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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Taking a Few Moments - Before Things Get Hectic Again

In my last post I discussed the possibility of going to work for the Alda Center for Communicating Science. Well... the job posted this past week and after reading it I realized I was not really as qualified for it as they needed me to be. If I worked at it, I might have been able to stretch my skills and experience to fit, but it would have been just that - a stretch.

During the few days that followed the job posting, as I further considered the possibility of moving to New York, settling into another more "conventional" job, etc., I realized that I'm not ready to give up the "job" I feel I have now, i.e. "Pedaling for Peace". In addition, I've been working progressively over the past four years to reduce my worldly possessions to a minimum, and the thought of having to re-accumulate all over again to set-up a more conventional living situation really doesn't appeal to me.

Consequently, I'm going "back to the drawing board" so to speak, as well as moving to my dad's house in Campbellsville, KY for a while. The plan is to continue with the reduction process I've started here in Columbus, GA and probably build another multi-purpose trailer for my bicycle. I've learned a lot over the past four years and I am looking forward to putting some of that experience to further use. There is much of the U.S. I have not seen yet and many new people I have not met. In spite of the challenges of this "job," there have been some really great rewards as well, and that is what is keeping me motivated to continue, and maybe to continue for as long as I am physically able to do so. I can't say that this was ever what I thought I'd be doing as my "retirement plan," but, so far, it's not so bad!

Looking back I can see that, just so I could handle the physicality of what I'm doing, I had to get an early jump on this particular "retirement strategy," otherwise, there would not have been enough bodily strength to "train into it." I've still got a few issues to deal with - definitely need to get some dental work done, but everything else is continuing to work pretty well!

For instance, over the past several weeks, I've been revisiting my marathon training program from eight years ago, running and walking in intervals of three minutes and two minutes respectively as I have slowly increased my distance from three miles to six miles using the trail around the lake in the local park. Having reached my six mile goal, I will now start progressively increasing the run time and reducing the walk time until it's all (or nearly all) run time. As I learned from my trainers, you need a day to recover for every mile you run, so if I run six miles one day/week then I have six days to recover in between. In addition, this form of relatively slow-paced exercise actually burns fat more effectively than bicycling and I can do it in a more protected area, rather than having to negotiate with traffic so much.

So that's one way that I have continued to "train" while here in Columbus, although, I really had to wait for things to cool down a bit. The heat and humidity of the summer here was pretty intense, more than I have had to deal with anywhere else so far! As my dad's house sits on the banks of Green River Lake, I expect to map out a similar six mile route fairly easily and will continue this routine for the foreseeable future. I'm also doing the three "end of course" exercise routines from my favorite yoga program, Richard Hittleman's Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan

Over the next week I will be getting ready for yet another "yard sale," and then focusing the rest of my time on packing to move to Kentucky. My friend and host here in Columbus has been generous in offering to support my transition financially and my dad is welcoming me "home" with open arms. I'm looking foward to reconnecting with my family and even plan to stop in Dalton, GA to visit with my mother, with whom I have not had face to face contact in about 30 years! (If you have seen my TEDx talk, then you know more of the history there.)

In addition, the cousin I spent time with in Santa Ana, CA during "Stage III" is helping me find a home "in the family" for a treadle sewing machine that I have been keeping track of/storing, etc., also for about 30 years. It's the one item that could not be packed or shipped easily under any circumstance, and even now, in the last days of my being responsible for it, it is proving to be a challenge! Nevertheless, I intend to persevere and see to its finding a new home with some of my other relatives in Tennessee.

To the extent that I have already freed-up a lot of energy from letting go of many of my other worldly possessions and living conventions, I feel I am in the "final round" of that process. I am getting to live more freely than most people in the world today, even in this country, and I do not take that for granted. However, I also feel I have a powerful message to share and I know that there are many who are following my journey who also gain, if only vicariously, from all of my experiences.

I want to say, "Thanks, Again!" to all of my friends and associates who have supported my efforts in the past and continue to do so. For my part, I am going to continue to do what I can to persevere on this journey and to keep you updated along the way.

Yours in Peace...

Monday, August 31, 2015

Thoughts on a Boston Globe article "When did parents get so scared?"

Hi, Everyone!

I know it's been a while. Of late I have been trying to figure out what I am going to do with the rest of my life! As I have been living with my friend in Columbus, GA, in exchange for room and board, I have become the "house manager" - taking care of food prep, dish washing, laundry, pet care, etc., while he and his oldest daughter, who is also living with us now, focus their attention on college.

