“It’s Just Geography.”

Welcome to [Spoke]n.

Disclaimer: This blog will frequently include sappy posts, mediocre writing and terrible bike puns, but I’ll try to balance it out with really incredible photos. 

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Hite Recreation Area, Utah

I strive to live and make choices in my life based on a simple question: “Which will I regret more…doing it, or not doing it?” Sometimes the choice is hard, and sometimes I choose wrong. When I do, I learn and I grow and I chalk it up to experience. At the end of the day, if you’re trying to experience as much as you can, then it doesn’t matter what you choose because either way you’ll end up with a story you can share. A few months ago I made the seemingly no-brainer decision to alter my career path for the time being to take an incredible opportunity to be involved in something I’ve grown to love so much. I’m writing this blog so I can take you with me. I hope ya’ll brought your helmets, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride (told you)!

As you may or may not know, I have accepted a position with Bike the US for MS as their US Route Coordinator (yay!). A month from today I’ll be moving out of my apartment in Marietta, Ohio and gearing up (*chuckles*) for another adventure with some dedicated humans who are willing to literally bust their butts to help find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis. With my new position, I am lucky enough to have the chance to travel with the teams and work from the road. Yes, teams. I’ll be helping lead three consecutive trips starting with the Northern Tier (Bar Harbor, ME to Seattle, WA from May 28th-August 4th), then heading south on the Pacific Coast route (Seattle, WA to San Diego, CA from August 6th-September 6th), and finally finishing up with the Southern Tier (San Diego, CA to St. Augustine, FL from September 8th to October 29th). That’s more than 9,000 miles in just over 5 months! Talk about a road trip, not to mention a dream job. After the trips are over, I’ll be relocating to Blacksburg, VA.

One of the biggest challenges of taking a job on the road, like countless songs about drifters and gypsies will tell you, is being away from any place (or person) that is considered home. For myself, that’s good ol’ Marietta. Luckily, I have an extremely supportive family who knows I am never more than a postcard or a plane ride away. I’ll miss them dearly, but like momma says, “It’s just geography.”

Keep an eye out for a few more posts leading up to the trips! Once we begin Route Leader training in late May, I’ll start posting daily so you can follow along if you’d like.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” – Gandhi

I’m in a coffee shop in Richmond, VA,  sitting on a stool at a high-top window table and I’m people watching. People I’ve never met and may never see again are walking their dogs, walking to work, sipping coffee beside me. I’m glancing down the street at the busy sidewalk, and for a moment, I pretend that I live here. Two blocks down and to the right, there’s a red building split into a few apartments. There’s two stories – I live on the top floor. I sip coffee on the balcony. Sometimes I come to this table at the window to write. I think about how lucky I’d be if this was my neighborhood coffee shop. I get lost in this day dream for a few minutes. I feel at home, in a place I’ve never been.

I’ve written before about the curse of traveling… being so motivated and in love with adventure and discovery that I can’t stop seeking it. I am addicted to the adrenaline rush I get when I don’t know where I am, and everyone I meet is a new face with a new story. Most people fear change. I fear the constant. I run away from things when they become too familiar. I’m not sure why that is… it makes everything a lot harder. Maybe my next big adventure should be to stay, to plant roots, to make myself uncomfortable by settling down. Maybe I’m missing something?

Eh, maybe I’ll find it in the next place.

 

 

 

Hiking alone, covered in pancake mix 

I woke up today, freezing in my tent. I went through the normal routine, hopped in the lead van and headed for camp. I stopped for gas station coffee, groggily deciding I’d need extra for later- so I walked out with two large cups of coffee and a bag of donuts. It was one of those mornings. 

My brain woke up just in time to pull into the campground, and I noticed a hiking trail nearby our sites. I had time, so I grabbed my second cup of coffee (thanks, groggy Kaylyn) and set off on my adventure. 

“I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so bothersome that one cannot walk away from it.” – Soren Kierkegaard 

I walked for a long time. For the first half an hour or so I was just walking and don’t really remember thinking much… I was just looking around. Then, I realized that I am two days away from finishing the third and final trip of the season. St. Augustine was always a destination that seemed so far away I thought I’d never reach it. My days became so routine that I didn’t realize how close I really am. We’ll be there the day after tomorrow! This team will dip their front tires in the same ocean that my first team dipped their back tires in over five months ago… woah. Try as I may, I can’t seem to figure out where the time has gone.  This weekend will come and go, goodbyes will be said, and we’ll all go back to our “normal lives”, kinda. I almost don’t remember life not living out of a van…

No one is going to let me walk around wearing a sweater covered in pancake mix. 

