Decembrrrrrr……

I’m not going to lie.  This first week back on the bike tour has been rough.  It is a bit of a flashback to our first two weeks touring in WA: rain, cold, questioning the viability of our plan, and then add in a dud birthday for Tango and you have our past week.  Contrary to The Farmer’s Almanac forecast of a dryer and warmer spring (2017) in the Pacific Northwest, it had cooler than normal weather with record-breaking precipitation.  Despite a summary of weather statistics for the last thirty years in Weather America suggesting we had crossed the geographic line for unbikeable winter weather 200 miles ago, the mid-Atlantic states are experiencing record-breaking cold. Cold that is 20+ degrees colder than average which is grounding us.  Even the meteorologists appear caught unprepared as daily forecasts take profound turns for the worse with little notice, too often after we are already in motion for the day.  This particular stretch of the route has very limited lodging options and no Warm Showers hosts, which makes for long days battling the elements during the shortest days of the year.

We left Williamsburg, Virginia a week ago.  Oh my goodness, how a well-fed month off from biking, of which ten days were spent sedentary in a minivan, undermines your fitness level!  Holy smokes, those first couple of days pedaling ended with sore muscles we never expected to encounter again along the tour!  Since accommodations are harder to come by in this leg of the journey, there was no option to gradually recondition ourselves. The landscape has changed, with cotton being the main crop we now see.  (We jokingly said these white fields would be the closest we would get to a wintry feel for Christmas.  Hahahaha….. oh, the naivete of that thought!)

The kids were happy to be outside again, but disinclined to really push themselves to a sweat after being out of that routine for so long.  Seemingly, all Tango could do was daydream about his upcoming birthday that he had so eagerly been anticipating since Sissy kicked off the birthday season back in September.

Unfortunately for Tango, his birthday coincided with an unavoidable 50-mile day. On his birthday eve we stayed at a teacherage, the only lodging in a significant-mile radius of our route, and succeeded in an early start the next day to facilitate the birthday festivities we wanted to prioritize for celebrating him.  Old Man found a greasy spoon restaurant along the way for his meal ‘out’, located a google-listed grocery store for picking up his dinner menu selection at the end of the day, and made a reservation at the only motel along our route in effort to honor his day.  Things went fine through his birthday brunch.  The weather was mild, pushing 70 degrees with a mild headwind, and nothing significant in terms of terrain.  Despite those mercies, both full-bellied boys checked out and decided they really were not motivated to pedal that day, leaving me increasingly impatient and fatigued trying to haul our 500-lb rig solo for the remaining distance.  We finally arrived at the ‘grocery store’ only to find it nominally better than a convenience store.  Tango and I pieced together his birthday dinner and dessert, with me acquiescing out of guilt by purchasing ice cream to accompany his Hostess cupcakes (it was that or Little Debbie oatmeal crème pies—the cupcakes seemed more appropriate for donning candles) in expectation of the motel’s listed mini-fridge and presumed tinier freezer.  (Aside: Any time I assume they will not include a freezer they do, and when I bank on a freezer, of course it is lacking.  This pattern continued this day.)  We showed up in a somewhat sketchy part of town, to the only motel in the area, to wait a while for an employee to show up and let us in to our room, to find it clean but lacking in a variety of functions.   A broken light bulb hanging precariously from the light fixture, the television did not work, and the bathroom door did not close, among other things.  Old Man and I were spent, and my disinclined stokers were bouncing off the walls in excess energy.  Not a good a combination.  After I finally got dinner made, I served our low-brow birthday dessert, to find the ice cream completely liquified.  No spoons necessary—the kids drank it in the name of not wasting it.  Another birthday ‘win’.  Only presents remained, to find that one of the few gifts Tango had on deck was mistakenly sent ahead to Florida.  His siblings successfully salvaged his day with origami crafts they made for him and a handkerchief that has an amazing capacity to serve a variety of roles for someone with an imagination.  What a dud of a day when comparing it to Sissy and Otter’s earlier in the tour.  However, in typical Tango fashion, he harbored no hard feelings for his compromised celebration.

We did better for Jesus’ birthday, although our Christmas Eve journey was a bit harrowing.  The temperature dropped twenty degrees the day after Tango’s birthday and rain entered the equation.   We hoped that our recent stint in Montana would thicken our blood, but there is truth to the notion that dry cold does not cut as deeply, as numerically higher temperatures out here feel so much colder than Montana.  The worst part of the day was crossing the three-mile bridge to Kitty Hawk, NC that was reduced to two-lane construction traffic.  The wind was kicking, the cars were blowing by us, and the rain was pelting our faces.  As I loosened my white-knuckled grip on the handlebars at the bridge’s conclusion, I told Old Man I might need a padded room, as long at it was climate-controlled.  We made it to the grocery store and our AirBNB and relished finally being warm and dry.  The clouds parted on Christmas Day, literally and figuratively, and the kids beamed with pride about finally getting to give their homemade gifts to each other.  Happily, they expressed nothing but delight for their reduced Christmas morning bounty.

