Friday, January 31, 2014


I love maps! I have been itching to study the maps of my upcoming tour, but I have had to sit on my hands to keep myself from ordering the maps of the UGRR route; after all, my own copy of the whole set was included in the tour price. I was assuming I would not receive the maps until I arrived at the start of the tour. Not true; an email just arrived that says we will all receive our map sets through the mail now. Yippee! You know what I'll be doing...

Thursday, January 30, 2014


As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been reading about habits. [The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg] I am enjoying this book! That's a surprise because I usually get impatient with books like this--start skimming and skipping sections, and then give up before finishing it. Not so this time. I'm finding both the information and the case studies fascinating.

While each habit is composed of common elements (a cue that sets it in motion, the behavioral routine at the heart of the habit, and the reward/payoff), each one is unique to an individual person. Once formed and ingrained, habits stay in us permanently--even if they go unused for a very long time. This helps explain how I could set foot in the gym after a decade off and pick up right where I left off. It took a lot of research and work all those years ago for me to establish a workout routine. This time around, it was automatic. This also explains how we can easily fall back into long-unused habits that we hoped we'd left far behind.

Much as I have found the information about habit formation and transformation fascinating, I have been even more gripped by the information about willpower. Call it grit, self-discipline, self-regulation, self-control--or willpower. Did you know that we have a limited supply of it? According to this book, "willpower isn't just a skill. It's a muscle...and it gets tired as it works harder, so there's less power left over for other things...If you want to do something that requires have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day...If you use it up too early on tedious tasks...all the strength will be gone..." [Duhigg, p. 137] I had been thinking that the reason I lost my life these last few years was due to using all my energy and time at work. Now I realize that it was more than that. I was using enormous amounts of willpower at work every day as well. No wonder I had none left for me.


Today is a day that I feel as well as know that I am enough. I have enough. I do not have to fix anything. I do not have to make anything better. I keep smiling.
::: contented sigh :::

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Mobile Experiments

I went for a walk today. So much for the forecast that it would be warmer this weekend! Warmer than what? I was so cold, even though I was bundled, and even though it was bright with sun, that I checked my phone for the temperature. 12 degrees F--but, with wind chill, it was rated as feeling like -5 degrees F. Yup, sounds about right.

My plan for this walk was to test using my phone for taking photos, for tracking my geo-position, and for posting to my blog. 

I took this photo while on my walk and added this whole post using my phone. What I didn't capture, unfortunately, was the sound the ice was making. Maybe high tide was pushing up on the underside of the ice, or maybe the severe cold was making the ice contract and buckle but, whatever the case, the ice was loud. 

The typing and editing was kinda slow, but hopefully I can improve with practice. 

The really good news is that the app I used to track my geo-position was spot on. Making good progress.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

It's an Upper Body Day

For those of you wondering what I'm doing to get in shape for the UGRR tour, I am happy to say that I've been able to get myself to the gym six days a week since I left my job. That's particularly good since I have had no schedule these last few weeks. Considering myself to be on vacation, no two days have been the same, and I have only done what I feel like doing, when I feel like doing it.

My workouts started out easier than I expected. I'm not sure if I was in better shape than I thought (hard to imagine) or if the excitement of having time to myself carried me through. Week 2 was a bit of slogging agony but, even so, I didn't have trouble getting myself to the gym. At this point, I feel my body beginning to reshape itself; I love feeling my muscles get stronger.

I begin every workout with a ride on one of the various stationary bicycles. I ride 20-25 minutes. Between the warm up and cool down, I move from a low-intensity level up through four or five more difficult levels, changing levels every minute, repeating this progressive pattern three more times during the ride, and culminating with an all-out high-point minute. If you want to know more about this, there is a video online about this 20-Minute Aerobics Solution.

After the aerobic workout, I do two exercises to strengthen my abdominal muscles (ex.: Exercise Ball Crunch, Cable Seated Crunch) and two exercises to strengthen my back (ex.: One Arm Dumbbell Row, Wide Grip Pull Down). Then I spend some time stretching.

Then, I work with weights to strengthen either my upper-body or lower-body muscles. I alternate days, so on a day that I'm shredding (er, strengthening) my upper-body muscles, my lower body is recovering, and vice versa.

Today was an Upper Body day. That means that I did two exercises to work on each of these sets of muscles:
Chest (ex.: Dumbbell Flys, Chest Press)
Shoulders (ex.: Dumbbell Shoulder Press, Side Lateral Raise)
Triceps (ex.: Dumbbell Extension, Close Grip Tricep Push Down)
Biceps (ex.: Dumbbell Biceps Curl, Bicep Curl Machine)
I work each set of muscles in a progressively intensive way--moving my way up through two or three levels of weights until I hit my high/exhaustion point.

