Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 74: Cannon Beach, Oregon: "Take That Turn"

There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding the ride from Maupin to Portland. For one, the distance, and a 5am wake-up call to match. Then there was the whole issue of us having to cross the Cascade Mountains, including the mystical Mt. Hood, in a day. Moreover, while it wouldn't be our last mountains ever, it would certainly be figuratively downhill after that day's ride. And, finally, on the other side of those mountains awaited Portland; a real city, which captured our imagination with its promises of real city things: shops, restaurants, bars, people.

There's actually a really relevant idea from the world of videogames that I can use here. I gave up on trying to be conventionally cool a long time ago, so forgive me while I get a little geeky...

While it's not requisite to all videogames, most of my favorites have a "Final Boss", a character the protagonist needs to fight or a challenge the protagonist needs to overcome in order to crest the story arc and complete the game. The final boss is usually presented in one of two ways. In the more traditional way, hype is built around the boss throughout the course of the story; the evil wizard mocks you as he kidnaps the princess, the dastardly King Koopa retreats right before being defeated to fight another day, and so on. In other instances, the final boss is also the final twist; the mysterious "Grand Champion" is in fact your lifelong rival, your best friend betrays you, the villain goes too far and is warped by the same power he tried to master, etc. In either case, a good final boss is supposed to be cathartic; a final showdown to test the player's skill and provide a satisfying end.

This ride was framed as the final boss of our route. Rumor was, even considering how strong we all were, it would still be one of the toughest days of the trip. In particular, Mt. Hood was steeped in hype and mystery, really more of an imposing idea than an actual place. That is until we saw it out in the distance after climbing out of the canyon Maupin was built into. There it stood, towering over the desert like a god, its snow-capped peaks carving the sky, the misty forests of the Cascades at its feet and, somewhere on the other side, Portland and eventually Cannon Beach.

In the shadow of Mt. Hood Jesse, Zach and I did our characteristic geeking-out, most likely as a coping mechanism. We discussed the greatest boss battles of our respective gaming experiences, and watched as the landscape slowly transformed from dry high desert to cool wet Pacific rainforest. On a global scale the change in environment was instantaneous, as if we had biked through some magical portal into another world. And all the time Mt. Hood towered over us.

Before lunch we managed to sneak in a pretty strenuous discussion of metaphysics and the universe and stuff. During lunch all people could really do was look at the mountain and wonder if it would show our modest team of cross-country cyclists mercy. I couldn't really eat much. I didn't want to.

I wanted to bike.

I rolled out of lunch and soon I was right at the foot of it. Then the trees got so tall that they obscured the mountain. I went up some simple uphill. It was the foreplay. Soon enough the mountain would hit me with full force, I told myself.

You can understand my confusion when after only about 5 minutes of this I saw a sign marking the peak elevation for the pass.

As Flava Flav, one of our culture's greatest poets once said, "don't believe the hype".

We snuck around the damn thing! I was coasting downhill through some modest mountain towns before I expected to even be breaking a sweat on my climb! Talk about anticlimactic!

But I suppose there's some satisfaction to be taken in this. Three months ago I would have soiled myself at the sight of a snow-capped mountain surrounded by dark clouds if I were told I had to climb it. That day, not only was I ready for it, but I was legitimately disappointed that it was such an easy ride.

Oh how far I've come. Someday I will return to Portland if only to really acquaint myself with Mt. Hood.

Anyways, I may not have gotten my climb, but everything past Mt. Hood exceeded expectations and rejuvenated my very soul after a week's worth of hard biking through harsh desert. In the sleepy town of Sandy Noah and Emily caught up with me, and Noah told me there was an excellent donut shop in town, and asked if I wanted him to show me where it was. Um, yes. And as for the donuts? Divine. I had some honking-huge chocolate bar donut and an enormous Portland-quality coffee for, like, two bucks. There wasn't even a sales tax. I love this state!

Since Mt. Hood turned out to be a tease I had a tremendous amount of energy pent up. Combine that with the intake of a large coffee after over two weeks without coffee and my brain was moving so fast that it almost lapped itself. I had to move. HAD TO. And I had to see Portland. So I said my goodbyes to the other teammates and went as fast as my feet and physics would allow. I tried to chase Jesse Young, which was definitely a suitable challenge. My lungs weren't thrilled about this, but they're not in charge so whatever.

In the blink of an eye I was at the church; exhausted, in pain, but also in Portland. The church that hosted us was enormous, with enough room for each of us to not just have space to stretch but absolute privacy if we so desired. And the church-goers themselves were wonderful people. I had a conversation with a guy named Joe, and the best word to describe him is "real". He's a retired cop, and spends a lot of his time these days volunteering with different organizations across the town. Working as a cop has given him a pretty dead-pan sense of humor and authoritative opinion about people and their potential. And he loved us. He loved what we were doing and excitedly determined that everyone should know about Bike & Build and what we did. Before I could even thank him for the compliment he was making calls to news stations. he was just such a sold guy. I wish there was a better way of getting that into words than what I'm coming up with.

On top of that, Noah's folks swung by during dinner with one of the most absurd deserts I've ever seen. Essentially take a scrumptuos bonbon (with orange peel), cut it in half, and blow it up to roughly 100 times the size of an average bonbon. Good god. And on top of the desert it was also great to meet Noah's folks. I don't know most of my friends parents, but it always explains a lot when I get to meet them. They're never quite what I expect, but you can always see that their kids got *something* big from them.

And while those of age went out to bars afterwards I stayed in with the rest of the underagers. We celebrated our youth and naivete by listening to the Avett Brothers and just enjoying being with each other. After all, there wasn't much time left.

The next day we woke up bright and early for our last Build Day, this time with East Portland's Habitat Affiliate. It was actually really cold that morning, which most of us found more exciting than anything else. We worked in a neighborhood comprised mostly of Habitat houses and it was sweet getting to meet the residents and hearing how Habitat had helped them help themselves. I also had the privilege of working alongside a girl named Sarah. She had just turned 16 and, while she'd been involved with Habitat's youth committee at her highschool, this was the first time she was allowed to volunteer at a build site. Her, Jesse Young and I laid dry wall for the trim of a house, and talked about Habitat and awesome things to do in Portland. her snarkiness made the tedious labor go all the faster, and she was a great sport about getting placed on the one job that didn't involve power tools.

Afterwards the Portland Habitat was kind enough to take our team out to the Green Dragon Pub in town for dinner and free drinks, two of my very favorite things. I enjouyed an exquisite (and free!) root beer and shot the breeze and exchanged war stories with the Habitat affiliates. A few more parents came, including Jen's mom (who looks and sounds exactly like a blond Jen! Aw!) and we also met up with some BnB alumni in the area. One couple, whose names are escaping me, actually told us how when they did the CUS route last year they had a day off in Portland. They decided to look at apartments and a month later they moved to the city. That's how much they loved the town, and they were all kinds of excited to share it with us.

At *every* Portlander's recommendation we left dinner to cross town on the bus to check out the Alberta Street Fair which was happening that night. Adventure immediately found us when we stepped on to the bus. The driver let us have a free ride for what we were doing so we could enjoy the city. The front was taken up by a goofy looking guy in a Mickey Mouse ear-hat. He had a balloon cart and was performing magic tricks for passengers. I stood at the edge of our group, digging the scene, when I heard some dude behind me say "Yo! man, those are the strongest calve muscles I've ever seen!". I turned around and he was in fact talking to me. I guess they were flexing while I tried to keep my balance on the bus. I let out a laugh and thanked him, but he wasn't done. he turned to a woman standing next to me and said "Shoot! Ay gurl! Ain't those the most beautiful calves you ever saw?". The woman turned, gave my calves a run down, and said "Actually...wow...yeah...those really are!". I let out a bigger laugh. I turned to a pair of cute hippie girls sitting next to me watching this scene unfold. As the first man walked off the bus I said "This town's making one hell of a first impression". They thanked me and asked me what brought me to the city. I talked about Bike & Build and they talked about what was good in Portland. They were super friendly too.

In fact Portland is the friendliest big city I think I've ever been in. The only people who were ever rude to me were a handful of kids, and I think that's only because they haven't lived long enough to master their manners.

The hippie girls hopped off the bus with us and showed us the way to Alberta Street. And where do I even begin in describing this festival?

I guess I should start with what little I know about it. Apparently Portland has a monthly street festival in the bourgeois part of town every first of the month called, guess what? "First Thursday". In response to this festival, the fine folks of northeast Portland started getting together every *last* Thursday of the month to celebrate, guess what? "Last Thursday".

I'm not saying I wouldn't enjoy First Thursday. When you get down to it I'm a pretty bourgeois dude. I like things like indie rock and yoga and ethnic food and all-hemp, organic vegan sweatshirts and I've dabbled with being a socialist, an anarchist, a hardcore eastern philosopher, and I've settled for the stylings of a clean hippie. I'm in a liberal arts program studying Religion (with a focus in Buddhism) and the Social Sciences for godsake.

But Last Thursday is just so much more...real. So much more. You get the impression that it's just *barely* being held together, like some sort of riot in the street, but instead of guns everybody hands out bundles of lavender flowers. Hot dog vendors, alongside selling their wares, host huge raves, complete with a dj and a dance party that pours out all the way to the other side of the street. People are juggling fire. Some guy passed me on a skateboard with a leash hold is pair of dogs in one hand and a fishing pole with a steak on the end of it in his other hand. Some house on Alberta Street was overwrought with folks. The lighting inside was dim and warm so all you saw were profiles. The music pouring out only steeped the party in further mystery. I bought a sweet new baja sweatshirt to replace the one I left on the plane from Ecuador last year.

There were two big moments for me. The first was this insane band. Easily 15 musicians on as many instruments. Accordions. Mandolins. Xylophones. Trumpets. And the best way of describing their music was Pirate Rock. No, not that stuff the street performers in Disney Land play. This was loud. Raunchy. If it were a car it would be a station wagon packed with as many different people as possible, careening off the road and crashing into a mailbox, with the passengers pouring out, laughing and singing as they walk out into the night. We stayed until the end of their set, dancing in the street. They were called All the Apparatus, and I know this because I immediately bought their cd when they finished playing. I immediately bought it because, of all the songs they could have ended with, they ended with a pure rumpus in which the whole band sang "let's go outside and go ride bikes!!!" as the chorus, over and over. There are some moments in life that go beyond coincidental to become transcendental. This journey has taught me to pay attention to those moments. But more on that later.