I came down with a pretty intense head cold that day, that is now making its way through the family, but we were still able to improvise a respectable Christmas feast and recognize the blessings of our comfortable accommodation.  We extended our AirBNB stay a night to give me time to recover before tackling another long day.  Instead of departing as originally planned, we got all of our ducks in a row with errands and checked out the Wright Brothers National Memorial so the next day’s long ride would be more easily achieved without distraction.

That evening, as we began packing for the next morning’s departure, the weather forecast suddenly changed to rain in the morning.  At first the rain was supposed to end by lunch time, then it extended to mid-afternoon.  We checked again when we awoke, hoping the forecast would have changed to our favor, to find it the same.  Its abrupt arrival in the forecast, gave us hope it would evaporate just as quickly and unexpectedly, or at a minimum not be too severe.  Much like the motel fridge-freezer situation, it was the wrong assumption.  Half-way into our 40-mile day we had to pull over.  The Littles were crying from cold.  The relentless, drenching rain in high-30 degrees temperatures had saturated our rain gear and was now chilling all of us.  We pulled over at a vacant vacation property carport to take shelter from the blowing rain.  (another aside: The east seems to lack the public land we grew accustomed to in the West.  Few, if any, city parks or picnicking areas exist, so it was just mile after mile of vacation properties.  Not even a gas station anywhere nearby.)  We quickly realized we would not be able to complete our remaining 22 miles.  We debated going back to the nearest hotel, but that was eleven miles behind us into the wind.  There was no way we could have achieved that in our chilled-states.  The cold eclipsed any sense of modesty we possessed, and we stripped down in our commandeered carport to put on our long johns and change out our socks as we tried to figure out a solution.  We ultimately decided to rent one of the vacation properties in the area of our stranding.  All the management companies we called required a three-day minimum, and with the mercury dropping further, we ponied up the premium off-season expense in effort to restore morale and give Mother Nature time to put the season’s weather back in order.

As the wind howled outside last night against our stilted lodging, we were grateful to be inside a sheltered structure.  Today, the daytime high never exceeded freezing and Otter and I trekked six miles against the biting wind to get groceries, confirming that our decision to ground our operation was in everyone’s best interest.  The New Year begins next week and will hopefully begin with this Arctic blast’s prompt retreat.  Additionally, a new year will give Tango another chance to properly celebrate his birthday, God willing.  We are closing out this year looking scrappy with our worn gear and clothes, but we are resilient, gritty, and eager to see what 2018 brings.

….

Nine Months

What do you miss most from our residential life?

Old Man: Having a guaranteed respite from rain.

Me: Cooking indoors, sheltered from the wind and cold.

Sissy:  I miss my friends.

Otter: Having pets.

Tango: I miss having heat and having space for playing with Legos.

Lil’ Mo:  My dolls.

What do you like most about the bike tour?

Old Man: The constant adventure and seeing new things.

Me:  All the people we meet along the way and the constantly changing scenery.

Sissy:  Getting to make new friends.

Otter:  Whittling, seeing wildlife, fishing, building fires, finding rocks I can spark, exploring, and meeting Warm Showers hosts.

Tango:  Using my new multi-tool and helping people with chores at their houses.

Lil’ Mo:  I like seeing all of the butterflies and flowers.

What are you looking forward to next on the bike tour?

Old Man:  Getting farther away from winter.

Me: Warmer weather.

Sissy:  Beaches and a dolphin cruise.

Otter: Catching fish, getting better at whittling, and meeting more people.

Tango: Beaches and warmer weather.

Lil’ Mo:  Another Warm Showers host.

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Our Montana Road Trip*

*to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas

♪♫ On our trip to Montana, we were so grateful for ♩ ♬ ♩ :

♩ ♬ An overnight getaway

Farmer Fred and Lucinda blessed us in so many ways.  They opened their home to us, trusted us with their dearly loved animals, mentored us as future farmers and growing Christians, and allowed us dwell time during our family’s current nomadic chapter.  Their gifts were so substantial, and the icing on the already decadent cake was a kid-free night away.  Old Man and I drove up to Missoula, talked at length without interruption, sat through a meal without having to get up for any multitude of kid-related needs, and got to wake up in the morning and not instantly be ‘on’.   We returned to a warm and welcoming home to find our benefactors relaxed and of sound minds and our children rosy-cheeked with twinkling eyes of contentedness.

♬ ♩ Two milking goats ♪♫

Our time in Montana was special for many reasons.  One of those reasons is the satisfaction of drinking milk that traveled only the short distance from the barn to the house and was procured by our own hands.  The kids had such a sense of ownership and responsibility for the care of the entire herd, but also a personal sense of pride for providing the labor that later nourished our brood.

♩ ♬ Three repairs done

We dropped our bikes off for major maintenance and repairs the day before we departed for Montana, and mailed a deteriorating air mattress and a tent with a defunct zipper back to their respective manufacturers for repairs a few days later.  Not having any one of those things refurbished and returned in time for our tour resumption would derail our ability to depart (and keep to our budget!).  Like clockwork, everything was done and in place waiting for us when we returned to Virginia.  The air mattress and tent manufacturers even replaced our well-used items with new ones!

