Ride to Thanksgiving. 

The sun dipped low on the horizon as we pedaled out of Huntingdon and down Rt. 22. It set as we crossed the Juniata River, tossing cotton candy hues into the sky and bathing the few puffy clouds in a pink glow. The world grew darker.

The first 40 or 50 miles flew by. Through Orbisonia and Shade Gap, and then we were passing under the Turnpike. That was fast.

I was feeling great. Still warm enough, strong legs, good pace. In Burnt Cabins, we got onto a beautiful, rolling back road, a gradual climb to Cowans Gap. The full moon was bright and cast shadows of the trees and our bike on the desolate pavement. This was one of my favorite parts of the ride.

This is one of the the coolest things I’ve ever done, I thought.

We came down the other side of the mountain after passing through Cowans Gap State Park, Evan staying on the brakes to control our speed. It’s fun to fly downhill, but it was too cold to go very fast. Also, black ice wasn’t entirely impossible. Halfway down, we wished for another gradual climb. At least it kept us warm.

In Fort Loudon, we veered off the main road onto a quiet side street. It seemed like a cute little town, with quaint, old homes.

Then we jumped on Rt. 30, and settled in to pedal straight for a while.

The road was nice for cycling, with a good shoulder, and the traffic wasn’t bad. It was farm country, and the smell of manure lingered in the air. Despite the darkness, I enjoyed looking around at the silhouettes of barns and silos on the horizon. I sometimes get frustrated that I can’t see what’s up ahead when we’re riding the tandem, but not right now. I was perfectly content to look from side to side.

We decided a warm drink was in order after a few hours of pedaling in the dark, so we stopped at Sheetz in Chambersburg. It became evident pretty quickly that this was a rough place.

Yo man, when’d you get outta jail? One man yelled across the parking lot to his buddy.

We grabbed a hot chocolate and a Tylenol for Evan’s aching neck, and Evan taught me the gas station bathroom hand-dryer warm-up trick. We became connoisseurs of these contraptions throughout the night as we stopped at different convenience stores to warm up. At one of the stops, I became quite intimate with the dryer, kneeling below it to fill my shirt with warm air and dry the buff around my neck. If anyone walked in on me, they would have been in for quite an interesting sight.

Someone walked in on Evan while he was partaking in a similar process.

Whatcha doing?

Warming up. 

Whatever man. 

We definitely elicited some stares, showing up in the middle of the freezing cold night on a tandem bicycle fully decked out in bags. We’d generally grab a coffee and sip it inside, spending a half hour or more at some stops during the coldest part of the night. We’d take multiple turns in the bathroom with the hand dryer until we felt like we were warm enough to get back on the bike. We took breaks for this routine about every 2 hours from 9pm to 6am.

A lot of people looked at us strangely, but a few applauded us as well. More power to you, that’s really cool.

And a group of guys outside a bar around 2am hollered at us. Is that a dually? You guys are awesome!

You’d think people had never seen a tandem bicycle before, Evan said.

After we left the Chambersburg Sheetz behind, we rode on through Michaux State Forest and past Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum. A long climb warmed us up. It’s funny, in the winter, I wish for climbs. Descents can be brutal.

Then it was on to Gettysburg, through the historic battlefields and monuments. A statue of a man atop a horse stood stoic in the field, covered in frost. Cannons lined the road. The visitor center boasted an “open” sign, despite the fact that it was nearing midnight. Someone must have spaced on that.

I don’t remember exactly when it became really cold, or, more accurately, when we began to feel really cold. I started out the ride thinking perhaps I’d overpacked. By midnight, I was wearing every article of clothing I had brought along. We underestimated the cold, the windchill from riding on the road, and the effects of being out for such an extended period of time. I’ve regularly ridden in the woods or on the lake in the single digits or even below zero, but the road is a different game. My knees hurt because they were so cold and stiff. Despite the pogies, Evan’s hands were freezing. He zip-tied the ends of the pogies shut, because they didn’t fit that well on the Jones bars, and that helped a lot. But it’s a lot harder to warm up than to just stay warm, and his fingers remained chilly for a while.

I distinctly recall getting back on the bike at some point and my teeth chattering uncontrollably.

We went through cycles of being warm and not. But as the night wore on, the periods of warmth grew shorter and less frequent.

We passed a lot of car dealerships. All the cars were frost-covered.

East of York, Rt. 30 became a freeway. We didn’t know this, and failed to find an alternate route. Evan was certain that the only way to cross the Susquehanna anywhere nearby was to follow Rt. 30. So we stuck with it. Luckily, the traffic was light due to the hour of night, and the shoulder was wide. But crossing exit ramps freaked me out, and as we continued, traffic got worse. We agreed that on the other side of the river, we would get off this road.