The second highlight came early after we started exploring. We passed a man sitting at a colorful-but-simple booth with a sign that said "Free Advice". I couldn't resist, especially considering I sold advice to strangers on the street corner as part of my fundraising for Bike & Build. And the man, Chris, just looked like he knew about life. He had a clean, relaxed look, a friendly smile, and he sat in perfect composure, people watching with that calm smile on his face and his hands clasped eagerly together, ready to pass on his wisdom to others. In the auspicious air of that evening I felt the trip was reaching a climax, and so I was ready to ask him a big question: "How do I get the most out of life?"

Chris said something to this effect: "Think of your life as like a journey; a road which you travel down. You can't turn around. You're always moving forward. There are highs, lows, and you see and experience all kinds of things as life passes by you. The way you get the most out of life is simple: if you see something on the side of the Road that gets you excited, that captures your imagination, that fills you with wonder and hope, you take that turn. You take that turn and you go after it with all you've got."

I honestly can't think of a more fitting final lesson to take away from this trip. It was a truth I was arriving at all Summer long, but I'd never heard it so eloquently phrased and elegantly broken down. And I think Chris is right. I really think it's that simple. We just need to Take That Turn.

Satisfied entirely with life after Last Thursday, we meandered home and I slept like a baby. The next day we peaced out of Portland, but not before we squeezed the last few drops of goodness we could out of it. We biked across downtown, with Noah leading the pack, to Voodoo Donuts, a world-famous donut-house and wedding chapel. I had a bacon-maple bar, which is beautiful in its simplicity: a longjohn with maple icing and a perfectly cooked strips of bacon laid on top. I coupled this with a cup of Pacific-level Joe from Stumptown Coffee, just down the street from there, and after we all got our fix we rolled out of town in the most dramatic of fashions: up Skyline Boulevard and across the remainder of the Cascades. The views were incredible, reminiscent of our days in the Appalachians, but with all of us considerably stronger and wiser. I was appreciating how far I'd come as I worked across by myself when I was totally humbled because life's funny like that. A pack of bikers passed me up a hill going easily 10 miles faster than me. The one in front turned and smiled and told me to enjoy my ride. At lunch I learned he was in fact a participant in RAAM, Race Across America. As the name implies, it is a bike race that crosses the entire American continent. Most complete the ride in nine or ten days. NINE OR TEN! As in roughly seven times as fast a time as we do. I have to say I prefer our pace, but it's a testament to the truth that there's always another challenge. Always.

That day's nerdy on-bike conversation came at lunch when we started talking about everyone's futures, in the format of one of those freeze-frame montages you see at the end of movies like Animal House. It was good times. Emma would return to her home planet. Jesse Young would become a senator. Zach would acquire a Tarantino-style cult following as a film-maker. Andy would turn into a bike. So on and so forth.

That afternoon the ride continued to grow in its splendor and beauty. We rolled up and down mountains and all the while were treated to the very best chalk of the entire trip. The teammates riding in the van stopped every mile or so to write down major memories from the trip. Virginia Beach, the Appalachians, the Dogs of Ohio, the bursted floodgates in Manhattan, and by each one was a marked checkbox. And, of course, right in front of the entrance to our campsite in Vernonia was a giant colorful "CANNON BEACH" with an unmarked box.

Our final night together. Our campsite was small and the RVs emptying their septic tanks made it a little smelly during the afternoon, but it was perfect for us. After tents were set I went out walking and reflected on the trip's end. Where would life go next? How could I top these experiences? How could I best utilize what I've learned? When I got tired of thinking up questions I concluded that the answers would come in time, and I needed to go back to appreciate the company of my team mates.

Derrick introduced another good idea from his own experience with Bike & Build: "Sunshine For A Long Ride". Each rider had a page written up with their name on it and we were all asked to leave a positive message to each other for those "long rides" down the Road. I worked on those, then when I finished I talked about the future with folks. As the sunset the ruckus came out. On our last night together the leaders presented superlatives to the entire team. JB got "Most likely to understand what he's trying to say", Emily got "Most likely to save the world one organic, fair-trade, soy, vegan deodorant stick at a time", I got "Most likely to march to the beat of his own drum and then sing very loudly to that beat", etc. As each person stood to receive their award, we all raised our respective drinks and cheered to each other, our health, our future, and our friendship.

After superlatives, as people proceeded to party, I sat back and soaked in the entire scene; all the personalities, all the memories, all the adventure, all the beauty. I relished the moment until I couldn't keep my eyes open. I slunk back to my tent and slept for the Final Ride. Sleep was dreamless but peaceful.

And, suddenly, it was the final day. We all woke up buzzed and ready to roll. We packed up the tents like seasoned soldiers. We pounded our last cold breakfast and, for once, cherished. Then the final route meeting. We had sixty seconds of silent '80s dancing. We had a reading of a written list of all of the major moments in the trip. We had our very loudest dedication to Paige. And then we went and outside to go ride bikes.

On my last day, just by chance, I got to ride with about half of my best friends on the trip. Zach, Jesse, Kristen, we rode together and enjoyed each others' presence. We knew it was ending soon but none of us allowed ourselves to be sad. It was a beautiful day for a ride. We caught up with Kathryn and rode with her, insisting no one should ride by themselves on the last day. She was a good sport about it because I mean, hey, it's us!

Then lunch. Oregon cherries, gas station burritos and cheap coffee. In the morning chill it was heaven.

Then our Last Climb Ever, with the smell of the sea wisping through the pines.

Then The turn off the highway to Cannon beach and the subsequent cheering.

Then the scenic view with a bronze cannon and our first view of the water. I barely held it together. Barely.

And then, once we all gathered up, it was time to ride.

It's almost impossible to describe the potent cocktail of emotions rushing out of me as we descended into Cannon Beach. The smell of the sea was rich now. We turned a corner and saw a perfectly framed view of haystack rock and the tears started forming. The townspeople cheered for us as we passed by. We felt famous. Rounding another corner I caw my father at the top of the stairs to the beach and crushed him with a hug. At the bottom of the stairs, on the beach, I broke from the pack to slide-tackle my little brother into the sand. The waves were roaring. The sun was perfectly set behind haystack so it seemed to glow with a golden aura, more like a vision from a dream. I was called back to the team, threw off my camelbak, and line up. Sharif paused for a second to savor, then gave us the signal, and we all sprinted for the ocean.

I dived into the water and for two or three seconds savored the silence and the sensation of my body baptized in the waters of the ocean that always felt so far away. Then I rose to the sounds. God the sounds! The sights! over the crashing waves and calls of the seagulls was the deafening roar of an entire team of young adults on the other side of something truly great. The laughter. The yelling. The crying. The hugs and kisses. The tackling. The pure ecstasy.

And in the shadow of Haystack Rock we circled up. We gave one last dedication to Paige, with our bracelets soaked in the waters of the Pacific. Then we back up and, after a second of silence, cranked out a haka that would make the All-Blacks of New Zealand tremble. Even they haven't done what we did.

It was one of the most beautiful moments of my entire life, and the celebration to follow felt like a beautiful dream. Champagne. A full feast. Friends and families from all across the country out to congratulate us. My parents were kind enough to bring supplies for a bonfire and we sang and danced and played on the beach in the night. When it got dark enough they busted out one final surprise: a box of sky lanterns, which are simple paper lanterns which gather hot air and rise like hot air balloons when they are released, to eventually burn away in the upper reaches of the sky. We released them with prayers and wishes, and, when the celebrating was all said and done, we cleared off for sleep, to awake to the next great adventure of Life.

Thus concludes my journey across the America. It was, undoubtedly, the best thing I've done with my life so far, and I'm grateful to have such a detailed account for myself for when I'm a dottering old fool with fading memories.

I think there are only two things left two do. First, I want to extend a formal thanks to everyone. Everyone who read this blog, who supported me over the summer, who sent me words of encouragement, who housed me, believed in me, and made this experience what it was. I could not do this without all the amazing people in my life. Thank you. This achievement is yours to celebrate.

Finally, I will close this blog with a list of the things Bike & Build has taught me, which, spoiler alert, is a lot. This has been the most transformative experience of my young life. These are realizations I've come to have full faith in. These are what make the journey worthwhile.

1) Crossing the country on a bike is admittedly a huge deal. However, It's not the accomplishment that matters. It's what you learn from the accomplishment. That's exactly why I'm writing this stuff down. Anyone can do something like this, but it doesn't matter unless you grow from the challenge.

2) On that note, Always seek out challenges. If your dreams don't scare you, they're too small.

3) As I said before, We must pay attention to the transcendental moments of our lives. I'm becoming more and more convinced that everything happens for a reason. Life pulled me to this trip and the experiences I've had on it have changed me fundamentally and forever. If you're receiving messages from the universe, open your ears and follow through.

4) In memory of Paige, Remember that life is a gift. Show gratitude, and let it be the foundation of your every thought, action, and interaction.

5) The American small town still exists. The American dream still exists. America is still a great country.

6) The world is full of kind, generous, and inspiring people.

7) Always travel, always explore, always be open. Every place and person has a great story behind it, and those experiences make our life and spirit rich.

8) Serve. Any amount of good you do for others is brought back ten-fold upon yourself. It's what gives me a sense of true purpose.

9) Simplicity is freedom. Life on the Road demands a simple lifestyle, and the benefit is absolute liberation and a realization of what really matters in life.

10) Flexibility is essential if you want to live a happy life. It's the key to survival. Humans are, afterall, one of the most adaptable species on the planet. That's not an accident.

11) Perseverance is essential if you want to live a happy life. You can always take another step.

12) Finally, Always Take That Turn. Even when it seems scary. Even when you don't succeed. You'll never regret it.

Here's to the Road.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 70: Maupin, Oregon: "Run to the Desert, You Will Be"

I don't think it's either 1) fair to you as readers or 2) possible to try and contain the last week of the trip into one post. As such, I've broken it down into a two-parter; appropriate, I feel, for a state that feels entirely like two different worlds.

The Oregon of the east is not the Oregon of my imagination. It is hot, dry, desolate, and, like all deserts, eerily beautiful, and full of folks living by simple means off of each others' kindness. The land is harsh, as evidenced not only by the heat, but the meanest little plants imaginable: goatheads. The scourge of Eastern Oregon's cycling community.

