BICYCLING COAST TO COAST ACROSS AMERICA 2010
By Frosty Wooldridge
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe said, “Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting.”
“Bicycle adventure: if the roar of a wave crashes beyond your campsite, you might call that adventure. When coyotes howl outside your tent--that may be adventure. When the wind rips at your tent pegs—that too, may be called adventure. While you’re sweating like a horse in a climb over a 12,000 foot pass, that’s adventure. When a howling headwind presses your lips against your teeth, you’re facing a mighty adventure. If you’re drenched from head to toe in sweat as you pedal across a desert, that’s adventure. If you’re pressing through a howling rainstorm, you’re soaked in adventure. But that’s not what makes an adventure. It’s your willingness to struggle through it, to present yourself at the doorstep of Nature. That creates the experience. No more greater joy can come from life than to live inside the “moment” of an adventure. It may be a momentary ‘high’, a stranger that changes your life, an animal that delights you or frightens you, a struggle where you triumphed, or even failed, yet you braved the challenge. Those moments present you uncommon experiences that give your life eternal expectation. That’s adventure!” FW
On June 3, 2010 at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, Bob Johannes, Denis Lemay, Scott Poindexter and Frosty Wooldridge lined their bicycles up at the viewing area on the north side of the legendary span. Ahead of them, Pacific to Atlantic, 3,300 miles, 50 miles a day in mountains, 80 to 110 miles per day on flats. Temperatures in the 80s and in the south heat indexes 110 degrees for 20 days. They anticipated being drenched in sweat from eight in the morning to six at night while pedaling through the heat and 95 percent humidity. They carried shower bags for their own hygiene and comfort after a long day’s pedaling. Adventure is not always comfortable but it is still adventure. San Francisco, CA to Savannah Beach, GA.
“By now, a million pedal strokes have etched the muscles in my legs with a single purpose: to power the crank and move the bicycle forward. Movement is the lifeblood of bicycling. Food flows into my body, bringing it power and energy. It is no longer a question of struggle. Now the journey evolves into a spiritual realm—where the pedaling becomes incidental. Nothing I do on the bike encumbers my mind. It’s a free-flow energy that comes through my body and expresses itself in the flight of the pedals.” Frosty Wooldridge, on the road.
“Let’s stop gabbing and get this show on the road,” said Scott, clicking his brake pedals. “We’ve only got a whole continent ahead of us.”
“Ready to ride,” said Frosty
“Keep it vertical,” said Bob.
“Let’s go climb Lombard Street, the curviest road in the world,” Denis said. “And, and ride down it.”
“Yippee ki yo ki yea,” said Frosty
Starting at the Golden Gate Bridge, we crossed in front of Alcatraz, then on to the curviest road in the world, Lombard Street, but we had to climb 27 percent grades to reach the top. Later Pier 39, Chocolate Factory, artists and jugglers, street cars, Tony Bennett singing, “I left my heart in San Francisco….”
San Francisco proved crazy and loaded with gridlocked traffic and extreme people: one car driver on purpose ran down four cyclists the day we started our ride in the streets of San Francisco. I think one of the four he ran down died. All suffered severe injuries.
Californian John Muir the great original ecologist said, “Tell me what you will of the benefactions of city civilization, of the sweet security of streets—all as part of the natural up-growth of man towards the high destiny we hear so much about. I know that our bodies were made to thrive only in pure air, and the scenes in which pure air is found. If death exhalations that brood the broad towns in which we so fondly compact ourselves were made visible, we should flee as from a plague. All are more or less sick; there is not a perfectly sane man in all of San Francisco.”
In my journal, “How do you describe the feeling of being on the front end of a grand adventure? I just thrilled to sheer joy of it, the fun of being with my friends, the expectation of amazing experiences. Today, fog covered the Golden Gate Bridge, but we gazed across the bay to see Alcatraz prison, the skyline of San Francisco, people walking across the bridge and people taking pictures. After a few minutes, we mounted our bikes and the pedaled into the mist flowing in from the Pacific Ocean. Our first stop: Lombard Street, the curviest road in the world. It’s been the front for many a movie car chase from Steve McQueen to Clint Eastwood. But first, we hammered up a 27 percent grade that felt like climbing a vertical wall. Denis and Scott powered up the insane incline, but Bob and I suffered immediate exhaustion half way up the street. After pushing the final section, we reached the top. A line of people awaited their turn to ride down the cobbled Lombard Street lined with flowers and beautiful homes. In front of us, a fabulous view of the bay and shoreline. Vintage San Francisco! On the way down, we stopped and talked to many people. Later, we pedaled over to Pier 59 for a walk through food shops, outdoor markets and a sea of humanity on vacation. We met Bob’s daughter Rexanna and her husband Lance. It all mixed together when we pedaled up to one of Bob’s friends on yet another high street. Agnise shared her home with showers, food and conversation. What a great way to start our grand adventure. Tomorrow, we shall ride along the Pacific Ocean. P.S. Glad we didn’t get run down by an irate motorist!”
