Category Archives: Travel

Cycling and walking to get our bearings

Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.  Connection is health.  And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is.  We lose our health–and create profitable diseases and dependences–by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving.  –Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America:  Culture and Agriculture”, 1977, Sierra Club Books

If I can bicycle there, then I can live there.  This was the mantra I came up with after my visit to Japan last year.  It was my sixth time in Japan, but the first time I bicycled.  What a difference it makes!  I felt at home on my bicycle.  Cycling has been an essential way for me to get my bearings in places since I took it up in earnest over twenty years ago.  But feeling at home in Japan was different since it had felt so foreign.  Cycling is an activity that creates connections.

Wes Jackson of the Land Institute said Wendell Berry’s book on culture and agriculture “launched the modern movement for sustainable agriculture”.  The cycling and walking movements today are doing the same thing for sustainable transportation.  There is tremendous enthusiasm in the cycling and walking communities.  We need to support that by setting up our cities and villages, and the roads connecting them together, to encourage walking and cycling.  This is what I call structural encouragement.

Structural encouragement means that we design for those travel modes.  It would naturally occur to people that we are not only welcome to bicycle and walk, but it is part of the shared experience of living in the places we make our homes.  The infrastructure we design connects people to our own capacity and powers for creating movement.  It makes a woven world.

Human movement is the most fundamental form of human action.  That is why we call “movements”–such as civil rights, women’s marches, conservation efforts–movements.  When we march together, it symbolized the power of collective community action.  We let our legs do the talking.  It is the language that preceded language.  An invisible thread connecting us.

Cycling and walking are not only a ways of moving forward, they are ways of living in place.  They allow us to tune in more to what is going on with our bodies, and the places we live in.  It is a way of paying attention.  Designing transportation systems that facilitate human powered transportation (clean, renewable, healthy, sustainable, fun human movement!) is a direct solution that creates benefits now, and future dividends.  It’s a transformative economic idea, one worth investing in.  Check out the nonprofit I founded to learn more how we can accomplish this change together and how you can help.  https://bikeinitiative.org

Man is made of the same atoms the world is, he shares the same impressions, predispositions, and destiny.  When his mind is illuminated, when his heart is kind, he throws himself joyfully into the sublime order, and does, with knowledge, what the stones do by structure.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship” from the “Conduct of Life”.

Blog posts on my Japan trip 2017:

https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/cycling-japan-lights-my-fire/
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/travels-in-japan/

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Doing what we love matters

When you have a better sense of the way the environment flows through your own body, you’re liable to work harder at taking care of the environment.  –Richard Nelson, “The Way of the Hunter

Cycling is a creative act.  Everyday when we practice what we love, we weave together a sense of our own health and the environment we draw our life from.  In this way culture emerges.

The most important things for human beings are clean air and clean water.  —Akira Kurosawa, “Dreams”

My cycling journey took off 21 years ago in Reno, Nevada when I sold my car and bought a bicycle.  I rode out of necessity to work and to live–errands, chores, and exercise.  Reno offered clean air (for the most part), fresh mountain water, and enough places to ride to help me get started.  The sense of renewal, authenticity and simplicity cycling brings to my life is special.

The best predictor of whether we are happy or not is our social relationships.  –Meik Wiking, “The Little Book of Hygge”

I was (and still am) amazed at the intimacy cycling creates, both with people and place.  Somehow cycling expands our in-group, we just feel more humane.  I think it has something to do with being in touch with our vulnerability, which is at the core of our human state.  Accepting this helps us build intimacy with all of our neighbors and changes our expectations regarding the terms we put on nature.  We recognize and respect limits, experiencing ecstasy from ordinary things, like being outside for sunrise and sunset, easily swayed by each season’s grace.

And so it goes, and cyclists know!  No matter how you get started cycling, the physical habit immediately delivers positive spiritual experiences–freedom, adventure, the power of will and action.  Bicycling is emancipation in action.  Feel unbounded freedom every day, real freedom within life’s constraints.   Everyone who has experienced it can’t help but wish all could experience the freedom of cycling personally.  Our wisest policies would encourage as much cycling as possible to help people flourish.  Cycling increases confidence and self knowledge, improves daily social relations and decreases disparities, nurtures health, and fosters the invention of culture that both expresses and educates us, affirming care, love and co-creation.

