Nomad: The Open Road

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Fri
20
Jun '08

Departure Date

Well, the new tentative date for departure has been set: Tuesday, July 1. I was planning on leaving on the 23rd or 24th, but with so much left to do before I go, I am finding myself too stressed out trying to get everything done within such a limited amount of days. Best to keep my nerves healthy and stress levels down before leaving.

Tue
1
Jul '08

Eh, I’ll Do It Tomorrow…

Well, I can’t really say it’s procrastination, but this trip just keeps getting pushed back. Today was slated to be the day of departure, but a few minor setbacks came up to change that. For one, I just wasn’t ready. I hadn’t packed completely before this morning, and when I made my first attempt, it was painfully obvious that I still had some work to do in getting everything together and figuring out what exactly I’m bringing. There was no chance of everything fitting in my bags. On top of that, my destination for the first night, my friend Adam’s house, would not be occupied until around 10 at night. That means I would have either a lot of dead time sitting on their porch for hours, or I would be biking down some curvy rural roads in the dark. It wasn’t meant to be.

Now, just into the morning hours, I feel slightly more ready to leave. I have packed my bags, but I feel I still need to ditch some weight. These things are monstrously heavy. I just took a ride around the block, and it was strenuous. My first thought was, ‘this is ridiculous.’ It’s definitely a heavier load than last trip. Now the fun of guessing what I won’t need in a week begins.

I haven’t left home, but the adventure has already begun. I think I’m finally starting to feel the excitement about this upcoming journey. The last month has transformed into a head-down, drill-turning construction job. Focus was lost on the upcoming trip as trying to get ready for the upcoming trip took center stage. Now that I’m just about ready, I can return to thinking about the adventure, the exploration, the mountains and the water and the trees that await. Not to mention the friendly people.

So my clothes are clean, my bags mostly packed, I’ve cut my hair and trimmed my beard, and planned a route for the next few days. What comes next is all to be discovered when I get there. Now it’s time to get some rest for what hopefully will be the official day one of the trip.

Thu
3
Jul '08

Day 1

It has begun, and that cannot be undone.

I made it out, finally. I left on Wednesday afternoon, around 3:30. It was a 40-mile ride through some nice rural areas, over a dam, and by plenty of water. Leaving was a bit surreal; biking out of my house, it just didn’t feel like I was beginning some big adventure. It felt like any other departure, but maybe that’s because this has been such a long process to get this thing going. There hasn’t been much buildup of excitement.

Now it’s time to get ready for the next leg. Today I’m heading over the mountains on a road they call “the dragon.” It is very curvy as it winds over the mountains into North Carolina. I need to get an early start to avoid as much traffic as possible. This road is frequented by many dumb-ass racers who try to complete the curvy course in as little time as possible. It’s two lanes with no shoulder.

Off we go. Tonight is probably going to be camping out in the boonies, so no post for a day or two. Pictures to come soon.

Fri
4
Jul '08

A quick check in

I made it over the mountains, and I’m currently in Sylva, North Carolina, couchsurfing. My hosts brought me along with them to a friend’s barbeque. I’m very grateful.

These past two days have been rough. “The Dragon” kicked my ass! I had almost no energy by the time I stopped to camp, which was just outside a little campground. The place was full, so I set up camp down the road a piece. There were picnic tables and it was right by a creek. Nice and quiet. No bears, although an old man warned me about them. Traffic wasn’t too bad over the mountains, but it picked up as the day wore on. No major incidents to speak of. Mostly motorcycles on joy rides. The climbs, though, that was really hard. I think it was about 1200ft in elevation gain, but you basically do it twice, then go downhill, then climb some more, and just keep rolling along like that. I wasn’t ready for it.

Today wasn’t as bad. Plenty of climbs, mostly rolling though. At one point I was completely drained. I stopped at the top of a hill at an underpass to rest. I couldn’t make it much further. The sun was brutal as well. After two bananas, an orange, and a kiwi, however, my strength was increased ten-fold. No joke. That fruit saved me.

Anyway, I’m going to get back to the barbeque. I’ll post more really soon, hopefully from Asheville. I have plenty of pictures. Just wanted to let everyone know I made it over the mountains.

Happy Fourth of July!!

Sun
6
Jul '08

the route to Asheville

A fairly accurate map of my route so far:

Google Map

Mon
7
Jul '08

Ridgecrest

Today is a day of changed plans, unexpected destinations, and overwhelming experiences. I left Asheville this morning at 11am with the full intention of riding 80 miles to Hickory, North Carolina. I had a place to sleep all lined up, a phone number to call when I was getting close. After an hour and a half of riding, however, when I was just getting well out of the city/suburbs, just about ready to take my first break for the day, I came across a sign.

Now when I left today, and even yesterday during my day off, I was feeling anxious. I had all of a sudden developed this desire to hasten my pace, to reach the coast soon, to travel more miles per day. I’m not sure where it came from, but it was strong. As I rode today I thought about needing something to calm me down, remind me to take things slower and take my time. I thought about the various ways this readjustment could come to me. Often a change of that nature requires loss or an event which at first seems negative, such as a flat tire, or even being struck by a car. Obviously I would choose a flat tire over being hit, but I considered that as an occurrence that would change my priorities. I surely did not expect what came my way instead.

In the summer of 2003 and for part of summer 2004, my brother Josh worked at a Christian camp in the mountains of North Carolina called Ridgecrest. I knew he really liked it the first year, working in an ice cream shop called the Nibble Nook, but he left early the next year because of his depression. It was only a few months later that he killed himself. He had talked about the place plenty, I had seen pictures and even met some of his friends from there, but I had never been. I knew it was close to Asheville, but for some reason I had the idea it was to the northwest. Well, today as I trucked along old highway 70, paralleling interstate 40, just as I was thinking that I needed to take a break, I came upon a sign that said Ridgecrest. At first I figured that it must be something different, could have been anything. A minute later I was right in front of the entrance, and it was clear that this was the same place.

I decided that I would take a short break and see if anyone still worked there that would have known him. I asked at the entry gate where the Nibble Nook was. They told me it was closed. I told them about my brother to see if they knew him. It’s a huge place, and they have lots of young kids coming through working there every summer, so they didn’t know him personally. But they did start me on a search to find people that would. After a bit of searching and asking around, I was finally introduced to an older couple, Patty and Ken, who had known Josh well in the time he was there.

It was very emotional. They had been very fond of my brother and took his death hard. Just meeting these people who had known my brother brought tears to my eyes. Patty brought me up to the prayer garden where they have placed a memorial stone in his name. It was tough being there, looking at that stone in the ground bearing his name. “In Memory Of Joshua R. Allen.” It’s not something I see very often. It’s very rare that I see his name written at all. To see it there suddenly made everything real in my mind. Often it’s easy to think about events and people in abstraction. The thought is in your head, but there is nothing physical to substantiate this thought, so it may not have as strong of an effect. Seeing that stone in that garden at this camp that my brother had spent a summer of his life at, that I had never visited before but had heard all about, that took months of abstract thoughts and memories about Josh and made them an undeniable reality: He’s gone.

Patty and I talked and cried a lot. She said a very emotional prayer. It was very comforting to be in the presence of someone so compassionate, talking very fondly of my brother. Then she lead me to an office to talk to a woman who also knew Josh, who I guess is in charge of recruiting summer staff. Melissa had talked to my brother plenty and was aware of his depression. She said she could tell when he wasn’t taking his medication. She had tried to get him to talk more, but there was a lot of darkness in my brother that he wouldn’t talk about. It has been a long time since I have talked to someone about my brother who knew about his issues. It brought me completely back down to earth, grounded by the grave reality of my present surroundings.

Melissa started telling me about other people around who knew Josh and would want to talk to me. By this point I had been there nearly two hours and was thinking about getting back on the road, still trying to make it to Hickory. I had arrangements of where to stay, after all. Melissa and Patty asked if I wanted to stay at Ridgecrest a night. They could put me up in the staff dorms. I knew then that there was no other option. I had to stay, to talk to more people, to be in this place that Josh had stayed, to fully take this all in. These amazingly gracious people set me up with a dorm room to sleep in, brought me a lunch because I hadn’t eaten any yet, got me three meal tickets to the cafeteria for tonight and tomorrow. These people loved Josh and showed me amazing compassion because I’m his brother. I’m still in awe.

I didn’t know what time dinner ended, and I ended up missing it. I went to the cafeteria anyway to try to find Patty and Ken to see how I could get food. I asked a group of older volunteers where they were, and one asked me if I was Josh’s brother. He had heard I was around and recognized me by resemblance. It’s funny, when I was younger, I used to hate when people said I looked like my brother. I didn’t like being constantly compared to someone else. I wanted to be completely my own person. Today when some people told me I look like Josh, it brought tears to my eyes, and I felt honored to be compared to someone that I, among many others, admired so much.

The older man’s name is Dick; his wife Veda sat down moments later. They had worked with Josh at the Nibble Nook and became his sort of grandparents. They loved him very much. Dick arranged for me to get some food, and both talked with me for a while in the cafeteria. Such wonderful people. They expressed so much love towards me. I was so overwhelmed by sadness and joy. Dick and Veda also tried hard to convince me to stay a while longer, volunteer at the camp, maybe even try to get some paying work. I couldn’t believe it, but my mind was strongly considering the option. It’s an incredibly beautiful place, nestled in the mountains, but I think it was the prospect of spending more time with these compassionate, loving people that had me turned on to the idea. I want to talk about my brother so much, to learn more about him in those final years and months before he killed himself, and to hear people talk so lovingly about him. I have felt so warm and welcome here.

In the end, however, I don’t think I’m going to stay past tomorrow morning for a few reasons. First of all, I do want to continue on with my trip, if for no other reason than to get up to Rhode Island to see my family. Second, the people I have talked to about Josh have made me feel so good, and I have enjoyed every moment of their company, but this is a Christian camp, and I’m not a Christian, and that has made the rest of my time here a bit uncomfortable. I have no problem with what this place is, with anyone’s beliefs here, I just don’t share them, and that makes me an outsider in a camp dedicated to furthering and developing those beliefs. I have no desire to convert or have anyone talk to me about converting. And third, despite the warmth of the personal company I have found here, it has been very difficult for me to be here. I am overwhelmed with emotion, and I don’t know if I can take another day of that. I think I need a day of riding to put into perspective everything that has transpired today. This has been such an amazing experience. I have cried so many times, smiled just as much, and felt as human as one possibly can, I think. Right now, I want to take this day, these events and emotions and move forward with them. I told Dick and Veda I would sleep on the idea just in case I do want to stay, if only for another day.

Writing now, I wish I could convey everything I have felt today. I wish there was a phrase I could use that would hopefully make everyone understand. All that comes to mind is that I feel human. I feel my heart. I see myself, and I see where I fit in to my present situation. It’s a satisfying feeling, but not necessarily an easy one to handle, if that makes sense. I no longer feel anxious, as I did before.

Experience confirms: ask and ye shall receive.

joshstone.jpg

a memorial stone in the prayer garden

meandmemorial.jpg

meandpatty.jpg

Patty and I in the prayer garden

Fri
11
Jul '08

I’m Alive

It has been a few days since my last post, an exhausting few days. Allow me to recap:

I left Ridgecrest on Tuesday afternoon after a good meal and some good-byes to all the wonderful people I met during my stay. Again I want to thank everyone so much for being so kind to me. I had some really great conversations. In the end, however, I had to press on. The experience was incredible, exactly what I needed, but my path right now is to move on, keep pedaling to another destination. I hope to keep in touch and return again sometime soon to spend more time.

As I pedaled away, the sky was foreboding. The beginning of the ride took me down a closed off section of old highway 70. The road is blocked off, clearly says it’s private property, no trespassing. Someone at Ridgecrest told me, however, that the signs aren’t accurate. It is a public road with public utilities running underneath, just surrounded by private property. The signs haven’t been updated. I had to take my rear bags off in order to lift my bike over the gate. The road itself was in a state of disrepair- cracked, broken, overgrown with vegetation. The dense canopy of trees created a dark shade. To be honest, it was a bit creepy but very exciting. I was sure that I was going to come across a bear. All I saw was a wild turkey. Luckily this whole section was downhill, so I just had to coast, cautiously avoiding major breaks in pavement and harsh potholes.

After a few miles the deserted section rejoined the main road. I was worried for a bit that it wouldn’t connect. As soon as I got back on the highway the sky followed through with its promise and completely opened up. Heavy, heavy rain and plenty of lightning. It was a fierce storm. With at least 60 miles to go that day, however, I had no choice but to press on through. I put on my rain gear (not waterproof) and hoped that my homemade bags were sufficient to keep my clothes dry. They weren’t. Water soaked in through the seams and dampened all of my clothing. It was a tough and exhausting ride. The rain cleared up for about an hour, I think, then continued off and on again, but not as heavily as earlier. A friendly woman working at a gas station I stopped in was kind enough to give me some extra food- a muffin, some Combos, and a Snickers energy bar. Later on I exchanged waves with a group of people sitting on a porch. They yelled to ask if I wanted a hotdog. Hell yeah! So I stopped in and had a nice chat with these folks. The offered me a beer and a hotdog and chips and some fruit. It was a great little break, but I had to press on to make it to Hickory before dark.

I made it as the sun was going down. I stayed with a gay couple in a beautiful home. They let me dry all of my clothing and sleeping bag, which also got wet. From Hickory I planned to get to Chapel Hill, which is about 150 miles away, in two days. That means trying to do 75 miles a day. I can do it, but it’s not easy. I had a place to stay lined up in Chapel Hill, but nothing along the way, so I thought I would just wing it. I set a marker at around 75 miles to try to reach the first day. More rain had other plans for me. It started light in the early afternoon and continually got worse as time went on, sometimes with heavy winds. I ended up stopping at a Lutheran church to seek shelter for a bit around 5 or so. The rain picked up and continued for about an hour as I waited, and I decided I would probably just stay there. By 6:30 it was all cleared up and I could have ridden on, but the forecast was for more scattered thunderstorms, and I figured I should take advantage of the place I had.

It was a hard, narrow bench I spent the night on. It left a bruise on my hip from trying to sleep on my side. Being pretty tired, though, I was able to get a decent amount of sleep. I awoke early, knowing I needed an early start to make the 100 or so miles to Chapel Hill before dark. I left around 9am. After 10 long hours of pedaling I finally made it to my destination. I was exhausted in every way, but somehow after a cold shower I was ready to go out and have some drinks with my lovely host and her friends. I really am amazed what I am able to push my body through. Last night I stayed up until almost 4am, had at least 4 beers, all after biking around 100 miles. This a few days after staying up at a party in Asheville until 4:30am after about 50 miles of biking. This after spending the night before on a hard church bench.

Today I am functional, but definitely very tired. Luckily it’s a planned day off here in Chapel Hill. So far I really like this city. It’s definitely a college town, but being summer now, most of the students are not around. I’ve had a great time with my host Chela and her friends from work and eaten some great food so far. Also, they have Trader Joe’s, my favorite grocery store, here so I can finally stock up on some more good, cheap snacks. I’ve completely run out of snack food now.

So it has been just over a week now on this journey. So far it has been mostly very enjoyable. I’ve met some great people, seen the beautiful mountains and rural farm land out here. The cities have been okay. I have had some really rewarding experiences and encounters, and I’m finally really relaxing and beginning to let go of everything. I’m working on erasing all of my expectations and worries and truly taking this all as it comes.

For now, I have a rough plan for the next two days. I should make it to the coast in about three or four days. I’ve decided I don’t really want to do many more days over 50 miles. Any more than that, and my entire day becomes focused on getting to the destination before dark, and I don’t feel I have time to allow myself to explore and stop and relax along the way. Also, I brought supplies with me to be creative along the way. I have some fabric and sewing supplies as well as paints and some canvas. I want to read more and write more and take in more of the small stops along the way. So from now on, shorter riding distances to allow more down time.

Sun
13
Jul '08

Slowing Down

Last night Chela’s friend Jason and I checked out a show at a local venue, Cat’s Cradle, in Chapel Hill. The act was Langhorne Slim. Three talented musicians and an amped crowd made for an awesome show. I left with satisfaction and clarity. The singer has a great voice, and I really liked a lot of his lyrics: simple, but with good sentiment. It made me want to write more, especially poetry.

After the show I got a good night’s rest. This morning I was treated to a wonderfully filling breakfast at the hotel, courtesy of my host Chela. I took my time eating and getting out of town this morning, planning only to go about 25 miles today and camp around a state park outside Durham on a lake. Funny enough, I didn’t even make it the 25 miles. I maybe got ten in before finding my final destination for the day.

I stopped at one point to talk to a homeless man working an intersection for handouts. He was friendly, seemed a bit unstable, but able to hold a good conversation. He told me the circumstances that led him to his current state- almost everyone in his family had died, the ones left screwed him over on the inheritance money. When he threatened to kill them, they had him committed to a mental institution. I asked him if he had anything he was working towards. He didn’t. An interesting tidbit, though, if it’s true: said he hitchhiked around the country when he was younger and got picked up by Ted Bundy in Colorado and Jeffrey Dahmer, maybe in Wisconsin at some point. Tough to believe, but he insisted it was true.

Soon after that I was in or near downtown Durham. I stopped to make a couple phone calls and ultimately got a slice of pizza. On the way out a woman asked me the obligatory questions required to someone clearly on a bike tour: where you coming from, where you going, the like. She and her husband had done a tandem tour across the country for their honeymoon years back. Well, wanting to pay forward the great hospitality she and her husband received on their tour, Kathy Jo, invited me to stay the night at their place. I told her I wasn’t opposed, but that I was probably going to camp a ways down at a state park. She gave me her number and told me where she lived and we talked a bit. As we talked, some friends of hers passed by, and eventually she told me I should come back to their place so her husband, Kevin, could tell me a good route to get to the park, as the directions I had were not so good. Their friend Mark, whom they are trying to convince to do a bike tour, as he has recently been laid off from his job and has the time and desire to do something like that and expressed interest before but just needs a good kick in the butt to actually do it, came back as well. It turned into some great conversation and a lunch with more pizza and after a few hours it just made sense to stay there for the night.

I worked hard to convince Mark to get on his bike and do a tour and invited him to join me for part of mine. I don’t think he’s going to do it, but maybe I helped give him a bit of a kick to actually getting out there. Kevin and Kathy Jo have been great conversation. They even invited me to dinner at their friends’ house. So what a day! Rode ten miles or so to have lots of great food and to meet some awesome people.

Tomorrow I have no set destination. I figure I’ll just ride as long as I feel like it. While I’m not in any huge rush, I do want to travel more than ten miles tomorrow, and I may just push on to my initial destination, which is about 70 miles. It just depends what time I get started and how I feel.

Mon
14
Jul '08

The Mental Toll

I have been fortunate and grateful to have meet and spent time with some really great people so far on this trip. So many planned and unplanned encounters have kept my spirits high and a smile on my face. At the same time, lately I have been longing for some alone time, which is funny, considering that I spend hours a day alone on my bike. But I have wanted to spend a night alone, to camp and cook my food and live a bit more simply, if only for a night or two. It can be exhausting spending so much time with people you have just met, no matter how friendly they are.

So yesterday I decided that I was going to camp somewhere by myself, no matter what. Before I left Durham, though, Kevin and Kathy Jo were so kind and took me out to breakfast. Then they gave me a bicycle tour of the city and even rode with me a bit of the way out of town on their tandem. It was a wonderful end to such a great stay with them. Thank you for that. After they had to turn around due to an unfortunate flat tire, I set off on my own, continuing to the east. At first my spirits were high, passing forests and lakes, with a blue sky and puffy clouds. After a few hours, when I took my first break to eat some lunch, exhaustion set in. I knew it was coming, and I think that was why I took so long to take a break. I knew that as soon as I stopped pedaling, I wouldn’t want to start up again.

By this point I was going through some tiny little towns that weren’t too comforting to be in. I forced myself on, much slower than before. Even before this physical exhaustion set in, before I stopped, a mental tiredness had taken over me. My mood had sunk, and I was feeling down, but I couldn’t figure out why. The sky was still blue, the weather nice, but a mixed feeling of anger and sadness had come over me. I figured I would just pedal it out. At one point I started writing a poem, and that worked to cheer me up for a while. I would just write a bit at a time and say it out loud as I rode.

Ped’ling out on my bike one day,

stroke by stroke I made my way,

past forest pines and kudzu vines

and asked a cloud to come and play.

but as the cloud was saying ‘hi’,

a butterfly had caught my eye.

she swooped and swirled, danced and twirled

and gave a wink as she passed by

i thought to stop and dance along

take a minute, learn her song

forgetting the cloud, i sang out loud,

never thinking it was wrong

That’s as far as I got, then i got a bit sad again and lost my drive to continue composing. This mood stayed with me the rest of the ride, as I made my way down the highway looking for a place to spend the night. It took me a while to find a place to set up camp, as I seem to be pretty particular about where I stop. I would rather not pay, so I generally avoid campgrounds, not that I passed any lately. I like to have a nice wooded area with plenty of cover from the surrounding civilization but without being too dense with trees and brush. I probably passed a dozen spots that would have worked fine, but I didn’t feel like stopping yet. Finally I came upon a spot that is going to become a subdivision. The streets are already paved, but none of the lots have been cleared yet. I figured that would be ideal. Unfortunately, most of the lots were full of dense brush and tons of poison ivy. The two lots that were not like this had an eerie vibe to them. Most of the underbrush was thorny, and lots of it was dead. It looked as if maybe a fire had run through there a while ago. It would have to work.

I set up my hammock and started cooking my rice out on the street. The sun was just setting, but I had plenty of light to cook and clean up by. After all that, I decided I would just go to bed with the sun around 9:30 and try to get some good sleep. Sleep didn’t come too easily, however. It was still beastly hot outside and so humid. I think I was awake for about an hour before dozing in and out of sleep for a while. Sometime around 1am I was awoken to the sound of a police radio. On the street I was camped off of, about 200 yards from me, there was what looked like an unmarked cop car with the driver door open and a man standing between the door and the car. There were a few street lamps on the street already, so I could make all that out okay, but I wasn’t sure if he could see me through all the shadows in the trees. I also didn’t know if his reason for being there had anything to do with me. I didn’t want to chance anything, and I didn’t want to have to fully wake up or get out of my hammock, so I lay as still as possible and hoped he would leave soon. He left about 15 or 20 minutes after I first noticed him, and I went back to sleep.

I awoke this morning around 8 to the sound of traffic on the highway. I didn’t want to get up, but I had to go to the bathroom, and it was already getting really warm again. I did my duty and started packing up. I tell you, I did not wake up in a good mood. Everything was setting me off. Spiders had taken over my bags and bike, and they were stubborn. Now I have pretty much gotten over my fear of spiders, but for some reason these things had me freaked out. Most of them were just daddy long-legs, which have never really bothered my, but there were a few that were huge- like 1″ long body and a 3″ or so leg-span. They weren’t aggressive at all; I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with them. There were tons of other bugs as well. I pressed on, just thinking about getting everything together so I could get the hell out of this creepy place.

Once I got everything out on to the street, I took my time a bit packing up, trying to consolidate some things and leaving a few articles of clothing behind that I don’t need. I’m finally to the point where I can start dropping items that are just weighing me down and taking up space. Still, I was anxious and in a terrible mood. Funny enough, I just didn’t want to be alone this morning. I looked forward to that so much the day before. As I packed up, I was still getting frustrated over the number of bugs and pests around. They were really doing a number on my nerves. At one point I stood up, possibly to move something or grab something, looked down and saw a bug on my calf. I reached down and tried to brush it off quickly. It didn’t budge. I tried again, a little frantic. No dice. This thing was on there. Shit! No mistaking what this bugger was: a tick, and it had already sunk it’s damn little head into me. Luckily I was a cub scout when I was younger, growing up in Tennessee, where ticks are always present, so I knew what to do about it. I scrambled into my just-packed bags for my matches. I pushed the sleeve open, pulled one out and struck it against the side. It fired up right away, unlike last night, when it took me about 5 matches to finally get one to light. I blew it out and touched the hot match head to the rear end of the tick. He backed his little head out of my leg in a hurry, and I quickly flicked him off my leg. The thing wasn’t really bloated, so I figure he mustn’t have been in there long, but he definitely got started, because there was a bit of blood where he came out. Another thing I was taught from scouts or somewhere when I was younger, is that ticks can be carriers of lyme disease, an infection that can have mild to serious effects. I have been told that you should try to preserve the tick in alcohol and have it tested for lyme disease. Luckily I just happen to carry alcohol with me for my stove. So again I scrambled to find my flask of Everclear and one of my small plastic containers to put some in. I poured a bit and got the tick to crawl onto the match and tossed it into the small bottle of alcohol. Once I get to Virginia Beach I think I’m going to see what I can do about getting tested.

Having that bugger burrowed into my skin did nothing to help my already jittery nerves. I felt so violated by that little thing. I started freaking out and checking my whole body for more ticks. Not a good feeling. Finally I decided I just needed to get the hell out of there and back on the bike. I packed up the rest quickly and mounted the bags on the bike and set out.

Now it’s a few hours later. I’ve biked into the next decent sized town, Rocky Mount, and I’m sitting in the entrance to their library. I’ve calmed down a bit, but my nerves still feel a bit fragile, and writing about the tick again has stirred me up a bit. I’m trying to keep myself calm and move past this morning and last night, but the foreboding gray sky is not helping my mood. Plus, this town isn’t so nice. It has an almost deserted feeling, and it doesn’t feel safe. I’m keeping a close eye on my bike, just outside the entrance, as I write all this. I need a friend.

Now I’m gonna set back out and ride some more. Hopefully the exercise will help calm me down. I need to do some breathing exercises and try to meditate. Hopefully these clouds don’t follow through with their apparent intentions.

Tue
15
Jul '08

Southern Hospitality

Yesterday the clouds proved to be more than just a facade. From just after my post yesterday, around 1pm, until I stopped for the night at a church in Everetts, NC, around 7pm, the rain did not let up. It varied from light to moderate, but it didn’t stop until just before the sun went down. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad, and I enjoyed it. I just threw my rain gear on (not waterproof) and rode on, and I think it really helped to offer some perspective and calm me down.

I stopped to spend the night at a little Baptist church in town, to sleep under a little overhang that would keep me dry should the rain pick up again. I was just about all set up when a woman came around to practice some music at the church. I think I startled her when I came around the corner to ask if it was alright if I slept there for the night. She said it was fine and went inside. When she was done with her music, she came back out and talked to me a bit. She let me fill my water bladder up inside. Then off she went.

Just a little bit later an older man came around, said the woman, Becky, had told him about me and he said I could use his bathroom in the morning if I wanted, as he just lived around the corner. His name is Richard, and we talked for a bit. Then it got completely dark, and he left me to get to bed. Less than two minutes after he left, Becky and her son Cory came around and invited me over to have a hot shower and some fresh-made peach cobbler. Well, I don’t know how one could turn down that offer, so I accepted. We walked to their house. Not more than two minutes after stepping into their house, the phone rang. Wouldn’t you know, it was Richard calling Becky to let her know that I was welcome to sleep on his couch for the night, instead of sleeping on the sidewalk outside the church. So I got my shower in and enjoyed some wonderful cobbler while Becky was so kind to wash and dry some of my clothes that were completely soaked. Watched a bit of the homerun derby with Cory and his dad Mack, and the other son Matt came home a bit later. Then it was off to Richard’s place for a comfy couch to sleep on.

Now, feeling well-rested and much more relaxed than yesterday morning, I’m about to head out in hopes of reaching the salty water today. Hopefully the rain is done for now, and maybe I can enjoy a nice swim today. We’ll see.

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Wed
16
Jul '08

Headwinds

suck! and my butt hurts. But hey, I’m still going strong and I’m basically at the ocean. Today I’m hopping on a ferry to Knotts Island. Tomorrow I’ll be in Virginia Beach.

Last night I spent the night sleeping outside a church, this time for real- no one invited me in. I did get some free food though from an association meeting going on inside. Sleeping outside wasn’t bad at all. I actually enjoyed it. At first I kept freaking out when I felt anything possibly crawling on my face, but I was overreacting. I slept really well and woke up a little after 6am, my earliest start yet. Last night I enjoyed a beautiful sunset over some water, I guess part of the Albemarle Sound. It would have been a good chance to do some fishing, as they were all over the place and jumping about, but I had already eaten and didn’t feel like cleaning and cooking a fish.

Yesterday was tough, with headwinds the whole day, but I pushed through and got some good thinking time in. I feel so much more relaxed than a few days ago. I think I’m really doing well in erasing my expectations.

Well, this is just a quick post to check in. I’m going to go cook some lunch now; my tummy is growling. I will post a bunch of pictures once I get to Virginia Beach. I’m off to fight the wind.

Thu
17
Jul '08

A Day Early and A Few Days Late

With less than 100 miles to Virginia Beach and two days to get there, I decided to take it slow yesterday. Also, having my earliest start thus far, I had plenty of time on my hands. I took a stop at a library to get on the internet, write the last post, and check some things. Then, after a few hours of riding into headwinds, I stopped to cook some lunch, something I haven’t done yet. I picked up a can of tomatoes, corn, and okra a few days back, and I had been looking forward to eating that over a bowl of rice. So that’s what I cooked up and enjoyed it with an orange and a delicious nectarine.

Then it was off again down a very dangerous road. Two days ago I thought I was on a scary road- four lane divided highway with absolutely no shoulder and cars speeding by at over 60 mph. At least on that road there were two lanes so that cars could change lanes to go around me. The road yesterday certainly had the last road beat as far as peril is concerned. Two lanes, speeds around 50 mph or so, no shoulder, and plenty of trucks. And, following suit with what seems to be the theme of traveling so often: everything comes in waves. Rarely does just one car approach and pass; most often at least two cars, if not six or twelve, pass by, from both sides. Multiple occasions found me pulling off into the grass, often mowed, sometimes not, and waiting a minute or so as dump trucks and garbage trucks and tractor trailers sped by. It’s very tiring to have to constantly monitor every aspect of approaching traffic, gaging speeds and timing, and all while battling headwind. Good thing I wasn’t in a rush.

Soon enough, however, I made it to the ferry stop to catch the boat to Knotts Island- a peninsula really. I had no plan once I got there, but the man at the station told me there was a campground over there. I thought it would be nice to stay at a campground for a change, maybe meet some people there. As the ferry pulled in, I talked to a man who was heading over with his car. (I was the only one boarding the ferry not traveling by auto.) I guess you could say he was friendly enough, but not terribly sociable. To the point is what he was. I told him I was going to the campground and asked him some questions about the area. After about 40 minutes on the ferry, as we were about to pull up to the dock at Knotts Island, the man offered to give me a ride in his truck to the campground. Said he was going that way as well and I might as well ride with him as it was a few miles and dangerous roads. We put the bike in the back of his pickup, and I took the ride. He was right about the roads being bad. Same as earlier- narrow, no shoulder, and crazy drivers. The drive wasn’t too long, but it could have taken a while to bike.

The man drove us to the camp, where it turns out he stays on a semi-permanent basis. I asked if I could just throw-down my gear and sleep on his site. Said I couldn’t; they wouldn’t allow it. So I went into the camp store to get a site for myself. Twenty-six dollars they wanted for a site, even from a simple cyclist. While I do have that much money on me, I don’t have a whole lot more, and that certainly doesn’t fit into my ideal 5-dollar-a-day budget. I decided to ride on and find somewhere else to sleep. Plus, by this point I was right at the Virginia border, which I found out basically put me just outside of Virginia Beach.

I was planning on getting into town on Thursday, and I had told my friend from college, Graham, that was when I would arrive. Knowing that he was working and not going to be off until after ten, I still thought I would see if I could make that work a day earlier. Otherwise, I was prepared to find anywhere to lay my head I could. As I made my way down country roads toward town, I asked a few people about campgrounds in the area. A serious cyclist, and ex-racer, told me of a place and even offered to ride me into town. Even slowing down a bit to let me keep up, his pace was quick. I managed, though. He took me into the burbs and directed me toward a camp ground. It was pretty much dark at this point.
I headed down the street a ways and found a KOA. Stopped in to find out the price, but there was no one there at the booth. I looked around for a sign and found nothing. A couple stopped and asked if I needed help, and I asked them. Said it was over 40 bucks. What the hell?! I guess places like that offer amenities: laundry and a pool and the like, but who needs that fancy stuff. They told me about another site just down the road a piece; said it was cheaper. Well, not by much. The guard at the gate quoted 32 or something. I pleaded with him to help me out; told him all I needed was a spot to throw down my sleeping bag and get some sleep; I’d be out early in the morning. It was obvious he wanted to help, but felt like he couldn’t. He didn’t run the place, just watched over at night, and the owners were gone for the day. Time to find a church or some random spot, I figured.

I set out down the road to see what I could find. Being dark already, finding a good spot seemed tough. There were a few schools and a park and even behind the sign to the campground seemed a decent spot. Unfortunately, it’s really tough to know what spots would be obvious as off-limits sites if seen in the light. So I cruised around for a while. Things were beginning to look grim around 11, and I was getting to a desperate point. Places I had passed earlier with scrutiny were beginning to look more promising. As I was headed back to settle behind the campground sign, I got a call from Graham. He was finally off work, got my message, and I was cool to stay at his place. After figuring out that I was on the complete southern end of town, and that he lived on the northern end, he said he could come pick me up. We managed to get my bike and all my bags into a 5-series Beamer and headed out.

So instead of sleeping outside on the ground, possibly hiding behind the sign to an overpriced campground, I got a warm shower, a dip in a hot tub, and a very comfy bed to sleep in. I’m very grateful. Unfortunately, though, I did get some bad news last night. While taking a shower, scrubbing very thoroughly, I found another unfriendly bugger on my leg. On the back of my thigh, in a spot that was difficult to see, I found another tick, this one much smaller than the first one. It looked like a scab at first. When I got out of the shower, the tick came off fairly easy. Maybe it was because of all the hot water. I’m not sure. I put my friend in the alcohol with his companion. Now I have two buggers to get tested. I think I’ll do that when I get to Rhode Island.

Tonight now, I’m exhausted after spending a lot of time out in the sun. I finally got to go in the water and have a swim, though. I had forgotten how good the warm Atlantic water feels. Tomorrow I’m gonna take a look at my bike and see if it needs any work. It could definitely use a little bath. From riding in the rain, the thing is covered in dirt and grime. Time for bed now.

Sun
20
Jul '08

Back on the Road

Three days off in Virginia Beach was a great break. I got to swim in the bay, throw a frisbee and play bocce on the beach, and eat some tasty food. And seeing a college friend, hanging out with someone that I know for a change, is nice. I love meeting new people and keeping the experiences fresh, but remembering shared past experiences is great as well. It was an fun and relaxing stay.