I did not have to do a lot of research before beginning this program because I had done a lot of research and experimenting about 15 years ago. When I set foot in the gym (and even though the gym owner confirmed that the last time I had stepped through their door was ten years ago), it all came back to me. Those of you who know me will be surprised to learn that I have not yet recorded any of my workouts (is it really legitimate if no spreadsheet is involved?)...but I may yet.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

This Will NOT Be Me

This incredible video by Foxwood Films illustrates why I have not tried mountain biking before now. This is so not me. But, if I had a dog like Kaia, I might be motivated to try, just to keep her happy.

Ice on the Inside?

The last handful of times that I have gotten in my car, I have had to scrape ice off the inside of the windshield. And not a little of it either. Not being able to remember this happening before, I started thinking about air or moisture leaks around the windshield and other worrying things. Then it dawned on me: I leave the gym every day a sweaty mess, and drive home--filling the car with moisture, which then freezes overnight. Great, just great.

Monday, January 20, 2014

More Inspirational Bits

I am in the middle of reading Long Distance: Testing the Limits of Body and Spirit in a Year of Living Strenuously by Bill McKibben. Originally published in 2000, I received a reprinted edition as a Christmas gift last month. The book documents the year that McKibben devoted to training as a competitive cross-country skier. When I read in the first chapter McKibben saying that "by year's end I hoped I'd have more sense of what life lived through the body felt like," I thought "Me too!" I may not be training as strenuously for a year, and I don't intend to race competitively, but I do want to shift the one-sided way I've been living (all mental work) significantly in the other direction. I am mostly reading the book for inspiration and entertainment, but I am paying attention to what he shares about appropriate heart rates and exertion levels for maximum endurance benefit. [Weird side note: Did you know that "in the brain of a committed cross-country skier, wax occupies the amount of space allotted to sex in a normal mind. Perhaps sex and money both." Admittedly, McKibben is funny, and when he says "normal mind" he should probably say "normal man's mind." Even so, I have found my mind coming back to and pondering this notion a number of times.]

I re-read an article in Outside magazine today about the historic 1963 American expedition to summit Everest. The article describes how Willi Unsoeld, famous mountaineer and professor of philosophy at Evergreen State College in Washington (until he was killed in an avalanche on Mount Rainier in 1979) "embraced risk as essential for growth." He said: "It has to be real enough that it can kill you." I agree with the part about risk being essential for growth. I disagree, though, with the notion that the risk needs to have the potential to kill you in order for it to produce growth. While for a very small number of people this may be true, I think there is so much variability in our minds, personalities, and psyches that most of us simply need to find a level of risk that means we have stepped out of our comfort zones, out of our ingrained habits. I don't think we have to literally risk our very lives in order to make significant change, discover new aspects of ourselves, or embrace life with more gusto.

I am also reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I think if I understand how habits work and how they may be changed, I will be more successful at transforming my exercise and eating habits and, ultimately, my life.

Maybe this is a good time to explain why I chose BikeHome as the title of my blog. Although my son did argue passionately that I should bicycle from Niagara Falls to my home in Maine when the UGRR tour ends, I do not intend to bike to my home (over the Green Mountains and White Mountains) after the trip. After all, I have to get home and build a house. (See my blog about the house building.) Even so, I do consider this bike tour to be a vital part of my journey home to myself.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Living Large (Day -85)

I was planning to write today about some of the great books I've found about the Underground Railroad. That will have to wait for another time, though, because I feel compelled to write about a different book...

I read well into the wee hours this morning, I just could not put this book down until I finished it. Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes, is hard to categorize. It's a love story in the broadest, deepest sense, and illuminates the complicated loves between all the characters--not a typical romantic novel. I laughed out loud, I cried, I smiled, I ached; when done, I was both wired and wiped. In the book, Louisa Clark is living an ordinary, small life, and she can remember "the exact day [she] stopped being fearless." Through happenstance, Lou becomes a caregiver for Will Traynor--who is now wheelchair-bound but once lived boldly, loudly, extremely. Initially wildly mismatched, Lou and Will irritate each other, and then slowly learn important things about themselves by caring for one another.

What does this have to do with my UGRR bike tour?

I've been thinking a lot about this strong drive I have for adventure. I am basically a homebody who likes to live quietly in a small space (and is trying to downsize her belongings to a small, if not minimal, set). Outwardly, I think my life looks small. Yet inside, my passion for connecting with the natural world and myself through adventure lives large. I don't crave extreme-sports, death-defying excursions, but I cook up little escapades that push my boundaries a bit, push back the fears, and bring life into a little higher relief.

In the book, Will writes Lou a letter in which he says: "...there is a hunger in you...A fearlessness. You just buried it, like most people boldly. Push yourself. Don't settle...Just live well. Just live."


