Pedaling for Peace

On April 15, 2012 I started riding my bicycle cross-country from Jacksonville, Florida in voluntary support of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) and the work of author and Peace Leadership Director for the NAPF, Paul K. Chappell. By July 4th, I had covered over 1300 miles to just west of Luling, Texas where a major mechanical failure brought this first stage of my cross-country journey to an end. After storing my bicycle and trailer with my aunt and uncle in Weatherford, Texas, I flew from Dallas to Santa Barbara, California to attend the NAPF First Annual Peace Leadership Summer Workshop. I then lived and worked in Santa Barbara for several more months before I returned to Jacksonville and sold off the rest of my possessions that I could to help fund a continuation of my journey. Starting June 8, 2013 and ending August 9, 2013, I rode from Weatherford, through 400 miles of the central Texas hill country, including Austin, Texas, back to Luling. It was at this point that a friend of mine invited me to work for a brief period in Pennsylvania before flying me back to Santa Barbara where I continued volunteering for the NAPF as well as for the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. As of August 9th, 2014 I began"Stage III" of my cross-country adventure, this time heading south from Santa Barbara to San Diego and then east to El Paso, TX. It was there that illness, winter weather, and diminishing resources brought that leg of my journey to an end. After staying with another friend in Columbus, GA for several months, I moved "back home" to Kentucky to stay with my dad for a while and build a better "resource base" for future endeavors including review and further tracking and primitive survival skills training at Tom Brown, Jr's Tracker School , and a possible longer tour of the east coast, northern tier, and north west coast back down to Santa Barbara, CA.

Friday, June 29, 2012

What Are You Willing to Do to Make World Peace a Reality?

To Whom It May Concern - My Current Subscribers and New Readers in the Reddit Community:

What I am communicating below I have also shared in part under the sub-Reddits "IAmA" and "Bicycling". I understand that I am new to the Reddit community. Nevertheless, the responses I have received thus far have been pretty disappointing. I would really like more feedback than just up or down votes, because, as necessary, I am willing to learn how to communicate more effectively, in general, and in the Reddit environment in particular.

I know I can come off as "odd" to people at first, but once they get to know me, they realize I am "for real", that I really am a decent, sincere, passionate, and compassionate person, and one who really does want to make a difference in the world in the best way I can, or think I can.

Not to be overly dramatic, but I'm choking-up, crying even, as I write these words, because I'm thinking about all that I have been through, and deliberately chosen to put myself through over the last several weeks and months, in order to do just that: To make a difference in the world - To live my life according to the principle of non-aggression and to REALLY help bring about World Peace, through very deliberate and intentional effort...a lot of effort...and with the knowledge that more effort, even extraordinary effort, will be necessary in order to reach that goal.

In many of his talks, author and Peace Leadership Director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Paul K. Chappell, points out that all too often, people believe "World Peace" is a naive dream, a joke answer to a beauty pageant question. I follow his logic, however, when he points out that thinking we can continue the way we are going, and survive as a species, is even more naive.

Here come the tears I am feeling how much I Love Human Beings - my "species". And I Love this planet, and I don't want to see humanity, or this planet destroyed by anyone, for any reason. That is why I am doing what I am doing.

It would seem by the responses I have received thus far on Reddit, that at least some people think there is something wrong with that, either the "naive dream" of World Peace, or my particular approach to trying to make that dream a reality, or my way of writing about it. Again, hard to say what their "issues" are by a total of up or down votes and not very many comments or questions.

I am sharing this post with the "Anti-war" Reddit, because, I'm thinking, maybe I'm just trying to communicate with the wrong groups of people on Reddit. Or, at least, I should start with people that might be slightly more inclined to hear me out, rather than throwing myself to the "pack". Maybe those early decisions and postings were more naive on my part, even if I do not feel the same applies to my conviction that world peace is possible and that I can do something, even lots of different things, to help bring it about.

As the saying goes: Live and Learn!

Given my endeavors of the last several months, that statement could not be more true! Because I have Learned A Lot from all of my life experiences of late, probably more from the mistakes I've made (like not knowing how to price things for maximum returns as a seller on e-bay) than from what I have done well - like keeping myself safe on my bicycle, alone, on the road for over 60 days and 1200 miles now, from Jacksonville Beach, Florida to Houston, Texas.

