Friday, December 30, 2011

The Big Easy


Pete flew home yesterday after a very satisfying 3 days in New Orleans. Both of us fell in love with this town nearly immediately upon our arrival. It has been nothing but good times.

Our ride from Baton Rouge was marked by heavy rain in the morning, followed by a heavy fog during the last several dozen miles. As the Mississippi River Trail approaches New Orleans, it becomes a bike path which sits on top of the levee right next to the river for 20 miles. This path is well paved, with light pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and very gentle slopes. It was a welcome relief after 65 miles of riding through wet air on a nasty highway shoulder, full of rocks and torn up tires and debris. A warm, light breeze came our way, and I stripped down to my t-shirt for the last several miles through town. Highs have been in the upper 60s to low 70s since then.

For several days before we arrived, I had been imagining that the entire city of New Orleans would look like a big haunted house, and I was very pleased to find that it does fit that image quite well. As we rode in through the low, warm fog, industrial towers of concrete and metal rose out of the fog on the river. Willows and Oaks stretched their long, crooked branches out over pathways and streets, filtering light through their leaves onto the horribly ruptured sidewalks. Many of the trees that line the streets here are over 500 years old, and have been designated “historic,” so cannot be removed, even though their roots are ripping up every sidewalk and street. In a city where drinking is also a historic pastime as necessary to participate in as listening to Jazz and eating Cajun food, this makes stumbling home drunk an infinitely more difficult task.

The New Orleans Saints football team are worshiped on a level that rivals any I have seen. As Pete and I rode into town, the Saints/Falcons game was just about to start, and people were out in droves wearing their team colors on every manner of clothing imaginable. I realize now that this rendered an already active, boisterous town a feeling of even more excitement and celebration, and it was an enlivening atmosphere to ride through. We left the bike path on St. Charles street, and happened to have to ride through every famous historic district on our way to my friend Ted's house in the Bywater neighborhood. Giant, old mansions line the sides of St. Charles, with those 500 year old oaks hanging over the streets. A streetcar line running the length of the city also runs down the center of St. Charles, where a nice, green patch of grass struggles to keep its place surrounding the busy tracks. Most of the larger boulevards here have huge, green medians filled with grass and old trees. Even the busy streets are still wide enough for a bicycle to comfortably ride alongside the cars in the lane, even when cars are parked all along the curb. It was a great way to enter a great town. That night Ted, our host, joined Pete and I for a couple of drinks at a bar near his house where people were watching the game. We were inducted into the spirit of New Orleans football pride, and we left at half time to get some sleep after an 88 mile day on the bikes.

Since that day, Pete and I thoroughly toured the French Quarter (established in 1718) on foot, which was conveniently only a 15-20 minute walk from Ted's place. We entered St. Louis Cathedral, Louis Armstrong Park, Jackson square (with a great statue of Andrew Jackson on a horse rearing up), the French Markets and last of all, Bourbon Street. We ate Po' boys, catfish, barbeque, and street burritos, and listened to live brass bands, bluegrass, jazz, funk, reggae, and rap.

One morning, we met up with my friend Quinn, who happened to be taking her holidays in New Orleans with her family from California. We ate the necessary beignets (like small, square donuts smothered in piles of powdered sugar) while chatting at Cafe du Monde. Later that night Pete and I met up with Quinn and her sister Kelly for some good music and dancing. They were great company..
The next night was much more crazy. We had a calm morning of walking through the historic garden district, trying to help an old man who's Prius had somehow become inoperable just at the foot of his driveway (no success), and visiting historic Lafayette cemetery. We then met up with my friend Laura after an incredible Caribbean meal at the Rum House (no drinks for us, just amazing food).

