Emancipation From iPhone Slavery

My iPhone died sometime early Christmas morning. I woke up at 12:23 AM and turned it on to check the time. When I woke up in the morning, I rolled over to turn it on and check the time again. But it wouldn’t turn on. Uh oh. I plugged it in, and it started going through it boot up procedure and it died at some point during that. I tried for an hour pushing buttons, holding buttons, doing hard resets. But it would only get to a certain point in it’s boot up and then die. Some piece of hardware had failed.

I messed with it for an hour or so, then went on a 3 hour kayak ride out to some islands. When I came back I took a buck knife and pried the back off the phone. I was partly thinking I should take it apart and get a look at just what the fuck was going on in there (as if I’d know,) and another part of me just wanted closure on this thing. So I pretty much destroyed that bastard while taking it apart. It came apart screaming. And I relished destroying this electronic gizmo that hadn’t been out of arms reach for two years, even as I slept.

When I got done, I laid all the parts on the table and took a gander. I thought, “Well, that’s that.” Then I threw the whole works in the trash bin.

I had been wanting to rid myself of that contraption for quite a while, but could never seem to do it on my own accord. It made itself a part of my life, almost an extension of my being. It was my watch, clock, alarm clock, address book, appointment book, calculator, map, camera, phone, mp3 player (300 albums,) email machine, facebook machine, web browser. The first thing I have done every morning for the last two years is roll over and turn that fucker on to see what time it was (provided it didn’t wake me up with it’s alarm.) I couldn’t go anywhere without it. Even if I was with people, I might occasionally pull it out to check my email. I secretly hated the thing. How many of you have spent time looking at your smartphone while you’re with people. If you’re my age or younger, probably all of you, and I’m telling you it’s insidious.

The moment after I finished destroying the thing with the buck knife I felt an immediate sense of freedom, even relief. The emancipation I knew I would find when I ditched that thing. I know how hard these kinds of things can be to give up, but I encourage anyone with the ability to give it a try. Your life won’t end, I promise. It will only get better because you’ll have more real experiences instead of virtual ones. Best Christmas present I could have gotten.

I sure do miss all that music though…

No more photos on the blog, as that was my only way to post them.

Dinner

My dinner of two lobster tails cooked with Poblano peppers and an onion, topped with a fresh tomato and avocado. It was all I had thrown together to make a meal. Pretty damn good. All the food here is so good, I can just throw it together haphazardly, and it’s good. Got two pounds of sea bass for tomorrow. Life is good.

My Friends, The Pelicans

One of these pelicans is usually on the next slip over from Belle Isle in the mornings, watching me as I go about my morning routine. They are awesome birds. I watch them fish every day. They hover 30 or 40 feet high until they spot a fish. Then they tuck their wings, and dive bomb into the water. When they get a fish, I can see it flapping around in their gullet. It takes them a while to work it down. Sometimes they let it get a bit of it’s fight out before they swallow it. Imagine being that fish. Swimming along, doing your thing until some creature from another world falls from the sky and swallows you whole. Damn. Pelicans are badass, and I love watching them.

Incommunicado

I could spilt this up into multiple posts I suppose, but I’m not going to, so it’s going to be a long one. If you don’t get bored with it, you might want to break it off in chunks.

I left Roswell, New Mexico on thanksgiving day. I always check what the winds are going to do two days out, and timed it so that I had 35 miles of south riding with a 20 mph northwest wind. It was the first taste I had of a tailwind in a long time.

I averaged over 20 mph heading straight south to Artesia, where I turned west towards Hope. There’s not much in Hope, but I didn’t have any choice but to camp there so I would be able to make the 60 or 70 mile jump through desert and rising foothills to Mayhill, where I could get water and food. My plan was to camp in Hope, assuming I could find some abandoned structure to provide some shelter from the wind. The road Gods had other plans for me though, and I couldn’t have planned a better Thanksgiving if I tried.

About 10 miles west of Artesia a pickup passed me, went a couple miles, then turned around and pulled right up next to me. “I’m going all the way to Alamogordo, you want a lift?”

