Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 54 Epilogue

I started this journey alone in a lonely place, traveling unescorted through the circles of Hell. This memorial ride was not only a tribute to the glorious man I was blessed to call my son, but also a desperate attempt to sustain my sanity. I hoped to restore meaning and harmony to my life. During the two months of cycling, I have tested my physical limits, experienced much introspection, searched for the presence of my God, advocated for mindful driving, and embraced both friends and strangers.

I have shared my story innumerable times, and some modicum of good has resulted. But I bleed each time I relive Eric's senseless, mindless killing. The compassion of both strangers and friends has fortified me, I am grateful for the warmth of the human family, which reminds me to be cognizant and appreciative of the many blessings I have in my life. Clearly, I am not alone.

But I conclude this travel unrestored. My God has remained silent and elusive. Completing good works will not adjudicate Eric's killing. There can be no happy ending to this story. As the many hundreds of roadside memorials stand testament, there can never be harmony after the loss of a child.

Some injuries heal completely without residual or scar. Others heal without residual, but leave a disfiguring scar as a reminder. A few injuries aren't fatal, but linger and smolder,never to resolve completely. One must learn to live with them and not to be dominated by them. My challenge is to learn the live with this injury, but not become the injury.

Last night Eric appeared to me in a dream. Smiling, he ran up to me and then past me, neither responding to my entreaties nor looking back. He was happy and carefree. As Eric moved forward, so must I. I must strive to be a person with the compassion, acceptance, actions, and character that my children would be proud to call their father. I lack both the resilience and fortitude for the task, but cannot concede the struggle.

I want to thank all of you who shared this journey with me. Your support has helped me more than I can tell you. I look forward to sharing your comradary and fellowship as we address life's future challenges. With that, I conclude my blog.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 53 Palatka to St. Augustine

Travelling through America, one notices that even small towns all have churches, banks, and mortuaries. Generally the churches are grand, the banks stately, and the mortuaries dignified. In poor areas, this continues to hold true. Homes, schools, public buildings may be decrepit, but these other edifices seem unaffected. It must be a reflection of our values. Not intending to demean these institutions, but surely our youth, infrastructure, and living conditions deserve more merit.

Today I was favored with benign winds, clear skies, good roads, and a short 40 mile ride. What a difference from yesterday's wet, harrowing marathon. Cruising through St. Augustine, I had to search for a half an hour to find some beach to dip my front tire. And so, the deed is done. Tomorrow, I will see St. Augustine and compose an epilogue.

Dipping the front wheel in the Atlantic

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 52 Mayo to Palatka

The trip computer on my bike went out a couple of days ago. It is surprising how more arduous it is to pedal without the guidance and feedback of the computer. It is difficult to regulate effort, assess speed and progress, and to maintain goals without the computer information. The ride requires much more effort and is much more of a struggle.
In our lives we use religious, philosophical, and moral compasses to guide our labors. Along with our relationships, these are our structural and feedback mechanisms. How we flounder when they break down or fail us. It is clearly much easier to replace my computer battery, than to rebuild a failed belief system!

Wow, what a day! Initially an easy pedal, I decided to push on for 122 miles. The pedal was great until I entered Durham County, the sign proclaiming it "bicycle friendly". Immediately the shoulder ended, leaving me on an extremely busy 2 lane road with 65 mph traffic. Searching for a sane option, I ended up on a loose packed, dirt road. In search of pavement, I side tracked many miles when an awesome thunder, lightening, and rainstorm engulfed me. The sky became so dark, I needed a light (which I did not have) to be seen by motorists. Safely tucked away in my bargain motel, I am only 40 miles from St. Augustine. The exciting (or not) conclusion tomorrow!

The Suwannee River bastardized and unvisited by Steven Foster in song.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 51 Wakulla Springs to Mayo

Wakulla Spings is an ancient place. Humans have frequented this area for over 15,000 years, since the time of mastodons. The springs erupt from an enormous cavern, continuously ejecting 16 million gallons of 68 degree water every hour creating the Wakulla River. It is a wildlife refuge and sanctuary where I observed many alligators, turtles, birds, and even some manatees. The finely crafted and detailed 80 year old lodge stands next to a swimming area with a 20 foot tower for diving. It is a special place unlike any other I have been. During the early 60's, Walt Disney conducted negotiations to place his theme park here. Luckily, such an abomination was avoided! It is now a state park, to be preserved in it's undeveloped state for future generations.

