Friday, November 09, 2012

Leaving Blogger

Blogger's Android app is moronic, so I am moving to WordPress. This will stay as an archive, but my new posts about my trip to South America will reside at

Moving to a new site

Blogger's android app is useless so I'm moving to a new site as soon as possible. I will post the new link here when I get it set up.

A fine day - Marion Lake to Wichita

Somehow this captures Kansas scenery

100 km/62 mi

The last couple of days I had woken up to screaming winds, and I expected to again. This time I was looking forward to it: before those screaming winds would be crosswinds, but today they would be a glorious tailwind! But when I woke up, all was silent... Ah well, at least I didn't have a headwind, right?

I knew I didn't have to fuss with finding lodging because I'd be staying at my dad's, so I took my sweet time getting ready. I didn't leave until 10! That was pushing it a bit. On my way out, I discovered a working water spigot—wonder of wonders! Most of them are shut off at these campsites because of the chance of freezing, so I was a happy fellow: I could load up for the day without having to go miles out of my way.

I headed to Peabody in search of a late breakfast (muesli just ain't enough I've found). It was a nice little town. I headed to Pop's Diner. Not a warm reception when I came in, but my hair must have been pointing in all directions and I am pretty garish in my blue coat.

I had biscuits and gravy (yum) and then left. A group of people piling out of a minivan asked me about my trip and sounded impressed. They wished me luck, but warned me about the coming storm.

There's a name I haven't seen in a while. Thankfully...
Not a whole lot to say about the rest of the day: I kept a pretty good pace of about 12 mph most of the day until I ran into a slight headwind near the end of the ride. Getting into Wichita was no problem; I just followed Greenwich from K196 all the way in. 196 itself was a bit hairy: huge semis going way over the speed limit, with a fair shoulder completely covered by deep rumble strips (and thus unrideable). A couple of semis with wide loads forced me off the road a couple of times, something new to me (though I guess I'll have more experience with that as time goes on).

Now here I am in Wichita. I thought I'd be able to rest, but I have so much to do before I leave again on Monday!

I made a good decision for once! - Council Grove Lake to Marion Lake

107 km/66mi

I started the day thinking I might just stay in Council Grove. It was a free site, I wasn't in that big a hurry. And the wind was just as miserable as the day before.

I contemplated for about an hour. I hated the idea of dealing with the powerful wind that dominated the day before. But every time I thought about it, I thought "I want to ride". Not because I was in a hurry, not because I'd feel like a wimp. I just really like the feeling of sitting on the monstrous thing, moving along through headwind and through tailwind.

So I finally gave in to these cruel urges and decided to keep moving.

I'd planned to head to McPherson Lake, east of McPherson. This meant more jockeying with gravel, so I really wanted a different option.

When I got to Herrington after miles of fighting the exact same crosswind from the day before, I had to make a choice. I could go east or south. East was more slogging, but possibly less gravel when I went south later. Going south now meant a beautiful, beautiful tailwind that could push my wide load even up hills! But that would mean suffering through gravel as well as crosswind if I turned east to McPherson park.

I say "if" because I had begun to think of continuing south to a city. I didn't know the conditions on the road to the park, and I was just plain sick of the wind. Why not use the wind to my advantage and head south to a city? It might mean shelling out for a motel, that's why not! But I began to really entertain the idea, and when I got to the turnoff for the park and realized I had another 30 miles to go, I decided to go south.

The most likely candidate was Marion, a fair-size city with a lake, so flew along with the wind that way.

Just at the turnoff for Marion, I caught sight of a couple of fellow travelers. Their kit was very different from mine, and I felt a bit overdressed. They were walking their bikes into the wind, one with barely any equipment on her bike, the guy I first spoke to with a trailer and a pet carrier. They looked pretty rough and, while not unfriendly didn't offer much information about themselves. The guy told me the girl had had a lot of difficulties at a homeless center in Wichita; they were headed from Wichita to Massachusetts by the most direct route. In the pet carrier were a couple of kittens, they said. Their names were Storm (the guy) and Raven (the girl). I didn't ask.

I showed them my map and then wished them luck.

Marion had a nice big city park so I asked about camping there at the city office, but found a brochure for the lake, and now here I am, camping in my third free site! Best, it looks like tomorrow will not only have a tailwind most of the way, but my trip will be considerably shorter.

