Vulnerability, Warts and Whiskers

Vulnerability isn’t a topic I thought I’d be exploring on this trip; though it’s an issue on every trip I’ve ever taken. Anytime we step out of our comfort zones we push against our personal boundaries; whether they be physical, intellectual, or emotional.

The physical vulnerability I anticipated. Living with epilepsy and brain injury I knew they would offer their unique challenges. Sharing the roads, often shoulder-less, with semis, logging trucks, people texting and driving, and holiday traffic, can be jarring and wear on your nerves. Most drivers give me space, every so often someone will crowd me to make a point. Tourist traffic on Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula was so prolific that the sound of cars steadily passing became numbing and energy sapping. One of the perks of towing your canine companions in a trailer is it is much more visible than a bicycle, and you can decorate it with reflective decals, flags, and flashers. It’s also three times as wide as the bicycle and motorists will give me a wider birth, most of the time.

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Crossing the Astoria-Megler bridge connecting Washington and Oregon.

Intellectual vulnerability: challenging your preconceived conceptions, expectations, route planning, and the soundness of your intellect. I thought I planned well; this trip has been bouncing around in my head for years. Despite being familiar with the route, I couldn’t control the weather or prevent several heat waves from hitting B.C. and the Olympic Peninsula. I was happily anticipating the cool misty weather of the northwest. It laid waste my expectations on how many miles I could cover. The heat zapped me, and I ended up taking quite a few extra rest days and covering fewer miles. Then, there’s Houston, my effervescent and unpredictable brain. He’s most mischievous when I’m tired or in a stimulating environment, which includes: bright or fluorescent lights, noise, and people. When Houston is tired, he’s a trickster. More on Houston and his shenanigans later.

Emotional vulnerability has ended up being by far the most challenging and unsettling. I know I have health limitations, and I work hard at compensating and managing them, really hard. It often feels like a full-time job. Sharing or admitting I’m struggling isn’t easy for me, and I often wait until it’s too late, I’m drained, confused, completely inside my head, and shut down emotionally. I become a befuddled old grandpa, chasing kids off my lawn. Intellectually I understand it’s better to fess up before it goes too far, but, even if I’m willing to let my guard down I often don’t realize it even if I’m not consciously trying to push through something. I’m not a lot of fun do be around when I’m in my catatonic state. When I get like that while on the road, I pull over, break out napping paraphernalia, and the girls and I will take a siesta. When I arrive in camp: pitch the tent, walk the girls, feed the girls, feed me, walk the girls, and crawl into the tent. I’m in bed sometimes by 7:30 pm, up at 5:30 or 6:30 am.

When I’m not touring I usually plan carefully: monitoring and managing my energy levels before I’m out and about in public. I’ve lived alone most of my adult life; I’m used to just being me, warts and whiskers when I’m home. At the end of the day, I have enough energy to do the basics and crawl into the tent.

Receiving help and support isn’t something I’m comfortable with either. I receive it awkwardly. I take it as a sign of weakness; people might find me needy, annoying, and pitiful. I also didn’t want to be a burden. I’ve lost a lot to the brain injury; my fierce independence and shredded dignity are all I feel I have left.

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Cape Lookout State Park was magical. I stayed on for four days to recharge my mental and physical batteries.

This trip so far, 625 miles, has had so many layers to it. Intense joy, so overwhelming I feel like I’ll burst, to such intense emotional turmoil that it opens the floodgates. I’ve cried out of joy and sorrow more on this trip than I have in years. I’m not a crier, though I might have to reconsider that belief. I find cycling hypnotic and meditative, soothing and restorative emotionally and physically. I wonder if that’s what’s causing my hardened shell to crack?

Week II

Another heat wave came through during the second week. I struggle in heat over 85, and I don’t think the pups are thrilled with it either. Rather than sap my limited physical resources I took extra rest days when the temperatures peaked. I am still waiting and looking for the cooler misty weather that the Olympic Peninsula is famous. Several fires started in Olympic NP; by the end of the day, my face was smudgy from the smoke. Olympic is beautiful, even when it’s toasty warm.

Outside of the park was another story. I was blown away by how much of the surrounding land had been clear cut and was in the various stages of regrowth. Areas with regrowth didn’t have the diversity of plant life; there was an absence of undergrowth, mosses, and ferns. As I cycled through I could feel when I was in old growth versus clearcut and regrowth areas. The temperature would drop significantly in the old growth forests as if someone had opened the door to a walk-in freezer. Regrowth clear cuts, even if the trees had grown significantly, the temperatures would soar, as if someone opened up a giant industrial dryer door.

Day 8,  August 20:

Rest day, took a second rest day to wait out heat wave, forecasted to break tomorrow, dip into 60’s.

