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"Life's a journey not a destination.
And I just can't tell just what tomorrow brings"
-Aerosmith

[I appologize in advance for the lengthy essay and lack of photos, but the days were just too weird to abridge.]

Why is there ice inside my tent? The slushgirl commeth? If only. Some freak October weather for Florida caught me by surprise. "I should have stayed in Tallahassee." Everything was soaked from the condensation -- that's the first and last time I sleep in tall grass.

I found myself in a little beatup town called Gretna, Florida and stopped in the laundromat to put the life back into my clothing. This place looked like a third-world city at war on the inside and I was the only one in there. It said it was open and the machines worked, so why not? I cleared away the rubble and building materials piled on top of the washing machines and shoved in some quarters. Laundromats make time for both bicycle and human maintainence. I hopped over some buckets of spackle and a broken microwave to take a look at myself in the remains of a shattered mirror. "Eww... man, you look like shit." Out with the pocket knife -- the pimples must die. A young, black lady enters the laudromat and tries not to make eye contact with me. It's just another day in wonderland.

In time, I turned my attention to Shadowfax to get a better look at whatever was the cause of that "PING" sound I heard yesterday. Surprise, surprise -- a broken spoke on the rear wheel. Oh wait, two broken spokes. Neat. No problem, I have spare spokes with me. Really, Chuck? Yup, I came prepared. Not quite... remember when you replaced your wheel? Guess what, your spare spokes don't fit this new wheel. Furthermore, replacing rear spokes is a nightmare while the cassette is still attached, and you don't have the tools to remove it. Nice try. I struggled for three hours to replace the spokes... no such luck. I knew I couldn't prepare for everything even if I tried. The wheel, once again, is horribly untrue. "John must've done something to my wheel when he replaced the cassette." Good thinking, but it's too bad you didn't think of that when you were in Tallahassee. The next bike shop isn't for 200 miles in Pensacola. Should you go back? Back? Going backwards is horrible. I rather walk 200 miles to Pensacola than limp 50 miles back to Tallahassee. I disconnect the rear brakes so they do not interfere.

A man enters the laundromat with a broom and wheel barrow. He's here to tidy up it looks... and to apparently hit on the lady. I want my laundry to be red-hot when it comes out of the dryer. Up with the temperature, let's cook these buggers :-) The janitor starts to get angry at the girl's resistance to his weak game, "ALL I WANT IS ONE NIGHT! JUST ONE NIGHT! JUST GIVE ME A CHANCE!" Yell-begging isn't going to work, dude. I've become numb to the ridiculousness of country folk and tune him out. Later I'd realize he was talking to me and I never realized it through his thick, southern accent... something about Forrest Gump.

Guess what happens when you put the temperature way too high to dry a stretchy ski hat, neck gaiter and thermal underwear. It cooks. My thermals are now a ball of plastic and the skiing gear has no elasticity. Ugh. Into the trash they go. "I should have stayed in Tallahassee." What next?

I got back on the bike surprised to see that it wasn't all that bad to ride. Maybe I can make it to Pensacola? Who needs rear brakes anyhow. Hills are still steep and it's been 3 long days into a headwind. I'm starting to think that biking east to west is to challenge the prevailing winds despite what I read about it only effecting the upper atmosphere. "This is going to end in disaster." Eh well, if shit breaks, then it breaks. Worst case scenario, I walk... I bet someone would pick me up if that happened.

Six dogs chased me into the next timezone. Rather, I led them there. "COME ON WOOFERS! PORTLAND HERE WE COME!" Too bad they got tired... Huddy could have had some new company. I spent the night in the town of Marianna and sought out Walmart the next morning to replace my warmer clothing. On the way out, a man read the back of my shirt and we got into a small dialog. "Well good luck. I'll add you to the prayer list at church!" In my head I'm thinking, "YES! I MADE THE PRAYER LIST!! WOOOO!!!!" Back on the road on my way to the library, an old, toothless man in a pickup truck stops me. "Ya'll got a motor on that thang??" Motor? Are you serious? No, of course not. My bike falls over and almost into the busy traffic. I rush to pick it up and return to the truck. "I just wanted to know if you had a motor!" He drives off. Sigh...

"PING!" Shadowfax is begging for help. Sorry, you're going to have to speak up... I didn't hear you. A beep is heard from behind me. Oh great, another local inquiring about my invisible motor... right? Not quite -- this time it's the prayer list guy, James! He waves me down and asks me to come over for a warm meal... awesome. Of course I agree, my bike is breaking and I don't feel like dealing with it right now. Inside his apartment he introduces me to Alyssa (17), his niece, and asks her to prepare some tastiness on the stove. I've found through the course of the trek that it is the people with the least to offer who are the most willing to help a stranger. The apartment had little to show but it had a surplus of humanity. Not only was it a healthy dose of humanity, but it was about to turn into an overdose of religious testimony. "If you were to die tomorrow, do you know if you'd go to heaven?" He said the question to me as though it was going to completely revolutionize my mode of thinking. I have an open mind and a willingness to listen, so I briefly explained that my views know no conviction. I didn't want to accidentally offend my new friend. He went off for 2 hours on personal testimony in his own life. I listened, maintained eye-contact and smiled here and there because I knew what he was saying meant the world to him even if I didn't share his beliefs.

