14 July 2010

Mud, Sweat and Gears: when author Joe Kurmaskie sets off to ride his bike, he likes to do it “family style”

Give or take 3,200 miles and 4 months across Canada

With long summer days and school vacations currently stretched out before us, many parents naturally attempt to share their passion for cycling—and excitement over the 2010 Tour de France—with their offspring. But how does one successfully keep tantrums and tears at bay (at least, for the kids involved)?
Make it a “summer camp on wheels,” Joe Kurmaskie advises. “The trick is NOT to make your kids feel like it’s a stage race, or a job, or something they must inherit.”
Rather than inadvertently instilling the feeling “it’s a [mandatory] slave train, all about daddy’s hubris and ego,” this father of four recommends encouraging children to ride by “mak[ing] it part of the fabric of their family—but not the sole focus. The bike is just the way they’re getting there.” Another secret to success? Act as “a camp director on wheels” and bring fishing poles, digital cameras, and other paraphernalia along—“remember, it’s an ADVENTURE you just happen to be doing on a bike.”

Kurmaskie knows of what he speaks. Dubbed “The Metal Cowboy” by a grizzled, tobacco-stained and blind old rancher with a cane as he was bicycling across Pocatello, Idaho in the early 1990’s, Kurmaskie has propelled himself across North America via two wheels several times—with occasional bike trips to other continents such as Australia and New Zealand to round out his perspective.

Of all his adventures, he feels his truly most epic journey to date was his trip two years ago across Canada, a transcontinental journey with 450 lbs. gear, bikes, and kids in tow. From June to October 2008, Joe (age 42), his wife Beth, and their three children—Quinn, age 10, Enzo, age 8, and Mateo, age 1, traveled from their home in Portland, Oregon across Canadian Rockies to approx 300 miles east of Saskau, at which point early snowfalls prompted them to board a plane to Novia Scotia and pedal 1,000 more miles throughout that Canadian province before returning home.

Long-distance bicycle touring with “the whole menagerie” is the subject of his latest book, Mud, Sweat and Gears—a story which, Joe says, “culminates everything important in my life: family, and time with them; a gas-free vacation; exploration of another country; relying on ourselves and the kindness of others; what I’m capable of at age 42.” He titles one chapter of his book, “I’m going to miss this body when it’s gone,” reflecting on the amazing shape the thousands of pedal strokes and endless miles of vertical ascents has sculpted his body into, while simultaneously (and preemptively?) mourning its eventual (?) decline. Luckily, Joe says, his wife Beth was there to snap him back into the moment. A high school biology teacher and novice rider, Joe proudly notes her transformation from novice to “Zena Warrior Princess cyclist” over the course of their family journey—all while looking after her 3 children and breast-feeding her 1 year old, to boot.

Another tip from the Metal Cowboy Clan to ensure optimal family happiness: DON’T plan a trip into submission. “Outline where you want to go, bring gear, bring time—and the rest will follow.” There are still some days you might be covering 100 miles in a day, but it may be over the span of 14 hours, with rest stops and sightseeing adventures along the way. Kurmaskie advises, “Throw away your computer and measure your successes and distance in wonder, rather than in miles…and the miles and fitness will come on its own.”

Indeed, Kurmaskie firmly believes kids can be your best training buddy. He fondly recounts the story of climbing Cottonwood Pass, Colorado--one of the highest peaks in the continental U.S.—with his two oldest sons in two three years prior on a father-son bike touring adventure (recounted in Momentum is Your Friend). He somehow found himself “racing” a mohawked young man, sporting a full carbon bike and numerous tattoos, all the while being egged on and rallied by his sons on the trailer: “he’s three switchbacks back, Dad!” “He’s gaining on us, Dad!” Arriving to the top first, gasping deep “Darth Vaider” breaths while waiting for his fellow climber to summit, the young man was greeted by Enzo popping out of the trailer. “Dude! You’ve got another kid on the back!”

Hauling around kids and all that gear, Kurmaskie says, is “like a rolling Bow-Flex on wheels. You get in shape FAST.”

Does The Metal Cowboy Really Wear Cowboy Boots and Metal Spurs when he Rides?

JC: What kind of cycling attire do you wear on the bike?
JK: “It depends—around town or commuting, jeans or whatever. But I definitely buy into the idea you need bike shorts and bike jerseys for longer rides—they keep things in place and wick away [sweat]. I suit up.” For his journey across Canada, Joe opted to ride in clip-in Shimano sandals and Seal Skin socks to keep his feet dry. Even in the height of Canadian summer (62 degrees), he still wore wool cycling jerseys and layers: anytime they stopped for more than 10 minutes, he would get chilled.

JC: Bibshorts or regular shorts?
JK: “I feel the same way about bibs that I do about texting. Every time I put on a pair of bibs, I start singing Italian opera in a real high voice---Figaro, FIGARO, Figaro!”…but I still wear them. Yeah, I’m a complex and contradictory character,” he laughs.

Mud, Sweat & Gears is a hilarious and heartfelt book spinning yarns revolving around cycling, humanity, and the husband and wife dynamic that makes this emotional journey a truly three-dimensional epic adventure.

A bestselling author, performer, journalist, and educator, Kurmaskie is never one to rest on his laurels. He continues to promote and raise funds for Camp Creative, a bike-centric day camp for kids in Oregon, is already hard at work on his next book and calendar, You Might be a Cyclist If…, and has launched a new publishing press, entitled Cadence Press, with the goal of enabling bicyclists and readers to “find your rhythm.” The first book on the docket to be published? Mia Birk’s Joyride: Pedaling to a Healthier Planet, available August 2010.

“My bicycle has also brought me to the innocence and the best in myself. Collectively, my travels have been the antidote for the cynicism that can gather at the feet of complacency and grow in even the must useful and noble life…My love for cycling has helped shape who I am today.”—From Metal Cowboy, "Oh, to be Young and Go Very, Very Fast.” [NOTE: the newly released 10th anniversary edition of Metal Cowboy includes new stories and updates on some of the characters introduced in the original 1990 edition, including whatever happened to the old rancher in Pocatello, Idaho.]

Want more Metal Cowboy? You can now purchase his best-selling books, Metal Cowboy Tenth Anniversary Edition, Mud, Sweat and Gears: A Rowdy Family Bike Adventure Across Canada On Seven Wheels, and Momentum Is Your Friend: The Metal Cowboy And His Pint-sized Posse Take On America online at BicyclingHub.com today.

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