It had been a long time since I’d let out a “Woohoo!” while riding a bike. But fifteen years ago, that’s the word that escaped the first time a friend’s electric bike gently boosted my pedaling up my gravel lane. Ever since then, I’ve been breezing through headwinds and up hills on my own electric hybrid bicycle, inhaling the sweet smell of lilacs and manure as I sail past grazing sheep and cows on my way to town. Although Lopez is known as “the flat island” and “the biking island,” it still has plenty of hills to tax my aging knees and lower back.
My first e-bike, an artic blue Merida Powercycle, had a 24-volt lead-acid battery pack. That kind of power meant the energy most people expend to walk briskly will propel a bicycle 13 miles per hour on level ground. And with such a crank-drive bike, you only need moderate pedaling to get up hills that even a serious cyclist might push a standard bike up. Or, as a friend who recently received an electric bike for her birthday says, “It’s like having an angel at your back pushing you up a hill.”
A few years ago, after many miles of riding—and replacing two batteries—I decided to upgrade to an IZIPTrekking electric bike. This pedal-assist model is powered by a 24-volt Lithium-ion battery integrated in the copper-penny frame with its specifically-designed down tube. The IZIP a bit lighter weight than the Merida, and it gives me that same angelic nudge when the road upslopes. Sorry, IZIP no longer makes the Trekking version, but their newer models offer the latest advances in e-bike technology.
And no, I don’t bike naked.
But I do feel some of that metaphoric exposure I describe in my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance. For one, I’m free of the steel shell of my Subaru that blocks the scent of Nootka roses, temperatures that warm or cool my skin, and the brush of wind on nose and lips. Even when rain dots my glasses, I relish the tactile encounter with the elements. More importantly, though, my pedaling and panting stimulate thoughts and ideas. Sometimes the bike leads me through uncertainties and questions that perplex; other times, the combination of exertion and sensory input opens me to insights, clarity, and calm.
I could use some of that inspiration when a bystander shouts as I pedal past, “Hey, that’s cheating!”
I’m searching for a quick comeback like the one I’ve developed in response to questions I frequently hear when talking about my book:
“Did you really hike naked?” My husband did.
“Isn’t that painful?” He says it’s not.
“Are there pictures?” No (but there’s one in this post).
My simple reply is, “It’s MOSTLY a metaphor.”
As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing dishonest about that “angel” at my back when I turn into a headwind or approach an incline. As I sail past the snarky commenter, I’d like to smile and let my jet stream hold a few words that set the record straight.
How would you respond? Any suggestions are welcome.
My role as a commissioner for the Lopez Island Hospital District brought me to Lake Chelan, WA for a conference for the next few days. The remote village of Stehekin, the setting for my memoir, Hiking Naked, sits at the other end of the lake. Last night’s rain, thunder, and lightning brought back memories of the wildfire in Stehekin the first summer we lived there. As far as I know, this storm didn’t ignite any fires, but it reminded me of its hazards and the lessons I learned when fire blazed near us for months in 1994.
Here’s an excerpt.
Chapter 9 – Wildfire Season
Smoke rolled into the Stehekin Valley like an ocean fog, blanketing us in wintry gray. But this was July, barely one month after our move, and the haze oozing into our new home was from wildfires, not the Puget Sound marine air we were accustomed to.
Wildfire season arrived in the North Cascades after a two-week run of rainless, one-hundred-degree days and lightning strikes in the nearby Okanogan National Forest. The blazes dropped a thick, dingy curtain on the shoreline, but despite the haze and smoldering campfire smell, the Lady of the Lake kept sailing. Her crew brought news that a crack of lightning can change lives—ski slopes in Leavenworth in blazes, and three hundred people evacuated from the town of Chelan.
The thunder and lightning storms of my Midwest upbringing must have immunized me from fear when lightning cracked in ridges above the Stehekin Valley, because I wasn’t aware that we in Stehekin were in danger until a community meeting on July 29. Someone came from nearly every Stehekin household to the Golden West Visitor Center. People scooted their chairs over worn, hardwood floors for a better view of the National Forest Service map propped on an easel. Two thumbtack-sized black circles marked fires at nearby Rainbow Ridge and Little Boulder. A banana-shaped mark stretched over Purple Mountain. Butte Creek was blackened, too.
This was our first meeting with Alan Hoffmeister, one of the many specialists from the National Park Service who would come to Stehekin to try to outmaneuver the fires. Alan looked over the faces in the crowd, his index finger steadily pointing to the four darkened areas on the map. “Although the fires are several miles away,” he said, “they’ve already encompassed a thousand acres and are burning erratically.”
