Saturday, February 25, 2012

Settling In


It is strange being so isolated from the world around me. While biking, I was passing through towns and cities, sometimes a dozen a day, taking in billboards and bus advertisements, passing TVs in bars and retail stores, chatting with people plugged into an ever more electronically connected world. I am now living in a camp in the woods, which I have left only a handful of times in 2 weeks, and even then, only to purchase essentials or hang out in some other remote, isolated place. More than 50% of Americans now live in cities, and this number is predicted only to rise.

There is a line somewhere between isolation and overpopulation, and I haven't quite figured out my place on that spectrum. The times when I've felt most like I belonged somewhere, it had almost entirely to do with the people I've been with, and not necessarily with the place. I like a tight knit social community, accessible when necessary, but not always sharing the same space. I did not expect to feel as anxious as I do when I am alone here. I like being alone outside, but not inside. Instead of feeling at peace, and one with the world as I do when I'm camping, I instead feel trapped and disconnected and shut off from what is going on elsewhere. I'm getting a bit of cabin fever with the cold weather too, due to the fact that I have to keep my windows and door shut most of the time to keep the heat in.

My room has blank walls. I am the only one of my colleagues who arrived without a car, and thus, without things to hang on the walls of my room. I'm not particularly interested in buying things to hang on my wall, either. I should, instead, make some art. Make the inside look more like the outside.


Training for Mountain Trail Outdoor School officially ended today, and we welcome our first group of children tomorrow. For the end of training, we went on a staff “expedition,” which usually means backpacking in the woods somewhere for a couple of days, but we got a more cushy experience. To cover the last few serious topics, to bond as staff and to have a fun learning experience, we went to a camp outside of Charleston, SC. From there, we took a bicycle tour around Kiawah Island with a very knowledgeable naturalist, visited 2 nature centers and a tiny aquarium, and went sea kayaking to another barrier island scattered with countless seashells. Highlights included holding 2 young alligators at the nature centers, watching dolphins play in the surf less than 20 feet away from us, and hanging out on the beach with a wonderful group of co-workers.

In the last couple of weeks, I have had a chance to ride almost all of the trails around camp on my mountain bike (there are about 20 miles of trails total), practice archery with my co-workers, and we have started training for the Warrior Dash by doing hang-board workouts on the porch of our house. I also attended my first contra dance, which was an amazingly fun, sweaty and fabulous experience.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Less Road, More Mountain

Don't forget to look at the sidebars!  On the left, you can see a map of my location for the last 7 days, my latest videos, and photos from the whole trip.  On the right, you can see statistics about the trip.


Valentines Day. How interesting it is in different places at different times. Those who I would most like to ask to “be my valentine” are all far away. Instead of going on a date, I enjoyed a board game with my several of my new co-workers, who are becoming fast friends. I laughed harder than I have in a long time, and I feel great.

One week ago, I arrived at Mountain Trail Outdoor School outside of Hendersonville, NC. This outdoor school is a very integrated and praised portion of Kanuga Conferences, a large conference center and camp which operates at differing capacities year-round. I am learning a new ecosystem, a new high-ropes course, new culture and a somewhat new lifestyle. I have a room of my own, and will be in one place for over 3 months. This will be the first time I've been in one place for that long since June of 2008. I have purchased a used mountain bike to enjoy the thrills of biking through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.

My last week on the bike was a good one. I spent 2 nights in Savannah, GA, where I was hosted by couchsurfer James Holmes. James is one of the warmest, most friendly and easy-going people I have ever met, and we got along wonderfully. He has lived in Savannah for many years, and knows the ins and outs of the city very well. The first activity we did together was to play a life-size version of the game “Banana Grams” in a city park. He and some friends put the game together themselves, and they invite the public to play at least once a week. The local security loves the game and the attention it brings to the square where they play, so it will probably continue for some time.

James took me on a walking tour of some of his favorite hang-out spots downtown, along the Savannah River. We met up with some other friends of his, played some billiards, listened to some live music, and told jokes. The next night, James took me to a restaurant which has a free Oyster shucking every Thursday (as long as you buy some food/drink). We arrived just in time, and I was given a quick lesson on how to pop open the freshly steamed oysters using a towel and a special knife. Large piles of oysters were dumped into the middle of a plywood table surrounded by eager oyster eaters, and we all grabbed handfuls to shuck, dip in cocktail sauce, spritz with lemon, and slide down our throats still hot. They were delicious, and I think I ate at least 10.

Later that evening Kristen, a friend of James', took me to watch some of her friends playing 'gypsy jazz' at a restaurant downtown. They were a great group of high-spirited, talented and down-to-earth musicians, and I enjoyed their show very much. Kristen is a harpist, and we spoke about music, relationships, cycling and the rest of life. The next morning, she joined me for the ride out of town, and rode with me for about 10 miles until I was out of city limits.

I spent 2 nights alone in the woods between Savannah and Greenville, SC. I crossed the border into South Carolina shortly after leaving Savannah, and began to encounter hills. It was an interesting adjustment to ride in hills again after nearly 2 months below 400 feet in in elevation. Wide, empty tracts of land and large pine plantations made up much of the scenery. I rode bridges over some beautiful reservoirs, ended up on some soft dirt roads, and got chased by more dogs than anywhere I've been. One dog started chasing me on a steep downhill, so I just pedaled and sped up, thinking I would lose the dog quickly, but it kept up with me as I pedaled faster and faster down the hill, picking up more speed than I had in weeks. It was the longest hill I had gone down since leaving Missouri, and yet, I just barely lost the dog before the bottom of it. I imagine that I was going somewhere near 30 mph, but the batteries on my speedometer had died, and I had failed to charge replacements. I hate to think what might have happened had the dog caught up!

I passed lots of houses and trailers with questionable foundations, and even one which a tree had completely smashed, though no one had done anything about it. I passed lots of churches and church-goers on a Sunday morning, and arrived in Greenville, SC at the home of couchsurfer Jessica Wilson on Sunday night.

Jessica is a yoga teacher and jewelery maker who spent 4 years traveling around South America. A big part of that trip was on a bicycle, so we had lots of stories to share, and could easily relate to each others' experiences. Jessica took me to the end of a super-bowl party after a delicious, healthy dinner of quinoa and veggies. We hung out with her friends, a couple from Germany and Switzerland, and shared stories of traveling and pursuing dreams. The next morning, Jessica took me to a couple of her favorite places in the city, and I departed at noon. I hope to make it back down to Greenville to visit, as I am now living only 40 miles away.

The ride into Hendersonville started with a new, well-paved bike path, and then a massive climb up some fairly steep mountains through beautiful forest. It was a cold day, and I had trouble keeping the right layers on as I heated up climbing the steep hills, and then cooled down SO fast going downhill. My ride into Greenville had been over 70 degrees, and my ride into Hendersonville hovered around 40. It seemed that as soon as I made it to the top of the mountain, winter suddenly set in. Waterfalls danced through the rhododendron leaves as I made my way through thick forested highways with rocky cliffs covered in ferns and moss. I was so happy that this was going to be my home for the next 4 months! I pedaled onto the Kanuga grounds just before 5 pm, and rode straight into a gathering of my new co-workers, who were all getting prepared to carpool to dinner. After some short greetings, I moved into my new room, and went to dinner with the crew. Now, I have had dinner with the same folks every night since, and I am enjoying this group immensely.

Taking a break from long-distance biking is taking some adjusting. I've been off of the bike for a week now, and I feel like I'm already losing some strength and endurance. My appetite is calming down, now that I'm being fed 3 buffet meals a day. I'm glad to have the mountain bike now, as there are trails on the property here, as well as in the Dupont National Forest less than 10 miles down the road. I also plan to ride into town on a fairly regular basis when the weather warms up a bit. For the end of training this week, all of the staff (16 of us in total, including instructors and admin) will be heading to Charlotte, South Carolina for some biking and sea kayaking on the beach. I am looking forward to seeing a new place that I have heard a lot about.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fleeing from Florida, good greetings in Georgia

Don't forget to look at the sidebars!  On the left, you can see a map of my location for the last 7 days, my latest videos, and photos from the whole trip.  On the right, you can see statistics about the trip.

Also, here is a map of my actual route from New Orleans to Savannah, with points where I spent each night:


Long days on the bike, followed by fun nights in new cities. Too much beer. So much love. An astounding array of wonderful, inspiring, happy & diverse people! The amount of distance I've covered since my last blogpost is somewhat staggering, though I still have 285 miles to go before I reach my spring destination of Hendersonville, North Carolina.

I am not eating as well as I would like. Last night I had 3 meals after 6 pm: pizza; wings & fried pickles; and a late-night diner breakfast of pancakes, eggs & hashbrowns. I felt full afterward, which was the first time in several days.

Two nights ago, I spent the night at a wonderfully refreshing and peaceful place: The Hostel in the Forest outside of Brunswick, Georgia. A gem in the heart of the true south, this little place has been around since 1975, though it has hardly grown at all since then. It is a collection of tree-houses and geodesic domes in the woods, connected mostly by raised boardwalks. They have a pond, a garden, an art studio an outdoor kitchen including a wood-fired clay oven, outdoor showers and composting toilets. It was definitely a place that I wish I'd known about earlier, so that I could spend a little more time. The community of staff living there is only 6 or 8 people, and they change seasonally, though the place seems to maintain decent working order. $25 gets you a bed in a treehouse and a tasty earth-friendly dinner including veggies from the on-site garden. They encourage and require you to do some work to stay there, including changing your own sheets and washing your own dishes. The staff were all interesting, friendly, comfortable people, as were the guests I mingled with. I sat around a campfire and listened to intellectual banter about all manner of subjects, and then I danced for an hour or so in their brand new, beautiful dome library, which I have posted some pictures of. It is a decent example of a very functional intentional community, and I was very glad to have stumbled upon it.

Eastern Florida is a somewhat discordant mish-mash of giant beach hotels & retirement condos lining a supremely continuous beach coastline. Golf courses, mini-parks and expensive homes make up much of the real-estate as well. Every once in a while, there is a pocket of true beach-style funkiness in a little town tucked into a corner, but the vast majority of my ride was manicured lawns and planted palm trees. My last night in the state was spent in Jacksonville at the home of an architect who is heavy into sustainable design. He told me about his projects involving water filtration systems for rural communities in third world countries, as well as a new LEED Gold certified building for a university which will have enhanced wetlands to filter its waste water, as well as rain-water collection, 100% renewable electricity, and a series of long-term aquatic laboratory spaces.

Georgia has been quite pleasant so far. Big, old oak trees once again line the streets in rural as well as older urban districts, their moss hanging down, asking to be tickled and dancing in the wind. Shrimping boats still fill the harbors and inlets that I pass by. The water is muddy and stinky. Drivers have been fairly courteous so far. Today, I will explore Savannah, and then is is back on the bike for 4 days straight until North Carolina.


7 days straight on the bike. Three 100 mile days, two 80 mile days, a 60 and a 45. My butt is raw, my legs are sore, my skin is dark and my hair is light. I feel surprisingly good!

The east coast of southern Florida is totally developed. Palm-tree lined streets run the length of it, and nice, smooth roads ride the coast and the barrier islands, providing a fairly scenic ride. Big mansions on large estates are so numerous as to be nearly boring. Most of them look like castles or Spanish Haciendas, quite new but designed to look old, with exposed brick and distressed stucco walls. The beaches are beautiful, the water is blue, and the people are old and white.

I have seen many cyclists on this leg of the journey, though only perhaps one other touring cyclist. I have stayed with a different couchsurfer each of the last 4 nights: A single mother with an 11 year old some in Hialeah (Maimi suburb); in the pool-house of a photographer who is also an avid cycle tourist in North Palm Beach; at the laid-back beach house of a young Israeli guy who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel; and now in Port Orange with a Chiropractic intern.

All of these experiences have been excellent. Good people, good places, sharing stories and experiences and positive affirmations.

As I was sitting on a piece of grass in Palm Beach, taking a break, another cyclist sat down next to me, and we chatted for awhile about life. He had just finished 4 years in the Navy, based in San Diego, and was looking to experience all that he could in life. He plans on doing some cycle touring, and asked me a few questions about my trip. The next day, another cyclist rode along side me for 2-3 miles, chatting about cycling in different parts of the nation, skiing in Telluride, climbing in Arizona and other outdoor pursuits. He commended me on my trip, and then headed back in the opposite direction.

My host in north Palm Beach, Mike, told me about a Chinese guy he had run into a few years ago who had been cycle touring for 12 years at that time, and has now been going for 16 years. He was sponsored by the Chinese government, and took pictures of absolutely everything that he saw, ate, and experienced to upload to the internet. He started when he was 20 years old, and was 32 when he passed through Florida. Apparently, there is one other guy who has ridden further than him, for more time, but he is 2nd in the world! At the time he passed through Florida, he had cycled through 94 countries, and was planning 8 more before returning to China. Pretty amazing.