Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving on the Road (and photos!)

     I know it's belated, but there's still an awful lot I'm thankful for. Ben and I had an interesting Thanksgiving, to say the least. I'm going to share it with you, but first of all, WE MADE IT TO NEW ORLEANS!!!!! Our final destination! It's very exciting, but also feels strangely surreal. We've been talking about New Orleans since we finished the last bike trip, and now we're actually here. It's amazing. More on that later.

    After spending two nights in Pecan Island with the loveliest of hosts, Juanita, we pedaled on to New Iberia, where we had lined up another host. Normally we don't spend all our nights with warmshowers hosts, but Louisiana was experiencing a rare cold snap all of last week and we weren't super excited about camping in freezing temperatures. We had a lovely night with Ronda and her children in New Iberia, and enjoyed Thanksgiving Dinner #1, which was their family's leftovers from an early holiday dinner the night before.

    We headed out in the morning frost, bundled up in all our pathetic layers (We were not planning on it being this cold in Louisiana. In fact I think I'm going to make a bumper sticker that says, "The South: Not as hot as you think). The riding was pretty good, determinedly flat, good roads, etc. We decided to stop for Thanksgiving Dinner #2 at The Yellow Bowl in Jeanerette. The food was buffet style, but unlabled so we just went for it. Think: shrimp fettucine, crawfish etoufee, potatos, deep fried turkey, iceberg lettuce salad, and deep fried dinner rolls. Everything just blended together on my plate to make one big creamy Thanksgiving lump. The owner of the restaurant (somehow) noticed that we weren't from around there, and we pretty quickly found ourselves the center of attention amongst all the guests, who were apparently all related to him. He brought us red wine and crawfish bisque, and spoke to us in real-live Cajun French, his first language.

After somehow managing to pile ourselves and our full bellies back onto our bikes, we headed back on the road. It was a good 30 or 40 miles before Ben realized he had a problem. The two supporting posts of his rear rack had managed to completely sever themselves, leaving his rack (and all the weight of his panniers) to balance on his poor rear fender. We weren't really sure what to do! Obviously it was totally ruined, so we probably needed to find a bike shop to get a new rack, which was a relatively unlikely scenario in middle-o-nowhere Louisiana on a holiday weekend. We tried feebly to hitchhike on the side of a busy highway, but it soon got dark and very cold and we decided to abandon that plan.

    We found ourselves in a weird non-town affiliated residential area, a mix of trailers and houses and a random frito-lay packaging plant. Bicycle tourists often talk about knocking on peoples' doors and asking if they can camp in their back yard, so we decided to give it a shot.

    The first house we knocked on was answered by a gruff hulk of a man who said "no," like it was the most shocking thing anyone had ever asked him. And it might have been--remember, we're no longer in liberal west coast cities, where traveling long distances by bicycle and camping every night is a perfectly acceptable way to spend your time. We crossed the street and knocked on another trailer. We had just seen a woman pull up and go inside the trailer, so we thought we had a good shot. No answer. Ben knocked two more times, still no answer.

    We started to get a little nervous, and decided to try one last trailer. This one had little kid toys spewed all over the lawn, so we guessed whoever was inside would be a bit more compassionate. A young woman holding an baby answered the door, listened to our spiel, and shrugged, "Yeah, you can sleep in the backyard," then walked away from the door. Thrilled, we started scoping out a place to set up the tent and discovered that the backyard was actually more or less a swamp in disguise as a lawn. But before we had a chance to think much about that, a young man came out of the trailer and said in the thickest Louisiana drawl possible, "ya'll should come inside, it's cold out here."

    And so...that is how Ben and I found ourselves inside Quiana and Catfish's trailer, nestled in the warmth and comfort of an overstuffed couch, surrounded by piles of clothes, baby toys and other assorted objects, looking at photos and videos of their absent 3 year old daughter (on a camping trip with her grandparents). We spent the evening watching Duck Dynasty, listening to Quiana talk about pretty much anything (she seemed grateful for the company), and holding her 3 month old baby. It was very interesting--we were obviously from very different worlds, but we found some common ground and stayed there. They didn't ask us too many questions about our bike trip, which was kind of refreshing after a few weeks of people being so shocked by our choices that they can barely even see straight.