Juanita’s Suitcase

Before I tell you this story, you first have to understand something about the maps that we use. Towns that we’ll pass through along our route are indicated in bold letters, and beside the name of the town there are icons that let you know what services you can expect to be there. A shopping cart means a grocery store, a fork and knife mean a restaurant…you get the idea. If there’s a star by the town name, that means it has everything you could possibly need. Most days on these trips, star towns are few and far between so there’s a certain kind of excitement when you see one coming up. Sometimes though, there are towns that don’t have any icons. It’s as though they just  serve as a checkpoint, an honorable mention on a dusty back road. Acala, Texas was one of those towns.


I roll up with the van and trailer, after just passing the green “Acala” sign, to find a few cyclists standing outside a seemingly abandoned building on the side of the road. One of them was talking to an older man who was leaned up against his truck, while the others waved me over towards them.

“You’ve gotta check this place out, he’ll sell you anything,” one of the guys said.

Have you ever been somewhere that totally transported you to another time? I stepped through the open doorway into a room filled to the ceiling with what some may refer to as “junk”. There was old Spanish music playing through radio static. Everything was covered in at least half an inch of dust. My eyes lit up. Most people would have turned around immediately, but after years of flea market shopping for antiques with my mother, I knew this place was full of treasure.


There were shelves of home videos, old books, coffee mugs, knick knacks, and even a wedding dress hung against the back wall. As I dodged spider webs and navigated through the maze of forgotten things, I spotted a unique looking suitcase. It had a once brightly colored paisley pattern, and was sitting all by itself away from the other suitcases. I went over to investigate. It still had a luggage tag attached, listing a woman named Juanita and a Chicago address. I found myself wondering who she was and what she was like, and how her suitcase ended up covered in dust in a nearly condemned building on the side of some old back road in Acala, Texas.

I talked with the owner a bit, wanting to ask him about Juanita… hoping there was some romantic story he could tell me, but more afraid there wouldn’t be. I didn’t ask. I bought an old Polaroid camera and a coffee mug, shook his hand, and drove away.


I originally wrote this post a couple weeks ago when we were in Texas. I never posted it, but every now and then I still find myself wondering about Juanita.. so I wanted to share this. We all worry about what we’re going to leave behind. What about the things we don’t mean to? Food for thought.

“Don’t Be Down On What You’re Not Up On.” -someone, who knows a lot more than I do

We’ve spent the last few days nearly straddling the US/Mexico border. You can tell, because most of the towns and stores have signs in both English and Spanish and the gas stations are now full of Mexican snacks and candies. It’s a totally new cultural experience for me, and something I’ve been excited for since I knew I was going to lead the Southern Tier route. I’ve decided that I want to try as many new things as possible while exploring this area of the country. I started this exploration at a grocery store in a tiny town we used as a rest stop yesterday. I was on my bike, and we spent a beautiful morning riding in the valley along a large mountain ridge. As we approached the first rest stop, we came upon acres of chili peppers- I will forever be reminded of New Mexico every time  I smell fresh peppers. (I was also reminded of the time on the Pacific Coast when we biked through acres of strawberry plants in Southern California and I felt like I was swimming in a jar of strawberry jam-yum!) 

I went into the grocery store to grab an apple and maybe some beef jerky. While looking through the produce, I noticed one fruit was unlabeled. Naturally, I sifted through them, trying to pick what I thought was the best one. I then made a bee line for the bakery (I had just biked 20 miles, after all) and while the woman behind the counter grabbed my cinnamon twist, I asked her what my mysterious new fruit was. She told me it was cactus… CACTUS, people. She told me how to pick the best one, noting that I had done a good job, and then explained that I just had to peel it and eat it. Simple enough. 

In the check out line, I noticed a section of Mexican candies, and chili covered mango suckers stuck out to me. When in chili land, right? I snagged those as well and walked out of the grocery store with my prizes. 


In case you’re wondering, both were delicious. The inside of the cactus fruit was a bright magenta color! I passed around chili mango suckers to the daring, and we quickly discovered that you either love them or hate them. If you ever get your hands on one, let me know what you think! 

I spent the rest of my riding day hanging with fellow cyclists, taking selfies and crushing headwinds through the rolling New Mexico terrain. 