♬ ♩ Four tourist sites  ♪♫

Even with our ambitiously long days of driving, we made time to still stop and smell a few roses along the way.  Over the course of the bike tour the kids and I read the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series.  We sympathize with Pa’s itchy wandering foot, and after visiting De Smet, South Dakota, we have an even greater respect for the harsh weather that defines that part of the country.  We stopped to see the homestead claim shanty and school houses and were shivering from the frigid wind cutting through us, only to have the grocery store clerk inform us that the current weather was incredibly mild for this time of year.  Brrrr!  We also stopped in Mansfield, Missouri to see the houses in which Laura wrote her books and view other treasures mentioned in the books (Pa’s fiddle!).   We made a detour to check out Mount Rushmore and see what vision and dedication can achieve, in terms of the monument’s creation and the lives led to earn spots on that rockface.  Our final stop in American history tourism was visiting President Jefferson’s beloved Monticello.  The view from the top of his hill was splendid and the details present throughout his home demonstrate his brilliance.

 

♩ ♬ Five thousand miles

We made it over five-thousand miles roundtrip through areas known for their winter weather and during a time of year known for its germ-sharing with dry roads and not so much as a sniffle.  That is a small miracle in and of itself, for which we are tremendously thankful!

♬ ♩  Six big-hearted friends ♪♫

Six friends split between two coasts thoughtfully and generously sent us two care packages filled with toys, activities, notes, and gift cards to occupy us during our Montana stay.  The looks of delight on the kids’ faces matched that of Christmas morning.  How blessed are we to be so utterly rootless and absent, but still have committed friends supporting us from thousands of miles away?

♩ ♬ Seven hotel stays

Without a second tent, camping was out of the question for us.  Although, campgrounds that were open in the northern climate were few and far between.  We spent a few nights with family and friends along the way, but the remainder of our nights were spent in hotels.  Sadly, our days were too long to enable our use of their pools, but as we headed further north and the mercury dropped, we were ever so grateful to be indoors and to have a hot breakfast in the morning.  Also, we are now Diamond Elite status within one family of hotel brands, which I find funny because we so clearly do not fit the bill of this coveted milestone (we walk around in patched pants, or pants with a seat stained from breaking in a leather saddle, hair cut by our unskilled hands, we wear socks with our sandals, sometimes we stink….).  For comedic purposes, I would love for our ragtag bunch to pull up on our bikes Beverly Hillbilly style and park in the reserved front spots denoting our preferred status…

♬ ♩  Eight Christmas pastimes ♪♫

Our Montana escapade afforded us opportunities to do some of our favorite Christmas activities, many of which we could not have facilitated otherwise.  We made Christmas cookies; attended a tree lighting ceremony accompanied with caroling; listened to Christmas music along our drive; oohed and awed at Christmas lights along the way; and even watched a few Christmas movies, A Charlie Brown Christmas among them.   The most heartening of the Christmas fun was the kids’ gift making and subsequent wrapping.  Each of them has been buzzing with thoughtful and secretive industriousness, very similar to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s accounts of their Christmas gift preparation, specifically during their lean years.  Our resources are limited, as is our storage and towing capacity, but the kids are dedicated to creating a Christmas bounty for each other.

♩ ♬ Nine states left to bike

We resume pedaling tomorrow and including the remainder of Virginia, we have nine states remaining in this bike tour. This journey has been so fruitful, we are grateful for its continuation.

♬ ♩ Ten stints with loved ones ♪♫

The road trip was a bit of a walk down memory lane.  We retraced our bike route in a number of places in Montana, inciting some nostalgia.  In addition to location and landscape flashbacks, we had the privilege of reconnecting with family and friends whom we encountered while biking.  My mom joined us for Thanksgiving.  We visited with our first Warm Showers hosts, who inspired us to seek out other hosts (to include the beloved Farmer Fred and Lucinda), and caught up on each other’s adventures since last seeing one another.  We stayed with uber-accommodating and kind-hearted Mrs. Lawrence during each leg of the journey. My extended family in northwest Indiana, to include a neighboring family whose daughter is a kindred spirit to Sissy, rallied in the middle of the work/school week to spend time with us for an evening as we passed through.  Regrettably, we kicked ourselves for lack of forethought as we drove through Dillon, Montana, wishing we had coordinated to meet our Warm Showers hosts there for lunch. We are incredibly blessed by our opportunities to meet new people, make new friends, and reconnect with family as we continue our travels.

♩ ♬ Eleven miles of hiking

We had the good fortune of going on three hikes in beautiful Montana.   One offered us beautiful views of the Bitterroot Valley, another gave us a glimpse into part of the National Forest adjacent to Farmer Fred and Lucinda’s house that was spared by the decade-old forest fire.  Our final hike took us to a hot spring.  Hot tubs under clear Montana nights are still the best, but a steaming hot spring on a cold day in the middle of the mountains is a close second!

