Friday, August 3, 2007


I inhabit a strange waiting room, a place walled in by the past and the future, the force of years of planning and the keen edge of anticipation. I go about my daily activities, moving, for the most part, as if nothing is different, nothing has changed. And nothing has changed. The dishes still need to be cleaned and put away, the animals fed, the floor swept. I do these things as I have always done them. Take out the kibbles, pour them noisily into the stainless steel bowl, Django sitting nearby with sharp-eyed intensity. He knows in every cell of his body what this ritual is about.

But with each action, each moment that slips into the past, I am one moment closer to departure. Briefly, just briefly, I forget what is hanging over me, the long flight and unthinkable return. I know that I have to do this AA style, one day at a time, but still the enormity of it all squats in my consciousness like a grinning water buffalo, 2,000 pounds of dark muscle that will not be denied, the glinting dark eyes and sweep of horn. My father told me once about a story he'd read of one who had hunted this most dangerous kind of animal, the Cape buffalo, in Africa, usually found in deep thickets where it could charge without notice. The hunter, when faced with the on-rushing animal, had no time for fear--if he wanted to live. He simply had to "get busy."

So the antidote to anxiety is action. True enough. I find, at this stage, however, that most of my business in preparing for the tour is over. My bags are packed, the bike shipped. Really, I have too much time on my hands. Let's get this damn freak show on the road, shall we? But the plane leaves when it will, and I cannot hurry it. I hang in the margins between sunrise and sunset, between home and away. Jodi said recently that I have been "gone for months." Maybe. This condition sits in my gut like a poorly digested piece of potato. Please, dear ghost, show me the shadow of bicycle tours yet to come! I can't know, don't want to know. The point is in the discovery, the slow unveiling of the mystery, the epiphanies and revelations. Everett Ruess, an adventurous lad who vanished in the Four Corners region early in the last century, said, "I am always being overwhelmed. I require it to sustain life." That young man knew his religion. You can't be overwhelmed if you know exactly what's coming. The unknown is the voltage of life. Sometimes we must be strapped to that table and lifted up into the storm and lightning above. "It's alive! It's alive!"

What species of monster is this? I am the monster, the gargoyle squatting on the castle wall, waiting, waiting, waiting. Neither in nor out, I hang on the edge.


I'm going to carry a couple of electronic gadgets with me--though a laptop will not be among them. A small computer would be handy for posting, uploading and editing photos and the like, but the weight, complexity and risk of damage are too great--not to mention the expense. Heck, I'm even going to forgo a cell phone. We've been hemorrhaging money lately. Time to put a tourniquet on that wound right now. Obviously, I'm going to have a digital camera. After much research, I decided on a Canon PowerShot A540 with 4x optical zoom at 6 mega pixels. The reputation of this line of cameras is well established. I like the slightly larger size and the fact that it uses AA batteries, which can be purchased virtually anywhere. I've got a few sets of rechargeable AA's and a light-weight Sony recharger because of the longer life for these types in contrast to alkaline. If I don't use the screen too much, I should get a week or more out of a set before I have to recharge.

My other toy is pictured at the top of the post: a Creative Audio MuVo mp3 player--2GB. This is a fantastic unit, literally just a bit larger than my thumb--as you can see. I've got about 35 CD's on it with room to spare. For a bit of mood music or plowing through endless flats of Kansas and eastern Colorado, this should come in handy. It has a voice recorder and, best of all, gives about 18 hrs. of play for ONE AAA battery. The majority of the time I don't listen to music while riding. It is safer and, to me, more pleasant to just be in the groove, but some stretches have superb visibility and extreme tedium. On these roads I'll use a few tunes to help me through the miles. The unit works just like a thumb drive and plugs into USB ports--sweet.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


These evenings, I've been taking Django out to water the bushes. Mostly he just walks a few yards from the door, knowing that, when we go back in, he gets a snack before we go to bed. Cheeky hound. Still, we play the game and step out into the finally blessed cool of the star-studded night. The moon has been huge and bright, the eye of a quiet god gazing down. I lie on the concrete walk, still warm from the sun, look up to the moon as it climbs through the dark limbs of a scraggly oak to the east and feel the breeze coming down off the mountains. The stars have been pushed back, retreating in deference and inferior candle power--at this distance anyway. I stretch out, look and feel and think.

Why am I doing this? Hassling with great expense, uncertainty, risk? I've discussed this before, but it keeps coming back, a question that will never be put to rest even after the deed is done--if I am so lucky. One question comes up frequently when I tell people what I am doing: What are you raising money for? What's your cause? What is implied in the question intrigues me: Why would anyone do such a thing unless it was for some other cause? The tour in itself is not worth doing? The cyclists' actions must be justified by a cause around which others may rally? I wonder if people are gun shy, always ready for the sales pitch. I've been on the other side of this exchange: "I'm raising awareness for...." "I'm raising funds for..." "The group I'm raising funds for...." More power to them. Most of these seem to be worthy causes though I sometimes wonder how much actual benefit comes from the funds gathered. Whatever, the impulse is morally sound.

So what's the harm? I considered for a while turning my ride into such a vehicle for fund raising, but then I started to think about how that might shade my experience and the way I engage with people as I travel. Once you take this step and commit to a cause, that responsibility hangs over everything, especially your interactions with others. All of your meetings become somewhat conditional. You can be polite and have pleasant exchanges, but the inevitable pitch must be cast: "By the way, I'm raising funds for...." Some might construe this line of thinking as a rationalization, a way not to have to deal with fund raising. Perhaps there is some truth in this, but there is truth in finding problems with conditional encounters, too. My goal is to see, discover, and write about my experiences. There's a book about trans-continental cycling lurking in here somewhere and to that end I'm channeling my energies.

Still, to my handful of readers, should I attach my ride to a cause, pedal to peddle? At this late date, I can't go door-to-door, but I can post some links to worthy causes. Do such sales pitches annoy or inspire? One value of this is that if someone asks, I can direct him to my blog and the link. I can have a few cards printed up for those who ask. Otherwise, I can just let each experience develop naturally. Certainly, if I can help others, why not? On general principle, however, I'd rather not have to chase down people and drag their wallets out for my endeavors.

The moon arcs higher, its light streaming down over--Django's goofy snout hanging above me. The constellation mega-hound! He straddles my head with his fore-legs and reaches down to slobber in my ear. I hear ya, boy. There's a snack in your near future, you betcha. I stand up, stretch, and go in for the night.