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Willie Weir : November 3rd, 2014

Traveller’s Lullaby

During my week-long exploration of Minneapolis by bike, I was hosted by a different Warm Showers host each night. I arrived at Natalie’s place late in the evening after a flight from Seattle. Natalie and her housemates are all bicycle enthusiasts, so they immediately took out a map and gave me suggestions of places to see in Minneapolis: restaurants, diners, trails, murals, and interesting neighborhoods. I think I managed to visit them all within the week.

One of the joys of staying with Warm Showers hosts, is the chance to hear stories from fellow bike travelers.

I asked if I could interview Natalie and Leah about a bike trip they took with two other female friends. The four not only had bikes in common, but music as well. They are part of a female folk band called Knots on a String. I highly recommend taking the time to listen to the excerpts from that interview below. The song you’ll hear, Traveller’s Lullaby, is from their band’s album, Not So Far From Your Porch Swing.

If you know someone who is interested in bike travel, but reluctant to take the plunge, send them this interview. Natalie and Leah capture the essence of why bicycle travel has such an impact on all who choose to pedal the open road.

Reflections From a Bike Trip Along the Mississippi

Leah is back out on the road, if you’d like to follow her travels with Anna as they pedal around the country.

Originally posted on the Adventure Cycling Association’s blog.
Willie Weir : February 25th, 2014

Essential Bike Touring Entertainment Delivery Devices

They’re cheap. They’re easy to pack. They don’t need batteries. And they’ll allow you to entertain people you meet around the globe on your bike journey.

I’m speaking of juggling balls. They don’t entertain by themselves. You will need to learn the basics. But you don’t need skills worthy of Barnum and Bailey in order to bring squeals of delight from kids and adults alike.

I learned to juggle in high school. I was on the tennis team. I wasn’t very good, so I was on the “B” squad. So I was on the sidelines, in case someone from the “A” squad got injured. Tennis is not the most injury prone of sports, so I had a lot of time on my hands. Tennis balls come conveniently packed in cans of three. So rather than become a tennis star, I became a juggler.

It has served me well.

juggling-bolaven-laos from Willie Weir on Vimeo.

I bought my first set of traveling juggling balls on the road in Mexico. They were hand woven and filled with corn. They worked well, until the weevils hatched. The next set were filled with rice, and lasted slightly longer until they got wet, the rice expanded, and they exploded. The next set I bought in New Zealand in 1993. They were made of leather and filled with little plastic beads. I still have them, and they have accompanied me on every trip since.

I’m a much better juggler than a linguist, so this skill allows me to entertain people around the world, even if I don’t know their language.

But what if you can’t juggle, and have no desire to learn. Well. What can you offer the world? Do you play an instrument? Travel with a ukelele or a flute (of a tube if you have a trailer). I met one cyclist who did card tricks. I met a woman cycling in Central America who could draw a sketch of anything or anyone in two minutes. I traveled briefly with a 7 foot 2 German who pedaled with a basketball bungee-corded to his back rack. He was a rock star!

Whatever talent it is that you can share with the world, find a way to pack that talent with you.

Traveling cyclists are loaded with stories of people giving to them — find the simplest, most packable way to give back. It will make the people you meet smile, and fill you with joy at the same time.

Willie Weir : January 31st, 2014

The Reluctant Traveler — Update, or “Did you really buy your dog a car?”

This post is an update on Tiva (aka The Reluctant Traveler), our rescue dog we adopted last year. My column in the Feb 2014 edition of Adventure Cyclist magazine talks about our journey with an amazing, but fearful, dog. Below are answers to questions many people have asked. 

Isn’t it good to have a dog who is afraid of traffic?

Having a pet that is wary of traffic is probably a good thing. But Tiva came to us with a deep fear of traffic. So much so, that it took us two months to successfully get her to walk around our small city block. Garbage trucks are her greatest fear, closely followed by FedEx/UPS trucks and any other rumbling diesel vehicles.

We didn’t truly understand just how ingrained her fear of garbage trucks was until we were on a walk in a city park, far away from traffic. Tiva was walking fine, and suddenly dove under a log, shaking with fear. Thirty seconds passed before we heard it … a garbage truck in a neighborhood a mile away.

Tiva’s sister wasn’t afraid of traffic. Why not?

