My Week in the High Sierras – August 2018

img_4916My wife married a guy with a hiking problem.  This problem is one of my life’s great joys.  Not the same kind of prideful joy that my kids give me or the kind of loving joy I feel when I’m around Cindy either.  It is a joy of being free from worry and the fullness of being centered without the commonness of today’s distractions.  You see, hiking follows a daily rhythm that by definition drives you to do little more than a single thing, hike.  You cannot be more centered than waking up to do nothing more than to hike.  If you choose not to hike, then you aren’t doing that very thing.  

A hiking day is simple.  Worry-free.  Thought-filled.  While your head might cycle through many, many thoughts in a day, and yes, there’s the occasional worry about that which you largely can’t control, most thoughts come free from stress or negativity.  Life’s basics, eating, drinking, breathing, staying cool, staying warm, staying protected from the sun and resting come into complete focus while life’s extras fall almost completely away.  Your cell phone mostly doesn’t work, news largely does not exist and weather, while a factor, is pretty predictable in the Sierras.  Cold at night, warm and sunny during the day on most summer days and dry.  Dryness that seems unnatural to a right coaster like me.   The biggest daily worries come in the form of the basics:  Can I stay healthy?  Will I find water?  Will all of my gear remain reliable?  Where am I and where am I going (literally and sometimes figuratively). In short, I like this rhythm.  A lot.  What better way for me to share why then through another 5,000 words or so on the absolutely mundane?  To bribe you through it, I’ll pepper in a few pictures along the way.  Enjoy. 😉

PREPARING TO HIKE:  GETTING UP AND OUT OF CAMP

A hiking day is fairly repetitive.  I like this.  No.  I LOVE this.  When I get off of the trail I yearn for such repetitiveness.  Most days I wake with the sun between 5:45-6am.  When I hike out west this feels late and indulgent as my internal clock largely wants to already be awake. Once up, I dress in reverse layers.  This means I put on what I want to hike in first and then layer up over that as most mornings from 6:30-8 are in the high 30s, low 40s at 10,000 feet.  Then I remove any extra clothes from my sleeping bag and stuff the sleeping bag into its stuff sack.  Doing this warms me up from the chill that sets in for those first few minutes when you are out of the bag.  Then I repack clothes into their respective stuff sacks.  Camp clothes in one stuff sack and extra hiking clothes into another.  Next I pull on my Dirty Girl gaiters, something I frequently forget to do before putting on my shoes which requires a loud I’m-an-idiot groan and then the removal of your recently laced up shoes since these gaiters won’t slide over shoes.  Then unzip the tent, lace up each shoe just right (tied tight as the laces allow is the way I like my hiking shoes) and finally step out of the tent.  All of that takes 8-10 minutes most mornings, maybe more if meditation is part of the scene – it wasn’t for me on this hike.

Once out of the tent I found myself hustling off to the bathroom.  Again, my internal clock wondering why I didn’t take care of this 2-3 hours earlier.  Dig hole, do business, fill hole and walk back to camp as if you were just out for a morning stroll but knowing you aren’t kidding anyone.  Back to packing up.  From this point, camp is all about one step after another to eventually get started hiking.  Remove all items from the tent.  Take down tent, roll up tent, collapse tent poles, gather stakes.  If we are eating a hot breakfast, Tom boils water.  Sometimes I filter water during this time, sometimes after breakfast.  Pack packing depends on breakfast.  The bear bin goes into the pack second which typically requires pack packing to pause until breakfast is done and teeth are brushed so the bear bin can be closed back and stowed.  In my pack, the bear bin only goes into the pack vertically.  It simply won’t fit horizontally.  Then clothes sacks are crammed into each side of the bear bin for balance, followed by the sleeping bag and then random items that don’t have a great home.  Cinch the top of the pack only to invariably realize you left something out.  Uncinch, add in aforementioned item that was left out and recinch.  Snacks, maps, phone go in the top pouch.  Water filter, extra layers, sleeping pad in the outside mesh area.  Then tent poles and water bottles.  Almost there. 

During this time of pack packing, there are days where push-ups occur (6-8 sets of 20 reps with a minute of rest between) for no reason other than Tom started doing this many hikes back and we tend to keep doing it.  This may or may not cause you to pull a pectoral muscle and possibly contemplate if this is what a heart attack feels like, right Tom?  All while doing this the sun comes up more and more, the layers continue to come off as you warm up and you can generally pack, put sunscreen on and be ready to walk immediately after the last rep.  From this point we make camp look like we didn’t stay there, grab our hiking poles, hats and sunglasses, take one last peak at the map or the Guthooks app (online hiking map that leverages GPS for location) and hike on.  There is sometime an unsaid negotiation on who hikes out first – this is a bigger deal on the AT than out west where the first hiker out tends to clear the spider webs spun overnight.  Elapsed time:  45-60 minutes from the time you emerge from the tent.  Hiking before 8am feels right.  After 8am feels late.

HIKING: THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION

img_8640This is the easy part.  Left, right, left, right, left…  One foot in front of the other.  A normal hiking day of roughly 12-14 miles will get you about 22-25,000 steps.  Add in another 3,000 or so steps in each camp (morning and night) and you easily find 30,000 steps a day.  These steps come in all shapes and sizes.  Out west, they are typically dusty steps.  Sometime rocky.  Rarely level.  Rarely shaded and even less frequently wet.  Out east, the steps are damp, sometimes rocky mostly shaded and also rarely level.  Most trails frequent or follow water.  Water is life.  Truly rejuvenating to your physical body but also to your mental body.  Listening to water while walking is deeply calming even while at times quite loud.  There’s something mysterious about water near trails.  Where is it coming from?  Where is it going?  Mostly, it is inviting.  On the hottest days, it is hard not to think about being in it.  On the coldest days, getting in it is a life-arresting thought.  As you walk your mind changes.  Early in a hiking day or shortly after a rest break your mind is fresh, walking is effortless and your destination is nowhere near the front of your mind.  Late into a hiking day or several hours without a break your senses desperately put together images of your destination.  A flat shaded rock or sometimes even a building in the woods.  A great place to rest or an even more inviting place to camp.  As you hike further and further seeing this spot your mind starts to compromise on what would make an acceptable camp or break.  These times can be the toughest of the hiking day as stopping at a great place, with great access to water and a breathtaking view is always the goal.  After a full day of hiking, not attaining the goal can make for a tougher evening.  But, when the goal is met…those are the camp spots I most remember.  Each week of hiking has at least 3-4 of these spots.  The spots are never the same.  Often hard to describe or compare.  But always leave an indelible mark on your hiking memory.  I have dozens and dozens of these spots amongst the stuff in my memories. 

