Keep on keepin on


It’s been too long since the last post and I apologize for that. So forgive this lengthy update.  Some stats to begin with. Back on the road with 23 days of cycling and 19 days off. In 23 days I have pedaled 1336 miles through Alaska, Yukon and upper British Columbia. And, I have burned 60,042 calories, that’s an average of 2,611 calories a day. My farthest distance was 100 miles – the beautiful day into Whitehorse, which by the way made me think this, as well as many other stretches, is what the Rockies in the lower 48 must have looked like 175 years ago. Obvious how we can really over love places. The day with the most ascent was from Coldfoot, AK to the Arctic Circle at 4389.8 ft. Surprising, being that this section of road in lower Yukon to Liard Hot Springs feels like a constant up and down for miles, and miles.

The 19 days off have been well spent. The first day I had arrived back (3:30 am) was to Sunny Spruce Homestead, north of Fairbanks, the homestead Alexia was working at for 2+ weeks. There, we became part of the family. Not only did we help with chores, but also made dinners, went to one son’s baseball game, and the other son’s BMX race, of which I also competed in my age group. Second place ain’t bad for not racing in 34 years. We took a weekend off to take Alexia to Palmer, AK to recert her WFR, only to blow out our CV joints on the van putting us down to Anchorage to get them replaced. Needless to say she missed her course.  The sense of homesteading appeals greatly to us. Andrew and Tracyann George are not only a wealth of very useful and practical information, they live a very simple and healthy life, from the land with respect to all they take or grow, in a very open and loving environment. Itadakimasu!

Alexia and I had agreed to hopscotch from Fairbanks to Tok. She would drive ahead, explore areas, set up camp, and I would meet her later that day. This was very helpful, and enjoyable to be able to still bike then see her and Fitzroy at the end of the day. It also gave me another opportunity to product test the Highway 61 panniers Frost River had  donated for the ride and feedback of the product. Sorry, no feedback on the site at the moment. Let’s just say they have a specific use.

June 23 was an emotionally difficult day; we separated from Tok River campsite. Neither of us wanted to leave the other but knew I had to bike on and she needed to get to Pelly River Ranch, five hours north of Whitehorse, Yukon to start her next WWOOFing experience. I began thinking more of having her bike with me and asking to join me on this ride, but thought she was happy doing what she was doing. I know it was hurting her deeply to have Shelton gone but not realizing she was really becoming depressed. This didn’t really hit me for another two weeks. I had made it to Whitehorse and instantly fell in love with this small city. The people, culture, sense of community, everything you want and nothing you don’t. Alexia had been able to email and ask me to contact Sue, the owner of the Ranch who worked in Whitehorse during the week. we had connected and I found myself getting a ride that Friday to the Ranch for a three day stay. While waiting for Friday, Catherine, an interested local had emailed me weeks before asking when I would be in town. She wanted to help me, show me around, introduce me to elders and other important people in town, and ask me about the whole ride. She is planning on doing this ride next year and wanted my perspective.

While in town I had met with Sean Smith, Counsel member of the Kwanlin Dun. He had shared his thoughts on where his People were, where they had been, what they experienced, experiencing, and vision for the future. He is a force for alternative energy, both for the town and his People. And carries great hope for the future of his people to become self-reliant, free-thinking, and de-colonized. Our meeting was voice recorded and will be transcribed and uploaded on the interview section of this site in the near future.

Through Catherine I met Joe Tetlichi, an elder of the Ft. McPherson Gwich’in First Nation, also, the Chair of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board (PCMB). He was roasting Caribou heads as part of the Adäka Cultural Festival going on for over a week. Offering me a piece of the cheek, I couldn’t resist, and felt a unique connection as others weren’t openly offered. We met for a more formal meeting after my return from the Ranch. Joe shared what the PCMB does, concerns they have for the herd, as well as his People who rely on the caribou for subsistence. This meeting was video recorded and will be uploaded after editing. Thanks for your patience!

