TT Thursday : Erika bicycles 5,000 miles ; cycle challenge, my weight loss

TT Thursday : Erika bicycles 5,000 miles ; cycle challenge, my weight loss

Erika bikes 5,000 miles across Asia

I am still trying to find that Mongolia biking blog by two dudes (yeah, it’s like a song stuck in my head. Now I’m beginning to wonder when I find it, will it be as good as I remembered it?) Instead I found this book by Erika Warmbrunn.

Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman’s Bicycle Trip through Mongolia, China, & Vietnam
(See Amazon affiliate disclosure at the bottom of the post)
In 1993, over eight months, Erika rode her bike (she nicknamed “Greene” through Mongolia, China and Vietnam. She rode 30 to 100 miles a day depending on the terrain, weather and other conditions on her journey of more than 5,000 miles.

“A bicycle is freedom, a bicycle is independence, a bicycle is self-sufficiency,” Warmbrunn said. “It took me places I didn’t know I wanted to go.” (Daily Pennsylvanian)

These next paragraphs are excerpted from her Prologue.  Erika had moved to Seattle to pursue her passion for theater. After five years, she was working in a travel bookstore with a string of failed auditions behind her. The only jobs she could find was working as an interpreter for visiting Russian companies. Frustrated with her stalled career, the travel books she saw daily called to her: ‘

“I wanted, once, to trace my own path across a land as yet untrampled by hordes of tourist feet. I wanted to lose myself in unmapped landscapes and to meet the people who inhabited them. I wanted uncompromising, boundless space, and nature’s reminders of how minute a human being is. I wanted the kind of empty, demanding landscape that some people call lifeless or inhospitable and that fills me with a visceral sense of freedom. One of the few countries not in the title of any guidebook we carried was Mongolia. I did not know much about the vast north Asian land, but I imagined untamed expanses of steppe rolling to the horizon. I imagined puffy white yurts nestled in the middle of nowhere. I imagined hardy little horses running free across desolate stretches of grassland unmarked by the twentieth century. Mongolia sounded like freedom to me.”


Serendipity stepped in. Erika got a call asking her if she would interpret for an American theater troupe on a tour to Vladivostok, Russia (near Siberia).  She said yes (after another audition fell through):

“I started applying for visas. I started packing my apartment into cardboard boxes. I started bicycle shopping. I knew my trusty road bike was not up to the trip. I knew I needed fat, knobby tires. I knew I needed a frame that would withstand months of brutal abuse. That was all I knew. I tripped into cycle shops and asked, “If you were riding across Mongolia, what would you ride?” It was like a metaphor, “Mongolia.” The middle of nowhere. The back of beyond. Someplace far, far away. Nobody thought that I actually meant Mongolia, the country. Almost nobody knew that there still was a country called Mongolia, that it was not part of China, that it was not part of Russia, that time and history had not wiped it off the map altogether. I rode bicycles up and down Seattle streets trying to imagine rocky, sandy, muddy grassland. With five weeks to go, I settled on a neon-green mountain bike with the fattest, knobbiest tires in the store. I rode her the few miles home, named her, painted her, put her in a box, and got on a plane to Russia.”

After three weeks, the American company went home and her journey began. She told of a night in Mongolia:

“A circle in the center of the roof is open to the sky. The opaque winter dawn above it is impossibly devoid of color. I am lying on the floor, my sleeping bag covered by a thick quilt. Next to me, the evening’s dung fire is a pile of ashes in a cold stove, but the bottoms of my thick woolen socks are still scorched from where I held them too long against the hot metal the night before. Behind me, a family of four is asleep in the home’s only bed, a six-year-old boy and his infant brother cuddled between their young parents. I know nothing about them, not even their names. But the night before, arriving out of the dark and cold, I asked—in the few words of their language that I have learned—if I could sleep in their home. I lie still, trying not to make any noise. The longer they sleep, the longer I can stay inside my warm cocoon. Without moving, I glance over to where my bicycle leans against the curved side of the tiny felt home. The snow and ice that had been clumped in her wheels has melted into little puddles on the floor, but her thick tires are still clogged with mud. Her chainwheels are a mess. Her blue panniers are dingy brown. Spots of neon green peek through scratches in the gray automotive primer that I spray-painted on her back in another world, where my floor was carpeted, where there was electricity and running water.

