Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Bicycle Touring’ Category

While there’s a lull in the action (that is, a lull in blog-posting action, due to the fact that I am presently too mired in studies to think about much else!), I thought I’d take a moment to answer one of the more interesting questions I was recently asked about my tour by a fellow student. After I brushed off the seemingly mandatory first question, “Were you ever in any danger?” (to which my answer is, believe it or not, no!), I was then asked, “Okay, then what was the strangest thing you saw?”

Now that’s a great question! I have two responses.

The first occurred on the outskirts of Clarence, Missouri. Evening was approaching, which meant that I needed to begin my usual routine of filling my water bottles, then find a place to camp for the night. Just before reaching US-36, I spotted a gas station enfolded by a sprawling cemetery (if you’ve been following along thus far, you may recall that I find cemeteries to make excellent stealth-camping sites [stealth-camping—the legally ambiguous art of camping for free in tucked-away places otherwise not designated for camping]). Perhaps I should have read the gas station’s unusually snug proximity to the cemetery as a hint that something was a little…strange. But at the end of a blistering summer’s day of pedaling a 100-pound bicycle for 70+ miles, my mental reflexes were a little slow.

And so it was that I drew closer and marveled that the cars in the lot all seemed to be from the 1950s, marveled all the more when I noticed that the single gas pump was also of vintage variety, and I was finally shaken out of my mental stupor when I noticed that the price-per-gallon on the pump was well under one dollar.

Yes, strange.

I took a closer look around this eerie gas station-cum-cemetery. The utter stillness among the graves also extended to the station itself, despite the fact that at first glance the place seemed to be bustling with activity. I looked into the windows of the antique cars. Yes, they were inhabited, but the inhabitants weren’t moving either! A closer look: they were mannequins! And not just any mannequins, but mannequins in giant monkey suits, and others with similar macabre distortions to their humanoid features.  Fully lucid now, I stood dumfounded, trying to absorb the meaning of this roadside-frozen-freakshow-museum-graveyard.  No matter how I strained my imagination, though, I couldn’t infer any meaning or purpose. Just…strange. Finally, I shook off the cognitive dissonance and vague uneasiness that had swept over me, pedaled to a real gas station a half-mile away, filled my water bottles, pedaled back to the cemetery, set up camp behind the graves, and slept like a…mannequin?

The second strange incident occurred on the 4th of July in Munson Township, Illinois. Now, on the previous night, I had done something I rarely do on bicycle tour: pay to camp at an actual campground. Big mistake. The place was crawling with four-wheel ATVs being driven in circles by drunk people shooting off bottle rockets long past bedtime. The next day, then, expecting more boisterous patriotic revelry, I determined to camp as far away from civilization as possible. And I was quite successful. On Google Maps I spied a small green dot with the label, “Munson Township Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve.” A cemetery AND a nature preserve? A stealth-camper’s dream! And the place was far from any significant town or road.

Arriving at the cemetery/nature preserve, I was quite happy to find an immaculate hilltop slice of wilderness, peppered with graves over a century old, overlooking an endless rolling sea of soybean fields. I felt so safe in this quiet, isolated spot that I didn’t even bother trying to hide my tent; I slept fairly out in open view of anyone who might happen to drive up. And in fact, as I drifted to sleep on what was by far the quietest 4th of July I’ve ever experienced, I was jarred to full consciousness at midnight by the glare of headlights drawing near. I prepared to get out of the tent and do what I always do in such situations: proactively approach people, introduce and explain myself. But I hesitated because the couple who parked a mere 15 yards from my tent hadn’t yet noticed me; their headlights hadn’t shined in my direction. I waited, listened, watched as the man got out and clambered into the woods in front of the still-shining headlights.

“It’s in a box. I know it’s here! Why can’t I find it!?”

After about 15 minutes of this midnight treasure-hunting, he gave up the search, got back into the truck, and drove away. They never discovered me. I continued to listen as the sound of the motor drifted off into the night, leaving behind only stark silence…and a handful of questions!

After waking the next morning, I conducted a little treasure-hunt of my own. In the place where the man had searched, I found an old toilet bowl and an assortment of rusty, abandoned farming equipment. But no box, nor any clue of the mysterious content of said box, nor a hint of why they chose the middle of the night on the 4th of July to come looking!

Strange.

Read Full Post »

60 miles out of Little Rock, by late evening I found myself on a horrendous, loose-gravel road just north of Kensett, Arkansas. I would precariously pedal for 50 yards or so before the front wheel would slip out from under me. At least half the time, this meant that I simply crashed to the ground since I couldn’t get my feet out of the clips in time. On the whole, then, in fits and starts, I lurched along at about four miles per hour. And each time I’d hit the ground, I’d let out a torrent of curses that would make an Italian sailor blush! Finally, wisely, after fighting for a couple miles, I gave up. I looked to my right and found a break in the woods between the road and the railroad tracks. I tucked in 30 yards from the road, out of sight, and a mere 30 yards from the tracks as well. Not a bad campsite overall, though I would have slept better were it not for the dozen or so trains that passed through the night and shook the ground beneath me like rolling bundles of thunder!

Incidentally, given that the principle virtue that engenders safe, satisfying stealth camping is discretion, strategically speaking, I wouldn’t recommend hurling hair-raising profanities into the dusk of a quiet rural community before settling in for the night.

The following evening I enjoyed some of the best riding of the tour through the foothills of the Ozarks. I glided effortlessly along a ribbon-route, dipping through forest and lake and then bobbing to the surface again to enjoy a wide-angle view of sprawling, jagged tree-topped waves of green. At one point, I passed a boy waving and shouting enthusiastically to me from his porch below. I looked and saw several adults with him, and so turned into the drive and asked if they could either let me camp on their land or recommend another place for the night. One of the men pointed me to a city park in Mount Pleasant a couple miles further. Arriving ten minutes later, I pitched my tent in a discrete spot behind the park, introduced and explained myself to a couple of locals who were running and lifting weights there, and enjoyed a quiet, restful night at last.

City Park, Mount Pleasant, Arkansas

(For parents who find the above image…well, somewhat troubling, let me assure you that it is exceedingly unlikely that there are bicycle tourers lurking in the underbrush behind your local playground! And in the rare case that there are, they should be departing early morning without leaving a trace.)

