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Bike to the Burn

Bike to the Burn

In August 2007, I bicycled from Seattle to Black Rock Nevada - a 700 mile trip over mountains and deserts - to attend Burning Man, an annual fringe festival. The trip took 11 days, and I blogged about it in real time from my solar powered iPhone. What follows is my trip blog (which is actually a copy & paste of the original blog, because Blogger no longer supports the configuration I used. You may experience wonky behavior and odd formatting.)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Why?

Welcome to my blog, Bike to the Burn! The topic: a 700 mile bike ride that will take me over mountains and through deserts, to Burning Man, the annual week long festival in northern Nevada. People who hear what I'm planning almost all react strongly and almost all fall into one of two camps: "that's amazing!" or "that's crazy!"

This is not my first trip to Burning Man, though it'll the first time I've bicycled there. I've gone four years out of the last five, and happily identity as "a burner." Other burners often congratulate me on the positive environmental benefits of my trip. You see, the theme of Burning Man in 2007 is "the Green Man," with all sorts of talk of "greening the burn": environmental awareness, sustainability, carbon offsets, and what have you. But, the truth is, I planned my trip without any thought of saving the environment.

In 2006, I caravaned to Burning Man with my friend Zobeewa. I drove my tiger Saab; he drove his red double decker London commuter bus. As you might imagine, these buses are designed for flat city streets, and not at all for high mountain passes, and so Zobeewa was lucky to coax 15mph out of the beast going uphill. As his wingman, it was my job to guarantee enough space for him to change lanes when needed. And so, I drove behind him all the way from Seattle to Nevada, gritting my teeth as we inched up the mountain passes. "Why," I thought, "I could ride my bicycle up this hill faster than this!"

It was a funny thought, and it stuck. By the end of the week it was already cemented. On the drive home, I decided to go through with it. I soon started talking about it, and once my mouth was open, I was committed. I used the trip as an excuse to invest in a recumbent touring bike. I'd always wanted one, but the entry price point is quite high. I did some training, then slacked off. I bought a bunch of gear, and even used some of it. Finally, the weekend before my trip, I mapped out my route (thanks, Google!).

Now it is the eve of my departure (already a day late), and I thought I should share the story of "Why?" So, you may congratulate me on my eco-friendliness if you like, only bear in mind the real reason why I'm doing this...

I thought it would be funny.

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The Fearsome Bikebego


Here loaded up in all its glory.

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All this, on my bike, right now.


A comprehensive packing list for biking to Burning Man

Ticket!

Clothes | Helmet, jacket, 2 pairs shorts, 2 shirts, 4 pairs socks, cleated shoes

Technology | iPhone, solar charger for iPhone

Sleeping | Tent, footprint, inflatable mattress, sleeping bag, pillow

Gear | Multitool, lube, patch kit, tire levers, C02 pump, pocket knife, sharpie, lights, pressure gauge, 4 spare tubes, 2 spare tires, cable lock, 2 keys, hand pump, sunglasses

Reading | Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, 12 copies of The Peterman Plan, maps

Food | 20 Clif bars, 3 dozen Emergen-C, 10 Java Juice, 10 Clif Shots, protein powder, backpacker's chocolate, 5 gallon water cube, 1 litre water bottle

Toiletries | EpiPen (in case of bee attack), sun block, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, hand soap, legal pain killers, illegal painkillers, razors, lip balm, hairbrush, towel

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My last act.


I'm amazed by how much work it takes to step outside my life; handing over professional projects, informing friends and family, planning for my pets... just generally extracting all the useful information from my brain and responsibilities from my shoulders. I imagine that this is what it would be like to die, assuming that I had foreknowledge and time.

My last act before leaving this world is to brand my mount with my tribal sigil so he can find his way to the home of my ancestors. (Thinking about it this way fills me with a short wave of sadness; missing my dad in a way I haven't in months.)

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Talisman


The hardest thing to leave behind? Keys, and all that they represent. Other people are holding mine now, and I have locked my own door behind me. This is the only key I will need in the afterlife.

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Nice day for a ride.

On the hog.

First 10 miles, equipment check, and a good omen.

Renton has an airport?

