Schnitzel, mountains and seasides

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Senj and the Bura (Croatian for the winter wind)

It was difficult to leave the comfort of Wien—the city I have called home for two months and Meng much longer. The sophistication, art, brilliant cycling paths and countless other experiences that only the largest city in Austria can deliver will be missed, but we are slowly returning each day while we take the long way home.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Waiting at the train station in Wien to officially leave on our trip

Often, enthusiastically imagined ventures do not mirror the dream when realized.Dreamers are regularly back-handed with this inconsistency. Calculated dreamers do their best to anticipate the struggles, or at the very least, the familiar emotions associated with challenge when attempting to achieve an idea. Really, you have to be adaptable if you want to avoid having your dreams crushed by reality on a regular basis.

No matter how many visions of success, bracings for failure or formulating potential outcomes, no one can predict the future—especially a future of complex emotions associated with challenge. So, imagine, calculate, prepare and train in advance, but embrace the hardest of facts: the future of you or anything cannot be predicted with any significant accuracy and as the complexity of a system increases, the probability of predictability decreases.

In regards to our present cycling trip we both imagined greatness with hardships along the way, but, of course, did not foresee the complete reality.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

As we reached Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, Meng was in the peak of a substantial head cold. I have an outstanding photo of her with a tissue lodged in her right nostril while riding the train, but I value my relationship so will not be posting it here. We decided to relax for a few days instead of starting a trip while battling illness. I, of course, was concerned for her well being, but was also doing my best to ignore the looming cloud of a likely contagion.

We found a great deal on a hotel room at the Doubletree in Zagreb. Most things in Croatia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Doubletree in Zagreb

are cheaper than Westerns are accustomed to. Imagine staying in the heart of a major capital city at a 4 star hotel in the U.S. and only paying $80 per night (this was the most expensive room so far).

After 3 days of sleeping in, taking walks around the city, saunas, jacuzzi and swimming in the infinity pool at the Doubletree, we somewhat reluctantly got on our excessively heavy bikes. I should also mention that before our departure from Wien, Austria we had, at best, infrequently “trained” for the trip. I know that I was eating significant amounts of chocolate, cheese and pastries while spending many hours with the close relative of depression and laziness, Netflix. Meng was back and forth from Africa to Switzerland to New York to Austria, but aside from travel, work and passing a prestigious placement exam for the UN Headquarters was also not practicing any strenuous exercise. Dreaming of physical triumph is a far-cry from the doing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The view from our first lunch break

Leaving Zagreb was like cycling through most big cities without a major cycling infrastructure: shitty. We were filled with excitement though as it was our first day albeit naive to what was ahead.

Usually, I have cycling maps that are extremely detailed. They show mileages, elevation profiles, populations of towns, stores, campsites, hotels, etc… Essentially, they are a valuable resource in physical, logistical and mental preparation for every stage of a trip. At the beginning of this trip, we had a GPS, general maps (1:250,000 scale) and a destination in mind. My GPS is notorious for sending me down the worst possible “roads” at times so you have to vigilant and stop regularly to ground truth the prescribed route.

Our strategy was simple: head towards the coast, keep the mileage for each day reasonable and make sure we have food and plenty of water in case we get stuck camping on the side of a road—straightforward, realistic and safe. We were trying our best to accept that we did not know what the future would bring, but at least we were efforting maximum adaptability.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

The first day from Zagreb to Karlovac was just over 40 miles and less that 1,000 feet (300m) in elevation climbed. After we left the city, it was quite nice. A bit cloudy, but for over 30 miles we traveled through sleepy farming towns with, in respect to the states, miniature houses along tiny roads. I am still pleasantly startled by how close the homes in Croatia are to the road side. I assume that many places in Europe are the same.

I speculate that these towns existed much before large automobile traffic and the road has been widened to the absolute threshold without impeding on the private property of the home. In the U.S., we would likely invoke imminent domain and demolish the house, the lives and the history of a place in order to accommodate the unnecessary stupidity of the American elephantine automobile fetish. Because, as you know, the bigger your vehicle the more freedom and awesomeness you possess…oh, and the other thing too.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

We arrived and booked a room on a mobile with a “hotel” called “Rooms Bipa.” It was not a hotel, but it was a room. It took some doing to find it and the neighborhood left a bit to be desired. Honestly, when we arrived, I was reluctant to believe it was actually the location for it was just a simple house in a deteriorated area. Meng knocked and an elderly lady wearing a house dress, slippers and a quiet comforting wisdom answered the door. “Yes. Yes. Come in.” Meng turned to me a gave a nearly imperceivable shrug and walked inside as I stood in the driveway with a feeling of inert acceptance.

The room was humble, but sufficient and the property owner brought us cookies she had made; which caused any hesitations about the accommodations to dissolve along with the sugary jam filled sweets in our hungry mouths. Aside from there being walls and a roof over our heads, it was the polar opposite from the Doubletree we had slept in the night before, but regardless, we were happy and cozy in our temporary grandmother’s downstairs guest room with it’s ubiquitous doilies, 1970’s space heater, half a dozen undersized blankets and bowl of fruit flavored candy with the fizzy powered center from who knows what decade—I ate at least 4 of them and brought 2 with me the next day.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

As we left Karlovac, we knew that the next stage to Ravna Gora entailed some mountainous terrain, but without an elevation profile or any detailed map we were unaware of what would transpire. In the next 40 miles we climbed 4,803 feet and only descended 2,533 feet. Overcoming gravity twice as much as using it is always a challenge. In point of fact, I have rarely experienced exhaustion of that severity: tingling teeth, occasionally seeing erratic black spots, at times being restricted to 100 yards of travel until needing a lengthy pause and a mental state of startling uncertainty and ominous lingering fear.

If this stage would have happened at the end of a several thousand mile tour, dozens of conditioning mountains and months of excessive physical activity, I am sure it would have been less dramatic. However, on the second day of a tour that was preceded by more than a few weeks of lethargy and deteriorating muscle strength, cardiovascular stamina and mental conditioning it was anything but comfortable or building our confidence.

So there we were in the dark, low 20’s (-0 Celsius), wet, cold, out of breath even when barely moving, stopping what seemed like every 30 seconds to collect ourselves, having to push our bikes for riding was beginning to result in near falls and still miles away from our destination. As you can see from the map and elevation profile the end of this stage was almost entirely up hill.

karlovac_ravna_gora

While standing there in one of our many breaks, Meng’s bike fell over and a short, but directed expletive sharply punctuated the evening stillness of the small silent mountain village we were passing through. I felt every subtle texture of her frustration and to both of our surprise, this tortured voice was answered from the darkness by a foreign language.