As we crossed the waterway, we saw another bridge to our right. The old Rt. 30 bridge, which was quiet and deserted and appealing, the route we should have taken once the new road became a super highway. Luckily, we made it without incident, and it was a lesson learned for next time.

I began to drift off for the first time while on the freeway, before the traffic got heavier.  My eyes kept closing, and I wondered if there was a way to half-sleep while still pedaling. Maybe I was doing it. All I knew was that those hotel symbols on the signs that show what services are at an exit looked very appealing. A person laying on a bed. That’s what I wanted to be doing.

We stopped in Columbia, on the eastern shore of the Susquehanna, to look at my iPhone and choose a new route, since 30 was now out of the question. I downed a coffee, and felt much better.

I put headphones in and turned the tunes on. I was awake again. My upper body danced as we headed toward Lancaster. I silently sang along. The sun would be coming up soon. We were over the hump. We would make it.

East of Lancaster is Amish country. We thought it would be flat. It wasn’t. The deceptively-gradual grades were a bear on tired legs. I was falling asleep for the second time and there was nowhere to get coffee. Handmade furniture? Sure. A resort where you could go to get a fake Amish experience? Of course. But no java, or water, which was Evan’s craving. His had frozen a while ago. I sensed his frustration. Not necessarily at me, but I knew I was fading and not putting in as much effort as usual, forcing him to do more work. Combine that with aching backs and no water, and it was one of the toughest parts of the ride, despite the fact that the sun was up.

We passed little Amish town after Amish town. Bird-In-Hand was my favorite, only because of the name. There were a lot of scooters out, kids going to school, adults going to work. Some waved at us, a fellow non-motorized vehicle out on the road.

I saw salvation up ahead, a Turkey Hill. Finally, we got what we needed. Evan was hydrated, I was caffeinated, we had downed a breakfast sandwich, and were ready to crank out the last 30 miles. I apologized to Evan for my tiredness. I know you’re doing the best you can, he said.

30 miles is usually nothing. This 30 miles seemed like 100 miles. My legs felt like jelly, like they could barely support my weight much less power a bicycle. My quads felt like someone was stabbing them with a knife. But I was awake again, and that helped immensely for the final push. As long as my mind was alert, I could trick my legs into working just a little harder, for a little longer.

The transition from Amish country to the suburbs of Chester County was a hilly one. Shut up, legs.

The sun finally began to heat things up, and I stripped off layers. The hat came off first, then the shell and extra sweater. We rode through Downingtown and Exton, and jumped on the Chester Valley Trail for a couple miles. I felt like we were moving forward at a snails pace. But it didn’t matter. We were almost there. We were warm.

Evan pointed out all the new development that had sprung up in recent years, the continuous suburban sprawl that plagues this part of the state. A neighborhood of condos surrounded an old barn. Evan knew the person who used to farm that land. It was sad, looking at what used to be farmland and forests, and seeing only way-too-expensive cookie-cutter homes. It made me glad that we live where we do, but upset at the world in general, for this seems to be the way of things. Build, build, build. Develop, develop, develop. Not enough people seem to see the value of natural, open spaces.

We found a Flat Road that was actually flat (there are multiple roads by that name in the vicinity of our house and none of them are even close to being a level grade), and we munched on apple slices. Two more small climbs, and we would be there.

I pulled my gloves off for the final climb. It wasn’t too bad. And then it was all downhill, a few hundred yards to the house.

Evan’s family came running out and we exchanged hugs and hellos. A beer, some food, and a nap were in order.

We did it. Evan’s mom told me that when we arrived, I looked a little shocked that I had done it. I could believe that. I distinctly remember small pieces of the ride, but for the most part, it’s a blur. She also asked me if I’d do it again. The answer is yes, definitely. Despite the struggles, despite being cold and tired, it has only whet my appetite for long, intense rides.

As we went for a walk last night, we talked about maybe doing the Dirty Kanza 200 on the tandem. That would be cool…

Sleeping outside.

I woke up at dawn, on the ground in a sleeping bag, the warm down surrounding me like a fluffy cloud, the trees reaching for the sky above, the first rays of sun glinting through the branches. The evening before had seen the thrill of flying through the darkness on a bike, the peacefulness of relaxing by a fire, the pure, unadulterated happiness that comes with staring up at the brilliant stars on a clear night as the light of the slowly-dying fire dances on the tree trunks. I roll over to see a red lump beside me, fully-cocooned in his sleeping bag. I lay my head back down and quickly fall back into slumber.