One thing about bicycle travel: we become ‘part’ of the scenery instead of ‘apart’ from the landscape. We merge with it in a most spiritual manner. Instead of taking pictures of the beauty around us, in fact, we become a part of the beauty surrounding you. We become like animals that eat, breathe sweat, stink, get rained on, snowed on, suffer the sweat of heat and gobble our food with abandoned. It’s an amazing difference to automobile vacationers. At night, we camp out under the stars and sit by campfires. Motor home riders park their vehicle and watch TV while they eat an ‘instant’ dinner from a package. During the day, they stay chained to their air conditioned cabin and take pictures from inside the motor home. They call it ‘camping’!”
“Most travelers content themselves with what they may chance to see from the car-windows, hotel verandas, or the deck of a steamer on the Lower Columbia; clinging to the battered highways like drowning sailors to a life-raft. When a excursion into the woods is proposed, all sorts of exaggerated or imaginary dangers are conjured up, filling the kindly, soothing wilderness with colds, fevers, Indians, bears, snakes, bugs, impassable rivers, and jungles of brush, to which is always added quick and sure starvation.” John Muir, 1888.
We rolled south along the great Pacific Ocean to Santa Cruz. Beautiful sunsets, eternal waves, dolphins in the surf, craggy cliffs, rocky islands, sea birds, graceful pelicans and flowers. We met other touring cyclists at campgrounds and on the road. I dipped my small glass vial into the Pacific Ocean for a sample. That evening at sunset with mist rolling in from the ocean, we cruised along a bike pathway filled with flowers five feet high—like pedaling through a mystical dream.
In my journal: “Great to talk with an Iowa farm couple on a tandem bicycle as they rode up the West Coast. Really neat that they take a ride every year. Another young man had bicycled across the Nullabor Plains of Australia. We enjoyed a lot in common. Another couple pedaled with their two small children in a bugger. We heartily ate our dinners and talked about the excitement of the ride. I dipped my little vial into the Pacific to carry it to the Atlantic to collect another vial of water from the Atlantic. We’re full of energy and expectation.”
From Santa Cruz, we cut across the crop-filled fields of the Central Valley as we headed toward Yosemite and climbed to 4,000 feet along the Merced River at full blast from spring runoff. Energy shook the road and carried us upward in wonder and awe and inspiration.
Denis said, “I have never ridden a road that gave me so much energy!”
Bob said, “For what it’s worth, it exhausted me!”
In my journal: “Man! That a ride today! Incredible climbs and scenery much different than the coast! We crossed over the central valley with crops growing in endless fields. Then, the road began to wind and climb. We saw where we headed. The high Sierras awaited our legs and resolve.”
We climbed up to 4,000 feet elevation toward Yosemite. The ride along the roaring Merced River provided electricity to our legs. We arrived late and camped out in the last campground for backpackers. Visitors packed the park, or should I say, crammed and jammed it into an anthill of humanity. Not too much peace, quiet or natural serendipity. Nonetheless, we explored its beauty.
We visited all the great waterfalls blasting massive amounts of water to the valley floor. Half –mile high Yosemite Falls, romantic Bridal Veil , raging Nevada Falls, soothing Vernal falls, Mirror Lake, Merced River at full blast, Half Dome, John Muir Trail and Trail of Mist where everyone suffers a mini-rain storm. We saw a bear jump into the Merced and swim across. One night, two bears frolicked through our campsite while they non-cha-lantly played the mating game. We climbed for hours to Nevada Falls for a spectacular sight! It raged with noise and power and stunning displays of water and vapors. At the bottom, the crashing water formed an apron that shot out from the base like ‘dry ice’ that streams over the ground. The sun beat down on the mist, creating endless rainbows from all angles. We listened to Lee Stetson perform his rendition of John Muir, the first environmentalist and world traveler who lived in Yosemite and created the National Park Systems along with Teddy Roosevelt.