Also noteworthy about this day… at about 5 miles into the morning, we had Nick perform a roadside surgery. Dick cut the back of his calf pretty badly on his pedal, and like a champ, tried to carry on riding. Nick spotted the cut while the fellas stopped for breakfast and insisted on road side stitches. Post op, Dick was up walking around, wanting to get back on his bike but we talked him out of that nonsense. What a trooper. He helped out in the rest stop for the day, and was back on his bike in less than 24 hours. 


All in all, I had an excellent day. 

The Curse of Traveling

If you’re reading this, you know that I have slacked off. What was supposed to be a daily update of my life from the road has turned into a website lost in some far off corner of the internet. A good friend from my first trip of the summer told me I should only write when I really feel compelled to. 

“Just write the really good stuff,” he said.

I rolled my eyes at the time (like I do), but have come to realize that he’s right. I’d like to tell you that I’m back and I’ll be updating every day,  but that’s just not true. Really, it’s a good thing… because instead of boring you with what I ate for breakfast, the cool things I saw and the goofy joke someone told me today, I’m just going to tell you the real stuff… the big picture stuff…the stuff I just can’t help but write about. 

“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in, A race that can’t stay still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will.

They range the field and they rove the flood, And they climb the mountain’s crest; Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don’t know how to rest”.

-Robert W. Service

There is a beauty and a magic to travel and discovery. I’m so fortunate to have the opportunity to constantly explore and learn and change- to soak up new experiences and places, to learn from the people I meet along the way, and to learn about myself. 

Some of my family and friends would tell you that I’ve always been on the go… like there’s always somewhere else I’d rather be. In a way, they’re right. This time, I’ve been on the road for nearly four months now. I’ve seen breathtaking things. I’ve met people who have completely changed the way I look at the world, people who have challenged my beliefs, people who have taught me patience… I’ve learned to listen and appreciate. I’m still moving, but I’ve slowed down. I’m taking time to connect and reflect on the amazing adventure that I’m on. Here’s why I can’t stop:

The places you go, much like the people you meet along the way, have a spirit and a soul. That’s the magic that makes it hard to forget a place- the thing that pulls and attracts you, so that when you move on you take a piece of it with you and leave a part of yourself behind. With me, I carry the crisp air of the North Cascade mountains, the majesty of the Redwood Forest, the crash of the waves on the foggy Oregon Coast, the smooth roll of the sand dunes in the Arizona desert, the smell of sea salt and pine from the rocky shores of Maine… I’ve fallen in love with small towns over a cup of diner coffee, and the kindness of the people who live there and let me pass through. You become connected to these places, and that’s how travel becomes an addiction.  The connection becomes your drug. You keep moving and keep searching, which means you keep falling in love with places and people that you have to say goodbye to, leaving you with even more to miss when you go. So, that’s why I can’t stop. I have to keep moving and keep learning. 

What’s even more incredible is the fact that there’s a purpose bigger than my own need for discovery that allows me to travel. Working for an organization that raises money for Multiple Sclerosis research and treatment, and spending my days with people who are doing something so personally challenging in order to make other human lives better, is so humbling. This organization and these people do SO much good. The way that our teams and the communities we pass through come together to help make a difference truly restores my faith in humanity, every day. To the many churches and facilities that open up their doors for a group of sweaty strangers and the folks who donate their time and energy to spend a summer (or fall) pedaling their bikes to raise awareness, I am beyond grateful. I’m so privileged to know so many excellent human beings. From this, I’ve learned that people are the key to it all. They will surprise you, inspire you, encourage you, humble you, and they will enhance your life. 

So, plan your next adventure…but take somebody awesome with you.

Middlebury, VT (6/2 & 6/3)

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By the time the team rolls into Middlebury, they’ve covered about 400 miles in just six days. They’ve been in and out of Maine and New Hampshire, and their legs are heavy and in desperate need of a rest day. This is the perfect town for it. We stayed in a church right in the heart of town, within walking distance of pubs, grocery stores and a laundromat. Some people took off to see the rhubarb festival, but a few of us checked out the local library for the used book sale…where I stocked up on a few extra pounds of weight to carry around for the next few months. Totally worth it.

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Amanda and I found this touristy spot. right after finding the most delicious pizza parlor imaginable.

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Tom and I found another used bookstore, and I snapped the picture below of a gorgeous white church- which Vermont is known for. IMG_1422

East Thetford, Vermont (6/1)

In 2015, we biked over the Kancamagus Pass and all the way to Thetford in one day. As we descended into the small town, we were greeted by seemingly the whole community. People were cheering and had towels for us to dry off. I was SO thankful to be done with the day. Jody Biddle was one of the community members that showed up to give support. As I pulled into the community center she went to give me a high five, but I hugged her instead. Later on she offered to take me to her house to shower. While she did my laundry, I relaxed in the hot tub with a beer and a sweet view of the mountains. I knew I’d never forget her hospitality, so I was hoping I’d see her in Thetford Center again this year.