img_8635The hiking day is a time for thoughts and a time for no thoughts.  Tom and me make agendas each time we start out on our hike.  There are times in the day where agenda topics are just perfect for hiking and there are times of the day when they would never fit.  These times are rarely spoken or negotiated.  Speaking on the trail is nuanced.  If you are the primary speaker than positioning yourself behind who you are speaking to is best.  If there’s intended to be a dialog then sometimes these are best for camp or a break.  Tom and me often, again without speaking about it, leave topics to tougher spots on the trail.  Big climbs, technical ascents or descents or long flat stretches work well for agenda topics.  Mostly, the topics are best addressed when we are hiking near each other.  Early mornings are best left for thoughts.  So are late afternoons.  The time where you are walking alone with your thoughts are some of the best parts of hiking.  As I get older, I find myself praying or spending time in gratitude.  Each hike I typically bring a few thoughts that I need more time with.  This past hike, my Mom and oldest son Will filled these spots.  Mom’s memory isn’t as good as it once was and that worries me.  Thinking how to be a better son to her as she ages took up more of my thoughts. My oldest is less than three years from leaving home for the next phase of his life.  Finding meaningful time with him gets harder and harder.  Seeing more and more of me in him is also hard.  Sharing a few words with him on how proud he makes me is the hardest of all at times.   These thoughts filled my head.  Are there solutions to thoughts like these?  Not really.  I wish I could say that these thoughts chart a different course for me but I’m not sure that’s fully true.  Can small changes come from being aware of these thoughts?  I hope so.  I do feel grateful to spend time with these thoughts because they are so fleeting and pushed around by so many other of my life’s daily distractions when I’m not hiking.  Hiking is about an offering of time and focus.  This is the most rewarding part of my journeys.  Never the destination.  In fact, the destination achieved comes with much sadness.  The end of the journey.  The end of the quiet.  The end of less over more.  The return to so much in an odd way can feel like less.  Finally, the hiking comes with some truly incredible thoughts.  Hiking brought me marriage.  The undeniable thought that I want to be around Cindy always.  Hiking brought me courage and confidence.  The thought that I can do anything I give my time and focus.  Hiking reminds me of all of the good things I can miss while focusing on so many little things.  Friendships.  The power of doing nothing.  Seeing nature.  Being uncomfortable.  Seeing discomfort bring new comforts.  Living simply.  Oh yeah, and hundreds of pictures of landscapes that never look as good in the picture as they do when I’m there.   

CAMP:  SETTING UP “HOME” EACH DAY

img_8653An ideal arrival at camp in my opinion is 4pm.  This comes with some caveats.  First, at least 12 miles must have been hiked.  I rarely feel good stopping before 12 miles. Earlier is ok if you crushed it to get there or if the weather says so or if the day before of after calls for extraordinary mileage.  Last caveat?  Camp must be a good spot. Typically this means an inspiring view but it can also mean access to water.  There’s a sweet spot when it comes to altitude as well.  Especially out west.  Below 9,000 feet and your are likely to be warm and the bug count is higher.  Above 11,000 feet and you might be getting into the tent early to stay warm.  Lastly, the spot should be suitable for the size of your hiking party and should avoid being in a spot not designated for camping unless you are desperate.  Once camp is selected the next decision is where to put the tents.  This can truly only be determined by laying down in the spot prior to putting your tent down.  Eyeballing a flat spot will almost guarantee your feet are higher than your head (not great) or your are shimmying back to the uphill side of your tent all night.  Once determined the pack is unpacked, the tent ground cloth, a plastic sheet for me, goes down, then the tent gets staked, then poles and depending on altitude and weather outlook, the fly to cover the tent.  A tent fly equals both warmth and protection from weather.  Whenever possible, it should be left off.  This said, there’s nothing worse than scrambling in the middle of the night to pull it to your tent.  On this past hike, I slept without my tent fly exactly one night out of six – a night at 8,500 feet of altitude without a cloud in the sky.  The star-filled view is hard to describe at 3am in the darkness and desolation of the Sierras.  One note, tent fly or no tent fly, I find my mid-forties self seeing these stars at least once a night where in hikes in the past this was almost never the case. img_8648

After the tent, the the sleeping bag is unpacked and left to air in the tent with any items that won’t be used at camp.  It should be noted that outside of dirty clothes that have been dried, a first aid kit and maybe the empty pack itself, very little falls into the category of items that don’t get used at camp.  After shelter, the next priority is typically either “clean” camp clothes or water filtration.  I like to sit in my sweat-soaked hiking clothes as long as possible to speed the drying process which typically means water filtration happens.  On days at higher elevations where it is colder, I typically just layer camp clothes right over my hiking clothes as every layer tends to be needed.  As I have aged, my passion for changing out of my hiking clothes has waned.  I almost always get out of the hiking shorts, but the shirts I typically wear as the base layer.  Judge away – I can take it.  This past trip water filtration mean pulling out the Sweetwater filter and pumping between 90 and 150 times a bottle to fill up the 64 ounces each that we carry.  We’ll drink between 64 and 96 ounces in a typical night (often 128 to 160 ounces during the day).  Of all the camp chores, water filtration is easily my least favorite.  Tom and me have a slightly unspoken rule that he cooks (i.e. boil the water) and I filter (i.e. pump the water).  Sawyer gravity filters on our next trip might shake up these separation of duties a bit…  #NoMorePumping 

