Blog

Welcome to my blog, where I share all the stories from my L2L expedition as I row, cycle and kayak a continuous loop of the planet. I hope you'll enjoy experiencing the highs (and lows!) of my journey so far and the adventures ahead on my way back to Tower Bridge. You can also have a listen to my Phonecasts recorded en route.

Turkeys in the snow

The flats of Ohio and Indiana have been brilliant cycling when the conditions are good

‘You know it’s getting colder tonight?’ said the chap filling up his car at the gas station.

‘Yes, I can feel it dropping alre-…’ said I, relayering my face masks and regoggling.

‘REALLY cold’, said he, frowning as though I might not understand what really cold meant.

‘Uhuh. And is the snow  still coming tomorrow night?’ said I, not concerned by the temperatures but knowing that the forecasted snow would force a rest day.

The chap harrumphed a yes and shook his head disapprovingly. I thanked the kind worker who had just let me use the rest room under oath of not telling her boss and wheeled Hercules off from his kickstand. She shouted ‘Be safe, friend!’ as I half-swung half-hopped my leg over the cross bar, clipped in with my right foot and pushed off to start hauling up the hill.  I grinned and waved back, trying not to wobble off, enjoying the sunshine while it lasted and the good energy of having just been called FRIEND!

It didn’t take me long to realise that the North American greeting of ‘Hi, how are you’ doesn’t have a question mark. It is just a greeting and people don’t actually want an update on how cold my toes are or anything else for that matter. In fact they look surprised, scared even, when I forget the rules and offer more than the expected ‘Fine. How are you’ in return. So, when a total stranger is keen to see me safe and well, and says it and means it, it can feel really special. Instead of sending me off with ‘Have a good day’ a lady in a store yesterday looked me in the eye and said ‘Be well’, which felt rather more thoughtful than the robotic norm.

I am daily grateful for gestures outside of robotic norms, feeling like I am bundled down the road in kindness and goodwill from people of the road. A favourite recently was hotel manager Isaiah listing everything under the sun that he could find for me to keep me warm and safe, if I wanted it,  suggesting everything from extra coats, his own blazer, a scarf, an escort van with tea supply to my very own bus.

Isaiah and his colleagues made me chuckle alot

Isaiah and his colleagues made me chuckle alot

 ‘Hell, I’m more worried for you than you are!’ It was a giggling ping pong as he played up to the camera I had rolling, his  offerings of this and that met with refusals from me, as his colleague reassured him that I must be OK because, ‘it says on her jacket “Don’t Worry I’m OK”. We all laughed at each other, the sleepy cyclist now chuckling as she left to pedal the day.

Roadies

So many strangers have been good to me lately – from people who have taken me in from the roadside, inviting me into their homes or sponsoring me into a hotel room out of the cold to Kathy who drove for an hour to come and say hi and bring me some groceries, including a bottle of (medicinial) gin.

Gin deliverer, story swapper and room sponsor - Kathy

Gin deliverer, story swapper and room sponsor – Kathy

Ralph’s kindness was the gentle chat mixed with easy silence over a lunch break for me while he mopped the floors at a rest station, whistling as he worked.  In Warsaw the weekend before last, locals Wendy and Rick rounded up a crowd of friends to take me out for breakfast and then troubleshoot my various needs.

'This is my Goddess, Shiva. Photograph me with her' said Miss Angie.

‘This is my Goddess, Shiva. Photograph me with her’ said Miss Angie.

In Van Wert the Collins family insisted on putting me up in a motel for the night where the owner, Miss Angie, fed me delicious curried foods from her native India after calling me down from my room to help her sort something with her computer.

I know my last blog pined for Lucy as I got through the separation again, but let this one reassure you that the Outen is calm and content again, enjoying and savouring the encounters and unknowns of the road, grateful for the experiences and insights and humbled by the kindness and willingness of strangers to share.

'There are a few other people would like to meet you too,' said Wendy, as we arranged breakfast.

‘There are a few other people would like to meet you too,’ said Wendy, as we arranged breakfast.

The Scheurich family were an hilarious evening, egging me on to pretend to their daughter, arriving later, that we had met years before at Aunt Mary’s party. I slept in my tent in the ornate gardens of Jeff Scheurich’s boss, Mr Hamstra and the next morning shook hands with various employees. One of them, Joyce I think her name was, returned shortly after to give me an orange. Whenever I go to a supermarket I always buy fruit – great guesswork.

The Scheurich family and their moose

The Scheurich family and their moose

And Boima was something of a happily serendipitious happening – we were checking in to a hotel for the night at the same time and he asked if I wanted get some food together. He had just flown in from Brazil to take part in a conference on Africa at a local university. As an African-American, married to a Bolivian, son of an immigrant and having travelled the world over, it was interesting and refreshing to swap stories and viewpoints and ask questions on all sorts and everything.

