Sunday, November 29, 2009

Is that news on the tube?

I've taken a few cheap shots at the media in past posts because the media is crucially important in that they are the primary conveyers of information and ideas that greatly shape public opinion, popular beliefs, and perspectives of how we see the world and our engagement with it all. And as active citizens, it's up to us to hold their feet to the fire, or at least maintaining awareness of what forces are at work in their content creation and delivery - in particular, the forces of television's major news networks - television, because of its wide appeal, ease of accessibility, and its simulataneous demand of both visual and auditory senses of the audience. That combo of external stimulus can be a persuasively powerful duo, filling your eyes, ears, and current conciousness with a Halloween bucket load bombardment of crack candy that's enough to chew challenge the cognition of our new generation's best multi-taskers. Try momentarily muting the talking heads or walking away from the loud screen LCD to go and sip a cool glass of filtered water.

Among other things, capitalism makes for good tasting candy - and who doesn't like a good piece of candy: lights, music, wise cracks, funny jokes, a good fight, roused emotions, political soap drama..... But in terms of a square media meal, the problem begins when they start mixing that candy with the meat and potatoes. When it comes to a serious steak, lay off the corn syrup! It gets to the point where it's easy to mistake the factual flavors of a 'tater debate because some ideological, profiteering taste-bending intender snuck jolly ranchers in my grandma's turkey. Stop feeding families a fake fear feast of how Uncle Sam's new plan is going to pull Pa's plug!

I'm talking about profit-driven entertainment disguised by a heavy dressing of supposedly legitimate news. This doesn't mean that PBS (public) is what you should always watch for a better objective news - I'm simply stating that the main motive for FOX, CNN, and other news corporations is to maximize profit - afterall, that is the goal of a corporation. Any actions on behalf of management inconsistent with that goal should, in theory, lead to the shareholders voting to replace them. Therefore, delivering socially constructive news will usually take a back seat if it and profit are ever in conflict. So goes the tenuous relationship between efforts towards honest news and the corporate media that operates under free market principles.

Rupert Murdoch is a smart man that knows how to make money - however he can. If you don't care about investing ethics, then purchasing partial ownership of his News Corp is probably a safe money maker. But you should know that this guy cares about America only in the sense that we continue to be reliable consumers of his products - other than that, he doesn't give a damn about us. Ask any of his fellow Australian's what they think about their buddy Rupert.

Non-Sequitur Comic - October 13, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Saving a Puppy

It's not always easy to pedal past some of the starved, pathetic looking dogs that wander along the back alley side streets or rural county highways. Even the most mangy mongrel can give you a glance that begs for a second chance. But it's something completely different when you discover a newly abandoned puppy that makes it impossible not to stop and save such an innocent infant from starvation.

Last week, my good friend Robbie joined me for the 200-mile stretch between Birmingham and Atlanta, and it wasn't long after we had crossed the Georgia line when we came upon one such puppy. The little guy immediately started a desperate scramble for us as we passed by an empty parking lot alongside the Silver Comet bike path (the longest paved recreational trail in the US). Crossing out onto the highway with us, it became obvious that he had no home and was scared. He curled at my ankles, begging to be rescued. Without hesitation, Robbie and I began looking around to the sparsely scattered homes of that rural countryside, hoping to find a resident that could help. Meanwhile, the pup quivered in terror at the roar of the fast-passing traffic. "It's all right buddy, I've felt that way before too."

There was no decision to be made, no judgement call - only the moral obligation to do the right thing...whether it's a puppy or a baby, it deserves at least one shot at life, at least one chance to be good, and maybe great, or even bad, and to learn from the mistake, but at the bare minimum, to live life as another unique being of the universe, wondering why, chasing a dream, and maybe achieving some sense of peace or meaningful inkling of authenticty.....God bless the good souls that adopt, foster, or support the disadvantaged children of the world...

Back to the street, it wasn't long before we went knocking on a stranger's door, which turned out to be an older couple that had moved there in 1942. Since then, they had raised their family there on the farm, and most of their sons and daughters' families had all returned and populated the other few houses we saw. It was Mr. & Mrs. Duke of Polk County, Georgia that opened their hearts and extended their arms for the little abandoned puppy on that damp, cool, cloudy afternoon.

Amazing the basic instincts of nature; how an animal, so young and inexperienced, so completely vulnerable knew to seek safety in the hands of two giant creatures riding strange spinning contraptions, all totally different than the likes of himself....but then again, dogs love bikes.

Mr & Mrs Duke, Robbie, & the Puppy

Thursday, November 26, 2009

We have a lot to be thankful for

If you are reading this, then you are alive (or at least functioning), which also means you're not dead. Never a bad idea to start from there, just in case... In addition, you, as do I, have access to a computer and freedom to a world of information - all of us most likely typing from somewhere in this country we consider a great nation. And it is in this country that we can all be thankful for our freedoms: to choose, to travel, to snooze, or volunteer for battle - or not.

Over this Thanksgiving Holiday, save a place in your prayers for the soldiers and their families - especially those who will not be together either now, or ever again. It is rightfully said that, "the greatest casualty is being forgotten". Try not to forget the costs of freedom.

I'd like to take this moment to again thank all those that have donated to this cross country awareness ride for the Wounded Warrior Project thus far, and to the hundreds of new friends, strangers, and (of course) family that have lent their support along the way to help make this possible. Whether it was water, food, shelter, advice, or a smile - I sincerely appreciate your kindness.