    At some point Quiana told us a little about her neighborhood. Ten or so miles down the road from Franklin, Ricahoc (sp?) is actually its own town, though all it consisted of was the few houses and trailers we had found ourselves in. She told us very casually that there's a high population of sex offenders around, including the yellow house across the street (the first door we knocked on!). She also mentioned that her neighbor, the second door we knocked on, called her after she saw "two strange men in bright yellow jackets" knocking on her door, and was looking for her pistols before she opened the door. Great. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

    Besides being presented with amazingly generous hospitality, the best part of the whole experience happened the next morning. We had explained to Quiana and Catfish what was wrong with Ben's rack, and Catfish immediately suggested that we call his buddy who lived across the street and just happened to be an aluminum welder (a rare find indeed). We didn't want to get our hopes up, but sure enough Jesse met us outside his house the next morning, and welded Ben's rack back together in about 15 minutes before he took off to go deer hunting. What are the chances?

     So...all this is to say that we have an awful lot to be thankful for. I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to be on this wild bicycle adventure, of course. What a privilege! I'm also thankful I don't have to live in Ricahoc with sex offenders and people who will pull a pistol on anyone who knocks on their door on Thanksgiving night...although I'm also thankful that the people we met took care of our needs and treated us with kindness and respect. I'm thankful that an aluminum welder just happened to live across the street. But most of all, I'm thankful for the opportunity to let humanity do what it does best: take care of each other.

Here's some photos from the last few weeks! I promise to write more about NOLA in a couple days. For now, I'm out there experiencing it!

 Ben keeping cool in Joshua Tree
 Me behind the wheel enjoying the countryside in a different, more air-conditioned way
 The Grand C! Sure is grand.
 Our humble home for 1 night--the town hall of Merryville, Louisiana
 The Yellow Bowl--a Jeanerette, LA staple where we ate Thanksgivingg dinner #2, before Ben's rack broke
 The bayou!
Made it to New Orleans! Ben poses with Phil, our high school friend who is now an actual NOLA musician! He's so famous he's on a poster.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Southern Hospitality

A Brief Catch-Up

    We exchanged the cold, brilliant blue skies of the Southwest for the damp, thick air of the South. When does the Southwest turn into the South, officially? All artificial boundaries are lost in the bleak vastness that is Southern New Mexico and Eastern Texas. We drove straight from Roswell, New Mexico to Austin, Texas, thanking the heavens that we did not take it upon ourselves to bike across that wasteland. The endless fields of cotton were beautiful, yes--they added the magical quality of a snowy winterland in an otherwise eternal summer landscape. But there was no way I would still feel as positive after biking across East Texas for days, possibly weeks.
   We stayed in Austin for one night, explored the city by bikes and admired the hip kids, hip taco stands, hip coffees and cowboy boots. It's like Portland, only Western-themed! Then we headed to Houston, where we were hosted first by my friend Amelia and her family (a study-abroad friend from India), then our friend and former biking companion Charlie's parents, Fran and Becky! They were so good to us, feeding and entertaining us and just being good company for 2 days. Most importantly, they offered to let us store my mom's camper van in their backyard for a few months until she comes to claim it. On the morning we left, Fran even drove us and our bikes to the city limits so we wouldn't have to navigate the chaotic traffic jam that is Houston.

Southern Hospitality

    It wasn't until then that I felt the South. In all its hot, sticky glory, there it was. We biked to Liberty, a small town 35ish miles east of Houston. We found a nice city park and started making camp like we have often done before, figuring we wouldn't be bothering anybody. Around 9pm I headed to the tent to get ready for bed and escape the swarms of mosquitos that didn't seem to realize it was winter. A park security guard drove by, shining a bright light through the woods where we were camped. I heard him talking to Ben and I froze, thinking this would be the first time we would be kicked out of our "stealth camping" spot, dreading packing up all our gear in the muggy, mosquito-ridden night.
    Turned out the man was named Dee, was just about the friendliest security guard you can imagine. He mostly just wanted to meet me to make sure Ben wasn't holding any pretty little ladies hostage in the tent. We ran into him the next morning at the donut shop he recommended, where he passed out his homemade business cards and insisted that we call him down the road if we ran into trouble.