In my journal: “Just amazing rush of mist, of spray and water down from all the waterfalls cascading into this amazing valley! At Nevada Falls, we sat by SO much energy rushing down from the cliffs. At the bottom of that particular falls, we watched the crashing waters spray out like a phantom of dry ice spreading into the woods below. A most amazing site! We loved the trails, birds, hawks, deer and sounds of water everywhere in the valley.”
We rolled out of Yosemite four days later to climb 80 miles over up and down mountainous roads to 10,000 feet at Tioga Pass with a great deal of snow and passed the majestic Tenaya Lake. We saw a mama bear and two cubs too close for comfort. We camped in the snow. We enjoyed a backdrop of white-capped mountains and crystal clear waters. Amazing! Again in the morning, we saw the bears again!
“Bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink the same waters. A bear’s days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsings like ours, and was poured from the same First Foundation. And whether he at least goes to our stingy heaven or no, he has terrestrial immortality. His life not long, not short, knows no beginning, no ending. To him life unstinted, unplanned, is above the accidents of time, and his years, markless and boundless, equal Eternity.” John Muir 1871
After two days of up and down, log curves, many lakes and enormous beauty, we reached Tioga Pass. Snow and frozen lakes greeted us as well as astounding scenery. We celebrated at 9,945 feet at the ranger station!
In my journal: “Just an incredible feeling after hammering upward for two days on up and down hills that made us climb and descend, climb and descend. We probably covered at least 10,000 feet of climbing when all totaled. Legs feel great and spirits high as we move through wilderness paradise.”
After a great celebration at the pass, down, down, down an enormous red/tanned layered rock canyon to the flats at 7,000 feet and a California band playing to a fun crowd at an outdoor restaurant. We sat around listening to the band and talking with people. We camped on a hill overlooking Mono Lake and with a backdrop of snow-capped Sierra Mountains.
I wrote in my journal, “From amazing Pacific surf to astounding Yosemite Valley and a long hard climb to Tioga Pass…filled with bears, majestic Sequoia trees, towering mountains and green valleys blanketed with Ponderosa pines. My legs feel stronger each day with nine hours of sleep at night. We enjoyed a very wealthy couple entertain us for an evening at their home with pool, waterfall, 40 fish pond, elegant grounds, opulent home and a delightful brunch at dusk. Very kind, very real and very delightful folks. Can’t help but feel the wonder of Yosemite still prevalent 150 years after John Muir first arrived. The only difference—a horde of people tramps all over the wilderness ‘quiet’, so much so, it feels like hiking through a ‘city’ wilderness instead of true wilderness. The crush of people worsens annually in all our national parks. As we pedaled our way toward Tioga Pass, we climbed into the high country replete with snow. We saw a bear and her cubs! Later, we pedaled through hundreds of curves, valleys, pine forests, canyons and superb scenery. At the top, we took pictures and car drivers marveled at our journey as I featured a “Coast to Coast” sign on the back of my bike. A quick descent brought us to a famous California restaurant and a two man band playing a lot of ‘oldies but goodies’. Dozens of people asked us questions and seemed to enjoy our monumental voyage. Later, we camped on a small hill overlooking Mono Lake with a backdrop of the Sierras. I’m feeling strong and this ride exceeds all my expectations.”
Later the next day, we pushed to 8,000 feet and then on toward Death Valley. But first, head winds bashed us all day as we headed into Panamint Valley filled with sand, rocks and desolation. We camped in a washout that night with a million stars twinkling in the sky.
In my journal that night, “God, I hate headwinds! They grind into my soul and make my legs feel like putty! They bash at my mind and wither my resolve! They make me work my butt off, but won’t let me get very far or very fast down the road. Headwinds suck!”
Next day, we stopped to see a German couple in bathing suits sitting at a breakfast table overflowing with goodies alongside their motor-home watching the desert scene before them. We stopped and all celebrated with wine glasses filled with orange juice and feasted with Frank and Casteen on bread, cheese, chocolate and strawberries. Later, we overlooked the moonscape of Panamint Valley 7,000 feet below us. We dropped 7,000 feet to sea level and 110 degrees with heat waves rippling across the bottom of the valley. We stopped at the lodge for a wonderful lunch and we saw pictures of “Seldom Seen Slim” a local miner who spent his life in Panamint Valley looking for gold. Let me tell you, we faced ‘brutal’ heat and dry air. Riding in that kind of heat kept our tongues stuck to the roofs of our mouths and our lips hanging up on our teeth. I couldn’t spit from such a dry mouth. The heat sucked water out of our bodies faster than we could drink water! Later, we cranked and sweated up an 18 mile, 9 percent grade “mother of a climb” out of Panamint to 5,000 feet and then, camped out under a fabulous moon and a zillion stars.
