Sponsor my ride! Admire my attire!

If you read my last post, you know that I’m planning on riding the Alleycat Acres fundraising bike ride in March.  Since we are now just over a month away, I better get moving on the fundraising part.

So, here goes!!

I figure if you give me money, you ought to get a little something in return.  So to show that I am willing to go the extra mile to encourage donations, I am hereby open-sourcing (whoring out?) my outfit for the ride.

This means that you may vote for/suggest what I will wear! Any kind of adornment for myself or my bicycle.  This outfit will ride 60 miles around Lake Washington and potentially get its picture in all kinds of publicity for Alleycat Acres.

I will wear as many as possible of the suggested items, with priority going to the votes of the biggest contributors and the items with the highest overall vote-counts.  I may have to use my discretion due to weight of objects or propriety (I reserve the right *not* to ride in only body paint, even if that gets the most votes!)

This is a two step process:  First, you get to vote!  I have come up with a couple of options to start the voting, but I’m sure you are more creative… Please do submit your own option under “other” and I will add it to the voting list.

Step two: after you select your vote, back it up with some moola.  Tell me via the drop-down on the voting page how much your outfit suggestion is worth.  Once you submit your vote, you will see a link to a PayPal form.  Go to PayPal and use your little plastic money machine to make it happen.  If you want to pay me by cash or check instead, so much the better… drop me an email at rwarner2-at-gmail-dot-com.  I will cover the PayPal fees, so either way 100% of your donation goes straight to Alleycat Acres.

THANK YOU!!!  Let the games begin!

Start here: Voting Form

Step two: PayPal Form

Shifting gears.

Critical mass June 2010

Question:  What is to driving a car as farming is to working in a cubicle?

What mode of transportation gets you out into the open air and makes you feel connected to the world the way growing your own food does?   If by farming you create your own sustenance, what allows you to create your own propulsion?

Answer: Why, bicycling, of course.  Cycling: the use of bicycles for transport, recreation, or sport.

My bike at my farm, Fall 2010

 

I have newfound loves for both farming and biking.  So of course anything that purports to combine the two intrigues me.  Last winter I found out about Alleycat Acres: a brand new Seattle urban farm.   They are run by volunteers, the food they grow gets donated to food banks, and they deliver their produce by bike.  Ding ding ding!  Yes, sign me up to support you.   I volunteered for a couple work parties in the early spring but then I had to head off to Bainbridge.   I kept tabs on the group though, via their oft-updated Facebook, and it sounded like they had a great season and got a lot of press.

This winter, Alleycat is recruiting participants for a big bike ride/fundraiser.  “Ride Hard, Grow Forth.” How could I say no?  The 60-mile loop around Lake Washington will be the longest distance I’ve ever done (probably farthest to date was about 42 miles and they were much flatter).  Each participant has to raise at least 60 bucks, but I would like to come up with  a good deal more for them.  I hate asking people for money – it was a little easier back in the day when I was a cute little Girl Scout peddling cookies door to door, but not much – so I’m working on coming up with a creative idea for accumulating donations.   Get ready, the request is coming… when I start asking you all for $$money$$,  give me some money!!  It will be going to a great cause and doing the ride will also be a big achievement for me personally/physically.

My biking history is fairly unexceptional.  I must have biked some as a kid, but my first real bike here in Seattle was a Marin hybrid, complete with kickstand and cushy seat, purchased new from Recycled Cycles.  (Much of the previous sentence will be deciphered by the bike-literate as NEWBIE ALERT!)  It is awesome when I think about the fact that it really has not been long since I first tentatively rode the Marin back and forth from my home on Dexter to my work @ the software job… also on Dexter.  Read, less than 1 mile, no turns or traffic signals.

I didn’t think I would become “a cyclist.”  But lo and behold, I got hooked.  I started making bikey friends and taking bikey trips.  I got a Seattle bike map and I bought my awesome purple steel-frame road bike on Craigslist.  I learned how to do a bit of basic maintenance/repair. (Someday I will know enough to build up my own bike from parts).   These days, my car is feeling left out becuase I bike everywhere.  I ride in traffic, I ride in the rain, I ride at night – and, since it is Seattle after all, quite often I ride in all three.  Of course I do what I can to be safe (helmet, lights, obeying most traffic laws) but part of the thrill of being out there riding is that you’re out there, in the world, and you never know what’s going to happen.  I love getting familiar with new little parts of the city and figuring out efficient routes between the places I frequent.  I love the exhilarating feeling of the wind in my face and the balance of the bike beneath me.  I love the sense of accomplishment at cresting a tough hill and coasting down the other side.  I love it when that same hill doesn’t seem quite as intimidating the next time I approach it.