Hell yeah, I did. The guy who picked me up was awesome. 53 years old from Odessa, Texas. He was on his way to his moms for Thanksgiving. He was in the national guard, spent nine months in Afghanistan, and loved it for some reason, he wanted to go back. A 4th generation Mexican-American, funny as hell, we talked and laughed the whole way.

He said after he passed me he kept thinking how shitty that road would be to bike on (it was) and how he’d feel awful if he heard about some cyclist that got run over. Decided he better see if I wanted a ride.

He gave me about a 90 mile ride to the top of the Sacramento mountains, near Cloudcroft, to a hostel I wanted to stay at. I got there about 1 or 2, and one of the owners was there to greet me and show me around.

The owners are very interesting people, John, grew up in Detroit, lived in upstate New York for part of his life, but has been all over the world. His German wife Stephanie is an architect and together they had rebuilt this old structure set into the side of the mountain, and turned the lower level into the hostel, and the upper level into their home.

John has worked as an executive chef in lots of places, and as it turned out, they were having 20-25 people over for Thanksgiving, and invited me, and all the hostels guests to join in the festivities. When the day started, I fully expected my Thanksgiving dinner to be rice and beans, alone, after setting up camp next to some abandoned building. Instead I got to enjoy a huge feast, in good company. Probably the best Thanksgiving food I’ve had, and it was all there, ham, turkey, potatoes, stuffing, squash. Glazed carrots, pies, cakes, everything you can think of and more. And it was all SO good. Couldn’t have planned anything better. A Thanksgiving I’ll remember to the end of my days, for sure.

I stayed at the hostel for a couple of days. I would have stayed at least another day, but I had been watching the weather, and I was aware that I was about to cross the most desolate stretch yet, on the whole trip.

As I’ve mentioned, the winds here are almost always out of the west or southwest, and they are frequently fierce. I woke up the morning after my second night at the hostel and knew I had to make a break for it. 5-10 mph west winds predicted, the next day was predicted to be 20-30 with 40 mph gusts. I knew that crossing an 80 mile stretch of desert with those winds wouldn’t be possible. I didn’t want to go, and hadn’t prepared at all the night before, though I should have. So I scrambled and got all my shit packed up, had a quick breakfast and headed out.

Fortunately from talking to locals I found a much better route down the western slope of the Sacramento mountains than the main highway would have been. I had 10 or 12 miles of downhill on an very beautiful and twisty mountain road on the way to Alamogordo. A river flowed over part of the road, and it had frozen overnight, but a vehicle had crossed it and broken up the ice. I had to take my shoes and socks off, throw them across and wade through with my bike.

After Alamogordo, it was a flat stretch of desert, past White Sands National Monument, and through the White Sand Missile Range, a huge military reservation, before I had to climb a mountain range, and descend the western slope down into Las Cruces, New Mexico.

This ride was the one that had me most worried on the whole trip. If I had to deal with a 20 mph headwind, or more, I knew I wouldn’t make it before dark. And climbing the mountain range near the end presented it’s own challenge.

But even the predicted 5-10 mph west winds never showed up, I had virtually no wind all day. I was able to average 14-15 mph, and when I got to the foot of the mountains in the early afternoon, I knew I had made it. That climb was a real bugger though. It would be one thing to ride a bike over those mountains after a 60 mile ride. It’s another thing to haul nearly 100 pounds of gear up those mountains after a 60 mile ride. But I got to the top eventually, and sailed down the other side into Las Cruces. It was my last full day of riding to date, and I felt damn good having tackled the challenge.

The next day, those predicted winds showed up. I was also looking at riding roughly 275 miles of interstate to get to Tucson. It’s pretty much the only route that wouldn’t take me hundreds of miles out of the way, and also take me thousands of feet higher in elevation. Any other time of year, that would be the way to go. But this time of year, towards the end of November, you get up above 5,000 feet, and you’re tempting fate. I had warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag. But I was already dealing with nights in the teens at 4,000 feet in the high desert. Spending nights, 70 miles from water, with a potential for real snow, temps much lower than 15, didn’t want to do it. It was the potential for being very far from anything, wet, AND very cold that could get dangerous. I knew my route this time of year would be limited.

I was going to take the bus from Las Cruces to Tucson, but the road Gods smiled upon me again.