He predicted pines and firs, parched from diminished snow melt and eight years of drought, might burst into flame and roll down dehydrated ridges, spreading the firestorm into the Boulder Creek drainage area just a mile northwest of us. “If necessary, fire crews and equipment will be brought to Stehekin by boat or air. We’re doing everything possible to stop the fires.”
Then Alan suggested that, even though evacuation was unlikely, we should begin thinking about it. Nervous laughter floated through the cramped room as he encouraged us each to pack a single bag weighing no more than seventy-five pounds, the same amount airlines allowed then for checked luggage. I searched the faces of the long-time Stehekinites in the crowd, trying to read their expressions. Were they worried? Scared?
“These fires are more fierce than at any time ever in this region,” Alan said. “You might have as little as fifteen minutes to catch a boat to leave. Don’t wait for an evacuation notice to pack.”
At home after the meeting, I looked around the log cabin’s large open bedroom our family shared. Some of our treasured possessions were in storage, but many were in that room—worn baby blankets Rachel and Matt still snuggled under at night, boxes of photos I planned to organize into albums, the flute I’d owned since third grade, and a quilt we’d received as a wedding gift. I imagined the pages of our already bulging family journal curled and charred. I set out the four biggest duffel bags I could find.
Not wanting to alarm the kids, Jerry and I emphasized Alan’s reassurance that evacuation was unlikely. “Just pack like you’re going to Grandma’s for a weekend,” Jerry said as he supervised Rachel and Matt loading their bags.
As I sorted, I ticked off treasures that would put us over the weight limit—our broken-in hiking boots, cross-country skis, my yellow bicycle with the Minnie Mouse bell, and the Kitchen Aid mixer. Would they be there when we returned from evacuation? My stomach tightened over nature’s threat to our idyllic retreat. I knew I had lessons to learn in the wilderness, but I hadn’t anticipated this exercise in condensing my family’s life into four bags.
That night, images of a cyclone of fire intruded into my sleep. Every sound in the dark mimicked the crackle and hiss that I imagined echoing through the forest. Jerry snored softly beside me, and I could hear the kids rustling in their beds. What a fool I’d been to expose our family to these dangers. During our years of visiting Stehekin, I’d learned that the potential for natural disasters is part of everyday life here. Nearly everyone had stories of floods, fires, avalanches, and backcountry accidents that had destroyed property and claimed friends and family. Firs scorched by lightning marked the cycles of their lives. Now I was experiencing this reality first-hand, faced with a situation I couldn’t control. I tried to loosen my grip with deep breathing and prayers.
Sleep finally came, and a gentle wind during the night sent the smoke another direction. The next day’s clear dawn made it easy to forget the force devouring forests just a few miles away. The respite was brief. Within hours, neon-yellow fliers describing the “Stehekin Evacuation Contingency Plan” blanketed the valley. National Park Service rangers had hand-delivered the bulletins; with no phones, and no television or radio transmission, the pony express-like system was the only way to get the word out.
The afternoon arrival of Mike Monahan, a national fire commander from Utah, signaled this wasn’t “just another fire.” At the Golden West that night, the worried-looking, red-haired official outlined for the local crowd the challenge of preventing the small fires nearby from combining into one large one.
At the end of my [bakery] shift, I retreated to a public dock to watch a red-and-white Sikorsky Sky Crane, a military-style helicopter, pull water from the lake. A bucket, swinging on a rope from the chopper’s belly, hauled up two thousand gallons of water with each dip. All afternoon it showered me as water slopped on its way to the flames on the peaks above. The rhythmic whirl of rotors was both unsettling and comforting.
Some days over the next few weeks, the smoke cleared to reveal blue skies. Two sets of friends visited, the kids rode their bikes to the landing to swim, Jerry shuttled a few tourists between the Ranch and the bakery, and the mail and groceries arrived on The Lady.
Other days, we’d hear the helicopters again, smoke would fill the valley again, and my fear—that this place and way of life would be destroyed—returned.
Rains in late August weakened the fire’s strength. We unpacked our evacuation bags and re-packed boxes to move into the house we’d rent from the Barnharts through the school year. Mike Monahan moved on to manage a different fire. Another Incident Commander directed mop-up efforts, and local Park Service employees handled flare-ups that waxed and waned all through September. By the first week of October, the fire-fighting teams rolled up the hoses and barged them out, along with their shovels, axes, tents, and trucks. After weeks of being prepared for fire on our doorsteps, these tools of protection disappeared, leaving in their place a deeper understanding: no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t eliminate all the threats to life any more than Mike Monahan could end the fire at Boulder Creek.
I awakened one morning in mid-October to a white glisten on McGregor Mountain, just visible through the living room window. Fortunately, the season’s first snow had come early; the tension in my neck eased with this proof that the fires were over—at least for this year.
