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    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    In case anyone was confused...

    In case anyone was confused about the cyclist who circumnavigated the globe in 174 days, finishing just a few days ago in London, THAT WASN'T US. I'm not sure which would have been more difficult for me and Jess: averaging 103 miles a day through 20 different countries (How do you expect us to sample the local beers at that rate?), or growing a beard like this guy.
    (image from the Daily Telegraph)

    Congrats to James Bowthorpe for a truly epic journey which I can't even begin to comprehend.

    Here are some additional photos from San Diego, where I was able to hook up with a Critical Mass on my second-to-last day of biking. Critical Mass is a biking movement that overtakes city streets on a spontaneous route to celebrate the joy of biking and biking pride. I've never done a Critical Mass before, and San Diego's monthly Critical Mass has been known to tear through shopping malls, movie theater lobbys, and parking garages. I wasn't able to stay for the whole Critical Mass since I had to get back for Bramble's last gig, but what a ride....

    (Before the crowds really arrived)

    About a thousand people gathered at fountain in Balboa Park at dusk. A drummer started wailing away on a drum set as people slowly started doing laps around the fountain. Eventually more and more joined the circle, and then with a few short whistle blasts the entire crowd surged forward and we were off, biking through the streets of San Diego with no idea where we were going, just surrounded by bikers on every side. To be a part of that community--the trendy fixed gear riders, the tricked-out racing bikers, the high school kids doing wheelies on BMX bikes--all moving together as a single, wacky unit with no idea where the crowd is going.... indescribable. Peter and I were the only loaded bikes and everyone asked where I had come from. When I answered, "Vancouver to Tijuana!" they couldn't believe it, and to be honest, neither could I.

    A few days later, staying at Chad's house (who I met at the Bramble gig,) he summed up my feelings for bike touring and my bike with a succinct quote from Pirates of the Caribbean, one of the top movies of all time. I like to think of myself as Jack Sparrow, both because I like pirates and because the name of my bike, the Lady Merle, rhymes with the name of his boat, the Black Pearl.

    "Wherever we want to go, we'll go. That's what a ship is, you know. It's not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that's what a ship needs but what a ship is... what the Black Pearl really is... is freedom." -Pirates of the Caribbean

    That's what the Lady Merle is--freedom. Freedom to explore, to move at a perfect pace, meet crazy, amazing people, to ride off into the horizon and see what awaits.

    May you all find what makes you free and may all of your trails lead towards adventure.

    On to the next horizon...

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    What a long, strange trip it's been...

    SUCCESS. A few tears and a huge smile as I hoisted my bike in triumph at the Mexican border on August 31st. Part of me still can't believe it's over, and it was hard to take it all in at the border. Bicycle touring is amazing but there are certainly days when you just don't want to bike anymore, when you wish you could just get in a car and end up where you need to go, when all you want is some toast from a toaster oven and a real bed and not have to find a place to stealth camp on the side of the road where you may or may not get bothered by coyotes or townies. Standing under the Mexico sign, I had all those memories running through my head--of the excruciating hills, of the sheer feeling of flying down some of those same hills, of wandering in the ethereal sanctuary of the redwoods, of laughing with hosts on Vancouver Island that we'd probably never make it that far, of sneaking into hot tubs all down the west coast, of making stir fry in my thrift-store pot and fold-up stove, and of telling all of the strangers who asked "Yes, I'm biking from Canada to Mexico." Suddenly, that became, well, I BIKED from Canada to Mexico.

    This was such a large trip, certainly been the longest and hardest physical challenge I've ever undertaken, that I could never look farther than the next major city or rest day. I concentrated on Seattle, then Portland, then Arcata, then San Francisco, then Santa Barbara/LA, and then suddenly... here I was, at the finish line. Pieces of a puzzle just falling together, and when I looked up, I had done something incredible that I never would have been able to do two months ago. Biking is about determination and true grit, not about physical ability. Anyone can bike 10 miles an hour. Anyone, with enough food and determination, can keep that pace up for 5 hours. And anyone could repeat that cycle for 8 weeks, which is more than enough time to make it from Canada to Mexico.

    Now I'm back at my parent's house in Lexington, MA, trying to recoup some financial losses and reenter society. It was hard, the first week back, to get up and not have to go anywhere, to come home to the same place that I left, to not have a distance goal for each week and section of my day. But it was amazing, too, to rediscover the incredible technology like the refridgerator (what a wonderful idea! Cold food whenever you want it!). And so I move on to the next phase of my life. We'll see what comes next.

