Being alert in an enormous landscape has confirmed that the day-to-day, small things matter most. Knowing the names of trees. And people and what moves them. Noticing the subtleties of the weather and the gradual turn of the seasons. The look of the land at different times of the day and how it’s textures and smells change with the angle of the sun.
A homestyle vegan meal at Cornbread Cafe with my very good friend Shelda to fuel the final day of my journey.
The afternoon that I rolled up to the sandy beach of the Oregon coast was sadly anticlimactic. I didn’t have anyone to high-five or cheer with. No one knew that I’d just finished the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Perhaps the hardest thing I will EVER do. I laid my bike down in the sand and sat, watching the waves for a bit. When envisioning how my finale might look, I thought I might cry. I didn’t. I thought I might cheer. I didn’t. The whole thing was rather Forest Gump-like. I was glad to be done riding.. but mostly happy to be done being alone. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m pretty tired. I guess I’ll go home now.” Wherever that is. I stayed for a while because I felt like I should, and then biked to the highway to hitch a ride bike to Eugene. To HELL with riding my bicycle a mile further than I needed to. I’ve been on a bicycle exactly once (a painful, humid cruiser ride in South Carolina) since finishing #k8bikeswest.
In the weeks since I’ve completed my “roadtrip”, friends and family have been asking me about the lessons I learned along the way. It took me a couple weeks to even come to terms with the fact that I rode my bike 2,500 miles, through 20+ days of rain and over countless mountain passes. I’ve been using the writing of this blog to help myself process through all the memories and little lessons learned. So, now, 38 days later, I’m finally attempting to put into words how this 56 day adventure changed me.
I’ve mulled over these words for the last week, feeling like 6 lines can’t possibly explain how this trip changed me. Yet, I don’t think there is anything else for me to add.
“Try everything. Say yes over and over. If nobody asks a question that makes you want to say yes, make up your own. And then make up the answer. Dream twenty different answers and choose a new one every day until you find the one that fits”
Stagnant and comfortable sameness? Not now. Not me. I’m not interested in “easy” and I’ve learned I DO have what it takes to kick the hard shit straight to the curb. This trip has been the final act of my former life. A pivot point. A turn in the road. It’s been about creating time to change my life. It’s shown me that the obstacle is the path and the chasing IS the dream. Because I had the courage to embark on this journey, I’ve become a little louder. A little more shameless and a whole lot more of the Katelyn that’s always been lurking below the surface. I can’t imagine ever fully returning to life as normal. I’m writing a different story than the one I imagined all those years ago, growing up in Central Kansas.
My heart continues to be the best compass I have.
By week 7, I’d settled into the solitude of the open road. I had a wonderful break from myself in Ketchum, Idaho where I detoured to ride 96 miles of Idaho mountain gravel in Rebecca’s Private Idaho. I made many connections and a few new friends. The race allowed me to see some of the best parts of Idaho and it BLEW MY MIND. I’ll spare you my own write up of the race and send you over to Linda Guerrete’s blog and Eric’s Adventure Monkey site to see more incredible images from the day. Thanks to both of them for letting me borrow a few images to share.
As I prepared to roll out of Ketchum and tackle the 29 mile, 3200ft climb up to Galena summit I ran into THE REBECCA RUSCH. You know, the woman behind Rebecca’s Private Idaho and world-class, podium-dominating mountain/gravel cyclist, book author, Queen of Pain and absolute badass. We chatted about my journey to Ketchum to ride her race and continue to the Oregon Coast and Linda Guerrete snapped some photos that I later learned she’d use for this little write-up of my tour. As I left them, I felt confident about muscling up the mountain pass the day after a nearly 100 mile race. Also on my mind was the thought that my giant, ass-covering panties were hanging from my rear pannier throughout the entire conversation (see above). I traveled with one pair, washed them every morning and let them dry in the wind as I rode. No shame.