Today I continued on my journey, heading north up the Eastern Shore. Graham’s brother gave me a ride over the bridge/tunnel that crosses the bay, as you can’t ride a bike across evidently. I think it would have been fun, but definitely stressful. Getting started again after such a long and relaxing break is really tough. I was tired anyway, as I didn’t get quite enough sleep last night, but going from a comfy, air-conditioned condo right by the beach to riding 50 miles in some brutal heat and humidity is not an easy transition. I think it will take a few days to really get back to the mindset I had before the break.

The ride today was really nice. There is only one main highway that runs up the peninsula, but there are smaller highways that parallel. I took highway 600, Seaside Rd. Completely flat, mostly straight, passing through farmland, forest, tiny towns, and sometimes close to the shore, but not often. The best part is that there is no traffic. A car might pass on average, once every half hour. It was peaceful, maybe a bit lonely.

Tonight I’m staying in a small coastal town, Wachapreague. I rolled into town looking for a church to settle down at, but the ones I passed on the way in were not too promising. Everything is really close together, so there is not much land around the churches, just houses. I rode through town and was on my way out when I passed a marine sciences division of William and Mary University. There was a building that looked like housing and a girl laying on a bench outside. I rode past once, thinking maybe I should inquire about sleeping outside. I kept going a bit to look for another church first. After a couple blocks, though, I thought better of looking for a church before at least inquiring at the school. So back I went and asked. The girl said it was fine and that I could probably just stay in one of the dorm rooms, as there were only three people there and plenty of rooms. So here I am now, watching a soccer game on TV, on the internet, about ready to go sleep on a tiny dorm bed. Pretty nice how that worked out.

Tomorrow I head up to Salisbury, Maryland, where I’ll be couchsurfing. From there I’m not sure what my route will be, but I will probably be increasing my mileage a bit from now on. I don’t want to overdue it or rush, but I am also thinking about the possibility of heading west after spending some time in Rhode Island, and I don’t want to be getting to the Rocky Mountains too late in the year. It’s all up in the air, but biking to Oregon is a strong possibility. We’ll see.

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sunflowers. unfortunately, they were all facing the wrong way. i tried to get their attention, but they were too focused on something.

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finally got some new sunglasses, courtesy of Graham. thank you kindly.

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Wachapreague

Tue
22
Jul '08

It’s Hot

Temperature’s have been in the 90’s the last few days with humidity in accompaniment: a scorching duo. Yesterday I put in around 70 miles to make it up to couchsurf Salisbury, Maryland, tallying as the second Salisbury I have stayed in thus far. I was utterly exhausted by the time I got there. While I got an early start, around 8am, it wasn’t by choice. Everyone at the dorms had to leave by eight to make it to their programs, so I was given the boot. I definitely could have used another three hours of sleep. With the heat and my fatigue, I took a few long breaks through the day to rest up. Also, half the day was spent on a busy highway; the added stress of that equals more exhaustion. But at Mike’s place, we had some delicious food, great beer and some fantastic homemade ice cream.

This morning I had a bit more energy upon setting out, although I didn’t get much more sleep than the night before. I set out around 9:30, and it was already blazing. Just standing outside and packing my bags up on my bike left my shirt nearly drenched. So muggy. It was a nice ride to the beach, where I was welcomed by a billion tourists in Ocean City. I sat on the boardwalk and enjoyed a lunch of Wheat Thins with a fresh tomato and cucumber. Delicious. Then the storm clouds rolled in and I decided to ride on as long as possible until it started raining. It never really came, no more than a light shower for about 20 minutes. I spent that in the Delaware welcome center planning my route through the state.

So far it has been great being out on the coast. I stopped twice to jump in the ocean. The first time, however, it was still overcast, so not as warm, and the water was a bit rough. I decided it wasn’t worth it. A few hours later I stopped to cook some dinner at another state park beach, and after sitting in the sun over my stove cooking pasta, I couldn’t resist a little dip in the cool water. Just a quick in and out, but it felt great. I didn’t even need a towel; the sun dries you off in a matter of minutes.

Tonight I sleep outside of a Methodist church in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It’s a big place, so they have wireless and even a shower I can use in the morning. I could really use one tonight. When I got here there were a bunch of Russian kids sitting outside. I guess the church sponsors some program for students to come here and work and travel for the summer, and they were having a dinner at the church tonight. So I came in to inquire about sleeping out here, and of course I was offered food. Despite the fact I had already eaten pasta just a few hours earlier, I couldn’t decline. I eat a lot. I ate and talked with a couple Russian guys. They were friendly and very interested in my trip. Now I’m sitting outside, watching all the bugs crawling around with such haste and no apparent purpose. A giant spider just scurried past to the door, under the door, then back out again a few minutes later. Hopefully he will keep to himself tonight. My sleeping bag isn’t big enough for the both of us.

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quaint sight in Virginia

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not an ideal beach for me

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Wed
23
Jul '08

The Music in my Head

So I have an ipod that I carry with me, but I have only used it twice or so. For the first two weeks, I think the battery was dead; plus, I have been staying with people so much and haven’t had much time to myself to listen to music. I never listen while I am riding. It’s so dangerous, not being able to hear approaching cars; and then I would miss out on all the wonderful ambiance surrounding me. What’s the point of riding a bike then? While I ride, though, I almost always have a song or two on repeat in my head. Most of the time it’s a good thing; sometimes I want to get it out of my head.

I thought I would share some songs I have been singing the last few days. They have been mood stabilizers and put a smile on my face as I sing them aloud, heading down the sometimes-lonely road.

The first is a song by my favorite artist, Mason Jennings. I was introduced to his music about a year and a half ago and instantly fell in love. Since then I have never found myself tired of listening, despite the fact I listen to him all the time. I think, more than any other artist, I really connect with his lyrics. He seems to be a man on a broad path of self-discovery, and he articulates his views so simply and passionately. I also love his lack of production. He follows his heart and puts so much into his music, while keeping the product so simple. This song is titled “Southern Cross.” I think it has resonated so much for me on this trip just because of the lyrics, ‘have some faith.’ This focus of this trip has unexpectedly but fortuitously become about finding faith and maintaining it through all times, from good to bad, happy to sad. So many of my encounters and circumstances have reiterated this idea. I’m very thankful for that.

Then, of course, there are the lyrics: ‘I don’t know what I want, but I know where I want to be. And, everywhere I go, I wish you were here with me… Once, everything made sense, now I get so alone that I can’t sleep. Somebody please tell me if this is where I’m supposed to be.’ Expresses how I feel at the moment so precisely. Most places I go, taking in the beauty of this country and the wonderful nature of so many friendly people, I so often wish I had someone to share it all with. Sure, I can write pages and pages about it, snap pictures even, but nothing compares to being there. I used to foolishly think my ex-girlfriend and I were going to have the opportunity to travel together. On my last trip up the Pacific coast, when I first fell in love with her, before we started dating, I often thought about how much I wished she were there with me to see all the amazing sights. On this trip, however, those thoughts have to be pushed aside. On both trips I have wished my brother Josh could be here with me as well. And sometimes I do wish that someone would tell me that this is where I’m supposed to be. It seems I have constant affirmation of it throughout most days, but those days when it’s not there, when self-doubt takes hold, times can be rough. But that’s the never-ending cycle, it seems. I’m just grateful to have found music that can so perfectly express how I feel. I think that is such an important asset and the most important aspect of any art.

So here it is, a link to the song. I couldn’t find a video or anything to post, but you can listen to the whole thing for free here.

Southern Cross by Mason Jennings

This next one is a song I have been singing aloud very joyously for the last few days, despite the fact I only know the words to the first verse. I don’t know anything about the movie this is a trailer for, but the two singing are my good friends Dre and Eddie from Dusty Rhodes and the River Band. Such a beautiful song and catchy melody; it’s hard not to keep singing over and over.

Okay, there’s more, but this will do for now. I hope y’all enjoy. Now it’s time for me to go snuggle up with the giant spiders and crickets. The gnats and beetle-looking things are friendly as well, it seems.

Thu
24
Jul '08

Changing Plans and Weathering the Storm

Sleeping outside the church was alright, although it was hard to fall asleep, it being so hot. Ideally I would have slept with no shirt on, but I kept a long-sleeve on to keep the skeeters off. I got about seven hours in. Then I took my time getting ready and packing my bags. I was able to shower at the church, which was nice. I talked to a man who worked at the church, Ken, with whom I had talked the night before, and he suggested taking the ferry to Jersey just a few miles up the road. I had seen the ferry before on the map, but I dismissed the idea because I knew it cost money, and I hadn’t really looked at the map too thoroughly to see that it made so much sense. We looked up the cost, and it was nine fifty. Not too bad.

Taking the ferry instead of going all the way up the Delaware coast into New Jersey cuts out a lot of unnecessary miles. I figured it was worth the ten bucks, although I did have some slight concern about not spending that money on food. Well, that problem happened to solve itself. As I was finishing up packing outside the front of the church, a man (Dennis) walked up with a flat tire on his bike. I asked if he needed a patch, and he replied that a friend was coming. He said he would have me do it, but he had no way to get a hold of his friend now, who was already on his way. We got to talking, about my trip and about a backpacking trip he did through Europe a while ago. After a bit, I said I would go ahead and patch it. So I set to work pulling the rear wheel off. Of course, just as I was getting the tire and tube off, his friend pulled up in a van. I continued working anyway. I finished and put it all back together. Now, even though I couldn’t see him doing it, I knew that while I was patching, Dennis was getting some money to give to me. Don’t ask me how I knew, it was just a gut feeling. I was right. He handed me a ten dollar bill. I told him I didn’t need it, but he insisted, said he wished he had more to give me. I accepted, and off he went in the van. So, the ferry ride was covered.

Boarding the ferry was nice. Everyone was really friendly and helpful. The ride itself was relaxing but not steady. Good reading and writing time for me, though. On the Jersey side: not so friendly. I was walking my bike in the ticket office to find out if they had any maps, and two women yelled at me to get my bike out. They didn’t walk up to me and kindly inform me that bikes are not allowed inside; just yelled, “hey! No bikes in here. Take it outside,” three or four times, even as I was turning around trying to get back outside. Jerks.

The first day riding up through New Jersey was okay. It was really hot again, and the winds got bad at times, often changing directions. I took a few wrong turns that sent me a couple miles out of the way, which didn’t help with morale. Still, I kept my spirits pretty high. As the evening came about and began transitioning to night, I decided I was going to sleep outside a church again. I looked around in the town I was in. The first few seemed pretty uninviting. I generally like some space with a good overhang for shelter and some privacy from the streets and neighbors. I found a Baptist church with little overhang but some people going inside for something. I inquired about camping outside. There was a little picnic spot with tables and some woods right in back. The pastor said it would be fine. He told me it was supposed to storm that night as well: heavy rains, high winds, lightning, flood warning. Well, I hope the rain fly on my hammock is up to par, I thought to myself. Really, I was hoping that someone was going to invite me into their home for a nice sheltered place to sleep. Despite the fact that I talked to the pastor a few times, and he even called the weather service and played the forecast on speaker phone for me: Flash flood warning, sever thunderstorms, heavy rain all night, 15mph winds with gusts up to 30mph or so- he never once mentioned inviting me in, neither to his home or even inside the church. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised, but I wasn’t going to ask. That’s one thing I really don’t do: ask people for any hospitality. If someone invites me in, gives me a place to stay, I may ask to use an amenity, such as a shower or laundry, but I don’t ask people for anything to eat, for money, or for a place to sleep in their home (unless it’s on couchsurfing.com, but that’s a different story).

So I set up my hammock between two trees by the picnic tables. When the sun went down at 9:30, I went to bed. It wasn’t raining then, just really windy. After a bit I fell asleep, but around 11 I was awoken to the beginning of the thunderstorms. Oh man, did it pour. There was lightning as well, but nothing that seemed too close. I wanted to stay up for a bit to make sure that the rain fly on the hammock was going to protect me from the elements. It seemed to be working. As I sought sleep again, however, it did not come. It was just too damn muggy inside that hammock. With the fly on there, it traps all of my body heat and adds it to all the heat and humidity already present. It gets terribly stuffy, as air doesn’t move too freely through. I felt difficulty taking really deep breaths even. But, I was stuck in there; pouring rain outside and beastly hot inside. So I just lay for a while until I could get back to sleep. Every now and again the wind would kick up and blow some cooler air under the rain fly. I got back to sleep, and slept decent, despite a few wake ups later on from the weather.

When I woke up around 8, it was still raining a bit, so I just lay in the hammock for a bit. It let up shortly, just as I was getting to the point of absolute necessity of urination. Perfect timing. Got up and started packing, which always takes much longer post-rain. The pastor showed up again, and we talked a bit. Said there was wireless internet at the church, so I decided to get on and try to find a place to stay for tonight. The forecast the day before called for more rain throughout today, and I knew that I wanted to be in dry place tonight, where I could hopefully do laundry.

It worked out, and tonight I’m staying with a family in Freehold, New Jersey. I’m so very grateful. The ride today wasn’t horrible, with tailwinds most of the time and nice weather. Not nearly as hot today as it has been. Towards the end of the day, however, traffic did get pretty squirrelly. I am finding here, as I move north, there is more of the ‘I, me, mine’ mentality; no one has the patience or compassion to wait for a cyclist to pass by. So I got cut off a few times by people making left turns from the other side and people making right turns as well. Pretty frustrating after the first few times. I’m thinking about setting up a little bin of rocks on my handlebars so I can throw some at cars that cut me off from now on. It’s the only way I have to really get their attention and hopefully make them realize that they nearly killed me.

Tomorrow I may head into Manhattan. I’m a bit weary of going over there, but my friend Max lives there, and I would love to visit him, and it also cuts out a lot of miles, as opposed to going around the city. I’ll figure it out tomorrow, I guess.

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looking and feeling a bit rough after sleeping outside. looking at it now, I think I was feeling worse than the picture conveys.
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a worldly pirate ship

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thanks, i guess

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camping outside of church

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a nice view this morning

Sun
27
Jul '08

The Big, Friendly Apple

Friday afternoon found me boarding a train out of New Jersey into the big city of New York. Taking a train turned out to be the cheapest, most practical route, since most of the bridges are not ridable, and the ferries are ridiculously expensive. I thought I was going to be able to stay with my friends Max and Rachel, but I didn’t get a hold of Max until Friday morning, and both were busy with work and unable to have me that night. So I stopped at the next library to get on the internet and frantically search for a couch to surf. After messaging a dozen people or so, I packed up to set out towards a train station, not really sure what I would do if no one could host me. Luckily, before I even left the library, I had a call and a confirmed place to stay in Brooklyn. I have only been to New York City once before, but that was spent as a tourist, seeing the sights: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, walking through Soho and Central Park. I didn’t get a real feel for the city. Coming in on the train and biking through Manhattan and across to Brooklyn was a much better introduction to the city.

I came up out of Penn station in Manhattan not really knowing where I was and how to get to Brooklyn. Luckily there were some pedicab (bike taxi) drivers hanging out on the street waiting for rides. Having personal experience as a pedicab driver, I figured that was a good place to start for directions. The guy I asked, Pete, was incredibly friendly and helpful. We talked for a while about my trip and money and Buddhism. That was refreshing. I studied and was very turned on by Buddhism in college, with its message of compassion and interconnectivity of all beings and “middle path,” and Pete happens to be a practicing Buddhist. Also, I am reading a book by a Vietnamese monk named Thich Nhat Hanh, which has been a refreshing reminder of why I was so drawn to Buddhism before and why its ideas are very pertinent to my current situation. The book is called Cultivating the Mind of Love. Pete practices a different branch of Buddhism than Thich Nhat Hanh, but the basic ideas are all the same; the differences mainly lie in the form of practice. I left Penn Station with good direction, in more ways than one. And off I went, into the city streets.
Now biking on flat country roads is fantastic, with minimal traffic and beautiful natural scenery, and nothing beats soaring down a curvy mountain road at speeds over 30 or 40 miles per hour, but there is something about the rush of biking through a big city with heavy traffic that I absolutely love, that I miss at times. Whether in a bike lane or splitting traffic lanes packed with autos and buses, city riding is exciting. Even with 100 pounds of extra weight limiting my maneuverability, I had a blast making my way south through Manhattan and then across the Brooklyn bridge and through part of Brooklyn, including around Prospect park, with hoards of other cyclists and joggers and rollerskaters. I think one of the main differences for me is a matter of control. When I am biking down some state or US highway, with traffic zooming past at speeds in excess of 50mph, or even a rural country road with just two lanes and occasional passing cars and trucks, I really have to just keep my eyes focused to the front and have faith that those coming up from behind see me and have the competence and ability to not plow into me. It’s great for being able to focus on the scenery. In the city, among the traffic and confusion, it becomes more of a game or a challenge, and it’s all about the biking. Do I sit and wait behind a long line of cars at a red light, or do I split lanes, ride to the front of the line, and sometimes cross the intersection on the red, if there are no cars coming? Easy. I think it is also a matter of stimulation. Mostly it’s not just following one road for miles and miles, never turning, never straying far from that solid white line. The city is all about weaving and stopping and accelerating, avoiding cars and pedestrians and other bikers. It’s fun.

While enjoying my trek through the city, I did manage to get off course and get myself lost and a bit disoriented, but everyone I asked for directions, which was usually fellow bikers, was so friendly and helpful. One girl even gave me her NYC biking map with all the bike lanes and routes and paths. The couple I stayed with, Lee and Chenell, were really great. We shared some good conversation and some ginger wine. I’m so glad to have met them. Also surfing with them were twin German girls. They were cute, friendly and polite. Funny, though- at first Lee and Chenell told me they were Swedish twins. Of course one can imagine that all sorts of generic fantasies immediately came to mind.

Saturday afternoon I left Brooklyn and headed back over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan to find some good Mediterranean food and eventually to meet up with Max and Rachel. I had been told about a tasty and cheap place to get falafel somewhere around Soho, but I didn’t know exactly where, other than near a Trader Joes. So I set off in that direction and decided to just ask about the Trader Joes as I went. The first guy I asked had no idea what I was talking about; the next girl had no idea where it was; the third, a guy riding on a nifty, triangular-shaped folding bike, was right on. He started to give me directions, then just said ‘follow me.’ So we rode a few blocks and stopped in front of the store and talked a while. His name is Graham, and he is the founder of treehugger.com, a successful green-advocacy website. I was very interested in what he does, and he seemed just as interested in what I was doing. He suggested I write a post on treehugger.com about what I’m doing and about how environmentally friendly this form of traveling can be. I’m going to put something together once I get to Rhode Island. Graham also had a very interesting folding bicycle made by a company called Strida. While we were chatting, several people came up and asked him about it. I was very pleased to see that he wasn’t afraid to let one inquisitive man ride it around. It was a really great interaction.

After eating some tasty falafel nearby (I didn’t go into Trader Joes because I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my fully-loaded bike outside on the sidewalk while I browsed inside), I met up with Max and Rachel. We got a drink, had some delicious pizza with vodka sauce, and hopped on the subway to Prospect Park for a free show. The show was alright. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the music, but it was accompanied by a laser light show, which, shining through the dark onto the foliage, was entertaining enough.

Today we slept in late, a much needed first on this trip so far. Then it was a late breakfast and a walk back to Brooklyn for another free show. I was excited about this one as it was a band I know and like, but unfortunately they are a bit too popular and we got there a tad bit too late. After waiting in line for over a half hour, we were informed the outdoor venue had reached capacity. We caught the subway back to Soho to their apartment. Max and I finished a movie we had started last night and cooked some delicious burritos.

Tomorrow I continue on my bike trip, now only a few days out of Rhode Island. I have to say that this stay here in New York has been one of the most energizing and enjoyable stops on my trip so far. So many friendly encounters, wonderful (but expensive) food, and lively surroundings. To me, this is the best way to see a city, not by visiting the famous landmarks. Unfortunately, this stay has also been the most financially taxing stop so far. With the train ride in and eating out so much and having a few drinks at bars, I have just about exhausted my limited financial resources at the moment. I should be able to stretch what I have left until I get to Rhode Island, and hopefully I have some income coming my way once I get there. As this trip has taught and retaught me so far: stay positive, erase expectations, and have faith.

Thu
31
Jul '08

Rhode Island!!!!!!

I made it! First destination reached. Exactly 4 weeks after rolling out of my house in Knoxville, I pulled into the driveway of my aunt and uncle in Coventry, Rhode Island. It was a tough, but beautiful finish to the first leg of this trip. I want to sincerely thank everyone who has helped me out along the way so far, whether it be some food, a place to sleep, or just good conversation. I have met and visited some great people along the way, and I am so grateful for that. I wish that I had more to give back to everyone. It’s such a wonderful feeling to come across so many friendly and generous people, people who choose compassion over fear, and bestow some love and trust to a lonely traveler. To anyone and everyone who would like one, I would like to offer a painting in gratitude for any and all hospitality. So if you would like one, or a poem, just email me your address, and I will send something out as soon as I can. My email is otis@crestlinestudios.com.

On early Monday afternoon, after a a good sleep in and a quick stop at Trader Joes to pick up enough food to get me to Rhode Island, I left the big city. Seems like it took me almost all day just to get out of New York because of all the traffic and so many traffic lights. It’s fun biking in the city, but the constant stopping and starting and need for undivided attention to everything can be too much. I longed for the simple country roads again. Coming out of the state of New York there was a bike path, which was nice, but Connecticut put me back on city roads, and busy ones, at that.

The first night found me at a very welcoming church just past Stamford, in a town called Darien. The pastor was friendly as was the maintenance crew working. I was able to get a shower and cook and was given some donuts and cookies. I had a good conversation with one of the maintenance workers, Tony, about his native Italy and working two jobs in America. I spent the night sleeping on the playground, on a wooden bridge. In the morning I awoke feeling slightly under the weather, not entirely ready to get up, but having to go to the bathroom, as always. I got ready and rode out.

Later in the day I felt better, as riding usually does for me. The first half of the day was spent on highway 1, which is the old post road stretching all the way to Boston. It’s busy, has no shoulder, and winds through all the coastal cities. Not too fun. After that I began cutting more north toward Rhode Island and finally got back to the country roads. Very scenic with thick forest, farms, and some water. It felt good to have shade and quiet and less traffic. That made for a more relaxing ride. As the sun was beginning to set to the west, I was a bit worried about finding a place to stay, as churches were not so common, but in the town of Deep River, I found a potential one-night home.

When I pulled up, people were arriving for an AA meeting. Everyone was friendly, and I was offered some cookies and lemonade. As they met inside, I cooked my dinner and ate. Afterwards, I had some conversation with a few of them. The sleep was alright, laying out in the grass. It was cool and comfortable, but the mosquitoes were pesky. I had to roll over on my side and pull the sleeping bag over my head to find peace. That, of course, made it pretty warm. Sleep found me in the end, however.

This morning I was awoken oh so much earlier than I wanted by a man who was at the meeting last night, Bob. I think he works for the church or runs the meetings. He offered to cook me some grits and toast there. I got up and accepted. After that I packed up and got a decent start at 9am. The ride today was very pretty. More than any day I can remember, I was completely relaxed as I rode through the morning. All around were trees and water and the occasional small town. The weather was nice, warm, but not hot, and plenty of shade. Ideal, you might say. The only snag was the hills. There were plenty, and some were long, and some were steep. Still, I pressed on without hesitation. I felt good.

At 1:14pm today, I suffered my first flat tire of this trip so far. Pretty good, considering I’ve done around one thousand miles. I knew it was going to happen today, too. I knew it last night when I was telling some people I haven’t had one yet, and I knew this morning as I told Bob that I had had no mechanical problems yet. I knew right when I hit a big rock, with a shuddering thud, what was to come of it. Patching the tube was no problem, it just took some time. I have to remove the bags, then the wheel, then the tube, patch it, replace everything. I made no haste, and it took me 45 minutes. I’m sure I could do it in ten minutes if I really tried, but it was hot and sunny, and I was beginning to feel tired.

Soon after the flat, I found myself at the state line and my spirits were soaring (see pics below). Even though I still had around ten miles or so to go to my final destination, just reaching that ‘Welcome to Rhode Island’ sign seemed like such an important milestone. All smiles on this guy. Once in Rhode Island, I faced some of the toughest hills in a long time. There were two particularly long and steep ones. The first had an excellent downhill following, a just reward, but the second was not so generous in its payoff: a few small slopes followed by more uphill. At this point a serious road biker had come up behind me. We started talking and riding together. He’s an ex-racer, but I managed to keep up as we rode over rolling hills in the hot afternoon sun. I felt proud of myself for being able to keep up with this guy, who didn’t seem to be slowing down too much for me. Looking back now, I should have just dropped off and let him go on his own. Damn ego. I overworked myself a bit.

So you want the arrival to this destination that one month ago seemed so far away to be magical. You want there to be a big celebration, or at least just to be celebrating privately, feeling good. Unfortunately for me, I spent the first half hour on the toilet. I don’t know if it was something I ate (maybe the pesto last night that has been opened and unrefridgerated for a month now) or maybe I just lack fiber, plus a combo of the sun and working too hard, etc., but I had some gnarly stomach cramps as I pulled up. After that break, however, I felt better and able to eat.

Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bill cooked a delicious dinner and I had a feast. Veggies and chicken- perfect food after a tough, long ride. Now I am thoroughly exhausted, ready to pass out for the next 20 hours or so, and excited about seeing my grandparents tomorrow. It has been a great trip so far. I’m so glad to be up here with my family.
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rolling through NYC. too cool for school
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crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to meet Lee and Cherell
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Prospect Park in Brooklyn

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back over into Manhattan on Saturday to meet up with Max and Rachel

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out of New York

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quaint bike path

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a bit small, but it works

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time for a happy pic. beginning the second day in Connecticut, just after some grits

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catching bugs on a sweet downhill

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lovely pit-stop for a moment

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great framing

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i could use some shampoo.

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oh man, here it comes…

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can you feel the excitement!?

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I wanted to go for a swim, but there were tons of signs prohibiting, so I dunked my head in the cool Rhode Island water instead

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bliss

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pictures never do hills justice

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65 miles later

Wed
6
Aug '08

Onward… To The West

As I sit and write this, reflecting back on my stay here in Rhode Island for the past week, I can’t help but smile. The entire visit was fantastic, full of fun activities and great company. More than having a comfortable place to sleep and almost more food than I could eat thanks to uncle Bill and aunt Kathy, I was constantly surrounded by family, which is not something I am accustomed to, but something I thoroughly enjoy. It is a bit weird for me, though, to have so many people constantly know what I am doing, have already done, and am going to do at every moment, but I genuinely appreciate the love that it indicates.
While here I have been kept busy with many activities, including: walking the cliffs at Newport, eating seafood and watching great live music at a Seafood Festival, witnessing the mesmerizing beauty that is Waterfire in Providence, playing tennis and Wii and swimming with my cousins, and, of course, the reason for this whole trip in the first place, spending some quality time with my grandparents. Ninety years old and surprisingly independent (although not always for the best), they have been married for over sixty years now and are truly an inspiration to me. I am grateful to know them and have their love. I only hope they keep kicking for a while longer so I can visit them again next time around. They are amazing, and amazingly stubborn, people. But I think that’s part of what has kept them around for so long. They are troopers.

Also during my stay here, I took care of some necessary measures to continue on this journey. I made a small fix to my shifter mount, a wooden dowel attached to my seat post with a hose clamp, as it was starting to break. Thanks to uncle Bill, I now have some real waterproof rain gear. No more joking around with this stuff. I also was able to fit in a doctor’s visit, with a lyme test, a physical, and a tetanus booster shot. Well, the lyme test came back negative, which is comforting to a degree. I know, however, that those tests are not completely accurate and that lyme disease can show up later. For now, I have done what I can. The physical was thoroughly disappointing. I had prepared myself for a complete checkup, full of poking and prodding, and this and that. Eighty percent of what they did, I could have done myself or wasn’t really necessary. I know my blood pressure is fine. I know how tall I am and how much I weigh (145, by the way- a few pounds more than I weighed in Virginia Beach, which I think is due to the abundance of food at Bill and Kathy’s house). I know my eyes are okay and that my glands aren’t too swollen. No hernia check, no mention of the fact that on my chart I indicated I thought I had hemorrhoids, no testing of reflexes. In my opinion, the whole thing was not worth half of what it cost. Oh well. I feel healthy and ready for the next leg. I just wanted that little bit more peace of mind that a thorough doctor’s exam would give. Actually, I don’t feel entirely healthy and ready for the next leg. I think it is just the aftermath of the tetanus shot, but today I have been exhausted, a bit out of it, and had a really sore and swollen shoulder. The shoulder is obvious, but the tiredness and general feeling of poor health is not so straightforward. I’m just hoping that some good sleep tonight will leave me well-rested and ready for departure tomorrow. I’m not going to push it, however, and if I don’t feel at least 90% tomorrow morning, I won’t hesitate to wait another day and rest up more. I have a long ways to go, and taking a day to make sure I’m completely fit is not a big deal.

So, health and weather permitting, tomorrow shall mark the beginning of the next leg of my journey. The driving force behind this next section happens to be family as well. Tentatively I will be making stops in Chicago, Minneapolis, Great Falls, Denver, Las Vegas, and San Diego, hitting up all my family on my dad’s side as I make my way to the west coast. Then I will head north to Los Angeles to visit all my friends there, and then perhaps further north to Portland, Oregon, as a possible settling point. As of now, I don’t know my full route, how far I will go, how long it will take, or what I will do when I get there. I’m just going to try to take it one day at a time. And I can only hope that I am as blessed on this next venture as I have been on my journey here.

For now I have my sights set on Niagara Falls as my first major destination. While lacking family or friends there, I look forward to magnificent beauty and hopefully a smooth border crossing, unlike my barely successful attempts last year (see last year’s adventure link). I’m trying to not set any kind of deadline for the journey at hand, although the possibility of snow in the Rockies as early as late August/early September looms constantly in my mind. No matter what, though, I’m going to do my best to stay positive and have faith that everything is going to turn out okay. That’s really all I can do anyway, isn’t it. This is going to be a tough trip and a true test of my will and perseverance, but I look forward to it with great anticipation. I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing right now. Speaking of that, everyone asks me why ride my bike. ‘Why not fly or drive? Why make this long excursion?’ I don’t know; it just makes sense to me. Aside from the rewards that come from this mode of travel- the beauty, the self-confidence, the encounters with humanity -it just seems like the right thing for me to be doing with my life at this juncture. If something changes and it no longer feels right, well, then, I guess I’ll do something else. For now, as I said before, health and weather permitting, tomorrow sees the resumption of the journey, back on the bike, out on the road, one pedal stroke at a time.

I’m hoping for the best.

Pictures to come soon…

Thu
7
Aug '08

One More Day

My health was okay today. The weather wasn’t bad this morning. I just wasn’t ready. I needed one more day.

I woke up thinking I was going to head out, but after getting some necessary tasks done and beginning to really get all packed up, I realized it was way too late to be rushing to get out the door. I don’t want any more stress; I want to be completely relaxed as I begin this next journey. It is going to be a long one, and there is no point getting it started with anxiety and unnecessary haste.

So I took today to get some work done. My front bags needed some patching, as they have become a bit worn from the trek so far. I got some computer work done, something I have been putting off for a while. I also got some extra time to spend with my grandparents. I gotta say that it was tough leaving their place today, knowing that this may be the last time I ever see them. I hope that isn’t the case, but my heart was heavy as I biked away.

Tomorrow, now, will be the day. I can feel it. I think the weather is going to be worse tomorrow, but that’s okay. I got the rain gear now to keep me dry.

Good night.

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Fri
8
Aug '08

Back In It

Lovely weather. Rain. Thunder. Lightning. Plenty more rain. Heavy storm. Some sunshine and blue skies. That was today. I don’t think I made it too far today due to a rather late start. I woke up at 6:30 to have breakfast with Bill and Kathy and returned to bed shortly thereafter for a little snooze before beginning the day. Well, that snooze turned into a few more hours of sleeping. I was tired. You would think with yesterday being my initial departure date, then taking an extra day off before leaving, that I would have been all set to go this morning. Wrong. It only took about an hour and a half to pack up, but I didn’t get out of bed until 11, so I wasn’t really on the road until about 1pm. Oh well.

The day started out nice: blue skies, white clouds, a bike path to ride on. By three the dark clouds rolled in the first time and let down some water. It rained for about 10 minutes, just long enough for me to get wet, pull over and put on my rain gear. It stopped shortly after that for a while. At 4:30, as I was taking a break to cook and eat some rice, showers and dark clouds resumed. I finished up my meal, packed up, and headed out. The rain started light and picked up a bit quickly. By 5:30 it was pouring down heavy. Big, fat, heavy drops coming down with a slight headwind. I couldn’t ride in it, not with the busy traffic on the highway. So I began looking for a church to stop at. Although I was in a small town, it didn’t look promising. I stopped at a Super Stop and Shop (grocery store) to find shelter for a bit and hopefully talk to some people. With the wind picking up, even under the overhang outside the store, I couldn’t find good shelter. I brought my bike inside, as there was a kind of entrance way before entering the actual store. I was able to use the restroom and dry up a bit and get a bagel. The storm was fierce. It poured for a good half hour with some wind and lots of lightning. As I was entering the store, a bolt struck right outside. The thunder was loud and all the lights went out in the store. They came back on within a matter of seconds, but it was quite a sight and experience. Just after 6, the storm had passed through and blue skies began to emerge again. I pushed on, hoping to find something soon.

I stopped at a fruit stand to get a kiwi and possibly ask for some direction to a church. A man there was very friendly, told me about the only church he knew of down the road. He also sent me off with some free fruit- more kiwi, bananas, and some peaches. I was very grateful. That will make for a great breakfast tomorrow. I was able to find the church he mentioned. It’s old and beautiful, but little in the way of overhangs, save a gazebo. There were some friendly people working here tonight, Pete, Doug, Jennifer, and Allen, making sauce for a spaghetti dinner tomorrow night. They let me use the bathroom in the church and struck up some friendly conversation. They also shared a beer and some cookies with me. Nice folks. So I’m here now under the gazebo. It’s actually pretty nice. There are power outlets, a overhead light that I can turn off and on, and a picnic table. Quite nice. So long as there are no real heavy winds tonight, I should stay dry. It is a bit nippy out tonight though. Some layers will keep me warm.
The new rain gear is working well so far. It is completely waterproof, as long as I button the buttons on the front over the zipper. It does get a bit hot in the jacket and pants, and they don’t breathe at all, so my sweat just kind of sticks around, but it’s definitely a better situation that what I was working with before. Thanks, again, Bill. Some of my gear, unfortunately, shared a different fate. I guess I didn’t close my bags up well enough, and with the heavy, heavy rain that came down, it found a way into my rear panniers. Nothing is soaked, just some things a bit wet. I’ll have to dry it out tonight. All of my electronics were safe, luckily.

