Jul 27 2011

The Biggest Reason the Vogel Boys Deserve a Guinness World Record: A Soapbox Post

Kate Murr

You’re ten. The only book you want to read is gone from the familiar spot on the shelf just left of the big broken globe. Looks like Justin Graham got it first. Again.

Shoot!

So you crowd around the library table—elbowing Justin for good measure—and someone starts calling out the stats for the biggest, fastest, first, furthest, longest, and most amazing things ever. In the whole wide world.

And that very day you decide you’ll make the next biggest popsicle, or start the next largest sucker collection, or wear your socks for the most consecutive days. You begin to dream on really big scales because that big book says you can. That big book says that other people have accomplished their big dreams and that if you try really hard, even you can dream big enough to earn a Guinness World Record.

Davy and Daryl were ten. Instead of stuffing themselves with peanut butter or hoarding bubble gum, they asked their mom to write to Guinness World Records to receive guidelines for becoming the youngest people to cycle the Pan-American Trail.  Can you imagine the courage it took for Davy and Daryl to dream so big: big enough to imagine themselves pedaling bicycles from Alaska to Argentina  across 17,300 miles and fifteen countries for three years of their life? Big enough to imagine themselves earning a world record? Big enough to imagine that they could inspire all those other kids crowded around tables to go live their own dreams?

In June of 2008 Davy and Daryl, both just ten years old, received the GWR guidelines and the Vogel family left on their adventure of a lifetime from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. They followed the guidelines they received even when it was easier to do things differently.  They pedaled, worked, kept dreaming, learned, grew, persevered. They wrote and posted essays that will knock your socks off to read, they engaged and fostered and fed their dream through innumerable challenges. Finally, in March of 2011 the Vogels reached Ushuaia, Argentina—the End of the World. The boys were thirteen.

Now that they’re home, they’ve filed their final paperwork to receive their record, but they were instead issued this reply: “Unfortunately, we at Guinness World Records, have decided to rest this record, meaning we have decided to no longer recognise the category as a record, due to the fact that the record would reach an age where a person would no longer be able to break it or attempt (i.e. a two-year old attempting to do it) and as it would become limited under these terms, we choose to to no longer recognise it as a category.”

Well.

I’m writing today to ask you to support the dreams of these boys.  GWR should recognize the Vogels for accomplishing the 2008 record guidelines.

Granted, what Davy and Daryl achieved during their tremendous journey—the perspectives they’ll develop, the treasures they’ll glean from it for the rest of their lives, the countless people they have and will touch and inspire—can never be fully recognized by a certificate or record.  All our journeys supply intrinsic rewards. But read this from Davy and tell me they don’t deserve acknowledgement for seeking and achieving this lofty goal:

“Thinking that I would be in the Guinness Book of World Records helped motivate me during the very tough times of our trip. It made me go even faster the last week or so of our trip. I would probably have hitched a ride when it was very hot or we were climbing a very steep hill, but I didn’t because I wanted to break the record.”

For these boys and the rest of us who have been inspired to dream big because of a whole magical collection of accomplishments large, small, and kooky, please tweet to @GWRnews, write a blog entry, or post here asking GWR to reconsider their position and take action to recognize this tremendous achievement.

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May 3 2011

May 3, 2011-Checking In

Kate Murr

I’m writing today because I miss you all and I miss the road.

Just one year ago we woke up early at the Flordia Caverns State park and were overwhelmed by the hospitality of Walter Spence and Debbie from the Marianna post office.

I’m also worried about some of the folks we stayed with, especially Terri and Linda,  Linda, Harry, Harold, Mike, the Whetstines, and those in the path of the tornadoes and floods. The email address I gave out when I was on the trail has been disabled, but I would love to reconnect with folks at my current e-mail address: kate.b.murr@gmail(dot)com.

