After spending 21 weeks riding 5700 miles through 19 states, I can officially say that the riding portion of the Women Who Dare project has come to a close.
Two weeks have passed since I took this celebratory selfie with my parents. That night, I unpacked my bags knowing that I wouldn’t be re-packing them within the foreseeable future. Though I was excited to have a place to leave things where I could come back to them, I was a bit wary of non-nomadic life.
It turns out that I shouldn’t have been so apprehensive, as my life has continued to put me on the move. One week after finishing my own riding, my brother finished the PCT. We reunited in the woods of the very Northern Cascades and have been traveling together ever since.
As we take a less labor-intensive trip back east, I look forward to having time to digest and write about the journey and to compile the Women Who Dare podcast. There are so many incredible tales of badass women still untold, now it is time for me to do my part and share them with you all! If you have burning questions (or things you think would be interesting to know about the past five months), give me a shout.
Finally, to close out this “I made it!” post, here is a small example of the many notes I’m compiling about the past five months.
The three weeks I spent riding through Montana and Wyoming were incredibly stressful.
Between the altitude, numerous mountain passes, and endless stretches of prairie between water stops, I was constantly on edge.
The funny thing is, though, that I didn’t really notice how this stress was affecting me until I made it to Colorado.
As I headed south from Laramie, I found myself in more wide open prairie land. The road was flat, but unforgiving, with big road cracks every twenty feet and grassland spreading for many miles to my left and right. Behind me was more of the same, so that’s what I expected to find ahead.
About an hour into the ride, I climbed a little hill. As I climbed, I had no optimistic thoughts to ease the plague of mosquitos taking advantage of my slow speeds. I assumed I’d reach the top only to find another stretch of unending prairie. For, that was the tease I’d received for weeks on end.
Instead, over this hill, I found pine trees, rocky outcroppings, and a view of the Rockies. I was so happy, I cried smiling tears.
Thus, my most stressful weeks on the road had ended. As the relief took hold, I mulled about my previous three weeks on the road.
At points on the journey from Whitefish I had known I was stressed. First, it was the realization that my standard stealth camping practice of finding an isolated stand of trees would never work in a landscape where the only trees are purposefully planted and cultivated by people. Then, as my thoughts turned to Yellowstone and the Tetons, my stealth camping woes included in stress about grizzly bears and other wildlife unknowns. Add to that the constant potential for thunderstorms with hail and nowhere to hide. Finally, in Wyoming especially, I was concerned about having enough water to cross stretches of hundreds of miles with only one or two “towns” of less than 200 people.
So, for three weeks, my mind was dominated by managing “what if” scenarios. Upon reaching the new, Colorado landscape, I realized what a toll these thoughts had taken on my mind and body. Poor sleep, abnormally high heart rate, and weeks without writing were all clear signs, upon reflection, of the difficulties I’d faced during the past three weeks.
But there’s also a third question, which I think deserves it’s own thread:
(3) Are you scared?
And the answer is always, emphatically, “No.”
I’m not scared.
And I refuse to be scared by the prospect of traveling alone as a woman.
Now, before you get all, “this might not be because you’re a woman” on me, let me fill you in on some follow up comments from the (mostly older, seemingly well-intentioned) men who ask me this question:
– “Do you have MACE? I have a law enforcement background and some men can be creeps.”
– “I would never let my daughter do what you’re doing in a million years.”
– “Do you at least have pepper spray?”
– “You’re a brave, brave girl.”
Now, from these many interactions I’ve come to feel that these people think I SHOULD be scared. That somehow it’s not right or not proper for me to be venturing into the unknown without nagging worry. Or perhaps, that I should be so fearful as to not embark on this adventure at all.
To which I say, no.
No, I will not be scared to adventure alone as a woman.
No, I will not let your fear-driven view of the world keep me from meeting the other citizens of this planet.
Instead, just as every adventurer I admire, I will minimize the risks I can foresee, use my good judgement in unforeseen circumstances, and let go of all the things I cannot control. That is all I can do. That is all any of us can do.
And also, if something scares you, it’s probably worth doing.
