bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Three

By far the hardest of days. It begins innocently enough. I wake up to signs of my period and grabbed the diva cup, go outside the tent and cook some oatmeal. An RV pulls up next to my campsite, and out steps an professor of History from Purdue University. He wants my campsite because a group of hunters with dogs are moving in next to the site where he and his wife have been staying. His wife doesn’t like the idea of seeing bleeding animals strung up outside her RV window.

We make small talk as I pack up my gear, and at one point he steps away to answer a call from his wife who is checking out another campsite further down the road. I ask if she’s found a good one. He doesn’t answer my question, obviously concerned with other things. “One day you’ll be married to a man who you like to check in on and make sure he’s doing things right.”

The professor tops off my water bottle which is a huge help since I would have otherwise had to backtrack to a small stream in a gulch a few miles away. He holds my bike for me while I heave on the panniers, and I bike away toward the nearby visitor’s center, hoping to charge my phone which is near dead. I arrive to find a few construction workers restoring the old ranch home, and a woman coming out of a trailer next to the visitor’s center. I ask her about charging my phone and she says, “No! You can only go in if you need information. It’s for visitors.” I don’t have energy to argue with her, so I keep on my way, knowing there is really only one road I can take back to Vail, the blessed and speedy 83.

I zoom down the road, past the mountain ranges and cacti which look completely different than they did on day one. The sun performs stark wonders on the landscape, everything now harsher, more aggressively showing up before my eyes. The road back to civilization is fast, almost too fast, and the land changes from high to low desert as I descend the Catalina foothills.

 

I laughed as I was going up a small incline and thought of why I came on this trip. My ex-boyfriend made fun of my Jamis Renegade. He mocked people like me who had nice bikes and didn’t use them. He is not an evil person but he said evil things about my body. “If there was a Bethany with less weight, I’d be totally in love with her.” The day after we broke up, I booked my flights to Tucson. I had to get away from that story he was telling about me. Otherwise I’d start believing it. I am telling my own story.

The night of day three, I found a campsite at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. It was sandy and very windy. I settled down at a freshly built platform. I was twenty miles outside of Tucson, and surrounded by tall saguaros, prickly pear, and mesquite. Once again, I peeked at the stars before holing up in my tent, so content and alone, the night quiet, my legs sore. In my journal I write a thought that occurred to me while biking: “I am a Bethany carrying 90 pounds of pannier every day. I am the heaviest I’ve ever been. I am the happiest and strongest Bethany.”

 

Read about the final day of the tour!

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bb’s First Bike Tour: Day Two

The next day the boy leaves to go back to work. He says, “I hope you have a lot to think about,” and I reply, “I usually do.” Free and easy, I take down my camp and pack up my gear. I want to bike into Sonoita and see the town. On my way there I see a field full of antelope and a sign “Grazing Stops Blazing.” When I get to the town, I realize it’s not really a town, but more of an outpost for local ranchers. There is a collection of buildings centered around a single intersection: a gas station, a steak joint, a gift shop that sells “Aztek fetish” objects, and the cafe where I order a coffee, fruit, yogurt, and granola.

 

After fuel, I am desperate to find underwear. Before I left for my trip, the pipes froze at the house and we couldn’t do laundry. All my underwear was dirty and so on this trip I have none. The gas station has none, but then I notice a Dollar General across the way. I find two-pack of Hanes in the second isle along with some sunglasses.

Outside in the brilliant pearly sun, I remember to google the route to Patagonia, the town I hope to end my trip at before returning to Tucson. Nope, it’s not gonna happen at my pace. I’m slow and I don’t care.

I bike back up to the camp site from last night, happy to see a whole afternoon and evening sprawling out in front of me with nothing to do and no one to pay attention to but myself. I set up my tent and take a nap. I read my book, cook another dehydrated meal on the pocket rocket stove as the sun sets, and check the stars before I go to sleep at 7:30pm. Turns out my sleeping bag and my down jacket do a fine job of keeping me warm all on my own.

Read about day three here!

bb’s First Bike Tour: Road Day One

We begin at the intersection of 10 and 83, heading South on 83 toward Sonoita. My guide, a freelance landscape photographer and old college roadie has an idea for a campsite a few miles outside Sonoita. I have no idea how many miles it will be to get there. The thing I know most at this moment is the work in my thighs. They burn with every downstroke. I joke that I am carrying two children behind me. The panniers must be about 90 pounds of weight. Every time I stop, the weight of my bike threatens to tip me over. There is work too in my arms and shoulders, the way I hold the handlebars steady so I keep to the right of the white line. The road is narrow and the speed limit is 50mph, large trucks blowing by at speeds far higher than what’s mandated by the black and white signs.