We immediately started apologizing, believing that her justified vulgarity was understood and bothersome to a resident. “We’re sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Very sorry.” The still undecipherable voice came closer and was followed by a figure barely silhouetted in the misty evening by a distant light from an open basement door. As the woman approached we began to understand that her words and gestures were out of concern. Then, out of the beam of unknown utterance came “Tea?” She pantomimed drinking and eating then cycled her arm in the universal movement of “follow me” while still insisting—even though we did not understand anything accept “tea” it was rapidly becoming evident that this beacon of charity from the cold dark mountain side was not taking no for an answer.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

We entered her basement apartment and were cocooned in warmth from the exposed and massive industrial looking hearth that occupied at least 10% of the intimate space. The bare concrete floors and tattered throw rugs were centered around a simple and inviting wooden table with mismatched chairs. At the epicenter of this humble arrangement was a steaming pile of crepes. It was as if she was expecting us and knew that we had exhausted our bodies, minds and any ready-to-eat food we had with us. We briefly sat down on a blanket covered couch that could have easily originated from the back of an old car and were promptly directed to the table where the steaming food and tea resided. We were already fixated on the sustenance and happily moved in to position.

She said something that indicated a moment of pause and left the room and returned with a jar of what I could only assume was homemade preserves. We were overwhelmed with gratitude as she shoveled the delicious strawberry rhubarb spread into each crepe, rolled them and placed them on our plates. She repeated this action without pause and even though our two languages were not distinctly deciphered we conversed freely and with total comprehension.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Climbing mountains near Ravna Gora

In addition to the warm food, she poured mug after mug of some spiced apple drink with generous chucks of the fruit in a rich opaque consistency. Our lively, yet foreign words, were reduced to primitive grunts and nodding of heads in sublime approval and satisfaction. At one point, in the midst of consumption, I traced a halo over my head followed by a playful fluttering of my hands as wings and pointed at her—communicating that she was an angel. She simply laughed and continued to feed these strange strangers of the night.

After some time, we patted our full bellies just under our glowing hearts and thanked her with our words, eyes, smiles and satisfactory exhalations. Meng and I pushed back from the table and I made my way towards this wonderfully hospitable woman with open arms. I embraced her as I would a kind relative I had known since birth. Meng followed with equal tenderness and admiration for this amazing and now permanent being of our consciousness.

After a brief confirmation that we were heading in the right direction, we straddled our bikes with renewed spirit and energy. At this time, even if we were forced to push with flat tires, our recent encounter made any continuing or new challenges lessened—the night seemed warmer, the mountain less steep and the town of our destination closer. A few more hills, hitting a dead end road mere meters away from our lodging and with the help from another superb resident we finished our day.

The following morning we both felt as if we had consumed copious amount of alcohol the previous night. We were glad that on this day we were able to rest and recover from our exhaustion hangover. After a few Ibuprofen, food and a lot of liquids and stretching, we began to feel rejuvenated and ready for the next day; which would only be 3,212 feet of climbing and a glorious 5,755 feet descending over 46 miles into the large coastal city of Rijeka.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

Entering Rijeka after a challenging, but not nearly as difficult as the previous stage, was a novel delight. For me, returning to the sea was outstanding as it had been 2 months since I had last seen the expansive shimmering blue. Soaring down the mountain side glimpsing the Adriatic for the first time of my life is certainly a cherished and lasting memory. Even the fact that there was no shoulder on this road and a constant stream of leviathan-sized trucks were rushing by our sides, I was still full of child-like excitement. I even exclaimed this to Meng—turning my head away from the road in front of me and yelling, “It’s the Adriatic Sea!!!” to which she replied, “Babe, be careful!!!”

When navigating the passages from the last mountain ridges into the center of Rijeka we were in disbelief of the “organization” of these paths. I refuse to label them roads as they were more like a constricted, randomly sprawling vascular system of a 2,000 year old intertidal crustacean that is the seaside city of Rijeka.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

The impossibly narrow passages were barely wide enough for a smart car and amazingly 2 way traffic was present as we cautiously bombed our way down these, at times, greater than 10% grade slopes. By the time we reached the bottom of the hair straightening labyrinth, our hands were sore from intensely clutching our brakes for the last half hour. Ultimately, we both found relaxation and a sense of accomplishment that we successfully, albeit a struggle at times, traversed the cold, wet, unforgiving yet ruggedly stunning terrain of the Dinaric Alps and had reached the warmer sea air and sunshine.

The following week contained the Christmas holiday and although we are both atheists and Meng’s first Christmas celebration was last year with me, we decided to secure a lovely room overlooking the Adriatic and enjoy the newly discovered coastal towns we fought to reach (Video of autumn on the coast of Opatija:

The Bristol Hotel was our home for 8 days and for those days we lived in a tiramisu existence layered with opulent breakfast buffets, rich deserts from the café next to the lobby, tender shank steaks from the Roko Restaurant, salty walks along shore paths and pebble beaches and sweet nights sleep on the top floor with a stellar view. It was indeed a lovely way to spend the holidays, rest and put on a few extra pounds.

After our lengthy pause we hefted our fatter selves back up on the saddles for another stage—this time we road to the Island Krk and the coastal town of Malinska.

Arriving in Malinska after another challenging day (not necessarily from terrain, but more so from a week of relaxing and minimal exercise), we found a simple apartment after quite a bit of hunting around a congested neighborhood where most buildings were rental apartments and all looked roughly the same. It is always fun at the end of a long day going around knocking on doors and sticking your head into stranger’s apartments in a foreign country.

We stayed in Malinska for 4 days and aside from the apartment being rather cold, we enjoyed the time on the island. The shinning jewel of our days there and one of the most memorable days on the trip so far was our cross island hike.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

We discovered a network of paths defined by shoulder-high stone walls constructed with the very earth relocated from the centuries old olive groves they enshrined. During our 10 mile hike through a labyrinth of moss covered stones we came across several villages sprouting up from the hillsides—likely built by the same ancestors who cultivated this land hundreds of years before. Some possess vocabularies of hard and mostly forgotten lives crumbling and being reclaimed by the vegetation they were once masters of. Others still alive and seem to defy the modernity that surrounds them in the contiguous tourist coastal developments.

