Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Visiting Catalonian Cities & Dalí: A Photo Journal

During the week I spent Cycling Through Catalonia, I explored beautiful Catalonian cities and toured Salvador Dalí's museum and home. This is a photo journal of my visits. 


I had just a few hours to explore Girona before darkness set in.
In those few hours, I ran all over the city -- up and down staircases and along narrow streets --
capturing the gorgeous city on the permanent retina of my camera.
If I had the opportunity for a re-do, I'd spend a whole day (or even two!) in Girona.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Cycling Through Catalonia

While in Spain, I spent my last week cycling through Catalonia. This wasn't a bike trip for counting miles or conquering hills. Rather, it was a bike trip for learning the "contours of a country," as Ernest Hemingway would say -- for learning the region's landscape, culture, and people.

Bromleigh, my Brompton, and I spent one week cycling through Catalonia.

To give my cycling trip structure, I decided I would cycle to the north to see Salvador Dalí's Museum in Figueres and to visit his home in Port Lligat. Along the way, I would stay with Warm Showers hosts. This would allow me the opportunity to experience home life in Spain and to have conversations with the locals. (I was particularly interested in learning personal viewpoints about the political situation in Catalonia.)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Barcelona: A Photo Journal

I returned from Barcelona more than a month ago. Though I had the best intentions of promptly writing a few blog posts to share my experiences, other projects and life activities got the best of me. In order to share my trip without getting too bogged down in the past, I'm presenting the highlights of my visit to the city as a photo journal.

As soon as I arrived in the Gràcia district,
where I would spend my first few days, I went for a walk to stretch my airplane-weary legs.
Just a few blocks from my AirBnB, I saw these two familiar faces.
I guess when you're a big player in the world of technology,
your face and name are recognized all across the planet.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Calendar Boys

Remember that bike trip to Patagonia with El Mecánico and Tío Ramón in 2016? Well, I just learned that my two handsome bike partners are CALENDAR BOYS!

(Photo: Adventure Cycling Association.)

But, wait, it gets even's not only the boys who are famous; Shirley is famous, too! Shirley, my Surly Long Haul Trucker, is a CALENDAR GIRL! That's Shirley there, leaning smugly up against the barbed wire fence, parked just behind Tío Ramón's steed. Maybe I'm biased, but I think she looks just as stunning as the two boys.

You may recognize this photo from my Crossing Tierra del Fuego post. I'm tickled pink that my photo was chosen for Adventure Cycling Association's 2018 calendar! Order your copy of the cycle touring-themed calendar here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Happy 5th Re-Birthday to Me!

Happy 5th Re-Birthday to Me!

Gee willikers! Has it been five years already? As Gretchen Rubin said, "The days are long, but the years are short." 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Most Beautiful Building Ever: Sagrada Familia

New York has the Statue of Liberty. Paris has the Eiffel Tower. Barcelona has the Sagrada Familia.

Let me start off by saying that I am not a churchy person. I've seen enough famous cathedrals in Europe to know that once you've seen one, you've seem them all. In my opinion, they are dim, gaudy, pretentious, and often a bit creepy. But a church built by Antoni Gaudí?

In designing Sagrada Familia ("Sacred Family"), Gaudí wanted to build a church that would relay the story of the Bible in stone. Although I respect the story told by the Sagrada Familia, what I appreciate most about Sagrada is that it is a tribute to nature. As explained in The Fantastical Pedrera and The Nautically Radical Casa Batlló, Gaudí incorporated nature into his buildings. Although many architectural inventions are attributed to Gaudí, he is famous for saying, "Nothing is invented, for it is written in nature first."

The columns of Sagrada Familia are tree trunks
in a large stone forest.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Nautically Radical Casa Batlló

I toured another of Gaudí's creations. This one, Casa Batlló, was just as impressive as The Fantastical La Pedrera -- perhaps even moreso given the nautical theme that flowed throughout the entire home.

The roof of Casa Batlló is topped with a dragon's spine, formed
by colorful overlapping tiles and irrdescently shimmering mosiacs.

Casa Batlló is one of three modernist buildings on one block of Barcelona's Passeig de Gràcia. The three buildings were renovated at the turn of the century, between 1898 and 1906. The houses, which are testament to the range of Modernist and Art Nouveau styles from the era, give the block the nickname "Block of Discord."

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Fantastical La Pedrera

Never before has architecture whisked me away to a fantasy world!

Two days ago, I visited La Pedrera. Located in the L'Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona, La Pedrera is the creation of the brilliant architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). I always thought Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius. But Gaudí has ten times the genius of Wright. Seven of Gaudí's creations have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Although many of Wright's creations have been nominated for the title, none of his buildings have received the prestigious status.

