Tag Archives: bicycle touring

Version 0.03

Today has been an interesting day. By interesting I mean completely and utterly SHITTY. Yesterday was quite nice though. I covered approximately fifty miles over about four and a half hours of cycling. That includes stopping for photographs and having lunch at a Subway, so I made pretty great time. That night I camped in Osceola National Forest near to Ocean Pond, a body of water which is as it sounds—a very, very large pond (basically a lake)—and one which I wanted to visit this morning but didn’t due to waking up to precipitation in the form of water falling from the sky. In truth I didn’t really wake up to much rain but I befriended a fellow, Connor, who was traveling by motorcycle (I thought him much smarter than I), and we struck up conversation which of course slowed my packing considerably. Enough so that by the time I DID manage to cram my belongings into the various bags that they only kind of sort of fit in, including the backpack that was not brought along with this intention, the rain, or the day’s SHITTINESS did truly begin.

It was with a sigh of exasperation and arms in the air with resignation and of course-ness that I wandered off along a hard-packed sandy road to Route 90, which, despite it being designated a “route” or highway, is actually relatively quiet and came complete with a cycling lane.

For twenty or so miles I pedaled. The rain let up some, then came down harder, then let up again, then, as though a zipper was undone along the bottom of some bulging cloud above me, rain came down by the bucketsful (as they say). My back ached from the backpack, my thighs chafed from my soaked bibs, and as I slowed down upon arriving at Lake City (checking for coffee and food resources of any kind from my phone) I began to shiver. Not the best set of circumstances to find oneself in.

As there were no small, specialty or family-owned types of cafes in town, I made my way to a Panera on the far western edge of town, chosen for its wi-fi and the heartier food options than the nearby Starbucks. Well? What else is one to do in this situation?

Anyway. I dined on warm carbohydrates, and was bought a coffee by a woman who cycles, runs and generally speaking stays active. We chatted for a bit and it was apparent that she was genuinely enthused about my trip. It was here, after stripping out of my sopping jacket and jersey for a dry top and my insulated jacket, that I decided to seek refuge for the night at the Driftwood Motel, an appropriately named place for the state I was in. So here I am, in Tallahassee, typing this up as though I was still in that motel with the time to write while my tent and other belongings were strewn about the motel room undampening in a pretended state of organization while I prepared my meh dinner of rice, red lentils, zucchini, garlic, and a few snagged basil leaves from a cart of plants lined up against a fence at Walmart.

Hopefully my things dry out completely overnight, though I’m not counting on that, and any rain tomorrow is spottier and weaker. Twenty miles is a pathetic distance for a day, and I’m rather done with this getting soaked business. I should probably just walk back to the Walmart and buy a poncho (assuming they have any)….

New Mexico

61

I want to write something about the house I’ve been staying in, or at—my first few nights were spent in my tent—but I don’t know where to begin….

It is a largish property, at least in comparison to the house which is a squat, adobe, two room affair, usually dim inside, with wooden rafters supporting a ceiling slanting up at five or ten degrees from the south wall where there is a series of small rectangular windows, to the north wall where there are none but within which a set of double doors is installed.

Much of the property is bounded by cottonwoods and other native deciduous trees. Most of the lawn is sandy, dry and hard-packed, covered in a patchwork of different, unmown grasses, like an old tattered sweater with many holes in it. There is an apple orchard on one corner of the property which has been neglected so much so that the apple trees planted there are hardly leafing and will need a fair bit of care if they are ever to produce fruit in their lifetime. On the more wild, southern portion of the property which borders her neighbor’s yard where a few horses wander, the grasses and weeds grow more thickly, taller, and greater in number. Amongst all of this are large, sandy cones of course granules, like grains of salt that have agglomerated together with the help of a bit of water, about twelve inches high and in the shape of perhaps a cubist breast or a bra worn by Madonna in the 80’s, and fire ants scurrying in and out and all around them.