That was always puzzling to us. How could two dogs from the same litter be so different. Well, we recently found out some interesting news. Tiva and Nigella came to Seattle on the same flight from Taiwan, but they weren’t sisters. Via a Facebook group (for people who have adopted Formosan Mountain Dogs) we met a woman who had also adopted a dog from the same group. She had done some research and found the organization in Taiwan that had rescued both puppies. Tiva and Nigella were from different litters. Tiva was part of a litter of seven puppies who were rescued from a ditch next to a waste treatment facility (Here is the link to the article).

savedogs.org/english/

Mystery solved. No wonder our dog quakes in fear with the rumblings of a garbage truck. This information also gave us a much needed dose of empathy. There are times over the last 10 months when we’ve wanted to scream, “Get over it, already!” Tiva has taught us how to be more patient, more compassionate human beings.

Why don’t you just drag Tiva out to a busy street and get her to face her fears?

We are fortunate to have a dear friend who is an animal behaviorist. She let us know early on that working with a fearful dog was a long, patient process. There is a chance that forcing a dog to face its fears will work, but there is a much better chance that you’ll have a seriously damaged dog. The approach that she recommended (and we’ve followed) is to slowly introduce our fearful dog to the stimuli that frightens her, and then back off before it freaks her out. It helped when we began thinking of progress in months, rather than days.

I call Tiva our vampire dog. At 10pm at night, she’ll wait by the door, tail wagging, in anticipation of a walk. At 10am, if you open the front door, she’ll run into the next room. Why? Tiva has never encountered a garbage or FedEx truck late at night. The day-to-day progress (of lack of) is all over the map. One day Tiva will seem emboldened and walk for 40 minutes (as long as no busy streets are involved). The next night she’ll freak out at the silliest thing (one night it was a small plastic snowman blowing in the wind) and our walk is over in 5 minutes. But then Kat and I will reflect on how far Tiva has come since we got her … and the progress is amazing.

Exercising inside … away from evil trucks.

Did you really buy your dog a car?

In a word. Yes. Our car was stolen almost nine years ago. We decided not to replace it. Not having a car saved us money, forced us to live more locally, and resulted in a lot more day-to-day exercise. Enter a puppy with severe traffic phobia, and we were trapped. We couldn’t walk her to the park, because it crossed a busy intersection that might as well have been a river of molten lava. We borrowed a friend’s car and took Tiva to a regional park. It was as if we’d waved a magic wand. Tiva came alive in a way we’d never seen before. She was confident. She loved to run. And she was fast. This was obviously a mountain dog who needed a lot more exercise than we could give her in the house, or in nightly walks around the block.

We bought a used Subaru Outback with 188,000 miles on it. Our car that was stolen was a Subaru wagon, so it was a bit like going back in time. Now as much as the car was purchased for Tiva, you wouldn’t know it by her reaction. Tiva will never be that dog who sits up on the seat with her head out the window. She approaches the car like she going to the gallows. She reluctantly enters and immediately curls into a ball on the floor of the back seat, and proceeds to drool.

The first time we drove up to a regional park, Tiva refused to get out of the car. We had to ask the help of a woman and her dog in the parking lot (Tiva loves other dogs) and we all enticed Tiva out of the car. Months later, Tiva still dislikes her car. She still drools. But when we arrive at our destination, she bounds out of the car ready to “romp and play and sniff all day.” (Yes. We have a song we sing when headed to the park).

This is Tiva when faced with a daytime walk in our city neighborhood.

There are garbage trucks and other monsters out there!

 

And this is Tiva on a trail!

How about a dog trailer behind your bike?

We have one. Tiva has ridden in it just once. And even that was well orchestrated. It had to be a place where there was zero chance of Tiva encountering a truck. So we packed everything up into the Subaru and drove across Seattle to a section of “Interlaken Park”. This is part of the old boulevard system in Seattle. This small stretch of road was closed to traffic many years ago, and is heavily wooded (which helps to buffer traffic noise). We successfully got Tiva to ride in the trailer, but her stress level was high enough that we realized we needed to wait until her confidence level has risen, before we tried again. Our goal this summer is to go out on some rides far, far from traffic.

Tiva with “Miracle Mattie”

What has been the biggest help?

Sometimes there’s only so much help “humans” can provide. Enter Maddie. I call her Miracle Mattie. Mattie is a Double Doodle (a cross between a Labradoodle and a Golden Doodle). But she could be a Cocka-Doodle-Do for all I care. What Mattie is, is a carefree, confident dog. And the two of them have become best friends. And all the humans involved have become friends as well. There is no medication for a fearful dog that can produce the results of just being around a confident dog. Tiva also gets triple the exercise when Mattie comes along, as they chase each other back and forth along the trail. Another life lesson–if you want help conquering a fear, surround yourself with confident people (or dogs).

