Robin on the Road in Trerice Cornwall, UK

Robin on the Road in Trerice Cornwall, UK
Robin on the Road in Trerice Cornwall, UK

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Anxiety, depression and the spectre of suicide Part II


On depression, Anxiety and the spectre of Suicide

Part II

I wake up most mornings with a start. Feels like a million butterflies all launch themselves at once and start flying around in my stomach. And then my head starts spinning and the thinking begins. Ugh!!

I get outta bed pretty quick. If I lay there too long the thinking gets dangerous. It's like swimming around  in shark infested water. This leads to an insidious paralyses. Once I get moving it's not so bad. When I say, "moving" I don't just mean walk to the coffee pot and turn it on. I need to walk, run, swim or ride my bike. Lately, I've been experimenting with Yoga. It can get my heart rate up, but these days it's really all about  the cycling.
 "Why I ride". Simply put, it's because I can.

"I can!"

In the Spanish language "can" as in "can do" is expressed as a verb. The infinitive of the verb "can" as in "can do" is "poder". It's the same word for "power".

Cycling directs all that free floating energy.  Cycling and movement in general is part of my solution to the paralyses I experience. 

But the real pain in the ass is the depression. Many people who don't experience it have no idea what it feels like. Here is an example: Put a large, heavy wool blanket in warm water. Leave it there, let it get good and soaked. Take it out of the water, don't wring it out, it just let some of the water run-off. Put it over your head and go to work, drive your car, eat toast, or just get up from where you're sitting. Yeah, it's like that.

Who. The. Fuck. Would. Choose. To. Live. Like. That????

Lots of people. Every day thousands of people are experiencing this. And do you know what happens after wearing that blanket for a few hours? Pain. Pain in the neck (literally), pain between the shoulders, headaches and finally, exhaustion. And if that is not bad enough, there is thinking that follows. OH, THE THINKING!!! Ever heard of KFUK Radio? That's the station. There is an evil DJ in there who spins doom and gloom. Said DJ also berates listeners for... well... listening. Eventually, the DJ says, "Go ahead... Quit. Why bother? It is never going to get better".

It took me the better part of ten years to shut that DJ down. It took another ten to change the station.

I want people to know that a high quality of life is possible. I didn't know this for a long, long time. I self-medicated myself with lots of booze and illicit drugs. Some of it was fun and it allayed the anxiety. Eventually, it stopped working and things just got worse. I tried to stop but I couldn’t. Not on my own. I’m not really sure how it happened, but it did. I chalk it up to divine intervention. I believe that a benevolent Creator of all things showed me grace and compassion. And I'm trying to pay that forward. I've been clean and sober for twenty four years. Those twenty four years have been extremely difficult at times and incredibly joy filled!

But my work didn’t stop there. Once the never ending party got old I was left with the same factors that got me into it in the first place. I worked very hard at getting my head and my heart screwed on straight. And more importantly I had a lot of help. A LOT! I don’t need to get into the “why” of it. As in, “Why am I so fucked up?” It doesn’t matter now. My good friend Annie says that “why” is just an excuse to relinquish responsibility.  That’s not to say that all folks who suffer will find the same relief. I had to learn to advocate for myself. And this is a key point! When things really began to unravel, I took a risk, became vulnerable and got help. LOTS. It has taken an army of friends, family, professionals and my beloved recovery community. I love you guys!   We are just one big happy, dysfunctional family.

After years of talk therapy, EMDR and lots of other adjunct therapies, I still felt like shit. We tried drugs. It’s been about seven years and they really help. Not just any drugs, specific drugs, prescribed by a doctor. They work fairly well. I can function (sort of). I still feel like I don’t really fit into the mainstream and probably never will. But I’m learning to be OK with that.



There is a myth floating around out there that sufferers are responsible for their circumstance. That they are somehow at fault and have failed in life somewhere. NOT TRUE!!!  I do believe we ARE responsible for how we respond to our circumstances. Whatever they may be. Shit does happen that we have no control over. And people all over the world deal with violence, corruption and live in deplorable conditions. Neither is this their fault. But that discussion is for another time.

I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like for Kate in those final months, weeks, days and hours. Did she believe it was hopeless, that she was a burden to everyone else? How come she’s dead am I’m not? Why do people NOT seek help? It’s out there.

I’m not one to prescribe solutions for anyone else. Folks need to find their own way. This is what works for me. And anyone who wants to engage in dialogue and arguments about pharmaceuticals, I invite you to step into my world. Or better yet, soak that blanket; wear it for an hour, a week, a decade.  

I don't take any day free from this misery for granted. I worked pretty damn hard to get here. And I HAD A LOT OF HELP.... I want to stress that point. "I HAD A LOT OF HELP"!

There was no way I was ever going to get out alive on my own. None of us will. Open up Facebook or a newspaper. Someone a month ago committed suicide. Someone next month will commit suicide.