Poolside Camping, Lanton, Missouri

Upon crossing the Missouri border the following evening, I once again found myself cruising through pristine rolling hills with minimal traffic. Looking for a place to camp for the night, I spied a man, Peter, sitting beside a small catfish pond in front of a campground, enjoying the dusk. I rolled over the grass toward him and we chatted about hiking and biking and the like. A native of Austria, at 75, Peter still bikes 20 miles a day after years of hiking and mountain-climbing. At one point in the conversation, I asked him how much he charged for tent-camping. He said $20 but told me to name a price. I offered $5 but he wasn’t going below $10. We continued to chat awhile longer, and then I filled up my water bottles, intent to push on to find free camping. As I straddled my bike to leave, he invited me to camp for $5. I took advantage of the facilities, delighting in a hot shower (as opposed to sponge-bathing in the woods with a single water-bottle’s content of water [the other two being reserved for drinking and food-prep] while simultaneously shooing away mosquitoes)—a real stealth-camping luxury!

South of Houston, Missouri

The next night proved to be one of the more dramatic of the tour. I’ve learned that, if you want someone to stop and give you directions in a decent-sized rural town, just stand at the intersection of the town-center looking confused. So I planted myself on the corner of Main Street and U.S. Hwy. 17 in Willow Springs, MO, and waited. Within a minute or two, Jim parked his motorcycle next to me and offered his services. After learning that I study theology, he excitedly removed his helmet, dismounted, and told me he spends 8-9 hours a day with his New King James Bible and Strong’s Concordance. An unusual conversation on biblical history and interpretation ensued. Finally, we got down to business. He gave me some great advice for a route and even recommended a place to camp. Eighteen miles later, I found the turnoff he suggested, leading to a creek below. I set up my tent and was satisfied. However, as I was getting ready to sleep, I checked the weather forecast. 30-40% chance of scattered thunderstorms! And because I anticipated a hot and muggy night, I had left the rainfly off. I peered into the night sky. Clear. I’d take my chances and enjoy the cool breeze without protection. Ten minutes later, I noticed flashes of light from the north playing on the trees above. I was in no mood to get out of the tent, so I tried to apply the psychology of denial. “It’s just my eyes adjusting to the dark…no…it’s the headlights of northbound traffic,” I tried to convince myself. But of course, it was neither. Resigning myself to reality, I crawled out of the tent, ran up to the road to survey the situation (naked except for shoes!) and caught an utterly fantastic electrical storm dancing in the clouds headed my way. I ran back down to the tent and, rather than put on the rainfly, simply dragged everything under the bridge. The rain came, the wind howled, lightening and thunder struck, but I stayed dry.

After sulking out of the tent the next morning on very little sleep, I set off and pedaled another sixty miles. Upon arriving in the city of Rolla, I spied a large park run by the Lions Club: frisbee golf, a large lake with a fountain and bridges, gazebos, multiple playgrounds, walking trails, covered picnic tables galore with functioning electrical outlets, porta-potties, and as I was to discover later, unsecured Wi-Fi blanketing the whole park! A veritable stealth-camper’s paradise! I was preparing dinner in one of the picnicking areas when a local named Don approached me. I asked him what he thought of my camping for the night in the park, and if he had any advice. He thought it was a fine idea and, after talking with me, took the matter to one of the “lions” lounging about the place. He returned shortly thereafter to relate to me that the lions don’t care, but the police who patrol the park at night might, so just keep out of sight of the road. Later that night, having set up my tent tucked in along the tree line of the park, the patrol came shining bright spotlights into the park’s nooks and crannies. And they were thorough!

Hobbit Hideout, Rolla Lions Club Park

Now, here was the problem—my tarp still lay out in the open grass and would likely be seen. With no time to hesitate, spotlights already raking dangerously close to the spot, I ran for the tarp, grabbed hold, ran back and dove into the woods, crouching in the dark while the spotlights sprayed the trees. In truth, both I and my tent were well hidden, but the imagination reeled! Think hobbit running from orcs in The Lord of the Rings! Think human hiding from Agents in The Matrix! How exhilarating! In fact, I was so in love with this place that I took the following day off and spent a second night. I tried to stage another close-call near-chase scene but no such luck. The patrol never came round a second time.

You see, when I talk about stealth camping to non-tourers, their first thought is that I’m placing myself in danger. But the fact is that, over thousands of miles, I’ve never met with any trouble worth mentioning. Surprisingly, I felt most vulnerable on this tour while house-sitting alone in a rural home. Here I was, after all, in a large structure that virtually screamed to all comers, “He’s in here!” In contrast, the majority of my stealth-camping sites render me invisible. In fact, even if a person knew in general where I was camped, they’d still have a very difficult time locating the specific place even if they tried. Of course, there’s always a twinge of insecurity while searching for a site each night, but by the time I get settled in, I usually feel very secure as far as humans are concerned. Animals may be another story, but aside from being kept awake by the occasional inquisitive armadillo or other harmless creature, the worst animal experience I’ve had is having a raccoon eat my granola. In the absence of real excitement, then, I found it refreshing to be able to manufacture at least a moment’s high drama in the shadow of the lions.

As for the lions themselves, they didn’t care.

Coming soon: a highly thought-provoking podcast interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Rutba House in Durham, North Carolina, on relocation, redistribution, and economic repentence.

Next stop: Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage/Sandhill Farm in Rutledge, Missouri.

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

Ever since my first major bicycle tour 20 years ago, bicycle touring has become a central recurring theme in my dreams. In fact, I find myself bicycle touring in dreams so often that from time to time I’ve wondered whether my dream-self is simply on bicycle tour all the time, and that the places I dream of are places I’ve arrived at by bicycle. The other night, in my dreams, I was in such a place, a stopover on a bicycle tour. In this dream, my dream-self was enjoying incredibly vivid, sensuous memories of previous places passed through on bicycle tour. And as I began to wake, still in that liminal space between dreaming and full waking consciousness, I continued to savor these vivid memories, never doubting their validity, until I realized with a start that I had never actually been to these places that, just a moment before, I had “remembered” with such stunning clarity and realism.

But my dream-self, tracing its own contiguous route through elastic landscapes, recognizes these places, these memories, without doubt.

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

“You did not choose me, I chose you” (John 15:16)

With 20 podcast episodes published and another on the way, for the next couple of weeks I’m shifting gears a bit, spending more time simply bike-camping. As I shared in a previous post, leaving the West Coast has placed me in a more solitary situation, perfect for deeper reflection and discernment. Also, in this more solitary and reflective place, I sense the two strands of the journey—the spiritual pilgrimage and the exploration of communities—converging in a new way, requiring my giving shape to this convergence through writing. In fact, spiritually speaking, this journey is the sequel to the bicycle tour of over ten years ago that led me back to the Christian faith and into a Catholic monastery. Therefore, to better grasp the content of this present journey, it’s first necessary to recap its prequel.