I've also been continuing my own "studies" including Sam Harris' first book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason and Patricia Churchland's textbook, Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of Mind-Brain. In addition, most recently, I have been in contact with Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, Improvisation Coordinator at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science in Stony Brook, New York. Since I saw Alan Alda give his presentation at the National Institutes of Health when I worked there, I have been thinking the improvisation classes would be of benefit for the NAPF Peace Leadership Workshops as well. In the course of talking with Valeri, she explained that there was a position being added to the program for which I might qualify and I let her know of my interest. I'm not anticipating anything to happen right away, but given my history, I could definitely imagine working for them! In the mean time, I still have my boxes to finish sorting through here in Columbus, and at least one or more yard sales on the horizon.

This article, When Did Parents Get So Scared?, came to me via Gregory Caremans from whom I took the Master Your Brain: Neuroscience for Personal Development course via Udemy not so long ago. It was associated with another of his courses, Neuroscience for Parents: How to Raise Amazing Kids. Since I was even more overprotected than most as a child, given my mother's mental illness, I have very personal experience to relate to this article. However, what I'd like to add is what I have learned more recently about everyone's tendencies toward negative bias.

Rick Hanson writes about negative bias in his book, Buddha's Brain: Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. I came to understand his ideas through the Brain Smart webinar lecture series presented by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. He explained that the brain has a specific area in which it registers negative experiences, especially those that may be life threatening. Where our lives were once more directly threatened by predators, etc. in the wild, many of us today feel just as threatened when our beliefs and points of view are challenged. In other words, it is our "identities" that are at stake, not just our physical lives. Thus, negative experiences can take many different forms other than just threats to our physical well-being.

Furthermore, as I also learned from Paul K. Chappell, the most common human phobia is being attacked by another human being and the media focuses its attention on such negative stories because it knows we will, too. The above article makes the point that now that we can access media coverage from all over the world, we can be impacted indirectly by negative experiences far more often than we would ever actually be impacted directly. Unfortunately, this just exaggerates our negative bias that much more and, according to this article, there seems to be a growing generational effect.

From my own study of childhood development, especially from reading The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller, Stages of Faith by James Fowler, and The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton, I came to an understanding of how young children especially tend to internalize the directives they receive from adults as if all of them were a matter of life or death. As Lipton points out, these messages get programmed into the deep subconscious through the various "hypnogogic" states that infants and young children are in up until the age of six or so. Again, in a more primitive environment, knowing what tracks to follow and what tracks to avoid, what plants were edible and what plants were poisonous, really were matters of life or death. Nevertheless, that is not the case in modern society when it comes to having the latest technology or wearing a particular brand of tennis shoes! I dare say there are children out there who do harbor deep rooted fears that their very lives actually depend on such things! (I've written more about this here.)

It is part of the challenge of our now much more complex society to find ways of mediating the effects of this constant bombardment of information - being able to recognize what is actually relevant to life or death or happiness, for that matter, and what is not. Although society has grown so much more complex, our brains, especially the lower limbic parts, are struggling to keep up. As Rick Hanson points out though, there are ways to combat the problem: We have to learn to very, very consciously and deliberately pay more attention to positive experiences! In addition, from Brené Brown's point of view, when we are inclined to "forebode joy" in any given moment, our best defense is to consciously choose to Be Grateful for each moment of joy that we do get to experience.

As Sam Harris writes in The End of Faith..., and I would offer, this applies to each of us as individuals as well as to our children:

You [or your child] could die at any moment. You might not even live to see the end of this paragraph. Not only that, you will definitely die at some moment in the future. If being prepared for death entails knowing when and where it will happen, the odds are you will not be prepared.... And as if this were not insult enough, most of us suffer the quiet discomposure, if not frank unhappiness, of our neuroses in the meantime. We love our family and friends, are terrified of losing them, and yet are not the least free merely to love them while our short lives coincide. (Page 37)

I would offer, as well, love is not the opposite of fear. Faith is the opposite of fear - that is the kind of faith that Sam Harris talks about, not faith in a system of unjustified beliefs, but rather faith in the Greater Processes of Life in this World that we are coming to understand. This kind of faith is what can help us transcend our fear and keep our hearts open to loving and appreciating every moment that we have with one another, every moment that we have with our children, and every moment we get to experience joy!

Each of us will eventually die. Some of our closest friends and relatives will die before us. Some will die after us. This is one thing that is certain for our physical bodies, in this lifetime. (What one chooses to believe beyond that is up to them.) However, I, for one, have come to believe This Is It! This is the one life each of us has to live and for parents, it is the one life they will shape for each of their children, for better or worse. Will those children live their lives cowering in fear or will we teach them, as Brené Brown suggests, to "Dare Greatly"?

Having lived both sides of that dichotomy, I would definitely recommend the latter!

