Monday, October 24, 2005

the scientific method (for one must be scientific before all things.)

it was a terrible plan really. in a way, all dreams start off that way. there wasn't just one major problem. the whole thing had cracks.

so it's officially a month before you bike across the country and...

do you have a bike? no.
do you have anything to carry your gear? not really.
know much about bike maintenance? minimal.
ever been on a bike tour? only very kind of, once for one night on the outer banks.
know anything about the winter weather in the deep south? no.
know anyone who would be a good reference for bike touring? not really.
know where you are going to sleep at night along the way? nope.

i sent out a few emails last spring and i prefaced them all with, "this is probably a terrible plan... but... if you aren't doing anything else this winter..."
so maybe most people would chalk this one up to: 1. i'll plan for a couple years and then... or 2. i've always been interested but i just don't think... or 3. thrown it out as the life goal that i would probably never get to.

i met a lovely woman during the summer of 2002 while hiking the Appalachian trail named sunshine. before setting out to hike a 2000 mile foot trail, she had never done much backpacking and she'd never once been on an overnight camping trip. during those first few days of march, she was getting ready to spend the next six months of her life doing something she'd never done before. she told me how she'd left holland at sixteen with a guitar slung over her shoulder. she figured she could play on street corners for change. i asked if she knew how to play the guitar when she left home and she said no, but it seemed the thing to do. now that her children are grown-up, she told me it was her turn to make them nervous. that is her birthday present to herself every year, something out-of-this-world to make her kids worry a little.

there were cracks, okay holes... or gaps... chasms. canyons? to counter that, there was the sunshine theory.
i spent the month of september at home getting the next six months of my life together. i bought a new bike, a trailer, bike shoes, bike clothes, and a lot of Ziploc bags. then, on october second i started off to cross my home state with cycle north carolina. i biked 480 miles in seven days with a hilarious group of 1,100 people. after a week of long days, i spent a few days resting up and then shoved off with my traveling/biking/hiking partner katie ross. we have come 280 miles in the last seven days. (mind you, we've been resting in charleston for two days)

(my experimental tests) we have spent all but the last three days camping and cooking on a fully supported bike tour. so far, the sunshine theory seems solid. there were holes in the plan, but it has all worked out famously.

-i go to bed every night smiling... thinking wow, this is going to be a wonderful trip.
-i get up every morning to watch the sunrise over a different field or river or small town, drinking coffee and reading ee cummings out loud. (mornings are for poetry).
-i ride my bike most of the day. we've been past the coast, over mountains, down roads lined with live oaks; past soybeans, cotton, and corn.
-we've met with a few honks and one guy shouting near carolina beach, but mostly people wave and smile.
-i whistle. i sing songs. i make up my own songs. i love looking at different mailboxes.
-i've taken naps in parks and on porches, in side yards and on benches.

there are a thousand good stories.
good details.
the first letter has been a long time coming. a hard time coming.
this is more of a preface. the forward. the introduction.

there is no dream too outlandish.
(we heard a story about guys roller-blading cross-country!)
no reason not to try anything.
this bike trip is my guitar slung adventure. this is me leaving for the wilderness without knowing how to set up my tent.

there is a beautiful world out there. i hope all of your dreams come true.


ps. the scientific method (as taken from the university of rochester webpage, the department of physics and astronomy.)
1. observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
2. formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena.
3. use the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
4. performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

under bridges, aside marinas, within firestations

[charleston, south carolina]

wowee zowee. definitely for sure, the thing that made me most nervous about this trip was not knowing where we'd be staying each night. as adventurous as i am, or like to think i am, the uncertainty made me nervous. the end of the first day arrived, the sun was setting, we were riding through the coastal town of southport, North carolina, and the anxiety was whirling: where will we stay? who should we ask? people at the local coffee shop? bike shop (nope - closed)? outfitter?church? should we go back and sleep in the woods back there?it was getting darker and the executive decision was made. we went back to the outfitter we'd passed and asked the owner who was sitting outside in a rocking chair. she suggested the local marina bait shop, which, she told us, had a big grass field and was owned by friendly folks. fast forward 250 miles later, from charleston south carolina.....

day 1: southport marina and bait shop, southport, NC. lesson learned: just because you have permission to camp somewhere doesn't mean it's a good place to camp. lesson learned somewhere in between 'the electric slide' and 'play that funky music white boy', blastedfrom the neigboring 'Fish Tales restaurant and tikkibar'. i didn't sleep much that night...

