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Slow and steady wins the race? Hrm, that sounds good to me! What would you say, it's about half pace? Maybe a third of your previous pace? Whatever it is, to say that "there's no rush" would be an incredible understatement. Ha, even as I'm writing this I'm still in California. I got here on the 20th of December and won't be gone 'til sometime around Valentine's Day... wow.

Praise be to every cosmic being that ever was -- I still smile when I look down to see that the cycling computer is gone. This is definitely the cause. I never know the time of day. I just stare out my tent in the morning and look at trees, birds... the clouds. The sensation of being a component of nature is something I've never experienced before. It's something to cherish, to appreciate. Oh, and I love being at the top of the food chain. I'd imagine that other animals aren't as thrilled to be a part of this ecosystem. Yes, I'm talking to you, fishies. It's the extended duration of the tour that brings this element of inclusion, like I fell into the puzzle precisely where I belong. I guess it makes sense though, I mean, I believe I've been "reborn" many times on this tour and if I'm always in the company of the wilderness when it happens, of course I'm going to feel at home.

Five months living outside. Five months talking to animals, wandering woods, blending into the mountainside and sleeping under stars. Over a hundred sunsets and sunrises, I didn't have to impress anybody. I didn't have to do anything but be me. All I had to do was be. It's so simple and yet it's something you'll never do as part of the system. I suppose it's a rare opportunity. "Oh fuck, I have to stop doing this at some point." Yea, it makes me kind of sad and every time I think about it, I go slower. I used to feel as if I was weak if I had to use the lower gears on my bike. Now I can't get enough of them. Though, I'm ready. I know where I'm headed. That time will come when it is meant to come. For now, I feel as though there's another piece of the pie I have yet to discover. It has to do with the "outsideness" of it all. There is great value in it and I know I'll miss it. Perhaps this means I should just live in a place that makes me feel outside even when I'm inside. Hrm... just some thoughts.

With the ocean ever-present to his left, our celestial star falls low to cast scattered shadow along the road ahead. The farm country turns a pleasant shade of gold and images of barbed wire slowly creep across his path. Mountains are illuminated. As half his face falls into shadow, the red beard glows from below his left eye. Their collective silhouette glides along upright against the adjacent hill side and they move along, breaking through the airy chill and crisp dusk of night. He turns his head slowly to the west and smirks. Another page is being written... an image capturing time like a nostalgic painting. This is what it's all about.

Just watch.

I've started to choose "awesome" over "convenient". The hybrid cycling-hiking shoes were a good decision. They give me great mobility. "Where oh where am I going to sleep tonight? Oh look, a mountain. Think we can get the bike up there? Hrm... one way to find out!" While the legs have turned into tree trunks, my arms were less than happy when I pushed the bike up a 70-degree incline of loose dirt. I collapsed to the ground more than once before I reached the top. "Tada! Instant campground!" -- "You know, you could have detached the bags before you went vertical with the bike, man." -- "Quiet, you, or we'll hike up there."

Finding stealth spots has become a joke, I can see one everywhere I look. "Ooooh! Dude! Check out this bush!!" So what, so a couple puddles stand in the way and the terrain overflows with thorn bushes. Big deal. Get wet. Shed a little blood... consider it to be nature's tax for your new scenic overlook. I continued the hike and didn't really know if I was about to cross into someone's property or a pasture of cows. All that really mattered was the view, and it wasn't long before I found it.

Totally worth it.

As I was tying down Shadowfax, the man painting at the top of a ladder put down his brush to ask, "Where ya coming from?". You can't help but smile because you know exactly how the conversation goes. It ended with, "I have a tent, a sleeping bag, some food... what more do I need?" -- "Wow, that's crazy." -- "Yea, it is kind of crazy I guess." He walked into the library while I spent some time gathering gear. I then walked into the library and just beyond the second set of glass doors, I could see the painter throwing his hands around and the staff inside hanging off his every word. They stopped talking as I entered and removed my helmet. "I had a funny feeling you were talking about me", I said. "Wow! How long have you been doing this?!" Now the whole library and everybody in it wants to hear the story. Sure, what the hell! Tell it with enthusiasm if you can!

I'm not really sure where I am or where I've been. "Which route did you take?", they always ask. I dunno, I just make sure the ocean is to my left all the time. I know I'm in California and I know I'm biking the coast, but when they rattle off names of towns, all I can do is shrug. "I was somewhere the other day. Somewhere out in the woods and it absolutely reeked of pot. Does that help?" It's California. That's not going to narrow the search. One of these hills rising above route 1 has got be worth over a million dollars in drug money -- I feel like I'm getting high by just riding around. Taking in one of these piney whiffs, I lost track of what I was doing and nearly ate some pavement. It's cold and it's dark on the inside curves through the coastal mountains. It's always wet. Red rock debris and tree crunchies coat the road's surface like a hearty spice. I felt the wheel lose its grip on the road. "!!!!!" is all that was said. TURN! SHIFT! ROCK WALL! CAR!!! BRAKE!!!!! Oh Christ... that could have been bad. Phew. Alive. We slipped a good foot sideways and barely avoided a wall of rock and a passing car before correcting... and this wasn't the first time.

