Sunday, September 11, 2011

photos from the road

While y'all have seen a bunch of photos taken with my phone, I thought I'd share the many shots - 375, to be exact - from my little point n' shoot camera. A link to my Flickr set is here.

Monday, September 5, 2011

for those battling bike blog withdrawl

If you're looking to keep reading about a cross country cycling trip, consider checking out the New York Times' Bruce Weber's blog, "Life Is a Wheel," which is about his west-to-east journey, the second he's undertaken in his life. I first came upon Weber's blog via my daily NYTimes email, the day we left Twin Falls, Idaho and rode into Nevada. I'd been rehearsing a blog post commentary on Weber's piece about hitting a wall at 500 miles (it went something like "500 miles, wah, wah, wah?! Get it together, dude. Talk to me when you're at 3000 miles."), but I never got around to writing the piece because I had to write about another of my spokes breaking and the disgusting glory that was Jackpot, Nevada. The truth is, of course, that I'm jealous that Weber's blog gets to be on the Times' website while mine resides here on ol' And I bet if we scrolled back to how I was feeling on days 6 and 7-ish of my trip, I wasn't in the best of spirits either (although I hope I wasn't quite as whiny as this guy can seem at times.) But there were some truly laughable facts about Weber's stuggle: for instance, he was complaining about not feeling well while biking, then later mentioned he'd been loving the 2 milkshakes a day diet. Um, wild guess, but maybe the lactose overload is gettin' you down, sir. But there are also moments that have me oozing with camaraderie, as when Weber muses about the mind games the wind plays on the long-distance cyclist, and with admiration - Weber is biking alone without a ton of knowledge about bikes and touring, despite his having made a trip like this before. He has to worry about a lot of things that I had the luxury of leaving to Aaron. And I had Aaron to leave things to in the first place.

So, snark aside, I bet I'll be following this blog regularly from now on. That is, until my monthly allotment of free Times articles runs out.


Today is our fifth day back in Philadelphia. Tomorrow I head back to work at the Writers House, Thursday will be the first day of the Literary Representations of the Holocaust class I'm assisting in this semester and on Monday, my Creating Characters in Literary Journalism and Memoir class (or whatever I'm calling it) will meet for the first time. In other words: the bike trip -- and summer -- are over. Aaron has been back at work since Friday, having put in hours each day of the long weekend, as he's got a big trial starting this week. I keep trying to help him write his opening argument with suggestions like, "Start with: 'Ladies and gentlemen, let's be real. Real real.'" and, "'Ladies and gentlemen, let me ask you a question. We've all, at one time in our lives, been accused of [insert staggering details about the alleged crimes]. Am I right?'" He doesn't seem to find this helpful.

I've spent the last few days getting our house organized and washing every article of clothing I own twice - first in white vinegar, then in detergent. Our basement encountered some mold issues due to all that rain and my clothes were stored there since we had subletters. As I type, I can hear my maroon Converse (purchased in Paris back in '03) and my purple Pumas (purchased in '05 or '06, since discontinued) banging around in the dryer. Some of you will chuckle at the idea of taking such care of 5 to 8 year-old sneakers. Others empathize.

It hasn't been all laundry and vinegar though. We had a welcome home gathering at our place on Friday night which was well-attended, especially given the short notice and holiday weekend. It was great to see so many pals. We hung up Alex's banner and wore Jocelyn's medals. When my friend Arielle said, "Congratulations again!" as she was leaving and I tried to humbly brush her off, I paused and said, "Well, I am wearing a medal in my own home. I guess that's asking for congratulations, isn't it?" Inspired by the Writers House Fellows class I've been involved with each spring since 2004, in which our students present each visiting writer with a snack made up of foods from his/her body of literary work, I served food and drinks from our trip: Keebler peanut butter cracker sandwiches (cheese and peanut butter - Aaron's preference and toasty and peanut butter - mine), trail mix (an actual leftover from the trip itself), mini grilled chicken sandwiches, mini fish sandwiches, Reese's cups, Skittles, Whoppers, Chex Mix (regular and Sweet n'Salty), Lagunitas beer (Lil Sumpin' Wild Ale and Hairy Eyeball Ale), and, of course, Gatorade, infused with tequila for the occasion. "Infused" is too mild a term. Many were here well past midnight. A group of us held strong on our back patio til about four.

In addition to reuniting with people at the party, I've gotten to spend some time with pals over the weekend as well. Beers with Mingo and Cheryl, time with Janine who's in town from London, plus Jocelyn and her boyfriend Alex stayed over following the party. Jocelyn, of course, was also in San Francisco last weekend and emphatically asked, "So, where are we going next weekend?!" before heading off to the Jersey shore on Saturday morning. Despite all the work, Aaron also got some extra time with his buddies at Steve's bachelor party last night. And we had a nice brunch yesterday with Aaron's mom yesterday morning at Mi-Lah, a vegetarian - wait: vegan! - restaurant whose cuisine in no way resembles the greasy diner food we've been eating, thank goodness. I've wandered the city a bit: two trips to La Colombe, one to Betty's Speakeasy (both favorite coffee shops), a visit to DiBruno Brothers', where I couldn't help but purchase olives, cheese, and a baguette, some time reading in Rittenhouse Square, and various window shopping around the neighborhood. Philly-cliche, yes. Lovely too.