After camp prep, the next job is nutrition.  Freeze dried meals are our go to main course.  Think 700 salt-filled calories in a bag.  We supplement with aged gouda cheese, some form of crackers, maybe a bar of some kind, trail mix and dark chocolate-covered almonds. This eating happens over 90 minutes while sitting on our sleeping pads against a rock of some kind and map-gazing, view-watching and journal-writing.  These last hours of light go by fast and when gone your goal is to extend warmth against the ever-dropping temperatures long enough to see a good view of stars before calling it a night around 8:30pm and crawling into the tent.  Once in the tent I might take a few minutes to read, get a little homesick with pictures from my iPhone and general rustling to set the tent up just right before dozing.  A good sleep consists of 4-6 hours of sound uninterrupted sleep and then the tossing and turning begins.  This means about every 30-45 minutes you have to turn over to avoid soreness setting in.  While this isn’t deep sleep, it tends to get the job done.  A night’s rest on the trail is incredibly restorative.  You can get done hiking with little left in the tank, feel slight soreness set in as you cool down and settle into camp and amazingly after 10-11 hours of laying down in the tent you wake up with a great bit of energy and little residual soreness.  I should heed this lesson more at home where I tend to get 4-5 hours less sleep each night than I do on the trail.

So that’s the routine.  Yes, quite routine.  Hiking days are all different and always have their own set of challenges, highlights and lowlights.  Highlights are typically a super peaceful resting spot, or an agenda topic where time (and miles) fly by or the achievement of a tough stretch of hiking (typically ascending or descending) or something dealing with cold water.  It’s possible that great memories hiking can be made in the interactions you have with other hikers.  Like the time Tom and me met Elizabeth Gilbert’s (author of “Eat, Pray, Love”) father in Vermont on the A.T. or some guy in the sierras who hiked the A.T., the P.C.T. and the Continental Divide Trail, some of them multiple times. 

MY MOST RECENT TRIP – NORTH LAKE LOOP BISHOP, CA HIGH SIERRAS

This August (2018), Tom and me called an audible from the trip near the Oregon border to revisit a loop trail we hiked in 2005, thirteen years ago.  Arguably, the best Sierras section we have yet to hike.  The concern over smoke north of Tahoe helped us call this audible.  This year’s forest fires in California have been some of the worst on record.  Note that I’m avoiding all political or climate change commentary on this point.  We hike the 60 mile loop from North Lake to South Lake, spending time on the John Muir Trail (this guy spent his life hiking the Sierras and mapping out the best for a trail named after him) and Pacific Crest Trail.  The section is filled with amazing glacial lakes, forest-filled canyons, large running streams (filled with water after a heavy snow season) and multiple high passes nearing the 12,000 mark.  Once we completed this section we tacked on another 20-25 miles (?) of side trails taking us over very lightly used trail and connecting us to where we started with very little road walking.  One of my cherished friendships is with Tom with who I have been fortunate to hike most of my A.T. miles and all of the P.C.T. miles.  He’s a great friend who defines hiking compatibility.  I often wonder whether I would have the courage or desire to hike if I didn’t have a friend like Tom to hike with.  I hope I never have to find out the answer to this question.  At the same time I hope I can provide my kids with the experience that my Dad had the courage to provide me and my brother with when we were younger.  Hope needs to be action or they may not fully experience the joy I have felt from my days outdoors putting one foot in front of the other on a trail.

Click here to see the photo album from this trip.

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Resolutions? Geez. I Resolve to Finish This Post in 2018….

For almost two months now I have gone back and forth on whether or not this will be a year with resolutions.  Yeah, right.  You know better.  There has only been one year in my adult life without formalized resolutions (here’s looking at you 2016), and that year confirmed for me that I’m better with a few annual goals.  Call me ‘Corporate.’  Call me ‘Mr. Rut.’  Call me ‘Nerd.’  You wouldn’t be lying with any of those descriptions.  You’d just be missing some of the picture.  You see, to me, resolutions aren’t cliche but rather more like a compass.  Something that allows me to see a bit more clearly without fully defining the path to be taken.  Directional.  Guideposts.  Things I aim for because such aim makes me better. Or possibly makes me feel better.  As an aside, our beautiful country might want to try defining, then measuring some key goals.  There’s evidence that when an idea is born with a subsequent goal attached to it and furthermore, measurements are applied, progress is typically made against said idea.  Even if the overall goal is missed, which occasionally they will be (see most of my past resolutions), there’s something good that results in simply taking action and trying.  Falling child mortality rates, rising child vaccination rates and abject poverty are all strong examples of ideas in action with measurements making pretty amazing progress against their goals.  See the Gates’ Annual Letter for more information or watch this awesome video by vlogger and Author John Green for more inspiration.  See?  Goals are good.

I’ve recently read a great book by Michael Singer, “The Untethered Soul” (thanks Oprah!) and Mr. Singer points out that we all live with this inner voice that largely needs to be addressed, sometimes needs to be ignored and almost always needs to be much quieter.  My inner voice is often running on full blast.  Even while writing this I hear it saying, “you know, this whole resolution thing is weird” or “No one cares about your silly yearly ritual.”  This voice might even have something to do with how long it has taken me to write them down and publish them.  At any rate this leads me to remind you that I’m not new at writing down my resolutions (here are last year’s resolutions) and that my first resolution needs to likely address this voice thing.