I made it up the pass without too much suffer and took this photo partway down. Just after pulling back onto the road, I was within several inches of being hit by a vacationer pulling his 5th wheel. I didn’t realize until later in the day that I had chosen the day after Labor Day weekend to ride on a shoulder-less mountain road. I didn’t know what day it was for most of my tour, and this time it was a dangerous error on my part. The details of the too-close encounter aren’t so important and honestly, I don’t recall everything that happened. But, it was one of those THIS COULD HAVE BEEN IT moments that freaked me out in a pretty bad way. Through what could have only been adrenaline, I made my way through the long descent to level ground. I found a pull off , laid my bike down and just sat with my head between my legs. After 20 minutes (perhaps as the rush wore off) I decided that I couldn’t possibly ride another mile further. I stuck my thumb out (hitch-hiking with a bicycle is as difficult as you might imagine) and hoped someone would stop. Several minutes later a calm, kind, off-duty firefighter stopped to ask if I was ok. When I told her what had happened, she immediately turned off her car, got out and proceeded to check me over and make sure I wasn’t in too much shock. Only when she was certain I was truly ok, did she load my bike into her van and ask where I needed to go. I remain grateful for her rescue.
The day after I nearly died (or maybe just really hurt), was a turning point in my tour. It sounds cliche, but after experiencing what I did, I felt a new appreciation for the sometimes delicate nature of human life. I woke up that morning to frost-covered ground, indulged in homemade sourdough bread french toast, pulled on every warm item of clothing I had (it was 30 degrees!) and set out with a new perspective. I chose to say YES! Yes to singing my heart out while cruising down the highway. Yes to dancing on the side of the road. YES TO LIFE. The rest of my time in Idaho was dream-like.
HOT spring waterfalls? Check.
Jumping into freezing cold river? Check.
Hiking and sunbathing in my underroos? Check. (The water flowing of the orange stuff is near boiling hot)
Second hot spring waterfall in a more secluded spot where I sat alone for hours? CHECK.
Ride bike to Oregon? Have man living under the bridge take photo? Check. Check.
Marvel at the Deschutes River. Check.
Hike with new friends that I met while at Rebecca’s Private Idaho and whom invited me, so generously, to stay with them in Bend. A GREAT BIG ENTHUSIASTIC- CHECK!I was also so privileged to spend some time with my friend, Cedric- who I met while staying in Florence, Italy for a few months. It was such a treat to spend time with this beautiful man. Who, I might add, built his own tiny, straw bale home. SWOOON. (see b/w photo below). He taught me how to shoot a gun, we enjoyed a scrumptious, healthy picnic on top of a mini mountain and watched the sun set behind the Cascades.
And I woke the next morning to hot coffee and a homegrown, homemade breakfast. I know some pretty great people.
The art and lessons of being alone.
As I left Wyoming for Idaho, I found myself suddenly and frighteningly alone. I set out on this bicycle tour to ride the entire thing by myself- never imagining that I’d meet SO MANY other bicycle tourists along the way. Before I knew it, I was 6 weeks into the tour, having only spent a handful of days by myself. I’ve never spent more than a couple of days 100%, completely alone and the first few days were nearly debilitating. I don’t have many photos from this portion of my journey and for days my friends and family had no contact from me. Somtimes it was all I could do to wake up and get on the bike.
I found myself riding and hiking through the Arco desert and Craters of the Moon with tears stinging my eyes. I pedaled and cried and thought a lot. I felt strong and weak at the same time. Then, finally, it became so blatantly obvious that I chose to leave on this trip, not just for the adventurous hell of it, but because I needed to completely wipe the board clean. It took me awhile to become aware of this, because for 5 weeks, I’d had the wonderful distraction of other riders. But with just a few days of riding alone, I realized this was my quest to refuse the desire of filling those empty pages as quickly as possible- with familiar words and characters and plots.