We cannot be healed in isolation. I’m hoping that I can spread the love, healing and wisdom I’ve gained. A high quality of life is possible. I’m riding my bicycle because I can…

In memory of Kate (Saturday) Robinson Brown

Thanks for reading…

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Part II
Well, I almost had part II written when it disappeared from my notes.
If I didn't think faster than I could write by hand, I wouldn't have this problem.
I thought it was pretty good too.
Back to the drawing board.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Anxiety, Depression and the Spectre of Suicide

Part I:
For those of you who don't know, I'm currently cycling around Australia. I've been here since the end of February. It's been an incredible journey. The variety of lands and people is mind blowing! 
While here, I learned that a good friend of mine had taken her own life. She was a gray hair like me, very intelligent, a fellow nomad. And like me I think she felt a little out of place and was trying to find home. Robyn Davidson sums it up very well for me in her book, Tracks. "There are two kinds of nomads. Those that are comfortable anywhere and those who feel comfortable nowhere. I was one of them."
I was saddened by the news of Kate's death. But oddly once the initial shock wore off, I wasn't surprised.  I had made it a point to visit her when I was in Colorado in the fall. She told me she thought she was feeling depressed. She was in a big transition. And winter in Colorado is tough. I gave her some phone numbers of local therapists who had been very helpful to me over the years. By June she was done.
Her death won't have been in vain. In fact, it's the spark that's ignited the fire under my own ass to tell this story. The one I have not really shared. Ironic since the whole point of this blog was really supposed to be the narrative of how I arrived where I am right now. Which is writing a blog post on my phone while my bike and I are traveling on a westbound Greyhound in northern Australia. I'm headed to some gravel road adventures in the Kimberly.
I can only do this in small bits. I hope you'll see this through with me. 

This is part I:
Some days, things can seem really hard... Loneliness on the road, uncertainty about where I'll sleep tonight, hopefully just a swag under the stars.  The night sky here is unbelievable by the way! I thought Utah and Montana were something! Wow! But I digress. Outside in the bush is where I am most comfortable. But today, this isn't about me. This is about Kate and  Charlotte and about a dozen other women I know who took their own lives recently. People choose suicide rather than live in the pain and isolation of the absolute certainty that things will not get better. This is called "hopelessness". It is one of the shittiest feelings one can ever experience. I know personally just how shitty it is. For all the people I know or have not met yet who believe that the only relief is death by suicide, this is for you.
My journey with the shittiest feeling ever began around 1995. Might have been earlier but I was too stoned to notice. I was 33 and had found my way into sobriety two years earlier. I was living in a beautiful part of the country. I had access to the incredible forests, rivers, lakes and mountains of the Sierra Nevada of central California. I was broke and couldn't keep a job. But I was living on an apple orchard taking care of the trees in exchange for low cost rent. It was beautiful and I loved caring for the 180 semi dwarf apple trees. I learned a lot about apples and irrigation. It was a very cool life. For a while.
But then came that morning when I was startled awake by a panic attack that felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I flew out of bed, my heart was racing and I was sweaty. It was like something huge and ominous had just scared the living daylights out of me. But all was quiet. It was a typical beautiful morning. Sunshine, birds and a cool morning breeze. My home was secure enough. I had been a little nervous about living in the boonies alone at first and a friend lent me her 410 shotgun. Thing was called a snake charmer. Boy howdy! It was reassuring even though I barely knew the ass end of a gun from the opening where the hurt comes out.
The panic attacks continued on and off for weeks. Then they became more frequent and started hanging around longer. It became a consistent terrible anxiety that I couldn't shake. I started making stupid, impulsive decisions based on the anxiety. 
Then Buddy came into my life. He was the big black dog that rescued me. He was very grounding. I could never just abandon him. So my decision making skills began to improve. I got rid of that stupid shot gun shortly thereafter. I'd probably just end up blowing my own foot off with that damn thing. Buddy was much more intimidating even though he hardly ever barked and was a really sweet guy. Well mannered and a real gentleman he would get in the middle and stop other dogs from fighting. He was big and very strong. 
But I still lived in this constant state of panic. It had been months. It sucked! I couldn't focus on anything. 
Things shifted again. One day about noon I just felt exhausted. My head was hurting and I had an inexplicable pain in my neck and shoulders. I had to lay down even though I thought it was lame and fought it like the dickens. This. THIS began to go on and on and on. It was interfering with work. In addition to the apple orchard I got a job as a grunt and ditch digger for a landscape contractor. I liked the work. I was outside all day and the work kept me physically active. I was recovering physically from the years of drinking and becoming very strong. As you might imagine, I was in rough shape when I sobered up. Seven thousand gallons of cheap vodka and eight million cigarettes hadn't  done much for my physical health.  I quit smoking three months into my sobriety.
Anyway, after months of panic and agony, I went to a local health clinic. After an initial assessment, the PA thought we should try some drugs. I was game.
Feeling like I'd been shot at and missed and shit at and hit ALL THE FUCKING TIME was no fun. What did I have to lose? 
The first thing we tried gave me a seizure one night. That one didn't work. We tried several others. We finally settled on an old school tricyclic. I don't know the pharmacology and have no idea what that means. But they still use it to treat bed wetting in older children. 
After several weeks,  in addition to the fog lifting and the panic subsiding I didn't wet the bed. It was a win-win.
The next two or three years were good. I continued caring for the apples, found an Adult Education Course and a received a certificate as an Emergency Medical Technician taking night classes. I wanted to get into the outdoor industry so I was taking steps in that direction. Making better decisions for my future and even planning. Never did that before. 
A few months later, I received a sizable scholarship from the National Outdoor Leadership School to attend a  course for
the over twenty five crowd.  I'd always loved the outdoors and the sixteen days backpacking above the Arctic Circle in Alaska confirmed what I already knew about how not to die in the outdoors. It also gave me confidence to pursue a career that I hoped would be meaningful. It took a few years but I did get a job as a guide eventually. Things were unfolding. But they were also unraveling. At this point in my life the shit had not fully hit the fan. That would come later. Stay tuned for Part II
Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 14, 2017

...With A Side of Humble Pie

Can I Get An Ass Whoopin’ With a Side of Humble Pie?