I made my way to a bike shop in Las Cruces, and regaled the guy there with my saga. “I need to get all this crap (pointing to my loaded bike) to Tucson, as cheaply as possible. So I guess I’ll need to get the bike boxed up, etc…”

The only other person in the store overheard me, and approached me saying, “Uh, sir, I’m going to Tucson in about two hours, and I have that pickup, you can put your bike in back.”

No shit, so I got a 275 mile ride to Tucson where I stayed with my cousin Jen for a few days.

It was really interesting to see Jen. She kind of disappeared 20 years ago to reinvent herself as a multi-PHD holding biologist and geneticist. More power to her. I hadn’t seen her since were were young adults, now she has nearly grown kids, but the rapport we had was still there. It was weird, like I had just seen her two weeks earlier. There is some kind of bond that family has that transcends time and space.

Jen gave me me a ride to the Tufesa bus station, bought my bus ticket to Guaymas, and also gave me some cash. Which turned out to be momentus. I would have had 5 bucks cash, assuming my bank card would work in Mexico (the reason I got it.)

But it didn’t work. Not in several ATMs I tried. Long story short, I got it to work, eventually, in the Banamex bank in San Carlos, where it didn’t work on three previous attempts. So it goes in San Carlos, MX. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t, shrug your shoulders and move on. But if it weren’t for that cash Jen had the foresight to stuff in my paws, I would have been a street urchin, begging for change. Thanks Jen!

As always, there’s more left unsaid, but for now it will have to remain that way. Enjoying the sun, surf, and sand, glad not to be dealing with the Minnesota winter.

Street Urchin

Quick note. I’ll update the blog eventually. I’ve been busy trying to deal with the logistics of being here. Card doesn’t work in ATMs, hardly any money left, phone costs $1/minute, so I can’t turn it on. Plus I got the flu the day after I got to San Carlos and couldn’t move around much for a few days. The weather is nice though.

Many Thanks

Writing this has been on my mind for a while. I have been feeling the sentiment, but have not gotten around to writing it until now. I guess now is a very appropriate time, Thanksgiving eve.

I have a pretty big collection of people to thank that I’ve met during my travels, and also the preceding months that led up to the start of this trip. I’m going to try to remember them all in order, but I’ll probably forget a few.

First of all, thanks to my family and friends for not trying to discourage me from my hair brained schemes, and even offering encouragement when it seems prudent.

Thanks to that crusty old Norwegian carpenter, Charles Pedersen, for providing a week or so of very well paying work just prior to my departure. I’d be nearly out of money if it weren’t for that opportunity. It was up high, and I don’t like being up high, but we both managed to come through it unscathed and it felt good to do that kind of work again. Charles pointed out that while we’re doing that work we’re changing the world. It’s built and maintained in tiny little pieces of individual effort. There is certainly something about it that feels good, and provides a sense of self esteem, and accomplishment. At the end of a job, being able to see what you’ve done in such clear physical manifestation is undeniable.

Thanks to Freewheel Bike, and the many fantastic people that work there. It was people I met while working there that that sparked the idea for this trip. It also allowed me to get properly equipped for this epic journey. Freewheel is the best shop in Minneapolis, and Minneapolis has pretty damn high standards for bike shops. I’ve experience Freewheel from the outside as a customer, and from the inside as an employee. There is no doubt that it rivals any shop in the country.

Thanks to the Police chief in Springfield, Minnesota, for providing warm and dry shelter in a storm. I’m not sure what his motives were. Might have just been to keep a drifter off the streets. Regardless, thanks are due.

Thanks to the farmer (Tony? I still can’t remember his name) in southern Minnesota who invited me to his house for a meal including the best damn pork chop I’ve ever had, cooked over a fire in the baddest fireplace I’ve ever seen. And for the shortcut south, through his farm over an isthmus, to the road I needed to be on.

Thanks to the guy who I asked for directions near Gull Point State Park in Iowa. When asked for directions, he simply said, “Follow me, I live just down the road from it.” He drove slow enough for me to do that. At his driveway, he asked where I was going.

When I said “Mexico” he chuckled like I was joking, then got a real concerned look on his face and inquired, “Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

The next morning him and his wife stopped by my campsite with a hot cup of coffee and a ziplock bag full of sweet treats.