Ventilation towers on the roof of La Pedrera.
Though you can make whatever you want of these sculptures (ahem...phalluses),
they are typically referred to as "helmeted sentinels."

Gaudí believed that architecture is art and that art is best inspired by nature. Gaudí is famous for saying, "The great book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of Nature."

Though Gaudí designed for function, his architecture is full of imagination. His buildings are modern by today's standards, and so one can only imagine how radical they seemed when they were built more than one hundred years ago. When La Pedrera was first built, residents of the neighborhood were so appalled they thought its presence would lower their property values. If only they could have foreseen the true value La Pedrera!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Stormy Situation in Barcelona

It's stormy here in Barcelona. Though the skies are perfectly clear, the political situation is not.

A few days before leaving for Spain, I heard something on NPR about a vote for independence in Catalonia. My ears perked up. In just a few days, I would be traveling to Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia.

If you don't have any interest in Catalonia's political situation, I'll give you the 30-second elevator version and you can call it quits for this blog post: The vote for Catalonian independence, which was held four days before I would arrive in Spain, was deemed illegal. Temporary hell broke loose, and more than 800 people were injured. 

Posters I have seen displayed around Barcelona.
"Democracy! If you do not go, they win."
(Note: This poster is in Catalan -- not Spanish.)

For a slightly longer version of the story, read on.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Here I Come, Barcelona!

When I crawled out of bed on the morning of June 13th, earlier this year, I had no plans to travel overseas. Things were different when I crawled back into bed that night; I was going to Barcelona.

Barcelona, here I come!

I am bursting at the seams with housesitting requests. While I'm glad to be in such high demand, housesitting is something I do in my downtime. And while I appreciate my downtime, it's really the uptime that I look forward to -- when I'm out-and-about traveling and exploring. I've been more careful in the last year or so about not filling my schedule with housesits. I've deliberately guarded large blocks of unscheduled time in my calendar where I can allow for whims and serendipity. The month of October was one of those unscheduled blocks of time.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Biking Vancouver Island: A Photo Journal

Vancouver Island, which lies in the southwest corner of British Columbia, is a paradise of old-growth forests, mountains, oceans, lakes, and rivers. It is a marvelous place for Bathing in the Forest, something I've come to appreciate more-and-more with time.

I first fell in love with Vancouver Island when I backpacked the rugged West Coast Trail in 2010.

My brother (BJ) and me, standing in front of Tsusiat Falls on the West Coast Trail in 2010.

I fell even more in love with Vancouver Island when I spent three weeks Exploring Vancouver Island by car in 2014.

Striking a pose at San Josef Bay in 2014.

And so when I had a few days free after housesitting on Salt Spring Island for a little bike trip, Vancouver Island tugged at my heartstrings.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Write-Up in the Tobacco Valley News

You may recall from Cycling the Great Parks North & Great Divide Loop that I stayed with a Warm Showers host in Eureka, Montana named Nikki. At the end of my cycling trip, Nikki, who is a journalist with Tobacco Valley News, interviewed me for an article in the paper.

Here is the write-up, reprinted with permission. (Click on the button in the upper right-hand corner to view a larger version of the article.)

How fun to be interviewed for a newspaper -- a first for me! Thanks for a great write-up, Nikki!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

My Interview with "Eyes on the Goal" Blog

I was recently interviewed by Eyes on the Goal blog.

Run by Katerina Apostolova, Eyes on the Goal is about "personal finance for freedom seekers." Katerina has a goal of reaching financial independence within five years, and her blog is all about keeping her eyes on this goal.

In learning about financial independence, Katerina had listened to My Interview for "The Voluntary Life" Podcast. She then reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to provide a guest post for her interview series. Click on the image below to read the interview:

Thanks for the fun interview, Kate. I wish you the best in achieving your financial independence!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Part 1: Where the Magic Happens

The Venn diagram is one of the most beautiful diagrams, for it represents the magic that happens when we combine our interests.

As you may recall, a Venn diagram is a visual way of showing relationships among separate groups of things. Each group of things is represented by a congruent circle. The circles are overlapped to create regions, or "intersections," representing commonalities among the groups. These intersections are powerful; they are where the magic happens. The greater the number of intersections, the greater the magic.1

Where the magic happens.

On February 1, 2012, I attended a talk given by John Scurlock. Called "Heart of the Distant Mountain," John presented aerial photographs he had taken while flying over the Cascade mountains. The photographs in John's presentation were amazing. But more amazing was the story of how John became an aerial photographer.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Backpacking the Beartooths: A Photo Journal

For four days and three nights, my friend (Greg) and I backpacked through the Beartooth Mountains. What's not to love about backpacking in a place where the sunsets look like this?

The sun sets in the Beartooth Mountains.

