own. Two directional bike lanes, signs guiding bikes around town, one way bike streets and great local food. Urban farms, local food, farmers markets and non-profits dedicated to serving the public a decent meal composed the cities food culture.


              Eugene is also Charlie’s old stomping ground as he only graduated from the UO 6 months ago. We took in the town and Charlie showed me the place which had raised him for the last four year. It is funny to think how I have been raised by the Bronx and he Eugene, they are so different and both so unique.

              After five days we left Eugene, on our way out we were joined by three other riders, we met two of them in Eugene and they had very similar plans for heading to the coast. The third rider was Charlie’s roommate from collage and together we were the bike brigade. Along the way we met an ex air force piolet traveling in his electric tricycle and other bike travelers all with their own stories and quarks. There is an instant connection we have with bike travelers and I rarely smile bigger than when I am with a bunch of cyclists.

              We hit the Pacific on the same day that we left Eugene, the ride was nearly 100 miles but the excitement carried my legs up and down with ease. We were also old pros which was a nice change, the three new riders had never been on a tour before and seeing as Charlie and I had just survived 3,000 miles we had a bit of credibility.

              For both Charlie and I seeing the Pacific was a moving experience, it had been so often a thought, “when we reach the coast dude… it’ll be awesome.” We had finally made it. Fishing boats and Scruffy sailors saddled up next to us at the breakfast counter while loggers past us on the road. It was everything we hoped for and more. The ‘more’ however was ocean cliffs which ebbed and flowed high and low all along the coast. We are still riding these giants and only a few days ago we had nearly 6,000 feet of elevation over 70 miles. Luckily my loving and curious mother came out to see how we were doing and helped to motivate us along the way. All that said the feeling of home keeps us going, not on some hills, but we remember that we love this once we reach the top.

              Charlie and I arrived in San Francisco yesterday and are very happy to be here, it is the largest city we have seen since Minneapolis or even Chicago and it is fun to be back in the hustle bustle.

- Noah

 

Asphalt Cowboys

What a day in the west feels like

 

The sun rises at 6, but light is starting to hit the Great Plains by 5:30. It is at that very same time that our alarms start to go off. Charlie’s 5:30 alarm goes off which annoys me because I set mine for 5:45 and I know he won’t be up until then. On the other hand I’ll be over ambitious some nights and set an alarm for 5:15 which I subsequently snooze and as I roll over to change positions I’ll catch a death stare from Charlie that says more than words ever could.

              We roll and stuff our sleeping mats and sleeping bags away and 6:00 we are out of the tent. We have to do that first so that there is no temptation to return for even just a moment. We did that once in Wisconsin and then didn’t crawl back out until 9:30, and even then it was only because the sun started cooking us. Charlie usually puts water on our camp stove and while it heats up we pack the tent, our tarp, and then stuff it all into a pannier.

              Once the water is boiled we pour two cups of our instant coffee and add a little hot chocolate mix which we decided tastes better than just the instant coffee. The rest of the water is used for instant oatmeal; lately we have been going steel cut just for the fun of it.

              Once we have eaten and silently starred into the morning sky for long enough the coffee kicks in and we get dressed. Bike shorts slide on the bottom, shirts get pulled over top and butt butter is liberally applied for lubrication and to improve performance on the bikes (mainly it prevents chafing). A quick stretch ensues, dishes are cleaned, sunscreen applied, and if all goes well we are on the bikes by 7:30 or 8:00.

roads stretch on forever out here

roads stretch on forever out here

              The morning hours are the very best for riding, the air is still cool and the wind hasn’t picked up too much. Morning energy carries our legs like nothing and over the flat plains we can average at least 15 mph. Our schedule for riding is 50 min on 10 min off, the little breaks allow us to get the most out of the 50 minutes spent riding and prevents serious fatigue. As our biking schedule has solidified so have the ways we entertain ourselves. Most mornings start with outrageous laughter, the coffee makes us slap happy and we joke about nonsense all morning. After the second 50 mins we often throw on music, our bluetooth speaker provides great sound as we practice our freestyling, work on new bike dance moves, or sometimes just sing along.

              Speaker time usually lasts until the third 50 min break and at this point we will stop for a longer lunch. PB&J is a go to, with some fruit, a power bar and lots of water. Usually we will pull up under a tree somewhere and listen to some Jack Johnson, or whatever else will soothe the soul. After about 45 min we get back on the road.