Click on any image to begin slideshow

Currently, we are waiting in Senj for the “Bura” to subside before continuing South on the Magistrala (Adriatic Highway). The Bura is a winter weather phenomena that produces severe conditions—many times without warning and resulting in plummeting temperatures and excessively high winds. In 2012, a local news station reported that here in Senj there was a sudden snow storm when temperatures rapidly dropped to 6° F (-6° C) and the wind increased to over 90mph (150kph) that threw fish onto the shore where over 20 foot (7m) waves broke. In 2003, the Bura hit a record high wind speed of 188mph (304kph). That was recorded on a bridge in Maslenica that we will be riding across in a few days time. We have witnessed gusts upwards of 50-60mph if I had to guess and watched these bursts of pressure grate and virtually vaporize water off the frigid surface of the Adriatic Sea. Here’s a video of Meng and I trying to stand in the bura: 

Click on any image to begin slide show

Next we are off to Karlobag, Seline, Zadar, Trigor and Split before crossing the Adriatic to Ancona, Italy. Our plan is to ride along the Eastern coast of Italy and over the Eastern Alps to Graz, Austria and eventually return to Wein. I am confident there will be several posts detailing the events encountered along our path. Until then, we will continue to pedal, breath, sweat and see our narratives evolve through this voyage and I will do my best to report the lessons and experiences encountered. Thank you all for watching and listening to our story. We hope to keep it interesting.

We Just got to Zadar and I had to share this video of the Sea Organ:

I’m Baaaack

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bubble Rock, Acadia National Park

It has been far too long since my last post, but I have been doing the whole real life thing and life requires participation. Since my last post, I have refurbished, rebuilt and re-rigged much of the sailing vessel Nellie and navigated her approximately 7,000 nautical miles, dedicated myself to two more seasons in a frequently arduous profession on Hilton Head Island, conceded to some difficult realities regarding my academic willingness, left a multiple year relationship, began a new one and am now residing in Europe about to start another several thousand mile cycling tour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The finite happenings of the last two years would fill many pages, but I will not linger in a retrospective realm of specific activities. I would rather reflect on the thoughts, wisdom and knowledge I have gained to progress and hopefully succeed in the years ahead. I mean, really, what are we doing in this experiment if we are not, at the very least, passively learning from what we have encountered? Otherwise, we are doomed to a circular trudging through the stagnant muck of repetition—deficient of novelty, excitement, love, pain or challenge.

Life Lessons

img_57174752646201

Crossing Grand Bahama Banks

I have been sailing for 22 years, but when I hoisted the main for my first time alone with no one to watch my back, talk to about a plan, destination, impending danger or spectacle of nature; no one to look at, touch, breath the same air as or feel their presence in a space; no one to get frustrated, annoyed or argue with; no one to learn from, love or witness them encounter any of these instances it presented a palpable fear.

There was a reality of the physical world and interaction with the dynamic environment of the ocean and life that I had never fully considered: It was me and me alone that was responsible for my safety, enjoyment and ultimately, future. Of course, we have all been challenged with having to act, think and succeed as individuals before, but frankly I think too often we celebrate mediocre individual accomplishments.

img-20161024-wa0019

Am I more capable of accomplishment than any other individual(s) because of my solo sailing experience? I would not wager this as a truth—there are many out there that make me look like a couch potato sprouting hairy, moldy roots (For the record, I love potatoes). I will say that navigating a narrow passage to an inlet, battling 25+ knots of wind, horizontal rock salt rain blasted from Poseidon’s shot gun, 12-14 foot breaking waves, while inch of your boat howling intensely and you’re forced to use the emergency manual handle to remain afloat until you drop anchor…when you accomplish that alone and in the dark, you feel a double self-thumbs up is well in order.

20150515_145602

In those conditions, I can see how some people “find God” out there. It would be comforting to know that something else was watching out for you or that, if you do succumb to fear, panic and lose the illusory control you have over the situation (it would be more accurate to say that you use a mechanical advantage to react to an uncontrollable environment) that you have some security in your life after death. I guess I’m just selfish though: I want all the credit for staying alive.

Ultimately, there is an evolution of self-awareness and personal responsibility when sailing alone. You learn how to directly depend on one person to navigate the manifolds of safety, enjoyment, self-worth and emotional stability. It simply creates, out of necessity, a completely strong person. And although I did feel loneliness at times, I was utterly content with life without anyone else. But even though all of the personal growth is invaluable, I would rapidly share many moments with others as soon as I was able and periodically wish I had a counterpart.

New Lessons

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last summer (2015), I met an intrepid young woman that I can share a 35 foot fiberglass tube with for months at a time. And let me tell you, this is a rarity. Meng (pronounced Mung for us non-Asians) and I have been together for over a year now and although our relationship does not follow the “typical’ or “traditional” model we make it work very well. Meng has a profound love for the ocean and thrives on the water—loving even the cold rainy days we are confined to the interior. She shares my love for the extremes between the cocoon like cabin to the vast openness and depth of sailing offshore. On land, in “normal” circumstances, she is equally impressive and complementary to my being. Meng is an award winning interpreter (currently the youngest at the United Nations), exceedingly well traveled, ready for any adventure I can come up with, equally enjoys giving me space and occupying her own and cherishes every moment we share. I am a very lucky man indeed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meng and I by the Prater

Currently, we are living in Wien (Vienna), Austria and preparing for a 3 month long cycling tour of Europe—where in Europe we are not entirely sure of yet. Our basic strategy is to head South with all haste and mirror the Mediterranean coast. Based on conversations with people who have been in this region, the amount of places “you’ve got to see” could be represented with a number that an astrophysicist would use to describe the velocities of expanding materials during the big bang. Although I value every one of those suggestions, just like those people, we are on our own adventure and are confident that we will discover ample “got to see” places as well. Regardless of where we are going, we are undoubtedly raring to start pedaling, breathing, seeing, climbing, coasting and living.

20150822_200017

Palmetto Bay before Hurricane Mathew

So, as usual and by design, the last two years have been a voyage. I have sailed to and lived in tropical lagoons with crashing waves on coral reefs as the tide floods, seen expansive mother of pearl finger prints made by the moon light reflecting off ridges of sand, witnessed a category 4 hurricane, swam alone with leviathan sized manta rays, met people who have nothing yet are wealthy with joy and appreciation, seriously questioned my safety, come within inches of hurling myself into a consuming academic life, been gifted with a companion unparalleled to any other and remain steadfast to cultivating a life that inspires me.

Thank you all for reading and sharing these observations and discussions. I hope to continue to iterate and document with greater frequency and I apologize for not keeping up with a representation of life.

Click on photos below to activate a gallery

New adventure with a global reach

photo
It has been some time since my last post concluding the second crossing of the continent by bicycle. During the last portion of the trip and the months to follow, I did some considerable self-assessment and addressed the desire to continue adventure as well as academic appetites. I have developed and submitted an initial project proposal to several academic institutions and am pleased to announce a very possible output: I will be sailing (possibly around the world) to rural coastal communities and conducting interdisciplinary research on the diversity of human-ecological responses to climate change. To iterate in more detail, the following quote is from the introduction of my project proposal.

