Friday, July 17, 2009

Epic Cycle

The epic cycle was, well, epic: nine days, 618 miles (1,000 km), from Syracuse, NY to the UCC General Synod in Grand Rapids, MI.Map The stated purpose of the ride was "to protest U.S. oil gluttony," but (this being a group of UCC folk) I imagine there were at least as many reasons for riding as there were riders. For my part, I'm concerned about global warming and reducing my carbon footprint, which I increasingly see not only as a matter of environmental stewardship but also as a matter of intergenerational justice. I wanted to give slow travel a try, in a meaningful way, on a major trip.

Here's our intrepid group at Mile 0, Fairmount Community Church in Syracuse. How fresh and eager we look! And, yes, I was the only woman rider (and the only layperson) for the first half of the tour.

Depart Mile 0, Syracuse

The tour was supported, meaning a SAG vehicle carried luggage, snacks, and bike stuff and picked up riders unable to continue. The support staff narrative is inextricably intertwined with the riders narrative, not least because I injured my knee and experienced the tour from both perspectives.

SAG vehicle

As I was telling Heather, when on tour it's surprising how quickly one reality drops away, to be replaced by quite a different normal. For example, "normal" people stay indoors when it's raining or hot. Bikers bike on. "Normal" people are accustomed to amenities. Bikers, um....

Au naturel

Sometimes the riding was very sweet...


... sometimes not so much. Notice the shredded tires and tubes – the bike shop dude had never seen the like and was impressed.

Totally shredded

Our master wrench (and his apprentice) did a lot of repairs on the road or in the evenings – one of the many things I appreciate about bicycles is one can do most repairs oneself. When we needed parts, we discovered the best way to find a local bike shop is to call the local library. Librarians rock! The reference librarian in Grand Rapids, a biking librarian, even offered to lend me a bike after I shipped mine home. (So just imagine the awesomeness of a knitting biking librarian.)

Master wrench and apprentice

Along the way, I picked up a funky bike tan (helmet line, sleeve line, glove line including tiny spots matching the perforations, shorts line, socks line) that, because we were mostly headed west and the sun was mostly in the south, was darker on my left side than on my right.Bikes Babes Beer I was constantly re-adjusting my helmet straps – at first I thought they were stretching, but it would seem my chin fat was shrinking (!). I developed a rather alarming craving for protein and apparently activated some kind of mutant accelerated healing factor that at the same time suppressed immune, inflammatory, and allergic reactions. But most amazing to me was how quickly the men got stronger. Some were uncomfortable with frank appraisal of male beauty (the guys who whinged the most about "objectification" also loved the bar sign, eyeroll) – I marvel at their strength, grace, and hardihood.

Two day riders and four distance riders joined the group at various points – we were ten riding into Grand Rapids. It was 97° F (36° C) and humid, a record high for the date. We looked correspondingly charming on arrival at First Park Congregational Church.

Arrival in Grand Rapids

After riding the entire trip without incident, I crashed on arrival in the parking lot – deliberately, as my options were be hit by a car or hit a post. I trust gentle readers will not be scandalized to learn my first thought was, "Oh... shit." Happily, my mad biking skillz include knowing how to crash: in biking, unlike driving, a well-managed head-on collision can be safer than a glancing impact, so I aimed straight for the post, braced my arms, pressed hard on the pedals to lower my center of gravity to prevent being thrown over the handlebars, hit the post squarely with the front tire, bounced off, braked hard, balanced for a moment, then gently fell over sideways. And nobody got hurt!

Ride's end was General Synod in Grand Rapids. The mayor says it was the biggest convention to date in his fair city. The view of the Grand River was quite appealing.

Welcome to Grand Rapids

As gentle readers have endured my blathering about Synod before now, suffice to say the vision that sustained me whilst riding was this: in the far background, the sun setting over Lake Michigan; in the near background, Grand Rapids shining in the westering light like the city on the hill; in the foreground, a giant platter of homemade cookies!!! Thank you, Michigan Conference UCC, I was not disappointed (sorry, Joan, for eating Detroit first). At Synod, UCC = unlimited coffee and cookies.

General Synod cookies

Reflecting on the tour, I'm deeply grateful I got to know such a great bunch of bikers and devoted support staff. The nine days were intensely intimate yet peculiarly limited. Being book-larnèd church folk, some in the group wrestled a bit with language to describe the experience – gemeinde or koinonia, community, which some would contrast with congregation. I dunno. Maybe it's sufficient to say it was an out-of-car experience.

Out of car experience

As for The Cause of small carbon footprint slow travel, it can be done! And if by me, then by pretty much anybody. My key learning was that paradigm shift I mentioned to Heather. Previously, I'd biked decently long distances, a metric century (100 km or 62 mi), but always as a day ride in loops. Now I know it's entirely do-able to bike long distances as a way to get from one place to another. Even for a cyclist with mad skillz, that's a significant conceptual breakthrough.

And if getting there was epic, well, so was getting back. To be continued.


Iko said...

So awesome! It sounds like you had an unforgettable experience.

Kaye said...

VERY cool!!!! You forget that as well as being "green" by having this route y'all helped MI's economy a little bit too I'm sure. People here in NJ think that the economy is bad? It's nothing compared to what life is like in MI!

P.S. Did you happen to have time to stop and sniff the air in Battle Creek? Best smelling city ever!

Jessica said...

Whoa. Just whoa. I'm amazed.

Two questions from someone who probably has no business asking:

1. Doesn't the "support vehicle" sort of defeat the purpose a bit?

2. Where did you get to pee?!

Kristen said...

That is SO impressive! Congrats on riding for your cause (and finishing unscathed). Thanks for the bike crashing tips which I was unaware of, but would likely forget and do the wrong way when the time comes.

craftivore said...

I had no idea that there was a good way to crash on a bike, good job on avoid a collision with a car. Love the peeing photo. Was the grass charred?

CrazyFiberLady said...

That looks like an awesome ride. Bravo!