Karen Goes, Cycling

I’m not an athlete, but riding a bike has been a part of my life since my sister promised she wouldn’t let go, then I rounded the cul de sac and saw her down the street. When I was in high school, I’d ride up to the nursing home to play checkers with my great-grandmother. It made her smile so big. Then there was the time I rode my bike over to the next town where they had a Pizza Hut back before I knew anyone else who would do something like that.

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 during the ride, 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 new 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 stream bed 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. It would have been nice to have a picture 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 choose to live it. For Example, one time I took a member tour with my children at the zoo early in the morning. The male lion came right up to the thick plexiglass. He stretched up and put his paws on the glass above their heads. There he was nose to nose with my children. Neither backed away, they just returned his gaze. I had my camera around my neck. 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 and 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 penny farthing, 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. They all come out to enjoy the trail.

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 read other books too.

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 people make, and they get what they are looking for from the choice. That’s okay. 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.

Personally, I 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 and captured some of the more extraordinary wildlife sightings as well as changing seasons to provide a varied distraction for people to watch while exercising, meditating, or even as background mood 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 doing indoor cardio, people who can’t get out, or can’t get out as often as they need or want. 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 meditating, doing anything really, It could even be used for some types of natural or social science with species counts or other observation 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.

I remember being on the staircase in my last 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 when I’m building up after a break. They were grinding 30 years ago and now they aren’t. That seems like plenty of motivation, but it’s pretty easy to think right now is not the time. I have this other thing to do. If I couldn’t cycle outdoors, I’m not sure I’d have the motivation to keep going. It seems 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 or at least tolerate. 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. The more people I could help the better.

A base goal is just the start. It would 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. Stretching that single hour to video the full Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga trails is the whole plan though. That is the target I have my sights set on.

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. The plan needed to be altered before I even got it out in front of people and 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 that’s ridable year ’round. 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 spending more time in the car than I do on the trail is not desirable.

But, 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. But, 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 would 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 tiered goals depending on the level of support we get, and I’ll continue to edit and plan and edit again. Sometimes 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 since that day has been to make the full project “super stretch” goal. At the highest 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 61 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 more 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 doing some digital photography stills with different themes. Some of the unbelievable things I see while riding are wild life, and some of them are crazy stupid. I should get plenty good footage for a multi-use trail safety video too.

I do understand that this will be grueling at times and there will be days when I wonder what I was thinking. Be careful what you ask for, right? I’m looking forward to the challenge, and working through it to the other side.

Thanks for reading.