Friday, January 17, 2014

Fat Bike on Order!

Well, I did it. I made a decision. I ordered a Minnesota 2.0 fat bike--sight unseen, without a test ride. It should arrive in a couple of weeks. The best part of the extended, very pleasant experience I had on the phone with the salesguy occurred when he said: "You're in Maine? But you don't have a Maine accent!"

I did another test ride of a fat bike yesterday. The really good piece of learning that came from that is that I didn't notice so much difference between this particular bike (that the shop was willing to sell for $1,400 since it's an older, out-of-date model) and the really expensive fat bike I'd ridden the day before. This reassured me that at least I hadn't been spoiled and could still excitedly consider a more economical solution. While I was riding, I noticed that the bike seemed to pull to the right. Then I noticed that it felt like it was pulling to the left. It seemed that once I started to make a turn, the bike pulled into the turn a bit. I hadn't noticed anything like that during the test ride on the other model the day before. When I mentioned this to the salesguy, he said "Definitely not." and went on to expound about the bike's excellent tracking and handling, etc. Don't you love it? I would have been open to hearing that he hadn't experienced this dynamic when riding this bike. I would have been open to speculating about different reasons why the bike was handling this way for me. (I actually was wondering about tire pressure; I think playing around with the amount of tire pressure might have changed how the bike handled.) Anyway, we didn't have a productive discussion about any of this because the guy simply thought he could deny my experience, talk me out of it by declaring my experience to be wrong...and I didn't have any interest in or energy for arguing with him.
[Update 4 Feb 2014: The Tire Inflation Tips included with my new fat bike includes: "Running a low PSI on harder surfaces will create 'self-steer' where front wheel pulls in turns." Ah ha! I thought so.]

In the end, since the Minnesota 2.0 fat bike had more impressive specs and components, and cost a lot less ($940 with shipping and a free extra wheel set), that's what I ordered. I would have preferred to spend my money here in Maine, but I didn't find enough options here to make that possible.

Oh, and one more thing: The guy I ordered my fat bike from says I can buy a stud kit and add my own studs to the mountain-bike tires that come on the extra wheel set. I think the fat tires will be great in snow, sand, dirt, mud. If the narrower mountain-bike tires have studs, they will be great on ice. Perfect.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Brain on Holiday

Note to self: If you tell your brain it is okay to go on holiday, it is likely to vacate the premises...leaving you short of important bits. Just sayin'...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Search for a Fat Bike

As I prepare for the extended UGRR tour, I face the challenge of figuring out how to ride a lot of miles. After all, it's winter here in Maine. Not great road-riding to be had just now. Riding narrow country roads without shoulders is risky enough in good weather; it's definitely life-threatening this time of year. I have been riding a variety of stationary bikes in the gym every day...but I don't think that's enough. I need to be riding a real bike. My solution? A fat bike.

A fat bike has very wide tires--almost 4 inches wide--with very low pressure. Fat bikes can be ridden over packed snow and sand and on mountain-biking trails. Seems ideal to me. I'd be able to ride on the extensive network of snowmobile trails in my area--in the peaceful woods (especially on the weekdays when snowmobiles are scarce), protected from the worst of the biting wind, and away from road traffic.

This is an idea that has not been as easy to execute as I'd imagined. Looking online (check out, it appears that fat bikes are becoming all the rage. You wouldn't know it by checking out the inventories at Maine bicycle shops, however. Most shops don't mention fat bikes at all on their web sites. I did find two shops fairly close to me that stock a few fat bikes, but I am clearly not impressing them as a serious potential buyer. (Okay, I get that I look like an aging matron, when the typical fat-bike rider is an adrenaline-junkie man, but at $1,700 and up for these things, you'd think any potential buyer would be welcome.)

After some rigamarole, I did get to test ride a fat bike today. I rode the only model this particular shop had in my size (I do need a smaller bike than the average man does)--a titanium-frame custom model that costs $3,700! Anyway, what a blast! Most of our snow is gone at the moment (so much rain the last few days!), but I managed to ride through snow and mud, over grass and sticks and roots, uphill and down. The experience is quite a contrast with road riding, and definitely a great workout. Now I really cannot wait to own one of my own.

But must I spend $3,700 to own my own fat bike? I'm picturing this bike being my everything-off-road bike, which makes me think that I will beat on it pretty hard and use it in all kinds of disgusting weather and conditions. I don't want to own a model that is so precious that I'm afraid to use it, or cry every time I ding it on a rock.

There is another shop that is supposedly working on setting up a test ride for me--on a lower-end model fat bike that costs $1,700 (the only one they have in my size)--but they did not call today as promised.