Pathfinder Clayton Scott


From the Clayton Scott memorial at Renton muni airport:

"Paging through Scotty's flight record logbooks reveals one exceptional experience after another. How can a pilot survive a failed-engine landing in breaking surf and high wind among ice floes, far from rescue without communication? How does a pilot use a forest to break flight, shear the wings off and land without loss of life? These are the journals of a survivor."

Damnation! This guy's the very stuff of legend! Where's the movie of his life?

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King County did not anticipate me.


King County maintains an excellent recreational trail along the Cedar river through Maple Valley. I've been enjoying it since Renton, and have stopped along it to swim and nap. Unfortunately for me, the southern end turns to gravel. The overloaded beast doesn't handle at all well over gravel, nor do my cleated shoes when I'm forced to push it up gravelled hills.

Here in this photo, I've reached a gated exit. The gate has a baffle to allow pedestrians or bicycles to pass through ... Except my bike, which is too wide and has gotten stuck in the baffle.

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EARTH IS FULL GO HOME

...says a small hand-painted sign, affixed 15 feet up a cedar tree.

Minutes later I round a bend to a view of the sun pouring gold over a broad expanse of green fir. Further up the darkening road, a narrow window frames Mt. Rainier, dressed in lacy streamers of purple and white.

While I'm blogging this, another biker, whom I passed at the GO HOME sign, puffs up, asks if everything's all right. We commiserate about the heat of the day. He's overheated and can't cool down; I've had a headache the whole damned day.

What a blessing it is, after four trips to Burning Man, to stop and enjoy the scenery.

Enumclaw is for lovers.

Day one slides away, leaving me safely nestled in my tiny pup tent, watching the stars while I listen to the nighttime songs of the neighborhood dogs and cows. I'm camped in the back 40 of ThunderMountain Middle School's voluminous recreational fields, surrounded by Enumclaw farmsteads.

My first day was a good one, despite a continuous headache. The scenery was lovely, and I was thrilled that KC keeps a segregated recreational path parallel to route 169. My scariest moments came while leaving Renton on 169, before finding the trail. Nasty truck traffic. The trail follows the Cedar river, so offers many opportunities to dip. I took a swimming break where I met a friendly swimmer named Chris with all the signs of a chronic meth habit. He offered that he's lived his whole life in the area, and kept up a constant stream of chatter about the history of that particular swimming hole, wild ferrets, his broken truck, his BMX bike. I would have swam longer, but frankly I was afraid of leaving any of my gear out of site around him, friendly though he was.

Renton was a pleasant surprise. I have always thought primarily of Renton as "that place where the Ikea is," but its downtown still bears the vestiges of quaint small town charm. I enjoyed sweet doughnut peaches at its mid-week farmer's market.

I covered a bit less distance than I'd hoped, only 36 miles. According to my bike computer, I peddled for under four hours today; even with all my breaks, that seems questionably low, but hopefully I'll soon hit my stride. At least I'll get an early start tomorrow. My top speed today was 43.9 mph going down a hill, and I can not truly impart to you the terrifying thrill of doing highway speeds while dressed in thin bike clothes with a hundred pounds of wobbly gear at your back.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Momentary delights.

The only upside to sharing the road with big scary trucks? Enjoying
that single second of lift as I'm propelled by their slipstream.

A story in refuse.

Found among the remains of a tiny camp fire outside the Mud Mountain
Dam Recreation Area: one empty each of Jack Daniels lemonade, Sparks
energy drink, Miller beer; a half size lighter; a single-smoke
cigarette tube;one empty jar of Metabolife; a specimen cup; an AtHome
drug-test kit for marijuana.

The pause that refreshes.

Alive.

Tons to report today, but conditions poor for blogging. Calling it a
day near Cayuse Pass.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chinook Pass, elevation 5,432 feet.

Quite a sight.

I just went through Chinook Pass. Fuckin' A, I rode over a mountain,
baby! Wooooo!

I spent the first 10 minutes of the downhill ride alternately
laughing, crying, and loudly humming the theme from Star Wars. After a
solid day of uphill yesterday, this felt like being born.

Best of all - there's SUN on this side of the pass.

I am Jack's inflamed left knee.

Why has no one ever mentioned how much it sucks to get old? Maybe
someone once mumbled something to the effect while my attention was
captured by more interesting things.