♬ ♩ Twelve audiobooks ♪♫

It is not easy to go from being outdoors and biking nearly all day most days to sedentarily passing five days in a row sitting in a car.  Seattle Public Libraries saved the day with their selection of audiobooks.  Our minds were stimulated, even if our bodies were slothful!

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We Goat This!

How to Take Care of a Milk Goat

By Otter, age 9

I have been at a goat farm for two weeks.  While here I learned how to take care of goats.  My favorite chore is milking.  This is how to do it:

  1. Get a dairy goat and put her on a milking stand and lock her in so she will not walk away while you are milking.
  2. Brush her so no junk falls in the milk and to see if she has any ticks.
  3. Give the mother goat grain to calmly occupy her. The grain enriches her milk.
  4. Place the milk pail under the udder.
  5. Dip her teats in cleaning solution to keep the milk clean and wipe them off. Check for any blood or clots because that indicates infection.
  6. Grab the top of a teat with your thumb and forefinger and squeeze with your other three fingers so the milk zings into the pail.
  7. Speak kindly to her and rub gently so she will let down more milk.
  8. Keep on milking until she lets down no more milk, because that means she has no more milk. (fun fact: baby goats headbutt their mother so she lets down more milk.)
  9. Move the pail so when she jumps off the stand she will not knock off the pail.
  10. Dip her teats in cleaning solution again to prevent infection.
  11. Release her to the herd after you are done milking so she can be with her friends.
  12. In the evening give the mother goat another serving of grain because it helps enrich her milk.

Milking a goat is the most complicated goat chore I know.  If you end up with a milk goat follow my procedure and you will be successful.

….

The Care and Feeding of Goats

By Sissy, age 11

I have been working on a goat farm in Montana for a fortnight.  I have learned a lot about goats and the care that they need.  It may seem overwhelming at first, but once you get a rhythm for it, you will find it quite easy.

The majority of goat work is done in the morning.  Before you do anything else with the goats you need to start a fire in the room you will milk your mother goats.  This is necessary to keep you and the goat you are going to milk warm.

Before you milk, feed leaves to all the goats (including separated adult males if you have any).  Then you bring your mother goat into the milking room and lock her into a milking stand to prevent her from walking away.  Prior to milking, give her grain to occupy her while you are working with her.  (The grain also helps enrich her milk.)  Brush the grass, leaves, etc. off her to prevent it from getting into the milk and check her for ticks or injuries.  Then dip her teats in disinfectant and scrub the udder with it to prevent yucky things (such as poop or food scraps) from getting into the milk.  Test her milk for signs of infections, such as milk clumps or blood, by squirting her milk onto a paper towel, wet wipe, etc.  Then you are ready to milk.   Place your pail with an ice pack in it directly under the udder.  Wrap your thumb and pointer finger around the top of the teat.  Then bring remaining fingers down and squeeze.  Continue doing this until the milk flow slows down.  Tip: Goats like compliments.  A female often gives more milk when told she is pretty, etc.  Once you are done, remove the pail and dip her teats again with disinfectant to prevent infection.  Then release her back to the herd.

After you have released your goat back to the herd, give the entire herd (to include the separated adult males) hay.  While they are eating, open the barn door to the outside pasture and leave them to eat at their leisure.

There are fewer mid-day chores and they are all pretty easy.  At some point in the day, you should hang out with your goats.  Kids need to be petted and handled so they will better cooperate with people when they are older.  Young doelings need it most of all if they are to become good milk goats.  Picking up, cuddling, petting, and talking quietly to your little doelings is a sure way to help them become good milkers.  In addition to loving on your goats, check their water and refill when necessary while you are in the barn.

There are evening chores too.  Separate the milk goats from the rest of the herd and take them one at a time into the milking room.  Give them grain and check for injuries and ticks.  Then put them in a separate space from the rest of the herd to sleep.  This makes it easier to get them into the milking room in the morning.  It also helps them build up their milk supply for us to milk in the morning.  Give the entire herd hay, to include the milk goats and separated adult males.  While they are eating, shut the barn door to protect them from overnight predators, then leave them to bed down for the night.

Being on a goat farm for two weeks has helped me understand goats and their care much more than I ever have.  All the chores they require are very easy to do.  The key is to remember to do them all.

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Here We Goat Again

We did not meet or socially engage a single local during our whirlwind 2,500 mile drive to Montana.  Driving may be exponentially faster, but it has far less flavor.

When your husband offers to trim your hair promising to only take off an inch, do not believe him.  Such acts are quickly followed by a nervous, “I really think it looks better this length.”

Apart from wildfires, Montana appears to ALWAYS be beautiful.

On that note, I cannot think of a better way to spend an evening than sitting in a hot tub under the breathtaking Montana night sky.

The transition from unsupported bike touring life to indoor domestic life is far easier and faster than the reverse.

Biking muscles do not directly translate to running muscles, as was evidenced by my ‘flash forward 40 years’ stiff-legged hobble.