In the meantime, I have scoured the Internet. I happened upon a brand new fat bike model that is in production now and will start to ship soon. I contacted the company to ensure they really will be shipping soon (so I don't completely miss my training window)--and they assure me that production is actually ahead of schedule, and the bikes should start shipping on January 20. It's a beauty--the Minnesota 2.0. I have compared specs and I think it is better than the $1,700 model I can get locally--but its introductory price is only $900. I like the fact that its top tube is a few centimeters shorter than the usual top tube. (My road bike has a short top tube, which saves me from the neck and back pain I used to experience when riding.) In addition to all of its other positive points, it also ships with an extra wheel set--so I could use it with fat-bike tires, or swap them out for narrower, more mountain-bike-like tires. This might be the model for me! Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sleep--It's a Beautiful Thing

Although not all the mechanisms by which sleep works its restorative magic on us are fully understood, there seems to be ample evidence that getting adequate restful sleep is important for repairing and rejuvenating our bodies. Lack of sleep negatively impacts our mood and our brain's plasticity; we lose ability to make sound decisions and to consolidate memory.

I'm a textbook example of the effects of sleep deprivation. Over the last few years, the last six months especially, my sleep patterns have been radically compromised. Invariably after only two to four hours of sleep, I would wake up--and then spend hours wide awake, unable to fall back asleep. Sometimes my body was riddled with generalized anxiety; other times my mind was obsessively creating or reviewing to-do lists related to my job. During the day, I could tell my mind no longer worked "right." I did not resort to medications to fix this problem; I just coped as best I could. (My thought was that if I needed to take medication in order to get a break from my job through sleep, shouldn't I ditch the job first?)

I hoped that by quitting my job I would find a way back to getting restful, restorative sleep. I wasn't sure how to help this happen, so I thought I would start by observing any changes in my sleep patterns. I did give myself a few parameters to start with: 1) No computer or smart phone allowed in the bedroom, and 2) To the extent possible, go to bed and get up at roughly the same times each day (and no naps midday)--to make sleep a regular habit. (I figured that, once I was sleeping reliably, I could then indulge in naps.)

Day 5 post-job: I have now had four nights in a row of sound, uninterrupted sleep. I feel great! Will it really be this simple? Is this really all I had to do to find my way back to sleeping well? (Not to suggest that leaving my job was a small thing.) Since just about nothing in my life works quite this simply, I anticipate there may be some twists and turns to come. For now, though, here's to sleep! It's a beautiful thing.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Day -94 and Counting: The Beginning

In 94 days, I will begin to cycle the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route from the Gulf of Mexico to Niagara Falls. Why? And how am I going to pull this off?

The Roots of an Idea...

When I learned years ago that the Adventure Cycling Association had designed a bicycle route that traces some of the routes people followed during their escapes from slavery, I knew it was a route I wanted to ride. I always assumed, though, that I would have to ride the route in sections. After all, when would I ever have enough time off from work to do this extended ride from beginning to end?

The Roots Take Hold...

These last few years, my job has consumed me. I mean CONSUMED. I have always been a hard worker, a committed worker. Some people who know me might say that I am a bit Type A, maybe even a bit obsessed. But this was over the top, beyond the pale. I lost the last two summers completely to my job. (If you live in Maine and don't find time to enjoy the summertime, something is really wrong.) I no longer noticed the changing of the seasons. In fact, these last two years only had two seasons for me: the season of extreme overwork, and the season of caring for my mother while she was dying and while I was extremely overworking. You get the idea.

I found myself engaging in escape fantasies more and more. "What would I rather be doing? I'd rather be bicycling the Underground Railroad route!...Nah, I can't do that!"...followed by all the reasons why I couldn't do that. Until the day I began finishing that internal argument with "Could I DO that?" Once I truly analyzed things--setting aside my fears and looking at my real circumstances--I realized I really could do that. Then the question became: "Do I have the courage of my convictions and desires to actually do that?"

What Have I Done?

I have stopped.
After working without a break since the age of 14, I have quit my job and walked away.

I am changing course and heading in a new direction.
I am taking some time to slow down, breathe, unwind, recover.
I will bicycle the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route.
Then I will get back to building the house that I started years ago but has been completely on hold for over two years. (See my blog about that project.)
After all that, and hopefully with some new/fresh perspective, I will seek new employment.

How Will I Do This?

I am smart enough to know that this aging, out-of-shape, very-fried woman should not jump on a bicycle and start riding the 2,007-mile Underground Railroad route. I have preparation to do. Over the next few months, I will chronicle in this blog:
- the reading I do about the Underground Railroad
- the reading I do to help me find a road back to myself
- what I learn about improving my diet--I will be aiming for a paleo/gluten-free combo
- the various ways I exercise and improve my fitness
- the gear I plan to take on the tour

For those who don't want to read all this preparation stuff, pick up reading on April 13--the first day of the tour!