A Hack Job in the Gator Nation

Thwack.

I swung the axe into a piece of dry wood. While it didn't yet split, that was probably the least harmful outcome. It was dark, I was drunk, and angry tears streamed down my face.   

Forty-eight hours in Gainesville had proved far more intense than I'd anticipated. Each hour felt tolerable--even fun--in isolation, but compounding them together left me emotionally exhausted. I'd piled into a car with Patrick's old friend Janna and her crew on a silly mission to acquire white cheddar cheese-its. I'd wandered through the halls of Patrick's old dorm, Rawlings. I'd taken pictures by Patrick's favorite statue, endearingly called The French Fries. I'd eaten Patrick's most beloved meal served by the Hare Krishnas. I'd reminisced with one of Patrick's best friends Raksha over pancakes. I'd biked through campus, ran my hands along the Bull Gator statue, walked by the restaurant he chose for his graduation meal, stared blankly at a field we used to throw Frisbee. It would have been the perfect few days, but they weren't. Patrick was so painfully and profoundly missing from all of them.

Thwack.   

"Okay, make sure to spread your legs when you swing so you don't chop off an ankle"   Patrick's friend Walter reminded me again gently. It was his suggestion that I swing this axe. We were sitting together in his backyard when one of his comments resurfaced all this emotion, and in effort to calm me, suggested I release some anger on this log.

Thwack.  

Why the fuck did she kill him?

Thwack.  

How the fuck did I think I'd accomplish anything by biking away from my life? 

 Thwack.

Where is he now? Why do I feel so goddamn alone? Why does everyone keep expecting me to fill the space for both of us? How can I continue like this?

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

My chest was heaving and my tears felt hot. Despite my intense hacks toward this log, it remained intact. Walter suggested that it might be a good time to hand back the axe. I gave it back to him, swapped places with him by the log, and in a single swing, he effortlessly split the log in two.

I almost laughed. 

We stared at each other for a little while. 

All of these questions, all of this pent-up frustration, none of it could be conquered alone. Often, I feel trapped with these negative feelings because I fear expressing them will shatter this heroine image I've constructed, and I feel shattering that image will make those who loved Patrick feel helpless or sad or guilty. I feel my unfair place as the living Wanninkhof sets an insurmountably high standard for success that I'm incapable of reaching. I feel insufficient. 

But, casting my amazed gaze at Walter and then at the two split pieces of wood, I felt profound relief.

I'm swinging an axe at a piece of wood that I can't alone split. I used to have Patrick as my partner-in-crime for all tasks like these, but now I don't. But that doesn't mean I have to try alone. There still are other people-- there are Walters and Rakshas and Jannas, there are my friends and my parents, there are my teammates. And they certainly can help. 

We set the logs ablaze. We talked about Patrick until they became embers. 

 

-Suzette

 

 

 

 

Hurricanes and a Tornado

My phone buzzed with the notification of a tornado warning. But, I dismissed it. Instead I googled the hours of Cafe DuMonde.

We filled our time in New Orleans with lighthearted fun. We ate delicious cajun food (still dreaming about beignets and gumbo), toured good musuems (I loved the Pharmacy museum and Greg swears by the WWII one), and listened to good jazz music while sipping on Hurricane daiquiris. Our significant others traveled in to see us, so we basked in the blissful joy of our reunions. As we all laughed on trolley cars and debated bar trivia questions and strolled through the Garden District, I didn't once reflect upon the tornado notification.

Until we rode through the devastation yesterday. 

The storm pummeled the eastern part of the city. The National Guard blocked the destroyed section of Highway 90, but allowed us through despite their warnings. Streetlights lay smashed into cars. Rooves were ripped off of buildings. Powerlines tangled across the streets, their broken poles blocking passage on sidestreets. People wandered the streets, collecting their belongings flung across the city. Only the foundation remained of a once-grand church.

We pedaled slowly through the streets. The debris stifled our passage, but mostly the shock prevented my legs from pedaling quickly. I felt overwhelmingly self-conscious of my privilege. 