I stated the Women Who Dare project on a warm, sunny day east of Berkeley. As I biked over the delta toward the bay, birds were chirping and the bright green leaves of spring were starting to give way to their dark, summer-green selves. Having skied the previous day, I thought it wonderful to be warm, but was also a little sad to have missed the changing of the season.
I should not have feared, for I spent the next five weeks catching up with spring as I moved north. Sometimes, I even mistakenly found a bit of winter. Here’s a brief retelling of my ride from the Bay Area to Puget Sound in terms of the progress of the seasons:
Along Route 1 up the California coast, I was treated to beautiful vistas and strong headwinds. A bookstore owner in Mendocino told me such views and wind are only available in be spring (April) and fall (September and October). The rest of the time, they have wet and/or fog.
In northern California’s various redwood groves I found no particular season. Only cool, damp, woods air and majestic old trees.
At Crescent City, I turned east to climb into Oregon along the Smith River. While I have no photos to share of this beautiful place, the river was running high and clear cold from snowmelt. If you’re into fishing, this is a great place to check out. One of the last undammed rivers in California!
Once I reached Oregon, I finally smelled my first spring blossoms. If I told you they were cherry blossoms, I would be dead wrong. But in my mind, it was just like being in D.C. when all the cherry trees blossom at once.
After finding this touch of spring, I took a leap back toward winter. From Ashland over the Cascades to Bend I found snow banks along the road and frost on my tent. (For more on this daunting passage, read this.)
Fortunately, this chilly spell was dry and didn’t last too long. I spent a couple days soaking in the high-desert spring time before crossing back over the Cascades to Eugene.
For about a week, from when I was headed into Eugene until I left Portland, I found myself caught in what locals called “winter-style weather.” With wind from the south and a fair amount of chilly rain still hanging on in May, some locals told me they thought seasons had shifted a bit. The winter came later (end of October, perhaps, not September) and stayed longer (until May, clearly, not April).
In fact, as I was preparing to leave Portland, I learned that the storm that we’d been getting was hammering the Cascades with snow. Good thing I made my two crossings when I did!
Finally, along the four day ride from Portland to the Puget Sound, I found a spring that felt like home on the coast of Maine. Forsythia were still in their full yellow explosions and many trees were still sporting bright green leaves.
Now, after four 80+ degree days in Montana, I’d say I’ve left spring all together and have found summer. Though, from the looks of things I’ll still see snow in the mountain passes between Missoula and Yellowstone.
I’ve been riding now for more than three weeks and every day I meet someone new. In addition to the amazing women I meet on purpose, I talk to many people by chance. Bike touring, unlike car travel, invites a million curious questions. The first of these questions is always:
1. Where are you going?
Depending on my mood, I say where I’m stopping for the night, where I’m headed in the more short term (e.g. Seattle), or where I’ll eventually end up (Maine). In general, all the answers evoke some form of incredulity and more questions. A common follow up is:
2. Are you really all alone? Don’t you get lonely?
On the spot, I have never answered this question particularly well. But I’m intrigued by people’s concern for my loneliness, and so have been thinking about the idea. Here are my current thoughts:
For me, being on a solo adventure is good. It gives me time and space to reflect on the companionship that I have had and decisions that I’ve made. Good memories bring a smile to my riding and reenergize my spirit. I can ride along for hours laughing, singing, and reveling in long-lost happy memories.
Just as important as these joyous recollections, though, are the memories of times of difficulty. Dredging through past doubts, times of disappointment, and broken relationships reminds me who I have been, who I am, and who I strive to become.
To me, then, being alone is not lonely. Where loneliness would be pining for human connection, my being alone is active introspection, it’s finding strength in unknown capability, and it’s becoming okay with myself.
Even that part of myself that’s yelling at the rain because it’s cold and wet and annoying. She’s me and I am her and we are one. There’s no escaping her, she’s my companion for life.
While I couldn’t find a reliable answer on snowpack, the internet did tell me about four places along the route that would be likely to have water. At that point, I figured the crossing would be physically possible. So then I turned to my friends and family for tips on winter camping. After hearing their tips, it turns out that self-doubt was for naught, I really do know how to winter camp.
As Saturday morning dawned foggy, cold, and windy, I felt mostly ready to head off again. Still daunted by the continued unknowns, but steady enough to head out.