Located just to the northeast of Yellowstone National Park, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness straddles the border of south central Montana and northwest Wyoming. The Beartooth Plateau is the largest high elevation plateau in the United States. Exceeding 10,000 feet in elevation, the plateau has more than 300 lakes and more than 25 peaks greater than 12,000 feet in elevation. Can you say "hubba hubba"?

Friday, July 7, 2017

Cycling the Great Parks North & Great Divide Loop

Sandwiched between staffing two Montana-based Adventure Cycling trips, I spent ten days cycling a loop through British Columbia and Alberta. I departed from Eureka, MT (just south of the Canadian border) and travelled north to Banff, AB along the paved Great Parks North route. I then looped back to Eureka via the unpaved Great Divide route. All in all, the trip was just over 500 miles in length.

My loop.
(Red = the Great Parks North route and
Blue = the Great Divide route)

I really enjoyed the route. It provided a great mix of pavement and off-road riding as well as a great mix of nature and rural and urban settings. I had plenty of opportunities to bathe in the forest and to relish in the beauty of snow-capped peaks, pristine lakes, and colorful wildflowers. Below is a photo journal of my trip. For those interested in the details on my ride, my trip takeaways, route beta, and itinerary are provided at the bottom of this post.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Adventure Cyclist: Brompton M6R Road Test

An article I wrote about my Brompton was recently published in the July 2017 issue of Adventure Cyclist!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Marriage of Cycle Touring & REI

What do you get when you marry a girl's passion for cycle touring with her love for everything REI?

Me -- a girl who loves cycle touring and REI.
(Photo: REI)

Need a hint? Do you recognize the girl on the right in the screenshot below?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Housesitting in Bellingham: A Photo Journal

I spend a majority of my time alternating between traveling and housesitting. While I greatly enjoy my travels, I look forward to my housesits as an opportunity to hunker down in one place, recharge my batteries, catch up on life logistics, and prepare for my next bout of travels.

I spent the months of April and May housesitting in Bellingham, about 90 miles north of Seattle. I watched over a large property in the country and took care of five kitties who lived on the property. I relished in the solitude, nature, and peace that country living proffers.

I settled into a nice daily routine -- yoga first thing in the morning, followed by a run, a bike ride, or a walk, an afternoon of being either entirely productive or productively leisurely, and a three-mile round-trip walk after dinner merely so I could smell the lilacs (and later the roses) at the end of a nearby road. I also spent a lot of time Bathing in the Forest, noticing the tiny details in nature (the tadpoles growing fatter and fatter each day) as well as the more macro ones (the snow melting on the nearby peaks as green filled in the trees). There were days that passed when I didn't talk to anyone except for myself and the kitties.

Exploring the Country

It was a 20-mile roundtrip bike ride to and from the grocery store.
I didn't mind the ride, especially since I got to see this
dreamy view of Mt Baker every time I approached the property.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Adventure Cycling thru the Black Hills

The Adventure Cycling season is about to kick off for me. I'm thrilled to be staffing three trips this summer. In honor of the season kick-off, I am sharing a post about my August 2016 Adventure Cycling trip through the Black Hills. This post is ten months belated; I had written this post last fall, but apparently neglected to publish it.

Anyone hungry for some pie?

Holly, awesome rider extraordinare,
is excited to dig into a bull pie.

In August 2016, I staffed a fully-supported event for Adventure Cycling through the Black Hills of South Dakota. I had never been to the Black Hills before, and so the territory was all new to me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Boxes & Boundaries

Boxes and boundaries. We've all got 'em.

Our boxes contain our current capabilities, comfort zones, thoughts, and beliefs. As it is often just outside of our boxes that we grow physically, mentally, and spiritually, we are encouraged to "think outside of the box," "push beyond our comfort zones," or as my yoga teacher says, "play the edge."

Our boundaries, on the other hand, are limits we set for ourselves. They are established as a means of self-protection and should be reverently respected.

Boxes & boundaries.

I've spent a lot of my time focusing on my boxes -- growing them, and, in turn, growing me. It's only in the last few years I've turned my attention towards my boundaries.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bathing in the Forest

How is your Japanese? Mine is pretty lousy. I only know two terms:

yama gāru (山ガール)
shinrin-yoku (森林浴)

The first term translates to "mountain girl." It refers to a trend in Japan in which it is fashionable for young women to dress in functional and colorful outdoorsy clothing. I was told I looked like a yama gāru when I traveled to Japan for work a few years back. I was sporting my I-work-for-a-Seattle-tech-company "uniform" -- jeans, trail shoes, a merino wool sweater, and my bright red Gore-Tex jacket. I was flattered; for the first time in my life, I was fashionable.