My 2018 Resolutions

  1. Keep my Balance – this means spend a few quite moments each day.  Work consciously with presence.  Read.  Practice what I learned from “The Untethered Soul.”  Quiet that voice in my head.  Do things I love, because I love them and do them often.
  2. Continue to find ways to support our home more – This makes Cindy better.  There’s zero doubt in my mind that when Cindy is good, our home is great.  Keep her job an even equal or more to mine.  Be proud that I married a woman who wants to work and is fortunate to work a job she loves.  Be prouder that my kids, especially my boys, see this example.  Her strength will make them better with important women in their lives.  Her example will make it easier for them to apply equality both in their homes and in the places they work. My role here is simple:  take down the gender role walls in our home.  Do more laundry. Make more lunches.  Prepare more dinners.  Own more of the kid’s school event planning.
  3. Be a present father – make memories with small and consistent moments while carving out time to do something a little bigger with each of them.  Charlie to Denver for a Broncos game.  Take Stewart to another big city – she really enjoyed our trip to NYC.  Get Will to Boston and see any sport available there.
  4. Be a better friend – Take the initiative to ask a friend to do something.  Connect with friends.  Ask good questions.  Give them the good word of “Hamilton” – “Talk Less, smile more.”
  5. Be less guarded in communications at home and at work – Be who I am.  Be human.  Talk with, not at.  Lose the defense mechanisms that keep communications from being honest and open.  Communicate with joy and positivity.
  6. Bicycle!  Do it often.  Let the joy I feel while riding show.  Enter 2-3 bike events.
  7. Practice vulnerability by learning one new thing formally – Take lessons.  Join a class.  Get out of my comfort zone.  Cheesemaking?  Beekeeping?  Guitar playing?
  8. Get a running goal and achieve it – Trust my body enough to run for something again.  Don’t set 5 goals.  Just one and get after it.
  9. Write more – Doesn’t matter whether I do this publicly (like this) or privately in a notebook.  Just write more. I love reading my old hiking journals, past blog posts even more than looking at old photos.

That’s the list.  Not too many.  Definitely do-able.  Before I end, some of you may be wondering how I did on my resolutions last year.  To help score the 9 resolutions I’m using the following scale:

0 points – a miserable failure.  I basically ignored the resolution almost immediately following the post on my New Year’s resolutions.

.5 points – partial success.  I can claim some credit but the implementation may have been short-lived, my timeline to implement may have a touch eager or I simply lost interest at some point along the way.

1 point – full success.  I did it!  Yea me!  Feel good about it but don’t let it go to your head.

  1. Invest Fully in Personal Relationships.  Score:  .5.  At work I feel like I succeeded fully.  I pride myself on connecting with my teammates and offering myself up for mentoring and out to be a mentor.  At home this too was a success.  I feel as close to Cindy and my family as ever and that’s a great thing.  Friends, well, they fell behind.  Truthfully, my middle ages, while having a few really close friendships that I’m grateful for, I’ve found that the quantity of close friendships seems to have dropped.  At times, I brush it off as being a middle-aged thing.  Kids take more time, work does too.  Friends just get left to last.  This needs to change for me.  Life’s too short and friendships are too meaningful.  The spirit of this resolution was to work this part of the equation harder and I still have work to do.
  2. Dedicate 40 hours to community service.  Score:  0.  Bleh.  Disappointing as I remember thinking 40 hours will be a breeze.  I can count 12 hours.  Seriously, 3-4 hours a month shouldn’t be too much to ask.  I’m thinking of focusing on mentoring.  Formal mentoring a la Big Brothers Big Sisters or possibly mentoring via tutoring.  The book “Hillbilly Elegy”  by J.D. Vance reminded me how out of balance the access to social capital is on our first world and how even the smallest amount of it can make the biggest difference.  It does not go unnoticed that I might not be on this great planet today had my Great Uncle Arlin and Great Aunt Hilda not offered some to my dad during his formative teenage years.
  3. Activate in politics.  Score:  1.  I don’t necessarily like the way I did it and there’s room for improvement, but needless to say, my representatives likely know me by voice (or at least their aides do) as I easily made 50-75 calls to them over the course of 2017 and continue my pace in 2018.  I also participated in a March in Rock Hill and attended several candidate events in our SC-5 special election race.  Lots of space to keep this up ahead of the 2018 midterms.  I am passionate that our democracy is at a crossroads (and not just because of the low self esteem, narcissistic, worst-role-model-ever we have in the executive branch) and good people causing “good trouble” (borrowed from Rep Lewis of Georgia) will be required now more than ever to ensure our democracy returns to its values.
  4. Fix my calves.  Score: 1.  I went after this as much as any ailment I’ve experienced.  10-12 dry needling sessions with 20-30 needles per visit.  Ouch!  Zero marathons in 2017, the first year I haven’t logged a marathon finish since maybe 1995.  But, and yes, I’m knocking on wood while typing this, I think maybe I’m cured.  I’ve been running ailment free since September and even ran an 11-mile race (longest distance in 8 months!) on New Year’s Day.
  5. Cycle more.  Score:  1.  Many more rides than I’ve ever ridden in 2017 including a 15-day ride from Maine to Fort Mill.  I hope to keep this going strong in 2018 as rarely does a sport make me smile while doing it like cycling.
  6. Find Kid Solo Time.  Score:  .5.  No solo weekend trips like I had intended but I did experience a great deal of joy spending 1×1 time with my kids in whatever way possible.  Typically this could be a long ride to a soccer match, sharing our favorite reality TV show or lunch out while running errands.  I’m starting to learn in my 15th year as a parent that the little things are where the memories are made.  That being said, an occasional trip away with a kid would still be fun and plenty memorable for them.
  7. Make Torrent Cash Strong.  Score .5.  While Torrent is now a past employer, I do think bringing strong financial and delivery mechanics to the entire company put them on the path to achieve this goal.  We did accumulate cash while I was there and this was through a deliberate focus but not to the level of “cash strong.”  Striking the balance between putting clients in front of everything else, outcome-focused delivery, growth and cash strength is what makes business fun and challenging.  This company will strike this balance and when they do I’ll read about it and be proud that I was a small part of their success.
  8. Support Cindy More.  Score:  1.  I continue to want to be much more integrated into our household running than I was in the years with younger kids.  Call it an awakening.  Call it common sense.  Call it my responsibility.  The reality is, we both work.  We both enjoy it.  The one with the more home responsibility gets the shaft. Being much more involved as an equal partner is something I should have been focused on long ago.  Maintaining this focus for the rest of our years together on this spinning round ball will be my goal.
  9. Find More Zen.  Score:  1.  It never amazes me how fast I can lose my zen.  I can be like the awful person in those Snicker’s commercials in a heartbeat.  But, I also did things that help me stay centered, more present and relaxed.  Meditation, consistent reading, exercise and surprisingly dog-walking have all helped me get maximum points on this resolution.  I’m grateful for the lifelong goal of finding more zen.