Goats are not the troublemakers non-goat farmers make them out to be.

However, the goat style of self-government is very despotic.  Our children are trying to engineer a coup and prop up the much-favored Velvet to replace the authoritarian alpha female, Lizzie.  Sadly, while the bell of dominion remains around Lizzie’s neck, the rest of the herd is not supporting this foreign attempt to depose her.

The West still holds our hearts.

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Under the Weather

Fall is in full force, as is evidenced by the unpredictable weather that defines the season.  The tree colors are in full effect, and serve as a saving grace against an often gray sky blurred with misty precipitation.  It has gone back and forth.  One day it is sunny and nearly 80 degrees, the next day it is overcast or rainy with a high in the 40s or 50s.  The meteorologists publishing their forecasts do not seem to know what to expect, as they radically change the forecast almost hourly, which makes for difficult ride planning on our part.  And to think I was questioning if we had been hauling all our winter gear since Indiana for nothing!  We have been glad to have it lately!

Thankfully, we got to sit out a chilly, dreary day at Camp KC, owned and operated by Otter’s former cello teacher’s brother and sister-in-law.  She told us we had to stay there and that the kids would have a blast.  She spoke from experience.  Camp KC serves as her family’s bedrock of stability and relaxation. We stayed there for 2 nights, and the gloomy day in between was brightened for everyone with horseback riding, watching the guinea fowl and chickens roam the farm, and loving on the dogs, cats, and tortoises.  There were plenty of toys and games to occupy the kids, and the boys were most enamored with the treehouse-in-progress. They dedicated their entire afternoon to cleaning it out and contributing to its continued construction.  Our hosts were exceptionally patient with and encouraging to the kids in all the different endeavors, and made all of us feel welcome from the get-go.  Needless to say, the kids barely noticed the weather, and we have been bombarded with questions asking when we will go back.

We left Camp KC with a dismal weather forecast for our day, which fortunately proved to be far better than expected, to include sunshine.  We headed straight for the cousin of Tango and Lil Mo’s beloved preschool teacher.  The cousin is a former kindergarten teacher with an elementary age granddaughter, so had a house and disposition well-appointed and conditioned to lively kids.

The previous day’s inaccurate weather forecast repeated again the next day, but not to our advantage this time.  It was cold and wet the entire day.  We stayed the night at Willis United Methodist Church, a church that actively reaches out to traveling cyclists.

We were so grateful to be indoors for the night after slogging through the miserable outdoors all day.  I merrily used the church’s kitchen to prepare dinner.  When saying grace at that meal Lil’ Mo concluded her prayer with a very exaggerated “A-men.” Afterward, she clarified she did that because we were in a church and encouraged her less pious siblings to follow suit.

The church was also a topical place to stay, in light of our recent historical touring, because of its use as a Confederate hospital during the Battle of Malvern Hill in the Civil War.  The original structure burned down after the war, but the wood paneling in the church’s library, where we slept, was salvaged from the original building for its reconstruction.  Upon leaving the church we set out to the, you guessed it, Malvern Hill Battlefield.

The weather remained miserable and was sinking morale, and by extension the output of our stokers.  It took us seemingly forever, in the cold rain, to make it to our lunch spot at Charles City County Courthouse.  It is the third oldest courthouse in the country, and until 2007, when it ceased being used for such purposes, it was one of only five courthouses in America that was in continuous use for judicial purposes since before the Revolutionary War.

We camped that night, and were singing praises for the covered and electrified pavilion at our disposal for preparing and eating our meals in these dark days of autumn.  The boys salvaged the soggy day with their art of play.  They invented the game Pine Cone Dodge. The name pretty well explains the game, but a few nuanced rules include that a hit to the head or body resets the entire game, a hit to an appendage requires you continue without the use of that limb.  It was all fun and games until Tango got hit in the face, and continues to have a buckshot of pine cone scratches on his cheek.  He clearly did not successfully dodge it as the name dictates.  Another ploy at risking life and limb occurred when the boys unwittingly discovered the phenomenon of hydroplaning.  Combine a slide that has been unutilized during days of rain and boys wearing rain pants and you have a pretty good chance of flying off the slide.  I caught the first one airborne out of the corner of my eye, to only see the next boy’s lit up face racing to try his hind end at wet-slide-flight.

Fortunately, both boys exited the campground with all of their limbs intact and all six of us made it to Williamsburg.  We embraced the warmth and comfort of being indoors again and were happy to see the sun come out.  We rode to the Jamestown Settlement along the Colonial Parkway today.  The scenery was beautiful, to the point of both boys commenting on it and suggesting it would be a good reason to choose here for a post-tour landing spot.  I told them that when we release our Amazon-style memo, soliciting incentive packages to entice placement of our family headquarters, I would be sure to include Virginia.  The Jamestown Museum thoroughly depicted how the convergence of the Powhatan Indians, British Colonials, and Angolan slaves began today’s America.  The outdoor exhibits included a Powhatan village, which to Tango’s delight, showed they furnished their yi-hakans  (houses) with bunk beds.

