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Between Earth and Sky:
Life on land
December 5th of the first year

Vidi Vini Vici -- the Mexican buffet will forever regret the "All You Can Eat" sign on its front door. I took down eleven authentic enchiladas and would have slayed a few more if I didn't value mobility. I'm in Fort Davis, TX, and I'm just 17 miles from the McDonald Observatory, one of the world's leading centers for astronomical research. As I shoveled the last enchilada down the hatch, I looked over the observatory brochure and caught a glimpse of the tour schedule. At exactly 2pm, they'll be starting the last tour of the day. 2pm? Shit... it's already 12:45. Whatever. I can bike 17 miles in 75 minutes, right? So what if it's another 1,500 vertical feet... pfft. I'm too awesome for altitude. Ha! This ought to be good.

I ran out of the restaurant knowing full well that this was going to require a stroke of luck, a small miracle and all of my best cards. Chug the Gatorade, put on the headphones and harness the power of the wind. Done, done and... aww crap! As I turned over the final card, there was Jimmy the one-eyed jack with a devilish glimmer in his eye; I was in Sanchez country and this was undeniably the worst sign imaginable. Whatever, man! I don't believe in superstitions! It was no use, though. The wind, who had been my friend for the past three days suddenly betrayed me at my greatest time of need. Faith in my ability to scale the mountain in 75 minutes was dwindling... but it was not lost.

I zipped out of town at a confident 22mph determined to write my own destiny despite Fate's intentions. Climbing 1500' is hard, but I didn't realize that I'd have to be climbing it multiple times. Every incline was a fire in my legs and the horrible reality of an immediate downhill afterwards was cutting into my ability to get to the top in time. "You're not going to make it, Chuck." -- "Shutup! I can and I will!". I pressed on and on and anytime I was below 15mph I'd push as hard as I could to compensate with another spur around 20mph. It's now 1:20pm and I'm falling behind... my legs are jelly and the hills ahead are increasingly daunting. "I can do this", I say to myself.

Just then, without any warning whatsoever, sirens begin to blare and panic invades our surroundings. It's a prison break and eleven convicts are trying to escape through the entrance! In the middle of the desert?!?! YES! The enchiladas are on the move! I ditched the bike as soon as I could and went straight for the red, emergency lock-down button but the fiery fugitives are just about to slip out the front door! Blacked out those chaotic few moments, I was relieved to find that they slammed headlong into the hatch just before reaching daylight. There was a sigh of relief. Okay, okay... I'm not going to summit Mt. Locke in time... you win. It didn't really matter anymore anyhow, I had more important things to attend to now. Once the situation was under control and order was restored, court came into session and all eleven were present and accounted for. "The case against you is quite clear", said he. They were sentenced to life in the belly below and under careful watch for the rest of their days.

2pm. I didn't make the tour and am wondering if I can even get there in time for the "Star Party" at 6pm. Look at that climb! Can you imagine riding a loaded bicycle up there??



Ta-da! Oh man, that was quick! Look at the smiley bum! WOO!!

After I passed the "No trailers beyond this point -- VERY STEEP INCLINE" sign, I knew I was in for hell... and hell it was. I stopped about 4 or 5 times while climbing up the mountain but it would have been much worse if it weren't for the fact that Cannondale loaded my bike with uncommonly huge gearing on the rear wheel.


Truthfully, the climb to the top was the hardest thing I've ever done on a bicycle and the view from the top was unreal. For the last week I had been climbing over mountains and coasting through hidden valleys, but now that I was atop the world on Mount Locke, they were all tiny ant hills in the distance. I felt like I was looking into a photograph -- the scene appeared to be completely artificial, like I could reach out and grab it from before my eyes. Trees were little specks of green and I was looking down upon the hawks. Ziggy was at a loss... there was no way he could capture the landscape, much less the sense of accomplishment..

I more or less "snuck" into this silver dome to get a view of their latest telescope. The tour director didn't mind at all... who could get upset with the kid who just rode his bicycle up a mountain?



This is what it looks like inside; a giant, slightly-curved surface of hexagonal mirrors. I'm not going to lie -- even after the tour director explained exactly how it operated, I'm still completely clueless. The rest of the RV'ers did a lot of nodding.



Watching the sun go down, eh? You realize that once it goes down, finding a camp site will be a difficult task, right? Yea yea, quit your worrying, man. I'll figure something out, it's not like I'm going to die.



There she blows.