So you bought some sweet new tires to ride across the state, huh? Well that's cute. Prepare to burn through them all in one unforgiving afternoon. These little guys managed to puncture two of my tires, and the first time they did, it was literally 5 feet in front of the Oregon state sign. I was left to deal with that while everyone else rolled into our last state.

What was neat was, as that was happening, I shot the breeze with a father and daughter we met up with on the road who also happened to be cycling across the country. The daughter was named Beth, and she's a very spunky, enthusiastic cyclist and teacher. Her dad, who's name is unfortunately is escaping me, has been cycling for a very long time. In celebration of his upcoming retirement, he decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of cycling out to the west coast, and he brought his two daughters along for the ride. It's very cool to have exchanged stories and passions with them. Even if I'd just met them, I knew we'd been through a lot of the same things, and I knew we shared a spark of adventure.

After negotiating with the goatheads and two deflated tubes, I rolled into Ontario that night ready for rest from the heat and hazardous native plantlife. the Oregon of my imagination; the one of tall pine trees, mountains, and overcasted skies. But as it turns out that's only a very small portion of this state. The first 3/4s or so is all high desert; hot, dusty, colorful, beautiful in its desolation.

We had a maildrop in Ontario and I have to start by giving mad props to my mother for sending thirty pounds (!!!) of her ever-popular Kitchen Sink Cookies. They came right in between two long, hot days and immediately put the team's morale through the roof.

In Ontario that evening we concluded the first round of our grant discussions, in which the team reviews applications from various affordable housing organizations across the country to decide how to allocate the money we've raised. It's a really cool process. We get to hear about all of these exciting organizations and all of these awesome projects we have planned, and then we, all thirty-one strong-willed teammates, discuss and determine how to best distribute our monies. And we heard some great stuff! I remember there being a Habitat chapter, for example, that partners with the local highschool to help students get their shop class credit. meanwhile, they help people and learn about the affordable housing cause. There were several that wanted to set up a youth build day, and Portland, the chapter we're working with tomorrow, wants to make their next house totally green.

From Ontario we worked across the high desert of Eastern Oregon to the modest town of Unity, and I had an awesome day, in large part due to the man-to-man I had with Zach. We talked about college, about the adult life, about religion, about girls, about the universe, and I felt all the wiser with each word exchanged. We climbed over the hills in the dusty heat and admired the desert, which was made all the more awesome when we heard an actual eagle actually screech! just like in the movies!

Zach also had a hidden agenda. Without telling me he tightened the screws all day to where we were cranking at a very healthy pace. By lunch we had punched our way to the front group. By mile 60 we were well out in front, and Zach, without even making me aware, helped me bike out in front. I was the first in to our home for the night, and Zach congratulated me on getting the "Golden Jersey" for the day. I was inappropriately excited, I think in hindsight.

I have to say I really am starting to understand why people get excited about the sport. The psychology of it is just so...constructive. It's about challenging yourself, about pushing to see how far you can actually go and, in the process, discovering some very cool things about yourself and the world around you as you work across it. Folkss like Zach, Noah, Andy, Mark, Jesse Young, Emma, I really appreciate what they did for me on this trip because they not only have helped me become a better cyclist, but have been earnest in sharing their *passion* for the sport with me, which makes it go from being just physical work to being nothing short of spiritual.

My ego was further stroked when I was given the task to make dinner for the team that night. I made my chili, using a recipe I've been perfecting since the tender age of 10, and it was very well received. The quickest way to a Bike and Builder's heart is assuredly through their stomach.

After the chili dinner I was given some time to enjoy the desert twilight and the most beautiful lake I've seen in a long time. Let me say first off that I missed lakes a lot this summer. I love bodies of water, and in particular ones that are good for jumping into and swimming. Unity had just about the best one you could ask for. While we were riding Zach and I were skeptical. After all, it was blazing hot, and the most water we saw that entire ride was the drips coming out of my camelbak faucet. But lo! A mile outside of camp the desert landscape dropped off to reveal a beautiful lake. It was immensely out of place, but it was no mirage. It was real. So real. And that night, as I swam the shoreline, watching the sky turn from orange to green to deep purple, I thanked the BnB gods for the change of ace from the oppressive desert. Laura and I stood by the shoreline and threw rocks in, trying to see who could make the most satisfying splash, based on both size and sound. it seemed a bit arbitrary, considering Laura wouls just watch, listen, and then say "That was a good one" or "Nope. Not good." And yet I couldn't disagree with any of these judgments, though I question how legitimate her win was.

The night ended with a session of guitar-playing around the fire, and story-telling with two other young guys, Greg and Eli, which we met on *that* day's ride, who were also biking across the country. I guess no matter where you start from people agree Oregon's a great place to end in. They were much younger than Beth and her father. Much more wreckless. Eli was convinced, especially after he powered through the beer which he bought earlier in the day, that he could leave then and bike 200 miles during the night to make it to some festival that was happening the next day. We convinced him, eventually, that it would be more fun to stay at the site and sleep. And sleep we did.

From Unity we had a 50 mile ride to John Day, and spent much of the morning pondering the namesake of this town. John Day's name is everywhere around Eastern Oregon. It's on highway signs, on parks, on municipal buildings, on restaurants, and it was stirring up curiosity. Who was this mysterious figure? What had made him such a local hero?

Jesse Bright, Zach, and I, in our typical nerdy fashion, pondered the story of John Day and eventually came up with the makings of the greatest folk-tale ever told.

John Day was 20 feet tall if he was an inch.

John Day's father was two bears stacked on top of eachother, and his mother was a pine tree.

John Day once ate a baby. Three days later it came out totally unharmed, except that it had a three foot long beard.

Etc., Etc., Etc.

The town of John Day, in relation, was pretty modest. The ride to had a delicious huckleberry milkshake place. The town itslef didn't have much going on. A dairy queen. A bar. There was a museum to the rodeo but sadly we'd neither the energy to explore it nor the time, since I'd been roped into leading the bike clinic the church asked us to hold.

Derrick got Kristen and I to lead a clinic for the church because "You both are good with children". I have to say I wasn't immediately up for it, but once I was out in the parking lot giving a lecture to some 6 to 10-year-olds on biking signals my counselor instincts kicked in. I can't explain it, but I just have fun acting like a giant goofball in front of kids. It's fun to watch. Some of them think they can trip me up by making fun of me, you know, being that cool kid, but instead of resisting, I just act even more ridiculous. They don't know how to respond to a person who likes being considered strange.

So we talked about signals, about helmets, about riding in a line and communicating, and then we rode around the parking lot and played red light/green light until everyone felt they had learned something. I won't say I'm a terrific biker, nor a terrific builder, but I excel at public relations, and it was awesome being able to stand out and help the team with something.

From John Day there was a 30-mile ride to Dayville. I bursted out of the gate that morning and told myself, since it was a terrifically short ride, that I should try and finish it as quick as I can, for the sake of challenges. And for a while I was actually leading the pack and being pretty competitive about it. Eventually Jesse Young did catch up, with Jen Hock a few feet behind him, and I settled for riding with the ever-hilarious J-Hawk and learning about her life and her take on it.

Meanwhile, in the sleepy town of Dayville, population 70, there was not a whole lot to speak for. It wasn't the smallest town we'd stayed in. That award goes to Maybell. But it was an extremely close second. There was a church, a general store, and a restaurant which advertised a "free glass of water" for customers. There was also a parked, which we all napped in to kill time and wait for the rest of the team to roll into. When the church was finally opened up to us we took our napping operation inside, where it was at least shady, but the lack of ac provided little reprieve from the super intense heat. But what a great church! They've actually earned a reputation over the years as a haven for bikers passing through, and they had this awesome collection of letters, brochures, and photos from years' worth of bikers working through Dayville. Again, I guess a lot of people like ending hteir journey in Oregon. It becomes a sort-of bottleneck of great dreams and stories. We added our own by finishing up our grant discussions, and I'm really excited to see that our team's funds are going to such awesome projects. I don't think I can disclose which ones yet, but I think we have really made some great choices. Perhaps when I know I can tell people I'll follow up.

And I know I've already mentioned the heat a lot in this entry, but, seriously, that might have been the absolute hottest night of sleep in my life. We were all crammed into this tiny church. In the middle of the desert. In the middle of the summer. It was an oven. I was literally down to just my underwear on the coolest piece of hardwood I could imagine, and I would've gotten even more naked if I wasn't sure it would freak out the rest of the team. Eventually some folks got the brilliant idea of soaking rags and using those to at least keep your face from melting. I tried this and was finally comfortable enough to power down.

Following Dayville was a 70-miler to the town of Fossil, famous for, guess what? It's fossils! Not so much *cool* fossils, though. More like grass, leaves, things like that. Anyways, I guess they were proud enough to name the town after it, and the shirts they had with the town's name and unofficial mascot, a wooly mammoth, were indeed really really sweet.

the ride to Fossil was the prettiest piece of desert I've ever seen. Wide open fields full of sage brush with huge imposing canyon walls about a mile away on either side. We were working through the John Day Fossil Beds and the hummed with history and beauty. I rode a lot with Raleigh that morning and we had a really, *really* good talk. Raleigh is, simply put, a survivor. She's built to last, through any test, and her heart is in such a good place, wanting the best for everyone and the most out of life. She told me about a music festival she went to where she stayed with "Camp Lovelife", a community of hippies that looked after each other during the festival. She recounted that every time a hippie was lost, all they needed to do was shout "LOVE LIFE!" and, in response, the rest of the community within earshot would yell "LOVE LIFE!" back to help them find home. Naturally Raleigh and I, overwrought with the emotion of the winding down trip and the stark but beautiful landscape, wound up shouting LOVE LIFE to each other all through the rest of the ride, making an effort to hear it bounce off the canyon walls.

Right after lunch we met some ladies in front of a general store who were riding their motorcycles through the desert to see the painted canyons. They talked about their love for Portland and the surrounding area, and it got us all jazzed for the good times to come in the following days. We stocked up on water, and exchanged a good-bye and good luck to each other.

Following our run in with these ladies was a brutal climb. It was approximately 10 miles long, which is a challenge unto itself, but it was also baking hot. People were taking breaks in the shade to avoid heat exhaustion. For inexplicable reasons, though, I was feeling it, and cranked it up the mountain. I guess I'm cold blooded. Something about hot weather makes me feel active, makes me want to move, so I used that and, after cresting, enjoyed the same distance in sweet-sweet downhill as I rolled into the city of Fossil.

