Adventurer, Yogi, Bartender: Interview with Jessica
I met Jessica Carter and her touring partner/awesome friend Joey in the tiny town of Mitchell, Oregon in August of 2011. We were all on our first bike tour, with Jess & Joey bound for Virginia, and me headed to Florida. Our routes were similar until we reached the Mississippi River, and so I got to spend some quality time with the two of them.
Here's one of my favorite photos from our time together, in Missouri. (Jessica is the cutie in the middle with her legs up. Joey is the goofball with the Pizza Pringles.)
When I got the idea to start interviewing badass bicycling women, the first gal that popped into my head was Jessica. She's strong, smart, beautiful, a visionary artist and a faithful friend. Did I mention she's hella flexible, too? Cuz she is. Years of yoga practice will do that to you.
Where do you live, Jess?
I was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina and live here still, in the fun & funky Plaza-Midwood neighborhood, though I'd like to be closer to the mountains. I spend my time riding bikes, doing yoga, taking photos and hanging out with awesome people.
"I work for the best bike shop (and bar!...) ever."
What kind of bike do you ride?
For daily commuting and long bike trips I ride my Surly Cross Check, currently outfitted with 41mm knobby tires. His name is Scout.
What excites you about bike culture where you live?
So, I work for the best bike shop (and bar! Yes, we are a bike shop with a bar!) ever. The Spoke Easy is a super special place and it would be impossible to say what excites me about my city’s bike culture without talking (ok fine, gushing) about the shop. It’s my favorite place in Charlotte; there is truly nothing like it.
(Read more about The Spoke Easy in this previous blog post)
What's one thing that could improve your experience as a cyclist?
Driver awareness. I feel like it’s far too easy to take driving for granted, rather than recognizing the responsibility of moving a 2 ton vehicle around other people doing the same. No one’s snapchat story is worth a life.
Also, a perfectly sized, steel, teal and purple bike with sparkles and disc brakes would probably greatly improve my riding experience.
When was your first bicycle tour?
I’ve done 3 longer bike tours so far. In 2011, I pedaled across the United States from Oregon to Virginia with one of my dearest friends, Joey. We rode together for 3 ½ months & 4,724(ish) miles.
That’s where we met you, Olivia: a solo, female traveler, confidently rocking her bike tour like a rock star! I remember wanting to experience the same sense of independence and freedom you seemed to embody and love, and I felt inspired by your courage to travel solo.
Did you do a solo bike tour after that?
Meeting you had a big impact on me. When another opportunity to travel by bike came along, there was no hesitation in my decision to do it alone. I felt excited by what I’d learn about myself. My first solo tour was in 2013, from Charlotte, NC to Johnson, VT, and around 1,200 miles. I loved everything about it (besides the wacky tan lines). I felt capable, alive and free. I felt immensely empowered and grateful, knowing I could travel this beautiful way by myself.
"My first solo tour was in 2013... I loved everything about it (besides the wacky tan lines)."
My second solo tour was similar to the first, but in the opposite direction. In 2015, I rode from the Catskill mountains in New York back home to North Carolina, also around 1,200 miles and two and a half weeks.
What attracts you to bicycle travel?
I love so much about bike touring. From my first trip I knew I’d found a passion. I love being on the road, carrying everything I need on my bike and using my body and breath to get from place to place, fully enmeshed and engaged with space around me.
How did people treat you when you were traveling alone?
I love how people engage with me when I’m touring; me and my loaded bike seem to incite people’s curiosity and bring on great conversations and invitations, and I'm always excited to talk about what I'm doing. I’ve met many people touring that I still keep up with.
How does bike touring alone compare to touring with others?
I appreciate both. I love the freedom that comes with solo touring; I get to choose all the things, routes, stops, campsites, meals, etc...mine is the only voice on the trip.
"I love the freedom that comes with solo touring; I get to choose all the things"
That being said, there’s been times I’ve been touring alone and seen sights so beautiful I’ve wanted someone there with me to witness it, to be like “isn’t this the most amazing and beautiful thing ever??”
Plus I’m pretty terrified of bears and camping with others helps alleviate that. There is value in both shared and solo experiences. I’m quite selective about who I’d travel long distances with because it takes such a cooperative effort, while short weekend trips are great for groups of friends.
Can you tell me about a time when someone has expressed fear for your safety?
I remember running into an acquaintance shortly before I left on my last trip and let him know what I was about to do. He looked taken aback and said something like ‘You can’t do that!’ with such fervor it startled me. I was like, uh, yeah I can, and I just told you that I was...so...bye.
Comments like that are more annoying than harmful; that’s his stuff, not mine. I already know I can do it and I don’t have to argue it to anyone that it’s not only possible, it’s joyful, beautiful, empowering and life affirming!
How does the fear or support of others affect you?
I’ve had boundless support from my friends and family while I’ve traveled and it’s made my trips that much more enjoyable. If I have phone service, I try to call or text my sweet momma to check in and hear ‘good job & I love you’ at least once a day (thanks Mom!). My friend Joey (who rode across the country with me) has helped me map routes out many times (because I don’t always plan ahead and finding the next day’s route on a tiny phone screen can be tricky). I love posting updates and photos online and getting encouraging comments back.
On my last tour, I ended my ride at Yoga One (the yoga studio I work for) and a big group of my friends were outside waiting for me with welcome home signs and a million hugs. The support I’ve been offered keeps me connected to the idea that I’m up to something bigger than myself.
What's one of your favorite bike travel memories?
ONE?!? There is something about bike touring that frees me from myself and connects me to everything. Rolling through vast, open land with big sky above me, I’ll stop on the side of the road in tears sometimes, taking it all in, the beauty and wonder and oneness of life. For a moment, it’s like I understand everything and everything makes sense. It’s like glimpsing enlightenment. Touring has let me meet that glorious place many times. It’s the best feeling ever and one of the main reasons I will continue to bike tour, chasing that sweet sensation.
What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to bike more, but is afraid to do so?
Join group rides with folks that you vibe with. Ride on quiet neighborhood streets to get comfortable on the bike. Ride with friends!
"Join group rides with folks that you vibe with."
What activity, besides cycling, helps you be a better cyclist?
YOGA! Practicing yoga has taught me to use my full body in an integrated, engaged way, in any physical activity. The body-awareness I’ve cultivated from yoga is especially impactful on long rides and tours; I remember to hold my shoulders blades on my back to keep my shoulders from screaming, I use my core to climb strongly, I remember to breathe deeply.
Plus yoga has taught me so much about facing my fears and percieved setbacks or discomforts with an open heart... to breathe through challenges, knowing I’m up for them and that I’ll be a stronger person for doing so.
What are some things that help you feel more comfortable as a cyclist?
I *almost* always ride with a helmet on, and I use lights when it’s dark. I take up space in the street when I can, to encourage drivers to pass with plenty of distance. I use hand signals. I pay meticulous attention to my surroundings.
Any bike touring plans for the future?
Just writing about it is making me crave to go again! I hope to ride to New Orleans in the near future, and out of the country, maybe through Africa or the Mediterranean in the next 5 years.