I felt on the other side of the dichotomy I experienced last year, my senior year of college. While I lay devestated on my bed too grief-stricken to breathe normally, I heard the clank of high-heels of my peers merrily heading toward parties. While I flipped through all of my and Patrick's facebook photos together, I'd see notifications of my friends out dancing and drinking and organizing epic snowball fights. While I suffered, they celebrated.

And now I'd done the same.  

While I wish I had some grand take-away on the contrast of the human experience, I don't. Instead, I just must remind myself to be empathetic, to be thoughtful. To remember that those tables so quickly turn, and turn again.

 -Suzette 

Six Months

Yesterday marked six months on the road. We're celebrating in the way we most desperately craved: lying in bed for hours, eating vegetables, and watching Jake Gyllenhaal movies.

It seems ironic to celebrate a major milestone is possible the least celebratory way possible. Usually the term "celebrate" conjures images of champagne and dancing and making out with strangers and binge eating chicken nuggets at 3am (bear with me, I'm still pretty fresh out of college). But we chose otherwise. And it feels perfect. We rarely eat vegetables, since they pack poorly in limited pannier space. We rarely sleep in beds, resorting for our inflatable sleeping pads in our tent. We rarely watch TV, instead reading books by headlamp light.

When living a transitory life, you grow to appreciate small wonders that used to seem so commonplace. I discovered a love for pillows and colanders and microwaves and outlets and electronic tooth brushes and leave-in hair conditioner and real pants with zippers and mugs and toilet paper not from gas station bathrooms and books without torn out pages and typing on a laptop keyboard instead of my phone. All luxuries that are reasonable in real life, but can't warrant the space and weight on a bicycle. 

Though I'm beginning to crave the things that stationary living affords, I also grow aware of how much I'll miss this bike life when in concludes in a mere month and a half (ed note: finish parry March 11!). 

The bayou has been good to us so far. We crossed into Lousinana yesterday, and have already gazed in awe of the sunset over the crawdad fields and eaten delicious cajun crawdads hours later. We're a few days out of New Orleans, and we excitedly chatter about the bignettes as our sugar levels dip right before lunch. 

Maybe in New Orleans will have the proper sort of boozy and groovy celebration, but in the meantime, I have a bed that is calling me to sleep.

A Post-mortem Postcard

I got a postcard from Patrick. 

He mailed it from his Bike and Build route in Ohio to my summer sublet in Austin, but I'd rushed out before its arrival. The front displays a colorful map of Pennsylvania. "Kiddo!" is written in bulky block letters. His distinctively messy handwriting, one that I'm now remembering was so similar to mine, covers the back with descriptions of day-to-day life happenings.

It arrived after he died. Only now, after bicycling 6500 miles and returning to Austin, did I get to read his words. 

I could have read it months ago-- the friend safekeeping it for me could have simply mailed it to my new residence. But it felt too heavy, too painfully significant to receive it so simply. This was it, this was Patrick's final message to me. Coming to terms with the reality that everything Patrick would say or do already happened has been unbearably difficult. While my life progresses, his remains stagnant, finalized. I figured that as long as I left this postcard unread, I left one final stone unturned. Some new discovery could emerge from the 4 by 6 piece of cardstock.

Once it was finally delivered to me (thanks to some very diligent friends and friends of friends), I wanted to hand it back. I wanted to cry, wanted to say I wasn't ready. I wanted to keep it suspended in a Schrodinger's paradox, to allow Patrick to always have something unfinished to say to me. But as I starred at the front photo and held it in my shaking hands, I knew I simply had to read it. 

It carried no untold secrets. No grand confessionals, no life-changing insights. My eyes welled with tears. This was it? Patrick, why couldn't you have told me more? Why couldn't you have comforted me about your impending death or given me advice on living the next half-century without you or told me a final dying wish? 

My chest constricted. I'd instilled so much faith in this postcard for the past year and a half, hoping it would be the one time Patrick could speak about his death, because after all, he was speaking to me after death. But his lighthearted recap of bicycling through Ohio afforded me no such insight. 

As I held the postcard for longer and ran my fingertips along his handwriting, my devastation dissolved into relief.

There was no extrodinary reveal because Patrick did not know I would be sitting alone sobbing and reading it over a year later. He did not know the significance it would hold. He simply did not he was going to die. 