6.5 out of 9.0 total points probably doesn’t land me in Harvard but likely gets me into a good state school.  But there’s more to life than test scores, right?

Day 15: Morrow Mountain State Park (Badin, NC) to HOME (Fort Mill, SC)! 72 Miles

15 riding days, 14 nights, 13 states, 12 Subway sandwiches, gallons of water, 1 flat tire, 2 epically curated cycling tan lines on my thighs (see rule #7 of “The Velominati), a ton of great memories, a few not-so-great memories, 1,352 miles and as fast as it started it is now over. Candidly, my head is spinning.  I still feel the need to hop back on the bike and ride to where I am headed next.

I spent a lot of my ride today summing up this journey. I haven’t had a clear answer when asked why I decided to do this and that bothered me a little. Here’s what I do know.

I tend to be nomadic by nature. I like to travel, especially point to point. I like to set a goal and see what it takes to accomplish it. I enjoyed the planning of this adventure almost as much as the adventure itself.  During this trip, sitting in one place too long always resulted in me getting back on my bike and riding.  That’s the way I liked it.

I love to ride my bike. While at times it was difficult and I was tired or sore or hangry or thirsty (or all of the aforementioned), I still enjoyed riding.  Coasting.  Spinning with cadence.  Grinding up a long hill in a small gear.  Rushing down steep hills with the wind in my face.  Hearing the noises around me.  Feeling that cool sensation of the wind cooling my sweat.  I love all of that.  I even like the spandex (especially the pockets in the back of my jerseys).

I believe doing stuff like this trip makes me live my daily life more fully.  I don’t do stuff like this because my life isn’t full or great.  I’m blessed.  My life is both full and great and I’m filled with gratitude because of it.  I’m cognizant that riding long distances on a bike isn’t quite normal and that’s part of what makes me like it too.

Traveling like this (cycling, hiking), where you carry what you need for the most part, helps me slow down and appreciate what a good life me and those around me are living. It helps me see the colors of my life more clearly.  I am reminded of the abundance in which I’m fortunate to live.  It also reminds me I need so much less stuff than I have (watch out kids, a huge purge is a comin’!).  This ability to slow down my life through low-speed activities like hiking and biking also helps me see parts of the country a little bit slower than I normally do. It’s a pretty great place.

I’ll admit it, there’s a part of me that does this in hopes that it makes my kids, Cindy and extended family proud of me. This is a feeling I’m not fully comfortable with as it shows the dependency I tend to have on needing the validation of others.  This can be as bad of a need as it is good.  Self-validation is something I’ve never been great at doing which leads to confidence issues I carry within me. Unfortunately, doing these things does not cure this but it does remind me I can do almost anything I put my mind too and when the going gets tough, I can persist (with only a mild amount of inner complaint).

Most of all, I’m hopeful that as my kids move toward their adult lives that they use these adventures an example, excuse or reminder to live life fully and possibly a little bit out of their comfort zone.

I’d be remiss to mention that good timing and a fortunate sequence of events helped make this trip possible. I’m grateful for this and excited to see what the next chapter in my working life allows me to experience.  Lastly, I may have found a new passion for wanting to influence the development of more bike friendly roads where I live. Bike-friendly roads are so good for bikes AND for cars when they are built with room for both.  Yet roads are so bad for both when they aren’t built this way. Charlotte has done some nice work with the roads I rode on today.  I’m excited to see that all but two to three miles of a seventeen mile commute from my house to Uptown Charlotte can be made on roads with dedicated bike lanes or large lane-wide shoulders. The rest of North Carolina and frankly the South from what I saw needs to catch up here with our neighbors to the North (with some exception given to the roads I saw in Maryland).

This ride reminded me to see more of my life – see it in the way I saw it while away from it.  With a strong desire to be in it – fully and with presence.  The ride made me want to be more involved in the direction of my life, not just reacting to it as it comes to me.  So, a single huge revelation?  Not really but definitely many small reminders.

Today?  Oh yeah, I rode 72 miles today.  It actually felt like a half day – probably because technically it was compared to yesterday’s debacle. I had a normal ride out of camp today at 7:40 and after a late night to bed I was feeling the effects of poor sleep this morning.  Much of the first two hours of the ride had me heading towards Concord, NC over some very hilly and sunny countryside. Granny-gear grinding. I took a small break in Locust, NC to feast on, you guessed it, another Subway meal.  This time a double egg and cheese sandwich on wheat flatbread. C’mon Subway…it’s time you opened up those electrical outlets to your customers and while you are at it, how about some wifi? You. Can. Do. It. After this quick stop at the 30-mile point, I pointed my bike towards Sycamore Brewery in Charlotte via a Mint Hill approach.  I crossed these 25 miles quickly in the heat of the morning and arrived at Sycamore at 12:35pm to be greeted by my Dad, Tim and Danielle.  It was really heartwarming to see them – a very fun way to be on the cusp of home.  We enjoyed a beer together, my first since Connecticut, and caught up on the trip alongside many pre-gaming Panther fans.  It was good to be back.  I should apologize to them for being a little out of it.  Fatigue, re-entry, some cramping all contributed to a weakened state.  I loved seeing you guys.  The stay was short (an hour or so) because my next stop was my family!   I enjoyed a tailwind on my last 20 miles or so and with one last state line to cross into Fort Mill.  I also got to ride alongside my good Baxter-long friend Catherine for the last half of this leg into the ‘hood.  All of this was a fun way to end my adventure.