While I bike around, I amuse myself by observing other cyclists and categorizing the “types” (strong-jawed, clean-shaven middle-aged man in full spandex with really expensive bicycle; scruffy young helmetless hipster boy with U-Lock in back pocket, possibly smoking a cigarette while riding his fixed gear; eccentric older fellow reclining in his recumbent with an orange flag on a stick).  I enjoy it when I see someone who doesn’t fit any type (the fellow wearing khakis tucked into tall rubber boots who said “HI!” cheerily as he passed me this morning;  a lady in a skirt pulling a trailer with her two-year-old and her groceries).

Speaking of ladies, there is somewhat of an issue around cycling being a bit male-dominated, literature has been written on the subject, and it’s true I do see fewer bikers of the female variety around about town.  But there are plenty of us out there.  I watch for the women who have mastered the art of girl biker style and achieved the “simultaneously cute and burly” persona.  If you’re truly riding to get around, you need functional attire, and the bright yellow rain gear and SPD cleats tend to stand out in other environments (at the office, at a dance club).  Let’s face it, I want to look spunky and feminine while also projecting, “watch me beat your ass to the top of that hill” and “I can fix my own flat tire, thank you very much.”

In conclusion.  One attitude toward life is to look for every possible way to make life easier and more comfortable.  The opposite approach is to embrace the motto that “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and continually seek out changes and challenges.  I discovered that a life of sitting in my car to sitting at a desk to sitting in my car to sitting at home in front of a TV was relatively easy, but felt scarily stagnant and disconnected.   It turns out that I feel better when I’m using my body and mind for things like farming and biking.  I didn’t discover these things immediately.  In both cases there was a lot of hesitancy, questions, a learning curve.   A point where it seemed too difficult.  But even baby steps will get you there.  Seek out what it is that makes you feel alive.

Oh, and support my ride for Alleycat Acres!  As soon as I get a “donate widget” put together I’ll post it here.  Thanks for reading!

~ B

Riding bikes often makes me feel like this

 

New look

Well would you look at that — I’ve been blogging for a year now!   Who knew that I would enjoy this as much as I have.  To celebrate, I updated the look of the website.  Basically now I can stuff even more info into the sidebars.  Fun!

Seattle winter has been going great so far.  I love the house that I’m living in & people I’m living with — I feel really thankful to have found such a perfect short-term living situation.

Goals Aspirations for the winter season are to make some money, have some fun, stay in shape, and learn something.  To that end, I’m working, riding my bike A LOT, spending some quality time with pals, and taking some lessons and some classes.

I’ve made it back out to Bainbridge to visit the farm a couple of times since I moved back to Seattle.  I’m also doing some trips to other farms and narrowing down where I want to work next season.  Hopefully that will be decided within the next week or two!  I’m excited!!!

The winter here is dark and cold and rainy…  Can’t wait for spring to get here so it will be at least getting lighter while still being cold and rainy!  😉

Horseplay

Betsey with Red (L) and Abby on the wagon.

 

It was a gorgeous January Sunday — sunny but chilly.  I made my way out to the Bainbridge farm on my bike to visit Betsey and lend a hand as she took her two-year-olds out on the road for the first time.  The babies in question are Abby and Red, a pair of young Suffolk draft horses that Betsey has in training for farm work to replace her dear departed Samantha. The horses are young, but they’ve had a year of intense training under their belts from Betsey’s horse mentor, John Erskine.   They’ve done a lot of hours of pulling heavy objects around the farm.  This was to be their first time leaving the farm and going on on the road, in traffic, pulling an actual wagon transporting Betsey and myself.

The babies stood, still and attentive, while Betsey harnessed them and hooked them up to the wagon.  Betsey was excited to get started, so she hopped aboard and kissed the horses forward.  Standing behind the wagon, I saw them take about two steps at the walk and then… ohcrapwhattheheck, they’re bolting like a bat out of hell down the farm road toward the winery.  This was not part of the plan.  “Woah!” Betsey yelled,  “WOAHHHHHH!”  Nobody woah-ed.

I stood there helplessly as Betsey and the naughty horses careened around a curve and up a bumpy,  grassy hill at the edge of the vineyard, toward a stand of tall trees that they would not be able to penetrate.  The horses got to the trees and stopped.  Whew.  Betsey’d had the presence of mind to drive them that way on purpose.   I hurried over.   Betsey’s hat had flown off and the horses were breathing hard and throwing their heads around, but everybody was okay.  I grabbed the lead rope off of Red’s harness and helped Betsey maneuver the whole contraption *backwards* down the hill and back onto the road.

We walked slowly back to the barn.  Betsey only let the horses take two or three steps at a time before commanding them to Woah.  She was doing what she later realized she should have done in the first place:  making the horses pay attention to a more complicated series of commands, making sure they were not moving their feet unless she told them to.  Horses should not be thinking for themselves when they are working for a human.  They need to feel that the person is completely in charge of their movements.  If a horse feels like he is left to his own devices, he gets uncomfortable and scared very easily.  If he does feel that the human is in charge, he will very easily trust that human to make all the decisions about what to do and when.   The person needs to earn that trust by directing the horse consistently, confidently, and appropriately.  You need to be absolutely present at all times and when something gets by you, it can easily escalate.