That thought brings me comfort. 

He wrote about bicycling terrain and delicious dinners because for that beautiful last month of his life, that was what mattered. He wouldn't have imagined needing to convey dying wishes. To him, death did not loom ahead, life did. 

Perhaps that indeed is what he would want to communicate to me from the grave. That in life, he focused always on the living. That in my life, perhaps I should do the same.

I inhaled deeply. I slid the postcard gently into my backpack. I got back on my bike.

 

 

75 Degrees & Sunny

Everyday I expect it to be 75 degrees and sunny. Well, maybe "expect" isn't quite the word. Every day I desperately hope that will be so, and I believe that expecting it just might make it happen.

But, until today, that's never been the case.

It snowed on our second ride day in Alaska. I slept wearing every article of clothing I owned in British Columbia. Oregon recieved the most rain in recent history, 12 inches of it pounding down on us in October. My chamois remained constantly damp all through California. Chilly headwinds slammed us through Arizona and New Mexico. Only now, mid-January, have we had my ideal day.

We shed our coats in the first few miles, and cruised quickly with good tailwind. We slathered on sunscreen, met a few Southern Tier cyclist friends, and coasted into Sanderson, Texas before 3pm.

While my teammates chastise me for my naive expectation of perfection, I think it's the optimism that helps me survive the dreary days.

The past week since our holiday break have been blissfully simple. We take no turns and ride in contented silence. It reminds me of our good ol' days on the Cassier Highway, where we had no concerns or plans other than calorie intake. We've slept in a hostel made of paper mache, warmed up by a campfire kindled by a friendly rancher, had our cellphones charge us international fees from thinking we entered Mexico, shared stories with new touring cyclist friends, and ate way too many tacos.

While I logically know these days of sunny perfection will not last, I'll still optimistically expect them to be. After all, the hope of sunshine makes every pedalstroke all the better.

-Suzette

Zero

Happy New Year from PRO8000!

It's 2017! Can you believe it?

There are so many ways to measure a year (cue the title song from "Rent", the musical). 

Some of our favorite benchmarks include distance rode (approximately 5,500 miles), feet climbed (remember that time we went over the Canadian Rockies?), ice creams tasted (too many to count), and peanut butter jars resentfully eaten (equally infinite).

But more memorably, there are hosted cities and towns, innumerable majestic landscapes, postcards received and sent and some mail lost to the ages (re: sorry Greg), bellies full of laughter, new and unexpected friendships (re: WE LOVE AUSTRALIA), saddle sores, record-breaking armpit hair lengths, and just really awful farts.

To every family member, friend, host, and stranger who has helped make this journey possible, THANK YOU. We're departing from El Paso this week with our eyes set on Florida arriving in early Spring.

But our favorite statistic of this year is the number zero. That's the number of car-cycling collisions that our group has faced.

The number zero is worth mentioning in an election year beset with mind-numbing statistics. To us, it's the best number. Our favorite number.

We know every family deserves to have their loved ones leave and return safely be it on foot, by bike, or in a car. And that's what we dedicated the greater part of 2016 fighting for: safer roads and zero distracted driving. Nada. Zilch.

We've done our part by riding safely with reflective safety triangles, day-visible lights, hand signals, informed route planning, and zero-distraction cycling. That means no headphones, never riding two abreast, and hitching a ride rather than pushing it when conditions aren't the absolute best. And as you've read in previous blog posts, we're pretty creative when we're in a pinch (re: Tinder, UHaul, Megan's grandma's van, etc.)

However, the reality is that safe biking depends far more on drivers than cyclists themselves.

So as you draft your list of resolutions, consider the ones that really matter.

Here at PRO8000, we hope you'll succeed at that diet (peanut butter is a complete protein) and exercise more often (hint: we recommend biking!), but how about we hold each other accountable to something that's higher than ourselves?

Make 2017 the year you never use your cell phone while driving. Let your friends navigate, download the playlist beforehand, pull over to answer that important call.

Because every family deserves the number zero.