Have I been back on a bike yet? Heck no. Our bikes from the trip, those dear Surly Long-Haul Truckers, should be arriving at Aaron's mom's house out in the suburbs tomorrow, but we won't have the chance to pick them up for a few days at least. My helmet is with the bikes, as is Aaron's lock. He has since been riding another of his bikes, is borrowing my lock and is using an extra helmet. I don't mind waiting. Not at all.

And, of course, there's the cats. It wasn't exactly an ecstatic reunion, but what cat encounters are, really? When we came in on Thursday morning, Alfie was in his usual spot on the couch. I sat next to him, crouched over him and, not surprisingly, cried. Aaron picked Bones up for awhile. After the long trip home, being back in the house cuddling the kitties was a moment of overwhelmed relief. And disbelief: we made it. Since then, Alfie has been his aloof self, which I love, and Bones has made sure we're as close as possible each night, plopping himself right against one of us, or sharing my pillow with me (even when I used my tiny camping pillow the night Janine, Jocelyn and Alex stayed over), or licking my arm repeatedly as I was about to fall asleep. He greets us in the morning with his loud purring (so loud the vet has had a hard time hearing his heartbeat) and gentle pokes to the nose and forehead with his paw, his way of saying, "Wake up! Let's cuddle!" It's hard to even pretend to be annoyed though.

Before this turns into a cat-cooing blog, if it hasn't already, I will make it a meta-blog, at least for a second. I've heard lovely remarks from a number of people about their experience checking in on us here for the last two months. Some of y'all were hooked! The link was passed around to friends of friends, friends of family, students, and even some people who missed reading along with us in real time have started reading from back to front. A few of you have told me you're a little sad we're home: "What will I read every morning now?!" I'm humbled and thrilled - and also smart enough to know that to continue to blog my day to day life would be a huge disappointment, with the exception of the Best and Worst of Mootis, which is always hilarious. (This, however, I've been forbidden to do.) In many ways, our friends and families, whether here in Philly or elsewhere, knew more about what was going on with us because of this blog than they would have if we'd been home the whole time. People don't generally take the time to narrate, understandably. But I know I'll miss it. There's no doubt that this blog was essential for my enjoyment, my sanity, and my writerly tendencies during our trip. I won't say, "I couldn't have done it without you, readers," because I suppose I could have. And I probably would have. But it was great knowing you were there as I listened to the gears turn each day, considering what to report and how to report it, then as I sat up late each night, crouched over a picnic table or curled up in my sleeping bag, tapping away on the screen of my phone.

the way home

When you ride your bike across the country and you fly home, there's a sense of undoing. You sit with your forehead against the window of the plane and your throat tightens as you look down. A retrospective moment of fear at the cracks and crinkles of mountains as you think of what could have gone wrong, but didn't. From here the vastness and the void are greater. For a month now, this Wallace Stevens line has danced in your head: "the nothing that is." On the road you knew it from your maps and from the miles that passed between things, but you could only see so much. From above, there is the occasional cluster of a town between roads you can barely see that thread themselves through the fissures, across the flatness, and that wind up the hills. On the road, towns in the east and midwest announced themselves with a water tower on the horizon. Out west, riding the interstate, you would do your best to estimate when the next exit sign would appear according to mileage signs and your vague sense of speed. There was never a promise that a western town would have anything to offer, making the anticipation less, noncommittal. Mile markers ticked away and you would hope for an underpass to lend some shade. The plane feels like cheating. You wonder if you'll ever feel so grounded, so in the thick of something again.

Sunday, September 4, 2011



Above are closer-up images of the medals and trophies Aaron and I were presented at the end of our trek. Jocelyn conceived of all of this and Mo helped with execution. This might not need explaining, but my medal says "the masher" because of my tendency to bike in harder gears and Aaron's says "Smells Like Team Spirit" because he was our team's fearless leader (maybe not fearless - I think he was weary of me a time or two) and I mentioned his aroma from time to time. And of course, Alfie, who along with Bones was our reward for coming home, is lurking in the background.

Mo also presented us with Silly Bandz, the little fun-shaped bracelets that the kids just love - or loved a year ago - in the shape of the Golden Gate Bridge. Between this and the bike-themed wine given to us by my bud Arielle, the nailpolish called "bikeride" given to me by blog devotee Monica, and the whiskey given to us by my pal Seth, we've been well received, to say the least. The celebrations haven't quite stopped yet. Fine by us.
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photos of the golden gate arrival (take 2) - thanks to ada!

I had a big ol' zip file waiting for me when I got home - and to a real computer - from Bennington pal Ada. Below are some photos from our big arrival.

Jocelyn and Alex prepare for our (second) arrival

Here they come! 58 days, 3811 miles, and an extra 200 or so feet going back up the bridge.

the fistpump of victory

holding the trophy presented to us by Jocelyn & co.