    The next day we biked through a few steady downpours en route to Kirbyville, Texas, where we had a promising warmshowers host to stay with. We were slowed a bit by the rain, and taken offguard by the fact that it now gets dark around 4:30/5pm. We have a policy of not biking on busy roads (or really at all) in the dark, so we stuck out our thumbs.
    Turns out hitchhiking is fairly easy in states where literally everyone drives a pickup truck. It only took about 10 minutes for Scott and his massive 4-door truck to come investigate 'what the hell we were doing out there.' After sizing us up and deciding two sopping wet bicycle tourists didn't pose a threat to him, he helped us load our bikes and gear into the back.
    We meet many people who think that we're crazy for choosing to spend our time by riding bicycles across countries, but this man thought we were just plain stupid. Or insane. Or some combination. And he let us know...in the sweetest way possible. The 20 or so minutes we spent with him were fascinating: On the one hand, he was rather ignorant, fear-mongering and rude. He told us we should never sleep outside, carry cash, or trust anybody we meet. Especially in Lousiana. They're the worst, apparently. He actually showed me his glove-box gun stash and told him we were stupid if we didn't carry one of those at all times. And he told Ben that if I were his daughter, he would "whup his ass" for dragging me along on this "death trip". I think he had an odd sense of humor and was trying to be funny...but he was also obviously deeply disturbed by our choices.
   But on the other hand, he was the sweetest guy in the world for completely going out of his way and bringing us to the door of our host's house. Of course he also thought it was "just plain stupid" that we were staying with someone we had never met, but he let that go. He didn't have to stop, he didn't have to help us out, and I think that somewhere buried deep within his insults was a genuine concern for two crazy kooks that could just as easily be his children.

    From then on, the incredible hospitality continued: We stayed that night with Debbie, not a bike tourist herself but a very nice lady who opens her home up to us without a second thought. The next day we crossed the border into Lousiana and stayed in the small town of Merryville. We were planning on camping in a field that night. It got surprisingly cold (36 degrees or so), so we holed up in a cafe for a couple hours. One lady working there couldn't believe we were sleeping outside and insisted on calling the mayor of the Merryville, who opened up the community center for us to sleep in. We made food in the kitchen, washed our dishes in warm water, and slept like little babies in front of a heater, all the while not believing our good fortune.
    After Merryville we biked to Hackberry, where we camped behind a Methodist Church. The next day we made it all the way to Pecan Island, where we've been for the past couple days due to a nasty storm and the sheer awesomeness of our host. Juanita has been, and continues to treat us like your favorite family members would--giving us chores if we want them, letting us veg out and watch T.V. if we want to, and cooking us the most amazing southern meals. She's invited us to stay for Thanksgiving--and believe me, it's tempting--but we think we're going to press on and try to make it to New Orleans by the weekend.

  And, so. There you have it. These people are amazing!! We have not met a mean person yet in Texas or Lousiana. Even here, where bicycle touring is obviously not a part of the culture, people are friendly, curious, and willing to share whatever they have with us. It's unreal. But that's not the whole story. We've also encountered more stern warnings than anywhere else on the road. People warn us about their own people: "Oh you're headed down to the Gulf Coast? don't bother, those people will run you over with their trucks and spit chewing tabacco on your squashed body," "You're going to Lousiana?? Better bring your gun..."
   I don't quite know what to do about these warnings. I don't want to be naive and laugh them all off like nothing bad can happen to me. But on the other hand I have experienced an overwhelming amount of goodwill from people compared to very few less-than-pleasant interactions. If you were to sit at home and watch the news every day, then you would probably think the world was a very evil place. But I'm out here in it and I'm here to say that it's great. Keep your wits about you, but trust people. They usually just want to serve you up some shrimp pasta or homemade biscuits, if you just give them a chance.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Oops! I forgot to post a few photos of our time in Southern California:

 painting our faces before the Day of the Dead celebration in LA! Olimpia is painting Christian's face in the foreground.
 Olimpia and me!
 Ben takes in the view in Topanga Canyon
 Sara photographs Sarah

Two Wheels Turn into Four

So...we're cheating. In a pretty big way. When we arrived in Southern California, the first half of our Epic Bike Adventure complete (~1,500 miles!) we were faced with a big decision, one that would alter the scope of our trip forever. My mom offered us the use of her superfancy Roadtrek camper van! Because she is crazy, and so giving, and full of adventure, she suggested we take the van as far as we want, and just leave it somewhere where Alaskan Airlines flies. This was no easy decision. We hemmed and hawed about it for several days as we explored LA. We finally decided to take it, as there was no way we'd make it on bikes all the way to New Orleans with our timeframe, so we would have to seek out alternate transportation anyway.

