"Where in the hell am I?" I looked up from the road and suddenly it hit me that I'm nowhere near where I started. Woah. I'm here. I made it to California. I rode my bicycle across North America completely by myself. Holy shit. There was no car involved and there was no plane. I pedaled. I pedaled the whole way here. What in the... am I really doing this? It certainly does not feel like it in the least. I feel like I woke up on Monday in Tempe, rode for a few days and crossed the border into California. It wasn't that far away. I'm not sure how I got to Tempe to begin with... I think someone else put me there. What about from Maine to Florida? Did I bike that? Hell no, that was definitely not me. I'm fairly certain that I've been me for no more than a week and whoever it was that came before me is the one accredited for all those miles. Only been alive for one week? I hear what you're saying, but one week?? I think that's too short of a lifespan for your little pattern of rebirth, Charles. Well that's how it feels... I'm not to rationalize my own feelings. I've been many people as time progresses, but never have I felt such a newness so frequently. My reality is changing at a rate I've never before encountered and everyday is literally an adventure. I suppose that change brings about new life... I've just never been so incredibly alive.
I'm having flashbacks. An image will come into my head for only a moment and a handful of associated memories will pour into the mind. It's a camp site. It's the sight of my house in Allentown as I roll in 8 days after leaving Maine. It's Lucas, Francis and the sunsets in North Carolina. I camped in a Confederate trench in Virginia. I could draw you detailed pictures of people I've met only knowing them for minutes. On a very windy day in Texas, the grass moved in harmony like a blanket upon the Earth. I can playback the entire first day leaving Stockton Springs via bicycle for the first time. My friends drove by as I began the adventure south. I could tell you of the anxiety I felt the first night I pitched my tent in the middle of nowhere. Nearly everything someone says to me or situation I find myself in will trigger a memory made somewhere on the tour. I ate a hotdog in DC that was nothing short of heaven. Does the ability to recall these events mean they happened to me? It's strange to think about. I feel as though I'm recalling a story that I once read in a book or saw in a theater. It is me and it isn't me. I am constantly losing myself to these memories.
In the immediate parts of California, the terrain actually took on a very different appearance than west Arizona. Suddenly everything was green. I came down into a valley of endless farms, livestock and mountains very far off on the horizon. Cycling through the late afternoon, I started to become concerned that I wouldn't find a place to sleep since there were no hiding spots anywhere on the road. As the sun was setting, I found myself exiting the farm country and back into the hills and desert lands. When I found some ample shrubbery amongst the desert, off I went to setup camp and disappear for the night. Right away something seemed out of place. I wasn't walking on dirt. I wasn't walking on mud, sand, leaves or rock. Still on land, right? Yea, I think. I was kicking up a thick layer of dust amongst these petrified pieces of wood... and it was everywhere. What is this, a boneyard? I still don't have any clue as to what I was walking into, but it felt like I had walked onto another planet somehow.
The Marmot sleeping bag is incredible. I awoke in the boneyard during the night covered in sweat and decided to get a drink of water. All of the water bottles were frozen solid and when I opened the tent, tiny flakes of frost fell inside. And here I was sweating like it was July. Outside the tent, I cannot help but notice the stars. I know I've said this more than once in previous entries, but it's just something that continues to astonish me throughout the southern tier. It's as though someone took a bunch of shiny spots, swept them across the sky and swirled them into patterns of light and dark. With my eyes lost to the world above, each exhale drifted across my vision to remind me of the freezing temperature that hasn't yet caught hold of the body. Somehow the cold made the stars all the purer. There were zero distractions. It's an image, rather, a moment that will never escape my memory...
Right before someone decided to throw a handful of pennies at me from a moving car, I made the vide below. Don't ask where the accent came from... it just comes out when I press the record button.
Question: When you're in the middle of nowhere and you really have to pee, where do you go?
Answer: Anywhere you want to.
And then we came to Arabia. Yup, I rented a paddle boat and cycled across the ocean. How else can you explain these photos? Shadowfax wanted to try out his sea-legs but I didn't have any floaties on me.
7:15 - Wakeup. Be surprised to find myself in a tent yet again.
7:20 - Talk to Elvis about my dreams. Lay around staring at the clouds.
8:00 - Nature calls.
8:05 - Consume food.
8:20 - Go back to sleep.
9:30 - Wake and gear up.
10:00 - Bicycle places I've never before seen, eat way too much, talk with locals and snap photographs.
4:30 - Pitch the tent, look over the map and marvel at new photographs.
5:00 - Talk to Elvis.
5:15 - Slip out of consciousness for 14 hours. Dream about cheese.