    Jess is still making her way down the coast, taking plenty of surf breaks and having crazy experiences along the way. Last I spoke with her she was in LA staying at a commune with Max, who we met further north.

    I'd been looking forward to this margarita since Canada. It was, by all accounts, the best and worst margarita of my life. The best, because I worked so hard for it and envisioned it for about 2,000 miles. The worst because, well, it was a gross margarita. But what could I expect at a place called "Gringo Plaza"? People asked me how far I biked into Mexico. And the answer is, oh, about forty feet. But hey, you know what? It counts!

    My friend Julia, who I worked with at Outside Magazine in Santa Fe, is now living in LA. She rented a bike and biked the last 25 miles, from San Diego to Tijuana, with me.

    Camping south of LA is not really an option. So we make it work in our own way, like camping out on a golf course in Laguna Beach.

    This sign was from Big Sur. Normally, this sign would inspire fear and quaking in my spandex-clad knees, but by Big Sur I was in great biking shape and so inspired by the stunning scenery. All I could think of when I saw that sign is BRING IT ON.

    Big Sur was the last true wilderness we went through before LA.

    We came in under our fundraising goal for World Bicycle Relief of $3,000 at $1,700 (not all of our donations were registered on the website). I think this is more due to rookie mistakes--I was so overwhelmed by the trip itself that I could barely think about fundraising. Now that I'm back home, I'm exploring some other options to help us meet our goal. If you'd like to help us on our way, please consider donating by clicking here.

    As I finished my trip, I think the perfect way to sum it all up is my favorite Grateful Dead song, Truckin':
    Sometimes the lights all shinin' on me;
    Other times I can barely see.
    Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip its been.

    Thanks to everyone who helped us out along the way. It wouldn't have been possible without you.
    Happy Trails,

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    This, too, shall end...

    The Avenue of the Redwoods--one of my favorite sections of the trip
    Writing that phrase "this, too, shall end," it's beginning to sink in how close I am to finishing this epic adventure. Currently in LA, I am just three biking days from the Mexican border. Sadly, I even purchased my plane ticket back to Boston, meaning the previously open-ended adventure is, well, no longer so open-ended. Jess and I parted ways in San Francisco, as we both had different aims for the Southern California part of the trip (Jess--surfing for free, Mel--finishing the trip before the money runs out). So while it's been interesting traveling alone, we've certainly met enough interesting people in our travels so we're never actually lonely. After visiting my aunt and uncle in Menlo Park and getting a ride further south around some forest fires, I ran into a band touring by bicycle and was immediately promoted to band manager. I've unfortunately missed all of their shows since I met them and haven't booked them any gigs, but hopefully I'll be able to help sell CDs at their LA show tonight. Check out their personal myspace pages: and (sorry Chaz I don't know your website). I also biked with Warm Showers host Saul from Seattle, who flew down to meet the Jess/Mel Bike Touring Attempt 2009 Tour but ended up getting only Mel. Touring with Saul was a blast. As Jess put it just a few moments ago on the phone, "So, what was it like getting up before noon and actually knowing where you're going?"

    A few other things I've learned on the road:
    Hit the Road, Jack
    It takes a minimum of 1.5 hours for me to get on the road in the morning--pack up camp, fit it all neatly into two bags and a stuffsack, load up my bike, cook breakfast, and haul myself over the saddle. Shortest time getting ready: 55 minutes. Longest time: 4.5 hours. We were staying in Fort Bragg with some Warm Showers hosts who have a "Bicyclists' Cottage" where they host friends, relatives, and itinerant bikers. I got ready, took another look at the bed, and went back to sleep for two hours.
    Even once I'm on the road, it takes a while to get moving. No matter how hard I try, the first 20 miles of every day usually take me about 3-4 hours because I stop to eat and hike so many times. I'm using a comprehensive book called "Bicycling the Pacific Coast," which I refer to as "The Bible." I take about 95% of the side trips they recommend, which makes it pretty slow going. After all, who knows when I'll be back here?