In January of 2001, I left the Sirius Ecovillage in Shutesbury, MA, which had been my home for 2 ½ years. That previous fall, I had been seized by a mysterious restlessness, not simply to move but to create, to generate life, as if, contrary to the earthly season, new sap flowed in my veins and pressed forward to bud and bloom. I sought for ways to express this impulse—start a cottage industry? join the Core Group?—but nothing seemed to resonate. Within a couple months of searching in this way, the insight dawned that this life-impulse was in fact pushing me out of the community. I didn’t know why or to where or for what purpose. I just left.

Several months after leaving the community, I was on a bicycle, clothing and camping gear atop the rear rack and stuffed into panniers, bouncing around the deserts of the Southwest and finally tracing the California coast. The pressing life-impulse by that time, at least to my perception, had degenerated into a wrenching sense of futility and an eclipse of life’s possibilities. I simply couldn’t see a road ahead of me beyond the asphalt under my tires. I didn’t know why, but the tide of hope and vision had receded. Did I dare expect its return? Still, the more dependable rhythms of ocean tides and redwood forest cradled me each night as I camped, giving me solace, drawing me out of myself and into the cosmic symphony. I may not have known what to do with the life-impulse entrusted to me, but in more lucid moments I could rest assured that Life beneath and above me, within and beyond me, had meaning beyond telling.

Slowly, this sense of communion with Life coalesced into a voice addressing me personally. I can’t remember how or when I took notice, and no, I didn’t literally hear a “voice,” but somehow, at some point, I knew that I should stay in a Catholic monastery if given the opportunity. The press of the life-impulse took on a strange specificity, all the more strange because “I” didn’t share its prerogatives. A Catholic monastery? Why? Yes, I had gleaned inspiration from scant reading of authors such as Thomas Merton and Kathleen Norris, but…did I really want to stay in a Catholic monastery?

In the meantime, the miles rolled on underfoot, until one evening in early November, while pedaling down Highway One through Big Sur, CA, I came upon the drive to New Camaldoli Hermitage. Too late to visit, I pedaled on another mile and a half and slept on the beach below. The next morning, having broken camp, I stood on Highway One, looking north, then south, wanting to keep biking but still possessed by the intuition that I needed to visit the monastery. So I did. And I was offered the possibility of a job on the residential maintenance crew. I didn’t stick around to find out whether the position was available or not, though (all the more baffling in hindsight, considering I had less than $300 to my name, with no job prospects ahead), but continued biking, camping on the beach again that night 50 miles down the road. I had no idea where I thought I was going. I just wanted to keep moving. I was searching for I-knew-not-what, all the while dimly picking up on and yet still missing the cues from the One who had already found me and was inviting me to something startlingly concrete.

The next morning I woke up depressed. I got ready but just couldn’t bike. I lingered in town awhile, listlessly. I opened the book by Thomas Merton I had bought at the monastery bookstore and began to read. The intuition once again flooded me, reminding me: I need to return to the monastery. I called the maintenance supervisor to see if the job was indeed available and the offer still good. It was. “See me at 9am Monday morning,” he said. That night I camped in the same spot as the last, but this time my spirits were buoyant, filled with a quiet peace and joy. I even danced in the moonlight, beneath a tree, listening to Emmy Lou Harris. The next morning, I turned my bike north to retrace the ride of two days before.

Before telling any more of the story, I want to make a few observations. First and foremost, bicycle touring has been for me an act of faith, even when I haven’t been aware of it as such. Yes, I plan and prepare, but I’ve come to believe that these decisions and actions are a participation in a larger pattern and purpose not of my devising. Yes, I planned and prepared for this present tour, and yet I am haunted by the conviction that I’ve also been lured into this endeavor for purposes beyond my own making or comprehension. As the story above illustrates, on the one hand, bicycle touring can have the mark of a restless running-away in a time of distress. On the other, and unbeknownst to me, or perhaps dimly intuited, is a running-toward a wider horizon, a new level of meaning that seems like nothingness until I am led to a crucial breakthrough. The bicycle tour narrated above had a clear, concrete breakthrough-event in my arrival at the monastery. Will this tour have a similar breakthrough? Obviously, I cannot know, but I recognize the telltale symptoms that precede such an event—the sense of being stripped of old ways of perceiving and experiencing meaning, of attachments to particular people, places, goals, activities; in short, being stripped of familiar narratives that held life together for a while but have outworn their appropriateness, a necessary dying in order to receive a new story and direction. Now, having the benefit of being taught by experience, bicycle touring this time around allows me to literally pedal through this process of deconstruction and reconstruction as a conscious act of faith.

To be continued…

Read Full Post »

California Touring Companions, Laura and Bob

Leaving the California coast for the rural South was quite a culture shock, and not just for the obvious reasons. The Pacific Coast is the most popular bike touring route in the world. Europeans are nearly as numerous as Americans. Generally, most tourers take advantage of the hiker-biker camp sites in the state parks. Hence, a highly cosmopolitan community develops, with people traveling from one state park to another, meeting and parting and meeting up again further along the way. On my trip down from Big Sur to Los Angeles, for instance, I joined new friends Bob and Laura on their around-the-country tour from Michigan, riding and camping with them over a handful of nights. The companionship and camaraderie were invigorating and a real loss to leave behind.

Now, through Texas and Louisiana, I’m biking off the main touring route so no touring companions, privileging backcountry roads as much as possible. Neither are there campgrounds even if I sought them. Far more than on the Pacific Coast, I am left alone, to my own wits, and often enough to the kindness of strangers. This precarious state of affairs becomes especially acute each evening when I seek a place to lay my head. Here are some snapshots of the outcomes thus far:

Chester’s Trailer, Kerbyville, Texas

1/19 Kerbyville, Texas.
I was following the route penned by Google Maps Bicycle Option when, after pedaling down an isolated country road and not seeing another soul for miles, I was directed to turn down a dirt path for eight miles! Fortunately, a service truck rolled out of the thicket of trees at just that moment.

“Is this County Road 728?”

“Yeah, but it’s a dead end.”

“Really!?…”

And if that wasn’t bad enough, according to the route map, the road I was supposed to turn onto eight miles later was nicknamed Dead End Road. Dead end, indeed!

Not knowing where I was headed but only knowing I needed to get back to a major road, I hightailed it back to US-96. Treading the broad shoulder for ten miles, I landed in the Conoco gas station in the small town of Kerbyville. One cardinal rule of stealth camping: find a site before dark, because it’s much more difficult at night to spot the sometimes subtle signs leading to a good and safe site. At this point, dusk was already settling in and I needed to reorient myself, find a site, and set up camp quickly.