-Rachel, Suzette, Abbie, Blythe, Eric, Greg, & Megan

Every Day is Leg Day

We pride ourselves on our athletic achievement-- it's pretty awesome to have traversed half the continent with our quad muscles-- but, none of us would consider ourselves "serious athletes". Our fitness is isolated, our speeds are usually slow. But, we are proud to announce our newest sponsor: Crossfit! 

Crossfit? We expressed equal surprise. Few of us had ever lifted weights, let alone survived a 60 minute speed-lifting Crossfit class. But, when we met Crossfit's founder, Greg Glassman, serendipitously in Monterey County, we learned our values aligned more with the organization that we'd previously thought. Crossfit emphasizes the power of physical challenges and the mental fortitude that comes with surmounting them. On PRO8000, we follow a similar philosophy.  

Our most physically challenging day was not just because of the 72 mile distance or 5,000 feet of climbing or pouring rain, but because of the time constraint. Winter touring has caused us to constantly race for daylight, and this day into Fort Bragg epitomized that struggle. We had to book it  if we'd have any hope of making it in before nightfall. The miles were wet and grueling. I craved the comfort of an indoor location, and passing gas stations was particularly trying as we shivered and sweated simultaneously. We pounded up hills as the rain pounded down. It sure wasn't a Crossfit class, but the mental endurance test of having your mind push your body when it no longer wants to go sure felt similar. 

We're so grateful for Crossfit's support, and are stoked to have another major company assert their intolerance for distracted driving. 

Woah, We're Halfway There!

We hit our halfway point in San Francisco. MILE 4000! We celebrated in the only way we knew how-- having a bike ride. 

We invited all of our Bay area friends and friends-to-be to join us for a celebratory memorial ride around the city. Each person went around and introduced themselves, and were tasked with answering one question: why they ride. One talked about the intimacy of seeing the land, another about the statement for environmentalism. One talked about how freeing it is to be on a bicycle, and one Belgian touring cyclist laughed as he said it was the only form of travel in America he could afford. Greg spoke about riding for those who no longer can. We all rode for different reasons, but we all rode together. 

About 20 awesome folks rolled round with us down the coast, through the parks, and up the wiggle. We finished the evening with road stories, beers and of course a showing-off of tan lines.

Then, a break. We took a full week off in San Francisco, by far the longest we'd been of our bikes in months, and spent time in different parts of the city. Megan visited her grandmas, Rachel wrote a ton of postcards, Abbie watched the World Series with her aunt and uncle, I got lost trying to find a sculpture garden, Blythe reunited with college friends, and Greg ate too much By-Rite ice cream.

We reunited back at Megan's parents house to sift through our bags, clean our chains, and watch the election results. They were unbelievably hospitable to our messy selves, and were comforting as we left hours later than planned when the election results left us in tears.

We're now enjoying a few slow days down the California coast. We plan to be in LA for Thanksgiving with Abbie's very generous family, and have low mileage days until then. The court case for Patrick's killing will conclude this week, and the team has been supporting eachother throughout the emotional turmoil it has caused. When times feel particularly overwhelming, we've each reminded eachother of our answers at mile 4000. We ride for different reasons, but we all ride together. 

 

 

California Dreaming

The first time I traveled to California, I was with Patrick. The second, I biked here from the other side of America. The third, I scattered his ashes. 

We crossed the California state line last week.

Despite the heaviness I expected to feel upon crossing, I couldn't help but smile. We made it here. We made it here from Alaska. We made it here on our bicycles. We chanted a ridiculous rendition of  "California Here We Come" and rushed to the state sign once the whole team was assembled. We danced and took selfies and sang every other California-themed song we could recall. There we met many of the friends we'd been riding on and off with for weeks (hey Jessie, Erica, Megan and Brett!) and all squeezed together in one gaint, sweaty hug. 

This is how I want California to feel. I want it to feel like my friends, my teammates, my family. Like accomplishment and like new beginnings. I want it to not remain a burial place, but a birth place. That's what Patrick would have wanted.

Our first night in California mirrored the same lively sentiments. A local church offered to host all the touring cyclists in the area, which that night happened to be a massive group of 15. We compared quads, shared stories, patched tubes, and laughed. 

