Not easy being green: My first day bicycling to General Assembly sessions

Back in 2011, when the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) met in Nashville, my tandem-riding bicycle buddies and I brought our bicycles and cycle-commuted back and forth. It was 9 million degrees that summer — especially in the middle of the afternoon — but the whole experience was enjoyable enough that I decided to do it again. So this year, in Orlando, the three of us are staying in a condo about 4 miles away from the convention center and riding back and forth. This morning was my first ride, for 9 a.m. worship. Traffic was light, and motorists were generally really considerate in moving over and not crowding me. (Hooray, Orlando!)

I discovered on this first day that there are a few obstacles. There’s one — ONE — bike rack at the convention center. And nobody who works here knows it exists. I discovered this when it wasn’t where I expected, and the security officer I asked said, “I’ve never seen a bike rack here.” (Turns out it was less than 50 yards away from where this conversation happened.) I forgot my bike lock, so my friends graciously loaned me one of theirs.

panniers and messenger bagBut the biggest challenge is hauling all the “stuff” I need for a full day at Assembly. In addition to my laptop and iPad, I packed a change of clothes, some snacks for the morning, and my water bottle and coffee mug. All of this arrives on my bicycle in two pannier bags and a messenger bag across my shoulder. A friend is loaning me space in her hotel room to store the extra stuff — but that hotel room is five convention halls, an outdoor sky bridge, a trip down the escalator, half the length of the hotel, an elevator ride up, and the full length of a hotel hallway away. Back and shoulders and feet are tired. It’s not easy being green at Assembly!

Some people think I’m crazy — usually by saying some version of, “Good for you!” accompanied by a look that says I’ve lost my mind. Some ask why I do this. It’s a question that has lots of answers: To get some exercise in a way I enjoy. To avoid the exorbitant parking costs at the convention center. To help the environment by driving less. And to model all of these things for other Assembly-goers, in hopes of building a larger cycle-commuting subculture than just the three of us next time. My plan this week is to talk to the Green Chalice team and see if I can help set up some very small cycling accommodations for the 2015 General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio.

So for now I’ll keep riding, despite the challenges, because this is important to me, and because it’s important that cycle-commuting be present at the Assembly.

Day 6 of BRAG: The end of the line

It’s hard to believe BRAG ended a week ago. It seems like yesterday that we were on our bicycles and our main concerns were cool fresh water, sore muscles, and traffic. I have to admit I miss it!

top of the Sidney Lanier BridgeThe trip from Brunswick to St. Mary’s featured the biggest hill of the ride, a long climb to the top of the Sidney Lanier Bridge. It was a beautiful ride, sunny and breezy, but the climb was too strenuous for my lungs. Even in my lowest gear, the exercise-induced asthma took over and I had to finish by walking. I was frustrated and disappointed that I had to walk, but one thing I’ve learned from cycling with asthma is to know my limits. And once I got to the top, caught my breath, and looked around, I was awed by the beautiful view.

top of the Sidney Lanier BridgeThe rest of the ride was challenging but enjoyable. We rode through pretty rural areas and some neat small towns, including one with a consignment store sign that read, “Dead People’s Things for Sale.” Our final rest stop was at the submarine museum outside the Naval Submarine Base at King’s Bay, where we explored the partial submarine.

One of the best parts of BRAG any year is that final approach to the finish line. When we started down the main street in St. Mary’s and knew we were almost there, I started singing “The End of the Line”  again while Doug laughed. With a cheer and a celebration, we rode across the finish line, and took the traditional end of the line photo with the Team Vaughn School of Bragging.

St. Mary’s had the best end of the road meal I’ve ever had on BRAG — fish, shrimp, hush puppies, slaw, and brownies from St. Mary’s Seafood. You may already know how I feel about brownies — the BEST food ever! On the ride home, we compared notes and agreed this meal topped most of them. Hooray for Vicky (or whoever on the BRAG staff chose the food)!

All in all, it was a fun and successful BRAG that helped build my cycling confidence. The ups and downs we’re worth it, and I’m already looking forward to riding again next year.

Team Vaughn at the end of the line 2013

Day 5 of BRAG: Goodbye, Andrea — Hello, traffic

One of the major forms of entertainment on BRAG during a storm is trying to forecast the next day’s weather. The optimists, like me, look at the range of different forecasts hope for the best. And the pessimists find the worst, most dire weather forecast and make it their job to share the grim news with others. One Wet Blanket informed us that we would be in the middle of a hurricane with 60 mph winds and rain the whole way.

Luckily, Wet Blanket was wrong. (Equally luckily, I had the self-control not to mention it when I saw him.) The weather was delightful – overcast in the early morning, followed by a clear, sunny day. The ride was a 70-mile endurance challenge, but the flat terrain made it easy to go quickly. We passed the time with long, rambling road conversation.

The ElliptiGo

The ElliptiGo — you have to see it to believe it!

The day was interspersed with five rest stops — including one with sulphur water. My favorite moment of the day came at the second rest stop, where my buddy Jeremiah noticed a dog carrying off his cycling helmet. I also got to see the ElliptiGo up close — part elliptical, part bicycle. One brave guy has been riding (walking? climbing? running?) that thing the entire BRAG!

Today’s ride took a challenging turn about 5 miles from the end, when we rode the rest of the way into Brunswick on busy 4-lane highways. Most motorists were courteous and moved over a lane when approaching, but one woman crowded us from behind and then honked loudly when she finally passed us. Vehicles, folks — bicycles are classified as vehicles and need to be treated as such.