Laura has been in New Orleans for several months now, after starting law school at Tulane University earlier this fall. She has just finished her first semester (rumored to be the most difficult), and was in the mood to show Pete and I a good time on Pete's last night in town. So we hopped on the street car into the French Quarter, and did up Bourbon street proper. Pete was fairly intent on sampling the New Orleans-specific drinks, so we shared some “hand grenades,” “hurricanes,” and a fair bit of good old fashioned beer. Meanwhile, Laura took us on a tour of some of the most famous locations along the strip, such as the 5th oldest bar in America (Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith shop, established 1772) and Pat O'Briens (where the “hurricane” was invented). We spent significant portions of the night in a gay karaoke bar, and then another more mainstream karaoke bar. We sang 4-non blondes What's Up, and then Pete and Laura did a rousing rendition of Lady Gaga's Poker Face. We danced our butts off and had a blast!

After several glasses of water and a good night's sleep, I woke up feeling remarkably well. Pete and I ate a tasty brunch at a hip, modern diner just down the street from Teds, and then we put him on the bus to the airport.

That afternoon, I got on the bike for a quick tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, the neighborhood which was most damaged during hurricane Katrina. On my way there, I crossed a large canal in which the water level was higher than the ground level of the surrounding neighborhoods. Why does this make sense?

The lower ninth ward is still very much in a state of recovery. Lots of homes have boarded up windows, crumbling foundations and roofs, or are simply gutted. Most of the area, however is simply empty. Concrete driveways lead to small piles of rubble, where houses used to be. Grass is happy and healthy, growing over empty lots interspersed with a mix of uber-modern green homes (apparently many of which were built by Brad Pitt & friends) covered in solar panels; new mobile homes on stilts, and old houses which have been or are in the process of being rebuilt. Many of the older brick buildings seem to have suffered the least, but they are few and far between.

I am now staying with my friend Laura in Uptown, and will be hiking today in the Barataria Preserve about 10 miles south of town. I hope to see alligators and other interesting critters!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fall Colors, Winter Weather

More new VIDEOS this week.

12/22/11 Natchez State Park, Mississippi

I am sitting in a cabin beside a lake in the middle of Natchez State Park, Mississippi. Rain is pouring down outside, and showing no signs of letting up. The power was out when I woke up this morning, and has not returned. The forecast for today looked wet starting about a week ago, and all of the meteorologists' predictions came true. I think that Pete and I will make at least a short ride mid-day, but we will be soaked as soon as we leave the shelter of this place. Riding in winter is a different game.
Pete arrived in Jackson around 4 pm two days ago, and we met up that night at his hotel to plan and prepare. After a pleasant plane ride, Pete picked up the used bike that he had purchased from a local shop, and rode to the hotel in the rain. He packed light, and his clothes dried quickly, so his first ride in the rain was not a big deal.
Pete and I played Ultimate Frisbee together in college, and have been adventuring together after college a few other times. He mentioned his interest in joining me for part of the ride while we were both attending my friend Greg's wedding in Minnesota. I am very glad that he made the trip, and it is already being very enjoyable to have a partner on the journey.

Yesterday, we spent nearly the entire day on the Natchez Trace Parkway. This fabulous stretch of road runs from Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS for 444 miles of scenic beauty. Impeccably maintained by the National Park Service, the parkway is lined with tall grass and native trees for several hundred yards on either side of the road, providing a continuous habitat for animals, and a continuous beautiful view for cyclists and motorists. There are no stop signs or stop lights along the full length, and roads that cross the parkway are routed underneath or over, depending on the geography of the location. Stops along the way are filled with history from Native American times, through European settlement until the civil war, then the Natchez Trace stopped being used for practical purposes. Now, the speed limit is 50 mph, the traffic is light, the grade is easy, and the pavement is smooth. It was a beautiful, though long ride, here to Natchez State Park. Natchez, MS was apparently home to over half of the millionaires living in the United States before the start of the civil war. Many of the large homes and mansions from those days have been converted into bed & breakfasts, and are preserved for historic and tourist purposes. Pete and I plan to stay in one of these tonight.
Pete rode 99 miles on his first day out, which is no small feat for anyone. We decided to make it a long day due to the predicted poor weather the next day. It was a good choice. Aside from a minor side-track into some nasty mud at the start, we made good time pedaling through the changing leaves, the hanging lichen, and the trees covered in ferns and moss. The temperature was perfect, with intermittent cloud cover, hardly any wind to speak of, and plenty of daylight hours, having made an early start at 7 am from the hotel. Today will be a different experience entirely.