To end I will quote from the movie "Strictly Ballroom":

A life lived in fear is only half lived!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Winter in El Paso, TX - 2014 to 2015

As I have been traveling across the country, it has generally been my habit to post a blog AFTER I leave one place and get to another. Part of the reason it's taken so long for this update is because, once I got to my second host's house in El Paso, TX - shortly after Thanksgiving, I stayed...for what has turned out to be - four months! Now that I have actually moved on (and I'll get to those details later in this post) I have a better overall perspective from which to account for my time in El Paso.

So here I am crossing the border into Texas just before Thanksgiving. As you may recall from a previous post, I had met a woman in Deming, NM who gave me contact information for her nephew, John, encouraging me to look him up when I got in the area. She told me he was "into cycling" and would probably be open to helping me as much as he could.

Of course, she turned out to be absolutely right about that! Although John was working when I got to his house, I was able to let myself in with the spare key he had hidden for me. I had a small room to myself, and plenty of space in his garage to park my bike and unload my gear. I thought it somewhat serendipitous that there was a "blue turtle" sitting on the desk in my room ("waiting" for me?) on this my 108th day on the road.

(For those of you more into "metaphysics," you know 108 is a significant number! :) )

In the next couple of days, John, graciously chauffered me around town, helping me (financially) with some sturdier tubes for my tires, and a blue enamel campware plate that I had been looking for to cover my bowl when I needed to boil water in it. He also took me to one of his favorite country western dance clubs, "Little Bit of Texas", where I got to do a little bit of "Two-Steppin'" with him and another friend of his. Although I'm not an experienced two-stepper like John, I still had a good time, and it was a nice change of pace and scenery after being on the road for so long!

So everything seemed to be going just fine for this visit...and then...rather suddenly...I got really sick. Whether it was from being overexposed the previous week or so camping outside (not getting much sleep with the kitten that found me at the rest stop), or because John and his (then) 11-year-old son Michael had also been quite sick just before I got there, or maybe it was from all of the pollution coming across the border from Jaurez, Mexico, or maybe a combination of all of those things - I came down with a really nasty upper respiratory infection - one of the worst I've had in a long, long time. Consequently, I was not in a good position to head back out again in just a couple of days. Instead, I was laid up, often in bed even, for the first week, and still struggling to recover through the second week as well.

Given this timing meant any more plans for crossing West Texas had to be scheduled (potentially) around the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Furthermore, I was looking at many long stretches through some of the most barren and uninhabited regions on this route, while the nighttime temps, especially, were getting colder and colder. Admittedly, John was at least as concerned as I was about my prospects, and so he did not put any pressure on me to be on my way.

In addition, there was the issue of money...which I had basically run out of by that point. Given that John was owner of an electrical contracting company, and he had some paperwork I felt I could help with, he took me up on my offer to organize his expense receipts from 2012 in anticipation of an IRS audit. Granted, this was not something I'd ever done before, on this scale, but I'd managed to work through other novel administrative situations and I figured I could do the same here. Furthermore, since I knew I was not going to be around to be asked questions about my work, I decided to create a spreadsheet where I would document everything - i.e. details of all of the expenses AND reference information for where the expense item came from - sales receipts, bank and credit statements, or a combination of these. The spreadsheet format also allowed for automatic totalling of all the different categories of expenses and it made it pretty easy to add to and make corrections for any items that needed to be moved between categories.

Of course, having no experience doing this, I had no idea how long the whole process would take. I certainly fantasized about it going smoothly, and fairly quickly, but that's how ignorance and bliss can walk hand in hand!...While John traveled to Dallas to visit with his mother and other family members during the Christmas Holidays, I was thinking I'd have most, if not all, of this work done, to his pleasant surprise, by the time he returned home.

With that in mind, Christmas morning, I turned on Pandora, selected a "Christmas Holiday" music channel and started listening, thinking that would be good background music while I was processing all of those receipts. Unfortunately, the Christmas music also kind of "put me in the spirit" and a new and much more compelling idea entered my head: I could take the Christmas wrapping paper John had pulled from the attic and left behind and decorate the house with it!!! Yeah! Afterall, there would be plenty of time to get to all those receipts later!!!! :)

And so, I was my not so unusual (maybe even a little ADD) sort of way! First on my list were "boughs of holly" and "evergreens" to form frameworks around the windows and fireplace mantle in the living room. Those were followed by 15 bright red paper bows, and about 35 paper cranes. I even included a bit of "mistletoe" hung in a welcoming position in the front hall, and topped it all off with a fancy, fan folded, wreath on the front door!

Granted, I think John was (somewhat pleasantly) surprised by the Christmas decorations, but later he let on that he was also a bit disappointed that I wasn't further along on the receipts when he got back. I'm afraid he had his own expectations around all of that, not unlike mine.

