Yolks & Spokes

Dana Bialek is a documentary writer and audio producer. Sara Quinn is a documentary photographer. They spent this past Spring riding bikes 2,000+ miles down the Mississippi River.  Along the way, they sat down to breakfast with ordinary strangers – in diners, restaurants, and in their homes – to talk to them about how they eat eggs and why they eat them the way that they do. Find out what they learned in dual interview below.

Photo above by Whitney Devin

Meet Inquisitive Dana & Sara

How did your trip come to be? Why did you choose to travel by bike?

Dana: Yolks & Spokes was something I dreamed up, a vision that we could use a routine we all share – eating eggs – to access other dimensions of the human experience. The Mississippi River courses through a diverse human landscape, and the idea was to plot the changing voices and faces and breakfast plates on an interactive map, calling attention to the ubiquitous pleasure of sitting down to eggs in the morning. Yolks & Spokes celebrates the ordinary in such a way that helps us feel connected to one another.

Sara: Traveling by bike is such an intimate way to connect with a landscape. It is inherently slow and involves unexpected stops and unanticipated troubles. Biking allowed us the pace and space to truly connect with folks we met along the way, and created opportunities for hospitality and offers of breakfast. When Dana proposed a bike tour that was more than just an adventure, I was sold.

Photo by Sara Quinn
Photo by Sara Quinn

Dana, how did you meet Sara and how do you complement each other?

Sara & Dana at the Southernmost point; Photo by Whitney Devin
Sara & Dana at the Southernmost point; Photo by Whitney Devin

Dana: Sara and I met as students at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. I was in the writing program and Sara was studying photography. I knew that Yolks & Spokes would be a stronger project if I got a photographer on board, and it was obvious to me that the photographer ought to be Sara. I love the work she produces, and the two of us share interests and values around food and travel. And so I recruited Sara. It took me a few weeks to talk her into it, and thank goodness I did. We’re a highly functional team. When it came to producing content, I take on the words and she takes on the visuals.  We’re good and editing each other and talking out our ideas.  And on the bicycles, Sara’s calm and rational while I’m a little more, well, excitable. It evens out.

Sara, if you and Dana’s bike roles were a Venn Diagram, how would they overlap? How would they differ?

Sara: Someone we met along the way suggested that Dana is the “yolk” and I am the “spoke.” That can be interpreted in so many ways, but I think it fits. We both took on mapping, fixing bikes, and researching stories along the way, but had defined roles in terms of the content we created. Dana collected sounds and words and I collected images.

Your project, “Yolks and Spokes” contemplates the relationships people have with breakfast and others. What similarities did you find as you traveled down the Mississippi? What differences?

Dana: Our findings were precisely what we imagined: most of us eat eggs in really similar ways. Many people take their eggs fried, and what varies is how they take their yolks.  Yet when talking to people about breakfast, we let eggs be a springboard to talking about anything else—family, community, place, identity. That’s where the variation happened, because, of course, we all bring so much with us to the breakfast table.

Photo by Sara Quinn
Photo by Sara Quinn

Sara: Our most definitive discovery as we sat around breakfast tables and gathered stories is that people are darn opinionated about eggs. I think because of the intimacy of breakfast, because of the pace of the morning, and because of the simplicity of the egg, people take time and effort to shape their morning routine. While breakfast seemed to hold a bit more weight in the Northern states, eggs are common everywhere – especially in over-easy and scrambled form.

Dana: One discrepancy worth noting is that nobody, it seems, can agree on what exactly a sunny-side up egg is. Some don’t distinguish between sunny-side up and over-easy, most don’t flip is over and cook the other side, and some steam in the pan.  A lot of people find them yucky, and one restaurant owner claims that the health department won’t let him serve them.  Who knew that the sunny-side up egg was shrouded in so much mystery!?

Photo by Sara Quinn
Photo by Sara Quinn

Sara, you’re a documentary photographer. Is Yolks & Spokes indicative of your other work? Why do you feel compelled to learn more about others?

Sara: Yolks & Spokes connects so many of my primary interests – food, storytelling, bikes, and rivers. Yet the method of storytelling is certainly a departure from my usual. I am drawn to slow, almost anthropological storytelling that gets in deep and stays for a while. It was a struggle for me to roll into a town, connect with the locals, and roll away just as easily. It was a struggle, but a good one and I learned so much from the experience. Individual stories tell so much about what it is to be human in this complex and quickly changing world.

Photos left & right by Sara Quinn
Photos left & right by Sara Quinn

What did a typical day look like?

Dana: It’s a really good thing we’re morning people- our days started early. Sometimes we would hit the rode early to try and beat the heat. (That was something that became increasing more difficult as we got further and further south.) Other times we’d be up early but stay off the saddle. Instead, we’d be poised to document in a kitchen or at a diner.  We loved when breakfast took hours, between photographing and interviewing and just plain enjoying.  On those days we would typically cover less miles.

We spent many evening at our computers, working on stories and figuring out logistics for the next day.  Every day was a good balance of biking, eating, meeting and engaging with people, and production.

Photos of Dana by Sara Quinn
Photos of Dana by Sara Quinn

What are your five must haves for bike travel?

Dana: Bike bags, sunglasses, sunscreen, canned sardines, pocket knife.

Sara’s are pictured below. 

Sara's 5 must-haves
Sara’s 5 must-haves

What was your preferred camping situation?

Dana: We mostly camped in people’s houses. That usually looked like us in sleeping on couches or in guest bedrooms.  We found people to stay with through the Couchsurfing and Warm Showers communities, and also just through word of mouth.  So many of our hosts were wonderful, and many offered their own breakfast stories.

How do you fuel up for the road?

Sara: I had never thought much about my breakfast routine before departing on Yolks & Spokes. I quickly learned that eggs in the morning are a must for me I had a hard time the days that we forsake breakfast for an early start. My fuel for the road: eggs, avocados, sardines, and energy bars.

Photo by Sara Quinn
Photo by Sara Quinn

What’s next?

Dana: Right now I am looking forward to staying put for a while in my new home in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Sara: I’m thrilled to be working as a videographer with Balance Media in Portland, Oregon, following filmmaker Trip Jennings on all kinds of unexpected adventures. In my spare time, I’m pursuing some long-form photo projects with my medium format film camera.

How do you take your eggs?