RIDING DAYS: 28 SHOWS: 12 TOTAL MILEAGE: 1,145 ELEVATION GAIN: 37,884 ft FLAT TIRES: 1 (note: we've also had 3 valve failures due to oddly terrible tubes.)
This image is composed of our daily GPS maps for the tour so far.
This trip is going to be a long one, so we've set it up a bit differently than trips in prior years. Long term, fully loaded bike touring can wear you down if you aren't careful, and with our schedule being set in advance by tour dates we are essentially obligated to put ourselves up to enduring whatever timing we agreed to in the booking process. In years past this has meant some long days on our bikes, and even injuries.
So, on this world tour we knew from the beginning that it would be important to keep the mileages manageable and keep our stress level low. At the same time we wanted to have enough challenge and adventure to keep us motivated and interested in the trip. Fortunately new places, new faces, new roads, new places to camp and all of the serendipity and craziness that is involved with going a long way on a bicycle make for an experience that draws you out of your shell to see the world again and again. In short, we both feel very engaged with the trip, very happy and very healthy. We feel great.
As is evident from the photos, Wisconsin was terrible. We had a lot of trouble finding anything but the most ideal roads. We occasionally had to deal with a brutal tailwind. The natural beauty was persistent, seemingly due to the vast amount of state forest land that we often biked through. We camped at one of the most peaceful and quite campgrounds we've been to in ages, complete with beautiful, clear, crisp forest river for bathing, which effectively destroyed our protective coating of grime consisting of sweat, gnats, insect repellent and sunscreen.
In reality, the shows were great, the people were pleasant, and the only thing that gave us a hint that it wasn't a dream were the persistent mosquitoes and the swarms of biting flies.
That's all the time we have for words today. We'll have to let pictures say the rest for now.
We relish every opportunity of getting fresh foods while bicycling, as we're used to having fresh produce from gardening and horticultural research (one big perk of horticulture grad school!). One (free) opportunity that has recently presented itself is fresh picked wild mulberries.
When we visited Draco Hill Farm, in West Branch, Iowa, Suzan Erem gave a thorough and fascinating tour of the property, from prairie restorations and wooded areas to their newly planted orchard. She paused to point out all the “learning opportunities” they had while figuring out how to turn an overgrazed, hilly piece of land back into the habitat it used to be. Every summer Suzan and her husband Paul have WOOFers (like farm interns) at the farm who help them remove invasive species, plant native species, and do anything else that comes up while trying to restore land and bring it into a healthy system of production. She also made sure to pause at all the mulberry trees along the tour route so the group could pick to their hearts' content. The next day Paul made a mulberry cobbler, and that got us thinking a lot about mulberries.
A few days later, on a trail leading out of Dubuque, Iowa, we noticed dark spots on the pavement every so often, clustered under trees. We realized not too much later that they were our old friend, the mulberry! We stopped at the next mulberry tree and picked and ate as many as we could reach. I felt like we were playing out the story from Blueberries for Sal. With only a few more reachable berries, we speculated that mulberries would be a great addition to our daily ritual of morning oats. We made a vow to stop at the next mulberry tree we saw and fill up our tupperware with berries.
A few miles down the trail, we found a tree laden with berries. The only problem was the berries were mostly out of reach, even for Paul. Our solution is pictured below… Oh, and it turns out that fresh mulberries are indeed a wonderful addition to oats, especially on a rainy morning.
It's hard to believe that we lived in Iowa for two years without hearing about Maquoketa Caves State Park. It could be that nobody is confident enough about the pronunciation of the name to talk about it (note: it's muh-COKE-uh-duh). Whatever the reason, we're glad we went, and that we got there early enough in the day to do some exploring.
Before entering the caves, we were required to listen to a short talk about White Nose Syndrome, a devastating disease that's wiping out bats in surrounding areas. It's caused by a fungus that grows in caves and on the noses of bats while they're hibernating. The fungus irritates the bats enough to wake them from hibernation, revving up their metabolism too early. Either through starvation or freezing, a large number of bats have been dying in the winter because of this, with some species declining by >90% within five years of the disease reaching a site. Since people are thought to be the main cause of the fungus spreading between caves, they are telling people not to wear the same clothes to another cave (they aren't sure that washing is enough to kill the spores) and they've installed mats to walk across to somewhat clean your shoes before and after visiting the caves. Be responsible cavers!
There are a few caves with cement walkways, "ceiling" lights, and enough vertical space to walk comfortably (mostly). There are a bunch more for the more adventurous spirits, requiring a light and a willingness to crawl into small, wet places. We wandered, took pictures, and enjoyed the short day of riding that allowed us to take advantage of this natural wonder.