Tonight ended with the annual performance of Moonbase. Ah, Moonbase. People wonder what Moonbase is. People ask for descriptions of Moonbase. But Moonbase is simply not describable. It happens at night in a field far, far away, and it can feature anything from light-up armadillos to glow sticks to a stuffed E.T. arriving in a mailing box. Giant light bulbs arranged to make the big dipper, a lighted head of Woody Woodpecker. Performance art at its best.

Tomorrow’s our last ride of this adventure called BRAG. I’m going to miss my team (the Team Vaughn School of Bragging, to be specific) when it’s all done, but I’m starting to look forward to truly clean clothes and my own shower and bed. And of course, the cycling adventures will continue….

Layover Day at BRAG: Rest, relaxation, and road conversation (and brownies)

Layover Day is a special time during BRAG – a one-day respite where each rider chooses whether and how far to ride. Some use the day to catch up on sleep. Others visit our host town and/or do short rides, and some brave souls “rest” by riding a century (a 100-mile ride in a single day, for those not yet familiar with cycling lingo). My riding buddy and I did “just” a 28 mile loop ride. We agreed that we felt like slackers, after our two previous long days. But it was enough to stretch our legs and get our lungs working again.

One of my favorite parts of long rides, and especially BRAG, is road conversation — those long, rambling discussions that chew up the miles. Sometimes it’s about nothing at all, and sometimes we solve the world’s (or our own) problems as we roll along mile after mile. Sure beats sitting in the saddle and worrying about problems at work!

20130605-155114.jpg20130605-155125.jpgLayover day is also catch-up-on-laundry day. There’s a standard of clean after several days of riding that we call BRAG Clean — meaning washed in the bathroom sink and dried in the “solar dryer” outside. BRAG Clean clothes would not be acceptable to wear anywhere else, but they’re a little better than totally unwashed. And laundry gives us lots to worry about all day — what’s dry and what’s not, when to bring things in, and whether any expected rain might get the drying clothes wet. It’s amazing what absorbs your attention on BRAG.

One more good note from today before I take my BRAG Layover Nap: we stopped at the local bakery after lunch and experienced the most incredibly yummy brownie. Chocolate. Road conversation. A nap. Good friends around me. The Beatles on a nearby radio. What could be better on Layover Day?

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Day 2 of BRAG: Cool, refreshing water

Hot and “hilly” (but not really) was how most people described today’s ride. Lots and lots and lots of farmland, from just barely growing peanuts (we think) to shoulder-high field corn. My riding buddy and I spent quite a few miles taking turns sharing things we are grateful for – from specific people to smells to accomplishments to things we get to do. What a great way to focus on the good.

My funniest moment today was at the second rest stop, when the man in the Powerade line next to me said, “I know you. We showered together yesterday.” I laughed and whispered that we weren’t supposed to discuss that. (For those of you who haven’t lived BRAG, it’s definitely G-rated. We were waiting in the line for the shower truck together. Individual shower stalls; no coed bathing.)

20130604-220116.jpgBut the highlight for me was a stop at the city pool in Douglas, about a mile before the ride’s end. For $3, we showered and hopped into the pool in our bike clothes. What a bargain! I haven’t experienced such heavenly cooling in a long time. They even had a waterfall, which I stood under for ages.

Tomorrow’s a layover day – shorter ride and plenty of rest. My sunburned face and I are ready. In the meantime, I hope this picture helps you feel the cool of that waterfall.

Day 1 of BRAG: Snacks at the Crime & Punishment Museum

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The giant peanut. A delightfully overcast day with a nice breeze. A mostly flat route. A father and two daughters on a triple bicycle. Showering in a steamy hot truck after standing in the hot sun for 30 minutes. Chatting it up with long-time buddies I only see once a year. And the quote of the day, from a new friend from Alabama: “I prefer my fruit in pie form.” BRAG is definitely on.

20130603-163506.jpgA highlight of today’s ride was our rest stop at the Crime and Punishment Museum in Ashburn, GA. It was the county sheriff’s residence, with the county jail upstairs. It includes the Last Meal Cafe, decorated with lists of various prisoners’ last meals before execution (not in this jail) – including one who had liver and onions.

Now I’m chilling out with my friend and best riding buddy Doug, listening to live music and swatting away gnats. With that nice mellow post-ride feeling, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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At the start of BRAG 2013 — the traditional starting-line photo

On my way to BRAG

Imagine using a week of your vacation to ride 300+ miles across Georgia. Along the way, we sleep on gym floors, shower in high school locker rooms, and subsist on peanut butter, bananas, Powerade, and fig bars. We get up around 5 a.m., ride most of the day, and relax in the afternoon and evening.

Most of my family and friends don’t get it at all, but this experience called the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia (BRAG for short) is one of my best weeks all year. That’s not to say it’s easy — I’ve fallen and scraped skin off my leg, have had to give up some days because of asthma, and have gotten dehydrated at least once. But it’s a ride that engages all of me in a way I don’t often experience. It takes all my time, my attention (a slip in attention is how I fell), and my lung power. But it’s also a chance to connect with the natural world, to reconnect with good friends, and to be surprised by what I can do.

So I’m on the way to my seventh BRAG since 2006. I’ve worn myself out packing and I have some butterflies — as I always do. But what I love about BRAG is that no matter how any one day goes, there’s always something new to see and someone new to meet. I’m excited and ready for this adventure. BRAG, here I come!

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