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Posts tagged ‘Reflection’

Out of Oregon

Thematically, Bound South is an adventure beyond the shadow of a doubt.  If one were to write the book, it would not be a placid Walden on wheels.  A life by bicycle is not one of boundless mental reflection and meditation; it is actually a life missing its comfortable dose of autopilot.  We are overloaded with the sounds and smells of the world and the subtleties of the sympathetic nervous system, listening to the engines of our body and attending constantly to the biology of hunger, thirst, and joy.  There are moments of exhilaration; the car that passes too close, the lost connection of fast wheels in loose dirt, and the magical descents when your disc brakes can run cold in a wheeled emulation of flight.

Red Dirt Descent down Forest Service Development Road 60

Lest I give you the wrong impression, however, this is no thriller novel.  There are some moments of climactic choice; whether to take the ditch at the sound of an oncoming 18-wheeler, to take uncertain forest roads versus sterile and certain highways, and whether to seize the $1.88 tortilla chips in the constant battlefield of the grocery aisle or rather cede victory to the twin nemeses of Hunger and Budget.  Our maxim has become, “When in doubt, choose adventure and choose food.”  There is enough oscillation between meditation, exhilaration, and simple self-preservation to occupy the mind for a lifetime of riding.  If you don’t believe me, just get outside and ride your bike.

Camping at Cultus Lake at high altitude. Too cold to swim.

Leaving Bend was no easy task.  Getting to Crater Lake National Park was at least as difficult.  The most extensive and difficult climbs of our journey made each day a trial of our accumulated strength.  Holding to our word and our maxim, we “chose adventure” through the Deschutes and Umpqua National Forests, eschewing the paved roads off of the Cascade Lakes Highway and instead traversing some of the most impassable and spectacular forest service roads we had ever seen.  The Trolls were made for this, after all.  One only has to climb up to 6,000 ft. Windigo Pass with a heavy bike on sandy single-lane dirt to appreciate what we faced on just one afternoon in central Oregon.

Stopped and stood for a while at the rim of Crater Lake. Also too cold to swim.

What goes up must come down, and we earned every single vertical foot that brought us up to the wonder of the world known as Crater Lake.  Thousands of feet deep, Crater Lake rests as the remnant of a volcanic collapse from an ancient era, ringed by park roads and campsites closed for the proximate winter.  It was absurd to ride our bicycles over nearly 8,000-foot-high Crater Lake in late October, a blessing of a warm sun and clear skies.

Lodgepole pine remnants from the Davis Fire of a decade past.

 

We hope and pray for more pleasant absurdities between here and Argentina, such as the outhouse we used to cook oatmeal in when our campsite froze overnight west of Prospect.  Or the reappearance of my awesome tan lines.

Tan-lines too marvelous for words.

We ride on for California and continue a dogged but sustainable pace, stopping to rest and reflect in equal measure with our adventures and absurdities.  Why we ride will always be the critical thread that moves with us to Argentina and will one day bring us home.

The long road to Crater Lake over old volcanic ash.

Mind, Body, and Machine

Shattered.  Any cyclist could tell you that the adjective isn’t all about glass.  There may be other sports that share cycling’s terminology of physical and mental exhaustion, that understand suffering that would “ennoble the muscles” as Henri Desgrange put it when he founded the Tour de France.   There is something profound about the bicycle: if your running shoes tried to draw as much sheer effort as a bicycle can, you would simply fall over.  Suspended by a bicycle saddle, the immolation of your legs can always be arranged to leave you breathing, moving, yet completely shattered by day’s end.

I was steeped in a culture of road cycling since I started college, cutting my teeth on collegiate racing and the four seasons of Vermont dirt roads and New Hampshire mountains.  Occasional sacrilege had put me on a mountain bike during my years at Dartmouth but my heart was always with road and cyclocross racing bikes.  I was never a phenomenal competitor, mind you.  I rode well and hard and knew The Rules and the art of a group ride. I loved the sport and racing with all my heart despite my lackluster results.

No matter how strong you are, cycling humbles you.  There is always someone faster or a ride that is harder.  I’ve eaten my fair share of humble pie, my last serving being an epic 150 miles through New Hampshire.  Hubris suggested that this Alaska to Argentina thing wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  We’ve got most of the day to go our average 110k, meet new people, take photos, eat 5,000 calories, and set up our tent.  The third day of our journey was a very hard hundred miles in the mountains to Cantwell, AK that we began at noon.  We got it done in a little over ten hours.  Barely.

New life springs from below the burned forest

I knew this journey wasn’t going to be easy.  Deep down, I didn’t think it would be quite this hard.  Pushing heavy bikes through the wind and up hills is an exercise in constant mental toughness.  We are getting stronger every day.  Yesterday we had our first true tailwind of the trip with southwest winds helping us along to Vanderhoof, BC.  It was spectacular.  The three of us flew past farm country and pasturelands at speeds that rivaled a spirited road ride on skinny tires and race bikes.  A humming paceline is music for the soul.  It almost made up for the day before, a grueling ride of 150k to Fraser Lake that proved the inverse rule correct: once you leave the spectacular scenery of the mountains, endless rolling hills and winds conspire against you.  We had done longer and harder days already, but there was something profound about that ride in particular.  I felt beaten, even if I finished the ride like any other.

We love Canadian signs.