              At this point we have usually gone about half our distance, it is nearing midday, and our energy is still good. Unfortunately, this is when the wind really arrives. Throughout planning this trip we were warned countless times about the amount of wind we would be feeling as we traveled west. I hate to say it but they were all so so right. The plains bring a whole new caliber of wind that we weren’t ready for. All afternoon it hits us right in the face and makes us pay for being so fool hearty to travel west.

 One of the most frustrating moments was just after I had reached the top of basically the only hill we had seen all day. I slowed down peddling and wanted to just coast for a moment because the wind wasn't so bad. As I did however, the hill started to drop off below me and was no longer providing wind cover. Like a slap to the face the wind brought me to a sudden stop and I had to peddle even harder to just keep from toppling over. Even after starting down the hill I had to pedal hard to gain some speed. Wind can be worse than any hill because unlike the hill there is no end to the wind and it can be demoralizing/ totally soul crushing to ride against the invisible wall.

              Charlie and I continue with our 50 min intervals and usually start education hour in the later parts of the day. Education hour involves primarily podcasts or audiobooks that we will listen to on our ride. It stimulates our minds and helps to keep us growing on the ride. Also, it helps to keep conversation lively and fresh about the things we learn that day. Our growth is stimulated through learning so without new ideas we would stay stagnant in our thought process. We want to be more informed than when we left school and with so many awesome resources we can learn just about anything.

              We usually arrive at our campsite anywhere between 2 and 4 in the afternoon depending on the days ride. The campsite routine starts with setting up the tent and sleeping pads straight away, outcome changes of clothes and we go hit the showers. Soap is then liberally applied and we sing and laugh as other campers gawk at my scary tan lines.

At this point dinner must be taken care of and two things may have already happened: One, we ate like pigs in the town nearest to our campsite, grabbed food at a grocery store for the morning and road with bellies very full about 5 mph to our campsite. Two, we went shopping and picked up anything from tacos to pasta or a hearty soup with bread. Then we cooked all of that on our camp stove before calling it a night. 99% of our cooked meals are completely vegetarian because Charlie is kind enough to accommodate my eating habits, however, on occasion Charlie will grab some meat for himself which he cooks in a separate pot.

After dinner we clean up, maybe journal a bit or play the harmonicas that my dad gave me before we left for the trip. We are in the tent by 9:30ish and I’m usually asleep a few min after, while Charlie takes longer to fall asleep.

Those are the nuts and bolts of each day and it never gets old. Sometimes we might be lazy and not want to clean or we might whine about having to ride really far one day but all of it is just fluff. When asked we always have an endless amount to say about the trip or we are very tired. More than anything people have been nice and helpful, the land has been beautiful, and we are really starting to see some new environments now that we are this far west. In a few days we are going to cross over the middle of the North American continent and enter what is truly the west side.

- Noah

The kindness we have experienced

Just now as I was writing the "What days in the west feel like" blog post in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota library I began talking with a fellow patron to my right. He was a big man, tall and a bit heavy set. He wore glasses and had a generally jolly disposition even though he was telling the neighbor to his right about how work was messing him around. After a minute or two he tilts his computer screen towards me and says watch this. It was a random Facebook video but it was the start to our conversation and it eventually lead to him asking me what I had done to wind up in Sioux Falls.

I told him of our story and because he was already on Facebook I directed him to our page. He was so complementary and began chuckling his way down our whole page looking at all of our posts and occasionally saying “you’re crazy” or “this is the kind of stuff you read about in magazines.” By the end he was even more intrigued and so I continued to answer questions while he began to fully comprehend the scope of our trip. I showed him the Kickstarter video which again brought about joyous laughter and he talked as if only he and I were the only two in the library.

Just before he got up to leave he reached into his pocket and gave me the six dollars he had on him. I told him I couldn't but he insisted and said he wished he had more. I asked him his name and he told me it was Robert. We both smiled, shook hands, and then Robert left. As he did he patted me on the back and told me that he was proud.

I don't think I'll ever see Robert again, but my memory of him and his kindness today will not be forgotten. Nor will the countless others who have bought us food, let us stay at their house, or given us directions, or just shared their stories with us. Not to forget all the people that helped get us here in the first place.

