Mindful Adventure - Interview with Renee
"We're at the very top of the hill!" crackled the woman's voice through the phone. Dear God, I thought, gazing up the steep road to a cluster of houses perched above. It had been a very long day of riding with a fully loaded touring bicycle from Evergreen, Colorado to Manitou Springs. These Warmshowers hosts might not be worth this climb, I mused bitterly, as I snapped my shoes into the pedals and pushed determinedly up the grade.
But oh, they were. Renee and her husband David were some of the best people I met through the Warmshowers network: a nonprofit organization that facilitates cyclists hosting other traveling cyclists. I took advantage of the beds, showers, and sometimes even food and repair tools that Warmshowers hosts offered during my solo cross-country trip across the United States in 2011. I couldn't wait to connect with Renee again for this interview. For Renee, cycling is more than just a pastime: it's an escape, a mindfulness practice, and a way to stay playful and curious as an adult.
What role does your bicycle play in your life?
For me, it’s escape. Given that my husband David and I are still in full-fledged work mode and launching some really cool things with our company, Wisdom Works, the bike is more a balance away from work. It’s not so much transportation. It’s physical exercise and my personal getaway.
My happy place is on my bicycle. Cycling also supports my creative process. I usually have a song in my head when I ride, and that’s a signal for me of being in flow, of being really present.
How does cycling with others affect your relationships with those people?
My parents got divorced when I was young. Eventually my brother ended up living with my dad, and I ended up living with my mother. We saw each other in summers and on holidays, but we weren’t together much. My brother watched David and I ride our bikes together for years, and then about three years ago he said, “I’d love to go cycling with you guys.”
"We’re having these experiences as adults, as brother and sister, that we didn’t have as kids … We’re playing on our bikes together."
He ended up choosing the C&O Canal and Allegheny Gap trip. We’ve done at least one more trip with him since then, and have another planned—this time in Utah—next year. I can see how, through cycling, he and I have gotten much closer. We’re having these experiences as adults, as brother and sister, that we didn’t have as kids … We’re playing on our bikes together.
You are a Warmshowers host for traveling bicyclists! What’s that been like?
We haven’t been able to host as many people as we’d like. David and I travel so much for our work, so when someone calls we’re often gone. We’ve hosted you, and two other people. But we’ve had great experiences with Warmshowers.
I’m so glad I got to be one of your guests, then. That dinner you made me in 2011 was unforgettable.
You were our first Warmshowers person, and when we watched you eat the third or fourth hamburger, we were like, “Oh my God, where is she stuffing that?!” That was such an incredible experience, to make this huge meal and then just to watch you eat.
(Laughs) I remember the grilled peaches... I think everything was grilled for that meal.
That’s one of David’s specialty meals, grilling everything.
Have you ever been a Warmshowers guest on your travels?
Yes, we have. Usually we’re doing cycling trips on our own and we use B&Bs or carry a tent. Or we’re do organized rides where they plan everything. But we decided to use Warmshowers once, In Palisades, Colorado. It’s a beautiful area to ride, there’s a lot of fruit orchards, vineyards and it’s near Colorado National Monument. We stayed with Randy and Nancy for a couple nights, and asked them, “Hey, you’re our first Warmshowers hosts! Can you tell us a little about Warmshowers?” They started cracking up, because it turns out they were the original designers of Warmshowers.
That is the wildest thing that the ONLY Warmshowers hosts you’ve ever had were the originals!
Yes! And now Warmshowers is growing more in other countries than it is in the US. It’s crazy how much it’s grown. A testament to how much people love cycling around the world.
What have been some of your favorite bike tours?
Oh gosh, we’ve had so many good ones. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad bike trip. Challenging, definitely! But they’ve been great overall. Every year we try to do two cycling trips somewhere that’s new to us. We’ve gone from Tuscany to Umbria, one of our first longer trips. A few years ago we went from Natchez to Nashville on the Natchez Trace. This year we went for about 8 days cycling through the Black Hills of South Dakota, which was fantastic.
What are the organized bike tours like?
We’ve got a couple of trips planned this year, and one of them is through Adventure Cycling. We’re lifetime members of Adventure Cycling, and we really love their mission to create safe bikeways in the USA and great cycling experiences. We’ve gone on three trips with them now and all three were incredible.
"We start our season with the Skinny Tire Festival in Moab, Utah."
Do your bike tours always take place in the summer?
No, we start our season with the Skinny Tire Festival in Moab, Utah. Dear friends of ours—Beth Logan and Mark Griffith—started that ride 18 years ago to raise money for cancer research, and in honor of Mark’s brother who died of cancer. We like to support them personally, and it’s a great beginning to our cycling season.
How do you stay in shape over the winter?
We hike almost every day. One of our hikes is “The Incline” in Manitou Springs, with an average grade of 45%. It’s a pretty intense stair-climb! David also runs and weight lifts. I teach yoga, and love it. I’m part of a donation-based yoga practice in our hometown of Manitou Springs that’s been going for ten years.
What’s the connection between yoga and cycling?
A lot of the practices from yoga easily transfer to cycling. Fundamentally, when you go beyond the physical asana practices, the deeper point of yoga is to notice your mind in action. The practice of yoga can help you ask, “Is my mind driving ME or AM I driving IT?” Same with cycling... A negative emotion can dampen your whole bike ride. But if you can notice that emotion in action, you are better able to see it for what it is—just a momentary experience that can easily change, if you don’t get stuck in it.
How are your bike mechanic skills?
I did my first bike maintenance course this year through REI with a cycling buddy, Tracy. We agreed , “If we’re going to do more cycling we should know how to fix these things.”
I think as women, sometimes we don't even realize... we've internalized a gender bias, such as 'Women don't fix their bikes.'"
The class was great - empowering! I think as women, sometimes we don’t even realize all the ways we can be self-sufficient because we’ve internalized a gender bias, such as “Women don’t fix their bikes.” But when Tracy and I did the bike workshop, we had a blast. We found out, “I am GOOD at this.” And it’s fun.
Any exciting plans for the future?
One of the big, hairy, audacious goals for David and I is to ride across the US. We’re doing smaller trips in the meantime, but it’ll happen.
To be Continued...
In PArt two, coming tomorrow.