It feels good to be back on the road. I had such a great stay in Rhode Island with my family for eight days, and now I have a few months of traveling to look forward to. In my head I know that I have a long way to go. Anytime I talk to someone and tell them I am heading to the west coast, they remind me that it is a long way. Still, the distance and time have not fully sunk in yet. I suppose that’s a good thing. Taking this journey day by day is probably my best option. If I can’t picture my final destination, it’s much more difficult to become anxious about getting there. It’s going to be a while on the road. I anticipate much more adventure on this leg of the journey, if for no other reason than the prolonged timeframe. Still, I’ll take everything the same as I did before and have faith that everything will be okay, and plenty of wonderful people will make my acquaintance along the way. I’ll keep you updated.

Tue
12
Aug '08

Rude Awakening

Saturday, August 9, 2008. 7:00am - I’m sleeping peacefully under a gazebo at St. Mary’s church in Putnam, Connecticut, minding my own business, when I hear voices coming toward me. Subconsciously I knew what was going on. Next thing I know, someone is nudging me in my sleeping bag with his foot and ordering me to get up. I open my eyes to find two police officers and another man standing over me, not looking pleased. The fact that I knew I had permission to be there and that it was 7am made me apathetic to any possible sense of trouble from the situation. As I began to sit up, I addressed the officer standing directly above me, the alarm clock. “How are you doing?” I asked, with no air of disrespect. “Better than you are,” was his reply. Are you serious?! Did this guy really just say that?! Those were my half thoughts as I further gained consciousness and wondered why the hell these guys were really there.

They started asking me questions, telling me I needed to get out, I shouldn’t be there. I told them I had permission to be there and that I had even notified the police the night before about my stay there. “Who did you talk to?” I told them I didn’t know the name of the officer; it was the one sitting behind the glass at the station. I told them the pastor of the church knew I was there, said it was okay. “Did you talk to him last night?” I told them about the people I met, them cooking the sauce for a spaghetti dinner for tonight, that they had called the pastor, and he gave his blessing for me to stay. Well, the pastor wasn’t up yet and couldn’t be reached to verify this yet, and the non-officer, the custodian of the church, was a real piece of work. They asked my name. I told them I go by Otis. “I don’t care what you go by. What’s your real name.” So I told them, gave them my id. They ran it through, found nothing on me. I told them I was just passing through, staying for a night, was completely in the right to be there. The police seemed to realize quickly, especially after running my id, that there was no real problem, nothing more worth their time. They left.

The custodian, Pete, however, was not so bright or cordial. Here’s some exchanges between the two of us:

Otis: ‘Look, I’m just staying here for a night. I have permission to be here.’

Pete: ‘Well, it’s morning now, so you need to put your shoes on and get out of here.’

Otis: ‘I don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal about this. Why are you treating me like this, like a second-class citizen?’

Pete: ‘You just need to leave. There are people walking by here to go into the chapel. They don’t want to see you laying here. Pack up and move on.’
And so on and so forth, with him just repeatedly telling me to leave right now, being a real asshole about things. I didn’t understand what his beef with me really was. Maybe he just doesn’t take kindly to people like me. I found out later that there had been a guy who squatted in one of the church’s buildings for a month before they found him not too long ago. When they found him, they kicked him out. He came back later, however. Now, evidently the custodian at first thought I was this guy, back again. In that case, I could understand why he might be upset. Some stubborn, disrespectful transient not listening to their requests and defiantly returning. I clearly established, however, my story, my approval to be there, my lack of any ill-intentions. It didn’t matter. It seems that this guy saw me as something less than a human, and that wasn’t going to change. That’s too bad. And unfortunately, it really got me upset for a few hours after the incident.

As Pete stood with a forced air of authority, watching me, I packed very slowly. It was early, I was still a bit groggy, and I had no rush to leave, so I took my time. I certainly wasn’t going to make haste for this character. After about five or six minutes, he left. What a piece of work, that guy. I took my time, allowing my shoes and socks to dry in the warm morning sun. By the time they were mostly dry it was about 9am, and I knew the people I met last night were going to be returning to finish preparing for their dinner. So I went over to the main building to use the bathroom and fill my water. Along the way I ran into the pastor of the church. He was very nice and apologized for the custodian and told me about the squatter they had. All I could do was laugh about the situation.

The rest of the day was nice. The weather held up all day, and it was actually very beautiful. The sky was a gorgeous sky-blue with tasty white, puffy clouds. I couldn’t help but take a ton of pictures. With that kind of backdrop, almost any landscape looks perfect. I made my way into Massachusetts, where I found myself in a town called Russell as the sun was beginning to set. I decided to try to find a church to sleep by since I was now in the hills and not sure how far the next town would be. There was a catholic church right on the side of the highway, but no one there to talk to. There was a protestant church just a few houses down the street, so I rolled over there. On the bulletin board outside was the number for the pastor, so I thought I would give a call and ask permission. So I called the number and someone answered. The board only told the last name, so I asked if this was the pastor of such and such church. It was the pastor’s wife; she passed the phone. Here was our conversation:

Otis: “Hi, is this the pastor of such and such church?”

Preacher of the Good Word: “Yes. Are you trying to sell something?”

Otis: (chuckling) “No. I’m not selling anything. My name is Otis and I’m just passing through town on my bicycle, making my way across the country. I am just looking for a place to lay my head for the night, and I was wondering if I might sleep outside your church tonight.”

Preacher of the Good Word: “No, I’m sorry, that’s not going to happen. Good bye.”

Otis: “Wow! Do you…”

He hung up. I can only imagine that his sermons on Sunday are full of love and good cheer.

So on down the road I went. I was told by a girl at a liquor store that the Mennonites would be good people to talk to, but there was no one at their church. The house across the street looked like it was affiliated, but no one there as well. Next door was a VFW center. I checked in there, but no one seemed around, despite a few cars in the parking lot. They did have a tempting covered picnic area, however. I was about to go check it out when a couple in a pickup truck pulled around and asked if I needed something. I reported my situation and inquired about the picnic area. They said it was covered with sensors, and if I moved at all up there that night, the state police would be there in minutes. Not a good idea. They also recommended the Mennonites and told me about a farm stand and furniture store they had down the road.

I rolled down the hill and found the farm stand and furniture store closed (it was 7pm). There were some houses right there, so I inquired. Only a woman home. She informed me I should wait until the men returned from their gospel in the park in an hour or so. I felt good about the possibilities, so I stuck around outside and ate some dinner- summer sausage, cucumber, tomato and crackers. An hour and a half later, as I was beginning to have doubts that this was going to work out, the men returned. A man named Ron Hess, whose house I was sitting outside of and owned the property and furniture store, was very friendly and invited me in for some food. His eight children and wife eventually followed. As I ate a little of their leftover dinner, he told me I could stay with a man named Brian, who lived in one of his apartments behind the house. The whole place, I guess, was an old motel and pizza joint that he converted to his house and some apartments. I was very grateful to have a warm and dry place to sleep for the night. Ron invited me to come to breakfast with him and his family the next morning and suggested I should come to their church service as well. I told him I would sleep on it, as I had a long way to get to Albany the next day.

Brian was very friendly, and we had good conversation. He helped me understand what the Mennonites believed and what sort of set them apart from other Christians. I had never had any experience with them before. Brian had only come into the church recently, so I felt he had a good perspective on the situation.

The next morning I said goodbye to Brian and headed up to Ron’s house for breakfast. It was interesting to be there for that. I’ve never experienced a family that large before. The children were fairly well behaved. None of them talked to me. Two of the little girls seemed to be constantly staring at me, though. One was a bit bashful and would look away if I returned the gaze, but the other had shame and would continue to stare. But everyone was polite, and Ron really wanted me to come to church, but I had to decline to hit the road. Before I left, they were very helpful and told me about other Mennonites along the way I might run into and gave me some contact information. I was very glad to have met these people and had this experience.

The rest of the day was mostly beautiful, winding through the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. There were some long climbs, plenty of trees, and some fast declines. Rain began around 2, I think. It was a chilly rain that stung my eyes at times, but it wasn’t too heavy. I rode on through it. As I entered New York, the rain gradually let up as the road became more downhill than up. I was grateful for that. Pulling into Albany, I was thoroughly exhausted and ready to be done for the day. It was around 7. I had begun at 9:30. I was glad to be couchsurfing and my host Thao and her friend Laura were really friendly.

I got to bed a bit later than I wanted, around 2am. I knew that was going to spell trouble. The next morning I awoke just before 9am, exhausted. I got up, thought, and decided I was going to ride. I wasn’t feeling to great. I packed up and ate some granola and set out to find some maps. I had trouble finding the tourism center, and a cop was a real asshole to me, but I eventually found it. I realized my rear tire was low on pressure, despite having pumped it up the day before. I figured I should probably just change the tube. So I parked in front of the capital building to do that. I made decent haste, not wasting any time, but as I was finishing up, putting the wheel back on the frame, sky opened up with torrential downpour. I scrambled to pack up, as my bags were all open and taking in water. The only shelter right nearby were some trees. They were not terribly efficient cover, but I got everything closed up. Within a minute, however, the spot where my bags were sitting had become a small river. I was soaked. With my tiredness, lack of strength, and the terrible storm rolling through, I decided it was best not to ride that day. I needed some rest.

Luckily Thao was kind enough to let me stay another day. We had some tasty falafel and I hung out with Laura the rest of the day until Thao got off work. Then we went and did some yoga at a free class. It was great to have that, to get some relaxing stretching and breathing. I pulled a muscle in my back somehow, and that had been hurting. The yoga helped with that a bit. It’s still tight, though. As I stretched and practiced the yoga, I began to relax, but I also began to realize just how bad of shape I was in. Not that I’m not strong or flexible, but just that my body and spirit are not doing so well at the moment. I’ve got a lot of bad energy roaming around and hiding out inside. I need to get back on track and turn that around.

I think some of it has been the rain and being so wet and my stuff being all wet. It seems so hard to relax and just be when it’s raining and you have to ride. Maybe I’m a bit anxious about getting to Niagara falls as well. I didn’t realize how big New York state is, and I’m finding that it is going to take a few days longer to get there than I planned. I guess that’s not a big deal. I know these feelings also are coming from anxiety over all the things I want to get done. I want to write more, and I told myself that I would be much more disciplined about that on this leg of the trip, but I haven’t kept up too well. I am also finding that I am not prepared for bad weather, and I know I can expect much more of that before I’m done with this trip. I’ll have to work on that. On top of that, I have computer work I need to do, and it is really hard to find time to get that done while on the road, since it usually requires an internet connection. And I have a long list of people I want or need to call. So much to do, and it seems like so little time if I try to get good rides in every day. Oh what to do.

Anyway, that’s just a little venting. It’s good to write things down and express them. I’ll work on letting go of some of this negative energy and getting some things done. It looks like today is going to be a short-distance day. I got a late start and I’m taking some time now to get on the computer and post. I was planning on making it to Syracuse in two days, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Oh well. No rush. Best to keep healthy.

Thu
14
Aug '08

Russian Hospitality

I write this correspondence outside the Passport Inn in Schuyler, New York, where I slept last night. I didn’t pay for the room. Last night, after the rain had finally let up, as the sun was beginning to set, I was reaching a point where I needed to stop for the night. I came across a church, Slavic Pentecostal. There were lots of cars there and obviously something going on, so I stopped in. It was 7pm. I asked a man walking in with his family if there was a service going on tonight. He said there was and that I should stay. I told him that I was traveling through and looking for a dry place to sleep tonight. He said I should stay for the service, and I would surely find something. He said the service was two hours long, so I was hesitant. By then, it would be completely dark, and if I didn’t find something, well, then I would have to find something. Of course then I reminded myself that I needed to just have faith. Something would work out, and even if no one here could put me up, there was an awning in front of the church that would keep me dry. I’ll admit that it took a bit to convince myself to stay, but I had no where else to go, and I was wet and tired. So I stayed.

I went inside to listen to the service. The place was packed, and it wasn’t a small church either. The service, however, was completely in Russian. I understood nothing. I stood around for a few minutes then decided to change clothes and wait outside for a bit and eat some dinner. As nine rolled around, I went back inside in hopes of talking to someone or seeing the man I had talked to before the service began. As I sat in the foyer area, a man, one of the pastors, came up and asked me who I was. I told him my situation and asked if he might be able to help me find a place to stay. I asked if I could sleep in the church. He told me they had no place for me to stay, no bed. I told him I didn’t need a bed; I just wanted a dry place to lay my head. He said to wait until the service was done.

As the service completed and people came bustling out into the lobby, chatting and greeting, I stood and waited. Some young guys talked to me for a bit, obviously recognizing that I did not belong there. They were friendly but not very talkative. The pastor returned a few times, telling me to stay a little longer; he would have something. Finally he returned and told me some people were going to take me to the motel down the street. I informed him that I did not have enough money to pay for a motel room. He said they were going to pay for it. I told him that wasn’t necessary; I would be fine with just sleeping at the church; no need for them to pay that money. He said it was just fifty dollars, not a big deal. I accepted. Why not. Warm shelter, a shower, and even internet, it turns out. And this morning, as I have been typing this text, the manager here came up and handed me five dollars to get breakfast at the diner next door. Thank you.

These last few days have been rough. It has rained every single day since I left Rhode Island, save one. Two days ago I managed to somehow miss most of it, only catching some sprinkles here and there. It poured some places just before I arrived, but I stayed pretty dry. That night I slept outside at a big park/shrine/church. It was beautiful: a big park with walking trails and a coliseum-style church building. I slept, with permission of one of the priests, on a porch outside one of the buildings, a welcome center or something. It was quiet and peaceful there. Once the sun went down, all the walkers left and I was alone- just me and the mosquitos. And what a hoard there was. I put on long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, a beenie cap, and tied a handkerchief around my neck. That left only my hands and face exposed. I was devoured all night. There was no escape. I should have set up my hammock, as it has a canopy of mosquito netting, but I didn’t want to deal with setting it up/taking it down. Damn laziness. My face is covered with bites, all piled up on top of each other. I can resist the itch well, except when the sun is out and warm. Oh well. It’s all part of it, I suppose. As long as I don’t get malaria or bird flu or one of those other terrible mosquito-transmitted diseases, I’ll be fine.

I gotta say that I’m really getting tired of this rain, though. Everyone says this is the wettest summer they’ve had up here in a long time. Always a chance of scattered thunderstorms, every day. I know that once this system clears out it won’t be the last I see of rain on this journey, but I could sure use a little break, even if it means returning to the heat. All I have to do with the heat is make sure I drink lots and lots of water and get plenty of potassium. That’s cake compared to getting soaked every day and riding on wet streets with cold, stinging rain battering my face.

Anyway, enough bitching. That’s life. The sun is shining now. I have five dollars to eat breakfast. Tonight I will reach Syracuse, where I will be couchsurfing. Hell, I slept in a decent hotel room last night. It’s time to move on and move forward. I’ll be at Niagara Falls in a few days; then it’s on into Canada for a day or two. I still have a while before I reach family in Chicago, but I’m really looking forward to that.

And now, after a short conversation with Sue, the friendly housekeeper here at the Passport Inn (she said to make sure I mentioned her on here), I’m off again. Thanks for the bag of ice.

Sat
16
Aug '08

Less Rain, More Calm

It is late, and I am tired, but I wanted to write to let anyone and everyone know I am safe and still pedaling. Tonight I sleep in a town called Pittsford, just east of Rochester. I am staying with a girl named Tate, who is a friend of Liz, the girl I couchsurfed with two nights ago in Syracuse. I just watched Phelps conquer his eighth gold. What a stud. This is the first chance I have had to see the Olympics. What a glorious event, all these athletes realizing all their hard work and living their dreams. I can empathize somewhat.

Lately the weather has been dry, which is great. My stay in Syracuse was fun. I watched Flash Gordon, a cheesy but fun film from the 80s with a score by Queen. The next day I made it to a small town called Clyde. There was a carnival going on and fireworks. The people were mostly rowdy and obnoxious, but I made friends with some volunteer firemen, who shared some food and drink tickets with me. The fireworks were okay. They lacked any passion, I felt. I spent the night at a park right on the Eerie Canal. After midnight the town finally got quiet and I was able to sleep. Surprisingly the mosquitoes were not too bad, although I think I got bit around the eyes, as they were swollen when I woke up this morning. And yes Bill, I am wishing I had let you buy me that mosquito headnet.

Today was mostly a nice day with some wicked headwind at the end. I feel that a calm is finally beginning to come over me. Part of it must have to do with the rain finally letting up. Boy am I thankful for that. I’ll take the heat any day of the week over rain, I tell ya. Also, I am coming to terms with what this trip has begun. My mindset during the first leg was focused on a destination: Rhode Island. That was the primary purpose of the trip. I knew where I was ending up, and I just had to get there. Now, I have no final destination set. I have plenty of stops along the way, but I don’t know where this will end. I left Rhode Island with the mindset still of having a destination. I can’t do that anymore, however. The focus has to change. Now, this is just life. For the next couple months I will be living on my bike, and that is the extent of this. I have no where to be, just places I want to go. Realizing this, I find a lot of comfort and relaxation.

I feel that I can finally begin to answer the questions that everyone has been asking lately that I haven’t had good responses to. I’m biking around the country because I want to, because I love adventure, I love nature, and I seem to love adversity. I like meeting new people and seeing new sights, and I have a natural inclination to explore. There’s no larger cause and no final destination yet. It’s just adventure, plain and simple.

I must get to sleep. I’m very excited to think that I will be at Niagara Falls in two days. I will be crossing into Canada at that point for a few days. I will have to turn my phone off, otherwise I may get charged four dollars a minute or some ridiculous amount like that, as I did last year without knowing it. I don’t want another $150 phone bill. I’m not even sure yet how I’m going to pay this month’s bill.

Feel free to call me anytime in the next two days. I would love the good conversation. Good night.

Tue
19
Aug '08

Niagara Falls

After a week trekking across the state of New York, through some ugly weather and beautiful farmland, I have reached the western edge, marked by those magnificent falls, a mighty tourist mecca of gushing water. While the physical demands were not terribly rigorous, mentally, crossing New York was strenuous. I have been struggling with finding drive and meaning to my journey now. Every inspiration I have found seems to be fleeting, not lasting more than a day. Still, at a relatively slow pace, I have trucked on.

Now I find myself at the end of the state and hopefully the end of an era. Tomorrow I will cross the bridge over the Niagara River into Ontario, Canada. From there it is into Michigan and on towards Chicago, my first family visit. I have decided to increase my daily mileage starting tomorrow. I am going to shoot to cover at least 65 miles a day, aiming more toward eighty. Yesterday morning I ran into three kids about my age who were heading west. They began in British Columbia the day after I left Knoxville and were heading to Maine. Having been on the road just one day less than myself, they had covered over a thousand miles more. For a minute I felt inferior, wondering why I had accomplished less in the same period of time. Really, though, there is no comparing our trips. They seemed to be just doing it for the accomplishment, a summer of travel after graduation. They were heading west, with the wind, and had already passed through the west and midwest, an area where doing long days of high mileage is really the best option. It was great to meet some fellow cyclists. I wish I could have spent a bit more time chatting with them, but they set out to cover some miles. Only going around 35 miles to Niagara Falls yesterday, I took my time getting out of town.

Before I met these kids, I had already devised my plan to cover more miles per day. I think this will really help my spirits and my energy. Lately I have ended each day, having only covered 30 or 40, maybe 50, miles, not feeling the satisfaction that comes from the exhaustion after 60 or 70 or more miles. And really, I haven’t had any reason to do such short days. I thought it was good to not make haste, but I found myself stuck in the opposite, not moving forward enough. So I plan to cover more miles per day, keeping good momentum, and stopping when there is something worth stopping for, whether it be family stops or exhaustion or a beautiful view. The forecast of snow and crossing the Rockies still looms in the future, and I have to recognize that and act accordingly.

The rain hasn’t shown itself the last few days, despite the constant forecast of isolated and scattered thunder storms. In its stead, wind has decided to take over as the antagonizing force. Yesterday was particularly brutal with twenty-mile-an-hour headwind and gusts over thirty mph. That pretty much doubled my travel time.

Today I am taking a day off, resting up and enjoying the beauty of the river and falls here. Currently I am taking a mid-afternoon break to get on the computer and write and work. The weather today so far has been nearly ideal- warm with a cool breeze, blue skies, white puffy clouds, clear air. I am posting pictures of the last few days and today and will post the rest of today’s pictures later.

So tomorrow shall mark a new stretch of this trip. I will be passing into Canada and turning my phone off to avoid ridiculous charges. I think it will take me about two days to get back into the states. I will be covering more miles, staying focused on my goal of visiting all the family before weather conditions become too adverse. I’m looking forward to this new mindset.

Thu
21
Aug '08

Canada!

Yesterday morning I left Niagara Falls, where I stayed with one of the most accommodating hosts yet, Bill. Despite living in a tiny, one-bedroom apartment, he made it work well. The falls were nice, but a bit too touristy for me, so I didn’t spend a whole lot of time there. I enjoyed my little private spot, where I could gaze down the canyon to the river below and see the mist rising from the falls, more than being right at the falls.

No real problems getting across the border, which is fantastic considering my track record. The guy asked me a bunch of questions, and I was completely honest again, but this time it worked and I passed through with no special treatment. Getting out of the Niagara Falls area found me on some really busy roads with scarcely a shoulder, save some big, rough gravel. Several kilometers later and I was on local highways amid vast farmland.

I was fortunate to receive some free plums and peaches from a woman at a roadside farm stand, and a while later I picked an ear of corn from a farm on the side of the road. I decided I was going to try to get through Canada without spending any money. Unfortunately that didn’t last long, as the produce stands became nonexistent the rest of the day. I had to stop at a dollar store to pick up some macaroni and saltines.

I camped last night for free at a campground on a lake. It was beautiful, and there were some friendly seasonals there who shared their fire and a few cookies. I was glad to have company and conversation. The night was chilly, but I stayed warm in my hammock with my rainfly on. It does a lot to insulate. The campsite wasn’t actually free, but I arrived after the ranger left last night, so I had to get out before 8 am this morning. I awoke at six just to be sure. I figured it was worth it to not pay. Actually, I couldn’t have really payed anyway, as I only have a few Canadian dollars- some coins left over from a previous trip. I didn’t exchange any money at the border because I don’t have much left, and I didn’t want to waste any in exchange rates and fees. So I’m trying to get by this whole time with only $5.50 Canadian. I have 2.48 left. I think I can make it, as I should pass into Michigan early tomorrow.

The rain has disappeared without a trace and left hot, cloudless skies. I don’t mind. Passing nothing but farmland for endless kilometers can be therapeutic, and people have been really friendly. Doing longer days has also been good for me mentally. It really helps me clear my mind.

I’m hoping tonight that I will be able to find someone to stay with. I could use a shower and a good meal. I’m not holding an expectations, though. As long as I stay warm, I’ll be fine. Now I need to get some work done and hit the road again.

Sun
24
Aug '08

Long Days and Longer Nights

The last few days have been an adventure, for better or worse. My second day in Canada was my longest day yet, by far. I woke up at 6 and was on the road just before 8. I cycled most of the day with about a two hour break on the internet doing work and writing. Normally I stop before it gets dark, as I don’t like riding at night, but there was really no good places to stop by the time 8 o’clock rolled around. That left about an hour or so of dusk before real nighttime set in. I decided to keep going on toward a town that I knew would take me about an hour to get to. Nothing but farms along the way, corn fields and cow pastures. None looked suitable for camping and I didn’t feel like knocking on a random door. So I pushed on until I reached Blenheim. I arrived around 9:30 and found a little burger joint still open selling dollar burgers. I went in and ordered one, then asked about camping in the area. One guy told me about camping on the beach (lake), but it was a bit out of the way and would have taken another half hour or more to reach. There was also a city park not too far down the road that no one went to at night. That would work.

So after chatting a while and getting some free ice cream, I went to the park. A few teens were there, but they didn’t stay long. I set up my sleeping bag on top of a picnic table under a big pavilion. All was quiet by 11pm when I laid down to sleep. Just as I was getting into some good sleep, around midnight, I heard a truck pulling down the dirt road into the park. Some teens pulled into the parking lot and started doing donuts, yelling. Not wanting to be vulnerable laying down, I got out of my sleeping bag and sat on the bench of the table. The truck had kicked up a huge cloud of dirt and dust. The four kids, three guys and one girl, got out and saw me sitting down. They wanted to know who I was so they walked over. One kid got right up in my face trying to recognize me or something. Some of them, including him, were obviously drunk. He saw the bike and asked the usual questions. When I told him, he was blown away. He got really excited and started talking about how he wanted to walk across Canada. I told him to go ahead and get started. They chatted with me a little while longer, even though I was obviously exhausted. The one kid just kept repeating that what I am doing is awesome and that he was gonna walk across Canada when he was 19. It got old. Finally one of them asked if I was tired and I said yes. They left after all shaking my hand. It was funny. I couldn’t wait to get back to sleep.

Next morning I got started relatively early, maybe around 10, knowing I had a long day ahead of me. It was brutal, nothing but headwinds, at least 10-15 mph, constantly. That on top of the road not having much of a shoulder made for exhausting riding. When trucks came the opposite direction I had to lean forward, throw my head down, and give everything to push forward through the blast of wind. When trucks came from behind me, I tried my best to sit up and act as a sail to ride their current.

This day I was down to just one dollar, and pretty much out of food. I didn’t really pass through any cities along the way, mostly just farms and an occasional tiny town. I decided to pick up some fruit to eat. I could afford two cucumbers, and I figured that was a good option since they are watery and I was just about out of water. By the time I reached the border town of Windsor, Canada, I was exhausted and maybe a bit dehydrated, and definitely very hungry. I was anxious to get back to the states to use my US dollars.

From Windsor, there are two ways to cross over to Detroit: one being a bridge, and the other a tunnel. Since I had ridden across the bridge from Niagara Falls, I found it only natural that I should be able to ride across this one as well. As I approached, there were no signs saying otherwise, so I proceeded. Before I could reach the toll gates, however, a utility truck honked at me, called me over. He told me I would have to take a bus across at the tunnel. No bikes across the bridge. He said there was a fare for the bus and it should take bikes, but if not, I would have to catch a cab across. So I followed his directions a mile or so north to catch the bus at the tunnel. I pulled all the bags off my bike at the stop, preparing it to put on a front bike rack. The bus pulled up, a few people approached, and they told me they couldn’t bring a bike across. Even though the bus had a rack, the driver said he couldn’t put it down to cross the tunnel; it would make the vehicle too long. I must have seemed pretty desperate when I asked if there was anything I could do, how I would get across. The bus driver was sympathetic and asked if anyone (the six people on board) would mind if I brought my bike on board. Everyone was rooting for me, so they didn’t care. The driver said it was against policy and he could lose his job, but he seemed to genuinely want to help. I asked the far for the bus: $3-something. He asked if I had money, I said all I have is a twenty, does he have change. It was a fare machine at the front. No change. ‘Just get on,’ he said.

Oh boy, was I grateful! I thought for a moment that I was going to get stuck in Canada or have to pay for a cab. But I made it across into Detroit. No real problems at customs. They ran my bags through an X-ray machine though. So I rode into Detroit in search of a map to find my way to Ann Arbor, where I would be couchsurfing. I asked a few people about tourism centers or chambers of commerce. No real great-sounding help. A cop pointed me toward City Hall. On the way I ran into some bikers and decided to ask them about bike shops, figuring a shop would either have a bike map or know a route. They pointed me to a shop in downtown, said one guy there would know a route. I found the shop, The Hub, and it was run by some kids my age. It was a really cool shop with used bikes they had built up from donated bikes and parts. Everyone was incredibly friendly, and after looking up the route and seeing it was another 40 miles to Ann Arbor, one of the managers, Joe, said he could give me a ride there. It was already four o’clock by the time I got to the shop, and I was so exhausted already from riding through Canada, I knew there was no way I could make the 40 miles in decent time. I took the ride.

So he drove me to Ann Arbor and dropped me off at Christopher and Tyra’s house, where they live with their adorable little daughter. They already had some delicious fajitas ready with chicken and peppers and onions, rice and beans, cheese and salsa. I chowed down. Their friend Corey, an avid cyclist, came over. We talked and played a board game called Ingenious, which I had never seen before but is very fun. Corey gave me a pair of handlebars from his collection of bike parts when I told him that mine were not terribly comfortable. Thank you for that. I’m going to swap them out when I get to Chicago.

Staying with Christopher and Tyra was really great. They were excellent hosts, fed me well, and we talked a lot. I left their place at 3pm yesterday after some waffles for breakfast, a trip to Trader Joe’s, and some gnocci with awesome homemade pesto. It was a really late start, but I figured I would just keep riding until I got too tired. I did that and ended up in a small town called Concord, around 9. I found a big catholic church that looked very suitable for sleeping outside. It had a covered entryway and was off the main road, so I figured no one would bother me. Being a Saturday night, I knew I had to get up before mass began the next morning, which was eight. I figured that was a good thing, as it would force me to get an early start. After changing, putting on my long pants and long sleeves to protect against skeeters, and laying out my sleeping pad, I was ready to go to bed by ten. I didn’t unpack my sleeping bag because I figured I didn’t need it. It was so warm and muggy outside, I was already hot enough just wearing long sleeves. For three hours I lay and tried to get to sleep. It was impossible, due to the heat and the mosquitos. There weren’t many of them, but they would come every five minutes or so and buzz around my ears. I would swat them away or jerk my head to the side quickly to make them leave. And they would, but only for a little while, then return. So this went on, and I was never able to actually get to sleep, just into a half-sleeping daze.

Finally around 1am I decided to get up and walk around a bit, eat a bagel, and try to calm down. It was working, and I was calming down a bit, but it was still very hot and I was itchy from what I thought were mosquito bites. (I found out today it’s probably poison ivy.) Just as I was laying back down, this time with my sleeping bag, thinking it would offer me some comfort and help me get to sleep, it started raining. Light at first, but continually becoming more intense. There was thunder and lightning. The overhang above me was not too wide, only about 20 feet, and I had opted to sleep toward the edge of the walkway, in case someone came early in the morning, so I wouldn’t be in their way to the door. I didn’t want to upset anyone. As the rain picked up, however, it splashed off the rocks next to the concrete and spattered on me a bit. Also a rushing waterfall had formed on either side from water running down the corrugated tin roof. On top of that, the wind was blowing some rain in on the side I was set up on. So I moved to the other side, thinking I would be safe there, but the waterfall on that side was also splattering tons of water on the walkway. I was forced to the middle of the walkway, but I stayed a bit away from the doors. That was no good either, as the whole sidewalk started becoming wet. The only dry patch left was right in front of the entry doors. So that’s where I moved my stuff. I sat up and listened to the rain come pouring down, only able to see it when the lightning flashed. I wondered how long it would go on, and what I would do if the whole walkway became wet or flooded. Luckily it never came to that. After a little over a half hour since it started, the storm moved off to the northeast, leaving a clear sky littered with stars. Finally, at 2am, I was able to lay down and fall asleep.

I woke up around 5:30 from the sound of someone opening the doors. It must have been a maintenance man. I apologized, but he said it was okay and that he would only be there for ten minutes. I asked when people started coming around and he said twenty before eight. So I went back to sleep and reset my alarm, which has been set for 5:40, to 7am. Just after the alarm went off, as I was getting up and beginning to pack up, the pastor came. I apologized to him as well, saying I had intended to be gone before anyone came, but he said it was okay and asked if I needed to use the bathroom. I did. When I was done, I continued to pack. The pastor came out and asked me some questions. He said he was glad that I had felt safe and sheltered there for the night. That made me feel good to hear someone say something so kind. He handed me twenty bucks and told me to go get some warm breakfast. I accepted.

So far today has been pretty nice. It was foggy and overcast in the morning, making for a nice, quiet, surreal ride. That all burned off by 11 and became pretty warm. It has been hot with some headwinds, but my energy level has remained fairly high. I’ve already done 60 miles by 3pm, and I plan on riding a few more hours before I stop. I’ll probably be in Chicago on Tuesday, although if I pushed it, I could make it there tomorrow. I don’t know if it’s worth it to put myself through that. A night of sound sleep would be better now.

Tue
26
Aug '08

Chicago

Take away rain; that wasn’t in the picture. Now think about all the other possible conditions that could make riding a bike long distance feel like hell. Let’s see, there’s headwind, heavy traffic, high-speed passing cars, terrible roads, bad smells, heat, no shoulder. Oh yeah, and add in high mileage and sleeping outside for less than seven hours the night before. So that was yesterday, at least part of it.

The day started decently. I woke up at seven outside an elementary school. It was the only place I could find the night before that seemed safe, quiet, and lacking mosquitoes. I didn’t get there until after midnight. I knew people would be around in the morning, so I set my alarm to get up and out early. I didn’t waste any time, just got up, packed up my sleeping bag and started riding. The wind was at my back, and I rode for over an hour before stopping at a park to eat breakfast. I took my time and relaxed, knowing I was going to reach Chicago that evening and have a place to stay. Plus, I was tired.

I passed into Indiana with no problems, and it was quite peaceful for a bit, with little traffic and plenty of trees. I took a long lunch break at a state park. A little after that, as I made my way into Gary, Indiana, conditions really turned to shit. The area is very industrial, with all sorts of chemical and coal and who knows what else plants along the bottom of Lake Michigan. The wind comes in off the lake, so that puts all those nasty smells right in the way of my nose. But I pressed on because there is nothing else I can do. Gradually, the shoulder narrowed until it was pretty much nonexistent. I was forced to move into the right lane. The road was terrible, with potholes and loose concrete and debris. A bumpy ride, for sure. On top of all this, the highway was now a fairly busy thoroughfare and the traffic, and speed of the traffic, increased significantly.

I must have made a wrong turn at some point, as I ended up on a freeway for a mile or so. Here there was a wide shoulder, but it was completely littered with some pretty harsh debris. By the time I realized that it was a full-on freeway, however, I had gone too far to turn back, so I pushed on. I had to wait for three exits until I finally found an off-ramp that would take me back to the highway 12 I was on before. In the meantime, a very thoughtful and concerned citizen traveling the opposite direction, was kind enough to lean his head out his window and yell at me that what I was doing wasn’t legal. Thanks for the compassion.