I have a lot of horse experience from a very young age, although it’s all been with riding.  I adore horses and get a high from interacting with them!  I’m super excited about the fact that horses and farming can be combined; I love that Betsey is doing it and I daydream about farming with draft horses myself one day.  But experiences like the one that morning remind me that once again, it’s not all fun and games.

There is a huge amount of interest in farming with draft animals these days!  A lot of people are realizing that horses can be a “greener” alternative to tractors for many aspects of farm work.  A lot of young people I know who are interested in sustainable farming see draft horses as being part of their ideal future farm.  While I think that’s great, I also want to tell people that it’s not easy.  People need to take the time to learn about horses before buying a 1700-lb animal with a mind of its own.  Horses are a prey animal so a fright/flight reaction is embedded deeply within their nature.  Heavy horses tend to be calmer than lighter riding breeds, but even they can get spooked from very little and they can do an awful lot of damage if they get out of control.

Riding a horse in an arena is a bit more of a controlled environment, with fewer distractions, than plowing in an open field.   You have more parts of your body in contact with the horse, so you can feel sooner when the horse gets tense.  Unless you get tangled in your stirrups or reins, when riding you’re able to bail out pretty easily — we all learn an “emergency dismount” that can be done even from a running horse with minimal damage to the human.  The horse will come to a stop eventually and be collected once it has calmed down.  Adding farming implements, however, creates a new layer of complication.  These are heavy, often sharp, metal and wood objects that are very securely attached to the animal and can do immense damage to horse, person, or property if they get out of control.

Betsey has plenty of stories about runaways she had in her early days with Samantha.  John Erskine has his own stories of almost-disastrous goof-ups when he was a young lad.  I’ve had to use the emergency dismount myself several times thru my years of riding and I’ve also gotten injured from getting bucked off.

But back to my story about the babies.  We continued driving them around the farm and they walked quietly.  “Something seems off,” said Betsey, and we got down to check the harness.  A part of it looked like it was hanging too low, bumping into the horses’ knees when they stepped forward.  “That’s no good — that might have been part of what spooked them.”  So we tied up the animals, then Betsey whipped out her electrical tape and shortened some straps and chains.  Things looked much better.  We continued on around the farm.

Ms. MacGyver fixing harness with her electrical tape!

“They’re doing fine.  Let’s get them out on the road,” says Miss Betsey.   I was thinking to myself that, um, really, maybe we ought to just call it a day?  They could always go out on the road another day, right?  There was no need to push it?  But the babies had been behaving themselves, I felt that Betsey was in control, and I understood the need to make sure we didn’t let fear dictate our course of action.

So we walked out the driveway onto the road.  Up the hill, down the hill, through the subdivision, past the barking dogs and moving vehicles, all the way to the coffee shop where we stopped for a hot chocolate!  We were out on the road for at least an hour and the horses were 100% completely and totally calm and collected the whole time.  Abby raised an eyebrow at the barking dog, but Betsey just said her name and her mind was back on her work again.  The trust was there.

The lesson I learned was: You never know what will happen, so don’t be stupid.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew expecting that things will turn out exactly the way you picture them.  But also, just as importantly, when things do go wrong, adapt and persist.   Be smart about the amount of risk you are taking, but don’t let apprehensions get in the way of trying something new.   Don’t get stuck in “paralysis by analysis.”   At some point you have to get out there and do it.

If Betsey had quit in fear after the run down the road, the horses would have learned that running away gets them out of doing more work.  Instead, they need repeated, consistent work on walking calmly and paying attention to commands.

So, I still want people to be excited about working with horses!  Be realistic about the time & effort it will take.  It’s important to know what you’re doing and pay attention to safety.   But working with horses can be so rewarding when you feel like you’ve made a connection with the animal and that you understand each other.  It’s magical.  And farming with draft horses gives you an intimate connection to the land that you don’t get with a tractor.   Every time I got to work with Samantha last season, I would get a euphoric feeling of accomplishment, like “now I’m *really* farming!”  I finished up that Sunday with the babies on the wagon with a feeling  of love for the horses for doing such a good job, and renewed trust in Betsey after watching her handle the situation.

I’m really interested to hear from other farmers out there, especially young/beginning farmers, who are giving draft animals a try.   How is it working out for you?  What are the problems you’re running into?  What are the benefits?  Stories of runaways?  Humorous anecdotes?  Drop me a note!

 

Betsey and her friend Lisa up front on the wagon; baby horses navigating a four-way stop in traffic!