A wet road is always something that requires extra vigilance. A cobblestone road is fairly treacherous as well. Fog never helps. A wet, cobblestone road in the fog with slick, metal trolley tracks slicing through the middle is flat out dangerous. I don't know how I survived this one. Like an idiot tourist, my head was swiveling in all directions as I biked around the San Francisco bay side. Shadowfax saw it. His dashboard blew up with red warning lights but I was occupied elsewhere. "Street performers! Oooh neato! Look at the pretty colors!" If the horse had a horn, he'd have gone ballistic to get my attention. I leaned right to move closer to the sidewalk and his front hoof dropped right down into one of the wet, steel tracks. I'm clipped into my pedals. What happened next is beyond me. You know that scene in a medieval war movie where there are thousands of horses charging into a sea of arrows? Well, those arrows don't just hit the cavalry, they hit the horses, too, and when they do, the horses take a head-first dive at full speed into the ground. The rider is in a world of shit. Shadowfax went from "la la la!" to "weeeee we're gonna die!" in a split second. I ran. No seriously, I ran. Without having any clue what was happening, Chuck pulled himself from the pedals, hurtled the bike before it kareemed into the Earth and put all his momentum into an immediate sprint down the road. My hands never even touched the ground. I came to rest. "Holy shit. What in the fuck just happened? I was riding, not running, right?" Everybody stopped to ask me if I was okay. I looked back to see the bike sleeping in the middle of the street. "Well......... that was different."

Just a road.

The sun isn't coming out today. It didn't come out yesterday, or the day before, or the day before. The glasses have become dead weight. Now that I think about it, I haven't seen the sun since I left Modesto. "Get used to it, my friend, your world is about to change from blue to green and those trees aren't going to sacrifice any sunlight for your pleasure." Moving inland, away from the shores, away from the cliffs, I fell into a sweeping forest of pine amidst mountains. The ocean went silent. Hell, everything went silent with the exception of running water off in the woods. I'm alone in this brisk, peaceful chill. Now, I've never been to Alaska, but from what I gather, my surroundings were a mirror image; undeveloped land and vast wilderness extending beyond the horizon. Cool, virgin oxygen flows from a babbling brook. It's a glacial-chilled breath of fresh air. My lungs have never tasted such a purity. The eyes had a feast of color. We took our time. Between the clouds and tree cover, each exhale is a dense cloud of CO2 and yet my blood runs hot. I've been pedaling uphill. It's refreshing. Condensation coats every living cell of nature with no sign of withdrawal. Untouched by humanity.

There is a soreness on the edges of my eyes. I suspect it's from a buildup of those sharp, yellow eye-crusties. "Okay, so I guess a shower every week or so wouldn't hurt." I stop to sprinkle some water on the irritated area. "Good, good... much better." As I'm screwing the cap back onto the water bottle, there is a sound I've never before heard. I stopped. The sound stopped. I rotated my wrist counter-clockwise, took hold of the cap and continued to screw it back down. "It's sand. It's sand and it's dirt." I've probably put the lid on these water bottles over a thousand times in my life and never once have I heard the sound of molecules being compressed, crushed and broken. I couldn't see anything on the threads, but the sound was more than enough. It's that quiet up here. "Is this a dream? Since when could I hear sand particles cracking?" The wilderness is visually overwhelming but existing in a bizarre silence. I knew I'd be going places on my bike, but never did it occur to me that I'd experience this kind of sensory environment. A pin-drop would have been deafening. I removed the lid and took a drink. The water ran through my beard and I could feel each droplet making its way south. I could hear them. There is a soft ringing in my ears to compensate for the empty audio. "This is not normal. This is definitely not normal. What is this place?"

Dream or not, we kept moving to the sound of my own breathing, tire on road and chain on cassette. As I'm ascending the winding road through the dark wood, an eruption of rustling and flurry is heard directly to the right. I was so accustomed to this command over all sound that it grabbed my immediate attention and had me ready for an attack. I pushed harder to egress. Good. It was nothing. "VWOO, VWOO, VWOO, VWOO..." A helicopter is spinning its rotors just before takeoff. "Okay, this has to be a dream. Helicopters don't grow on trees." -- "VWOO, VWOO, VWOO, VWOO..." It's coming up from behind me. Before I could locate it, a majestic, black raven came into view just above my head. It soared down the center of the road in a straight line with its wings outstretched. "VWOO, VWOO, VWOO, VWOO..." My body came to a halt. It moved with perfect grace through the shadows and its wings curved in harmony with the sound. Our momentum soon expired. My feet touched the ground. "That's a keeper, Chuck." It continued. "VWOO, VWOO, VWOO, VWOO..." Down the road and around a bend behind a dense wall of pine, it banked and make the most fluid turn imaginable. I could hear it long after I lost sight of it... this spirit of the wilderness.

Hey look! Trees!

"Wait a second... this isn't fog! It's a cloud! I'm riding my bike in the clouds!!" I love that smell after a long, difficult climb. It's the "YEA! I DID IT!" smell. It's the smell of achievement and according to a recently published article, it's also the smell of seduction! It's B.O., and it's a beautiful thing! It lets you know it's real. "You're living the moment! You're in it! You're doing it, man! Mmm zestiness!"

Forty degrees outside and I'm running around in cycling shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. And hot diggity, I'm burning up inside. When you see the top of the climb, dig for the gloves and put on some warmer clothes -- the wind is is going to turn your sweat into a massive radiator. Of course, I don't listen to my own advice. Rummaging through the bags is a hassle... I want immediate reward! My skin is already at full goose-bump capacity but I wouldn't know it if I didn't look. I took notice and questioned Chuck. "What's up, dude? I'm not cold, why are you?" -- "Look man, I don't know what you want from me. This one is out of my hands." By the time I made it the bottom of the mountain, I was ready for a gallon of hot chocolate.

Where am I standing at the end of this journal entry? Who knows! Who cares! It's Earth! :-)


Don't do it, man! Don't do it!!!

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