Friday came and I met Ken, Sue’s son. He picked me up then we picked up Sue to head north. We also stopped at the Dempster Junction to pick up James, a young Scottish WWOOFer. Two hundred miles north on the Dempster and 33 mile west sits one of the most beautifully remote cattle ranches. Since the ’50’s this has been in the same family and run as a cattle ranch. It sits along the Pelly River, 3 miles north of the confluence of the Yukon river. Dale and Sue started hosting WWOOfer’s a few years ago in order to help them but also share and pass on their vast knowledge of this type of homesteading. It reminded me of the times I spent on my stepfathers family cattle ranch in Stockton, MO but so much more vast and serene. Alexia and I had canoed to Fort Selkirk, an old outpost for traders, trappers, prospectors, and the Anglicans. Dale picked us up and ferried us to Stepping Stone, their closest neighbor, and layover for the Yukon Quest Dog Sled race. Here, the family had made pizzas in the stone oven, and opened up a jam session with banjo, guitar, ukulele, and violin. Quite the evening along the Pelly. The days spent at the Ranch were long mixed with gardening, weeding, mowing, implement maintenance, cooking, and some exploring. The realization of Alexia’s sadness and depression hit me early on the day I was to leave. It was July 4th, her Mothers birthday as well as the day she proposed to me a year before. I knew she wanted me to stay until the weekend so we could take off together, but I really felt an urgency to go and get biking again. She understood. Even though it appears to make it easier, in reality it was tearing both of us up inside. As Sue and I were heading out I had thought many times to tell her to let me out. She even said “what’s your hurry, this is your trip and you can do whatever you want.” img_0440-1

Back in Whitehorse, I resupplied groceries and got to Wolf Creek camp where Catherine and her friend showed up for dinner, beer, and convo around the fire. I left Wednesday morning for the road again. It was a late start, my legs were heavy and the headwind to Carcross was not one bit enjoyable. It was a 37 mile day which felt like 100. Getting back in the groove of cycling after days off is not as easy as when I was 20 years younger. Those are just numbers and I could care less what they mean. I have SISU, and am determined to live out my 40 yr dream. img_0463

It was the sixth of July and I had made it to Squanga Lake, a beautiful Yukon Campsite. I had set up camp, walked to the lake to freshen up and then eased into a relaxing evening. It was only a 50 mile day and I was feeling good about the progress through the hills. Another cyclist came rolling in later in the evening. He was Richard from Yorkshire, England and also was cycling to Ushuaia, by another route though. Being that I get up and out early I didn’t think we would see, let alone ride with each other. Later that day after a suggested stop at Johnson Crossing for the cinnamon bun, here comes the Brit. At 55, he has power and stamina as long as the weather is faire. We rode together, although not starting out together, for seven days. Making it to Liard Hot Springs from Coal River was a glorious day for me. It was raining, cool, and only 36 miles. It was also the day Alexia was going to arrive from the farm. The funny thing about riding with Richard was the day before was a warm and sunny 94 mile day, I was struggling, he reveled in it. Alexia came in that evening and we decide to stay an extra day to take advantage of wifi and the Hotsprings. All things are good again in the Universe. Except for the 300 wildfires in south and central BC closing all roads on my route. img_0544

 

Commencement

 June 1st was not a fruitful day. This is the day I planned on leaving Prudhoe Bay. My thought and understanding was to get a ride to PB and that it would be somewhat easy. Not so! I said my goodbyes to Alexia, Fitzroy and Shelton and biked out of Fairbanks May 31st fully loaded, as far as Hilltop Truck Stop, about seventeen miles. There I found it disconcerting to find that most truckers are not allowed to carry passengers because of insurance unless it’s a life or death situation. Needless to say, after four hours of trying to procure a ride, Alexia picked me up and we went to the homestead where she would be working for a coupleweeks


We decided it would give me a jump if she dropped me off the next day at the Yukon River Bridge, about 140 miles north. Once there I immediately got a ride with a private contractor who would drop me off at the Gilbraith Lake camp entrance, it was 9:30 pm and as light as it was at noon. I was north of the Arctic Circle; no trees, more intense light, and views of grand beauty in all directions of the Brooks Range and the tundra.


After a very restless night I biked about 20 miles to the top of a hill with even more expansive views, and a place to get a ride. Alaska DOT was resurfacing sections of the highway in an unfamiliar process. They would grade the section in both directions leaving a lengthy pile in the center, a water truck would go in one direction then the other spraying a lot of water, then a truck loaded with calcium chloride would pour that onto the wet surface. This process continued on the same section possibly five times.