Near the clothesline where I camped for a couple nights is a mound of firewood that had been clearly dumped and forgotten. On the porch by the entrance to the house is a neat row stacked waist high. A rain catchment basin is situated at a lower corner of the house, gutters directed into it. From the stack of firewood where I’m standing writing all this I can see scattered about all over the yard are piles of dried cut twigs and plant detritus, an empty plastic bucket, gallon water jugs (also empty), dog bowls and flowerpots, an old Radio Flyer full of sticks and torn up weeds, two plastic trash bags filled (with weeds, presumably) and knotted off… Mainly it gives the appearance that a rather confused and disorganized person was in the middle of yard work before being summoned off somewhere with no time to organize or clean up.

The air is cool and almost always filled with the song of crickets, doves, magpies, the occasional chatter and drumming of a woodpecker, and the buzz of a fly or two. I’ve just spotted a Western Tanager (a first!) and some sort of flycatcher. A truck rumbles down the dirt drive, and a neighbor’s cat, two in fact, are on the prowl along the treeline bordering the lawn, one seated on a downed log peering at me with that disinterested, disregarding look that cats are so expert at, while I stand here writing this. The air is clear. It is always clear. Rain was forecast for today, but never materialized.

60

Things have gotten simultaneously simpler and trickier since hurting my knee. I’m going back to Taos this evening for the weekend. Staying with Jeanne. Haven’t yet determined whether I’ll rent a car in Taos or Santa Fe—I can take a bus from one to the other if necessary. The only reason, at this point, for renting in Santa Fe is that I may need to order some things and have them shipped there. I can really only be in Taos until Tuesday, AND I want to get on the road. Hopefully this car rental thing goes smoothly.

The reason I’m ordering things is because I’m selling things. Shrinking and lightening up my kit. Hopefully it all goes, especially the trailer which I’ve been tired of for seemingly ages. The lighter my kit may be the sooner I can be back on my bike again.

59

I’ve been lucky to have stayed with great people during my journey. I suppose to say “I’ve been lucky” is false, for most everyone who belongs to the WarmShowers network is an understanding, sympathetic, and generous host, often going beyond what any rational person’s expectations of kindness and hospitality might be. One might think that after experiencing such fantastic hospitality at host’s place after host’s place that I would have adjusted my expectations accordingly, but I never do; it always yields such sweet surprises to expect so little and receive so much. I would imagine too it would be more difficult to play the gracious, thankful guest if I just assumed so much to be normal behavior.

I’m currently writing this at Ten Thousand Waves, and I am sitting here outside, in a lounge chair by the communal bath: a hot water pool with a cold one next to it separated by a low wall which one might hop or slide over from one to the other. After sitting in the hot water bath for ten minutes, maybe longer, getting nice and cooked (and very relaxed), taking a dip in the cold water bath is marvelously refreshing. It’s a frightful shock as well, and wonderfully stimulating, especially if one sits for about an equal amount of time as one had sat in the hot water pool. Most people don’t do this however, and spend little more than fifteen or twenty seconds partly submerged in the chill of the cold water. These persons’ experience of the baths is resultantly hollow and lacking by comparison. Unfortunate for them, I guess. But this strikes me as so typical of the 20th/21st century (and other centuries too, but I wasn’t quite alive then so can’t comment, or I could, but then this would turn into some sort of long essay about the aristocracy of centuries past, and how as we’ve moved into the twentieth that aristocracy developed into the rich, upper class which the ever growing middle class wished (and wishes still!) to emulate, and then there’s the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” thing, and yadda yadda yadda), developed nation attitude. So many of these people want all the comfort, warmth, and luxury available to them, but don’t want the slightest bit of discomfort to get in the way of that. They want to be coddled, and wrapped in silk undies and lingerie, and sleep on their thousand thread-count sheets with their 900-fill down duvet. Life to them, I should think, is accordingly felt less acutely. It is a thin attenuation, and no matter the width of their televisions, the suppleness of their automobile’s suspension, or the loft of their pillows they lie their heads on, nothing can broaden that stripe. The easier one’s life becomes the more one expects it to be so, and the harder it is to willingly insert hardship or difficulty into it.

Anyway, the spa is located up in the mountains, a few hundred feet higher in elevation than Santa Fe proper. Lounging in the pool one’s view is an assemblage of Piñon Pines, Cottonwoods, Maples and Oaks which grow just beyond the boundaries of the property. Up above, nothing but a big, mottled, blue and white sky, the white bits mutating, always in flux, changing shape, drifting by lazily like manta rays in the sea, or aspen pollen in the mountains. The experience is one of complete luxury. I’ve never experienced it before and I suspect it will be some time before I do so again.