If you ever find yourself atop Mount Locke and don't take kindly to parting with your monies, you might want to decline from paying for their little Star Party. Basically, we stood outside for an hour with our heads up in the air as an astronomer pointed out all the visible constellations. It was interesting I guess. We got to look through a handful of large, powerful telescopes which revealed a whole bunch of stars in places that normally look like a black void. That was cool... I guess. Attaching names to the stars and all the science of the astronomy kind of takes away from the simple magnificence of it all. I much rather lay in a sleeping bag and get lost in the sky.

Hey, he made it!

Meet John, Linda, Bill and Rose. They passed me in their truck near the base of the mountain and we ran into each other right as I was tying off Shadowfax at the top. Turns out, they're all bicyclists and plan on some pretty challenging tours as well. Hooray, instant friends :-) They bought me dinner that night just before the famed Star Party and I found a new home for the sandwich where the departed convicts used to live.


Days passed. I don't know how many, but I can assure you that I was riding my bicycle for all of them. When you're on tour, there is no such thing as Monday. What a relief! Forget Monday, even Friday night used to piss me off when I had a day-job... all I could think about was taking advantage of every waking moment before Monday came back... which more or less ruined what Saturday and Sunday should have been about. Anyhoo, on some day, I woke up in my tent and poked my head out to see which way the wind was blowing. The grass wasn't moving. Good. As I was about to retreat back into the tent, I caught sight of something unbelievable.

"What...? No. No... that's not possible."

It's still November and I can see Mexico from here. What in the fuck is this? Seriously... WTF?!



READY... SET... BLACK ICE!!
This is ridiculous. It isn't supposed to snow here, is it?


Hospitality and a new set of tires were awaiting in El Paso right on the edge of Texas. Other cyclists told me that it'd take me forever to get through the state, but when I finally reached the end, I felt like we didn't have enough time together. The ride was constantly evolving and inspiration was abound. Blue skies, endless desert, coyotes singing in the night, tumbleweed, big-buckled cowboys, adobe homes and solitude amongst fading mountains at night will surely be missed.

Tumbleweed? Triforce? Either way I'm going to hold it above my head :-)



The Rio Grande... not so grande. At points it was no more than a creek which meant that border patrol helicopters were passing every 60 seconds.



My Dad told me that after biking through southern Texas, I'd never want to eat at Taco Bell ever again. I didn't want to believe it -- I loved Taco Bell. Unfortunately, he was right. These Gorditas were delicious. I've been eating nothing but Mexican food for weeks now and will certainly miss it in the end. But who knows, Mexicans seem to find their way everywhere these days...


I came into El Paso to climb a good eight miles up to Roy's house. His house was situated atop the mountain hugging the city and the views from this neighborhood were just beautiful. I lucked out on this one; Roy (39) is a quality dude for sure. When I told him that I'd need to go out and buy some gloves, cycling pants and a warmer sleeping bag, he offered me all three of his own. No way? Yes, his donated gloves and pants now make cycling in the morning hours a breeze. I'd have tried the Army-issued sleeping bag, but after getting a good look at it, it was much too large for my bicycle. It was three good days in El Paso with Roy and he took good care of me. I turned 24 on Sunday and he treated me to lunch at the Chinese buffet (buffet=good). We talked a lot about cycling as well as our "stories". He's been part of the Army for 19 years and has been on several tours in and out of Germany, Kuwait, Iraq and a handful of other countries; an experienced soldier and officer. Of paramount importance, he recounted his first experience in battle as the commanding officer of his company. Details aside, it was the lasting effects on his professional and personal life he shaped into a life-long blessing. "I don't stress out at work. I don't yell at my kids when they break things anymore. If we're coming up short on a deadline, then we're going to come in short. I'm not going to pull my hair out over it and put in extra hours for it. Is anyone going to die? No." I admired these words greatly.

It's so easy to take your biggest worries and turn them into emergencies when really they're quite insignificant from the greater perspective. Explore other worlds, take yourself out of everything you know and you will undoubtedly see your former self in the light of a healthier view.

-Charlie

PS: I'm in Las Cruces, New Mexico staying with John and Janette from WarmShowers. They're characters to say the least. I'll be on the road with no foreseeable pit-stops before Phoenix. Between stands Emory pass, some 8000'+ above sea level. Here we go!

OJ should always come in glasses like this one. Oatmeal should come in these things, too.



It was only a matter of time before I screwed this up.








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Written by Larry Ferstenou


2002
Nobody says you have to wait until you're 59 1/2 to retire. As a rare inside view of early retirement, this book sets out the exact steps necessary to retire young.




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