Travellers together - it was fun to share food with Boima and swap opinions on the world.

Travellers together – it was fun to share food with Boima and swap opinions on the world.

Stalled for a moment

The pattern lately seems to have been one snow day per week – forcing a welcome top up of sleep and rest and if I am lucky a chance to clean the salt from Hercules, me and my clothes. This weekend’s snow day has turned into six days off the bike – not because of prolonged poor road conditions (as they abided by the one-day-a-week rule) but a viral tummy bug. Happily, I had made it into Massillon and a hotel just before my insides really started rebelling. And here I have stayed, mostly in the same four walls, a bit like a narcoleptic sloth since Friday afternoon…

Heading downstairs for breakfast exhausted me and a trip to the doctor on Tuesday fairly wiped me out. Thankfully, after some anti-nausea medication from said doc I have been able to eat, the cramping has gone and I have been able to sleep soundly. I had hoped I could cycle today but the short walk to breakfast exhausted me again so here I have slept some more. Maybe tomorrow.

Happy is a cyclist in a tail wind, whatever the weather

Happy is a cyclist in a tail wind, whatever the weather

High on the hill

The riding before Massillon had brought us swiftly through the agricultural flats of Indiana and western Ohio before the landscape started curling into hills. On the back roads the grades on said hills seemed pretty crazy and unthought out, certainly for those of us with a laden bike. I can’t imagine the trap drivers of local Amish communities enjoy them too much either, or rather their horses.  My up hills were mostly slow, steady carthorse style efforts where I can look around and take in anything to be noticed, looking at the somethings or the nothings and talking or listening as fancy takes me.  The down hills have been rollercoasters at times – a teeth-clenching, handle-bar squeezing ride of either pedalling hard or standing up off the pedals and wigglign my toes for warmth, always tucking my chin in to my jacket to keep wind from whistling through the vents in my goggles and freezing my forehead. Sometimes I whoop to the sky, flattening myself across the handlebars to be more aerodynamic- imaging I am in the Tour de France. And then I am reminded that my forehead is freezing to numbness and that on the opposite hill I shall be slowed to six, five, four or three miles an hour as I crawl and pant up the best of the ‘Scenic Byway’ hills. I don’t know why this route – the Old 30 – is the ‘Old Lincoln Highway’ but it is. Lucky fella – it’s a charming ride for anyone looking to pedal the area.

Snow hurrying across the roads is mesmerising in windy conditions

Snow hurrying across the roads is mesmerising in windy conditions

It is about 100 miles to the border with Pennsylvania and within lie the Allegheny mountains, bisecting the state north to south. I am looking forward to the lung burn and satisfaction of the ups and the yippeeing flights of the downhills, the twists and the turns following rivers and wondering what they will be wearing – snow, ice, water or combinations thereof. I am excited for rounding hills to new views, seeing mountains and moods of skyscapes and snowscapes and looking back on the flatlands behind me. I am really going to savour the space from urban areas and traffic, beautiful camping spots and camp fires and silent nights. The wildest spaces are always my favourite, even when they are fleeting moments of rides through forests, along lakes, between fields, hopping from one town to another… or in this case a couple of hundred miles in the hills before I roll down to NYC.

Spotting a red cardinal (bird) along a river bank recently – a bright splash of colour against the lyre string hedge as cars whizzed by on the road to my left was such a treat. A rather more comical avian treat was rounding the spur of a hill to see some wild turkeys scrabbling at a trot through a wheat field trying to hide, heads down – as though, like three year olds, they thought they couldn’t be seen because they were looking in the other direction. As they scurried for what they must have imagined looked like cover in a field of uniformly short corn stubble so too did whirls of snow spin across the fields, chased by the wind like dancing hares at a spring cavort. It was delightful and I laughed out loud.

Be present

It is dawning on me that my biking on this continent is drawing to a close, the space between me and the sea  on my map ever shortening. It is now just two of my hand spans to the Cape. Soon the characters of my journey will be the whales and dolphins, the fish and birds of the ocean and the conversation altogether different.

Lying here on the bed that I have cursed at times in the last few days, I think I am grateful, actually, for the enforced pause. It has rebalanced my perspective and reminded me that there is more than the weather out of my control and that a few days here and there, in the grand scheme of things, are just a few days here and there – moments in the journey. Getting ruffled by the juxtaposition of my expedition and its closing phases and life after the journey, I was reminded by someone recently the need to focus in on the now and let the afterwards happen as and when. It was a good note.