The circle of light is growing brighter, and soon I hear the family stirring. Once the sun has risen, there is work to do. Outside in the crisp morning, we wash our hands and faces quickly in brutally cold water. All around us, desolate, glittering grassland stretches as far as the eye can see. Two other homes huddle close by, but beyond this tiny enclave of three nomadic felt dwellings, there are no power lines, no fences, no sign of a road; there is nothing but untamed space. I have never been so in the middle of nowhere, the sensation of lostness made greater by the humans eking out an existence than if the wilderness had been pure wildness. The other families rose even earlier than we did, and two women are already smoothly milking their cows, glancing up furtively at me. The woman in whose home I slept hands me a stool and a pail and points to her cow. “I am very bad,” I warn her, but dutifully sit on the three-legged wooden stool and squeeze the cold metal pail between my knees. I reach for a teat and the animal sidesteps, and as I try to move with her, the pail slips. The three women are watching, trying not to giggle. I jam the pail back into place and try again, pulling hard and getting a skinny little squirt of white before the cow stomps a hoof and I jerk back, startled. The pail clatters to the ground and we all laugh. Then the young woman takes the pail and sits down to get the work done.

When the chores are finished and the mutton-noodle soup left over from dinner has been reheated and eaten for breakfast, it is time for me to go. I give the woman two candles. I give her little boy a pack of gum. She makes sure I understand that her family returns to the same place every year, so I can find them if I come back. I check my bicycle’s tires and tighten the straps holding my sleeping bag to her rear rack. My bicycle is ugly, but she is tough, and in memory of what she is beneath the dull gray primer, I call her Greene. One of the other women steps out of her home. Her face is deeply wrinkled, her eyes narrow pools of vivid black. She holds a ladle full of fresh milk. She says something that I do not understand, but I say “Bayarlalaa (thank you),” and she nods, then with a flick of her hand she throws the milk into the air above me. The white drops splatter down onto my head, onto my shoulders, onto Greene’s mud-spattered panniers, the milk mixing with the dirt. I do not duck or close my eyes. It is a good-luck wish for the traveler. The women point me in the direction of the road. I find a vague dirt track in the prairie and follow it east.”

Wow! What a trip!  (Looks at my bike… hmmm… as soon as it stops going flat every time I sit on it, I will ride further. I remember riding into the countryside when I lived in Oita, Japan. It’s so cool.)


Author relates experience of bike trip through Asia
By Liz Denburg, Daily Pennsylvanian,  February 12, 2002

Where the Pavement Ends
Erika Warmbrunn, author’s website

5,000 Miles Across Asia by Bike
by Erika Warmbrunn, author interview, IndieBound,

Chef’s Night Out
podcast, Erika’s interview starts at about 32m

You can do a search to find something on Amazon like I did with “where the pavement ends”.

My Great Cycle Challenge

As you all know I am doing The Great Cycle challenge to raise money for children’s cancer. I raised $77.63 from four people and am commited to riding 30 miles.  Actually since I said I would bike half what I raised, it will be 39 miles now since Gretty jumped onboard. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Ellen, Diane, Irene and Gretty.

Go here to see how much I’ve raised and miles I’ve pledge and if you want to donate too . I think the fundraisers take their cut off the top since the amount donated are not round numbers and people generally donate round numbers. I understand fundraisers need to pay their expenses but it’s the first time I’ve seen it this visible.  Usually when donation requests arrive by snail mail, the percentage that goes to the research is in small print.  Fundraising is hard.  I remember when I was with a nonprofit group, we had a luncheon to raise money.  After the lunch and auction, we took in $2,500 and were so excited.  After we subtracted the expenses for the place and the food, we had $250 left.  We were a little deflated but the upside was the comraderie at the luncheon paid dividends in that people who came continued to support the organization afterwards.  Until I volunteered for that event, I had never given much thought to how hard fundraising is.  So I give kudos that this Great Cycle Challenge has been doing this for four years; people have biked 12,205,253 miles, and together raised $16,070,740 to support research to develop better treatments and hopefully one day find a cure for childhood cancer.

As you know, I was sick for a couple weeks so I am behind on my bike riding. Plus my bike is flat. I fix it but it goes flat as soon as I get on it which is discouraging.  The bike repair workshop I went to couldn’t find any leaks so it’s not the tire. I think I have to lose a few more pounds before it stops doing that.  Most bikes are made to support up to 185 to 200 pounds depending on the manufacturer. So I am walking my bike rather than giving up and not cycling.  And I decided I have to walk it further than if I walk to cover the same distance I would have rode if it didn’t go flat — if you see what I mean. So Tuesday I walked my bike 3.7 miles which is a lot for me. I found my stamina took a hit from being ill and staying home and I was breathing heavy after I hit the 3 mile mark. Might have also been because the temperature was over 90F. So far my total miles for this month is 7 miles.  Now that I feel better, I’ll ride/walk every couple of days to catch up.