Patrick never got to bike to the California state line as he planned, but on that day I feel that he did. Patrick lived for community, Patrick savored the ridiculous moments. I could almost swear he was with us in that sweaty group hug.

-Suzette

Marbles

I'm carrying a marble in my jersey pocket now. It feels almost ironic to have the seemingly unnecessary weight (I cut off the end of my toothbrush and rip out already-read pages from my book to slim down on grams), but it makes me feel lighter. 

Alex Newport-Berra used to leave marbles on top of a grassy hill for his students to find. They seemed disinterested in spending time outdoors, but once he introduced the new challenge of the marble search they savored the time outdoors. His mother Pat recapped how they transitioned from dreading climbing the grassy hill to racing up it. When we stayed with Pat and Buzz outside Corvallis, she gave us each a marble to carry on our journey. She wanted us to carry a little bit of "Alex magic."

Alex died two years ago. He was an adventurer, a teacher, a cyclist, a poet. Each anecdote Pat told us about him reminded me of Patrick, not just in physical traits but in spirit. It's an odd feeling to miss someone you've never met. But as we walked through the halls of his childhood home and admired his old photos and sat at his dinning room table sharing wine with his parents, I couldn't help but feel a dull longing. I miss Alex. Not as I miss Patrick, but in the way many of you reading this may miss Patrick. You may not have grown up with him or sat in class with him or rode bikes with him, but you know he was one of the good ones. You know that you miss him.

This marble reminds me of the weight that you all carry. Weight that is not overwhelming, weight that is not predominantly your own, but one you carry nonetheless.

Here's to the race up that grassy hill. Meet you at the top?

-Suzette

 

 

 

Best Plans are Carved in Sand

It's typhooning.

We're holed up inside the home of some Bike and Build SUS'14 riders (thanks Laura and Dusty!) replanning an enormous hunk of our journey. Inclement weather will keep us here in Portland for an extra few days, and our meticulously made day-by-day milage schedules are being deleted in droves. When I sat at my computer planning the early bones of this journey, I could not have expected a typhoon to rage through the Pacific Northwest in mid-October. But, here it is. We scratch the plans. 

Scratching the plans has been a general trip theme. The epitome of said philosophy occurred in a dreary Taco Bell in Lakewood, Washington. We rode into our intended camp site just around nightfall, but encountered a security gateturns out the camp was restricted to military use. It grew darker, the temperature dropped, and the beginning sheets of rain begin to pour. We rode on in search of shelter. We stopped at a church and asked to camprefused. We researched parks all restricted. We asked about hotelslocated on the unbike-able freeway. Freezing and dejected, we biked to a Taco Bell where we ordered burritos and nearly cried because they were so delicious and we were so miserable. We were stuck: our planned campsite fell through, and no other back up plans were materializing (sleeping at the Taco Bell was also considered).

Abbie got onto Tinder.

A few swipes and phone calls later, a gentleman and his friends arrived with a pick-up and a sedan. We load our bikes in, back track a solid 20 miles north to his home, and internally celebrate our last-minute saving grace. Within a half hour, we're drinking beer, sitting in a hot tub, and admiring a trash bag full of squid they'd caught earlier in the day. 

While I haven't yet incorporated "man from tinder to pick us up from Taco Bell" into the googledoc I'm revising, it's comforting to know that hosts like him might just appear when you need them. 

-Suzette

Re-entering Civilization

For our first 2500 miles, there are a few things we ceased to consider. Days of the week, directions on roads, locks on our bikes-- all floated to the back of our consciousnesses while we focused upon food rations and bear-proofing. Now we are back in civilization, and our priorities are shifting. 

We've explored some pretty epic cities in the past week: Whistler, Vancouver and Bellingham. In Whistler, we explored the bougie ski-village downtown where Megan bought an overpriced lululemon sports bra. In Vancouver, we borrowed some non-spandex clothes from our hosts to go dancing. In Bellingham, we drank too much craft beer. It has felt like a sensory-overload. Our cell phones buzz with their newfound service, strangers surround us all the time. For two months, I craved this excitement. But now that I'm here, it's admittedly overwhelming. 