I have been reminded that every moment needs savouring and feeling and noticing, be it with stranger or friend, a host of black turkeys trying to hide in the snow or the space of the open sky. Be they good, bad or something in between, all moments are potential for memories, unrepeatable happenings in time and space. As Kathy (gin deliverer) and I sat and talked of adventures past and present, she acknowledged that ‘although the replacements are slowing me down these days’ (referring to her bionic limbs), she was satisfied at a lifetime of memories in her bank to reflect on. Happy days, as one cyclist often says.

Shoutout

I’d like to take these last few lines to make shout outs to some very special parents of very special friends of mine currently facing health challenges bigger than my dodgy tum. Mr Hammond, Jane, Mr Harris – Hercules and I send you warmth from Ohio and look forward to seeing you in the autumn.

Until next time,

Sarah and Hercules

P.S Recent road thanks to: Wendy, Rick, Troy, Amy and the Breakfast crew; Dr David Dick; Isaiah Trammell and colleagues at Holiday Inn Express, Mansfield; Kathy Wells; Shelagh Egar;  Team Scheurich and Wilb Hamstra; Chief Boima; the Collins Family and Geoff; the ladies who bought me lunch and the staff at Hampton Inn, Massilon

P.P.S Thanks to all recent donors to the L2L charities. All donations gratefully accepted here: www.sarahouten.com/the-mission/charity/

P.P.P.S Apologies not to have a picture of the turkeys in the snow – I was laughing too much to get my camera out.

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You pass the moon to me

It took a while to get used to the space of the big orange tent again as a soloist

It took a while to get used to the space of the big orange tent again as a soloist

It has taken me a while to write again post-Lucy. At first I slumped into an emotional, angry, numbed grief period and then I climbed back up and settled into something more manageable and remembered – the steady self-reliant routine of talking to Hercules, the clouds and myself more than anyone else. Whereas at first the miles to the coast and the powerful vastness of the mighty North Atlantic felt like too big a void to contemplate toute seule, now I am somewhat more adjusted to the idea, as much as I wish it were otherwise. Looking forward to seeing Lucy again in Cape Cod pre-departure, there is another part already pining at the goodbye, a lump in my throat if I think on it too much.

I had a long chat with Briony (my psychotherapist) when I was in Chicago last week and we tried to work out why things felt so different this time to previous oceans. I am more wary this time, seemingly more nervous of the consequences of things going wrong and the idea of not coming home. I think it has something to do with chatting through the Pacific 2012 saga with my weather router Lee when Lucy and I were in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, coupled with the fact that Lucy and I have now been together longer and more recently in each other’s company 24/7. We are more in love than ever, if ever it was possible to be even more in love than before. Even though there is a risk that each of us might not come home if we pop to the supermarket or do any realm of x,y,z things, the ocean represents extreme isolation and a multitude of unknowns and potential ‘biggies’. Another thing that is very different this time to last time is that after the 2013 Pacific row I became severely allergic to many things, including mould. As my team and I sort the medical kit for this row, we have to consider the chance of me having a big reaction at sea – to mould, to something new. So long as I don’t become allergic to the sea – for then I would be in an insurmountable pickle.

These are not reasons to stay ashore – not yet, at any rate. If it was medically unsafe for me to put out to sea alone then I would have to heed the advice, but for now we are working on ways of managing the risks and niggles and bothers and worrysome bits. Just as before, the training, the planning, the talking and support systems in place will ensure that I am as safe and tracked and supported as possible. And the rest is up to chance.

As for Lucy – we just have to keep on, keepin’ on, living together and apart all at once, moment by moment, day by day. We speak when we can and are in regular messaging/email contact. I live a double life of biking and lambing at the moment (Lucy is a farmer) though at least now I am brave enough to look behind me on the bike. At first when she left I called out often but wouldn’t look behind – willing her to be there.

The Missisippi kept me company - albeit silently as I weaved up and over the hills

The Missisippi kept me company – albeit silently as I weaved up and over the hills

How curious that the above words just put themselves onto the page like that. About an hour ago I was chatting to my pal Emily Chappell up in Canada, swapping stories from the road (she is currently biking Anchorage to Seattle – see her blog thatemilychappell.com) and I didn’t know what to write about. It seems that my fingers did, however, describing my present mental landscape instead of the beautiful physical landscapes that have kept me busy these last couple of weeks and the characters who have peopled my days.

I shall do that now, briefly…

I followed the Mississippi in all her patchwork glory for a couple of hundred miles, puffing up and rolling down high bluffs that lined her banks, mostly in bright sunshine, accompanied by eagles and watched by fluffy cows with icy beards.

