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Welcome to the Farm January 11th of the second year

Their eyes drift from left to right and remain fixed on my own as they float by at 60 miles per hour with curious expressions... but nobody stops. I'm waiting for the southerner who jumps on any chance to utilize his pickup truck and help out the little guys. What I got was the opposite, but even more welcoming. Abigail Roth pulled her '91 compact car onto the shoulder and out she jumps in a plad jacket and worn blue jeans. I'd later learn that she's been on some bicycle tours of her own and though she doesn't really pickup hitchhikers, especially those who "look down and out", she knew my situation immediately and said it was a kind of code between touring cyclists -- you don't leave them stranded if you can help. After shoving the bike into the back and piling the gear in the trunk, we were on our way inland to the nearest bike shop.

Even though my pump failed me, I'm still looking for the same exact model when I get into the bike shop. The pump is a Topeak Road Morph G, and it's both a frame pump and a floor pump capable of 120psi without any kind of struggle. Well, they didn't have it. What they did have were the typical frame pumps where you risk breaking the presta valve just to get somewhere around 60 pounds... they're a complete waste of money and I've learned it the hard way. So, screw it. Abigail had offered for me to spend the night on the farm and would let me use her pump. I gladly accepted and would just roll the dice on flats in the future, hoping I would soon find a quality pump on the road ahead but not really caring if I had to spontaneously redraw the game plan with another flat. Conversation was entirely natural with Abigail and it felt like we were friends long before we met northbound on 101.

[-- Down on the farm --]
There's a house behind and just to the left of that tree. The teepee was retired until further notice. Abigail's residence is the yurt featured on the right of this photograph. "What's a yurt?", I asked. "That's a yurt", and she pointed to her circular home.

I'm going to guess that most of you haven't heard of a yurt. But if you have, this one will surely stump you. Tell me what that wooden structure is.

Whatever you just said, you're wrong. It's a shedchen; half shed and half kitchen... and it's also the scene of the most unique encounter of the entire tour.

Abigail had told me about the ongoing project that was this "half shed, half kitchen", but it didn't really dawn on me that it was actually real until I saw it for myself. She had hired someone to create the hangout and when I asked her where the in world she found a carpenter to build this unique building, she replied, "Well, he's not exactly your normal carpenter." Before I could pull open one of the two tarps to meet him, I had heard the sound of an acoustic guitar. Nobody was in the shedchen... nobody I could see anyway. "Eric, I brought somebody home with me. He's a hitchhiker!" The strings of his guitar went silent and he poked his head down from the loft above with a friendly hello. Eric definitely was not your normal carpenter. My first impression was: shouldn't this guy be building something? The shedchen was only three weeks old and though I never saw him do any construction, I'd suspect that he rocked the handy work during brighter hours of the day.

The bottom floor of this dwelling was both a kitchen and chill space. The gas-burning stove rested on the soil and operated on a propane tank you'd typically see attached to a grill, and there was a mini fridge right next to it which also was on the ground. My assumptions about building a living space promptly fell into question. Though the second level had four solid walls, the kitchen area was meant to only have two -- the other two were just tarps at the time but would eventually be transformed into a sort of vertical curtain capable of being rolled upwards like venetian blinds. The exact design was currently in the R&D stage, but once fully conceived, it would turn the kitchen into an open space, allow the sun to shine through and offer a panoramic view of rolling hills and mountains while you whip up some tastiness on the stove. Inspired cooking :-) There were some makeshift tables, scattered tools and a few chairs in this space just big enough for 3 or 4 people, and the temporary route to the second floor was a step ladder. I never got into the "shed" portion of the shedchen, but it was apparent that it was more a room than a shed since Eric was now living in it. Dare I say "shroom"? It'd be fitting, anyway; the rest of the evening was surely a trip.

I took this photo inside Eric's previous abode, the tent next door. I actually spent the night in the tent which now held all his power tools. Like the reading material?

After a quick shower where the water ran off black, I was drawn into the shedchen by Eric's never-ending solo jam session... audience or not. Both Abigail and Eric were probably in their late 30s or early 40s and there was no mistaking their spirits as mirthful hippies, genuine free thinkers... flower children -- whatever you want to call them, they were dynamic souls unaffected by society's intangible fears... its boundaries. I don't know if I'm a bum, a hippie or just a kid wandering out of his element, but I felt instantly at home in their company and the little fort that most would exit before realizing its warmth. We traded the more fascinating tales of our adventures and abridged the trivial substance in between. They had been all over this world. Rather, they had lived all over this world. Eric recalled contract after contract which took him through many countries to live in a medley of places if not the streets as an entertainer.