Cycling in rural Southeastern Arizona

One of my favorite things about living on the farm is that I can ride my bike to my cousin’s house and play.  –Greta, daughter of Tedd Haas, a farmer from Bonita, Arizona.  From the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) story: “Arizona Farmer puts conservation in action”

On our recent birding trip to McNeal, Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape.   I think my wife is used to this by now.  After every trip we take I want to move there.  This is probably what makes me a  geographer, that I throw my heart and imagination into the uniqueness of every place. Even though we left after four days as planned and returned to our lives and love at our home in Albuquerque, my imagination and dreams take me back to this location all the time.

After the six hour drive down the Rio Grande valley and then over the continental divide on Interstate 10, we spent the first night recovering in Willcox, Arizona at the Days Inn, where we picked up the local literature including the Wings Over Willcox guide.  The next morning I set out on bicycle to meet Mai at our destination, the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, where we would camp for two nights.  You miss most of the landscape traveling at 65-75 miles per hour in an automobile, but cycling is slower, gentler, and immersive.  A recent storm left white snows on the high peaks of the Sky Islands–the high mountain ranges prominent above the spacious desert basins.  The air was crips and clear under Arizona’s astringent light.  Though I had arrived the day before, being on my bike made me feel like I was present, definitely here.  As I pedaled and tuned in, I heard cranes and then saw their graceful silhouettes gliding in the sky.

The Sulpher Springs Valley reminds me of the San Luis Valley up in Colorado.  With center-pivot irrigation technology, farmers bring ground water to the surface and distribute it to crops in the fields. It’s startling to see such a diversity of agriculture, from grapes and pecans to corn, beans, and tomatoes. Because water and soil is precious, farmers practice conservation.  The native grasslands and wetlands are also increasingly being recognized as vital and protected in public lands and through partnerships using conservation easements, like the one at Cienega Ranch.

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The cycling here is gorgeous.  I pedaled down Hwy 191 from Willcox towards the Chiricahua Mountains, and then south on Kansas Settlement Road, where I passed the Bonita Bean Company.  The valley feels huge, but the roads, energy and water infrastructure, and buildings serve as a mesh of civilization between the wild reaches of the Sky Island ranges dominating the horizons.  Pedaling circles and streaming down the road, I watched the landscape slowly unfold.

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Somehow it ws the landscape and not the beautiful campus or the textbooks or even the library that made me feel smarter…  –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”, from The Sun Magazine

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We came for the cranes, but the raptors are abundant and also incredible.  They like the high perches of trees and telephone poles by the road.  It’s beautiful to watch them fly.

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The second day I cycled through Gleeson, taking the long way from our campsite to meet Mai at the Douglas swimming pool.  The Gleeson road to Tombstone is a delight.  From Tombstone to Douglas I went through Bisbee, which has to be one of the best cycling places anywhere, tucked into the Mule Mountains.  Cycling by day, watching the starry skies at night, and observing the cranes fly in and out from their roost at dusk and dawn was great living.  Returning to city life, I feel ambitious.  We can boldly envision a night sky above our cities that is dark and allows people to connect with the stars–this is a good point of departure for equating progress with pollution, even light pollution.  We are already paying closer attention to restoring wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and making transportation safer and a way for people to connect better with our communities.  Cycling has a role to play in every place around the world. It certainly fits well in Southeastern Arizona, making us envoys of beauty like the birds and stars.

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Area Rides and Cycling Culture:

Every October there is a big cycling event out of Douglas, AZ
http://www.perimeterbicycling.com/cochise-cycling-classic/

The Willcox Flyer takes cyclists towards the Dos Cabezas and back to Willcox
https://www.facebook.com/WillcoxFlyer

The Bisbee Bicycle Brothel is pretty amazing
http://bisbeebicyclebrothel.com

Year of the Bird

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

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I awoke before dawn in our tent listening to the music of the birds.  Owls were hooting in the dark, and coyotes yipped and howled.  The cranes roosting in the playa waters were noisy most of night. I bundled up and opened the tent flap.  It was freezing outside.  Stars were shining across the sky and a faint band of white light was glowing on the eastern horizon.  I lit the stove and heated water.  I looked around.  The backbone of the milky way arched overhead, the dark shapes of the mountains skylighted by dawn.  I poured the water over the coffee, cradled the cup, and sipped.  It was a great day for birding at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Arizona.

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Whitewater Draw is a playa and wetlands in the Sulphur Springs Valley.  It was purchased by Arizona in 1997 to provide habitat for the cranes and other wildlife.  The cranes like to rest in the shallow waters at night, protected from bobcats and coyotes.  They fly out every morning to feed in the fields on bits of grain and corn that were left over from harvest season.