We talked at length with the fort’s armorer, and boarded the two reproductions of the original ships that delivered the colonists to what became Jamestown.  Can you imagine sailing across the Atlantic on that small of a vessel???

Tomorrow, we depart on motorized wheels.  Farmer Fred and Lucinda invited us back to their piece of heaven in Montana to take care of their goats and chickens while they visit their family around the country.  Since Montana does not appear to be in our post-tour employment cards (but will be included in our memo distribution list nonetheless!), we are seizing this opportunity to get another stint in this beautiful state.  The timing is perfect. We are ready for a breather from biking, Camp KC whetted our appetites for more farm life, the bikes need a ton of maintenance and will reside at a local bike shop for their respective overhauls in our absence, worn out gear is being sent in for repair and/or replacement, and we will have a real kitchen for making a proper Thanksgiving meal.  Undoubtedly, the weather will be equally or possibly colder upon our return, but we’ll unavoidably pack on a solid layer of insulating blubber while sitting in the car and eating like kings with a real kitchen.  Perhaps that insulation may also slow us down and prolong our cold exposure, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it….  Onto high-speed travel and civilized living.

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It’s a Small World

Our country is expansive.  We have ridden over 5,500 miles in the last 7 months circuitously crossing it.  Yet, our world is proving small.  We crossed paths with people connected to our former military life in the last week, and beginning this weekend we will meet people related to our Seattle chapter of life.  We have gotten to see first-hand places we had previously only seen in history books, with more historical destinations abounding in the coming week.  We are blessed by these people and opportunities.

We began our recent ride through history with the Antietam National Battlefield.  Antietam was the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.  Even Lil’ Mo walked away from the detailed Visitor Center’s video struck by the magnitude of casualties that were inflicted near Dunker Church, frequently referencing ‘that place where the battle occurred with all those dead bodies.’  Now anytime the boys turn sticks into rifles, which is quite often these days, she asks who is playing the Union or Confederate soldier.

The following day we crossed the Potomac on Historic White’s Ferry, in operation since 1786, and now the last remaining ferry that crosses the river.

The ferry was our means of entrance into Virginia and put us in proximity to meeting the mother-in-law of a military friend.  Maureen sought us out through the blog to offer us hospitality like none we have ever experienced.  Her attention to detail was unparalleled.  She scoured this blog to determine what would be useful and/or comfortable for us, and inferred other comforts and novelties for us based on her own experience as a mother and grandmother.  She gave the kids pumpkins to decorate for Halloween, picked up library books for them on topics she thought would interest them (fighter jets, drones, women who break the rules, horses, etc.), had a puppy purse on hand for Lil’ Mo, a fuzzy blanket for me to snuggle up in, Legos for the boys, a writing basket for Sissy, local beer for Old Man, and fancy accessories for the girls to utilize while there.  All the while, she works full-time with a long commute on both ends, trains for triathlons, and volunteers extensively to serve our veterans and their families.  I have no doubt how much the veteran population benefits from her service given how thoughtfully and generously she gave to us, complete strangers to her (other than having read our blog).  Much like Farmer Fred, Lucinda, and Mr. C., Maureen feels called and tasked by God to give and attend others, and she certainly glorifies God in her deeds.  We stayed with her for two nights so we could explore the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum, to which she accompanied us.   As expected, it was filled with a historical line-up of airplanes, but also had a great array of engines to examine and the Discovery space shuttle to see.  The icing on the cake for the kids was the paper airplane contest hosted there.  The boys have been training for a competition such as this for years!  Otter won the contest.  Since everyone was competing with the same model of airplane, he concluded his throwing technique was what earned him his victory.  He was awarded a medal and beamed with pride.  He wore that medal for days following his victory.

We left Maureen’s to head to our previous neighbors and remaining friends from West Point, now in Alexandria, Virginia.  Unfortunately, Reggie was away for work, but Mina and their son were game to hosting our loud and high-energy bunch in his absence.  Their house made for comfortable accommodations in space, relaxation, and conversation.  We took the Metro downtown to tour the sites.  In our hasty, two-day tour we visited the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, walked by the White House (which was unexpectedly decorated with Halloween spiders and webs!), viewed our nation’s founding documents at the National Archives, and checked out the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum.

The Air and Space Museum proved to be extra gratifying, despite having just gone to the annex near Dulles, because we got to see some original pieces of the Wright Brothers mechanical evolution.  One of five remaining scorcher bicycles is housed there, as is the original 1903 flyer.  We read about these very things in the kids’ history and reading books last year!