This grand adventure that Paul and I have embarked upon has strong ties to my interest for and passion about sustainable agriculture. Just last month, I received my M.S. in sustainable agriculture and horticulture from Iowa State University. On our bike tour, I wanted to continue the journey of learning about alternatives to the currently accepted industrial model of agriculture that is so prevalent in Iowa and the rest of the country.
To do this, I am helping to set up shows at various community- and sustainability-focused farms around the US. Paul is able to share his music with people who care about the choices we can make as individuals. The farms can build a member/community event around this show, drawing people to their farm to take a look at their food-in-progress. And I get to talk to people who are making healthy choices for their land and meanwhile providing healthy food for their community. I hope to share many of these experiences on this blog to show that there is no cookie-cutter approach to how we can positively shape the world in which we live.
To kick things off, I'll give you a short profile of Clarion Sage Farm, located in Waukee, IA. _____________________
Clarion Sage Farm is a beautiful haven of horticulture surrounded by the traditional row crops that overwhelm the Iowa landscape. Small beds of an assortment of vegetables, arranged in a grid, make for a tidy-looking farm. But the rationale behind the use of these beds is not strictly aesthetic.
Jenn and Cody are committed to practices that are healthy for the soil and for the environment. To this end, they strive to minimize tillage passes, and opt to leave pathways between beds as clover and grass sod. This allows the healthy microbes in the soil to thrive, and helps maintain soil structure, a critical part of reducing erosion. This allows topsoil to remain where it should be- in the field.
Cody, on the other hand, came to Clarion Sage after working over-nights in the land of corporate America. He looks back on those days saying that he often existed in a sleepy haze, not really living. You'd be hard-pressed to tell it now; after months of living on the farm, he looks right at home tending to his plants in a relaxed and peaceful state of mind. He even started a pet project of growing white pine seedlings from cones on a neighbor's property. After some tweaking of his system, he's able to achieve 100% successful germination!
This is their second year running a CSA (community supported agriculture), and it is evident that they take pride in what they're doing. They are committed to providing their Waukee CSA members with fresh, delicious produce that was raised using organic practices, and their members are committed to them. I spoke with many pleased CSA members who are happy to be in their second year with Clarion Sage Farm. They had come to the farm to listen to Paul's music, and happily wandered the farm after the show, asking Jenn about the varieties she had chosen and when they could expect their favorite veggies.
So how did Jenn and Cody come to run a CSA in Waukee? Jenn grew up outside of Chicago, and her first look into agriculture came when her family purchased a farm in Missouri. She loved spending time there, and visited for extended periods of time when she could throughout her childhood. Later, after moving to Iowa, she worked on a farm where she became connected to the Iowa Food Cooperative, a non-profit committed to connecting local producers to local consumers. Jenn began working for the Iowa Food Co-op, where she met Lisa, her now land-owner. Lisa is committed to to transitioning her land to natural and organic practices, so it was a perfect match for Jenn to start renting land from Lisa to launch a CSA.
Jenn and Cody both appreciate the pace, challenges, and rewards of running a farm. They tend toward a French biointensive method of growing (which involves companion planting and close spacing), though they are also realists who know that when something is ready to go in the ground, it just has to go in. This is their first year working in a high tunnel, and they're taking the approach of trying a variety of plants in the tunnel this year, to see what they think will work best for them in future years.
After spending a couple days getting to know Jenn, Cody, Tucker (their adorable, energetic pup), and the Farm, Paul and I felt right at home. They've done an amazing job with their CSA in just two years, and we wish them a successful and happy growing season. If you live in the area and are looking for a CSA to join, definitely consider theirs!
I'll leave you with a few photos from around their farm. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to sharing more farm profiles with you along our journey! -Jen
Jenn and Cody, welcoming their members to their farm and kicking off the music event.
Instead of a fence to keep deer out, here is a motion-detector spray system. This system sprays water to frighten deer away if they approach the field. It's worked well for them with one on every side of the field.
The red cup is used by researchers at University of Northern Iowa (UNI) to collect and monitor pollinators. Clarion Sage Farm is one of many diversified farms participating in this study, and Jenn says she wants to win!
Jenn's new favorite farm toy-- a push-powered lawn mower!
To all those folks who are more insect-savvy than I-- what insect is this that's visiting the strawberry flowers?
I know they aren't roses, but potato flowers are pretty, too!
Paul playing out at the farm.