    The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bike Nutrition
    "Eat like a fat person." That is the best advice I've gotten for nutrition on a bike tour. Anything you want, any tkime you want, in any amount you want. During a normal biking day (aiming for 60+ miles, usually doing about 55 miles) I'll eat about 4,500 calories. In real life, we're always inunadated with eating schedules and trying to overcome our eating urges. So it takes a little while to start paying attention to what your body is telling you. Your body is built to tell you exactly what it needs: craving for Lays potato chips means I'm low in sodium, salivating for a juicy hamburger means I'm hurting for protein (or we just passed a McDonald's billboard), or itching for a beer means I need more carbs (ok, maybe that one's a stretch). I often feel like a gas tank, partly because I buy food at so many gas stations, but also because I have to eat before my stomache hits empty. After one day of biking 45 miles without eating anything and totally crashing, energy-wise, the next day, I stop myself and remind myself to eat and drink every hour.
    When biking, you develop a taste for strange things. My absolute favorite biking food: buying frozen perogies and eating them throughout the day as they thaw. A piping hot Cup 'O Noodles, laden with preservatives and sodium as it is, can't be beat. But even better than that is my B Vitamin Break.
    B Vitamins consist of: beef jerky, berries, beer, and lately, iBuprofen. Around 4:00-6:00 pm, my prime biking hours (perhaps due to 4 years of frisbee practice during that time), I like to have some combination of those B vitamins to push those last 30 miles before dark.

    I Saw the Signs
    In addition to the massive amounts of roadkill witnessed on America's highways and byways, aside from my terrible singing and tribal war whoops on the downhills there's not a whole lot to keep me occupied. Which is perhaps why I've been paying so much attention to the roadside signs...

    "Passing lane ahead" means a big climb is coming up. This makes me sad.

    Means the climb is ending! Hooray!

    This is my favorite sign of all--yahoo!!!!

    There are some strange roadside attractions, like this giant Paul Bunyon at the Trees of Mystery in the Redwoods (yes, Jess and I successfully sneaked into here also).

    Our first night in California was the first time we had seen the sun since entering the Oregon coast--and what a beautiful sunset it was!

    Here's a picture of our loaded bikes from the Oregon Coast just south of Yachatz.

    Some random facts:
    - My gear weighs 42 pounds, of which approximately 8 percent are made up of PBJ supplies
    - In Portland, you can buy rhinocerous tranquilizer as a recreation drug (who knew?)
    - Despite popular belief, my legs look awful: covered in bike grease that Dr. Bronner's just can't tackle, speckled with bruises from my heavy bike banging around, and a giant bruise on the back of my thigh from jumping into a river in northern California from a 30 foot cliff and executing it poorly
    We've raised about $1,600 from our generous friends and family. I'll probably be focusing more on the fundraising when I get home, but we'd love to reach $2,000 before I get to Mexico. You can donate by clicking here. Or, if you know of somewhere where I can do a presentation about the trip, please e-mail me!
    Thanks again for all of your support and help. I can't believe the end is actually in sight!

    Monday, August 17, 2009

    If you're going to San Francisco, wear some flowers in your bike spokes

    Jess and Mel in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

    So we're two thirds of the way done, and just 11 biking days from Mexico... It's kind of hard to believe that this all might be over soon. After a sweet weekend in San Francisco with incredibly sunny weather, we're finally heading out of the mist and into Southern California. Estimated time to Mexico: two weeks, or less.

    We're averaging about 50 miles a day (less in the area directly north of San Francisco, with super steep small hills that wind around the coast and never let you build up speed). We've had some crazy adventures, met some amazing people, sneaked into a few hot tubs and cable cars over the redwood forest, and generally are having a blast.

    Some photos from our journey to Mt. Hood:
    Jess all geared up as the sun starts to rise (we hiked from 11:30 pm to 2:30 pm the next day, then of course snuck into the hot tub at the lodge for a few hours. I told Jess and Brendan, I hope there's a hot tub like this at the bottom of every mountain I climb!)

    The mist on the Oregon Coast was a little unsettling... and quite cold!

    The California coast, on the other hand, has been super sunny and beautiful. On this downhill I set a new max speed--42 mph!

    Learning to swing dance with David in Coos Bay

    The shower with three heads!

    San Francisco was great and I had a chance to see my aunt and uncle in Menlo Park. Now after two days off the bike it's back on the saddle for the final push to the border... can't wait!

    Stay tuned for the next update, including my favorite signs and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bike Nutrition."

    Total miles: 1,310 (total miles for last update: 842)
    Max speed: 42 mph
    Boxes of perogies consumed: 6

    Sunday, August 2, 2009

    Latest AthletesGiving Post

    Here's my latest post from

    Update from the road: We’re 500 miles into our bike journey from Vancouver, Canada to San Diego, and about a third of the way to our fundraising goal for World Bicycle Relief. We’ve had some crazy adventures along the way and met some amazing people. I’ve definitely learned a few things about planning a charity adventure that will be beneficial the next time around. First, here are a few helpful fundraising ideas that put us well on our way to our goal.