Understandably, I was exhausted, and purchased and pounded a half-gallon of chocolate milk while waiting in line for a cold, refreshing shower. After that shower there was talk of food and fossils and I mustered up the energy to hit the town. We passed a general store which was all kinds of quaint and filled with the kind of Americana that would grab my mom's attention for hours. I, however, was more fixated on the lime-green piano in front of the store with a simple sign that said "Play Me!". I obliged, and stumbled through a few songs in front of Jesse B and Kristen before a sweet old woman, seemingly out of no where, came along and talked about the piano with us. We invited her to play, and she cranked out, seemingly from simple muscle memory, a beautiful waltz. She told us about life in Fossil, about her family, and told us to be careful on the rest of the journey, while we exchanged a look to each other of surprise and adoration for this sweet, ancient, humble and talented woman who drifted off as silently as she'd drifted up to us.

We caught wind that there were beds on the edge of town where folks could go and break open rocks to find fossils and keep whatever they found, and Jesse was keen to check it out. I was all about this idea, and we had some fabulous "broments" of sifting through the rocks and taking hammers to ones with lots of promise, dancing for joy when we found a modest little blade of fossilized grass. Kristen got great pictures.

We were then treated to an amazing dinner provided by our host church. A picnic in a member's back yard. I was indeed starving, but my attention was entirely drawn to the small band of elderly bluegrass musicians sitting on the porch. I sat down and listened until I was invited to play along. I was handed a guitar and there was a delightful exchange across both the age-gap and the genre-gap. They taught me gospel and bluegrass, I taught them blues and rock, and we all had a marvelous time. And they were all such characters! A woman easily in her 80s in bright pink sneakers played the harmonica like it was her God-given duty. A heavy-set man with a winning smile strummed the guitar and got a huge kick out of the "energy" I brought to this group which had been playing together for decades at functons like this. Another older gentlemen in a fedora and a mighty mustache and suspenders wailed on the bass. He didn't say a word but I loved his style.

So we played and played and played until someone reminded me, about an hour later, that I had to eat and eventually leave their home. I crashed in a member's house with Andy and the Jesses and spent the final hours of the night teaching Andy how to play "Man of Constant Sorrow" to keep the bluegrass theme alive. We got really good at harmonizing, adding in the falsetto that makes that scene from O Brother so darn hilarious.

Our tour through the Oregon desert concluded with the next day's ride to Maupin. J-Hawk and I swept that day and I was grateful to be forced to slow down and enjoy the ride. After all, there weren't many left, and it was a beautiful day. A little rainy, but indeed beautiful. Working across the dusty Cascade foothills we admired the rock formations and the drama of the scene. Thunder echoed off the canyon walls for minutes. The sky, ripped up by the lightning, would cast these castle-looking formations in this stark white light. The gray rain clouds looked more like smoke rising off the orange Earth. It was quiet and wild and eerie and absolutely gorgeous.

Although for the entire ride that day I was struggling with some notable anxiety. Bakeoven flats, the final stretch of the route was, according to locals, not only deadly hot but infested with rattlesnakes. By the time we approached the turn, I had the image in my head of a road paved with snakes, with others hanging from the trees, clotheslining riders, jumping on us as we rode through, etc. I hate snakes. I don't know enough about them to know which ones are poisonous, so I just assume they all will kill me. A ride through "Snakeoven" as we came to call it did not sound appealing.

I rode between relief and dissappointment when all we saw as we rode across snakeoven was one measley dead rattlesnake. I couldn't help but think of my grandfather, a man who, in his youth, killed a vicious rattler which came after a group of kids he was looking after during his days as a camp counselor. He trapped it with a stick, took off the head, ate the meat, and kept the skin as a trophey to this very day.

In my head, I decided I was protected from the horrors of Snakeoven because of my grandfather's bravery. Had that rattler been allowed to live, his descendants would have perhaps deafened us riders with their noise as we rode across. At first we did hear pops everywhere but were relived to see tht these weren't snakes but instead just huge locusts. Nasty, yes, but not poisonous killing machines.

Turning off of Snakeoven we rolled into the town of Maupin, which was literally built into the canyon. We took some really fun downhill switchbacks down to the river, then climbed up the other side to our church. We were greeted with freshly-made root beer floats, and with a cozy set of buildings to spread out in and get cozy. Naturally I opted for the porch.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the finale to Road to Paradis(e)! For now I'm going to give my brain a bit of a break. It's amazing how much can happen in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 65: Ontario, Oregon: "Family"

This blog has to start with my thoughts on Paige Hicks. For those of you who haven't been on Bike & Build's website in a while, the organization has been hit with a terrible tragedy. Paige, a rider on the Providence to Seattle team this year, and an alumna from last year's Providence to San Francisco team, was victim of a tragic cycling accident and passed away three days ago, on July 20th.

It's something you simply never expect to happen to yourself or someone you know at this age. It's confusing, it's sad, and the entire Bike & Build community is in mourning over the loss of such a fantastic person of tremendous promise. I personally never knew Paige, but I get the sense that I do *know* her. Her and I have shared in a distinguished life-changing experience. We've shared a passion for adventure, for service, and for life and have pursued these passions while biking across the country, taking every mountain, fighting every headwind, enjoying the connection we make with each person, enjoying the love and laughter made every minute.

The most positive perspective I've been able to find amidst this tragedy is that it has given my team and the rest of the community, all seven other routes and seven other years' worth of other routes, a chance to demonstrate the love and support we have for each other. Because of the shared experiences, its easy to feel like this organization is one giant family. Without knowing anything else about me, alumni have welcomed me into their home and given of themselves tirelessly to support me and my cause. Now that we have lost one of our own we're steeped in sadness, but I have also been completely blown away by the support and love that has risen out of the woodwork in the last few days. No matter what happens, no matter how much time or how many miles separate us, we have each other, and we have each other for life, because we have all changed our lives together.

I want to extend my deepest condolences to Paige's family and her team. I want them to know that I ride for Paige and that her memory lives on in the very soul of our team. I know that she would want us to keep ridong, no matter what, and to keep celebrating the gifts of this journey. As such, I will move on, for now, to describe my adventure between Idaho Falls and hearing the news of her passing...

The last time I updated this blog Idaho was a brand new state for me and I didn't know what to expect. As it turns out there's been a little bit of everything, with a majority of it being surprisingly awesome.

For our build day in Idaho Falls we hopped on the bikes and rode across town to the swank new location for the local Habitat affiliate's ReStore. It's a serious upgrade. They're going from some dilapidated old house in the church district to a refurbished consignment store in the heart of town. The affiliate's new director, a woman named Karen, has a lot of ambitious goals for the chapter and their new ReStore is the crux. When we rolled up 31 volunteers strong, she was thrilled but also nervous, telling us she'd never worked with such a large group before in her life. The whole job was a new adventure for Karen, since she'd only started a few months ago, but she was positive and jumped into the day with both feet.

Karen provided enough work for each of us to feel useful the entire day. I wound up freelancing since there were so many different jobs. I started by painting the outside of the store with a paint-sprayer, which is a crazy-fun power tool. It basically shoots out high-pressured clouds of paint, and you can cover a wall in about a 6th of the time it would normally take with rollers. not to mention it's just fun to wield. It looks like some kind of crazy sci-fi weapon! So I played with that for a while, then hung out on the roof helping Andy and Sharif remove the old consignment store sign, which wound up being a sketchy venture to say the least, with Andy 20 feet up in the air unsrewing 100-pound pieces of wood out of a billboard and trying as best he could to drop them gently. Eventually I wound up being a fifth wheel there, so I did some trim-work in what is going to be the main showroom for the new ReStore. The day ended with us painting the showroom, and by 3 you could really appreciate the amount of work the team had put into the building that day. It really did transform before our eyes, and Karen was elated. I'm proud to say she was also pleased with the exciting paint-pattern I placed on the center shelf. I get an eye for design from my mom I s'pose. Ya know.

After a full day of putting in the hours for Habitat we were cordially invited by the pastor of our hosting church to a cook-out at his home outside of town. Man. Little did we know.

For one thing, Pastor Dennis has a lot of toys. Not one, but *two* grills, a beautiful backyard with a volleyball court, and these crazy heater-things that shot up open flames. Dennis said during the winter, when you turned them on, you could grill outside in your shorts and not notice a thing. But wait! There's more! The whole team got to admire his ginormous-screen TV, and watch two local news stations cover our build day from just a few hours before. He also had two beautiful toys in his garage. One was an early-60s Harley Davidson motorcycle that looked like something you'd ride on the way to Woodstock. The other, a 1965 Ford Mustang. I don't know a lot about cars, but I know that car was awesome. It looked like the bat mobile, and Pastor Dennis had kept it in such incredible condition that it made me wonder what year it was.

So the team chilled in the back yard, mingling with the congregation and enjoying a quiet cook-out in suburbia. I should also mention that Dennis made the best sausages I've ever had, and burgers which came close to making me reevaluate my own recipe. It was fun talking about grilling with him. That's something I miss. That's gonna be good to get home to. But, then again, I'm not in any hurry.

Passing into a very respectable food coma, the team was ferried back to the church for bed time. Sadly I didn't get to ride in the Mustang, but I did get to talk to Karen some more about the exciting plans she has for Idaho Falls Habitat. I wish absolutely all of the best for her. She has a great vision.

So we slept. Then we woke. From Idaho Falls the plan was to hit up Arco, the first city in the world to be lit with nuclear power! Bet you didn't know that, huh? Sarah Crawford and I had the privilege of sweeping that day and it was perfect. The ride was smooth and surprisingly windless all day, and certainly the prettiest part of Idaho we'd seen at that point, with the Rockies, an ever-present force in our lives these days, sneaking back up over the horizon to show their mighty snow-capped peaks and pose their challenges. Swept up in the fever of excitement for nuclear power, a good half of the team stopped by EBR-1 (Experimental Breeding Reactor 1), the first nuclear power plant in the WORLD. Bet you didn't know that, huh? Sarah and I took a tour of the factory and learned more about nuclear fission than I certainly ever expected to on this trip. The old plant was so cool. There were computers the size of refrigerators and huge metal drums which stored coolants and carbon rods and the like. It was like a scene from the original Star Trek series. But the highlight was definitely the manipulator station. So you know in movies when you see scientists controlling robotic arms to work with dangerous materials? yeah, we got to play with those arms. And I was really good at them thanks to my 15 or so years of videogame-playing. I stayed at that station way longer than any 20-year-old should, but I did make a pretty impressive pyramid of blocks.