While puzzling over a map I had just purchased in the store, a local named Chester approached and struck up a conversation.

“Minnesota, eh?”

With a jolt of surprise: “What?…how did you know?”

“I saw your driver’s license.”

As is not entirely uncommon in situations like these, five minutes later I was loading my bicycle into Chester’s pick-up, on my way to a cozy trailer on his land for the night: a hot shower, warm bed, a welcome and timely surprise.

1/20 Merryville, LA
Mid-afternoon, shortly after crossing the state border, I pulled off the road toward the tourist info building in Merryville. Immediately, I was virtually run over by Linda who, having seen me from the adjacent gas station, enthusiastically rushed over in her car to meet me. She volunteers at the local museum and, like the town itself, seems to have a special place in her heart for bicycle tourers. In fact, situated on Adventure Cycling’s Southern Tier route, the town bi-annually hosts a troupe of bicycle campers on the museum lawn.

Accepting her invitation, I followed her to the museum, which houses a most eclectic collection of mementos—from pianos to high school photos to typewriters to clothing; something between a rummage sale and your grandmother’s attic. What made it all shine, though, was the love and pride and joy Linda took in the showing. She placed a photo album of past bicycle touring groups before me, telling me their stories. There’s the German couple who stayed on to experience their first Halloween celebration ever. Finally, she offered me a place to camp, anywhere on the lawn. There’s even a bathroom with showers. A bit early to stop but how could I refuse? Right in the center of town, behind a historic log cabin, I spent a peaceful night.

Sulphur, LA

1/21 Sulphur, LA
It was getting late. I came upon a Methodist Children’s Home with a huge, empty plot of land behind it. I tried to find someone to ask permission to camp, to no avail. Finally, as I was pondering what to do, a woman approaches. No, she tells me, I cannot camp because of the children, but there’s a boat launch a few miles down the road. Now, a boat launch on a Saturday night in a rural town is not likely a place you’d want to be as a stranger vulnerably spending the night outdoors, but it was worth a look. As expected, though, lots of pick-up trucks and no discrete space to go unnoticed through the night.

I was starting to panic. Once again dusk was settling in. I had already knocked on one door asking to camp on their land, but they didn’t answer. Now what houses there were had smaller plots, often as not sporting Confederate and/or “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. Far from familiar cosmopolitan California, I was getting spooked!

As an aside, although I find myself in this position fairly regularly, pressed at a late time to find a place to camp, in fact I’ve never had real difficulty finding a campsite (with only one memorable exception, in an extraordinary circumstance). In fact, I consider myself a rather savvy stealth camper. And so when I passed a cluster of houses and spotted a hint of a break in the tree line, I swiftly crossed the road toward it. A truck was coming from the other direction so I slowed to a rolling pause. Once out of sight, I hurled bike and body through the dense underbrush to find myself in a spacious forest among saw palmettos. Past the break, there were no more tell-tale bottles or trash. I was in the clear in a fabulous site!

1/22 Laccasine, LA
This afternoon I decided to stick with Google Maps even when it sent me down a gnarly gravel road. And I must say, though biking was terrible, the quietude through rice fields and forest was a delightful, welcome reprieve from automobiles. To recapitulate at least three familiar themes: dusk was settling in, and, having earlier traversed six miles of thick gravel, I balked when I was directed down yet another gravel road. I hightailed it to US-90, which was frankly even more precarious than the gravel: light-to-moderate but fast-moving traffic with absolutely no shoulder, and only wide-open private land to the left and to the right for seeming miles. Yes, once again I was panicking! Several miles later, riding fast, housing density increasing as I approached the small town of Laccasine, I saw two women and two teenage girls standing in a driveway. Desperate, I swerved abruptly across the street.

“Pardon me if this is a strange request, but I’m just passing through, looking for a place to camp for the night, it’s getting late, and this road is making me very nervous. Any chance I can set my tent up on your land?”

They pointed me rather to the cemetery a half mile down the road.

I beg your pardon if this sounds morbid, but I’ve come to consider cemeteries as stealth camping havens: no one is likely to disturb you, almost every town has one, and they’re usually lined with woods in which to discretely tuck away. This cemetery was no exception, save that it was more open than most, though quite large. I planned a spot on which to set up my tent once dark, feeding on leftover bits of fried catfish from lunch while waiting. After dark, the tent up, thinking about how to top off my supper, a large, white, official-looking pickup truck pulls up. I must have been spotted, I thought. Taking a proactive approach as I do in these situations, I walked over to introduce and explain myself. To my surprise and delight, it was one of the women who pointed me here, and she had a container of freshly cooked spaghetti, a cup of ice, and a bottle of coke for me. Wow.

A little kindness goes a long way to a stranger on the road. I was at least as grateful for the care behind the gesture as for the food itself.

Abshire Cemetery, LA

1/23 Abshire Cemetery, LA
Yes, another cemetery, much different from the last, and much less dramatic a find. Having given up on Google Maps, I fortunately asked for directions at a local gas station. I was informed that the road I was on was out for repairs some miles up the road, but that there was another very quiet country road I could take instead. This advice turned out to be a godsend. The ride was smooth, through small farms and rice fields along a bayou. Having been alerted by a sign that I would find a cemetery at some point, I kept my eyes peeled. Sure enough, I found a beautiful spot with a view of the spacious cloud-streaked sky spread over ponds and fields across the way.

1/24 Maurice, LA
The next day, after breaking camp, I biked east against a formidable, relentless headwind. To make matters worse, I knew rain was coming. Eighteen miles later, during a brief stint on a highway with a wide shoulder, clouds growing ominous and heavy, the first drops came. To my right was a large overhang and I made a run for it. Soon those first drops became a torrent. Lightening flashed to the south, the direction I was now turned. I used the time to prepare and eat a simple lunch of a carrot and tuna and mayonnaise rolled up in a whole wheat tortilla. The rain slowed to a steady, moderate drizzle. The next town was only about seven miles away, so I decided to pedal in the rain and find a place to relax with a cup of coffee. An hour later, I watched the rain turn to a torrent once again out the window of the McDonald’s in Abbeville.

Shit.

Appreciating a good adventure but stopping well before the point of masochism, I took advantage of the free Wi-Fi and got busy on couchsurfing.org. Casting pleas for help within a twenty mile radius, I soon received a call from Annie in Maurice who, with her husband Sam, invited me into their home to wait out the storm for a couple days. After that, no more rain in the forecast till New Orleans by early next week.