 

“The foundation of this project is to investigate diverse human-ecological interactions in multiple coastal populations and disseminate the understandings¹, awarenesses², and adaptive capacities³ of particularly vulnerable communities across scales of social and scientific agencies. Specifically, this project focuses on 14 coastal locations and small island states inhabiting low elevation coastal zones (LECZ) who will likely experience severe effects of climate-related changes. It is my belief that many of these communities possess insight and potential knowledge of how climate-related stimuli influences cultural practices (historic and present) that are neglected in prominent large scale research initiatives on climate change. By studying culturally-specific adaptive qualities along with earth science data on climate-related impacts encourages the development of locally relevant policies and strategies in response to climate changes. In order to discover and more effectively communicate these human-ecological interactions, I will participate in and observe cultural practices in coastal communities relating to climate change and interact with marine environments that have strongly influenced these cultures by circumnavigating on a sailing research vessel.

The specific objectives for this project are to (i) discover existing human-ecological understandings, awarenesses and adaptive practices to historic, present, and potential impacts of climate change on coastal communities; (ii) communicate the perspectives and actions of coastal communities relevant to earth science data on climate-related impacts across scales of social and scientific agencies; (iii) and promote social learning to inform potential alterations in behavioral practices, adaptive strategies and policy recommendations.”

The full initial project proposal can be found by clicking on this link Doctoral_Candidate_Proposal

I have already begun significant planning to deploy this project, but there is an immense amount which still remains. I have gotten favorable responses from two professors/researchers (I even had an interview with one) who find merit in my intentions and are slated to be supervisors and assist in grant writing. Ideally, I will begin my doctorate research at the University of Oxford (http://www.geog.ox.ac.uk/) in the fall of 2015 and have supplemental supervision from the director of research at the Nordland Research Institute (http://nordlandsforskning.no/english).

A boat I captained in the islands

A boat I captained in the islands

I am still slightly shocked that these individuals took the time to read my lofty proposal for an academic adventure, found some originality in it and said “yeah, sailing around the world in order to better understand how humans interact with a changing coastal environment sounds like a worth while project.” I was expecting more of a “sure this is cool and all, but I just don’t see how you can pull it off.” I never lack conviction or grandeur while concocting these dreams of experiencing and learning from the world, but at times, waver when I put them out there for others to consider. I suppose this is a notable testament to the value of not only having dreams, but discovering that when you dedicate yourself and your abilities to them they become a plausible reality. In the last month, this has become very real indeed.

Playing in the Florida Keys

Playing in the Florida Keys

I will be purchasing a fine vessel in the near future. It needs a fair amount of cosmetic work on the exterior, but she’s got it where it counts. Her name is Nellie for now and she is a Southern Cross 35. Built like a graceful tank, Nellie is a true blue-water heavy displacement sailboat made for open ocean passages. I will refrain, for now, in giving all the details of her construction and qualities for there will likely be more posts featuring the progress while refurbishing, repairing and fitting her out with essential equipment. In short, she is the right tool for the job and I am bursting with excitement to conclude my busy employment and begin working on her.

Nellie

Nellie

20140709_094039

Nellie

Most of you probably know that I have a certain affinity towards the sea. In fact, I have lived, worked and taught on the ocean since I was 15. Aside from cycling tours, when I am not in a classroom or otherwise working on personal academic achievements I am on the water. There is something about the chaotic rhythm and dynamics of the vast expanses of water that drive our climate that has always fascinated and humbled me. I think this expedition has been a long time coming and now I have found a way to not only experience quite possibly my greatest adventure, but also contribute a valuable knowledge that may just help the world—even if this contribution is finite.

Racing the Tybee 500

Racing the Tybee 500

The specific details of how I arrived at this decision and the events which have led me to my current progress are a bit dizzying, but as always, I am willing to discuss them further if any of you have interest in learning more (email:surfacetovolume@gmail.com). For now, I will say that I am living this progress and every moment that I am afforded to dedicate my full attention to developing this project further I do so with the utmost conviction. I will be refining and collection application materials for Oxford to submit in September and my potential supervisor believes I have a strong chance of acceptance. The next, and possibly more crucial component, is funding. I have located and begun several applications for grants and will exhaust all possible resources that I qualify for. My solicitous reach will also extend to famous philanthropists who may be willing to support this goal of providing a voice for marginalized people whom have the least to do with climate change, but will be most effected. Just a few days ago, and I still am not fully comprehending why, Matt Damon is now following me on Twitter. He is now one of 17 people who follow me on my barely used Twitter account (https://twitter.com/JasonChilders4). Perhaps he saw my most recent Tweet with a link to my GoFundMe account (http://www.gofundme.com/an3di4). I doubt it, but one can dream.

I will certainly be updating this blog as things progress. Thank you all for reading and I am open to suggestions to help enrich this initiative for promoting social learning and applicable adaptation to the world’s most engaging and demanding force of change to humans and the natural environment.

 

 

The End Is Only A Moment

Our footprints on San Elijo State beach the evening of our last day

Our footprints on San Elijo State beach the evening of our last day

January 10th is the day. After 3,144 miles the vision we hoped to view when we embarked on this journey nearly 3 months ago is approaching. We are intently aware of the final fringe of the land in our near future. Our eyes strain ahead to the moment of first light and recognition of the great Pacific ocean. The aroma of tidal estuaries and sea breezes fill our senses as we steadily finished our cross-continental tour. The sense of joy, accomplishment, self-worth, and even disbelief is most certainly difficult to explain. I have seen a fair amount of spectacular events in my life and travels. I have even been a contributer to some, but there are none which significantly compare to this moment. Life changing is the most accurate and truthful description I can muster.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Algodones Dunes Glamis, California

I would like to project the most heartfelt congratulations to Miss Charlotte Monk. You are an inspiration and a companion with a staggering quality. Charlotte had no significant cycling experience when we began our relationship last Spring and during the summer was only able to seriously train at most a dozen times before this journey. She may not realize it, but everyday she was a champion with a will power, strength, and stability I have never witnessed in a woman before. You are my hero, Charlotte and I will hold and cherish this experience as close as I can throughout my life. I could not have had a better life or travel companion. Thank you for giving me you company, effort, and heart. You are my best friend and although are paths are diverging from one another, I find comfort that there will always be a continent of love between us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After we reached and reveled on the coast of the Pacific we promptly ate like royals as we both continued to shake our heads at the ocean we were looking at—all the while saying to each other, “hey, we just rode our bicycles across a continent…ridiculous.” What is also ridiculous is that I was only 10 days short of doing this tour twice in one calender year. I think I can get away with fudging the 10 days if I want though. I do love touring. I have already been looking at trans-European routes for next year.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When we reached our accommodations that afternoon, I over heard some individuals discussing the San Diego Zoo. Charlotte and I retired to a salubrious room and I mentioned perhaps splurging and staying an extra day in San Diego before cycling up the coast. I have not been to the San Diego Zoo since I was just older than a toddler and Charlotte had never been. It was a wonderful day at the zoo. Although, I do always have significant reservations about seeing captive animals, but the majesty these animals exhibit often supplants my concerns for them. Also, the San Diego Zoo does participate in a number of breeding programs to repopulate endangered species throughout the world.

