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Some crazy Spaniards:
And an adventure detour
January 11th of the second year

Another library where I can only use the computer for 30 minutes and can't upload photos... wonderful. If it weren't for the voice recorder, much of the journey's details would be lost and almost all the raw emotion would be forgotten. Perhaps next time I'll bring a small computer... or simply forgo a written journal altogether.

I was in the small town of Port Hueneme intent on spending a day in front of the PC but left not long after I entered to find Shadowfax sulking on the bike rack with a flat tire. "Now what did you go and do that for, man?" Flat tires have become a fairly regular event lately... I have no idea how I made it from Maine to Florida without a single puncture. No big deal though, I'm in no rush and have plenty of patches. Besides, there's a good chance at meeting some interesting people when you're in front of a library with your bike in twenty pieces. Off with the wheel, off with the tire, out with the tube and bust out the patch kit. Find the hole, patch it up, inflate the tube to ensure there's no more leaks, put the wheel back together and pump it up. Insert the wheel back into the bike, tighten the axel-dealie, reattach the brakes and flip the horse back onto its feet. Throw on all the panniers, tie down the rack, on with the helmet, dawn the sunglasses and finally, reattach the cycling computer. I got back on the bike and rolled a good two or three feet before air started pouring out the front tire again. "Oh c'mon!" Whatever. Off with sunglasses, off with the helmet, detach all the gear, detach the cycling computer and turn the bastard upside-down again. You know the drill. Turns out, the first of three patches on this tube began to peel off, so I just tossed the tube and its brand new patch job into the trash. Out with a new tube, repeat the whole process, put on the helmet, put on the sunglasses and finally... go to reattach the cycling computer and drop it directly onto the concrete. Watch it bounce.

"No. No, you're not going to break now. Not now." I picked it up and wouldn't you know, it's not displaying anything. I smacked it and pressed all the buttons, replaced the battery... but it was dead. I sat down and gave a tired sigh. "5250 from PA? That's probably a good guess... plus or minus 25 miles I'd say. I need to find a bike shop nearby... maybe one of them has the exact model so I can easily replace it." I don't really get aggravated with misfortunes anymore... I just toss the imaginary plan book and immediately write up a new one. It's like starting from square one with a whole new set of objectives. So it's busted... so I need to find bike shops. Okay then, back into the library. "I'm sorry, we only allow access to the computers once a day", said the man behind the counter. I looked at the lab to see 5 of the 6 computers available. "I just need to use the Internet for a minute. I'll be in and out. A piece of my bicycle just broke and I'm kind of stranded." (So I stretched the truth a little...). He looked at me like I was making an unreasonable request and didn't know what to say. He replied, "Well... couldn't you just use the yellowpages in the lobby?". "No, I need to know the proximity of bike shops from this exact location. Is it really a big deal? I mean, nobody is on these computers and I need help. I've been riding my bicycle for 4 months from Maine." There was no way he could have turned me away without hating himself. Still he had this look on his face like he was allowing me to commit some sort of felony. This isn't the fucking Pentagon, man. It's a county library in some dinky town. Get over it. I swear, all librarians are on some sort of power trip.

With a list of shops in the area, I sat down on the bench outside and began calling them all. Nobody has a Sigma BC906... damn. I don't want to attach a different model... it's such a pain in the ass. Maybe I can estimate the mileage all the way to Dad's house and just order the right model when I get there. Still dialing some more numbers, two cyclists pull up to the library and I turn to get a look at them. Once I noticed all the panniers and gear they had with them, I immediately hung up the phone, stood up and exclaimed, "HEY! NEW FRIENDS!" Jose and Maria hesitated to reply. "I'm going to guess that you're touring... and that you're not from the states", I added. "We're from'a Spain", said Jose.

Jose and Maria.

They were just roaming around the town looking for a place to sit down and have some lunch and it made for a good opportunity to exchange tales of our adventures. To be on the road for four months is a long time and most people I've met touring have been on the road for maybe 2 months at most. Jose and Maria had been biking since April of 2005... ha! From Spain to France, Germany, Italy, Austria, all those wacky countries in between, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, down to Thailand, hopped a flight and rode across Australia, flew to and cycled New Zealand, then off to the Cook Islands, landed in LA and are now going up to San Francisco before flying home to Spain. Christ... they had no clue where Maine was and I didn't even bother explaining. "It's about 6000 miles that way... err... 10000 kilometers" and I pointed northeast. They were both riding mountain bikes with knobby tires, which I'm sure were necessary in parts of Asia, and they had intentionally painted the frames some ugly shades of brown and green so nobody would think to steal them. Jose invented his own brand with some artistic whiteout on the down-tube; "Konnidalé". Their gearing was destroyed... I don't think they once replaced the chains or cassettes. Jose could only use the first and third rings on the front since it was so ridiculously worn, and I could hear Maria coming from a mile away as every revolution was a shuttering squeak from the pedals.

