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The Breaking Point:
I've finally found home
December 5th of the first year

Yet another flat. My tires have had it -- this time it was a rock that caused the flat. A rock? Yes, you need new tires, Chuck. Oh, right... I have to take care of this bicycle thing.

After 50 rough miles, I made it to Marathon around 2pm. All day long I had this killer headache that was only worsened by having to fight gravity on top of the partially sleepless night in Sanderson. I didn't want to be bicycling at all... but there's another three hours of daylight and Alpine is but 30 miles away. After heavy deliberation, Chuck won the duel and off we went to turn the headache into a migraine...

Anytime I have a headache during the tour or a sore muscle/joint that becomes bothersome, the prescription is heavy doses of food. Since there was no buffet in Alpine, it was a meal consisting of an entire pack of string cheese, five bananas, half a gallon of OJ and four or five peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Though, before the feast, I had to find a place to camp in town. I cycled around for about 20 minutes or so before finding the baseball park which was full of good places to hide. The only way around the fence was to go a quarter mile out of the way then cross a large, grassy field... so I did exactly that. When I finally came to rest beyond the outfield, I realized I had just horribly screwed myself.

Does anyone know what a "goathead" is? These little fuckers are everywhere and they're next to impossible to detect. Apparently they're part of a weed but I can't discern them from grass when riding around. You cannot imagine how many of them were coating my wheels. I'd say that about 10% of the rubber on both of my tires was visible and the remaining 90% was gored by goatheads. I biked right through the heart of their kingdom. Now, I love my tires; they have been very good to me and it's difficult to get puncture flats even if I were to try, but after 4,000 miles, even the best tires are going to be begging for death. Within a couple minutes, both my tires are completely flat. On top of it, the spot I thought would be good for camping turned out to be fairly exposed to the public... great. Now I'm in the middle of town, the sun is gone, I have two flat tires boasting over 100 thorns each and nowhere to go. Ughhh... the migraine is monstrously painful and I'm one more misfortune from sitting down to cry. Damn you, Chuck, you couldn't just chill in Marathon when you had the chance, could you?!

I had my "Hospitality Greatly Appreciated" shirt on while pushing the bike back onto the street hoping for some luck. The sound of rubber being squeezed and rubbed against the wheels was a constant reminder of my misery. Somebody has to stop and pick me up... I'm in the middle of town and am casting the most broken and helpless image I can. A dozen El Caminos pass me and not one of them taps the brakes. I have no idea where I am and every step is bringing me deeper into the Mexican slums of Alpine.

I tried unsuccessfully to enter a barber shop that once was but luck was not on my side... I couldn't find rest anywhere. I've been priding myself for a very long time on not having to rely on anyone but myself to overcome all the challenges during this tour, but now I was in a quite a jam. Paying for a motel was out of the question. I wandered onto someone's driveway and decided to press my luck for the first time "beggar camping". I rang the doorbell and out comes an old lady very surprised to find this shaggy and distraught man on her doorstep. I began to explain my situation and made certain to point out the flat tires on my bicycle -- I just wanted to be able to pitch my tent somewhere where nobody would care... namely, her fenced-off backyard. I never wanted to have to ask someone if I could camp in their yard... it puts them on the spot and, I feel, it may unfairly solicit hospitality from people.

Turns out, her enthusiastic response to my simple request made her day! Ronnie was more than happy to be able to help. In a matter of minutes, the tent was up and the food was out... the sadness would be eaten away in no time. I was going to try and take the thorns out of my bike, but the sight of my tires was too much to take at the moment. I put my head down and was out like a light.

In the morning, I went to take a short walk to the baseball field to use good ol' Johnny-On-The-Spot but didn't get farther than the front yard when I ran into Ronnie smoking a cigarette at five in the morning. Naturally, she let me use the bathroom inside, whipped up a cup of coffee for me and we got talking. "I live here by myself. I'm a widow." When that's the first thing somebody says to you, it's a fairly good assumption that her being a widow is a very large part of who she is inside. Ronnie had a lot to say and nobody to hear her story 'til I showed up. She never used to smoke... not until her husband died of emphysema eight months prior; a condition caused by a lifelong addition to cigarettes. The two of them owned the now overgrown Mexican restaurant next door. When the holidays came around, their 8 kids and 26 grandchildren would flock to Alpine, take over the place and spend the entire day together cooking and eating inside during what must've been one hell of a fiesta. But since his death, the restaurant is closed and no more than a couple of family can visit at a time simply because of space. I didn't have the capacity to understand her heartache and my own woes became absolutely meaningless in comparison.

It was another conversation where purposely belittling the tour was a welcome change. Ronnie just needed somebody to talk to... much like guitar-Chris strumming into Pensacola Bay. People tend to inundate themselves with dependencies throughout life and when one fails, oftentimes it's replaced by another one. By no means was Ronnie about to find a simple path from away from her trials, though it has inadvertently blessed her with time to reflect. She had gained a perspective apart from the constant distraction that is our modern lives. Could you ever live comfortably in solitude or would you be a nervous wreck, feverishly looking for something to occupy the time? If you can muster up the courage, it's surely worthwhile to spend extended time alone to simply get to know thyself apart from countless distractions.

[Ronnie and I posing for a couple of photos.]

I remember her telling me that what she missed most about the restaurant was all the nice people she got to meet on a daily basis. Since she was so happy to help me out, the plan is to write a letter when all's said and done explaining about WarmShowers.

Would you believe that this is only half of the thorns I had in my tires? The other half was flung all over my tent as I pried them out with a safety pin. It took me over five hours to get all of the thorns out and reminded me of that scene in Terminator2 where they're removing bullets from his back with a pliers.

I require a cutting tool.

The days that followed Alpine and Ronnie have been completely different -- I like to consider it to be "the breaking point". The first day I went 18 miles. The second day I went 32 miles. The following day I just laid on my back and watched my tent change shades of green as the sun dipped in and out of clouds and hawks went screeching through the air. For the entire tour I have been trying to get myself to slow down and at last I think I've accomplished it without having to consciously hit the brakes. "How long do you think it'll take to get to Portland?" they always ask. This is a horrible question... almost as bad as "How many miles do you average per day?". I'll get there some day in the future and I average exactly the right amount. That's it.


You're late.
A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to!

I've finally found home.

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