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I arrived at a gas station in Crestview, Florida hoping to find some bananas and to check the pressure in my tires. I'm just 80 miles from Pensacola and Shadowfax gallops onward despite the cracks in his hooves. I feel great. Today is a great day. For no particular reason, I'm feeling enormously confident and the benevolent attitude is rock solid. The cycling therapy had worked wonders. Thinking back upon the events of this day, I must've begun radiating some kind of amicable vitality that would last through this very minute and hopefully indefinitely into the days to come.

While pumping up my tires, I got into many conversations with people of all ages just walking by. One lady in particular, Alex, used to be a resident of Ashland, Oregon. Everybody only ever has good things to say about Oregon albeit the rain. From the spectacular natural surroundings to the genuine personalities of its people, Alex had fond memories of Ashland. Before parting, she voluntarily offered me six dollars and wished me well. Amazing. I thanked her and put the funds towards some bananas and Gatorade shortly after. On my way out of the gas station, an elderly lady approached me and soon offered to have me over for lunch and dinner and to spend the night if I wanted. How do you respond to these kinds of random generosity? This bicycle adventure has very little to do with bicycling and a whole lot to do with humanity. Having only been on the road for 20 minutes, I turned down the offer but made sure she understood my great appreciation. Pensacola is in reach if I can just keep moving.

On the road, I put on my headphones and began to sing to the trees and to passing trains. I passed many people on bicycle or on foot and for the first time didn't bother to mute the volume of my voice as I pedaled by. What does it matter? Who doesn't appreciate The House of the Rising Sun? Hell, I'll sing all the way to New Orleans just to prove a point, now. I began to think about the infinite infinitesimal fears that accumulate into great mountains as one becomes more and more a product of society. In disconnecting one's self from the rest of society, it's only natural to see things in a light you couldn't previously see. There's no television, no magazines, and no radio. All you have is what you've packed and the thoughts that run in your head. I am still part of the system, but just less than what it was before I left. It seems that everybody is operating largely on fear and a desire for order to some degree. Fear is what keeps us from getting killed, but it's also what stops us from living a more meaningful life for ourselves. It's the subtle and far more potent fear which maintains a sense of order and belonging. From simple things like fashion to the more complicated workings of feeling inferiority or superiority, the physically harmless fears will ultimately lay the path before you. It's important to question what "they say" you should do and to examine why you feel obligated to behave as you are.

Anyway...

A car pulls up next to me and a little girl in a wedding dress holds out an unknown amount of cash to me as we're rolling. "Oh. No, thanks", I said. I didn't make this shirt to get free money, but that's most of what I've had. I didn't know that "hospitality" could be interpreted as a nominal donation. Later I'd regret not taking the money... I probably offended her just when she wanted to go the extra mile and help out a stranger.

For all you Red Alert fans out there...
"ENGINEERING... AFFIRMATIVE!"


It wasn't long before I found myself in Pensacola -- all the worry from the previous days couldn't be heard above my newfound attitude. I met up with the Bonin family, friends through my Dad, had the usual dialog and hopped back on the bicycle to get where I really wanted to go...

:: Irish folk music playing outside the restaurant ::

My Dad has been talking about this place for as long as I can remember and painted a picture of antics and drunken cheer each time he told me about it. On my way there I was wondering whether or not he was embellishing the stories every time he told them. I ended up calling him halfway through the night -- "This place is great! It's everything you said it was and more!"


I don't even know where to start with this one... the bar is easily the happiest place in all of Florida. And guess what? I just happened to show up on the Saturday they were having their Halloween bash. "I am so glad I left Tallahassee when I did." The photos can do most of the talking :-)

The plan was to stash Shadowfax and get sloppy. Before I even entered, I found one of the employees, played the "I biked here from Maine" card in tandem with "My Dad has been telling about me about this place for years" card. Shadowfax got his own private room and had a little party of his own :-)



Yes, those are all real dollars on the wall. They total over $700,000 currently. The featured moose is just one of about 5 they have in there, and if you look to the upper-right of the photo you'll see part of a hippopotamus. Looking at the bar, you'll notice a whole lot of mugs hanging from the ceiling. The mugs are all numbered from 1 to... a lot. The entire restaurant is lined with dollar bills and mugs and each of them is customized. Put down a dollar bill and the bartender will hand you a staple gun and a sharpie. Give them a name, ask for your own mug and soon yours will be hanging from the ceiling with your name on it -- next time you come in you just ask for you mug and voila... it's like you never left.

I spent 3 full nights in this bar and I'm going to go back again right after I finish this entry :-)



Genius.



The bra collection.
Drunk is good.



How could I resist?

By the third day, everybody knew me. People that I hadn't even met were coming up to me and saying, "You're that guy who biked here from Maine!" despite the fact that I stopped wearing the shirt.