Weather:   High 90’s

Highlight:  Sol Duc Hot Springs in Olympic National Park, followed by swimming in a beautiful crystal clear glacier-fed stream.  Magical.

Campground: Klahowya USFS Campground.

Sol Duc River, Olympic National Park
Sol Duc River, further upstream

Day 9, August 21:

DAY 9 PCBR 21 August copy

Klahowya to Hoh Rainforest Campground, Olympic NP

Miles:  35.5   Elevation: 3,031′

Weather:  50’s-60’s with misting and light rain.

Highlight:  the cool weather and the Hall of Mosses walk at Hoh Rainforest in Olympic NP.

Campground:  The Taj Mahal of campgrounds.  Our site was beautiful with a little meadow, little drop down to the picnic table in mossy ferny woods, then another drop down to area to pitch the tent.  A trail lead to the river, a milky glacier fed stream, and continued on along the bank.  In the morning two does and a fawn walked by our site.  One doe jumped up onto a downed tree to get a better look at the dogs.

Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park
Hall of Mosses trail, Olympic NP

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Hoh River with its milky glacier water.
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Walking the girls along the Hoh River.
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I’m taken by the lush, mossy, ferny-ness of Olympic NP.

Day 10, August 22:

DAY 10 PCBR 22 AUGUST copy

Hoh Rainforest to South Beach Campground, Olympic NP

Miles:  25

Elevation:  2,363′

Weather:  cool 60’s

Highlight:  moody weather and dinner on the deck at the Lodge overlooking the beach.  Half a mile north of the campground.

Campground:  open area, reminded me a little bit of the California beach campgrounds.  The Swiss couple Tess and Ben pitched their tent next to mine.  Huge trees washed up onto the beach, round pebble beach, rugged rough surf.  A treat for my canine companions.

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Swiss Ben and Tess, cycling from Anchorage to Ushuaia.
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South Beach campground, Olympic National Park. Here’s a close up of Tess and Ben’s setup.
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Bodhi tasting the weather, she opted to continue napping. My Georgia peach prefers warmer temps.
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South Beach, Olympic National Park.

 

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Dory enjoying a little off-leash time.
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Moody day on South Beach, Olympic National Park. View from the park concessioner’s lodge.

Day 11, August 23:

DAY 11 PCBR 23 August copy

South Beach to Willaby Creek USFS Campground,  Quinault Lake.

Miles:  30

Elevation:  2,846′

Weather:  50’s-60’s

Highlights:   Taking the dogs swimming in Quinault Lake, meeting Hellen & Norman from Montreal cycling to Ushuaia, Argentina, and waking up to Loon’s calling.

Campground:  Site 1 the first night.  Pretty little campground, but this site had the tent pad right next to the neighbor’s picnic table.  LOUD incessantly chatty types who didn’t go to bed until 1:30am.  Hellen and Norman from Montreal pitched their tent with us, the campground was full when they arrived at dusk.  Hellen introduced me to the idea of earplugs.

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Hellen and Norman from Montreal, they’re traveling from Calgary to Ushuaia. They shared the site with us last night.
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Impressive how compact all their gear ends up being once packed up. I’ll post a video clip later.

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Taking off!  You can follow Hellen and Norman’s tour to Ushuaia Argentina: Norman’s http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/rikimiki  and  Hellen’s http://www.tandemetcie.com
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Sisterly sunset affection.

Day 12, August 24:

Rest day

Highlight:  Swimming in Quinault, Loons calling, and breakfasting with Hellen & Norman.

Campground:  moved to site 12.  On the lake, great swimming, much quieter.

Smoke from the Olympic National Park fires make colorful sunsets.
The little beach off of our campsite.

Day 13, August 25:

DAY 13 PCBR 25 August copy

Lake Quinault to Hoquiam River RV Park.

Miles:  47  Elevation:  4,300  **Forgot to resume app and added miles and elevation missed via Google maps.

Weather:  high 90’s

Highlight:   Humptulip US F&W fish hatchery.

Campground:  A necessity, not a destination CG by any means.  Meh

Rainbow Trout at the fishery.
Rest stop. Bodhi showing why, even when her harness is hooked in to the trailer, we can’t ride with the door open. Madam likes to surf, balancing one leg on the trailer hitch.
One of the many, many, clearcuts I cycled past. It feels like you’re cycling through an oven where there aren’t any trees. You can feel the heat radiating from the exposed earth.
Siesta. Taking a break in a spot of shade. Bodhi showing off her napping super powers.
The cool breeze coming of the water was deliciously refreshing.

