Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Keys, Kayaks, Gators and Good Intentions

1/21/12 Key West, FL

A somewhat repetitive, cliche refrain that runs through the progressive, idealistic youth of the America is “make a difference; change the world.” The truth is that change occurs whether we direct it or not. The world will change without you or I doing anything. It will be so very different 20 years from now than it is today, simply because it cannot stay the same. And if people do not direct the change, we may end up somewhere we don't want to be. If we go with the flow and let it happen, (as I am inclined to do much of the time) focusing instead on our own lives, putting food on the table, accumulating material wealth, providing an education and travel experiences for ourselves and our children, then who will help push change in the right direction?

What will continue to change, if we get stuck in our current paradigm, are the ways and rates at which we use technology, resources and human labor. The trend of computers getting better, faster, smaller is not going to stop. The ways in which we interact with computers will continue to expand and take a greater role in our everyday interactions. Just a few days ago, I went to the dentist, and for the first time, all of my X-rays were taken with a digital camera, using an electronic plate wrapped in plastic behind my teeth to help capture the images. A flat-screen TV hung over my face while I was having my gums probed, with a daytime talk show blabbing at me about something I can't remember. All of my personal information was recorded onto computers, with hardly anything actually being written on paper. When I went to pay, even my signature was captured electronically after several attempts with a fancy electronic clip-board. And then they wanted me to get an electric toothbrush. Craziness. I immediately had an image of myself in the middle of nowhere in the woods, breaking out my electric toothbrush to scrub my molars. It just seems silly. But it is a great example of how dependent upon electric and electronic devices we have become. With the touch-screen takeover occurring right now, I predict that input devices will become easier to use, more prevalent, and more integrated into our homes and businesses. New cars are a great example of the amount of electronic interaction and integration that is trending.

Changes like this will happen, whether or not any one person makes it their goal or mission. People are fascinated by the abilities of these tiny new computers to simplify, integrate or combine activities which used to be separate and less convenient. I just heard a news article about how Apple wants to make iPads replace text-books in schools. Instead of carrying around a bag full of heavy books and getting some actual exercise, students would instead carry an iPad, containing all of their books, and have a $500 instrument to worry about damaging. This demonstrates another continuing trend of modern times; the continual search for ease and convenience. Is it instinctual for us to seek out easier and more convenient ways of doing things? Instead of walking or biking, we get in the car. Instead of having a face-to-face conversation with someone, even if they work in the same building, we text or chat or e-mail. Instead of growing our own food, we buy it all at one location. Instead of making our clothes, we have children in poor countries make them, and then simply pick them up at the store. We use central heating, so we don't have to chop wood. We use the remote control so we don't have to stand up to change the channel. We use a toaster so we don't have to pay attention to the bread. I can only see this trend leading to poorer health due to less exercise, less creativity, and less natural movement incorporated into our everyday lives. Not only that, but with every new innovation comes more resource extraction to produce these new products. And all of the machines that extract, ship, manufacture and modify run on fossil fuels. I don't want life to be easy, I want it to be real.

Are these new technologies the types of changes that we want people to be focused on? Are these the efforts that we want to employ tens of millions of people in working toward? Are these the products that we want our limited natural resources being used up to build and power? Do we want our social world to continue growing more screen-centric, our physical world to continue pumping out new products of convenience so that we can exercise less? If not, then we had better say, “no thank you,” and start a different trend instead. Changing the world and making a difference occurs each time we take a breath, each time we take a step, with each decision to purchase, consume, drive, e-mail or pay. We all make a difference, all the time. It takes intention, however, to make change occur toward common goals. If we continue making a difference without intention, then the world will change in ways that we do not expect, or do not want. Let us work together to set the intention for the future of our planet. Lets set some goals as a species for how we want our lives to be. I think we can find lots of common ground without too much trouble. Here's some quick thoughts on what I'd love for the human species:
  1. Health – physical, mental, emotional & spiritual. Love from a community.
  2. Understanding – through education, cultural sharing, open minded conversation
  3. Opportunity – freedom to pursue creative endeavors, daring adventure, dreams & goals

What are your goals for the human species? Where are we headed? What should we be spending our time creating, supporting and building? Lets make some steps in the right direction!


SO much has happened! Several days ago, I arrived on Pine Island (city of Bokeelia, FL) at the home of Nancy Boyd, the aunt of my good friend Greg Petry. Greg had insisted that I go stay with her, and its a very good thing that I did. Upon my arrival, Nancy took me out to lunch while giving me a short tour of the island. She has been in the area since before it was developed, and now, it is all houses and golf courses. Nancy and I talked about spiritual paths, and found out that she is going on a retreat at the conference center in North Carolina which also runs the outdoor school where I just got a job. Soon after, Nancy dropped me off at her house and went out of town for the remainder of my stay. Nancy's house sits on a canal with immediate access to mangrove forest. While I was there, I took out one of her kayaks for a couple of hours, swam in her pool, did laundry, cooked several amazing meals and relaxed in the sun. It was quite nice.

The morning I left Nancy's, I woke up at 4:45 am and was on the road by 5:30. I then pedaled 30 miles in the dark to Fort Myer's beach, where I caught the Key West ferry. The Key west ferry is the nicest ferry I've ever been on. Cloth, reclining seats, similar to an airplane, filled the 2 story vessel. Tables with padded chairs, walls lined with flat-screen TVs, a full bar and snack bar all fit on the boat. This ferry was a pedestrian only (plus bikes, but no cars) ferry, and so it was filled top to bottom with people. 3.5 hours across the ocean at a rapid pace put us in Key West.

Key West reminds me of Venice, CA combined with Disneyland. Funky, tiny houses line the streets in the older districts, including the house of Ernest Hemingway, and the house where Harry S. Truman spent 8 months of his presidency. People on bikes are everywhere, cruising down the narrow streets in seeming harmony with the light but constant car traffic. It was the first place in a long while that I felt welcome and at ease on my bicycle on every road. The Disney part comes into play with the amount of hokey commercial venues that constitute the “Harbor Walk,” a pedestrian path over the water which winds between a harbor filled with yachts and racing boats on one side, and bar/restaurants on the other. Aside from this area and the main street, Duval, running north/south through town, the rest of Key West was refreshingly relaxed and aesthetically pleasing. Some of the Caribbean island vibe definitely penetrates the city that was, at different times in the past, the cigar-rolling capital of the world and the shrimp-fishing capital of the world. Now, the main industry is certainly tourism, catering to snorkelers and scuba divers, but also to retirees wanting to escape the cold north in the winter.

I somewhat regret that I did not jump on a snorkeling tour while I was there. These days, I feel silly paying someone else to guide me on a recreational activity that I am more than comfortable doing on my own, or leading others to do. But Key West snorkeling requires a boat in order to get out to the reef (the 3rd largest in the world), and so it costs money. I only had a couple of days, and decided, as I have been doing more and more lately, to spend it with good people, rather than worrying about the specific attractions of the location.

My hosts in Key West were Adam and Erin. Adam and I worked at Redcliff Ascent together in 2006-2007, and haven't seen each other since until now. Erin grew up in Key West, and has moved back to be closer to her family, and live in a really fun place. The house I stayed in used to belong to Erin's grandfather, and now the two of them share it with 3 cats. It is a small, funky island house with tons of character and custom everything. The walls were lined with full bookshelves and local art. It was a creative, cozy atmosphere. Adam took me on a short walking tour of Key West. The city is so small that nearly everything is walking distance if you aren't on a tight schedule. That night, we met some of their friends for a drink, and then Adam and I ended up having dinner with Erin's family while Erin went to a going-away dinner for a co-worker. The next day, Adam led the Key West Homebrew club in a beer-making session, which I attended and mingled with good beer-making folks. For dinner, Adam cooked up some awesome beans and rice with skirt steak, and I threw a salad together. It was the best dinner I'd had in quite some time.

Yesterday, after a quick stop at the southernmost point in the continental US, I pedaled 112 miles from Key West to Key Largo. The distance should have been only 103 miles, but I accidentally rode past my destination, and had to backtrack (oops). My favorite photographs of the keys were of a canal at sunset, and I wouldn't have captured them if I hadn't accidentally overshot, so I felt OK about it. Along the ride, I stopped and jumped into the sea at a little park where there was a shower to rinse off. Salt and bike shorts are not good companions, so I have been avoiding swimming in the salt water on biking days. Florida is in the middle of a long process of developing the Florida Overseas Heritage Trail, a continuous bike path running the length of the keys. Right now, it is probably around 50% complete, but not in one go. So I switched on and off the highway, taking the path when it was available, and riding the shoulder when it wasn't. The bridges for the path used to support on old railroad, and many are in good condition, but some have been seriously damaged from hurricanes in recent years, and were closed. A second use for the functioning bridges is as a platform to fish from, and they are used quite prolifically. I rode through on a Sunday, which I imagine is a high-use day, but some of the bridges were totally full of people for several hundred yards, often with multiple poles each. I only saw one fish being pulled out of the water as I rode past, and it was a poisonous lionfish. I'm not sure how they deal with that, since you can't touch the fish!

Today, I am in Everglades National Park. One of my main goals for entering the park was to see Alligators in the wild, and today I certainly did. My first stop was the Royal Palms area, which had a ¾ mile hike on a boardwalk through prime gator territory, and they were plenitful. The birds in the area also seemed totally accustomed to humans, and did not fly away even when approached at distances of only 2-3 feet. I took lots of pictures, and a few videos of gators swimming. I find them fascinating! They are so old and scary looking. Relics of the time when dinosaurs ruled the earth, their design is ancient and effective. Later on, as I rode deeper into the park, I passed a gator lounging by a pool next to the road. It was about 15 feet off the road, but only 4-5 feet away from the edge of the mowed area on the side of the road. I parked my bike near it and took several pictures. This was what I was really looking forward to.


This morning I hopped into a rented Kayak in Flamingo, FL (not a real town, but a tourist support outpost) and paddled through Buttonwood canal to Coot Bay. Along the way I saw thousands of spider webs strung up in the mangrove lining the canal. Though they seemed to fill every open space, I did not see one with an insect being caught. Most of the webs were in perfect condition, with their maker sitting right in the middle, waiting for lunch. I also saw 3 American Crocodiles, an endangered species, as well as the rubbery tail of a manatee right underneath my kayak. Crocodiles and Alligators still look very similar to me. The easiest way to tell them apart is that Alligators have a much darker hide (near black) and Crocodiles are more of a grey-green on top. Everglades National Park is the only place in the world where Alligators and Crocodiles live side by side. Alligators generally prefer fresh water, and Crocodiles live in salt water, but the line between fresh and salty blurs immensely in the everglades. Also, Crocodiles are found mostly in tropical climates, and the everglades is so close to tropical that the crocs have historically done well here.

I learned that 70% of the plant species in the park are tropical species, meaning that the other 30% are more common in temperate climates. The mix of the two, as well as the vast fields of water, make for a biodiversity hotspot unlike any other. All of Florida was at one point a shallow sea. This is evident by the ground – pure sand in most of northern Florida, and limestone nearly to the surface in the everglades. Limestone is the result of ancient shells of marine life building up and being compressed over hundreds of thousands of years, and the everglades sits entirely on limestone, with either a very thin (less than 6” in most places) soil layer on top, or just plain water. Tree islands called hammocks provide shelter for animals needing dry land, as well as for trees that need dry roots, but most of the everglades is just as its name implies – never ending fields of sawgrass sitting in a wide, slow moving river less than one foot deep. The mangrove covered islands don't begin until the huge delta of this river starts to hit the salt water of the coast, but these also make up a large part of the park.


This morning I pedaled out of the everglades after one more stop at Royal Palms to catch some last glimpses of Gators. To my luck, I watched one munch a big fish just as I walked by. I also got some good videos of gators swimming, and some great pictures of the plethora of birds flapping around the area.

The wind was against me as I left the park, but thankfully I planned a short day. Pedaling through the urban sprawl of western Miami has not been a fun activity. I was on a fairly decent bike path paralleling a busway for a portion of the ride, but there were so many stop lights along the way that I'm burning through my break-pads faster here than I did in the mountains.

Tonight, I will stay with another couchsurfer, Maria, and her 10 year old son in one of the many suburbs of Miami. I look forward to a shower and a bed after a couple of sweaty days in the humid wilderness of the everglades.   

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Going Deeper


Bits and pieces of information come to me through various channels, and I hold onto some of these shards of thought because they immediately speak truth to me. For most of them, I have no way to verify their truthfulness, no way of knowing whether or not what I am learning is actuality, but I have learned to trust my instincts, as well as judge whether a source is authentic or phony. I generally trust articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, as well the the news articles written to help laypeople understand what these studies have discovered. But once in a while, I will simply read a quote or hear a theory that makes me think, “of course that's right!”

One of these ideas that was passed onto me by someone several years ago is that there is a great store of shared human knowledge accessible to everyone through our own consciousness. In this store of knowledge lies all of the truth of humanity. Every time I hear the results of some carefully designed study which concludes, “and in conclusion, humans like to have sex and feel a sense of purpose; they love their families and are less healthy when they sit around doing not much.” I think to myself, um...isn't that obvious? But sometimes it isn't. Sometimes, just a little insight, a well spoken thought, or a quote from a wise master opens up a whole new channel of awareness which makes me look at the way I had previously been thinking and go, “wow, I can't believe I didn't recognize this before! It's so incredibly clear that this is the truth!” In espousing such utterly clear and truthful statements, the “store of knowledge” theory goes, humans are tapping into this shared consciousness, pulling from it tidbits of information, and sharing them with the rest of us who haven't been able to tap into the same information, due mostly to business with the rest of life. When I hear people who are tapping into the greater consciousness speak, it makes me say, “oOOooooh...thats why.” Part of this theory includes the idea that the great thinkers and philosophers, mystics and spiritual leaders of human history became so great by finding a way to tap into this consciousness with more regularity that the average person. The reason they spoke with such wisdom and clarity is that they were pulling their information from a great store of truth, without the need the have to really even think about it themselves.
Recently, I have started to combine some of the knowledge and wisdom of this greater consciousness (brought to me in books and quotes, through the words of other humans) with the knowledge and wisdom that I am gaining first-hand through travel and interaction with humans of all stripes. It is being a challenging and fruitful mental and spriritual journey.

It is morning in Tallahassee, and I've just made myself a cup of tea. The quote on the tag of the teabag says, “May you have love, kindness and compassion for all living things.” Beautiful, simple, and to me, so completely obvious. That statement embodies the message that I would love for all of humanity to embrace. How to encourage this to happen is my mission. I have been struggling to come up with a plan.

I find myself quoting and striving to live by the principles of a book I read several years ago, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It is a small book, but has made a major impression on the way I see things. The agreement which I find most useful is “Don't make assumptions.” Simply put, but very difficult in practice. This agreement, along with the others, makes immediate, subconscious sense to me in a way that makes me believe that these agreements are part of that vast store of human truth.

Though the book talks about using this agreement mostly in regards to social life and interactions with other people, I find myself using it about all “knowledge” that comes my way. By realizing that many of the beliefs I have held in the past were simply held because others told me, “that's the way it is,” or “that's human instinct,” I have freed myself of the need to abide by unsubstantiated principles. I am coming to recognize that TONS of the principles and knowledge that people use to guide their everyday lives are based purely on assumptions. Many of these assumptions have been passed down through generations, taught to children and grandchildren for so long that they seem like instinct, but are not. Most stereotypes are a perfect example.

Through education in psychology, I have learned that the “nature vs nurture” debate is far from conclusive. We don't really know exactly what human instinct is, and it is incredibly difficult to differentiate what is learned from what is innate. The point that is being established with greater strength every day is that the human brain is marvelously trainable. There really is very little that is built into our behaviors, thought patterns, and ways of living at birth, and most of how we act and what we do is determined by our environment, our training and our education. Now, this environment does start in the womb, and some very important human behaviors and characteristics can be tied to chemical influences inside of the mother, but once a child is born, the possibilities seem almost infinite. A few genetic factors can sway a person toward one behavior or another, but these are far from being deterministic. This means that we have the power to change the way our brains work, as individuals as well as whole societies, and indeed, even as a species. We can decide what we want our world to look like, how we want to think, who we want to be, and why. Our potential as a species is staggering.

A few quotes that I always took for granted, which I now realize have no basis other than common assumption:
“History is doomed to repeat itself.”
“Humans are selfish, and that's the motivation that makes capitalism work.”

These ideas have no basis in reality, they are simply created and supported in people's minds. The human species, because we are so changeable, is not tied to any particular destiny. We can teach each other and ourselves to believe what we want to believe, to act how we want to act, and to create a world the way we want it to be.

Thanks to a friend's prompting, I have begun reading some of the great philosophy of history. For thousands of years, humans with time on their hands have been attempting to answer some of the same questions I am now asking myself. It only makes sense that I should take into account their thoughts and conclusions, since they have influenced all of humanity. I started reading, Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Jesus by Karl Jaspers. It is a very short, succinct summary of the lives and basic ideas of these 4 incredibly influential thinkers. In the first few pages, I encountered this quote from Socrates:

The untruth of the present state of affairs, regardless of whether the form of government is democratic, aristocratic or tyrannical, cannot be remedied by great political actions. No improvement is possible unless the individual is educated by educating himself, unless his hidden being is awakened to reality through an insight which is at the same time inner action, a knowledge which is at the same time virtue.

This quote embodies perhaps the greatest challenge of our times. Our political system is ineffective, impotent and paralyzed. Even war, a tremendous undertaking of great proportions, seems to make little difference in the long-term fate of our world. Education is critical, but even more important is instilling the desire to learn, the thirst for truth, inspiring that insight which prompts people to awaken to reality. The reality that, as my Dad's cousin Kathe says, we are one Earth, one people.

Conveniently, Socrates philosophy of continuously questioning until true knowledge or perplexity were reached fits perfectly with Ruiz's philosophy of never making assumptions. With these well-fitting ideas in hand, I am motivated to find a way to help people to change their thinking and find that spark within themselves to educate themselves about the reality of the human situation. Is it true that people will not know and care about the fate of our species unless they find in themselves the desire to know and care? Or is there something I can do to help them see that they are a part of something much greater than themselves already? I continue the search.

A few other tidbits of information that have stuck with me from the store of greater consciousness:

If you want to solve a problem, concentrate on it intensely, and then relax. Our most creative and productive solutions always come to us when our brain is relaxed, flexible, and at ease. This is why we often find ourselves with great ideas when we are on the verge of either falling asleep or waking up.

There is no way of life to which man cannot become accustomed. Even the most vile of evils can be taken for granted if we are taught, “this is the way it is, the way it has always been, the way it has to be.”  The reality is that there is no "way it has to be."  We have the power to make it what we want.

1/13/12 Tallahassee to Cross City, FL: 93 miles

My visit with Mike and Amelia in Tallahassee was perhaps the most relaxing visit I have had on the trip to date. It helps that they are both simply relaxed, comfortable people, at ease with themselves and their place in the world.
Amelia and I worked together for Naturalists At Large for a couple of years. We canoed rivers, hiked canyons, taught kids how to tell a pine tree from a granola bar, and hung out on the weekends with the same good people who we worked with. Amelia was originally the only person I knew I was going to visit between leaving Minnesota and arriving in Washington, DC. Thankfully, several others have filled in along the way. Still, it felt great to arrive at such a distant destination and rekindle some of the California culture that we all know and love.
Mike, Amelia and I ate some good pizza, filled their new apartment with second-hand furniture and dishware, and had a great sushi party on the night before I left. They both cooked for me, and I ate. Amelia and I did some wondering through the Florida History museum, ate at a great Vegetarian Soul Food restaurant, and ran some small errands. Mike and I had burritos while waiting for Amelia to arrive at the airport. It was nice to experience their calm, somewhat settled lifestyle amidst my go-go-go journey. They had such good energy!


Long days and good weather. In Tallahassee, I sent much of my little-used gear to North Carolina, and some of my warm clothes to Jacksonville, FL to pick up on the way back. I figured that south Florida will be warm, no matter what time of year it is. Normally, I'd be right, but upon leaving Tallahassee, I experienced the 2 coldest nights in Florida so far this year. Though it just barely dropped below freezing, I was cursing myself for sending away my bib-tights, which I had been using almost every day from St. Louis to New Orleans. Turns out, however, that I can make do with a lot less and still be just fine. I ended up riding with my Dickies on over my bike shorts for a couple of mornings, which was not uncomfortable or annoying in the slightest. Perhaps I'll abandon the bib-tights after all! I was smart enough to keep my gloves and balaclava, which came in handy. The last several days, the weather has been beautiful, and I even got my first slight sunburn of the winter today.

In the last few days of riding, I hit 2 long bike paths which used to be railroad tracks, and have been converted to bike paths through the Rails to Trails Conservency, with funding from the State of Florida. The first was the Nature Coast bike trail, and the second was the 46 mile Withlacoochee trail. This second trail runs through a series of small towns in central Florida, crossing lakes and forests, with restrooms and water stops at regular intervals. Florida's biking infrastructure continues to impress me, in stark contrast to the bike-unfriendliness of many of the drivers here. I was nearly run off the road earlier tonight while riding through some road construction that had closed the road down to one narrow lane in which cars were having trouble getting past me. Most of the time, this is no issue due to wide, smooth shoulders on all the highways.

I finally saw my first Orange groves today, and was able to pick up some good oranges off the side of the road, where they had fallen from trucks, but were still in fine condition. I also enjoyed seeing abandoned, old orange groves, with twisted, rotting trees covered in vines and with tall weeds on all sides, but still producing TONS of oranges. I was tempted to wander into one of these clearly dilapidated plantations and fill my panniers, but I really don't need the extra weight.

Every biking day this past week has been over 70 miles, most approaching 100. I had a great tail-wind until I arrived in Lakeland, and today, the wind blew hard straight at my face. Thankfully, I got an early start this morning and managed to put in 92 miles anyway. In Lakeland, I stayed with couch-surfer Jim Wellman. Jim was in the Navy for 6 years, lived in Japan and San Diego, and spent lots of time on ships. He is an outdoor enthusiast as well, especially fond of fishing and boating, and we got along like brothers. He showed me some of the local sights, including a beautiful nature preserve where I saw my second wild alligator of the trip.

In Lakeland, I went to the dentist for the first time in 2 years, due to some tenderness I had been feeling above my upper molars. Turns out, those teeth are just fine, but I did have some deteriorating bone in another part of my mouth, so they brought me back that afternoon to scrape out some bacteria, inject some antibiotics, and give me some fancy mouthwash. I guess it was a good thing I went, because it sounds like I caught the problem in time to fix everything up without issue.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Loneliness, community, superficial Florida



Sitting in a tent in a dark forest on a cloudy night. It is just past a full moon, but I cannot see it because of the clouds. Light rain pitter-patters on the fly of my tent, and I sit inside, cozy and comfortable, but not content. The dark of winter is putting a damper on the enjoyment that I am able to get from being in nature by myself. I get to where I need to be just before dark, after a full day's ride, and have just enough time to cook dinner, set up my camp, and record the days numbers (mileage, hours, etc.) before the darkness begins to set in. I have been a bit more leisurely during the day with my breaks, taking time to fill my ever-hungry belly, letting my butt get a little more time off of the saddle. Because of this, I have had little time to explore, enjoy or appreciate where I am when I arrive at camp. Darkness sets in, and my body tells me it is time to sleep.

Recently, I have had a great run of social activity on the trip. Pete joined me for a week from Jackson, MS to New Orleans. I spent a full week in New Orleans, staying with 2 friends, and running into 2 more in the city. I then camped a night with one of these friends on the way out of New Orleans, followed by a night couchsurfing with a wonderfully accommodating couple, and then 3 nights with an old friend from my hometown. And now, I have camped alone for just 2 nights, and I feel lonely.

When I began cycling in July, I had just finished a 3 month run of work and play in perhaps the most socially active environment I have ever been in: Naturalists At Large. Spending every day with good friends, working and playing, and then hanging out on the weekends, squeezing in as much adventure as possible between work days. I love that experience, but I also missed time alone to reflect and think. The first couple of months on the bike were exactly what I needed. I was not pushing the kind of mileage that I am now (I'm trying to squeeze in all of Florida in 3 weeks – and its a big state!), and the daylight hours were long. When I arrived at camp I had time to swim, take photos, relax and enjoy the evening before dark set in. My body has now become so programmed to fall asleep after the sunset that I barely stay awake until 7 or 8 o'clock. On the positive side I am getting plenty of sleep and having no trouble waking up early to get on the road.

I was chatting with a friend on the phone last night, and I realized something that had not been so clear to me before. In order to build community, you really have to be in one place. It is much more difficult to establish and maintain substantial relationships from afar. This is obvious to most people who have tried “long distance” relationships with a significant other, but perhaps not so obvious in terms of establishing or maintaining a group of like-minded individuals, working toward the same goals. Of all the wonderful people whom I've met on this trip, I doubt that I will really keep in touch with more than a handful. This is a shame, because I know that if I was living in the same place as these people, I would see them, interact with them, and build better relationships. It is at the same time inspiring and disappointing to know that all of these wonderful people are out there, working toward similar goals, and that I will not get to see most of them nearly as often as I might like. Building community has become an important goal for me. I think this means that eventually, I will have to decide on a single geographical location so that I can start maintaining relationships in the way that they deserve to be maintained.

I said goodbye to the gulf coast today. After several days of biking past white sand beaches, giant resort-hotels, crystal clear-blue waters and bridge after bridge over bays, bayous and streams, I have cut inland to head to Tallahassee. I spent 3 nights in Pensacola at the home of my good friend Christian and his girlfriend, Mikki. Christian and I attended Lewiston Elementary School together, as well as Trinity High, but we were better friends when we were younger. He moved to Pensacola after obtaining his masters degree in Physical Therapy last January, and is working with a famous sports surgeon at a rehabilitation institute, where he is able to work with professional athletes every day. We spent a beautiful afternoon at Pensacola Beach, tossing a frisbee on the white sand, and dipping our toes in cool, blue gulf waters. It was warm and sunny, shirts-off weather in January. Now I know why people live here. They treated me to a genuine southern seafood meal that evening, which was a tasty and filling way to end a short, sweet visit.


My ride between Pensacola and Tallahassee was mostly on bike paths and in bike lanes (thank you Florida!) through some pretty unbelievable neighborhoods. Whole sections of highway have been transformed into resort/vacation villages, with palm-tree lined streets, perfectly manicured lawns and buildings all designed in the same style. Private, gated communities dominated many areas, with houses build right up to the beach. The only other people I saw outside of cars were the landscaping workers, riding on lawnmowers, running weed-eaters and trimming hedges. After leaving the beaches, I rode through pine forests for many miles. Logging trucks hauled skinny trees past me, on their way to some unknown fate. I assume they will be used for paper or some other purpose which doesn't require large diameter trees, as most of these don't exceed 8-10 inches at the base of their trunks.

I arrived in Tallahassee at the home of my friend Amelia and her boyfriend Mike just in time to avoid a huge storm that rolled through here, soaking everything in its path. I was lucky not to have been in a tent last night. Amelia flew in from Europe this morning, after spending a month in Spain and an couple of weeks in Amsterdam. We have been shopping for furniture for Mike & Amelia's apartment at thrift stores around town, and tomorrow, they are throwing a house warming party & sushi dinner. I am enjoying their comfortable company completely.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Tires, New Temperatures, goodbye New Orleans

Several new VIDEOS this week.

Also a notable stat this week: I've passed 5000 miles on this trip! (see the "stats" column to the right for more info)

I am now staying with my friend Christian Butler, with whom I went to high school, but was better friends with in elementary school back in Lewiston, CA.  He moved to Pensacola, FL less than a year ago with his girlfriend Mikki after they both completed a masters degree in physical therapy at Sacramanto State.  They've put me up in the guest room of their apartment, on the third floor with an ocean view.  It is quite relaxing.  Tomorrow, Christian has the day off, and we will tour the town and go to the beach.


I'm sitting on Dauphin Island, Alabama, in the Gulf of Mexico, waiting for a ferry to get fixed so that I can cross Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan. I arrived last night amidst a glorious sunset over the ocean, the first ocean sunset I have seen since leaving California. I stayed at the campground here, which is almost entirely populated by RVs and large trailers, but had a few tent sites tucked away in one corner, only one of which was occupied when I arrived. Feral cats roved in gangs around the campground, steeling scraps of food and licking leftovers. At one point, as I sat watching the end of “The Cove” on my computer while eating dinner, they stole the empty tuna can that was sitting on the other end of the table from me, which I had just emptied into my put of rice and lentils a few minutes earlier. I was afraid they might rummage around all night, so I did a good job of packing up all my food before going to sleep.
I awoke this morning to find a large, fresh bird poop on my tent, still green and wet. Most of it came off with a little wipe of toilet paper. As I was packing up, several people stopped by to inquire about my trip and offer encouragement. One man was adamant about insisting that if there was anything he could do to help me, I shouldn't hesitate to ask. Another man, upon hearing that the ferry wasn't running, offered me a ride in his truck up to Mobile, where I could cross the bay on a bridge, but I declined, hoping that the ferry will be fixed in time for me to complete my ride in the light, despite the delay.
Two days before New Years Eve, on the day that Pete flew home to San Francisco, I had moved from my friend Ted's house in the Bywater neighborhood to my friend Laura's apartment in Uptown. Laura's place is quite small, a one bedroom with a cozy living-room, kitchen and bathroom. It is a nice setup for one person, but became a little more cluttered when I moved my bike and luggage in. I was able to meet several of Laura's law school friends from Tulane University, where she has just finished her first semester. The first night I stayed, we all went to a local dive, Ms. Mays, where the special was $1 well drinks for students with ID. Trying to take it easy in a town like this is not easy with deals like that.

The next day I met Joann, whom I had couch-surfed with in Cape Girardeau, Missouri earlier in the month, on the south/west side of the Mississippi river around noon. Joann had been visiting some family who live south of the city, and had asked if she could stay with me at Laura's place over the new year, so she wouldn't have to drive in and out of that crazy place during such a crazy time. She had suggested that we go for a hike in the Barataria Preserve, which is swamp and bayou inside of Jean Lafitte National Preservation Area. We ate lunch at a great little cafe serving lots of earth-friendly food, and then drove 10 miles south in her Jeep to the preserve. We cruised boardwalks and raised paths through the swamps and marshes, spotting an alligator, two snakes, several vultures and a various assortment of other birds. Water Hyacinth, an invasive, floating plant, had clogged huge portions of the canals that Joann remembered being very clear on her last visit, 2 years ago. We then drove to another part of the park to check out a different swamp, and immediately upon departing the car, we heard lots of rustling through the dead leaves on the ground. Moving slowly to get a better look, we spotted an armadillo rooting around for food. After taking several pictures, we hopped on a path and proceeded into the swampy forest, passing at least half a dozen more armadillos along the way. They made so much noise crunching through the leaves that I think they didn't even notice our approach until we were 6 or 8 feet away sometimes. After several dozen more photos, we called it a day and headed back to the city.

That night, as well as on the night of New Years Eve, Joann and I wandered around the French Quarter, taking in the sights and sounds, dancing and making merry. Joann is a very talented hula-hooper, and brought a hoop with her during these outings, taking every opportunity to dance in the streets when she found a good rhythm or an open space. On New Years Eve, we attempted to find one of Joann's friends who was also supposed to be out hula-hooping, but we failed. We did find Laura, who was posted up near the main square with several of her law school buddies, listening to some live music and enjoying a few beers.

New Orleans, like Las Vegas, allows open containers to be carried in the streets. People walk in and out of bars and restaurants with drinks in hand, and the establishments that they frequent only support the habit. On New years eve, there were several evangelical Christian groups posted up in the middle of Bourbon street with signs about who is going to hell and the only path to salvation. Some of the young people volunteering for these groups looked simply scared out of their minds at the free-for-all that was going on around them. Beads tossed from balconies by strippers and their customers, drinks in every hand, flowing from every window and door, people dancing and laughing and kissing and dressing up in costumes, the ground littered with empty glasses, beads, puddles of alcohol and junk of all kinds. I'm not sure there's another place on earth that knows how to party quite so hard.

My favorite part, aside from the endlessly energetic atmosphere of fun and silliness, was all of the live music streaming from the windows of the clubs up and down the streets. We would walk for a while, hear some music that we liked, jump inside and dance for a bit, then jump back out to the street and continue to the next good music. At one point, Joann partnered up with a street musician who had a huge drum and a cymbal on which he was whacking out a frenzied beat, and she hula-hooped with him for while, drawing a large crowd. We watched the fireworks over the Mississippi at midnight, had a crazy good time, and made it home at a reasonable hour.

Since leaving New Orleans, I have been biking through bayou, forest, beach and beautiful neighborhoods. Joann and I camped together on the first night after we left town. She is on her way back to Missouri, and I am on my way east, so we found a campground just north of Lake Pontchartain to meet at for the evening. On the way in and out of Fontainebleau State Park, I rode along the Tammany Trace Trail; a bike path running 20 miles along the north shore of the lake. The park was peaceful, and we walked out on a pier over the lake to watch the sunset.

Two nights ago, I couch-surfed with Barbara and Bernie, a midde-aged couple in Gulfport, MS. They were extremely hospitable and generous, feeding me until I couldn't eat another bite, and talking about all manner of things. They have been hosting for not that long, but have had quite a number of people come through, and are enjoying their experiences thoroughly.

On the bike, I rode a boardwalk right on the sandy beach of the Gulf for about 15 miles, I crossed several bridges more than a mile in length (over bays and deltas), and I weaved through beautiful neighborhoods, straddling curved, swampy inlets filled with fishing boats and docks. Many of the houses here are on stilts made from treated wood posts (just like telephone poles), to prevent flooding during hurricane season. I am glad I am avoiding that season, and also glad to be able to enjoy the beauty of these places in the sunshine and calm weather.


Quick update: The ferry never got fixed, so I waited around until about 1 pm, and the nice skipper of the ferry talked some local fisherman into giving me a ride across the 4 mile channel.  Otherwise, it would have added 50 miles to my trip, and I wouldn't have had nearly as nice a ride!  I gave the guys $20 and rode through the sand and stilted houses right on the gulf coast, just as planned.