Bike camping.

Bikepacking overnight with Evan and Dinah, April 2013.


I recently came across the following as a draft of a post that I originally wrote 3 years ago, when biking with any regularity was new to me, and I was a total rookie on two wheels. 

To someone who had ridden geared bikes all her life, the concept of a singlespeed was a little odd. Gears seem natural. They make going uphill easier and  allow you to maximize your speed when going downhill. Bikes were made with gears for a reason, right?

When I first started riding, I never could understand why anyone would want to make things harder than they have to be. Why make it more difficult to climb a hill on a bicycle? Why limit yourself to only one gear, when you could have a whole range of options?

Then I tried it. Yes, it was hard. Yes, climbing hills can suck. But there also was a little part of me that became intrigued. I began to see the appeal. Maybe I’d give it a chance.

All it took was one more time, one more try, and I was saying at the end of the ride, “I really like the whole singlespeed thing…”

Part of it was the simplicity. No gears to think about. No gears to make funny noises and no derailers to break. The bike feels lighter.

Part of it, I think, is that it made me feel like a badass. You’re riding singlespeed? Yeah, that’s right.

But the main reason why I think I fell in love is that singlespeed riding is like an art in itself. A totally different form of riding. It’s more intimate. You learn to anticipate the terrain. You learn to look ahead and read it, you learn when to pedal and when to let gravity do the work. You become a more efficient rider, because you have to.

I finally got it. Singlespeed is awesome.

2013-05-09 09.47.49

Summer 2013. This is the El Mariachi that convinced me that I wanted an El Mariachi. Even though this one was 2 sizes too big. I just took what I could get back then.

Now, 3 years later, I still don’t own a singlespeed mountain bike (just a fixed-gear townie cruiser), and it’s been a while since I’ve ridden one, but the appeal is still there. At some point, in the near future, I’ll probably convert my currently-1×9 Salsa El Mariachi into a singlespeed. Or maybe I’ll get another frame and build up another bike. That seems like the more likely scenario. Because you can never have too many bikes, right?

Piles of sand.

Back in August, I went on a road trip to Colorado. On my way home, I stopped to see the largest sand dunes in North America, at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly 100% completely on my way, but it wasn’t far enough out of my way to resist a stop to check it out.

sand dune hikers

dunes better

dunes against clouds

The tallest dunes are over 700 feet tall. I had the notion to hike all the way to the top of the tallest one and see if I could catch a glimpse of the other side on the dunefield, but as I walked, there were just more and more dunes to cross. I realized the enormity of this place, all these seemingly-endless piles of sand. If I had more time I probably would have gone a lot further, but I did have to get back in the car and start heading east at some point, so I just walked to one of the taller dunes in sight and reveled in the view before heading back down.

As I trudged, I couldn’t help but think of The Woman in the Dunes. It’s a good book and movie, if not quite haunting. Check it out.

I felt like I was walking in Saharan Africa, not Colorado.

footprints up the dunes

dunes with mountains

Windblown sand makes patterns.

Windblown sand makes patterns.

this does not seem real

This does not even seem real.


I was shocked to see a shallow, wide river running by the base of the dunes. I learned that this waterway, Medano Creek, is actually crucial to both dune formation and to the diverse ecosystem which actually exists here.


Though I was originally surprised by flowers growing amidst the seemingly-barren, sandy landscape, I learned that the dunes are actually the farthest thing from barren. They actually trap a surprising amount of moisture only a few inches under the surface, and host a huge variety of plants and animals, including insect species found nowhere else on earth.

how do flowers grow


one flower

dune grass

dune river

I am so glad I stopped. This was one of the coolest and most surreal things I’ve ever seen.


A soggy day at Greenwood.

Greenwood Furnace State Park is 7 miles from our house. The park offers a network of trails which were originally designed for cross-country skiing (though most of them seem terrible for that activity), but have more lately fallen victim to neglect, as skiers are few and far between and there was never much of a push to keep the trails well-maintained. Many of them have become overgrown to the point where you can barely tell where the trail is supposed to be. Explorations in the area have usually resulted in extensive hike-a-biking and entanglement in thorns, in addition to just plain getting lost.

Recently, however, I’ve helped organize local mountain bikers to work with the park to get the trails opened up again. Last weekend was the first work day, and while I sheepishly admit that I could not attend, I headed over there earlier this week to check out the work of those who did make it.

While there is still much work to be done, the crew made some good progress, and I’m looking forward to helping out with future work days and the resulting improved riding opportunities in the area.