I am well aware that I haven’t posted the last post for the last day of the trip, and don’t know why I still feel a strange tug not to do that, but such is the case. It was a fantastic finish, we rode down a hill and the kids were laughing in the trailer, squirting each other with their water bottles. I was grinning so big I ate bugs. We listened to Big Smith and coasted down the foggy main drag in St. Augustine where the Blantons and the Cleeks greeted us with excitement and champagne and much hugging. I think I’m still processing all the feelings I was experiencing then.

But good grief, it’s been a year since we started! The children are fantastic! Jane is finishing up kindergarten, and has graduated from the Burly trailer to a blue tag along “that matches Daddy’s bike.” And Brady is four! He now has his own “fast, red bike,”  a strider without pedals that he coasts around on at lightning speed. These days, he is a rock star as well as a super hero, and he plays his sparkly green ukulele with all his heart. Stuart is still designing and building homes, but he’s also the Assistant Brewmaster/Facilities Manager/House MacGuyver at Springfield’s newest microbrewery, Mother’s Brewing Company. Mother’s grand opening is next weekend and we’re all extremely excited.

I’ve been busy with the kids and volunteering at Urban Roots Farm, a model farm for sustainable urban family farming, but I’ve also been writing away on a book about our cross-country adventure. I am learning so much about the writing process continue to enjoy discovering our journey through a retrospective lens. I’m writing some articles that I hope to submit to magazines, and I plan to have at least half of the book completed by the end of the summer, at which time I’ll actively begin submitting proposals and seeking publishers, editors, and agents.  Next fall I’ll be teaching and studying creative writing at Missouri State University as I seek my masters in English. There’s a new adventure around every corner, eh?

So, if you get this, and we haven’t connected in a while, could you please send me a note to know you’re fine and how your family fares. We have put together a few presentations to speak for bicycle advocacy and I’m linking to one here so that we can remember together some of our adventures and the people who made them fantastic.

Happy trails to you!

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Oct 12 2010

August 16, 2010- The Last Day: Part Two-Lunch

Kate Murr

To report our lunch experience at the Blue Scorcher is to recognize something full and hallowed. On a busy day of doing for the finishing of our adventure, this pause of being (dare I say) transcended the finishing and caused me pause then as it does now. Lunchtime was a huge gift.

Hope and Annie asked us our story when we sat down at the table next to them. We were wearing our vests and removing our helmets, after all, and the kids had run off to the play corner to dinosaur wars, muffin making, and dress-up. We told them ours and asked them theirs and learned they were healers, massage therapists. Annie had been practicing in Astoria since 1979, the year I was born. Hope had not been practicing that long, and she watched Annie, her mentor, with deep sparkle and marked reverence.

On one of my attempts to exhale and relish my gorgeous plate of food, Annie offered to rub my shoulders. Hope offered to massage Stuart. We accepted heartily, sloughed our safety vests, and attempted to sit in semi-relaxed positions at the restaurant table while the Mermaid Chef Princess and Scuba Diver Dinosaur Prince intermittently granting us brief audiences.

We may have blissed out for a few minutes. Annie “oohed” compassionately more than once at the rows of knots along my spine, and I told her she was finding exactly all the sore spots. She laughed and said, “Of course. I have a body, too.”

Her thin body was extremely strong, it turned out, and as she massaged me, she also expertly used it to greet friends when they came into the restaurant. She had a way of intimately greeting people with her eyes, with the extension of her cheek for friendly kisses, with her smile.  The Astoria cross country-coach bounded in on sinewy calves, cracked a joke and gleefully kissed her cheek as she paid special attention to my neck and shoulder muscles, especially the muscles at the base of my skull.