Charlotte

Charlotte

Following the day at the zoo, we cycled up the coast to San Elijo state beach. This was our first day without a map. We simply followed the coast line best we could using the GPS and hoping there was cycle friendly roadways. In Southern California (especially near San Diego), there is an abundance of cycle paths, lanes, and other accommodating roadways. We had a wonderful day of cycling in 80 degree sunshine and spectacular views of the coast as we frequently reached higher elevations in each town.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Upon reaching San Elijo, we found it was quite empty and all the “hiker biker” sites were open. For those of you who are not familiar with “hiker biker” sites they are wonderful. Along the West coast there are sites at most all state parks which do not have room for a vehicle, but if you have entered by your own power there is room for a tent and a bicycle or pack. They are typically in the prime locations too. Well, some would think the prime location is right next to the bathroom, sinks, and dumpsters, but I’ll take an unobstructed and very close view of the ocean over slamming doors, running faucets, and the wafting smell of human discards.

Sleeping Polar Bear

Sleeping Polar Bear

We walked along the beach barefoot warmly observing the rotation of the planet until the last bit of light extinguished and shrouded the surfers on breaks I would kill for on the East coast. We slept listening to the waves approaching on the incoming tide and were truly content with life in every way. And when it did not seem as though this trip could get more relaxing and pleasurable, in the morning, we sat in our tent eating a wonderful breakfast of fruits, cheese, and honey while looking out onto the Pacific ocean and the early morning surf crowd. Truly a wonderful beginning to our last day of cycling.

Mother and Baby Pandas. These are two of 14 in the entire country.

Mother and Baby Pandas. These are two of 14 in the entire country.

The ride back to San Diego was even more enjoyable than the Northern ride the previous day. We took nearly the same route, but the combination of knowing which streets to go down and not having a pressure of finding a place to stay that evening freed us to just simply enjoy the surroundings even more.

Museum at Balboa Park, San Diego

Museum at Balboa Park, San Diego

We ate lunch on a beach bluff overlooking a pier and crashing waves. Following this, we found a cycling path for several miles—inches away from the sandy ribbon of land falling into the ocean we cycled abreast basking in our last hour of this experience. We got some strange looks and likely gave some too. People watching in Southern California is second to none.

Galapagos Tortoise

Galapagos Tortoise

The next couple days were spent exploring around Balboa park, Old Town, and other sections of this place for enjoyment of our last days and in order to prepare Charlotte for her flight back to Texas. Waking up at 4:00am was a bit painful, but the sorrowful indefinite farewell was exceedingly difficult. But just yesterday (Jan 20th), Charlotte excepted a position in Arizona working with horses and is beginning to fulfill her dreams of a new life path (she counted 2,299 horses counted on our trip).

This enthusiasm for a new segment in life certainly eases the pain of being out of each others company, but it is still a difficult transition for both of us. We have spent virtually 24 hours a day with each other for 3 months while sharing a spectacular experience. So regardless of the enormity of joy in this dream realized, the departure of our partnership is a challenge. Life presents you with these decisions and neither one of us care to inhibit the other in their path of living their dreams.

Down town L.A.

Down town L.A.

After Charlotte left, I existed here for another day and then drove to Los Angeles. I had some permanent art placed on my body for several hours and improved greatly on an existing piece. I was glad to work with a true professional (Horisuzu) here in L.A. and am supremely impressed with the results.

Tattoo

While in L.A., I also spent time with an old roommate from Maine who I befriended while doing ecology research years ago. He (Joseph Amen) also cycled across country about 7 years ago and never left. I am staying at the house he shares with a couple other gentleman, and let me tell you, they are living well in the Bel Air hills. The house is complete with tasteful art, leather furniture, and a grand piano in the living room in front of the floor to ceiling windows stretching the length of the house exposing a breathtaking view. I feel a bit out of place being the vagabond I am—conversing with the L.A. crowd and all the high-class amenities they are sharing with me, but it is certainly a trip seeing the diversity this city offers.

Grand Park, L.A.

Grand Park, L.A.

Now, sitting at the airport in San Diego, I hesitate with a statement of “in conclusion” or “to end this literary document,” but it is difficult to relinquish the moments and time I have recently existed in. There are many moments throughout this trip and my fairly entertaining life which pose a confounding of decision: you wish to exist in a place and relative time longer, but know that continuance of the journey will likely produce more moments and phenomena with equal or surpassing quality.

No matter how difficult and unlovely it may be to release your grasp on the current experience the diversity and wonderment in the life ahead is too enticing to have overpowering convictions to remain stationary. Some may disagree with this statement adamantly, but as I have said for years to students and myself, “you will be dead for a long time so you may as well make it exciting while you are alive.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This tenet is surely not original or contemporary, but I find it to be useful in producing ever increasing opportunities to live freely. Adhering to this principle does come with hardships and challenging moments of sacrifice. But while you are able and mobile the enjoyment for adventuring supercedes the discontent of having to leave places and people you deeply admire.

So with a reluctance I embrace and understand I will cease this transmission for now. The tour is still coursing through us both and the residual embers of the life events we only just finished illuminate the paths we are now discovering. Once you have immersed yourself in moments and accomplishments of this quality, your view of possibilities and capabilities transcends towards perceiving life in order to duplicate this quality. You become addicted to moments of greatness and the persistent effort required to attain greatness. I would wager there are worse patterns to become bound to.

Our deepest gratitudes to you all for supporting, sharing, observing and discussing this journey with us.

Happy New Year!

Christmas Morning in Zion National Park

Christmas Morning in Zion National Park

I wish the best moments to all of you this holiday season. More presently, happy new year to you all as well. We are in Phoenix, Arizona for the eve of the new year. Our evening activities will include writing this blog, watching a bit of television, and more likely than not, going to bed around 10:00 at the latest.

Since the last posting, we have gotten out of the enormous 1,000+ mile wide state of Texas, traversed New Mexico, entered Arizona, visited Utah, and returned to Arizona. Many moments have past and many will stay with us for as long as our minds are able to hold them. The holidays are certainly some which will be part of a lasting memory.