Cycling the Tasmanian Trail


Started out innocuous enough, a quick 240 mile ride across Tasmania. The Tasmanian Trail Association website gave a brief overview and offered some photos. They suggested buying their online guide book for twenty six dollars. But I could only do that by joining the association for a yearly membership. That would cost thirty bucks more. By joining the association and buying the guide book, I could also download the most recent GPX file to my phone or my GPS. It also gave me the option to “rent” a key that opened all the gates that I would have to pass through. It would be a total of about seventy six dollars.

I elected to forgo all that. I’m a cheap skate and didn’t want to spend the money. I asked myself, “How difficult could it be?” After all I reasoned I rode the Baja Divide with not too much trouble. I used both my phone and GPS to navigate with an open source download. The folks that provided the GPX also wrote up some detailed notes on distances, resupply locations and notes on water. All this I took for granted.

The day came and I set off. My friends gave me a ride to Dover farther south on the Island. It was still
early when I got on my bike by the water and began following the GPX track I downloaded from an open source. I found it in an article in an online magazine written two years ago. I like to think I’m pretty smart. There was this needling in the back of my mind. It was the feeling of knowing the route may have changed in two years. Never the less, the first two kilometers were easy enough. I came to the huge “Welcome to the Tasmanian Trail” sign at the bottom of a huge, steep hill. I started climbing and came to my first gate. It was fairly new and I being on the downhill side the top of the gate was level with my chin or thereabouts. I had to take the two full food bags off the front forks to lift it. It was tough work. Climbed some more and came to the second gate. Same thing, remove food bags and lift the bike etc. When I crested the hill, the trail all but disappeared.

My GPS said it was right here! Not s sign. The trail just disappeared into tall grass. I’d heard all about Australia’s numerous venomous snakes. Australia boasts seven or nine of the world’s most deadly or some such statistic. I think Tasmania only has three.

So there I go poking around in grass up to my waist. All the while calling out, “Here snaky, snaky”! I didn’t want to surprise anybody.
After about forty five minutes of this, I did find what may have been an old trail but there was an enormous gumtree down across it. There was no going over, around or under it with the bike. After about ninety minutes, I finally gave up. I was just in the wrong place. But if this wasn’t trail, then where the hell was it?

I headed back down the hill and back over the two gates. I was feeling quite dejected. I needed a plan B. After some deliberation and asking around in town I was directed to a beach about five miles away where I found some camping on the bluffs overlooking a stunning bay.

After lots of texting and phone calls back to my friends in Hobart, we came up with Plan B.

The next day my friend John drove all the way back to Dover from Hobart with the missing pieces of information. In a few short hours he had managed to join the association, rent the key, and download the guidebook and current GPX to his laptop. Boy did I feel like a total dunce!

 I put my bike in the car and got on the computer while John drove trying to find the new trailhead. In the meantime I put it all the online info into an email and sent it to myself.

I know that planning is not one of my strong suits. I have a better understanding of why now.
When faced with lots of pieces of information in a short amount of time, I think my brain just sort of short circuits. What I try to pass off as whimsical and carefree is really feeling overwhelmed with information and putting it into a useful semblance of a plan.

We found the new trailhead and the route followed forest tracks through some wet, rainy conditions. We drove on to Geevesport. This is a lovely little town up the trail another twenty miles or so. It always amazes me how much more distance one can cover in an automobile. Now, armed with the right route, info AND the key, I was really on my way.

From south to north the trail climbs steadily for days. There was more than one day, where I was walking and pushing much of the days ride. It was steep, rocky, and muddy at times.

There was one or two days where a forest road became a track, became a trail and then disappeared into tall grass. On these sections I had to watch for fence posts with the tell-tale bright yellow and red triangles that mark the trail. There were a few sections of the trail where I didn’t see many other people at all. 

On the way were gum tree forests, creeks, small towns and very cool bird life. I saw flocks of yellow tail black cockatoos. It is an impressively large and loud bird. I saw and heard numerous other colorful birds that I have not yet learned the names of. They were the one constant on this ride. I was fortunate enough in the north on the coast to see one Little Penguin. They come up on the beach and bluffs to nest in their burrows. I had no idea that some penguins nested in burrows. There are truly wondrous and remarkable things going on out there in the big world.

I did see one live short beaked echidna. It almost looks like a small porcupine (for my North American friends) with a long snout and a tongue that captures insects. It is classified as a monotreme. A monotreme looks like a mammal but reproduces by laying eggs. That’s evolution in extreme isolation folks!  It’s a fascinating animal. I feel lucky to have seen one. 
Sadly, the only other wildlife I saw was all road kill.
It was disconcerting to be on mostly quiet low volume roads with folks that drive steep, windy roads at high speed. There seemed to be zero concern for wildlife in Tasmania. On the days when the sun came out and it was warm, the smell of rotting carcasses seemed to pervade the air. I know that sounds gross. And as most people don’t seem to go anywhere without being inside a motor vehicle they don’t notice this. There was one big ass spider living in one of the trail registry boxes. I pulled out the book and there it was!
IN my mind, it certainly qualifies as wildlife. And it wasn't road kill. It was kind of flat between the pages of the book and looked dead. I nudged it with one foot and it ran across my other foot. It was very much alive! It's a common Huntsman.

