Karen Goes, Cycling

I’m not an athlete, but riding a bike has been a part of my life pretty much as long as I can remember. When I was in highschool, I’d ride up to the nursing home to play checkers with my great grandmother. It made her smile so big. Later, I rode my bike to campus at the first college I attended. I’ve used cycling to work my way through some of the most demanding stresses of my life, but building up to rides that are more challenging has been relatively recent. We did a century for Russ’ birthday one year. There were sights in the countryside I wanted to photograph, but I was busy riding, and it was too far to drive back later….too far to drive someplace I just went on my bike. That was a strange feeling.

City traffic keeps most of my miles on local trails, and I get to see nature that awes me. One day in the Paulding Forest a pileated woodpecker flew beside me for 20 yards while I was riding the Silver Comet Trail, and the turkeys out there… Usually when they’re out, I only see 1 or 2, but one day I saw a rafter so big, I’m not even going to give the number. You won’t believe it. Before the pandemic I was riding more on Big Creek Greenway, a path in a streambed north of Atlanta. I didn’t know there were otters at Big Creek until I saw them there. One of the coolest sights was when a Great Blue Heron flew from the stream below to rest on the railing of a bridge I was approaching, and then, just as I made it onto the bridge, it flew on across, about 10 feet from me. I don’t always choose to record a moment, but that would have been nice to share. Deer are often out on many trails and very popular with trail users. My interest in photography is almost as long-term as my cycling, but personally, I don’t always choose to try for a shot. Sometimes I just choose to live it. One time we took a member tour at the zoo early in the morning. The male lion came right up to the plexiglass. There he was nose to nose with my children. I briefly thought about a picture, but I didn’t want to live that moment from behind the camera. I’ve seen some cool things on the trail though, and I want to record the ones I see next for other people to enjoy. The only way I’ll get some of them is if the camera is always going.

Sometimes the interesting things I see are people, all kinds. A person on stilts, on a pennyfarthing, a unicycle, a guy on a home made stand up bike with no seat, from the near exhibitionist to an introvert walking with his head buried in a textbook. One day noticing a woman tethered to her phone (not as in listening to great music and working out in the zone, but, as in, really never letting go of being connected to the device). I wondered, do those people get the same benefits from being out on the trail as people who are attuned to their surroundings, or is it merely cardio benefits and vitamin D for them? And, where do the less obvious benefits of being in nature come from? I listened to Nature Fix by Florence Williams after I heard about it on a radio program, but that was just timing. There are so many other books dating from “When we began to see ourselves as separate from nature”.

I thought; the person who isn’t connected to some of the benefit of being in nature misses out on some of the physical and mental health benefits (and some of the safety in being alert). That’s a choice, but I got to thinking about people who are in the opposite situation, people who would be fully in the environment if they were able maybe there’s a way for people who are homebound or don’t have the resources to get out in nature regularly to gather some benefits of being outdoors. I personally don’t just manage to get myself back on the bike when the outdoors is part of the picture, I want to (most days) ;). How can people who would attend to nature and their surroundings if they could be there get some of those benefits? What if I video, a large amount of trail time, captured some of the more extraordinary wildlife sightings as well as changing seasons and provide a varied distraction for people to watch while exercising, meditating, or even as background while they are working?

Video doesn’t capture the whole outdoor experience and it can’t provide all of the outdoor benefits. But, it can offer sights and sounds. At bare minimum, video with natural audio could help provide a more enjoyable experience for people who can’t get out, or can’t get out as often as they need to. For exercise, maybe it will help them with the motivation to get back on that stationary bike or other cardio machine. It’s a good option for background noise while doing anything, Even some types of science could be performed with species counts.

I want to collect video that could be used to give a varied seasonal experience for the homebound, or those who don’t get to travel for trails as much as they’d like to, an experience that is closer to the nature happening just outside the window. Whether it is used for the natural aspects, or as just a resource enough different from whatever they are already doing to help with motivation, it could be useful to so many different purposes.

Back when I used stationary bikes there was never a cycling video that provided variety, or even actual real scenery to watch, and daytime TV choices on other available screens fall way short of inspiring. I remember being on the staircase in my house. My knees made a gravely grinding noise that my daughter heard. I knew I had bad knees, but I didn’t know they were so loud. Since starting to ride longer distances regularly, they don’t make noise, and they only hurt when I’m not riding, or building up after a break. If I couldn’t cycle outdoors, I’m not sure I’d have the motivation to keep going. It seem like having better knees would be enough, but people really aren’t going to continue to do things they can’t find a way to enjoy. If my video helps people who have my problem or some other problem, those who can’t get out there in person to get out there in spirit, that would make me pretty happy.

