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
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!