AND HERE SHE IS.

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We caught up and swapped stories and promised to stay in touch. I have a feeling our paths will cross again.

The team cruised through the day really quickly, finishing up about 2-3 hours faster than any other team had in the past. The whole town came out again, bringing more food than we knew what to do with. That’s a lot of food. So when an entire community comes together, someone has to organize it. For the last 5 or 6 years, that’s been Meg. She has MS, but that doesn’t stop her from being the closest thing to wonder woman I’ve ever seen. She has two kids and volunteers a lot in the community, but somehow manages to pull together this amazing welcome for our Northern Tier team every year. She said it has a lot to do with the fact that life in Thetford, VT is just “how life is supposed to be”. People help out their neighbors. Everyone gives a helping hand. The kids get half days on Fridays in the winter because the whole town likes to ski. It’s just a slow, sweet place to live life. I think it has more to do with the fact that Meg is just how people are supposed to be.

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All smiles rolling out of Thetford!

 

 

Lincoln, New Hampshire (5/31)

Two years ago, this was the worst day of my life. The Kancamagus Pass was grueling. The climb wasn’t so bad, but the weather was frigid and relentless and left our team nearly hypothermic. The climb seemed to go on and on, the road appearing foot by foot as we rode into the fog. It rained the whole time, and the top of the pass was so cold that I put on layers of socks on my hands so that I could move my fingers to use my brakes. At the bottom of the decent, I found shelter in a cafe and shivered my way through a bagel and hot tea before soldiering on to finish the day. I needed another shot at this monster.

This year, the ride was beautiful. Sunny and moderate temperatures. It was my first riding day of the trip, and I couldn’t have asked for a better start. I rode most of the day with Richard, and we took our sweet time taking in the views.

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Some of the team at the last rest stop before the climb.
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Daisy looking very happy to be back on the road

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Okay we have to take a second to admire how BA this guy is. We realized as we were leaving the second rest stop that we had left a Bike the US for MS sign. We obviously couldn’t carry the sign and the stand the whole way, so we just grabbed a sign and Richard offered to carry it up under his jersey until we could get to the van again. At the top of the Kancamagus Pass…

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And he did carry it the entire way. What a guy.

I quickly realized I was not in shape for climbing, and the road seemed to go on and on, but it was a beautiful ride.

 

Naples, Maine (5/30)

NAPLES WAS AWESOME.

Not only does the Four Seasons Campground donate these beautiful sites to us, but they also gave us free firewood AND let us use the kayaks. It was a well deserved ending to a tough riding day for the cyclists.

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This beach was about 20 steps away from our campsites. 

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Still can’t believe I convinced this chick to spend another summer on the road with me. 

Eric brought a giant tarp with him, and since it was raining he wanted to stretch it across the campsite so we could have a bonfire. I was a bit skeptical at first, but I was pretty impressed with the outcome.

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After an hour, and a little trial and error, it was up.

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I asked about a few random kayaks that were sitting around, and the owner of the campsite agreed to let us take them out on the lake.

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While Amanda and I were out on the water, it started raining. Obviously, we tried reenacting our favorite scenes from The Notebook. Tried.

IMG_1336Tom and I took the kayak out and around the island, and we both learned that I’m really bad at keeping in time with the other person rowing. oops.

IMG_1342Like all great days, we wrapped things up with a bonfire and some s’mores.

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It was easily one of my favorite days of the trip so far!

Damariscotta, Maine (5/29)

Something we learned very early (no pun intended), was that this team is a group of very, very early risers. Our van leave time was 8am, but most people were up and out of camp by 7:15. I was driving the van and trailer again, and took off with Bob to head to Damariscotta, Maine- a place I remembered fondly.

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Amanda, Katie, Adam and Laurie gearing up for their second day on the road.
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Brian, Richard and James
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I really, really love Maine. The whole state smells like pine and sea salt.

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Small town America is so hospitable. We were greeted with the warmest welcome at Damariscotta Baptist Church. Pastor Marilee Harris was kind enough to give us full reign of the church, including the kitchen. Tom, Bob and I whipped up some hot dogs and burgers for the team, while Pastor Harris offered showers at her house across the street. There was a Memorial Day parade in town earlier in the day. Over dinner, Fred offered some thoughtful words about the meaning of the day, giving us all something to think about.