For members of the Reddit Anti-war forum, you might find this blog I wrote some time ago relevant: The Power of Love and the Principle of Non-Aggression and the follow-up to that, Evolving Plans - NAPF Conference in July 2012.

The "evolution" process I mention in that latter blog has brought me to where I am now: 1) As I mention above, I have completed 1200 miles of my cross-country bicycle trek. 2) I have published over 50 blogs since the inception of the idea to ride across the country. 3) I have raised enough money to get me this far, maybe a little further, but I am going to need a significant financial boost to get me to California in time for the workshop. 4) I made a deal with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation to sign-up new members in exchange for credit towards my workshop tuition. This has proven to be a lot more difficult than I expected, in part because I have not had the venues where I could meet and talk with a lot of people at once. Instead, I have signed-up most of my Couch Surfing and Warm Showers hosts (with about 30 different stops so far), the "hosts" of the various camp-sites where I have stayed, even clerks at the motels and hotels, where I could. I have also signed-up a few random people that I have met "on the street". But, even over 1200 miles, that has added up to only 150 people, or so, and I need at least another 270 new members to "close the deal". Most recently, the NAPF did give me the option to sign up 100 of those remaining members prior to July 21st, and the rest after the workshop, as I plan to continue my cross-country journey from Texas to California.

Since I've been on the road, my expenses have come from the few hotels and motels I've stayed in ($220); and campgrounds ($45), cycling gear/maintenance ($85); "admin" - some shipping, printing, money transfer fees, ($150); food/electrolyte water, toiletries, bug spray, and sunscreen ($585). All that comes out to about $18/day and slightly less than $1/mile.

I think I left Jacksonville with just a little over $200, sold most of my portable solar gear to one of my hosts in Seacrest, Florida for $340, and the rest of my expenses I've had to cover with donations. According to this website, What It, costs for cross-country bike trips in the U.S. can range from $2500 to $8600, so I am definitely coming in on the low end of that range so far.

In addition, I opted over a year ago for a much cheaper (in the long run) pay-per-use phone, and no Internet service for that phone or my iPad. Unfortunately, that has made it a lot more difficult for me to be as consistent with my blog updates, or figuring out where I am or where I need to go (with no on the road GPS service), or even to contact potential hosts, but I am doing the best I can with all of that.

By now you may be wondering, why did I not make sure I had "enough money" to do everything before I left? Well...1) It would have been hard to know that amount without the day to day experience. 2) Having never done anything like this before, I did not want to ask too many people, or other major sponsors, to support my efforts until I had proven more about my abilities to do what I am doing. 3) Once the NAPF Workshop became my goal, I had a limited time-frame in which to complete my ride, so I had to get on the road. And as experience has shown, I should have left even earlier than I did, but...I was having to fundraise right up to the day before I left Jacksonville, when I sold my '73 VW Super Beetle...for $300. One more trip to the grocery store, and that left me with the $200+ I mentioned leaving with earlier.

As for now, my most critical "needs" are: 1) To sign up another 100 people as members of the NAPF before July 21st. Those names need to go through me, in order for me to get credit for them. (This has been another one of those frustrating challenges because there is no way for people to offer a reference to me when they sign-up or donate directly through the NAPF website.) Consequently, if by chance you, as a reader of this post, would like to be one of those New Members, I need you to send me your Name, E-mail Address, and Zip Code, via my e-mail address: Membership is free. You will receive the NAPF "Sunflower" newsletter once per month and you may hear from me, although, thanks to Yahoo making it very difficult to send out mass e-mails, it is actually a lot of work for me to update people that way...or put out requests for donations. Consequently, I can promise you I won't be bombarding you with e-mails, and I am not a "big company" that sells info to other "big companies". And I don't ever plan to be, so your info is as safe as it can be in my Yahoo contacts list.

2) I have priced air fare on Southwest from Dallas-Love airport to Los Angeles (LAX) at $159 one-way, plus $48 for a shuttle bus from LAX to Santa Barbara. That money I need ASAP in order to take advantage of lower costs with advance reservations and I can pay for my plane ticket directly out of my PayPal account. If you would like to make a financial contribution to my efforts, especially for this immediate need, you can do so through the PayPal "Donate" button located => over there => in the right-hand column of this page. (After the workshop, I will be spending some time with another relative that lives in the area before returning to Texas. Clearly, I will need air fare for that return flight as well, but I am focusing on my "immediate" needs with this particular post.)