So our bike trip has turned into a temporary road trip! We're still planning on leaving the van in Austin, Texas, where we will get back onto our bicycles and continue our Epic Bike Adventure all the way to New Orleans. It's a little embarrassing--there is a certain amount of pride involved with being a bicycle tourist. Now we are using fossil fuels and clogging up the atmosphere just like everyone else. And it's more expensive! But I've sucked up my pride and settled into the routine of road tripping. We're still stealth camping, and making our own food. And we're still seeing and experiencing amazing things:

From Orange County we drove all the way out to Joshua Tree National Park, a sparse whimsical landscape in the middle of the Mojave Desert. We hiked around the park, marveled at the plants and creatures that can make a home in such a dry land, and even met up with two old friends, Austin and Katie who happened to be working in J Tree the same day we arrived!

Then we drove all the way over to the Grand Canyon, which was truly Grand. We took out the trusty old bikes and biked around the whole South Rim, where regular cars are not allowed to go. It was like biking in Yellowstone, but with no cars! Here's an idea: let's shut down at the National Park major roads to cars! Shuttles and bicycles do the trick quite nicely for plain ol' sightseeing.

After the Grand Canyon, Ben and I decided to head through the Navajo and Hopi reservations on our way to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The landscape was beautiful--jutting cliffs and mesas painted impossible shades of pinks, purples and pale greens. High Desert. The population density was very low, and every "town" we came upon was really just a collection of a few spread out houses.

We stopped in Keams Canyon for some coffee. We stopped to hold the door open for a couple coming up the stairs behind us. The old woman was adorned in every way possible with turquoise and silver, a huge purple skirt draped like a bell around her legs. She was struggling a great deal to walk up the steps, supported by an old man. Everything about her was beautiful and ancient, she seemed to belong in a different time. They spoke in another language to each other, and barely acknowledged us as we awkwardly stood there, smiling a bit too much, holding the door open.

The reservation was beautiful, but also a little sad. I wanted to ask the Hopi whether they appreciated having their own land, their own nation, or if it felt like segregation. I wanted to support them and their culture in every way possible, but all I came up with was smiling too broadly, staring too much, and saying thank you over and over again. I wanted them to know I appreciated them letting us experience their country. But all words, looks, gestures fell short. So we just climbed back into the camper and drove away.

SoCal: The Good, The Bad, and Traffic

Soooweeee!! We spent a whole week in Southern California! Dividing our time between Orange County and LA, we got a good dose of the sunshine, freeways, and un-bikability of the area. It was so good to see my family down there--Aunt Janice did a great job of getting everybody together on several occasions, which is a big feat because that family is always growing! Ben and I were lucky enough to have the freedom to explore LA and the OC with the help of a car Uncle Dirk let us borrow. Some of the highlights of SoCal:

-My new friends Olimpia and Christian (from the Vipassana retreat) invited us out to a Day of the Dead celebration at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. It was incredibly beautiful, interesting, and packed full of people--the number of people with their faces painted like skulls probably equaled the entire population of Alaska. But we survived.

-Hiking in Topanga Canyon with my dear friend Sara, who I traveled in India with! She was an excellent tour guide, taking us out for cheap vegan Thai food, cruising the promenade in Santa Monica, and out to the pier. She's also a photographer, and couldn't help taking amazingly beautiful photos of us, which confirms my belief that everyone should have a professional photographer on hand at all times.

-Dinner Party at my friend Juliet's house. She's an amazing cook! And we were lucky enough to get fed by her, as well as meet her awesome friends, boyfriend, and roommates in Echo Park.

-The Getty! Ben and I made it to the art museum about an hour before sunset, saw an incredible photography exhibit, then sipped tea and watched the sun turn the smog filled sky into vibrant shades of fuchsia.

-Knott's Berry Farm Amusement Park. Because all Alaskan kids are deprived of the glory of roller coasters. We spent the whole day there, went on about 12 roller coasters and there were no lines! Worth it.

So we did have some good times in Southern California. It is a beautiful place and there's plenty to do there...but I don't think I'll be moving there anytime soon. People always ask how we can put up with copious amounts of rain in Juneau, but I would take rain over hours and hours of traffic any day. It's glorious, truly, but unfortunately word got out.

And so we head into the more rural parts of America, seeking out thrills and people and great views that aren't already populated by one million of your closest friends. But stay tuned...the adventure will soon change gears...