I turned East through Wisconsin, wheeling past farm after farm and yet more cows, some of them newly arrived into this world and breathing fresh the crisp days as I was. And then it snowed. A blizzard grounded me in Argylle with a friendly family, forcing a welcome rest upon mind and body for a day before I pushed on eastward, yet more snow slowing things past Illinois’ third biggest city, Rockford. Here I met some real heroes – a firefigher who told me stories of families losing everything in house fires as they struggled to heat their homes with open-doored ovens or overloaded electric heaters. And Beth, the foster mother who teared up as she told me about her two fostered lads, hungry for attention and love after a sad start to their young lives. And then there was Lou, the unconventional, outspoken, somewhat potty-mouthed arch-something-or-other from a local church who had walked across the U.S in support of those in poverty, with a hope of ending the P-word someday.

Blizzard in Argylle

Blizzard in Argylle

Jay picked me up outside of Chicago to drive me to the city in his huge mobile pizza-oven-pulling wagon, swapping tales of bike trips of years past. The Bloyd-Peshkins hosted me as one of their own for my time in the Windy City, feeding me with delicious food and company, laughing or talking away the niggles and worried bits, and showing me the sights about town.

Team Bloyd-Peshkin - paddlers, bikers and all-round fun folks

Team Bloyd-Peshkin – paddlers, bikers and all-round fun folks

Bonnie Perry hosted me for a talk at All Saints and the lovely punters donated very generously to the expedition. We had a happy hour wandering amongst the park visitors, watching skaters on the ice ribbon beneath towering high-rises and admiring the smooth lines and reflective form of the ‘bean’ as people studied it and themselves in their own little bubble.

The 'bean' in Chicago's Millennium Park contrasting against the skyscrapersl

The ‘bean’ in Chicago’s Millennium Park contrasting against the skyscrapersl

I even had a paddle, enjoying being back in a kayak after six months away from the water, joining in after Sharon and Alec had finished their coaching session. To be with kindred, outdoorsy spirits with the shared connection of Justine and many mutual pals in the paddling world was comforting, refreshing and a whole lot of fun. The couple of hours spent ‘under the thumb’ as Gina the physio righted the wrongs in my back and legs were painful but productive, as were the hours Hercules spent in Dan’s Bike Shop. Both bike and rider left feeling rather refreshed, though sorry to be leaving new friends. And then there was lovely couple Joey and Bob who came out to find me by my riverside campspot last night after Joey found out that Bob hadn’t invited me in when I called to ask for camping spot advice!

Bob and Joey in Montgomery

Bob and Joey in Montgomery

We had a lovely evening together and Bob ran the first three miles with me this morning.

When Lucy flew home, someone reminded me of the Winnie Pooh quote about being lucky to have someone to feel sad about saying goodbye to. Another pal today sent me a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, ‘World’ – all about passing the moon and rolling the sun to the one you love when across lands or seas. I hear WTP and love it when I see the moon to talk to or imagine the sun being passed back and forth between us and I am realising more than ever that love is the biggest motivator to get home asap.

Thanks to: Team Fischer, Team Bloyd-Peshkin, Jay Jones, Bonnie Perry, Lou, Beth, Gina Kolk of Integrity Physiotherapy, Kevin of Dan’s Bike Shop, Joey and Bob, Jay Shefsky and crew of Chicago Tonight, and everyone who came to the talk at All Saints.

Until next time,

Sarah and Hercules x

P.S BT Sport Action Women – January cover girl

P.P.S Recent news piece with BBC East Midlands Today

P.P.P.S Recent news piece with Chicago Tonight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Leaving on a jet plane

Happiest of days

Happiest of days

*Huffs and puffs * ‘ARGHHH! I have to get my foot out….. There must be a toe warmer in between my toes and it’s REALLY annoying.   I can’t sleep with it there.’  I wriggle around trying to get my leg out of the sleeping bag that both Sarah and I are sharing rather unsuccessfully….

Last night in the tent together

Last night in the tent together

It was our last tent night and we had saved two beers from the night before to toast our cycling success – the miles, the memories and lack of frostbite. As I brought them from the tent I put one down my top to keep ‘warm’ and opened the other, drawing it up to my lips. As I tipped it up, the liquid began to freeze so quickly, turning the pale gold into ice before our eyes. We watched the second bottle do the same and resigned ourselves to hot chocolate instead, marvelling at the two frozen beery volcanoes.

Beery volcanoes

Beery volcanoes

After dinner and a little campfire, punctuated by marching about to keep warm, we settled into the tent and found Sarah’s sleeping bag zip had broken irreparably. (Sarah – I never have much luck with zips) We decided to try and fit two of us into my sleeping bag, (a massive feathery house of a thing) but even that was rather snug and left the top half of our bodies only partially covered.