Jenn and Cody- thank you for welcoming us into your lives, and working hard to make not one but TWO shows a smashing success. We look forward to seeing you again!
...and we can't leave out Tucker, the tireless fetcher.
Riding days: 10 SHOWS: 7 total mileage: 364 miles elevation gain: 10,206 feet Flat tires: 1
Leaving Ames was hard- so many friends made over the last two years, such a wonderful community, lots of great memories. We were happy to have an entourage of friends accompany us for the first few days to ease us into the idea of departing on this tour! Thanks so much to those who rode with us, and a special thanks to those who helped us move out of our apartment as they waited patiently to start the ride...
Our first week and a half on the road consisted of shows at Mustard Seed Farm near Ames, the Hotel Pattee, Clarion Sage Farm in Waukee, the Iowa Food Cooperative in Des Moines, a house show in Cedar Falls, the University of Iowa in Iowa CIty, and Draco Hill Farm outside of West Branch, IA. Each and every show has had a strong feeling of community, and the music has felt right at home in the tranquility of the outdoors. A big thanks to those who helped set up these shows, to those who hosted us, and to those who attended!
Biking in Iowa has been sometimes arduous, but generally quite an enjoyable endeavor. We've seen rain and wind, had a flat tire, and found that Iowa, quite surprisingly, is not very flat at all. We've climbed a little over 1/3 the height of Mount Everest in 10 days, but we're still at basically the same elevation as when we started. We've once again become accustomed to riding fully loaded bikes every day. It's funny how something you knew so well at a previous time must be rediscovered and understood. Lots of yoga, stretching and daily icing has kept us in good shape.
To find our routes, we've been relying on previous experience, the Iowa 2012 Transportation Map for Bicyclists (free!), and google maps bicycle routes. We've ridden on everything from gravel roads and a flooded B road to fairly busy paved roads. Even with a GPS and an iphone, we've taken a fair number of unexpected detours due to bridges and roads being closed. Summer is construction season, after all!
This is the first tour that we've attempted to tackle while keeping a vegetarian, gluten-free diet, so we've gotten a little creative with our cuisine. We're also packing some beautiful coffee making equipment, a frying pan, and more photo and video gear than ever before...now we just need to make sure we make good use of it! We'll be posting some recipes and gear reviews along the way, so let us know you want to hear how any of our gear in particular is working for us.
There is a lot more to tell, and more photos and videos to sort through. We'll leave you with some of our favorite pictures for now, and share more as soon as possible.
Thanks for reading and supporting,
Paul and Jen
Riding the Heart of Iowa Trail, happily away from the noise of cars.
Iowa Food Cooperative show- a fun, festival vibe!
You know you're in for some wind when these are looming out of the mist...
Firefly Alcove Campground. No reservation needed.
Draco Hill Farm show, after a walking tour of the farm.
We found a long lost friend upon arriving in Iowa City!
Well, friends, the time has come to share the news:
In June we’re going to kick off a multi-year, international music tour by bicycle. As many of you know, we met one day in Montana while each bicycling across the country with a friend (shout out to Shaughn Dugan and Greg Tambornino!) in the summer of 2012. Once we’d met, it was very natural for us to continue down the road together, through another 3,000 miles of cycling that summer, through a winter in Minneapolis, and through 2 years of grad school for Jen and a second album and two more bicycle/music tours for Paul. Now we’ve got our hearts set on returning to the open road.
This winter Paul received a grant from the Iowa Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts to record his third studio album, Songs from the (quaking) Heart, and to bring sustainability focused performance events to 9 non-traditional spaces throughout Iowa by bicycle. These nine events will take place June 5-26 as we roll our way through central and eastern Iowa. After this string of performances, we will head north, through the driftless area of Wisconsin, and up the Mississippi to the Twin Cities. We’ll arrive in Minneapolis for an album release show on July 3, 2015.
From there we will continue northbound to Duluth, MN and then eastward along the southern shore of Lake Superior, across northern Wisconsin and into Michigan’s upper peninsula. Here we’ll stop for a show at a lovely looking apiary and meadery called Algomah Acres. Then we’ll take a 2 week break as Paul’s rock project, Men on Horseback, will swoop us up via automobile and tour the midwest in support of their debut album. Info at: www.menonhorseback.com
(Above: Crossing into California, 2012) Back on the bikes on August 11, we’ll play a few more shows in the U.P. before heading south, crossing into mainland Michigan and following U.S. Bike Route 35 down Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline. We’ll arrive in Chicago around the 10th of September. From there, we head southwest to the MIssissippi, follow it down to Memphis, TN, make a left turn and head across TN to Asheville, NC where we’ll spend the winter months working on a small farm and planning the route for 2016.