Nevertheless, over the next several weeks, I persevered - working a few hours a day on the days that John was not using the office and computer himself. It all turned out to be a lot more tedious and often more confusing than I initially expected it to be. In addition, John confessed to me that he'd been struggling with his company for some time, following his divorce and the economic downturn in 2008. I could see evidence of that struggle from my "research material". At the end of the day, my heart kind of went out to him, and so I wanted to give him my best effort to help in whatever way I could.

Consequently, in addition to this "administrative" work for his company, I also started helping more with Michael, following up on school-work, etc., as well as assisting more around the house with cooking and cleaning, especially when it came to cleaning before and after other cyclists who came to visit. There were 17 altogether before my own departure!

For instance, the first couple John and I "co-hosted" were from Switzerland - Mischa and Tina (seen with me here while we were site seeing around Transmountain).

They stayed with us for a couple of nights and then headed east, only to turn around and come back, because the weather got really nasty.

 To continue on their journey, they opted for a rental car instead, but not before celebrating New Year's with us and treating us to some really awesome homemade bread and chocolate brownie cake!

After Mischa and Tina we hosted the following other cyclists:

Ezra and Chris


Arika and Bill

Emily, Maddy, Lisa, and Sam





and Glenn and Maya

It was during Lisa, Emily, Sam and Maddy's visit, that Lisa ended up buying one of my newly made, custom designed, tapered headbands. She had just gotten her hair cut shorter than she was used to and was really needing a headband to hold her bangs out of her face. I was actually happy to be able to sell one of mine to her and that single purchase gave me the confidence to believe that other people might be interested in my creations as well. And so I started thinking much more seriously about how I could turn this into a business of some kind. By the time Maya arrived with Glenn, I had mulitple options for her to choose from, and she also decided to make a purchase.

With my background in production line sewing, research and development, I knew I would do well to figure out some way of using the "scrap" fabric left over from making the headband. Consequently, I did a little research on making cloth flowers and developed my own "flower bauble accents" for both the headband itself and to attach (and interchange) on flip-flop sandals - something I'd already been doing since before I left Santa Barbara.

Sewing the long 42-44" seams of the headband, by hand, took some time. And there is actually a lot of prep work that goes into the flowers as well, sewing Velcro "hook" tabs to pieces of felt, cutting out all of the circles that make up the flowers, and then soaking them in a gelatin solution to seal and stiffen the fabric before hot-gluing them to the Velcro backs. Just prior to leaving El Paso, I also used John's computer to produce all of my advertising materials that I'd hoped to use in a farmer's market or flea market once I got to my destination in Columbus, GA. I even found a really nice carrying case to hold some of my supplies and merchandise (and carry with me during my plane flight(!)).

However, I'm getting a little ahead of myself...

In late January, we got a little snow storm in El Paso and since John had this big open area of grass in his back yard, the remnants of a grass tennis court, I couldn't help but take advantage of the opportunity to build a couple of snow-people whom I tried to characterize as tennis players (of course)!

When Michael came home from school, he joined in the fun along with me.

By later the next day, the sun had already done some serious damage, but my "players" certainly hung in there for as long as they could.

(I imagined the player in the back of the court thinking: "Dude, just serve the ball already. I'm dying out here in this heat!")

The weather continued to be a mix of warm sun and cold wind and rain over the next several weeks. I continued to work on John's receipts and help around the house. I took advantage of the fairly well stocked kitchen and started making bread from scratch, along with oatmeal cookies of various kinds, and I even tried making some fudge for the first time (that I could remember).

...And I made a "Kool-Aid" birthday cake for Michael which we shared as we also shared our March 4th Birthday. (Without any food coloring in the house, I ended up using various flavors of Kool-Aid for coloring the icing which gave it a very sweet-tart taste.)

It was also during the month of March that John went through a process of restoring the grass in the back yard as he was getting ready to sell the house.

It went from this:

(Seeds sprouting under plastic sheeting to preserve moisture and heat) this

It also became a gathering place for all of the ring-necked doves in the area - probably because of all of the grass seed left over. I counted as many as 35 out there at one time. And then there was my first butterfly of the season:

A sure harbinger of transformations yet to come...! :)

Although it came a little late for me to actually use it for sewing headbands, I used some of my birthday money from my mom to have my sewing machine shipped from Santa Barbara. That gave me an opportunity to sit down with Michael and give him a chance to get a feel for sewing.

He seemed to enjoy the experience and we even sewed a new bag together to hold the marbles for his "Good Job Marble Jar" that I bought for him (and his parents) before I left. (The bag that came with the container actually turned out too be a little too small to hold all of the marbles.)

