Monday, December 7, 2009

In training

Last week at Lost Creek Farm, as we were cramming freezing cold hoophouse poles into the muddy ground and shivering in the morning fog, David made a passing comment about how bike touring was good training for farming. (Okay, he's way tougher than I am, he probably wasn't shivering. Meanwhile I thought my hands and feet might never thaw and I tried to control my chattering teeth while he spoke.) As a true farmer, he pointed out, you need to be able to withstand all kinds of challenges: extreme weather, hunger, fatigue. Just like biking, which he'd done a fair bit of himself. I've been chewing on that idea for the past few days as I've faced some of the most intense biking to date.

I see his point, but I think the parallel goes much further (as good metaphors often do). Long-distance cycling has pushed me farther than I thought I could go -- I mean, heck, my first ride was down the hall of Ben's apartment building and then I took the bus home, and now I'm nearly 3000 miles along! I've had many run ins with hunger, exhaustion, and less than ideal weather. Farming takes a heck of a lot of mental and physical strength and, to a degree, a denial of pain to push through the tough parts. I certainly am physically stronger than I was when I started. I know this for a fact because I didn't walk any of today's many long hills, including the 3.5-miler (who designs a 3.5-mile long uphill road??) and a few other substantial inclines along the 50-mile stretch. (Remember the days of the 0.8 mile high club? Ha!) Highway 101 does not kid around on the hills. So I'm stronger, maybe I will be less worn out baling hay or hauling bushels of carrots than before.

Farming is also about noticing things. The weather. How things grow. Pollinators. Pests. Sensing if something needs attention. Listening. To things like the thumping sound of a rear tire for the two or three seconds before it explodes as you're flying down the first big downhill stretch of the day. And being able to fix things when they break down. (Flat #8 of the trip is immortalized in the photo above.) I find myself noticing other things, too. Birds, wild onions, constellations. There's a quietness of mind needed, I think, to truly observe and listen, to be a good farmer. And the same is true of cycling.

A lot of people have asked me if I see myself on my own farm some day. Maybe. Frankly, I don't know if I'm tough enough. I've woken up with frost on my tent and frozen toes for the past three mornings and whimpered. I made my first phone call -- to my parents -- this morning from inside the sleeping bag. (It was so cold when I even poked my nose out that I snuggled back in for another half hour before I could work up the hutzpah to haul myself out into the frigid morning.) Tonight, with a forecast for freezing rain and 2 more days of serious biking until the next farm, I decided to dip into the slush fund and get myself a motel room (#6 of the trip). Would a real farmer do that?

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


  1. A farmer's not a farmer if he's frozen to death! Thumbs up for the motel room - #6 out of a possible 160 nights?? I'd say you're pretty tough... As an aside - after you've finished the US - you'll need a new cycling challenge, right? I have suggestions -

  2. umm, once again i assert that you are crazy for camping below zero. i'm a hard core outdoorsman, but below freezing temps demand insulation! i think any farmer, who tend to have warm farmhouses, would agree.

    ps - finals are done i'm enjoying catching up on the blog!


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