We just can’t wait to lend our help to others as they have so graciously given to us. It’s the little stuff that keeps having the big impacts. And swimming in the Mississippi, that was big.

Can Biking Improve the Health of a Community?

After over 2,000 miles and 50 days living off of our bicycles we have gotten a perspective on American communities that are unique to the two wheeled experience. The combination of our everyday experiences and the work we have been doing to film Westward Wheels have taught us to look at how cities and communities work in a new light. On a bicycle you can cover large distances but you are always exposed to the landscape and people you pass. While sitting in a car you are in an insulated and air conditioned box that separates you from your surroundings. On a bike you are a person standing there, ready to engage the physical and social landscape. As a result we have gotten to talk to more people than we would otherwise and have experiences that could only come on a bike.

So when we are interviewing people who talk about the connections made through bicycling we can really appreciate what they are saying. We have been lucky enough to get interviews with city activists in the cycling world, in both the private and public sectors. While we have been feeling the reality of what they are saying, these individuals have articulated these feelings in a way that we need to share and perpetuate.

So this brings me to the question: Can biking improve the health of a community?

The short answer is yes. Bicycling improves both the health of the individual and the community.

We stayed with Warm Showers hosts in Youngstown, Ohio who, in their mid 70’s are touring around the world and biking every day. They are a healthy, happy couple who feels the empowerment of riding a bicycle and the effects it has on their physical and psychological health. They are a prime example of how riding a bicycle keeps a person physically and mentally healthy. Exercising every day keeps a person physically healthy for obvious reasons but it also contributes to the mental health of a person. Co-founder of Slow Roll Chicago, Olatunji Oboi Reed, shared with us that getting back on a bicycle helped him to overcome depression and gave him the motivation to devote his life to bettering his community. Being outside, getting exercise, arriving somewhere on your own efforts, and engaging the community, promotes confidence and mental fortitude.

What I really want to explore is how having a community of people that bicycle makes a socially, economically, and physically healthy environment.

When people are riding bikes they are more apt to talk with other people (not being insulated in a car), try a new business (having extra money saved from not driving a car and being able to stop without finding parking), and to explore a new part of their community. We were lucky enough to hang out with The Bike Life in Detroit and learned about how groups of Detroiters use their bicycles as a medium to explore new neighborhoods, have fun, and get together in a healthy social setting.

Having more people on bikes contributes to the economy of a community because people have more disposable income and are exposed to new businesses more often. As Matt Grey from Sustainable Cleveland explained, biking improves the equity, economy, and environment of a community because it lowers costs of road maintenance, allows businesses to utilize space that would be used for parking, and gives the individual more spending money. Rather than devoting up to 20% of an urban area to car parking, having more bike friendly facilities lead to more space that can be used for new businesses, farmers markets, and other community events.

Lastly, healthy individuals lead to a healthy community. Almost every person we have asked described a healthy city as a place where people can move around. Rather than devoting all infrastructure to cars (which destroys culture and inhibits people who can not afford a car), more support for biking means that more people will travel and exercise at the same time. As Olatunji from Slow Roll Chicago explained, many urban environments do not provide its residents with access to healthy food or places to exercise. Bicycling is a free way of exercise and allows the individual to travel to a place where they can buy healthy food.

In addition to the human benefits, more bicycles on the road means less pollution, less road maintenance, and less fossil fuels being used in general.

We hope that our project will encourage people to see bicycles as a cheap, sustainable, and practical tool to combat the unhealthy aspects of communities across the country.

 

Should I Stay or Should I go?

Never have I experienced such freedom as I have during the last month on the road. There is something so wondrous out there and I am free to know it.

As dawn breaks and my day starts the road calls out to the early bird. It’s still quiet, dew sits on everything as we load our bikes and as I finish I slide the plastic bag off my seat to reveal the smooth, leather saddle. It waits for both me, and the many miles ahead.

I loved our days in the big cities, ideas move fast, new people get talking and around every corner is food, drink, and good music. Most importantly are our friends who make the cities warm and give them their charm. Together Charlie and I have seen nearly every great city of the North East and Midwest and they each have drawn us in with their creativity, passion, and caring. Which is actually a statement about the people. People have made the cities what they are and I keep falling in love with those people.

