Saturday, July 25, 2009

The End of the Road is Only the Beginning

Miles Per Day: Day 81=69.75

Total: 3,681.53

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mountain Home, ID to Eugene OR: Desert Happiness and Other Stories

Miles Per Day: Day 70=REST; Day 71=45.92; Day 72=76.33; Day 73=57.27; Day 74=59.75; Day 75=REST; Day 76=REST; Day 77=70.25; Day 78=63.94; Day 79=79.48 Day 80=52.32

Total So Far: 3,611.76

Inspiration: Eminem; True Blood; Beethoven's 5th (Karajan); Paul Simon; ABBA (yes, that ABBA); Weeds; Rolling Stones; The Wire; Howard Stern; Fiona Apple; Led Zeppelin

Spirits: scared; humbled; focused; inspired; contemplative

Things Seen On the Road: several porcupines; scorpions; dust storm; the open desert; a gang of seemingly wild horses ready to charge; the Sisters off in the distance; the misty mountains of Oregon.

Favorite Quotes: (1) older woman who opened her door for me in the desert after running out of water: “My gosh, you look terrible!” (2) talking to myself, out loud, in a dark motel room after spending four hours in the ER because of dehydration/heat stroke: “Ok, that was stupid”

No question about it. It's been a crazy couple of weeks. And here I thought I would just cross the Oregon border and immediately hit some of those picture-perfect Oregon forests on my way to a picture-perfect splashdown in the Pacific. But I guess that just wasn't in the cards...:

*Dehydration: As explained in an earlier post, I had a bit of a scare in the Oregon desert last week. All I can say is that I walked away from the experience with a new appreciation and respect for mother nature. Plus a healthy suspicion of my own physical limits.

*Desert Happiness: Possible death aside, I've experienced some beautiful desert scenery these past couple of weeks. Leaving Burns, Oregon, I made my way over to Hampton, my first stop in a two day jaunt towards Bend. This was a 130 mile stretch with absolutely no services, which meant that I had to carry two day's worth of water and food. The road was pretty desolate but replete with a stunning backdrop of sagebrush, wild flowers and reddish rock formations long-weathered by thousands of years of erosion. Entering the town I made camp behind an abandoned general store and had myself a PB&J sandwich, all the while listening to Beethoven's 5th. I can't explain it but for some reason a smile came over my face. I've had these moments on this trip before...moments of pure joy and exhilaration that are totally genuine and spontaneous. These are moments that I will never forget.

Did I mention that I did not see a single person during the 16 hours I spent in Hampton ?

*Wild Horses: coming to a desert plateau after a particularly long climb I was greeted by a strange sight. On my right, behind a barbwire fence running the length of what I suspected was public land were half a dozen horses. They stopped grazing as soon as they spotted me and then things got a little ominous. They quickly closed ranks, snorted loudly, stomped their hooves and slowly advanced to where I was standing. I know there are probably no wild horses left in the lower 48...still, these beauties scared the crap out of me.

*Spotting the Sisters: After more than a week in the desert there is no more joyous sight than the Three Sisters off in the distance. I laughed out loud when I first spotted them and they have been constant companions ever since. Love those mountains.


A little taste of the desert for your viewing pleasure:

I jumped into this river to cool off after going over the Santiam Pass in Oregon:

Take a look at how green Oregon can get after passing through the desert:


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

State of the Blog: Communication


Just a quick note to assure everyone that I am doing my best to respond to all your emails, tweets and facebook messages. A week in the desert, crappy to no reception, and my recent health scare all worked to create a pretty extensive backlog. If you have tried to communicate with me over the past several weeks be assured that you will hear from me soon.

I will probably have to rethink the way I handle communications going forward. The blog continues to grow at an exponential rate and it is getting harder and harder to respond to you guys in real time. I have a feeling this will become a non-issue once this trip is over but if you have any suggestions on how to improve things let me know.

Take care everyone!

Friday, July 17, 2009

On Not Wanting to be a Pussy

Those of you who are following me via Twitter and Facebook know that I had a bit of a scare yesterday. After spending four hours in the emergency room and surviving a night of sleepless self-inquisition I figured it made sense to go over what happened.

Leaving my starting point, I immediately hit some pretty serious hills. This was a bit unexpected. I had been told there would be some hills ahead but that the road would wind through a valley for most of the day. By the time I summited my fourth hill I had climbed over three thousand solid feet under a hot, merciless sun. I stopped at the summit to catch my breath and find some shade. As I drank from one of my water bottles I realized I was now left with a bottle and a half of water and I still had close to 30 miles left to ride (I was near mile 28 by that point).