Upon entering my house I was greeted by an awesome homemade sign and my oldest who had just returned home from being out with his friends (and subsequently and possibly falsely, claimed credit for the sign his brother and sister made).  Cindy, Stewart and Ruth (dog) were home a few minutes later after being at the dog park thinking I was still 30 minutes away (I made great time with the tailwind) and Charlie returned an hour after that from playing across the neighborhood with a close friend.  All of us back together again.  Bliss.  Cindy said it best.  Our family can handle people being away, but we are definitely at our best as a team of five, uh…ok, six.  You count too Ruth (I’ve come a long ways in a couple of months).

What lessons did I learn for a future ride (yes, there will be a future ride one day)? I’m so glad you asked.

  • Travel light again, but the next time on a touring frame with slightly fatter tires.
  • Ride with another cyclist next time.
  • One pair of evening clothes and one pair of riding clothes – nothing more.
  • Travel with a better (waterproof) tent.
  • Consider waterproof riding pants and waterproof shoe covers.
  • Tortillas FTW!
  • Seek out more State Parks – all of them were better than private campgrounds.
  • Take a day off at least every 8-10 days.
  • Visit more people – spending a short period of time with others was really fun and turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.
  • Google Maps is good but trust your gut and go where you want to go not always where the Google blue line tells you too.
  • Seek out pedestrian only trails, greenways, etc – these are the future of cycling in cities and great ways to travel safely.
  • Traveling through big cities is fun for about 1/4 of the time you are doing it – the rest is a grind – pick your cities wisely and go around the others.
  • Buy the touring maps and guidebooks – I think I might have seen more stuff had I leveraged more of the experience of others before me.
  • Chamois Butter > Betwixt
  • Long distance riding doesn’t always offer the best experience of cities and towns. Especially if you are trying to limit hotel stays like I did. Having kids and obligations back at home doesn’t offer a ton of opportunity to stay a night or two extra in the great places. Next trip, post-kids-out-of-the-house, I’ll sightsee more. Maybe with Cindy?
  • Ride with shoes/cleats that double as walking shoes – click-clacking around in cycling shoes is annoying.
  • Eat every 90 minutes – no exception.  Drink a bottle an hour – no exception.
  • Lock or no lock?  While I used it twice in front of grocery stores and at most of the campgrounds, I wonder if it was really worth the weight.
  • Have a touristy item to accomplish each day – getting up and riding to your next spot is not what the journey was meant to be about.
  • There’s a lot of junk on the sides of roads – I need to help clean up litter more often than I do.
  • When driving, I will pass bikes as well as the best cars who passed me did – every time.  No excuse.  Slow down to ensure there’s room.  Left blinker to pass and right blinker to come back into the lane.  Give the bike AT LEAST 3-4 feet of clearance. Avoid gunning the engine – the bike is doing 20 mph at their fastest and in most cases much slower – it won’t take much speed to get by them and gunning the engine just makes the biker feel even worse about being in the way.

Until the next adventure.  I really appreciate those who read this and interacted me here, text or via social media along the course of these 1,352 miles. I’m happy to answer any questions people have about gear, planning or other parts of the experience here, live or via social media.  Peace.

Day 14: Danville, VA to Morrow Mountain State Park (Badin, NC) – 140 miles

Have you ever had one of those days where everything just went your way?  I have been fortunate to have several, just not today. It started out on a great note with me teaching the Sleep Inn a lesson on how to crush a free breakfast. Then I literally rode out of the lobby at 7:05am with the sun just peaking over the horizon. One of my earliest starts. After a quick ten miles I crossed into NC, one of the few picture-worthy moments today. I even found my large chainring and wondered why I didn’t use it more on this trip. So far so good, right. Yep. I retired 60 miles of my planned 114 by 11:30 which felt great. After a brief stop in a McCafe just east of Greensboro, I was off again. 30-20-20 plan to break up my afternoon. Two breaks after 30 and 20. Simple, right?

Nope. I didn’t take the bird in the hand in Ashboro. This means, I kept thinking an even better option was coming up ahead. This idea rarely works out as you find yourself riding through town and then feeling like going back would be wasteful. I had tempo so I said let’s get 10 more and then break. I felt good. Until I realized I was 5 miles past a key turn. There are always multiple routes so GoogleMaps to the rescue. 28 more miles vs what would have been 22. Not a huge deal. I would still get to Badin Lake Campground earlyish. 

Then I passed the sign:  ‘You are entering Uwharrie’ and everything changed. I’ve been here before. I knew it would be hilly.  What I didn’t expect was the miles and miles of dirt roads I’d be riding on. Some well traveled with smooth tire tracks to ride in on my road bike and others not well traveled at all. My speed went from 10-15 mph to 6-8 mph. 

Still just keep pedaling. Early arrival ahead. After a few hours of work I was 3.5 miles from my target Campground. It was 5:50pm. All good. Until I hit the Badin Lake Campground Road a few turns later. Large, newly spread gravel rocks on a one lane road. I rode 300-400 yards on them and nearly fell multiple times. I would either have to walk my bike 3.5 miles in to camp (which meant walk it out the next morning), hitch a ride (not happening – I hadn’t seen a car in an hour) or form another plan. 

So I decided to push on. 111 miles into my day. Morrow Mountain State Park was 26 miles away. That’s where I’d go. Reluctantly. At this point I’m disappointed, tired, thirsty and hungry. Not a way to end the trip but not a lot of options. 

I rode 4.5 miles and came across a general store. There I buy food and drink and they tell me that two (actually it was over four) miles back the way I came was a small Campground call Whip-O-Will. I get excited pack up and head back. Big mistake. This place was rough and the front office guy rougher. Whip-o-Will was stuffed full of RV Campers that haven’t moved in 5-10 years. Guard dogs chasing me on the way in and local kids heckling me. This before the front office guy said “we don’t do tenters (boy).” It’s now closer to 7pm and I’m still 22 miles from Morrow Mountain. Off I go. This time I look like Dorothy riding her bike in the Wizard of Oz. 