The highest point on the ride is in the Central Lakes District. This is some of the more remote and most exposed country in Tasmania. It is alpine and sub-alpine scrub. Unfortunately, when I arrived there the weather had deteriorated. It was very windy and blustery. I saw the rain coming from a long way off. Maybe I’m a little overly cautious but rain and wind is a bad combination. And there was a whole lot of nothing out there. I moved to lower elevations quickly. I got a ride for part of it which was good. There was the thickest fog I had ever seen. It was truly dense. We could barely see the front of the pickup truck at times.

I reached Devonport in the center of the north coast
twelve days after leaving Dover in the south. Devonport is smaller much more quiet than Hobart. 

I was a bit surprised by this. The Spirit of Tasmania Ferry that connects Tasmania to the mainland of Australia calls in to Devonport.  Most of the vehicular traffic coming off or getting on the ferry are caravans and travelers.

I booked my passage on the ferry for two days hence. The cost of my bike was five dollars. I had to return to Hobart and retrieve some of the things I had left there with my friends. I’m sure I could have avoided the round trip from Devonport if I had “planned” differently. But there it is again that pesky planning thing.

I’ve learned a thing or two. At least I hope I have. The next chapter will take me north through Victoria to the Murray River and then west toward Adelaide. That’s a plan right? I did buy a paper map. 
For more information check out:

Special thanks and gratitude to the people of Tasmania; John and Alison in Hobart; John, Shirley and Peter Tongue of Devonport; Karen Moore cyclist extraordinaire and everyone else who is supporting me on this incredible journey.

Thanks for reading.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Baja Divide

Cycling the Baja Divide

1700 miles of bliss and brutality

What a great ride! It was beautiful and it was painful. Some of the road surfaces were so rough, I started having pain at the base of my skull from the vibration. My head felt like my brain was dropped into a blender and my arms like I'd been using a jack hammer all day. That’s when I got off the bike and walked. Call me a wimp or a pansy but, “she who hops off and walks a ways, lives to cycle a few more days”. I made that up, just now. But it was either that or throw my bike off a cliff, into a deep canyon or leave it in an arroyo. It was frustrating at times with days when I couldn’t seem to cover more than about three miles an hour. I blame it on the bike. A rigid, steel frame touring bike with 26” wheels. Call me old fashioned or old school or just a knuckle head. Next time, I’ll find one of those new-fangled bikes with huge, big fat tires that roll over everything like a Sherman tank.

Baja California is one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the privilege of visiting. Traveling through the landscape on a bicycle brings it so much closer. One experiences the geography and topography in ways one can’t in a car or bus. It feels like more than just seeing and hearing. We used to be part of the landscape. Not just onlookers. We had our own animal instinct that we relied on to survive everything that nature threw at us.  Our relationship to nature is still sensual. Being in the desert is as carnal as it is mystical.  The ride through the deserts of Baja was as stunning and rewarding. Parts of it were grueling. But sitting here at a computer makes it tough to bring into memory the difficulties. What’s the saying? “Adventure is suffering in hindsight”. There were times when it plain sucked to be riding a bike out there. The images and reflections that come to mind are so much more of the beauty, the deep quiet and the people. 

The quiet in the desert is profound. It has depth. Can silence be three dimensional? There is something about the ecology of rocks, scrub brush and the beautiful Cardon cactus that swallowed sound. It disappeared, absorbed into the landscape. Much the same as the muffled quiet of a deep wood in new snow. It’s like music, soothing and relaxing. Our world is so noisy. The combustion engine, the single most destructive force on the planet creates much of it. Traffic feels hostile because it is. For many reasons. But consider sound. The average conversation is about 60 decibels. The World Health Organization states that sounds above 70 decibels can cause damage to one’s hearing. A passing diesel truck registers about 85 decibels. Cycling along busy highways for extended periods of time exposes us to a constant clamor of between 120 and 140 decibels. It. hurts. my. ears. I wear earplugs when I ride or walk along busy roads and streets. Nothing matches the level of non-sound in the desert. I do however, notice a buzz, faint but distinct. I’ve heard others describe this too. There is a hum in the stillness found only in the farthest reaches from civilization. Could be the blood moving in my brain, or sciatic fluid sloshing around. Could be the vibration of the universe, the ohm that mystics talk about. I’m going with the latter explanation… If I shut up and listen, I can hear infinite space. How cool is that?

The desert feels like a very old soul. The ecology of the desert is a hundred or more million years in the making. The balance is perfect. Though I’ll never live to see it, change at the molecular and genetic level is happening all the time. In a million years, this desert will be completely different. Maybe that’s the hum. Evolution in process. There are 1200 species of cactus and all of them native to the Americas. The Cardon cactus ubiquitous in Baja is the largest, reaching upwards of 60 feet. Also known as the “elephant” cactus. The lower portions of the wood trunks sag like the wrinkled heavy skin of elephants. A cardon often has branches as wide as the trunk and this cactus is known to weigh in at 25 tons. That could explain the appearance of the bark at the base of the trunk to look “elephant” like. It looks to me like the trunk is bearing the weight of the world. It was millions of years in the making, rooted in rock like bone. It stands like a sentinel, guardian of the silence. I love it! There is no other place on Earth where these cactus grow.