What have YOU learned?

To be honest, I was depressed at first when dealing with Tiva’s issues. This dog was restricting my lifestyle. I wanted to go on a bike ride, not walk around my block with a frightened animal. Me. Me. Me. Slowly (slower than I’d like to admit) I came around to focusing on this little animal that had wiggled her way into my heart. It hasn’t been easy for either Kat or me. But I’m the one who needed a serious attitude adjustment. Once I took the focus off myself, and began to focus on how to help Tiva become a well-adjusted dog, it began to be fun. Well. Mostly fun.  And since we couldn’t go on long walks to begin with, we spent a lot of time on training inside the house. Tiva is smart. Really smart. She learned how to close the cabinet door on command in twenty minutes. She learned how to “high five” by watching a friend’s dog do it for a treat. I’m currently training her to do our taxes. She’s afraid of garbage trucks, but fearless with Schedule C.

What now?

We’ll continue to take longer nighttime walks in the neighborhood, and slowly transition to walking during the daylight hours. We’ll drive up to the mountains and rediscover trails that we couldn’t get to when we didn’t have a car. We might have to adjust our travel schedule. Tiva isn’t ready to be left with a house-sitter for three months. But I believe she’ll get there. I still dream of taking a long bike trip with our dog. But for now, I’ll settle on a long daytime walk in my neighborhood. Step-by-step.

Willie Weir : December 17th, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela

I never met Nelson Mandela in person, but I met him a thousand time through the reflections of South Africans I encountered.

Sometimes a bike trip is just a bike trip. And then sometimes you find yourself in a place in the world at a time in history that you will never forget. …

Read more at the Adventure Cycling Association’s blog.
Willie Weir : October 23rd, 2013

Portraits of a Garden Spider

I had a great photo session with a garden spider this morning. All nine photos are of the same spider in the same web in our garden. She was very patient. It is amazing the variety of background colors you can get just by changing the angle from which you shoot. The fog only added dimension to the web. I love the garden in the fog.

I was walking down the sidewalk in Fremont a couple of nights ago and heard someone say, “This weather is bull#$!%. F$@#ing inversion.” I resisted the urge to stop and suggest he take an early morning stroll in a foggy garden. From the intense scowl on his face, I realized he wouldn’t understand.

Willie Weir : July 23rd, 2013

Biking Bangkok

Kat and I first encountered Bangkok traffic from the perspective of the backseat of a taxi. The chaos of any big city can be daunting. Though neither of us spoke the words, I know we were both thinking, “Not going to bike here.” But over years of travel, both of us have learned that first impressions are often wrong. …

Read more at the Adventure Cycling Association’s blog.
Willie Weir : July 4th, 2013

Taking the slow path in Thailand

I enjoy the luscious sense of freedom and speed of a long, well earned, downhill. But more often, the most memorable travel moments come when I am forced to slow down. …

Read more at the Adventure Cycling Association’s blog.
Willie Weir : June 20th, 2013

The Reluctant Traveler

She stares out from underneath the gap in the backyard fence. It’s a scary world out there. We recently adopted a rescue puppy—a Formosan Mountain Dog/Lab mix from Taiwan. We named her Tiva. Her name has a bittersweet history.

My wife Kat was the excited instigator. I was the skeptic. I wasn’t sure how a dog was going to fit into our travel lifestyle.

Kat dreamed of long walks with her trusty dog on city streets and mountain paths. I hoped for a dog who saw a bike trailer as her second home.

Life doesn’t always work out the way you plan it.

Tiva is horrified of traffic. The revving of an engine sends her into a panic. Garbage trucks are enormous monsters in her eyes (or ears). She can hear their rumblings a mile away, and she retreats to the safety of her crate.

She is a reluctant traveler. Our dreams of cross city walks and long bike rides with her in the bike trailer are indefinitely postponed. We have to take a step-by-step approach.

Our goal this month is a fear-free walk around the block. Tiva’s bike trailer sits in the living room and we are slowly introducing her to it as a safe place. Hopefully, not too long from now, I will be that crazy neighbor who walks the streets, towing his dog in a bike trailer. Then I hope to actually attach the trailer to a bike. Then, and this I understand might be years away, we’ll take Tiva on a bicycle camping trip.

I look into the frightened eyes of this lovely, friendly little animal that I adore, and am reminded that conquering fear is almost always an incremental process.