Enough, you get the picture. I arrive at Morrow Mountain State Park at 8:50pm. I’m set up, showered and fed by 10:30pm. A lesson in humility firmly grasped. A reminder that being a one hour car ride from home doesn’t just mean the trip is simple or you can coast in – you still have to work for it. Tomorrow I’ll get up and treat the last 70 miles of this journey with the respect I know it deserves. 

What I loved today: Riding in the early AM on a Saturday (much less traffic). 

Oddity: Morrow Mountain Family Campground. Weird vibe compared to the other State Parks I’ve stayed at. 

Zen Moment: Crossing into NC!

Not-So-Zen Moment: Backtracking almost 5 miles to the Whip-O-Whill Campground only to get turned away. 

Who did I meet today? Mittie and Chuck at the Badin General Store

Food I Ate: two hard boiled eggs, a plate of scrambled eggs, a bowl of two cereals, a biscuit with honey, a muffin and coffee, a bar on the bike, biscuit, egg and cheese with a hash brown and a Dr Pepper (sodas taste really good to me out here), two more bars on the bike. Pistachios and my Nutella, Banana and almond butter wrap and a tub of jalapeño pimiento cheese on crackers with a Snickers to top it off. 

Pictures: 1) NC State Line, 2) Uwharrie’s dirt roads. 

Day 13: Holliday Lake State Park (Appomattox, VA) to Danville, VA – 95 miles

Hey Southern Virginia, a sidebar please. In 1,000 miles this activity did not occur a single time. I rode past hundreds of homes on quiet country roads and not a single time did I experience what I experienced today SEVEN different times. The experience you ask? Angry barking dogs chasing me as if I’m their dinner. On a country road my composure remains steady. I’m on a bike with wheels and gears and they are on four legs. No wheels. No gears. I also have room to move sideways in most cases. It’s the saliva-crazed dogs on the busy roads that worry me most. Either me, the dog or the drivers on these roads are at real risk. Less room to move and a lot more consequence to any error in movement. I’m not sure what changed as of this morning but you just might want to ask your neighbors anywhere north of say, Appomattox, VA just what they are doing to keep their beloved hounds under control. That is all. 

7:39am rollout from Holliday Lake and I have big thoughts of making Reidsville 120 miles away. What I’m realizing is how hard it is to ride over the 100 mile mark in a day. An early start is a must. Rest breaks must be efficient. Navigation tight. And of course your body has to be there. I had most of that today except the early start and a slight four mile re-route for a sketch trail that seemed like I’d be pushing the boundary on the “no trespassing” signage I spoke of in yesterday’s post. I rolled into Danville at 6:15pm after a solid push for the final 20 miles. A second wind of sorts after a hot and sunny (and hilly) day in the saddle. 

Decision time. Do I put in another 24-26 miles to get to Reidsville or stay put. An after dark arrival on fairly busy roads didn’t seem worth the extra miles so I called it a day. Right decision. Even more right as I was straddling my bike in decision mode right in front of a brand new Sleep Inn with a discount promotion. Welcome to my 2nd hotel stay of the trip. Ahhhh. And they had cookies upon check-in. 

The rolling acreage of today was fairly consistent. Hilltop farms with 200-400 acres for most of them offered really nice vistas all day. Also much more tolerable traffic levels today on the busier roads made for more peaceful riding. I’d love to know what 100 acres of land is worth up here. Very scenic views. Easy on the eyes. 

Tomorrow is tricky. Need to ride enough miles to make Sunday an easier day into home but also want to stay at a legitimate camping location.  The choices are slim. I’ve got a little more recon ahead of me. 

Also, thinking ahead to Sunday, if anyone is looking for an afternoon bike ride, I’d love the company. My intention would be only to have company for as far as you want to ride or can stand to ride with me. The pace is pretty slow (11-14 MPH) and I would not want this to be ceremonial by any means. Let me know if you want to meet. My path has me coming in from NoDa to Uptown and then out of town via the rail trail. I can flex my route to meet anywhere near the South Blvd corridor and you’d be welcome to ride with me all the way to Fort Mill if you’d like. The timing is likely in the noon-2pm when I’ll ride by Sycamore Brewery on the rail trail – I’ll plan a short break there. I can firm the exact time up on Sunday as I ride in. Also, I haven’t looked at the weather and don’t know if there’s a Panther’s home game or not. Anyways, just  let me know. 

What I loved today: Hilltop acreage. 

Oddity:  Mac and cheese mixed with mashed potatoes at lunch in a Brookneal gas station/local restaurant. 

Zen Moment: Meeting an ice delivery guy who has two friends who started a San Diego to St. Augustine trip the same day I left from Maine. 

Not-So-Zen Moment: Salivating dogs mistaking my calves for turkey legs. 

Who did I meet today? See my Zen moment above. 

Food I Ate: Nutella, banana, almond butter and tortilla (again), bar on the bike, Mac/cheese mixed with mashed potatoes, cheese wrapped in tortillas and a repeat of breakfast with pistachios at lunch number two under a Baptist Church’s pavilion, Gatorade and a SierraMist 20 miles before Danville. Dinner was more stuff put I a wrap, two cookies, pistachios and a Snickers bar. 

Pictures: 1) hillside acreage with cows. I did a lame job with pictures today. 

Day 12: Lake Anna State Park to Holliday Lake State Park (Appomattox, VA) – 90 miles

I pedaled. Sometimes with vigor and energy and sometimes as if I was Jack Tripper on the intro to Three’s Company (Google it Millennials) through more corn and soy bean fields.  I pedaled past a pleasant view of Lake Anna as I departed early this morning around 7:30am. About 9:30 I decided to detour to the world’s busiest Hardee’s for a cup of coffee in Louisa, Va. The locals had kind of a cool thing going on here with people of all walks of life just showing up at Hardee’s to socialize. The employees were even in on it. After the loud record scratch and the music stopping playing when I walked in, the place quickly went back to being downright loud. No one on their devices. Just talk of health (irony given the location noted), fishing, work and spouses from what I gathered. There were multiple spouses attending together (not sitting together) but instead sitting separately with their group of friends. A funny little slice of life that I’m grateful for encountering.

