For myself, art and outdoor adventure are married. Spanning the landscape is an active and dynamic space for creation, unbarred by the confines of walls. My craft inspired, influenced, and molded by the terrain, the medium chosen by the mode of travel.
In April, Bicycle Adventures approached me with joining a custom tour stretching from Seattle to Montana. A team of six female artists and adventurers lead by Lisa Conrad riding the rails to trails. The art project: 4 ½ ft. A performance art piece that draws an ephemeral line using white flags to connect different rails to trails across the country. The project title derives from the width between rail tracks and the length of the flags attached to each bicycle. My role during leg one: bike support, supply essentials, camping, and transport. For the first time, the artistic adventure would not be my own, but as a part of a team.
In the spirit of art and adventure, I took on the tour. In effort to know the route more than from a map, I decided to ride the beginning half and most treacherous part to feel the terrain and understand the difficulty. I called on my adventure buddy, Roy, who never fails to impress in his forthcoming for adventure. One week later, we were riding 350 miles, bags loaded, self supported, from Seattle to Spokane on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.
Our tour would be more than a scouting trip, it was it’s own journey. Riding out 2 months before 4 ½ ft, weather proved to be variable from cold damp rain to dry heat. A hail storm would shoot us 40 miles in 2 hours and the next day, a blazing sun with still air would slow optimism to 7 mph. Trails ranged from finely paved, closed due to snow, to heavy ballast with thorns. Crusty and burnt, Roy and I made it 346 miles to Spokane, caked in dusty sunscreen and sweat with packed bikes. We rolled into the Double Tree Hotel after days without a shower, confusing the concierge and contrasting the made-up ballet convention congregating in the lobby. I slept well after the jacuzzi, shower, wood fired pizza and good beer, but I think I slept better 3 days dirty off the trail in the middle of nowhere.
I felt ready for 4 ½ ft.
No one could anticipate the sensation of the first day on June 20th, when 4 ½ ft would begin their ride from Golden Gardens in Seattle. Aerial photographer, Michael Light, was harnessed to a helicopter camera out, door off. For myself, standing atop the van, between the riders and flags below and chopper above, I could more than feel the goosebumps from the wind and loud putter of the propeller. This was a momentous feet beginning, a grand start to something larger. For four more days, Michael would photograph from above, door off, harnessed to his plane, that he also pilots.
In the days of riding that would follow, the best laid plans and preparation were not a prediction of how actual riding, camping, and relaxation would turn out. Everyone brought multiple books with pages unturned, many marshmallows were untoasted over unlit fires, and paper barely felt the strike of pen. As it turns out, riding the span of two entire states while camping, in fact, does take time despite the best intentions against it saturating the day. But never the less, through the winds that would blow away tents and break flags, goat-heads that would blow out tires, illness, mountain passes, and long days, everyone bonded, and an essential team on the ground was formed: Lisa, Anna, Cori, Hope, Lana, and Jessica.
Behind the wheel of the van, dubbed “The White Whale” (named after our celebratory first meal at The Whale Wins,) I retraced the path I peddled two months earlier. This time, from a different viewpoint—as the support. I played tetris with bags and coolers packed in the van, drove over 4x the miles cycled, set up and took down camp, and provided if not cooked most meals of the day. By night I was as exhausted as the riders. But hard work was rewarded with great moments. When the winding roads of pasture led to a rejoicing group fresh off-the-trail riders. When a soft wind blew through the trees and everyone laid outstretched in the grass after a fine lunch. Or when the Milky Way served as a backdrop to 4 tents of sound sleepers and one snorer. Serving such a grateful group was worth every moment. It’s returning the favor done unto me in my own adventures.
In the rolling fields of grain against broad horizons or the commanding mountains that crush a blue sky, I found my inspiration. In the small towns and the people, I found my reason for joining the tour—making that connection between a history that defines America’s past and the people of today. For all of us on tour, the changing landscape brought unexpected joy, laughter, and character to our journey. Somehow, the character of my paintings became a reflection of each person. In giving away each painting, I found my propose with 4 ½ ft, as a part of something larger—an art adventure.