Winter 2015: Live and work on a small, sustainably-focused farm in the Carolinas
Spring 2016: Once the ground thaws, head north to the NY area, playing shows along the way
Summer 2016: Head to Europe! We'll take the Freedom From Fuel Tour internationally for the first time.
Beyond 2016: Take the Freedom From Fuel Tour to South America, Asia, and beyond!
I think you have to be really careful about how you deal with concepts like the ones dealt with in this article. For instance, the author's negative characterization of "culture's" level of support is based solely on feelings. Feelings aren't really an exacting science, and these types of feelings may end up alienating your own fans. Probably be careful with that, because your fans are THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO PAY YOU.
To go a step further, from my perspective as an artist: portraying the general populace as unwilling to support art is inaccurate. What I've seen is that, if people like what you are doing, they will buy it. They will come to your show (i.e. pay cover, put money in the hat, or just plain hand you cash). They bring friends to see you. They offer to host house shows. They will buy your music, tshirts, posters, etc.
Sure, I know what it is like to worry that I could loose potential album sales to Spotify listens. It is totally possible- even probable. But, I've also had people come up to me after shows and say "I listen to you on Spotify so much- I'm going to buy all of your CDs." Well, thanks Spotify, I guess.
Also, how many Spotify naysayers (yes, YOU) actually listen to music on Spotify? 90%? 95%? I know I do, on occasion. Especially if the artist is unfamiliar to me or obscure. If you despise Spotify and want it to go away, then stop supporting it. Delete it from your phone and computer and remove your music from it, just like T-swif.
But I don't think streaming media is the real problem at all. Nor is the author's concept that the inner workings of the human heart have somehow shifted away from spending money on art and now need to be re-calibrated.
It seems to me the bigger task for artists is actually getting in front of people in situations where we can effectively deliver our music. This takes loads of time and effort. Years of time. The author works a 9-5 job, which maybe doesn't leave quite enough time to really explore the possibilities to make progress in music. Also, a "martyr"? Calling it martyrdom seems extreme given the fact that the author is currently alive. I don't want to digress. Be a crusader for your art. I feel pretty confident that you won't be killed for it.
Music isn't the only hard business. Many, many businesses involve years of steady, deliberate effort to become profitable. Many people devote years and countless thousands of dollars to a non-arts business because they believe in the power of their idea. Good things are tough. Getting somewhere is tough, but you can do it.
I think there is good reason to question evolving platforms, like streaming audio and video; to analyze their structure and to see how they can work for your benefit as an artist, and to leave them behind if you estimate that they don't help you. But focus on what you can do, not what society or culture isn't doing for you. It won't do you any good to hope that "culture" is going to someday reach down and turn your 9-5 earnings into your music income all on its own.
Focus on where you are right now. Focus on what you can do. Focus on the gigs you can get. Try to get gigs you think would be a stretch. Take a cue from P-moose and cover a tune on youtube.
Happy sleeping on floors to you, my friends. Don't confuse the quantity of your income with the quality of your art. Give us the feeling, and we'll give you the money, plain and simple.
I've been dealing with some wild allergies and a cold this week, and I've been pretty knocked out. All the while I've had this sinking feeling like I'm falling behind on booking my February tour down to the Folk Alliance International conference in MO, and then on to Nashville. The catch of trying to be a full time musician is that you have to make all of your money from gigs, which can be quite a challenge. So, I wasn't feeling so great- feeling pretty incapable- walking into the pharmacy to pick up some prednisone, which I haven't had the guts to take yet. I walked up to the counter, and said I was there to pick up a prescription. The pharmacist looked at me, smiled, and said: "Let me check, Paul." "Huh?" (How does he know my name?) "I was at your show over the weekend. Fantastic playing. I love your CD. Do you have another one?" "Yeah. Definitely."
I walked out of there feeling pretty different that I had walking in. Bob Marley's lyric "Every man thinks that his burden is the heaviest" flashed through my brain. I felt lucky to be doing what I am. I drove out to a house show in Cedar Falls which turned out to be just wonderful. So I'm still a little sick, trying to take good care of myself and feeling lucky to get to play The Washington in Burlington, IA tomorrow night. Saturday I'm at the Trumpet Blossom Cafe in Iowa City.
Things get tough, and things get beautiful. It feels pretty nice to step into the sunshine on a cloudy day.