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Murrs Across America

July 29, 2010
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Our good friends Katy and Stuart Murr have spent the last 3 1/2 months riding their bikes across the United States.  This would be impressive enough on it’s own, but there’s a catch: they are making this ride with their two children, Jane (age 5) and Brady (age 3).  I know what you are thinking because doing such a thing sounds crazy.  And hard.  And CRAZY HARD.  I have had similar thoughts myself, all vasillating between AWESOME, I WISH I WERE DOING THAT and OH MY EFFING GOD THAT SOUNDS HARD – WHY?  Their reasons for making this journey are sound, inspiring and brave, their initiative and follow-through is impressive and admirable – and now they are enjoying the last leg of their excellent adventure. Permit me to introduce you to this remarkable family.  You can watch their YouTube video below.

So, we had the pleasure of hosting the Murrs in June this summer as they cycled through the midwest and Katy and I have been able to chat online here and there since the Murrs left Kansas City.  Thanks to a recent, fortuitous internet connection and a well-earned break from pedalling, I was able to catch up with her this week.

Jane Almirall:  Where are you now?

Katy Murr: Somewhere in Idaho. Yesterday was a big day for us. We left the beautiful home where we had been taking a break in Missoula and crossed the continental divide at Lolo pass.
JA: What are you wearing? (I kid!  No really, I am curious - I was  hoping that you might elaborate on your fancy ‘suitcase’ because that is an impressive bit of information.  Ladies and Gents, if you have ever struggled with packing for a trip, your mind would be blown by Katy’s teeny, compact travel bag).

KM:  My pajamas: cotton scrubs and a tee-shirt my family gave me for mother’s day. It has a pirate flag on it and says, “the floggings shall continue until morale improves.” I’m also wearing cotton underwear, which may be too much information, but in the context of practically wearing nothing but spandex bike shorts for three months, this point may be fairly relevant. I feel it is, anyway.

My “suitcase” for the four month journey has been a pannier bag in which one could only fit a very slender raccoon. Pancake, I think your purse may be bigger! Inventory includes the following: three pair bike shorts (spandex), two bike shirts (spandex), one pair bike socks, one pair comfort socks,  three pair cotton undies, one bra, two sports bras, one pair shorts (in a plaid pattern from Marmot sadly named, “beluga”), one Where the Wild Things are tee-shirt, a green tee shirt, a blue skirt, Northface pants, a Smartwool hoodie, bike tights, a thermal shirt., the aforementioned pajamas. Before I left some girlfriends helped me pick out my attire. At the time we were more interested in socializing than packing so they joked that somewhere down the road I would pull out an old prom dress. I haven’t yet.

bon vivant on the fly!

JA:  What is the last thing you ate?  You are an excellent and passionate cook so I am curious how you have adapted your culinary skills for life on the road.

KM: A half of an ice cream sandwich from the guy that looks like Ned Flanders in the camper next door. These kids are magnets for ice cream.  Before that I had stuffed peppers and a tabouli salad I’d prepared in advance in Missoula. There are pictures of some of our Jetboil meals on the Facebooks. Usually we do some sort of veggie pasta, stir fry, or bean or lentil based dish.  We’ve also become buffet seekers. Because we eat A Lot.

JA:  I’m sure people ask this a lot because they are fascinated by the fact that you and Stuart have taken your two young children with you, how are they doing on the long rides?  What things will they take away from this experience?

KM:  Most bikers who do cross country bike trips cover 60-100 miles a day. We don’t. We’re good for about 40 miles a day at an average speed of a blazing 10.5 miles/hr. We’ll typically take our time setting out in the morning, ride for an hour before lunch, eat and play, ride for a couple of hours while the kids sleep, play and explore, and ride one more hour. The kids are usually, over the course of a whole day, only in the trailer for four hours.

They’re amazing kids. I can’t imagine the string of shadowy institutions my life might have been had my parents set me so close to my sister for over 4000 miles.  They sing a lot in the Burly (we have speakers for music on Stuart’s bike), and they play with small, dirty toys and rocks. They draw and read books, they bite each other occasionally. They play a somewhat violent but apparently hilarious game called “fireman” in which one child says to the other, “Sorry to hit you in the knee, fireman” and the other responds, “Sorry to pinch you in the ear, fireman.” I don’t care for that game.

Jane says she’ll remember most about the trip riding in the boat, seeing the glacier, and finding shells at the beach. Brady says he’ll remember playing fireman and sledding on his skates, which he actually hasn’t done.

JA:  It sounds like you have met a lot of very kind, generous and interesting people along the way, is there a particular meeting/event/experience that stand out to you?

KM:  We’ve met so many kind and generous people on this trip. Families pick us up at gas stations and along dirt roads. One time Brady proudly announced to a stranger at a grocery store: “My goed poo poo on the potty!” and this encounter sparked what I’m sure will be a lifelong friendship with a fabulous family, not to mention a couple of dinners, introduction to another amazing person, and two nights of lodging.  One time a person picked us up at a campground on an ominous night saying, “you’ll sleep better and I’ll sleep better knowing you’re in our basement.”  One time a man who worked in the nearby coalmines brought us blankets at a city park, also homemade banana bread and a cool Andrew Jackson. When I asked him what made a guy want to be so generous he said he had plenty to share, and that when he was five and his brother was six they started living on the road. He had always depended on the kindness of strangers, and jumped at the opportunity to share.