Being on my own forced me, even if reluctantly (and maybe even once, screaming) to seek comfort in being with my self. For 2 weeks, I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner alone. I didn’t have anyone to tell about my day, nobody to whisper sweet nothings to, nobody to hold me when I cried, or take care of me when I was sick. Nobody to high-five with after a giant hill or laugh with at the absurd thoughts that pop up during long days of riding. I learned that empty is the most profound discomfort- bottomless and deep. It left me feeling naked and searching for cover. But being empty can also be the one thing that releases you to a freefall long enough to know where solid ground is.
“Here’s the tricky part: You must let those pages stay empty long enough to fully come awake.”
Don’t be afraid of being alone, embrace it. Face the darkness that you feel when you are completely alone and be one with it. Walk right into it, fearlessly. For it is by being one with it, that you will eventually conquer it and start to see that you can fill your own heart with light.
Taste the freedom of THAT. Revel in the attention that you give yourself. Gather it all to you and welcome it home. Experience deeply your autonomy.
I did it on a very long bike ride. How will you explore this freedom?
On my bike I can be still.
I cannot check Instagram.
I cannot lose myself in a book.
I cannot stare at the faces on the bus, wondering who their lovers are or what they had for lunch.
I cannot listen to the news or watch TV. I can’t even easily change the song I’ve heard too many times.
I must give the road all of my attention or I could die. I do nothing but feel my body move. Pedal, pedal. Pedal, pedal, pedal. As my tires rotate along the pavement, they sing a song. I don’t overthink how fast (or, slow) I am going.
I just go.
And then there were three. I ran into Justin and Jamie in a cafe on the edge of Saratoga, WY. I saw there were two touring cyclists inside by the bikes on the side of the building. I made my way inside and marched straight to their table- introducing myself and pretty much demanding that they let me join them for breakfast…and their bike tour. We rode together for several excruciating and intensely beautiful days.
Experiencing the Wyoming winds that make Kansas’ look like a light summer breeze. At one point, we had hurricane force winds and were pedaling in a generally downward direction at 3 mph.
We stayed with LB during a 120+ stretch of near nothingness. She was angel- cooking us dinner, gifting us hard cider and allowing us to camp on her property. LB doesn’t have running water, so she even made a special trip to the next town to gather clean water to get us through our miles through the remote area.
This also happened to be the night that my inadequately sealed coconut oil leaked throughout an entire pannier. Yet another lesson learned the hard way.
You may remember Nathan from the last post. I met him at the beer festival in Saratoga and he offered to meet up once I got to town. He kindly drove us up Sinks Canyon and took us for a beer hike in Shoshone National Forest.
The water dropping into the sinks travels just 1/4 mile to the rise (the fish photo below) but take 2 hours to get there. mind.blown.
Togwotee Pass was the third highest pass of the tour. It was also the third pass in a row that I pedaled over in the rain.
The next day we descended 16 miles through the clouds. It was so amazing.
I like this girl.Shortly after this, Jamie and Justin headed toward Jackson Hole while I continued toward Yellowstone by myself. Riding with them was wonderful. Wyoming would have been about 1,000 times less fun without them. I remain grateful that they let me crash their party.
Always dreaming of visiting Yellowstone…and then rolling up via my own body power. NO. WORDS.
I spend nearly all my time outside- eating and sleeping on the ground. Surrounded by butterflies and wildflowers. Shivering in the cold of the morning and sweating in the heat of the day. Feeling the rain and not escaping it. Releasing the easy that sucks the life from our marrow and steals our authenticity. To those who ask when I’ll return to the real world, I reply:
“This wilderness, it IS the real world”
And I’m in AWE every.single.day.
As of today, I’ve ridden my bike 1,071 miles. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around. I’ve been on my bike seat for 5-9 hours a day for 2 weeks, yet I can’t quite grasp that I didn’t fly or drive to Fort Collins, like normal. I RODE MY BIKE HERE. From Kansas.