Five 1/2 hours went by with no rides. However, some trucks, contractors, and tourists did stop out of curiosity. One very nice contractor, Mark Nichols, and I had a good conversation. His son is stationed at Offutt AFB south of Omaha, my hometown. He gave me the lowdown on the rest of the road to PB, then asked if I would like water or anything. He said, ” better yet, let me give you this!” He handed me his lunch, a massive sandwich and a granola bar. “Better take what you can get.” He left and I walked back to my bike in disbelief, feeling so gracious for this kind gift, I choked up a bit inside.

I decided I had enough waiting around and would bike on. Big mistake! That muck created from resurfacing stuck everywhere including my feet. I was barefoot in Chaco’s and calcium chloride burns the skin. Half-hour later I was lucky enough to get a ride to PB from a couple of truckers. I sat in the driver’s seat of the disabled truck they were towing and viewed the tundra and my future route in the same direction I would be bicycling. They stopped now and then to check on the rig, and asked me if I needed anything. My response, “Preparation H, and a Chiropractor!” The air-ride seat was a test on my rear end, as well as the constant bouncing rearranging vertebrate.


Dropped off at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, one of two choices. Both owned by the same entity. One room here has a bed, lounge chair, closets, and a TV. Bathrooms and shower rooms are shared by all on that floor. The pay off was the 24 hr cafeteria. Full service with free breakfast, lunch, and dinner and stocked to the hilt with produce, dairy/ non-dairy products, grab-and-go’s, and every non-alcoholic beverage one could think of. I gorged, fueled up, stock piled, and went back for seconds. I showered and had another restless night.

This is the day I start and I have cold sweats and nausea. Should I stay an extra day and heal or pack up and bike on? I started packing fifteen minute before checkout with barely enough rest. I took full advantage of the breakfast options – twice. Milled around contemplating the right time to take off and discussing this with two Aussies who were also heading to Ushuaia by bike. It was 22°, 18° with wind. Finally, at 1:30 we took off. I wanted to grab a couple stickers at the General store so, I told them I would catch up shortly. Leaving PB/ Deadhorse was long, lonely and frustrating. The road, aka haul road, aka Dalton Highway, was deep gravel, rutted, wash-boarded, and not friendly to cyclists. Add to that the trucks and the dust they kick up. The day went by and by 8:30 pm there was no sight of the Aussies. I had ridden past an exploration pit/ camp about a mile when a truck stopped. It was Elsie, the trucker I spoke with at Hilltop days before. She had not seen any other cyclists ahead, nor campers that made me believe they stopped at the camp. I turned around I cycled into the wind to the camp. Sure enough, they were there and were invited to stay in a room. The manager was somewhat reluctant to take in another, but with a grizzly prowling around he felt a bit obligated. So I stayed in a Comex with heat and a very small window. We were invited to eat what ever was available, mainly grab-n-go’s, until the cook gave us the last three pieces of berry cheesecake and a bag of double chocolate cookies. The cooks here were angels and made sure we didn’t go without. The Aussies got two different rides that day. That is why I never saw them, except in the distance, in my imagination.

 

Day one was a quick lesson in biking the haul road. Bike the center until you notice a truck or vehicle in either direction. In that case move to the shoulder and slow down or stop. Stay off the soft shoulders. Stop often and stretch, especially your back, shoulders, and arms because your death grip on the handle bars trying keep the rig on the road, as well as the washboard, is intense.

Alexia’s Climate Story

My mother passed away from breast cancer when I was seven. She was in her mid-thirties and there were some speculations made about chemicals from the cornfield behind our house. My mother and father were very close with nature and took my sister and me canoeing and hiking throughout Indiana and beyond when we were babies. My dad taught me about the excitement and curiosity in the natural world through wildflowers, animals in nature, weather, clouds, and the sun. My mother made all of my baby food from the garden. She put fruits and vegetables in the blender and then froze them in ice-cube trays for later, quick use. They started the local Farmers Market in town and I started selling lemonade and bags of lettuce around the age of five, enjoying my younger years next to local farmers and local foods.  My mother worked in the garden, near the cornfield that sprayed various toxic chemicals. As an 8th grader, I wrote a story on this and it was posted in the local paper.FarmerCharlie

The death of my mother was my first encounter with health impacts related to our food system and the systems of our society. Since then, I have continued to be interested in the environment, nature, food, and wellness. Recently, this interest has crossed over into the realms of sustainability, while striving to use my gift as an outdoor educator. Large scale agriculture based on principles from the industrial revolution is affecting the health and wellness of the environment AND the health and wellness of humans. This affects our ability to engage with and within the natural world. The consumerist systems we have put in place to help society, are in fact poisoning it.