A base goal could be to film a roughly hour long ride. At the lowest level of funding, the project would provide equipment, subsidize rides that I already take, commit me to filming them and commit me to producing rewards. I would capture video that would provide an experience for people that changes weekly with the seasons.

When the Shelter in Place order was given, outdoors was one of the few escapes people had. The bike shops sold out and the trails were filled with crowds (on those trails that were open). The numbers of people wearing masks was, and still is, very low. The best research that seems to be available points to 20 foot distances being more appropriate for cyclists because of speed and exertion than the 6 ft recommendations for people who are stationary or moving slowly. That’s a nearly impossible distance to maintain on the Greenway. The base plan needed to be altered before I got it out in front of people.

I had been building up to my plan, researching successful Kickstarters. There are really so many articles out there and personal stories out there with business advice, personal advice and breakdowns on all the ways running a Kickstarter is different from what many people expect. But, soon after the shelter in place order was official trails closed across the state , or had controlled access due to overcrowding. Big Creek was overcrowded, but not closed. The Silver Comet was closed in the two closest counties. We went out to Big Creek in the early morning one Sunday, normally the slowest time there, to see if that was doable. Out of 100 or so people we saw spread out over 8 miles, one other couple had masks on, and many were walking 2 or 3 abreast near stacked groups doing the same. That didn’t allow passing distance that met the emerging guidelines. As that ride ended the numbers of people on the trail increased markedly, but no masks.  Changing conditions was an unpredictable risk too, choosing to start a ride with conditions at one level, and finishing at another level. I thought my project was on indefinite hold. I settled into sheltering. And, I thought I was doing fine.

I was so wrong.

A friend posted about going out past the two closed counties to ride the Silver Comet (SC) where it was open. She’s someone I’ve worked Support and Gear (SAG) for on overnight rides for the entire length of Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga trails. Together they make the longest paved paved path in the Rails to Trails (RTT) system. I had ridden my bike out as far as she was driving, and I had driven out there if I was working SAG for her, but I’ve always tried to limit the amount of gas and transportation expense I was willing to use in order to cycle. It seemed too much to drive that far for a bike ride, and to spend more time in the car than I do on the trail. But, we did it. After the second time she posted about it, she told me I should go once a week. It would be good for my soul. That sounds dramatic. Russ and I went out there for what turned out to be a ride that was both pathetic and necessary. 12 miles was all we had in us. But it was a very important 12 miles. I felt alive again after not having realized how far from that I had drifted. I said to Russ “If I get sick, you need to remind me that there are things I still want to do.” I didn’t know that my voice was going to tremble when I said it. I started going out often, and as I did, I realized that my project is more important now than ever, and that I have to build back up to spending more time on the trail than I do in the car, even when I have to drive this far.

So, now I’ve edited and planned. I have several tiers of goals depending on the level of support we get, and I’ll continue to edit and plan and edit again, sometimes because I edit my writing a lot as I try to be clearer about what I’m saying, sometimes because I learned a little more, sometimes because conditions changed, edit and plan, whether it’s the full Silver Comet project, or some combination of local trails. I’ll stay flexible as conditions change and plan, then edit.

This will be a stretch in many ways. I’ll be happy enough to have the base goal fund, but the big dream is to make the full project stretch goal. At a higher level of funding, I will film the entire Silver Comet and adjoining Chief Ladiga trail in two directions weekly. For this, I will have to reach a level of physical output that I have never before sustained in any of my 60 years. And, though the project goal is to get a year’s filmed record of the longest paved RTT trail in the country, I really expect it to consume me for 2 years. Building up (increases in mileage of 10% per week are recommended) will take time, and I’ll likely suffer setbacks. I won’t be able to stop that level of riding abruptly either. I expect to fill in weather or other unavoidable gaps that may happen by continuing to film as I slow my level of riding gradually.

I’ll be sharing my best film shots with supporters and making some digital wallpaper calendars with different themes. Some of the unbelievable things I see while riding are wild life, and some of them are crazy stupid. I also hope to get some good footage for a multi-use trail safety video. I do understand that this will be grueling at times and there will be days when I wonder what I was thinking. I’m looking forward to the challenge, and working through it to the other side. Thanks for reading.