12/23/11 Natchez, MS to New Roads, LA: 90 miles

Another long day. The wind was at our backs and we made the fastest per-hour time of the trip so far (15 mph). Pete is much less sore from the first day's ride than either of us imagined he would be, and we had a good ride in cool weather. Birds, swamps, levees and miles of smooth, empty pavement filled our day. We passed several hydro-electric locks in side channels of the Mississippi, with brown waters swelling up in foamy currents from their down-river ends, and vultures swirling about overhead. We saw large flocks of white Pelicans, several Great Blue Herons and lots of juvenile vultures.
Natchez and New Roads are both old plantation towns, with brick buildings and old houses built with columns and bay windows and colonial architecture. In Natchez, we stayed in one of the old homes which had been immaculately restored by the owner, taking over 25 years starting in 1978 to restore the building to its colonial glory. The owner was amazingly easy to get along with, and his B&B was a delight to stay in. We spent a few hours touring around historical Natchez, had a good southern dinner with catfish and biscuits, and had a good night's sleep.


I attended a catholic mass this morning with Pete, who is catholic and attends church every Sunday. The singer, clearly appointed by the church, was absolutely amazing. Her voice filled the large hall with beautiful, pitch perfect opera, and was quite inspiring.

We are staying on the Louisiana State University campus, which may be the nicest part of Baton Rouge. Last night, we had a long soak in the hot tub outside the University Hotel, which did wonders for our sore legs. Tomorrow, Pete and I will attempt to make the ride to New Orleans, weather permitting. We are looking forward to a few days of fun and relaxation!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A job, a friend & Mississippi sunsets

Several new, short videos this week.

Exiting news! I have obtained employment for the spring season with Mountain Trail Outdoor School in Hendersonville, North Carolina. They initially turned me down for a position when I first applied, but I wrote an email response to the director, asking for feedback on my interview and including a more thorough response to one of her interview questions. She replied a couple of weeks later by offering me a job. I have included here part of my e-mail to her; a passionate explanation of why I do what I do for work, and a pat on the back to all of you other outdoor educators who do the same:

 "Why is outdoor education important?"
I am surprised that after several years in this profession, including many hours of solo reflective time and writing about my thoughts and feelings, I had never been asked this question.  And so, largely for my own peace of mind, here is a more thoroughly thought out and unsurprised response:

Several years ago, someone told me about an old wise man, who said that only two things make people happy.  One is connection with other people, and the other is connection with nature.  Since then, my understanding has become that people ARE nature, or at least an essential part of it, but that many of us have lost that connection and understanding.
     Outdoor and experiential education is important because it re-connects children to the natural world that they are a part of.  In a time when video games, TV and facebook are the icons of kids lives, it becomes increasingly difficult for kids to care about what is going on "away from the power outlets." Not only does being in the outdoors increase their interactions with the real world (water, plants, animals, rocks and sky), but well planned lessons and fun games will increase their understanding of how the natural world works to provide them with what they need to live.  The air they breathe, the water they drink, the materials necessary to construct their homes and schools, and the electricity that comes from the outlets are all taken for granted until these processes are understood.  Ultimately,  if I can help a child to understand how the Earth and the Sun have been working together for billions of years to produce the things necessary for their survival and enjoyment, I feel that I have taken a step toward the even larger goal of encouraging them to be stewards of those resources and processes. 

If I can, in addition to this, make the outdoors an exciting and adventurous place to play and learn, then I will have helped to set them on path of appreciating nature for the rest of their lives.  Books such as "Last child in the woods" make glaringly obvious the social, psychological and physical benefits of such a lifestyle choice early in life.  With a wealth of environments with which to interact, countless questions to be answered, and sensations to stimulate all the senses, the outdoors is a classroom unparalleled by any constructed environment.  For the health of future generations, a true, hands-on understanding of how the world works, and a way to connect to the natural world that they are a part of, I choose to spend my time teaching children outdoors.