Day 14, August 26:

DAY 14 PCBR 26 AUGUST copy

Hoquiam to Kenanna RV Park

Miles:  33

Elevation:  1762’

Weather:  high 90’s

Highlight:  cool bridge, drawbridge, with wooden planks for cyclist/pedastrian walkway.

Campground:  Long but beautiful walk to the beach in tall grasses.  Waking to coyotes!

This girl can nap. She fell into a deep sleep within seconds of getting into the tent.

Cool old bridge with a wooden pedestrian/cyclist path. I don’t know what it is about bridges, but I love cycling over them.

Day 14, August  27:

Rest Day from heat.

Highlight:  wifi access,  House of Donuts in Westport.

Campground:  KenAnna RV Park no coyotes this morning 🙁

The walk to the beach was through tall grasses and wild flowers.
The walk to the beach was through tall grasses and wild flowers.

First Week

August 13-19th

The first week in maps and photos.  The few times I’ve had access to wifi I was too tired to write or post.  It’s unrealistic to try and catch up.  I’ll leave that for when the trip is over and I can post more details and essays from the journal I’m keeping.

Day 1, August 13: 

Day One 13 August 2016 copy

Capitano RV Park, Vancouver, BC, Canada to

Living Forest Campground, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, BC.

Miles:  16 miles

Elevation: 1,500′  

Weather:  90’s

Highlight:  Ferry ride from Vancouver to Nanaimo.

Campground:  On the bay, lovely setting.  Cafe that served breakfast, espresso drinks, and other light fare, outdoor seating on the deck overlooking the bay.

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Sea dogs
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Waking up from their naps as we approach, the sounds of the engines slowing down woke them.
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View from the little outdoor cafe’s deck.

Day 2, August 14:

DAY 2 PCBR 14 August copy

Nanaimo, BC to Osborne Bay RV Resort, BC

Miles: 27

Elevation gain: 2,000  

Weather 90’s

Highlight:  Riding a small section of the Trans-Canada Trail.

Campground:  Resort is a stretch.  Be sure to ask for a site on the bay, below.  Walkway along the bay, beach across the stream over a boardwalk bridge.  Avert your eyes from looking left at the factory.  Water is super warm and it was a huge plus to swim after a long hot 90’s ride.

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Pit stop for caffeine and dog stretch.
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The Trans-Canada Trail. Easy bit for cyclists and trailers. Soon the trail became narrow, hilly, and a bit sketchy for towing a trailer. I needed to dismount and ski/slide down to keep the bike and trailer from fish tailing. Glad for the taste of the trail though.
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Where the Trans-Canada Trail became a bit trailer-challenging.

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Osborne Bay, I think…
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Osborne Bay RV Resort. Low tide. View from the boardwalk that lead to the beach.
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Camp site view of the sunset.

 

Day 3, August 15:

DAY 3 PCBR 15 August copy

Osborn Bay to Goldstream Provincial Park, Crofton, BC.

Miles: 39

Elevation:  3,600  

Weather:  90’s

Highlight:  Changing  my first flat on the bike, the rear wheel.  Lucky unlucky, flat happened in front of the Dwight School on Shawinigan Lake.  Hotter than Hades so it was a welcome break.

Campground:  Lovely, lush green.  Well spaced sites.  Huge gorgeous old Maples with enormous leaves.  Trail to a crystal clear swimming hole framed by ferns.  Stayed two nights.

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The offending nail
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Bodhi hanging while I wrestled with changing the tire. Her favorite perch is at the end of picnic tables. She’s guarding my solar charger.
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Temps reached the high 90’s. Asked the families at this little beach if they’d mind if I took the girls for a quick cooling-off dip off to the side.
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Swimming hole at Goldstream Provincial Park.

 

Day 4:  August 16:

Off Day

Bike repairs:  back tire issue and gears tweaked.  Joined MEC, the Canadian cousin to REI.  Bought tubes, CO2 canisters, and whatnot.

Highlight:  Dim Sum in China Town, Victoria.

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First sign of autumn. These giant maple leaves were lovely and impressive as they slowly floated down from the giant 100 year old plus maple trees.
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Fabulous treat to have dim sum.

 

Day 5, 17 August:

Day 5 PCBR Part 1 copyDay 5 PCBR Overview 15 August copy Day 5 PCBR Part 3 copy

Goldstream Provincial Park to Victoria ferry terminal.

Ferry to Port Angeles, Washington, USA.

Miles:  21  Elevation:  2,000 

Weather:  80’s

Highlight:  Ferry and hanging out and riding around Victoria.

Campground:  Elwha Damn RV Park.  Tent sites are nice, some quite private.  Owner gave me quarters for the shower.