I’ve talked with cyclists who dream of a long distance bicycle journey, but have a companion or spouse who is afraid of the venture. Maybe you find yourself in the same situation.

A cross country trip can be daunting, even for an experienced cyclist. So why not start with a bike overnight? Take a grand adventure on a much smaller scale. An overnight trip could lead to a weekend, and then a week-long tour, which could lead to the possibility of a cross country trip. Step-by-positive-step.

Who knows? Maybe your reluctant traveler will transform to one who longs for the open road. I’ll keep you posted on ours.

Originally posted on the Adventure Cycling Association’s blog.
Kat Marriner : March 12th, 2013

Love-in-a-Mist

Nigella Sativa. It’s the botanical name of a beautiful little wildflower growing in our garden, the cultivated seeds of which are tasty, jet-black, slightly onion-flavored addition to flat bread we first encountered in Turkey. It’s also the pair of names given to two very important additions to my life.

Love-in-a-Mist flower

Love-in-a-Mist flower

For years I flirted with the idea of having a dog once again. I grew up loving all my family pets and while I had cats as an adult, I knew my heart could also include a dog. While we traveled in SE Asia last winter, I looked with amazement and a twinge of longing at the smart, savvy street dogs who could be mine with the right welcoming look and slightest offer of a bite to eat. As always, my heart saddened at their life on the streets, but I knew I couldn’t do anything about it.

At home, the final decision was made to give a puppy a good home. After reading 3 puppy books and researching characteristics of breeds to consider in a mixed-breed pup, I finally looked up the Formosan Mountain Dog rescued from Taiwan by the local group, Salty Dog Rescue. I saw photos of the FMD and read their characteristics and for the first time I felt I knew my breed! There was a litter coming to Seattle that was mixed with black Lab, so I sent in my application and readied our home.

On a Wednesday night, a flight touched down at SeaTac airport and multiple dog crates wheeled out to baggage claim. Beautiful, hungry, travel-weary pups filled those crates and quickly where whisked into the waiting arms of eager adopters. A precious bundle was placed in my arms and I felt unimaginable joy as she licked my face and snuggled close to me for comfort. There were several pure black girls in the litter and I was warned that the bundle I carried might not be the dog “Kenya” I had requested. The microchip reader, inadvertently left at home, would let me know later. What did I care? I had selected a dog based on a photograph of a cute girl-puppy, and they were all cute girl-puppies. As it was, I had adopted “Rosalind”.

That night I named her Nigella, my Love-in-a-Mist, and threw my heart into welcoming her to her new home. Willie was out of town, so I flew it solo, slept little, and sent Nigella reassurance that we were resilient, adaptable, loving beings, and she would be too. The bond was immediate. So much so that when Willie returned home three days later, he had to work hard to gain her trust.

Nigella fireside

Nigella and Kat fireside

We took walks, learned fast, played joyfully and took great care to socialize Nigella to her new world. Every person we met, from kids in strollers, to ladies with walkers, homeless guys at the bus stop, to bearded hipsters, smiled and welcomed her. Late one night on a walk the Spanish-speaking guy in white coveralls coming from a dry-walling job understood my request that he offer her a bite of kibble. This was all in the name of making her not afraid of the community she lived. We took her on the bus for a cup of coffee downtown, on an elevator, over metal grates that moved, by construction sites, and along the woods. We covered lots of ground with the joy of discovering something new. Our dog was a traveler in our city!

Playing at home with feet swirling on a thick wool carpet, Nigella was the picture of a happy pup. After a playtime, Willie began teaching her the next important skill: Leave it. She was quite prone to leaving nothing behind and we were constantly plucking stones and wood chips from her mouth on those walks. After a few treats, she stopped eating, gave a whine, went out to pee and couldn’t. Inside she vomited, then again, and again. A quick message to the rescue group confirmed I should contact their vet immediately. I did and soon we were in a neighbor’s car and at the vet’s office.

By the time she was at the vet, Nigella could barely stand. Her head drooped and she longed to hide, often burrowing in my arms. Clearly she was in distress and we soon learned her temperature was critically low. After a quick test, Parvo was ruled out and the vet had us leave her for further blood test and x-rays. We left the office with heavy hearts that something was causing our little pup such hardship, but I had confidence they would find the cause and treat her. Soon she would be romping like the little puppy we adored.

That evening the phone rang and my heart raced when I saw it was the vet’s office. Immediately I thought they must be calling to tell me she was fine and I could come and get her. But sadly no. She had not made it.

