Bike Across Italy, Part Two

Learning curves. I’ve been surrounded by them lately.

Navigating a fun new area of volunteer work, but struggling to learn people’s names and not always sure of my responsibilities or authority.

Writing someone else’s memoirs, then trying to piece together how to self-publish the most meaningful project I’ve ever attempted.

Also scrambling to set up emailed newsletters in a format everyone can access; finally navigating the wonderful-but-mysterious world of using an online mailer service.

Then Brent proposed we sign up for Ciclismo Classico’s “Bike Across Italy” tour.

I looked at a map. “But it looks like there’s a mountain range running through the middle of the country.”

A euphoric grin spread across Brent The Voracious Climber’s face. “Yeah, there is. Don’t worry; we’ll get you an e-bike.”

If you’re not familiar, an “e-bike” has an electric motor that gives the rider a boost up hills. Or so I’d heard. I’d never actually touched one. But I’ve seen people on bikes zooming along a level or slightly uphill road… without pedaling. This seemed kind of unsafe. “Wait, what if I’m going around switchbacks and that thing sends me hurtling off a cliff?”

Too late. We were registered, bikes requested and sizes sent, airline tickets bought…

The day we met up with the tour, we all test-rode our bikes around the parking lot for a bit. Tracie, the only other female guest in our group, had also reserved an e-bike. Providentially, she also had one of her own, and knew how to work it. Good thing… I’d have to learn, because that bike was so heavy, I’d need assistance to make it up a driveway ramp, never mind 8-to-12-percent grades.

After Tracie and the guides repeatedly assured me that the motor runs only when you’re pedaling and would NOT send me hurtling off a cliff, we took off on our warm-up ride. The route went through busy traffic (couldn’t be helped, we were at a hotel in a popular vacation city), then up a long, winding hill.

At this point, multiple learning curves collided: 1) I was using my touring pedals and cleats, which I rarely use and hadn’t practiced with. 2) The bike’s gear shifting works differently from “Sully,” my current bike. It’s the same as on my old bike (“Mrs. Tweedy“), but I didn’t think to practice with that either. 3) The motor’s “off-plus-three-levels” power system operated by the same logic as a ceiling fan’s pull chain (which I rarely use and hadn’t practiced with), using only ONE button.

I maaaaaay have felt slightly overwhelmed.

At least the power levels were color-coded. If the button was lit up white, the power was off. Low power was green; Medium, orange; Max power, red. If you’re struggling uphill on Max, then the road levels out enough to use Medium, you can’t just go back one setting. You have to push the button three times: to Off, Low, Medium. If you advance too slowly, you lose all momentum while the power is off. But if you push the button too fast, it’s super easy to hit it four times instead of three, which puts you right back at Max power.

So, yeah. Learning curve(s). It was sort of like trying to hang wallpaper with one arm in a sling.

That first ride left me with serious misgivings, but the next day we had a longer stretch of quiet roads that weren’t so hilly. I soon got past the worst of the single-button awkwardness. After that, my main concern was trying to balance power levels to conserve the battery (Max drains it pretty fast) while conserving my own power (i.e., don’t kill myself by hammering too hard in an effort to keep up). Each day I felt both more efficient and more confident.

This photo shows the almost unprecedented sight of me riding ahead of Brent!
Gratifying, if temporary.

The e-bike never sent me hurtling off a single cliff. And I never arrived at a lunch stop after everyone else was finished eating and about to leave*.

*Some days that was only because I rode along in the van part of the time instead of biking. Don’t judge; it’s a vacation.

As always, the Ciclismo guides made everything fun and as smooth as possible.

Your Turn:
Do you feel as awkward as I do when trying unfamiliar things? Ever get flummoxed by having to learn too many new things at once?  I welcome your comments in the box (or “Leave a comment” link) at the bottom of this post.

Thanks for reading!

Tailwinds,

Jan

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Bike Across Italy, Part One

We’ve been at it again… Brent and I joined six other guests and two expert Ciclismo Classico guides for a bike tour that meandered across the middle of Italy’s boot, from the Adriatic coastal town of Pesaro on the east, to Talamone, on the Tyrrhenian Sea (Mediterranean) coast on the west.