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Victoria!
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Dory having a good roll and stretch.
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Hanging with Janet as we wait our turn to board the ferry.
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Impressive how many bicycles were on the ferry.
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The Sisters in-between admirers. They received quite a bit of attention for the dog-lovers onboard.
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The Sisters took turns being out and about, hobnobbing with fellow travelers.
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Lovely little covered bridge on the bike path leading out from Port Angeles.

 

Day 6, August 18: 

Day 6 PCBR Take II copy
Oops. Made a wrong turn out of the campground. It took me four miles and some steep hills before I caught my navigational error. Janet came to the rescue and redeposited at the junction.

DAY 6 PCBR Take I copy

Elwha RV Park to Klahowya USFS Campground

Miles:  33

Elevation:  7,000

Weather:  High 90’s

Highlight:  Swimming in Crescent Lake.  Intense sapphire blue and turquoise water.

Campground:  Lush with giant mossy bearded trees and lots of ferns, along a shallow river.

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Day 7,  August 19:

Rest day

Weather:  high 90’s

Highlight:  Swimming at Crescent Lake

Woohoo!

Woohoo!

Despite being the eve of the start, I slept like the dead. Though Capilano RV Park is practically in the heart Vancouver, BC, it was quiet. It’s not the sort of campground people make raging campfires, drinking and howling into the wee hours. They’re out touring Vancouver, kayaking, hiking, cycling, all day, and come back to the campground to sleep. There was everything from small tents like mine, Roadtreks like Janet’s, to big million dollar RVs. Campers and RVs of every age, shape, style, and size, packed in intimately like sardines.

We rolled in after two long hard days on the road; learning the hard way that the cities in western Oregon and Washington have been discovered and exceed the limits of I-5. Washington on I-5 was devastatingly slow and congested, with bumper to bumper crawls around the larger communities. We arrived at the border crossing bleary eyed but ecstatic. A lot has changed since I lived in the Seattle area in 2003. Whippersnappers.

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Oy, the traffic was brutal.

 

We barely backed into our site before sundown. I fed the girls, pitched the tent, took them for their evening stroll, and crawled into my sleeping bag. I didn’t have it in me to prep and pack in the dark; I was done for the day. Despite getting up at dawn, I wasn’t ready to roll until 10:00 am. Prepped our wattle bottles, my concoction of electrolytes, and, water, neat, for the girls. I loaded the panniers with snacks, lunch, warm clothes, rain gear, spare parts for the bike and trailer, a DSLR camera, my iPhone, a waterproof Sony point and shoot, laptop, leashes, water bowl, dog bed, camp chair, sunscreen, etc.

We took our “First Day” photos, and I pushed off. Joy. Pure joy as I pedaled out of the campground and over the bridge towards West Vancouver’s ferry terminal. I chose the scenic route that hugged the coastline, though it offered very few views of the bay. Very quickly I was grateful that I wasn’t carrying camping gear and food; it was a rolling landscape with quite a few steep graded climbs, with rewarding descents. Bodhi and Dory were ecstatic and chirped, squeaked, and woofed the entire ride.

It was amazing to see how many cyclists were out on the road; I easily saw a 100, if not more in just nine miles. Those riding in the same direction zoomed past me effortlessly. The road shoulder bore evidence of their regular presence, pieces of bike inadvertently shed along the way. If I didn’t need the momentum going up and down, I would have stocked up on escaped, intact flashers and water bottles.

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Love the Canadian mailboxes.  Canadian friend Caprice told me they wrap the mailboxes to easily remove and replace wrapping when tagged/graffiti’d.  Clever & colorful.

Aussies made their presence known by cheerfully calling out “good on ya’s!” At the top of one hill, trying to decipher the signs for the ferry, two young women stopped and asked me where I was heading. “Mexico!” I happily chirped. They looked at each other, then uncomfortably looked at me, then at each other. Finally one broke the news, “you do know you’re going north?” I told them I was taking the ferry, which was north, they looked visibly relieved and pushed off after wishing me well.

Once I had the ferry ticket in hand, we rewarded the girls with a swim in the bay, while we waited to board. I was given a one-time passcode to the cyclist and dog owners’ gate. We ruffians were the first to board; it was a hoot to ride into the belly and the length of the ferry. Grabbed a few essentials and the girls and I went to the open deck on the bow where we met up with Janet.

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It was a breathtaking trip with views of the various mountain ranges off in the distance. The sky was a deep sapphire blue, brilliantly sunny, and the sea perfectly calm, a rare event I was told. One other brave soul lasted outside with us. Dory took a shine to him and waited until he fell asleep before sneaking up and bathing him in kisses. Fortunately, he was open to her affections; inviting her to snuggle up and join him.