Should we stay or should we go?

We ask ourselves this on the last night, or second to last night, of our stay in each city.

On one hand the road calls to us, as I said it is where we are truly free. The wind against my face, legs spinning effortlessly below me, and a landscape that I’ve never seen and may never see again. That is the rush of crossing a continent, the freedom to sleep where my tent fits, a moment to be with the people, and to see whatever might be out there.

On the other hand why leave? The more I peddle the sooner it all ends. The sooner I have to decide upon the unknown and make decisions about a life which I’m not even sure I’m ready to lead. Furthermore, what more do I need? I already have food, water, shelter and friends. I’m in Chicago right now for instance. I’ve been invited to stay as long as I want, the city is clean, welcoming, warm, and there are lots of pretty girls. A young man could make his way here, make more friends, and sing the summer away.

So Should I stay or should I go?

Go out into the world and onto the road where I can be free but things are harder. Or stay with people that care in a city that excites me but won’t change. The answer is new because I only recently learned of its truth but from what Charlie and I have seen this whole world is filled with our family. The city houses them and the road moves them but everywhere they are kind and loving. The cities are warm because they are full of the family and the road is freeing because it can taking me to any part of my family I choose. So I must do both, I will stay another day and learn more about my Chicago family, but in two days I will go. There is more to learn from the families who I have yet to meet.

Speaking to my soul it gives me the freedom I crave and sends me safely to my next adventure. The road is for all of us, to share and to travel, so we all may meet each other and call each other brother or sister.

-Noah

Reflections through the Rust Belt

The last two weeks have taken us from Pittsburgh through Detroit- through the heart of the so called, "Rust Belt." Although the people we met were vibrant, many of these cities (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo) visibly show the decline of manufacturing and then jobs.

These cities were built around production and exporting goods. In the down towns you see union offices, banks, and office buildings that look like they were grand and often used twenty years ago. Just outside of the one time business center are neighborhoods that hang between disrepair and rejuvenation- beautiful homes that have either been kept up to their previous glory or left to slowly wear away until you see entire blocks of houses that are about to fall down like we saw in Cleveland, or Detroit.

Cities like Pittsburgh or Detroit were built to be grand, internationally respected cities that housed over a million people. Now, there is often half that population but the people who do live there have the freedom and ability to pursue their individual passions. These cities are finding new ways of attracting, and keeping residents.

While in the past a city could maintain, and even grow, their population by having jobs, now the cities must evolve in response to the wishes of the people, rather than business. The giant streets built to accommodate trucks are being converted to bike lanes. Abandoned factories and warehouses are the sites of music venues and vibrant murals. The decreased population leaves people with more time for each other and to develop a sense of solidarity.

Yes, there are aspects of these cities that are down right depressing. We saw entire neighborhoods with out any businesses, whole streets of abandoned houses and broken glass on the ground, and a struggle between the people and entrenched political power. Yet the experiences we had with the people we met helped us see that these cities are not dead, and should not be forgotten.

From a vibrant bike culture in Pittsburgh, to urban farming in Detroit, to public festivals in Cleveland, there are thousands of people working to make their cities a better place to live.

Perhaps there is more freedom and opportunity to have your voice heard in a city with less people and more space. I think that it is cities like these that will be the sources of innovation in the future. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, or Austin have many voices to consider and many hoops to jump through while the Rust Belt cities have the a more clear path towards reworking their structures.

I am willing to admit that maybe I am looking at these cities through rose colored glasses and that I visited them at a time where there is a lot of innovation, but the fact that we were able to experience such positive things has to count for something.

-Charlie

Ride with Randy LoBasso of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

IMG_6323.jpg

Things are happening here in Philly. Over the last 10 years the city has revamped its self from a declining city to an urban environment that supports movement. Everywhere you look is a bike lane, a jam session in the park, a running group, a city wide happy hour, and young professionals making their way into vegan eateries.

While we only got a taste of Center City (not to ever be called the city center for some reason) Philadelphia surprised us with how bike friendly it is.

We met with Randy LoBasso, the Communication director for the Bicycle Coalition of greater Philadelphia for a ride around town and a discussion of what the city is doing to support and empower it's residents' ability to move through out the city.

