Thursday, June 30, 2011

bike trip eve

Pre-departure escargots at Parc tonight. Dinner of champions? Well, delicious, nonetheless.
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

a proper send-off

A bunch of South Philly pals had a great send-off BBQ for us last night. Big thanks to Steve and Emilie and Ziggy for hosting. Great food, celebratory beverages, and even event-specific decorations:

There we are, riding through the states! Note that I'm well ahead of Aaron, already in Illinois when he's barely out of Pennsylvania. Figures. Our friends have been very kind as we're getting ready to leave, asking if they can send stuff for us along the way, excited to hear the details, and even sounding happy about having another blog to read. We're flattered. It'll be odd to go so long only seeing one familiar face - well, with a few cameos along the way, perhaps (My buddy Steve! Aaron's buddy Maddy! Whoever decides to show up in San Francisco to congratulate us if/when we make it!)                                                                                         
But back to our party. Even the newest buddy, Frankie, made an appearance: 

And we wore our bike shirts:

(My hair is very short - just got my pre-trip shearing)

Pretty sure the successful send-off means we're ready to go. Also, as we rode our bikes home last night, in the 85% Philadelphia summer humidity, we witnessed an awful argument between a man and a woman (causing us to pause on the street for a moment, contemplating whether to call the cops), then I was startled at a stop light when I noticed a giant roach (3-4 inches long) had landed on my arm. I shook him off only to have him land on my flip-flopped foot. Philly, are you trying to force me out? If so, you've succeeded. Now, if only the bikes were ready. And if only I would stop blogging and start (finishing) packing. Or cleaning. At least once we're on the bikes, we'll just have to worry about being on the bikes. Maybe I'm simplifying. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are you?

I'm Jamie-Lee. I'm 28 and I live in Philadelphia and I work at a place called the Kelly Writers House, where I do various coordinating and administrative tasks and teach a creative writing class and am a teaching assistant in various other courses. I just received an MFA from Bennington College.

My boyfriend is Aaron. He's older than 28, also lives in Philadelphia and works as a public defender. He likes bikes.
Why are you doing this? And what is it exactly that you're doing? 

I'll start with the second part first. We are biking from Philadelphia to San Francisco. (Here's our tentative route.) And why? Well, why not? Aaron has wanted to do this trip for as long as I've known him - 3+ years - and after hearing him wax so poetically about it for so long, I got to thinking it'd be a great thing to do too. So, in my typically noncommittal way, whenever Aaron mentioned biking across the country, I'd chime in, "I'll go," with a shrug of the shoulders. He'd respond all giddy-like, "Really!? Would you really consider going?" And I'd shrug again: "Sure! What am I doing?" Eventually, we had a more detailed pow-wow about the whole thing, talked to our respective employers, dumped a ton of money into fancy touring bikes, and here we are.

Are you biking back too?

No, that'd be crazytalk. We hope to make it to San Francisco by the end of August, 2011, leaving July 1. We'll then fly back to Philadelphia, just in time to be thrust back into our busy jobs. I'll be starting another semester of teaching, TA'ing and working at the Writers House and Aaron will have a big, long trial, followed by preparations to transfer to his office's appeals unit. Seems like this is a good time for a break!

Will you wear a really big backpack?

No, that would make a very sweaty trip even sweatier. We'll have panniers. For more info, see my entry on packing

How much did you have to train for this? 

It might be easy to assume that our whole lives have been one long bike ride leading up to this. Not the case, especially for me. After having been a 40 or so mile a week runner for a few years (with annual marathon training tossed in), I spent the winter doing 2-4 spinning classes a week and continuing to run about 30 miles a week in preparation for a 10 mile race. Following that, I spent about 5 weeks biking outdoors 5 days a week, doing hill intervals and a few longer (50+ mile) rides, along with weight and other strength training one or two days a week.

Aaron's been doing his own combination of running and biking - cumulatively less than me (boys don't have to work as hard, the jerks), but he's biked quite a bit in the past. He's got tours to Boston, Toronto and Bar Harbor, Maine under his belt, along with many, many long rides.