I also crossed a bit of a milestone. A meaningless one but one nonetheless. My 1,000th mile. Carysbrook, Va is 1,000 miles from Bar Harbor, Maine. As a reward, my route allowed me to ride 27 miles from there on the world’s busiest logging highway, VA-15. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. This road was home to multiple logging company operations which resulted in sore shoulders and neck muscles for me from the bracing to my little bike that I performed each time one of those trucks raced by. Most of these trucks moved over properly, but the wind coming off those things was still immense. That section was mentally and physically draining.  Although I did enjoy the intoxicatingly pleasing smell when the trucks carrying fresh cut wood chips passed little ol’ me. 

Someone asked me what do I do with my mind when I’m riding and I’ve been thinking more and more about that question. I meditate on the quiet roads. I pray on the louder ones. I count exhales going up large hills (150 breaths or more is a long pull uphill). I think about Cindy and the kids a lot. I wonder whether doing something this selfish will have a positive outcome on my kids. I believe my Dad’s indirect influence on me was even more resonating later in life than his direct guidance/influence. So hopefully the same holds true with my kids. I think about my parents and whether I am giving them enough support and spending enough quality time now that they are so nearby. I have also spent time thinking about my relationships with my friends. I’m a doer upon request but rarely someone who reaches out to others to make plans. I could probably step out of my comfort zone more here. I also think about communities. I’ve ridden through quite a few and they all have shared qualities. I’m fascinated by the smallest towns having a community center and the various ways those centers get used. The inequities of all cities and towns seems to be also be a shared standard. What if more were done by community members to raise up those who have so little? I wonder how much of this is being done that we rarely see too. 

There are many more thoughts. Today’s most frequent wondering was trying to understand what makes people post “No Trespassing” signs all over their property – seen mostly outside of the town limits. Are people just wandering onto their property at such a rate that they just have to put a sign up? Seems odd that the first thing you see when turning into someone’s driveway is a sign basically saying stay out. I bet over 75% of the homes in the countryside of Virginia have these. 

Here’s the brief rundown: 

What I loved today: The state park shower. The days are certainly warmer than they were last week and a shower after 7-10 hours of biking feels awesome. 

Oddity: A beaver on the side of the road near this state park. That dude was large and scared me big time. 

Zen Moment: Hardee’s. Who would have thought it?

Not-So-Zen Moment: VA-15 – not for bikes. 

Who did I meet today? A Food Lion cart getter who told me a few days back a guy riding from GA to MI came in the store. Richard, the State Park manager at Holliday SP and his beagle Anastasia. 

Food I Ate:  Nutella, PB, banana wrap, Skratch drink mix, coffee and egg/cheese biscuit at Hardee’s, banana, powerbar and chipotle chickpeas at lunch, fish filet sandwich and an egg/cheese biscuit at McDonalds for lunch #2, apple on the bike, pepperjack cheese and pickle wrap (homemade – I had a craving while in Food Lion), more chickpeas and a scoop of Nutella for dinner. And…now I’m hungry again but alas the food bag is hung. 

Pictures: 1) Top – Lake Anna, 2) Flipping the Odometer, 3) Slow moving vehicles sign and 4) Holliday Lake SP. 

Here’s hoping for a dry night – it would be the first in a while. 


Day 11: Almost Mason’s Neck State Park to Lake Anna State Park (Spotsylvania, VA) – 86 miles

There is some Civil War History in these parts of the country. Today Manassas, Spotsylvania (can’t say it without thinking about Dracula for some reason) and The Battle of the Wilderness all in one day. Tomorrow, Appomattox. In fact, if I wasn’t between walls of cornfields and soybeans, I was likely on the Civil War trail. While a name like Civil War trail seems glamourous, it’s mostly speeding pickup and semi trucks. 

After what has become my favorite breakfast out here, wrap with banana, peanut butter and Nutella, I pushed off in a light rain this morning. Not so awesome. It wasn’t until 2pm or so that the drizzle stopped and the sun emerged. In fact, right at the same time my only notable town on the day, Germanna, and a Subway emerged. Cue the angelic music. I quickly spread out all my wet stuff on a sunny grass space at the Food Lion strip mall, ignored some funny looks and headed to Subway to order a tuna footlong. In hiking terms, Tom and I would have referred to this as giving the gear a full shakedown. 

Today I notice that I was either riding through peaceful farmland on lightly traveled roads somewhat longing for some commerce areas with roads filled with cars, noise, diesel fumes and food options or I was in an area with lots of cars, noise and diesel fumes longing for a quiet country road. This juxtaposition might mimic life more than I’d care to admit. 

Speaking of weird. This State Park entrance road ran three miles before I sniffed of any Campground. If hiking, I would have never considered something so far off the trail. Biking, no problem. Until it is just annoying how far you have to ride after feeling the joy of having made it. State Park trickeration. 

What I loved today: The sun coming out. 

Oddity: Near empty lakefront Campground and my long shadow. 

Zen Moment: Riding from paved peaceful farm road to paved peaceful farm road. 

Not-So-Zen Moment: spending 4 miles on peaceful UNPAVED farm roads. Messy and bumpy. Google Maps (said with my fist firmly shaking in the air)!

Who did I meet today? Not a soul. Could have met the other the three campgrounders but I wasn’t feeling it. 

Food I Ate: banana, pb and Nutella wrap. 2 bars. 1/2 of a Subway footlong tuna, bar on the bike, second half of the sub, bag of chips, the last two cookies from Bill and Sue’s place. 

Pictures: 1) Top – Camp Of The Wilderness graphic. Pretty interesting history. 2) Me and my shadow.