In exchange for your support, I promise: 1) I will not give up my personal struggle for Peace in this World, 2) I will not give up on my goal to attend the NAPF Peace Leadership Workshop in Santa Barbara, and 3) I will not give up on my goal to complete my bicycle ride across the U.S. and continue to "Wage Peace" in whatever way I can after that.

Furthermore, I will not give up on my species, and all the human beings I know and love, and those I have yet to meet... and ride my bicycle into the woods to live out the rest of my life, alone, as a primitive survivalist! : )) (Although, thanks to Tom Brown, Jr. and a couple of weeks of Tracker/Survival school, I might just be able to do that if left with no alternatives that allow me to continue to live my life freely, and without aggression towards my fellow human beings, and with "work" that is genuinely meaningful to me!)

I know a lot of people out there who would also like to "run away" from all of this, but I have realized that isn't really the best option. We are here, we are all in this together, we have this truly amazing system for communicating with one another and sharing information and resources, and Now Is The Time, if ever there was one, to make this world a better place for all of us to live, and grow, and learn, and most importantly to Love and Be Happy for generations to come.

So with respect to my own "Life Work" as I see it now: I am completely convinced that the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and especially Paul K. Chappell, are on the right track to Change the Way People in this World THINK about Peace, about personal and national "security", and especially to change the way we think about who we are (and are NOT) as human beings. I know, that even with my strong background in social science and psychology, I learned so much more from reading Paul's books - so much more that is of Critical Importance right now. Yes, I wanted to ride my bicycle across the country anyway, but the understanding I got from reading Paul's books, and the encouragement I received from the NAPF, is what "tipped the scales" as far as my Actually Doing what I was otherwise only "thinking" about doing, and "planning" to do.

But, honestly, all I have ever really wanted to do in my life, and it is truly heart felt when I say this, with tears rising to my eyes again...All I've ever really wanted to do was to Be of Service to others. I've done so in smaller ways throughout my life, but now I want to do it in a Much Bigger Way - I want to help bring Peace to the World.

Just because achieving World Peace is a much bigger challenge, does not make it less important, or "naive" to try to accomplish. On the whole, human beings have as much of a history of achieving greatness as they do for destroying themselves. I would rather stand on the positive side of that ongoing story, rather then the negative. At the same time, I am humble enough to know that this is going to be a Group Effort. I realize there are limits to what each person can do by themselves. Nevertheless, I am definitely willing to do whatever it is I Can Do, and that is what I Am Doing right now. Trust me, this Ride of My Lifetime is taking everything I have to give...and I wouldn't want it any other way.

What about you? What are you willing to do to make World Peace a Reality?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quick Update from Houston, Texas

I had a tough day, yesterday. It wasn't from the riding I've been doing, more from "everything else" - a lot of little things adding up.

Let me just give you some examples:

I've been using "Map My Ride" as my main tool for figuring out my routes from one place to another. Although I started out using the PC version, eventually I downloaded the iPad application and, not that it was all that easy to work with in the first place, now it is even more difficult. Furthermore, if I am on the site for too long (not ever sure how long "too long" is), then my screen simply Blanks Out and any mapping I have done to that point is lost...which means, I have to Start All Over Again.

Because I do not have internet service with my iPad, I have to get all of my mapping done Before I leave a particular host, where I do have service, making notes and mile markers on slips of paper that I can fit into the clear-plastic pocket of my handlebar bag. I've found it is really important to have those mile markers just to keep me assured that I am on the right path and to give me a better idea of how fast I am traveling. However, should I go "off course" - I do not have a map to work from, so it is that much more important that I have all of that figured out pretty explicitly, which means, I have to continue to use the tool I have even with its limitations.

In addition, and this is something I am still trying to learn to do efficiently - I have to coordinate my Map My Ride program, with hosts and location information available through Couch Surfing and Warm Showers (see links to the right). However, Couch Surfing profiles generally do not include street address information, so I have to actually make contact with hosts, get that information from them, then go back and map it and see if it is going to work for me. It is a little different with Warm Showers, but they do not have as many people signed up, and although most of them include their street addresses, not all of them do, so the same e-mail/text communication applies...and all of that takes time.