I had found out about these "Good Job Marble Jars" from Brené Brown as I was taking her "The Power of Vulnerability" course via She gave me a new appreciation for the process involved in developing trust in your relationships with others. This quote sums up the basic idea:

As I later explained to Michael, those "marbles" accumulate with other people in your life as you show genuine caring for them and, very importantly, Do What You Say You're Going to Do.

I guess one thing that I have learned during my cross-country trekking is that things don't always go the way you plan! Nevertheless, it is important to be very conscious of what you commit to and, especially where it involves other people, keeping them informed as your plans (or feelings) change.

At the same time, I've learned, it is difficult if not impossible to win the trust of people who are simply not open to trusting in the first place, or are so caught up in their own "stuff" and how they come across to others, that they're paying very little attention to all the "marbles" they might be receiving from others on a day to day basis. (Note the emphasis above on "work, attention, and full engagement". A person can't bring that attention and full engagement to others if they're too caught up in their own "stuff".)

As I have also learned from Brené Brown, it is not easy to live "Wholeheartedly". Sometimes it is hard to move beyond feeling desperate for "love and belonging," as if our very lives depended on it (as was actually the case when we were infants and young children), and feeling the very normal "irreducible human need for love and belonging" that each of us, as otherwise self-sustaining adults, can choose to meet with others who actually have the capacity and desire to meet those needs with us. Again, as she points out above, "trust" is not a "grand gesture" - it is not "all or nothing" - it is "a growing marble collection" and we fill those "marble jars" (or not), with ", attention, and full engagement".

(There was a lot more I learned from "The Power of Vulnerability" course as well as another course I started through Udemy, "Master Your Brain: Neuroscience for Personal Development" with George Caremans as the instructor. I will follow-up on all of that at another time...and probably via The Blue Moon Turtle Blog instead of this one.)

In addition to cycling visitors, my friend Eleanor, from Santa Barbara, also stayed a couple of times. She had temporarily relocated to Florida just before I left Santa Barbara, and then she found another place to stay in Boerne, TX. While making a road trip to pick up some of her own things in Santa Barbara, she also picked up more of my clothes and some of my books and brought them to me in El Paso. Of course, that meant I had that much more of my own stuff to pack up before flying to my next destination of Columbus, GA.

As I commented to John, packing is always a complicated process for me because I'm never packing for just one thing anymore! This time I was packing some boxes to ship as well as some boxes to take on the plane (one large box and my bicycle box), and I needed to know in advance how much they weighed to anticipate shipping costs and avoid overweight fees on the plane. I was also figuring out what I could carry in my backpack, and merchandise and supplies I might need in my new pink and grey carry-all. I had an extra large duffle bag that Eleanor brought with my clothes - not quite full - so I knew I'd have a little more space in it for some of my nicer clothes that she also brought, hanging in a long plastic bag. 

I flew on Southwest via Houston to Atlanta, and when my friend Michael recovered my duffle bag from the carousel, I noticed that it had gotten badly damaged en route (something that has never happened to me before while flying on Southwest). After carting everything up and down the baggage claim area for about half-an-hour, we finally found the customer service counter where they were quick to replace my original duffle with a much fancier (and heavier) one with wheels.

Although I could not find an exact image of my original bag (and I had to turn it over to the Southwest agents in order to get the replacement bag), it was an extra large, single compartment duffle that looked something like this: 

What was nice about it was that I could fold it down to a very portable size, which was handy for shipping, or even carrying it on my bicycle. And the bag itself did not weigh that much so I could pack more stuff in it and not so easily exceed the 50lb baggage limit.

This is what I ended up with in the exchange with Southwest(!):

Now I have multiple compartments...

....And wheels, etc., etc. I could imagine designing a whole new trailer around this bag so I could pull it with my bicycle!

I know, I know...under normal circumstances, I should be Thrilled by this new bag, and how much "better" it is than my old one. I'm sure it cost a heck of a lot more! Neverthelss, I suspect I'll still be looking to replace that old one, for the same reason's I bought it in the first place! And besides the outside pocket getting ripped, I had a Swiss Army pocket knife in it that was small enough to carry on a key ring and had some sentimental value as well. I knew I would need it to open the bike box so I had put it in there to be handy. Unfortunately, it wasn't anywhere to be found when I got my bag back. Again...lesson learned!

Nevertheless, I'm now in Columbus, GA to "house sit" for my friend Michael. We met while we were both stationed with the military in Bethesda, Maryland and we've accumulated quite a few "marbles" over the last 10 years or so. (Kind of hard to believe it's been that long!)