The intensity of that feeling subsided once we were taken in by an older couple who stuffed us with spaghetti that night and huckleberry pancakes the next morning.  Yet the feeling of that cruel brush against my limits still lingers and reminds me somewhat of human nature.  We would rather eschew the cold rain, the long climbs, the achy legs, the doubt and the mental stress of life on the road because it brings us uncomfortably close to the limits of our own mortality and nature.  Yet only by facing those austere limits can we appreciate the vast expanses of the little worlds between Alaska and Argentina.  There are corollaries in faith and love and family and life.  If we take the time to listen, there is much to learn on the road south.

Looking down through the Barrage Bridge

A Single Step

We recently met a rather gregarious man in the parking lot of a nondescript gas station just outside Houston, AK.  After warning us of the dangers of grizzly bears and Mexico, he quoted to us that, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  He asked us where that phrase originated; I hazarded a guess of Confucius.  He scoffed at both our educational credentials and our knowledge of history and informed us that it was actually Marco Polo.  Now in Trapper Creek, Google tells me that it was actually Laozi, the mystic philosopher of ancient China.  Wherever you are, gregarious man with the ice cream and the pickup truck, take note.

Last sunset in Anchorage.

This journey of many thousand miles has begun.  We’re on the long road to Argentina and enjoying experiencing all that it offers.  Our loaded bicycles weigh over a hundred pounds and we carry every single gulp of water, repair tool, change of clothing, computer, and piece of food that we need to keep going.  It is a beautiful, harsh, surprising, and challenging life of transience.  We revel in our intimacy with the landscape and the communities we pass through: kind retirees from Texas who share a few camping supplies with us, a man in an RV who stores our bear bags overnight, or another group of continental bicyclists on their way home.  Yet every morning is a leavetaking as we must leave to see a new mountain on the horizon.

The first flat tire of the trip.

We are in Trappers Creek staring ahead at miles of austerity.  Rain is forecast incessantly and temperatures will fall as we cross the most remote terrain between us and Whitehorse.  The anxiety and exhaustion we feel is shot through with boundless hope.  At the beginning and the ending of each day, we have one another and a shared vision and the capability to see it come to fruition.

After a duel of wits, Nathan let me take back a move and his charity cost him victory.

I can’t know what mile 1,000 or 10,000 will be like until I get there.  I do know that day two feels right and that there is no place else I would rather be.  Whatever you are doing, wherever you are, I hope that you feel the same.

Bound North

It’s been years since we first dreamed of this journey.  It has been a matter of days since our bicycles were built at Paramount Sports, our expedition gear was provided by Scheels All Sports, and our lives were fit into five small bags.

The thing you miss the most in leaving is love.  Our family and community has showered us with a powerful kind of love that is hard to leave and impossible to forget.  That is why we’ll come home as soon as our work is done.

We’re on the road to Alaska now.  Forty hours later, we will sell our car and take our Surly Trolls on the road.  Until then, we’re bound north for Anchorage.

 

Seasons of Love

“How do you measure a year?”

It’s a question presented in the song “Seasons of Love” in the musical production, Rent. I had the pleasure of seeing it last night at the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre (“well done” to the entire cast and crew; it was a phenomenal performance!). For the characters in the musical, the question incites several responses ranging from various times of the day, “sunsets” and “midnights”, to units of measure, “inches” and “miles”. Realizing that these basic measurements fail to capture its value, they conclude that love is the only true measure of a year in a lifetime.

In the next ten months, each of us will be spending nearly 1500 hours on a bicycle over more than 15,000 miles of terrain. In its most raw form, we’re just three young men out on an adventure. It’s more than that, though. It’s the family that will be able to access affordable housing. It’s the stories that will be shared. It’s learning. It’s beauty in nature and life. It’s love.

It is the same love I have seen all through high school in the Fargo-Moorhead community. From my experience in Fill the Dome, Students Today Leaders Forever, and annual flood fights, I have seen the power of service and its enormous impact. To be able to serve in a unique way through this endeavor excites me because of it.

As I prepare to leave in a few short days, I am becoming more thankful for the loving friends and family that surround me. It’s those people who will always remind me to live as if there were “no day but today”.

On Leaving

The Fargo Forum greeted us at our send-off last night, and features us today:

At a send-off party for the brothers Friday evening, Shirley Dykshoorn, executive director of Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity said she was excited for the brothers. She said that although build sponsorships have been done, the Berg’s trip is one of a kind.

“It’s really pretty awesome,” she said.

So many old and new faces blessed our time at Oak Grove.  This two hour celebration and farewell to family and friends passed too quickly.  The Trolls are being built and our last arrangements are being made.  Sometimes it is important to set aside the anxieties and exultations of what lies ahead in order to appreciate the richness of these last days at home.

Beginnings

A few years ago, I finished a coast-to-coast bicycle trip with Bike and Build to raise awareness and funds for affordable housing causes.  I was a trip leader for the Northern US route, stretching from the cool harbor of Portsmouth, NH to  Vancouver, BC on the shores of the Salish Sea.  This was a very formative experience for me to say the least.  The rhythm of pavement and life on the road was addicting.  During my sophomore year, I started planning for a Pan-American bike expedition after I stumbled upon Ribbon of Road.

The foundations of a great journey are laid.  There’s work to do, and Alaska beckons.  For now, I’m savoring my last moments with my family on our farm in rural Starkweather, North Dakota.