The other thing that has been "getting me down" is the time and energy I am having to invest in fundraising. I have to say, I've really been disappointed so far with what has come of my posts on Reddit. I'm thinking...maybe I just haven't posted to the right community yet, where I might find more support. I spent a good part of my day yesterday preparing a post for the "Anti-War" subReddit, only to find out it was over the character limit, but not sure by how much. So now I've got to edit that, again, and hopefully get it posted before I leave my host today.

Also with regards to fundraising, I'm beginning to suspect that my last round of e-mails may not have reached all (most) of their intended recipients because a) I was sending them in groups, and b) I had photo attachments, and c) Most of the people I e-mailed did not have My e-mail address in Their contact list. All of that effort took A Lot of time and energy, and yet, now I'm feeling like I am going to have to go through all of that again.

The truth is, I am having to accept - and not that this was "unknown" to me on some level - when it comes to fundraising, I'm not very good at it. Furthermore, I'm still not as efficient as I would like to be when it comes to using the computer tools that are available to me. It has been a real drawback, for instance, not to be able to upload pictures to this blog easily from my iPad. It is also a drawback that I am so easily distracted!!! I have realized that because of the frustrations I've been experiencing lately, I am more inclined to let myself get distracted, which, of course, doesn't really help.

However, as I mentioned in that not-yet-published Reddit post - although I may not be that capable, or well equipped, to do everything that I am having to do right now, especially when it comes to using all of the computer and internet tools, efficiently, I do know how to keep myself safe on the road while I am riding my bicycle! The "wheel spinning" I'm doing administratively may not be all that effective at "moving me forward" - but once I get back on my bike...I'm Good! : ))

Otherwise, I'm doing the best I can here, working with what I've got, no matter how frustrating it is at times, or how much I suffer my own personal limitations or patterning. I still have faith that things will work out, as long as I do not give up - that in my mind is still not an "option" - and I kind of knew that from the beginning of this whole endeavor.

So...I will persevere...As hard as things are right now, I continue to learn and to consider how things could be better, how I might do things differently in the future...meaning, I can imagine continuing to do this in the future, in some form or another, but for now...even if the roads are relatively flat, I am still having to push up a steep learning curve when it comes to "all the rest"...! :p

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Last Miles Through Louisiana

Leaving Baton Rouge, Louisiana proved to be a bit more challenging than either Randy or I anticipated. I decided to attempt a last-minute fund-raising e-mail, and was limited in how many people I could send it to at a time, which meant I had to send it about 10 times instead of one. Thanks, Yahoo, for all of your spam security programming! :p So that consumed the late morning into the afternoon, during which time I kind of forgot to eat.

Consequently, when I finally did get on the road in the heat and humidity of the late afternoon, I ended up getting nauseous, and had to stop only a few miles into my trip. Randy was tailing me though, as there was a particularly unsafe bridge to cross that day, so I was able to chill in his car for a few minutes and eat, and drink until I felt better.

Now here's a funny inside my head note: As I was later pedaling over that nasty bridge, which was pretty steep, and long, I started praying "Hail, Mary's", something along the lines of "Hail, Mary, full of Grace, hear my prayer..." I'm not Catholic, but that's what came to mind so I just went with it, figuring I could use all the support I could get, and even better coming from such a Feminine Spirit Force! : )

On the other side of the bridge, Randy and I stopped again, this time because I was starting to cramp up in my lower abdomen, something that had never happened before. A few minutes and another bottle of electrolyte water later, as well as a conversation with a curious local passerby, and we were headed back down the road, stopping about every two miles, until it finally started to cool down along with the sun setting. As it was getting late I thought it might be a good idea for Randy to drive ahead to see if he could get a room for me in Livonia. Our plan was to then meet back at the McDonald's in the town before that.

It was full dark by the time I reached the McDonald's and no sign of Randy yet. When he did arrive, it was not with good news. The only place to stay in Livonia was full of railroad workers. Using his smart phone, Randy continued to try to find other options, to no avail. However, after approaching the Sherrif's deputy who was parked in the McDonald's parking lot, we finally made arrangements with the fire station across the road to store my bicycle and trailer, as it was all too much to fit into Randy's car, and then Randy and I returned to Baton Rouge for one more night.

The next morning we headed back to meet the Fire Chief and retrieve my bicycle. It rained a little while we were at the station, but cleared soon enough for Randy and I to say our final good-byes across the street at the McDonalds. It was not easy saying good-bye to my friend, especially since we had had so much fun together and he had been so supportive, but he had research and a doctoral thesis to finish back at LSU and it was time for me to get on with my journey as well.