Friday, November 1, 2013

On a Bed of California Stars

Ahh, the morning after Halloween. Happy Day of the Dead everybody! Ben and I spent the evening in Santa Barbara with my childhood friend Rachel Wolfe, and her boyfriend Daniel. There were costumes, carefully selected from Rachel's ample supply. There was beer-battered cod and empanadas. There were trick-or-treaters. And there was at least one scary movie which may or may not have contributed to my dreams last night. We even took a little stroll to check out the houses that go all-out to lure in trick-or-treaters and marveled at all the kiddos whose costumes did not involve long underwear and rain gear, who will never know what it's like to battle hypothermia and potential snowstorms just to obtain a few pieces of candy. Suckers!

Here's a few tidbits from the last week or so:

-We got a late start leaving Santa Cruz because of an offer to go whale-watching on John's friend's sailboat. Such a life we live! We accepted, not realizing we had several bird-nerds aboard and were actually mostly bird-watching :). Saw many a bird, many a diving pelican, and even several humpback whales! Dan says they are not the same ones that come all the way to AK, but I like pretending that I was seeing old friends again.

-That night we stayed in Salinas with a warmshowers host, Jerry, who took good care of us. The next day he biked about 10 miles with us, to Marina. Then we proceeded to spend 3 hours in an REI taking care of a sheared-off bolt in Ben's front rack and drooling over the hundred-dollar smartwool pants that I would not let myself purchase. It's gotten pretty cold at night! California gets cold! I know, I was shocked.

-We camped at a city campground in Monterey, which turned out to be a bit of a homeless camp. Ben's reading Cannery Row, so we headed down to check it out, but it turned out to be nothing more than a California-themed downtown Juneau, complete with Del Sol and jewelery stores. I bought a caramel apple, and we watched some California sea lions grumble for a while. One can only wonder what Steinbeck would think.

-The next day we biked 35 hilly miles to Big Sur. Such a beautiful ride! We got there by 2pm and decided we were in the triathlon sort of mood, so we hiked 10 miles into the Ventana Wilderness, to Sykes Hot Springs. The hike was fairly easy, but long. Turns out 10 miles on a bicycle and 10 miles by foot are two very stories. We made it, but ended up hiking about 5 miles in the pitch black, making some food, and passing out with just our sleeping bags beneath an impossibly huge sky full of glittering stars.

-In the morning we made it down the creek to the hot springs, which was definitely worth the hike. We hiked the 10 miles back, and spent that night in the Big Sur state park, with about 12 other bicycle tourists in varying stages of their journeys. It also became quickly apparent that different muscles are used for bicycling than walking, and my calf muscles have just now recovered from our 20 mile detour hike 4 days later.

-We had a great ride out of Big Sur. 53 miles felt like 80, as it was so hilly, but the views made up for it. It was probably one of my best days of riding yet. Just as we got out of the mountains it started to get dark, and Ben discovered one of our best stealth camping spots yet. Through a hole in a barbed wire fence, there was a half-mile path through a field which opened up to one of the most glorious private beaches we could imagine. It was completely deserted, besides what we guessed were coyote tracks. We kept high-fiving about how lucky we were as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. Ben set up the tent and I made some ramen as it got dark. It was then that we realized we weren't alone.
    We had noticed the flies, swarming the massive ropes of kelp that littered the beach, though it took them a while to notice us. When they finally did, we were engulfed in swarms of them, covering our faces and necks and arms and committing suicide in our bowls of ramen. Then Ben's headlight caught the sand beneath us, and we saw them. Hundreds of them. Pill bug-like insects, ranging from quarter-size to Q-tip size. There were other ones too. Strange insects we had never seen before. And the entire beach was covered in them. They didn't seem to interested in us, but that wasn't the point. I immediately shut myself in the tent, killed the 50 flies or so that had found their way in, and made myself earplugs out of tissue so I wouldn't have to listen to the swarming insects that literally surrounded our tent. Guess beauty and solitude come at a price, right?

-The next day we biked to San Luis Obispo and were hosted by another fantastic host, Gary. The next day we were feeling frisky and biked 70 miles all the way to Buellton, a tiny town whose only claim to fame is supposedly inventing split pea soup. We splurged and stayed in a fancy RV park. The host tried to warn us that it was too cold for tent camping, but then saw that we were from Alaska and thought we should be okay. We had the whole tent field to ourselves, as well as the hot tub, and really the whole place as people seemed to be shut up in their RVs, watching TV. Pity that they missed the stars that night. They were beautiful. But the host was right about the cold--in the morning we woke to a frozen dewey sheet covering everything, soon to be melted by the warm October California sun.