The kids were also excited to see the Apollo to the Moon exhibit, which served as a topical continuation from the Gus Grissom Memorial in Indiana.  Again, the pinnacle of the visit was a paper airplane contest.  Otter proudly wore his medal and went in a bit puffed up that his victory was in the bag.  Otter blushed sheepishly when the museum employee drew attention to his medal, but remained focused with his eye on the prize.  Meanwhile, the Littles enthusiastically participated and Lil’ Mo reassured Tango that she thought for sure he was going to win.  Tango agreed with her, he could feel his imminent success in his bones.   Sissy quietly constructed her paper airplane and stood in line patiently for her turn.   Unexpectedly, this contest was run differently than the previous one and the challenge was greater. Once the troubleshooting rounds were over the stakes rose and if you missed the target you were out.  Otter approached the front of the line cool as a cucumber, confident that his throwing technique would earn him another medal.  He missed.  He took a deep breath and walked over to me, clearly disappointed, but mustering some big kid-ness to absorb the letdown.  Tango was next in line and equally confident.  He also missed the target.  No big kid-ness to muster and his face crumpled in on itself in disappointment.  Tears were streaming.  He really wanted a medal to match Otter’s.  A few more kids went through, none hit the target, and up came Lil’ Mo’s turn.  She was ready to be the hero and poised to get that medal… and she missed.  She was equally devastated.  So I had a Little on either side of me in need of consolation when Sissy inconspicuously approached the front of the line.  Her plane hit its target.  Only one other kid in line succeeded, so it turned into a fly-off between the two.  She won.  She got the medal.  Her victory consoled the Littles a smidgen—at least the day’s medal was in the family.  When she and Otter realized how upset the Littles were they each offered to lend their medals to the Littles to wear for a bit.  Spirits were fully restored and we all departed with a little spring in our steps (or air under our wings?!  Ha!)!  Otter asked if we could return the next day for another paper airplane contest.  No.

We left Reggie and Mina’s the morning of Halloween.  Our two days of riding the train and staying up late in their comfortable home, catching up on each other’s lives, softened us to the harsher reality of biking in the D.C. metropolitan area outside of a bike trail.  However, to be fair, the drivers were much more patient and considerate than I expected in such a densely populated area known for its traffic.  We made our way to Marine Corps Base Quantico, because we could not think of a more idyllic place for kids to trick-or-treat than a family-filled military base.  We got there just in time to finish making our costumes.  Anyone who knows me well, knows I am very excitable for a theme, and I briefly had grand visions of imposing a ‘history of air travel’ costume theme given our recent run of museums, travel through Ohio (birthplace of aviation), and North Carolina (first in flight) in our near future.  The boys would be the Wright Brothers, Sissy would be Amelia Earhart, and Lil’ Mo would be an astronaut.  I was scrounging my brain and the Internet for ways to execute this economically (I was a bit nostalgic for our Dillon, MT friends’ dress up closet, not to mention perfectly aged trick-or-treating buddies!), when our reality hit me.  We are on bikes, with limited capacity for weight, volume, time, and means of hunting down supplies.  What was I thinking?!  There would be no Goodwill runs or Oriental Trading Post deliveries.  We made do with a few craft supplies and paper plates to make disposable masks: brown horse, gray tabby cat, butterfly, and unicorn.

Quantico did not prove to be teeming with kids all along the sidewalk as West Point was (imagine images of trick-or-treating in the movie E.T.); but the housing area was well-decorated, more homes participated in candy distribution than not, and there was hardly any car traffic with which to contend.  The kids better understood our circumstance than I and did not bat an eye at their limited costumes; they were simply happy just to get to trick-or-treat.  They scored a rich bounty, that we have since been towing.  Old Man has made a solid effort at reducing the towing burden through his parent-tax, and we all felt a sense of urgency to eat a bit more candy per day than most years to avoid the risk of it melting in this week’s 80-degree weather.  Waste not, want not….

In the last few days we traversed two more Civil War Battlefields: Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania.  While it was amazing to stand on ground that so profoundly shaped our country, it was hard to imagine such grisly scenes predominating a place currently decorated in beautiful fall colors.

The Innis House helped ground us to the area’s history with the interior bullet holes from the battle left untouched.

After reading about so much death and savagery, it was heartening to see the monument erected for Richard Rowland Kirkland, the Angel of Marye’s Heights, who saw past the political and social divisions of the time to offer water to suffering Union soldiers remaining in the field.

If only we could all be so selfless and unifying in our actions.  So much learning, growing, and aspiring happening on this journey, with much more to come (God willing)!

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Family Moments

The last week has been a bit of a whirlwind.  We covered a lot of ground, thanks to a support vehicle service offered by Grandpa that enabled us to bike unencumbered uphill for five days.   We rode the distance of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and enjoyed seeing seemingly untouched parts of countryside (with the exception of the rail trail, of course).