People are good.

Read Full Post »

Texas, etc.

Our Lady of Love’s Marina and Park; Crosby, Texas

Under your protection we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions in our need,
but from all dangers deliver us always,
Virgin glorious and blessed.

Yes, Texas. I took a train to Houston from L.A. Keep in mind that the bicycle tour is several weeks ahead of the podcast. Actually, to really bring you up to date…

Read Full Post »

On the Way, North of Big Sur

Funny thing. Two weekends in a row, in two towns, upon my arrival I’ve found myself invited to attend retreats I hadn’t previously known were happening. In Eureka, through a chain of logic that still eludes me, a friend of a friend of a friend thought I’d like to participate in a retreat given by a Catholic priest on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as part of my tour. In fact, I was grateful to participate, but perhaps for different reasons than this person anticipated.

“When two or three are together in my name, there am I in your midst” (Matthew 18:20)

A common theme running through the presenter’s exploration of the 12 steps was how recovering addicts and codependents in 12 step groups “come to believe that a Power greater than themselves can restore them to sanity” (Step 2), and acquire the courage to “turn their wills and their lives over to God as they understood God” (Step 3) not so much through explicit religious belief (although this can help) but through coming to know something of God communicated implicitly through interactions and relationships formed with other members. The sense of dignity, understanding, respect, and compassion a new member receives, from those further along in recovery who have undergone a spiritual liberation they could not have imagined or willed on their own, can often communicate the God who saves more surely than a catechism class or a Sunday sermon. This theme struck all the more deeply when we broke into sharing groups.

If you’ve ever been welcomed into a circle of women and men who’ve suffered similarly as you, who can listen to you with deep empathy and respect (without needing to give advice, sell you on their religious views, or shift the focus onto themselves) and are willing to reciprocate by sharing from the same level of vulnerability, then you are likely familiar with that peculiar quality such a group can evoke: the visceral knot of habitual guardedness uncoils, and a pain you may not have known you’ve been carrying wells up in your solar plexus, your chest, your throat, wells out as tears long overdue. From a Christian perspective, and without negating God’s transcendence or the necessity for the addict of receiving help beyond the merely human, I believe we can say that such moments of compassionate presence to one another reveal the Triune God in our midst; the God who is loving relationship, who is less an object of belief than a constant discovery, leading us through our pain and fear and the pain and fear of our world, to be surprised again and again by new life awaiting us on the other side.

Liz Song and I Working Our MSR Stoves, Portola Redwoods State Park

Next, in Palo Alto I met up with new friend Liz Song (aka the Dancing Panda of the SFO baggage claim area) on the eve of her departure on bike with a few friends into the Santa Cruz Mountains, to attend a camping retreat with members of their church, the Highway Community. In spite of being the oldest attendee at this “post-college” retreat, I felt right at home and grateful to meet so many passionate, engaged, thoughtful young Christians. How surprising and inspiring it is to hear them talk about such topics as monasticism, ecology, intentional community, and Christian anarchism, nearly all in the same breath. In fact, a handful of them have already formed an intentional community. This is definitely a clear, hope-filled trend I’m seeing: young evangelicals eager to learn from the whole of the Christian tradition, open to a variety of radical perspectives, creatively engaged in applying what they learn into shared ways of living—something is definitely afoot! I look forward to re-connecting with this particular group in the near future.

Stealth Camping, Carmel Beach

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and there speak tenderly to her heart” (Hosea 2:14)

It’s always a fine line between reading the hand of God at work in the events of your life and mere narcissistic magical thinking, but I’m going to take the risk and trust that these turn of events were no accident. The tenderness that these retreats, these people, touched in me, each in their own way, has been vying for my attention for a while now. And if they’ve helped to lower me closer to the bottom of the well, they’ve also spoken of where I need to go to plumb the depths. And the word they’ve spoken is:

Get thee to a monastery!

Altar, New Camaldoli Hermitage

If you’ve been following thus far, then you may already be aware that at the beginning of this tour I had the unique experience of being struck on the Achilles Heel both literally and metaphorically: while the physical injury grounded me for a month’s time, a particularly painful event in my personal life instigated a period of deep reflection. And the truth is, as a consequence of the latter, my attention has been drawn inward, my enthusiasm for the tour flagging, and the passionate questions and aspirations that underlie the inspiration for this journey have lost their sharp edge. Where my intention has been to attend closely to and learn from the lives, perspectives, and concerns of those with whom I visit and interview, I simply haven’t had the energy or focus available for that level of presence.

Now, please do not worry! This is still very good news, both personally and for this endeavor I’ve set out upon. It simply means that I need to take a brief sabbatical from the actual tour of communities in order to give the rumblings of my heart the attention they deserve; to re-charge, re-evaluate, and re-connect with my monastic roots so as to be able to give myself fully to the work before me.

“O God, you search me and you know me; you know my resting and my rising…all my ways lie open to you”  (Psalm 139:1-3)

For the time being, then, I’ve returned to my “home group”—my once physical, enduring spiritual home, New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California. This is where I come to attend to “deep calling on deep in the roar of waters” (Psalm 42:7). As I see it, intertwined with this tour of communities is the opportunity to dig more deeply into the aspirations God has gifted me with to shape a life with meaning, a life that bears fruit, and to let go of those habit-patterns that have recurringly led me down paths of futility and disappointment along the way. This inner work is the personal analog of what I see new forms of community engaged in on social, cultural, economic, political, ecological, and ecclesial levels: how do we take the life conditions we’ve been given and forge a Spirit-infused, liberating path together?  And this is by no means a dreary process but one that’s already filling me with a renewed sense of vitality and clarity of direction, qualities I am eager to take back onto the road again (picking up where I left off in the San Francisco Bay Area, possibly as early as mid-September). Hence, in no way do I see this as a set-back but rather a leap forward in what I’m actually seeking interiorly from this venture—transformation—which can only have a positive influence on the outer rind of the journey; that is, visiting communities, blogging, reflection, interviews, etc. In any case, while I am here, I hope to corner a hermit-monk or two for an interview (no promises!) so that I might keep the podcast rolling. We’ll see…

Read Full Post »

On the road again! I left Eugene five days ago on a Greyhound bus, traveling a mere 120 miles to Medford/Ashland in order to make up some miles and because, as good and necessary as it was for me to stay in Eugene, it had also become a kind of vortex of inertia: I wanted to propel myself far enough from its pull to ensure that I really was on the move at last.

Banana Slugs Say, “Welcome to California!”