I most value being with nature and in the out of doors. I love foraging for wild plants and medicinals, learning about the forgotten food and medicine around us. I love teaching and being in the wilderness. I love watching the joy on someone’s face when they finish portaging their first canoe, when they taste their first wild blueberry, when they see that first glimpse of a caribou around the riverbend. Those are the moments I value that will not happen if the air, land, and waters around us are contaminated.

I find my family in nature. I find myself in nature. In nature, I find answers to my souls deepest questions. I learn about myself, my insecurities, my strength. Taking a holistic approach, connecting with people, speaking with passion from the heart, I will make a change. I will be the change.

A short story

IMG_3817Preface: During our last evening of Institute for Non-formal Climate Change education in Sandstone, Mn we were led on a short-story writing session. Our facilitator gave us a prompt then 5-10 minutes to write, share within our circle, then another prompt. It reminded me of a conscious writing exercise in my college Creative Writing class. However, this writing session had a specific focus, My Climate Story. This is the result of my mine.

Where does my motivation come from?

As a child looking through National Geographic and feeling a sense of wonder; wonder where that is, how they live, if the photographer was injured taking the photos, if I will be able to see that place in it’s natural beauty and integrity…fast forward thirteen years. Bicycling from from Everett, Washington to Key West, Florida through thirteen states, over 5800 miles was my opportunity to open myself to challenge, adventure and an ultimate haptic experience. On my saddle over steep mountain passes, through the heat of high plains, the constant rotation of my legs, feet, pedals, cranks, the sounds of the proximate and distal environment.

How has or will climate change affect me most?

My view from the saddle spans 160° for miles. I see in the distance trees and clear-cuts, mountains and open mines. As I focus on the road between droplets of sweat from my brow, the road oasis and shining objects, which, with a few more turns of my cranks, shards of glass and cans appear. VROOOOM, HONK, a gust of wind pushes my back as an auto avoids me, and changing lanes. The invisible stink of their exhaust chokes me as I barely catch my breath. I feel confused and angered as I’m on my bike with a minimal footprint enjoying my time, the environment…what’s their hurry?…in their mobile coffin?

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Plan, dream, plan

As a person who loves outdoor recreation, I have quite a few personal trips under my belt, on top of all the courses I’ve led as an instructor for Outward Bound. Those trips have a good deal of planning, but do not have the magnitude of logistics as the Western Hemisphere Project has. Luckily, fortunately, and graciously logistical planning and coordination is Alexia’s specialty. Still, she hasn’t ever coordinated a trip that lasts over a year long… neither have I!

GEAR! The first thing that came to my mind. Again, as an avid outdoor enthusiast, gear gets me excited. Alexia and I love trying out new brands and gadgets in the field. My mindset was in a haze with all the great ideas and collaborations I envisioned. The clarity of the true nature of this adventure, validating our purpose, sourcing funds, creating a webpage took a while to set in. Creating a budget and coming to terms with the reality of what is essentially needed for the ride. We frequently talk about curriculum topics and tools, who to partner with, should I use old gear or ask for new, etc.

Finally, after two years of dreaming, talking about, and chasing shallow pursuits.. it was one rainy evening, in the van at the mechanics, we decided to just start doing. We started by creating a budget. A few days later, visiting the Patagonia headquarters, touring around the building, meeting staff, and meeting Yvon Chouinard elevated my passion for this project and propelled us forward to make the dream reality.

At first, we floundered with the weight and enormity of things. It came down to actual needs and prioritizing those needs (and Alexia getting an official title and the reigns to take off into planning world). First objectives: create a visually appealing website, create honest and meaningful content to demonstrate our capabilities as adventure educators, showcase our credentials and build upon our validity. Reach out to sponsors and start asking for equipment donations. Reach out to farms, people, and organizations to meet with along the route. Reach out to educators and people that are interested in being part of this journey.