My tour guide, the boy, says it feels like we’re going downhill. I don’t know how to tell him this: DEFINITELY NOT. NO! But I keep pedaling, looking at the vistas as they pass. This is my kind of slowing down. My obsessive thoughts about preparations, planning, everything going wrong are gone. Instead, there is only the burning of my muscles, the desire to reach the top of another hill for a moment of sweet release gliding down the other side.

The land is brown, prickly pear and leafless mesquite giving way to rocky crags rising above the road, everywhere lumpy hills, leading to the base of massive angular mountain ranges. There are so many mountains I can’t keep track of them all. Signs saying “open range,” and cattle fences of barbed wire. Supposedly illegal immigrants come through here carrying bales of weed on their backs.

On and on and up and up and finally, nearing the end of daylight, we come to an opening up of the land, a massive plane spreading before us, tawny yellow grasses waving in the wind. Hills rolling downward, my legs shaking in relief, joys of coasting. We set up camp at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area at the edge of the Coronado National Forest. The sun is setting over the mountains and I am lighting up my stove, thrilling in the fact that I carried everything I need. Photographer is distracting me with his talking and he’s setting up my tent. I look for his tent…nowhere. I remember I must defend my freedom because it’s not given to me.

Half of me wants him to sleep outside, but the other half of me knows it is so cold and I am not sure I will be warm enough in my tent alone. I finish cooking my dinner. He gets in my tent. Outside, I stand and salute the stars. They are the brightest and most stunning I have ever seen. I crawl in.

Get in on the tour, day two!

 

bb’s First Bike Tour: Arrival

 

 

When I arrive in Tucson, I have no idea where I am headed or how far I can bike in a day.  I have some vague route plans that a local bike shop owner sent me, and, as usual, no real direction of my own. I like that it is warm. I like that there are mountains on the horizon.

I’m staying with a Warm Showers host near the center of town, close to the University. I get an Uber to her house, and then walk to the shop where I shipped my bike. It’s there behind the counter, safe and sound! Since I’m a woman facing a bunch of male mechanics, the shop owner tells me that next time I should call ahead to let them know that my bike is coming. I can’t find the words to say that “Yes I fucking called ahead and told an employee the exact day my bike would arrive at their shop. Gave him my name and everything.” I say those words in my head. Out loud, I shrug and mumble that I’ll do better next time I ship a bike to Tucson.

When I return to the host’s house, her daughter and son-in-law are there with their kids, dropping them off so they can have a night out. The son-in-law hands me a map of bike routes that he’s drawn with a magic marker on construction paper. I am so grateful for this, a small act of kindness. I can tell I’m going the right way.

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I check my phone and re-download Tinder because why not. If you can’t join the old boy’s club, then you might as well abuse it. I update my page to say that I’m on a bike tour. So then all the boys from all over town start messaging me with advice about where to bike. And some want to ride with me because maybe it’s cool or some sort of novelty to find a girl who likes bikes. I agree to ride out the next day with one of ’em toward Sonoita, a town about 35 miles south of the Tucson.

I sleep and spend the next morning repacking gear, and mounting my handlebar bag to my handlebars. It requires some fiddling and concentration, reminds me of my construction days, the need to put something together or else everything will collapse. finally, everything’s fixed, Ortlieb panniers set on the back rack, water bottle full. My stomach is empty because although I’ve bought food, I’ve forgotten to eat it.

Find out how the tour begins here.

 

bb’s First Bike Tour: Pre-Departure

I didn’t train for this. I’m no wimp when it comes to biking in the cold, but New Hampshire temps had stabilized at a frigid zero degrees Fahrenheit for the two weeks before I left town. Twenty’s my threshold for bike able weather, and so I was reading too much, sitting on my ass, not worrying too much about being able to bike far.

I was worrying about surviving in the wilderness. With the exception of an ill-fated college trip to the Smoky Mountains, I’ve never even been backpacking before. This phased me. The thought of carrying everything I needed to survive in the desert was scary. I was heading into unknown territory. Would there be scorpions roaming my tent, invisible until revealed by a sharp sting on my sole? What about the ground littered with cactus spines and thorns, ready to puncture my precious air-filled tires? There was my fear of losing my way, of going out into the wilderness and not coming back.

And looming largest of all above me, there was the fear my mother voiced for me, “sounds lonely.” 10 days in the desert could very well be. Still though, I kept pushing Tucson to the back of my mind. It’s a defense mechanism of mine. Until the change comes, it’s best not to anticipate too much.