Over the last 10 years, hundreds of miles of bike lanes have gone in, helping Philadelphia have one of the highest rates of bicycle commuters for any large city in America. As Randy said,

"A healthy city is one where people are free to move around..."

Philly seems to be becoming a healthier city by the day. After a long, 7 year process with countless community meetings and discussions, the city implemented a bike share system called Indego (http://bicyclecoalition.org/our-campaigns/bike-share/#sthash.zZDPjpiP.dpbs). While other cities may have had bike share systems before Philadelphia, they are doing it differently.

 

As Randy explained, the majority of bike share users are,

"... middle class white people who hop on the bike to ride three blocks to work..."

What Philadelphia is doing is placing a majority of the stations in lower income areas. This helps to empower the people who can really benefit from access to a bike.

Think about it- rather than $90 a month for a public transportation pass that means waiting for the bus, being restricted by routes, and wearing down the roads, one could pay $15 for unlimited access to a bike. This means riding wherever you want, whenever you want. The ability to find/hold a job is dependent on being able to get to your place of work. By giving more people access to bikes Philadelphia is empowering its residents to move and move freely.

We loved Philly and were sad to leave, but there are miles to be covered and people to meet. 

Check out the Bicycle Coalition here: http://bicyclecoalition.org/

A most trying day

Today (Mon. 6-08) was the longest yet. 4,000ft of climbing over a 60 mile stretch. My gears locked up several times because I did a poor job shifting into a lower gear, but even still a couple hills flat out beat me. After about 40 miles Charlie and I stopped at a small shack on the side of the road called Shake & Shack.

I ate a bad veggie wrap that had way too much mayo and a smoothie that tasted like the fruit was flavored corn syrup. As we sat under the canopy which was just to the side of the building we fell into conversation with two older guys sitting behind Charlie. They were asking where we were headed and what our plan was. As we talked the wind continued to howl and grow in strength. The men mentioned that it was supposed to thunderstorm that afternoon around 3:00. It was 2:30. We had another 20 miles to go and it involved going over the top of a mountain. To say the least, we were not confident that we could make it.

Before we left in a panic the two men gave us a tip, we could ride through a closed turnpike that would allow us to go under the mountain. We hopped on our bikes and made the ride as quick as we could for the tunnel. It was a long shot but the other option was brutal so we went for it. As we rode the hills continued as they had been for the last two days. Up and down we went will the storm growing over head. Suddenly, as we neared the top of a steep hill  the wind came up to maybe 20 miles an hour and with it, the most torrential down poor I had ever experienced. At the top of the hill was a house and barn. A shout came from Charlie to take shelter in the barn. We ran up to the edge of the barn and tucked ourselves under an overhang. The rain was coming down and struck the earth with such force it seemed as if the water had it out for the land.

Charlie and I left our bikes and ran 40 ft over to the main house hoping to find the owner. No one was there. We went back to the bikes and stood while the rain poured and wind blew. After a minute or two a man appeared from within the barn. He surprised us a first but his face was kind and we all got to talking. His name was Keith and he had lived on the farm all his life. It was originally his grandfather’s land but now he just leased the land to other growers who grew alfalfa for horses.

Keith had served in the Navy on a submarine, he told me that although he liked to travel, “there was no place like home.” He told us of how the land had changed as it developed and the local populations grew. New roads and highways cut the land while new people moved in. I filmed the rain for a while and watched deer eat the alfalfa at the end of the field. After a time the rain stopped and we asked Keith if he knew of the abandoned tunnel. He said he did and that it would get us to Breezeville which was our destination.  Keith said he had to go to town but before he left we asked if we could stay in his barn that night. He kindly said that we could. We decided not to stay.

In a moment that we thought was clear we hopped on our bikes and made a break for the tunnel. Racing down to where it was on the map the rain started similar to earlier and we were quickly getting soaked. The road seemed to go too far and a car passed towing horses. The trees blocked our vision and the only sky we could see was the darkest part of the cloud. As it set in over our heads it unleashed the full force of the rain. We turned around, there were two options, find this tunnel or hide under our emergency tarp until the weather past. On the second go around we luckily found a road tucked away that had a sign TURN PIKE ENTRANCE. We took it and went fast. Up the broken asphalt road after a quarter mile we met a yellow guard rail, too high to go over and too low to go under, also because of the storm a branch was covering the four foot gap which would have allowed us to go around. A sign on the rail said for bikers to proceed at their own caution with a recommendation of head lamps and helmets. We cleared away the branch and climbed around the poring rain with only one goal in mind, to find the tunnel and take cover. 