What if you realize you hate each other halfway through?

Aaron thought it would be apt for me to mention that this is the last question on this FAQ page that I formulated an answer for. Hmm, what if we realize we hate each other? We joked with a friend a few months back that we might not speak for a good portion of this trip if one of us pisses the other off. If I end up being the pissed off one (and let's be honest, that's how it'd go), I'd vent right here on this blog: "Day 34: Still haven't spoken. It's been three and a half weeks. What an ass."

Joking aside, I think this trip will serve as an excellent exercise in putting differences aside. Well, I hope so, at least. Another thing: as readers of this blog, you're all obligated to take my side in any conflict. Glad that's understood.

What if you don't hate each other? Is Aaron going to propose to Jamie-Lee when they reach San Francisco? Swoon! 

Aaron is not going to propose to Jamie-Lee when they reach San Francisco. Aaron knows better. Aaron has been asked by several people where in San Francisco he's planning to propose when they make it there. Jamie-Lee has instructed Aaron to respond as such: "Alcatraz. I think it's a great metaphor." 

Don't you people have jobs? 

We do. See above. Our jobs were kind enough to let us take all of our earned vacation, plus a "loan" on vacation we haven't accrued yet. We get these 2 months off - paid! - but we won't have any time off for about another year after we get back. 

Where will you be staying? 

Mostly we'll be camping. Sometimes in campgrounds, sometimes in quiet out-of-the-way spots we find, sometimes in people's yards. The yards will come into play when we use a cyclist-friendly website called (yes, that really is the name and no, there is nothing kinky about it). It's a "hospitality site" for bike tourers who need a place to stay. Those who volunteer as hosts offer accommodations ranging from a spot on their lawn to pitch a tent, use of their shower (hence the name), and sometimes even extra bedrooms and a meal. We've already hosted some cyclists here in Philly - 2 Canadian college students who were riding from Raleigh, NC to New York City. Hopefully we won't meet any crazies. There are crazies out there, you know. But I can't imagine that a site called "" would attract any of them.

What will you be eating? 

Shitloads of peanut butter. For real. But also whatever we come upon. The plan will likely be to eat something small first thing in the morning (Clif Bar, peanut butter, some fruit we got the day before, if we planned ahead), then to ride 20 or so miles and find a breakfast spot and eat eggs, pancakes, cheesy grits and whatever else our little hearts desire, then to ride that out and supplement as needed for the rest of the afternoon, perhaps by just eating smallish things every few hours (here's hoping for farm stands!), or by stopping for lunch at a grocery store or elsewhere. We'll then eat a big dinner at the end of the day wherever we stop. Dinner will either be at a restaurant, someone's house, or at our camp site if we can cobble things together with a grill, aluminum foil and the generosity of neighboring campers. Ice cream will be essential too. We also plan to drink lots of whiskey.

Things will inevitably get more complicated as we get further west into less populated lands. We'll have to be mindful about keeping food on us in case we don't find a town by the time we have to set up camp. We'll also have to be mindful of bears and other beasts. This sort of thing falls into the "I'm sure Aaron knows all about this, so I don't need to worry about it at all" category in my brain.

How much will this cost?   

I wish we knew. Contributions gratefully accepted. Inquire within.

(This will depend so much on how things shake out in terms of where we stay, what we do, if there are major unplanned expenses, etc. I'll do my best to let y'all know when we get back.)

What will you do with the bikes when you're done?

I want to throw my bike into the San Francisco Bay in triumph at the end of the trip, but Aaron says he won't have it. Instead, we'll find a BORING bike shop in San Francisco, have 'em pack our bikes up, then go to a BORING shipping center and have them send the bikes to Aaron's mom's house outside of Philly. Lame.

Wait! Don't you have cats? What about the cats?!

Yes! We have two cats! As I type this, they are wrestlin' on the floor of my office. Their names are Alfie (the black and white guy) and Bones (or Tubby, as I call him - he's orange). They will be joined in our house by our fantastic pals Shannon and Sue, who are subletting for the months we're gone. Everybody wins!

How the heck will you be blogging from the middle of God-knows-where?