Marion Lake fall foliage

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Tough day - Pomona Lake to Council Grove Lake

Donkeys know how to hide

119 km/ 74 mi Today started out well enough. It was cold and cloudy, but I felt more confident on the bike because I'd moved some items around in the front panniers and it seemed easier to keep control of the bike.

Maybe I got cocky.

I felt good on the gravel roads outside of Pamona lake park. Slow, but comfortable. I slogged my way nearly to pavement, when suddenly the gravel got very squirrelly: just a big pile of rocks, very little hard land. Unfortunately I was going downhill.

Whoa! WHAM! My head slammed against the ground (in a helmet, thankfully). I got up and checked the bike, then myself. A holder for one of my rear panniers had snapped—not the end of the world, I have a couple more. I ripped a nice hole in my new Gore tex rain jacket near the elbow. Bummer, I'll patch it up when I get to Wichita. I had a few scrapes but nothing serious, and I did a few of those tests they go through when someone hits their head on TV and I seemed ok. But I found out later I'd lost my tiger eye glass bracelet from Kamakura. I had a feeling it was too fragile for this trip, but it was a shame to lose it.

Gravel battle scars

The rest of the day was a long and very hard slog. I finally reached pavement and vowed never to let Open Street Map lead me through gravel again (though I had to ride on gravel to get to the campsite). But the going was rough all day because of a crosswind that was almost as bad as a headwind. It took 8 hours to go 60 miles.

Dinner after a long day

Goodbye! - Lawrence to Pomona

Well's Overlook
75 km/47 mi Today was a good start. I rode with a few friends to Well's Overlook (nearly blowing a gasket on the way up the hill), then met a few more friends there. We ate bagels while we talked about my trip. People slowly said goodbye one after one, then Billy and I rode a bit more together. We parted ways near Clinton dam.

Last goodbye for a while

I felt good but sluggish, but the day was pretty good. I didn't think about much; now that I'm on the road it's a little easier to let go of all the "duties": for now I can't do much more than ride!
I spent a fair portion of the day on gravel. It wasn't too bad. But I was definitely slow: I'd ridden my bike with most of my stuff before, but I've added a large bag with food and odds and ends, and I think that bag itself weighs as much as all my other bags combined. I might have to reconsider some of the odds and ends when I get to Wichita.

Pamona's 110 mile park is nice enough. No one's here: it's Sunday and getting COLD! The sun's just gone down and the temperature's dropping. I'm lake-side, which may make things cooler. It'll be good practice for later, on the high plateaus of Arizona. It's just now 6, and even with the time change it's a bit early, but I may curl up in my sleeping bag here in a bit.

In 110 Mile Park
Update: Just as I was about to zip into my sleeping bag, a rumbling mini van turned in to the camp ground. My first thought was that it was a ranger, then a camper, but then I heard a familiar voice: "Jesse, is that you?" Barbara from work and her husband Harold had come out to meet me! They weren't able to come to Well's Overlook, so they came searching for me at Pomona Lake. They didn't say how long it took, but I'm guessing they were at it for a while. Barbara brought me some homemade bread. What a great person! It was a real pleasure to see them both, and a great surprise.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Official announcement and map

So, most people know I'm leaving November 4th, headed from here to California and then on my way south as far as I can go. For those who don't, well, now you know.
Here's a map of my plan.

The route (very roughly). Probably won't head to SF, but it's still an option.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Working on the blog. Blogger is really fiddly these days: their way or the highway. Might try the highway soon.

Friday, October 05, 2012

At the new office

This one's real. In a manner of speaking...
Hey there!
Just started the new job this week. Quite a change; I've been so out of practice. Everything's new again, and so hard! But that's how it always is the first few days, or weeks.

Here's my new desk. I don't think I've said this of a desk before, but it strikes me as very sturdy.