My life has been entirely natural lately; I just respond to the needs of my body and take it from there. If I'm sleepy, I sleep. If I'm tired, I rest. I don't care if I just pulled out of a diner, if I feel like eating a couple sandwiches, then I will. I haven't heard the sound of an alarm clock in months. I have no real schedule, no pressure and no people pestering me. There is no agenda and nowhere I have to be. Gillette is a word I knew in my previous life. I wonder what I'm going to wear today. How about what I woke up in? Sure! I don't feel like cycling. Ok, so don't cycle. I'll go as far as I like, put up the tent and watch a sunset if I'm lucky. If not, no big deal... my own thoughts will keep me occupied for hours. Sleep? Eat? Hell, I'll do both. THIS is a vacation... and it's as long as I want it to be.
BEHOLD! The last great climb of the southern tier! The Cuyamaca mountain range! From just below sea level to over 4000' in a single day, this motherf***** was a royal pain and was only worsened by the fact that I knew it was the very last challenge. There was plenty of burnination in the calves this day and more than once someone pulled off in front of me to offer me a ride to the top.
"Where you headed?"
"San Diego! I'm almost there!"
"Can I give you a lift? This hill is a bitch!"
"Hell no! I biked here from Maine!"
The marine stood next to his shiny, black pickup truck, took a good look at me and said, "That's fucking insane." I think he was angry that I turned down the offer, actually. Oh well! Keep on truckin, Chuckles! It was a 6% grade for a good 3 or 4 hours before I finally reached the top. Somewhere near the halfway point, I finagled one of the many disconnects and started daydreaming about God-only-knows what. It had something to do with a film about bums... aww crap, I forget now. OH! Yea, it was a TV series called "Bum Hunters"! Perhaps if you're lucky enough, you'll see the first episode somewhere near the end of all this madness :-)
On top of the world, the sun was soon to dip out of sight. For a moment I looked at both the mountains and sun and thought to myself, "Maybe the sun will set in front of the mountains today". A good five seconds passed before I realized the thought was incredibly far from intelligent and I shared a few laughs with the internal dialog. Ok man, it's time to find shelter. For real, the sun sets behind the mountains and it's going to be dark soon. Right! I looked at my maps to ensure that I wasn't close to the Mexican border only to find out that if I stepped off the left side of the road, I would be in Mexico! Oh shit! No way in hell am I going to camp anywhere near here. Border patrol is EVERYWHERE. The last thing I need is a helicopter coming down on my tent flashing lights and tearing through my bags looking for drugs. Though the interrogation might be a good story someday, my PA license expired when I turned 24 and I'm not going to be happy if I don't make it to San Diego with just 75 miles to go.
So what now? No camp sites anywhere nearby, no stealth spots, no motels, no houses... and guess what, you're on the biggest smuggling route in the country! WOO! And the answer is... beggar camping! I pulled into the Sheriff's station and all I had to do was explain that I was touring and didn't have any options for the night. What were they going to do? Cast me out into the cold? Pfft. It worked wonders. They invited me inside, gave me a huge box of Christmas cookies, filled up my water bottles and let me hang out with them for a while. It was right out of "Super Troopers". The three officers in there were just messing with each other and eating cookies while telling me stories of all their drug busts over the years. By the time I went back to my tent, I had three more friends on the lengthy list o'pals thanks to this epic ride.
Tom read the words on the back of my shirt and just a moment after entering the diner, the three of us were sitting down for breakfast together. He told me stories of his touring in the '70s and how he and Tina had plans to do some touring in the not-so-distant future. Oh, and they bought me breakfast, too! People rule. Hearing me talk about moments during my tour sent Tom far off into his memory to pull up events in his own life he hadn't thought about in years. It was great to hear him narrate days and curious encounters from his touring and I smiled as he sort of lost his immediate self and looked upwards to relive those moments. I could picture myself talking like this someday and I was happy to bring alive his own experiences once again.
On the descent into San Diego, I was riding higher than I've been in all my days with Mr. Fax. I didn't have to pedal for nearly an hour and decided to bust out the air guitar and drum solo that had been laid to rest somewhere in west Texas. It felt like the last leg of the tour though really it was just going to be the end of this segment. Nevertheless, I started high-fiving the trees that wizzed by and imagined them all holding out cups of water and spraying champagne all over the place. Like so many times before, I let my imagination run free and got so into the high-fiving that I smacked a leaf that was less a leaf and more of a sturdy branch. I nearly wrecked. But no, we kept galloping! And I laughed it off as I kept cruising towards the beach.
December 23rd, 2006. Saturday afternoon. Possibly the worst day in the entire year to be navigating a bicycle through traffic in downtown San Diego. My high came to an abrupt stop after a hundred red lights and motorists driven to the edge by holiday anxiety. Man! I'm never going to get to the damn beach! I kept envisioning a car taking me out of commission just minutes before reaching the shore... it was a terrible thought, but it kept me extra vigilant. Once I found my way out of the gridlock, I knew exactly where the beach was and went nutty on the pedals. This one is too far beyond the journal. It was an incredible feeling... and it still burns inside as radiant as when it happened. I came over the last crest and...
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