At -30 it would not do and we covered our top halves in jackets and fleece to insulate, wriggling and squiggling to get comfy and lie still enough to decide if we were cold. During this time I tried using one foot to try and remove a toe warmer trapped between my little toe and his neighbour. In the end I thought it must be wedged and declared that I couldn’t sleep with it there and that we had to disentangle ourselves for me to get at it. While Sarah took this opportunity to use the en-suite facilities I took off my socks to remove said toe warmer only to find… nothing there. On closer inspection I realised that I could no longer feel my poor little toe which was now white except for a bruised-looking tip.  The pinch test failed, meaning that no blood was looping around my little digit and I couldn’t feel Sarah’s tapping or pinching.

I really was with crazy!

I really was with crazy!

Sarah immediately got to business – sitting up, massaging it and warming it in her armpit. (Romantic, or what) There we sat for 30 minutes, Sarah coaching me through muscles clenches up and down my body to squeeze warm blood down and preparing a ‘What if?’ plan incase we had to get to hospital.  I lay there, wrapped in the sleeping bag, a little bemused by the whole thing – wondering at how this would happen on our last tent night together.

At the end of 30 minutes, suddenly a rush of feeling shocked the pale toe into action and it looked red and healthy again. We looked relieved.  Phew.

A chilly Sarah

A chilly Sarah

I have learned that the cold does funny things to you as it does to kit and gear. Not only does kit getting misshapen, not fitting into this or that or folding neatly as it did before – but minds and bodies do, too. At – 40 Sarah says that I lie very still, not talking at all, in a sort of stupor as though conserving every micro-ounce of energy. I don’t think I shall miss the cold too much.

It has reassured me whilst packing my bags and boxing the bike to fly home, that Sarah is always on high alert and very in touch with what her body is doing and telling her.

Our final day of cycling went smoothly,  with mild weather, good tail winds (about time, too) and only a couple of hiccups. My rear luggage rack decided to snap off it’s fixings just one hour into our 100km ride and so we unloaded at the roadside and got creative with duct tape and cable ties.  At the other end of the road, just 10 km from our final stop we were honked at by a motorist and illuminated by the car lights behind. It was a very-smartly-behatted  State Tropper informing us that we were breaking state law and were not allowed on the Interstate. Apparently we had missed the ‘Bicycles prohibited’ signs amid our teary, thoughtful dazes as we contemplated our final hours on the bike together.

Getting creative with cable ties and duct tape

Getting creative with cable ties and duct tape

Riding with Sarah  the last 2 months have been the best times  - ever. Period. The highlights are too many to mention but my favourite part was spending 24/7 together. With only one small bicker about how best to pack my bike into its small box, we are closer then ever.

I am able to better understand and support Sarah now through the distance, holding her hand knowingly while she continues cycling and rowing home, even though she still has thousands of miles to make. When she says she has seen a sun dog I know that it is ‘freeze-your -wotsits -off’ weather and she had better get inside. Or when she says she has had a really good day on the bike, or equally a bad one – I get it.

Both happy to be here :)

Both happy to be here :)

Sarah has so many first class qualities but two that stand out are her patience and ability to remain positive and cheerful in ANY situation. Patience with me as a learning bicycle tourer making mistakes she’s already made years ago but being kind enough to sit them out and watch me make them and learn. On days when it seemed the whole of America would descend and stop and ask what, where and why, there was Sarah speaking with the same enthusiasm every time. When most people would get stressed, Sarah smiles and let it all wash over her, being meticulous in her actions to ensure the best outcome and leaving the rest up to whatever will be will be. The kindest, bravest and most humble person I’ve ever met.

So, this is the second to last of the big goodbyes done now. I am back  in the UK, helping with Happy Socks sorting and immersing myself with my farm work as lambing season descends. And Sarah and Hercules continue East to the coast.

I am constantly reminded what an incredible journey she is making and I feel so lucky that I was able to share  a tiny bit of it first hand.

Thank you so much to those who have donated to my cycling months and miles supporting the L2L charities.  Here is the link incase anyone else is tempted :)

Lucy x

P.S Thanks to Team Carlson and Team Stevens, Sable Inn – Foley, Sherry and Lee Bruce, and Accenture Minneapolis

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Of ice and men

'I thought you were guys when I first drove past..'

‘I thought you were guys when I first drove past..’

‘Did anyone ever tell you this is just a guy thing?’

If I understood his question correctly, it may be one of the most perceptive questions I have ever been asked at a talk – by adult or child. By correctly, I mean understanding this young lad to be questioning whether I had ever met with such comments, rather than him telling me that he believed, and did I not know, that adventure is just a guy thing.