I managed to get as far as the Chevron station on the east side of Livonia, before the clouds opened up for heavy down-pour. There was just enough space under the covered walkway to protect my bicycle from the rain and a place inside the convenience store for me to sit, eat my afternoon snack of cheese and crackers, and finger salad. While there I was approached by an unassuming man with whom I ended up conversing for quite some time, long enough for the rain to pass. He said that one day he planned to be Mayor of Livonia, and from what I gathered of our conversation, the town would be lucky to have him!

A few days before my departure from Baton Rouge, Randy and I scoped out the area for road hazards and possible places for me to stay. At one potential camping site/mobile home park in Krotz Springs, we met this wonderfully sweet older gentleman who offered me his own yard to camp in if I wanted to. Even though my destination and schedule changed, especially given the short-fall of the day before, I still wanted to stop in Krotz Springs to say "Hi" to my new friend, and let him know why I had not come to stay with him in the days before. I found him at home when I arrived, and he was just as friendly and welcoming as he had been when we first met. We talked a little more about my trip, and he shared more about his own experiences in the Navy, and about the natural wonders and peace he found living in the Louisiana bayou. I could easily relate to that last part having had a very peaceful passage through the woods along Old 190 just a short time before.

I arrived in Opelousas late that evening and was welcomed by the Hope Hook and Ladder, Station No. 1 where I was offered a place to shower, store my cold food, and sleep for the night. The next morning I had a great conversation with one of the volunteer firefighters. Like so many other people I have met on this journey, he was genuinely concerned about the future of our country and humanity as a whole. As it is my personal mission, I was glad to have the opportunity to offer some hope to this firefighter, husband, and father, just as reading Paul Chappell's books have given hope to me.

Having now established good references with the Erwinville and Opelousas fire departments, I headed on to Eunice hoping that I might be able to stay at the fire station there as well. Unfortunately, that fire station was not able to give me shelter on account of the fact that they did not have separated sleeping areas (which Was the case in Opelousas). They did, however, put me in contact with another local couple who had a building on their property equipped to handle visitors (or young college students looking for a place to hang out with their friend's : )). I was accommodated with a couch, kitchen, shower, washer and dryer, and shelter outside to store my bicycle out of the rain.

In addition, the next morning I got to tour the owner's "menagerie" of "rejects": animals that had been given up by their original owners who did not want to keep them any longer. These included a turkey, a pot-bellied pig, rabbits, several ducks, geese, chickens, ring-necked doves, and a relatively tame squirrel. Most of these critters had free range of the fenced back yard and pond. In another enclosed porch area, I was greeted by the squawks of four Blue and Gold Macaws, the eldest pair being around 30 years old, and two of their offspring at five years old. Apparently the "older couple" were getting on quite well as they had been producing chicks for several years. As I finished packing my gear, I continued to hear the female macaw squawking as she was inclined to do while brooding over another clutch of eggs, as well as the occasional, more human vocalizations from one of the younger birds.

Heading on down the road, my next stop was in Oakdale. I encountered some rain towards the end, but just as the sun was setting, and peaking through the clouds, I had the pleasure of seeing two owls on the next to last road to my hosts' house. One flew across the road from left to right, turning its big eyes my way as it flew by and then went on to roost in a high tree limb. As this was my first encounter with owls it was thrilling to be as much the object of its curiosity as it was an object of mine. : )

Once I reached my destination, I was very warmly welcomed by my Couch Surfing host and her family. After settling in and getting my always appreciated warm shower, I was treated to a meal of rice and beans, cooked cauliflower, and some really delicious homemade, pineapple pop-over pastries. The next few hours and following day were spent with long conversations about diet, spiritual life, love and relationships, and of course, how to make the world a more peaceful place for all of us! My stay included a side-trip to Lafayette, to visit with other family members, the newest being my host's 16-month-old grandson. We had dinner at a little Honduran cafe called Mi Tierra, where I ordered Honduran tacos that came in crispy little bundles that were filled with seasoned chicken, which I thoroughly enjoyed along with more great conversation (and, of course, more of those pineapple pastries once we got back to Oakdale : )).