12/18/11 Rosedale, MS to Hollandale, MS: 62 miles

The sunsets over the Mississippi River have been fabulous. I have taken pictures each of the last 3 nights. With the short days, I find myself struggling to get to my destinations before dark, but as a result, I pedal into the beautiful sunsets, and arrive at camp with a sense of peace and beauty.

Four types of animals and one plant:

Today, I was bit by a dog. I have been chased by more than a dozen at this point, but none of them seemed very serious or intent on actually hurting me until today. A gang of 5 or 6 ran out between some mobile homes, coming directly at me, and working themselves into a frenzy. None of them was very large, and they didn't seem like the types of dogs that I should be scared of (no pitbulls, german shepards or rotweilers). One of them had white curly hair, like a poodle, and the one that actually jumped up and bit my hand as I slowed down to shoo them away was just a puppy. Generally, my strategy has been either to speed up and outrun the slow dogs, or to stop and be assertive with the ones who get close, but this group wouldn't have it. They barked even more loudly as I slowed and shouted at them in low tones, until I got close enough that they actually started nipping at me. After I got bit, I actually kicked the one that bit me, and then took off pedaling as fast as I could, which only made 2 of the dogs continue to chase me. The dog that bit me, a small, thin, grey one, kept chasing me for nearly half a mile at more than 15 mph. It would actually get ahead of me, then try to turn in front of me, to which I did not flinch, so it got out of the way and then kept running right next to me, barking and growling. When I finally outpaced it, I stopped to look at the damage. Luckily, I was wearing fleece gloves with liners, because the dog managed to draw blood through the gloves, even though it didn't manage to puncture any holes in the glove itself. I sustained only the loss of a couple of 1/8 inch diameter patches of skin.
For the last several days, the main types of roadkill that I've been seeing are possums and armadillos. Armadillo shells make a very satisfying crunch under a bicycle tire. Not so surprisingly, I haven't seen any possums during the day (as they are nocturnal), but I would love to see a living armadillo.

It must be mating season for red-wing blackbirds, because they are gathering in the thousands. They make great, swooping clouds over the roads, changing their direction and swirling about in flocks that remind me of a the spinning double helix that is always shown as “DNA” in graphic form in science books. They land on the tops of empty trees together, filling 6 or 8 trees completely with birds, taking the place of the leaves that have fallen to the ground for the winter. They chatter loudly and cheerfully, and sound healthy and happy.

Yesterday, I started seeing people wandering about in fields underneath giant old trees, picking things up off of the ground. In several places, I would see this, and look at the trees to try and identify what it was they were gathering. Today, I stopped under one of these trees, which seem to be planted in every front yard and every field. Pecans are in season, and everyone is getting their share. At the tree I stopped under, I gathered over a pound of the 1” long nuts in their shells in about 10 minutes. These pecans are much smaller than those I have seen in the grocery stores, but they sure are tasty. Raw pecans are much sweeter and softer than any I have had before. What a delicious, free roadside treat!

After crossing the Mississippi River from Memphis, I spent the night with couchsurfers Melanie, Dave and Suze, all teachers in the Teach For America program in Marianna, Arkansas. As they stated, no one would come to live in that town if it wasn't for the Teach For America program. After being treated to a hot veggie burrito dinner, Melanie, Dave and I went to the local high school basketball game, where the stands were packed with 600 people, and 97% of them were black. I admit, this made me nervous at first, but I calmed down shortly. The games were very lively, and the level of play was quite impressive. I am beginning to realize that it has been a long time since I was anywhere near to being a minority someplace. The world of outdoor education, recreation and employment is still totally filled with white people. In the last job I held in Los Angeles, at Radio Shack, I was the only white male working there (there was one white female) out of about 8 employees, but that was over 6 years ago. While I have never harbored any prejudice, I had kind of convinced myself that I didn't even really notice someone's race or ethnicity anymore, but that is simply not true. It is much more noticeable when I am one white face out of 10 in a crowd of 600 darker faces. It was a good experience.

As I pedal further south, the colors of the leaves are returning. The colors now look very similar to Northern Minnesota in late October, with pinks and yellows dominating a scale from brown to bright red to intense, sunflower gold. I suppose this means that I am biking faster than the seasonal changes move south. I will get to experience autumn for that much longer. After all, winter is still 3 days away!