In my journal entry, “It’s a funny feeling riding to the edge of an ominous valley such as Panamint, with its utter desolation, sand dunes, heat, rocks and raw-edged “taunting” us to live through its debilitating heat, dryness and steep grades. We sank down into its depths along a snaking road that weaved through astounding scenery that could only be described as if we “landed on the moon.” Nonetheless, I took more than a few swigs on my bottle and pointed my bike to follow Denis, Scott and Bob into the depths of what can only be described as Dante’s Inferno…hours later with heat waves rippling of the valley floor, Bob and I opted to take an early out to find a campsite at 5,000 feet and cool night’s sleep. We busted our tail feathers for 100 yards at a time, sweating like pigs, then stopped for a drink and a bite of food. We continued that routine for five hours! Near sunset, the sky glowed with yellow-gold light. As we pedaled higher, cool winds and air refreshed our spirits until finally, we reached the top at 5,000 feet. I turned to Bob with a “high five” and said, “We did it.” “You got that right baby,” Bob said as we clasped hands in mutual joy. Another couple stopped in their car, “Do you two need a couple of beers?” “Does a baby cry? Does a mule kick? Does a bee sting?” Bob said. She handed us two beers and said, “Good luck!” Later we camped in a washout, fixed dinner and laughed at our good fortune and the two beers. Beyond us, the last rays of the sun sprayed over Death Valley. Above, planets, shooting stars, the Milky Way and a symphony of silence played across the ink black of space. We decided our lives enjoyed great blessings. Sleep came swiftly.”
The next day, we descended into the ominous heat of Death Valley. More desolation! Stove Pipe Wells featured history, water fill up, store for food and visitor center. We stopped at the sand dunes and talked with people from all over the world. We cranked for 40 miles to Furnace Creek and the famed Twenty mule Borax Teams, and miners that sweltered in that heat and hard living even today.
In my journal, “How in the daylights did they do it? How could anybody withstand this unbearable heat at 120 degrees F? Why? Even the plants hug together where a few of them survive, but everywhere, this desert punishes and punishes without mercy. The only ‘things’ not affected by this heat down here must be the rocks because they do not possess life! Yet, life persists in the form of birds, lizards, snakes, insects, cactus and other hardy souls. Why they choose to live here remains a mystery to me!”
Two days later, out of Death Valley across more desert and headwinds, to Las Vegas. You know, cities do not provide too much fun when you’ve enjoyed the freedom, clear skies, wilderness and peaceful joy of the back roads.
John Muir said, “If in after years, I should do better in the way of exact research, then these lawless wanderings will not be without value as suggestive beginnings. But if I should be fated to walk no more in Nature, be compelled to leave all I most devoutly love in the wilderness, return to civilization and be twisted into the characterless cable of society, then these sweet, free, cumberless rovings will be as chinks and slits on life’s horizon, through which I may obtain glimpses of the treasures that life in God’s wilds beyond my reach.”
In my journal, “Having walked along Muir’s Trail, and having read everything he wrote, and having explored six continents like he did, I feel a brotherhood with him and a spiritual connection. I wish all humans in cities could wander through the trees instead of the skyscrapers and cement of cities. Our civilization would be less prone to drunkenness, drugs and mental disorders—and more prone to useful, fruitful and fulfilling lives. Good for us to regain the life rhythms offered via wilderness. I count my blessings.”
We pedaled on to Kingman, Arizona. In the middle of the desert, as we sweated our butts off, a man stopped Bob and me and said, “What would be your highest wish out here in this blistering heat?”
“I could use a gallon of lemonade,” Bob said.
“Me too,” I said.
The fellow, an Austrian visitor to the USA, walked over to his trunk, cracked a cooler and brought back two, ice-cold cans of exquisite lemonade.
“God bless you!” I said. “You’re an angel!”
“Enjoy boys,” he said as he jumped back into the car and sped off.
“I swear the world is full of angels,” Bob said.
“Man, humans make the most intriguing creatures,” I said.
Upon reaching Kingman, Bob, always the intrepid traveler, parted with us as he needed to take care of other commitments back home. Then, on to Route 66 for a trip through memory lane and what a few memories that route provided! Old ‘57 Chevies, old gas stations with .19 cents for a gallon of gas, with pictures of John Wayne, Jane Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe alias Norma Jean, the Beatles, Dale and Roy Rogers, Everly Brothers, Clint Eastwood and so many more! Amazingly, in 1958, my mom and our family drove an old ’53 Chevy from Chicago to Pier 59 in Santa Monica on our way to meet our dad in Hawaii! At the time, this 11 year old did not have any idea that he would be also traveling this same road on a bicycle over 50 years later! Who woulda’ thunk it!
In my journal, “Often, as I see this country spinning ever faster, ever more frenetic, I wonder where our ‘high speed’ lives, work and living will lead us. How can we continue on such a pace as to race through our existence? To what end? Makes me wonder.”
Thoreau said, “We need the tonic of the wilderness, to wade sometimes in the marsh where the bitten and the meadow hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.”
On to Grand Canyon with its vast panorama of 1.7 billion years socked into one grand vision sunk into the desert in northern Arizona, the Painted Desert colored with brush strokes only known to God’s creative angels, the Petrified Forest where trees turned to stone, and Antelope Canyon where water turned rock in sculptor.
On to New Mexico through her majestic mountains to Ft. Sumner and Billy the Kid Museum. Denis departed as he suffered a family emergency in Quebec. And, Scott headed north toward interviews in Oklahoma and at his old college. www.fightobesityride.com
Sandi drove down from Denver and we shared dinner, conversation, and the museum. Nice to rest for a day and talk about the ride and all the exciting things Sandi enjoyed back in Denver.
After Sandi returned home, I faced three days of 30 mph headwinds. Horrible, miserable, mind numbing pedaling and not too many miles. Yet, I continued with tenacity because that’s what bicycle touring requires. Climbing, dropping, climbing, dropping. Hard play! Up that mountain! Down that other side! Legs churning the wheels as if flying. Finally, over the last set of mountains, the wind died.
In my journal, “I stopped by a guard rail and sat down with great consternation. All around me, wind raged from the east. I had been battling that wind for five hours. How can a man yell at Nature? How can I beg for a tail wind? How can I scream that I’m sick of these head winds? Okay boy, calm down! True grit! Either you got it or you can break down and cry. Who me? Cry? Man, I would hate to have someone stop along the road to see a grown man crying. But just then, a pickup stopped and an old man stepped out with a 10 gallon hat. He drawled, “You look like you’re about to cry.” I said, “These head winds won’t let me ride my bike with any kind of a break. They punish me! They beat me unmercifully and they won’t stop. I’m crying because I’m a baby in adult clothing.” The cowboy scratched his head, pulled down his hat, “Listen son, quit feeling sorry for yourself. Ain’t nobody cares about your iddy-bitty feelings. If’n you ain’t tough enough for life’s hardships, then find yourself a mule and ride him and let him suffer, or git yourself a good pickup truck and let the engine do the work…but don’t sit out here in the middle of nowhere crying. Did Genghis Kahn cry? Did Napoleon cry? Did Audie Murphy cry? Do you think John Wayne cried? Hell no! Quit feelin’ sorry for yourself. I don’t feel sorry for you! You got to ‘cowboy up’ ya hear me?” I looked up to the old cowboy, “Yes sir, I’m gonna’ cowboy up and get down the road.” And, so I slipped my feet back into the toe clips and headed into that nasty headwind. It still sucks, but I won’t let that old cowboy see me cry! Besides, if John Wayne didn’t cry, I better ‘cowboy up’! As I would find out later that day, the old cowboy gave me much wisdom and an even greater gift.”
That evening at dusk, I followed a dirt road to camp in a quiet area among a jumble of gray rocks. The wind died. The sky slowly turned to strawberry hues and streaks of clouds resembling horse tails ‘whisked’ across the gathering eastern sky. The sun, just beginning to dip below the horizon burned with a pink intensity too amazing to describe. I had faced a hard day in the saddle. I pitched my tent. But before I set up to cook my dinner, I saw a large hawk ‘fluttering’ quietly above a spot not 50 yards away. I decided to investigate.
Suddenly, he lowered his wings and dove straight down toward the ground. I hurried to where he aimed his body. I stealth-fully crept up on where I figured he might have landed. When I pulled myself just over a large rock about six feet above a small clearing before me, I saw the hawk confronting a three foot long rattle snake. The snake, coiled as tight as springs on a 1954 Ford Pickup, unleashed a strike at the hawk, but the hawk stepped back in a blink. The rattler recoiled. Kicking up a little dust, the hawk flew up a foot and dared the snake to strike, which it did! But the hawk dodged the strike with ease! This dance of “air predator” versus “ground predator” continued for ten thrilling if not magical minutes.
Each time, the hawk dared the snake to strike. And, the snake complied as was its nature. By now, the last rays of the day limped across the heavens. The strawberry sky turned pale pink while clouds turned gray, but just enough light kept the drama before me incredibly clear. I watched in amazed, but quiet excitement. In the last few strikes, the rattler clearly lost his ‘zip’. But the hawk appeared fresh as Muhammad Ali dancing around the ring.
After another ten strikes, the rattler failed to recoil quickly. The bird hopped and flew over his head. The rattler made two more strikes, but on the third strike, the hawk snatched the snake right behind his head. He pecked the snake on the head as he held the snake securely within his talons. Almost without effort, he lifted into the sky with a limp rattler dangling beneath him. Within seconds, he flew into the sunset and vanished into the night.
“My God,” I muttered to myself. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
“How many hearts with warm red blood in them are beating under cover of the woods, and how many teeth and eyes are shining! A multitude of animal people, intimately related to us, but whose lives we know almost nothing, are as busy about their own affairs as we are about ours.” John Muir, 1869
I returned to my campsite. I pulled out my tripod seat and planted myself upon it. I lit my one burner cooking stove and threw on a pack of rice and pilaf. As it cooked over the heat, I dipped a slice of my new loaf of bread down into the broth. I looked up at the stars. I gazed at the gray rock all around me. I watched the very last ‘tone’ of the western sky surrender to the onslaught of the darkness. The tasty scent of my dinner wafted toward my nostrils. Soon, the rice/pilaf dinner and my loaf of bread made their way into my hungry mouth.
How can a man be so lucky as to see a sight like I had just witnessed? What grace of the Great Spirit brought me to that moment? While adventure is not always comfortable, it allows for pure moments of untainted amazement unavailable to city dwellers.
“Time means nothing now. It slips away as easily as grains of sand on a beach. But those grains only trade places. On my bike, I change the same way—new locations in the passage of time. The pedaling becomes incidental now—like breathing. No conscious effort—only flow. The hills and mountains come and go—my legs powering over them in a kind of winsome trance. Grappling with headwinds only brings determination, while riding a tail wind brings ecstasy. I transform into a state of bliss, much like a seagull gliding over the waves or floating on updrafts. I see them standing on the beaches or soaring over the surf. Just living. Just being. Me too!” Frosty Wooldridge, on the road.
At Clovis, New Mexico, the road flattened! No more hard ‘play’! Never hit my granny gear for the rest of the ride! But a new challenge awaited: heat and humidity.
We pedaled into Texas for seven days crossing the Old Chisholm Trail, other cattle trails, Pecos River, Rio Grande. Nothing too much exciting about Texas! Lots of working oil wells and thousands of abandoned wells dotted and blighted the landscape. Additionally, I witnessed thousands of abandoned cars, trucks, tractors, trailer homes and junk of all descriptions along the roads I traveled. Really ugly! Sweat soaked my jersey and shorts every day from ten minutes into the ride until stopping around 7:00 p.m. at night. Shower! Yes, a Godsend, but only three minutes worth from my shower bag! Still, clean, dinner, sleep!
In my journal: in 150 short years—the new citizens of this continent that the Indians had kept pristine for a thousand years—have trashed North America. I witnessed hundreds of thousands of junked cars, trailers, tractors, metal, plastic bags, bottles, cans, glass and abandoned buildings thus far. We Americans have turned America into a giant junk yard. No personal responsibility, no personal accountability, no one cares enough to lift a finger! Our rivers run with chemicals and floating bottles and plastic. I’ve canoed the Mississippi and it’s a junk yard replete with unending chemicals. At its mouth, it features a 10,000 square mile ‘dead zone’ where vertebrate marine creatures cannot survive. I saw junk cars, junk trailer homes, junk of all kinds on the main streets of many little towns across the south. It’s almost like the residents ‘can’t see’ the ugliness and therefore, ignore it and do nothing to change their environment. Even in Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Death Valley, people throw their crap out the windows of their cars. I swear that plastic proves the worst invention of humanity. It spreads like a plague across the planet, killing and destroying the natural world. While I have picked up over a half million pieces of trash in my life, humans continue to trash the planet faster than those of us who care about our surroundings—can pick it up. In a word, it makes me sick to my stomach.”
In a small Texas town, I stopped at a Subway near dusk for a sandwich and lemonade. A tall, lean teenager, about 18, stepped into line with me, “Are you riding that bike with the sign ‘Coast to Coast’?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “That’s my bike.”
“Can I buy you dinner?” he said. “I’d like to hear how you made this ride.”
For the next hour, this young man, named Davis listened like a sponge on how to live a life of adventure. He asked penetrating questions and declared that he didn’t want to live a ‘normal’ life and that he too wanted to travel the world. He planned on college and then, on to an exciting life of his own. I applauded his spirit and his energy. When I walked out, I felt tremendous encouragement that every human being enjoys potential for a fulfilling life.
On to Louisiana with trees, old homes and poor folks dominating. Every town featured more house trailers than homes. Sometimes, a nice brick home would see its opposite across the street or next door in a broken down, gutted trailer home. Most disturbing to see. Folks proved quite nice and friendly, however. Mississippi pretty much the same with small towns along the road with poverty and broken down trailers and junk everywhere.
One fellow drove up to me in a nice van: “Hey, can I trouble you by buying you a nice pizza for lunch?”
“Sure, but why do you want to buy me lunch?” I asked.
“Because you’re living my dream,” he said. “And, I’d like to find out how you do it.”
From there, he shared with me his life story for 1.5 hours! He said, “When I ride my bicycle, the whole world becomes perfect. I want to ride the entire peninsula of Florida on my bike. Can I do it?”
“You certainly can!” I said.
I traveled into Alabama on the Selma to Montgomery freedom march route with Martin Luther King in 1965. I lived in the south at that time and knew about segregation, separate but equal and discrimination. Further along, I visited Tuskegee Airmen Museum in that legendary town. Again slow and poverty. I sweated from the moment I got up with 110 heat indexes to the moment I crawled into the tent at night. I drenched my jersey and sweated as I fell asleep. Essentially for 21 days, I lived in sweat in the South. Finally, I pedaled through Georgia with the same topography and poverty to the Atlantic Ocean at Savannah.
However, remembering the old cowboy that told me to ‘cowboy up’, I didn’t cry. I laughed hysterically! I may have whimpered a few times! I stopped at Subway Sandwich shops and ordered a six inch veggie sub and added ‘free fill-ups’ lemonade. I drank 20 glasses of ice cold pink lemonade before stepping back out into the killer heat.
Upon reaching Tybee Island and the white sands of the ocean, I dipped my small glass vial into the Atlantic Ocean at Tybee Island for a sample to place on my memory shelf to remember my coast to coast across America in 2010. Many people congratulated me and shook my hand. They exclaimed the feat in surprise and excitement.
In my journal, “Oh, what a joy for two months to float away from the problems of humanity! We awoke with the sun. We utilized our bodies via pedaling. We talked to many strangers. We shared our energies. We laughed. We took pictures. Travel becomes the great teacher and the great humbler! I feel gratitude and humility at the beautiful human parade for which I am a part for a short time in the life of this planet. I feel tremendous appreciation for my ‘luck of the lottery’ numbers to enjoy this life on my bicycle, with my zest for living and my enthusiasm for pushing myself through the tough times. And, on this trip too, I learned a few new lessons from Bob, Denis and Scott. For certain, we finished this grand adventure with a sailboat full of memories, cargo ship full of laughs and a battleship full of photographs. In the summer of 2010, four men enjoyed amazing moments as they bicycled across North America.”
In Travels with Charley, Steinbeck said, “When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don't improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable.
“When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from. Next he must plan his trip in time and space, choose a direction and a destination. And last he must implement the journey. How to go, what to take, how long to stay.
“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process; a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has a personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it. I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it.”
Life: the great learning experience!
“Time is a companion that goes with us on a journey. It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived.” Captain Jean Luc Picard, Starship Enterprise.
Forthcoming book: Bicycling Across America: Travels with Condor. In Steinbeck’s book, he portrayed America 60 years ago. He referenced his dog “Charley”. I will write about America in 2010, the changes, the mood, the complications and the differences.” By the way, my bike’s name: Condor!