BEING in the desert, sleeping under the stars in all that tranquility will always be great!  But GETTING there is another story. Cycling the first few hundred miles in the north weren’t too bad. I’d never done this (bike-packing) before.  I was using navigation technology beyond a map and compass for the first time. I made my living out of hiking in the deserts of the American south west for years using only a map and compass. I never found myself “lost”. I put great stock in the adage, “to avoid getting lost, it is important to stay found”. That means knowing where you are at any given moment.
 I was in Mexico and the consequences of getting lost seemed serious. But in the end it turned out not to be so. The Baja Divide route that I programmed into my GPS and Smart phone became a jumping off point from which to travel outward. I didn’t stick to the route a hundred percent of the time. I picked my way down through Baja but stuck primarily to back roads in rural areas. Easy to do since 86% of the population lives in the urban areas. This route helped me gain some confidence that I could really travel off the beaten path. The biggest issue and always at the forefront of my mind was water. Where can I find water? I travel with a water almost all the time. My Sawyer mini is light and small. Why NOT carry one? As a solo cyclist I proceed with intention and care. It’s impossible to think of all the hazards and ten thousand variables. Not having to think about drinking poopy cow pond water wasn’t going to be one of them. Even if the water tasted like shit, it was relatively safe to drink. Risk is subjective and since I’m anxious in temperament I err on the side of caution.   

 Although sections of the route can be quite remote, it is not as devoid of human habitation as one may think. There are ranchers and vaqueros (cowboys) everywhere. All through the mountains one can hear the bells on cows and goats alike. “Where there are goats, there are people”. I missed a turn one day and had to backtrack a half mile or so. There was a house with beautiful flowers and fruit trees at the intersection. I probably missed the turn because I was gawking at the garden. Never one to miss an opportunity for water or a chat, I decided to stop in. Rancho Santo Domingo was owned and operated by Humberto and his wife Raquel. They had been living on their ranch in that house for 45 years. They raised five children without electricity and until a few years ago no running water. Like many of the ranchers I met they didn’t have cell phones or land lines for that matter either. They communicated with each other and other ranchers through two way radios. Humberto had installed a well pump that ran off a solar array and that water was good.  They produced a well-worn English language guide to hiking near Loreto and there in the book was Humberto’s Rancho Santo Domingo. There is an important archaeological site on the land and I decided to return in the AM for a short hike and climb to a cave with Humberto. The cave was at the base of a big cliff up a steep scree slope. Humberto at about seventy years of age, had no problem climbing the scree slope to the cave entrance. It was replete with paintings and other artifacts.  He told me stories of the landscape and his interpretations of the paintings. Much of the imagery had to do with the sea. Octopus and other sea life were present on the wall. I thought we were too far inland but from the height of the cave I could see a gap in the mountains where an arroyo ran all the way to the Sea. It was no more than twenty or thirty miles. An easy day’s walk for the Cochimi people who probably inhabited that area. I gave Humberto a hundred pesos and got back on my bike. The cave was not nearly as interesting as Humberto and his stories. In my work as a guide I'd seen dozens of caves and overhangs with pictographs, petroglyphs and artifacts. It was talking with Humberto that was the real treasure here. I speak Spanish well enough to have conversations beyond just, "Food, water, bathroom, camping" etc. In fact, I met and spent time with many, many local people. I listened to their stories, heard about their lives. Not once did I ever feel threatened or afraid of anyone while pedaling alone out there. Of course I never camped in plain sight either. I got well off the road into the brush. On a few occasions I even covered my tracks. But the people of Baja are awesome! That to me is the real beauty of cycle touring. Especially in more remote and rural areas.

I love cycle touring but am not fond of cycling on pavement unless it's devoid of auto and truck traffic. Cycling the Baja Divide has shown me that it is possible with a little planning to get "off the beaten path". I’m not sure I’d recommend it for someone else’s first extended off road ride. But that’s me, jumping in with both feet and eyes wide shut.  Although I've spent years traveling in the back country as an outdoor enthusiast, I don't think I was psychologically prepared for this ride. I rode parts that were really difficult, dragged my bike through miles of deep sand, over loose cobbles in the arroyos and up and down steep roads with lots of, big loose rocks. I hitchhiked when I was exhausted, took a bus when the weather was crap. I also pedaled easily along beautiful, wild stretches of ocean and sea with nothing so much as a whisper of breeze at my back. 

One morning just out of my camp in a canyon, I came across the placenta from a large animal that had hours before given birth. Right on the road. Goes to show how quiet the roads are. I stood very still and waited. Soon enough a mare with a healthy foal now sturdy and confident on its feet emerged from the brush and trotted up the road ahead of me. "Yes please", says I. I want more of that in my travels. As I get ready and "plan" my next foray which is in Australia, I'll take with me these memories and all the lessons learned. 
A heart felt "thank you" to Lael Wilcox, Nicholas Carmen and all the other modern day explorers for the inspiration. Immeasurable gratitude to the people of Baja in who's homes I stayed and who provided true hospitality and warmth.

Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

On Riding...