I’m still processing the stories. So for now, I’ll share a few of my favorite photos from the tour.

…just right for refreshing some tired feet!

We made new friends and memories and ate unconscionable quantities of pasta and gelato. This was a real “bucket-list” trip for Brent, and I had a great time too–whether I was cycling or hitching a ride in the support van and taking pictures. Or shopping!

Many of the hills were super long and challenging, but I’d requested an electric motor-assist “ebike” for this tour. Next time I’ll share my experience with that. Hint: think “learning curve.”

Your Turn: What is your favorite travel destination? Favorite mode of seeing the sights? I welcome your comments in the box (or “Leave a comment” link) at the bottom of this post.

Thanks for reading!

Tailwinds,

Jan

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Love and the Silver Lining, by Tammy L. Gray

I spotted the above book in the Paper Leaves book and plant shop in Waxahachie. It was displayed on the “Local Authors” table. A few years ago, I’d read a fabulously suspenseful series by Tammy L. Gray, so I couldn’t wait to see what this one was all about…

Darcy Malone had upended her whole life, giving up job and apartment, so she could go teach in Guatemala. Days before her scheduled departure, the school administrator called with bad news: finances were forcing the school to close. Cameron, her guy best friend, was there as always to encourage her. Besides, what would he do without her?

The rock band Cameron recently joined is on the verge of breaking into the big time, meaning lots of travel. New question: what will Darcy do without him? Between drama among the band members and Darcy’s “rebound” work training a gaggle of rescue dogs, I was sure neither the band nor Darcy would never get their lives sorted out.

Gray’s storytelling has only improved with time. The relatable characters are all real enough to walk off the page into your living room. That, and the dilemmas they face, kept me rooting for each one, and placed this book squarely in “Great Weekend Read” territory. Click here to learn more at Gray’s website!

Thanks for reading,

Jan

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Bluebonnet Snowball

I never get tired of bluebonnets, our state flower. However, riding my bike out to see them may bring on some fatigue.

Case in point: A couple of weeks ago, Brent raved about a fabulous stretch of bluebonnets in Cedar Hill. I wanted to follow up on his recommendation AND pull some hills. Win-win, right? I’d shoot for 20-25 miles.

Call me a slacker, but I really like to ride home with a tailwind. Since the wind was from the northeast that day, I took a route to the east first, then north toward Cedar Hill. In my head, the ride would barely be 20 miles, so I added a 2-mile loop at the beginning.

Everything went fine… but it seemed to take a lonnnng time to get to Cedar Hill. Somewhere along the way, I remembered that the “east-first” route clocks over 30 miles, not 20.

Oooops. Well, I still had hours of daylight. What to do? I stopped for a break in a shady spot and texted Brent:

I didn’t relish that return climb into the wind. On the other hand, the ‘bonnets were already passing their peak. A few more days, and they’d be going to seed. “Wind is nothing but moving air,” I reminded myself, and decided to rise to the challenge.

And to think I almost missed this!

I am SO glad I went for it. Photo ops were everywhere. I just couldn’t quit taking pictures.

The ride back to the highway was indeed challenging, but I just took my time and eventually turned back out of the wind for home. As I climbed, my “bluebonnet high” kept me in good spirits.

Since then, I’ve noticed other bits of laziness like the one that almost made me miss the bluebonnets. That drawer that needs organizing? The skirt that’s had a loose button since March? Why not go ahead and take care of it? Every time I tackle one of these minor challenges, the results boost my mood and energize me for the next.

Those bluebonnets have created a snowball of perseverance.

Your turn:

Don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s drawn to the path of least resistance. Have you ever pushed through anyway? Did you, too, feel the reward?

And now that this post I’ve been putting off is finished, I’m going to grab one of those partly-read books on the side table, and try to remember what it was about… 😉

I love your comments! Join the conversation by using the “Your Turn” box waaaay down at the bottom of this post. (If you’re reading this from the home page, there’s a “Leave a comment” link below the “sharing” buttons.)