Thanks to Drew at Okoboji Expedtion Company, for use of the bike shop to overhaul my hubs, and also for the hospitality and conversation.

Thanks to the woman (never got her name) who was working in the cafe adjacent to the bike shop for providing damn good coffee, damn good quiche, and one of the best smoothies I’ve ever had, for nearly no cost.

Thanks to Farmer Mike in Modale, Iowa for providing a warm place to stay, laundry, and shower, and company riding through Omaha. Also for his extensive Iowa bicycle touring knowledge as I made my way to Modale.

Thanks to the guy at the state park just south of Lincoln, Nebraska who had pulled in to take a nap. When he woke up he pulled up to my site and asked, “You going cross country or something?”

“Yeah.”

I told him where I came from and where I was going. He had passed me on the highway, and the park was quite a few miles off the highway. He said he thought I was following him.

I had just pulled into the park, 15 miles or so from Lincoln, where I had gotten groceries. I had strapped a sweater and a loaf of bread to the top of the rear paniers, and had just discovered both were gone. They had rattled loose somewhere after Lincoln. I really wanted that loaf of bread, but losing the sweater was especially upsetting. I have two warm shirts. One I wear while the other is drying from getting sweaty the previous day. I could not afford to lose it. I mentioned to this guy that I’d just lost them. For all I knew they could be anywhere between the park and Lincoln. He said he’d look for them on the way out. Fifteen minutes later he came driving back with my loaf of bread held out the window! Sweet! Said he didn’t see the sweater and headed out. Half an hour later he came back with my sweater! Ha! No shit! Incredible luck I had in mentioning it to him, and what an awesome person to go out of his way for me like that. Made my day.

Thanks to the owner (can’t remember his name) of Liffert Trucking in Green, Kansas who offered me a place to camp, water and electricity. Also to his mechanic, who was real nice to talk to and steered me towards the best roads on my way south.

Thanks to all the people in Kansas who stopped to ask if I was ok as I took a water or food break on the side of the road. Kansas is the only state that has happened in, and it happened a lot, more times than I can count.

Thanks to Bill and Debbie in Seiling, Oklahma. I got into Seiling and went into the first building I saw to ask about camping in town. Bill was in the check out line and a conversation was started. His wife was nearby, and they both started telling me where I might be able to set up. After a minute or so they said, “You know, our church has a house that missionaries sometimes stay in, but I think it’s empty, you’re welcome to stay there if you want.”

I had a whole house to myself, I was able to get showered and do laundry, and also be warm and sleep in a bed. Very nice.

Thanks to Wayne in Wheeler, Texas. I didn’t have many options in Wheeler, but Wayne shared the heat from his wood stove in the shack he lived in, and provided a place to set up the tent. He gave me a 60 mile ride the next day which allowed me to get to Caprock Canyons State Park in one day instead of two.

While he was driving me south we passed a bunch of cattle. He said in his rural Texas drawl, “You know, everybody is raising these black angus cows these days because that’s what sells. But I just hate it. I just hate looking out the window and seeing all these black cows.”

“Really? Why is that?”

“Because it reminds me of Obama.”

I am not making this shit up. I could not make this up. He was serious. Damn.

Thanks to all the people who were, or tried to be helpful with my route finding, even if they did say something like, “What you wanna do is just jump on the interstate there and take that right through Amarillo, that’ll take you all the way to Tucson,” while I stood there straddling my bike just nodding and saying, “Uh huh, ok, sounds good, thanks!” Happened quite a bit.

Thanks to Roger at the bike shop in Portales, New Mexico for letting me hang out all day and shoot the shit about bikes. That’s him in the photo, along with one of his bike shop cats.

I’m sure I forgot some. But I remember them all eventually, and though I might not have mentioned it here, when I remember I have a spirit of gratitude that vibrates out into the world beyond anyplace my words can reach.

Meeting all these people makes traveling like this a rich experience.

And thanks to all those I have yet to meet, see you a little further on down the grit road.

No Place Anyone Would Want To Be

I said I’d get to the wind later. Later is now. Starting in Wheeler, Texas the wind has blown from the west or southwest every day and night. In this part of the country the wind pretty much only comes from the west or southwest. There are occasions when a front comes through that it will blow from the north or northwest. From here to Tucson, I will have a nearly relentless headwind.