Yesterday was a grueling, 95 mile push through the heartland of Mississippi. Ups and downs along the way included the first actual hills I have encountered, which were very nice to ride due to great views of the surrounding forests. I also ran into a closed road, which detoured me onto a nasty gravel road, which I rode for 7 miles at 8 mph. If ever you need to torture me for some reason, make me ride a 100 lb bike on a deep, chunky gravel road for endless amounts of time in the dusty south through fields of mud and dust. Yuck.
I am now in Madison, Mississippi, at the home of some more couchsurfers, who have been very hospitable. Today, I will meet with my friend Pete, from San Francisco, who is flying into Jackson, MS to ride with me into New Orleans for a little over a week. I will have company on the ride for the first time!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Floods of water and wisdom

First, an article on Iceland, which went bankrupt in 2008 and is now refusing to pay the debt of the bankers that got them into that mess! A true case of governance of, by and for the people:

And, speaking of doing the right, radical thing, consider this: Rewriting the Constitution

Also you can see my latest video of Kentucky flood-waters HERE 

12/13/11 Clinton, KY to Ripley, TN: 72 miles

After further consideration, I believe that the thing Americans are most afraid of is giving up what they have. Security, certainty, routine and knowledge. We, as a society, are afraid of giving up what we have accumulated and accomplished, even in the pursuit of something better. It feels like too much stress and pressure and pain to let go of our current systems of operation. Too much chaos to give up what we have already spent several lifetimes building and coming to understand and working with and finding success within. But when we finally acknowledge that there is something better than what we have now, shouldn't we have the courage to break our current ways of life and embrace the adventure of building a new, healthy society? When we collectively realize that the American way of life is broken, isn't it our duty, as individuals in addition to being parts of the whole, to find ways to fix it and support new ways of life? How can we sit back and ignore the wrongs that our own nation, our own people, our own selves are exporting to the world? The answer lies in facing our fears. The new frontier lies not in discovering new lands or new planets or new species, but in new methods of operating in harmony with the Earth and our fellow humans. Let us acknowledge that the American experiment is in need of drastic revision, and let us have the courage to let go of what is wrong.

Since St. Louis, I have seen at least 10 Red Tail Hawks during the ride. They seem to be scared off of their perches just as I ride by. I often see them in pairs, and several times, I have heard the characteristic screech that immediately adds so much atmosphere to an otherwise hum-drum situation. I feel like they are a good sign.