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Once docked, we rolled off to complete the last leg. It was a perfect way to start the trip, a short day with the novelty of a ferry to break it up. It was uncomfortably warm for the ride; BC was in the throes of a heat wave. Of course. I seem to be a magnet for heatwaves when I tour. Despite watching the weather for months, longingly; coveting the temps in the 60’s and 70’s. When I arrived, the temps jumped into the high 90’s. It would be a murderously hot first week.

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Regardless, it was a thrill to be on the road, a novelty to be on Vancouver Island, and despite the heat, I felt a deep cellular joy as I pedaled through my first day, with the girls’ chirps and yips as my soundtrack.

Card Punched?

My last bike tour ended with a seizure; this tour is beginning with one. I normally have tonic-clonic seizures–I will gaze unresponsively, temporarily forget who I am, where I am, and what I’m doing. Or, I’ll be talking to someone, and my brain hears gobbly-gook, or I’ll speak gibberish.

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I think I was 12 the last time my knees looked like this. 🙂

Occasionally, usually with gaps of 1-2 years, I’ll have a grand mal seizure. This is what most people think is epilepsy. Full or partial body convulsing. Fortunately, I know when I’m about to have a grand mal; I feel odd and yellow-y. It gives me a few seconds to stop and prepare. This time, I was talking to someone who I didn’t feel comfortable seizing in front of, the tremors started, and I tried to make a run for a more private location. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking, you can’t seize and run. LOL. I only managed a few strides before my legs gave out. I vaguely recall landing on my knees and elbow and trying to crawl. Gratefully it was quick, and I didn’t lose consciousness.

It is an intensely personal and intimate experience. I feel very vulnerable; my body and mind are not under my control. Afterward my body feels like I ran a marathon and my mind is foggy and confused. I sob, overwhelmed with confusion and completely disorientated emotionally and physically. It takes about 30 minutes for the fog to lift, and hours to start thinking clearly. It can take days to recover energetically.

Last seizure I ended up with a concussion and two sprained wrists, that’s the reason I had to abandon the tour. If it wasn’t for the injury, I could have taken a few days off and resumed. This time gratefully, the only injuries were deep abrasions on my ankles, knees, elbows, and muscle soreness. I look like a four old who took a tumble off her scooter. Interestingly, my leg muscles feel as if I had run hills. It’s bizarre, and oddly fascinating how my body feels post seizure.

I’m hoping that my seizure pattern stays the course, and I won’t be due for another one for at least another year. Ridiculous as this might seem, the fear of having a seizure that was hovering in my thoughts, has lightened. It’s not logical, but I choose to believe I’ve had my seizure card punched, and I’m done for the year. I’ll still be careful, watch my energy levels, and take the necessary precautions, but part of me feels a bit liberated. Got that out of the way.

It brought to light how much I do worry and think about it, and how self-conscious I am. I had a grand-mal in front of someone once who didn’t respect my privacy and wasn’t trustworthy. It was a bad one, and I was out of it for a while. Fortunately I was in a doctor’s office. The last thing I remember is this person shouting, her mouth gaping open like a bass going for a fly, as the waves started to take over and I went unconscious. The Uruguayan healthcare professionals assumed she was a family member, didn’t realize she was a coworker and disclosed private information to her. She, in turn, acted as the town crier to my coworkers and employer. She recounted the event in colorful detail as if it was a source of entertainment at social gatherings.

It was a violation and left a lasting impression. It’s bad enough to have to manage your life as an epileptic, but, adding the stress of someone witnessing you in a vulnerable, intimate moment and abusing it, adds another complicated emotional layer. Before that experience, people had always been kind, and it never occurred to me that could be an issue.

Fortunately, it’s not in my nature to cower. Though it’s a shadow roaming around in the back of my head, the part of me that is feisty and determined is more powerful. The emotions are jumbled, but the determination to live life fully usually prevails.

I wasn’t going to break out the gray or purple ribbons for this tour: gray for brain tumor and purple for epilepsy, but I am now. My last trip it helped to educate people about brain tumors and epilepsy as well as connect with people who were experiencing it personally. I don’t proselytize– if someone asks about the ribbon, I’ll share my story. Interestingly, the people who ask about the ribbons almost always had someone in their life who were recently diagnosed with one or the other, and it felt good to help ease their fears and offer them support. It’s hard to understand how it impacts your life until you’re in the thick of it. It helps me see that although I’ll never be who I was BT (before tumor/brain injury), I can see the progress I’ve made.

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Gray ribbon for brain tumors.

I’m excited and ready for the trip to begin. I’ll take time to make up some ribbons. Janet’s Roadtrek has returned from the shop and is ready to go. Everything, despite the obstacles, is coming together. Today we’ll pack and prep for tomorrow’s departure. Woohoo.

Mexico or Bust August 2016

Images from the Adventure Cycling PCR maps.