I started to melt and relax as Annie worked and noticed how everyone seemed especially glad to see her. Hope was taking excellent care of Stuart, and when I popped up from my seat to chase Brady out the open door, Hope continued to talk with Stuart and massage his forearms, wrists, fingers, and head. Annie excused herself when I returned with my protesting child in tow, and went to the restroom, met on the way by three or four people who greeted her with hugs. Hope—did I mention her presence? (Her warmth like all the mothers you’ve known with nothing hard to her, only roundness but still something straight like knowing)—looked at me then, when Annie was gone, and swallowed. I think she might have fanned or wiped her eyes if her hands hadn’t been busy. I didn’t ask what was wrong. Annie returned. Annie said she was going home to rest. I imagined her a grey cat in a sunny window. She said goodbye to everyone in the restaurant then kissed Hope square on the lips. The women hugged and said I love you’s, held hands, planned their next date.

When Annie left Hope gushed. She said there are some people you just love. When you’re in their presence everything inside you is happy. Their joy envelops you. She feels this way about her friend Annie—Annie who has cancer again; Annie who just started expensive experimental treatments; Annie who hadn’t massaged anyone in years before me. Annie is so special, she said, every time I get to be with her I am abundantly grateful. Hope was scared of loosing Annie and all the warmth their relationship had become. She set her sadness heavily on the table and didn’t cloak her immense fear; instead, she let the light of her gratitude outshine it.

Hope cried then, but happily. I fetched a napkin and we sat together. Then Stuart and I gathered the children, who immediately warmed up to Hope. They kidded one another, between our several trips to the bathrooms and the now-familiar tug-of-war that comes with preparing children to get on the road. She bought Jane and Brady a Ranger Rick Magazine for the ride to the coast, then said gratuitous goodbyes to us on the sidewalk.

Hope said she would see us again, that we were special, that she was delighted to have met us, that she loved us. We rode away from lunch more relaxed. Timelines and deadlines blurring into the recognition that our path was currently here in Astoria and leading west to the sea, the reachable sea, and a big bronze statue of Seaman and his human companions that marked the trail’s end.

More than a month separated from these experiences, I’ve had time to identify the friends in my own life who fill me with the sense of joy Hope recognized in Annie. They are the great teachers whose stories have somehow intersected with mine, who have shared with me some tremendous state of soul that is profoundly radiant, elevating, and connection making. Or perhaps the condition I feel with these friends is more of a connection sharing, because surely such intrinsic connections exist on their own, without our affirmation, but then glow according to the attention with which we nurture them.

I am awed and thankful now as I was then, but maybe more completely, at the myriad lessons generously demonstrated for us in a single hour of interaction and in the briefest moments of relaxation and sharing. Here’s what I was thinking then, though I didn’t have the words for it, as we shouted “Onward!” for our journey’s final leg as Diana Krall sang “Jingle Bells” (again): “Love is misunderstood to be an emotion; actually, it’s a state of awareness, a way of being in the world, a way of seeing oneself and others.*”

*David R. Hawkings

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Sep 18 2010

August 16, 2010- The Last Day: Part 1-Morning

Kate Murr

Monday, August 16 was a huge “day in the life”.  I’ve struggled to write about it, I think mainly because I’m still struggling to understand all that it held. I think that’s OK now, instead of being “just too bad”, and finally this morning, nearly a month later I’ve decided the best thing to do is to unpack  the day in three parts to try to knock off some of the overwhelm shell and shine light on the clear goodness pieces within.

Part 1- Morning

We awoke in soft beds, clean and excited, with the union of the Columbia and the sea just outside our window. The pedaling the day before as we traveled north over the Cascades from Clatskanie had been exhausting, but we had been greeted at the Cannery Pier Hotel in Astoria by a friendly staff and a golden enveloped note that read: “Congratulations upon your arrival at the Pacific Ocean! We are so thrilled you have completed your adventure. We hope you enjoy your final night in this hotel.  From, The Watershed Committee Board Members.” The hotel was an absolute treat, a thoughtful gift from kind and dedicated colleagues. With its stunning views, light ambiance, and gracious hospitality, our Cannery Pier Hotel experience was completely enchanting.