Incidentally, travelling by Greyhound on bicycle tour is not recommended where other options are available. In this case, the ticket cost me a little over $30, which wasn’t entirely unreasonable. But the bike had to be broken down, boxed, put back together at the other end in the bus station parking lot, all for an additional $30! I am still kicking myself for having spent so much money to cover a relatively small distance. While train tickets are generally more expensive, the cost for taking a bicycle on Amtrak is minimal, and often the bike can simply be rolled up and onto the train without being boxed. Fortunately, since then, my friend Mandy from WithinReach turned me on to Craiglist rideshare listings: dozens of people potentially headed your way, willing to take you along for the ride in exchange for splitting the gas cost. I easily found a ride in this way from Ashland, Oregon to Crescent City, California, covering another 120 miles for a fraction of the cost of the bus. In addition to Craiglist ridesharing, I’ve also benefited from the generosity of good folks I’ve met through warmshowers.org, an online network of bicycle tourers offering hospitality to their fellows on the road, and couchsurfing.org, a similar but larger, less specific network of travelers and adventurers. Be sure to check into these resources the next time you’re planning a road trip: informal, off-the-grid, cooperative hospitality and transportation.

Morning Fog, Highway 101 South of Crescent City

I arrived in Crescent City three evenings ago. Knowing that there’s a LONG climb immediately upon leaving town, I offered my driver another $5 to get me to the summit (well worth the cost if you ask me, especially considering it was already 7pm!). Near the top, we came upon a state park with camping. We turned down the drive, and drove down and down and down another 2 1/2 miles, almost enough to negate the climb out of town! At the least, I had a place to lay my head without having to wear myself out to get there. I shared the hiker-biker site with two other tourers and was grateful to be sleeping outdoors again, cradled by the redwood forest. Pedaling/walking the bike back up to the highway the next morning, I was greeted by my first pair of bright, bulbous banana slugs gleaming from a utility box, as if to say, “Welcome to California!” The very good news is that I biked 45 miles that day without a hint of pain, beyond ordinary soreness and fatigue. And though I miss the sun already, it’s a sheer blessing to see and hear and touch the Pacific Ocean again. In fact, I intended to spend 2 days pedaling to Eureka but was stopped on the way by two men in a pick-up who had pulled into a turnout and were attempting to lure me with a banana and two granola bars. Easy prey, I took the bait. One of them was curious about my recumbent bicycle and wanted to ask me questions. A delightful conversation ensued, until finally they asked me if I needed a ride. “Where are you headed?,” I asked. “Eureka.” Ah, serendipity.

First Sight of the Pacific Ocean

Unfortunately, hiker-biker campsites in the California State Parks are now $5 a night, up from a mere $1 less than 10 years ago. This puts me in something of a quandary. $1 is mere pocket change, but $5 is significant when my average daily living expenses while biking are in the range of $7-15. My philosophy is that often the less money I have on tour—short of destitution!—the better. I say this because in my experience, when money is short I am forced to use ingenuity and creativity, which generally makes for a more satisfying, if less secure, journey. Furthermore, an extended bicycle tour has a way of weaning me from the sense of needing what I often take for granted when I am settled. The most obvious example is shelter. When I landed in Big Sur on my last bicycle tour, even though I had a room of my own, I still preferred to sleep in my tent, even on cold nights. There’s a tremendous satisfaction in being woken up by wild turkeys making their morning rounds, stepping out of a tent at 3,000 feet above the Pacific, and peering over a vast sea of clouds below.

Blue Whale in the Klamath River

In other words, on bicycle tour I tend to have fewer options in many respects than ordinarily. I live simply, eat simply, sleep simply, am exposed to the elements in an often inescapable way. And the longer I stay with that simplicity, the more my values and attitudes are analogously simplified: I come to value this simplicity more than I value conventional securities and comforts (within reason, mind you). To me, this transformation of mind and heart is what makes bicycle touring so worthwhile. Not only do I come to a deeper appreciation of the ordinary and simple in life, but when I do have the opportunity to enjoy something beyond this threshold, I am all the more grateful for it. In fact, the more I undergo this transformative process, the more I realize that many of the values I leave behind were not truly “mine” in the first place but an inherited distortion of heart (“original sin”?) received from family, culture, religion, and so forth. This in turn gives me the opportunity to discern more clearly the values and aspirations that truly matter. What can short-circuit this process, however (or at least mitigate it), is having the resources on hand to choose the restaurant, the fancy foods, or the hotel, not as an occasional treat but as a habit. Of course, now I am in the ambiguous position of having a fair amount of money, but it’s been given to me by others with the understanding that I’ll put it to good use toward a particular purpose, and it’s meant to last a very long time.

My heartfelt gratitude to the Harrison and Wheeler families for their unfathomable generosity and patience, and for making me feel right at home. Special thanks as well to Gregg in Ashland, Larry the Driver, Bert and/or Ernie and Phil, Amy and so many other good people in Eureka.

Read Full Post »

Eugene, Oregon

Siesta

I left Portland with dread. My tendons were still somewhat sore and I had made up my mind to visit a doctor once I hit Eugene, another three-days’ bike ride away at a modest pace. I didn’t know how my body would handle biking again, and on top of that, the weather report predicted a 70% chance of rain at every hour of the day! However, the rain became the least of my worries. Thirty miles into the ride, I stepped out of the Safeway grocery store with nut-butters, bananas, and other assorted road-food, sat on the curb, and sobbed. My tendons were getting worse, and from my internet research I feared that I may have done serious damage. Was this it? Had I sabotaged the tour so early into the journey? Resigned to taking whatever action was necessary, I called a friend and arranged for a place to stay in Eugene. A couple more calls and the rescue mission was set in motion: from Canby back to Portland, and then, when I learned that the evening train was running too late, to another friend’s house for the night. Fortunately, this gave me the opportunity to meet and befriend two fabulous, generous people—another Parish Collective  connection, Candice and Brandon of Canby House and Springwater Community respectively—and spend more time with another fabulous, generous friend Angela. The next evening I arrived safely in Eugene by train.

New Friends Candice and Brandon

Old Friend, Angela

I visited the doctor the following day and, thankfully, was told that no damage had apparently been done, and that rest and ice should do the trick. And scouring the online recumbent forums, I learned as well that changing to clipless pedals (ironically named, since they’re the kind that clip your foot into the pedals by a cleat at the bottom of your shoe) should also mitigate the difficulties I was having. That’s the unambiguously good news. The more ambiguously good news is…well, now here’s where boundaries get a little fuzzy. What I mean by that is, while communities and bicycle touring comprise the primary content of this blog, underlying all of this is the personal journey, the pilgrimage, so to speak. Typically, I write about that journey in private and will have to negotiate the boundaries of how public that writing becomes as I go. But I feel compelled to allow a little bleed-through here.