The rain and wind together spat on our faces as we peddled on flat ground but with the resistance of the greatest hill we had met to date. Finally off in the distance we saw the tunnel entrance. Pitch black after only 25 ft from the entrance we stared into the abyss with no other option. I told Charlie to pull out his knife and put it in his pocket. I didn’t know what we would find inside, I wasn’t even sure there was another side.

 

I turned on my head lamp and flipped on my bike light, as did Charlie. With the three lights together we had roughly 20 ft of vision once we began down the tunnel. The wind continued to blow against us but it was slower now, losing its momentum at the later parts of the tunnel. Inside, other than the graffiti, the tunnel was smooth. The ground looked as if it had been made out of concrete and with the protection of the tunnel was in good condition. No pot holes, only gravel rocks and the occasional piece of trash or tire rubber. We sped along, Charlie would yell out in an attempt to scary off whatever might lie further on in the tunnel.

Finally we saw a light, it was too small to be the entrance but it was straight ahead of us. As we rode our nervousness helped move our feet faster and faster until finally the small hole of light grew to be the tunnel opening. We paused at the end, Charlie looked at me with great relief as we stood at the tunnel opening. Onward we continued, the gps said that we had a total of 18 miles from the shake shack and we had only covered about 6 by that point. We road on but now the rain had stopped and a spirit of optimism returned. As we rode we laughed about the feelings we had just had in the tunnel and what a crazy story it would be. And then in the distance appeared another tunnel opening.

We hadn't heard that there were two tunnels, but we went through it as well. This time with more confidence and the same strategy: peddle fast and stay sharp. Finally it ended and we continued up a long sloping hill which led off into a distance which we could not see. The rain began again. As we climbed steadily up the hill Charlie called out that my front tire looked flat. In fact, it was. In the madness I hadn’t even noticed that my front tire had popped. I hopped off my bike grabbed Charlies handle bars so he could work and quickly we began changing the tire. The rain continued to poor. After pumping like mad with our emergency pump Charlie finished the wheel. We got it back on my bike and in an instant were moving again, ever up the slopping hill.

Finally after 6 more miles of puddles, lighter rain, pot hole, and gravel we met another metal gate similar to the one we encountered on the west side of the turn pike. This time there was more room to pass and we rode on through. Down a dirt cliff we descended, walking our bikes, for the final time, leaving the turn pike behind and with only three quarters of a mile until the Econolodge were we would stay. We pulled up, got a room, showered, and went to dinner. Charlie and I hugged, joked and moved on. We were only at the end of week one, the trip had only just started.

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New York to Philly

Three days in and we have made it to Philadelphia. We had originally planned on being here one day sooner but heavy rains caused us to cut our first day in half- which turned out to be a great idea. We rode down Manhattan and took a ferry to Jersey City. As soon as we crossed the Hudson the rain started with a vengeance. Although we bought 99 cent store ponchos and put plastic bags on our feet, we were soaked to the bone.

We ride 67 miles up seemingly endless hills to Basking Ridge, NJ where we stayed with the parents of a friend. It was a great end to an exciting day and hopefully a sign of gracious hosts to come. We awoke bright and early to ride down to Trenton, NJ where we met with employees of Molina Healthcare. The good folks there welcomed us with banners, cheers, free t-shirts, and encouragement. One was even nice enough to lead us all the way to our host's house (a warm showers friend).

From Trenton we rode out for a cheap breakfast of terrible coffee and pork roll (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pork_roll). We left Trenton with our new friend Ryan, only for him to get a flat passing a construction site. He insisted we carry on, and ride we did.

Philadelphia is an interesting place. On one hand it is an old city- brick, columns, and grand building everywhere. On the other it has the feel of an up and coming city. Seemingly each street has a bike lane and a mass of joggers. The entire city seems to be moving. We went to the oldest bar in the city and danced amongst sweaty and happy Philadelphians. As of now we are looking in to our next move as we head towards Pittsburgh.