It hasn’t been easy- as hard as you can imagine it might be, this ride has been harder…and I’ve vented all of that on Facebook. So much so, that some may think I’m only seeing the bad and the hard. But this is definitely not the case. I make sure I notice the good and the incredible too. “Be here now” is a favorite little mantra of mine. In most of what I do (I can’t say ALL, because I still work on it everyday) I try to be present and observe all the feelings I have- the excellent and the not-so excellent. This post is dedicated to some of those excellent experiences I’ve had so far.
Biking at 3, 12 and SOMETIMES 30 miles an hour I get to see the land in detail. There are rolling hills and cloudless skies that go on for miles. The rainbow of wildflowers that line the roads. Butterflies fluttering alongside me. Lone trees in expansive fields. Wheat swaying in the wind- putting a perfect image to the phrase “amber waves of grain”. Noticing the gentle changes in landscape as I inch West – wildflowers and corn fields give way to cattle grazing pasture, then the cacti and sage brush slowly appear. As I climb into higher elevations the scent of evergreen hangs heavy in the air and the aspen groves with their white bark and heart-shaped leaves start to appear. When I can muster the energy, I take pictures of things that take my breath away, and feel a small sadness that the photo fails to capture the magnitude of what I’m seeing.
Exploring #smalltownamerica in a big way. Tiny towns from 20 to several thousand. Feeling like I’ve stepped back in time. Sitting down to lunch at mom and pop diners and snacking at roadside hole-in-the-wall joints.
Experiencing such incredible hospitality from complete strangers that has moved me to tears. Over and over and over again.
Meeting and riding with 4 really awesome people from all over the globe! (Virginia, Australia and two British chaps)
Pedaling for 9 days across mostly flat land and then seeing the mountains rise up in front of me.
Staying in the coolest old Assay office (turned primitive bunk house) in Guffey, CO. In fact, the entire town of Guffey was quite the sight.
Riding my bicycle through, over and around the Rocky freaking Mountains!
I set out on this trip to ride solo through as many states as I can- hoping that I’d somehow find myself or realize something big. Well, I haven’t ridden much of this ride alone and I certainly haven’t come to any great conclusions about life but I do have some perspective. A friendly follower of my Instagram account shared some words that have really stayed with me: “So here’s how I see it. In life, stuff happens. In the years ahead when it hits the fan, you’ll think back to a 90 mile day in a 100 degrees with wind and 100 square feet of shade all of which were full of nasty, biting flies. It totally sucked, but you did it and then you got up the next day and did it again. After you conquered that you took on the hills and they were a whole new ball game. With this in your “been there done that” background you will know that you can deal with stuff. Even if when you decide enough is enough you have proven to yourself and a whole lot of friends that you’ve got guts. You have the total right to be proud of whatever you accomplish…”
So with that being said, if I didn’t ride a mile further, I would still be proud of myself for embarking on this epic, amazing adventure. All of this just amazes me; that I can do it. That I’m doing it and that tomorrow morning I’m heading out for more. Stay tuned.
The morning starts with an alarm at 4:45. I usually hit snooze until about 5am. I sit up to force myself awake and slowly start organizing my stuff. I deflate my sleeping pad and roll it up. Next comes my sleeping bag and travel pillow. I dress inside my tent and pull out any items I may need during the day to place toward the top of my bags
After I’m up and out of the the tent, I’ll plug my phone into the closet outlet (I’ve been lucky so far with places to charge up my phone) while I prep breakfast. I don’t want to rely on coffee to get going, so I avoid it unless I’m having a particularly rough day. Breakfast generally consists of oatmail with ground flax, chia, hemp hearts, mashed banana and peanut butter. Once or twice I’ve gone off the deep end and gorged on convenience store donuts or a muffin- in which case I slugged down a greens-n-protein shake beforehand to not totally deprive my body of nutrition. After breakfast, I’ll wipe out my dishes and pull out the snacks I’ll eat before my lunch stop. Usually it’s a Larabar or trailmix. Depending on the proximity of stores, it may be fresh fruit.