I have for some time (a couple of years, probably) been developing
what is likely a mild arthritis in my knees, more the left than the
right. This trip has aggravated it like nothing else. On Wednesday
there were times when I had to grit my teeth, groan, and just keep
peddling. My habit is to dismount to lhe left, and in one instance my
left leg nearly buckled. Wednesday's continuous uphill climb filled me
with fear of pain ending my trip.

By Thursday I've come to the habit of taking more frequent but shorter
breaks to stretch, which has brought the pain to a more manageable
level. Frequent dunkings in cold rivers also helps, and I heartily
recommend it to other sufferers of the same affliction.

Whistlin' Jack Lodge

Lunch today at Whistlin' Jack Lodge, just outside the immaculately
tidy Stepford village of Glendell. Jack's is an establishment that is
unapologetically bristling with kitsch, without shame or cynicism. I
had a ground veggie wrap and admired the stuffed elk, bobcat, mountain
goat, carved schools of salmon, and portraits of other iconic American
wild animals. Only $210 gets you into a private cabin with hot tub.
I'm not sure if that's for a night or a weekend.

Best three bucks I ever spent.

Coming down off Chinook pass into Natches, 410 parallels the Natches
river. A post-lunch dunk was looking mighty appealing. Much of the
riverfront here is private property though, and judging by the gated
bridges leading to homes on the far bank, they take their proppity
rahts seriously around here.

I pulled in to a random faceless trailer park and asked the first
person I saw if they'd mind me jumping in the river. By chance I had
found the owner, and he offered to "set you up for three dollars."

My kneejerk internal reaction was, "what, three bucks to jump in a
river I could enter for free?" Immediately I realized how asinine was
my reaction; I spent $3 on a package of trail mix an hour ago. The
deal was sealed when the owner told me that showers were included.

The river was shallow but swift here. I inched into the cold water and
lay myself down in it. The powerful current made it neccessary to hold
on; I lay face down and clung to the rocky riverbed as the stream
rushed over me. I let it wash away all the heat of the day, all the
pain in my body. Lying supine in the shallow rushing river felt like
flying, and I laughed beneath the water. It felt like freedom.

Afterwards I showered and shaved for the first time in three days. I
took my clothes in with me, soaped and rinsed them, put them right
back on wet. The hot road was waiting.

Who you callin' a Yakima?

I roll into Yakima at rush hour, and I can't tell you how thrilled I
am. 410 has turned into 12, which is an actual, real freeway. Common
sense tells me to GET OFF THE FREEWAY, STUPID, even though I can see a
sign for my next connection, 97 S, coming up in 3/4 miles. But I do
the sensible thing and exit.

And maaan, Yakima is a HOLE. Everywhere broad decaying streets, single
story buildings, and cars, cars, cars. It's the worst case example of
car culture sprawl. This once beautiful empty valley has had inflicted
upon it a real live Grand Theft Auto set. It'll be the first place to
go when the oil starts to trickle out. (Incidentally, I've started
laughing when I ride past gas stations.)

The only good thing about my visit to Yakima is that it comes still
early enough for me to get the hell out before nightfall. Of course,
by this time, I've lost track of 97. I work my way back to a highway
entrance.

While I'm contemplating returning to the freeway, a yappy 'hua gets
all up in my grill (if I may attempt the local patois). I see that the
dog belongs to a young Latino guy tinkering with a weight bench in his
front yard, which is literally at the foot of highway 82. I ask him if
82 turns to 97, as I suspect. He has no idea, then turns away and
shuts his door on me. The dog chases me to the end of the street.

I try another couple, a middle aged woman and her 20ish son. They
share a dismayingly long whispered huddle before admitting that 82
MIGHT connect to 97 past Union Gap.

At this point, I'm ready to return to the highway, because anything's
better than BEING IN YAKIMA.

My eventual connection takes me up and around a bend, where I catch a
glimpse of the sun setting over the green valley Yakima once was. God
bless its soul; that oil shortage can't come soon enough.

Yakama with an 'A' are AOK.

I rode south from Yakuma for an hour with an eye toward camping out.
The valley outside the city is a patchwork of commercially cultivated
fields, small farms, and impoverished trailer parks where live,
presumably, the pickers.

Something about the quality of this disparity made me nervous about
approaching people for permission to camp on their land. Fortuitously,
I soon reached the Yakama RV park, a sort of Indian-themed KOA,
attached to a fancy pants Yakama cultural interpretation center.