When we were finished running through the factory Sarah and I continued on our journey to Arco, admiring the mountains and talking about everything important, which is our way. She has a tendency to pull my deeper side out of me, and we had a great dialogue about life, religion, love, politics, fate, adventure, and everything in between. I love being able to have those kinds of one-on-ones with folks on this trip.

And as for Arco it definitely had this air of 1950s-nuclear-boom-town. There were atomic symbols everywhere, and the town was holding a festival called "Nuclear Days", but most of us were to tired to actually attend (though I could hear the live music from the window next to my sleeping-quarters that night). Something else I found really interesting: There's a butte overlooking the town covered in painted numbers. A member of the church we stayed with that night explained that the local high-schoolers, sometime in their senior year, have a tradition of sneaking up to the mountain and lowering someone over the ridge in a tire tied to a rope with a paint brush. The rambunction teens paint their graduating year on the side of the mountain, and then disappear into the night. They've been doing it for at least 50 years. It's a fascinating, quaint little piece of history. I never caught the man's name, but his whole family was great. The wife cooked us spaghetti with an elk-based meat sauce, and his two sons, one five and the other 9 months, delighted the team with their adorableness. The 5 year old, Jonathan, developed a keen fascination for my macbook and we hung out playing with the different visual effects on photoshop until it rolled around to his bedtime. Ours wasn't too far behind his.

Next was our ride to Challis, in which we would cut into the Rockies, once again, to enter the mountainous heart of Idaho, the Sawtooths. For whatever reason I flew that morning along the flat leading up to the mountain, and was actually out in first for the first 25 miles or so, finally backing down to break for streching and a sorely-needed Clif bar. When I jumped back in the road it wasn't long before the Fast People (Noah, Zach, et al.) to catch me, and they were kind enough to invite me into their paceline, which I enjoyed for all of 5 minutes before deciding it put to much stress on me. I breaked along the road right in between and beautiful mountain range to my right and a lake to my left, and when I hopped back on joined a paceline that was a little better suited. Still a good challenge, though. It's very satisfying to be able to comfortably ride in the middle-front of the pack, and we, by which I mean myself, Emma, Derrick, Emily, Caroline, Dave, and Will Green, had great laughs rolling into lunch.

After lunch the laughs died down for a good portion and things got real. Really, riding through the Sawtooths is like a fun house, nothing is quite what it seems. Our first solid evidence would have to be from when Zach and I placed a bet on how far down the road ne particular mountain was. It turned out to be 7 or so miles, but it was an exhausting 7, with heinous headwinds mocking our efforts and a road that was going uphill just enough to look flat but to inexplicably take all of our energy out of us. We kept our minds of the road by geeking out, which is something I thoroughly enjoy doing with Zach. We talked about Joss Whedon's "Firefly", talked about who on the team would be which characters from "Firefly", etc. (I'm Wash, and I'm happy with that).

I had to break to knock back a packet of "gel" because the wind was really killing me. Incidentally, mocha-flavored "gel" is nasty. It's like eating really thick chocolate icing. It'd also been in my back pocket in the desert for 3 hours so it was warm, which you may think would make mocha taste better but no. But I'll be darned if it didn't do its job! There was a mountain. I climbed it. Then I enjoyed 20 miles of steady downhill, the highlight being a pass through Grandview Canyon. In another moment of geeking out, Will Green said it was like pod-racing from the new Star Wars trilogy. For those on which that reference is lost, the more romantic description would be like biking through the ruins of some ancient civilization. There were towers of sanstone which had wrinkled, buckled, and toppled over time to create this wild, rugged city of bright orange rock. Truly beautiful.

With the tough portion of the day behind us, the ride into Challis was a cinch, and our host was amazing. We stayed at a retreat center in the foothills outside of town and I spent the afternoon exploring the hiking trails, reading by the koi pond, and napping next to a babbling brook. We ha a team meeting that night and, after 8 long weeks, finally held elections for King of the Beard-Off. I'd shaved my beard into lightning-bolt sideburns for the occasion and we all catwalked to give our last impressions. I placed a solid 4th. Andy got length, and Jesse got both volume and style, having shaved his beard into an exact replica of the beard from the villain from the movie Wild Wild West. I sugggest you look it up. Words don't do it justice. there are just so many angles!

Afterwards Jesse, Laura, Raleigh and I played doodling games until we laughed ourselves to tears. I slept outside and, for the umpteenth time, admired the mountain stars until my eyes got too heavy.

The next day was a stunning ride through the Sawtooths to Stanley, Idaho. I rode with Jesse that day and we spent about 5 hours of our ride cracking each other up. He's a good bro. The scenery really stole the show, though. Pinetrees all around, the Salmon River roaring on our left side, the mountains looming overhead, and, rolling into Stanley, we had a perfect frame of William's peak and the surrounding range.

We camped out that night and celebrated two birthdays, since it was both Alyson's 25th and Kristen's 21st. zthose of age went into town to raise a ruckus and I stayed back and played guitar by the moonlight. When they returned I got a kick out of the stories from the night and then went to bed.

Sleeping outside that night, however, was a huge mistake. It. Got. Cold. It was like Mother nature was nagging and screaming in my ear the entire night. My sleeping bag retained just enough warmth to keep me alive but not asleep, and I tossed and turned for a good two hours cursing myself for not claiming a spot in one of the tents. Eventually my body dealt, but there was a *lot* of character building that night, and, subsequently, a lot on today's ride.

Today was worked across 93 miles of legit Rockies. We woke up at 5 to take on the day and it was farciacally cold. Those of us who weren't working on morning chores took shifts running laps around the field and, when it was finally time to leave, the first thing half the team did was roll into town and invade the local coffee shop. I had a mountainous scramble and two cups of very strong coffee, and, sufficiently warmed and wired, sopped out with Jesse again. We freestyled an hour. Long. Power ballad about Idaho and also had good talks. Our first climb was a total breeze and was followed by 9 miles of descent to our first lunch stop. We thought we had the day in the bag.

But in the Sawtooths (or is it "Sawteeth"?) nothing is as it seems. The segment in between our two lunches was brutal. A 10-mile climb that took its sweet time getting over the mountains. there were at least 5 or 6 instances in which I thought I'd made it to the top only to see, around the corner, that I was no where close. By the time I got to second lunch I was livid. My blood was boiling and I was ready to descend. Sadly, though, we had much more mountain to cross. Every time it seemed like we finally founf the descent, we'd go for maybe a quarter mile only to find we had to climb back up another half mile. We rolled through valley after valley. It was beautiful but maddening. But also a gift. It's exactly what I needed these days. I've proven myself physically, and now I'm working into the psychology of biking, and enduring all those climbs and frustrations that come with it. But I succeeded! it was a long, long day but I never let it break me. There were points where I came close, but I would always envision myself 20 feet ahead, and convince myself that I can *always* go another 20 feet. It worked great and I battled my way across the mountains with a smile.

And in comparison to the other rides as of late, the ride into Boise with an effing cakewalk, at a mere 40 miles, with nearly 3/4s of it downhill. I rode with Kristen and we had great talks about service and saving the world. That girl's going to do amazing things and change lives. I can just tell. She cares too much to *not* make a difference, and she inspires the rest of this team with her compassion. Anyways, we rode to Boise. The last section i enjoyed in particular, a beautiful, sun-baked orange canyon with lichen crawling up either side. We made it into Boise before 11am, hich gave us ample time and reason to have second breakfast, and it was the best of the entire trip. Maybe even in my top 3 breakfasts ever. After biking across a super-tough state, few things could have satisfied me as much as the omelet, chorizo, potatoes and fresh coffee I had that morning with good friends like Jen and Jesse and Zach. I don't know if you're aware of this but Boise also has the highest Basque population outside of Spain, and it reflects in the city's restaurants, shops, architecture, and handsome waiters which left the womenfolk of our team swooning and tipping inappropriately large amounts.

We received word about Paige's passing that first night in Boise, and the mood immediately changed. It was utterly shocking. We were left frightened, sad and stunned, but it was a very emotionally powerful night for the team. We all stayed in, had a group hug/prayer in the church courtyard, and then spent the rest of the evening just being there for each other.

I expected to be as shaken the next day as I was the first, but I had a realization over the night: a Bike & Builder, like Paige, would want us to keep riding, literally and figuratively. The fact that I'm alive at all is a blessing, and there's no denying that. Moreover, I'm surronded by amazing friends, and on the adventure of a lifetime. With these realizations in consideration, I have a sense of recommitment to everything important about this trip and about life, and I have Paige to thank for it.

That evening we all sat in a circle with a ball of tie-dyed yarn, which we passed around to make bracelets, since Paige often wore tie-dye. As the yarn was passed, we each had a chance to speak our mind to the rest of the team, and I said three major things. First, there was a chance, even in these sad times, to see the love and support BNB has. Second, every time I look at my new bracelet, I will think of Paige, think of this trip, and think of how lucky I am to be alive, and to experince all that life has to offer. I will aim to be more aware of the blessings I've been given, and not squander my relationships with other people. Third, I told my team that I respected them all for who they were, loved them deeply, and was a better person for having them in my life. It's something I wish to say to all the family and friends in my life at some point, and it's something I'll say to the audience of this blog. It's sad that it sometimes takes something this sad to awaken us to these truths, to make us aware and grateful to be alive, but if I and others are left inspired to live a fuller life, than perhaps this is a fine way for Paige's legacy to live on.

Today we crossed the border into Oregon. It's our final state. Our final leg of the journey. Our final chance to get the most we can out of this trip, this journey that has already transformed me in more ways than I can fathom, let alone describe to you. I'm thankful to be here. I'm thankful to be *here*. And, as all the riders will say, I now ride for Paige Hicks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 57: Idaho Falls, Idaho: "Forever West"

I'll tell you, one of the coolest sights in my entire life has to be seeing the snow on top of the Grand River Mountains of Wyoming while biking across the dusty Wyoming desert.

Such was the scenery of the ride from Rock Springs to Pinedale, our second century which, in relation with the one to Denver, was a serious breeze.