The Baja Divide is a 1700 mile mostly off pavement bike ride in Baja California. Begining in the north and following the spine of the Sierra. This time of year, it is both hot and dry in the lower elevations and very cold in the higher elevations. I was at 4200 feet in the north when my water bottles froze over one night. I was not prepared. Thankfully, I have a host of very good friends and supportive family. A good friend managed to send me one of my warmer sleeping bags so I could continue. It was a good lesson in planning. Note to self: “Self, read up on climate for intended destinations.”
I like to think the circles I move in are for the most part enlightened. And they are. However, it is both entertaining as well as somewhat disconcerting to watch when I begin to describe upcoming adventures. It seems as though people listen and follow along for a few minutes as I describe in some detail the plan, the climate and terrain. At some point I leave them behind.  Their eyes glaze over and I can see them drifting back to their own realities. I’m OK with this. Hey, people have lives! There are shopping and to do lists. For many people this is so far out of their reality that it comes across as non sense. To some it probably is. 
The hardes part is I don’t fully get it either. 
This route is difficult for me. It’s rough, rocky and remote. Water is always at the forefront of my mind.  I sure hope that Personal Locator Beacon really works. I hope I never need it! I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that, I have other things on my mind.
Like the constant second guessing myself. And the mental energy it takes to get past the panic on waking up and thinking about the road ahead. I have to work on flipping the whole thing on it’s head and instead of asking “What can go wrong”? I ask, “What adventure does today hold?” And just how much adventure is
 too much? 
The wind hás been blowing hard the past few days. For the most part it’s been a tail wind but not always. And the dust in the air is thick, the sand hás a tendency to scour exposed skin. Health clubs could make a killing in marketing facial sandblasting.
Breakfast consists of peanut butter, dried fruit and stale tortillas. Add a little sand to give it some texture. In Utah, we call that Anasazi seasoning. Lunch and dinner are pretty much the same as I can’t be bothered to cook. Just more stuff to keep track of. 
Mostly it feels amazing when I get on the bike and ride. It’s great! Except when it isn’t.
I remember at one point cycling across Missouri in 95 degredes with 70% humidity I saw some hemlock and thought, “Now that could end this ride quickly!”
Or more recently, “I could chuck this fucker (my bike) off a cliff and report it stolen.” But that just wouldn’t satisfy. 

The truth is I don”t know how NOT to do this. 
Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Scholarship: Pay me to ride my bike? Splendid Idea!

What's next?

I apologize for such a long lapse in riveting you all with my journalistic prowess! I’ve been off in La-La land fantasizing about what’s next.  Another ride of course. It’s more like chapters of a book. There is this between space when I have completed one leg and I want to begin another. It's all one long ride. Kind of like what the anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep termed, betwixt and between in his seminal work on “Rites of Passage”. This is different however. I am actually working on a “plan”.
Planning has not been my strong suit. Mostly I dive into things headfirst without thinking about consequences of my decisions. For example, when I cycled out of Asheville, North Carolina headed for Durango (my longest ride to date), I didn’t really think about how many pedal strokes or nights camped out that might entail. I’m stubborn enough that once the reality sets in and the shock of the endeavor hits me, there is no turning back. But I don’t really believe in failures anymore. I am of the mindset that if something goes wrong or not according to what I think the end result should be then I will have successfully discovered something that simply doesn’t work. I heard that in an AA meeting once a long time ago.
Having said all that, I am applying for a scholarship for a ride I’m going to do in the near future. It’s hard to imagine that I and my travels might be interesting enough to warrant a travel scholarship. The difficulty has always been in marketing. I am only just now beginning to take myself and my exploits seriously enough to ask for and garner support from a wider community.
The ride is roughly 1600 miles of back roads, gravel and dirt running the length of the Baja Peninsula. They call it The Baja Divide. I feel ridiculous just writing that I want to ride a route I saw in a magazine article. Because sometimes these publications lead ME to believe that if I’m not smashing speed records or cycling across the Gobi on a unicycle with a 4” tire, I’m not really a cyclist. But we know that’ bullshit don’t we. I just need to convince myself of that fact. It’ a work in progress and I’m getting there.
What follows is the questionnaire I’ve been working on:

Baja Divide Scholarship Application

Name: Robin Brodsky Age: 54 
 Hometown: Kings Park, New York
Phone: 970.317.5730

Riding, commuting, touring, and bike packing experience:

I’ve been popping wheelies, hucking jumps and skinning my knees since I was about 7. I had a Schwinn Fair Lady, the girl's version of the Stingray. The bike was purple and had pink and white streamers in the grips. Most of the kids in the neighborhood had a good sturdy steed. We rode to school, around town. We could ride to the beach. There were abandoned farmer's fields with single track and piles of compacted dirt. We had our own version of BMX. This was the seventies and we built our own bikes (with help from adults) from parts we scavenged at the town dump. It was fun, really fun! Well, until that one kid got a little too much air, landed badly and broke his collar bone. That tempered our riding styles a bit. We hadn’t even heard of cycling helmets. Our bikes helped fire our imaginations. Entire epic adventures were lived out on our bikes in one afternoon after school.  When I turned twelve my Dad bought me a Huffy ten speed from Toys R Us. I loved, loved, loved that bike! It had the same color scheme as their mascot Geoff the giraffe. It was my freedom and opened up a world of exploration. Sadly, it was stolen when I was 16.
Years later, I was guiding in Utah for a therapeutic wilderness company and living in Durango, CO.  Town had two or three really good bike shops and I wanted to start commuting on a decent bike instead of driving everywhere. I really missed the ability to move under my own power! I put a pretty nice commuter bike on layaway at a local bike shop. The money I made as a wilderness therapy field guide was crap so it took six months to pay it off. I had that bike for five years. It was very quick and light and sporty. I even rode the mountain bike trails in town and slogged my way up stuff I never should have been on. I walked more than a few miles I’m sure. In 2005 I was riding home from the grocery store and got run over by a pickup truck. Thankfully, I was thrown off the bike and not injured badly. The bike was totaled but I limped away.  The wreck did not scare me off from riding. In fact, the opposite happened.  While some folks might walk away from the bike forever, I became ever more eager to shift my lifestyle to two wheels instead of four.
Without missing a beat, I bought a really nice touring bike. It was a Jamis Aurora and I named her Ayla, you know from the book, Clan of the Cave bear.  I found an Adventure Cycling mag at the LBS and it was the first I'd heard of the Adventure Cycling Association. I've been a member ever since.
I toured from the Kansas-Missouri state line to Ridgeway, Colorado. I didn’t know much about touring but in the first ten minutes of that ride, I knew I did not want to be riding on pavement. But this beautiful bike was already set up for road touring.  I stubbornly took it off road on a rainy morning only to find myself up to the axels in gumbo. Once I pulled it from the muck and cleaned it up, I got back to pavement. I can’t really complain. I had a blast! I sold the Jamis and bought a first generation Salsa Fargo. I named her Tanque after the character, “Tank Girl”.
 I rode "Tanque" for the next eight years. The first ride was a three hundred and fifty mile loop of SW Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Some of it was dirt and gravel and some pavement. This part of the country really is spectacular. Since then I've ridden the Western Express route from San Francisco to Durango and the Atlantic coast from Washington, DC to Miami. Most recently I rode from Asheville, North Carolina to Durango, CO.  I’ve also cycled in the UK and Europe. In 2012, I cycled the Camino de Santiago on a pilgrimage. The “French Route” as it is known is five hundred miles of mostly dirt, gravel, some single track and pavement.  Last winter, I rode from Cancun, Mexico to Guatemala City. I went off road a few times to various Mayan ruins and pyramids. I then spent about six weeks cycling and traveling in Peru.

Why are you interested in this scholarship?

This scholarship is going to offset the cost of an awesome ride! The Advocate bike is a bonus! I get to travel on a dedicated mountain bike complete with a lightweight bike packing set up.  I am quite outspoken and active in the cycling community. Automobiles and trucks are the bane of my existence! The combustion engine is the single most destructive force on the planet! As an advocate for the environment, I no longer own an automobile and have been cycling every day for the past five years. I am also a proponent personal empowerment through an active lifestyle and especially for women everywhere.  In fact, my master’s thesis was about tele-mark skiing as a milieu for altering one’s self-concept. In other words, learning and practicing a difficult task as a way to increase self-esteem. I believe it is one way of increasing one’s resilience.  One of the venues for preaching the gospel of two wheels is by example and through music. I play guitar and harmonica, tell stupid jokes and stories and I sing. Some of the money will go toward a better guitar for traveling. 

When do you plan to ride the Baja Divide and with whom do you plan to ride (if applicable)?

I will begin this ride in Baja as soon as I am awarded the scholarship and gear. This ride will be good training for my upcoming trip to Australia.  Our winter is their summer so it's too hot to ride on that side of the planet right now. I can ride part of the winter in Baja and then set a course for Oceania. I have friends in New Zealand, Tasmania and Western Australia. Although I have mostly traveled solo on my bike, I would enjoy cycling this with someone else. I’ll go alone if no one joins me. I always meet other cyclists and traveling alone has its merits.

Have you traveled outside of your home country? Describe the duration and the nature of these travels:

I have visited probably twenty five to thirty countries. Some of which no longer exist. The former Yugoslavia comes to mind. My travels began in my early 20s when I went to Israel to pick oranges on a kibbutz.  I was there for three months.   The kibbutz was very close to the city of Gaza. At that time it was a very beautiful city. Sadly, it is now a war zone and a pile of rubble. This is heartbreaking.  I also traveled to Egypt and the Sinai while living in Israel. I went with some of the other volunteers from the kibbutz. We were truly an international curry of spice and adventurers. When I left the Middle East, I spent a few months hitchhiking around Europe with a guitar and harmonica making a living as a street musician. I made enough money to eat, pay for hostels and drink beer. That was when Yugoslavia still existed along with the Berlin wall. In the intervening years, I’ve been to Europe on several occasions. In 2014 I walked the Camino de Santiago from San Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago, Spain and finally on to the coast. Where I had one of the most saucy and romantic encounters ever!
I enrolled in college at age 23 in 1985 and I spent my first year on a sheep farm in upstate New York. I shoveled manure, fed sheep, and helped with lambing and later shearing.  In the spring we worked in the sugar house where we made about 2,000 gallons of maple syrup. That is a lot of sap! In my second year, I lived with a Navajo family on the reservation in Arizona. I helped the Grandmother with daily chores and the sheep. There was no running water or electricity. I was a kid from the burbs. It was a real eye opener. I spent my final two years of college living in Central America. I learned Spanish, studied Latin American literature, history and art. I also studied Liberation Theology and the use of murals and other popular art forms as a way of teaching literacy and history. One of the most profound and life altering experiences of my young life was bearing witness to the atrocities during the civil war in Guatemala. It was horrible!  As a musician I learned the folklore and music of the region. I was deeply shaken by the violence I witnessed in Guatemala. It profoundly affected the way I would experience the world and I wanted to work toward a more peaceful future. After graduating, I painted murals in central California. A group of artist friends and I took it upon ourselves to paint murals on walls tagged by gangs. I almost always had a beater bike to run around on but they were consistently stolen. The central valley of California was rough in the early 90s. I left Fresno and the Central Valley when the gang activity and gun shots came really close to where I was living. In 2000 I traveled to SE Asia and China. I spent a month each in Thailand and Viet Nam and China. I walked across the border from Viet Nam into China. I spent one month traveling about seven hundred miles. It was a combination of trains, funky busses and hitchhiking. I remember dazzling a group of Buddhist monks in a monastery with my mad spoon playing skills. That was pretty funny and something I’ll never forget. 