Made my way back onto highway 12 to pass through some even nastier industrial areas, as the wind now became a direct headwind. Finally, I reached Illinois, although I never saw a sign for it, and Chicago. I thought I was just about there. I found that there is a bike path that runs along the lake, so I hopped on that, thinking it would just be a few minutes to my cousin’s place. Soon, however, I found out that she lives on the complete north end of the city, and I was still about 10 miles away. Suck! The wind was fierce, and I was thoroughly exhausted, having already covered 90 miles, but the end was in sight, and I was tired of being on my bike. I put my head down and set my pistons to overdrive. It was a rush making my way through the busy path, past bikers and joggers and rollerbladers. I had a real feeling of power and strength, easily passing all these fitness and racing cyclists with 100 pounds of gear on my clunky old steel frame. Just an ego trip, but it helped me to keep my pace up, setting targets of people to pass.

Before not too long, I finally made it, absolutely pooped. Jessica and Henry have a nice third-story apartment in what seems like a nice part of town, near Lincoln Square. Last night we went out to eat and had a beer. After six very long days on the road, I am definitely ready for a break for a few days. I don’t have any real plans for the city yet, but today the three of us are taking an architecture tour of the city by boat that goes up the river and out on the lake. That sounds pretty cool.

Earlier this morning I was taking a look at a map to see where I am going next. I realized that it is just over 400 miles to Minneapolis, but then another 1000 miles to Great Falls from there. Damn! I have already covered over 2000 miles now, but I still have so much more to do. My progress in the last few days, however, has really helped me realize what I am capable of. I have a feeling that much of the next couple weeks, traveling through states like South Dakota and Montana and Wyoming, are going to be more of the same idea: high miles, long days, days off only at my destinations.

Tue
2
Sep '08

Breakdown and Crossroads and Shredded Tires and State Troopers and Safety Vests, etc

Oi, it’s been a long time since I last wrote, and much has happened. I suppose I will start from where I left off: Chicago. My stay was great. The first day was spent downtown, cruising the river and lake to get a good perspective on the architecture and walking around a bit. Most of the rest of the time was spent relaxing and eating. Thank you so much Jess and Henry for being so generous.

I left Chicago late on Friday, as I was waiting for a check to come in the mail. It didn’t come, but after three days off, I was ready to get back on the road. No doubt the looming thousand miles to Great Falls has been ever-looming in my mind. Getting out of Chicago was a bit stressful- high traffic and narrow shoulders. Leaving at four put me right in rush-hour traffic. It took a lot of concentration to balance in a one-foot shoulder and stay conscious of passing traffic. At one point, however, I was run off the road, and I nearly lost it.

I don’t know if it comes across completely, if I have really expressed it, but I have been having a really tough time on this trip lately, really since I left Rhode Island. I have found it difficult to completely realize my motivation, to find peace in what I am doing. I push on, though. But I do find it tough that most people I talk to only really hear what they want to hear.  When I tell people about my trip, they just assume that I am having a blast, seeing crazy sights and interesting people. No one wants to hear that it is really tough, that I get so lonely being on my own on the bike for ten plus hours a day. So it gets exhausting and frustrating that many people I meet cannot provide sympathetic ears. Stopping with family is nice, because I can forget about all that and enjoy the company, but once I am back on the road, the loneliness returns. Friday evening, it hit me pretty hard.

I was on a fairly busy road, like I said, working hard to keep within the foot or two shoulder that I was allowed between the traffic lanes and rough gravel. As I trucked along, an suv came up next to me, having slowed down. I looked over and noticed the man driving was looking in his side mirror, obviously checking the clearance on a trailer. From the corner of my eye, I could see that he was towing a boat. I figured he was making sure the boat wouldn’t hit me, and he slowed down to be safe. Looking at the wheels on his truck, however, I noticed that they were beginning to cross over the solid white line. Looking behind me, I could see that the big boat, a 20- or 30- footer, was coming right for me. I swerved off into the gravel and skid to a stop as I watched the truck and boat continue on, well into the shoulder. Ooooh, buddy, I lost it! I got back on the bike, back on the shoulder and continued riding, but I was cursing a blue streak. ‘Fuck that guy!’ That was the gist of things. I yelled for about a minute before I started crying. This was bad. I continued to pedal on; I only cried for a minute or two. After that I felt a little better, but it became painfully obvious what kind of state I was in. Things are not well on the Nomad front.

Continuing on numbed me a bit. I would have to find some way to deal with this issue soon. As darkness rolled in, I started thinking about a place to stay. I was just coming into a small town and figured I might look for a church. Passing through town, I quickly realized that this would not be a good place to stay. It was full of jerks and rowdy folk. Several people yelled stuff at me out the window, people were speeding and trying to show off. The beginning of a holiday weekend, and people were obviously ready to blow off some steam, let out their frustrations through distructive and disruptive behavior. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that kind of shit, so I pressed on out of town. Past that, there wasn’t much for quite a while. No churches or campgrounds or parks, just farms. It got to be fully dark, and I was riding solely by the light of my front lamp. It was a bit scary but in some ways exilirating to be out with the stars. I missed the moon, though, and the comforting light she provides.

I was traveling west down a state highway with moderate traffic. I had no map, only some vague written directions telling me which highways and roads to turn onto. Coming to a four-way intersection, I saw that the highway I had been traveling on continued on to the left, heading south. To the right was another highway, heading to some small town to the north. Straight ahead was a smaller road, not a highway, heading into the darkness toward the west. To the left I could see lights and cars coming both directions. Cars were heading to the right as well. No one was going straight. West, however, was the direction I was headed, and I knew the next road I wanted to turn onto was somewhere down that small road. There was nothing but me and the stars as I left that intersection and continued on down the dark, quiet road. It was peaceful, and I thought about how indicative the whole situation was of my trip so far. The air was cooling, but it felt good. I wasn’t sure how far I would have to go to find a place to stay, but I was content to be alone with the night sky. Some miles later I came across a church and decided it would be the place. It was a fairly new building and seemed out of place, out in seemingly the middle of nowhere. It did the trick.

The next morning I rolled out around eight-thirty, set out down the road to find a bathroom. The first place I found was a home construction site with a Johhny-on-the-spot. I figured it was best to take advantage of that instead of taking my chances with more miles of unknown. Unfortunately, the door of the porta-potty had become a nesting site to some yellow jackets. They were just hanging around inside and out. I decided that wouldn’t make for too relaxing of a dump, so I ended up just going in the trees next to the house. I had run out of toilet paper before I got to Chicago, but two Mexican workers were kind enough to spot me some napkins.

I passed into Wisconsin, took a nice long breakfast break before continuing on. I had to buy a map since it was Saturday and no chambers of commerce would be open and I didn’t know if I would pass any tourist centers in the next 10 or 15 miles before my written directions ran out. Most of the day was hot, with no clouds in the sky. It was fairly dry. I ended the day around 9:30 at a city park in some small town- Mount Vernon. Some park officials and others were there when I arrived, having a good time, drinking beer. They said I could camp there for five bucks. When I told them I didn’t have any cash (which I didn’t think I did at the time, but I found out that was not true the next morning), they said it was no problem. They went home around 10 and left the bathroom unlocked for me. They also left behind a bunch of empty beer cans and a few full ones. I found the only one left that wasn’t a light beer and decided I would help myself to it, help them clean up a bit by emptying the can and throwing it away.

Shoot, I’ll have to finish this later. I need to get back on the road, as it is getting to be mid-afternoon and I want to make it to the twin cities area before dark tonight, where I will be staying with my cousin Julie. I’ll continue with my update later, as there is plenty more to relay. Summation for now is that I am still going. It was pouring rain for a few minutes earlier but seems to have let up now. Just windy.

More words to come, and pictures, too…

Thu
4
Sep '08

…Continued

So continuing on from the last post, updating on the last week…

My first morning in Wisconsin, I took my time getting ready. I took advantage of the bathroom, used it to wash my pot and gathered paper towels to clean my chain, which had become pretty nasty. I also got a fairly good stretch in. Leaving the park, I thought I would put on a decent pace to try to do some high miles, try to make it to Minneapolis a day early. A few miles up the road, pedalling up a good-size hill, I suddenly heard someone biking next to me. I was startled to turn and see a man right beside me. I want to remember that his name is Gary. He is an Ironman, on his last bike ride before the Ironman triathlon next week out of Madison. We rode together for a while, chatting about triathlons and touring. I think we were both equally in awe of each other. If you don’t know, the Ironman consists of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, followed by a marathon- 26.2 miles of running -all in one day. You have 17 hours to complete the competition. It was nice talking to him about it, and I think it may be something for me to consider trying sometime in the near future.

After a few miles we stopped to look at my map, as he had some thoughts about what route I should go. As we looked over the roads, his riding partner caught up and joined in the conversation. She was a very attractive German woman named Petra. When I told her my name is Otis, she said she only knew one other person named Otis, a German man. She said she didn’t like the name. I guess it wasn’t meant to be for us. Oh well. She also was not game for joining me on my trip when I offered. Shoot. Guess I’ll continue on alone.

Back on the road, the day was heating up, but I was still pushing, aiming for a day of good mileage. My rear tire had other plans. I stopped at a local market to check out the fruit selection and noticed that the air was low in my rear tire. I pulled out the pump and began inflating but soon heard that the air was just rushing out as quickly as I could inflate. I realized there was a hole in the tube and tire and I would need to patch.

While I was in Chicago, riding around to grocery and thrift stores, I skid to a stop on the road at a light. I didn’t mean to skid, it just happened. With over 2500 miles on the tires already, they seem to be getting to a breaking point, and the skid left a four or five inch tear in the rubber, exposing the protective kevlar underneath. The kevlar is tough, and great for preventing punctures, but when it is left uncovered, exposed to the force of friction, it wears down fairly quickly. So my rear wheel is falling apart now, the kevlar quickly wearing down to the inner layer of rubber. It was through this exposed patch that the puncture had occurred.

I patched the tube easily, but then I had to figure out what to do about the tire. With still over 200 miles to go to Julie’s place, I was really weary of just leaving it as is, taking the chance of another flat in the same spot. I also knew I wasn’t going to be passing through any big towns for a bit to purchase a new one. This tire would have to make it to Minneapolis. Luckily I had some extra rim tape, which is a tough layer of fibrous material you put between the tube and the rim of the wheel to help prevent pinch flats. I cut some lenghts of the rim tape and lined the inside of the tire at the site of the missing outer rubber, using my handy-dandy electical tape. Put the tube and tire back on the rim and pumped it up, and it seemed to hold air. All I could do was hope it would work.

So what was planned as a quick fruit break quickly became an hour and a half layover to patch a tube and tire. I was a bit sluggish in my work pace, as it was then midday and very warm. I was able to find some shade, but the heat still slowed me down. I continued on, and a few miles later I came across another local produce market. I thought I would stop in there and see if they had any bananas or kiwi, as I was in need of some potassium, and the previous market did not have any. I was just going to do a quick run through the parking lot to survey the situation, but pulling in I spotted a fellow bike traveler. I haven’t really passed many other tourers throughout this trip, so I was eager for some conversation.

The guy was young, about my age, heading from Portland back to his home in Virginia. He had just come from traveling around South America with a buddy, traveling by bus, went back to Portland with his friend and decided to bike back home. We talked for a good half hour or 45 minutes about our trips and our bikes and what not. It was a nice break, but I think we both knew we needed to get back out on the road. We exchanged emails and went our separate ways.

Despite my setbacks in time, I was feeling generally better that day. My spirits had definitely been lifted by my conversations and the little bit of tail wind I had caught. It was a beautiful sunset, passing through Amish country. I considered stopping in and asking for a place to sleep from some of them, but I decided to push on through the dark and do some more miles. Even though I knew I wasn’t going to make it to Julie’s a day early, like I hoped, I knew I still had a ways to go and would have to push it to make it there at a decent time on Tuesday. I ended up stopping at a city park in a town called Readstown. There were a bunch of locals there for a softball tournament. I figured I would be able to talk to some people there, but rolling up, I didn’t get a friendly vibe from everyone. It wasn’t that they didn’t seem to like me, just that it was obvious I was a stranger and they were all too comfortable to keep their conversations among themselves, the people they already knew. Really, I wasn’t feeling too conversational myself, so I really didn’t mind too much.

I slept that night under the open sky, right by the Kickapoo river. Surprisingly, there were no mosquitoes, which was nice. The next morning I really took my time getting ready to leave. I cooked breakfast and stretched well and listened to music. It was just what I needed. As I was getting ready, the whole town was returning to the park, this time for a horse show and a tractor pull. I thought about sticking around for the tractor pull, because I have never seen one before, but I figured it probably wasn’t worth the time.

Riding out, I felt very relaxed, and I thought to myself that this was going to be a no bullshit kind of day. No putting on smiles or fake laughs during conversations with strangers, just straight-up honesty. It worked well, and I had a good conversation with a guy outside a Wal-mart in Viroqua, where I stopped to fill up on water and use the bathroom. He had lived in Memphis for a bit and was friendly enough.

After leaving Viroqua, I turned onto a smaller highway that would take me straight west to the Mississippi River. I was getting into really hilly country in western Wisconsin, and I figured that if I rode along the river as much as possible I would probably have flatter riding. Taking this road was exactly what I needed. There were hardly any cars, so I was able to relax more and take up the road, weave around as I watched the scenery go by. At one point I stopped to take a piss under a bridge and stretch for a moment. As I was getting off my bike and stretching a bit, a truck pulled up and with an heir of general friendliness, a man and woman asked if everything was alright. I told them it was all fine, just taking a stretch break, and they continued on. It was a nice little moment of compassion from some friendly folk. Not too long after I came up to the hilly part of the road. The hills were long and steep and required a lot of effort to pedal up, but I just stood up and took my time, sweating it out. It was just the kind of adversity I needed to help me relax. And the downhills that followed were always glorious, as long and steep as the uphills, making for some sweet rewards for my effort. And with no cars around, I could take up the whole lane and weave and drift at my leisure. It was nice.

Reaching the Mississippi felt great. The highway paralleling the river had a wide shoulder, and I was blessed with a slight tailwind, so I was content. I stopped in the city of La Crosse to get a bite to eat before heading across the bridge into the state of Minnesota. In Minnesota, the riding became very scenic, with tree-covered hills and cliffs to the left and the mighty Mississippi rolling along to the right.

Only a few miles into the state, traveling on the same highway I had been on through most of Wisconsin, US 14/61, I came across a junction where Interstate 90 merged with the highway for a bit. Not having a state map or knowing any alternatives to remaining on this highway, I figured I would just keep going. As I rolled up the slight hill that joined the state highway with the busy interstate, it was impossible to miss the big sign denoting the illegality of riding a bicycle on the interstate. I saw it, I understood it. I’ve ridden on freeways before; it’s never fun, but there are generally very wide shoulders and the fast traffic and general lack of beautiful scenery makes for some fast-paced riding. Of course, as I entered the freeway, I knew that there was going to be some kind of confrontation. Despite the dozen or so other times I’ve broken this law, I knew this was going to be the time I got caught. Sure enough, a few miles down the road, as I was finally figuring out the exit I needed to get back on the smaller highway, I see a cop car coming the other way, lights on, slowing down to make a U-turn at a crossover. I knew he was coming for me. I didn’t look back, though. Soon enough he gave a quick buzz of the siren noise. I slowed to a stop, got off, and leaned my bike against the guard rail. I approached the officer, a highway patrolman, as he exited his car, instantly spouting off an apology for being on the interstate. ‘I’m sorry sir, I know I’m not supposed to be on the interstate. I didn’t realize it was an interstate until I was already on it, and now I was just waiting for an exit I could take.’ He wasn’t into it. ‘Well, you know why I’m giving you a ticket then.’ Shit.

I gave him my Tennessee id, and he asked some questions.

Is this where you live?

It’s my homebase.

How long have you been on the road?

Two months.

Where’s your home now?

Where ever I get to every night. Where I lay my head.

When are you going back to Knoxville?

I don’t know. Not for a while; I’m probably moving somewhere else.

Well, that was not the right answer. Having said that, he informed me I would have to pay the bail on the spot, given that he didn’t know how I could be accounted for. He went back to his car to find out how much the ticket would be.

I was playing it cool, but as he searched and talked on his radio, I realized it was in my best interest to not play it too cool. I wanted some sympathy from this guy, not for him to think I’m some kind of arrogant prick. We were still on the side of the highway, and over his loudspeaker he told me to pull off at the next exit, just about 300 yards ahead, so we could be safer.

As I biked to the off-ramp and down to the smaller street below, I thought about what could happen. Obviously I most-likely did not have enough cash to cover the ticket, no matter how much it was. I could put it on my credit card, but would I want to. My other option would be jail. Would that really be so bad? A warm place to sleep, meals, maybe a shower. Definitely a convenient toilet. If it was just for one night, should I take that option? I thought it might be a good idea.

On the side of the smaller road, the officer told me the ticket was $120. Damn! He asked if I had that much money on me. Nope, not even close. I asked what my options were, meaning payment options. ‘Jail,’ was his reply. I asked if they took credit card. He made a call. Nope, not anymore. So, what to do? We talked for a bit, and it was clear he was becoming more sympathetic. He knew that was a ridiculous charge to make me pay. I told him where I was going but that I didn’t have a state road map; I was hoping to pick one up in the morning. He got out of his car, fished in his back seat, and pulled one out for me. He told me the road we were on, that was what I should have taken instead of the interstate. I lied and told him that I hadn’t seen the big sign informing me it was an interstate, no bikes allowed. I don’t think he really bought it, but it didn’t matter. He told me he was going to let me off with a warning, but he put in the computer that he had warned me and if I was found on the interstate again, I should be arrested and sent to jail, no ticket or questions. I was fine with that. By this point it was around 6, maybe, the beginning of dusk. He said I should probably be looking for a place to stop for the night soon and asked if I had any reflective clothing, like a vest. I told him I had the proper lights. He seemed genuinely concerned and said I should have a safety vest. He fished in his trunk for a minute and pulled out a brand new, yellow and orange, vest with high-quality reflective tape. ‘A gift from the state of Minnesota,’ he said as he tossed it to me. Damn, that’s pretty nice.

As he got back in his car, I packed up the road map and the vest in one of my rear bags and got back on the bike. As I started to pull away, the officer got back on the loudspeaker. ‘Put the vest on. You either wear the vest or go to jail.’ I told him I was going to wait until dark, but I would put it on now. So I did. I also put my helmet on, which I hadn’t been wearing all day. I figured I would make a good impression for him, since he had been so generous.

So on I went, quite visibly, down the smaller highway. The officer pulled away, back on to the interstate, I’m sure. I wasn’t really comfortable in the vest, as it was too big and surprisingly very warm, but I kept it on for a while, thinking the cop might roll by at any time to check on me. After 20 minutes, it became too much to bear, and even though it had cooled down a bit as the sun was beginning to set, the vest was way too hot. I strapped it on top of my rear rack, so that it would still be very visible to those behind me. I’m very grateful for the gift, and while I don’t intend to use it as a vest, I do have some plans to cut it up and use the parts. The reflective tape they use is very expensive, something I would never pay for myself, but now that I have some, I can put it on my bags or my helmet or my frame. Also, the fluorescent orange and yellow could come in handy for decoration for my waist pack or bags or something. Who knows what I’ll come up with. Also, getting the free map from the cop was awesome. I was afraid I was going to have to pay for one of those, as it was still a holiday weekend and few places would probably be open that supply that necessity.

I pushed on more, through the dark, knowing I needed to cover some good miles that night to make my next day a little easier. I wanted to get to Julie’s before dark so I could have a more relaxing day. Once I got past the decent-sized town of Winona, there wasn’t much for miles. The highway was completely dark, which would have been nice, but the shoulder was very patchy. It required all of my energy to focus on the 4 square feet of concrete that my front light illuminates to try to avoid bumps and holes. At one point I somehow missed a big dip, a three-foot break in the concrete. I hit it hard, and it managed to send one of my rear panniers, which are generally very securely attached to my rack, flying off into the road. The other pannier half came off and was dangling down into my leg. It really scared me. Luckily no cars were coming right away and I was able to gather my bag with no problem. But with it being so dark, I couldn’t tell for sure if anything else had flown off, and with no guard rail or anything to lean my bike against, I had to reattach my panniers while holding the bike up, illuminating my workspace with my flashlight in my mouth. Not an easy task even during the day, let alone in the middle of the night. I was able to get it all back together and after a few minutes of shining the light around, felt confident nothing else had been knocked off. I was weary, however, from that point on, and slowed my pace and really racked my eyes to see what lay ahead. It wasn’t fun. At one point, I also almost hit a skunk. Not cool. No spray, though. That would really have sucked.

Finally, just before ten, I reached a tiny town called Minneiska, pop. 120 or so. It was quiet and closed up. Seemed like everyone was either in bed or getting ready for bed. There were two bars, but they were already closed. One had a few people inside, so I decided to knock and ask about finding a place to sleep. They were friendly, invited me in, told me about a boat launch area in town where canoists camped often. I had two beers, which I hope were intended to be on the house. I only left a tip. Actually, one of the guys said he would cover them as I was leaving. So that was good.

A little before midnight I left the bar and headed down to the boat launch area. I wanted to set up my hammock, as I knew there would be mosquitoes, but there was only one tree, so that wouldn’t work too well. So I figured I would cowboy up and just sleep on the ground, under the open sky. Everything was cool as I got ready for bed, layed out my sleeping bag, brushed my teeth, but as I was finishing up my brushing, I noticed a raccoon creeping toward my bike. I ran over and chased it off, but I became weary. I started looking around for rocks to throw, should it return. All I found at first were a few pebbles, but I gathered a handful. Sure enough, it came back a few minutes later. I threw the rocks, and it scurried off in a different direction. Well shit. I really did not want to deal with a raccoon all night, and I figured it would surely come back again at some point. So I gathered up my sleeping bag and sleeping pad and began pushing my bike up the hill back up to the bar. It was tough, my bag fell a few times, and I was exhausted.

I made it up finally, and no one was at the bar anymore. I knew one of the owners lived upstairs, and he was friendly, so I decided I would just lay out in the lawn in front of the bar. I didn’t really care anymore at that point. It was almost 1am. I thought the mosquitoes might be fewer being uphill from river, but that wasn’t the case. So I was wearing long sleeves, long pants, to keep them off, but it was quite hot and muggy. I was sweating like crazy. It seemed nearly impossible to get any sleep. The heat and humidity was nearly unbearable, especially being in my sleeping bag, but the mosquitos were so pesky, and all I wanted to do was bury my whole head inside the bag. It took at least an hour to fall asleep, and once asleep, I woke up several times. I woke up for good with the sun, around 6am. I could have tried to go back to sleep, but some people were already up and driving off to work, and I knew I had some miles to cover, so I just got up and packed up.

Riding early morning was nice, not very many cars on the road. After I stopped for breakfast for a bit, however, traffic started to pick up and fatigue from lack of sleep started to kick in. I pushed on anyway. I knew I had to. I made it to Red Wing, a decent sized town, where I knew I could get on the internet, the first time in four days. I stopped at a grocery store first to get some fruit, and just as I got my bike under the awning, it started pouring down rain. That lasted for 20 minutes or so, as I browsed the fruit and bought some hot chicken and broccoli casserole from the deli.

After getting on the internet and writing the beginning to this saga, I headed back out. It was cloudy, but I figured the rain was done for the day. The wind, however, which most of the day had been light and at my back, had altered to fierce and in my face. It was brutal, and I was anxious at first. No matter how much you push, though, you just can’t go fast into a 20mph headwind. So really, it was good. There was no escaping the wind slapping me in the face, no matter which way the road turned, and I just had to accept it. Of course, then came the hills.

The first must have been at least two miles long. Every time I thought I could see the crest, the point at which it must surely level out or begin into decent, I would pass around a curve and see that it wound on, continuing up. What else could I do but push on, slow and steady, fighting wind and gravity with all my strength. It really put me in a good mental space, and I began to feel at peace with where I was. When I finally reached the top of the hill, however, I was dissapointed, despite the fact I knew it was coming, to find that there was no beautiful downhill, just miles and miles of rolling hills ahead.

It was a brutal section, and a few miles into the rolling hills, I changed highways, and the new one had really no shoulder at all, maybe three inches between the white line and a four inch (or more) drop off into sandy dirt. Traffic was lighter, but big trucks did come through sporadically, and I was forced off the roadway a few times to let them pass. I stopped in a tiny town to use the restroom at the only establishment I could find, a bar/restuarant. I was starving, and I didn’t see any stores in town, and I didn’t know how far the next town would be, and the hills were getting brutal, wearing me out, so I asked if they had anything cheap and filling. The bartender gave me a menu. I ordered a cup of chicken and rice soup, and a few locals came in and started talking to me. They were really nice, just some local farmers/laborers, good ol’ boys, you might call them. I had some really great conversation with three of them, and they asked me a lot of questions, told me I was crazy, convinced I was gonna get creamed riding down the road. They ended up paying for my soup and buying me a beer. I told them I was headed to Montana, and they said I should hitch a ride with some trucks that were going out that way to pick up some cattle on Friday. I was tempted, really I was. In the end, I told them I would ride.

So I left with some food and a beer in my belly, feeling really good. The wind didn’t really let up much, but the hills did taper off as I pushed on. It was getting toward dark, and I still had over 20 miles to go, so I called my cousin and arranged to have her pick me up about 12 miles from her place. After a night of very little sleep and a day of tough hills and headwinds, I didn’t feel bad at all about not riding that last bit through the dark.

Julie and her boyfriend Ron and I got some food in the city, and I had a night of plenty of sleep. Yesterday was not terribly productive, but that’s okay. I needed some rest. Today I am headed into the city to get new tires and possibly swap out my handlebars. The new ones are better than the ones I had, but I think I may just go back to some standard drop-down bars. My hands have been hurting lately. So I must be getting along to catch a train into downtown. Tomorrow I plan on heading out again, beginning what will be a long trek toward Great Falls. I still need to pick up a heavier jacket, as my uncle says there is always a chance of a freeze in September, but I did find some waterproof shoes for six bucks yesterday at a Goodwill. I’m pretty stoked about that.

While I wasn’t before, I am looking forward to this next segment. I don’t feel rushed to get there anymore, and I’m starting to come to terms that I am not going to beat the cold weather, and I might as well just take it as it comes. I’m so tired of deadlines and anxiety. I just want to enjoy myself again. I want to relax and let the cards fall as they may. I’m done with rushing around for now.

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Sat
6
Sep '08

All Tired Out

Plan was to leave on Friday. It’s Saturday night, and I’m still at Julie’s. Tomorrow I leave, though.

I had problems with my new tires, which I bought in the city the other day. They didn’t fit my frame. Suck. I found that out the next day, back at Julie’s, miles and miles from the bike shop. My fault for attempting to swap out the tires on the morning I was going to leave.

Long story short, I had to exhange the tires for a different size this morning. Julie drove me to the city to the bike shop. While switching them out, I did completely blow out two tubes- huge explosion that sounds like a gunshot. For a second I thought I had lost my hearing, as I was leaning right over the wheels at the time. All good, though. No apparent damage.

So now I have a brand new tire on the rear, the same on one the front, and a spare tire, should anything go wrong down the road. While here, I was also able to pick up a sweet REI waterproof, windproof, breathable jacket for 9 bucks, and a fleece jacket to wear underneath. So I’m feeling good about being ready for possible cold weather that may come. All that’s left to collect is some decent gloves.

Just a quick update, sorry for the rush. Now I’m headed out for dinner. Limited internet access here, so computer time has been precious. I posted a new picture page. Still more to come. Also, perhaps a fundraiser in the near future to secure that this site stays up. We’ll see.
Tomorrow is back on the road, towards Great Falls, Montana. I’m feeling more relaxed about my upcoming segment, not in any rush. That’s a good feeling. Spirits are definitely in a better place, I thought I should let everyone know.

Pictures and updates and maybe some video to come soon.

Tue
9
Sep '08

Momentum

With a new rear tire and some freshly acquired winter gear, I left Julie’s apartment early Sunday afternoon, ready to get back on the road. I was feeling tired, but, keeping a moderate pace, I felt good about riding. I was in no rush, not feeling pressured to push 100 miles, or even 70. I was going to be content with whatever distance I traveled.

Early on through the ride, I passed by an amusement park, featuring a few rollercoasters and mini-golf and some other attractions. Coming up to the first rollercoaster, whose track lay just 100 yards off the road, I stopped and stood, watching some folks begin their ride. Clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clack. Right off the start, the cars were being pulled up a big incline by some sort of ratcheting chain mechanism. Once at the top, the cars were released, and gravity was left to do its work. Down the first hill they flew, but quickly they reached the bottom, a small valley, and were brought up another hill, smaller than the first. To reach the top of the second ascent, however, no mechanical aide was necessary, no clack-clack. Just the momentum gained from soaring down the previous hill was enough to easily carry those cars and their passengers to the crest of the second rise. I watched those thrill seekers having a screaming-good time, and I thought about the power of momentum, and how it’s force has affected me thus far. I realized that momentum is my biggest asset, or has been, in keeping me going every day, ensuring that I wake up every morning, pack up my gear, and get back on my bicycle, to ride into personally unexplored territory and cover dozens of miles. Those times when I am down, exhausted, and ask myself why the hell I’m doing this, why I should keep going, I finally have found my answer. Momentum. I have been on the road for over two months now, covered well over 2500 miles, 15 states, countless towns and cities. This has become my life. Just the same as most people get up every morning, take a shower and get ready for work, even though they may not particularly enjoy their job, and sometimes ask themselves why they keep going, I get up and cook breakfast and put on my padded shorts and bandana and hop on the bike.

The difference between what I am doing now, however, and what most people do on a daily basis, is that I am free to do this however I choose. I have no boss to answer to, no quotas, no real deadlines other than the ones I set for myself. I can take a countless number of routes, take breaks whenever I feel, and I don’t feel the pressure to shower or dress fancy for anyone. Also, I can stop at any time. This is entirely for my own benefit. I have no mouths to feed other than my own. Along the way, I sincerely hope that what I am doing has a positive effect on others, whether it be strangers I meet along the way or those friends and family following along from the beginning. But at the end of the day, this is about me finding out about the world and where I fit in. As in every situation we find ourselves, weighing the pros and cons, positives and negatives, cost and benefit, I have to constantly decide whether what I am doing is worth the mental and emotional strain, the loneliness, the hassles and unfriendly people. While momentum can be attributed to me getting up every day and getting back on the bike, it’s really the positives that come my way on a daily basis, outweighing the negatives, that keep me pedaling, pushing on to some unforeseen goal. The friendly encounters, conversations with strangers, random hospitality, beautiful scenery, words of encouragement, and seeing family are what push me forward, what make me realize that this is all worthwhile for now. So as long as those positives keep coming my way, as long as exhaustion never catches up to the momentum, I’ll keep going.

That’s what I have done the last two days. On Sunday I took a few breaks to take some pictures and to enjoy a delicious lunch of a tomato and cucumber and avocado and cheese sandwich. I am going to cut back severly on my intake of refined sugar and processed foods, preservatives, and really make an effort to keep my diet full of natural foods, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and freshly prepared baked goods. I think it will have an extensively positive effect on my overall well being. This sandwich was my start. I also picked up some oats and wheat bran to eat for breakfast, and some trailmix to snack on. The hardest part of this new diet, sadly enough, will be giving up donuts. I don’t know what it is about donuts, but I have a weak resolve when it comes to resisting the sugary baked goods. Moderation will do for now, I suppose.

After my tasty lunch, I resumed riding and put in some more hours before stopping in the small town of Waconia. It was nearing sundown, the shoulder on the highway was relatively narrow, and towns were becoming more spread out, so I figured this would be a good place to stop. It seemed friendly and quaint enough. I first came upon a city park as a potential resting place. I asked a couple walking by if they knew anything about camping at the park. They told me it probably wasn’t a good idea, the park was patrolled. I asked about churches around, and they pointed me to a Catholic church just across the street. I mentioned something about notifying the police about staying in town, so they don’t bother me, or maybe in hopes of the helping me out. I went to the church and rang the doorbell at the rectory. A woman who looked quite frightened answered the door. I told her my story and asked if I might sleep at the church. She said she wasn’t comfortable with that. I told her I just wanted to sleep outside, by the church. She said she was not comfortable with that but that there was an open lot across the street, owned by the church, maybe I could sleep there. I asked if that would be alright, and she said ‘I guess.’

I wasn’t terribly satisfied with the interaction, but I figured it would do. The couple I had talked to earlier were now sitting on the steps to their building, which was just across the street. I went to talk with them again, and they offered to call the sheriff, so I could talk to them. I thought that was a good idea. I would let them know I was going to sleep on that lot, with permission of the church, and perhaps they could offer me more information on a better place to stay. The man called, and a county sheriff officer came shortly afterwards. I was sitting, writing in my journal when he pulled up, but I quickly jumped to my feet as he was getting out of his car. Standard interaction- I don’t remember if he asked how I was doing, but I certainly asked how we was doing, which he of course did not answer. I think it must be part of police protocol to never answer that question. Before anything else, he asked for some id. I first gave him my Tennessee driver’s license, the id I usually give, since it has my home address on it, but he wanted something with a more recent photo, as my picture on my license was taken when I was sixteen. I gave him my California id, which is less than a year old. He got on the radio on his collar and called in my numbers. I expected my run in last week to come up on the record, but the dispatcher said I was completely clear in Minnesota, no note of the warning for biking on the freeway. I guess that would only come up under my Tennessee id?

I told the cop my situation, about sleeping in the lot with the permission of the church. He told me about the vagrancy laws in the county, the anti-transient statutes to keep people like me, basically, from causing any trouble in the towns, disturbing the peace. He said you’re not allowed to sleep outside anywhere. Even with the permission of the church, I would still probably get hassled by the cops, and they do patrol that town. I asked if he could offer any help, anywhere close by I might be able to go, maybe at a police station. All he could tell me was that there were a few motels in town. Not an ideal answer.

Well, by the time we were done talking, it was pretty much dark. I didn’t think it was a good idea to get back on the highway, since the shoulder was narrow, it was getting cold, and I didn’t really feel like riding in the dark. I would have to find something in town. The man who had called the police called me over. He wanted to show me a few spots I might be able to hide and sleep. One was behind, or in, some thick brush by a small brick building. The other was in the stairway outside his building, just outside the laundry room. He said no one would be going in there at night. Then there was within the fenced in dumpster area. The area was large enough to fit two or three dumpsters, but there was only one present. None of the three seemed particularly enticing to me, so I told him thanks, that I was going to go cook my dinner at the park and come back. Instead of doing that, however, I thought I would try my luck first with interacting with more people. The town was fairly dead, and not much was open other than some bars, so I went in one. Only two people there- the bartender and one patron, who obviously couldn’t care any less about anyone else in the bar. I ordered a beer and asked the bartender about places to stay. He had nothing to offer. I sat and enjoyed my beer anyway and watched a football game on the tv. The bartender was somewhat friendly and talked to me a bit, tried to offer some ideas, but mostly they were just to get a hotel room or go to the other bars. Sitting there at the bar, drinking my beer, and pondering what my next move was, I decided that I should listen to my gut feeling on the situation. As much as I hate the idea of paying so much for just a place to sleep for a few hours, despite the fact I would have to put it on my credit card, I decided I better just go ahead and get a room at the Super 8. I would be warm, safe, and have a bed and shower. That’s what my gut said, so I went with it.