I’m a week or so out from cycling the Pacific Coast Bike Route. Epilepsy and the challenge of having TBI (traumatic brain injury) have kept me from bike touring the last two years. A failed solo bike tour, towing my two dogs from Santa Monica to the Mexico border, and across to Gainesville Florida, had to be abandoned at mile 863. Just shy of the New Mexico and Arizona line I had a seizure; I ended up with a concussion and two sprained wrists.

That gave me a healthy dose of reality. After the months it took to recover it took several months more before I felt brave enough to get back on my bike. I started out only riding on remote dirt roads with little, if any, road traffic. Poco a poco I inched my way back to riding on roads with the dream of doing another long tour.

My neurologist read me the riot act, asked me if I could see in hindsight that it was poor judgment to strike out on a solo tour across the country with unmanaged epilepsy and TBI. Yes, hindsight is 20/20. If he meant to scare me off the idea, he succeeded, temporarily, it didn’t however completely squash the dream.

I’ve since been floundering, struggling with my health issues and depression: unable to work, not having a sense of place or a sense of purpose. I’ve missed being near the water and immersed in nature. I feel most peaceful and at home in my skin in wilder places or near the ocean. I can’t do many things that I used to love to do, or feel accomplished doing, but I can sit on a saddle and pedal a bike, albeit slowly. Being back on the West Coast has me longing to be in motion and bike touring again.

Magically a friend stepped forward who is also in transition. Janet needed time and a reason to slow down to explore what she wanted to do in the next chapter in her life. She offered to be the sag wagon for the PCR, Vancouver to Mexico tour. Her timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

**Update As of September 4th I’ve been cycling unsupported. Logistically it proved to be too challenging and stressful for us to travel together. The holidays and weekends were challenging because campgrounds filled quickly. As a cyclist, I could find a site at a hiker/biker site, sites most state and national parks put aside for people cycling or backpacking. That left Janet in a lurch, though. Private campgrounds often are geared towards RVers and prohibit tents. Finding a campground that wasn’t full and receptive to both RV and tent was limiting our options. We had to plot days in advance and often what we planned, what the weather offered, and how I was feeling physically, weren’t aligned.

It was making the trip stressful, for each of us differently. Traveling under stress is no way to travel. Janet was worrying about scoring a campsite and had to rush out in the morning, pass up opportunities to stop and explore and savor the morning’s journey. If something caught her eye, she’d make a mental note and hope to be able to retrace her steps.

I was feeling pressure to make campgrounds on days I wasn’t feeling strong, or, needed to stop short on days I was thriving. This is pressure I put on myself. It made for a stagnant way for both of us to travel. Loosening things up, gave Janet an opportunity to wander untethered, visit friends, explore without anxiety. I can pace myself now on how I’m feeling and adjust to what challenges the terrain presents.

I appreciate the time Janet and I were a team; it was fun, and a novelty for me, to share an adventure. It was also comforting to know, especially on the days the temps were sweltering, that someone had my six. We’re still planning to meet up occasionally along the coast, and I’m looking forward to catching up and sharing our adventures with each other.

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On a day with all the stars aligned, I can tow the girls 50 miles. However, a more realistic day is 30, less if there is a lot of climbing. That’s beyond slow, that’s a crawl, and not many people would be willing, or patient enough, to travel at that pace. Fortunately, Janet’s a talented woman with many interests. It’ll give her time to explore locally, read, paint, write, bird, and hike. She’ll be traveling comfortably in her very cool Mercedes Roadtrek with her adventurous sidekick, Elsie, the cat. We’ll be quite a menagerie.

There have been technological advances since my last tour. iPhone’s “find friends” app will help locate me in case something goes awry. My co-conspirator has a fully functioning brain and can do the mental heavy lifting. Map reading mishaps won’t set me back hours, or days, because the route is 1,800 miles pretty much following the same road along the coast. Keep the ocean to my right should be fairly easy to remember. Not needing to carry all my gear will lighten the load I’m towing by 50 pounds. Now I’ll just have the two pups, our water, rations, and the canine caboose weighing in around 110 pounds. Hopefully, that’ll mean less pushing and more pedaling up hills.

Circumstances such as they are, this is a tremendous gift. It gives me direction, a sense of purpose, and a mini-adventure that is me-sized and me-appropriate. It’ll combine my passions, photography, nature, time with my pups, birding, and cycling. Almost all the travel I’ve done in the past has been solo or with my furry companions. It’ll be a unique opportunity to share a little adventure with a friend who is also in transition. Hopefully, along the way, we’ll each have the epiphanies we are seeking, and at the very least enjoy our individual and shared journeys.

Chirping Canines video link.

Getting a double kickstand installed.