Yesterday, I had more of an adventure than I planned. Riding through Columbus, Kentucky, I was following the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), a route designated by the states bordering the river which runs alongside the river from beginning to end. When he was president, Thomas Jefferson suggested that the capital of the nation be moved to Columbus in order to be closer to the center of the country. His petition failed by just 1 vote in the Senate. At one point, I passed a rather faded looking sign which read something like “road closed 6 miles ahead due to water in road.” I looked at my GPS, and decided that there were several other ways I could go if I ran into trouble, and it hadn't rained in at least a week, so I thought the water might not be such a big deal, and I rode on.
Through what was probably the most enjoyable stretch of the MRT yet, I slithered through gently sloping valleys lined with fields of green grass and old farmhouses. The sun dropped as I chased the sunset southwest, trying to outrun the early winter night. Finally, I approached a series of signs which read, “Road closed, 1500 ft, 600 ft, ROAD CLOSED (local traffic only). There was no sign of water, and though there was a temporary fence blocking half the road a few hundred yards to the left, the road to the right was open, and according to my GPS, would get me to the town where I was heading on a more direct route.
I pedaled off up the well-packed dirt road to the right, heading slightly uphill. Around a corner about ½ mile along, the road sloped sharply downhill, and became paved once again. “What luck!” I thought, as I followed the road past another sign which read, “water in road.” The next gully after the sign was dry, and I smirked and congratulated myself for making the right decision. And then I came to the water. About 200 yards of what appeared to be a straight, flat section of road had turned into a shallow lake. Murky, brown water surrounded tree trunks and inched up the grassy slope on one side of the road, while the other side was water surrounding tree trunks as far as I could see. I weighed my options. I decided to turn around, pedal back the ½ mile to the intersection with the “road closed” signs, and try the other direction. But before I pedaled off, my sense of adventure kicked in.
I took my front panniers off and placed them on the back of my bike, with the rest of my gear. The rear panniers are waterproof, so I wasn't worried about them getting wet. I then pedaled down the road, straight into the water. I figured it was probably a pretty flat road, judging by the terrain, and thankfully, I was right. I was a bit worried at first that it might get too deep, and seep into the top of my panniers, but it was never more than up to my knee. My bike had no trouble slogging through the opaque brown water. I imagined snakes and alligators and leeches might be lurking in the depths, but I saw nothing move but myself. I had no exposed skin anyway. The reflection on the water was beautiful, full of clouds and trees and sunset. A few times, I ran into what must have been potholes or small piles of gravel, but never toppled over. My biking sandals, wool socks, and the thermal bib tights I was wearing all got soaked up to the knee, but everything else fared just fine through the first crossing. Victorious and elated on the other side, I made a short video, documenting a successful adventure. I got back on the bike and rode for another 300 feet until I came to the next “water in road.” The sunset was beautiful orange now, and reflected brilliantly on a pool of water so large, I could not see where the road came out on the other side. I could not cross.
So back I went, across the first pool of water, freezing my feet in the frigid wetness, thinking of a new plan. I was short on drinking water, 15 miles away from my planned destination, and about to be riding in the dark. I did not think it would be a worth-while effort to test the other “water in road” direction, so instead, I headed back toward Columbus. Not too far down the road, I stopped at a house with a big streetlight on, just before dark, to ask for water. As I approached, I could tell that the house had fallen into disrepair. I knocked and shouted, but no one answered. Mud-wasps had made their nests in the corners of the door frame, and cobwebs were thick. I tested the door, and found it unlocked. I yelled one more time to make sure, and then stepped into the kitchen. A dust-covered kettle sat on the stove, and more cobwebs filled the sink. I tried the faucet, but it made no hint of providing water. A telephone stuck to the wall with its cord wrapped around the outside. I peered into a room which had a mattress on a dirty carpeted floor, but little else. The electricity also didn't work, and the sun had set, so light was not in great supply. I decided to glimpse in the fridge, mostly for entertainment's sake, before I took off. Just a box of baking soda. The freezer, however, contained a half-case of 16 ounce bottled waters. I helped myself to 3, and drank one before departing. I silently thanked whomever had put them there. That night, I camped in a farm field not too far down the road, and it rained on me all night. Then, it rained the whole next morning, until around 2 pm, as I rode on.


Memphis is a city of black and white. Or so I am told. I have not been here long enough to judge for myself whether this is true, but it feels true. My couchsurfing host, Giovanni, told me of the racial inequalities that still exist here, 50 years after the civil rights movement was at its high. Memphis has a higher violent crime rate than any other city in the US, surpassing Detroit just this year in crime and poverty levels. I was warned, literally, not to cross the railroad tracks into the “black” areas of town, where the overwhelming majority of violent crimes takes place. Because the neighborhoods of Memphis are so segregated, the schools, jobs and other societal constructs are as well. I didn't know this still existed in the USA, but as I make my way further south, I suppose I should be prepared for reality.
Today, I spent the afternoon in two museums of tremendous cultural value here in Memphis, the Stax Museum, and the National Civil Rights Museum. Stax is a record label which signed and brought to fame some of the most famous and influential soul artists of all time. Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, James Brown and others came through their doors at one point or another. More important than this, however, was that local artists, some of whom literally lived down the street, came in and formed groups that hit the charts in a big way. A great collection on the roots and history of soul music (most commonly described as a blend of blues and gospel) as well as a small mom-and-pop record label that bent the rules and enjoyed wild success. Their success was so great, in fact, that they lost the family feel of their small record label, and fell apart shortly after Martin Luther King was shot here.
The National Civil Rights museum is housed in the defunct Lorraine Motel, where MLK spent his last night alive, and was shot on the balcony. I stood below that balcony (and took a few pictures), and imagined the sense of loss that must have been felt that day when such an amazing leader was taken. The message that carries on from his legacy is that you can kill the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream. The museum cataloged the history of African American struggle since the beginning of slavery in 1619 until present day. I learned more than I ever knew there was to know about the KKK, Jim Crow laws, Rosa Parks, the integration of schools, and so much ignorant prejudice I was aghast. I watched old footage of countless white Americans explaining their reasoning for being mad about blacks demanding equal rights, and I cringed. Without a doubt, one of the saddest and most shameful legacies of American culture.
Today, homosexuals are on the front lines of the battle for equal rights, and experiencing the same types of ignorant, hateful discrimination. I took a photo of a map from the mid 19050s which shows which states had racial discrimination built into their laws, and it looks very similar to the maps today of which states discriminate against homosexuals. It wasn't right then, and it isn't right now, and when people look back at America of the early 21st century, they will cringe at our prejudice, not understanding how so many people could be so stubbornly hateful and wrong for such a long time.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fear and cycling in Missouri