The man at the front desk was nice and gave me 5 bucks off the rate since I was traveling by bike. It felt good to get out of the cold and take a nice long hot shower. I slept alright, got up around 8 the next morning, packed up and went downstairs to enjoy the continental breakfast. It was pretty much just cereal and donuts and muffins- prepackaged sweets- but I did get two bananas and some applejuice. Unfortunately I couldn’t resist the donuts and did have one. Other than that, it was just cornflakes.

Yesterday’s riding was alright. I found myself getting frustrated early on in the day, not by anything that happened, but just on thoughts that came up about some encounters. For some reason I started thinking about all the times I had been disrespected, treated as less than human, often by cops, and I got angry. I had to stop at a church and stretch and lay on the sidewalk, staring up at the sky, to calm myself and move on from the thoughts. After that, the ride was decent enough. The sky was really pretty, plenty of clouds. It rained for about 20 minutes at one point, but luckily I had stopped to use a bathroom at a park when it rolled in, so I saw it coming and was able to get shelter under a picnic area. After that, it was ever-changing temperatures, and I was constantly adding and shedding layers to keep up.

As the sun was going down last night, I came into a town called Cosmos. I didn’t plan on stopping there, but I did stop into a gas station to pick up a snack and ask about the towns coming up, as they were fairly spread out, and I wanted to have something to aim for. The lady behind the counter informed me that pretty much all the towns between Cosmos (a town of about 580 people) and Montevideo (a town of at least 5,000), which was 50 miles further, were tiny, much smaller than Cosmos. I told her my situation, that I was just looking for a place to sleep. She said her neighbor could put me up. Her neighbor, now, is a man standing outside the gas station, with whom she had been talking as I rode up to the place. He is a smaller-built man, about my size, probably around 50 years old, named Jerry. He looked weather-worn and had a beard. When I first rolled up, I thought that he was the kind of guy that would offer me a place to sleep. When I walked into the convenience store, surprisingly he said nothing.

The gas station worker, Terry, walked outside with me and notified Jerry about my situation and that she said I could stay with him. I was surprised that she would volunteer someone else for the hospitality. She said she would have me at her place, but her grandkids were there already. Jerry seemed fairly indifferent to the whole situation. He said it was alright if I stayed, but I would have to be out in the morning, before he goes to work. I told him that was fine, I like early starts anyway. He informed me that it was a small place, he had just moved in, there was electricity and heat, but no running water, due to leaks. I was also fine with that. There was still about an hour of usable daylight left, but I felt content to have a heated roof to sleep under, especially since the weather forecast for the area called for a low last night of 36 degrees. I’m pretty confident about my cold weather gear for most situations, but I’m not entirely sure I would fare well sleeping outside in that kind of cold, especially since I still haven’t picked up any decent gloves.

I walked with Jerry back to his trailer. It was messy but bare, and contained all the necessary furnishings. He said I could have the bed, since he usually slept on the couch anyway. That’s where is alarm clock is. He told me about how he was working on the plumbing, fixing leaks and picking up the mess the previous tenants had left behind. I asked about going to the bathroom, as I usually have to go in the mornings when I wake up. He said that was fine; he fills up buckets to use for flushing the toilet. Sitting on the couch in his living room, there wasn’t much for conversation. I asked him questions about the town, about him, about his place. He offered short answers and always came back to the same topics about fixing the place up and the mess from the previous occupants. I wouldn’t say it was awkward. I was too tired to really care about that. It was a bit weird, though.

Jerry offered me soda, which I declined, and drank beer for himself. A bit later his friend Dale came over, already a bit sauced. He brought with him more beer. Dale was a bit more conversational, but not in an ideal way. He talked loudly, mostly about himself, telling me about his divorce, his wife cheating on him, going to jail for threatening to kill his wife, getting custody of his youngest daughter, being handicapped. I’m not sure what exactly he had, but from what he said, it sounded like MS, and he walked with a cane. Dale’s eyes were always pretty wild open, he liked to yell, as did Jerry when he was talking to Dale, although it was never out of anger. They reminded me of a Minnesotan version of Cheech and Chong, except with booze instead of weed. But Dale loved talking about how he gave his daughter shit, yelled at her, and she gave it right back. He felt it was a good relationship. I saw it in action at one point. Dale gave Jerry money to get some booze, both for them and for his daughter, who is nineteen. His daughter gave Jerry a ride to the bar to buy the booze. The whole thing was interesting. Dale got some blackberry brandy, of which he gave me a few pulls. It was not surprisingly very good, and really gave you that warm feeling in your chest. He said they drink that when they go ice fishing, when it is 30-below zero in the winter.

So, overall, my stay with Jerry was mostly just weird. There really wasn’t much in the way of what you would call conversation. I think most of my contribution was a few questions, some nods and ‘yeahs’ and some forced laughter. Dale and Jerry got drunk and ended up yelling about fixing up Jerry’s house. Jerry was stuck on Dale being his friend. “All that matters, is that you’re my friend, right.” Dale was hung up on Jerry having fixed the stairs on the backside of his deck before getting the plumbing all taken care of. “Just take care of the plumbing first. That’s top priority. Why would you even think about the deck?” So back and forth, they yelled at each other. It wasn’t really an argument, just drunken ranting at a loud volume, on repeat. After a few minutes of that, I got up, went to the bathroom to pee and brush my teeth, and then came back and told them I was going to bed. It was around 10:30, and Jerry was ready for bed, too. Dale left.

Woke up at six this morning, got ready quickly, put everything back on my bike (I had taken my bags in since it was going to be so cold), and set out. I knew Jerry wanted me out, and I didn’t want any uncomfortable situations. I thanked him for the place to stay, and he wished me luck on my trip, pretty much the extent of the talk of my trip during the whole stay, excepting him asking me where I was going and from where I came. Oh, and I’ll just throw in the side note here that the bathroom smelled of fermenting piss, as he obviously didn’t flush that often, and there was little in the way of ventilation. Just thought I would throw that in there. I cooked my breakfast at the town park, across the street from the gas station. The sun was just barely coming up when I left Jerry’s, and it was still very cold. I need to get some gloves today, for sure.

By 9am, back on the road for an hour, I was finally able to shed my layers and get back to a t-shirt. I keep my jacket on, though, since it blocks a lot of the wind. So far the ride today has been nice. The traffic has considerably decreased, the weather is beautiful, and it is pretty much nothing but farms. At one point I heard a rustling noise and was surprised that I could very clearly hear the sound of the corn swaying in the breeze. It was a beautiful moment, discovering that. Right now I am stopped at a trucks stop, on my way to Montevideo, where I hope to find some gloves and a grocery store. Other than that, I’m looking forward to a nice day and some more calm riding, hopefully.

Before I end this, I do want to take a moment to point out a new page on the left entitled Donate. Not asking for much, but check it out and help out if you feel inclined. That is all.

Sun
14
Sep '08

Some Good Folk

Well, I mentioned earlier in my entry about Ridgecrest that I am not a Christian. Most of my family is, and I have had the background growing up, but these days I really try not to limit myself to just one set of religious beliefs. I believe every form of faith has its validity, and it is up to each individual to find for themselves, based on their own experiences, what works and speaks truly to them. For me personally, I find that many of my beliefs and ideals come out of Christianity and Buddhism. For now, that’s what works and makes sense as I work to understand the world around me.

Throughout this journey thus far, I have had many encounters with Christians of all varieties that have helped to reinforce and reiterate those values which I hold to be important, those of goodwill and hospitality to strangers and neighbors, loving everyone as you would your own close family, and striving to be understanding and accepting of those who are different. Of course, with the good must come the bad, and not all my experiences with churches and those professing to be devoted to Christianty have been positive, but that’s to be expected with anything. These past few days, however, have been immensely positive, with a few overwhelmingly hospitalbe encounters, that have really lifted my spirits and reminded me of those ideals.

On Monday, after writing my last bit from a truck stop, I set out again to the road, into narrower shoulders and heavier traffic than I had had in the morning. It made for a mind-numbing couple of hours, looking out for trucks and devoting all my mental energy to balancing in that narrow strip of asphalt between the solid white line and the dirt and gravel. So when I came up to an intersection with a gravel road, nearing the town of Montevideo, and a man sitting in his SUV on the gravel road, waiting to turn onto the highway, said ‘hello’ to me, I was not too attentive to the opportunity for conversation. I just said ‘howdy’, and passed on by. Well, the man pulled out and up along side of me, slow enough to keep pace beside, and struck up conversation. He asked me some questions about my trip. I was still in a bit of a daze, but I asked him about the distance to Montevideo. He answered and asked if I was staying there for the night. I told him I was just going to stop for a late lunch. A truck came up behind him, so he had to speed up and continue down the highway. As he disappeared over a small hill ahead, I started getting a little bummed I had not taken advantage of this opportunity to talk to someone. I could have pulled off at the intersection and talked.

I thought about it for the next few miles, as I approached the town. I was thinking that maybe I would somehow run into the guy again. It seemed that he really wanted to talk to me. The first place I came across was a Wal-Mart. I didn’t want to stop there for lunch, but I figured I should go in and look for gloves, and it’s always a convenient bathroom. As I was locking up my bike, though, the man pulled up right next to the sidewalk and started talking to me again. It startled me at first, and I’ll admit I was a little creeped out. He seemed friendly, I suppose, but it was still a bit weird that he had obviously been sitting and waiting for me to pass so he could intercept me again. He offered to join me for lunch, and I figured I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk again. We decided to go to a Subway up the street.

Over sandwiches the man, Mark, told me about his own bike trips when he was younger, going out to the east coast a few times, from Denver up to Canada, and maybe another one in southern California. It was great to talk to someone with similar experiences. He told me some stories, and I shared some bits with him. When I told him that my goal of the day was to find a pair of gloves, as my hands had been freezing earlier, nearly numb, he told me he had an extra pair of some nice gloves that I could have. So when we finished eating, he told me to meet him a little bit into town. He told me the route to take to get back to the highway and he would drive and find me. Sure enough, minutes later, he pulled up and bestowed upon me a pair of deerskin gloves with microfleece lining, brand new. They are a bit large, but they will do just fine. We talked for just a brief minute there on the side of the street, but he said he had to go. Before he left, however, I did want to ask him one question about his trips. I wanted to know why he did them, what was his motivation. He said it was about finding out if he could accomplish the feat. I know that for some people that kind of answer just doesn’t really make much sense, but I understood. The personal reward that comes from accomplishing a difficult task like this is really much more valuable than anything anyone could ever give you. Knowing that you can persevere through good and bad and push yourself physically is an immensely satisfying feeling.

I left Montevideo, finally awaken from my daze, with a brand new pair of gloves and a smile on my face. That evening, the last 20 or so miles before I stopped for the night, turned into a beautiful spectacle. The heavy traffic disappeared, and I was once again left alone for long stretches, just me and the road and nature. I stopped and took tons of pictures, which is often a general indicator of a good mood. I ended the ride that day in a town called Milan (pronounced like Mylen). Mark had mentioned it when we talked, said it would be a nice town to stop in. The place was pretty dead when I rolled in around 7:30, but the city building was still open, due to the local primary elections being held. I went in to use the bathroom and asked a lady in one of the offices if she knew anywhere I might find a safe place to sleep for the night, such as a park or church. She was very friendly and got on the phone to the pastor of the local church, who said I was more than welcome to sleep inside the church. Inside the church. Surprisingly, that is a first for me on this trip.

At the church, I met the parish nurse, Sandra, and she informed me where the pastor lived. She wasn’t aware of the situation, and said I should go talk to him. I wanted to talk to him anyway, to feel more comfortable about sleeping inside the church. So I went to the pastor’s house and met him. His name is Tom, a very friendly man. He walked with me back over to the church and showed me where I would be staying, in the library with a couch to sleep on. The custodian, Dave, was there by that point. He asked if I had eaten supper yet. I hadn’t, so he said he would bring over some chili. Tom said I could take a shower at his place. I needed it. So I went back to Pastor Tom’s house, met his family. I had a shower and then some good conversation with Tom and his wife Gayle. When I returned to the church to go to bed, I found Dave had left a big bowl of chili, crackers, and a few cookies in the small kitchenette adjacent the library. Yummy. I ate well, slept fairly well, and in the morning I packed up and went back to the pastor’s house for breakfast. It was a delicious breakfast of waffles and bacon and rhubarb juice.

After the great meal and some more good conversation, I set out back on the road. Tom set me up with a rural route that would keep me off the highway as I made my way toward the border with South Dakota. It was obviously a bit longer than the highway, but I wasn’t too worried about it. The wind was rough at times, coming out of the south, but I kept making turns, and for some long stretches I had an amazing tail wind. Always a welcome boost. The roads were sparsely traveled, and I was really able to relax and enjoy the scenery. The sky was a bit dark and cloudy, but it made for some really saturated colors. Almost all the passing cars and trucks were friendly, and most waved as they went by. It was really a great start to the day.

When I finally reached the town of Ortonville, which is just at the border with SD, I was hungry and tired and ready for a break. I was hoping for a nice little friendly town. Instead, the place was a little creepy. Everyone was staring at me, which I am somewhat accustomed to by now. I am an outsider, and very obviously so, in many places I pass through, but generally you can get a vibe of what people think of you. Sometimes they seem curious in a good way, other times they seem to take an instant dislike or apathy to you for some reason. In this town, however, I couldn’t read what these people were thinking. No one was outwardly friendly. Most people seemed stuck, possibly very unhappy. And when people would stare at me as I passed or as they passed, I couldn’t help but compare their blank stares to those of passing cattle. As I pass pastures of cows, they always keep a fixed gaze upon me, a look lacking expression. These people looked like cattle, and many of them never broke their gaze when I looked back at them. No one was mean. No one really said anything to me. It just came across as a depressing little town. I ate my food, checked my maps, and got on my way, without wasting much time there.

Exiting town pretty much put me in South Dakota. The rest of the ride was decent. It was starting to get late and actually started misting, so I needed to find a place to stay. The town I was hoping to reach was easily over 50 miles from the border, and it was already around 5, so there wasn’t much of a chance of me making that. Only about 20 miles away, however, was a monastery that Pastor Tom had informed me about. Blue Cloud Abbey. He said it was a notable place to stop by with friendly monks. I figured I would stop in there in the afternoon as I as passing by. Well, it turns out that I happened to reach the abbey right at the end of my day, as I was just starting to really get wet from the heavy mist. What a fortuitous change of plans this was, however. I want to devote a whole entry to my stay there, so I’m not going to say much more here, other than that it is beautiful, I stayed an extra day, and had a great experience.

I left the abbey Friday morning, feeling good. I was better rested and had been given more food than I could pack. The ride that day was surprisingly beautiful with lots of water. Everything else is just pasture and prairie, but the ponds and lakes, plus the big blue sky, made for some stunning scenery. I took plenty of pictures, which shall be posted soon. I was able to cover over 80 miles that day, making it to the town of Aberdeen for the night.

I thought I would first try the churches, as I have been having some really good luck with them lately, but the first one I went to was not welcoming. The man I talked to was friendly, don’t get me wrong, but he didn’t offer to let me sleep in the church, and there were no good overhangs to sleep under, as rain was in the forecast. He did tell me about a park that had camping. He didn’t know the price, but I figured I should check it out.

Got to the park just before dark. Just two campers there, no signs of people, and no office. The sign said 12 bucks for tent camping and that check-in time was 8am. Well, I figured that meant if I was up and out of there before eight, the cost for me would be free. To have bathrooms and picnic tables, I figured that was a good deal. I cooked my dinner then set up my hammock. I thought it would be too cold now for skeeters, but they were alive and ever-present there at the park. I didn’t want to hassle with another night of terrible sleep due to mosquitoes, so I strung up my hammock between two support posts of a picnic shelter. That way I would stay dry if rain came, the mosquitoes wouldn’t be able to get at me, and I wouldn’t have to put my rain fly on, since it was a relatively warm night, and that cover adds a lot of heat.

It did rain that night, but I stayed dry. I slept fairly well. I got up just after 6, well before the sun, packed up and moved over to another area of the park to eat my breakfast. I figured if someone asked, I would tell them I slept somewhere else but came there for breakfast. No one ever came around. It rained in the morning as well, lightly at first, but really picked up by late morning. I took my time eating and stretching. I was waiting until after 9, because I figured that the local bike shop would be open by then. My rear rack broke at some point yesterday, and seeing as this would be the biggest town I would pass through for about 100 miles, I figured I should replace it here and not try to push it any more.

I was hoping I could just make-shift some kind of repair for the thing, but because of where it broke, that wasn’t possible. And even though I got at least 15 miles with it broken the night before, I didn’t want to try my luck. So I found the bike shop and just bought a new one. I’m really proud of myself for not getting upset about the whole incident. Granted, the last rack got me through over 5,000 miles of traveling, so I think that’s pretty good life, and nothing to be upset about.

Mounting the rack took a little bit of time; making adjustments to my rear panniers to fit the slightly different design was necessary. Meanwhile, it was pouring down rain. It wasn’t good conditions for riding anyway. So I got the rack going and ate lunch at the bike shop. They were all friendly. I also picked up a new water bottle. That was a bit overdue, as one of my bottles had been with me for over 5000 miles as well. It was starting to break down, and I was getting bits of plastic in my mouth.

The rain let up just after one, and I set out. My pace was slow, as I was tired, and there was a slight headwind. The scenery was decent, but not as nice as the day before. The sky was pretty amazing, though, with so many different kinds of clouds. They were all on the move, and every ten minutes found a completely different sky. By 5 or 5:30, the winds had really picked up. It was a nasty headwind, blowing directly against me. On top of that, I think the entire rest of the ride was uphill. Nothing too steep, just slight steady climbs. Every time it looked like the top, the road just leveled out for 100 yards and then continued up. It was a tough ride. I think the winds must have been over 30 miles per hour at times. Slowly, and without any anger or bitterness, I pressed on, knowing I needed to make it to some kind of town before dark.

I arrived in the small town of Roscoe at 7. It took me about two hours to cover 15 miles, which is considerably slower than my usual pace. There was just nothing I could do with so much wind. It was starting to get chilly, and I was tired after the struggle, so I decided to treat myself to a warm, prepared meal. At the local restaurant, I got myself a plate of chicken alfredo. It was pretty decent. A bit overpriced, but warm and filling. After the meal, I headed over to the local Lutheran church, where I knew there was a service at 7:30, as I had passed by before stopping at the restaurant. I figured that was a golden opportunity to find a warm place to sleep.

I caught the last 15 minutes of the service and waited around to talk to the pastor. Pastor Winfried turned out to be a very nice man. He said I could sleep in the basement of the church. That’s where I am writing this from now. I will be sleeping on the floor, but I don’t mind, and there is a bathroom and a kitchen, where I was able to boil some water for tea. Saves me some stove fuel. The pastor and I hit it off well and ended up talking for quite some time before he left me here to myself. Again, I am so grateful to have a place to sleep that is warm and dry. There is a chance of rain in the forecast again tonight. Tomorrow morning’s service is at 9, so I will have to be up well before then. I may stick around for the service, or I may just eat breakfast and head out, get an early start to the day.

Looking back, I’m really amazed at the hospitality I have received this week. Much of it is on par with some of my time in the south, but it was been so long since then, so many nights of solitude, that I had forgotten what it’s like. Of course with family I always was given amazing hospitality, but there really is something different and special about being taken care of by complete strangers. For me, it warms my heart like few things can. I really look forward to sharing my experience at Blue Cloud Abbey. That will come soon.

Wed
17
Sep '08

Heat, Hills, and Headwinds

Boy, South Dakota can be rough. Since leaving Roscoe, I have had all sorts of weather, from cold enough to require a scarf and gloves to hot enough to require no shirt. Most of the time, however, has been filled with headwinds and uphills. Every time I try to push 100 miles in a day, I’m only able to do about 60, no matter how hard I push.

From Roscoe, I made it just past the town of Mobridge and camped at a campground just across the Missouri River. Since it is just out of camping season, there was no one there to make me pay. Unfortunately, that also meant the bathrooms were locked and the water fountains and spigots were shut off. I was pretty much out of water. Luckily, the RV station, with the drain and water pump, was still active, so I was able to find potable water there. I didn’t find this source, though, until about an hour after I burned my finger on my pot when I was cooking some rice. So I had no cool water to put on the burn, and while I usually carry Aloe, I sent that in a package to my aunt in Denver from Blue Cloud Abbey. I was trying to lighten my load so I could carry more food, send some things I figured I wouldn’t need for the next month or so, like sunscreen and Aloe. Bad move. The burn isn’t too bad, but it hurt later, and it’s a little blistered now, three days later.

That night I also had a little critter friend to deal with. Just as I was about to retire to my hammock, I saw a raccoon creeping around in the dark. He was coming my way. I figured earlier that I would have an encounter like this, so I had found a big rock that I could use to scare one away. He wasn’t close enough yet, and I didn’t really want him to, so I just gathered a handful of gravel and threw it his way. He scurried off to some bushes about 200 yards away. Well, I knew that wasn’t the last I would see of him. I waited around for a few mintues, and sure enough, he started scurrying my way again. I wanted to wait until he got close enough for me to throw the big rock at him, scare him real good, but he stopped about 100 yards away. He stood there, watching me for about a minute. I decided to take action, so I started creeping toward him, handful of gravel at the ready. I got to within about 50 yards before he took off again. I threw the rocks anyway. I waited a few more minutes, but I was really tired and wanted to go to sleep, not wait around for a damn coon to keep coming back around. So I set up a trap. I had put my tarp over the bike to keep moisture off, since I was right by a big river. With the panniers on the side and my water bag and food bag on top of the rear rack, I had a slope to the tarp draping over the back. On top of one of the panniers I set my large rock, setting it up such that it was only barely secure. Any movement of the tarp in any direction would send the large rock crashing down on to the bench of the picnic table. I figured that would come down with enough of a bang to really scare the critter off for good, if it didn’t land on him and do more damage. Well, I never heard anything through the night, but when I woke up, the rock was on the ground and there were coon prints in the dirt around the picnic table. None of my food had been disturbed. Sweet.

The next morning I got a decent start, but I took a detour four miles off the highway to visit Sitting Bull’s grave. It was a really nice spot, up on some rolling hills, hundreds of feet above the Missouri River, looking down on the river, Mobridge across, and plains as far as the eye could see. Not another soul ever came while I was there, so I enjoyed a peaceful breakfast. Getting back on the highway, I had the desire to put in 100 miles. I had the drive to really push myself. I didn’t plan, however, for some wicked headwind and one of the longest hills so far. Actually, the entire day was uphill. Every time I got to the top of a hill, well, usually I found I wasn’t actually at the top. The road would level off for a few dozen yards then continue on up. Either that, or there would be a tiny downhill or flat followed by more uphill. Even the tiny downhills and flats were not a break, however, as the wind ensured that I would be pedalling hard the whole way.

That night I found myself ending the day in a town called McIntosh, a tiny community along highway 12 on the Standing Rock Reservation. Everyone in town seemed friendly. I stopped at the diner/bar to get some dinner and hopefully find a place to stay. The local drunk started talking to me right away. Said he was getting crazy because of the full moon. He was a real joker and completely full of shit. ‘What do you mean my credit’s no good?!’ That was his phrase of choice it seemed. He would say it to all the locals when they came in, causing him to laugh hard. The waitress/bartender was trying to set me up with one of the local pastors, but he was at the high school, attending the coronation for homecoming, which was a bonfire, burning four big bales of hay. I’ve never seen that before. Well, before the coronation was over, a local by the name of Sonny said I could stay at his place. It was just him and his little brother. He seemed friendly enough, so I took him up on it. The place was a real bachelor pad, messy, lacking much in solid furniture. He and his brother both smoke cigarettes inside as well, so the place really smelled. I didn’t care, though. It was a place to sleep inside. I was amazed to find out how cheap it is to live in this little town. The house I was staying in, Sonny was renting to own. The price he will pay when all is said and done: $6500. That’s for a small, two-story, four bedroom, one bathroom house on a small lot with an extra lot behind it, just past a little alleyway. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, the place needed some work, but for only 6500 bucks, that seems like a steal to me. Hell, I could afford that if just tried a little. Not sure if I want to live in McIntosh, South Dakota, though. I didn’t sleep too well, woke up tired. As I was packing up and leaving this house, Sonny was already at work, his younger brother was getting ready to go to high school, I realized that these people didn’t know my name. There was never any introduction. I only knew Sonny’s name from other people addressing him. In fact, no one in the town knew my name. I found that interesting.

I left town feeling exhausted. Still, I rode on. I wasn’t trying for glory, not shooting for 100 miles. I would just make it where I made it. I was too tired then to push for high miles and the headwinds were steady over 10 miles per hour. Despite the winds, I kept a decent pace and made it to a town called Lemmon by two. There I was able to get on the internet and get some work done and check out what North Dakota had to offer in the near future. I had a good conversation with an older man at the ice cream shop where I got online. He had put up a cyclist 30 years ago and they were still in contact. I thought that was pretty incredible. He said I could stay at his place for the night, if I wanted. I was tempted, but I had only done about 40 miles and wanted to push on another 25 to Hettinger, North Dakota. He left and went home, but told me which house was his. As I left town, I was very tempted to turn back to the east and find his house, have a place to stay with a friendly old man, maybe some laundry. In the end, I decided to keep going. The winds had died down and the air had cooled, and I figured I could do the 25 miles in good time. I was right.

I spent last night at a city park, right on a lake. It was cool and a bit windy, but in my hammock I stayed nice and comfy. No coons, either. This morning I took my sweet time getting ready. I felt okay, but I just didn’t feel like rushing to get on the road, even though the wind had changed direction and would be at my back. It really paid off. I washed some clothes in the bathroom sink and charged some electronics. As I was waiting for my garments to dry and my devices to charge, a woman came to clean the bathrooms. I was a bit worried she would see that I hadn’t paid the six bucks for camping. When I went to the bathroom to unplug my electronics, she asked where I had come from and where I was going. Then we exchanged a few comments about the wind. That was it. I went back to my spot to stretch and continue packing. Just as I was about to pack up the last item and head out, she came over on her motor scooter and asked if I was leaving. She asked if I wanted her to make me a sandwich. I said I wouldn’t mind. ‘I’ll be back in ten minutes.’ And she was, and with not just a sandwich. She had two bags, one with three Gatorades and a can of Pepsi, the other with a sandwich, half a dozen snack items, and ten dollars. She rolled up on her moped, handed me the bags, wished me luck and safety, and rode off. No more conversation. I couldn’t believe it. I ate all the food, packed up the gatorade, left the pepsi for someone else to have, and headed out.

The winds have been in my favor for most of the day so far today. What a blessing. Also the terrain has been a bit more advantageous, mostly flats, some rolling hills. Currently I write from Bowman, North Dakota. It really is amazing what a difference the wind makes. On those days with tough headwinds, even when I was pushing my hardest, trying to do high miles, I was really only able to do about 15 miles in two hours. That’s pretty slow. The forty miles here to Bowman from Hettinger took me only two and a half hours! Of course the flat terrain helps, as does the fact that there is absolutely nothing to look at out here. You can see for twenty miles in each direction, and it’s nothing but dry grass and dirt. The sun is still really hot today, and I’m wishing I hadn’t sent my suntan lotion to Denver. My nose is getting burned. I suppose I could buy some more, but to be honest, I probably won’t. I only have a few more days to Great Falls. From here, it’s less than 500 miles, and I’m going to put in another 46 miles now, make it to Baker, Montana, if all goes well.

Fri
19
Sep '08

Wastelands

I left Bowman, North Dakota, headed for Baker, Montana, around 6pm on Wednesday, just after my last post. It was still another 46 miles to go. Luckily my uncle John in Great Falls, where I’m headed toward now, is a Lutheran pastor and is able to set me up with the Lutheran churches and pastors as I travel through the state. So I had a place to stay all lined up already in Baker.

As the sun was going down, I found myself getting into some really interesting scenery. I don’t know if it’s the badlands or not, but it was pretty amazing- small canyons and little plateaus all over the place. In the light of the setting sun, I felt like I was in a different world. I was hoping to see the cliche image of a coyote howling from atop one of the precepices, silhouetted against a pink sky and the vanishing sun. No dice. Plenty of deer, though. And those darn things sure would startle me. I wouldn’t notice them until I would be about 10 feet away, then all of a sudden they would take off running through the grass.

The ride that night was nice, although a little creepy at times. Once the sun went down, there was about 40 minutes of dusk, where I could still see relatively well. By 7:30, it was really dark, and I was waiting for the moon to show her face, as she should still be fairly large, having been full just a couple days prior. Well, the moon was shy. She started to peek her face over the horizon sometime around eight, glowing red through some haze. I was glad to see her, and I told her she looked good in red. She blushed. But with hilly terrain, I found myself constantly losing her over the hills behind me. She was slow to rise. Even by the time she was up high enough to not be masked by hills, it was still so dark that I needed my headlight. I could see where I needed to go on the road, but I couldn’t see much more than 10 feet in front into the dark night, and I was afraid a deer might be in the road. If I smacked into one of those, it would be bad news for me and my bike.

The ride to Baker took about three hours. Not bad, considering the hills and no more tailwind. When I arrived, pastors Bruce and Reba were at home and welcomed me right in. They said I could sleep in their guest room. They fed me a delicious hamburger and we talked. They were very good listeners, which was great. I told them about my trip and talked about my mother and brother. It really was wonderful to have some good ears to talk to. I am grateful to have stopped through there, and I really loved that they expressed how grateful they were to have me stay.

The next morning I got on the internet to figure out the rest of my route, distances, etc. I ended up getting a much later start than I had planned. I was headed to Miles City, about 82 miles to the west. I thought I was going to be okay because the morning saw little in the way of winds. I figured I could make good time. When I started rolling out of town around 1pm, however, the winds had picked up. Headwinds again. And even though there is a net elevation loss going to Miles City, it seemed like the first 40 miles was nothing but uphill. It was exhausting. I was frustrated. Here I was trying to make good time, not have to ride in the dark again, and the damn headwinds were doing nothing but slowing me down. Actually, I was angry. Then at five, I heard a strange noise coming from my rear wheel. It sounded like some brush or grass was caught in the spokes. Nope. Turned out to be air rushing out of my tire. Must have hit some glass.

Well, so here I was on highway 12, out in the middle of nowhere, 40 miles from any kind of town. I would have to patch the tube, but there was really no space to do it. The shoulder on the highway is only about a foot and a half wide, and although there wasn’t too much traffic, there were cars coming by about every five to ten minutes. I didn’t want to be right on the highway changing a flat. So I walked a good half mile or more until I found a driveway to a ranch that was partly paved. It would do. I thought about trying to hitch my way to Miles City from there, but I decided I better go ahead and fix my tube first. So I worked fairly quickly, removing all the bags, flipping the bike over, patching the tube. I got that all done and started putting everything back together, proud of making good time. Then another problem arose. Let me explain.

My bike is a three speed. Unlike most bikes you see, it is internally geared, meaning that the gears are not on the outside of the wheel, but are inside the hub. I don’t have a derailleur. Mounted under my seat I have my shifter. It’s a grip shift with a handle that you turn to change gears. Turning the handles tightens and releases a cable that runs down to a module that is mounted on the axle. Within this module is a paddle that is moved by the tension of the cable. The paddle compresses and releases a spring that goes into the axle. This spring changes the gears. I don’t know the exact mechanics of what is inside the wheel, but the spring moves some kind of sprocket, I guess, among the three gears. Well, the module with the paddle, that pushes the spring, it mounts onto the axle over one of the axle nuts. To keep it on there, there is a bolt you tighten that presses on the axle nut. Well, when I went to put that module back on and tighten the bolt, I found that it would turn, but it wasn’t getting tight against the nut. If I pulled, it would come right off. I played around with it for a bit and realized that the threads had been stripped inside. I don’t know if that was something I did, or if it defective from the factory, but basically the bolt would not tighten against the nut, and I could not keep the module on. If I tried to shift to a higher gear, the tension of the spring would push it right off.

I figured there wasn’t much I could do to fix it at the moment, so I thought I would just try to get it into second gear, my usual gear, and just ride it the rest of the way into town. So I put all my bags back on and began to ride out. Without the spring in the axle, however, the hub didn’t stay in second gear; instead it went down into first gear, a really low gear. So I was pedalling like mad, spinning and spinning, and hardly going anywhere. On slight downhills, I couldn’t even spin fast enough to get any power to the wheels. This wouldn’t work. At the pace this gear allowed, it would take me 8 more hours to get to Miles City. Something had to be done. So I put the spring back in the axle and put the module on. I shifted into third gear, my hardest gear. Then I was able to keep the module on the nut by securing the cable against the bike frame. Somehow that created enough friction between the module and nut, put it at a bit of an angle, so that it wouldn’t pop off. I figured I would have to ride the rest of the way in third gear, however. I was afraid that if I shifted down and then shifted back up, the tension of the spring would cause the module to pop off.
Luckily the wind had pretty much died off by this point, but going up hills would be tough. Still, at least I would be able to get some speed on the flats and downhills. So off I set again, ever wary that the module might pop off, that I might lose the spring somewhere in the desert on the side of the road. It was now an hour and a half since I got the flat tire. 6:30. The sun would be down in about an hour, and I was still 40 miles from Miles City. I would have to make haste.

I took off, pedalling hard. I knew I would have a place to sleep if I made it there, probably a good meal. There was nothing in between, no towns, maybe just a ranch or two. I would push for it. Oh boy, it was tough. There were some mean uphills. I wasn’t going to walk, and I was afraid to shift down, so I pushed really hard, with all my strength, to make it up in my hardest gear. One hills was well over a mile long, and very steep. The sun went down and it got completely dark. It was a nice night, and I put my ipod on to keep my spirits up. I wasn’t sure how long the battery would last, but I decided I would let Mason Jennings carry me the rest of the way into Miles City.

Of course, this whole time as I was riding, I would have in a heartbeat called the pastor in Miles City and asked if he could come pick me up. Unfortunately, I was in the barren wastelands of Montana, and there is no cell service. Not until I got to within 10 miles of the city was I able to pick up a signal. As soon as I realized that, well, I called right away. It was already after nine, and I at least wanted to let him know I was still coming. He said he could come pick me up. I pedalled on, and we met down the road. He gave me a ride back to his place, where I got a shower and he cooked up some steaks. Then he brought me over to the church, where I spent the night.