My local pal, Sean. He bought me a beer, he did! I'd run into this fellow more than once around town.



That's THEE moose there on the left. See how it's missing hair near its nose? If whoever is at the microphone knows that you're a newbie to McGuire's, the whole place will soon be in an uproar banging their mugs and yelling, "KISS THE MOOSE! KISS THE MOOSE! KISS THE MOOSE!" You walk up there and when you kiss the damn moose, everybody goes insane. It's a great place... no other way to describe it.



And yes, everyone goes in the wrong bathroom the first time they're here. A very drunk man came out of the women's bathroom just as a woman was headed inside. He came over to me barely able to hold in his own laughter and said, "Oh man, did you see that!?! That girl just walked into the wrong bathroom!!"



When you're half-cocked, you have to wonder whether or not this is really mouthwash. It's exactly where you'd put the hand soap and the bottle looks very much like a bottle of hand soap despite it saying "mouthwash" right on it. My hands smelled like mint afterwards.



And I thought I'd seen it all...



Eventually, the people took over the singing for the band and replaced all the songs with dirty lyrics. The place was rolling in laughter the entire night... so priceless.


Phew. Oh man, I could look at those photos all day. I forgot to mention that after I stapled my dollar to the wall, I found a twenty-dollar bill in my camelbak. I looked to my left and right and said "Where did this twenty dollar bill come from??". The lady to the right of me nodded and said she put it there. People rule. What can you do besides be surprised that someone is that generous towards a stranger? I asked her name so I could write about her in my journal but she only said that she was a lady I met at McGuire's who wished me well. I wanted to at least get her photograph but she said not to bother. I didn't really understand and said I had to for my journal, so I snapped one anyway. It wasn't until later that I'd realize the significance of not knowing her name or having her photograph. It wasn't about her doing a good deed or the generosity of individuals; it was simply the idea that "people" can be good to one another without an agenda.

The next day I was torn between:

1) Writing in my journal
2) Exploring Pensacola
3) Hanging out at McGuire's

I decided to explore Pensacola and just happened across McGuire's once again. I rode around in circles around the parking lot just singing along to the Irish folk music that they're constantly playing and couldn't help but smile. I must've done this for about an hour as I was weaving in and out of parked cars and finally decided it was time to go inside -- after all, I needed to use the bathroom... eventually :-) There is always a sing-a-long band after 9pm and the free beverage and popcorn deal kept coming my way. If you ever find yourself anywhere near Pensacola, you need to stop into McGuire's.

I spent a third night at the Bonin's residence, but it never really felt right; I never really felt welcome. When I arrived, I made sure to get to know the family well, to tell some stories of my travels, ask about their stories and exchange some healthy conversation because all they knew about me was that I was my Dad's son and I was biking around the country. I just wanted to give them a feel for who I was and how I operated. Those couple hours on the first day were pretty much the only words we exchanged. In the morning on the second day, I woke up in the sun room and knocked on the door to get into the house. I was allowed in, but only to use the bathroom or computer until all of them left for work, then I had to go back in the sun room. I told them that I understood, after all, they don't really know me -- I'd probably do the same thing. Mrs. Bonin told me that they had some bad experiences and have been extra careful ever since. Understandable. It's a big change from my last guest who gave me her entire apartment without knowing a thing about me, but then again this family had more on the line I guess. But when you wake up at 6am, have to go to the bathroom, can't get in the house and have to bike a couple miles to use a bathroom, you begin to feel unwelcome. I don't know, it just didn't sit right with me. I left on Tuesday to be back on my own in the streets of Pensacola.

"PONG!" Pong? That's a new one. I guess the bike was making new attempts for his cries to be heard. The rear wheel is still a wobbly mess and I'm waiting for the original wheel to come back from Cannondale and land at a shop at Pensacola. I'm now missing 6 of the original 32 spokes and am very surprised I haven't had to walk along side it yet. This is why I've been spending so much time here. Though, if there was ever a place to be stuck for week on this tour, Pensacola might be the best choice. Between McGuire's, the National Museum of Naval Aviation and a good book, I didn't really care when the wheel would arrive.

Two new artifacts.
Small, furry and adventurous? Sign me up!



Pensacola is the home of Naval aviation and their museum is top-notch. I took ride on the simulator and watched a couple IMAX films this day.

However, before I entered the museum, I just happened upon...



The Blue Angels.

"Do they always fly around in formation like that?"
"Anytime they've having an air show they do."
"There's an air show right now????"
[An F-18 floats by followed by the sound of its engines.]
"Yup. Right over there."

"Did I just show up to the museum right when the Blue Angels were starting an air show? Yes, you did, Chuck. Oh man. Oh man! Shadowfax nearly took off without me towards the air field.



I love the old open-cockpit biplanes.



Dealies galore.