The wind lightens up at night a bit, but picks up in the afternoons to it’s peak, along with the high temp for the day. It has been pretty consistently 10-15 at night, and anywhere from 20-35 in the late afternoon, gusts sometimes higher. For you cyclists that never leave the city, or never visit vast uninhabitable stretches of nothingness, those numbers don’t mean much. You don’t know what wind is. A 25 mile an hour wind doesn’t mean shit in the city, or most habitable places for that matter. Out here, it means something completely different.

I wouldn’t recommend doing what I’m doing to anybody. Very little of it is anything I would call fun. Getting on the throttle after exiting a sweeping turn on a mountain road on a motorcycle, that is fun. Riding a bicycle hundreds of miles across a baron landscape into a relentless headwind at 8 mph is not fun.

I can’t describe most of this trip as fun I can describe most of it as very difficult. But all of it has been good for me. Maybe precisely because it’s been difficult.

I tried to stay pretty close to my original Google maps bike route. I deviated a bit after Minneapolis, Kansas, by heading more south than west, but I’m still pretty close to it. If Google ever wants to rate those routes, I have a rating for this one. Not “Experts Only” like some mountain bike trails or ski runs. “Masochists Only” works though.

The last several days I’ve only managed to make 32-45 miles per day. At least once during my time in the saddle on each day I will explode in a fit of rage and cuss the wind out mighty good. I usually start flailing my arms, and gesturing wildly. A few passing motorists have seen these outbursts. I have wondered what they make of the crazy guy on the bike they just passed. But letting it fly like that actually does help me hold on to my sanity.

Each morning I resign myself to just getting on and grinding out 4-6 hours of riding at 8 mph, rarely looking up. I keep my head down, staring at the pavement 3 or 4 feet ahead of my front wheel.

I play games with myself. I’ll spot a pebble on the shoulder, and as I slowly make my way five, ten, fifteen feet away from it I’ll say to myself, “Well, at least I’m not THERE, anymore.” That spot. I am slowly leaving that spot behind, ever so slowly, until I find another pebble.

That’s what it’s like out in the nether regions between towns. Up until now, parks and towns have been my oasis. Wheeler, Texas was the first town I came to that was a complete shithole. It was the county seat, and I expected it to be a little more than it was. It was an anomaly for towns I had been through up till then, but it was not an anomaly for towns in the Texas panhandle.

When I look at the map to determine where I’m going, I look at towns as an oasis, especially through baron landscapes like the panhandle. And I believed Wheeler was an anomaly. It took passing through 4 or 5 towns after wards in the panhandle to make me stop looking at those spots on the map as oasis.

Every town I passed through in the panhandle was a shithole. But shithole is not very descriptive, so let me get to work describing.

The streets and sidewalks are broken. Grass and sticker patches are sprouting up through the roads and sidewalks. Every available space is occupied by abandoned cars and trucks and broken machinery. Half the buildings are abandoned, but you might spot a Pizza Hut, or Sonic Burger sprouting in some dusty patch of gravel amid the trash. There are no parks, just piles of garbage in every available empty, dry, dusty lot of land.

The people have been unfriendly and not helpful at all. Most people look at me sideways, as some kind of no good high plains drifter.

The relentless wind blows the trash around the towns where it collects on broken fences and in eddies the wind can’t reach.

That part of Texas has a trash problem. But I kind of get it. I developed such a contempt for the ground I stood on, and everything around it, that it felt like a small victory to leave some kind of trash on it. I wanted to litter the landscape because I hated it. Maybe most people there feel the same way, though they might not be aware of it, and that’s why there is so much trash blowing around.

I’m 6 miles north of Portales, New Mexico now. I’ve got a good place to camp, and I’m happy to say goodbye to Texas. But my headwind awaits me each morning. It’s got me thinking about busses and hitch hiking.

I just haven’t hit that spot yet, where I’ll actually do it. I’ve been close, but as long as I can get to the next place with food and water, I’ll probably keep pedaling.

There may be a dead end somewhere. The wind limits my range, and in the American West, services (water, food) can be a long ways apart.

I’ll keep posting and you’ll see how it goes as well as I do.

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