Abigail fired up the stove and began chopping her home-grown herbs. Eric continued strumming his six-string. She and I talked far more than Eric as he was occupied with the acoustic, but he was surprisingly involved in the conversation and interjected here and there... then would continue playing. His voice was a stark contrast to the sound of our voices -- his tone was deep, slow and thoughtful with a kind of reverberation you'd hear if you woke somebody up with an early phone call. It reminded me of a doctor's voice; intelligent and weighty... but with a charismatic blend. As Abigail and I carried on, he would return to the guitar and invent a journey of sound. In every pause that Abigail and I would make, we both would leave ourselves and fall into a world spilling forth from the instrument where Eric was already traveling.

"I have a coconut with me!", I blurted out. "Well go get it!", Abigail answered. I pulled back the tarp and split from the scene. Holy shit, it's dark out... and I'm on a farm. Where in the hell am I? The truth was that I honestly had no clue where I was... Abigail picked me up and drove me somewhere and now I'm on a farm and don't even know which direction the road lies. Leaving the shedchen was like waking up from a dream or being pulled out of a drug-induced trip. Coconut! Get the cococut, Chuck! Right! I zipped over to the tent where all my gear was being stored, said hello to my old friend, Shadowfax, grabbed the coconut along with the Leatherman and scurried back to the shedchen. When I came back inside, I was relieved to find the volume of each chord resumed and I plopped down onto my chair to fall back into the dream. Phew... I felt like the train could have left without me. I started to stab a hole into the coconut while his fingers shifted in order to narrate my new challenge and struggle. He stopped playing for a moment. "You want a sawzall?", he said. I didn't know what a sawzall was, but I had confidence in my own route since it had worked twice the previous evening. "Nah, this will work. I've become an expert at improvised coconut extraction." I kept carefully stabbing to ensure I didn't catch a finger and gave up after a few minutes when I realized my knife was completely dull. Woops. I turned to the both of them and asked for a hammer and nail since there were so many hand tools laying around. That was also a wasted effort. "Wait wait wait", Abigail sprang, "there's a drill right here!". She handed me the 18.0V Craftsman and a sleeve of spade bits. Ha! Yes! Give the hitchhiker a drill... excellent! Eric jammed as I took the power tool to our food.

"This is so classic", she laughed as I bored into the fruit. Once I had the milk drained, I took hold of a small hand ax and brought the coconut to my imaginary guillotine outside. "DIE!!!", and in one mighty stroke of justice, it was no more.
Chemist Antoine Lavoisier was one of France's greatest scientists. He discovered oxygen and helped lay the groundwork for modern chemistry. Then he ran afoul of the French revolutionary government and was sentenced to death. Lavoisier had heard stories of disembodied heads saying prayers, looking around, and otherwise showing signs of life for short periods after decapitation. Ever the scientist, he decided that as his last experiment, he would try to demonstrate whether a head could continue to be alive after beheading, and for how long. He told a friend, "Watch my eyes after the blade comes down. I will continue blinking as long as I retain consciousness." The results of the experiment? Lavoisier blinked for about 15 seconds.
Unfortunately, the coconut was rotten. I returned into the small room dimly lit by a hidden lamp and the wind challenging Eric's guitar for audible dominance. Abigail's mix of herbs and quinoa sizzled on the stove as she poured a cup of wine into a plastic cup for me. A conversation took place. He played as though we were walking a slow pace; a voyage down a path into an inviting darkness. I don't know if he was doing it intentionally, but it seemed at each inquisition that he'd pluck a high note to signify the question's tone. Abigail stomped some old coffee grinds into the ground in a pretend effort to level out the shedchen's floor. His reply was a lengthy mumble with long pauses.
... I don't know....
... I don't think there's any good reason to learn guitar... I don't recommend it.
... It'll only cause trouble...
... It only causes trouble.
... You wind up hanging around with the wrong kind of people...
... Taking drugs... staying up all night... girls dancing...
... It's the road to disaster! I can tell you...
I told him about a friend of mine who had some skills on the acoustic and how it didn't seem as though he was headed down this road to disaster.
... Nine times out of ten...
Abigail was putting the finishing touches on her concoction.
Abigail: If you read stories about herbs, like if you read about medieval uses about herbs, there's a whole category of herbs for strewing on the floor that are designed to keep out and ward off pestulants and keep out evil spirits and... bring good fortune... and all kinds of like...
Eric: Really?
Abigail: Yea, you don't know about them?
Eric: Which ones?
Abigail: We have them. This is what I do! I grow herbs!
Eric: I know! Well... strew them!"
She gave me a crash-course in how to properly can tomatoes and Eric did his thing on the guitar. Long silences were filled by music... tangible music you could reach out and touch. It was everywhere. This room had become more comfortable than any dining room, any couch, any tree fort or kitchen I've ever been in... and yet it was completely undressed. It felt right... though it lacked many things you'd assume a kitchen needs, there was a pure, wholesome essence that made it so right. Abigail handed me a bowl of the quinoa overflowing with garden deliciousness. "See Eric, if you build a shedchen, they will come."