Stunned. Disbelief. Grief. Self-doubt. A hole was ripped in my heart. Nigella with the floppy ears, questioning eyes, furrowed brow, wagging tail would no longer follow me to the ends of the earth.

Nigella explores her city

That night I cried myself to sleep and bolted awake with fears that I had killed her. My watchful eye and had not seen this coming, and I didn’t protect her as promised.

Some 18 hours later, a call from the vet let me know that she had not swallowed something lethal. She had a twisted bowel. A rare thing in a pup, but possibly a little playtime tumble was all it took. And yes, she had tumbled after a ball as puppies do. But she had jumped right back up seemingly unscathed. Such a simple, unavoidable act … or it just happened because it was going to happen.

Many kind and compassionate words from family and friends tried to easy my mind. Many also encouraged me to open my heart and home to love another puppy. I had it all in place and yes, there are always more pups that need a loving home.

A few days later I connected with Amy at the Salty Dog Rescue group again. I wanted to get Nigella’s ashes and I wanted to consider adopting the original “Kenya” if she was still available. She was. She was fostered with a family, the second since arriving in the United States some two weeks ago.

Tiva

Tiva with her friend Chaka

While I waited to make contact with the foster-family, I set about to examine my heart to see if I could do this again. There are many times in life that things happen that make no sense. There is no fault or blame. At times like these, I indulge in magical-thinking. I make my own sense of the world so I can move forward, find the magic, and embrace what happened and what is to come. I came to think that “Kenya” was waiting for me. She waited while her sister-pup had nine glorious, love-filled, magical days with me. She waited for me through an adoption-event and two foster homes.

Together Willie and I brought “Kenya” home with us one week after Nigella’s death. We call her Tiva, short for Sativa. Nigella Sativa is the botanical name for Love-in-a-Mist, and our two beautiful dogs.

Tiva and Kat fireside

 

Willie Weir : February 9th, 2013

Sounds from the Road #21-24

Since 1994 I’ve had the pleasure of contributing to KUOW’s Weekday while on the road via commentaries and interviews. For our latest trip, I sent in 24 sound clips that aired on the shows “sound of the day” segment. Here are the final four clips.

Cambodian Water Buffalo Bell
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Never seen this before. I’m used to hearing the tinkle and clank of metal bells on sheep, goats and cows. But this water buffalo had a large carved wooden bell around its neck with wooden clappers. Saw several water buffalo with these bells as we pedaled along the Mekong.


Sleigh Bells and The Egg Man
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This is a series of vehicles passing me on a small road along the Mekong south of Kratie, Cambodia. First you hear the jingling of sleigh bells. This is a horse passing. The bells are on the horn of the saddle. This is the only region we saw these bells. But all the horses had them. A small car passes and toots its horn. Then there is a looped recording. That is the “egg man”. He is selling hard-boiled eggs to villagers along his route. Rather than having to shout this out a thousand times a day, he has a recording. Heard other “egg men” using this same recording.



World’s Most Valuable Bird Houses
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When I first heard this sound, I thought it was a recording to keep birds out of buildings. Then I found out the real story. Bird nest soup is an incredibly expensive delicacy in China. It is made from the nest of a couple of species of swifts that nest in caves and cliffs. They make their nests from their saliva. The nest is used in the base of the soup. Since the birds normally nest high on cliffs, these nests are hard to come by. So much so that they can go for up to $1500 a kilogram!

But some folks discovered that these swifts can also be enticed to nest in old buildings. This was so lucrative, that buildings are now specifically being built just for the swifts in coastal towns throughout SE Asia. Sometimes you’ll see a building with four floors for human occupants, and then three or four upper floors for swifts (see photo). The recordings are played throughout the day and much of the night. If you get up early, you’ll see swifts pouring out of the buildings to go out and feed, and at night swooping back in.

Some towns have so many buildings converted to swift homes, that the noise can be overwhelming. And, as with so many lucrative investments, the chances of a bubble and then a crash are high. But as long as the profit margins are high, this sound will be heard in more and more coastal towns.


Roadside Khmer Wedding
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We have pedaled past many a wedding party this past month in Cambodia. Tents are set up, speakers are raised on poles, and music blasted throughout the community. A live band often plays during the ceremony, and this recording is of live musicians. The wedding party was out on the side of the road waiting to enter the big tent. Many had gifts for the bride and groom–baskets of fruit, a case of beer, two live ducks in a basket … no cheese domes, or fondue pots … but maybe we missed those.