All the testimony caused James to be late for a small job staining a woman's deck. He asked me if I wanted to help him stain the deck, I shrugged and said why not... as long as I can crash here for the night. The three of us ventured over to the lady's house and James went inside to talk to her. Alyssa and I spent some quality time in the car where I'd find out that she's much more than I assumed. This girl was "smart". Our conversation comprised of little small talk and a lot of meaningful notions about the journey through life. She had an ability to speak in a general manner about significant topics so that you could apply them to your own specific experience. James returned and we were off to Lowe's to get some stain. I was thinking it'd make for a really peculiar photo to have me staining a deck while biking across country, but we'd never get the chance; the man at Lowe's informed us that the deck would need more time to dry from the pressure washing a couple days ago. Bummer.

Alyssa and the newest addition to our wardrobe.


"Would you like to come to service with me tonight?" Oh. Um. I used to go a lot way back when... then I didn't go for a real long time, and when I finally went back to a service, I found myself horribly disgusted. I turned to Alyssa and asked if she was going, and she was. "I guess I'll go. Yea." I knew I didn't want to go, but how bad can it be? So, once again I am going to be all ears.

I don't know how many of you have been to a Southern Baptist church, but let me tell you, it's nothing like I was used to. I was introduced to the entire church just before the pastor went off on an hour-long preaching about trust in God. Every 30 seconds someone would yell out "Amen!" or "Come on, brother!"... "YES!" The pastor was becoming energized and his voice was almost deafening if you hadn't already gone in shock from fear. At times I felt like the entire place was about to bust out their pitch forks and march to war... it was insane. The pastor was literally yelling into the pews trying to convey a great fear which was only remedied by following His will. I began to get a headache. The pastor is preaching to the younger people in the audience and claims that they cannot trust their friends because even they will let you down some day. "The people you meet in high school will not be there for you only a few years later". James put his hand on my arm for a moment as if we were bonding on some cosmic level. I felt sick.

The pastor takes a drink from a red, plastic solo cup. Red solo cup? Now I'm gone. Back to the "House of Pain" as we called it in Rochester. The HOP was a living and breathing monument to "Animal House", and anytime I see a red solo cup I'm instantly thinking about those days. I used to walk into the food store and buy their entire stock of red solo cups. "Having a party?", the cashier will always ask. It pains me to respond.

Back in the church, I've stopped listening. I want pizza. The service ends and I look towards the door. A man approaches Alyssa and I inside the church and asks the million dollar question, "If you were to die tomorrow, do you know if you'd go to Heaven?" Alyssa quickly flees. I remain and explain that my views know no conviction. Poor choice, this guy is about to quote the bible for 90 minutes and you're going to literally be backed into a corner while never saying a word. The headache is becoming horrible and only worsens since I have to look upwards towards the ceiling lights to maintain eye-contact. I shoot Alyssa several looks and she understands my pain. Chuck is still standing there when Charlie decided it was time to go. I don't know how long this guy talked to him, but every time I came back to check up on Chuck, the man was still quoting bible verses. "I should have stayed in Tallahassee."

Finally, the serve-Him-or-be-tortured-for-eternity speech was over. Back in the car, I explain that "Happiness is good food in large quantity." We're now off to get three pizzas, and with it, my own personal bliss :-)

While waiting outside of the pizzeria, James comes upon an apparently abandoned drill set. Heh... not as weird as Lucas finding pepperoni, but definitely more profitable.

"God has blessed me with a drill set."


We ended the night in the company of Jack Black and Nacho Libre... which was pretty disappointing. Morning came and James asked me to stay another day. I figured it'd be a good way to update my journal and hang out with my new friends, so I agreed. Time passed quickly inside the library and there we were all hanging out in the apartment once more. We watch a few more movies and the entire day was suddenly over. I layed down to bed but never really found my sleep. I had too much coffee to drink. A million thoughts are racing through my head again and all I want to do is pedal on a working bicycle. I envision myself biking out of the driveway and having my wheel crumble into a mess of metal. Everything was better when I was biking. I just want to be on my own... I don't care if it means that I'm walking. "I should have stayed in Tallahassee."

The sun came up and it was time to become assertive in both my actions and words. James was still on a mission to have me "see the light" when he said, "You seem like a really cool guy, Chuck. I don't want to see you go to Hell." I stopped talking softly for a change and wouldn't allow him to speak over top of me. I explained my simple views and turned down an offer for breakfast. I had to leave and I had to leave now. I think he then realized that he may have mistaken my willingness to listen as a weakness of the mind. He stuck out his hand and wished me farewell.

I got on the bike and knew it was bad news -- I could feel the wheel moving in directions it wasn't designed to do. I didn't care. I was going to head to the library, but I wanted so badly to leave Marianna and explore the road ahead. I didn't even take the time to fill my water bottles before I left the apartment. 150 miles to Pensacola... and it's about to rain. Again.

[Hours later]: "PING!" OH NO YOU DIDN'T! Break all the damn spokes you want -- until you stop turning, I'm gonna keep on pedaling. Every revolution of the pedals is a small dose of therapy. The rain had no choice but to revive my spirit. I was coming alive.

To be continued.

-Chuck

I don't care how many times you lap me... I'm racing you all the way to San Diego.






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The Simple Living Guide

Written by Jane Luhrs


1997
Living simply is being fully aware of what you're doing and why you're doing it. This book will elevate you out of your own world to take an objective look at your actions.




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