Hoorah! Quinoa with a healthy mix of garden deliciousness. This is a photo I found on the Internet, but it's surprisingly similar to what Abigail put together. The real reason I'm posting this photo, though, is to give your brain a rest before switching gears in this story... you've been played! Mwahahahaha!! :o)

For the first time since I walked onto the farm, Eric put down the guitar so he could eat. I'm not sure how we got on the topic, but I began to tell Abigail about my experiences in Austin with BJ and his friends. Bars have never been my thing... with exception to McGuire's. Usually when I find myself standing at a bar, it's because someone else wanted to go. Well, I went out with BJ and company to 6th street in downtown Austin one night -- it's the place to be if you're a student at UT and it's loaded with alcohol. I found myself inside a couple of bars... pretending to be cool... shouting to have forced and dull conversations over a $3 bottle of mass-produced beer. Even before the tour, I'd just get disgusted by it all and disappear to wander around by myself outside. This particular night, I stood in the middle of 6th street (which is closed to traffic every weekend) and just began to observe the crowd of people. I stood in this spot for an hour... just looking around. Nobody was alone. Nobody was alone, but if they were, they were either sifting through the mob to find their friends or they were talking loudly into a cell phone. I saw fear... fear of being in the company of one's self. I guess it's natural to expect it from this particular age group, but too much of their behavior seemed to stem from the desire to cast an image of confidence or acceptance... whether or not it was real. As I'm writing this, I think it's easy to comprehend this truth, but it's never been so blindingly clear to me until I was looking in from the outside. You're here to be a person you're not... to act as "they" have directly and indirectly instructed or pressured you. "They" isn't necessarily some business -- they can simply be your friends, your family or anybody who has been influenced by another's directive of what is orthodox... of what is proper and revered.

"I was tripping on a bus in San Francisco one time," Abigail began. She chose her words carefully before speaking them. She had been riding this bus and just observing the people on board... particularly, a group of kids at the back. "There were these kids in the back of the bus... and I didn't grow up with television... but I looked over at these kids and I could just see. I could just see exactly... that they were imitating people that they'd seen on television... and it made a really big impression on me. Like, rather than having human role models, we're modeling our character on these fictional people." Her thoughts continued. "I've noticed that... you can't quite distinguish people who have traveled from people who have done drugs... but you can distinguish people who have done neither. You know? It's the effect of doing drugs or traveling that it has on your character, how flexible you are as person and how open you are." And I replied, "I guess that's why they call 'em trips" -- "Yup. I went on a trip. I saw something that was different."

The night was at an end. Eric retreated to his lair upstairs and his thirst to play went into remission.

They weren't too thrilled that I was taking their photograph, but something about this photo seems to epitomize what it was to be there.

I awoke to Eric and his slow acoustic from just next door... he couldn't put the thing down and I loved it. His tunes were my theme music as I put my horse back together and used Abigail's floor pump to inflate the new tube. As I was getting ready to ride, it dawned on me how incredible the previous 48 hours had been. Two flats at the library, a broken computer, meeting Jose and Maria, one hell of a cookout atop a mountain which overlooked the shore, another flat tire, a defective tube, a busted pump, my first try at hitchhiking, the non-stop jam session with an imaginary trip, the broadening of my own perspective yet again and a feeling of closeness to strangers-turned-friends that I've rarely experienced with people I've known for years.

I woke in the middle of the night, sat up and immediately exclaimed, "I can fix my pump!!" For some stupid reason, it had never occurred to me that I should take it apart and see what was wrong with it. The o-ring was out of place... heh. I put it back together and laughed at myself to hear air flow effortless out the nozzle. "Good one, Chuck." -- "Oh please, it was meant to be. I met two great people because of this!"

I had to ask Abigail to draw me a map so I knew where in hell I was and how to simply get off the property. I was about 25 miles from where I was headed when she picked me up and if anything, the hitchhiking added a couple miles to the tour. It was time to leave the farm. As we said our parting words, I rolled down the dirt road and felt a certainty that one day I'd return.

It ain't over, baby... it's far from over.


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