Now, if a pilgrimage is true to its name, the pilgrim soon finds him/herself, in some sense, losing control of the journey, necessitating greater surrender in faith to the journey itself and where it leads. Oftentimes, this loss of control occurs with the onset of some form of wounding. So perhaps it’s not coincidence that my physical injury has coincided with having to revisit a personal loss and the consequences of  poor choices of the past, at the same time that commitment and stability have become recurring themes in my interviews, which has prompted a deeper realization of the lack of stability and enduring commitments in my own life. Even after having lived in community for nearly ten years (well, okay, three separate communities in that time period), I’ve never been so powerfully or painfully struck as I am now by my own self-defeating attitudes, evasions, and impulsive behavior that routinely sabotage the possibility of real stability, whether geographically, relationally, or vocationally.

Office Hours

This makes me wonder about the deeper questions of aspiring to commitment and stability for so many of us whose initial “household formation” took the shape of our conditioning in broken homes, in a broken culture that exalts the value of individual freedom and gratification often at the expense of stability and commitment, whose energies are engaged in expanding the opportunities and possibilities for that freedom to maneuver. However long it takes to realize that this path of unlimited options is a spiritual dead-end, ultimately destructive to people and planet, that realization is only the beginning. Having made the conscious choice to take a different path, the next step is to confront the myriad unconscious factors that militate against that intention; or to paraphrase Saint Paul, though my inner being delights to do God’s will, the habit-patterns forged in my mind, emotions, imagination, impulses, and attitudes follow a different law. And the journey toward integrity of intention and action is one of a lifetime and, I suspect, beyond.

The good news then, ambiguous as it might seem, is that, according to my spiritual director, these “wounds” and uncomfortable realizations indicate that the pilgrimage is on in earnest.

So the journey must continue. I hope to be biking again within the week, on to my next stop, Lost Valley Education Center and Ecovillage. In the meantime, my interview with pastor John Schwiebert of the Metanoia Peace Community will be published shortly, and soon thereafter, an extremely interesting, thought provoking conversation with Lysbeth Borie, a consensus trainer with the Alpha Institute.

Stay tuned…

Read Full Post »

…or walk, or sit, or lie down!
Okay, now I’m really on the road. Up till now, I’ve flown, bused, and been driven. On Wednesday, however, I pedaled forth from the Tacoma Catholic Worker for the three-day trip to Portland. Sixty-five miles to Centralia the first day, and my knees were in so much pain that I could barely walk. I set up camp tucked away beneath a sprawling maple tree behind a suburban cemetery (while touring, I prefer what’s commonly called ‘stealth camping’—the often legally ambiguous practice of setting up camp in discreet places scoped out each evening, off by early morning without a trace). Despite the fact that I was within easy sight of a line of rooftops overlooking the fence line nearby, I assumed that I was well hidden. That is, until a man and his two dogs came trotting past a mere 10 yards from the tent! I decided to take the initiative, leaping up to introduce myself and state my intentions. No problem. The night and early morning passed without incident. Given the physical pain and the newness of sleeping outdoors again, however, sleep was intermittent at best.

Trailside Picnic

In the morning, I made some mechanical adjustments to the bike, intended to mitigate knee pain, then off to an agonizing start. I made a judgment call, assuming that the pain was something that could be worked through rather than exacerbated by more biking. By midday, however, it was not my knees as much as my achilles tendons that throbbed with jolts of pain at every pedal stroke. After crawling at three miles an hour up a prolonged but thankfully not terribly steep incline, it began to rain! I dragged myself limping into a pizza shop and wondered if I could even continue. Was I setting myself up for serious injury? Would I even be able to do this tour after such extensive preparation? Ninety-two miles to Portland and I was scheduled to arrive the next day. I ate my pizza, swallowed my resistance, and, having vaguely considered and dismissed plan B (making my way to I-5 to hitchhike the rest of the way), I climbed back onto the bicycle and achingly pedaled on.

The upside of the day was the stunning views through rolling forested hillsides that followed. This is why I bicycle tour!—this slow, quiet, solitary movement amid such primordial beauty (never mind the logging trucks!). Ultimately, I covered sixty miles by the day’s end, landing on the Oregon-side of the border just south of Ranier. Having been tipped off that I should be able to find camping space in a county park along the Columbia River, I rolled downhill to the waterside. However, I was more than a little dejected when I discovered a mere grassy parking lot at the edge of the railroad tracks. Not safe. Unable to bike, I pushed uphill to the last house I passed with a sizable yard, knocked on the door to ask for a place to set up my tent for the night, and instead was offered a bed and warm shower! An awkward moment ensued as Bob and I sized each other up, sensing whether the other might actually be dangerous.

“So…is it just you who live here?”

“Just me and my wife.”

I accepted the offer but had a moment of panic when, having stowed the bike, set myself up in the guest bedroom, and yet still hadn’t seen a sign of another inhabitant, Bob turned to me and said, “Well, the wife seems to have disappeared!” Really!!?? But my anxiety was quickly assuaged when his wife Bonnie finally did appear, having gone to track down the cat who had been startled away by my sudden intrusion into their otherwise quiet, secluded rural home. Tensions eased, I spent a very pleasant evening slurping strawberries and cream, conversing, and watching television. And the warm bed and shower were greatly appreciated. Another reason to love bicycle touring: placing yourself in the position to discover and enjoy the serendipitous hospitality of strangers.

I set off early morning refreshed but still in pain, once again taking the gamble that my body would acclimate rather than suffer injury. Happily, more than forty miles later I rolled into Portland with vigor, knee pain all but completely gone, tendon pain no longer an obstacle. I arrived at Metanoia Peace Community late afternoon, with plenty of time to settle in, shower, and enjoy a family-style meal, exhausted but grateful.

Now, my hope was that along the way I would stop at cafes and edit and publish interviews and blog and otherwise keep on top of my responsibilities. In the end, however, at least this time around, it was enough to simply bike these 170 miles, nothing extra. Which is to say that, although at the end of my interview with Craig Greenfield I suggested that I would publish interviews at the rate of approximately once a week, I have learned that, until I acclimate to the biking and become a more efficient editor/blogger, this is an unrealistic goal. I have an interview from Tacoma Catholic Worker on hand and soon one from Metanoia Peace Community, but I make no promises as to when they will be published. Since most of the communities I plan to visit on the West Coast are geographically consolidated, a more reasonable approach might be to do most of the editing and publishing in the long spaces between, such as from southern Oregon to the San Francisco Bay.