Oakdale to DeRidder was a long, hard ride. I started setting my watch to beep me at 15 minute intervals so I was sure to keep drinking enough electrolyte water as I rode the long, hot stretches in between small towns. In addition, I got off my planned route kind of early, so my pre-ride map notes were not of much use to me, to let me know how many miles I had covered, or how much further I had to go. With about six miles to go, I was passed by a particularly curious young man in a big white pick-up truck, who could not leave me behind without finding out more. So I gave him my card and phone number, and once I got settled in my motel room, we met for a little walk-and-talk. However, given the long day behind and another ahead, I had to end our evening "early", much to the chagrin of my new friend! : )

This was to be my last night in the state of Louisiana, Next stop: Texas! : )

** Will edit and add photos as soon as I have a PC to work from again...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tennessee Excursion - Part IV - Back to Rugby and Viewing the Venus Transit Enroute to Baton Rouge

After saying our good-bye's at Bee Rock, Randy and I headed back to Rugby for another couple of nights at his parents' house. We traveled with his mother into the nearby town of Jamestown, where we visited a home/business called "Mixon's Emporium". Here we found an unusual combination of children's clothes, garden plants, and guns! But what was probably most unique was the presence of a Giant Rooster in whose "belly" were housed a collection of locally donated books - part of a network of "Little Free Libraries" that are now popping up all over the country and world. Little Free Library.Org

On our way back to the house, Randy's mother was informed by "The Plant Lady" that she had seen some rare orchids in the front fields. We stopped the car at the driveway entrance and took turns looking, to no avail. Later, however, Randy was able to find them and like the turtle dreams I used to have, once one was spotted, then it seemed others appeared "everywhere". Turned out this rare orchid was of the Ragged Fringed variety, or Platanthera lacera. Randy's photo was highlighted in a related post in the June 11 issue of Rugby Week

I really enjoyed my stay at "Roslyn". Loved the character of the old house, with its dark-stained wood everywhere. I have always appreciated old houses that have stood the test of time, much like old trees that stand out in the middle of a leafy forest. It was a welcome retreat and it was great to spend time with Randy's mother and step-father again. This time, I promise I won't be forgetting the experience any time soon!

From Rugby we traveled back to Baton Rouge, however, there was another "event" going on that day, something that would not happen again for 105 years: The Transit of Venus Across the Sun!

Though the skies were somewhat cloudy, Randy and I persevered. Stopping first at a rest stop and then at exits 15-30 minutes apart, Randy was intent on capturing as many photos as possible. It was kind of cool to be able to share another very "special occasion" with my friend. As I think Mark Twain once said: "Sorrow can take care of itself. Joy is better shared."

**And Thanks to Randy for sharing photos for this blog. : )

Tennessee Excursion - Part III - Another Night at Camp and Rappelling at Bee Rock

Following our trip through Blue Spring Cave, we all re-grouped back at Paul and Sheila's. There we were joined by several other former students and cavers from TTU. Frank and his wife Valerie graciously provided food for all of us, and after a full day of caving, I was certainly ready to enjoy my share along with Angela and Randy!

Of course, the evening would not be complete without a slide presentation! Frank provided the "warm up" with lots of old photos from years gone by, and then Ric shared slides from his cave explorations around the world.

I was particularly impressed with the giant, as in, Superman's Hideaway style, crystals from Ric's visit to the Cueva de los Cristales in the Naica Mine in Mexico. However, unlike Superman's frozen abode, these crystals reside in an environment of 112 degree temps. As Ric pointed out, that's a lot lower than the temps used to be, so at least now people don't have to wear total body protective suits if they want to actually walk among the crystals. (Photo courtesy of Ric Finch)

Although I would have loved to spend yet another night around the campfire - my lack of sleep the night before, a long day of caving, and a belly full of food left me feeling quite tired. So as much as I hated leaving the fun and fellowship, I decided to turn in "early". Even with the temps not quite a low, I made sure to take full advantage this time of the sleeping bag Randy had loaned to me, as well as all of my other sleeping gear and, as a consequence, I stayed much warmer, and slept much more soundly.

Which was a good thing, as Sunday morning, the day broke early and bright, and it was time once again to pack-up camp! I got all of my things out of the tent, and Randy took over from there. I thought about trying to help more, but it was clear he had everything under control!

From Paul and Sheila's we traveled to Bee Rock, THE Place where many TTU cavers had the opportunity to rappel for the first time. That would also be the case today for the next generation: Tom's son Dylan and Frank and Valerie's son Joe.