The ride at Greenwood was also my first on a new bike. For the next few months (through the end of winter), I’ll be riding an Advocate Watchman fatbike, and reviewing it for Singletracks.com. So far, I like it! And I’m pretty stoked to actually have a real deal fatbike for this winter season. In the past, I’ve just used my fat-front 29er El Mariachi all winter long. It’s done well enough, but two fat tires sure makes rolling through deeper snow a whole lot easier.

You sexy thing.

You sexy thing.

top tube

Sweet top tube.

jake bike advocate1

It rained all day. Any normal person would have probably holed up inside with a good book or Netflix and a cup of tea. Jake, Brent, and I were out exploring on bikes and getting soggy.

jake brent ahead shallow depth of field freeze thaw socks


We fell in love riding bikes on frigid, snowy mornings in the middle of winter. We dated for a few months before I moved into his camper with him—no electricity, no running water, and only enough space for a duffel bag of belongings. I went to Japan for a summer and we kept our still-new relationship alive via the weekly email and occasional Skype call which would usually be cut short by my crappy Internet and failing laptop. I came back, to a 120-square-foot shed/cabin that was home for the better part of a year before buying a house. We went through that summer when we were both injured and cooped up and sort of hated each other—but still loved each other. I wasn’t sure we would ever get past that tumultuous period of time, but somehow we worked through it. We learned a lot about each other and how to be a team. We’ve seen the best of each other and the worst of each other. I tell him everything. He makes me laugh when I want to cry, builds me up when I’m tearing myself down, and tries his best to be understanding even when he doesn’t understand. He’s my partner in adventure and life, my best friend, biggest fan, and favorite person in the world. As of a little over a month ago, he’s also my husband.

We had a super simple ceremony at our house with only a few witnesses. Our friend Marci officiated. I didn’t buy a dress—I wore one of the few that I own. Paula got us flowers and champagne. Brent took pictures with a camera in one hand and a beer in the other. Tony came clad in his party shirt. Carissa and Ellis gladly drove down from Centre Hall to take part in our special day. The wedding took 10 minutes at most. We exchanged beers instead of rings. We laughed. We had fun.

We went out for dinner in State College to celebrate. We came home a little tipsy. The next day, we went to work and all was normal.

Because you don’t need a fancy wedding to be happy. You don’t need to spend much money or do elaborate things. All you need is love. And some good people to share it with.

flowers h bride paula evan paula helena

tony dinah ellis brent tony camera guests wedding beer exchange hug paula speech paula toast laughs evan laugh evan cute toasted

September 30, 2015

First tandem century.

Wednesday’s weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Sunny, 70 degrees, in November? I’ll take it! I couldn’t have asked for a better day to ride for 8 hours. We set off on the tandem to ride 100 miles. When we mapped it at the end, apparently it was only 97 miles, but we also did a lot of backtracking and some bushwacking on our way home when we decided to take the “fun route” through the Game Lands, which weren’t accounted for on my map. So, it was probably just about 100 miles after all, and either way, I’m still counting it as my first century ever.

I rode about 35 miles farther than I’ve ever ridden on a bike before. That was pretty cool.

We got started around 10:30am. I bartended the night before and didn’t get home til 1, so I allowed myself to get a decent amount of sleep. We loaded up the bike with snacks, necessary tools and little spare parts and then we were off.

pre ride h bike

ev by bike


I couldn’t believe how nice it was outside—absolutely clear, sunny, and warm. I wore shorts and a t-shirt, in November.

In addition to the weather, everything else seemed to be working out nicely too. A dog ran away from us instead of chasing us. Unheard of! Then a conscientious owner held his dogs as we passed to prevent them from going after us (what is it about dogs and cyclists anyway?). It was like the world was tilting on its axis, or aligning just for us.

As we made our way towards Alexandria, I pulled apple slices out of my frame bag to alleviate the oncoming feelings of hunger. I had seen the apple sitting on the counter before we left and decided to bring it along. Evan and I agree that it’s a new favorite ride snack.

Once on the Rail Trail, it was easy pedaling for a while. We passed several older couples out enjoying the day while everyone else was at work. I’m sure we looked pretty funny whizzing by them on our frame-bag-clad tandem. We stopped for a quick snack and map check in Williamsburg, and then it was time for another relatively-flat stretch of road before eventually climbing over the mountain near Martinsburg.

rail trail


Or so we thought.