We were continually in awe of the physical labor that must have been required to dig out or build up the rail grade, in the middle of such rugged terrain at a time with so little technological assistance.   The GAP is still well-traveled by other cyclists this far into October, and it was heartening to be around others who “get” us and what we are doing.  While the days’ riding durations were long, the nights cold, and the daylight hours diminishing, there were a lot of family moments I want to be sure to remember:

  • A few days prior to reaching the GAP we were riding on another rail trail in perfect weather, seeking a trailside campsite for our night’s rest.  Team Eleanor was chugging along in front (for whatever reason, Eleanor’s stokers do best ahead of Frank, and Frank’s stokers do best with a rabbit to chase), planning to meet up with Frank at the campsite.  Suddenly, a loud, little girl cackle erupted behind us, signaling the unexpected arrival of Team Frank.  Eleanor’s stokers were not willing to be left in the dust and a family bike race ensued all the way to the campsite, replete with laughter and good-natured teasing.
  • Otter’s birthday was delightful.  Grandpa’s arrival on his day was a gift unto itself.  Add to that the novelty of eating at a restaurant chain that condones peanut shell waste on the floor, and you have four relaxed and happy kids.  The gifts from his siblings is the part that melted my heart.  I never suggested they give him anything, since they have little independent accessibility to shopping, and we have little capacity for more stuff.  Lil’ Mo gave him, completely of her own accord, one of her surviving (and intact) Fourth of July necklaces.  If you know how attached she is to all of her ‘fancies’, then you know how big of an act this was. Tango gave him his share of the found-toy car they were formerly sharing 50/50.  Sissy made a card and filled it with horse jokes.  Otter was clearly touched by all the attention and thought, which warmed my heart further.

  • The family bike race mentioned earlier paved the way for racing trains later.  At times, the prolonged uphill path would get tiresome, but at the first sound of a train all the kids energized to try to out-pedal it.  The train may have four engines pulling it, but we had six, and no load!  Seemed reasonable.  Sadly, we always lost the races, but we consoled ourselves, in between gasps for air, with how long we delayed the train from passing us.
  • One day as we were riding, it occurred to me that three kids have loose teeth.  Otter has a bad habit of retaining loose teeth well past their expiration date (and currently has one still in place despite its replacement’s full presence behind it), but he is always keenly aware of and motivated by money-making opportunities.  A light bulb went off and I informed the kids that I had worked out a deal with the Tooth Fairy to offer a bonus payout for the next tooth pulled.  Surely that would light a fire in Otter’s mouth to get Snaggle Tooth out?  Minutes later we pulled over so I could take a picture (below).  As I snapped the photo Tango loudly announced that Sissy pulled out a tooth.  Otter immediately started negotiating a bonus deal for the next tooth pulled, certain he would be the beneficiary of that deal with time on his side since Sissy just pulled out one.  The very next day she pulled out her last baby tooth.  Otter has gone back to complacent tooth turnover….

  • A funny moment occurred as we rounded the corner of a bridge.  Old Man’s bike seat fell off Frank.  The bolt had sheared.  Blessedly, there was a hardware store only a half mile away, so Old Man rode to it (solo and without sitting down!) to replace the bolt as the five of us teased and harassed him mercilessly about his predicament.

  • At our most recent campsite there was the ruins of a kid fort.  Once our kids discovered it, there was no other occupation for them than to bring it back to its former glory.  They found new sticks to reinforce the structure, thatched the roof, and even furnished it with a leaf bed and a tree stump table and stool set.  All four of them were so contentedly occupied with it that I began to wonder why we ever buy them toys when they find so many natural ways to entertain themselves.

  • We are now on the C&O Trail.  The condition of the trail itself is inconsistent and is not nearly as well-maintained as the GAP, which in addition to our resumed cargo load has made for slow progress since we parted ways with Grandpa.  One thing the C&O trail has over the GAP is the well-distributed abundance of campsites and porta-potties.  The kids have now taken to rating the condition of each porta-potty they use.  The first kid loudly announces the number of stars out of ten and each subsequent user voices his or her rating after exiting the unit, and they compare notes on the qualifications for the ratings.  I’ll spare you the rating criteria, but happily report that no porta-potty has yet rated below eight stars.
  • The C&O Trail has detours in a variety of places.  One of which proved too difficult for us to abide.  The Paw Paw Tunnel Hill Trail is strenuous and steep per the sign, but also narrow and rocky from Old Man’s scouting assessment.   Passing hikers doubted our trailers would clear the jutting rocks and said that unloaded single cyclists have been known to take over an hour surmounting the two-mile trail.  Triple tandems, with gear and trailers?  No way.  We had no cell coverage for the day leading up to the tunnel, so had no means of routing around it other than the paper map that showed no return river crossing from the unknowns of West Virginia for 30 miles, and we needed food for lunch that day, not to mention assurance of 8+ star rating porta-potty access along the way….  All that was left for us to do was to figure out how to surmount the three barriers along the construction path.  Thankfully, it was the weekend, so no construction workers were present, thereby enabling us to pursue our delinquency, and each subsequent barrier was less convicted to deter us.  This can be viewed as an episode in shameless rule-breaking or a remarkable team exercise at problem-solving.  We choose the latter.

We continue to be blessed with time and opportunity for making these family memories, and we are grateful for it.  However, in the spirit of full transparency, I assure you we do have plenty of non-Hallmark moments on a daily basis.  Bad days and annoyances occur in this lifestyle as much as any other, they just make for less interesting blog posts… but they do make these happier moments all the sweeter.  Onto another week of unknown gifts and opportunities.

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