On this first Saturday back on the road I crossed two different worlds. First, from Ashland, I passed through the industrial parts of Medford. Second, turning north along the Rogue River, I was surrounded by spectacular views. The natural beauty of the river provided a peaceful contrast to the bustle of Saturday morning shipping and shopping in Medford.
Enduring yet more flat tires, I finally stopped for the night on forest service land. I set up my tent in a place surrounded by lodgepole pines, comforted by the sound of running water, and blessed by no snow. Knowing that the wee hours of the morning would be cold, I put on long underwear, socks, and a hat before crawling into my sleeping bag.
I was comfortable all night, so in the morning I was surprised to wake up to a little frost on my tent. It would have been lovely to snooze in the warmth all morning, but I forced myself up and out of camp. Many miles to go before I sleep!
Starting out wearing every layer I brought for riding (5 on top, 3 on bottom), my body was fairly warm. My toes, though, were a different (frostbitten) story. Only 15 minutes into the day’s ride, I had to find a sunny spot by the road to warm my feet (and my bike shoes) before really heading off for the day.
This day of riding was tough. The grade wasn’t steep and the scenery was gorgeous, but I struggled to find the rhythm of the road. Many hours and a couple summits later (at 5400 and 6000 feet), I was rewarded with a 13 mile downhill.
Even though this downhill came with a headwind, it was nice to be closing in on the end of the day. When I finally made it far enough to be within a day’s ride of Bend, I made camp in the high desert off another forest service road. Long before the sun set, I was curled up in my tent, clothed again in long underwear, and ready for bed.
The night was cold. Very cold. By morning I had put on all my extra layers and was marginally comfortable. Although the forecast had predicted a low of 32, the report that morning told me the temperature had dipped to 22 by first light.
Having learned from the previous day, I gave the sun some extra time to warm up the earth (and my bike shoes) before heading off. The ride north was flat to trending downhill, but a headwind, smoke from controlled burns, and tons of trucking traffic made this another slog.
By late afternoon, though, I finally made it to Bend. Which, it turns out, is a really beautiful place. Situated on the Deschutes River, Bend is a bike-loving oasis in the high desert. Moreover, the whole city offers amazing views of snow capped mountains in the Cascades.
Despite the daunting unknowns and the sloggy days of riding, I’m happy to have made the crossing. Now I know I can do more than I thought.
I started out on my journey from Berkeley with brand new panniers, a new to me bike, and a buoyant energy.
Not 15 miles into my ride I found my first cycling companions. As I crawled up a hill on the north edge of Berkeley’s peninsula, two old guys in decked out in riding gear caught up with me.
“Are you on tour? Where are you headed?” one of them asked.
“Up to Seattle, and back to Maine eventually,” I replied, beaming.
“When did you leave?” they wanted to know.
“Today, just an hour or so ago,” I proudly replied.
We spent maybe a half mile together, chatting about the ride. Then, I turned north over the Alfred Zampa Bridge and they continued on their loop of the delta.
On this first day, nothing could spoil my excitement. I was finally off! Making Women Who Dare a real life thing! Dreams do come true! Yahoo!
But over the next few days I’d get the same questions. And I started to feel sheepish to announce I’d be riding back to Maine. Having ridden for a day or two and only covered as far as a car can cover in a couple of hours, the dubiousness of my questioners was palpable.
They couldn’t know my surety in my ability to make the trek. They clearly didn’t know my desire to talk to amazing women across the country. All these people had were doubts about an unproven and lofty goal to cross the country by bike. And they made these doubts felt through raised eyebrows and stunned silences.
When I mixed these stranger’s doubts with my own anxiety about trip’s unknowns, I started to feel bad about myself as a beginner. Even though I knew myself to be capable, I took their misgivings and began to consider myself unproven. And so, to prove my worth, I rode hard for 11 days and covered almost 600 miles.
From this experience, I say, it’s time to embrace the beginner. Let’s not shame them for what they don’t know. Let’s instead embrace them for setting off in the first place.
This lesson is not just for how we treat others, but also for how we treat ourselves. You deserve to treat yourself with at least as much courtesy as you would treat a stranger.