List and rate your experience/proficiency with any languages.

I can speak Spanish very well. I would say its advanced intermediate. I could always improve, I’m sure.  I first learned in Costa Rica as a college student in the eighties. I’ve used it in Mexico and Latin America on subsequent trips. On my recent ride in Central America, I spent a week immersed in a Spanish language school and living with a family in northern Guatemala. I have a blog post called, Language School and other Lessons.  The post is from January, 2016. Below is a link:

Tell us about yourself, including school, work, and life experiences that you think relate to this application:

My work experience is quite colorful.  I have driven a taxi, labored as a gardener, landscape irrigation specialist, prep cook, line cook, baker and waitress.  I received an Emergency Medical Tech certification through an Adult Ed program and completed a NOLS course in 2000 after returning from Asia. I went into guiding and began working mostly in southern Utah and southern Colorado. I garnered about 1200 days as a field guide working in Wilderness Therapy. I have also guided in Montana, Wyoming and Minnesota.  I was a rock climber and mountaineer when not working. In 2004, I went to graduate school in Prescott, Arizona and received an M.A. in Counseling Psychology with a certificate in Adventure Based Psychotherapy. My grounding as a therapist is in Somatic Studies and Eco-psychology. After working in the field for another ten years as a clinician, I was feeling exhausted.  I left my job. It was time for me to apply what I had been teaching and promoting to my own life. I knew that mental and physical wellbeing can be achieved through interacting with nature and the outdoors.  I have been a rock climber, mountaineer, telemark skier and an avid back packer. I have traveled extensively in the US and other parts of the world. I have been cycle touring exclusively for the past few years.
Cycle touring to me was a natural extension of back packing. Although on that first tour, I discovered the lightness of traveling in the front country. Access to water without having to filter it; not having to carry more than a day’s worth of food and snacks and being invited into the homes of strangers was all new to me. It was great! Years of carrying a heavy pack took its toll on my feet. I can't hike like I used to because it hurts. But I can ride! I love the versatility of cycling. I can travel as fast or as slow as I want on any given day. Now, I travel by bike in more remote areas and have become more efficient at carrying food and water for longer stretches between resupply and water stops. And the automobile feels like sitting in a moving, steel cage. I feel disconnected from the wind and sun. Of course, I also have to accept the rain, sleet, heat and all those other uncontrollable hazards. However, the rewards are almost indescribable to someone who has not experienced a very long ride.

Why travel by bike?

 “Why NOT travel by bike?”  That seems the better question.  There is a great community of commuting and touring cyclists out there of which I feel very much a part of.  I feel a real sense of satisfaction after a day's ride. I feel filled up, like I have eaten something really good. And it helps build community. Bicycles are very disarming. Strangers seem less intimidated. They are more willing to talk. I love meeting the people I encounter on my rides. That's why the Spanish is so important to me. Everyone has a story. And folks want to be heard. I have met the most amazing people doing ordinary things. Traveling by bike shows me that despite what mainstream media tells us, the world is full of really good people.

What excites you most about traveling in Baja by Bike?

The seafood! I really get a kick out of traveling in Mexico and Latin America! The sights, sounds, smells, food and vivacity of the people are such a stark contrast to most of the US! My skills with the language really make for a rich cultural experience. I’d say it’s also the eco-systems. I love the American deserts and there are several different eco-systems in Baja. The biospheres in which people live influence their culture. Although Baja is mostly desert, there are two separate coasts. I imagine that they are very different. My hope is that I will be able to explore them both. I’m also very excited to ride with some new technology. I’ve always used my phone to navigate but I want to invest in a dedicated GPS unit. I’ve used them in my work as a guide for communicating our exact location but I’ve only ever used a map and a compass for navigation. This will be a very challenging ride. I am under no illusions of the difficulty. But I am excited to push my limits a little. I don’t really believe in failure. It’s more that I believe in the concept of “successfully discovering things that don’t work.” There are so many variables as with any extended ride. I love having to problem solve and find solutions to glitches as they arise. It’s also a practice in faith. Every ride is a pilgrimage for me, an exercise in trusting that the universe is benevolent and will provide just what I need when I need it.  I also love the unexpected surprises and gifts from the road. One can never really prepare for them.  

What methods of expression will allow you to share your experiences on the Baja Divide?

I’d be sharing my experience and adventures through photos, poetry, a blog and music. I still play the guitar and sing. In fact, I’m looking for a guitar that travels well. I have been traveling with a ukulele but I want to go back to guitar.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading!