Friday, August 19, 2005


would you still respect me, would you still visit this site...

(a) if, on a blistering descent, i found myself singing kelly clarkson’s “since you’ve been gone”?
(b) if, while engaging in (a), i was standing up on my pedals and....kind of bouncing?
(c) if, while doubling up both (a) and (b), i was also pumping my fist?
(d) if, during the heinous acts of all of the above, i was shamefully though admittedly enjoying it?

i was just wondering.

i rode through a county fair and was asked by the guy who works the booth where you throw darts at balloons where he could “find the green stuff”? i told him i had neither cash nor weed which seemed to only mildly disappoint him because we followed up his initial inquisition with a conversation that seemed to be welcome in both of our transitory lives.

i am convinced that if i ever decide to plant my feet, it must be near a “bent and dent” store. these are damaged and recently expired food stores. i found my first one on this bike trip and was faced with the prospect of power bars at 10 for $1.00, boxes of cereal for $1.00, cheap-cheap cous-cous, and almost free hershey kisses. now, if you are a person that is under the guise that if a granola bar that expires on tuesday undergoes a cinderella-like transformation and becomes inedible at midnight, then these stores are not for you. in addition, if you require the boxes surrounding the plastic surrounding your cereal to have perfect 90 degree corners, or, if the steel that surrounds your canned goods must be perfectly cylindrical, these stores are not for you. so if you can deal with slightly chalky hershey kiss (and as unfortunately not many women will tell you, a hIrSchy kiss is always a hIrSchy kiss) and if you like to save money so you can use that saved money to do cool things, then these stores are a godsend.

speaking of stores, receipts are getting ridiculous. do i really need an eighteen inch swath of paper to verify that, yes, i bought some preparation h and it was $2.49? think of all that wasted paper. (note to self: don’t forget to delete preparation h “example,” you’re getting too personal hIrSch...)

sometimes, while riding, i hallucinate and convince myself that just ahead are some cyclists. usually it’s just a tree or a sign. but the other day, my hallucination proved to be authentic, but they were going the opposite way, so, as is becoming a theme on this ride, i was just a lightning strike in their lives.

lightning strikes. me, in an open field, in my tent, late at night, monster thundertsorm. i watched lightning strike all around me and concluded that since i haven't won the lottery and since i was laying on a foam pad, i'd be fine. but just in case, i did film a movie with my camera and got a sweet lightning bolt striking what appears to be the same thing a minimum of seven times. it flashed for a solid three seconds. now that's power.

again, flat tires have plagued me. one morning, it was both tires. the culprits? tire wire from shredded mac truck tires. so in a small town that thankfully had a small bike shop, i replaced both my inner tubes with ones that contain slime, a special liquid that seals punctures. quite unfortunately though, my inflation of the back tire proved to be tragic. the tire was not entirely secure within the wheel rim (read: i screwed up), and about ten seconds after inflation to 70 pounds per square inch, their was the sound of a gunshot. all eyes on me, i stood standing with an exploded inner tube and tire and was covered with the aforementioned slime, which, just happens to be fluorescent green. since then, kona has kindly hooked me up with kevlar/steel-belted tires, so now it’s no flats until tierra del fuego. or so i like to hope.

i don’t consider myself an eavesdropper, but i seem to be in places where i hear things that i just can’t help but eavesdrop on. the other day i listened to two women who had not seen in each other in some time. they both playfully argued over who looked skinnier and who was more tan (one had just returned from hawaii). they also discussed which scents each were wearing and how much they were and where they could be purchased. next the topic was men and how they were all insensitive jerks. meanwhile, i just continued to eat my cereal out of a peanut butter container while pretending to read a newspaper i had found in a trashcan.

my stay in mountain view, wyoming (where i used to map trails for the forest service) was spectacular. i got off the bike for a while, installed a new back wheel, and took to my feet in the mountains of the high uinta wilderness. i did some backpacking as a wilderness ranger and besides talking to people about “leave no trace” and minimal impact camping, i got to get on top of the highest mountain in utah, where it snowed on me for about an hour.

i have met many people on this bike ride and just yesterday came to the conclusion that i am a ladybug. when a ladybug lands on you, you admire it. you might even gently place your finger next to it and allow it to crawl onto your fingertip. you may think how cool that ladybug is, how interesting. but then, as a typical american attention span dictates, about five seconds later, you will gently blow that little ladybug off of your digit and get on with you life, with memories of that arthropod seemingly instantly forgotten. and that’s what i seem to be to most people i meet. it seems that before the last syllable of hello has rolled off my tongue, it’s already time for goodbye.

but there are exceptions to this and colorado has definitely been kind:

1. raining all night, raining all morning, headwinds, everything soaked, even my beard is a bit droopy, cold, i stop under a shelter at the visitor’s station at dinosaur national monument for some food. two guys approach and ask about the bike ride and subsequently invite me to their home, should i pass through their town, with promises of a warm meal and a guestroom.

2. minutes later, same place, three women from new jersey strike up a conversation with me. they are staying in steamboat springs, colorado. i’ll be there tomorrow evening. they invite me for dinner. i take them up. an awesome time.

3. a station wagon slowly passes me. pulls off. i approach from behind and a hand waves me to stop. the man tells me he lives 20 miles up the road and i’m welcome to come by for the night.

i feel like a karma sink and can’t wait to reciprocate this kindness when the opportunities arise.

i am flying down a hill having crested a 10,000 foot pass, and i see two backpackers walking down the same hill on the side of the road. i figure they’re up to something cool so i slam on my brakes. unbelievably, it’s a fellow named eric weise, a guy whom i met when walking the appalachian trail and again while walking the pacific crest trail! i also met him when i was doing a couple nights on the appalachian trail over new year’s bringing in 2000. none of these meetings were planned. each one was awesome. he’s currently walking the continental divide trail (which i am more or less following by bike) from canada to mexico! he’s with a super cool guy, doug, who is totally into the raw foods diet ( none of us can believe what has just happened and of course we all consider the billions of reasons why this rendezvous shouldn’t have happened but mainly concentrate on the fact that it has. and the best part, eric is seriously considering joining me for the ride through central and south america. he knows the lifestyle, knows it’s possible, he lives it, and he’s always looking for the next adventure.

as i ride out in the west, i think to myself if i settle down and if the country i choose to settle down in is america, surely i must live out here, well west of the mississippi, where open spaces (though rapidly receding) still reign. but then i think, wait a minute, if i do this, i’m contributing to exactly what i hate about what is happening to this region, to this world. how many people who have lived here all their lives i have spoken to and it’s always the same: “this used to be open country, now rich people from the cities come out here and build their second houses. they only live in them maybe a month out of the year....why on earth do people need two 4,000 square foot homes? i just don’t get it.” and following, i would be just another house scarring the landscape and ruining some other house’s once unimpeded views. and by finding such a hypothesized homestead (which would not be surrounded by barbed wire and “no trespassing” signs) perhaps others would choose to settle near me. and so, before long, because it happens even where no one thinks it ever will, i’ll be over-hearing the mcdonald’s drive thru. and so, this leads to more questions. maybe i should settle in suburbia. keep the cities growing up and not out. maybe i should shop at wal-mart. by forsaking spending my money at small rural stores (where wal-mart might sniff a potential profit and come in and conquer), i should give all my dollars to the big w in an effort appease the mighty beast. i just don’t know. it’s never easy. nothing is, and i know this is also because, for whatever reason, i deliberately make it hard on myself. if i could just be someone who could, with a clean conscience, or without any thought of morality or duty, just toss a plastic bottle in the trashcan......instead, in towns that recycle, i find myself looking in trashcans and relocating recyclables....

i have a friend in alaska. she speaks of the concrete clubhouses lining the streets: the home depots, best buy’s, etc etc. used to never be like that. of course, nothing ever is what it used to be like i suppose. but regardless, as she observes this northward creep of development, she poses an interesting question: “what happens when there is no more north?” and that is the question, north or any cardinal direction, that dominates the wheels in my head as the wheels on my bike carry me south towards new mexico.

please leave a comment or send me an email. they make me happy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


on the back of my pink t-shirt...yes, it’s pink because i do have that kind of confidence, i have written with permanent marker “canada to chile.” i’m not a good conversation initiator. in fact, i'm not good with people i don't know, especially large groups. in fact, i could probably go to a doctor and be diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and be pumped full of pills, but i choose not to, because i believe that, yes, most humans are social creatures, but to different degrees. but i find myself wanting to talk to people, so the back of my t-shirt is bait. if anyone bites, i’ll reel them in. and i’ve been catching some this big here in yellowstone national park where i currently sit atop the continental divide contemplating whether i want to urinate in the pacific or the gulf. here are excerpts from my conversations with several different fish (don't worry, i gently removed the hooks and threw them all back) i'm red, everyone else is orange.

are you really riding your bike all that way?
yep, as long as it continues to be fun.
well, better you than me.

the gangs in central america will kill you and steal your bike.
thank you.

i think it’s great what you’re doing, i’ve been wanting to ride my mule from missouri to mexico for twelve years, but my wife and kids say i can’t do it.
the only things you can’t do are the things you don’t do.

can i take your picture?
sure---if you give me a dollar.
ha ha ha.
(picture taken, no dollar given)

excuse me, oh god, i’m so embarrassed, it’s just, well, i was struck by your remarkable beard.
no worries, amigo, it happens all the time.

can i shake your hand?
sure if i can have a lick of that ice cream.
he he he.
(hand shaken, no love on the lick)

chile’s a long way from here.
do you really think you’ll make it?
i hope so, but who knows what will come up in the in between. where are you from?
springfield, illinois.
i’ve never been there, is it nice?
it’s a boring, miserable place to live.
(pause) so why do you live there?
because that’s where the job and money are.

so how can one come to yellowstone and not do old faithful? i arrived and found that show time was in fifteen minutes (+/- 10 minutes). there were already about 200+ people seated all around, and i joined them, but preferred to stand. there’s quite alot of pressure on old faithful to perform. the old boy let out a couple preliminary squirts and i even heard some “boo’s” from the highly critical audience. but sure enough, expectations were met when the geezer of a geyser shot it straight up about 200 feet in the air. and as if on cue just for me, midway through the eruption, i heard one of beethoven’s finest. orchestrated musical accompaniment? nope, just some joker’s cell phone. when the show concluded, i heard one teen-aged girl say to her parents, “ok, i’m bored now, can we go?”

the average american can sit idly for 80 seconds. if that seems short, i challenge you to try it. sit in a chair for two minutes and do nothing. try to remember something you’ve forgotten. no tv, no ipod, no internet connection, no cell phone, no newspaper, no blackberry, no palm pilot, no book. just you and your head. seriously try it. anyway, i mention this because next i went to grand geyser which was predicted to erupt at 12:30 p.m. +/- 90 minutes. i got there around 11:15 and waited. people would, as if i looked official or something, come and ask me what i was waiting for. here are excerpts:

what are you waiting for?
grand geyser should be erupting soon.
when? 12:30 plus or minus 90 minutes.
what does that mean?
well, it means it could erupt in one second or in about an hour or so.
(they sit down and wait...)
(...80 seconds elapses)
well, we’re not as dedicated as you, good luck!

and grand geyser was indeed spectacular. and if you’re curious, it erupted at 12:38 p.m. how do i know this? because some guy yelled, “not so bad! it’s only 8 minutes late!” and if you’re more curious, yes, somebody’s cell phone went off during that one too.

here is another unrelated but captivating, to me anyway, excerpt:
mom, can we please stop going to these places where we have to get out of the car and walk? let’s just go to the places we can drive to and see.

i was walking around a beautiful area called mammoth hot springs. a guy is walking the other way. there is a tinge of recognition in our exchanged glances. enough to cause a mutual lapse in our gaits. “darren?” “hIrSch?” and then a big hug. a friend i hadn’t seen in over five years. a solid guy, he’s walked the appalachian trail, cycled west to east across north america, and is even hardcore anti-mcdonald’s. he had his bike with him so we took off and went for a soak in some sweet thermal pools and caught up on the intervening 1800 days between our last physical contact. we camped out together that night and he fed me a cinnamon raisin bread almond butter sandwich and some delicious pasta. what a great guy. what a great surprise that our paths collided like that. luck? fortune? providence? fate? destiny? choose your noun.

and so while darren and i were setting up camp, we had two people offer us food. darren and i are both vegetarians. both offers of food were carnivorous cuisine. so we, quite tactfully and diplomatically, refused both offers with several reiterations of appreciations for the kindness. and the first guy seemed cool with it. no worries. but the second guy got to talking to us. and then he mentioned how he had “the demon” chicken the previous if darren and i were judging him. which of course we weren’t. we were just explaining to him that we were vegetarians. we weren’t pulling any “holier than thou” stuff. and of course, the whole episode made me think about this blog and how it was (and hopefully not is) interpreted.