I have prepared myself with devices. I have an Android phone from which I can blog and also a Kindle. I will also blog from the occasional public library. My entries will probably not be all that long, and there might be gaps in time between them, depending on cell/wireless/3G service, but I'll do my best. My inspiration for this blog is The Mississippi Project, which was written in the summer of 2007 by my friend Gabe Crane when he paddled down the Mississippi River in a canoe with some buddies.

Will Aaron blog too?

Indeed! Aaron has access to update this blog, so he probably will on occasion - you can check the little signature thingy at the bottom of each entry to identify who's writing. But I'm a better speller, so that should tip you off too.

What will Aaron be doing while you're blogging away?

Well, right now, I'm writing this and Aaron has been down in our basement tinkering with our bikes, installing some sort of "tire guard" items to make flats less likely. This is pretty much what I expect the next two months to be like: I sit around bullshitting while he tends to the bikes, the campsite, etc. 

What about the Twitter? 

I'm on the Twitter. You can follow me: @jljosselyn. Also, my five most recent tweets show up on the right side of this blog. Look at them! Right now!

What if you don't make it all the way to San Francisco? Will you be huge failures? 

In thinking about this trip, I'm trying really hard not to make it an All-or-Nothing endeavor. While I don't know a ton about cycling, camping, first aid, the United States west of Harrisburg, PA, tornadoes, bears, snakes, midwestern gypsies, cowboys, mountain lions, mountain gypsies, or many other things we might encounter on our adventure, I do know that there is a lot I don't know. In other words: we might be slowed down. We might get injured. We might run into the worst weather ever. We might get lost. So, we might have to reroute and end in Boise, or Pierre, or Jackson Hole, or, well, Harrisburg. I'm just hoping that nothing too terrible happens.

I'd really like to end up in San Francisco, for the record. I know it's a beautiful city - I visited when I was 12. Plus, if we wind up there, the last few days of the trip will be spent in the Sonoma Valley, biking from winery to winery. I'm not sure I can think of a better finale. 

What if you die?

What if you die?

But really, we hope we don't die on this trip. We'll do our best to prevent that. I have a whole pouch full of Band Aids and gauze!

packing. yikes.

While I should be packing, I've decided instead to write a blog post about it. Our guest bedroom looks like some sort of cycle-touring bomb went off in it right now:

So, what the hell do we bring? I'm still not entirely sure, but I'll do my best. As I've mentioned, we'll each have two panniers on the rear racks of our bikes. In them, we'll hold our clothes, toiletries, first aid equipment, extra food, tools, extra tubes, rain covers, hats and gloves, a modest supply of Clif Bars and Gu, our cameras, phones, wallets, my Kindle (yes, I got a Kindle specifically for this trip - seems the only reasonable use for one, to be honest), towels, shoes, maps, and I'm also bringing a Frisbee - you never know when you'll need one. We'll have our sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and pillows in a waterproof bag strapped on top of the rear rack. Aaron is carrying the tent, y'know, since I'm carrying the Frisbee.

If you want a better breakdown of the clothing situation, here it is, give or take:
  • 3 pairs of bike shorts
  • 3 biking shirts
  • 3 sports bras
  • 1 pair of biking gloves
  • 6 pairs of socks
  • Assorted undergarments
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 jean skirt
  • 1 "nicer" skirt (it folds real small, okay? Give me a break)
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 1 pair of cycling shoes
  • 4 tank tops
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 thermal shirt
  • 1 long-sleeve wicking shirt
  • 1 fleece hoodie
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 awesome Boston Celtics sweatband
 [Note that I have no idea what Aaron has packed. Probably his Crazy Eddie t-shirt and a pair of grubby cargo shorts for all I know.] Seems like my list is quite long when I type it all out, but it fits comfortably in one pannier. I'll also load that pannier with my bike lock to give it some weight, I think. It'll be bulky, but not too heavy. I'll think otherwise when I'm sobbing my way up a series of hills. By the way, if you want specs on my panniers, take a look here - and note that my buddy Steve, who we'll be seeing when we pass through Massillon, Ohio in a few short days, has graciously lent me his set for the trip.