 

Added flasher to my helmut.

 

Dory inspects the new Brooks Saddle.

 

The girls love catching all the smells and seeing the sights.

 

Dory and I having a moment

 

Bridge on Bear Creek Greenway

 

View from a bridge on Old Highway 99.

 

pushing up to Old Highway 80 from Viejas

 

 

Campland on the Bay, San Diego: Tough Day with Perks

Today was a tough day. I had a total brain blank 10 miles into the day and went in the wrong direction after missing a turn, causing me to do a big climb twice. I was near tears because I couldn’t “see” the map. Even Google audio prompts didn’t make sense. I started to panic and then just shut down. A man in a BMW pulled up to me while I was in the bike lane parked against the curb, and ripped into me. His timing couldn’t have been worse. I went 3+ miles off course in steep terrain, with no leg juice left, on what was supposed to be a 38-mile day.

A little background would help here; I had a craniotomy to remove a brain tumor 12 years ago and, as a result, have brain damage, my “executive skill set” took a hit. One of the challenges I have now is I can’t read maps. I look at a map, but I can’t absorb and process it correctly. It’s like trying to read kanji. To decipher a map I have to patiently break it down into digestible pieces. If I’m tired, multitasking, or already confused about something, I can’t even do that.

Yesterday it was very hot, hilly, with aggressive drivers and traffic. L.A. was a breeze in comparison. My brain was completely overloaded, and the twists and turns that the ACA map takes through La Jolla was challenging.

I just tried to let it be, adjusted by shortening the day. Luckily I found a place in striking distance that was affordable, albeit an expensive resort campground. Four pools, jacuzzi, laundry, hot “free” showers, electricity, and water. I felt so fragile when I pulled up, the counter guy was super sweet and helpful, and that helped change the air around me.

The brain blank was scary, emotional, and a little concerning. But, this is just how Houston is. (My brain’s nickname is Houston, as in “Houston we have a problem”.)

As a former backcountry ranger who regularly relied on maps, it can be an emotionally tough blow at times because I used to do it with such ease. In the past when I looked at a topo map I saw a three-dimensional world come to life.

I need to remember on this trip to sit quietly and go slowly in tiny steps and try to break down the map. Today there were a lot of weird turns and detours through La Jolla, which, by the way, is NOT on my potential desirable places to live list. It’s a hell realm. Yuck.

Fortunately, the trip doesn’t have a lot of tricky navigation or obviously I couldn’t do it. Today was just a reminder that 1. Houston will be Houston; respect that and adjust accordingly. 2. I’m not in stellar shape; accept that and be patient as it improves. The bottom line is I need to be patient, more compassionate and have more realistic expectations.

It wasn’t all bad, pedaled through some beautiful coastal areas and someone pointed out the famous San Diego dog beach. Enjoyed watching the furry sisters racing around and frolicking in the water. Bodhi and Dory individually made some new buddies.

And I got to soak in the jacuzzi (yahoo!) with a woman and man with green hair who had enough tats and piercings to make a metal detector explode.

There’s always a silver lining

Debating about whether or not to go to the border, so close. But, part of me is afraid I’ll just want to cross and start pedaling. The urge to go south is REALLY strong. But today was a wake up call that I need to be more realistic and go slowly, stay within my safety zone, sort of ish.

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Off leash dog beach near San Elijo
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Bodhi joining in on a game of fetch.
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Bodhi in classic Jack Russell form
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The expression on this dog’s face–
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Feeling fast
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Dory’s signature post swim sand bath. Our tent will be a sandbox by morning.
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The rig
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Approaching La Jolla. Little did I know.
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Scored a bag of Orijen dog food. This is an awesome pet food company.  High quality, locally sourced, organic, and grass-fed when possible.  It’s a Canadian company, check them out.  
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Morning at Campland on the Bay. At night I store the panniers in the dog trailer and Bodhi likes to wait for breakfast perched on top of her future breakfast.
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My office. A very kind maintenance man lent me an extension cord to move the office to the picnic.
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The sisters ripping it up.

Short Day with a twist

 

I was planning on a short day to give my knee a rest, but the Universe had something else in mind. The State of California closed Onofre State Campground early and didn’t post the closure on the campground website. When I rolled up to the entry kiosk, I received the news without enthusiasm.

20+ miles to the next campground, turning my short day into my longest day. The kiosk gal was great though and turned it around for me. She insisted on replacing my water with cold water for the extra miles ahead. I rallied, and it became a challenge instead of a disappointment.

I had just enough daylight left to pull it off.

I left Doheny Campground at 6:30 a.m. but had lingered at Starbucks thinking I had a short day. The sisters and I were interviewed by Road Warriors 360 for a YouTube channel, the creator, Jeff is an interesting, quirky guy. When he asked me “why” I was touring, my mind swirled with dozens of reasons, but I couldn’t put the why into words.