Today I added an extra 30 miles to the 50 mile schedule to end up in Mayo. The terrain remains flat, with much standing water, natural springs, and sinkholes consistent with the Karst topography. I have no conections in the schools in Florida, and the media has had little interest in distracted driving since i left Mississippi. It is just as wwll, because i am tired of being an advocate. The road surfaces and shoulders in Florida have been the best that I have encountered, letting me focus on self reflection and the pedal. I look forward to St. Augustine and home.

My last sink laundry and another look at that gator

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 50 Tallahassee to Wakulla Springs

I am in a place of sanctuary and refuge that does not have Internet service. I will update tomorrow when I return to civilization. Here is an entry from a few days ago that failed to post.

Day 46 Rest Day Pensacola

Pensacola by all appearances is peaceful and tranquil. It has a European history spanning over 400 years, claiming to be America's oldest European establishment. Permanent settlement here has been disrupted historically by territorial disputes, wars, and the ever reoccurring hurricanes. Five different national flags have flown over Pensacola. Pensacola is a very old city, but has surprisingly few buildings over 150 years of age. It is a testament and a reminder of the destructive power of human conflict and nature.

Today was a much needed day of rest. I visited museums, walked galleries, and enjoyed the city. I had my hair cut by a barber who related a story of a cyclist recently killed here, whose hair he had cut. The cyclist was at the end of a long distance, charitable ride. Next the barber told me a Blue Angel pilot whose hair he had cut, who had crashed his jet and died. He gave me a nice cut, but he may have been bad luck. It ain't over till it's over, but tomorrow I will be back on the bike.

Gators, turtles, and sanctuary at Wakulla Springs

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Florida backroads and the reason for my pedal

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Day 48 Grand Ridge to Tallahassee

In The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein instructs that the competent race car driver reacts to a skid before it occurs. In cycling a similar axiom exists, "eat before you get hungry and drink before you get thirsty". The idea is to prepare and react before the calamity. After disaster strikes, it is too late to react adequately. Not bad advice for preparing for life's challenges, a philosophy I have embraced. But there are many situations that can not be anticipated. Unpredictable diseases, some natural disasters, the sudden death of a loved one. When you're in the skid on wet roads, you must struggle to just maintain control.

I had a nice afternoon and evening with my brother Bill. We spent the night in Destin enjoying the beach, a hot tub, and an Irish supper. This morning we returned to the drop off spot; Bill returned to California, and I resumed the big pedal. It was a pleasant 55 miles of back roads and sweet temperatures. The air is full with the scents of spring. It is a good time to be in Florida. I have entered the Eastern Standard Time Zone. Tomorrow is a very short day to a nature preserve, and my last good chance for gators.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 47 Defuniak Springs to Grand Ridge

Florida has more sinkholes than any other state. Sinkholes are the natural result of a falling water table in areas where subterranean erosion has created underground caverns. The depressions that result from surface collapse fill with water creating lakes. In the Mexican Yucatan the same geology exists and these water bodies are called cenotes. Cenotes were sacred places that in Mayan times demanded human sacrifice during times of drought. In Florida they are beautiful areas of recreation and wildlife habitat. It is another example of "it doesn't matter what you have, it's what you do with it".

Like the Irish blessing, today I had the sun on my face and the wind at my back. I flew over 75 hilly miles to meet my brother Bill at 1 o'clock. We took his rental car down to the white sands of Destin and enjoyed a hot tub, walk on the beach, and an Irish supper by the bay. Tomorrow Bill will take me back to where he picked me up, then he will fly back to California. What a short but delightful visit!