My (tentative) plans are to relocate the remainder of my belongings from Florida and, hopefully, by the end of June, complete that Truly Final sort through - especially of my "historical documents" and "reference material" from the early years of my life. I'm also planning to visit my mother in Dalton, GA with whom I have not had face-to-face contact in many, many years. (See My TEDx Talk for more on that story.) I've already checked-in with the local bicycle advocacy group, Bike Columbus, and will be looking forward to meeting with them and sharing from all of my previous experiences with the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition. (To be honest, I feel like a "bee" that is "flying from flower to flower" and serving to "cross-pollinate" between these two communities and who knows how many more as my journey continues?!)

I'm glad to be able to take another "break" from the road - this time with a good friend. It has certainly been an adventure thus far and I look forward to whatever Life has in store for me as time goes on!

I am once again grateful and humbled by all the people who continue to read this blog and show their support as contributors and hosts. It's been quite the ride...and, I's still not over just yet!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

First Update for 2015 - Part II

The ride to Deming from the rest stop was backed by a very strong wind from the west which I really only felt when I stopped for my usual breaks along the road. The shoulder was in pretty good condition as well, so there were times when I was up to 15 mph (judging by my watch and the mile markers), which is probably about top speed for me on level ground.

As I came into town, I decided to stop for a short break at the picnic tables outside the Sonic. There was a silver vehicle parked on the other side of the railing and two women finishing up their meals inside. Eventually, they got out to walk the dog they had with them and that is when they observed me there and struck up conversation with me. When one of the women, Sue, found out I was heading to El Paso, she explained that I had to meet her nephew there, and gave me his name, address, and phone number. (Little did I know at the time, that this information would prove particularly meaningful later on down the road!) The women left me with encouraging words and a small donation as well for which I was, as always, very grateful.

Prior to my departure from Duncan, AZ I had made contact with the owner of the "Push-N-Pedal" in Deming, hoping he might have an idea of where I might stay for the night. As he explained, there would be a dinner where I would join with other homeless people from the community and then whoever needed a place to stay would be assigned to available apartments in the Agape Village, one person per apartment.

I made my way over to the location to kind of check things out, but since it was only 4:45 or so I still had a while to wait. As I continued kind of "wandering" through the nearby neighborhood I spotted a laundry mat and since I was definitely in need of some big washers and dryers to clean all of my linens from the misadventures with the kitten the night before, I felt lucky to find it so close. The only potential problem was the fact that it would be closing around 5:30.

I unloaded my gear and got everything into the washers as quickly as possible and then sat down to wait while knitting my second pair of "sleeping socks". There were only a couple of other people in the laundry mat besides the woman managing it. However, before the time was up on the washers and dryers, we had all started talking. The manager offered me a long-sleeve "DanceSkin" like shirt, she thought I might need as another layer in the cold weather. The woman who was doing laundry, Kim, was quite friendly and when I told her about my plan for accommodations for the night she was a bit concerned. She had some contacts at the Fire Department, and since finishing up my laundry had taken me past the 6:00 meeting time at Agape Village I was open to letting her lead me to fire station to see if they might have a place for me to stay instead.

As some calls needed to be made to see if that were going to be possible, we left my bicycle locked outside and, per her request, I accompanied Kim to a rather remote location some ways out of town to drop off the laundry she'd actually been doing for a man that she knew. We stopped at his house for a few minutes and I talked to him about my trip and about the WarmShowers community that supported touring cyclists like myself, before we headed back to the Fire Station.

When we got back, Kim dropped me off and I spent the next hour or so with Captain Acosta. Unfortunately, due to liability concerns, I would not be able to stay at the firehouse. However, Captain Acosta made some calls to other local organizations he knew of that might be in a position to host me. Although none of those options panned out, he was very generous with some food donations, offering me multiple cans of tuna and salmon, before I went back into to town, deciding that a motel room was probably going to be my "last resort" for the night.

I checked in to the "Butterfield Stage Motel", one of the cheapest I could find, and began settling into my room. Unfortunately, it was not long before I spotted small red and black insects, about the size of a tick, crawling on the bed and walls. Although I had never seen them before, I suspected that these were the dreaded "Bed Bugs" and I knew this could be a real problem. However, it was getting late and I figured even if I complained about it and they offered to move me to another room, it might be just as likely to have them as this one. Instead, I opted for covering both beds with the two nylon tarps I had with me, sleeping on one in my own sleeping bag and putting my gear on the other since, again, I had a flat tire to repair which meant removing everything from the bicycle!