For starters I can finally tell that I'm getting stronger. I talked a lot in my last entry about how I've found my rhythm. I've figured out how I like to ride, how much resistance I like to give, and where I need to push myself. And, above all else, I look realy good in my cycling gear. The goal for this second century was to keep at a steady pace and ride with other friends, and I, fortunately, excelled at both.

The leaders also came up with a brilliant way to help us all pass the time and make something fun out of the century. Are you ready for this? Photo scavenger hunt. We were mixed up into teams, and mine was obviously the best. I was with Alyson, who played the role of team safety-monitor, Mark, our risk-taker, Caroline, our brains *and* muscle, and Kristen, our social leverage as "the cute one". And me? I was the wild card. In these types of events I excel at two things: coming up with ridiculous (though not necessarily feasible) ideas, and being willing to do anything. We were stacked. We were strong. We were ready to roll.

In a rut of early-morning lack of creativity the team settled for the name "Team USA", but it grew on us. After all, who could argue with America? And *no one* could argue with our team spirit as we rolled past other teams and threw out obnoxious chants, the others already bickering and forming rifts due to their artistic differences.

The photo prompts were filled with the classic staples. Get a picture with a stranger. Spell out a word cheer-leader style. Get a shot of two riders holding hands while on the bikes. Etc. Etc. We played it conservative with a lot of our shots and this was perhaps our downfall, but each one was at least a *good* shot in its own right. We had a shoot out at the gas station a la "Zoolander". Our "scenic shot" was a close-up of Mark's toned biker butt. Our best though definitely had to be our double, in which we checked off both "Lady Gaga Pose" and "Picture with the van driver" by getting Kristen to hand-feed a Derrick a Honey Bun. For those, like me, who don't have terribly extensive knowledge of Lady Gaga this is a recreation, and I will say an *awesome* one, of the scene from the music video to "Telephone", in which Lady Gaga breaks out of prison and, driving away with Beyonce, is fed a Honey Bun. Derrick is a sucker for all things Gaga. Having Kristen play the part of Beyonce was the clincher.

As we rode along the desert to Pinedale, whilst hunting down good scavenger hunt shots, Team USA also took advantage of the chance for good conversation. We played a game of Sarah Graham's invention: going through the alphabet, players take turns thinking of things that inspire them which correspond with the letter. For example, I got "H", and chose to talk about my little brother, Hank. Aw. It was cool hearing that side of the rest of the team, and, as a bonus, it kept us both occupied and inspired as we worked our way across the beautifully oppressive desert.

Soon enough the Rockies reappeared on our right. Pinedale was nigh and things were going smooth. Unfortunately, the Weather Gods decided things were perhaps going *too* smooth, and decided to send a nasty desert rain our way. Folks around here insist that the weather has been especially bad this year. Lucky us. The temperature dropped about 50 degrees in 10 minutes, and we all found ourselves scrambling to throw on our extra layers and debating whether to ride through the hail or wait it out in a huddled mass. Riding on proved to be the better decision, though the wind whipped us and we all wound up with mud splattered all over our faces and gear by our wheels.

This was made better by lamas. We came across a farm and a very friendly ranch-hand named Karen invited us closer up to watch as she fed them treats. She explained to us the intricacies of lama-farming and lama-packing. I was impressed by how smart they were, and how adorable the babies were. We were in the exact kind of Wyoming I'd always imagined; farmland sandwiched in between desert and mountain, filled with the best kind of quirky folks: adventure-seekers, nature-worshipers, and folks of the soil. Karen was a delightful combination of all three and our conversation with her was a hoot.

Eventually we managed to peel ourselves away from the lamas and started on the last leg of the century into town. What should have been a 30 minute ride wound up being at least double, maybe more, thanks to the 35mph headwind that blew perfectly in our faces. Working my way to the front I volunteered to pull for the folks I was riding with. With Alyson, Jen, and Kristen at my tail I used my...prodigious girth...to block the wind and keep us all rolling at a steady pace. To keep myself sane I started belting any song I could think of that occurred to sing. It was a feat of strength. Breathless and roughed up from a long day on the road, I sang at the top of my lungs in defiance of the elements and their rage. I was traveling just fast enough to get about one song in per mile. Right as my repertoire of My Morning Jacket tunes was getting exhausted we finally arrived into Pinedale and I, caked in a thick layer of mud and boiling with testosterone, threw my gear to the side, rushed through my shower, climbed into my sleeping bag, and immediately powered down. I only woke up when I was kicked awake to come grab a plate of dinner, and ate like a viking. The rest of the evening was spent reading and participating in a head-scratching train. 'Twas good.

Being on team breakfast, from a chore group standpoint, is usually stupid-easy. After you wake up you roll into the kitchen and pull cereal and fruit out of boxes. Afterwords you do a few dishes and then leave the rest of the clean-up for trailer crew. The only people who have it easier in the mornings are team dinner, who literally have to do *nothing*.

Jesse and I made history, though. We were the first, possibly ever, to actually break a sweat doing work for breakfast crew. Our host was kind enough to leave us with the raw ingedients for a Breakfast of Champions: Bacon, eggs, pancakes, coffee, all awesome. The problem was they didn't line anyone up to actually cook all this food. This became the job for jesse and me. So we woke up early (about thirty minutes), rolled up our sleeves, mae breakfast for 31 people, and all the while cracked our usual jokes. 'Twas good.

From Pinedale we rolled to Jackson Hole, where we were to enjoy yet another day off. In between these two towns was, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful scenery of the entire trip. As we weaved through Teton Court, we enjoyed the mountains at their loveliest. Goldenrod scattered along the rolling foothills. The mountains towering overhead like fattened sky-scrapers, with bare patches of brilliant orange sandstone punching its way out. Evergreens further up the sides. Birds circling overhead. The Snake River, green as the trees themselves, bubbling along the side. It. Was. Gorgeous. And every color of the rainbow at some point fund its way into the frame.

The ride even had the promise of being a cake-walk, since we were following the Snake down into Jackson Hole. We did not, however, anticipate the headwinds. Headwinds so brutal, in fact, that, even on the steep declines, we were forced to hammer, in our lowest gear, to keep moving at a pace of 3, maybe 4 miles an hour. It was a tremendous tease. So much delicious downhill and it was as if we were biking upstream through the river instead of downstream and along its side. It punished us and wore away at our psyches. Many of us allowed ourselves to work out an outburst, myself included. We yelled at the wind itself.

I asked it who it thought it was. I asked it who it thought I was. I told it I was Will Paradis, and that I didn't climb over the Appalachians, ascend Trail Ridge Road, do two centuries and camp in the cold desert to throw in the towel over some egomaniacal breeze. It didn't seemed impressed and continued to wail. So I continued to pedal. We all did. And, eventually, we won out, and it only made the fact that we had a day off to look forward to all the more sweet.

And oh man, our hosts in Jackson Hole! So. Awesome.

So three summers ago this lovely elderly couple, the Amblers, heard about Bike and Build through their church's news bulletin and out of the blue called up he leaders and offered them a place to stay. Three summers later, they're still in the habit of hosting a horde of 30+ cyclists over the summer for reasons which escape my reasoning and understanding. Jim and Emily are great, and their house is beautiful. Specifically their back yard, which is edged up right against state conservation property, meaning it will never ever be developed on. In the foreground we could watch the wild horses roam this field. In the middle ground, a highway displayed the people passing through Jackson Hole but, being just far enough away, we were relieved of the noise of the highway and left only to enjoy the sights. In the background was a perfect, perfect, PERFECT view of Grand Teton peak, looming over the valley like a watchful guardian. I spent at least 90% of my day off on the Ambler's back porch sipping coffee, reading John Steinbeck, and just soaking in that view. At night we laid out in the backyard and admired the stars. Sprinkled in between during my stay I would have conversations with Jim in which we would celebrate life, the West, and the future. It was restorative from my bones to my soul.

And then today, hopping back on the bikes, we hit another major milestone. We climbed. Teton. Pass. Easily our steepest climb, and nothing to sneeze at from the standpoint of length, the Teton Pass was a test for all of us. We climbed at an average gradient of 10%, which is, to be blunt, a lot. But we proved ourselves.

I really wanted to push myself and this was the perfect chance, and so I committed. I promised myself that, no matter how hard the climb got, I would not stop until I reached the peak. No breaks, no snacks, just the steady rhythm of a climber. During Trail Ridge I proved I was physically capable of conquering a mountain. It was time to move into the far more difficult test, that of the psyche. It was literally me vs. me, and as I struggled up the mountain I could feel my brain splitting in half with one half shouting "STOP" and the other urging me to keep going, to imagine the feeling I would have upon reaching the top, to appreciate the challenge and to prove myself. There were moments when my legs felt like jelly and my lungs felt like they were on fire, but every time I felt like stopping, I looked back, saw how much I'd already climbed, and told myself if I could do that I could do the rest. One pedal at a time. One foot in front of the other. One two three four. Inch by inch.

Finally reaching the top was a million times more satisfying than I'd even manged to convince myself. On the last leg, with the wind whipping and the van blaring music, I pumped up to meet the group of bikers who had made it up before me, each shouting my name, each urging me to finish strong. I was hurting but I was still grinning from ear to ear when I rolled under the tunnel of arms made by my team members. I had made it. I hopped off my bike, took a breather, soaked in the moment and then joined in the fun as we celebrated each team member making it to the top. When we were all there Sarah switched the iPod over to the Killers' "All These Things I've Done", BNB's unofficial themesong, and we raved like maniacs, bouncing to the beat and screaming "I'VE GOT SOUL BUT I'M NOT A SOLDIER" in unison for the whole world to hear. We got several pictures and videos of us dancing and finished with our strongest haka yet. If it was any sort of prelude to Cannon Beach things are gonna get ridiculous. I love my team. So. Much.

The rest of the day was a cake walk, almost as if the route itself was celebrating our accomplishments. We crossed the state line into Idaho and then invaded a soda fountain in Victor which has acheived a world-renowned reputation for its huckleberry milkshakes. We pounded those back and proceeded along the plateau, enjoying delicious, windless flat for the rest of the day.

And now we're in Idaho Falls! We have a Build Day tomorrow and we're staying in a super swank church. I've staked out a couch for sleep tonight, and our hosts have been incredibly sweet to us. These days I'm riding as much of a Bike & Build high as ever. It's gonna be great to do some volunteering tomorrow and it's gonna be great to see how the rest of this trip plays out.