Aaron gets champagned.

Yuo-Chen smug with his weapon.

Mo(ira) and Yuo(-Chen)

we are the champions, my friend.

the strut of victory

I wonder if he'll wear these shorts at home sometimes.
cupcakes and egg tarts, courtesy of Jill.

group shot: the welcome wagon

alex's pal amy with the banner alex had made for us in our celebratory karaoke room.

Did I mention the room was Crown Royal-themed? Complete with throne.

Alex serenades (and lapdances) Aaron.

I believe we're singing the Barbra Streisand/Neil Diamond smash hit, "You Don't Bring Me Flowers." Naturally.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

chicago-midway, 3:19 a.m.

Not quite the grand finale we were hoping for.

Can't help but compare the complete lack of concern from Southwest Airlines to all the fantastic kindness we received in the last two months. Guess we're back to being mere mortals.
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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

o captain, my captain: floyd

This blog would not be complete without a proper shout out to Floyd, the lil purple Uglydoll who was clipped to my right pannier since we left our front door in Philly on July 1. We named Floyd that same morning as we rode toward Valley Forge on the bike path. He's named after Floyd Landis, the professional American cyclist who was caught juicing at one time or another. Aaron had suggested Lance for a name, but I rejected it. Too easy. Floyd would remind us that sometimes, you've just got to cheat. His other duties included yelling at trucks that came too close to my bike and making sure nothing was stolen from my bag when I went inside gas stations and restaurants.

Floyd's here with me now at the San Francisco airport. We've been here for over seven hours due to our flight being canceled and Southwest doing a piss poor job of rescheduling us. Much more could be said about the infuriating and convoluted details, but the bottom line is that we leave here in an hour and will have to spend the night either in Chicago Midway's airport or possibly in a hotel if we can twist the right arm when we arrive. Flight to Philly departs at 6:55 a.m. Another catless (and perhaps sleepless) night is ahead.
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

backpeddling: the arrival

Don't you worry, dear readers, while the journey has ended, there's still blogging left to do. As I've promised, our arrival in San Francisco over the Golden Gate is worth accounting.

I won't say I expected the ride over the bridge to be completely idyllic and free of fog and tourists. But I didn't expect the pedestrian and bike path to be a wall of families and couples on rented mountain bikes wobbling along toward Sausalito, nor did I think the fog would be so thick we wouldn't be able to see most of the bridge nor the city we'd been questing toward for fifty-eight days. But there we were, quickly getting chilly in our usual bike gear as the wind picked up. We rode slowly, stopped for photo ops, then walked the bikes a bit. We were savoring the moment and killing time as well. We'd told our welcoming crew we would arrive at around 4:00. We were a few minutes early, so we jumped back on the bikes at 4:01 or so and wove through the throngs toward the other side of the bay. I had a goofy grin the whole time, and wanted to tell everyone just what the moment was encapsulating: 3800 miles (3811 on Aaron's bike computer when all was said and done), nountains, a heat wave, all the kindness of strangers, all those Gatorades, my meltdowns, Aaron's, the flat tires, broken spokes, broken spirits, and the repairs. But I didn't. Just kept grinning and pedaling.

I wasn't exactly sure where everyone would be and the ramp off the bridge was bottlenecked with walkers and bikers in both directions, so we made our way through and hoped to hear a shout or a cheer. Nothing. We rode around the gift shop. Nobody. We stood in front of the shop facing the bridge where i'd expected the gathering. Slowly, our fans arrived. First Moira and Yuo-Chen, Writers House pals now living in San Francisco, who saw us ride over even though we missed them. Then Jocelyn, my ol' college pal and roomie, who freaking flew here from New York, and her buddy Ethan. Then Ada, my Bennington classmate, who made the trip from Los Angeles, and her friend whose name I keep forgetting. Then Alex, Aaron's friend and mentor from college, who trekked from San Diego. Then Richard and Jill, also of Writers House fame, now living in Oakland, who even brought cupcakes and egg tarts. Of course people were apologetic about missing the arrival itself. Then Jocelyn had a brilliant thought: a redo. We rode back about 200 feet onto the bridge, into the fog, then turned around. The crowd was assembled with their cameras, cheering and whooping. I fist pumped. We slowed our bikes and Yuo-Chen emerged from the crowd wielding a bottle of Korbel. He popped it and sprayed us. It was freezing. And glorious.

We were presented with a trophy and medals which Jocelyn wnd Mo had coordinated over, the champagne was poured and Jill's treats distributed. We moved to the less windy and frigid side of the gift shop. Later in the evening, after we'd showered, Jocelyn, Alex, Richard and Jill went to sushi with us, then Ada and some other of Alex's pals surprised us in a private karaoke room, complete with a triumphant Jamootis banner that Alex had made. We sang a whole bunch. Naturally, Aaron and I closed out the night with a rendition of "We Are the Champions."
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Monday, August 29, 2011

bye, bye love

It's been real. Real real.
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