 The Obligatory S.F. tourist picture. Ben never takes of his helmet.
 Lighthouse and grey skies on the California coast. Good thing Ben has a honey stick to take the edge off.
 We found this cool mural in Salinas, CA
 Then we found the real thing right before we biked over it! Bixby Bridge, built in 1938. Pretty incredible.
 Our top-secret bug-occupied beach about 20 miles north of Cambria. We're still smiling because we hadn't discovered the bugs yet.
 Halloweenies! Ben, being a creepy druid, me in the fish vest and peacock leggings and Rachel being an adorable wood fairy. A festive Halloween indeed.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Slow Coast

Well, I'm back. Back from my ten day hiatus in a silent Vipassana meditation retreat. There are so many words that spent exactly 10 days bubbling and percolating up inside of me that I couldn't say for so long...and I'm going to wait just a little bit longer to say them. The experience was equal parts insanely difficult, peaceful, lonely, exhausting, energizing, and wonderful. I want to take my experience and work it into an essay, so stay tuned if you're curious about it.

After the retreat ended, I reunited with Ben in San Francisco. He had been having a grand ol time, biking all the way up to Sacramento to visit his friend Laura, as well as just enjoying the beautiful city of San Francisco where we are now both convinced we want to live. It's so dang wonderful. Made more wonderful, of course, by our incredible host, Sarah Newsham. She made us feel so at home in her Richmond apartment that we literally started referring to it as "home."

Leaving San Francisco was sad, but after we filled our bellies with as much hip food, coffee and treats as we had room for, it was time to get back on the road. After 10 days of sitting on my bum and meditating for eleven hours a day and performing no bicycle-related exercises whatsoever, I was nervous about the current state of my muscles. Part of the Vipassana meditation course is gaining an experiential awareness of "Anitcha," or "Everything Changes." Unfortunately, that also applies to butt callouses. Let the butt-hardening begin.

Yesterday we biked from Sarah's apartment in San Francisco to the San Gregorio State Beach--about 40 miles. I was a bit nervous about getting back on Hwy 1, especially after how gnarly it had been north of S.F. But we were both pleasantly surprised by how gloriously flat the 40 miles were. The shoulder was nice and wide, and traffic was minimal. Since leaving San Francisco a thick, encompassing ceiling of fog hunkered in and stayed with us for the rest of the day. It made everything feel eery, yet cozier somehow.

It was starting to get dark when we reached the San Gregorio S.B., and with no other towns around we decided to camp there. It didn't have much to offer, besides a stunning yet abrupt cliff lookout, and beach access next to a dirty, polluted lagoon. But Ben and I spotted a tree with low sprawling branches that formed the perfect nook, just big enough for us and our little tent. We slept underneath  dense blanket of fog and the bit of faint moonglow that just managed to make it through.

Today we had another easygoing day, another 40 miles to Santa Cruz. Our friend Dan Kirkwood is here, staying with another friend John, so we are spending the night in the backyard of his cozy home. About 10 miles north of Santa Cruz we stopped by an adorable fruit stand/coffee shop/artisan general store to have lunch. We talked with a woman working there a while, and she explained to us the concept of "Slow Coast:" A 50 mile stretch of land south of S.F. and north of Santa Cruz, where much of the coastal land has been saved from over-development, and many of the towns feel preserved from an older, simpler time. Of course, anything with the word "slow" in it attracts Ben and myself immediately, being the slow travelers that we are. We bought two Slow Coast stickers. Check out the scene here: www.slowcoast.org.

After being back on the bike for two days, I can honestly say the meditation retreat did me good. I feel like it gave me several valuable tools that are directly applicable to everyday life, but especially bike touring. Take care of yourself, and always do the best you can. Maintain an equanimous mind. Enjoy the present moment for what it is, because it will change. Don't worry too much about the hard, painful stuff, because they will fade away eventually (ahem, hills!). Don't get too attached to the really good stuff, but it will pass too. Just enjoy each moment for what it is. Don't mourn the loss of your hard-earned butt callouses and thick thigh muscles, they'll be back eventually. And go slow :). Cheers!