'Your bike's awesome'.. as Hercules was wheeled on stage

‘Your bike’s awesome’.. as Hercules was wheeled on stage

I was really glad that this boy of 12 asked me about it being a ‘guy thing.’  Sad, too, that he lives in a society where the social vibes – in and out of the media, and home and away, must be suggesting to him that adventure is only for those people lucky enough (*cue wry smile) to be born with a Y chromosome. It is one thing to be stood barefoot in front of a class of youngsters sharing tales about how the fully laden bike behind me brought me to their country, and how various other small muscle-powered boats carried me across the sea. But to confront that question out loud with words and thoughts on the topic itself was probably more powerful. Or perhaps not. Project Manager Sara said that her 10 year old daughter had been really excited watching the preview film that Justine has made about our Alaskan kayaking adventures last summer because she was watching women – future older versions of herself – doing extreme things in the outdoors rather than the usual beards she sees on Discovery and mainstream TV.

Without confronting these things and talking about them – amongst adults and young people alike – clearly such sexism is often acknowledged and accepted and the status quo can continue on. It is good to swirl things up and encourage debate and discussion.  Chatting to other adults about the ‘guy thing’ question later that day, we were told that this area of the American Mid West is a patriarchal place, so it is easy to see where it might start. (This is not to say there are not strong women up here, either by the way) On TV the adventurous-looking ads for huge pick up trucks are coupled with testosterone in bucketloads and in outdoor stores, there are pictures of square jawed blokes doing outdoorsy things. Out on the road recently we were told by a driver that he had taken us for guys on first seeing us pedal past ‘because he didn’t expect to see ladies out riding bikes at this time of the year’. I raised my eyebrows into a ‘Did-I-really-just-hear-you-say-that?’ look. I guess that at home in the UK among friends there is nothing extraordinary in my doing what I am doing as a female. I have always been surrounded by strong women and grown up playing sports and doing adventurous things under their guidance, with their companionship etc. The glaring omission for me would be in the media – besides Ellen MacArthur’s Vendee Globe campaign on TV while I was a teenager over a decade ago, I can’t say I have been overwhelmed with media examples of women doing amazing things. This isn’t to say they aren’t doing amazing things – just that they aren’t making the media coverage and the mainstream with the same frequency or airtime/print space as the guys. And it doesn’t even have to be ‘amazing’ to be valid and valued as example and inspiration to folks that girls can, too.

I imagine I might be talking to the converted here – you are reading a blog of an expedition by a woman, after all. But my shout would be to seek out stories of women doing cool things and share them and demand from our media outlets that we ladies are given as much air time, print space, sponsorship and kudos as the beards. And that, most of all, girls and women are given the same support and encouragement and opportunities as their male counterparts – in and out of sport and adventure. It is the 21st Century after all.

Stranded in the snow.

Stranded in the snow.

 Blizzards and bikes

DCIM105GOPRO

Surreal to be walking on a frozen lake

In other news, Lucy and I continue to pedal when we can and wait out the blizzardy stuff when we cannot, now heading SE through Minnesota, state of ’10,000 lakes’. With the sub zero temperatures, lakes and rivers are freezing or frozen, turning the ice into pop-up fishing communities of huts and shacks and trailers. Yesterday we pedalled out onto the ice of one such frozen lake to meet one such fisherman.

Jeff and his ice fishing hut

Jeff and his ice fishing hut

Jeff was the closest to the slipway and as we were wary of the creaking and cracking and the idea of falling through (logic played no part here) we opted to say hello to him rather than venture out further to other trailers.

Jeff was getting set up, piling snow around the bottom of his home made insulated 5 ft x 3 ft shack, having lined it up over the two head-sized holes he had drilled through the ice.

The icy blue green was mesmerising

The icy blue green was mesmerising

‘Wanna see inside?’ he said as he opened up the door to show us the set up. A curtain was drawn to make it easier to peer into the pale green blue of the ice hole and a small heater warmed the space. A small spool of line and simple lure hung above the hole and Jeff ladled out ice to clear the water. He dropped a small fish-shaped camera down on a line and showed us the bottom of the lake as he turned the camera, telling us of a ’3 foot Northern beauty’ which had swum in and out of shot a few times. Two little perch lay flaccid in a bucket of ice, hauled out of their icy winter home to become fertiliser for Jeff’s garden.

With a heater and insulated walls, it was a cosy treat to be inside

With a heater and insulated walls, it was a cosy treat to be inside

As we walked our bikes off the ice, wondering how a 3 foot fish could be hauled up through said ice holes, Jeff went back to his FishTV, setting up for the experience. If he is anything like my brother Matt, I know that just being out there on the ice will be as important as catching anything. There is a lot to be said for just being. As I understand, ice fishing for many is a lot about beering too – and, having spent a few nights with folks from this part of the world, I can well believe it.