12/9/11 St. Louis to Fort Kaskaskia State Park, 73.5 miles

Fear. I believe it is one of the key features of what is keeping humanity from uniting. Not only a fear of certain social systems that talk about “uniting humanity,” but fear of almost everything.

I have gotten rid of a lot of fear in the last few years, most of which I didn't even realize I had. I can't remember the last time I was scared of something physical, unless I was teetering on the edge of a cliff, which is a perfectly rational and useful fear. But I had lots of social fears that I didn't recognize until very recently. I still have quite a few. I fear being ridiculed, made fun of and laughed at for lack of knowledge or lack of skill. I fear that when I share the deepest parts of myself with someone else, they will use the information to hurt me. I fear being turned down by attractive women in whom I am interested in flirting. I fear being rejected for jobs that I apply to, and not knowing the right answers to interview questions. I fear causing others pain or discomfort.

I don't fear blizzards or floods or fires. I don't fear snakes or spiders or bears. Once in a while, I fear my fellow man may cause me harm. I did this yesterday while riding through St. Louis at dusk, and realizing that I was the only white guy on a bike in a very black neighborhood. And then I scolded myself for my own ingrained stereotypes.

But many people have different fears. Terrorism, losing and/or not getting all the money they want and not ever being fulfilled are some of the big ones these days. Fear causes people to isolate themselves, insulating them from certain types of harm. In isolating themselves, they neglect to realize that they are a part of everyone and everything, and fool themselves into thinking that isolation is better, because it is safer. In reality, isolation causes even more mental discomfort and disorder, bringing with it depression, anxiety and deeper fear. We are social creatures. Believing that we are completely separate from everything and everyone else is simply a lie. Living a lie will never bring satisfaction or contentment.


Two days in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Last night, I arrived around 4:45, met awesome people, ate a burrito, went to a Grateful Dead cover band (called “Schwag”) show after a long talk with a guy who owns a local cafe, and went to bed late. Today, I ate at a ridiculously popular BBQ joint called the Pilot House (tasty), hiked on train tracks to an abandoned quarry (beautiful) and saw some Missouri countryside.  More instant friends.  More great places.  How can all this wonderfulness belong to a nation that is so messed up right now?  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Actually on a bike again

I begin this blog with an urgent call to Action! The UN is having climate change talks as we speak, and the USA is poised, once again, to water down any serious progress on a climate treaty. We must rely instead on China, Brazil and the EU to take a stand. Support a strong climate treaty here:

Also, I realize that I have failed to inform readers of one of my favorite organizations of the era, the Environmental Working Group (EWG). EWG first came to my attention when I was concerned about the chemicals in sunscreen, which I had heard might not be so good for me. EWG has cataloged over 69,000 cosmetics, from lipstick to shampoo to toothpaste, and analyzes the ingredients of each to determine which contain the most harmful and least harmful ingredients. Using their database, you can check out the products you currently use, or find alternatives that are less harmful to you and the environment.