i almost hit a bison on my way out of yellowstone. it was early in the morning (my favorite time to push the pedals) and i had the road to myself (before the rv’s pulling suv’s pulling boats pulling trailers get going). the 2,000 pound beast, upon seeing me, retreated to the woods. i too retreated to the woods, and cleaned my shorts.

so yes, it’s true, yellowstone is crowded, but for good reason. and i am a contributor to those crowds. some do, but i don’t let it get me down. i think it’s great people are out and about and enjoying it and doing something cool. being on my two feet amongst the crowds and not just riding my bike has led to some interesting observations. people smell funny. some like $80 for 3 fl. ozs. of some “designer” fragrance. some like detergent. some like cigarettes and alcohol. it sets my olfactory sense in overdrive. on the flipside, of course, is what they smell as they catch wind of me. and to everyone, i must say, it’s “eau de hIrSch le human.” and there will soon to be a commercial with beautiful half-naked women running through mazes of flowers whispering my name and advertising my redolence. if you’d like to order some, i’ll wipe a bandana in my armpit and send it to you if you email me your address. the best part? it’s free. and god knows there’s plenty of it!

so here’s something too. i was on this surprisingly very lonely road in yellowstone standing next to one of the seemingly endless geothermal points of interest. and just down the way, maybe 100 feet or so, a geyser started spewing. and it was quite a show. i saw a man and a woman standing right next to it snapping pictures. when it had finished, i rode down and stopped. immediately, the man, strangely quite proudly, announced to me:

well, you missed it!
missed what?
the eruption.
oh no, i saw it from down there. it was pretty awesome, eh?
(somewhat disappointed) but, but, how did you see it, we were the only ones here...
(pointing) i was right over there with my bike.
(regaining pride) well, you really didn’t get to hear what it sounded like as it cascaded down these cliffs...and that was the best part!

and then, as if on cue, the geyser spewed again. and the conversation was over.

i went to an all you can eat breakfast buffet. it opened at 7:00 a.m. i was there at 6:59. it closed at 10:30. i left at 10:50. i could barely swing my legs around the bike. i cursed myself again for this giving in to gluttony. and i made a solemn vow that i would not eat food again for a week. and that personal promise lasted for about two hours.

then, it was on to grand teton national park which i had never seen and enjoyed immensely. for 50 miles the famous skyline of craggy peaks seemed to increase in elevation as i approached. i stopped at a pull off to take a break:

you’ve got a long way to go to chile my friend.
how long will it take?
i really can’t answer that, maybe i’ll be there in march or august or maybe december...
wow, i wish i had the time to do something like that but (correcting himself)...well, i guess i could make the time...
there you go, sir, that’s exactly it!

i don’t carry a stove. i love cous cous. this doesn’t present a problem because cous cous fully hydrates even with cold water in about fifteen minutes. however, i went into a convenience store and noticed one of those hot water dispensers. the light bulb lit. so i got my peanut butter container (my bowl) and put in the dry cous cous. then i nonchalantly and smoothly (both of which adjectives i am not) strolled up to the hot water and pushed the button. problem. the hot water valve was some sort of turbo pressure release so i managed to both scald my thumb and almost, but thankfully not, spill the cous cous all over my crotch. but it all worked out, no one seemed to notice, and the plastic peanut butter container only marginally melted.

and now, i am in jackson, wyoming. the kind people here at base camp communications are allowing me to sleep in their office for a couple of nights. i went to the town square to read some ayn rand. an old lady sat down next to me. we began to chat. she is on vacation with her family. she used to live here before world war ii. she says it disgusts her now. she says there are too many people. i told her it will only get worse. she agreed. i asked her where she lives. she said orla, texas. a wide spot in the road, she said. population less than 10. she owns a small grocery store there, has for years. i asked her what she thought of places like wal-mart. she said that they, quite simply, destroy places like orla and stores like hers. but she says there’s nothing anyone can do about it. her family came back and the conversation, which was really just beginning, ended.

i have hit over 1,800 miles. that’s just a little blip in the big picture. my next moves will take me south down towards a little town called mountain view, wyoming where i will meet up with some old friends from when i volunteered there for wasatch-cache national forest. and then it’s off to the 11,500 feet mountain passes of colorado....or will i stick to the deserts of utah....or both...or maybe i’ll cycle up to maine? wherever i go, i will be there, and wherever i am, there seems to be plenty of things to think about, and if i ever run out of things to think about, then that means i’ve become complacent...and complacency is stagnation, and anything stagnant just stinks.