There’s a lot of mutual admiration among authors, and I’m grateful for the ways we support each other in this solitary work. Here’s where the mutual admiration part comes in. In January, I wrote about how Lauren Danner and I met at one of my readings for Hiking Naked. Next week I’ll host Lauren when she reads from her new book at Lopez Bookshop. And yesterday, Lauren reviewed Hiking Naked on her blog, “Wilderness Within Her.” You can read it here and learn of two other books that may inspire you to hike. Thanks, Lauren!
John Muir wrote that “going out is really going in,” and these books prove his point. Get inspired for hiking season by reading about how three adventurers engage with the wild. The post What I’m reading | Three books to inspire you for hiking season appeared first on Lauren Danner.
In the past five months since the release of my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, I’ve organized nearly twenty events to promote the book. I learned with my first book, Hands at Work, the importance of book readings and signings to introduce readers to my work. As I wrote in Afterthought #67, I took seriously guidance I received about author events, particularly regarding my “costume.”
The more I give readings, I gain stronger appreciation for the advice to think of it as a “performance.” I learned that at the first workshop I attended on the art of the author reading, and again at a workshop by former Washington State Poet Laureate, Elizabeth Austen. Her poetry (Every Dress a Decision, The Girl Who Goes Alone, and Where Currents Meet) is exquisite, and Elizabeth’s work in theater and radio is evident when she “performs” her own poems and those of others. Here’s some of her advice that I believe applies to readings of all genres:
Select what you’ll read with attention to breaking the ice, developing an arc, and leaving the audience with what you want them to remember.
Let the audience have a moment or two to breathe between parts you read, especially if you’re making a big transition or you’ve just finished an emotional section [I’ve found this is the perfect time to take a drink of water; it gives me a break, too].
Practice and time yourself so you can be respectful of the audience and fellow readers.
Wear shoes that allow you to feel the ground and stay balanced.
Performing gets easier with practice—read for an audience as often as you can.
Remind yourself that nervousness is simply the energy required to do this special thing, and that the performance requires you, but it’s not about you.
I’ve found that the Question and Answer segment is always rich, and although I never know what people will ask, I follow Elizabeth’s advice here, too, about how to prepare:
Think about what I’d do for an interview.
Ponder what I want to leave someone with.
Consider the stories I want to tell about the book and my process.
I’ve had some surprises at readings, and so far, they’ve all been a delight. For example, an entire book club came to a recent reading and sat in the front row.
At another event, a woman in the audience told me she’d seen advertising for my memoir at a bookstore where she’d just read. I was thrilled to learn that her book (Crown Jewel Wilderness, conveniently displayed on the shelf behind me), is a history of North Cascades National Park. In March I’ll host Lauren Danner for a reading at Lopez Bookshop.
Another time, a young man around my son’s age claimed a front row seat and jotted notes in a spiral notebook throughout the reading. He asked a thoughtful question about relying on memory when writing memoir, so when he came up for me to sign the book, I asked if he’s a writer. Turns out he’s studying writing, and his instructor assigned students to attend a reading (I LOVE this teacher) and write a report about it. At the same reading, an audience member brought her journal, along with my book, to the table where I was signing. After she had a friend take a photo of her with me, she told me she has journals devoted to author events and asked me to write a note on the page she dedicated to my reading. I’ve also been moved by health care providers telling their own stories of burnout and questions about their work.
I now have my own list of author event do’s and don’ts:
Always take extra books.
Always have water.
Don’t worry about silence when you ask who has a question. As a Quaker, I’m quite comfortable with waiting for people to be ready to speak.
Remember—if people close their eyes at readings, they’re probably not asleep. That’s just how some people listen.
Be prepared to learn something about your own journey through the questions from the audience.
Send a thank you note to the event host.
Perhaps the greatest joy is when I receive comments about my book from people far away. Recently, a friend emailed that while she was on vacation in Mexico and reading Hiking Naked, she met another American from Seattle who knows me but didn’t know about the book—so my friend filled her in. Another email came from a woman I met in Stehekin when she was a teen. Now a midwife, she resonated with my experience of burnout and is planning a sabbatical from that role.
A text message showed up from a friend of my son who had spotted Hiking Naked in a bookstore he visited.
And just the other day I received a photo and Facebook message from a woman who was reading my book in a coffee shop in Great Britain and wondered why she got some funny looks!
Now I offer some suggestions to those of you who attend readings about how to support the author who has not only written the book but has prepared for this performance:
Buy a book.
Thank the author after the reading (even if you don’t buy a book).
Recommend the book to others personally, through social media, and reviews such as on Amazon and Goodreads.
Thank the venue for hosting the event.
As I plan for more events through 2018, I look forward to more performances.
If you’re an author, what advice would you give to writers preparing for readings?
If you’re a reader, what is it about readings that you enjoy?