Needless to say, I slept somewhat wrestlessly on this night as well, on top of the even more wrestless night I spent at the rest stop with the kitten. In the morning, I repaired my tire, and was very, very thorough in inspecting all of my gear as I loaded it back on the bike. Before leaving, I stopped at the front desk with a small plastic bag holding the tissues on which I had multiple squashed bed bugs. I was not angry or anything, but I just wanted to calmly and peacefully make the manager aware of the situation. After ringing the bell, I was expecting to see the older gentleman who had checked me in the night before. Instead a younger, dark-haired man appeared and led me to an older woman in the "house" part of the office/building. This man turned out to be her physical therapist. When I showed her the bugs and explained my experience she expressed some concern, she was sorry it had happened, and she said she would make sure the room was treated; however, she did not then voluntarily offer to refund any of the cost of the room (which, honestly, I felt would have been appropriate under the circumstances). Nevertheless, I accepted the situation for what it was and proceeded to chat amiably with the therapist who followed me out the door, curious to know more about my journey.

As we said our good-bye's I noticed the weather had become quite overcast and chilly, a seeming reflection of my mood after my rough night at the motel. I headed on down the road, recognizing some parts of the town where I had already ridden the day and evening before. Less than a mile from the motel a car pulled past me on the left and then crossed in front of me, stopping on the side of the road. I saw a hand thrust out the window with a bill waving enthusiastically. I recognized this "invitation" and pulled up alongside the car where a woman inside explained that she saw my sign and really appreciated what I was doing, backing up her appreciation with a $20.00 donation. I thanked her graciously and continued on my way thinking, "Now the room only cost me $15.00 so I guess that wasn't such a bad deal after all!" Even if the older woman was reluctant to be so generous, someone in the town of Deming made up for that, and it really helped to balance things out for me overall!

With a fresh psychological/biochemical boost from receiving another donation (I've learned that the amount really doesn't matter, it's the act of kindness and generosity that "strikes home"), I was once again ready to tackle the road ahead which would lead me to the town of Las Cruces, NM. I had two WarmShowers hosts to meet this time, John and Donetta and later Jeff and Liz.

I must have been traveling during Sand Hill Crane migration season. Passing another significant water hole, I could see birds flying in from multiple directions. It was one of those moments when I wish I had a better camera, with a zoom lens, so it would be clearer that the opposite side of the "lake" in this picture was covered with birds! I guess it was one of those occasions where it was all about being there and no better way to do that, in my opinion, than on a bicycle!

Given my route for the day was a little over 60 miles, a longer trip than usual for me, I was relieved as I always am when I came to that point where the road started to dip down into the valley wherein lay the town of Las Cruces, NM. This scene has actually played itself out in various ways multiple times on this journey, and it is always encouraging.

One significant landmark I had to cross as I came into town was the Rio Grande. Admittedly, that turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, since all that was showing for this season was a wide expanse of packed dirt. (In other words, it wasn't so "grande"!)

As you can see by the above photos, it was starting to get dark and I still had a few miles to reach my first host. Nevertheless, I persevered through evening traffic and managed to reach John and Donetta's without incident. There I also met Ben, a cyclist coming from the east along the Southern Tier, and John took us both out to dinner at one of the local sandwich shops.

Ben was one of the first riders I'd encountered who was carrying about as much gear, including food, as I have been. Saturday morning, after changing yet another flat and struggling a little with disassembling and cleaning my derailleur and putting it back together again, Ben and I rode to the Farmer's Market, sharing our experiences of being on the road along the way. Unfortunately, Ben ended up leaving his wallet at John's house so we had to back track to get it before he was really able to get underway for the day.

I had already been planning to stay a little longer with John and Donetta, in part to rest up from my last two days of riding and relatively sleepless nights, and also to time my visit with Jeff as well. In addition, I had at least a couple of cans of tuna that were burning a hole in my bags, thanks to Captain Acosta in Deming. Even though Donetta was initially concerned that John might not like it, I took a ride into town to buy the remaining ingredients I would need to make tuna casserole.

My first stop was at the bicycle shop to get a couple of much needed tire liners. (How many flats have I mentioned over the past couple of posts?!) Then it was off to the "Lowe's" grocery store in the same strip-mall shopping center. Since I could not find mushroom soup, or any other cream soup that did not have monosodium glutamate in it, I decided I could just make my own. Not knowing for sure what Donetta had in her cupboards, I bought a small bag of flour, a small bottle of oil, mushrooms, onions, and celery. I also bought tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce for a salad to go with the casserole.

Still on the look-out for certain toiletries that I needed to re-stock, I went back to the bicycle shop owner to ask where to find the nearest drug store. He directed me some ways down the road to a Walgreens. I went in, did not find what I wanted, but bought some sample bottles of lotion to substitute for my favored "Nature's Gate Fragrance Free" version. It was as I was exiting the drug store that I then spotted something that looked more like a Health Food Store across the street. Much to my excitement, it turned out to be a co-op and I was actually able to restock on multiple items, including my favorite lotion and shampoo, as well as mung beans, and crackers. In addition, I found some cream of mushroom soup that did NOT have MSG in it! The only problem I had all of those other ingredients that I really did not need!