Weight Loss Challenge

I finished my main HealthyWage challenge. Started at 252.1 with a goal 187.1, a loss of 65 pounds. I had gained a little with the car so was at 203 but managed to drop 10 pounds in May, the most I ever did in one month. As you know, May 31, 2019, I had reached 192.8. I got down to  191.1 on June 2nd.  I didn’t break the 190 mark.  The challenge ended on June 4th and I did not quite succeed — just 4 pounds away.  So close but no cigar.

I ended up losing 61 pounds over the course of a year with your encouragement and also the double incentive HealthyWage provided.

Lost Inches

Last year June 28, 2018, I measured myself (under myth 2, changes I noticed):

“I realize now that I forgot to measure myself when I first started so that needs to be rectified. I couldn’t find my sewing measuring tape so I’m using the flexible metal tape. It might not be as accurate but it will still give me a baseline. B=48″. UB=42. W=47.5″. G=51″. H=50″. Th=28.25″. Not happy with those numbers but there they are. G is gut — I measured where stomach went out the furthest. One goal is for the W and G to be the same. That will mean some of the fat in G will have slid off. Crossing fingers.”

Today is Jun 14, 2019 and I am using the same flexible metal tape to measure myself again:

  • Bust=43.25 (lost 4.75 inches)
  • Underbust = 38 (lost 4 inches. Note: I am no longer using bra extenders. When I started, I was using 2 connected to each other to make it long enough.)
  • Waist= 41.75 (lost 6 inches!  Woo hoo! I actually see an indent at my waist these days.)
  • Gut = 46 (lost 5 inches! Gut is a made up spot,I measured where my stomach goes out the furthest under my waist)
  • Hips = 44.5 (lost 5.5 inches)
  • Thigh = 25 (lost 3.25 inches)

Taking stock

I lost weight slow enough that I don’t have the hanging skin that I’ve seen some people have who lost a lot of weight.  I count that as a blessing.  My back and my knees don’t hurt all the time like they used to when I first started. My stamina improved until I got my car back and then started improving again once it was down again.  I have very mixed feelings about fixing it because while I had the car running, I did gain a few pounds back.  A few though, not a lot so I was between 200-203.  Even now. When I didn’t make the June 4th deadline, I splurged on the food I’d given up for a long time.  Ate a real lunch pizza with cheese and pepperoni.  Drank Southern Comfort. And generally went nuts for about two days and then quit — why? Oddly enough, it was too much.  I had gotten comfortable with my new eating style.  Weird. I missed the veggies. So that’s another change. My preferred eating style had changed too.  So currently I have plateaued between 191-195.  From a set point of 250, I am at a new set point of about 193.

So what now? Well, it’s time to focus on fitness (instead of writing about other people’s fitness) but at my age (58), you have to be careful of your knees so things like swimming and bicycling is better than running. I don’t have a pool so guess what I will be doing. I also need to do some arm stuff because my batwings are really flapping. I expect that when I hit 180, my bike will stay inflated when I sit on it (crosses fingers — it could just be a lemon but I love the basket and the retro look of my bike so not ready to give it up. It reminds me of the bike I had in Japan). I expect that as I exercise I will gain weight initially — which is why I want to take the focus off weight loss. Muscle weighs more than fat but is healthier and increases stamina. For now the goal is to ride/walk my bike at least 3 miles every third day and then increase to every other day, then to daily. Once my bike can handle my weight, I think I’ll explore Tucson by bike like I did when I lived in Japan.

So that’s my year’s journey.  Thanks for sticking by me.  I failed and I succeeded.  I am incredibly pleased to have lost 61 pounds.  I appreciated your encouragement every step of the way and the occasional advice too.  Cheers!

Weight Loss Challenges with Cash Prizes Starting All the Time

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11 Replies to “TT Thursday : Erika bicycles 5,000 miles ; cycle challenge, my weight loss”

  1. The Mongolian excepts were really interesting and well written I might add. Don’t know what to say about your flat tires. You might have to upgrade your bicycle before that Mongolia trip! Maybe a desert tan would be a nice colour. Nice to see those under 200 scale photos! You have done an amazing job, Mary.

    1. I liked what she wrote too — what an adventure! Yeah, I can’t see me doing that ride but there was that guy at over 250 who rode across America. Tries picturing me doing it….Nah. Thanks for the compliment and the encouragements all along the way. Much appreciated.

    1. Laughing, a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do. Some people walk their dogs; I walk my bike, laughing.

    1. I thought her story was cool too. I wish I had that kind of courage. Thank you on the weight loss compliment and for giving me encouragement all along the way. It helped a lot.

    1. Thank you! I really appreciate that. Last week I was feeling upset I didn’t’ make the goal but this week I counted all the blessings including you guys and realized I came out way ahead.

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