Reaching the Pacific Northwest marks a major shift in our trip. We gained a new team member in Whistler (Hi Abbie!) and are gaining another in Portland (Hi Blythe!), and we're finally encountering major metropolitan areas that bring with them both stressful rides and relaxing time with old friends.

 

 




 

2117

Patrick only ever bicycled 2117 miles of his journey across America.

This week, we passed the 2117 mile mark.

We stopped there when Megan's odometer clicked onto the number. We were on the side of the Yellowhead highway, and we pulled our bikes off into the grass by some nondescript structure of beams. We climbed up onto them, and sat in silence for a while.

It hurt.

I told a story about me, Patrick and some friends stacking up picnic tables at our old middle school and climbing up them in the dead of night. Rachel talked about a night bar hopping where Patrick broke his glasses (for probably the 100th time). Megan and Greg listened quietly, their thoughts drifting back not just to Patrick, but to Margaret and Synne and AJ and Daniel and other friends taken too soon.

The sun was high, the wind was good. We hopped back on our bikes.  

We rode the 2118th mile. 

It often feels profoundly unfair to ride these miles. Why did chance put the four of us on bicycles instead of in coffins? Why do we get to ride on?

We finished the day's ride in Prince George, one of the largest cities of our journey so far. The time in town felt light and exciting. I picked up our mail at the post office, and its contents brightened our day. Letters and packages from friends, family and lovers lifted the occasionally feeling of isolation that onsets on the road. We stayed with a kind retired couple, ate Tim Horton's (a Canadian classic) for the first time, and even got interviewed by a local television station. 

We're going to ride another 2117 miles, and another 2117 after that, and again and again. We have the privilege to ride for those who no longer can. 

 

More Connected, Less Distracted

Dear PRO8000 Supporters,

As I'm writing you, the rain continues to sputter from an overcast Yukon sky, a few drops of which create tear drop tracks down the window pane next to where I am seated.

We've taken refuge from the weather in the sleepy town of Meziadin Junction at a local lodge where truckers and retired couples stop for a warm drink before returning to the road or finishing a vacation in the dwindling days of the summer season. The steam from my mug of coffee rises in protest to the cold and dreary conditions beyond the cafe walls. Autumn is within reach.

In the past month, you've no doubt followed along as our journey has taken us from the remote wilderness of Prudhoe Bay to the head of the Cassier Highway. You've celebrated with us as we completed our first thousand miles and first century cycling day. You've sent us care packages and love letters that make the time away from home less lonely. You've hosted us, fed us, and welcomed us into your homes with kindness and generosity as if we were family. You've given us advice about road conditions and bought us groceries. You've honked, waved, and shouted encouragement from your passing car. You've given us thumbs up and peace signs from the passenger seat that remind us that roads can be shared safely. You've read our blog, reposted our statuses, tracked our GPS, and admired our photos.

Despite the time and distance away from our friends and family, we feel closer to our community than ever before. And that connection is made possible because of cell phone use.

Our goal at PRO8000 is simple: To be more connected. Less distracted.

The majority of our online interactions do and will continue to take place via phones. Phones have fueled our trip and allowed you to follow along in ways that would otherwise be impossible. However, as the Internet becomes more ubiquitous and more accessible via phones, cell phone companies have a moral obligation to promote safe use of the essential services they offer us. That is, with expanding coverage comes expanding responsibility.

That's why we're excited to announce our partnership with Republic Wireless.

Cell phone companies are in a unique position since their customers may be tempted to engage in distracted driving. They also can help discourage their customers from succumbing to that temptation. Republic Wireless's commitment to our ride demonstrates their commitment. We think it's brave for a cell phone company to embrace the humanity behind connectedness and to take steps toward reducing its potential dangers. We also think it's pretty cool for them to sponsor four good-hearted cyclists.

Thank you, Republic Wireless. We'll see you at our safe finish in Key West.


-Rachel 

Why Not?

In Whitehorse, we drank some fancy drinks-- the kind in tall glasses with fresh fruit and liquor from a high shelf. Our amazing host Sean insisted that he buy them for us, and when we resisted him extending his generosity onto us even more, he countered with a question: why not? 

Why not? 