The day before my trip comes and I can’t deny it any more. I need to pack. The physical reality sets in. Scrambling gear all over the floor, what do I need, how can I get the weight down. My sister’s hiked the AT and so she helps. I make a list and we highlight to categorize the gear (in-camp, bike maintenance, clothes, navigation, art supplies). We spend all day gathering, organizing and sorting on my bedroom floor. Pepper’s sitting with me, laying on top of the gear as I try to move it into piles, and then stuff it into my panniers. When we’re together in Gilford at our parent’s house, Mikayla and I have days like this a lot. We never put on bras, we forget what time it is, we talk and we are also silent.

I spend the night before my flight wishing I had a card for medical marijuana, something to calm my thoughts racketing around my skull, making so much noise that I can’t sleep.

Read the next post to see what happens in Tucson.

bb’s First Bike Tour: Planning

Best Laid Plans: Etymology

Shortened form of “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, translated from Scots “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, / Gang aft agley,” from To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough by Robert Burns

All I could do was cry when I backed my car into a snowbank on the side of the driveway.  It was so cold I could see a large puff of smoke emerge from my mouth with every wracking sob. A truck drove by and I thought I saw it slowing down. It creaked to a stop at the side of the icey road. A tall thin man in a red flannel stepped out of the cab. I could have worshipped the pavement he stood on.

I was on my way to ship my bike to Tucson. It has to be shipped a full 10 days ahead of my flight in order to arrive in time so that the mechanics in the ship in Tucson can build it up. This was the last possible day I could mail the bike and have it arrive on time. If I didn’t make it to the bike shop today by noon, I’d arrive in Tucson on January 9th without my bike and a bank account without enough money to get a hotel.

Thanks to the trucker, I made it. He tried to push me out as revved the engine in reverse and the wheels spun. Eventually he got tired or frustrated (probably both) and hopped in the driver’s seat while I stood and watched. The car revved the car forward and back in the rut until finally, it zoomed out, the snow moving and piling in new formations in its wake.

I was able to mail the bike and it will arrive to Tucson a day before I do.

***

I always have some doubt about trips like this actually happening. Last spring I signed up for a marathon in Minnesota, trained for months, ran all around the state, and was struck down by the flu the day my flight was supposed to leave.

Thankfully I feel some good momentum right now. I pay attention to small signs of hope. My friend tells me the stars in the desert are stunning, and I am just able to afford the last of my gear purchases.

I’m writing this because I feel like explorers and adventurers always document their journey but they never talk about the messy stuff. Like what motivates them to actually go, and what kinds of dumb mistakes did they make to get them where they are. I’ve cried so many times over the past few weeks because planning is not my strong suit. I struggle to think ahead, to trust my own decisions, and to do things alone. The trip involves a lot of all three of those things, and so I at this point, I am tired. An adventure is not all glamour and conquest.

***

The question remains: what is it and what is it all for?

The trip is for some of these things and probably others that my body knows but which I can’t put into words:

self-discovery, healing, reclaiming power, joy, misery, experiencing the upside-down, seeing some cacti and some sunny sunsets.

I’ll keep you updated on preparations and key you in for the adventure as it unfolds.

8 days till take-off!

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Pepper confirms it’s cold as heck out here in New Hampshire! -8 degrees today

See how it all goes in the next post pre-departure.

Light Chaser

I was trying to teach at 8am and words kept becoming other words when I wrote them on the board and I said “god! a poem must just be bubbling out of me right now.” But I’m trying to be attentive and do my job when all I really want to do is sit alone in my room and write shit on my computer and not have it be judged.

My phone was cursed because I broke up with my boyfriend on the phone and it had hurtful words trapped in it. The sea monsters knew I didn’t have the courage to delete the messages and so they took matters into their own hands. My phone had things they wanted to sanitize, to kill. To cleanse you, they said.

I went to the sea because I was trying to appease the sea monsters who ate my phone. I went to the sea in the dark and for the first time ever, there was no one at the beach and it was dark. I got out of my car and felt scared. Maybe a murdering man lurked somewhere out there between me and the water. The world was vertigo. I couldn’t see where I stepped and every way seemed dark. I went toward the rushing sounds at the edge of everything. I saw a shipwreck, I saw an island, I saw a man standing. And then I walked through it all, a 6pm mirage made just for me.

Suddenly my feet were wet, so baptized like magic salt everywhere, through my socks, slipping between my toes. Darling, I am in constant awe of what’s to come. And looking back at the west where the sun had set two hours before, there was still golden light, soft but so bright I first believed it was headlights from some friend pulling into the parking lot. I ran toward it, boots clomping on the sand. “Light, come here, I cried. I want you!!” I wanted it to eat me up. I wanted to bathe in it. For once I was not afraid.

Cris Kraus told me “Desire is not lack. It’s surplus energy–a claustrophobia inside your skin.” What’s inside you? What are you chasing?