Today, I am exhausted. I’m not sure how far I will make it. I had planned on doing 80 again today, but I might cut it down to 40. There is a city that far away, then after that it is a whole lot of nothing for another 100 miles. Just a few tiny towns, if you can call them that. So I may just take a short day today, ride 40 miles, then rest up a night and ride a long day tomorrow, 100 miles. We’ll see if I’m up for it. I know that I am really pushing myself too hard, that I’m asking way too much of my body, but I do it all in the vain of knowing I have a place to rest in just a few days. That’s what keeps me going for now. Hopefully my body can keep up a little longer.

Mon
22
Sep '08

Changing Gears, Changing Seasons

(written Monday)
Yesterday officially marked the end of the calendar summer season, bringing us into autumn. Gone are the days of careless fun, hot days and cool drinks. As the leaves change color and mornings turn crisp, just before we must face the reality of approaching winter, we often reflect back upon the adventurous and the lazy days of months recently passed. Hopefully, as we remember the joys of summer, we do so with a sense of contentment for what has passed and what is now beginning, for the cyclical nature of life.

Quite fitting, then, given this current seasonal transition, that yesterday would commence the last day of riding of this second leg of my journey- the westward segment. Tonight I find myself in the comfort of my uncle John’s and aunt Ruth’s house in Great Falls, Montana, thinking back on the last few days of riding, as well as the journey so far as a whole. First, let me share the last few days, how I came to be here right now.

Before leaving Miles City on Friday, I made a stop at the local bike shop to see what I could do about my shifting problem. I figured maybe I would be able to pick up that part, the module that attaches to the axle, for cheap. Maybe they would even have one lying around I could take off their hands. They did not, but they owner there was able to help me out. He was able to bore out some new threads in the screw hole, as the existing ones had been completely stripped, which is why the screw would not tighten against the axle nut. With new threads, we were able to put a new screw in and properly clamp the module on with no chance of slipping off. He didn’t charge me anything for the labor.

After leaving the bike shop, the pastor took me out to lunch at a surprisingly delicious Mexican restaurant in town. I ordered a feast and had a taco, an enchilada, a tostada, chile relleno, and rice and beans. The meal filled me to the brim, and I felt good about riding out. As I began to roll out of town, the winds seemed calm, almost nonexistent, but no sooner had I reached the highway again when they picked up out of the west, per the usual.

It was a relatively late start, but I had decided to only travel about 40 miles to the town of Forsyth- put in a short day followed by a long one. Also, since this stretch of highway 12, on which I had been traveling since Minnesota, merged with the interstate, I figured I would be going a bit faster anyway. I always ride faster on roads with high-speed traffic, especially if there is a wide shoulder. And don’t worry, riding on the interstate is legal in Montana. I made decent time, considering the wind and some tough hills and arrived at Forsyth just before dark. It’s a relatively small town, but there is a campground, so I knew I would definitely have a place to sleep. I checked it out first, and it didn’t really present any promising spots to hang a hammock, and the mosquitos were definitely still out, so I decided to go back into town, get a meal at a cafe, and try my luck at finding something else. The campground could be my backup plan.

The meal was good, although a bit pricy, and the server there couldn’t help me out with a place to stay. He did, however, give me the section of the paper that listed all the churches in town. So I rode around and checked them all out, but could find no one around who might help me seek permission to sleep at any one of these churches. After a half hour of roaming around, I finally gave up and decided to just go back to the campground and sleep there. Just as I was leaving the last church, however, I looked down at my rear tire and noticed a thorn stuck in the rubber. Shit. Well, first reaction is to pull it out. Before I even had the damn thing fully removed from the tire, air began streaming out with a slight whistle. It was completely dark by this point, and I didn’t really feel like trying to patch my tube in the dark, with the aid of a street lamp and a flashlight. So I decided to just walk my bike to the campground, about a mile away, and just worry about it in the morning.

I walked through the bumpy streets, down a gravel road leading into the park, and found a site. Again, there were no good spots I had found earlier, and I had very little chance of finding one by the glow of my headlight, so I stopped at the first reasonable, open site I found. I set my hammock on top of the picnic table and pushed one of my rear panniers inside to the head of the hammock. That would suffice to keep the mosquito netting up off my face and ensure that no critters bit me in the night. No clouds and no forecast of rain, so I kept the rain fly off and slept under the stars.

Still exhausted, I woke up to my alarm at 6 the next morning. It was 12 bucks to camp there, and I didn’t want to pay, so I peaced out before 7am. I walked my bike down the road a half mile, out of the park, and stopped to fix my flat. I realized that pushing the flat tire over gravel was not a good idea, and had actually ruined my tube and was doing considerable damage to my tire. I changed the tube for a new one and got everything back together just fine. Then I headed over to the grocery store to stock up on some fruit for the long ride. I decided to treat myself to breakfast at the cafe. I figured I could use a good, hearty meal to keep me going, even if it was a bit pricey.

After my meal, I headed out into the morning calm to begin my long day through what I knew would be a whole lot of nothing. I wasn’t wrong. Back on highway 12, off the interstate, I was in pasture country, dry pasture country. I can’t imagine there was even one percent humidity out there. Even thoughts of moisture seemed to evaporate just as quickly as they came. All the labeled creeks were nothing more than winding beds of salty dust. This was the landscape up until the last 15 miles or so.

For lunch that day, I stopped in a town called Ingomar, the town I was originally going to shoot for the day before. In Miles City, a few people had recommended I get a meal there at the local joint called the Jersey Lily. Kind of a famous spot, regionally at least. It had the small, western town atmosphere, looked like it had been built 100 years ago. I’m pretty sure everyone else in there was a local. I was too tired to talk to anyone, so I sat at the bar. Everyone I had talked to in Miles City said I had to get the beans there, so I ordered the bean and salad bar, an unlimited lunch for seven bucks. I piled my plate high with salad fixins: lettuce, tomato, cheese, egg, croutons, cucumber, bacon bits. Then I filled a bowl with the esteemed beans, kept warm in a crock pot. It looked like a two-bean medley with pork fat and onion. Can’t really go wrong there. So I ate my salad plate while I waited for my beans to cool. (I have a low tolerance for heat in my mouth. Kind of a wuss, really, when it comes to that.) When finally I felt I had waited long enough, I went for a big ol’ spoonful of beans. They definitely were not bad, but I wouldn’t call them much more than good. There was nothing too special about them. Some kind of spice that I couldn’t put my finger on, but pretty standard otherwise. Not sure what all the fuss was about. Still, it was a good meal, and I filled up. The salad and bean bar even came with a cookie.

After my filling meal, I had a couple brief conversations with some locals. They were all friendly. One was a truck driver who helped himself behind the bar. When I told him I was headed to Roundup, he said he was going there that afternoon as well. He said this as he poured himself a tall glass of vodka. ‘Not right away, of course,’ he added. I told him I was glad to hear that. When I left the Jersey Lily and grabbed my bike to go, I noticed the rear tire was low, nearly all the way flat. It definitely wasn’t flat when I arrived. So I figured I would try pumping it back up, see if it would hold any air. It did. Must be a small leak. I didn’t really feel like patching a tube again, so I figured I would see how far I could make it just pumping it up when it got low. As long as the puncture didn’t expand, I knew I would be fine. I would just have to stop every so often and add some air. It turned out a half hour was about the time I could get off each filling. After that the tire would become too soft and slow me down, and really pose a threat of getting another flat. And so that is what I did for the next 60 miles to Roundup- stopped and pumped up every 30-40 minutes.

Coming into Roundup, I had a name and address and telephone number for the pastor in town, but I wasn’t sure yet if I was good to stay with them. I hadn’t had any cell service since about 20 miles out of Forsyth. I assumed I would get service by the time I reached town, though. Nope. No service for me in that town. The town was laid out in a fairly simple grid, so I was able to find my way to the address I had written down, figured I would just ring the doorbell. No lights on, no answer. I also had the address to the Lutheran church, so that was my next stop. No one there either. So I would have to call. The first gas station I came across (probably the only one in town) had a pay phone, but a woman was using it, and she looked like she had a handful of quarters at the ready. I went to the grocery store across the street and asked to use their phone. Local calls only, so I couldn’t call my uncle or my voicemail, but I could try the pastor. When I dialed the number, it said the number had changed, to something in a different area code, which means a different state than Montana, as the entire state has the same area code. Now what?

I left the grocery store and went back to the gas station. The lady was gone by then, so I got on the payphone and called my uncle. He told me the story- pastor moved, but he had found someone to help me out, Pam, the piano player at the church. He gave me the contact info, I called her, and made my way to her house. She fed me leftover pizza, some fruit and cheese, and let me take a shower. Then she unlocked the church and set me up in the basement there. Sleeping on the floor with my sleeping pad, but I didn’t mind.

I had to get up by 8:30 the next morning, as service started at 9:30, and people started arriving at 9. I can’t sleep later than eight these days, even if I try, so that wasn’t a problem. I got up and packed up and was beginning to patch my tube when people began arriving. Everyone was friendly and talked to me. They wanted me to stay for the service, but I knew I had to get an early start to make the 75 miles to Lewistown before dark. I knew there would be winds, like always, and some serious uphills were waiting for me.

Boy, yesterday was one of the toughest days I’ve had yet. I hadn’t taken a day off since Blue Cloud Abbey in eastern South Dakota, 10 days and 700 miles of headwinds and hills earlier. I already felt like I was running on fumes for the last few days through dry, eastern Montana. This day was nothing but hills. Long, some steep, winding hills. And for most of the day, the shoulder was very limited. Parts had a wide four-foot shoulder. Some had a narrower two-foot shoulder. Then there was my favorite, the two- to three-foot shoulder with rumble strips that meandered about the shoulder. So at one point you might have a foot and a half between the strips and the dirt, and other times you might only have four inches. Nonetheless, I took each hill in stride (a slow stride), never getting off to walk. The downhills would have been truly amazing had it not been for the wind. The first half of the day was marked by variable, sometimes erratic, crosswinds. That made for very unsteady descents. Taking just one hand off the bars was a serious risk, as a gust over 20 miles an hour might come through at any moment, easily enough to knock you over when you’re speeding over 25 miles an hour downhill. So I had to be a bit reserved.

About halfway through the day, the highway merged with another highway and turned from mostly north to mostly west. That put me straight into a headwind. By this point, it was mostly steady, not nearly as erratic as before. It might die off for a few minutes, but guaranteed that anytime I had the slightest thought about the wind being gone, it would pick up again with vengeance. At first, though, there were much fewer uphills, mostly flats and long, gradual climbs. I pushed on, thinking that when 5 or 6 rolled around, the wind would begin to die off, as it usually does. By six, however, the wind had not died off a bit, and I was coming up to a small mountain range. A long, steep, winding ascent waited to welcome me into the mountains. The scenery was very beautiful, especially with the setting sun, but I really had to focus all of my energy to climbing. At the top of climb, I could finally see my destination, the town of Lewistown, still another six or so miles. The sun was almost completely set, the temperature was dropping, and surprisingly, the wind was actually picking up even more. The descent that followed was glorious, easily a few miles, but the cold wind was making my hands go numb, and I had to retrieve my gloves. I was hoping the hill would carry me all the way into town, but unfortunately it stopped a few miles short of town limits, and I had to struggle through accelerated winds. By this point it was nearly completely dark, and the winds must have been gusting around 25 mph. I couldn’t believe it. I felt as though someone had been kicking me on the ground for hours, and just as it seemed they were done, as I was beginning to rise, they added insult to injury and poked me in the eyes. What a day.

Luckily I had a place to stay all lined up, thanks again to my uncle. The local pastor, Paul, met me in town and had me follow him to his house. Wouldn’t you know it, he lives on a hill, and I ended the ride barely making it up to his house. Once there, however, I was given a bed to sleep in, a fast food meal for dinner, and hot wheat cereal in the morning. I also had a really good conversation with Paul about religion and philosophy, and I feel that our conversation really got me started reflecting upon my journey. I had been pushing so hard lately, I feel as though I didn’t give myself a chance to look back and reflect, to think about what I have learned, what growth I will ultimately take from this adventure.

Before I had even reached Paul’s place, I knew that the next day I would be reaching Great Falls, despite the fact it was just over 100 miles away. My uncle John had said he would drive and meet me and pick me up the next day. I was flooded with relief when I heard that. I had planned to make two days out of the remaining 107 miles, given that it would be some serious uphill. As it turned out, I didn’t do any riding. John picked me up in Lewistown and drove me the entire way to Great Falls. What would have taken me two days of strenuous riding, was just a two hour drive by car. Amazing. That was definitely the longest car ride I have taken since I began this trip nearly three months ago. It was weird. To be honest, the speed with which we traveled frightened me a little, and not being in control of the vehicle made me a bit anxious. Even so, I was more than happy to be riding as a passenger, relaxing, as the car did all the work of pushing through the winds and up the hills. I’m not entirely sure I could have lasted another day of powering myself through those conditions.

So now what? Now that I have reached Great Falls, Montana, here at my uncle’s house, what comes next? Well, I’m not entirely sure yet, but my plan for now is to stay here for a few days, maybe a week, then make my way down to Denver. I won’t be riding my bike to get there, however. For one, I need more rest. My body and mind have had enough riding for a little while. I need a break. Second, it’s just about October now. The weather will be very unpredictable, very volatile in the coming weeks and months, and I’m not sure I want to risk riding through this part of the country during this time. Snow could come at any time. Part of me wants to go through with it, based on principle, because of my ego, and maybe I would if I hadn’t already done so much, if I wasn’t so tired, but my common sense tells me to find another way. So that’s part of my goals for the next few days, is to figure out a way to get down to Denver as cheaply and efficiently as possible. There is not train running through here. Busses may be an option. I’m not too keen on flying, although I would do it if circumstances demand so. Other than that, renting a car comes to mind, or trying to find someone who is already driving down that way. That’s a long shot. I’ll figure something out.

In the meantime as well, I will be using this time off to get some work done. I have a few web projects to work on that I have been putting off until I got here. I also have loads of pictures to put up here on the site. I realize I haven’t posted any since Minneapolis, and I probably have a few hundred that I have taken since then. I will be putting those up in spurts over the next few days. Other than that, I have a lot of resting and reflecting to do. I really want to try to put some perspective on the last few months, put everything together, think about how far I have come and what I have learned from all this. It’s finally starting to sink in just how crazy and amazing this trip has been. I have met so many wonderful people, had encounters with some real weirdos and assholes, and seen some of the finest scenery this country has to offer in daily life. Now I want to figure out what this has done for me as a person, what I can take from all this, where it can lead me. I don’t think this adventure is quite over with, but this is a much-needed interlude after a grand segment, and a fine time for reflection. So expect more writing in the week to come to accompany the pictures. There’s so much more to tell, and I want to get it down before I forget.

Thanks again to everyone who has helped me out along the way. I appreciate all the comments. I appreciate the hospitality I have been given along the way, both by strangers and friends and family. It’s good to know that fear hasn’t taken over every aspect of people’s lives, and trust can still be found lingering in the hearts of many a good people. I sincerely hope that I have been able to give back to people along the way in a meaningful fashion. It’s always impossible to know just how much anything you say or do affects those around you, and I can only hope that what I have done has left positive impacts in my wake. There are plenty of people with whom I shared the address to this journal that I have never heard from. I’m sure some never even looked it up, but I am positive there are some out there who have read along quietly. So as I begin to reflect upon what this trip has done for me, I would be curious to hear what anyone else has to say about the trip, anything they have learned along the vicarious way, any words of insight that could be shared. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

And one last thing that must be said: Don’t worry, Grandma, I am alright. Despite all this talk of being worn out, of how tough this has been, I am safe and warm and dry and well-fed. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and there was never any time when I felt that my life was in really serious danger. I’m glad you were reading along, and I know you were praying for me the entire time. Thank you for that. I know my Mom was watching out for me as well. I will call you soon. I love you.

Sincerely,

Otis

Tue
30
Sep '08

Blue Cloud Abbey

As promised…

I arrived just before dark, exhausted and damp from riding through a light mist for the past hour. I had heard that the monks here were especially welcoming and friendly, but I had originally planned to just stop through in the afternoon, take a lunch break and then pass on my way. As fortune would have it, the day was much longer than anticipated, and here I was, arriving at Blue Cloud Abbey at a time more suited for finding shelter for the night.

In my heart I knew I would have to find shelter here at this place, but as I turned off the main highway onto the smaller road that led to the monastery, I was a bit nervous that it might not work out. What other option would I have, though. There was a small town just a few miles further, but there was no promise there either. As I pulled into the parking lot, up to the front entrance, there were no signs of anyone around. The place was quiet, and not a car to be seen. Walking in the front door I noticed a sign to the right of the door that said ‘Peace to all who enter.’ This instilled a bit of comfort. Into the foyer and then the lobby, and still no one to be seen. A car approached outside, and I was hoping they would park in the parking lot just outside, but on it went, down the small road, and to where, I knew not. Well, I figured there had to be someone around, so I might as well explore.

I wandered down a hall of what appeared to be guest rooms. There were signs about retreats at the abbey, so I figured that must have been what those were for. Then I found a staircase going down and explored further. The whole place was completely quiet. I came into a hallway and saw a huge kitchen on one side. Looked like no one was around. As I passed a little further, suddenly there was someone down the hall, walking toward me. Finally, a sign of life. As I said hello and we approached each other, I was feeling a bit apprehensive about asking for a place to stay. I still don’t know why I felt this way. But it didn’t matter; I didn’t even need to ask.

The man introduced himself as Brother Sebastian. I introduced myself as Otis, of course. He asked if that was my bike outside, said that he had seen it as they drove past. He commented that I must be looking for a place to stay. Well, shoot, that was exactly what I was looking for. Instantly Brother Sebastian took me in as if I were his own personal guest. He arranged for me to stay in one of the retreat rooms, a small, modest room equipped with a single bed, desk, sink, shower and toilet. All the amenities. After setting me up with the room, Sebastian asked if I had eaten. I told him I hadn’t eaten any supper yet. Well, down to the kitchen we went.

The kitchen is huge, with all the necessities one would need to prepare just about anything. Brother Sebastian led me into the freezers, which were the large, industrial variety, and began fishing out the leftovers from that nights meal. Ham and fruit and potatoes and vegetables and so much food to eat. Sebastian must have thought I hadn’t eaten in weeks, as he kept suggesting I take more, help myself to more. I don’t like to pass up free food, but I do have to set limits, and I had to kindly let Sebastian know that I had enough. So he nuked the food in the microwave, and we sat down in the dining hall and got to know each other as I stuffed myself with delicious leftovers.

I told Brother Sebastian about myself and my trip, and he shared a bit about himself and the monastery. We talked for a good while as I slowly ate. By the time I was done, it was starting to get late, at least by monastery standards anyway. I was tired, and I could tell he was nearing his bedtime as well. Being the excellent host, Sebastian inquired about anything else I would need and mentioned laundry. It had been about a week since my last washing, so I was due for a load of clean clothes. He showed me where the laundry facilities were, complete will all the necessities- soap and dryer sheets. Then Sebastian left me on my own, letting me know about the schedule for the next morning, inviting me to come to prayer at 6:45 and breakfast afterwards, but also letting me know it wasn’t mandatory or expected. I told him I would try to make it, that I should be up by 6:45.

I was planning on leaving in the morning, after breakfast, so I didn’t waste much time getting my laundry started. Still, I would have to wait for it to complete before I went to bed. So I took a shower and got on the internet. By the time the wash was done, it was after midnight. I was exhausted. As I lay in bed, waiting for sleep to find me, I thought about my plans for the next day. I had set an alarm to wake up early, but I didn’t really want to wake up early. I was tired and wanted to sleep in. I figured I could just see how I felt at the alarm and make a decision then, but I knew I wasn’t going to make it to prayer. Sebastian said I could sleep in as long as I wanted, and I thought that might be a good idea. I also couldn’t help but think that maybe I didn’t want to ride the next day either. Perhaps it would be okay for me to spend another day here at the abbey.

Well, sleep in I did. When I woke up, I felt fairly good, but I still had the idea that maybe I wouldn’t have to ride off that day. I got dressed and found Brother Sebastian. I had missed prayer and breakfast, but he led me to the cereal and fetched me toast, made from freshly baked bread. I had a heaping serving of granola, with toast and jam. We talked some more, and he must have suggested I stay for the day. I can’t remember now exactly how it came about, but I was glad to have the invitation.

That day I sat in on the prayer at 11:30, followed by lunch. After lunch, Sebastian and I set out for a grand tour of the grounds there at the abbey. The place is quite impressive. It sits on a large chunk of land atop a hill overlooking a large portion of northeastern South Dakota. On the land, there are plenty of trees, including apple, peach, and apricot; a large garden supporting all sorts of vegetables and berries; lakes; plenty of pasture land; hermitages; and a camp. We walked around, and Sebastian explained to me the history of the place and what is done with all the land. It was a long and relaxing walk, and it really made me feel good about having taken the day off.

After the walk around the grounds, Sebastian showed me his working quarters in the vestry. Brother Sebastian makes garments for the monks there as well as for priests all over. His work space is quite impressive, with half a dozen industrial Singer machines, huge rolls of all kinds of fabric, and even a big machine just for doing button holes. He showed me some art he had done when he studied in New Mexico, some beautiful stone sculptures and a few paintings. I was very impressed with all his work. I expressed to him my interest in sewing, about my desire to learn the trades of self-sufficiency, like gardening, sewing, metal and wood working, etc.
After all the touring, we were both pretty exhausted and needed some time to rest for ourselves, so we parted ways for a bit. He told me about evening prayer. I decided to skip that and take some time to myself to stretch and take some pictures outside. It was a beautiful evening. After the prayer, Sebastian found me and offered me beer and cheese. After that snack, it was time for dinner, and I sat and ate with all the monks. I guess usually there would be silence as someone reads from a book, but not on Thursdays. After dinner, Brother Sebastian wanted to make sure that I had some food to take with me for my journey ahead. With enthusiasm, he bestowed upon me a loaf of fresh bread, garden-fresh tomatoes and zucchini, fresh fruit, local cheese, granola, and enough nuts and raisins to completely fill a gallon ziplock bag with trail mix. The thing must have weighed 7 pounds. I told him I didn’t even have enough space to fit all the food, but he said he could help me lighten my load and ship some stuff off to Denver that I wouldn’t be needing for now. So with many pounds of extra food, Sebastian left me for the night, and I began packing up a box to ship.

It was pretty tough to figure out what to send. I wanted to slim down as much as possible, eliminate the items I definitely wouldn’t be needing now that summer was almost over. So I packed up my flip-flops, suntan lotion, aloe, one of my t-shirts, and a cotton buttun-down shirt. In the box I also put a blanket that Sebastian had given me. I told him I really liked the design of the fabric, and he said I could have it. I want to use it to make some clothing, but it does me no good to tote it around on my bike. I decided that I should cut down to just one pair of pants. Although my cut-off sweat pants are much more comfortable for riding, my jeans are much more versatile and a bit more practical, so the sweats went in the box. It was a tough call whether to pack my water filter or not. I hadn’t used it yet on the trip; clean drinking water had always been fairly easy to come by, but, I was heading out to the west, where streams and creeks might be more prevalent than civilaztion, so I figured to keep it with me. Other than that, there must have been a few other small things. Obviously they weren’t too important, as I can’t remember them now.

The next morning I slept in until 8 or so, I think. I started packing and Brother Sebastian came and knocked on my door. He wanted to make sure I hadn’t left yet, as he had made something for me. The day before, as he was showing me some of the garments he was in the process of completing, I asked about the difficulties of making a hood, as I had been told that it isn’t too easy. We had talked about it a bit, and he explained the process. Well, to help me out, that morning Sebastian had quickly put together a hood for me from some scraps of fabric he had. I was both impressed and grateful. Sebastian joined me for breakfast, and we talked some more. Then he helped me put together my box to ship and arranged all the shipping for it. I finalized all my packing, stuffing and shoving to make room for all the newly-acquired food. Outside, Brother Sebastian and I exchanged a hug, and he saw me off and wished me well. I gave him all my contact information and we agreed to keep in touch.

My spirits were soaring as I headed down the road, away from Blue Cloud Abbey, but it was still tough leaving the place. Everything about the monastery was fascinating to me. The entire building, as well as the grounds and the view, are so beautiful. The place has an overwhelming atmosphere of peacefulness. And despite being relatively isolated, the abbey has just about anything one might need. There are sleeping quarters, an amazing industrial kitchen, a wood-working shop, a garage for working on cars, a vestry, a huge garden, fruit trees, a lake, and more. They bake their own bread, prepare and can jams and preserves. Everyone there has some practical skill to pass on. It’s the perfect place to relax, to gather one’s thoughts, to meditate, to rest. As I began my day of riding, a thought came to me. Even though I had just left, I was already planning my return. I started formulating an idea about coming back and living and working at the abbey. I am not really interested in signing on to the life of a monk, but I figured they must need help there, that they could always use some young hands to help out. All I would want in return would be a place to sleep, some food, a modest wage to allow me to pay my student loans, and plenty of time for learning. I want to know how to do everything anyone does there. I want to master sewing, wood-working, gardening, canning, baking, everything. What a storehouse of knowledge! All of the monks are getting up there in age, probably eager to pass on what they know. I could be the pupil they desire. And what a setting to think and create, to focus on artistic endeavors. What a great place to live and write a book, to collect all my thoughts and memories and pictures and put his journey together into a real book, once it is all said and done. Oh, the possibilities in my mind seemed endless, and the excitement was a bit overwhelming. But, I kept my senses, realizing that this choice was not really up to me, but mostly up to the monks at Blue Cloud, whether they would be willing to take me on in that fashion. I decided it would be best to really brood over the idea before discussing it with anyone there, before letting Brother Sebastian know my idea. All day I couldn’t help but think about it.

Now, weeks later, the idea is still in my head. I don’t think about it with such fervor as I did that day, but I have expressed my idea to Brother Sebastian. He supports it and has offered some suggestions for ways to go about facilitating this kind of stay. He sent me information on the associate program, which lets lay people, whether interested in eventually taking vows or not, get an idea of the life of a monk. Associates follow the routines and practices of the monks, assimilate into daily life at the monastery. I’ll admit I’m not too terribly keen on that idea. I have the utmost respect for what they do, but I don’t want to pretend to ascribe to a set of beliefs that my heart is not completely into. That’s not right for me and not doing justice to them or their program. I would rather take on work to earn my keep there. I am willing to take on just about any job, so long as it allows me time to learn and write. As of yet, I haven’t taken any further action with this. I haven’t contacted any of the other monks or discussed the idea with the abbot. I suppose I’m still working it all out in my mind and taking in my other options as well. No matter what comes of this, however, I do plan on returning there in the near future at least for a visit. And whatever may come, I am very pleased to have gained from this fortuitous stop a very good friend in Brother Sebastian. We keep in contact regularly, and he continues to bestow help in whatever forms he can, including more trail mix and granola. What was forecast as a quick break in the middle of the day became a two-night stay and one of the most fulfilling stops on my journey thus far. Looking back, it still seems a bit surreal. And of course I must thank Pastor Tom in Milan for recommending the place. Had he not made mention of Blue Cloud, I am positive there is no way I would have ever stumbled upon the abbey.

That brings me to something I have been thinking much about lately. Some people say that everything happens for a reason. Personally, I can’t say I hold that belief. I think one can find meaning and find a lesson in nearly anything that happens, though, and I think that’s more important. Whatever force is bringing all of our life events about, for whatever purpose fortuitous coincidences such as this occur, I don’t think anyone can really understand. But with each turn of fortune and fate, each of us has the ability to assess our experiences in order to learn and grow. I couldn’t say for sure whether this wonderful stay was facilitated by a higher power or was complete happenstance. Either way, I don’t think it really matters. What is important is that it did happen. New people, new places, and new ideas were introduced, and I have the ability and freedom to make of them whatever I choose. That is the nature of all of our experiences, both the mundane and the awesome. That’s how I try to live my life, anyway. Every event in my life, for better or worse, has shaped who I am. I may not have control over much of the events themselves, but I do have the ability to decide what I will take from each experience. And these days, as much as I possibly can, I try hard to extract the positive from every moment, especially on a journey like this. I’m not always successful, but I’m trying.

Wed
8
Oct '08

Get On The Bus

After a stay of just over two weeks, the time has come to hit the road. Tomorrow afternoon my plans dictate catching a bus out of Great Falls with a final destination of Denver, Colorado, in consequence of all other options falling short. Renting a car is far too expensive, especially given the current price of gas, and finding a ride proved to be unsuccessful. While opportunities have presented themselves, nothing came along that could feasibly work. As for flying, well, it’s pricey as well, and I think there are much more rewarding ways to travel. Who needs to get to their destination in a matter of hours? (And who wants to put up with that damn security, and the lack of meals, and the price of checking a bag these days.) No, I prefer the scenic route, which is, invariably, the longer way around. The bus fulfills this need with just under 24 hours of travel time. I know that may seem like an unbearably long time to be sitting in a bus seat, but by comparison, the first option I found, through Greyhound, was nearly 40 hours travel time, with a 13 hour layover in Butte on a night with a forecast low below freezing. Granted, I was able to find a place to stay through my uncle, but still, it entailed catching a 7:00 am bus out of there. I was pretty excited to find out today that I could cut the travel time in half and eliminate a lengthy layover. On top of all that, this more direct route is actually 30 bucks cheaper. Hot damn! And I found out that I won’t need to ship anything, as the cost of bringing all of my possessions, including my bike, will only cost me 30 extra dollars, which is exactly the amount I am saving by taking this route. Compare that to what would have easily been a 100-dollar shipping expense and the uncertainty that comes with such an endeavor.

So after two weeks here in Great Falls, staying with my family, what have I been up to? To be honest, not much. This has proved incredibly difficult, but probably for the best, I suppose. I definitely needed the time to rest; I was pooped after all those long days of wind and heat. Now I feel fully rested and ready for action. Itching for action, actually. But my body still needs some attention, some mending. For one, I seem to have done a serious number on my back. Yikes, I’m only 24, this isn’t right. My back is all in knots, and I have lost some range in lateral mobility. I need to loosen up before I compound this problem into permanent damage.

When not sitting around and doing nothing, I have had plenty of time to catch up on some web work, tackle projects I had put off while on this trip. I’m happy to say they have been very successful, and it has renewed my interest in pursuing this line of work as possibly a more extensive source of income. Lately I have only sustained the work because it proves to be an ample wage to quench my large appetite and ensure I don’t completely lose my struggling ex-student lifestyle. Also, I had made promises that I needed to fulfill. But now I look forward to taking on more work, perhaps putting myself out there a bit more and advertising myself, and maybe actually finishing my own website. So if anybody reading along needs web work or knows anyone that needs web work, here’s my shameless plug.

Now one of the goals I had set for myself during this time of rest and recovery was to reflect back upon my trip thus far, to recollect the events and emotions, and to try to put some conclusions or perspective on this journey up to this juncture. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t done much of that. I had planned on rereading my journals, both this online one and my personal notebook. While I did look over some previous posts, I didn’t really do much. I did look back in my notebook, turning to the entries I wrote just before I began this bike ride over three months ago. To my dismay, I found reading them to be very difficult. The weeks and months leading up to my departure were for the most part unhappy and full of strife. I was struggling with some really tough depression, coping with a recently-ended romantic relationship (not on bad terms, which I think made it all the more difficult), and dealing with some major familial issues at home. Suffice to say, there wasn’t much in the way of jovial correspondance on my part during this time. Reading all this and revisiting that period was somewhat devastating to my emotional stability and unfortunately somewhat diminished my enthusiasm in rereading my entire account. I know it only gets better from that point on, but I needed time to process all this heavy material first.

I’m hoping now that I may be sufficiently more prepared to resurrect my endeavor, but I’ve come to realize that my journey is definitely not over; there is much more traveling and adventure to come, and I may not be able to fully revisit and reflect upon the entirety of the trip until it truly is finished, until I do have some sense of completion and distance from the quest. I don’t think I have expressed it yet in writing here, but I have mentioned the idea to and had some fantastically positive encouragement from some individuals about the prospect of ultimately turning my accounts of this journey into a book. I love writing, and for the last year or so I have had the desire to really put something down that could be considered worthy of reading. I think the age-old advice is to stick to what you know. Well, I’d say I know a little about long and strenuous journeys full of rewards and disappointments, family and strangers, saints and assholes. So why not give it a try. Now I’ve had thoughts, and even said outloud a few times, that I wouldn’t necessarily want to get something like that published, that I would probably not pursue that too tenaciously. But who am I kidding. Why lie to myself and others- I would absolutely love to have something published. Now if hardly anyone ever buys it, who cares, but to have a printed and bound copy of my thoughts and ideas, my honest story and emotions and growth, complete with full-color pictures, that at least a few people would find worthy of their time and mental energy to read, that would be pretty fulfilling for me. I like the idea of honest stories, character-driven pieces that offer glimpses into the soul of one or more individuals, that present truthful accounts of emotions and growth, whether fiction or non-fiction. Just this past week I read Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, and I completed that book with a renewed energy and passion for writing, for the art of employing words to portray the portrait of a character, a situation, an ideal, and above all, a damn good story. It’s a powerful form of expression, and I’d like to try my hand at finding personal success in the endeavor.

So tomorrow I travel again. I wish so much that I could ride this leg of the journey. I want so badly to bike through Yellowstone and along the Rocky Mountains up here, but the weather is just not suitable at the moment, and I’m not really prepared. The temperature lows are now getting down into the teens all across this area and snow is beginning to prod its way into the forecasts. I would have to do some seriuos re-evaluating of my current systems and gear to have confidence in undertaking that kind of weather. I don’t think my hammock and current sleeping bag are suited to temperatures below freezing. Luckily I will have my time in Denver to mull over these thoughts and ensure I’m fit for resuming the biking out of the city and heading south to New Mexico and west from there. I’m more than itching to get back on my bicycle, back out on the road, so I think I will do whatever it takes to get to that point. For now, I need to prepare for 24 hours of seriously confined inactivity and the undoubtedly vibrant array of characters I’m sure to accompany on this next segment of migration. Gotta keep things interesting.

But of course I can’t end this piece without first at least touching on the past few weeks of time with family. That has been an important aspect of this entire trip, and I’m happy to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here with my uncle, aunt, and cousin. Meeting friendly strangers is a blessing on a long and lonely trip, but when all is said and done, there are certain comforts that family provides that any stranger, no matter how hospitable, no matter what the level of instant connection, just simply cannot offer, in my experiences. I have never been terribly close to any of my extended family, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to visit and share and connect. These past few weeks, I have felt completely at home, which is something I’m not quite used to these days. I’ve wanted for nothing. It’s been nice. Still, my life at the moment finds me following nomadic tendencies, and the wheels must keep turning. Onward.