In the meantime, the good news is that my body does seem to be acclimating rather than disintegrating, and the tour is finally underway in earnest. Next step: learning rhythms that sustain me physically, emotionally, and spiritually, that also allow me to enter and be open to the rhythms and relationships of the communities I visit.

One day, one pedal stroke at a time.

Read Full Post »

First Impressions

“WHEN PROSPERITY ENDS, REAL FAITH BEGINS”  —from a banner seen on a Canadian highway. 

Yes, I am finally on the road. Seattle, to be exact, after five days in Vancouver, B.C. I have an interview with Craig Greenfield of Servants Vancouver almost ready for publishing (should be up Friday), and will have more to say about that community in the interview post.

First impressions?

On a personal level, actually beginning the tour has been quite an emotional adjustment. Committing to having no stable home, to constant flux for over a year, is a very different animal now that I’ve actually stepped off that ledge than it was when it remained a ‘bright idea.’ So I’ve been enduring what might best be understood as the psychological equivalent of seasickness—grappling for a sense of stability and groundedness amidst a strange floating sensation in the absence of familiar reference points. Ah, but this adjustment period was anticipated and I trust will pass soon enough.

I am also aware of how different this bicycle tour is from previous ones, and not just for the obvious reasons of its length and intentions. During my first major bicycle tour, I had no explicit religious faith but believe in retrospect that I touched something of God in solitude and intimacy with nature that was very healing. On my second major bicycle tour, I had some degree of faith, enough to know to listen to a persistent intuitive impulse that haunted me throughout the journey, gently but firmly insisting that I should stay at a Catholic monastery should the opportunity arise (I wasn’t a practicing Catholic or even Christian at the time and had no real conscious desire to stay at a Catholic monastery). That opportunity did arise when I happened upon New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California. I stopped, was invited to stay, and remained there for six joyous, challenging, transformative years.

Experiences such as these have taught me to regard bicycle touring as a kind of charism, a privileged way in which God seeks me out in the unexpected twists and turns of the journey. Hence, on this my third major tour, wherein my explicit Christian faith is the source of inspiration and informs the content and aims of my travels, I now anticipate and already dimly sense the presence of the Spirit haunting my pedal strokes. What is She up to this time, I wonder? In the vulnerability and unpredictability of this lifestyle, including my dependence on the hospitality of strangers, I am all the more conscious of my need for God—for abiding love and faithfulness, a ground deeper than the flux of life, for guidance and light, to be called out of self-preoccupation and into meaningful relationships and loving service. For all these reasons, bicycle touring itself has become a form of prayer, rendering me, I believe, all the more open and receptive to sensing the life of God in the communities I visit and the people and events that come my way.

So let us pray…

Read Full Post »

Bicycle’s good to go! A Vision R40 outfitted with full camping gear and all the gadgetry for on-the-road multimedia blogging/podcasting.

Fully-loaded, soon-to-be mobile home.

Speaking of gadgets, thanks to a SON delux dynamo hub attached to a BioLogic ReeCharge power pack (see pics below), I will be generating my own electricity! One bicycle tourist claims to have generated enough from a similar combo to charge an iPhone approximately six times on a single day’s ride with a 26-inch wheel. My smaller 20-inch wheel means more rotations hence even more energy. The power pack can charge anything compatible with a USB plug and detaches easily from the bike so that I can charge a smartphone and all the batteries I’ll be using, save for camera and laptop, in my tent at night. If any of you techies out there can think of a way that I can make an AC plug compatible with a USB port, please let me know. A simple adapter should do it, though I haven’t found one or even know if such a thing exists.

SON delux front dynamo hub.

BioLogic Reecharge power pack.

For now, however, I’ll be taking a brief hiatus from biking. I ship the bicycle to Seattle tomorrow, to meet up with it again in early June. In the meantime, I begin a 10-day Centering Prayer retreat at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in Saint Joseph, MN, on Tuesday the 24th, then leave from there to visit family in Florida. On June 7th, I fly to Vancouver, BC, to visit the Servants Vancouver community, among others, before busing back over the border to begin the West Coast leg of the bicycle tour.

To Seattle and beyond!

Special thanks to the guys at Calhoun Cycle in Minneapolis, MN, for building both wheels and custom adjustable-length handlebars, and to the ever-helpful Jessie Bostic and crew at Hostel Shoppe Recumbents in Stevens Point, WI.

Update on the Son Delux/BioLogic Recharge combo, March 3, 2012: 

Since a lot of people arrive at this post after searching for “son delux” or “BioLogic Recharge” or some combination thereof, I thought I’d give a brief update on the products. Overall, I am satisfied. They’ve held up for over a couple thousand miles, withstanding rain and wilderness camping without a hitch. A significant fact to mention in this regard is that, because the placement of the battery pack on my bars differs from that of an ordinary upright bike, the connection port for the wire coming from the hub is more exposed, at least potentially, to water entering from rain. Even so, I’ve had zero problems in wet weather (which is more than I can say for my odometer/speedometer, which always takes the first drops of rain as a signal that it’s time to go to sleep!).

I am somewhat disappointed, though, with the amount of charge I am able to accumulate per day. Now, I may be wrong here but I had the impression that my smartphone battery (LG Optimus S) held its charge for longer periods of time and also charged more quickly at the beginning of the tour. I say “maybe” because I wasn’t paying any kind of systematic attention to how much battery charge I was getting from the BioLogic Recharge at the end of the day. This was in part due to the fact that I wasn’t using my smartphone much in those early days. My smartphone use has increased dramatically since then, however, after discovering Words with Friends :p

Now, I estimate that I get a little over 1% smartphone charge, maybe as much as 1.25%, for every mile I peddle. Keep in mind that this is on a 20″ tire, so if you’re using a 26″ or 700c tire, you’re going to get less rounds per mile and hence less charge generated. I would have to bike approximately 80 miles, therefore, to charge my phone completely from 0. This has worked out fine for my purposes but is drastically less than I had estimated from (perhaps misinterpreting) the information I gleaned from the blog post linked above.

I will also add that, not only has this combo proven ultra-durable and rain-proof but also extremely user friendly for bike-camping. The battery back slips off the bicycle handily enough, fits in your pocket, and charges your phone or batteries (AA, AAA) while you sleep.

In sum, these two products combined have met or exceeded my expectations in all areas but one: the amount of charge they’re able to impart to my smartphone per mile. With that qualification, I still highly recommend them.

Read Full Post »