Most recently, I was impressed by EWG's “Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change” which details the carbon footprint of a fairly comprehensive list of edible proteins, both animal and plant.

And finally, I have added a FAQ page to the blog (see above, between the photo thumbnails and the main article), to compliment the "Mission & Goals" as well as the "Route and Itinerary" pages, both of which have gone through minor updates.  Lastly, I will continue to update the trip STATS box (top right of the page, under the photo thumbnails), and my location and photos of the whole trip are still accessible at the top left of the page.

12/7/11, Day 76 (of bike travel since 7/6/11)

Yesterday morning at 12:55 am, I loaded my boxed bike (a monstrous, heavy thing, also filled with 60% of my camping, cooking gear & clothing) onto a Greyhound Express bus in Minneapolis. 8 hours later, I unloaded in Chicago, sat in the bus station there for 2 hours, and then boarded another bus to ride 7 hours to St. Louis. The Greyhound Express is a far cry from the Greyhound buses that I remember traveling on several years ago in California. The last time I took a long distance bus, I specifically remember waiting hours for the bus, which arrived late, had severe mechanical problems which were clearly smellable from the interior, and had trouble squeezing our luggage into small compartments. The seats were cramped, the floor was filthy, and the bus was filled to capacity. Cheap perfume and body odor floated on the air, and the heat was cranked too high. We stopped in what seemed like every city, and it took us twice as long to get to our destination as a car would. I had trouble sleeping because the seats leaned back only an inch or two. The Greyhound Express was almost the opposite experience. Clean, well-maintained buses with new seats and decent leg room. Free wifi and power outlets at every seat. Only 1 or 2 stops in the middle of a 7 or 8 hour drive, making the ride similar in time to taking a car. I slept well. I could smell nothing but myself.
Just before departing from Minneapolis, I spent a few hours with friends, old and new, enjoying a few beers, some music, great company and lots of smiles and laughs. I hugged everyone on my way in and out. I could not properly communicate how excellent they had made my time in Minneapolis.

In St. Louis, I spent over an hour putting my bike back together. I put warm clothes on, and rode out into the dark, cold streets of a new city. I rode east, straight toward the Jefferson Arch that the city is so famous for, then turned south and west toward the home of Stephanie, my couchsurfing host. I arrived at her home 20 minutes later without issue. She welcomed me warmly, set me up in the living room, and gave me a biking map of the city.


My last two days have been spent in the city of St. Louis. My host, Stephanie, provided me with a wonderful itinerary of things to do and see, and I pedaled about 45 miles around the city in the last 2 days. I visited the botanical gardens, the Forest Park, the City Museum (more like a giant playground made from re-used things), a doughnut shop, the Jefferson Memorial (with the giant Arch) and some good restaurants. Along the way I cycled past a park with giant cement turtles, a burning building, the original Budweiser factory and lots and lots of brick houses and giant, old deciduous trees.

I am excited to be heading south! My friend Pete is flying into Jackson, MS on the 20th to join me for the ride into New Orleans. I have set up couch-surfing hosts in Cape Girardeau and Memphis for the ride south. I'm ready to ride!        

Monday, December 5, 2011

Now I'm pissed off, and here's what we can do!

Thought Occupy Wall Street was on its way out?  Not if people hear about this. A MIND-BLOWING article on just how corrupt and criminal the major banks and corporations are: 

Audit of the Federal Reserve Reveals $16 Trillion in Secret Bailouts

A couple of helpful videos to visualize a better America in the face of such slap-in-the-face greed:

This one is about an economy based on PLENITUDE rather than debt.
This one is about the psychology of MATERIALISM.

And if you haven't seen it yet, here is my most highly recommended feature film: The Corporation

Lets make it better starting NOW!

Tomorrow morning, I board a bus to St. Louis.  From there, I will ride south to Jackson, MS where I will meet up with my friend Pete who is flying from San Francisco to join me on his bike for 10+ days.

I have made so many good friends in such a short time here in Minnesota, as well as stoking old friendships.  I will miss the people and the place, but plan on returning late spring to early summer of next year on my way back across.  Thank you Minnesota, and thank you Minnesotans!