Charlie's arrival and the Westward Wheels departure

Charlie arrived in New York two days ago with a cheerful smile and pre-Disneyland boyish excitement. It ignited my spirit as usual and we jumped right into the routine of endless jokes and philosophical questioning but this time with a goal in mind. With only one week to capture a perspective of New York and a spirit of the people here, there isn’t much time for messing around. Not to mention we are about to bike 4,500 miles.

New York is an amazing city, I’ve had the pleasure of living here for the last four years and I get to share some of my experiences and the passion in this city with my best friend. Looking at the heat rise up off the pavement, the shuffling feet and endless servicemen and women of this city I can’t help but to think of what it takes to keep it all going.

I have heard of the city compared to a parasite in nature. The city latches on to its host, our mother earth, and begins to absorb its nutrients. It pulls water, food and energy from miles around to keep it happy and leaves nothing but waste for the host. It poisons the host’s systems and eventually breaks it down as we are seeing all around the world. In thinking about the city this way, I am still hopeful that this relationship can turn symbiotic.

I think that this is what Charlie and I hope to learn. How can all of us as individuals work together in our communities to live a lifestyle that is helpful and not harmful? While also having the free time to pursue our own passions. Hopefully we get some good answers from our peers as we come across them, day by day, hour by hour, in the hills in the cities and in the plains, our counterparts can help us learn to live well for ourselves and for others.

We begin our journey on Monday, June 1st and we are preparing until then.

-Noah

Hell for the Legs, Heaven for the Heart: Our New Bikes

We are leaving in about a month. Just thinking that fills me with a strange combination of terror and excitement. The gravity and depth of the challenge we are taking on is starting to become real.

What will happen to us physically after three months of sun, hills, and headwinds? How will we interact and work as a team to make millions of decisions?

In any case, all we can do is prepare, learn, and hope for the best. And we have been doing exactly that.

Noah and I both built our new Surly Long Haul Truckers last week and have devoted a lot of time to riding them/getting to know them. After stepping on to a brand new, finely tuned bike, I am ashamed to say that my old bike, Mikelah, perpetually feels like it is riding through mud.

In my first four days of owning my new LHT (yet to be named), I rode 150 miles over hills, mud, gravel, and miles of beautiful Oregon roads. All I can say is wow. The Surly seems to want to ride, and ride fast. The bike feels better the more weight I have on it and the faster I am moving. Although my legs are sore, I could not be more happy with my bike and excited to build a relationship with it.

I am flying out to New York on June 23rd for a week of preparation, filming, and farewells. Until then we are gathering the rest of our supplies, riding, and mentally preparing ourselves. On one hand I hope we are not being foolishly ambitious, but on the other I can't wait for the challenges of the roads and learning how to overcome them.

-Charlie

Two Months Out

Our journey across America is coming faster than we could have expected. With less than two months until we leave the Bronx, Noah and I have been hard at work acquiring gear, planning routes, and training.

Our gear is coming from one of our favorite bike shops, The Bicycle Stand in Long Beach, CA. The Bicycle Stand is an excellent place for anything from new, do-it-all bikes (like the Surlys we are getting) to refurbishing an old bike found behind your garage. It has quickly become a hub in the cycling community of Southern California and was the obvious choice of ours when it came to a shop we wanted to support.

Our bikes will be Surly Long haul Truckers, and industry standard touring bike that is built to be ridden anywhere. We will have front, and back racks with panniers and a handlebar bag. We will be carrying camping gear (tent, sleeping bags/pads, a stove, etc), tools for roadside repairs, a small amount of clothes, cameras, a laptop, and plenty of water.

With the help of community leaders in Long Beach, we have begun reaching out to individuals in cities/towns along our route. Our day to day routes will be decided more-or-less in the moment but our general timeline and route are being defined more and more each day.

We have also been training every day- preparing our bodies to not only have the strength to move a fully loaded bike, but to convert energy day after day for three plus months. We have both been trying to ride at least an hour a day, with larger rides on weekends. Being in Eugene, OR, it is fairly easy for me to find car-free routes and beautiful back roads to explore. Noah has been braving the streets and subways of NYC to get on his bike and train. We have begun phasing out weight training and anything that will add mass/muscle to anything but our legs.

Our kickstarter is being finished up and will be running by April 5th.

So please, follow us on this blog (www.westwardwheels.com), instagram (@westwardwheels), search for our page on facebook, and tell your friends!