Tue
14
Oct '08

Nomad Readers Map

So some of you may have received an email informing you I have shared a Google map with you. I sent it to anyone who has left a comment on the journal so far. I have created a map that I hope will illustrate the names and locations of everyone who is reading along. I just thought it would be neat to have a spread of everyone, to put all that information together visually for myself and everyone else. So the idea was to set up a map that everyone could edit and add his or her name and location. I didn’t realize, however, that it isn’t that easy, that everyone would need to have a login with Google to add their place. So far, it hasn’t been a great success. But, I think I have come up with a solution to the problem. Now anyone can edit the map using a login that I have created just for that purpose. Here’s the details:

First of all, the link to the Google map is http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=110005973904868810089.00045908df003fac941c0&z=5.

In the upper right-hand corner of the screen, there is an option to sign in. Click that.

For the sign in information, use the account I set up.

email: map@crestlinestudios.com

password: otisnomad

So just copy and paste the above info in the appropriate boxes and sign in.

Then, on the left-hand side of the screen, notice the link that says ‘My Maps’. Click on this.

Click on ‘Nomad Readers’, which will open up the map.

Click on the button that says ‘edit’, which will be above and to the right of the title of the map, on the left side of the screen.

Then find your location on the map, right-click on your location and select ‘Add a placemark’ from the menu that appears.

Then add your name in the title section and your location in the description section, just like the others. You can change the icon by clicking on the sqaure next to title section of your marker. I use the blue pushpin.

Then make sure you click the ’save’ button on the left side, where the ‘edit’ button used to be. Then you can click ‘done’.

I hope that everyone will participate. It’s just for fun, and I think it will be pretty awesome to put everything together once it is all said and done. That is, the route map and the readers map, and whatever other maps I may add in the future. Thanks for helping out.

-Otis

Sat
25
Oct '08

The Bus Ride

Logistically, the bus ride went off without a hitch. I even arrived in downtown Denver slightly early. No mechanical problems, no break-downs, smooth driver changes and bus transfers. From a mental perspective, however, the ride was entirely another story, filled with sadness, frustration, exhaustion, and a little humility.

The first leg left the depot in Great Falls after 3pm, only slightly behind schedule, with half a dozen passengers, en route to Butte. There were two girls probably a little younger than myself and two men probably ten years older than me. Perhaps there were one or two other passengers, but I don’t remember. I overheard one man saying to another that he was just released from prison. Freedom and a bus ticket. His term had only been three years, so it must not have been too violent of a crime. I was curious, but the man never asked.

Our first stop was in Helena, a quick pickup of a few more passengers. I think one person got off as well. We had about ten minutes break, and most people got off to smoke. I decided to use the pisser, get some fresh air, and at least take a peek down the street and get a limited view of the town. As I walked to the sidewalk, out of the tiny depot, I had the intention of just looking both ways down the street, but before I reached the edge of the parking lot, I spotted a dog across the street. It was a black and white mutt, probably some kind of cocker spaniel mix, with floppy ears and a friendly demeanor. It was sniffing around behind some buildings, heading toward the street. Watching the dog, I thought to myself, wouldn’t that be great if the mutt came over here across the street and gave me company on my short wait here in Helena, if I could have a little friend for a few moments. Then I thought about how dangerous crossing that street could be. We appeared to be downtown, and this road probably was a relatively major thoroughfare. No sooner had I finished this thought about the dog crossing the street did I see the intention in its movements. Raising its head and quickening its pace, the dog was heading straight for the roadway. Oh shit. The road was clear directly ahead, but when I looked to the right, a fresh line of traffic was progressing from the next block. In a whir of three seconds, the dog darted out into the street just as a pickup truck was speeding by. The dog noticed the truck at the last moment and attemted to change course, but it was already too late. The truck also tried to avoid the collision, but the driver’s potential sight of the dog had been blocked by a parked car, so there was not enough time to react. The dog avoided the front right wheel of the truck, but could not stop himself from sliding under the double tires of the dualie rear axle. With a thud and a yelp, the rear end of the truck raised slightly as it passed over the dog. I could do nothing the entire time but look on, stunned. The driver of the truck and the woman driving the minivan behind him both pulled over the side. The rest of the traffic line veered slowly to the left around the animal. At first the dog was completely still, laying on its side in the middle of the lane. I thought at least it had a swift end. After a few seconds, however, its legs started twitching, then moving more desperately. It looked as if it was attempting to right itself with its legs, but the head was not coming up, the body was not shifting in the necessary manner to perform such an act. Meanwhile the driver of the truck was out and moving toward the dog. He picked up the dog by its legs. At first I found that method a bit humane, treating the dog as if it were the trophy of a hunt. Why couldn’t he pick up the dog like a pet, cradle the animal. As he carried the dog to the other side of the road, I could see that it was bleeding heavily, leaving a thick trail of blood through the street and up on the sidewalk. It was fair of the man to pick the dog up by the legs. When he set it down in the parking lot on the other side, just past the sidewalk, I could see that the dog was moving no longer. It was definitely dead. Who knows, maybe it was dead before, just having post-mortem convulsions. I remember that when my mom accidentally ran over our cat in the garage, even though the kitty’s head was smashed and the she was definitely already dead, one of her rear legs continued to twitch for almost a minute.

I stood motionless on the opposing sidewalk for minutes as all this passed. The truck driver and minivan driver were both over there. The police arrived. I had desperately wanted to run out into the middle of the road just after the incident, to lay a warm and sympathetic hand on the dog, to possibly offer some comfort to the dying animal. I wanted to walk across and kneel next to it after the man had set it in the parking lot, but I knew I was better off staying on my side of the road, in my parking lot. In a matter of minutes the bus would be resuming traveling, and I needed to be on that bus. I didn’t need to be caught up in witness questioning or having to stay with the animal until the proper authorities arrived. Luckily the man and woman had both stopped to take care of all that. Still, my heart sank for that dog. As I turned around to get back on the bus, I saw that the ex-inmate and the other man were standing twenty yards behind me. They had witnessed the event as well. I think the death struck me a bit more than them, but we were all speechless.

On the remaining ride to Butte I tried to write a little, in spite of the bumpy ride. After a while I gave up and stared out the window. Beautiful country, passing through the mountains, past rivers and farms, rocky cliffs, untouched lands. Snow flurries.

In Butte I had to change buses. The drivers load and unload the checked bags, but passengers are responsible for transporting the luggage from one bus to another. With my backpack on, I lugged my two big duffel bags 100 yards to the next bus, then came back for my bike, which I had to box up for the bus ride. I’ll admit that I had some reservations about leaving my two bags to go back and grab my bike, but I figured no one could get very far in that short amount of time. All these people were waiting for the bus themselves, anyway; why would they try to run off with my bags. Still, logic always comes second to fear.

The second leg had more people, more noise. One guy behind me was fairly vocal at first. He and his friend had also recently been released from prison. A middle-aged guy got on toting a guitar. This led to much joking from the guys behind me. The man also had a tool belt and slammed it heavily against the side of the upper luggage racks as he tried to stuff all his belongings into the compartment at once. One of the guys behind me commented that he was the kind of guy that gives white people a bad name. A ridiculous comment. Once we started moving, nearly everyone became quiet. The man with the guitar tried to make small talk with a young girl sitting right in front of me. She obviously wasn’t into it, and I could tell that this man was probably going to be obnoxious.

As night swallowed the daylight, the bus was hushed and dark, save one light- the one above the guitar-playing handyman. I wasn’t ready for sleep yet, so I put my headphones on and listened to music. We stopped a few times at depots to pick up a passenger or two. A few times we had the opportunity to get food at gas station convenience stores. Not the best, but it fills the belly. The night was cold, windy, and snowy. Despite the freezing temperatures, I enjoyed the time outside and took advantage of every minute we had of stoppage. A nice break from sitting in a bus seat. At one point we stopped in Bozeman for ten minutes. It was disappointing to think that I was in a town where my cousin resides, but I would not have to opportunity to visit her. Sorry, Cindy. I’ll make it back up soon, hopefully, and visit.

I tried to sleep throughout the rest of the ride to Billings, but it was tough. Handyman pulled out his laptop several times, and the glow of the screen was enough to light up the entire bus. He was sitting diagonally in front of me, and I found it difficult to avoid the direct light. It was annoying, especially since all it looked like he was doing was changing his desktop picture and adjusting some settings. I never saw him doing any actual work, just moving things around, wasting time. At one point he took down his guitar and started strumming. Although he was fairly quiet, I thought it was pretty inconsiderate to the people around him. And he wasn’t good. He wasn’t even playing songs, just wasting time again. As we approached Billings, the collective anxious energy of the entire bus could be felt. I guess most people were nearing their final destination. I still had twelve more hours to Denver. The guitar player started talking to the girl in front of me again. She now seemed more receptive and conversational. I couldn’t help but listen in. He started expounding what sounded like recycled lines about third eyes and cosmic energy and levitating. He told the girl he knew how to levitate, that he would show her when we stopped. I was curious, but not terribly so.

At the depot in Billings I had about an hour layover before connecting to the bus to Denver. I called my dad. While I was talking on the phone, levitator brought the girl and a friend of hers, the guy picking her up, over to the corner by where I was sitting. He said he was going to levitate for them. He wanted to do it in the corner to avoid drawing a crowd. Before he could perform the feat, however, the young guy laughed and said, ‘oh, is this the trick where you…’ and he explained the trick. I couldn’t hear exactly what he said and didn’t look up in time to see his movements, but the guitar player knew he had nothing and laughed it off. About five minutes later he brought another girl over to the corner to impress her. This time he performed the trick. I was stil on the phone and didn’t get to see it in full view. The girl fell for it.

The bus to Denver was much nicer than the first two. It had seats with full backs, unlike the others, which made sleep attempts a bit easier. There were TVs in the ceiling, but the driver said he would not be turning them on. The ride was almost completely silent, everyone no doubt trying to sleep. I was able to catch some z’s off and on for a few hours. Often it was difficult to differentiate between actual sleep and the dreamy daze of half-consciousness. I think all-in-all, I was able to sleep for about five hours total, with interruptions for depot stops here and there, to eat or use the restroom. I awoke for good around 8am. I had managed to sleep through a bit of daylight. With still another five hours until scheduled arrival in Denver, I decided to occupy my time with a book I picked up at a thrift store in Great Falls, Night by Elie Wiesel.

Night is a first-hand account of the German concentration camps of the second world war. Wiesel was just a teenager when he and his family and the entire village were round up into the death camps. The first day at camps would be the last time he saw his mother and two sisters. The book recounts his experience in the camps, witnessing thousands of people sent to their deaths in gas chambers and fire pits, the cruel and inhumane treatment, and the mental and physical toll of those unfotunate souls. The power of his descriptions lie in his lack of over-indulgence. He is completely straight-forward and honest. At one point he tells of a young boy, with the face of a sad angel, being hung in front of the entire camp, every prisoner not only made to watch, but to look the boy and two other hanged men in the eyes as they are forced to march by the victims on the gallows. It’s a heart-wrenching account. So much senseless death.

Throughout the book, as I read about this boy and those around him, enduring these unspeakable horrors of inhumanity- starving, beaten- I thought about the fact that some of them survived. Some of them managed to hold on to what little bit of lifeforce remained, and to cling to some morsel of hope(?). They didn’t give in. That really says a lot about what the human spirit can endure. The sights this young man witnessed, the devastation, yet he never resorted to taking his own life. And so what about the people who did, and what about the people who take their own life under different circumstances? What does that say? Could the suffering of depression of some possibly be worse than what was endured at those concentration camps? Personally, I don’t think that’s a point even worth discussing. There is no answer to that question. But I’ll admit that as I read these pages, taking in the devastating circumstances of the lives of those people, I couldn’t help but think of my brother. How were these prisoners able to withstand such brutality, yet my brother was unable to endure the circumstances of his depression? How? I don’t know. I can’t imagine I could ever know. Our emotions and experiences are personal, never to be fully understood by anyone else as we understand them. I can read Elie Wiesel’s entire account of his life, but I will never fully comprehend the reality of his years in those death camps, and I will never completely understand how my brother felt in the last months of his life. That’s just something I have to accept.

After finishing the book, I found myself lost in a trance of thought. I wanted so desperately to cry, but I didn’t feel comfortable enough to do that. The tears were welling up just behind my eyes, but that is where they remained. I’ve found that, like most guys, I have the ability to completely negate the impulse to cry. That displeases me. I don’t like that I feel the need to hold back, and I don’t like that I have enough control to effectively block the flow. I wish I had cried on that bus, if only a little. At the last stop before Denver, I got off the bus and walked away from everyone else. As I stared blankly at the run-down little town surrounding, I was completely involved in thought about that book. It had consumed my whole being. I felt as though I had been dealt an overwhelming hand of humility.

As everyone began boarding the bus again, a woman came out of the station on an electric mobility device. She had braces on her legs. I walked up to see what was going to happen. As she pulled up to the door of the bus, it became obvious that she was not going to be able to get herself up the big steps up to the seats and that the small female bus driver was not going to be able to provide enough assistance. A man was there, perhaps someone she knew, maybe a worker at the depot. He was there to help. Still, I figured they might need an extra hand, so I stepped up and offered my assistance. I ended up being the main assistance, offering her support, standing behind her on the stairs. She couldn’t put much weight down on her legs, so I was supporting much of her weight and partly lifting her up each step. Getting her up the five big steps up to the first seat probably took more than five minutes. It left me exhausted, but the woman was ever so kind and helpful in directing the best method to provide her assistance. She was patient and friendly. As I walked back to my seat on the bus, I felt proud of myself that I stepped up and offered my help. I’ve always been the guy that wanted to help, but was too shy and never stepped up unless directly addressed. After reading that book, however, I wasn’t about to sit by and watch someone struggle pointlessly when I had the ability to do something about it.

When we arrived in Denver, I let everyone else get off before me, and as I walked to the front of the bus, I asked the woman if she needed help getting off. She did, of course, so I told her I would stick around to lend a hand. She couldn’t get off until her scooter was retrieved from the bottom of the bus, so I got off to collect my luggage and set it aside, make sure everything was accounted for, as the luggage transfer was handled for us in Billings. We were not allowed to touch our bags and never saw them while in the depot. One would have arrived in Denver before finding out something hadn’t made the transfer.

Coming down the steps was a bit easier than going up, but still exhausting work. The help this time was just the driver and myself, with me doing most of the supporting. Those buses are not terribly well-equipped for handicapped people, lacking adequate railings for support. But we got her down and on to her scooter. She was ever so friendly and gracious, and we talked for a bit while I waited for my aunt Karen to arrive. She was in town for a wedding and to visit friends. She had a wonderful spirit, and I am so glad that I talked to her. My aunt arrived, and I left the station feeling humble. That feeling was soon overwhelmed by the excitement of being in Denver, a place where I used to live, and where I have been considering moving back to recently, but after we loaded my life into Karen’s car, hunger overtook all other thoughts, and we set off toward a delicious lunch.

Mon
27
Oct '08

Dusty Wings

It has been over a month now since I last packed up all my belongings into four bags and slung them onto the frame of my bicycle. Almost five weeks of time off with family, and it has been great. In Montana I was able to get the rest and relaxation that I so desperately needed, as well as get some work done. Here in Colorado I have been revisiting bits of my childhood and enjoying some amazing weather. Above all, it has been some fantastic time with family that I hardly get to see. But the life of a nomad is all about not staying in one place for too long, and so the time has come for me to move along.

Tomorrow morning I plan on jumping on that bike seat again and resuming the journey, beginning what will be the third leg of the trip, toward the left coast. A lot has changed in the past few weeks, and my setup is considerably different. With the cold weather that I could possibly be facing, some better gear was necessary to stay warm and healthy. The sleeping bag I have been using is only rated to about 30 degrees Farenheit, so that would not do. Luckily my aunt Karen’s boyfriend Kim happened to have an old bag that he wasn’t using, a much heavier bag that should be good to about zero degrees. I set up my hammock in their back yard and slept outside for about a week to test things out, and it worked well. There was at least one night below freezing, and I slept fairly well. Actually, the worst part wasn’t the cold but rather all the noise of suburbia- road construction, lawn mowers, barking dogs. I also picked up a fleece blanket to line my hammock to help add a little more insulation. In Montana I bought an insulating base layer shirt- a long sleeve shirt that is supposed to breathe well and wick away moisture but also keep you nice and toasty. The picture on the package displayed people climbing ice walls, so I hope that is a fair indication of its effectiveness. I’ve got some warmer gloves, a few more pairs of wool socks, and even a pair of army surplus Swedish wool socks, thick and heavy and great for sleeping in. To supplement my alchohol stove, the other day I built a small wood-burning stove from a tomato sauce can. It puts out a larger flame, burns longer, and the fuel is free. The downside is its size. Much harder to pack than my alcohol stoves. But I think the larger flame will come in handy. While here in the Denver area, I sold my bike seat, my prized leather Brooks saddle. I was excited when I bought the thing, as I had heard nothing but praise for those high-quality saddles, but in the end, after 3500 miles, my own personal experience did not jive with the stories. My ass wasn’t digging it. Nothing against the quality of the saddle; it just wasn’t the correct shape for me. So I put the thing on craigslist for $60. (I paid $100 for it). Within an hour I already had three people emailing, desperately wanting the saddle. Shit, I should have listed it for $80. So I used that money to buy a new saddle. I rode that for a few days, but it wasn’t quite right, and I actually ended up exchanging it for the model of saddle that I had before I bought the Brooks. It is the same kind of saddle that I rode over 2,000 miles up the Pacific Coast on last summer. I could have saved myself quite a bit of money (and pain) if I had just kept the one I had before and forgotten all about the Brooks. Oh well. You never know until you try for yourself. So now I have a brand new saddle as well.

So I am already for the cold, I hope, but the forecast for Colorado for the next week lists the high temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s. All these gloves and insulating layers, and I’ll probably just be wearing a t-shirt for the next few days of riding. But the nights, that will be a different story. Lows are down into the 20’s. I have a couch to surf for tomorrow night, and a place to stay a few nights after that, but there will be two days in between where I will probably be camping. We’ll see if I’m ready. I’m looking forward to camping at the base of the Rockies. It has been absolutely gorgeous here in the Denver area since I got here. A few days of rain, and a few days of chilly weather, but for the most part I have found myself going outside with long sleeves and regretting it.

One of the best parts of being here in the Denver area, though, has been the opportunity to revisit some of my childhood. I lived in Littleton for five years when I was younger, before my family moved to Knoxville when I was seven. I went on a few bike rides and rode past our old house, the elementary school where I went to Kindergarten and first grade, the creek where my brother and I used to catch minnows, old friends’ houses, and the parks and ponds where we used to go fishing. It’s so wonderful to get back some of my childhood memories, to think about places and details that I haven’t thought about in a long time. So much of my childhood memories were seemingly wiped out after my mom died, and I have had a really tough time trying to regain some of those experiences. Being in this setting did help me concentrate more and gave me some visual cues. Still, I feel there is so much more that I have lost and may never regain. Maybe I just need to spend more time here.

Starting up again after such a long break has brought back some memories of the beginning of this trip. The thoughts that go through your head are quite funny. Here I have already covered over 3500 miles; I traveled for almost three months to get to Montana, but yet I still get nervous about getting back on the bike. I start to think of excuses, of possible scenarios that could delay my departure. Even after all that experience, there still exists that initial fear of flight. I know that once I get going the confidence will quickly rush back to me and I will feel fine, but there is always that initial barrier of doubt to break through. It’s funny, I just started reading John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley, and as I have been reading his account of getting ready for his trip around the country in a camper truck, I have been awe struck at how completely he has described me and everything I have done and dealt with so far. As he describes his own nature and his own feelings along his trip, I feel like I’m reading my own account. I keep thinking, what’s the point of me writing a book. He already related everything I have felt. He already met these people I am meeting on this journey. Why be redundant. It is an amazing feeling, though, to read his words and understand completely what he is relating, I mean to the very last detail. It’s a real trip. I’m excited to find out where he went and how the rest of his experiences compare to mine, traveling around the country 50 years prior.

Well, I best get to bed and rest up before my big day tomorrow. It’s only about 65 miles to Colorado Springs, but the altitude and the dry air really make a difference. I rode 60 miles from Boulder to my aunt’s house, south of Denver, the other day, and it kicked my ass. I didn’t even have all my gear with me. So tomorrow should be interesting. I am very excited, though, to be getting back out on the road, seeking adventure again, looking to see new sights and meet new people. I only hope it all goes as well as the rest of the trip has so far. One must have faith. Time to dust off my wings and take flight. I will post pictures soon, but for now, I leave everyone with a fun video.

Ice blocking with my cousins, Jess and Ryan-

Thu
30
Oct '08

Like Starting Over

Five weeks of sitting around, sleeping in a warm bed, eating lots of great food, and not biking much has really taken a toll on my physical fitness. I’m sure the high altitude does not help either. The last two days have been exhausting. Granted, there has been plenty of climbing, and even some headwind yesterday. All in all, though, things have gone alright so far on this resurrection of my journey.

The first day found me biking down interstate 25, which wasn’t terribly fun. I had to take a detour from the very beginning due to construction. There was no shoulder and I definitely did not have the self-confidence to try to balance in a one-foot shoulder on the side of the interstate with heavy traffic. Hello no! So I had to take about a six mile detour up some big hills. I came across some more construction later and had to push my bike through dirt through a construction zone littered with nails. That brought me out on to a frontage road, which was a nice alternative for quite a few miles. When I got to Colorado Springs, I got off the interstate and began heading west, up into the mountains to the Garden of the Gods. It’s a nice park with beautiful red rock faces. At the Garden of the Gods, my couchsurfing host, Cheyne, met me, and we rode back to his place in Manitou Springs. Cheyne and I hit it off pretty well, and he made some vegan cupcakes. He’s a bit of an aficionado when it comes to those.

Day one left me terribly exhausted and a bit dehydrated. I woke up sometime in the very early morning with a terribly sharp pain on the left side of my head. I managed to get back to sleep and it was gone when I awoke later, but I’m not really sure what that could have been indicative of. I made sure to eat a kiwi and a banana the next morning. Yesterday also left me faily exhausted. I had a lot of climbing to do. Luckily I was off the interstate, but still on a fairly busy highway with a limited shoulder at times. The wind was at my back for the first half of the day, but around 2:30, a big gust came up from behind me, and suddenly everything changed and the wind was at my face. That slowed me down quite a bit. Still I was determined to keep going and make it up to Royal Gorge, just west of Cañon City.

Unfortunately, as I was passing through Cañon City, I got a flat tire. I thought I would hurry and try to patch the thing quickly and still try to make it up there before dark. I walked my bike with the flat tire about 400 yards to a church across the street. I figured it would provide a safe place to take everything part and do the work quickly. I patched my tube but quickly discovered that, while pushing my bike with the flat, I had peppered the tube with holes, due to the staple that was stuck in my tire. So I figured I might as well just use a new tube. Well, once I got the new tube on and got my bike back together it was already dusk. Darkness would be falling very shortly. I knew I wasn’t going to make it up to Royal Gorge before it got completely dark, and I didn’t want to be riding at night on a busy highway. Plus, I had asked a woman at the church about campgrounds, and she said there were only private ones up there, which are expensive. So I thought that maybe sleeping outside the church might be an option. There was some kind of event going on there, but not something directly church related. At first I thought to just bide my time and wait until everyone left. I biked off and made a few phone calls. Then I realized that I was much better off talking to someone and getting permission to be there. Who knows, maybe they would let me sleep inside. So I went back and asked someone about sleeping outside the church. She put me in contact with another man, but he did not actually work there. He was searching for someone who did. Finally he asked me exactly what I was looking for. I told him I just wanted to sleep outside the church for the night, as there were no cheap campgrounds around. Well, he told me I should go down the street to a shelter, called Loaves and Fish, where I could have a warm place to sleep. He gave me directions and set me on my way.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve never slept at a shelter before. When I got there, there were about 10 pages of paperwork to fill out, asking tons of questions that didn’t really apply to me. I felt bad for being there. I’m not exactly the type of person these things are set up for. But, I am techinically homeless, and the woman there was very welcoming and seemed to be completely fine with me being there. There were seven other guys there and probably four women, one with child. They were all really homeless, from what I could tell. One man had just been divorced and gave his wife everything. He is a truck driver. To get rid of his wife, he sold his six trucks and gave her the 1.2 million dollars. Another man was trying to sober up and get closer to God. I don’t know any of the others’ stories. One man was deaf. I believe he was the father of the child.

I felt a bit uncomfortable being there, and I’ll admit I was a bit fearful of theft. Maybe it wasn’t the case with all of them, but I felt that I had so much more than them. I didn’t belong there. But, I was there, and so I made use of the situation. I was able to take a shower, and the woman gave me some leftover enchiladas from the night before. I went to bed at ten, which was great, and slept fairly well on the top bunk of a prison bunk. The mattress was firm, but not too hard. I think three of the other men were snoring, which kept me up for a bit, but I was tired, and I managed to sleep soundly most of the night.

I awoke around six and got up to get an early start on the day. There was breakfast ready- eggs with ham and peppers. It was really good, but the man working in the morning did not give me much. I didn’t want to ask for seconds. I packed up my stuff and left the shelter before the sun was all the way up, around seven. The ride back east, toward Pueblo, was decent. Again, back on the busy highway. The sun was in my eyes the whole time, making sight-seeing nearly impossible. I had to concentrate fully on the road in front of me, making sure to dodge debris. Now I am in Pueblo, about to head south. Tonight I am hoping to make it to Walsenburg, or just west of there, to Lathrop state park. Hopefully I can camp there for free, or at least for cheap. The weather has been quite warm during the day, in the seventies, but at night it still gets pretty chilly. Hopefully I can make it far enough south before the real cold weather hits. The forecast low for tonight in Walsenburg is forty-one, so that’s not too bad.

Well, the battery is about to die on my laptop, and I want to have some daylight when I stop to camp, so I best be scooting along.

Sat
1
Nov '08

Climbing Mountains

Well, after my last correspondence, the day generally turned to shit. Before leaving Pueblo, I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce to pick up a new state road map. I guess I left my other one at the shelter. The woman that provided the map was incredibly friendly. She was older, probably in her sixties or seventies, and had obviously traveled quite a bit. She was curious about my trip, and we talked about traveling, living in small towns and big cities, and places of interest in the southwest. I would have loved to talk with her all afternoon, but I needed to be scooting along.

While on the internet earlier, I had looked into frontage roads along I-25 to avoid being on the interstate as long as possible. I had found a decent route that would keep me on side roads for at least a few miles, and I thought I had memorized the route fairly well. As I approached the end of town, however, I came to a T in the road, and I chose the wrong way. I went about a mile and a half before I realized my error, but I decided to stop at a Family Dollar and get a can of soup before turning back around. As I locked up my bike outside the dollar store, I noticed a thorn sticking out of my rear tire. The tire was still inflated, so the thorn was obviously plugging its own hole. I had two choices: take the thorn out and have the tire go flat right then, or wait and let the road take its coarse and work the thorn out down the raod, maybe 100 yards, maybe 2 miles. No telling. So I removed the thorn, thinking this was a decent spot to patch the tube. I let the air drain out then went and purchased my food. I ate the can of soup in about 20 seconds, and decided to pull my bike to the side of the building to do the work, out of the way.

After I had patched the hole and was beginning to put everything back together, I realized that I did not have my waist pack on me. It wasn’t around my waist, and it didn’t seem to be in my pile of bags on the ground. It had been sitting on top of my rear rack when I rolled my bike through the parking lot, and it must have fallen off then. I started getting terribly worried. It had been about 15 minutes since I left the storefront. My heart sank at the prospect of losing my wallet and camera. Just as I was about to frantically round the corner of the building, a car pulled up next to me with a family inside. A girl in the back asked my name. I had seen them in line in front of me in the store. When I told her the name on my IDs, she produced my pack from the floor at her feet. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Washed with relief. After they drove off, I checked to make sure everything was still there, although I knew it would be. I can’t imagine they would have sought me out if they were going to take anything. I only had about three dollars in my wallet.

So with my tire inflated, I set back down the road in the correct direction. The day had become hot. A sign I passed said the temperature was 77. Riding down the frontage road was relaxing, but it didn’t last long. Soon I had to get back on the freeway and join the traffic. I was tired, but I pedalled away. There was nothing along the way except farms for miles and miles. I reached a rest stop at Colorado City around five, and took a water and bathroom break. My destination of Lathrop State Park was still another 25 miles, and the sun was just about to retire behind the mountains. I took a look at a map, and the nearest camp ground seemed to be more than ten miles to the west. I weighed my options. Going west would be a shorter distance, and I might have a chance of reaching the camp before dark, but then I would be ten or more miles out of the way, and I would probably have a lot of uphill. Continuing south to my initial destination would take quite a while, at least two more hours, but probably more. That would mean riding in the dark on interstate 25. But I would be keeping my course, heading in the right direction.

I’m not sure why I felt it was the best choice, but I decided to continue on to the south, to aim for Lathrop State Park. I knew there was nothing in between where I was and the park, save the town of Walsenburg, which is just a few miles from the park. So it was all or nothing. I went for it with gusto! Somehow I found some reserves of energy and strength to push myself along down the highway, up some big hills. The sky grew dark within about a half hour and a starry and moonless sky watched over me for two hours. My bike light does not throw adequate light to safely navigate the debris-littered shoulders of an interstate, so I had to hold another flashlight in my hand to light the way. Passing cars and trucks also helped in my endeavor. Throughout the darkness, I was only snagged by one road gator, and I noticed it just before I hit it, so I was able to swerve and only catch a small tail of it.

By the time I reached Walsenburg, I was utterly exhausted and starving. My energy was waning quickly. I debated stopping in at a restaurant and getting a hot, cooked meal. In the end, I figured it would be faster and I could get to bed more quickly if I just rode the rest of the way to camp and cooked while I set up my hammock. So I passed through town, passed the bar-b-que place, passed the family restaurant, passed the old-style tavern. I thought to myself at one point that if I were to come across a mexican restaurant still open, I might change my mind about stopping. Everything was closed.

I passed out of town, and the streetlights ended. I pulled my flashlight out again and began climbing uphill toward the campground. About a mile out of town, I heard a strange noise as I weaved over the while line on the road. I stopped to check things out and noticed that my rear tire was losing air. Another flat. I was in complete darkness, save my flashlight and a slight glow from the stars above. I had no idea what was around me, and there were big trucks coming through, even at this time of night on this smaller highway. I decided quickly that there was no way in hell that I was going to deal with fixing my flat there on the side of the road. I had noticed a motel just before the edge of town that had rooms for 40 bucks. I figured that was probably the cheapest around, and I turned myself around and began walking my bike back toward town.

It took me about 20 minutes to walk back to the motel. I stopped in and requested a room. The owner there noticed my flashing rear bike light and said he had seen me going down the interstate. He and his wife were very friendly, but they did not offer a discount. Damn. I didn’t really expect it, but one can always hope. I put the room on my credit card. The room was decent: two beds, a tv, fridge, and shower. That was all I needed. I cooked some food on my stove in the room and ate a big meal. Then I took a long, hot shower. By the time I got to bed, it was nearly midnight.

I slept fantastically, woke up around 7:30, had some free breakfast, courtesy of the hotel, and fixed my flat. By the time I packed up and set out on the road, it was a little after ten. I left town and headed up the hill again. I thought about how I was pretty glad I had stopped where I did, that I had avoided climbing this hill the night before. It turned out to be quite a bit further to the campground than I had thought, and it would have taken me at least another half hour to hour to reach the place from where I got my flat. Best to keep the positives in mind.

The rest of the day was incredibly tough, but I was fairly relaxed throughout, after my night of great sleep. The day took me into the mountains, reaching a summit of 9413 feet, my highest point of biking yet. Reaching that point was grueling. I had to take it one stroke at a time, stopping at least every half hour for a short break. The sun was hot and the wind was in my face, making the climbing even more exhausting. I reached the summit of the pass just before three, and I felt that was fairly good time to have climbed the 3000 feet up some steep grades. At the top, as I was setting up to take a picture of my bike next to the sign proclaiming the elevation, a guy in a passing truck flipped me off. He was a young guy, around my age, sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck. Such a stupid and meaningless gesture, given the context, but it’s funny how something like that stays with you. It’s not that it made me mad. I didn’t take it personally. But the incident constantly reentered my mind throughout the day. I kept wondering to myself why someone would do that and why those kinds of people have to be dealt with. Oh well, it’s not worth dwelling upon now.

With the summit reached, I was looking forward to some sweet downhills. And there were. Unfortunately, the wind did not allow me to enjoy them. The fruits of my labor were bitter, and I had to pedal all the way down the other side of the mountain. I stopped at the entrance of a park at the bottom of a big hill to enjoy a snack. As I was just about to head back onto the road, a man in a pickup truck pulling out of the park road stopped and asked if I was headed up the pass. I told him I had just come over it, was heading toward Fort Garland, and asked how far it was. He said it was ten miles and asked if I wanted a ride. I debated in my mind for a minute whether I wanted a ride. I was surely tired, but I knew I was capable of making that ten miles and the fifteen more to San Luis, my destination for the day. Still, this man seemed friendly, I was exhausted, and I was a bit worried about making my destination before nightfall. I did not want to ride in the dark again. So I took the man up on the offer, and we threw my bike in the back of his truck.

He was a friendly man, a real estate agent in the area. We talked about homes and land prices in the area. He dropped me off in the heart of Fort Garland and handed me ten bucks before he left. He suggested I try to find a ride down to San Luis, but I opted to ride. I figured it was going to be fairly flat, and I was right. The last sixteen miles of the day went along nicely, with the sun beginning it’s tired descent toward the low-lying mountains to the west. I was very glad to have taken that ride, as I would not have made it to town before dusk.

In San Luis, I had a place lined up, courtesy of my aunt Karen. Getting a hold of the man, Thomas , however, was very difficult, as his cell phone does not work at his house. I had made contact with Thomas earlier in the day, but I had no idea where he lived. I asked around in town, and the two people I asked knew the general location of his place, but not exactly. They knew he lived several miles down a side road, out towards the mountains. I still couldn’t get a hold of him, so I had no choice but to just set out in that direction and hope for the best. It would be dark very soon. Luckily Thomas knew I coming and met me only a mile or so down the road. We threw my bike in the back of his truck, and he drove the last six miles or so to his house.