The second term describes something I love to do: "take a forest bath." This isn't the strip-down-to-your-bare-skin-and-bathe-in-a-forest-stream kind of bath. No siree. This term refers to the medicinal qualities of being amongst trees.

I love bathing in forests.
(Photo: Ferit Fındık)

As an avid reader, I'm often surprised how certain books seem to magically appear in my life at just the right times. For the last little while, I had been grappling with the take-aways from my Baja trip: I didn't enjoy being in the desert landscape, and I didn't enjoy mountain biking. But I like nature, and I like biking. So what gives?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

On Quitting Versus Adjusting Sails

I was called a quitter for bowing out early on my Baja trip. (As you may recall, from Reflections on My Baja Trip, I left Baja a month early, after having pedaled only 600 of the route's 1700 miles.) I felt ashamed for quitting, for not sticking with the ride. After all, I had invested quite a bit of time and energy planning the trip. Plus, I had spent a good chunk of change outfitting myself with the appropriate bike and gear. Fortunately, the feelings of guilt lasted only a few short seconds.

I hadn't quit; I had adjusted my sails.

Sailing with Jake on Bonne Vie in March 2014.

The word "quitting" carries with it a deeply negative connotation. A quitter gives up easily because he or she doesn't have the strength, courage, or determination to keep pushing on and seeing a task through to completion.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Sailing Trip to Catalina Island

Having returned to The States a month early from the Baja trip, El Mecánico and I spent the next few weeks slowly meandering our way back home. After all, there was no reason to rush back to the cold and wet winter in the Pacific Northwest.

For two years, I had been trying to arrange a sailing trip with a friend who lives in Los Angeles. As we'd be passing through LA, this was the perfect opportunity to make the trip happen. We decided to take a five-day sailing trip to Catalina Island. We ended up having such a grand time that we extended our trip from five days to nine.

Sailing to Catalina, with Salem on my lap.
(Photo: Jake Brownson)

First up...the island.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Reflections on My Baja Trip

As was alluded to in my last post, Biking the Baja Divide: A Photo Journal, my trip to Baja was less-than-inspiring. In fact, it was so lackluster that I returned to The States a month earlier than expected, having only biked 600 of the route's 1700 miles. As is the case for all my travels, the venture resulted in significant reflections and a handful of lessons learned.

I Prefer Certain Types of Nature 

Walking the beach at Los Frailes.
(Photo: El Mecánico)

The principal reason I travel is to immerse myself in nature. I love being in temperate forests -- majestic trees, babbling creeks, the sounds of forest life. I love being near alpine lakes -- shimmery aquamarine waters and craggy snow-capped peaks. I love being on the shorelines of The Sound -- the rich orange bark of madrona perched high atop the tides.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Biking the Baja Divide: A Photo Journal

At the end of January, I traveled to Mexico to bike the new Baja Divide route. This a photo journal of my trip.

Part I: Biking from Tecate to San Quintin with Ronaldo

I rode the first ~270 miles from Tecate to San Quintin with Ronaldo. We covered this section in just over a week. 

Due to recent heavy rains, the desert in the north was unusually lush.
(Photo: Ron Norton)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Meet Duke Muir

Meet my new bicycle, Duke Muir.

Me & Duke Muir.

The story of how Duke Muir came to be is a fusion of three separate stories: Vowing to Get the Hell Out of Dodge, Applying for Lael's Scholarship, and Choosing the Hayduke.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Housesitting on Salt Spring Island

For thirty two days in December and January, I lived in a magical place. A place where arbutus and Garry oaks hold a steadfast stance on salty shores. A place where thick mossy rugs are like opium on hilltops, coaxing you to sit down for just a moment -- no, rather lie down for an entire afternoon snooze. A place where cormorants gather by the dozens to roost in treetops, noisily chattering as the sun sets. A place where time is measured only by the ferries that enter and leave the harbours.

An eagle eye's view of the magical place, looking north from Reginald Hill.
The Fulford-Burgoyne Valley, straight ahead, is nestled between
Mt Bruce (2,326 ft / 709 m) and Mt Maxwell (1,946 ft / 593 m).
If I were to turn towards the south, I would see the San Juan Islands.

If I were to turn so that the water was at my back,
I would see this soft, sunny spot,
begging for a picnic or a nose to be buried in a book. 

This magical place is Salt Spring Island. One of the southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring is located in the Strait of Georgia, snuggled between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island. The Gulf Islands are close relatives to Washington state's San Juan Islands. They are separated only by an international border and distinguished by citizens who look the same but end their sentences with "eh." With 10,000 year-round residents, many of them "artist-types," Salt Spring is the most populous of the Gulf Islands. But it certainly doesn't feel that way; nature and solitude are abundant.