Another Florida sinkhole and the white sands of Destin

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 46 Pensacola to Defuniak Springs

Florida is very different from the rest of the South. The southern accents and traditions are not as pervasive. Much of the population are non-indigenous or retired transplants. Florida has a California feel, only with more bugs, humidity, and seniors. The aging population has found a home in Florida. How strange to leave the home where you reared your children, break the bonds with work, friends, and community, say goodbye to your memories, and to relocate unconnected. It seems to be a successful transition for many Floridians.

I sure did not feel like getting on that bike today. Reluctantly, I left Pensacola Bay, pushed 85 miles into the wind and finished by 2:30. Once more I dodged the thunderstorms. The rain started at nightfall. Unfortunately it may continue through tomorrow. In fact, the weather service just issued a tornado watch alert for this area. The ride ain't over yet.

Florida sinkhole lake and historic lakeside home

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 45 Dauphin Island to Pensacola

So far on the gulf I have not seen extensive damage from Katrina or oil spillage from Deep Water. Maybe it is more apparent in other areas. It is just beautiful here. I pounded 62 miles today into a headwind. I finally wore out my rear tire after 2600 miles, and replaced it at a bike shop on the route. My legs are utterly exhausted and I am taking a day off to rest in Pensacola. It will be nice to be off the bike for a day and let my backside and legs rejuvenate. More tomorrow.

Hello Florida! Can you believe it?

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 44 Pascagoula to Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island was initially called Massacre Island after the Frenchman Iberville discovered human bones on the beach that a hurrricane had unearthed. It is a barrier island, part of a chain capping Mobile Bay. Barrier islands are mysterious in their genesis, but likely originated when sea levels rose from polar melting 15,000 years ago. They serve to buffer the mainland from extreme weather, and provide an important habitat for animal life. Barrier islands are fragile, delicate, and ever-changing. Hurricanes, a repeating, inevitable event in the Gulf, have been know to bisect them and even eliminate them. Never the less, these islands are places of extraordinary beauty with an allure that is narcotic. Dauphin Island has been a magnet for human occupation and development for thousands of years. Perhaps Iberville's discovery of human bones was an accurate omen for those who choose to settle here.

The storm passed leaving mild temperatures and relatively low humidity in it's wake. I left Mississippi behind and pedaled the 42 miles and a 3 mile bridge to Dauphin Island, Alabama. This afternoon I did a distracted driving interview with NPR in Gainsville, Fl. Afterwards I spent time at the beach, historical Fort Gaines, and a prehistoric shell mound. It was weird to sit on the beach and watch the sun set over land. Tomorrow on to Florida!

Fort Gaines and a Dauphin Island sunset

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 43 Wiggins to Pascagoula

I rode hard today into a headwind over scenic, isolated, Mississippi backroads, fearful of being caught in the impending storm. My body did not disappoint, as I powered the 75 miles. I was delayed by two flats, making four in the last three days. At sunset, I smoked a Cuban cigar watching orange laced clouds stipple the sky. The warm, southern air was wet with the gathering thunderstorm. It was a time of great beauty. It made me think of Eric, because he was able to recognize such moments and capture them with his camera. My soul has no reprieve, but I must walk my path.

The Pearl River and a picnic lunch in Vancleave

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 42 Covington to Wiggins

This morning after riding for an hour, I stopped in a little cafe in Bush, Louisiana for coffee and eggs. Some old boys were talking about killing turtles, and asked me about my ride. After telling them my story, the waitress refused to let me pay for my breakfast. A similar episode occurred at a B&B in Texas. My faith in humanity is continually refreshed by these unsolicited, spontaneous acts of compassion.

The bayous of Louisiana have been replaced by the pine forests and rolling hills of Mississippi. Still no gators. Today I again braved shoulderless highways with 55 MPH sped limits, but traffic was light on a Sunday. After having a beer with my pizza tonight, the waiter informed me that he should not have served a beer since today is Sunday. Well, this is the bible belt of Mississippi. Tomorrow thunderstorms are forecast.

Springtime in the South

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Day 41 Baton Rouge to Covington

Texans are proud of their heritage. The Lone Star flag flies ubiquitously, more than the Stars and Stripes. Texas was an independent country for 10 years before joining the Union. Many Texans are dissatisfied with current American policies. They again desire succession and to recreate the Texas republic today. Americans have always traditionally supported the right to self determination and it seems logical that should include our own states. However, the grand plantations of Louisiana are graphic reminders that much of the population was subjugated and politically unrepresented 150 years ago. What a travesty that our great country embraced the institution of human slavery. Maybe we are making some progress.

Today I returned to the solo, unsupported ride over 73 flat miles of southern Louisiana. I have passed over a lot of swamps and bayous. Much of the road today was perilous with high speed traffic, but no shoulder. I had my second flat tire over 2400 miles. I am staying in a cute, country town with a large, restored historic district. One gallery had a nice photo exhibit of Haiti. No more talks or media on the books, just pedaling.

Which way is up in the bayou?

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Day 40 St. Francisville to Baton Rouge

The Mississippi River and it's tributaries constitute the largest river system in the world. Native peoples lived along the river for thousands of years seamlessly adapting to it's changes. For the last few hundred years, man has tried to tame the river with levees, dams, floodways, and control gates. The river is tempered, but in spite of the best human ingenuity still continues to periodically spill and flood adjacent areas. We can plan, prepare, and anticipate, but can never completely control the vagaries of nature. The same is true of our bodies and health. Just yesterday, Doctor Moussa passed away prematurely. Remember him in your thoughts and prayers.

We had a 32 mile ride into a headwind this morning. No mechanical failures! After finding a bike shop, Seth shipped his rig home before he and Cindi headed down to the Big Easy for the French Quarter Festival. Sunday they go back to Seattle. Their company will be sorely missed. I spent the afternoon sight seeing in Baton Rouge before I resume the solo pedal in the morning.

Lunch at the Louisiana legislature

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day 29 Opelousas to St. Francisville

At a recent school presentation, a student asked me if I had forgiven the woman who had killed Eric. Youth can be so uninhibited and direct. What a difficult question! I replied that I wanted to forgive her, but I didn't know if I truly had. In reality, forgiving and letting go are extrodinarily difficult processes. Obviously it does no good to harbor anger and ill will. But to forgive requires acceptance and understanding. It is something I must keep reflecting upon, but I hope to achieve. If we could all only live up to our own standards.

We had a 56 mile recovery ride today and Seth suffered another flat and a tire blow out. The bayous and swamps are becoming prevalent. Still no gators. After some delay, we crossed the mighty Mississippi on a ferry and arrived in St. Francisville. I did a newspaper interview, then we toured a historic plantation. Jenna reminded me that these grand houses were built on the blood of slaves. Irregardless, we enjoyed dinner at another plantation. Tomorrow Seth and Cindi head to New Orleans and I return to solo.

Crossing Old Man River and look what grows in the bayous

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Day 38 DeRidder to Opelousas

Louisiana is the only state in the Union where the legal code is based on Napoleonic Law, rather than common law. The Napoleonic Code is a French residual and Roman in origin, common law is English. The law in Louisiana is determined by scholarly study, the rest of the United Staes uses the precedent of prior judicial decisions. Louisiana is the only state in the country where a judge doesn't automatically repeat the same mistakes some other judge made. Not a bad principle to follow in life. K

Seth and I pounded 92 miles into a headwind through the rice fields of Southern Louisiana. We had two flats and derailleur malfunction. Not a bike shop for miles. Can't even buy a tube for a road bike anywhere near here! Still, it was an enjoyable day. We saw our first snake, a deadly and dead corral snake. "Red on yellow will kill a fellow". Looking for gators. Actually ate some healthy food today. Shorter ride tomorrow.

Louisiana snakes and rice fields

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Hello Louisiana

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 37 Kountze to DeRidder

In the South, people will bread and deep-fry about any edible substance. Meat, poultry, fish, animal byproducts, vegetables, fruits, almost anything. The cuisine is an agglomeration of Afro-American translocation, native cultures, European influences, economics, and local necessity. Add some Ranch dressing, and call it a meal! It is a good thing I am on the bike for 6 hours a day, otherwise I would have to go directly to the Coronary Care Unit.