Thomas owns a ranch with plenty of acreage. His house is a work in progress, but very beautiful, with some fantastic art inside. When we got there, his friend (whose name escapes me at the moment, and I feel terrible about that) was preparing dinner, incuding homemade tortillas, chili, and a corn and pork stew. (The name of the dish also escapes me; I must be tired.) It was all delicious. Afterwards, we watched a movie then went to bed. This morning, his friend cooked a fantastic breakfast. Thomas insisted on giving me a ride that day to Taos. I felt fit to ride, but I thought it might be alright to just take the ride. I probably needed the day off from riding after crossing the mountains, and Thomas and his friend were so kind to offer.

So we drove down to Taos, stopping at a hot spring next to the Rio Grande along the way. Now I am in Taos, at the library. I have had some decent tacos and some good chili. Now I am heading down to Rancho de Taos to stay with a friend of Brother Sebastians. I should get going. I think the library is closing. Tomorrow I am heading further south to Santa Fe. Hopefully I will be couchsurfing there.

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Mon
3
Nov '08

Broken Down

Tonight I am staying at a hostel in Santa Fe and having serious thoughts of catching a train to California. My rear tire is flat, and I walked about four miles with the flat tire to get to this hostel. I’m tired and feeling broken.

The last two nights have been nice, staying with a family in Ranchos De Taos. The Medinas, Fidel and Hope, are an older couple native to the area. I was connected with them through Brother Sebastian, who stayed with them for a while when he went to art school out here. The Medinas were kind enough to invite me to stay a second night, and their son, Leo, showed me around the area on the second day, taking me to the bridge high above the Rio Grande Gorge and up to the Taos ski area. It was a beautiful day. The entire stay was completely comfortable, and the Medinas treated me like family. They even taught me some Spanglish and bestowed some elk and antelope jerky and dried apricots and dates.

Riding out of Taos this morning was a gorgeous route. The clouds in the sky made for great picture-taking conditions, and passing by the Rio Grande River Gorge was overwhelming. The entire time I just wanted to stop there and spend a week next to the river. While north of here most of the trees have already shed their leaves, along the river many of the trees were glowing with full, bright yellow folliage. About half way through the day, I reached the town of Espanola, which doensn’t seem very nice. I stopped and ate lunch there and headed out, but the rest of the day found me on busy highways away from the river. The relaxation was gone.

In Santa Fe, I was hoping to couchsurf, but unfortunately none of the people I contacted got back to me. As I neared the city just before five, I was not at all sure where I was going to stay. Just about two miles outside of town, on a busy highway with a small shoulder, I struck a big rock while rolling down hill. There was really nothing to be done to avoid the rock, save swerving out into traffic or into the dirt and guard rail. Hitting the rock left me with a flat tire. There was no way I was going to attempt changing the flat on the side of that busy highway. That would be far too dangerous. So I decided to walk to town and hopefully find a bike shop. I am so tired of getting flat tires, and I resolved a few days ago that at the next opportunity I would buy a new tire. These last two I have had on the rear have not been working out. I think the last few days have given me more flat tires than I had in the first month and a half of riding. So I will go back to what I had before.

So I walked into town and began searching for a bike shop. A young woman walked by me, and I asked her about finding a shop. The only place she knew about was REI. She was walking that way anyway, so she walked with me over there. We had some great conversation about politics and Santa Fe and California and Oregon. She has been working on the Obama campaign there in Santa Fe. We parted at the REI and I checked out their stock. Unfortunately they do not carry the tire I want, and I am set on getting that particular brand of tire. I don’t feel like trying something out new again. Tried and tested, that’s what it has come to. I asked an employee there about other bike shops. She referred me to another shop but said they were probably closed. It was just after five. This town shuts down early. While talking to the employee, the young woman, Laurie, came in. I had asked her about cheap motels, and she suggested a hostel in town. She knew the general location but not the name or exact intersection. She felt bad about leaving me with such little information and since she was walking in the direction of the hostel, she said she would walk me part of the way and set me in the correct direction. She walked with me for six or seven blocks and we talked more. She was very friendly, and I was hoping that she was going to offer me a place to stay, but she didn’t. In the end we parted and she set me in the direction of the hostel. The street I walked down was busy with the sidewalk disappearing intermittenly. Of course I was still walking my bike with a flat tire, and I have probably done some damage to my rim.

After about a half hour of walking, I found the hostel. For $25 I have my own room. I just have to clean it up myself in the morning. There is a kitchen here and some free food. I ended up cooking my own rice. I arrived here very tired and a bit frustrated. I had the strong thought of catching a train tomorrow all the way to LA. In the end, I think I am going to go camping around here for a day or two and think things through. I don’t know if I am ready to end this trip, but I am tired and need some rest, to get away from the stress and be alone with nature. So I will not be on my computer for a few days. Now I need to go. They are closing down the common area. Good night.

Wed
5
Nov '08

This Is How It Ends

Tomorrow afternoon, at 4:45, if all goes according to plan, I will board an Amtrak train in Albuquerque, New Mexico, en route to Los Angeles, California.

I left the hostel in Santa Fe just after noon and headed southwest along I-25. My destination lay thirty miles ahead at a campground on Cochiti Lake. After my flat tire and exhaustion and thoughts of ending the whole trip, I had decided I needed to take some time off, to clear my head, and think through my decision. I chose a campground not too far from the city so that I would not spend my whole day riding and have some time to set up and cook dinner before dark, which comes just after five now. Cochiti Lake seemed ideal, being right by a lake and at a relatively low elevation.

The weather was fair, but the winds kicked up toward the end of daylight, providing a steady headwind for the last hour or so. The beginning of the ride ran on a frontage road paralleling the interstate, but that road ended due to construction, forcing me to walk my bike through some dirt onto the interstate shoulder. The last twelve miles found me on a small highway heading north. I passed through vast open country, some farmlands, and small signs of civilization, including a buffalo farm. Sometime before five I reached my destination: Lake Cochiti campground. The place was fairly quiet, with only a few RVs around. The campground is divided into two loops, an upper one containing electrical hookups, and a lower one without. I chose the lower loop, as it was four dollars cheaper and was completely unoccupied. I wanted to be alone. The site I chose seemed to be the only one optimal for hanging my hammock. Nearly all the sites have covered shelters with a picnic table, but only mine had a larger shelter with narrower, wooden support beams, ideal for tying my hammock to. The rest of the support beams were made of stone and much wider. The shelter also had four picnic tables, which may seem excessive, given that I am just one man, but I figured I could spread my stuff out and use each table for a different purpose. Since I was planning on staying two nights, I figured I might as well be comfortable.

I wasted no time setting up my hammock, as I was racing the sun. Once that task was completed, I set about scrounging for twigs to build a fire in my new tomato can wood stove. I had only tried it once before, just after I made it in Denver, and I had been eager to try it out for real and cook with it. Well, I wasn’t really cooking so much as heating up a can of chili that I picked up at a Trader Joes before leaving Santa Fe. The stove worked well for making my chili nice and hot as the setting sun took his ambient heat with him.

By the time I finished my meal, the sky had turned to black, and the quarter moon and some stars were already shining down. It was still only six, and I had no idea what to do with the rest of my time. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep for at least a few hours, but most options for activities would require a flashlight, and for some reason that did not appeal to me much. I decided to stretch and try to unwind. The stretch did wonders for mellowing me out, and I wrote a bit in my journal. Always on my mind was the decision I had come there to make. I didn’t want to forget.

Writing and walking around a bit and looking at the stars, among some other small activities, managed to pass about three hours, and I decided I was ready to go to sleep. The forecast called for a low of only about forty degrees, so I wasn’t too terribly worried about staying warm. I wore a few layers, but not all of them. Inside my bag was actually quite warm at first. Before falling asleep, I read a bit of my current book, Travels With Charley, but sleepiness came fairly quickly, and I didn’t read much. I can’t say how much time passed before I awoke the first time. The wind had picked up considerably and was whipping the rainfly on my hammock with fury. Constant cracking as the cover flapped violently in the gusts. I’m not sure how long it took me to get back to sleep. I’m also not sure how many other times I woke up in the dark, or how long I actually slept for. Every waking minute seemed an eternity as I listened to the sound of the wind, but I also seemed to be only half-conscious.

The call of nature, as well as the wind, woke me for good around seven-thirty. The sun had already established his presence in the day, but clouds obscured his direct rays. The morning seemed rather temperate, but after washing my hands in the spigot of cold water, I realized how chilly it actually was. I put my fleece and a pair of gloves on and ate a cold breakfast of oatmeal with powdered milk. After breakfast I decided to scour the area around my campsite for arrowheads. Since coming into the southwest I had been hoping to find one laying around. I have always been fascinated by Native American crafts and weapons, and I wanted to find a relic of those simple but inventive people. I searched for about a half hour, but all I found were what appear to be volcanic rock- shiny and black, almost like glass.

After my search, my hands were starting to get cold. While the wind had stopped for a bit after I awoke, the blowing had continued and kept the temperature rather cool. I decided to build a fire in my stove and cook some more breakfast. So I set about searching for twigs again and got my fire going. I heated up some grits and added a packet of instant oatmeal, as well as some powdered milk. With the gusty winds, my fire was quite ineffective for cooking, so while I managed to get the food warm, my grits were not properly cooked. I ate them anyway. My second breakfast done, I looked around the area some more for cool rocks. I had decided that I wanted to try my hands at making my own arrowhead. I thought the volcanic rock might be a good substance, but I wanted to find one that was already near in shape to the final product. The wind was blowing still, but all of a sudden I felt some moisture. Now I had felt a few drops of rain carried in on the wind the night before, but it only lasted about a minute. This seemed to be the same at first, but as I stood and felt the moisture coming down, I realized that it wasn’t actually rain but snow. Some flakes landed on my gloves and remained for a minute before disolving to water. Well, I thought that was pretty exciting- a little bit of snow out in the desert. Within a minute, however, the winds had kicked up into something fierce, and all of a sudden it was almost like I was in the middle of a blizzard. The snow was getting heavy and the winds were strong. The shelter provided no relief as the snow came in sideways and was beginning to wet my gear. The wind flapped up the rainfly on my hammock and some snow was hitting the bottom. I scrambled to get all my bags covered with my tarp. Once all my bags were covered, I stood and watched the phenomenon and laughed. What a strange sight, all this snow blowing in on the wind among the tumbleweeds and sagebrush and small pines. The snow lasted about ten minutes and left just as quickly as it had entered, leaving the picnic tables and concrete ground under my shelter completely covered in moisture. The sun came out, and I knew it would all evaporate with an hour.

With no where to sit, I decided to take a walk down to the lake and check out the view. The sun warmed things up, and the day seemed quite pleasant. That lasted for about a half hour before the winds kicked up again. They roared through, kicking up dust and offering resistance as I walked back to my site. I ate some lunch of trailmix and decided to set about making that arrowhead. With a real hard rock, I set about trying to chisel the black, glassy rock into a sharp point. In trying to make the point really sharp, however, I managed to break off the whole tip, thus making that rock no longer suitable for my endeavor. I tried another rock that was a bit thicker, and had some moderate success for a while, but in the end that one suffered a similar fate.

It was afternoon now, and the winds had picked up considerably. At some point during my walk back from the lake, I had lost my gloves; they had fallen out of my jacket pocket or I set them down on a table. I knew there was pretty much no chance of finding them. In any other situation, I could simply retrace my path and figure I would find them somewhere along the way. With the wicked wind, however, the gloves could have been a hundred yards from where I dropped them, and not even knowing where I dropped them, I figured it was hopeless. I walked around a bit anyway, and I did come across one of my handkerchiefs, which I hadn’t even realized I was missing, but I saw no sign of the gloves. I was a bit upset about that. I do have another pair, but his pair was a bit thinner and thus more ideal for activities requiring some level of finger dexterity.

I decided to take some time and relax, as I wasn’t really sure what activity to get into next. So I lay down in the road and looked up to the sky. The wind rushed over me, and I just stared at the blue sky and passing clouds. I was thinking about my impending decision, about whether to hop a train. My mind had been pretty much made up that morning, and I knew I was going to be following through with that plan, but after talking to a good friend, who happens to also be my ex-girlfriend, I was feeling a bit apprehensive about being back in southern California. Doubts began to swirl in my mind, and I wondered why I was going there, what I was going to do when I get there, and what I really wanted to be doing. I knew I was done biking, but all of a sudden I was not feeling good about going there. I had to write it all down and get my head straight, so I took out my journal and wrote a bit. That seemed to help.

The wind was still blowing fiercely and flapping my rainfly violently. I needed to find a fix for that so I would be able to sleep peacefully tonight. I made some adjustments, and instead of tying the support strings to the picnic tables, I gathered a few large, heavy rocks to tie the strings to, thereby giving me more flexibility in the angle of the cover. That seemed to help with the noise and violent flapping, but one side was pushed into the side of the hammock with major force. I decided I should try out lying in the hammock to see how this was going to work out, so I could make adjustments. Lying in the hammock, one side of the netting and the rainfly were pushed in so hard that there was no escaping them pushing up against my face. I got out and tried to make some adjustments, but there seemed to be nothing I could do to avoid that problem, save loosening up the fly and submitting it to tormenting flapping. I became frustrated.

In the meantime, the temperature had seemed to drop. My hands were beginning to go numb. Some flurries of snow had come in here and there, but nothing lasting longer than a couple seconds. I looked up to the sky, at the gray clouds on the horizon, I felt the wind blowing at a steady pace of at least ten miles an hour, probably fifteen, with gusts that must have been around thirty miles an hour. I thought about my numbing hands, the forecast low of twenty degrees for the night, the gray clouds promising more snow, and the unavoidable problem of my rainfly. In a flash of certainty, I made up my mind for the entire situation. I was going to get the hell out of there right that minute. I was going to head to Abluquerque and catch the train the next day. There was no way I was going to put up with that crap there at the campground. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with it. It was two o’clock, and a terrible time to be deciding to leave and begin a fifty mile ride, but I felt that was my only option. So I packed up my gear and loaded up my bike. This all took about a half hour, due to the incredibly difficulty of folding and rolling objects like tarps and sleeping bags with such an unrelenting wind. I loaded up my bike and took off, leaving the campground behind, looking back just once to catch a last glimpse of my site, now empty.

Heading back to the interstate, the wind fluxuated, sometimes at my rear, sometime straight at my side. It was an unstable ride, but the boosts helped. Back on the freeway, I found myself staring straight into a setting sun and a fierce headwind. Every pedal stroke was a marathon, even going downhill, but I was determined to find somewhere warm to lay my head for the night. A few exits early on offered some hope of a short day, but they proved to be just small roads leading off to small towns and pueblos, no signs of motels or hostels, no passing strangers offering rides or hospitality. I pressed on. In the end, after a few hours of riding, one of them in the dark, I finally came to the suburbs of Albuquerque and found myself a hotel. I was able to talk the guy behind the counter down ten dollars on the rate, which made me feel much better about paying for lodgings. I had arrived exhuasted and cold, and I was terribly happy to learn that the hotel has a hottub and free breakfast. I took advantage of the hottub tonight and gave myself a nice warm shower afterwards.

Now, sitting in my warm room with king-size bed, I think about what is to come next. I still feel some apprehension about being back in soCal, but I have reminded myself that the future is largely what I make of it. There is no reason why I have to get stuck in my old ways there, to find myself in the same funk I left behind six months ago. It’s funny, I began this trip four months ago thinking I would come out if with some direction, some idea of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing. I have none of that now. I can think of plenty of places that are nice, plenty of reasons to be in some places, but nothing comes to me to drive me to those places. I find myself completely lacking direction. So for now, the comfort of warm and sunny southern California, among friends and ex-lovers, will have to suffice as I continue on some kind of quest to at least figure something else out. I don’t think my days of bike riding are quite over. I still have a few destinations in California that I had intended to spend some time at and which I still intend on visiting, including Joshua Tree and the Salton Sea. I also still need to make my way down to San Diego and out to Las Vegas to visit more family

So the plan for tomorrow is to ride the remaining twenty miles to downtown Albuquerque, find a bike shop so I can box up my bike, and catch the daily train out west, heading to that old familiar place to see some old familiar faces. I’m looking forward to seeing friends.

Mon
10
Nov '08

One Last Adventurous Day

I would have loved to have slept the entire morning away, but I had a mission to complete on Thursday and a limited amount of time to complete that mission. After waking, I began packing up and went downstairs to check out the complimentary breakfast. Pretty standard- cereal, muffins, danish, juice, and waffles. I ate quickly and returned to my room to finish getting ready. I had just over twenty miles to ride that day to get to downtown Albuquerque, but the tasks I needed complete once I got there were not necessarily going to be easy.

I called Amtrak the night before and learned that my bike needs to be boxed up to be taken on the train. My hope was that I could just load the bicycle as is on the train, with all my bags still hanging on the side. That way I could just load on, enjoy the train ride, and unload and ride away in Los Angeles. Under these conditions I needed to box up my bike, consolidate all my possessions to two or three bags to avoid extra charges, and somehow get my boxed bike and luggage to the train station from wherever I boxed the bike. The closest bike shop to the station was about a mile away. Not too far, but that would mean probably dragging my boxed bike as well as some big bags (which I did not have yet) down the sidewalk.

The ride itself was decent, mostly through suburbia. I just let myself get lost in thought as I passed down the highway until I came upon a bike path. The road I had planned on riding into the city was closed off completely for construction, and I had no idea of any alternative, given that I had just written down some simple directions from looking at a map online. The bike path looked to parallel the closed road, so I took a gamble and headed down the path. If nothing else, it would be a relaxing break from riding on the streets. Fortuitously, the path completely paralleled the road and brought me exactly where I wanted to be, and all while riding along the Rio Grande. How nice.

Once I reached downtown, I had three objectives to complete in order to make the train and be on my way to sunny southern California. I arrived around 11:30, and the train was scheduled to depart at 4:45. I figured that gave me about four hours to accomplish my tasks and still ensure no chance of missing the train. First objective was to find a thrift store and buy some luggage for all my goods. I would need to consolidate my five bags of possessions into about three bags that would be easy to carry. I had written down the location and directions to two thrift stores that morning, a Goodwill and a Salvation Army. The Goodwill was not actually there anymore or maybe never was there. The Salvation Army was where it should be, but they did not have what I was looking for, just some small duffel bags and some old, hard-case luggage. Not gonna cut it. So with my only two documented potentials unsuccessful, I needed to find some new resources. I asked around at the Salvation Army, but no one could tell me an exact location, just vicinities, and everywhere else required climbing a huge hill. Still, I had no choice; I had to make this work.

I climbed the giant hill that went on for miles. It was steep at parts, but the worst part was the traffic. I got the feeling that drivers in Albuquerque do not care too much for cyclists. No specific incidents worth mentioning, I just did not feel terribly safe on those roads. So up and up I went, keeping a keen eye out for thrift stores. Passed strip mall after strip mall, but nothing appeared. Just as I was about to give up in that area and turn around, I spotted a big sign that merely said ‘Thrift Store.’ Perfect. The store was fairly large, filled mostly with women’s clothing, as most thrift stores generally are. I found the section with luggage and scored big time. The place had exactly what I was looking for. The first piece is a large duffel bag. I knew it was easily big enough to fit my sleeping bag, as well as my other large items. In addition the bag also had a telescoping plastic handle and two wheels on the other end. That would make it much easier for getting down the street to the train station. Then I found a smaller duffel bag, perfect size to carry easily and bring onboard the train with me. And wouldn’t you know it, both bags were nearly matching, almost looking as if they came from a set. Basically, they were both black and red. It is almost as if they were there at that store just waiting for me. At the register I had another great surprise as well. That day happened to be half-off day, and everything was fifty-percent off. So for a mere five dollars and fifty cents I purchased exactly what I was looking for, and quite easily.

With just a little work, I strapped the new bags onto my load and set out for a bike shop. I had written down the locations of the two shops closest to the train station, and made my way to the closest one. I needed to pick up a box to put my bike in. The train station usually has boxes, but they charge, and usually bike shops are more than willing to dole out free bike boxes. The shop I stopped into, Two Wheel Drive, was quite friendly, and not only did they give me a box, they let me use some of their floor space to save me from doing the work outside on the cold asphalt of their parking lot. One man was particularly friendly, and we chatted for the entire time I was there. He asked a lot of questions and more than once explained to me why he loved Albuquerque so much. He is the only person I have talked to that has spoken so highly of that city.

It took quite a bit of work to break down my bike enough to fit in a box with all my racks and some accessories. After I finally got the bike packed up and transferred all of my possessions into those two new bags, I finally had to stop for a moment and begin to consider how the hell I was going to get all this stuff down the road to the train station. The bike box is not terribly heavy, just terribly awkward to carry. The box is quite long and has handles cut in the side that really only make it conducive to carrying with two hands. I needed to be able to handle that one with one hand. Then I had the large duffel bag, which could be rolled, the smaller duffel bag, which could either be slung on one shoulder or stacked on top of the larger bag and rolled along. Then I had a backpack, which housed my essentials for easy access on the train- some food and electronics. The bike shop employee also racked his brain with me on the best option for transport. He said he would just drive me down there, but he didn’t have his truck there. He had the great idea to cut another handle into the box at the halfway point on the side, instead of on the edges, thus making it somewhat possible to carry with just one hand. Still maneuvering the sometimes narrow and busy sidewalks of the city was not going to be easy. I said I would just go for it. I think the time was only about three, which really gave me an hour of comfortable time to get down there. I figured the distance was not much more than a mile, which, even with the difficulty of toting that baggage, shouldn’t be tough to manage within that large window of time. Another employee, however, suggested asking the guy next door, who owned a used book store. He has a truck and maybe would be willing to give me a ride. I figured it was a long shot, given that this man had not met me and would probably have no incentive to interrupt his day to give a stranger a ride down the street. I was wrong, and the guy was willing to help me out. So we loaded all my gear into the back of his old 4-Runner, and he took me down to the station. What a nice guy.

From where the man let me off, I still had a block and a half to walk to the station, but I managed alright. Then it was only a matter of buying my ticket and checking my bag and bike. That all went fairly smoothly and left me with nearly an hour of time to kill before departure. I occupied the time with some reading and people-watching. The train was on time arriving but late departing by at least a half hour, but I didn’t care. I had nothing to do but get comfortable and settle in for a sixteen hour ride to a destination that probably would have taken me at least that many days to reach by bicycle. As I settled into my seat by the window, as we finally got moving and heading west, I thought it a good idea to try to reflect upon my recent decision, on the reality of the end of a long journey. This trip was not an outing or a vacation, it was my life for four months. It was a lifestyle completely different from the norms of our society, and I felt that I would be better off putting the ending into perspective before attempting to assimilate back into some semblance of ‘normal’ life, life not on the road. These thoughts made me sad, but I knew that was for the best. With any loss or major life change, grief is and should be a natural process, a healthy way of accepting that what was once so physically prominent in our lives will now only remain in thought and memory. The memories always remain, especially with the valuable resource that has been this journal. With these writings I can revisit my entire adventure or any segment at any time and relive part of the amazing experience. And to think that I originally did not want to keep a journal like this. The main reason why I decided to do it was so that I would not have to get on the phone every day and notify family that I was still alive and where I was and how things had been. I figured it was worth the hassle of carrying a laptop and writing every day or so to keep people updated, instead of telling the same stories multiple times every few days. Looking back now, it was well worth the extra weight and bulk.

Tue
18
Nov '08

A Broken Heart and A New Freedom

Could it be that I biked 4000 miles, traveled across the country over the course of four months, to get closure on a romantic relationship that really ended half a year ago when I moved away from California back home to Tennessee? I know in my heart that this was not the impetus that drove me to put all that work and energy into beginning this journey. It was not with that in mind that I built that rack and those bags, painted and rebuilt my bike, loaded myself down with an obscene amount of weight, and pedaled away from my house and out into the unknown. But by the time I reached Albuquerque and hopped on that train heading west, that notion was surely in my heart, and the prospect filled me with apprehension and dread. Subconsciously I knew it had to happen, the outcome was inevitable, given all the circumstances leading up to that point, but my conscious mind was holding out for other possibilities. When it comes to matters of the heart, the mind seems to have no misgivings with intentionally lying. Only when the shit hits the fan, when the situation presents itself in undeniable truth, does the mind finally admit its fabrications, that it knew what was to come the entire time, leaving the heart to carry the full brunt of the sudden emotional disparity. Thus a broken heart and a guilty, helpless mind. Quite a dangerous combination. So even though I already knew the reality of the status of this relationship before I arrived in southern California, I had to bear witness with my own eyes. Even if my mind had chosen to be honest, my heart would not have accepted second-hand hearsay as its own truth. Thus my journey, while not initially driven by this need, was destined to end here in California, to satisfy that curiosity.

The days leading up to the confrontation were tough. My mind was torn between hope and doubt, as I tried my best to quiet my emotions. The day I finally asked the question was a Tuesday, the 11th, Veteran’s Day. This day also happens to be my brother’s birthday. He would have been 27. There was nothing I could do to stop those emotions from surfacing. His birthday never fails to leave me deeply saddened, always serving as a reminder of the tragic loss. Usually my grief leaves me quiet, maybe a bit mopey, and contemplative. I lose my drive to be social. Anyway, that day and the day before I had been staying at her house, which was a mixed signal to begin with, but I was not feeling terribly welcome, like my presence there was not really anything special. The weight of the sadness of remembering my brother coupled with the lack of feeling wanted was too much for me to carry at the same time, and thus I forced myself to ask a question that I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about hearing an answer to. ‘Would you rather I wasn’t staying here?’ Her response was all I needed to hear to know exactly where things stood. ‘It would be much easier for me if you were not here; I would be able to get work done at my own pace. I don’t want to throw you out on the streets with nowhere to go, though.’ It was too late at night to leave at that point, but I knew I would be packing up first thing in the morning and getting out.

The next day was incredibly tough. I couldn’t believe this was happening, that I was going to be walking out like that, that the relationship was really over. I know it sounds cliche or cheesy, but to be honest, the loss of the romantic relationship did not bother me too much. I will admit that after four months of being mostly alone, I was hoping for some kind of compassionate touch from someone I trust, even just an enthusiastic hug. Perhaps I set my expectations too high. Really, though, what truly made me sad, what brough tears to my eyes as I packed up my belongings, was the knowledge that I was losing a good friend, that someone I trusted and thought I could share everything with would no longer be in my life. I know this is all standard break up protocol; that’s the nature of the situation. I’ve just always been on the other side of things. Plus, her actions had clearly shown, and she even admitted, that she could not be an emotional support for me. She could not be a shoulder to cry on or even a sympathetic ear to tell my troubles to. That’s what broke my heart.

Lucky for me, though, I do have people I can turn to when times get tough. There are people I can call upon who do know how to listen, how to empathize, how to comfort. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt terribly to lose someone whom I thought was one of those people. I have already lost too many people that I loved due to death, so to lose someone who is still living seems like such a pointless shame to me. However, if someone can look me in the eyes and tell me that they cannot be there emotionally, that the stress of some work prevents them from being empathetic or compassionate, I find it difficult to find it within myself to find the drive to sustain that relationship in any form. It is difficult to try to take a step backwards in any relationship and make things work, and personally, degrading relationships, tearing down what has been built up without the intention of rebuilding, is not on my personal agenda.

So with a heavy heart and teary eyes, I left her place on Wednesday and headed first to a park to collect my thoughts and then to a good friend’s place just down the road. Like I said before, I am very lucky to have some really fantastic people in my life- good-hearted, compassionate people. My friend Betsy has been that since the very beginning, and she did not fail me this time. She gave me a place to stay last year when I finished my bike ride up the Pacific coast, when I had no money and nowhere to go. She gave me a roof over my head and even bought me a nice bed. The story of how we met and became friends is really an interesting one, but perhaps best told another time. The short version is that I gave her my cat when I graduated college, and we have been friends ever since. So in addition to having good company and someone to talk to, I also got to see my old cat, Soma, to whom I have always had a strong attachment.

I mentioned earlier that I had gone to the park first after leaving her place, and I am glad I did. While there, I was able to breathe a bit and put some perspective on the situation, to look past my initial reaction of grief and a crushed ego. I tried to look past the short-term consequences of the loss and focus on what this meant for my future, what my next move should be. As I began to look at the change from this different perspective, I began to realize what this closure had created for me. Suddenly I understood the freedom I had just been granted, a freedom that I had longed for while on the road but was never able to realize. My tethers had been severed. No longer did I have any gravitating ties to southern California; I was now free to go anywhere. The lack of closure on that relationship, that constant wondering ‘what if’, had inevitably led me back to Orange County, but now I had an answer, now I had nothing to wonder.  All throughout my journey I longed to feel that kind of freedom, to know that wherever I was could only be exactly where I needed to be, but I never felt it. I knew I couldn’t be free until I found out for sure that it was over. Only then could I move on from California and completely focus on where to go next. I genuinely worked up some excitement thinking about all my new possibilities.

So the past week has been filled with mixed emotions. I still feel saddened over the loss, and despite being surrounded by friends up in L.A., there still remains a penetrating feeling of loneliness.  It is hard not to remember the relationship we had before and yearn for some semblance of the emotional companionship. At the same time, I am excited to begin something new. One of the goals I set for myself when I began this long journey four months ago was to try to find somewhere new to live. I had hoped that by the time I got to Los Angeles I would have a strong idea of where I wanted to go to settle down for a bit. When I arrived here just over a week ago, however, I felt completely void of any idea on the matter. Thus I had concluded to stick around here for the winter and give myself more time. Now with this sudden change that has developed, I find myself with ideas I didn’t think I had. I think I have decided what my next move will be, where I will go. Funny enough, it isn’t even somewhere I visited on this journey. For the moment, my mind has settled on taking my life to Nashville, Tennessee, in the near future. I hadn’t even been considering moving there at any other point, really, but somehow the idea popped into my mind a few days ago, and since then I have been thinking about it nonstop. After much thought, the whole thing makes sense, and I am ready to take action. When I consider the factors of what I am looking for in a residence, Nashville seems to fulfill my needs. I realized that I want to be in a city, somewhere with a diversity of people and opportunities. At the same time, I do not want to be locked in a concrete jungle anymore, like Los Angeles. I also must find myself in a place with friendly people, somewhere not overrun by pretension and insecurity. Nearly everywhere is cheaper than southern California, so that was a pretty easy standard to fulfill. And then another factor, one that has only recently been brought into consideration, is proximity to my dad. I genuinely want to try to improve my relationship with him. He’s all I have left as far as immediate family goes, but since my mother died seven and a half years ago, our relationship has not been terribly fulfilling. It has been incredibly tough, but I am finally at a point in my life where I am willing to work to make things better. I can’t stand having a strained relationship anymore, and I believe that I have the understanding now to try to facilitate the necessary changes. Being back home in Knoxville earlier this year has proven to me that there is no way for me to move back there, living in the same house with my dad or not, but Nashville is only about a three hour drive from Knoxville. Close enough that visiting would not be a difficult or expensive trip, but still far enough away that I can be on my own, independent, and start something new for myself. I hope to have a little bit of space where I can set up workshops, areas for sewing and woodworking and painting. I have not had much outlet for creative energy for the past few months, and I am in desperate need of some release. I want to make clothing and build furniture and paint everything. The thought of all this gets me really excited. I look forward to beginning fresh. I do know a few people in Nashville, but I am excited about meeting lots of new people as well. I see a lot of possibility in this move.

For the next few weeks, however, I plan on staying out here in California. There are still people to reconnect with and places to visit. I must make it out to the Salton Sea and go camping. So who knows, maybe I will end up spending the better part of the winter out here, as long as I can afford it, as long as I am enjoying myself. At least now I can take great comfort in knowing that I have created some new direction for myself. I haven’t solved all of my problems, far from it, but I have a new excitement that allows me to take each day one by one and continue to move forward. I am beginning to put this journey into some kind of perspective. Every day I find myself gaining more and more understanding of what I have just been through. I still hope that soon enough I am able to comprehensively revisit this entire adventure and consolidate all this documentation into a book. I think it is a really good story, and I have tried to be as honest as possible in relating my account of it all. Plus, there is so much more that wasn’t written here. If for no other reason than for my own memories and to show my kids one day, I really want to turn this whole bicycle trip into a cohesive narrative, a truthful and emotional account of my journey, of all the great people I met along the way, and all the wonderful tidbits of life that come along with that. For now, I must continue to process what I have just been through and where I am going next. Lots of pictures coming very soon!

Thu
4
Dec '08

The Adventure Continues

A few weeks of laying low, relaxing, and visiting friends and family has been fun. Other than moving about a bit to make sure I see everyone while I am here, my life has been without obligations and timetables. And while I have undoubtedly enjoyed all this quiet, dormant time recently, the fire that is my nomadic spirit is not so easily extinguished. My bones are aching for travel, for movement and a change in scenery. I still look forward to settling down for a bit on my own in Nashville, but some wanderlust must be quenched first.

So tomorrow I will begin a little excursion out of town, out of civilization. Currently I am staying with my aunt Colette in San Marcos, California, just north of San Diego. In the morning I will load my bike down with all my bags again and head east. My destination is the Salton Sea, a surreal and soothing spot out in the middle of the desert, about one hundred miles away. I camped out there last year with my ex-girlfriend and fell in love with the place. Being out in the desert, the area is quite isolated and quiet but still feels very much alive. It is a great place to think and just be. In addition to the sea, which happens to be saltier than the Pacific Ocean, around the sea are breathtaking landscapes, hot springs, a few small cities, Slab City and Salvation Mountain. Salvation Mountain is a national treasure, a man-made mountain dedicated to the idea of God = Love and the salvation brought by Jesus Christ. The entire thing was built by one man, Leonard Knight, who is in his seventies now, has worked on the place for about twenty years, and continues to maintain and build new components today. Meeting him in person earlier this year left me filled with inspiration and admiration. I suggest reading his story and visiting if opportunity permits. It’s worth it.

Other than a few destinations in mind, my plan is fairly vague. Getting out there will take me two days, traveling through what should be some beautiful scenery. Once there, I’ll probably take at least a week to ride around and explore and rest and relax and write and think. I will be without my computer, so unfortunately I will not be able to make any updates until I return to civilization, unless I come across somewhere with computer access, but I’m not planning on it. I’m looking forward to taking some time without this machine, much as I love it so. My phone should work out there, and I’m always happy to have phone calls. I should have some visitors in the flesh, as well, during my stay.

Hopefully this little excursion will help to satisfy some of the wanderlust that still occupies my blood and mind and spirit. I don’t think it will ever be completely calmed or satisfied, but I do still want to take some time in one place, to have my own space to work creatively. This time of solace and solitude should provide ample resources to help get my mind focused, my heart mended, and my spirit calmed.