Just outside Marfa, Texas

Just outside Marfa, Texas

We are finally getting back on the road tomorrow. We have been riding a bit most everyday, but we took a week off of the strictly cycling trip and drove to Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon National Park (in that order). We slept exclusively hotels and motels to treat ourselves, but mostly because it was truly cold and snow covered.

There are some fairly interesting stories we’ve accumulated over this past week, but I would rather the images speak for themselves. I could attempt some amateur poetic descriptions of the massively impressive and majestic natural features, but it would be, at most, bland in comparison to the reality.

I hope you all have a wonderful and safe evening with moderation in chemical intake and excess in enjoyment. Or perhaps, this relationship could be the other way round. Either way, have fun and bring in the new year with reflection and perhaps improvement on the past.

Charlotte and New Mexico cotton

Charlotte and New Mexico cotton

Caballo Mountains

Caballo Mountains

Caballo Mountains

Caballo Mountains

View From Emory's Pass 8,300 feet

View From Emory’s Pass 8,300 feet

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heading into Safford, Arizona

Heading into Safford, Arizona

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And me on mine

Me on my rock

And Charlotte on hers

Charlotte on her rock

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Checkerboard Mesa

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mountain Sheep

Mountain Sheep

Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

The high desert on fire (not photo shopped at all...In fact, none of my pictures are altered in any way)

The high desert on fire (not photo shopped at all…In fact, none of my pictures are altered in any way)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Charlotte on the edge

Charlotte on the edge

Gabriella being the gorgeous cycle she is

Gabriella being the gorgeous cycle she is

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last bit of fading light on our final evening in The Canyon

Last bit of fading light on our final evening in The Canyon

Under Pressures

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Heading into Langtry, Texas

At times, it is easy to allow ourselves the foolish notion we are not intimately connected to the natural processes around us. Of course we can utilize our vastly creative ways to avoid the sometimes harshness of the natural world. But although we can choose to not be immersed in it, it still exists and is playing out regardless of our desires or attempts at altering our climate. When you choose to become more involved with the natural processes, you can be humbled quickly. Cycling across country is a humbling activity nearly everyday.

Charlotte at the top of her very first big hill (1,800 feet)

Charlotte at the top of her very first big hill (1,800 feet)

For the last 5 days we have been stuck in Alpine, Texas due to the uncontrollable pressures and movement of the air outside. We decided to stop here because for two days we cycled into soul crushing head wind

For Dad

For Dad

Time and pressure

Time and pressure

The first of these 2 days was certainly one of the top 3 most challenging days I have had in nearly 9,000 miles of cycling in the past year. It was only a 55 mile day, which is nothing too challenging under ideal conditions, but it was undoubtedly not ideal. The wind began to build from a manageable 5 mph to 10, 12, 15, and at times, exceeding 20mph. To add to the discouragement, the first 40 miles of the 55 were a steady uphill climb of over 2,000 feet—with only a few hundred feet of descending terrain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Generally, a 55 mile day would take us under 5 hours. This day begrudgingly dragged along for nearly 7 and a half hours. You have three main options when encountering the unwavering oppression of a ruthless head wind: turn around, stop, or continue going as best you can. The first two of these options are not really any kind of option at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I used to get upset with head winds. Getting upset with changing atmospheric pressures is truly unsatisfying and most definitely exacerbates the already saturating frustration you are experiencing. After you have experienced a fair amount of these invisible moving walls, you find a Taoist state of being—a pure calm core which understands the absurdity of your past anger with an uncontrollable force. Well, at least I have gleefully discovered this mental place…most days

Beginning to see mountains

Beginning to see mountains

I once heard a story from a friend (Dylan) who was cycling with another gentleman into a continuous head wind which accurately exhibits the mental anguish one can encounter with head winds: for several days they struggled on their less than aerodynamic bicycles (panniers are significant windage). Every time the stopped to take a break from the life sucking activity Dylan’s companion would lay on his back on the side of the road and scream obscenities into the apathetic wind. Or a man cycling with his girlfriend and every they stopped she would weep. Ultimately, head winds are something not to be underestimated.

Marathon Hostel: Truly eclectic place. We met a wonderful man there who has been living as a touring cyclist for 20 years and has logged over 200,000 miles

Marathon Hostel: Truly eclectic place. We met a wonderful man there who has been living as a touring cyclist for 20 years and has logged over 200,000 miles

Marathon Hostel

Marathon Hostel

Marathon Hostel

Marathon Hostel

Marathon Hostel

Marathon Hostel

More Hostel

More Hostel

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sorry for my tangent, but head winds are one of those phenomena which warrant some recognition. At any rate, we stopped here (Alpine) after two days of discouraging winds—deciding fun is the objective and our last couple days were not meeting the objective. The wind reports stated that in another day it would decrease and have a much more helpful velocity. Upon awaking on our day of hopeful departure it was quite windy, 35 degrees, and raining. We promptly decided a nice warm hotel room was beaconing our names. We packed our campsite with increasing numbness in our distal appendages and headed for town. This was 3 days ago.

Ice covered palm

Ice covered palm

This is the second winter storm to cross our path this voyage and is costing us money and time. “They” named both of them so they must be significant. I am trying not to be anthropomorphous towards the weather for it increases any seed of discontent I have.

Ice on a cactus

Ice on a cactus

We are enjoying ourselves though between thoughts of being out on the open road. Charlotte has been seeking for and applying to employment opportunities in the equestrian field across the country while I have been studying literature on certain human ecological initiatives which I would like to pursue in my next immersion into academia. If we have to stop living the dream, we may as well dream about living in the future.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

South Western Texas...

South Western Texas…

As always, our best to all of you and thank you for keeping up with our travels.

A Whale of A Tale

Random: A TV in a tree limb no where near a tree on a road

Random: A TV in a tree limb no where near a tree on a road

It has been far too long since the last posting. Life on the road is more than slightly distracting and the events worth mentioning tend to accumulate at a staggering pace. My apologies for this tardy update, but I do hope you all enjoy regardless. Before I continue with this post I must give a link and a thank you to John Deans. John is a good friend of mine from College of the Atlantic and he met up with us at the Shepard Sanctuary. We had a wonderful evening catching up and the next morning he took some video and made this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug9udcos-e8&feature=youtu.be). We love it and again thank you John. You’re just explosive (i.e. the bomb).

Awesome tan lines on Charlotte

Awesome tan lines on Charlotte

There is a popular tenet or ethos which is quite ubiquitous pertaining to living a consistently present and enriched life: one day at a time. Many people do in fact effort this daily practice in hopes to prevail over a hardship, maintain certain life goals, or simply enjoy each day without the distractions of future or past events pressing upon the current activities. The vivid clarity of the days segments can certainly be enhanced by the purity of undivided attention. I have likely said it before during these documentations, but initiatives like cross-country cycling tours do allow one to live more steadfast and truthfully to the one day at a time method.

Lately, it seems more than ever, we have been getting questions aimed at what we are going to do after the tour is over… “Where are you going after you are done? How will you get back from California? What are you going to do after you finish? What’s Charlotte going to do?” After receiving these questions what seems like dozens of times over the last few weeks it is difficult to maintain a honestly polite response.

Morganza Spillway

Morganza Spillway

It is an innocent matter of difference in perspective. Events will occur after the tour is over, there will probably be plane tickets, California may be a residence soon, but other than general ideas for the future there are no thoughts of significant consequence which are currently on our minds—tomorrow and possibly the next day are the immensely distant future. We are dedicated to the day at hand and what will become of our travel plans, professions, and subsequently our connectivity will remain part of the future which is, by definition, unknown until it becomes present.

Since the last posting we have seen too many things to remember let alone write here. Since the last entry we have crossed 3 states (Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) and travelled half way across a 4th (Texas). We stayed a few days at Charlotte’s house in Kirbyville, Texas to rest and visit with her family. We are now several hundred miles into Texas and will be visiting Charlotte’s sister Marcia in a couple days.

The BIG state

The BIG state

Texas is the beginning of the most beautiful scenery we will encounter, and the most demanding cycling. Our sissy 200 and 300 foot hills will soon become 2,000 foot hills, 3,000, 5,000, and over 8,000 foot mountain tops. I for one cannot wait for the brutally humbling experience of the miles to come.

As for the last 1,500ish miles, I will try to remember stand-out moments in chronological order.

Daulphin Island, Alabama

Daulphin Island, Alabama

We entered Pensacola along the pleasant scenic highway 90. As we were making our way up a medium size hill for the east coast there was a motorcyclist travelling in the other direction. Charlotte noticed this man was fixated on us while we passed and shortly after this passing there was an unmistakable and unnerving sound of rubber and metal reaching frictional and structural thresholds. I jerked my head around hoping I would not see Charlotte contorted over the front of a turning car. Sadly, I was relieved to see a man being ejected from his motorcycle rolling with flailing limbs the and his motorcycle gouging asphalt until its momentum exhausted. I ran to help, followed the steps of assessing an emergency situation I have learned and within moments there were a crowd of helpful hands around. The situation was certainly under control, the man was ambulatory, and I left to make it to our destination of The Big Lagoon State Park just a few miles from the Alabama boarder.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Once at the camp site, we began our typical routines of setting up the tent, blowing up air mattresses, getting food out for cooking, and talking about the day of riding and what is for dinner. While going over the supremely important topic of what food we will vigorously consume a raccoon ventured towards us. We watched in increasing disbelief as the curious thumbed critter came ever closer, crawled up onto the bench of the picnic table we were also sitting on, and began pawing and sniffing around—seemingly unaware and certainly not concerned with our presence. I promptly chased him away nearly running him over for his escape was less than committed.

Sound Advice

Sound Advice

Following this, I had a major leak in my stove which I broke shortly after, had to eat crackers and peanut butter for dinner, and after returning from the shower, found the only dessert we had left stolen from the table presumably by the masked creature. All in all it was a typical night of novelty.

We spent the following days on Dauphin Island, Alabama which is certainly not a horrible place to wait for stove parts and decided on a new tent with better over and under ventilation. We ate at a less than great restaurant called Barnacle Bill’s, I believe. I had an interesting experience where the waitress brought me a completely different meal than I ordered and then asked if I could deal with what she had brought me instead of eating what I ordered. I was politely baffled by the moment, but we moved on. However, in contrast, the Light House Bakery was amazing for breakfast and I had sausage waffles for the first time. Outstanding.

Log cabin built in 1889 at the Merryville, Louisiana Historical Society

Log cabin built in 1889 at the Merryville, Louisiana Historical Society

And to return to tent ventilation issues for a moment…If you are male and have slept in a tent in cold weather you may know part of the story I am about to share. I will warn you all the following is less than refined and delicate, but hopefully you can find the humor in all this.

Florida Caverns State Park

Florida Caverns State Park

During a cold front with temperatures dropping into the low 40’s (which is not that cold, but cold enough) we were of course sleeping in our preferred domicile: our tent. I felt the unrelenting bodily urge to relieve myself. Rather than getting up, stepping out into the cold air, onto the damp nearly frosted grass, one resorts to more creative ways to find resolve. Remember, though, I am sleeping next to someone, albeit someone I am not shy around, but a person sleeping none the less. I quietly and gingerly unzip the tent door and clumsily deploy my lower trunk into the cold night air while still mostly encased in the warmth of my sleeping bag.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I am trying to sleepily concentrate on relieving myself (it is quite difficult to just let it fly while laying on your side half balancing in a semi-curved position), I hear a small voice from the darkness. A voice which could have been easily mistaken for sleep talking if it was so deliberately directed at me. “Are you peeing?” Somewhat embarrassed, I reply, “Not yet, but I’m trying to.” The next statement was most definitely unexpected, but equally hilarious. The little voice replies to my hesitant remarks with a levelling “my sleeping bag smells like toots.” If there was any lingering embarrassment from my side of the situation it promptly vanished when hearing this humble comment about the flatulent odor emanating from the sleeping pod.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Perhaps a couple days later we were heading down a small country road and I spotted a miniscule figure on the road way. I focused intently as we passed and to my surprise, it was a baby mouse. I declared this loudly and stopped promptly to investigate. It was certainly not of good health or with company. It seemed as though its hind quarters were in very poor shape and was suffering. I reached down and placed my hand in front of the creature and to my amazement it crawled onto my hand. This uncharacteristic behavior of a wild animal was quickly grounded with reality when this tiny mouse bit my finger with its last ounce of strength. Naturally, I reacted and the mouse was the casualty of a significant fall. It hit the pavement with a light thud and certainly did not improve its physical status.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Without question, it was doomed and now came the time for a decision: do we leave it to suffer more until its inevitable death or do we dispatch it and end the misery. Termination seemed obvious, but how does one end a cute little guy. Charlotte’s suggestion was to crush it with a heel. I was opposed for several reasons (mostly I did not want to feel the little bones and life crunch under my foot, but also because I was against having mouse innards on my shoe). I opted for carefully and suddenly dropping my rear bike tire on its head. So, on this little stretch of road in the middle of the woods Charlotte helped me line the tire up and ready, good, okay, death. Although this was a sad moment, it was the right thing to do and perhaps in the next couple days we saved a life.

Just a pretty Texas road

Just a pretty Texas road

Upon entering Hamburg, Louisiana we saw a small dog laying in a humble post office parking lot. Most dogs chase, bark, and generally project a “I’m super scary and I will tear you apart” attitude which is 99.9% of the time lost on me for I know that is just how dogs are. This pooch was different. His light hearted trot was endearing enough that I stopped to see if I could steal a quick pat on the head. In retrospect, I might have hoped for just a quick interaction. He (I named him Dingus) was more than happy to have affection from us bipeds riding these strange mechanical horses.

Ferry across Mobile Bay

Ferry across Mobile Bay

This loveable and obedient pup followed us all the way to the next town which was several miles away. He kept pace and it was obvious he had no home. We reached the next town and made inquiries as to where we may find a veterinarian or animal shelter. The fine folks at the town hall called the dog catcher and hopefully our friend Dingus found a home shortly after our introductions. It is quite silly, but we miss him still and wish we could have kept him along for the journey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are pleasant pups like Dingus and there are other related dogs which, with the proper care and love they might be wonderful companions, but unfortunately this is not always the case. We found this out with striking pervasiveness in Merryville, Louisiana.

I contacted the Merryville Historical Society and Museum to ask about camping out behind their facilities as our maps suggest. The woman I spoke with was very kind and invited without hesitation to use their property and facilities at our arrival. She was to be out of town visit her brother-in-law whom was in the hospital. I do hope he has been recovering. At any rate, upon our arrival we spied a rich grass area with a fence surrounding it along with bathrooms and showers with hot water located in a small building on one side. It was a quiet and peaceful and we both shared sentiments of grateful amazement of how lucky we were to have ended up here at this place which was free of charge!

I cooked while Charlotte read the remainder of Watership Down to me. A quick side note: I was ignorant to the Watership Down movie, television series, and book. Charlotte saw the movie as a child and discovered the book while we were preparing for the trip. Awesome book. Simply awesome. There is a great deal more than just the social doings of rabbits going on within its text and I look forward to perhaps reading again someday.

We finished our meal, cleaned up, showered, and climbed into our tent to continue reading for a couple hours. We finished the book and were full of joy from the ending and our overall enjoyment of the journey Richard Adams has taken us on. Slumber was a welcomed transition and soundly was this passage.

Roughly a couple hours into our exceptionally long blink, we hear a barking. Dogs do bark and this is a normal occurrence we encounter while sleeping outside. However, this barking persisted for hours. I would wager between 9:30pm and 9:00am the dog was quiet for at most 2 hours. We yelled, pleaded, and plain hoped for the annoyance to stop. It was relentless. If this poor dog stopped barking for a moment, it whined until it started up again. The owners, which are undoubtedly the culprits to blame in this situation, did come out and tell the animal to “shut its damned mouth” a couple times which suspend the barking for the aforementioned 2 hours of silence.

926 So far

926 So far

Unfortunately, you see this a lot: people buy dogs, put them in a 8X8 foot pen in the side yard, feed it once a day, keep it relatively clean (at best), and that is how they own a dog. Perhaps they use it as a tool for security or hunting, but there is little to no love of even concern for the animal. It did not seem this dog served a purpose whatsoever other than to be miserable. It was not barking at us for we were there for hours before it started up.

In retrospect, I should have done what I threatened to do while we shared in misery that evening: walk over there, go to the cage, open the latch, and walk away. It would likely have a better quality life running wild in the small town than locked up. The next door neighbor came over the following morning to offer us drinks and food and we spoke about the dog. She informed us (while the dog was still barking) that that is what the dog does. It barks all day and all night everyday. Hard to imagine, but true. Not getting any sleep during our night there pales in comparison to the injustice the dog suffers everyday of its life.

And in the same arena of animal cruelty we witnessed something surreal while patching a tube. We were on a road with an 8 to 10 inch shoulder, relentless heavy truck traffic, and a consistent sense of imminent danger of being struck from behind by several tons of hurtling metal and plastic with a less than courteous driver behind the wheel. Charlotte found herself with a deflating tire (she likes getting flats) and we pulled over into a half finished driveway in front of an empty lot. While there, a motorist pulled over to talk with us about our journey and take pictures of us. This is common and while doing these tours you glimpse what it is like to be famous. People always want to talk to you, ask questions, and take pictures of you as well as with you.

You got to make sure no one steals your windmill

You got to make sure no one steals your windmill

During our conversation with this man, a line of vehicles accumulated without us noticing and the primary truck honked its horn. We all turned to see the cause. In complete disbelief we see a 2 year old child wearing only a diaper and t-shirt standing in the middle of this 70mph speed limit road with continuous large truck traffic. Just standing there with a blank look of mild inquiry. Another car came flying up over the top of the hill and slammed on its breaks—screeching to a halt several dozen feet from the child. The man turned and calmly collected the child as its parents were approaching the road yelling “not again!”

It was not like in the movies when one of the pedestrians heroically launches into the roadway to snatch the child up out of harms way. We all stood there in complete disbelief until we eventually comprehended the ridiculous sight. And “not again…” this has happened before? I am not one to judge parents for I have never been one myself and know nothing about the responsibilities and stresses, but I would think if I lived next to this unquestionably dangerous road and my toddler was outside I doubt it would ever be out of my sight—especially if this has happened before.

Dingus

Dingus

On a much lighter note, the trip is going very well. We entered hill country today and our physical preparations are becoming more important than ever. During our first day, just before hitting our record elevation for this tour of 1208 feet, we stopped into the Wimberly Glassworks studio in Wimberly, Texas (http://www.wgw.com/). We met and spoke with the owner Tim for some time about travels, cultures, and the vastness of geographies world wide. He was pleasant and accommodating even though it was fairly obvious we were not going to purchase any of the breathtaking glass sculptures which are priced fairly, but would cost nearly as much as the last month of our trip for a small piece. We also met a nice young woman (Maggie perhaps) who’s partner is currently on a cycling tour and they hope to embark on one together soon. She demonstrated how the seasonal Christmas trees are crafted as Charlotte and I watched—amazed with the fluidity of motions and seemingly simplistic process which is undoubtedly more difficult than it looks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What a wonderful start to our journey through Texas hill country. Our best to Tim and this young woman. We hope you get out there and tour sooner than later.

It's a Christmas tree

It’s a Christmas tree

We will be staying with the wonderful people at the Wimberly EMS building tonight. They are great folks who continue to allow cyclists to stay here and use their facilities. Thank you to all who help us along our various paths. We appreciate you.

The sun is still shining on us brightly, we laugh regularly watching caterpillars attempt crossings, find new road signs of interesting statements, meet fabulous people, look forward to the days to come, and count horses. We are up to 926 so far.