We sipped on the drinks happily, our buzzes making Whitehorse seem even more like paradise, and I've been reflecting on that question ever since. 

Rachel, Megan and I arrived into Whitehorse half-delirious. We decided to combine the two day ride there into one (why not?), resulting in a 100 miles of loaded, hilly riding. Greg hitched a ride with Sean and his lovely family in Haines Junction because of bike mechanical issues, so he was waiting for us in town. We assumed we'd stealth camp somewhere, but once we turned our phones on in town, Greg delivered great news: the family he'd hitched with offered to host all of us! 

We were greeted with smiles and hot showers, and each moment in Whitehorse kept getting better. We played with the family's adorable seven- and nine-year-olds, who taught us lessons about Canadian geography and demonstrated how to leash a cat. We were interviewed by Dave White, and became a little bit Yukon famous by having our voices broadcasted on rush-hour radio. We replaced our chains at Icycle Bike Shop, where the mechanics generously donated their time. We ate dinner and laughed for hours with friends of the family, who shared stories about their years teaching which made all of us want to apply for education jobs in Yukon. We grocery shopped, made granola bars, slept in real beds, and met person after person who continued to amaze us. 

None of us wanted to leave Whitehorse. Rain drizzled and wind blew and temperature dropped as if to tempt us to stay longer. But, the road beaconed. We knew it'd be hard, but Sean's voice echoed in my head again: why not?

-Suzette




 

Who We Haven't Met

Each day, we meet someone extrodinary. We've met cyclists who have been touring for years, retired couples who have packed all their belongings in RVs, First Nations people who have helped us stock our bear canisters with food, construction workers who generously shuttle us past closed roads, small business owners who have filled our water bottles and our hearts, and even sled dog mushers who have taken us out with their pups. Often, when the long road starts to feel monotonous, we'll meet someone that reminds us that the road is so much more than concreteit's a system of traveling stories. 

But, with each person we meet, I often learn of one we never will.

Yesterday, we stealth camped (read: illegally put up a tent) in a road pull off. We awoke startled to the grinding noise of road construction, and jumped out to pack up quickly. When I skirted across the lot to grab our bear canister, a woman driving a roller truck said hello and asked about our journey. I told her about the miles, I told her about Patrick. 

She paused for a long while once I told her about Patrick's death. Her daughter Kelsey Lee died this year too. She had a diabetic complication. She was 21. 

Kelsey speaks to her, she said. She puts hearts in nature, in the clouds and the rocks. She speaks also through dreams.

We connected through our loss. It was if we'd both come north for the same reasonin hopes that we could redistribute the enormous weight we carry around the vast land, to make our loss a little lighter. While I loved meeting this roller operator, it saddened me to realize that I could never meet Kelsey Lee. That she could never meet Patrick.

I often think about the cyclists I'll never meet: Anne Davis, Jamal Morris, and many others. But I often forget about the amazing humans I could have met in gas stations and at rest stop bathrooms had fate aligned differently.

Each day, we meet someone extrodinary. But each day, we miss meeting one too.  

-Suzette

 

 

 

The Longest Sunset

After finally being united in the Seattle airport, and basking in the serendipitous silliness of our first host’s significant other being on our connecting flight, we were finally together for our trip to Fairbanks, as a team. 

Before we took, off Rachel reset her watch to Alaska Time. We settled into what time it was in a place we were not yet in as the hands on her watch swirled autonomously backwards to the new time zone of our destination. 

 The sun was well on its way to slipping behind the horizon, and only a faint line of orange hugged the tree line of our Seattle surroundings. 

As we got closer to taking off, the color on the horizon began to grow deeper. Rachel and my tired eyes couldn't help but latch onto what we both agreed was the most vivid red we had ever seen in the sky. 

 As the plane made its first turn in the sky, we watched the reflection of the horizon catch on the wing of the plane for just a few short moments.

The obligatory cliché airplane sunset photos, captured mostly just the dirt on the glass, but also an exceptional distortion with seemingly two horizons from the reflection of the wing. We had a good laugh about the horrible photo, but it also feels to have captured some of the emotions of the chaos the present reality held as we all traveled away from everything we know. 