Oh, and if you're reading this, Dan, they each had TWO kickstands to keep the bikes balanced. I took a lot of flak from that kid in San Diego for having a kickstand. Apparently using a kickstand is a fool's mistake when you're some kind of elite cyclist. Still have plans to go touring, chump? Leave without a kickstand... be my guest. Just don't come crying to me when your arms hurt more than your legs :-P

I've already heard about this from an Irish guy in Princeton, but there are several airlines and/or organizations that sell "around the world" tickets for roughly $2000. I know Singapore Airlines is one of the more prominent ones and the outfit that Jose and Maria were using came from Global Village. Some will include free transportation of bicycles, others will not. Basically, you fly around the world and you can only go either east or west, but you can zigzag vertically granted you stay within your allotted amount of total mileage and complete the trip in a certain amount of time (typically 1 year or 2 years). Maybe this isn't news to most of you, but I've only come to know it within the last year and I hear that it's common for Australians to take these year-long trips immediately after college. Surely it's a good way to submerge yourself into various cultures and gain a greater perspective... not to mention live countless adventures, build character, take time to broaden your mind, etc... hmm! :-)

Anyhoo, the three of us hit the road as a small convoy, traveling at a slow, leisurely pace. Conversation was... how should I say... carefully made. I had to speak in simple words, pronounce every syllable, talk slowly and make sure they understood one phrase before I continued to the next. Sure, their English was less than perfect, but who am I to complain... the only words I know in another language are in Latin and they have something to do with making sure you wear your underwear. Some of the more meaningful notions from our dialog included the difference between traveling and traveling. In terms of the U.S., I've been to a whole bunch of states now and every city in between. I've seen downtown Charleston, been to the French Quarter, ate at little Mexican restaurants in Del Rio and met a couple pandas in San Diego. In time, I'll ride my bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. But really, anyone with enough airline miles can hop around and do all that, too. There's something about being on your own, meeting the locals, being spontaneous and experiencing different ways of life in an intimate way. I guess it's the difference between a "tourist" and a "traveler".

Ye ol' canal community.

There couldn't have been more perfect timing for my computer to break and I'd soon come to learn that the thing was a curse from day 1. Jose and Maria were significantly slower than me and if I were to look down to see my myself in the single digits, I would have become quietly agitated. All too often I'd look down at the computer and be dissatisfied with my speed and push myself to do better. Some days there's a steady incline uphill, some days the wind is too strong and some days you just don't have it in you... but when you've got this benchmark attitude, you tend to punish yourself despite the voices in your head objecting to it. The computer is gone and it's not coming back. I still catch myself looking down where it was previously mounted surprised to find it missing. The nightly routine used to include discovering how far I had traveled and unless I was in the 80+ range, it was somehow disappointing... I'm glad to be rid of it.

We continued chuggin' along and swapping stories through some country roads near the coast. They weren't really "cyclists" either... they just chose to do their traveling primarily on bicycles. They were in no rush to get back to Spain and were already talking about future crusades as avid rock climbers and making their way to Honduras to become certified SCUBA divers. When night fell, we were cruising along a small town off the Pacific and stopped at a fruit stand to gather dinner. Atop the mountainside, we escaped the small community and its people to setup camp with a brilliant view of the valley and coast below. The sun set only moments later while Maria sparked up the portable stove, boiled a liter of water and threw in our recent purchases. Rice, squash, cucumber, avocado and... 2lbs of shrimp... ha! As if that wasn't enough, they had helped a farmer harvest a strawberry field earlier in the day and left with more strawberries than the three of us could possibly eat. I donated a couple coconuts after smashing them open caveman-style with a huge rock. It was without a doubt the best meal I've had on the road and I owe the two of them all the thanks.

Our morning route.

It was inevitable that their insights caused me to chisel and shape my own evolving perspective... and it has to do with "the real world". What is "the real world"? I'm not really sure what it is, but I keep hearing people tell me that one day I'll have to return to it. I have a feeling that it's predominantly a first-world concept and maybe more of an American concept than it is in foreign nations. Hearing Jose and Maria talk of their travels which led them off the beaten path and into remote parts of the globe made me realize how narrowed my own tour has been. I've been in just one country the entire time. Yea, the south is different than the north and life on the west coast is a contrast to the east, but we're all still in America and we all are part of a single system with certain ideals and customs. So, what is "the real world"? I'm starting to believe that it's anything but America. If anything, our world is the fake world. Now, I've never lived in Kenya, I've never spent time in Peru, Romania, China, Laos or Guinea, but something tells me that they'd have a better grasp on "the real world" than any of us born and raised in America. I feel sheltered, but also thankful that our nation can provide the life I find meaningful with relative ease. Though, I can't help but recognize that I've hardly removed myself from much of my own familiarity with the world. The sights and scenes are just fluff -- it's when you put yourself in an unaccustomed environment with different cultures, different people with different values and a different outlook on life that you feel like you've actually gone somewhere.