    ...Continue reading on

    Almost to California

    Hard to believe, but Jess and I should be in California on Tuesday, August 4th. We've had some strong biking days, including biking up and over the Coastal Range (elevation: 2800 feet) during Oregon's hottest heat wave of the summer. And of course, we did it during the hottest part of the day and ran out of water 3 miles into the 8 mile climb (yikes!). Thanks to whatever random logger I flagged down who gave me some water. Our guest rider, Justin from Portland, was a champ on what was definitely our hardest day--we only hope we didn't totally turn you off from bike touring!
    So yes, we're a little behind schedule, but hopefully we'll still make it to the Mexican border by September 1. We're about 150 miles from the halfway point of the trip, and have really started rolling. Pictures of our incredible side adventures (exploring the Olympic Peninsula, summiting Mount Hood, BrewFest in Portland, and general mayhem and merriment) will come as soon as I can figure out what's wrong with my flash drive. Brendan's currently heading towards San Francisco to fly back to the east coast for a wedding and work, so Jess and I are on our own for the rest of the trip. We took an extra off day in Coos Bay with a professional swing dancer named David who taught us to Lindyhop, Colegiate Shag, Balboa, and East Coast Swing our way through the rest of our trip. David also builds houses--how could we complain about spending an extra day in his gorgeous bayside house with a shower larger than my bedroom that has three, count them THREE showerheads? After 8 nights of camping, this luxury was absolutely unfathomable. This trip certainly wouldn't be possible without Couch Surfing and Warm Showers, and the overwhelming generosity of strangers. When you're on a bike, you're more dependent on other people than any other method of travel (except, perhaps, hitchhiking). It's been both an amazing and humbling experience, as there's absolutely no way to repay people for their kindness except for a heartfelt "thank you."
    So thanks again to both strangers and family and friends for your support as we roll towards the border!
    Happy Trails,
    Jess and Mel

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    Seattle to Portland

    In a strong push, Brendan, Jess, and Mel finally put pedal to the metal (or asphalt) and started biking south in earnest. Though roughly 10,000 riders made it from Seattle to Portland in 2 days last week (a total of 204 miles in one of the largest bike events in the world), we're proud of our 3.5 days of loaded biking that it took us to make the trip between the two cities.

    Our longest day was 68 miles, along with two 62-mile days. While I'd like to think we're just getting in better shape, the flatter terrain has helped enormously as we pound out the miles. Here's a Google Map showing our progress:

    View Larger Map

    Tonight Jess, Brendan and I are attempting to summit Mount Hood, before Brendan makes a final push for San Francisco and Jess and I spend a few more days in Portland. We've had incredible luck with the weather and our amazing hosts on WarmShowers.

    A few pictures from the first part of our journey:

    Host family in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

    Heather and Ellen in Vancouver, BC

    Jess and Brendan get ready for cold water scuba diving off of Vancouver Island, BC

    Heather admires Peter Freeman's sailboat that he used to break the solo record for circumnavigating the globe

    Jess and Brendan help build my bike after I get off the airplane on a random street in Vancouver

    So far, the only major bike repairs we've needed to do came from my bike (the only bike supposedly equipped for touring). A broken chain got stuck on one of my rear spokes, pulling my rear derailer (gear shifter) between the spokes, making the bike totally useless. Luckily, it happened towards the end of our day on the San Juan Islands and I was able to walk the bike the last mile to our campsite. The next morning, I hadn't even finished writing my hitchhiking "To Seattle" sign when an SUV made a U-Turn to come pick me up and drive me 20 miles down the road to the closest bike shop--a total 40 miles out of their way! A million thanks to Tibor Szivos (below) and Half Link bike shop for helping me get back on my wheels.

    Brendan, itching for some rock climbing, campuses on Deception Pass on the San Juan Islands

    Total Miles: 541.2
    Trains that passed by our campsite (and blew their horns) between midnight and 6 am in southern Washington: 7
    Number of peanut butter jars we've finished: 3
    Number of times someone from Warm Showers has given us directions or hooked us up with a place to stay when we realize we're never going to make it to 35 miles to Olympia at 9:30 at night (thanks Saul, DelRene, and Bobbie!): countless

    Thanks for all of your support. We continue to be the highest fundraising team for World Bicycle Relief! Please consider donating by clicking here. Thanks for your support!

    Happy Trails,
    Jess, Brendan, and Mel