As noted in my blog about our trip through Blue Spring Cave, I was once again impressed with the pervasive Community Spirit of all who came out that day. Tom provided the most direct guidance on the ropes, while the rest of us also added our two cents - sometimes to the consternation of both Dylan and Joe as they were having to sort through all of the directions while also overcoming the inevitable anxiety of their First Descent.

I'd like to be able to add here: "And then it was my turn"... but, I decided to refrain. I had my "day in the sun" - or rather, if I remember correctly, my "afternoon in the dark" rappelling into a pit somewhere, years before, and that was enough for me! For this day, I was content with a nice image of me standing close to the edge. And, once again, I have Frank to thank for that (along with the other pictures here : )).

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tennessee Excursion - Part II - Blue Spring Cave

Saturday dawned somewhat brighter than the day before. I was glad for the sun, and the heat, as I had slept fitfully through the night, not being as well equipped for the chilly weather as I had hoped. I probably stayed out a little too late at the camp-fire, as well, so by the time I got to the tent, I was a too tired to get myself properly situated. I was never really able to get my feet warm, in spite of my silk long johns, under my pajamas, as well as a silk liner, and my wool blanket/sleeping bag zipped over my head. Randy offered me another light-weight sleeping bag, that I laid over my feet, but that I did not go ahead and get fully into, which I later regretted.

Nevertheless, there was a big day of caving ahead, with our particular expedition taking us to Blue Spring Cave in White County, Tennessee. It is now the longest cave system in Tennessee at 38.4 miles and the 9th longest cave system in the U.S. As it turned out, our day long trip would take us in and out of less than a mile of that system (although at times it felt A Lot longer!)

Like the span of the cave, our group spanned quite an age and experience range, from the youngest of five-years-old to the oldest of 69. Having no idea that I would be caving during my cross-country bike ride, I will admit that I was ill prepared with no hiking/caving boots, or even a pair of blue jeans to protect me from the rough terrain.

However, where there's a will, there's a way, so I made do with socks inside my Keens, what "long" shirts and pants I did have with me, my GoreTex rain pants, and nylon riding vest - with its reflective strips making me particularly visible in the head-lamps and camera flashes of my fellow cavers! Randy graciously provided the other essential "personal protective gear": hard hat, gloves, and knee pads, all of which were definitely necessary, as I remember banging my hard-hat several times against the rocks, and needed the knee pads and gloves for the multiple crawlways we had to traverse.

Blue Spring Cave is located on private property, Frank got permission to enter from the land-owner, as well as a local guide, Clinton, to take us through. It was Clinton who happened to "look up" during a re-mapping of one section of the cave to discover very rare crinoid fossils in the ceiling above. The passages where he made the discovery were also our destination for this particular trip. (That's Clinton in the blue bandana and Canadian maple leaf t-shirt.)

Once inside, the cave turned out to be about as diverse as the people gathered to explore it. With typical cave formations at the entrance, to canyons that required a narrow suspended bridge to cross, lots of "break down", to navigate - quite gingerly in my case given my barely adequate footwear, and left knee weakened by an injury I sustained while running my first (and only) full marathon back in 2007. (As you can imagine, the last thing I wanted to do was to get hurt while participating in these "extra-curricular" activities, and not be able to complete my bike trip!) There were crawling passages, as well as a few walls to climb and all of this we encountered, and surmounted, both going forward and in reverse!

And, of course, there were the crinoids...

Where these ancient fossils were probably of the greatest interest to the geologists among us, as a social scientist, I was more amused, humbled, and inspired by seeing eight-year-old Harry, fearlessly scrambling over breakdown, with the enthusiasm so natural for a child that age. His younger brother, Haden, persevered as well, never wanting to stop, or turn back, even when given the option.

I give the highest "kudos" to the parents, Anthony and Mary, for sharing the adventure of caving with their young children...and, literally, bearing the burden of carrying their youngest son as necessary, so that he could enjoy the full experience with all of us, beginning to end and all points in between. I also give credit to Clinton, our guide, for his patience, as well as the cooperative spirit of the other adults in our group, who were there to guide and lend a hand as needed to both the children and each other. It was a pretty long trip in and back out of the cave for all of us. Often I found myself saying, "Just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling," or "Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming!" ... You get the idea... : ))

Overall though, it was a wonderful trip. There were no major incidents, injuries, or losses of equipment. Frank finally got to take some pictures of me to add to those of his other caving buddies! : ) Randy got to take some more really amazing shots as well, satisfying his growing passion for photography. And I got to enjoy another adventure, within the adventure, of riding my bicycle across the country.