58

Lying on the couch yawning madly. Matt is coding in the other room, his bedroom, which is hardly another room because the doorway has no door and I can see him sitting there in his chair working away in front of his monitor. Meanwhile, I’m here, lying on this couch yawning madly. The front door several feet away is open, and I am listening to the crickets chirping madly. It is cool out. I wonder if there is a degree of cold at which crickets stop chirping but don’t die and just grow silent. Like the energy required for that activity is too much to be continued below a certain temperature, or the act of maintaining homeostasis becomes more difficult as the temperature decreases, and so only the most necessary, vital activities are continued. It seems too cool tonight to me to be hearing crickets chirping so.

Santa Fe seems to me a bit of a tourist trap of a city, and an expensive one at that, though that is nothing out of the ordinary. I wonder how the crickets find it to live here. I suppose I could find work , but I haven’t found any decent coffee yet*. Too bad I don’t have the money to open a business.

Tomorrow I plan on spending much of the afternoon at Ten Thousand Waves: a spa where one might get all sorts of skin treatments,  face masks, massages and the like. I’m just going for their outdoor, communal bath. Matt has a free voucher he’s offered to me, so I won’t have to spend a dime (thanks again!). The establishment I’m told is inspired by Japanese mountain hot spring resorts, so I’m quite excited as I have had for a long time a fascination of all things Japanese. There is also a restaurant attached, in the style of a more upscale izakaya, which obtains most of its meat and produce from local purveyors. I will probably eat there too.

I have lots of coordinating, thinking, and planning to do as well during the rest of my stay here since I have a bum knee and won’t be cycling for a good long while.

*I found some excellent coffee a week later at Collected Works books—Iconik Coffee Roasters. It’s on par with the best stuff I’ve had on this trip, which has been little and far between, unsurprisingly.

57

05/20

Tomorrow will be two months on the road. That’s something.

No, it isn’t anything.

It’s something.
But it’s not everything.
Glory, glory, glory! Fucking New Mexico! Glory, glory, glory!

The light. The clarity. Brilliant. Unimaginable. Unfathomable, until one arrives. The whole world in crystalline sharpness. Like being dropped into a single pearl of dew that may or may not be clinging to a blade of grass or a spider’s web—it could be freely drifting through the air for all I can imagine—and peering out through your suddenly liquid, spherical window-wall and everything exterior of it glimmering and percolating brilliantly, like all the constituent parts of the world have been stored inside a champagne bottle and then shaken up, and the cork popped and existence exploded everywhere eventually forming the state of New Mexico, or at least this particular part of it. Spaces long and wide and vast, undulating, slanting. Low-growing sagey plants, prickly, and loofah-like; pine trees stuck in the ground like toothpicks. Dandelions are so much smaller than these, like me, but tower over the ants that crawl among their green stems and fronds and yellow caps, like I crawl across this landscape, over these mountains and plateaus, through the forests of tall trees, and down through valleys narrow and wide, alone.

What is it like to be an ant, I wonder. To be nothing on its own, but only defined by the colony which it is a part. I wonder what it is like to be a colony of ants, defined by its individual members all together, working harmoniously as one single organism in the same way as a human body is a single organism made of its individual blood cells, bone cells, muscle cells, nerves, hormones, gut bacteria and on and on….
Sometimes one stumbles across the right person at the right time.
But back to New Mexico whose mountains run along in unbroken chains like clasped hands. And there are creeks and rivers too, that race towards whatever it is they race towards, the sound of their waters splashing among the rocks like laughter, like the arc of a cliff swallow, like kids playing marbles on a city sidewalk in front of some row homes in, say, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, or Detroit. They wind down slope and across field, a ribbon of shimmering sunlight wrapped around a gift that one can not seem to break into, whose wrapping paper can not be torn, nor seams untaped. The signs, as invisible as they may be, read plainly, “LOOK BUT DO NOT TOUCH.”