Until next time,

 

Sarah x

P.S Recent thanks to Janet and Harvey Solheim, Karie Kirschbaum, Gary cafe, Pastor Phil and the Huck family.

P.P.S Huge thanks to recent donors to the L2L charities. If you’d like to follow suit – please do so here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=sarahouten

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wintry things

Sundogs and crazy bikers go out in the wintry....

Sundogs and crazy bikers go out in the wintry….

Since Lucy and I last wrote a blog (last year) we have swapped Canada for the U.S of A and 2014 for 2015, experienced some of the chilliest temperatures of the trip so far, broken a few bike bits, fixed a few others, been adopted by a wonderful Canadian family for the holidays (and consumed modest amounts of gin with them), been welcomed in  and escorted both ways in and out of cities by various other folks and had to start coming to terms with the idea that Lucy’s time out here is drawing to a close this month. Sad faces indeed… (Hercules is besides himself at the idea and I am trying to be silently stoic and failing miserably)

Team Woodcock Cycles,Winnipeg

Team Woodcock Cycles,Winnipeg

As if wanting to send her out with a fanfare, the weather has done it’s wintry best to put on a show lately, providing beautiful sun dogs and halos around the sinking sun, painted wide skies bright with warm sunsets and full moons, shown us a north American blizzard in all its fury and reminded us of how quickly frostbite can…well, bite. Worry not – we still have all limbs, digits and extremities intact but Luce seems to be more sensitive to the cold after going out of the tent without her gloves on the other morning. Must have had snow on the brain or something…

Back in the U S of A

Back in the U S of A

Anyhooo… the big news  of late is that I am starting up my own band, with the recent gift (by Lucy – mad woman) to me of a harmonica. Expect no concerts any time soon as she won’t actually let me practice on it very much, and instead insists that I ‘save it for the ocean’. Perhaps I can pipe myself into shore as I reach the UK? So far, I am working on Frere Jacques. Watch this space… That big patch of blue is getting ever closer with every pedal stroke, though as we approach mid winter it feels like we are experiencing more ‘weather’ days with blizzards and cold temperatures, so there is still enough thousands of miles to keep me keenly aware that anything can happen.

Dave Sears from Grand Forks - kindred bikey spirit

Dave Sears from Grand Forks – kindred bikey spirit

 I still find it amusing when speaking to journalists in towns ahead of my position, when they want to know of arrival times, pointing out that I am currently static due to a blizzard etc and cannot determine when anything will happen let alone an arrival to somewhere miles and miles ahead.There are no givens and nothing can be taken for granted. Meanwhile my nutritionist Rinn Cobb is devising some pretty detailed plans of what I shall be fuelled with out there and kit orders for this and that are arriving at L2L HQ ready for shipment to the coast next month.

South to the States

South to the States

I am just waiting with baited breath to see if Hercules’ hub rim weld will hold until I (finally) meet up with the replacement hub which seems to have gone AWOL since leaving Europe a few weeks ago. For now, he is going strong and nothing has pinged or cracked and the lovely folks at Santos are working on tracing it.     Right, update out of the way, now to a brief kit list after someone requested a few weeks back. First up, I would say that something that may or may not work for me, may not do the same for A. N Other. I am continually amused by the number of (I am guessing) testosterone fuelled males who email my website declaring that I should or should not be doing this or that, going here or there and wearing this or that or not – offering their own unsolicited advice without necessarily knowing anything about my setup or plans etc.

All things kit

So…. Top tips from our experience would be to layer clothing, guarding against biting winds, keeping extra protection for extremities to hand and ensuring ‘cold fat bits’ (thighs/bum) are protected. I know some people go for bivvy bags/snow holes instead of tents in cold weather to do away with frosty issues – but for us that is not an option, given the wind and lack of deep snow.

SLEEPING:

  • MEC Lightfield tent (generally using panniers for guys instead of pegs)
  • MSR Z-Lite thermarest
  • Airmats (Lucy uses  Alpkit and I am using Exped Downmat 9)
  • 4/5 season down sleeping bags – Sarah couples hers with a Lifeventure fleece liner * Recommend waterproof bags e.g. Crux or Exped   2 x candle lanterns for warmth/moisture reduction hung from tent

CLOTHING:

  • MEC down booties (super warm for tent wear)
  • Merino wool socks by Icebreaker and Skhoop (2-3 pairs depending on temps)
  • Sealskinz waterproof socks
  • Thinner down jacket (Skhoop for Lucy, Berghaus Ignite Hoody for Sarah)
  • Thicker down jacket (Berghaus)
  • Merino wool vest/gilet and long sleeve zip tops – Icebreaker
  • Merino tank top base layer  - Icebreaker
  • Secondary layers – Lucy wearing Icebreaker, Sarah wearing MEC hooded top
  • Windproof rain jackets by Berghaus
  • Boots – 45 Nrth Wolvhammer boots (have cleats) We wear them comfortably all the time down to -45 C coldest temps. Just walk a short way if toes get cool.
  • Lucy wears a set of gaiters
  • Cycling tights by Assos (Sarah winter full length/Lucy 3/4 fleece lined)
  • 2-3 pairs of thermal tights (mix of merino wool by Icebreaker and synthetic by Berghaus and MEC) Sarah cycles in 1/2 sets and Lucy wears a pair of Jack Wolkskin fleece lined pants
  • Down skirt by Skhoop *FAVOURITE PIECE OF CLOTHING – Sarah wears hers on the bike
  • Fleece pant/trousers for tent/town (Sarah sometimes layers on bike if cold)
  • Merino wool briefs (Icebreaker)
  • Gloves by Sealskinz (mix of Lobster claw, 5 finger and fingerless Assos gloves)
  • Mittens by MEC and Berghaus
  • Pogies/bar mits (Lucy has MEC and I have neoprene Bar Mitts – latter warm enough to cycle at -45 with fingerless gloves)
  • Helmet – Rudy Project
  • Helmet cover (hi vis)
  • Skull caps – merino wool (Icebreaker)
  • Balaclavas – synthetic by OCR and Lucy wears silk
  • Neoprene face mask
  • Fleece hats by Berghaus (over-the-ears)
  • Fleece lined waterproof hat with ear flaps (Beghaus)
  • Buffs (fleecey/windproof)
  • Fleecey headband earwarmer
  • Sunglasses (Rudy Project) Goggles (Rudy Project) – Reflective/tinted is useful for bright sun but makes everything quite dark at night!
  • High vis/reflective vest

Misc:

  • MSR Whisperlite international stove
  • Home made alochol beer can stove
  • Fuel bottles
  • Fire steel – Light my Fire
  • Tinder stick – Light my fire
  • Waterproof matches
  • Lighter
  • Bike repair kit/spares
  • Titanium fork/spoon (Lifeventure)
  • Small cooking knife
  • Vacuum sealed flasks (Lifeventure)
  • MSR cooking pans
  • Leatherman knife
  • Snowshovel (MSR)
  • Tarp by Alpkit
  • Compass
  • First aid kit/medication – kept in Ortlieb dry bags/Lifeventure zip lock sacks
  • Mooncup (for ladies)
  • Natracare baby wipes (dehydrated or they freeze)
  • Zinc stick for face
  • Vaseline
  • Lesson: Check which meds need to be kept warm e.g. keep epipens on body to prevent freezing

Bike:

  • Sarah – Santos Travel Master 2.8 Alu with Rohloff hub and Gates centre-train belt drive
  • Brooks leather saddle
  • Lucy – Pinnacle
  • Studded tyres by Schwalbe (Winter marathon)
  • Modifications: Cable tie/tape foam pipe cladding around the cross bar for cold weather; reflective tape all over
  • Mirror
  • McMurdo PLB Fastfind beacon
  • Panniers & Rack Pack bags (Ortlieb)
  • Drybags – Ortlieb/Aquapac
  • Sarah has cross bar bag by Alpkit
  •   Lights: Sarah has Schmidt SON dynamo hub to power front light; Variety of LEDlights by CatEye (USB/battery)
  • LED headtorch: Petzl MYO XP
  • Sarah has flag pole and flags (Lucy lost hers on day 2)
  •  Camera gear/electronics: Canon Legria video camera and mic; Go Pro Hero 3/4 ;Pentax Q7; Power Gorilla battery and charging leads ; Small adaptors – In Ortlieb AquaCam case
  • Comms: Iridium Extrem satellite phone, plus Axcess wifi point.
  • Tablet etc: Samsung Galaxy tablet and phone/Lucy Ipad/iphone.
  • Food: Sent by sponsors – Trek and Nakd bars by Natural Balance Foods, and chocolate by Mars.
  • Recent thanks go to: Family Evans, Family Gillespie, WoodCock Cycles, MEC Winnipeg, Janet Taylor, Human Rights Museum of Canada, Darlene and George Lecuyer, Willie and Coleen Johnson, Kitty Stromberg, Dave Dahlstrom, Dave Sears, Ray Butler and Debbie Johnson, and Dakota Harvest Bakery.
  • All best   Sarah x
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