Most of my coworkers are just awful-so bossy! The best ones are those who stay a healthy distance away, but even they stink and might throw rocks at me. The worst just sit there in their cubicles, occupying their time with chatter or looking at everything but their work. And the ones with the biggest offices don't even notice I'm there half the time.
I, on the other hand, have to constantly keep my mind on what I'm doing. There's really not a whole lot of margin for error: I'm constantly looking around to make sure I'm doing it right. I'm not working with all the equipment yet; this is a training period, so it's best to just focus on the core job.
My desk, or rather, my chair, is very uncomfortable. I'm usually hunched over my desk, and I've had neck and lower back trouble. But then, I had those problems at my old job, and the pain in my lower back subsided after a while, which is new. It's my butt that's really suffering. I might have to look into getting a new chair.

Like I said, it's been a while since I've done much of this, especially for several hours. Monday I just worked for about an hour, then went to a store to look into a uniform. Yesterday I was at my desk before 9, and spent a few hours working. It was a rough day even so; I was very frustrated at how difficult it has become.
Today was better. I actually spent six hours at it, and though I'm exhausted now, I'm satisfied that I'm making better progress. A metric century the third day on the job is good enough for me!

Taking a break

It's a good job, with a lot of freedom. There are fewer coworkers in the middle of the day; they show up more in the mornings and early evenings. The pay is awful, though. Oh well. There are so many opportunities that I couldn't pass it up!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Letter from the mountains

Hey, man,

It's been a long time! I was glad to receive your letter. Mail doesn't often come up here in the mountains, and it leaves even less often! So this will reach you some time after your generous message. Sorry about that.

Yeah, I moved up here to become a mushroom hunter a few years ago. You shouldn't be so surprised! You know I've always searched for the things even when I didn't want to, and none were to be found anyway. They call to me, across the dark miles between us, until I am kept awake at night. I don't always know where to find them, but they call to me still, and I have to look for them.

No, it's not a brisk trade in mushrooms, you're right! There are eccentric chefs who come to me for my eccentric selection, but they are rare and don't always give much. I have a peppery variety that they all seek: I won't tell you my secret for finding them, but I have to hang off of steep cliffs and search for dark holes under the shadows of knotted pines. It's treacherous, but it has become indispensable to the local cuisine most recently; and it adds color, a deep blue with reddish orange. I found another variety only once, but its price was enough to keep me fed for a year. Yellow and curled, it looks much like a banana slug but its flavor and texture are distinctly... well, it reminds one of a woman I am told.

Most of my business is with the local folks, who are really just looking for some sort of fodder for their animals. Nothing grows well here, nothing but the mushrooms, and so I do well in volume: the big, white and beefy varieties get me enough to live on in trade, and the gratitude and trust of the herdsmen surpasses the rewards given by the rich chefs many times over.

Yes, it's a pretty solitary life, but I don't feel lonely except at times. At the peak there's a ring of white stones, oblong things tapering off at the top and carved hundreds, thousands of years ago, and they pose as if rising up to guard the sky. I talk to them, there on the peak, and though they do not answer I know they understand. They gather around, and I tell them all I have to say, and then I go away.

At the full moon I meet the tattooed woman. We meet there, among the stones, and then we pass the night in a mountain hut and I follow with my finger the many-colored whorls that cover her back, her stomach, her breasts and legs: the traces of men she has known before me. The most recent stands out red and inflamed. But I cannot rest when I am beside her, so I watch her sleep. And when her breathing slows and softens, the tattoos fade and disappear until she is bone white beneath the moon. And when she slowly wakens, they appear again, each in their place; and she is beautiful white, and she is beautiful colored with tattoos.

I don't know her age, but she remembers a time when there were oceans of ice. She will eat any mushrooms I give her, but does not seem to need them; I too eat sparingly. I have lost weight since I came here; the skin on my face sags a bit now. The way to the peak leads through a nest of spider ants. They are small, but the many tiny fangs, hundreds, thousands at a time, add to a terrible poison and I vomit and find it hard to keep down food for some time after. I tried after many of these attacks to find another way, but this path is so much faster, and I always seem to get lost among the trees when I go any other way. Besides, I don't really believe there is a path that doesn't lead through the spider ants. I can't imagine how their bites satisfy them, because the small amount of blood is nothing even compared to their tiny bodies. But I guess they need to feed themselves, and each other, somehow.

The tattooed woman has begun to write in my flesh now, and I'm afraid it is indelible. Fresh, it stands out on my skin. But the tattoo is magnificent, black and shades of green in a tight spiral near my navel, and by it I remember her. Once she felt all my body without preference, but now she begins there each time, touching the tattoo like a groove worn from marble.

As I watch her at night I listen to the mountains: their solidity is so heavy on the heart that it makes me gasp; and yet I keep listening, I want to hear. They are protecting me, all of us, from some terrible fate. The world might fly apart or something, without them. So I listen and I feel better, safer, for it.

I hope you and your family are well.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A letter from earth [take two]

Sorry, sometimes the best and most romantic stories we can make up don't end the way we might hope.


Hello, I received your pigeon. An amazing bird of rainbow colors; so few I have known know where to go. I will return him to you; I hope that he will find his way.

I wandered on to your camp the other day, and I was so glad, my heart flooded for the mere promise of a world other than mine. And then I saw you, your raw flesh pink in the darkness and your long, black hair a net with trailing threads, waving in the wind but always centered on your small head. I saw your smile flash now and again behind that eddy, and your teeth were brilliant in a small mouth.

You were enjoying the snow.

I guess you don't know what a snow drift means to me, who have for so many years waded through the darkness of ice and longed for the brilliance of the sun.

I was there, next to you, and I was pleased with your joy, but did you think what it means to me to look at the cold, the everyday, that is constant and unchanging in my life? If I have seen snow, I have seen it piled over my life: I have seen the smallest flake on my textbooks for school and I have seen it rising in drifts when I went to a funeral. A wedding is dug out of the banks, and the few green trees I have seen in my life were pushing only the most pitiful, shriveled buds out from behind hard ice. That cold ice is everywhere: we build our houses in it.

I admit I have taken a feather from your pigeon, or more than one: the green that is familiar from those striving trees, and orange, that I only see as the sun sets. It only flinched a little, and a single drop of blood fell on the snow.

So I have a calendar that advances. It tells me from a history unknown to me that I will always see this world. I will dig, and I will dig, and you wonder why I might want to rise above it into the clouds that are made of small drops of water; they melt in the sun, but nothing melts here. My stomach, like the ice, is one hard, twisting space, without release.

But you beckon to me. You beckon to me with your beautiful vision of what great expanse, a world of emptiness that is warmed by the sun, where the beginning becomes the end over and over.

Your birds are dirty, and you ride naked. I will cut into my dark expanse of ice and go to sleep, but never forgive that you thought you were better.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

A letter in flight

This is dedicated to Grace Jones, an eagle Operation Wildlife attempted to save after she got lead poisoning. I didn't meet her myself, but a friend who volunteers there held her when she was first brought in, and I followed her story on FB. She was a beautiful bird, but unfortunately she didn't make it.

They do good things at OWL, check them out.


Hello again,

I'm high atop the clouds, my tribe a black cloud of feathers against the sun. From up here I see your ice and frozen trees, glittering and glinting in that same sun. The wind is so cold up here, in my imagination it is warmer where you are if only because there is no wind. But here the sun heats the black and gray wings of our birds, and I think it must be warmer than under the ice.

When I met you I was thinking of the snow. Snow may fall on us, on the run, flying through the streams of wind, but it never collects. Only once a year do we camp so close to the ground as where you and I met: usually we are in eyries high and precarious, and the snow only piles into small fingers. But I think I was smiling when you found me; there, so near the ground and on a wide plain, the snow rose majestic in great drifts, far over my head. My tribe and our birds slept on a windswept cliff, and I smiled at those drifts, and you came.

You said you dreamt of those heights, of flying. That all you land-dwellers, in your pillars of ice, dream of flying. I didn't tell you that I dream of the land, the snow and ice, where I can stop and trace the movement of time. We circle, round and around the world, always escaping the horror that chases us, and hoping at the same time that we don't overtake it from behind. Every day is much the same, and the sun is always ahead, always ahead. But you see the sun cross over you, and you count the seasons. I envy that peace.

And so I say I beckoned to you not for you to live a life of comfort, or even to live the best life you might, but because I wanted you with me, and because you never beckoned to me to come with you.

I will send this letter by pigeon; he will await your response before returning to me. He is most faithful. We fly in a circle, of course, and so he will fly the other way to find me. I hope he will escape what follows, and we may meet again.