These thoughts were epitomized when I found that Jose and Maria could talk to the Mexican-Americans and I could not.

Another day cycling along bike paths through an overpopulated paradise.

I'm not made to cycle with other people... I don't have enough patience for it. I still remember riding around with Francis and Lucas in North Carolina when Lucas said, "Let's watch the sun go down." I looked at my clock and before I could even say, "Are you serious???", he had parked his bike and was walking onto the beach. It was noon. You had to look straight up to even see the sun. We waited... and waited... and waited... and eventually the sun went down, but the whole ordeal was killing me inside. Jose and Maria weren't exactly that lackadaisical, but many times I found myself picking out monsters in the clouds and hitting my brakes so as to not run into them. Especially on hills, I was much MUCH faster than they were and I'd just zoom up to the top and stand around taking photographs so they could catch up. Well, it wasn't long before I got tired of holding myself back and at the top of one of these hills, I just threw it into overdrive and unleashed the crazy legs. And just like that, I was gone. Inside, I kept saying to myself that I'd reach the next turn and wait around for them, but deep down I knew that was total bull. When it started to rain, I knew they would be more discouraged than I to continue biking... and for some reason I always go faster during bad weather. Well, that was soon to change.

"Can you help me??" A car had pulled off onto the shoulder just ahead and when I passed, the lady inside called out to me. I parked the bike and figured she just needed some directions and with my maps, maybe I could have helped. Nope, she had a flat and didn't know a damn thing about cars. Oh, okay, no problem... I used to be my own mechanic. "I called a tow truck but he won't be here for an hour!!" An hour? Okay, so wait an hour. I forgot how precious every minute is to those running around like a maniac... an hour stranded alone seems like more of a blessing than an inconvenience to me. I've become so reliant upon myself that I found it somewhat comical that she had this ten thousand dollar machine and couldn't get herself out of the most simple of automotive problems. But then again, learning car maintenance isn't exactly high on everybody's list of priorities. Anyway, we tore out the spare only to find that it was also completely flat. I thought to myself, "Ha, you're fucked. Just wait for the tow truck... it's not a tragedy." I would have pumped up her spare with my bicycle pump, but I haven't yet figured out how to configure it for schrader valves. "Sorry I couldn't help. There are two cyclists that should be coming around the bend soon and they might be able to help you." She never asked me what I was doing out there on a bicycle with all this gear... I found that kind of odd. Oh well. I kept moving.

Every so often I'd turn my head backwards to see if Jose and Maria were in proximity, but even after killing 20 minutes with that stranded lady, they were out of sight. Just a couple miles later, I was lucky enough to get my own flat tire. Fantastic. Well, at least I'll get to meet up with the Spaniards again instead of ditching them. Off with the glasses, off with the helmet, unload all the gear. Turn the bike on its head, disconnect the brakes, remove the wheel, take off the tire and find the leak. You know what, screw the leak, just replace the tube... it seemed to have a slow leak for a very long time and I couldn't locate it. Okay, cool. Replace the tube, put the wheel together and pump it up. Did you hear me, Chuck? I said, pump it up. I'm trying, man! Something is wrong here. I think the valve on this new tube is defective. Defective? What do you mean it's defective? It's fucked up, man. Look. Oh... it certainly is fucked. Air won't go into the tube and when I removed the pump, the presta valve snapped in half. Ha, that's a new one -- this is why I carry 3 spare tubes with me. Off with the tire, say goodbye to the tube. Open the new one, put the wheel together and pump it up. PUMP IT UP, DAMNIT! Dude, this shit isn't pumping. What? It's not pumping, man. Your pump is misbehaving. WTF? My pump is busted??? What a load of shit, this thing is the most reliable piece of gear I have on me. Well consider it demoted... you're now stranded because of it.

I've now been on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere for nearly an hour. Where in the hell are Jose and Maria? I sat there on top of my bags waiting... and waiting... and waiting. Surely they have a pump on them. I watched the sun slowly migrate across the sky and towards the horizon and still no sign of my companions. Uh... was I really moving that fast? Maybe they setup camp already... maybe they took an exit and got lost... whatever the case, I can only wait so long and don't want to be out on the road when the darkness falls. I'll wait another twenty minutes and if they don't come, well, I'll stick out the thumb and take an "adventure detour". I waited a half hour and they never showed up.

I remember Jose telling me about a guy he met in Australia who began his transcontinental tour on bike and finished on a camel. It's a shame there were no camel shops on highway 101. Looks like we're going hitchhiking, Chuck. I gathered my gear in an organized pile and pivoted the bicycle perpendicular to the road so motorists could tell I was simply broke down and needed a short ride to the next town. No, I've never done this before and I'm not real sure what to expect... but as long as I get out of it in one piece, I'm sure it'll be a story worth telling the grandchildren someday.

To be continued,


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