One interesting character on this trip has been Bobby McKee. In Pheba Missisippi, at the One Stop, anyway, Bobby has a reputation for drinking most afternoons. But when we met him, it was morning and the idea of the trip with the kids made him light up. He excitedly asked for our phone number so he could call and check to see where we was at. Like clockwork, Bobby calls about once a week after he’s left the bar, where he says the conversation still revolves around our travels. He always offers encouragement and wants to check in on them babies. It’s always good to hear from Bobby McKee.

JA:  What positive messages have you been able to spread on this journey?  I would love for you to elaborate a bit about your mission – besides this being a great family adventure, of course.

KM:  We tell everyone we meet we’re doing this as a project to raise awareness for family engagement, health, and environmental mindfulness. We chose these important issues because we wanted our message to be positive, if people were going to be asking why those crazy people are doing this, and aligned with all the energy we direct daily to making sure the kids are safe and happy. These are incredibly relevant issues because my kids represent the first generation of Americans not expected to live as long as their parents because of threats posed by obesity and diabetes. Our message is simple: go outside and play with your kids. Put down the screen and engage. They’ll be healthier and have a healthier interest in their community and the planet, which will benefit everyone.
JA:  What has been the most difficult challenge on this trip for you?

KM:  Besides the physical challenges one might imagine as a result of sitting on a bike seat and pedaling across the American landscape, one of the most challenging things about this trip has been the near constant togetherness. I generally need more space than Stuart, but we both have to be engaged with the kids and each other so much on this trip, that any ancillary focus creates the frustrating feeling of having one’s feet in multiple worlds. I’ve been working some on the trip, which creates strain for Stuart since he’s left alone with the kids and since he’s committed not to work on this trip. We’ve been making small attempts at fundraising, which is difficult because follow-up is unpredictable with spotty internet access. And then there’s the potty training.  Unless you enjoy washing out Lightning McQueen undies in public restrooms, I don’t recommend potty training on the road.
JA:  If you could have brought one comfort item – no matter how impractical – along with you on this trip, what would that item be?

KM:  Is impractical the same as inhumane? If so, then horse tranquilizers. If not, then I say I miss most my blessed, magical electric toothbrush. And my dog. For different reasons, obviously. And my running shoes.

JA:  What is the biggest thing you will take away from this experience?

KM:  When I was a new mother, I vaguely recall that I resolutely slammed on some wicked bargaining table my shiny golden passport of freedom and independence in exchange for three hours of uninterrupted sleep. Among other dreams and aspirations, I felt like the joys of travel would need to be postponed so that I could devote my attention to the children. One thing I’ve learned from this trip is that traveling with young children can be extremely rewarding. On a daily basis it is an honor to be a part of their unfolding worlds, their bright music, their struggles and growth. But they also seem to somehow open and warm the hearts of strangers and create outlets for generosity and kindness.  Because they’re curious and innocent they help people shed their guard and offer their most sincere hospitality, which makes travel about authentic connection with people and place, what I was after with my golden passport in the first place. They give people an opportunity to shine their goodness and to be inspired.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to share this journey with my family and friends, and to share these stories and lessons with your dear readers.

For more information about the Murrs, please feel free to visit their website, Murrs Across America.  You can actually track their progress and if you wish to make a donation click on Support our Adventure!

You can friend them on Facebook here and follow them on Twitter here.

To see more of the Murrs, KY3 did an interesting story on them here:  http://www.ky3.com/news/local/95682319.html

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7 Responses to “ Murrs Across America ”

  1. Tina on July 29, 2010 at 11:33 am

    this is such a cool story! you are a great interviewer Jane, and they are a very inspiring family.
    Those kids are going to have the best childhood memories.
    Thanks for sharing. :)
    -Tina

  2. Pancake on July 29, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks for reading Tina!! They are such an awesome family, great people – as individuals and collectively. I really admire what they are doing!

  3. Julianna on July 29, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I’ve been following Kate’s progress all along – but it was such a treat to read her words (as always!) and hear even more inside-scoop about how the adventure has unfolded. Thanks for sharing it with an ever-widening circle!

  4. Panake on August 1, 2010 at 8:10 am

    Thanks Juliana! Kate is such a good writer, I am glad to have the priviledge of her frienship as well as the opportunity to read her words and share them with a wider audience!

  5. Grace on August 1, 2010 at 8:49 am

    What an awesome story, Jane! I would never, ever do it, but she sounds amazing.

  6. Panake on August 2, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Thanks Grace! They are a really cool family – we had the best time when they stayed with us and I think the world of them for doing this!

    (Also – I am embarrassed to have mis-spelled ‘privilege’ in the comments earlier…I become more and more stupid with each passing day.)

  7. Saundarya on August 9, 2010 at 2:57 am

    Hello :) I bookmarked this blog. Thanks heaps for this!… if anyone else has anything, it would be much appreciated.

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