56

Left the San Jon Motel minutes ago. Stopped at a traveler’s rest stop by the interstate for a coffee because I didn’t feel like going through the hassle, however slight, of making a cup in my room. Managed to spill it all over the counter. Cleaned the mess up with a nearby rag, but the whole incident is symbolic of my mental state.

That damnable, oppressive sky…

I’m obviously not as strong as I thought I was, or rather, I never gave it much thought. The point of the trip isn’t to prove—to who?, or myself—how strong I am mentally, emotionally, whatever. However, if trips such as this test one’s boundaries, well, consider mine tested. I’m ready to be home (but where exactly is that?). Or to make a home somewhere, at least for a little while, until I’m ready to test boundaries again.

Ha!…
Well, fuck.

The motel was decent enough. Clean, at least. And economical. No wi-fi, but that’s not a bad thing, and is more than likely a good thing. Small, white(ish), square room, barely large enough to squeeze the cheap furniture into and still leave room to walk around it all. Firm, queen-size bed, and an orange, tan, and brown shag carpet (the peak of luxury). A CRT television on a stand against the wall opposite the bed. Up and to the right of that, and hanging from a shelf of metal tubes, plastic coat hangers in the colors of America!. The shower mostly dribbled out water, like an infirm, elderly man in hospice drooling from the mouth, but at least it was hot.

The proprietor was a pleasant enough old man—originally from England, has been living in the States, California specifically, since 1978, but moved to San Jon, God only knows why, in 2008. He’s been running the motel since, alone but for his mouthy chihuahua. Maybe his wife, if he had one, died, and he felt like he could no longer stay there? Or it just became too expensive? Or both? Anyway, the lobby, if one should call it that, with its dirty, white walls and worn carpet, frayed along the edges, smelled of sour tuna fish. In the back room, which is hidden only slightly by a length of curtain, and from where the man materialized when I rang, a television is perpetually on. He lives, not a spartan existence, but a simple, spare, messy existence. A seemingly lonely, despondent existence. He is wallowing in a pig sty back there, and I’m left wondering how reflective that is of his state of mind. The motel clearly gets little business; another fifteen or twenty minutes west (by car) is Tucumcari, a town with a greater wealth of more up-to-date places to stay. Much easier to continue driving, unless of course you’re heading east, and maybe that’s how he gets all his customers (though, in that case, why not stop twenty minutes sooner?). Too, he most certainly gets only the most budget-conscious types passing through who are happy to get by for a night with very little. It is peculiar.

San Jon itself appears to have nothing to offer to anyone aside from this rest stop, an Indian restaurant, and the motel. One has to live and work here to get anything of significance or value from the town, and even that I question. But there is no denying the landscape is surely magnificent, or would be on a less dreary day. I’m not getting the best of New Mexico right now, and that’s reflected in how I feel.

Texas

55

Today is one of those lonely, melancholy days when I don’t feel like pedaling my bike, going anywhere, doing anything. The dour, overcast, cold weather doesn’t encourage joviality, and its endless stretch of soggy, grey clouds along one continuous horizon that encircles me like a purse seine has me fenced in, physically and emotionally. What might it take to encourage my lips to stretch themselves into even a mere semblance of a smile?

Here I sit, in a friendly gas station convenience store just off the interstate in Adrian, TX. I’ve unsuspectingly wandered into Mountain Time, or, no, I haven’t actually*. I am apparently simply incapable of reading the clock on my phone. Or I am confused by the passage of time.

The few people I have talked to here are all that is keeping my spirits up, if I should define them in such a way, and I’m not sure that I should. But I am no longer dangling from the nadir of despondency. That I can say. The chili and hot chocolate have provided comfort and encouragement as well. That warmth! Not just of the meal, but of the cheerfulness of the two ladies behind the counter, too. Talking to them has been like warming myself in front of a stranger’s—now a friend’s—hearth; fire once stoked, embers now softly glowing, the cast-iron stove having absorbed their heat now emanating it throughout the room like the passing of a baton in a relay.

I’m tempted to linger longer as I’m reluctant to go back out into the chill, but it’s five o’clock, and I really must get back on the road.

The baton is in my hand.


*I crossed the border into New Mexico an hour and a half later, where I did actually cross into Mountain Time