By mile 40 the road flattened out and I started to hallucinate. The sky suddenly appeared more ominous and turned a darker shade of red. The road became malleable, like a live snake that quivered ahead towards the horizon. From somewhere inside me came a voice that was firm and clear: “Jack, you are in trouble.”

I understood what that voice meant. I really did. But I had very few options. The sun was beating down hard and the temperature was still climbing. There was no place where I could stop and take refuge. There wasn't a house, a barn or even a tree around for miles and everywhere I looked I saw barbed wire fences on either side of the road. It was like I was in the middle of an open-air prison.

At mile 45 I stopped next to an electricity pole. Angling my body along the edges of it's shadow I drank deeply from my water bottle and closed my eyes. I told myself that I only had 13 miles to go. Looking down, I realized I now had less than a quarter of a bottle of water left. “That's just going to have to do,” I told myself.

Here's an iPhone photo of my bike taken from the meager shade of the electricity pole:

At mile 50 I began wheezing uncontrollably and stopped to take another break. I propped my bike on a metal marker. Sitting on the other side of the bike, I contorted my arms and legs to fit the shade of my bike as much as possible. I then grabbed my water bottle and drank the last drop of water I had.

Here's a photo of the road from where I was sitting:

At that point, it was clear to me that if I stayed where I was I would eventually succumb to heat stroke. I could try to flag down a car but traffic had been light to non-existent all day. The only viable option was to keep going. While getting back on the bike meant spending more energy, at least it gave me the possibility of reaching shelter.

I was delirious when I got back on the bike. Two miles later I spotted the first roadside tree I'd seen in over 20 miles. I angled my bike over and collapsed on some grass right underneath. I remember looking up as leaves rustled in the wind and shadows filled endless crevices of brown bark and green branches. I was talking to myself at that point. I remember arguing with my mom about something; trying to convince a junior partner at my old firm that a document I had drafted was what he wanted; wiping tears from the face of an old lover.

After 15-20 minutes I started to come around a bit. I looked around for the first time and realized that I was right in front of a farmhouse. Relief washed over me in waves. I struggled to my feet and made my way over to the porch door. I knocked politely, but firmly. An older women answered the door and let me in immediately. She brought me to the kitchen where she filled a 32 ounce container with tap water. I drank it all in one gulp. She filled it again. This time I drank it more deliberately. But I finished it. I went outside and grabbed two of my water bottles and filled those in the sink. Thanking my host, I propped myself underneath the tree again to consider my options.

I now had less than 6 miles to go and was already feeling much better. If I got going again I could get to my destination in less than 20 minutes and avoid even more heat later on in the day. I felt dehydration would be less of an issue now that I was packing water again. So I got on my bike and started pedaling.

Six miles later I stumbled into town, a shadow of my former self. The hallucinations had come back in full force and I was delirious again. And I had finished all of my water. Again. At that point, I really had no choice but to ask someone how I could get to the nearest ER.

Thinking back, there are probably several reasons why I ended up in the ER yesterday:

*Terrain Ignorance: Heading into yesterday's ride, I only had a vague sense of the terrain ahead of me. Normally, I try to nail down what each day's ride is going to look like with the help of the GPS function on my iPhone and a quick search on google maps. But this became nearly impossible the moment I crossed the Oregon border. Without good phone reception there really wasn't much I could do besides ask locals what lay ahead.

*Geographic Ignorance: Having decided to stay off the established Transamerica trail I didn't have a clue that Eastern Oregon is basically composed of a large desert dotted with some pretty significant mountain ranges. And here I was picturing towering mountains full of green vegetation, mist and frequent afternoon rains...

*Heat: The temperature in eastern Oregon has remained in the high 90's this past week. Lucky for me, road temperatures have been far higher because of the heat reflected by asphalt and surrounding mountains. At one point yesterday, my bike computer showed a temperature of 111F. Even adjusting for a discrepancy I'm pretty certain I was riding in temperatures exceeding 105F.

*Getting Up Late: I didn't get much sleep the night before. I camped next to a pretty active highway and woke up every time a car shot past. I eventually left my starting point about 8:30 am local time. It was already in the mid 80s at that point.

*Tire Flat: While I bought two new tires just recently, I decided to use one for the rear wheel and keep one in reserve. The front wheel had had only one flat since Virginia and I figured I would ride it until the tire was nice and worn. Lucky for me, I got my second flat just yesterday, around mile 20. It took me 25 minutes to change it and patch the tube. Meanwhile, the heat was getting worse and worse...