PS, my first meal in Idaho? A baked potato. Go figure. Turns out some stereotypes are true.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 53: Rock Springs, Wyoming: "A Small Town With Long Roads"

The time since Vernal has been filled with two days of hard, hard biking. When we're not rolling across the harsh desert, we're climbing some epic mountains. Sometimes we do both at once. But hey, it's cool 'cause we're Bike & Build.

From Vernal we finally took that turn and started proceeding North, North towards the line with Oregon and our eventual destiny. The ride was 37 miles, which may *sound* like a joke in comparison with some of the other rides we've done on this trip, but it was no picnic.

Flaming Gorge, as it turns out, is surrounded on all sides by sheer walls of red sandstone mountains. They are nothing short of stunning, particularly in the morning when the sky is still gold and the sun hits on them, making them look like they really are on fire. Ten miles out of Vernal we hit our first of these mountains. Our mission was simple: climb the 5 miles of 8 to 10% gradient to the top. The way the climb was set up allowed for us to break this down into psychologically manageable chunks. 10 swithbacks along the mountain edge acted like steps, as if we were climbing a giant stair case, and every time I turned around to look at the valley below me I was exponentially blown away by the view. They just don't make nature like this back East. The humungous burnt-red mountains lounge along the desert plain like sleeping giants, and in one eyeful it's easy to see sand, snow, red stone, green plants, and bright blue sky. Imagine, if you will, biking along the edge of a Martian canyon. "Other-worldly" is truly the word.

So I spent my morning out of Vernal on that epic climb feeling beaten and broken but thrilled with life when I reached the top, which was a whole other world to itself of lush green-grassy peaks on either side of me and high-top fields of wind-whipped and sun-bleached trees. That afternoon we worked our way across the highlands and, with the hard part of the day's ride behind us, found ourselves at our campsite around noon or so.

Camping in Flaming Gorge was a bit of a let down because we were still a good 5 or 6 miles from the actual gorge and couldn't spend the afternoon exploring it. That's kind of been the team's luck with Utah in general. The best analogy for Utah is like that pretty girl who seems really awesome but just doesn't give you the time of day. You're just kind of left admiring everything from a far! There was Flaming Gorge Lake! Just down the mountain! It was right there! So close, and yet so far.

So we found other ways to kill time. The guys timed eachother at the showers to see who was fastest, and I one by a solid 2 minutes. I can assure you I smell just as good as the next guy on this trip, I just don't dilly-dally. Man showers. Thank you Camp Carolina. After that man shower I celebrated with a four hour nap in the tent.

By the time I woke up the rest of my tent had been up and at it for hours. I was sharing a tent with basically all the tiny women on the team, by the way, because we devised a perfect system. They all pck in like sardines at the back vertically, and I lay horizontally at the front door to act as a windshield/bear guard. It means that during the night no one is really at risk of getting stepped on, and it means I don't have to wake up with frost on my pillow in the mornings. Everyone's a winner!

So they were all awake and reading the headlines from a Time magazine, which was great because we really are in a very protective mobile bubble on this trip. Incidentally, I'm sure this goes without saying but the Gulf Oil Spill depresses me to no end and I just wish it could be fixed.

Then there was dinner, then after dinner a fire and a Town Hall Meeting where, following tradition, we talked about our highs and lows, read Warm Fuzzies to each other, and ended with a group hug. I love my team.

Several of us stuck around the fire afterwards and conversation drifted to hilarious stories from our childhood, climaxing with Zach recounting the better stories from when he was 12 and had a Bad Influence/Best Friend named Trevor Bennett. We all loved that name. Can't you imagine our mother warning you to "stay away from that Trevor Bennett"? It's perfect!

People started drifting off to bed, but my four hour nap let me feeling quite alert at 11, so I stayed up a little later and did some star-gazing with Kristen again. Granby was fantastic, so when I say that the stars that night were ten times better I want you to appreciate the full meaning of those words. I saw the entire band of the Milky Way, from one side of the horizon to the other, totally unbroken, and it left the both of us simply awestruck. The constellations jumped out at us, and it became all too apparent to me in that moment why humans practically worshiped the stars in ancient times. Out there, without pollution or city lights, they literally commanded your attention and seemed filled with ancient truth and beauty.

So we stayed out there, talking about everything and nothing and admiring the stars until it became too difficult to keep our eyes open. By the time I made it back to the tent all the girls were sound asleep and filling the night air with a chorus of congested snoring. The night never got terribly cold, and sleep was delightful.

The morning I woke up to Sharif's speakers and the girls discussing things very unbecoming of ladies. I have to say it's gonna be weird going back to "real life" and not being around people who constantly discuss their most private of bodily functions, discomforts, and the like. Really there is no boundary this team hasn't violated right now. You can't take us anywhere.

So we packed and dressed and ate and started the ride with a brilliant roll down into the gorge. The gradient was very steep and I effortlessly flirted with 40mph as the tree line gave way to a stunning view of the lake and the enormous pile of bright red sandstone from which the gorge derives its name. We crossed over the Flaming Gorge Dam and stopped along the edge to hang over the side, easily 200 feet tall, and soak in the scope of our surroundings. We had just enough time to "ooh" and "aw" before a policeman rolled up and whisked us along.

Working through the sandstone canyons with relative ease we found ourselves crossing our next state line into Wyoming! And what incredibly beautiful country it is! It started with another climb, and my goal for today, in the interest of continuing to push myself over this summer, was to climb the entire mountain without taking a break. I could go at whatever pace I desired, but I couldn't stop.

This goal seemed all the more daunting once I actually saw the mountain we intended to climb. In most cases the tree line manages to keep us guessing but after we rounded the corner and saw the mountain our view of the road was unbroken. Working up the side, I could see trucks as far as 10 miles away, humming along up the side. But, as I've said before, the thing abut Bike & Build is that there's only one route to take. Instead of figuring out a way around the challenges, you have to learn how to deal, and it makes the end result all the more rewarding.

So I dug deep, enjoyed my last minute of coasting, and started to climb. At first it was hard to work out of the mindset that I could stop when I wanted. Everytime I wanted to stop I just gave one more push. Four pushes with the right, four with the left, four pulls with the right, four with the left. Repeat forever. It seemed unending, but about half-way up I smashed through the wall. Today I discovered my true biking rhythm, and when I did, the climb became a breeze. I don't know how to describe it. It's like pedaling became as involuntary as breathing or letting my heart beat, just something my body would do. I entered a state of Zen never before experienced on the bike, in which, with my rhythm unbroken, I could completely live in the moment and appreciate the incredible scenery opening up around me as a ascended out of that mountain valley. Soon enough I was cresting. I passed a community college class with a professor giving a lecture on rock formations and layers, but felt it would be impolite to barge in. Also, as it turns out, lunch was literally 300 feet past that lecture. But I made it! Without breaking! Even the experienced cyclists said it was a tough climb, but for me it was just exhilerating! I found my rhythm, and that made today a great day!

Even after lunch when we were working through a 30mph direct headwind, the discovery of my Rhythm allowed me to blast through the wind like I never have before, and I was comfortably riding with the semi-fast people, which is a huge step for me. And as for the view around me? Stunning. That climb led us on a run right through the heart of a mesa top. In the foreground on every side were rolling fields of green pasture, not unlike Western Kansas, but instead of simply carrying on they dropped in the middle ground to reveal ancient canyons and in the background rose the sisters of our own mesa. At that elevation we mingled with the shadows of the clouds and, with the wind whipping around us and the sun beating down over this canyon-network of indescribable scope, it was exactly what I imagined Valhalla to look like. Every field, every valley, every mountain pulsated with an ancient and wild power. Truly it was a place where the gods mingled with the mortals, and, in the spirit of battle, we pushed against those winds until they finally gave way.

Right before our descent we all stopped at an overlook to admire one canyon of particularly vibrant color and massive scope. I have never been to the Grand Canyon, and I don't know how this one compared, but it was still enough to take my breath away. We all sat, quiet, reflecting on the ride. Did I mention we got here from the Atlantic Ocean on bikes? You know. It's what we do, apparently.

The descent led us into true desert. Oppressively hot and dry, bright, bleached, quiet in a beautiful barren sort of way, with huge canyon walls on other side of us. Then, for the first time in two long days, we started seeing the signs of civilization. The ride into Rock Springs was...confusing, which was surprising considering the size of the town, but we made it and I excitedly recovered with a Big Mac and a quart of chocolate milk. Then a nap, of course.

The host we're staying with tonight is a new one, and with that being said, they already know exactly how to treat us weary travelers. We enjoyed the first meal we didn't have to prepare for ourselves in 9 days, and feasted excitedly. Later I had the privilege of speaking with a woman named Donna who talked exactly like I imagined the spirit of the West would. Frank, lively, and with a heaping helping of hospitality and adventure. She had lived in Wyoming all her life, growing up on a ranch, and happily told us what we could look forward to from her home state. We thanked her for her hospitality and she explained that it was just the way people lived out here. The barrenness and lack of civilization has made Wyomingans (if they're called that) learn to rely on each other. Out here it's just a necessity as a traveler. You roll along the desert all day and take whatever bed and food you can get from strangers. People have counted on each other out here for centuries, and it's amazing to see it resonate so soundly to this day.

And now if you'll excuse me I'm going to head upstairs. Donna and her husband were kind enough to leave us with a mountain of snacks and the pastor has set up the projector with Harry Potter playing for us. I love people. I love the West. And tomorrow I can look forward to seeing more of it and falling deeper in love.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 51: Vernal, Utah: "Cowboys and Dinosaurs"

Our day off in Steamboat Springs gave me a chance to catch up on some work and give myself a little peace of mind, which has been very handy for the last few days. After the last blog entry I stocked up on some bike stuff, namely tires and degreaser, and simultaneously admired the Orange Peel, the local bike shop, a modest establishment in a wild teepee-shaped building. After that I got a grip on my things and sent a handful of items home in the post to make room in my bag. It was tough. A few of the women-folk were on hand to make sure I was thorough, and when I couldn't bare to part with something they were unforgiving in their insistence. It's allowed me to have to worry about less Stuff, which is awesome, since a reason I wanted to do Bike & Build in the first place was to get over my pack-rat tendencies and learn how to live a simpler lifestyle.