So that’s what we’re doing now. Building, creating, connecting, and generating momentum for the future. In the next couple of months, lesson plans and educational resources will be created with future topics outlined. I feel inspired and motivated to continue to seek out this transformative experience.

Daily Mantras
The struggle is real;
There will be naysayers;
Keep on keepin’ on

Dream Board

 

Initial inspiration(s)

The day after graduating with my Masters degree, two good friends, James, Vince, and I bicycled around Omaha. We stopped often at parks, pubs, and eatery’s enjoying the beautiful day but more importantly the camaraderie and freedom of cycling. It was this day we shared our stories of our independent cycle adventure tours and what inspired us to do them. After sharing, we talked about what and where our dream ride would be. This is when I came up with the Western Hemisphere Loop; Prudhoe Bay, AK south along the western spine of North America, Mexico, Central America, and South America to Ushuaia, Argentina, a ride that has been done many times. The “Loop” however, would then continue north up the eastern side of South America, the West Indies, Dominican Republic & Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Florida, up the Eastern Seaboard to Maine then stair-step northwesterly from New Brunswick through Canada, eventually reconnecting at Prudhoe Bay. What a great idea!?!…kinda like my first ride 24 years earlier. Not a whole lot of planning went into that; decide on a starting point, an ending point, where to go in-between, save money, and why not? Why not led to why? Well, it would be a great adventure to see America and places I’ve never been. To be in tune with my senses and the environment. Meet people and hear their stories, and share mine, because people on bikes are cool.

What changed the trajectory of the planning and meaning for that first adventure was a comment my Dad said, “Do it for your sister! Robin, my mothers first child passed away from Reyes Syndrome in 1972, when she was seventeen, I was three. RS is a very rare disease that generally affects children under the age of ten whose immune systems are not fully developed, and who are more susceptible to flu-like symptoms. Her death was a complication of taking aspirin and a compromised immune system. She was 17 and the fourth person that year who lost their life to RS. So I contacted the Reyes Syndrome Foundation in Bryan, Ohio and gave them my story. They in-turn endorsed me, sent four hundred press releases nation wide, and began setting up radio, newspaper, and TV interviews with those interested along my 5,800 mile route. This “why” was turning out to become a meaningful and intense journey. Even today when I speak of, or write about my sister I can’t help but choke up a little. I found purpose in doing something for someone other than searching for fully selfish endeavors. Not to say there wasn’t selfishness doing this, it was for me as well. I was 21 and had a zest for experience and knowledge, especially outdoor adventures. This trip changed many things in the way I saw myself in society, and my purpose in this world.  What I also learned was the importance of reaching out to people in need, educating people about personal health and environmental issues, and inspiring people to live out their dreams.

For two years I had in-depth conversations, made some connections, had dreams, and more but it never really took off. I never lost the passion to do this epic bike ride though and in talking with others, I gained a better sense for the mission of the ride. From reflecting on Outward Bound courses I instructed, being a TA in grad school, and acting as a long-term substitute teacher at Rivers Edge Academy in St. Paul, MN, experiential teaching became a common theme. What I realized was that students were challenged, became inspired, and empowered to positively change their lives, and use their voice and take action. These are effective tools to make change in the world. To broaden young peoples understanding of issues that other people face in distant locations, not just their own community, by introducing the voice, customs, and traditions of other people throughout the Western Hemisphere. Right to their classroom or home via the Internet. This became the Project that inspired me. Effecting change through experiential education; using a monumental bike ride to link cultures with the understanding that action taken by one or more groups of people in one location can impact, positively or negatively, a group of people in another. The images, stories, and state of the world portrayed in the documentary, 180South resonated with me. Many of the issues represented, became ongoing topics that impact cultures around the world. I imagined having lesson plans so students can collaborate and create solutions to make positive change. Now, I just needed to stop talking the talk, and start walking the walk and do this!

Yet, it wasn’t clear how much work was ahead of me in planning this project…

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Experience

A sampling of photos from Team Members, Alvin and Alexia. These photos were taken within the last two years and represent farming, sustainability, bicycle touring, and community. The Western Hemisphere Project was built on excitement and passion from experiences like these. Alvin and Alexia will continue to build upon this knowledge and hope to grow your interest in these issues as well.