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Whitewater Draw has camping, which makes it easy to be out at the edges of the day when the birds are flying in and out.  Every morning and evening we walked on the pathways and decks with views of the playa.  At nighttime the stars reflected in the calm waters.  We met some great people.  One retired couple joked they had run away from their home in Alabama, and were taking their sweet time exploring the Southwest U.S.  Their plan was to not have a plan, just explore.  Another couple was younger and were taking a year off to travel.  Conversation flowed cheerily as we watched the birds glide, overlooking the watery playa and expansive valley and mountains beyond.  The small crowd of people Whitewater attracts is friendly and easy going.  Everyone was attuned to the language of the landscape, the beauty of the surroundings.

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I came home with questions to research.  I was excited to learn that 2018 is being celebrated as “the year of the bird” by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has played a critical role in conservation of biodiversity.  The Sulphur Springs Valley is a good example of balancing human activities such as agriculture and conservation, and ecological stewardship, partnerships made to last.  It was good to see these birds considered, admired, and cared for.  I certainly learned a lot from them while I was there.

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If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.  –Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity

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Resources and Credits (and cycling info.):
Thank you Mai at Sansai Studio for these wonderful photographs!  You can check out more of Mai’s work at her Instagram site:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/instagram

The Whitewater Draw live, streaming crane cam!  https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/

The Year of the Bird website:  https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

We brought our bicycles with us.  What a way to experience the landscape! I plan on blogging about the riding there, but for now, here are maps, data, and pics from those rides, via Strava.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1353895700
https://www.strava.com/activities/1352328961

Sunset with the cranes

Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a Love like that!  It lights the whole sky.  –Hafez (1315-1390), Sufi Poet

Mai and I spent Christmas Eve in a wildlife refuge about an hour south of Albuquerque.  Mai brought her tripod and used her Nikon camera to take video.  It turned out pretty good.  Here is  a clip below.  In case you like it, I’ve included links to more of her videos from yesterday.  Each one is different with the changing light and happy music from the sonorous birds.  Enjoy!

More crane videos from Mai at Sansai Studio:

https://youtu.be/hUV9ZnVP21w

https://youtu.be/hUV9ZnVP21w

https://youtu.be/WataIBJ2sSY

https://youtu.be/RDCtVV0AQDE

Mai’s website is here:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com

Homecoming with the birds

The Sandhill Cranes and other birds have returned to the Bosque del Apache for winter again. Visiting them there is amazing beyond imagination.  When we inhabit that place with them we are swept into the great sea of life.  One small moment in time becomes eternal.  Nature’s grace wins us over.  The first thing we saw was a huge flock of snow geese fly out from a shallow lake.

The geese are plentiful, but the cranes’s elegance stands out.  They seem to be messengers of peace, gliding elegantly in the sky.  We sense their grace, but there is something deeper here that flows into our being and integrates with our identity, a knowledge that lives in this place.

The way of the cranes mirrors our culture.  They sing, dance, play, and bond as a family unit.  But we have something different in terms of our curiosity.  We are looking for more to make our spirits soar.  By observing the cranes and appreciating this place, we receive an influx of nature’s strength, even more than we knew to look for.  With love and respect we belong here.

Resources–for more great photos, visit Mai’s instragram, and/or her website:
https://www.instagram.com/sansaistudio/
https://sansai.photoshelter.com

We also rode bikes there.  Check it out on Strava!
https://www.strava.com/activities/1301356130

Happy Campers

Combine the head with the heart, and great things happen.  –Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville, KY

One of the most important parts of cycling is rest.  Mayor Greg Fischer joked with Charlie Rose that he sometimes works 22 hours a day.  We are capable of taking on heavy work loads, but we always need rest.  Otherwise at some point the returns diminish.  To get my rest, I left the bike at home and Mai and I packed a simple travel kit and we went camping up near Abiquiu.

It was a great rest.  We return to the landscapes held dear to our hearts and receive an influx of inspiration.  Just as when we are reading and recognize our own thoughts there on the page, being close to the land helps us clearly see our own hearts and minds.  Our origins return to us with a certain alienated majesty, to use Emerson’s phrase.  Or we return to them.

We didn’t have much of an agenda besides eating, sleeping, and reflecting.  We watched the stars come out.  Recently I have had contact with many old friends, and I have been thinking they are like the stars in my life, surrounding me all the time, and there when I look.  We heard the coyotes sing in the night.  An owl hooting cooly.  The sunset colors mesmerized us.  During the day we observed the reflections dancing in the water, the forms of landscape reconstituted as an ever-changing mosaic.  The earth, the sky, and water, all bleeding into one.  We swam in the lake–cold upon first touch, but invigorating once we were immersed.  We took a walk.  We ate green chili burgers and ice cream.  We had a great time enjoying the beautiful land together.