day 2: on the lawn of ted maple's house, a fellow cyclist we met in calabash, NC. in the morning he invited us in for lots of coffee (he drinks half a pot every morning) and a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast. a character if i've ever met one, his house was a virtual yard sale: knick knacks, signs, and this and that everywhere: inside: a painting of jesus, ships, mega-large screen tv, leopard print pillows,betty boop doll, cat in the hat; outside in the yard:statues of angels, pink flamingos, pumpkins, palm trees; signs at the front door: "martha stewart doesn't live here," "elvis has left the building," and"the thing i miss most is my mind." turns out ted is a community organizer - president of the local propertyowner's association, he tries to get his neigbors interacting through yardsales, pizza parties for the kids, and good old chit-chat...

day 3: Horry County Fire and Rescue, Horry county, SC; we got permission to camp out back. just before diving into the tent for the evening, a car pulls up:"camping out, eh?" "yeah, we got permission from the fire station." "well you're camping in my yard." "oh. sorry. do you want us to move?" "oh no, that's okay -there's some nice trees over there you're welcome tocamp under..."

day 4: our first night of steath camping: under the route 41 bridge over the santee river. the bridge, a mammoth concrete structure aside an old steel frame spindly looking railroad bridge, juxtapositional food for thought. sunset, a palette of dark trees against aglowing background, sunrise was a mirror image reversed, breakfast on the boat ramp with fog risingfrom the river....

day 5: Dorchester Country EMS station: overstimulus of indoor amenities, they let us use their kitchen,showers, bathrooms and laundry, and sleep on pullout couches in the common room. we ate our couscous and refried beans dinner while watching paramedic and firefighter reality shows on tv and getting to know paramedics Skip, Steve-o, and Jon during their shifts...


my where-are-we-going-to-sleep anxieties have been more than quelled. and although it will take a while for the lessons to be learned and sink in - they will accumulate, build, and layer over time - i think this, more than anything else, will be the way I "see America" and "hear people's stories" during this trip:by staying in their yards and homes, by chatting and eating breakfast with them, framed in their own context

....on and on and hoping to avoid Wilma,

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

getting lost in spandex

[wilmington, north carolina]

the preface is over. Last week I rode my bike 485 miles across north carolina, from asheville to wilmington, mountains to the sea, with 1100 otherpeople. First 4 days in the sun, last 3 in constant rain from tropical storm tammy, all of it a learning experience...

-through cotton fields that looked like snow in80-degree october
-by roland, an 80-year old man who rides a recumbant bike and listens to an mp3 player as he rides;every time i passed him, he was singing out loud
-through ankle deep water at rockingham raceway at mile 60 of an 80 mile day, the rain coming and coming; the track held more meaning to others than to northerner me,
-with Allen, a Yankees fan from New Jersey who owns a warehouse with a "hot" mound of mulch in the back, a camo humvee, a mini cooper, a chicken bus (i still haven't figured out what that means), and a house inNew haven, connecticut with no furnuture; and his friend Stephanie from Wisconsin, who looks 40 but is 49, has run 25 marathons in 20 years, and is in waybetter shape than me
-by front porches to the max
-by people sitting on those porches (and waving)

-tenting under the drive thru of First Citizens Bank inAlbermarle, NC

-sleeping in an armory, a primary school, a convention center, a boarding school...

-ramen on the curb. the next morning allen told us,"I'm taking you two out for dinner tonight, I'm not gonna watch you two cook on the curb in the rain."
-peanut butter and jelly, apples, bananas, and ers for 7 days in a row.

-waking up at 6am, leaving by 8:30 and still being the last ones out of camp...

but tomorrow the trip really begins. starting inwilmington, north carolina, my friend (and former AT hiking partner) kevin 'valley ' blackwell and I will dip our tires in the atlantic ocean, hop on ourbikes, and head south to Florida. In st. augustine we'll turn right, west, and ride towards california...why? the initial answer: kevin asked me sometime last spring if i wanted to go. i said yes because i'm ready for something like this.

the 'deeper,' 'bigger' reasons? I want to see small town america, talk to people, hear their stories, find places that aren't on the map, explore the reality ofcommunity in these $3.19/gallon wal mart times. I want to write, I want to be physically active, and I want to be outside. we will cook most of our meals on camp stoves. we will sleep any place that we can find. we will talk to strangers. I will wear spandex shorts. my butt will hurt more than it ever has before. and i will be tan and freckle like never before

and so, just 2 more quotes, form 2 beloved writers and wilderness gurus, to say why and how...

"Never did we plan the morrow, for we had leanred thatin the wilderness some new and irresistible distraction is sure to turn up each day before breakfast. Like the river, we were free to wander..." -aldo leopold

"Coherent or not, these chunks of words share one theme: the need to make sense of private experience byexploring the freer connections and contradictions among wildness and wilderness, community and ;between civilization and human freedom." -edward abbey

if you happen to be near the route, we'll be stopping by. If you want to keep in touch, I'll be checking email in public libraries along the way.