I can only be responsible for so long, though. After I made my trip to the post-office the team had dinner and the real day off finally began with a trip to Steamboat's fabled Strawberry Hot Springs, famous for their luxurious swimming pools and "clothing-optional" policy after dark. Several of us hopped in the van and Sharif ferried us over the mountains. One thing that I found remarkable of Strawberry Hot Springs was how secluded it was. The roads leading to it were poorly paved at best, and took a good 20 to 30 minutes to traverse. We listened to Beatles songs as we admired the afternoon turning to dusk along the edge of the aspen-covered mountains. A truly beautiful, little-disturbed piece of nature. When we finally arrived at the Hot Springs we were greeted by a manager who, based on the delivery of the spiel he gave us, had been working there for at least four decades. After being warned to not sneak in bottles, or leave our stuff unattended for college students to steal, we frolicked down to the waters.

At Strawberry the Hot Springs meet up with a cold stream of melt water. These pools mingle to provide a wide selection of temperatures ranging from boiling hot to freezing cold. It was a facility that rewarded exploration and experimentation. The pools themselves were fit from local stones, and the water, fresh from the stream, was dark green from the sulpher and other minerals. Lining up on an especially cozy piece of stone wall, I threw my arms over the side, kicked my head back, and let the water work its magic. I calem my mind, reflected on the trip, and allowed myself, after a day of errands, to let the day off catch up with me. We mingled and played in the pools well into the sunset, and several of us got a kick from alternating between the hottest pool and the coldest. I've been told this method gets the most blood pumping to your muscles and helps clear the toxins out of your body. However it worked, I felt pure, refreshed, and invigorated, my muscles totally cleansed after 2000+ miles of hard work.

Lo and behold just around sunset the clothing-optional policy came into effect. A man who was easily 60 years old came running from the edge of the pools, naked as a jay-bird, and cannon-balled into the warmest one. Not so much out of prudeness but out of readiness to sleep a handful of the team strolled back to the van for the journey back to our church. Sidenote: Fleet Foxes is pretty much the ideal music for driving through a forest at night. The echoes and harmonies add to the eeriness of the scenery in a very beautiful way.

I crashed on the couch I claimed at the beginning of our stay in Steamboat and fell asleep listening to a mix on my iPod. Sleep was absolutely grand. In fact, perhaps too grand, because I found myself pulled right out of REM sleep the next morning and couldn't have felt groggier if I tried.

Since the previous day had been spent being responsible I was pretty much the first person ready to roll out of Steamboat and on to Maybell. I hopped on a gravy train with Jen, Kathryn and Heather but wound up being to antsy to ride at their speed. Fortunately, the Fast People came right by as this thought occurred to me, and I excitedly latched on to them, making a game out of keeping up with them.

The thing about it is if I wasn't much of a cyclist before, I am out of sheer necessity, and it's becoming more rewarding to push myself. I've grown a lot on this trip for sure, but I fear becoming complacent. As soon as I do, it means I've stopped growing, which means I find myself often these days proactively pushing myself out of my comfort zone.That morning I did my best to keep up with the Fasties, and did a good job with it for the most part. Something that really blows me away concerning Mark's technique is the fact that he in fact *speeds up* when he hits hills. Instead of kicking back he makes an effort to climb as fast as possible, which took the breath out of me to say the least. I lasted for about 20 miles with them before I felt the need to stretch, so I stopped to do that and just hopped on with the next train to roll through, which was still traveling at a healthy pace and full of folks that I don't ride with often.

We hit up lunch in a ghost town and I removed my base layers, now that we were getting out of the mountains and the sun was finally starting to warm up the land. The afternoon, from the standpoint of scenery, was much the same. It was obvious that we were on the other side of the Colorado Rockies at this stage, and it was starting to look a lot more like Western Kansas, with its rolling green pastures and big sky. About 4 miles outside of Maybell Raleigh and Andy flagged a few more of us down for a swim in the Yampa River and, warm as it was at that time, we happily obliged. So we played in the mountain water, skipping stones, splashing around, cracking jokes, and marveling at the fact that anything, let alone crabs, could live in those cold Yampa waters.

Crossing that river really did radically change the scenery almost instantly as well. Out of no where, we were in a Sergio Leone film, and Jen and I rode together to Maybell, fantasizing about all the Western cliches we might be lucky enough to come across. We hoped for a shoot-out, an Indian raid, or at least a saloon.

That night we made our home in the town of Maybell, population 70. It featured a Sinclair station, which we hit up for Gatorade, and a modest diner called Lou's, where a sweet old waitress served me the most epic post-ride meal ever: a local, grass-fed rib eye, fries, texas toast, and a root beer float. Afterwards we meandered to our campsite and I slept for 2 hours in the sun.

I was only woken abruptly later on to the talk of rain possibly coming in. Seeing that everyone's stuff was strewn about the campsite, and that everyone was off doing their own thing, and that there was in fact an omninous looking cloud rolling in from the West, I sprang up and got to work securing the camp for the down pour. Joe and I tried to make a lean-to for the team coking dinner. It last all of 5 minutes due to the duct tape failing under the immense power of the desert wind, but it was worth a try. Instead we threw as many things, and then as much of Dinner Crew, into the trailer as possible and then used the tarps to cover the bikes. At this stage the wind was getting wild, and it took 5 of us just to hold the tarp down over the bikes long enough to bungee it to the trees, fence, rocks, playground equipment, and bikes themselves.

We all migrated over to the bathrooms to take shelter from the wind and cold, and the team did, in fact, eat all of dinner in the women's room of this campsite. Dinner was laid out in pots over the sinks and, all lined up with plates in hand, we worked past the stalls and filled up on hearty bowls of Leftover Stew, which was a serious adventure in itself. Dinner Crew, in an effort to clear the coolers, had basically poured everything canned into one pot. There were peas, carrots, corn, potatoes, noodles, onions, peppers, and chicken breast to name only a handful of the ingredients. Derrick insisted on adding in yellow and dijon mustard for flavor. It was certainly...different, but surprisingly good. Really at this stage we're pleased to get any calories we can. We all ate our fill under the bathroom awning. A park ranger came by and told us it rarely ever rains in the desert. Just our luck.

After the rain cleared and we had our fill we all climbed in our tents at hit the hay. We all expected a cold night and a long day today, and really, there was nothing that excited us all more than the idea of sleep.

I did in fact sleep in a tent this time and, while I'm partially disappointed in myself for not braving the elements, I must admit that I slept like a baby in relation to Kremmling. Things like a dry floor and human body heat do wonders for my sleep cycle. It made getting out of bed this morning almost impossible, but it's what we do. I have to move with the current.

this morning we hopped out of bed at 5am. Well, I say that, but it took a good 15 minutes of playing "just one more minute" with my brain before I finally hopped out to face the day. We dressed in the heated bathrooms, had cold bagels and peanut butter for breakfast, and were ready to bounce by 7.

Today was a long day at 91 miles, but it wa *stunningly* beautiful. The area along the Utah-Colorado border is literally exactly like the backdrop of a Clint Eastwood movie, and I soaked in the sights and sounds of the desert, which is rare for me indeed. Back East I'm used to everything in the summer being a very lush green, which is beautiful in its own right, but the gradient of colors out here is spectacular. The soil, mostly sand, is a deep golden hue, and it peers out of the fields and hills from among the thickets of desert shrubs, which range from a deep blue-green to purple when their leaves have dried away. Off in the distance, seemingly no matter where you are, are stunning mountain ridges, their layers exposed to the elements and the history of the valley tucked away among the lines of gray and burnt orange. The ridges cut across a wide blue sky, filled with lazy clouds. The dryness leaves everything looking clean, almost bleached in color, and the quiet of it is probably exactly what made cowboys so stoic. I may or may not have whistled the Good, The Bad, and The Ugly theme a few times, as I soaked in the sights, riding solo, fantasizing about being the cowboy modern society would never let me be.

First lunch was right along the road, overlooking a vast desert plain which ended, abruptly, with a beautiful red ridge, standing in opposition like a wall, against what I'm uncertain. The scene was further enhanced by Sharif's selection of Rodrigo y Gabriela, a spanish guitar duo with immense talent. After I was satisfied with my meal I rode out alone, inspired by the music, wishing the rest of the team a safe journey and, as I rode out into the West, yipping and firing an imaginary gun into the air. Today was a great day to solo and I enjoyed it for an extended period of time. Eventually the cold started to wear off so I removed my layers, and was caught by Andy and Kristen, but I was ready for company at that stage. Kristen and I discussed "Ishmael", a book she and Jen insisted I start reading back in Steamboat. without giving to much away I will say that I've appreciated it deeply for its presentation, its frank criticism of civilization, and the author's earnest desire to enlighten readers and inspire people to save the world. It made for a good talk along the road at the very least.

Around this time we started seeing signs for the Dinosaur National Monument, which had been on the team's mind all morning. Apparently we are biking right through fossil central, and the surrounding towns ejoy banking on these finds. there is, in fact, a Dinosaur, Colorado right on the border and Jesse and I got great pictures of the mega-cheesy dino-sculptures in town, right of "Brontosaurus Boulevard" if I'm not mistaken. We stopped by the Dino-Monument information center and were crushed to learn that the park's museum was closed because it was, ironically enough, built on unsturdy Earth which eventually caused the entire building to collapse. Jesse, who had been dreaming of seeing this museum since the age of 3, was especially crushed, but we got good pictures.

Moving on we enjoyed lunch number 2 right at the border into Utah. Their state sign wins. It has an Allosaur imposed over the phrase "Welcome to Utah", and we have an amazing picture of Derrick riding the Allosaur wearing an American flag cape.

Crossing the border into Utah I noticed right away that it seemed devoid of color in relation to Colorado. the scenery was still stunning, but everything seems just more bright and white out here. Beautiful nonetheless, in that surreal Georgia O'Keefe sort of way. I definitely got a kick out of the dried-out giant rock formations jetting out of the sand like shark-fins.

And so we worked through the desert into Vernal, the self-titled "Dinosaur Capitol of the World". A 30-foot tall cartoonish pink brontosaur with moving eyes greets you as you roll into town, which is pretty great, and there were advertisements for the Dinosaur Rodeo all over town today, though sadly we were too exhausted and underprepared to check into it, and we've just enjoyed a quiet evening at the church.

It's late now and I should be asleep. We bike Flaming Gorge tomorrow! It's supposed to be very tough but very, very pretty. I'm excited as always. I'm just livin' the dream out here.