I woke up anxious, though. I had given us a Facebook deadline for finishing. I needed to contact the Astoria and Seaside press. I needed to finish some laundry. This was the day we were finishing. Should we call our mothers? Were the camera batteries charged?

We enjoyed a lovely complimentary continental breakfast in our room and prepared for the day. The bathroom, with its claw-foot tub and open view beyond the bedroom to big ships, foggy water, and an endless arching steel bridge, became my literal office and I buzzed out phone calls and e-mails, news releases and posts, thank you notes and nervous energy.   The kids and Stuart watched Word World. The laundry soaked.

After breakfast the kids and I took a walk along the pier. We watched gull, tern, and duck comedy. We explored an old boat. We talked about what makes a day as we walked toward a dock where salmon were being cleaned and water was boiling in huge cast iron pot.  We made up stories and pirates for the moored, quiet sailboats.

Back at the hotel as we were loading our bikes, we told our story to the morning desk crew, a few guests who were curious about our orange vests, a woman in the parking lot, the hotel manager and the hotel owner.  While we were always happy to share our story all across the country, on this last day, when I had a definite mission and agenda, the telling and retelling annoyed me.  I goaded myself for being annoyed, willed myself to enjoy each moment of such a special day, and tried to remember to exhale.

By the time the kids finally proclaimed our mantra, “Onward!” and we pedaled from the hotel parking lot, it was noon.  I was feeling panicky on top of anxious, because I suspected it would take more than three hours to eat and travel the 22 hilly miles to Seaside, and I, for some reason, had that self imposed schedule to finish by three, never mind that we had just kept a schedule crossing a continent by simply enjoying the moments and not rushing.  Stuart seemed tense too. We snapped at each other on our way through traffic to the Blue Scorcher bakery, a locally sourced restaurant run by bicycling enthusiasts.

At a stop light we told our story. At the cash register we told our story. At our table the ladies next to us asked to hear our story. And finally, at that insistence, the telling finally stopped being annoying—clearly these ladies were lights, moments were unfolding as they would, we were eating bread made with love, the children from the restaurant’s play corner wore diving masks, gloves, and purple capes.  A great crashing of gifts and time commenced. Read about it soon in Part 2- Lunch.

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Aug 15 2010

A Day on the Road with the Murrs- Guest blog by Emily S. Cleek

Kate Murr

August 14, 2010

It’s late as I sit down to start this entry, and I feel sleepy, refreshed, peaceful, and… guilty. I just had a nice cool shower after a long day in the sun biking with the Murrs, but when I last saw them, they were sitting at a picnic table loaded up with all their belongings next to their tent pitched in the middle of center field. We had yet to confirm a shower on site at the Clatskanie City Park, and temperatures on the road today brazenly approached 100 degrees, surely more with the waves of heat emanating off of the asphalt. We were all sweaty and a bit tired, but Stuart and Kate smiled with serene smiles as their kids played, and my family and I backed out of the parking lot and headed down the road back to our home in Portland.

We (my husband Billie, two daughters, and I) met the Murrs two days ago, and today they let us share a small piece of their grand family biking adventure. My family just moved to Portland from Springfield, MO a few months ago, and we’d been alerted to the Murrs’ actions from various mutual friends. Inspired by their endeavor, my husband Billie extended an invitation of hospitality when they reached Portland, and dinner plans were made. As I speculated on the meeting, I wondered if they were worn out from the journey that was soon coming to an end, or were they energized from all they have accomplished. They walked into our home with warm smiles and hugs all around, and yes, they looked both tired and energized.

Kate’s enthusiasm and encouragement is contagious, and I just can’t pass up her invitation to join them for a day’s ride before the grand finale. As I have only been biking with my girls around town and not across country, I opt for riding just one day; I don’t want to impede their progress on the home stretch with their end date in sight. Today’s (Saturday, August 14) leg is logistically simple, as they were just north of Portland last night, and my husband- who is unable to participate in the ride due to several broken bones he sustained on an unrelated bike wreck- will be available to shuttle me to the Murrs in the morning and back home at the end of the day.