Beyond this stuff there is one overarching reason why I ended up in the emergency room yesterday: my absolute, constant and overarching obsession with proving that I am not a pussy. That I have more balls than anyone else. That when things get tough I just need to dig deep and push myself to the brink. That when confronted with something that is seemingly insurmountable my first reaction is to stick out my middle finger, yell out a firm “Fuck YOU!” and hit it head-on with every ounce of strength I can muster.

This mentality has served me well over the years. In some ways, it is the reason I was able to survive a pretty dysfunctional childhood. It is the reason I excelled academically, even as I poked my finger in the eye of more than one teacher/professor. It is the reason I have crossed the country on a bicycle, by myself, carrying an extra 30 pounds of stuff most people would have sent home a long time ago.

When things got rough yesterday I did everything in my power to avoid being a pussy. I rode on when I probably should have stopped and waited for a passing car. I rode on when I noticed that my water supplies were too low. I rode on when every part of my body was immobilized by fatigue and dehydration.

On the other hand, I can't help but see a great deal of irony in all of this. I may have put myself in a dangerous situation because I, stupidly, wanted to prove that I was stronger than the terrain, the geography, the heat, and the desert itself. But it was that same intense determination that helped me push forward towards safety when I could have just given up completely.

As I got off my bike in front of the clinic yesterday I looked due east towards the desert that could have killed me. Slowly raising my right hand I extended my middle finger and muttered under my breath a raspy, but firm “Fuck You.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Reflections (3): Relationship Checklist



*Super hot
*Great in bed (i.e., adventurous in every way)
*From the right kind of background [i.e., someone from a “good family” (i.e., good values) who comes from a certain “class,” and is of a certain “race”]
*Subservient to all of my needs and aspirations
*Willing to put up with any and all of my indiscretions
*Willing to accept that, while I am a “great catch,” I am emotionally closed in some very fundamental ways
*Willing to accept that I will spend a significant time with my friends on a regular basis

*Super hot
*Great in bed {i.e., adventurous in almost every way [threesomes and other joint third-party activities are now, sadly (but prudently), excluded]}
*From the right kind of background [i.e., someone from a “good family" (i.e., good values) and who is of a certain “race”]
*Willing to accept that I will spend a significant time with my friends on a regular basis
*Anti-materialistic, anti-consumerist and a strong supporter/adherent of a simple living lifestyle
*Not afraid to embrace adventure and world-travel
*Passionate lover of music, literature, and film
*Open to yoga, meditation, and deep spirituality

I guess that's progress.

[On Love post]

[Reflections introductory post]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Time Off to Mountain Home, ID: Uncertainty, Fighting Hail and Winds and Other Stories

Miles Per Day: Time off to rent a cabin and explore Colorado via car; Day 54=62.37; Day 55=50.15; Day 56=60.00; Day 57= REST; Day 58=REST; Day 59=45.03; Day 60=44.99; Day 61=68.21; Day 62=REST; Day 63=REST; Day 64=53.10; Day 65=49.96; Day 66=59.21; Day 67=84.21; Day 68=61.56; Day 69=65.90.

Total So Far: 3,106.51

Inspiration: Pink Floyd; Eminem; Paul Simon; Beethoven's 6th (Karajan); Coltrane; Madonna; Johnny Cash [by far my favorite music on this trip]; The Wire [without question, one of the best dramas ever filmed].

Spirits: drained; strong; homesick; fearful; indomitable

Things Seen On the Road/During Time Off: desert hills of southern Wyoming; northern Colorado Rocky Mountain range; mama duck and little chicks crossing the road; a hawk picking up a field mouse right off the road; antelope and gophers galore.

Favorite Quotes: (1) gold prospector in southwestern Wyoming in response to a question about what it was like to grown up in Detroit: “I loved it, even with all the niggers around;” (2) gold prospector after I mentioned that I was hungry and needed to get some food [paraphrasing]: “Here, have this sandwich. I'm not going to have time to eat it...have to get home to feed my rabbits.”