I'm going to own one of these babies someday. Anybody ever see "Secondhand Lions"? It's about an old man who's lived one hell of an adventure and now flies this kind of plane around the countryside just for kicks. Someday...



There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind



Easily the greatest momento I will have from this bicycle adventure and the very definition of a "lucky hat". Take a guess as to whose signatures are on my hat. Yup. Bingo -- the Blue Angels pilots all signed my McGuires's Irish Pub hat. To top it off, as I approached one of the pilots, he says to me, "Hey! I saw you on my way here this morning - you're the guy biking across the country!"


According to the yellow pages, there are three libraries in the Pensacola area. I don't know why, but I chose to go to the one farthest away from where I was staying. As I was crossing the 3-mile bridge to get there, I thought to myself, "Chuck, why are we biking out of our way for this library?". For some reason I felt I should go to the farthest one, I don't know why. As I neared the end of the bridge, I saw a man walking around on the shoreline by himself strumming an acoustic guitar. I should go talk to that guy. No, that'd be too strange -- you look like a homeless man, Chuck. You kind of are homeless. Shhh, no I'm not. Whatever. I turned the "I should" into an "I will", "I am" and now an "I did".

I parked the bike and sat down on some rocks next to him by the water's edge. He wasn't at all weirded-out by me and turned out to be surprisingly welcoming. So why was he by himself strumming into the bay? "In twenty years, everything is going to be hate here. I can't wait to get to Heaven." He continued playing a slow but warm rhythm while we gazed beyond the horizon. Chris had only his guitar as a friend with little to no faith in his fellow man. "A lot of people are bitter", he said. Our conversation would take place in segments between the sounds birthing from the strings. "Some people are just played wrong and never get over it... and that's who they become." I did more listening than talking and somehow it felt right to hear him out as he gathered new thoughts between each rift. A gentle breeze wove his tone into the sky and melted away the immediate reality.

I've always loved the slow acoustic and have humored the idea of learning to play my own someday. I gave it a small attempt once upon a time but didn't let it play out once I understood the amount of dedication it would take to become "good". It's not for me; not yet anyway. When I hear Chris play, it reminds me of my desire to be able to do the same, but deep down it feels like a pipe dream that will never happen. I had a conversation with a man (let's call him Dave) and his son at McGuire's about personal dreams and people constantly saying to me, "I wish I could do that." My typical answer is, "You can do it if you have the desire -- you just have to believe you can." It sounds good, but I think it's a bit too idealistic. Not everybody is physically capable, and not everybody can readily drop their entire life to pursue a desire without taking on unnecessarily great risk.

Similarly, Dave shared a passion for soccer and recounted an unbelievable bicycle kick he once saw Pelé perform. To be able to perfectly time a ball moving in three dimensions and strike it while upsidedown into the corner of the net is a rare ability indeed. To those who play the game, you might also find yourself saying, "I wish I could do that." Dave would go on to explain that while he may never share the capacity to do such a thing, he had a profound appreciation for its simple magnificence; to know that such things were possible and existed in the world was more than enough. It was a deeper understanding -- just to smile because "it is" without the presence of ego. The encounter with Chris on the water's edge brought a new understanding to us both.

Chris and his six-string. It was especially bright out.


Whenever the wheel finally gets here, I'll be on my way. I've contacted Erin and Bill Laine from WarmShowers.org and will thankfully have a place to crash in New Orleans. I wasn't sure whether or not I should go there since everybody seems to think it's dangerous, but she didn't find it to be much of a concern. The violence you hear about on the news is mostly between those who know each other and in the sketchy neighborhoods you wouldn't normally travel. New Orleans is only about a 3-day ride from here and will swiftly take me through Alabama and Mississippi. I've been in Florida so long now that it's going to feel weird to be cycling through states once again.

Anyway, if the photos didn't give it away, it's been a week in my life that I'll never forget. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Be good, kiddies.

-Me

PS: Another person just gave me $5. I think it's time to rephrase the shirt.

Trying to look insane and doing a quality job.



Sunrise on Pensacola Bay




"Long ago Buddha held up a flower on Vulture Peak. Twelve hundred people had gathered there to hear him speak of the Dharma, and he said nothing. He only held up a flower. This was one of the Buddha's strongest and most profound teachings. Only one of those twelve hundred people understood. Mahakasyapa looked at the flower and smiled."



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A New Earth

Written by Eckhart Tulle


2008
Transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world.




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My name is Charles Tronolone and I'm attempting something a bit unconventional; I'm trying to make a living by writing while on a perpetual bicycle tour. How I got to this point is a story in itself, but suffice to say that I refuse to be just another cog in the machine. There's too much important work to be done and too many eyes to open for us to be content with personal goals or riches. In late 2006, I managed to escape the machine, and now I'm setting off to help bring it down.

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