After 3 weeks I finally got through Texas. I have now pedaled over 2000 miles, half of that in the Lone Star State. Today we had a delayed start after bringing Seth's bike to Beaumont for repairs. The proprietor was a a bicycle philosopher whom was willing to met us at 7 am. The rain has passed, the temperatures pleasant, the wind our friend, and the 84 miles zipped by. This is the South in language, food, climate, social norms, and topography. On to Cajun country.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 36 Cleveland to Kountze

The Big Thicket In Southeast Texas was once an immense, impenetrable forest blanketing 50,000 square miles. Resistant to human dominance, it was a sheltered refuge for Confederate non-combatants seeking to avoid impressment into the service. Eventually the forest fell to quench the lumberman's thirst, and now has been reduced to a few segmented but federally protected tracts. While the wilderness has been replaced by productive land, that place of sanctuary has been destroyed. It is comforting to have places available where we can escape the demands of our lives. In the absence of physical places, we need other forms of respite.

This morning I drove to the outskirts of Houston to give three high school talks. They were a great group of students housed on a university quality campus. I have been very impressed with Texas schools, and the Teens in the Driver's Seat program. We started our pedal late, and were doused by an afternoon thundershower. The rain turned an segement of road repair into a two mile mud bath. We had to use a pressure washer to get the mud off our bikes and Seth. Seth broke his chain in the middle of nowhere. Unassisted by a bike shop, we were able to repair it with our friends at google. Some very friendly Texans offered moral support. The landscape gets progressively flatter, wetter, and greener as we approach Louisiana.

Entering swamp country

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Day 35 Navasota to Cleveland

Some days it is pretty hard to tackle the day. Motivation and drive can be in short supply. But most people want their existence on this world to make a positive difference. We want to leave the planet a better place than when we entered it. We want to personally do more good than bad in our human experience. In addition, parents hope that their children can go further. Parents attempt to better prepare and equip their children for life's challenges. Maybe with better tools, our children can help promote a kinder and more humane society. These are noble goals, but it appears that the human character and condition haven't progressed that far throughout our history. Although discouraging, I guess that is no excuse to stop trying.

Today we were threatened by rain and buffeted by wind, but still had a pleasant ride through 67 miles of gently rolling hills. The climate and landscape become more deep South with every mile. We lunched at a small country town hosting a car show. Seth sampled crawfish and Cindi choose catfish. When in Rome....

Catfish, Car Shows, and Southern Homes

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 35 La Grange to Navasota

In the South (and much of Santa Maria), there are many who are vehement conservatives. As are overzealous liberals, they are passionately polarized in their language, opinions, and attitudes. Opposing opinions are viewed as unacceptable and often contemptible. Yet this country was conceived on the principles of coexistence, open debate, compromise and consensus. Americans from all sectors desire a free, open society where hard work is rewarded, but where the infirm and disenfranchised are not abandoned. Those in opposite camps frequently desire the same end result, they simply disagree on the method to get there. Just like in a marriage, we would be better served to reject zealotry at both extremes and work towards acceptable compromise.

I am really enjoying having Seth and Cindi with me. We did an easy 67 miles along country lanes densely populated with antique shops and flea markets. The vendors went on for miles! People come from all over the country to this part of Texas to search for treasures. We initiated the day with a photo of Seth and me, and discovered that we now look just like our fathers, Bernie & Vic. The circle is complete.

Tanks, Antiques, and Bernie & Vic

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 34 Austin to La Grange

Fear is paralyzing. On the road when an animal is frightened, it will initially freeze hoping to avoid detection. The animal usually tries to assess the threat before reacting. Most creatures quickly choose to flee, and will only confront an unfamiliar threat if they are without options. People are pretty much the same way. Unfortunately, most of our human fears are psychological rather than physical. When we try to flee from them, they cling to us and reappear as sure as our shadows. We need more sophisticated tools than out primordial relatives.

Today I was back on the road with 84 rolling, scenic miles to La Grange. Seth and Cindy flew into Austin this morning. Seth will ride while Cindy drives support until New Orleans. The bike feels wonderful unloaded, and the company is great. It really helps with mid-ride fatigue.

Goodbye to Austin hotels, homes, and style

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