When we pull into the city park where the Murr family had camped last night, we immediately spot Stuart milling around with Jane and Brady. There’s a bouncy slide set up in the park, and the kids are hopping on over. Stuart supervises the kids’ play time until it’s time to head back to camp to check on Kate’s progress packing up. She’s exuberant when I pull up and she immediately greets me with an enthusiastic hug and starts taking pictures. I’m officially a guest rider for the day! We hang out at the campsite a while chatting, putting together last minute arrangements, and letting the kids run around like kids. It’s time to go; we load up the kids and head out. We make it from the campsite to the parking lot (50 or so feet). Then, we have a brilliant, albeit late, idea. Hey- why don’t we load up your extra gear into Billie’s truck so you don’t have to haul it all for a day? Excellent. So, about 5 minutes later and dozens of pounds lighter, we head out again- each of three adults pulling a Burley trailer with one kid in the back.

We make it down the road a few miles (just 2 or 3) and Stuart turns into a gas station to buy some ice. The kids are already declaring their hunger and the Murr parents don’t encourage mutiny, so we find a little park and have a picnic. Food is good, kids get to run around a little more, Kate and Stuart get to clean up after a toddler accident, we get loaded up again, and we’re back on the road. While we ride, Kate easily chats and my passenger (my daughter Ella) occasionally makes comments/requests- “I want water,” “I want to play.” I already recognize the extra patience it must have taken to cross the entire country, thousands of miles, while still seeing to the whims and needs of two little kids. Schedules are hard to keep, and there are a lot of extra little stops or things to be taken care of. But, Stuart and Kate take all of these things in stride today, and the kids are really great. They nap when they get tired, they sing us songs along the route, and they play and embrace each other with great enthusiasm at our rest stops. They add unmeasurable joy to the trip.

We do a good jaunt after lunch and make it down the road another 18 miles or so until we reach the town of Rainier, OR. Stuart had gotten wind that there would be a festival in town, so he stops and asks the first person he sees where we can find it. We are informed that this particular festival is just a day in which people and businesses all over town have garage sales. Okay, not what we were looking for, but surely a good way to discover some deals if you were in a shopping kind of mood. In Rainier, in search of ice cream instead of deals, we are directed to a great little cafe and have a fabulous treat of freshly made milkshakes, homemade cherry pie, and an order of french fries. True Americana!

Now for the home stretch- after experiencing a day in 90-100 degree heat, I know my limits and have already contacted my shuttle (husband) to be on call in case I can’t keep up with the Murrs on the last 13 miles over the coastal mountain range to their day’s destination. Good call- right out of town is the first incline. Up, up, and up, and the sun’s still blazing. When I start to fear that I’ll see that milkshake again, I know that my day is almost done. About ¾ of the way up the mountain, there is a well-placed scenic viewpoint, and there my chariot (aka Toyota Tacoma) awaits! I huff and puff the final feet, pull into the viewpoint and call it a day. The Murrs, however, still have 12 miles and another small mountain to climb before they’re done. To ease the weight burden, we load Jane up with us, then we head to the next town, Clatskanie, to do reconnaissance and find a spot to camp. We procure a place on the baseball field of the city park next to a half dozen large RVs and one other bicycling couple in a tent. Jane teaches us how to set up the tent: First, you look for pine cones. Then, you look for sprinklers (advice that is followed by a story about setting up camp in a place that had not yet removed the sprinklers and getting a wet surprise). Jane is very helpful and comfortable with the camping living. She gets out her toy bag and starts introducing each of her toys to Ella. It’s been a good day.

And, just like that, Stuart and Kate arrive with little Brady in tow. They’ve finished yet another day on the road. We leave them to rest and recover together as a family. It’s been a long and surely challenging journey for the Murrs, but they seem to be handling it with ease, taking one pedal stroke at a time.

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