Thanks for reading,

Jan

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A New Chapter

Hello, friends!
Four years ago this month, I was fresh off my first visit to Liberia, West Africa. (Okay, it’s been my only visit, but since I fully intend to go back, I’m calling it “first.”) Apart from an anniversary trip to Hawaii years earlier, I’d never been away from continental North America before. So why did I venture off to a small, war-torn West African nation?

I’m glad you asked.

My energetic friend Andy Perkins founded the family-assistance charity BESTWA, Inc. in 2006. In 2017, he invited me to accompany a team to Liberia so I could meet BESTWA’s Liberian director, Daniel Mellish. The idea was for me to interview Daniel and write up his life story. I set out with high hopes (plus protein bars and mosquito repellent). Click here for the blog post I published shortly after we arrived in country.

As planned, I met Daniel and his wife, Victoria, in person. But our days there were so busy that I didn’t have much time to hear their stories, which worried me considerably. I felt kind of useless, to be honest. Still, I did get to witness how chores are done, see the rainforest vegetation, smell the charcoal cooking fires, and feel the humidity. I worshipped with the Liberians, listened to their music and the accent and patterns of their speech, and joined in children’s dances. As it turns out, this experience helped me place the reader in Africa, so Daniel’s story speaks for itself in his voice (without me, the writer, getting in the way).

What about that interview time I thought was lost? To my delight, we had hours of in-person time when Daniel and Victoria visited Texas the following month. Besides, there’s always email to confirm facts or clarify sequence. (I can’t count the many times I pestered one or the other of them with detail-y questions, which they answered with great patience.) I must add that many of their experiences were harrowing, to say the least. This isn’t a children’s book.

Now–four years, tons of historical research, two new grandchildren, one new daughter-in-law, and an out-of-state writers’ conference later–I’m happy to tell you that I’ve finished drafting Daniel’s story. Not only that, I’ve been polishing the manuscript to prepare it for a professional editor (because I know I won’t catch all the inconsistencies and errors). I can’t wait to publish this book, which I’m titling No Small Thing. It’s the most exciting project I’ve ever undertaken.

How about a sneak peek at Daniel’s story?

I’m glad you asked that, too. There’s a new tab at the top of the home page, just under the banner photo (or in the drop-down Menu): MY BOOKS. Clicking on that tab OR HERE will take you to a form, where you can register to receive the opening chapters as my gift to you. Below the Download link, you can register to receive an occasional newsletter to keep you informed about the status of the book. (No spam and, of course, you can unsubscribe any time.)

Thanks for reading,

Jan

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Plot Twist, by Bethany Turner

Olivia Ross, writer of greeting card sentiments, sits in a busy Los Angeles coffee shop trying to work on her passion project–a screenplay.

She is rescued from a relentless flirter by Sexy Irish Guy, on his way to an audition and later identified as swoonworthy actor Hamish MacDougal. Oh wait… Hamish is Scottish, not Irish. Olivia is apparently not well versed in accents.

Anyway, ‘supporting characters’ like Olivia don’t fall in love with leading men. …. right?

Image Credit: http://seebethanywrite.com

Olivia is a writer. She is also as insecure, goofy, scatterbrained, and awkward as you can imagine.

Yeah, I immediately related to her.

And Turner could not have come up with a more perfect title than Plot Twist. Seriously, the switchback roads up the Alps have fewer twists and turns than this book… partly thanks to Olivia’s best friend Fiona, who appears to live a charmed life. I won’t even try to tell you the gist of the story, only that I couldn’t put my Kindle down until I’d finished this Great Weekend Read.

Your turn:

I’m always looking for good books, so please share: What are you reading this weekend?

Do you have a day job and a passion project or hobby, like Olivia?

I love your comments! Join the conversation by using the “Your Turn” box waaaay down at the bottom of this post. (If you’re reading this from the home page, there’s a “Leave a comment” link below the “sharing” buttons below.) Which reminds me, if you like this post please consider sharing via those buttons.

Thanks for reading,

Jan

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