We decided to forgo front racks for our bikes, figuring we could get all we need in the rear. We'll need to be crafty about carrying extra food and water when we reach more desolate areas out west, but our steering and balance will be less compromised without the extra weight in front. Hopefully, this will remain a good decision to have made. 

I can't give more specifics on tools and other gear at this time because I don't know what tools and other gear I'll be carrying. Have I mentioned that Aaron is the Director of Logistics for the trip? I do know that Aaron has taken to referring to just about everything associated with the trip as "gear." I want to tell him, "That's not gear. That's a sock," but I keep my mouth shut. Best to just let it lie, I figure.

training. gulp.

"How do you train for that?" is one of the first questions I get when I tell someone I'm about to ride my bike across the country. I wish I knew. I hope I have. As many of you know, I've been running regularly for five or so years now, training for races from 10k to the ol' 26.2 miles. Aaron and I have figured that cardiovascularly, I'll be fine for the trip, more or less. We'll be referring back to this in a few weeks when I'm weeping, halfway up a mondo hill.

Anyway, I've spent the last few months getting the feel of my bike: figuring out how to best use my gears on hills, getting my butt used to my seat (which was complicated because I purchased a semi-faulty seat that couldn't be returned/exchanged), learning how to not fall (much) when clipped into my new pedals -- just 2 spills so far, and various other logistical bits. I spent more time than usual in the weight room too, working on my quads, my calves and on core strength: a nod toward injury prevention. Aaron and I took a few longer rides together: to Atlantic City, to Frenchtown, New Jersey and back, mainly just to prove to ourselves - or, so I, the far less experienced cyclist, could prove to ourselves - that it was possible. Other days, I've gone out to Fairmount Park and to ride up and down and up and down a series of hills near the Belmont Plateau, where I get to enjoy views like this:

Then there's the issue of the panniers. [Panniers = saddlebag-like items that will be mounted to a rack over our back wheels. That's where we'll carry all our worldly possessions for 2 months.] Once I felt like I was getting the hang of the bike, I decided to see how I'd do with added weight. How did I accomplish this? I filled my panniers with these bad boys:

A great use of my Norton Anthology of American Literature and unabridged French dictionary, both of which haven't seen the light of day since college, I should add. (Aaron's training included heavy doses of case law books, naturally.) Balancing on the bike with the weight of my book-filled panniers was a bit tricky, but no disasters yet.

In all, I haven't done a ton of training geared specifically toward this trip. Part of that has to do with schedule - I was committed to focusing on running through May 1 because of the Broad Street Run, then we were away for a week, then I just spent 10 days in Vermont for grad school and couldn't take my bike with me - but I cross-trained, to say the least, running many miles on hilly roads. You could say I really haven't been out of general "training" since, oh, the spring of 2007 when I started running races regularly. Yeah, let's say that. I've thought of this week as my "tapering" period. No need to overexert myself on the eve of departure. And the first few weeks of the trip will kind of be like training, right? RIGHT?! Here's hoping.

Monday, June 27, 2011

our (anticipated) route

Above is an image of the (tentative, very tentative) route Aaron has mapped out for us using Google maps. Click on the image for a better view. We'll be starting at Point F (Philly), then headed westward toward Point A (San Francisco), via Pittsburgh, PA, Minneapolis, MN, Wall, SD (Wall Drug!), and West Yellowstone, MT. We chose this route because north-er is cooler in the summer. Also, Aaron wants to see his pals in Minneapolis -- and after a long time of having no response to Aaron's inquiries about what I'd like to see on the trip, I replied, "Wyoming." We decided ending in a city makes sense since we'll need an airport and a bike shop (to ship the bikes back to Philly). Plus, San Francisco will have much to offer us by way of celebration. And: last few days of the trip will be California wine country. Talk about incentive.

another fascinating test blog

My first attempt at blogging from my Kindle. We're four days from departure and I'm having a heck of a time finding punctuation on this thing. My months of smartphoning have conditioned me to think every screen is a touch screen. Sigh.