After breakfast, I pack up my tent. I usually wait to do this to TRY to allow some of the dew to evaporate off before I stuff it into its bag. My tent goes into a dry bag that I place across the top of my rack and saddle bags and is strapped into place with a bungee cord.
It seems no matter how early I wake up, I never get out of camp and onto the road any earlier than 6:30am. As hard as it is to get up and moving in the morning, this time of day is my absolute favorite to ride in. The wind is almost never strong this early in the morning and the traffic is light or non-existent as well. There’s an air of optimism for the day and excitement to see what will unfold.
I usually try to get part way through a map segment (about 15 miles or so) before my first stop. I’ll flip the map if I need to, drink extra fluids, maybe take a quick bite, quickly stretch and keep going. How long I stop depends on how many photo stops I’ve already had by this point.When I decided I’d go on this trip, I knew I’d have to take it one day at a time. Realistically, it isn’t one day at a time or even one map at a time- it’s one map segment at a time. 15 miles? “I can do that.” Ok, another 12? “Sure.” 18 more. “I got that.”
Mostly I ride through back roads that are lightly-moderately traveled but there are some roads with more semi-trucks than I’d like. Cars and trucks generally give me a very wide clearance and I use my dork-tastic rearview mirror to see if any oncoming vehicles look like they may not get over so that I can bail toward the ditch.
The first few days I listend to A LOT of music. Now, I’m getting tired of hearing the same stuff over and over again. I’ll turn it on during a particularly difficult section or to drown out the sound of my bike yelling at me to fix it. Mostly I try to make sense of the noise in my head. When things get really monotonous, I make it a point to notice the beauty around me- even when there isn’t much beauty at first glance.
Depending on how it coincides with a town, I’ll stop between 12 and 1 to eat lunch. If I’m disciplined, I’ll go cheap and eat my apple and peanut butter with a protein shake. If I’m super hungry, I’ll stop at a cafe (usually mexican in these parts). I like to order vegetable fajitas, because I can eat half and save the rest to add to dinner. I try to stop for at least an hour during lunch, depending on how long the ride is for the day. On the hottest days through Kansas, I’d break up my days a little differently. Ride, swim, eat, nap, ride, swim, set-up camp, eat, sleep. Not too shabby. People often complain about riding through Kansas, but having days like that was a blast. The hardest days were riding through Eastern Colorado (more on that later) where there was no place to stop and certainly no pools.
After 5-7 hours of riding, I ride into the town where I’ll camp. In Kansas, I camped at city parks for free. One night, a riding partner was gifted a motel room, and another I slept at a work camp. In Pueblo, I camped under a bouldering wall behind a church. I never know where I might sleep. I scope out the shower first (sometimes cold, sometimes hot, sometimes a pit bath) and then look for a plug-in for my phone. I look for a flat spot with as few rocks as possible and try to make sure I’m not in the firing line of any automatic sprinklers (made that mistake the first night). I set my tent up and place my saddle bags in my tent. I like to have all my belongings close to me in the night.
After everything is set up, I’ll make dinner. It’s usually parboiled brown rice and beans with whatever vegetables were cheapest at the grocery store. After cleanup, I’m usually ready for bed. One thing I didn’t expect about this trip is how exhausted I’d be. I thought I’d have time to read, update my journal, write lots of letters and maybe even blog. Sometimes, it’s all I can do to force myself to pull out my camera for a photo or to write a single card to put in the mail. Many times, I don’t do anything but brush my teeth and fall into “bed”. Sleep is something that hasn’t been an issue on this trip and that has been so refreshing. I often times struggle with my sleep, and working so hard during the day, going to bed when it’s dark and rising as it becomes light has definitely helped with that.
At 4:45, my alarm goes off and I do it all over again!