But the weekend wasn't quite over there's still more to come in Part III...

** Thanks again to Frank and Randy for helping with photos.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Tennessee Excursion - Part I - Kayaking and Camping

First of all, I have to offer a special "Thanks!" to my friend and former housemate during my early college years at Tennessee Tech, Randy Paylor. From hosting me in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to sharing the ride with me to and from Tennessee, kayaking, camping, and caving together, Randy has been wonderfully supportive, covering all of our expenses, as well as just being a great friend. After not seeing each other for 20+ years, it is like we are getting to know each other all over again and I am glad that I have matured to the point of having the wisdom to fully appreciate our friendship, and the friendship of so many others that I knew back in Tennessee.

I also have to say "Thanks!" to Frank, another special friend of mine, and the force that brought all of us together this weekend. Although I was not active in the caving community for long, I did get to go on several caving trips with Frank, and often with Randy as well, and I am grateful for all of those experiences, in part because it connected me with so many other really wonderful people.

Randy and I drove from Baton Rouge, LA on Wednesday arriving at his parents' house in Historic Rugby, TN on Wednesday evening where we stayed for the night. Thursday morning we traveled to Cleveland, TN where we met Tom and his son Dylan; Frank, his wife Valerie, daughter Taylor, and son Joe; and Jim. After lunch at Applebees, it was quite amusing to see Randy, Tom, Jim, and Frank all gathered together in the parking lot, Smart-Phones in hand, comparing maps and deciding just what route would be best to take to the Hiwassee River for our afternoon of kayaking.

My hope for the day was that the cold water would help the swelling in my legs and so I was inclined to ride on the seat of my inflated "funiak", with my feet dangling over the sides whenever possible. Unfortunately, as I was trying to navigate through one rather tricky set of chutes, my boat went up on a rock, tipped backwards, and off I went into the water!

Luckily...I did not lose my head and, therefore, I did not lose the paddle, I did not lose my turtle ball cap, and I did not lose my sun glasses! Dylan and Jim came to support me (well, actually, Jim was having fun taking pictures of me "in distress"), while Randy rounded up my boat, and after reaching a shallow shoal of the river, I was able to get back in and continue on, this time a little more attentive to being completely seated IN the boat when approaching other tricky sections of the river! I got to soak my legs...and the rest of my body in the cold water and, since that was what I was hoping for, I felt my little "incident" was "Exactly what the doctor ordered!" : )

After kayaking, Jim, Frank and Joe, and Randy and I made our way to the Luminary Fire Tower, on Worthington Knob, thinking we might camp there for the night. Unfortunately, we found the gate locked so we decided to at least walk up the trail to watch the Sun go down. Randy was quick to head right on up the tower, I followed behind him but started feeling a little scared as I approached the top, so I let Jim and Frank go on by me. Joe decided to stay below. As Frank explained, the area had been cleared of many of the trees in the 20 years since we had ventured there before, recalling one particular time when his truck got stuck after a night in the rain. Although Frank did not concur, I remember a lot of Boone's Farm wine being involved on that particular occasion! : )

Having been prevented from taking our vehicles and camping gear to the top of the hill, and because there was stormy weather threatening, we drove back down the hill to another campsite and set-up for the night. Randy got the fire going and we managed to cook up some (healthy, organic) hot dogs and had Nutella smores for desert. We found enough wood to keep the fire going through the night, even into the morning when...sure enough, it finally ended up raining on us! Oh, well, so much for packing dry tents!

From Worthington Knob we headed back to Monterey and the property of Paul and Sheila who were our generous hosts for the rest of the weekend. We set-up camp again and then, with some "down time" on our hands, found nothing better to do than to tie a rope up in a tall tree and let the younger folks get some practice climbing, changing over, and rappelling. Tom helped to secure the rope and Jim gave the instructions to Dylan and Joe.

As the rope training came to an end, more people began to gather - Jeff and Kathy, our hostess Sheila, and Joe L. among them. Everyone had a great time catching-up both in the field and around the camp fire. After that, we were all up for a good, though somewhat chilly, night's sleep as the next day would bring many more of the TTU Cavers together to do what cavers do best... : )

**Thanks to Frank and Randy for help with these photos.