The past couple of weeks have unleashed a roller coaster of emotions, most of them centered on whether I would even be capable of finishing this trip. It's really all my fault. As you might recall, I took 10 days off from cycling to rent a cabin and explore Colorado by car. And while it was a respite full of beautiful scenery, good food and welcome rest, it was also an excuse to avoid any physical exertion of any kind. I should have realized that 10 days away from riding would weaken my muscles and that I would require a bit of training to get back to par. Three days of 50+ miles later the pain in both of my knees was unbearable. I could barely get to my destination that third day and practically waddled my bike the last 3 miles to a motel. An absolute depression descended on me that day. For the first time in a long time I was uncertain about so many things. And not just about finishing this trip.

But not to worry. Two days rest, slow but deliberate exercises + yoga did the trick. Two weeks later I feel great. Better than great. I have never felt this strong and have never had this level of conditioning in my entire life.

It's been a while since my last trip update. It would be impossible to cover every significant story on this leg of this trip, but here are a couple of highlights:

*Country/Western Tunes: Somewhere near Rock Springs, Wyoming, I stopped at a late night bar for a bite to eat. Little did I know that a pretty good country/western band would play that night. Favorite tune of the night, the hilarious “You Would Never Catch Me at Brokeback Mountain.”

*Rain Simplicity: It has been amazing to watch storms on this leg of the trip. Heading west, I have seen gangs of storm clouds develop on the horizon. The more and more I pedal the more defined they become until I can actually see the outer edges of the storm above me. Even more impressive are the rain bands spraying jets of water every which way, like fingers stroking the ground below.

*Southern Wyoming Desert Terrain: The terrain of southern Wyoming is rather impressive. It is definitely high desert, with a twinge of the Grand Canyon to boot. There are hills that tower above you filled with a deep red hue and crevices that betray thousands of years or erosion.

*Fighting Hail and Winds: Heading past Green River, Wyoming, I spot a band of rainclouds off to the southwest. Heading west, with strong headwinds I pray that the storm passes south of where I am heading. Up ahead, the road starts forking southwest. I gulp. Within five minutes I am stopped dead in my tracks by the fiercest wind I have ever experienced on this trip. As I get my rain jacket on the hail starts falling loudly. Quickly, I unfurl my blue tarp (the same one you have seen in videos of previous storms) and without any place to tie it to I place it over my head and over the side of my bike. I push hard against the wind without much success, listening to the sounds of hundreds of projectiles hitting firmly and loudly. Suddenly, the wind gets underneath me and captures the tarp in its clutches. In a split second, one side of the tarp slaps me hard in the face before the entire thing just slips into the air and flies out of view. I have no choice but to huddle in a fetal position next to my bike for next 20 minutes until the hail stops and the wind subsides.


Country/Western Band: Anyone a fan of O Brother Where Art Thou?

Some Wildlife For Your Viewing Pleasure:

Rain Band Just Miles Away:

4th of July at Kemmerer, Wyoming:


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reflections (2): The FUCK post

After leaving a highly-paid job, giving away money I don't really need, and selling/donating most of my worldly possessions, I have come to a place in my life where meaningful clarity is attainable. I still have a long way to go but as of now there are certain things that are crystal clear:

FUCK people who claim to garner even an ounce of happiness from purchasing yet another “thing” they don't really need, EVEN AS they head out to a job they actively despise JUST SO that they can have the cash (or credit?) to purchase that very “thing” in the first place.

FUCK business suits, conference calls, billable hours, and making partner.

FUCK people who measure their self-worth by the size of their house, the make of their car, how far they have climbed the corporate ladder, the schools they attended, the restaurants they frequent and/or the people “they know.” These poor, insecure assholes are living in a dreamworld with shaky foundations, their lives ever-dependent on how they measure up against every other poor, insecure asshole in their sad little world of pretentious make-believe.

FUCK having 2 weeks of vacation a year.

FUCK the adrenaline rush you get when you answer a partner's question at 11:00 pm via Blackberry.

FUCK people who can't wait to tell you how late they worked the night before.

FUCK money. Seriously.

FUCK chicks that are suddenly more open to banging you once they realize you have money.

FUCK dudes who are suddenly more respectful when they realize that you attended Harvard Law School.

FUCK office politics, gossipy associates and awkward conversations with senior partners at firm functions.

FUCK having a house so large that you are forced to hire a cleaning person. If you think about it, you are pretty much FUCKED because you don't have the time to clean the place yourself BECAUSE you are working 80 hours a week in order to afford that large house in the first place.

FUCK that horrible feeling you get on Sunday when you know that you have to start all that office bullshit again on Monday.

FUCK that horrible feeling you get on Saturday when you know you have to work on Sunday.

FUCK me for having taken so long to figure it all out.

[Reflections introductory post]