So I began to back-track. First to the Walgreens to return the lotion samples. And then back to the Lowe's grocery store. Of note is the fact that I was doing all of this running around and shopping on the Saturday Before Thanksgiving, so the store was really, really busy! It seemed they were also having a particularly good sale on turkeys as almost everyone had one in their cart!

Nevertheless, I braved the lines and odd stares as I stepped up to the customer service counter to return my flour and oil and mushrooms, feeling somewhat obligated to explain that I was traveling by bicycle and was unfamiliar with the stores in the neighborhood, so I had purchased all of those things not realizing I could get what I wanted at the Co-op.

With my single pannier now filled to the top, I headed back up the hill to John and Donetta's. It was already getting somewhat later in the afternoon by then so I proceeded to prepare the tuna casserole upon my return. It was while I was in the midst of my preparations that a discussion arose between John and Donetta which soon confirmed that there had been a significant miscommunication between them many years back. Much to Donetta's surprise, John would actually be fine eating "cooked tuna", so that meant he would, in fact, be joining us for dinner!

And, as it turned out, there was yet another rider arriving that evening, a "tall dark and handsome" one who happened to have a very pleasant English-Scottish accent, hailing from Northern England. He arrived just in time to take a shower before joining us at the dinner table where we all did some damage to the rather large casserole I'd prepared!

After dinner and lively conversation, John and Donetta went to bed, Simon and I stayed up to wash dishes, and continued coversing until quite late - looking at maps, sharing life experiences, and comparing gear kits! There was quite a contrast, which explains why I feel comfortable designating him as the "hare" to my "tortoise" when it comes to riding styles!

The next morning I shared one of my green smoothies with Simon as well as a few snacks for the road (seeing how little he was carrying!). Knowing my mission of "Pedaling for Peace", in return, he offered me a $20.00 donation, for which I was very grateful.

As I only had a seven mile ride for the day, I was able to take my time getting packed. I said my farewell's to John and Donetta, and then began the mostly uphill trek to my second Las Cruces host, living somewhat closer to the foothills of the Organ Mountains. It was a really beautiful day for a ride!

Jeff had been quite enthusiastic about my visit, and even came down to join me on the road for the last mile or so. There was a bit of a stretch of gravel getting to his house, but once there, settling in was easy.

I had been soaking some lentils on my way, thinking I might have time during my stay to make sprouts and another batch of egg-fried rice to share with Jeff and his wife Liz. It was decided that the warmest place to put them would be in the oven. Later that evening, as Liz was preparing dinner for us, including a berry pie, I heard her exclaiming, loudly, (cursing actually). When I went into the kitchen to find out the problem, it turned out that she had forgotten about the sprouts when she was heating up the oven for the pie. Although the beans were still usable in the stir fry, the plastic mesh/strainer lid did not survive.

I know Liz felt really bad about it, but I found the whole situation to be quite amusing. In the end, we all had a good laugh and, as I said, the stir-fry I later made with the "baked lentils" turned out just fine!

Although Liz had to work most of the time I was there, I did get to spend quite a bit of time talking with Jeff, and that was a very enjoyable experience. We kind of "clicked" on some of my favorite topics, psychology and society, politics, etc. I even shared my "Understanding the Constitution" paper with him from my Introduction to Constitutional Law class (actually the last paper I wrote to complete my BS degree in Social Science).

In addition to the great conversation, I was able to enjoy the hot tub with the view of the Organ Mountains in the background.

Overall, it was another wonderful experience, with another kind and generous "Warm Showers" host. Before saying our final "good-byes", John gave me a donation (in part to cover the replacement of the plastic sprout-jar screen) and once again accompanied me on a gravel "short-cut" to the main road, even helping to push my bike for me, which gave him a greater appreciation for the real challenge involved with that!

It was a beautiful day for a ride as I headed for my first of two hosts planned in El Paso, TX. This would be my third visit to the Lone Star State, having bicycled here from Jacksonville, FL in 2012. I then spent most of the summer of 2013 riding from my aunt and uncle's house in Weatherford, TX (just west of the Dallas/Fort Worth area) back down to Luling, TX where I (officially) ended that first stage the year before.

Now, I was back again, coming all the way from Santa Barbara and still facing that intimidating expanse of West Texas. A new WarmShowers host, Rayce was gracious enough to let me stay with him and his family for the Thanksgiving holiday. He proved to be a most capable cook, preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. (I showed my appreciation by washing all the dishes afterwards!) Apart from the Thanksgiving feast, I had a quiet room to myself, and good internet access, so I put most of my free time into planning the route ahead, not knowing that my next stop, with the nephew of the woman I had met in Deming, would actually be one of the longer ones of my journey thus far!