Clover Creek Road was actually a lot more hilly than I remembered, and we were riding it in the uphill direction. It was here, around mile 35, as we struggled against a headwind and the gradual-but-unexpected climb, that the first doubts crossed my mind. It wasn’t that I thought I couldn’t do the ride. I knew I could make it. I wasn’t questioning myself as an individual, but rather as a part of our two-person team. Was I pedaling hard enough? I was working my ass off, doing the best I could, but was it enough? I didn’t want to leave the majority of work to Evan. The thing with the tandem is that it’s hard to tell how much your individual output is actually propelling the bike forward. For me it is, anyway. Maybe it’s easier for the captain to gauge these things. So, for a while, as we hammered away against the headwind, I found myself spiraling into self-doubt about whether or not I was doing well enough, if I was doing enough, if I was pulling my weight, even though I was working as hard as I could. I began to feel like maybe I was letting the team down. Which, in hindsight, was a pretty dumb thought considering I was still pedaling, and we were still trucking along just fine. But that’s the way it goes with doubts. They aren’t always rational.

Luckily, they also went away. We stopped for pizza at OIP in Saxton, gobbling down a couple slices of pie and a root beer as our waitress marveled at the idea that we rode our bikes here from all the way north of Huntingdon. And then, when we got back on the bikes, I got a second wind. I talked to Evan about my feelings (communication is good!), and he assured me that I was doing just fine. As long as I was putting forth the best effort I could, there was no way I’d let the team down. I’ll always be way harder on myself than he ever is on me. I could tell that after we talked, he made more of an effort to vocalize encouragement and let me know that I was indeed still doing great.

clover creek cool old barns

Cool old barns on Clover Creek.

clover creek clover creek farms

back on bike oip

back on the bike oip

I was feeling so much better as we cruised up Little Valley Road and back down, across the 994 bridge over the lake, and up and over Fouse’s Crossing. There were no cars in the Game Lands parking lot (meaning no hunters) so we decided to jump on the grassy doubletrack of the old railroad grade. We’d ridden this a couple times in the past, when we did our around-the-lake rides, but there are a few areas where it gets pretty confusing and promising paths only lead to dead ends. We backtracked and bushwacked a little, but finally made it to where we needed to go. It was smooth sailing to Huntingdon, and the beer that awaited at Boxers.

game lands game lands 2 better

The beer was good motivation to get to town, but in the end, it might have not been the best idea. Though we weren’t stopped for that long, beer and sitting at the bar subconsciously put me into the “I’m done” mindset. Getting back on the bike and riding those last 14 miles home was the most painful part of the ride.

While on Murray Run Road, we were chased by a dog briefly, which really snapped those tired legs into gear. I guess I did still have some energy left. Evan later joked that anytime he wanted me to pedal harder, he’d just need to play the sound of a dog barking. I’m pretty scared of dogs while on my bike. Back to the dogs and cyclists thing…

As we were coasting down the back side of Murray Run a deer jumped out in front of us. I’ve often almost hit deer on my bike on this section of road. You get going fast coming down the hill, and this seems to be where they like to cross. Luckily, we avoided an unpleasant end to a very pleasant day.

heck yes sunset

We arrived home at 7pm, which was earlier than I expected. I learned that on long, fast(ish) rides, it’s best to just keep moving. Stops to stretch, eat, and refuel are certainly necessary, but the shorter, the better (unless you’re stopping for a few hours or so to really rest). I think if we hadn’t stopped for a beer towards the end, I would have felt a lot stronger til the finish. Part of that was mental though—I prematurely let myself think that we were basically done when we were in Huntingdon. While normally the ride from town to our house isn’t a big deal, after you’ve already ridden all day, and after you’ve already ridden farther than you ever have before, it can be tough. But we made it, and while I was exhausted, I definitely could have gone quite a bit further if I needed to. Which is good, because in less than three weeks, we’ll be doubling the miles.

And in other good news, I encountered no major comfort issues during the course of our ride, which says a lot because I’ve been struggling with comfort on the tandem since we got it. I’ve experimented with bars, positioning, and quite a few different saddles, and it seems we’ve finally got it right! No saddle sores or back pain is definitely a good thing. My legs can keep going a lot longer than I often think they can, but if things hurt (aside from muscle pain due to exertion), it’s a lot harder to continue. I had encountered some knee pain midway through the ride (my right knee bothers me sometimes, but I’ve found that plenty of stretching works wonders and keeps it from being an issue), but it disappeared by the end. Also good, as if it continued to get worse, then we might have a problem.

Last but not least, we had no mechanicals, not even a flat! Which also says a lot, considering it seems we’ve really been on a streak of breaking things on the tandem.

All in all, everything was really great! I’m jonesing for some more long miles.

partway in