It’s not an adventure if you know what’s going to happen
As I dreamed up this weekend for a shakedown ride, I figured it would be just warm enough for some camping south of Lake Tahoe in Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. But that was back in March when it didn’t snow for three whole weeks in a row. Which meant, to me, that spring was really on its way. Then we returned to winter, with two feet of snow in the past two weeks.
So, I cooked up another plan. I’d drive down to Placerville (where there really wouldn’t be any snow or threat of snow), drop the car, and bike thirty miles or so to a cute little campground in El Dorado National Forest. This was a great plan, until I got to Placerville and learned that there’s no overnight parking in any lot. Not at the town municipal lot, not at the Walmart, not anywhere.
Finally, I arrived at Plan C. I’d drive to the campground, get my bike and gear out of the car, and then pretend like the car wasn’t there for the next 24 hours.
Shakedown with an invisible car
I made it to the Dru Barner campground at about 3 o’clock. To celebrate the goreous, sunny spring day I took a quick nap in the grass.
Feeling drowsy, but rejuvenated, I motivated to get my things out of the car.
What’s a shakedown without a flat?
Without much daylight left, I resolved to take a short ride (uphill) on my fully loaded bike, then return to camp to try out my new camp stoves.
Not four miles in, though, I heard my tire making a funny fwopping noise. At first I willfully ignored this telltale sign of a flat. But a few pedal turns later it was undeniable.
Stopping to check the tire, I found a small, very sharp pebble sticking straight out of the rubber. The tire hissed and that was that. My first flat of Women Who Dare.
Dinner is better when you get to sleep in a tent
The rest of the ride was uneventful, with an hour of hard uphill work turning into 15 minutes of flying back down to the campground.
My new stoves and crockery were a delight to use. Cooking rice and beans has never been so much fun.
(Want to learn how to make your own soda can alcohol stoves? Check out this site.)
Campgrounds are full of characters
Over dinner I was visited by another resident of the Dru Barner campground. This grizzled old man, who wore a skateboarding helmet and used a golf club for a cane, told me all about building the hilly road I had just biked down.
But now, he told me, a traumatic brain injury made it hard to follow a straight train of thought. He wasn’t mad about it, though, not at all. Because after this random act of violence he found his way to God. With the help of a new church community, he started to enjoy the beauty in the world. Some members of his church even pulled his camper up to the campground and paid for a couple nights of camping, so he could spend some more time in the woods.
He thought my stoves were pretty cool, too.
Easter is for the birds
The Easter bunny didn’t find me in my tent, but that’s okay. The smell of pine trees, the chirp of birds, and the warmth of sunshine found me instead. And that’s more than plenty.
My grizzled man told me the epicenter of the King fire was 15 miles or so back up the hill, so I figured I might as well check it out for myself. Plan set, I packed up, ate some leftover rice and beans, and made the slow grind back up hill.
I made it as far as Stumpy Meadows Lake. Once named for the logging activity in the area, there are no longer stumps lining the shore. Rather, the south side of the lake is bordered by rather ghostly black burned tree carcasses. While I took in the sights, a couple of self-described hillbillies told me the fire was started by some guy lighting his ex-girlfriend’s garage on fire.
Back to reality
I made it back to Tahoe, where it’s snowing again. With the taste of spring still in my mouth, I think it’s time to pack up and head out of the mountains.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, here’s a link to the tentative route. I plan to spend the weekend (April 21st-23rd) in San Francisco, then head north toward Seattle on Monday.
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Women Who Dare began as a spark of imagination. Ignited by the founding story of Clif Bar, the first fuel for Women Who Dare was my own experiences as an outspoken, adventuring woman.
Throughout the fall and winter, I kept my flame for Women Who Dare at a low burn. Sometimes, especially on long bike rides, I’d feel the desire to be out gathering stories right now. But mostly, in moments of doubt, I relied on embers of my passion to provide reassurance about Women Who Dare’s importance.
Recently, too, I’ve had help fanning the flames of Women Who Dare. For press coverage, maps from the Adventure Cycling Association, and your continued support, I am so grateful. Don’t forget to spread the word about the project, the deadline for recommending a woman is March 31st!
News outlets in Maine and the Tahoe area have been good to the Women Who Dare project. Check out these features in the Pen Bay Pilot and the Tahoe Daily Tribune!
Strong funding and support from the Adventure Cycling Association