After registering, I came out to find a flat tire on my bike. A quick
inspection turned up a small thorn. I don't know WHOSE ancestors
guided me here, but the timing could not have been better.

Setting up camp, I got lucky again, arriving just in time to watch the
slenderest crescent moon descend between two giant teepees and sink
into an adjacent field.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Life in the fast lane.

The ascent out of Yakima valley into the Yakama reservation was the most harrowing mile of the trip to date, a slow climb with narrow shoulders and fast, aggressive drivers. My mirror is a blessing and a curse here; I can see when vehicles behind me are hugging the line. In one instance I saw a truck that I thought would approach too close and threw myself against a guardrail. I expect he would've cleared me, and the odds of me getting killed throwing myself off the road are far greater, so that was the first and last time.

The north end of the reservation has suffered terrible fires at some point in the not too distant past, and its hills are charred black, barren and devoid of life. I might have been cycling through Mercury, or hell.

The road eased up past the climb, though I soon approached a sign reading "Rough Road." Translation: "Crumbling road last paved in the 50s with no shoulder - your tax dollars hard at work!" The sign also bore an orange safety pennant, which I seriously contemplated stealing to mount on my bike (all the while fearing that Carol Peterman would not approve). Instead I found that a second pennant lay on the ground nearby - presumably clipped by a sloppy driver, which did nothing to assuage my fears - and made good use of it. I have also slung my Teva's over the left saddle bag, following the convention of smaller animals who bristle to appear more formidable in the eyes of dangerous adversaries, I have slung my Tevas over my left saddle bag.

I have developed an intimate relationship with the BRMRMRM sound that cars make as they glide over the graded medium into the oncoming lane; it means they have moved aside to give me room. As with the V2 bombings over England in WW II, hearing the sound of it means that I have already survived the assault. Worst are the drivers who not only do not move aside, but actually honk at me as they pass.

And tomorrow, the world!

I passed, on blasted, inhospitable route 97, a bag man: a grizzled old
black man pushing a shopping cart full of bedrolls and plastic bags.
You know, that same guy you see outside the supermarket or in front of
city hall. Only here, 20 miles from nowhere! WHAT ARE YOU UP TO,
SHOPPING CART GUY? Just imagining it gives me chills. Brrrrr.

Fuck you, you fucking, fucking, fucking headwind.

Today I gazed into the twisted visage of my own true nemesis: a
twisted, god-forsaken headwind that steals 15-20 mph from me, actually
prevents me from rolling downhill, and leaves me swearing oaths of
rage and despair. Instead of enjoying a leisurely afternoon of
coasting after my morning climb, I am now CLIMBING DOWNHILL. The most
frustrating thing is its absolute capriciousness - if I had merely
come on another day, I might have made four times the speed with half
the effort. It slmost seems personal in its targeted whimsy. Curse
you, you fucking, fucking, fucking headwind! I'll see you in court - I
mean HELL!

Satus Pass, elevation 3107 ft.

That's right, you flabby little bitch headwind. I made it ANYWAY.

Whose house? Ivan's house!

That's right, I said, WHOSE HOUSE?

What? No, that's just a little water in my eye from all the wind you
keep blowin' in it. So whynchou just get down off my grill and go make
me a sammich?

Beyotch.

More to tell tommorrow.

For now, suffice it to say that I made it to the Columbia River Gorge;
and that coming through Klikitat Valley and then descending into the
gorge was the finest moment of my life. This morning I cycled through
hell. Well, this was heaven.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunrise to sunset.

Got up with the sunrise on Saturday, and crossed the gorge. The view
from the bridge was glorious.

It was a mostly uneventful day, with lots of mild to moderate climbing
through broad, rolling hills of grass. I reached the top of the Oregon
plains, where the golden land seems to spread out infinitely in all
directions.

I passed through Biggs, Moro, Grass Valleu, Kent. In Grass Valley the
local market bore a sign reading "last groceries for 67 miles." And it
was boarded up. Oh, well.

I made my big mistake on Saturday evening. I reached Shaniko at 6pm,
and though I was unlikely to make the next town - or anything - by
night, I stubbornly went on, with the wind growing and the skies
gathering for a storm. For the next 3 miles I was filled with
conflict. Why am I doing this to myself, I asked. Do I really want to
spend the night in the rain by the roadside? In the end, sense won out
and I turned back for Shaniko.

I spent the night at the Shaniko Hotel, a classic old place with
stories of its own, with a shower and a warm bed. I also enjoyed
dinner with a lovely couple from Portland, Tony and Paris, who drove
out with their bikes to do a loop around the area. Tony lamented the
paucity of cycle travelers; I was the only other cyclist they'd seen
today.

The Other Redmond.

You, that one in Oregon, 15 miles north of Bend? I'm there. I pushed
over 60 miles today, the first few hours of it through rain. I'm beat!
I holed up at the first crappy over-priced motel I spotted,
conveniently located two blocks from pizza, of which I am about to go
partake.

Funny thing; on entering the dark hotel room, I had to open the door
and windows. After all this wide open space, I can't stand being
indoors anymore.

So, so very much more to say, and oh so little battery power. The
solar charger has turned out to be a dismal failure.

On the bright side, I've gone back to good old fashioned paper, and
this trip has given me the inspiration for a novel. I'll have to do a
full cross-country trip to research it, but plenty of time now to
start planning for next year.

Monday, August 20, 2007

My own personal Jesus.

I rolled into Bend this morning with some errands in mind. Wall charger for the iPhone, better sunscreen (my face is a ham, as my new friend Tony would say), a replacement for my punctured 5-gallon water cube (can't pass the desert without it). I located a big box strip mall that met all my needs.

As I approached the mall from the road, I spotted a guy loitering by the roadside with an overladen bike. Another distance cyclist! I rode over to him and shouted, "Where from, where to?" I am so glad that I did.

This was Ken Bettencourt. Ken is riding from New York to Alaska to San Diego to Key West, back to New York. Ken is already 16 months and 13,000 miles into his trip. By the time he's done, he'll have clocked 20,000 miles over two years. Ken has a stage three cerebral cancer. He has already outsurvived all predictions for his longevity.

When Ken was diagnosed, he went through surgeries and chemo. One of his surgeries left him temporarily unable to talk, and it took him a year and a half to recover his full mental faculties. The chemo devastated him, and he knew that it would kill him along with the disease. He set out to do something more with his time than rot in a hospital.

The first time Ken set out for Alaska, he got about a thousand miles from home before a recreational vehicle hit him, totalling his bike, and hospitalizing him with smashed ribs and a broken knee that required the insertion of four pins. He set out again as soon as he was physically able, four months later.

Ken survives on odd jobs that he picks up along the way. Whem I met him, he was out with a cardboard sign, looking for work. His wealthy family doesn't support him in his endeavor, either financially or emotionally.

Ken is a survivor. Through it all, he has remained determined and buoyant, laughing at the odds to keep himself in good spirits while he uses whatever time he has remaining to experience life in a way that most people will never know. He is the single most inspirational person I have ever met, and I am better for it.

You can learn more about Ken on his own blog:

myspace.com/biker4000

Disaster, narrowly averted.

Leaving Bend, I approached La Pine at about 6pm, while I considered
whether to stop there or continue on to Gilchrist, the next town. A
Best Western billboard promising a pool and spa sold me. I could
already feel the hot water on my poor tired legs.

The Western, a rather upscale one with a conference center, was
booked. This was rather shocking, as La Pine is a town of 1585 people
and this was a week night. Hotel #2 (of 3), also booked. (It's too
soon for burners, so Shriners must be in town.)

Only the Westview Motel had any vacancy. I balanced the Westview vs
Gilchrist; 15 miles, could be one hour, could be three, depending on
conditions. I chose the Westview, as the day had been windy and rainy.

I was checked into La Pine's last vacant room (a charming 70s era
kitchenette with green shag) by a socially awkward, stuttering teen
named Reno.

Afterwards, I chatted with Reno and another guest about my bike, which
had caught their interest, and my trip. I was talking routes with
Reno, specifically mentioning how I was headed on along 97 for
Klamath, when he observed that 31 was a better route for me. I
consulted my map, and realized that I had jumbled the 3 Wally Glen
approved routes in my mind. I had actually reached my turnoff, but
was preparing to continue along 97 to Klamath, which would've put me
100 miles off course.

Whew! So let me just recommend the Westview Motel in La Pine. Charming
70s decor, and friendly owners who know their neighborhood.
541-536-2115.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I haul some mighty big ass.

I rose this morning in La Pine to a fog so thick I couldn't see across
the street. But I could make out a wisp of blue up above, so at least
the clouds had finally cleared. Figuring that the fog would burn off
soon enough, I made slow tracks to Cindy's, the little diner next door.

Stuffed, watered and caffeinated, I set out on route 31. After four
grueling days on 97, 31 was a godsend. Immediately the traffic thinned
out to perhaps two cars per minute. By the end of the ride, as I left
ciclvilization further behind, I was seeing perhaps two cars in a half
hour.

It was a peaceful ride through the Deschutes forest, down on to the
Oregon outback scenic byway, past Fort Rock and Christmas Valley,
through Silver Lake, over Picture Rock Pass, and finally down into
Summer Lake, where I have finally settled at Summer Lake Hot Springs
RV park, a perennial burner stop. All told, I racked up a monstrous 92
miles today.

And now, I go to descend into the pool of hot! Don't cry for me,
Argentina.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Blu-Ray

After three days of clouds, the sun returned in full force yesterday,
and as it did, my new polarized sunglasses evinced a curious property.

Around noon, I started seeing other worldly patches of luminescent
blue haze, hovering just above the road surface. Anything on the road
that was black and reflective - oil stains, tire tread marks - was
appearing holographically through my polarized lenses. I was riding
through a 3D movie world.

Once, I was startled by a bird that appeared to be an out-of-place
blue Macaw. At second glance, it was an enormous crow, its black, oily
feathers projecting the same blue haze, giving it a shimmery blue
second skin.

By 4:00, the effect had dissipated. Aparrently the angle of light's
only right when the sun is at its peak.

Bug Spray

Rolling around Summer Lake last night, I finally encountered a weather
pattern that I was not prepared for; the plaque of bugs.

As the sun dipped behind the rim of the lake bed's bowl, putting me in
shadow, I found myself riding through thick clouds of gnats and flying
ants. It was literally (and I do not say 'literally' when what I mean
is 'figuratively'), literally a hail of insects. They were thick as
snow as I ploughed through them at 22mph. They hit my face, clung to
my torso, were trapped in hundreds by the thick hair of my legs.

The bug spray lasted about half an hour, while I brushed the largest
offenders from me and struggled to keep my lips pursed shut. The
assault petered out, but not before leaving me coated with a grime of
the dead and dying.

Contact

The Summer Lake hot tub is actually more of a pool; a rough cement
tank, five feet deep, sunk in an ancient, crumbling, wood beam and tin
roof bath house. Soaking in it last night knocked me right out.
Afterwards, I stumbled drunkenly back to my tent. I got up once during
the night to pee, and stood amazed by the clear wash of stars above me.

In the morning, I found that more campers had joined me, including
some familiar faces; Fremont artist Rodman Miller and his partner
Leslie, of Glass Blowers camp, and several others. By funny
coincidence, I'm on the Glass Blower's early admission list; covering
my bases in case I reach the burn early.

Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

After a quick supply stop in Paisley this morning, I ride down into my first real patch of desert, all blasted sand and scrub brush. I spend over an hour on one endless patch of road so long and straight that receding vehicles disappear into the distance before I can see them turn. The distant heat shimmer reflects the sky as clearly as a deep mountain pool.

Screaming hawks ride the air currents above me, their enormous shadows sometimes crossing my path. I once startle a desert hare and watch it lope off at twice my speed. Flocks of small black birds scatter in my wake, trailed by that electric blue aura superimposed my glasses.

The emotional roller coaster and physical sufferance of the first few days have settled into a calm confidence and steady routine. My legs have been retrained to the constant pedaling; they feel best when I resume riding after a good stretch. The travel has become not only survivable, but sustainable, emerging into not merely a trip, but a lifestyle.

The solitude, the bare elements, the glorious, unimpeded views of the road all give me the room I need to think. I know it's cliche, but I feel like this is the life I was born for. Guess I shoulda been a cowboy.

The real reason why, or, the theft of the American Dream.

I have plenty of time out here to meditate on the real reason I took this trip, and it comes down to this: I want to do things my own way, make my own choices, blaze my own trails.

There's precious little room in this world anymore for a man to walk alone, stand proud, and live according to his own beliefs, when everything comes neatly prepackaged for his convenience. Packaged meals, packaged media, packaged vacations, packaged homes, packaged lifestyles, packaged LIVES.

First off, anything that's mass produced is by it's nature inferior due to the demands of efficiencies on a scale for mass production.

But the real problem with all these predigested choices is that they're a soporific, an illusion of choice meant to lull us to sleep and keep us from thinking, sold to us by the keepers of what was once the American Dream. That dream is no longer a populist one. It belongs now to those savvy enough to understand that finite resources can not be shared infinitely; who have the merciless will and temerity to hoard that dream, by keeping the majority of the population fat, stupid and complacent with fast food and cable television.

Well, I will not play. They can keep their condos and their new cars and their 60 inch televisions. I will be out here, where I can stand tall, think for myself, and live my own god damned life.

Act three: the gun on the mantle.

Disaster finally caught up with me today; as it must, since I've carried its seeds from my trip's inception.

It started as a minor nuisance: with the sloshing of my water jug and clanking of my carabiner-suspended brass knuckles (a souvenir of route 97 through the Yakama res). At first I thought my load was just out of balance. Soon I realized that what I had was a wheel out of true.

I'm not very mechanically inclined, and trueing wheels has always been something I thought best left to experts, so I rode into Lake View hoping to find a bike shop. In town, I spotted a man on a bike, and learned from him that there was no bike shop, but that I might find help at the True Value. At the True Value, I learned that the fellow in question was out, but would be in tomorrow.

Ridiculous, I thought. I have the world's accumulated knowledge at my fingertips, and if I can't true my own wheel, I shouldn't be out here. Google easily returned some simple instructions, and of course my multi-tool had a spoke wrench. I went to examine the wheel closer.

To my horror I found three spokes not merely loose, but snapped. There were no spokes to be had in Lake View, or Alturas, or anywhere between here and Reno. Help - in the form of someone who could bring spokes for me - was days away. And even if I had them, I'm not sure I'd have the expertise to apply them.

I did the only thing I could think of: I loosened the three opposing spokes, figuring to at least help balance the wheel laterally. I have disk breaks, so breaking is not an issue. I just have to keep the tire on the road for another 150 miles.

I will not stop here, I will not quit. Turning on to 395, in a moment of giddy loopiness, my mind offered up the theme from "The Greatest American Hero:"

Believe it or not, I'm walkin' on air,
I never thought I could feel so free...
Flyin' away on a wing and a prayer,
Believe it or not, it's just me!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I believe in Yesterday.

I race down the long straight stretch of 395 between Lakeview and Alturas, trying to incorporate my wobbly new danger into my worldview. This section has always been one of my favorite parts of the drive to Burning Man; the beautiful, serene countenance of Goose Lake, parallel to the road, but far enough off it to project an alluring sense of mystery.

My mind wanders down memory lane to previous trips. This time last year, I was barreling down this road in my trailer-laden tiger Saab, hot in pursuit of the London street bus in which the distraught, topless, champagne-drunk stripper in my passenger seat believed she had left her ID bag / drug kit.

Lost in thought, I wobble down the road singing "Yesterday," my voice oscillating as if I were singing into a fan.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, or, I think it's time to eat the co-pilot.

Hobbling along this morning from Goose Lake state park, imagining my rear tire growing further and further off true, I considered cannibalizing the spokes of my front wheel to shore up the sagging rear. I was held back by the fear of spending hours in a delicate operation, only to lose the donor as well as the patient. I did notice that the wheel had abraded the casing of my rear break line, and I pulled it out of harm's way.

While I was deep in this internal debate, a loaded pick-up truck stopped ahead of me. It was my friends Stuart and Julie! They'd been following my blog, and stopped to say hi.

This was a terrific comfort in my hour of doubt. I was particularly happy to see Julie, because she was one of the first people to get excited about my plan last year. She has a lot more bike maintenance skill than I. She looked over my tire and professed that she thought it would make it. Of course I realize it's just her opinion vs. my neck, but still comforting to hear.

We chatted a bit, I shared some sunblock with Julie, and Stuart dug out some zip ties for me, so I was able to tie down my abraded break cable.

I returned to the road considerably happier, and have since reached the junction of 299. 30 miles by noon! I'm getting good at this. With luck, I should reach Eagleville by this evening.

Honking is for haters.

Unlike the often melodious human voice, car horns don't have a great tonal range. They can't communicate subtlety or nuance, mood or expression. In fact, there is really only one thing that car horns can do, and that is scare the bejeezus out of the person in front of you.

When people seated securely in great crushing steel machines honk at people perched precariously atop spindly little spiderwheel machines, it's just terrifying to the latter, regardless of the intent of the former.

So this weekend, when you see me, please, don't honk. Slow down instead. Maybe even consider coming to a full stop. Offer me a juice box. But leave the honking to the haters. And the geese.

Thank you. This Public Safety Announcement brought to you by PETB, People for the Ethical Treatment of Bicyclists.

Recumbents saved my ass. Ask me how!

Well, my most excellent girlfriend and partner, Mary, got on the phone with both my bike shop and the makers of my bike, learned exactly what spokes I need, and most comforting, heard straight from the horse's mouth that my wheel will likely survive my last few miles.

I'm currently taking a break from the heat halfway up to Cedar Pass between Alturas and Cedarville, so it's a good moment to extoll the virtues of both my bike and my bike shop.

I ride a Bacchatta Giro recumbent (the kind you sit back on, like a motorcycle, or a La-Z-Boy). Unlike the low-to-the-ground recumbents you may have seen, this is a touring bike that stands almost as tall as an upright, so it's visible in traffic. It's my first recumbent, purchased with this trip in mind, but now that I've been on it for almost a year, I will never go back to an upright.

My bike is easier on my body in almost every way over an upright. It alleviates numbness in my wrists, in my posterior, and if you'll forgive my momentary Brooklyn Italian accent, in my cock-and-balls. I've been sitting in the saddle for ten days with no discomfort. The only downside is that I put more labor into uphill climbs, because I can't stand up on the pedals to use my weight. The learning curve was not bad; I was able to ride it easily on the first try, though it took about a month before I was comfortable riding in traffic.

I bought my bike at Angle Lake Cyclery, near Seatac, the only shop in the Seattle area that sells them (there used to be two others shops that carried them, but they have discontinued sales). Angle Lake specializes in recumbents, has been in business continuously for over 50 years, and its staff are incredibly knowledgeable. Dale, the owner, is the Mr. Wizard of recumbents, though like many fine artists, he's a bit, eh... organizationally challenged. Be prepared to have patience with him. Fom my trips there, I've had the impression that he has a devoted clientele (me included).

I'll point you to Dale's website though, frankly, it sucks. Your best bet is just to wonder in on a weekday when he's less busy. He'll let you take anything out in the parking lot for a test ride. Tell him Ivan sent you.

http://www.anglelake.com

Cedar Pass, elevation 6305 feet

Now I know what it's like to get my ass kicked by a mountain in cold and in heat. Just as I hit the top, yards from the elevation marker, my left hamstrings start cramping, but that's ok - now it's 5 sweet miles of coasting, straight into Cedarville.

We, who are about to dine, salute you.

I'm so close now I'm vibrating with excitement (or maybe it's just the aftershock of the 30mph ride downhill). 17 easy miles to Eagleville.

More familiar faces here, too - Jesse and Allegra, in a truck I remember seeing half an hour back. We exchange hugs before they have to run - Jesse's got a medical shift on-playa.

I bound into the Surpise Cafe, the two year old coffee and lunch bar that's quickly displacing the Country Hearth as THE last stop before the playa, with better food, faster service, and free wifi to boot. I take my lunch ouside - partly because I don't like the indoors anymore, but mostly because, after ten days of aggressive exercise, my table manners are no longer suitable for polite at. I scarf down my mixed green salad and bean burrito. It's the last salad I'll see until I come off-playa, and I am pleased that it is suitably delicious, chock full of strawberries, cranberries, carmelized walnuts, goat cheese, and vinaigrette dressing.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Greetings from Black Rock City

So much to say, so technologically limited. Suffice to say for now - I
MADE IT!

Thanks to everyone who followed along with my adventure and lent your
support. It meant very much to me. Special thanks to my girlfriend
Mary, the constant cheerleader. While I might've managed it alone, I
couldn't have asked for a better, more supportive partner.

My hope is to fill in the blanks later on, so check back in again!

Ivan