Hours and a lifetime later, I rolled into Carlsbad Campground just as the sun was setting, knee throbbing, but brimming with a sense of accomplishment. I had hauled 160 lbs of dog and gear 40 miles despite being in questionable shape.

Fed the gals, set up the tent, showered, skipped dinner and crawled into the tent. It took some decompressing via Facebook to finally rally to puff up the Thermarest. The sisters fell asleep the moment they curled up. I don’t think anyone moved until sunrise.

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Sigh. No notice of the early closure on the campground website.
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Dory making a rare front appearance. Normally she lounges like a princess. Through Camp Pendleton she was up front sniffing and wagging alongside Bodhi. Bodhi is usually wagging and nose to the wind, only taking short naps.
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In my defense I wasn’t pedaling in order to take a quick snap shot, I was going at least 7 mph. 😉 Camp Pendleton wasn’t the most scenic ride.
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A woman training a seeing-eye dog pegged the sisters and the bike as a good training opportunity and did several passes. Each time I held my breath hoping Dory’s simple brain wouldn’t fritz. Dory made me proud.
An inhabited section of today’s ride.

 

 

 

 

McGrath Campground, Oxnard, CA

McGrath was a trippy campground. It was officially closed but sort of open to hiker/cyclists, if you knew they had that caveat and if you happened to stumble on someone near the gate. I arrived to find the gate locked and impassable. In frustration, I called the campground and got a VM and left a frustrated VM. Then, like magic, the host appeared and let me in as he was leaving.

The campground was empty save two campground host couples. One couple was packing up; it was their last day.

It was ghost townish and looked abandoned and way past the expiration date. Eerie to see a campground so naked and empty. That said it was super fun too, no leash law for the girls. They had free reign and were beside themselves with joy with their new found freedom. They set to exploring instantly, never straying too far from camp. They visited the hosts and their dogs first and fanned out from there.

After I had put up the tent, we walked to the beach. A longer hotter walk than I anticipated with evil little star shaped seeds that bit into flesh and paw. The surf was crazy rough, rough enough to throw fist size rocks at one’s ankles. Yes, fist size and larger. It seemed a sadistic surf, luring one in and then blasting sensitive ankles with large stones. I tried to tough it out, but the waves and their stones were relentless. I splashed myself down from head to toe to at least cool down and get a feel of the ocean.
Even Bodhi, who loves the water, wanted nothing to do with it. They ran through the tail edge of the surf to freshen up, but there was no swimming.

We made a disappointed retreat to the campground.

Beautiful little mini wetland alongside the campground. There was ducks shoulder to shoulder, an aquatic duck version of Jones Beach. There was barely any space on the surface. When they spied the girls they took off with a lot of squawking and quacking, forming a thick cloud of duck chaos. There seemed to be a variety of ducks in the mix.

A little reluctant to admit this—but I set the picnic table on fire trying out the MSR Whisperlite International stove for the first time. I would roll my eyes at any camper who was foolish enough to take equipment on a trip without testing it beforehand. And there I was, so unfamiliar with the stove I lit up the picnic table.

It wasn’t engulfed in flames, but there was a healthy patch of flame about the surface area of an adult hand. My brain is challenged by things like diagrams and instructions. Clearly it wasn’t very present for the initial lighting of the stove. I came to realize I had the stove upside down, so when I primed it, I was, in reality, priming the picnic table. Oops. Is this how picnic tables end up with those burn hollows?

When the table lit up, I tossed the entire stove onto the sand. I blew furiously at the table while frantically fanning with my hands. Flames out, back to the stove, still burning on the sand. Picked it up, it flared up, and I instantly had a vision of myself without eyebrows and eyelashes. (This happened once while lighting a stove in NYC.) Mercifully it went out.

People with brain damage should probably stick to stoves they are familiar with, lesson learned.

Painstakingly went through the directions, googled a video on YouTube. Success. It makes a big difference having the stove right side up. Who knew?

Beautiful cool night serenaded by strange piercing birdsong throughout the night. Despite off-tune birds, I slept well.

The morning was beautiful; the lighting was moody from the mist that was still lingering from last night.

 

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Setting up camp at McGrath Campground, Oxnard

 

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Love these funky coastal trees.
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Ghost campground
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Little wetland area alongside the campground.
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Starting to play around again with B&W.
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Anyone know if this fall color or year round? Not familiar with local flora.
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Girls were in heaven, off leash with dunes, water and an empty campground to explore.
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Mist came rolling in like a white wall around 4pm.

 

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Bodhi’s quest for the highest and softest perch has been realized