 As I danced in and out of uncomfortable, antsy and forced sleep, each time I opened my eyes and the sunset was still there. We were seemingly frozen in an endless glow of a day that wasn't ready to end. 

 After chasing the same sunset for over two hours, we began to catch up. The sun began to climb above the clouds, and it was growing brighter and brighter outside my window. 

 The day was back. The light came just in time to lend a glimpse of some of the most glorious landscape and majestic mountains I have ever seen before tucking behind a thick blanket of clouds.

 Even in the light, the terrain below is hidden beneath the mystery of clouds, and what is ahead of us is even more excitingly uncertain.

-Megan

Goodbyes

I returned my keys to my landlord yesterday. I gave farewell high fives to the wonderful children that I babysit. I dropped off my remaining non-spandex clothing at the thrift shop. I hugged two of my closest friends goodbye outside the gayborhood block party, our solemn moment contrasting the glittery excitement around us.

Why is this so damn difficult?

I've left countless places and people before, often with less of a plan to return. And this time, I will be back. I'll be away for a mere seven months, not forever. Still, I feel a dull aching with each goodbye.

I never said goodbye to Patrick. Our last phone call was an excited fifteen minute affair. I spoke about lesson plans and he about headwinds. We chattered about our parents' new diet plan, about our respective long-distance partners. I talked too much about all the drama and joy of teaching summer school, so didn't get to hear much about Bike and Build. Not to worry, he said when I apologized for gabbing most of the call. He was off to jump in a swimming pool, but he'd tell me all about everything in a day or two.

I often wonder what I would say if I knew that was it. If I knew that was the last time I would ever speak to him. Would we rehash old memories or would we plan for how I could live out his dreams for him? Would we say that we were proud of one another, that loved each other, even more than we usually did? Or would we leave it just as we did, with a beautiful and casual parting?

To all the loved ones I've said goodbye to, and to all the others I haven't had the chance to: I love you, and I'll see you soon. You see, I'm off to jump in a swimming pool, but I'll tell you all about everything in a day or two. 

-Suzette

 

It's Not an Adventure Until...

"It's not an adventure until something goes wrong" -Yvon Chouinard

For New Years Eve 2012, Patrick and I spontaneously decided to leave our Grandmother's small Dutch town for Amsterdam. Our family had traveled to the Netherlands to say goodbye to my lovely Grandma Betty (after 90-some adventurous years, she knew her death was imminent), so after a fairly emotionally draining few days, we figured we'd let loose in the big city. 

Of course, we departed with exactly zero plans. We had no suitable coats, no cellphones, no hostel reservations, no idea of how to spend our hours. We were armed, however, with a bubbling sense of adventure. 

After excitedly jumping around the crowded train and bursting out into the city, our excitement began to wane. There was little to be done at 6pm, the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank house we'd hoped to visit were of course closed. So we sauntered into a sex museum awkwardly, wandered around the Red Light District, and drank overpriced Heinekens. We watched a free and unmistakably terrible ABBA cover band perform "Waterloo." By 1am our Miamian selves began to succumb to the cold, and we walked to the train station to catch a ride back.

But, none were running until 8am. We were freezing, stuck, and listless. 

 We tried to sleep inside the train station. A cop threw us out. We tried to sleep right outside the train station. Another cop threw us out. We wandered through the streets half delirious, the hangover and time difference really kicking in. It started to rain. An aggressively drunk Belgian kissed me. I vaguely remember Patrick losing something. We really, really had to pee. 

Our trip was undeniably a failure. But goodness, was it an adventure.  

While I hope that PRO8000 is far more successful of a trip, we acknowledge that it will be an adventure; we accept that things will go wrong. Already a few have.

Greg's bike box arrived in dreadful shape, with the cardboard ripped open and parts missing. I found out I have two cavities, and am frantically trying to get an appointment to fill them. Megan's wheels decided to spontaneously combust, requiring a hub replacement and a lot of labor. Rachel took a tasteful fall from a late clip out, and is dealing with the struggle of saddle sores.

And by far most frusteratingly, the Canadian Postal Service has gone on strike, making restocking near impossible.

Things are going wrong. So, the adventure begins. 

-Suzette