Amen. And cheers to the holiday with the best premise - one that has long extended beyond the Pilgrim's song.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From Perfect Parkways to Dangerous Dieways...

The Natchez Trace Parkway makes for a super superb bike ride, as its silky smooth asphalt and low, slower traffic wind through colorful forests, over countless creeks and streams, an undisturbed, intimate Mississippi, and with picnic historical pull-offs every few miles, a cyclist cannot be too careful or else the trace teases and turns trance. Thankfully, Mark was my riding partner that forced a friendly wake-up pace, which, for me, was just a futile waste to try and keep close with his fancy carbon. You always remember how nice it is to have a fellow cyclist along for the ride, especially a local that's been digging in and has long known his turf. Talk of gators, unknown physiological limitations, truck buzzing, pipeline pathways, and marathon race days got us quickly down the road and eating fresh fried catfish (Catfish King) in Carthage before it even seemed like it all started. You know good times when 45 miles just disappear.

Introduced to me by his life-long buddy Keith - true trail angel, lawyer, entrepreneur, scratch golfer, and certainly the best man to know in Ridgeland, Keith and his father caught me waterproofing my shoes under the front porch shelter of the The Trace Grill (good grub) and immediately struck up conversation. Instead of pedaling through the puddles and rain to a grocery store and then another twenty down the Trace to a sloppy, wet camp, they suggested the option to stay dry as they would drive me down to the fresh market. It wasn't long before he took charge at check-out and then suggested I stay in town for the evening until the storm passed. We then eased over to a nearby hotel, where he again took control at the front desk. No need for a jealous audience, so I'll just say that I had a nice roof overhead and leave it at that. With a few afternoon hours remaining, we went back to his office, got a few swings in at Chateau Whistler and St. Andrews and introduced me to another good friend in Clint of Raise the Bar Fitness. An upbeat, awesome character, and long-time supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, Clint quickly helped spread the word about my ride on his blog. He's your man in Mississippi if you need a personal trainer or professional advice with nutrition.

An all-star cast and great group of men I happened to encounter during my time in Jackson. As if I wasn't already riding high enough on the crest of the glorious Trace wave parkway, their generosity inflated the cloud and propelled me further along to the town of Louisville where I met more friendly folk and good country cooking at Lake Taik-O-Khata. After an anonymous man bought my dinner that night and then as a guest of the Rotary Club, was fed lunch the following day, the successive events were nearly surreal.

I immediately snapped out of that three-day dream once I hit the highway towards Macon, Mississippi. A dream induced by that Natchez Trace Parkway, a dream abruptly broken SR-14. Cloudy cold day on that rolling, rumble-strip two-lane logger truck speedway, and as they say, your head better be in the game, otherwise, you'll wind up as just another blood-stained statistic - possibly joining the other hundred thousand roadside cross memorials. Defensive riding at its best: head on a swivel, holding a laser line at times, always scanning advance for more trash, clobs of grass or busted glass while auto-dodging that which is already upon you, keeping consistent cadence to sustain the 1-2 smooth pedal power in rhythm, and maintaining your cool and fluidly loose but always ready to switch and put on a hell-grip when crossing over the rumble strip or sometimes dumping to the off-road quick. The rumble strip can shake your brain bad enough that you just pull over, stop, curse, wait for all visible vehicles to clear, and then grudgingly proceed.

There is always hope that road conditions will improve once you cross a county or state line, but they just got worse in Alabama. For all the goatheads of eastern Oregon and Idaho, for all the whacked-out-test-piece shoulder edge agitations of Arizona, and all the hundreds of miles of terrible Texas chip seal, man, if the roads of 'Bama ain't the most dangerous. There are no shoulders on two-lane highways, nearly as minimal on some major pavement - your forced to ride in the road. And in case you didn't know, Alabama is highly productive in timber, mining, and any other possible industry that requires huge trucks. You live or die according to match-traffic timing. Semi's, dump trucks, and loggers are so big with so much inertia and populate the roads with such high frequency that your only choice is to completely pull off into the grass/gravel/trash/glass, lean far away with head down, keeping your mouth closed unless you want a trail mix supplement.

So far, Alabama drivers have done well given the circumstances - no seriously close calls yet. In Tuscaloosa, I picked up a bulletin published by the state bicycle coalition which highlighted a recent national study that ranked states "bike friendliness". Not surprisingly, Alabama was dead last at 50. Well, there's room for improvement, and I wish this state and its cyclists the best in their efforts towards those improvements - there's so much beautiful and challenging countryside that it won't take much. If it was possible to re-allocate one half of one percent of the support and backing that goes into football, the state could instantly move into the top ten....

In a way, I'm glad I am here to experience the worst, although three more days of this may change that opinion. After starting in the state of Washington, which was ranked number one on that list, it's a good thing that I had almost a whole country of ride experience before pedaling into this pressure cooker. Knowing how I first felt on a loaded bike in addition to a lack of experience with variable highway traffic conditions would have been a recipe for disaster here.

Flag of Heroes - Servicemen Lost in 9/11 Attacks

Keith and Clint's Office

Monday, November 16, 2009

There's Good People Out There

With less than a thousand miles till these tires touch Atlantic waters, the realization of a closing chapter creeps with greater frequency. There was a moment, way back in west Texas, one of those moments we like to call clarity, where the reoccurring reminder of how this journey is, in its absolute essence, all about people - We the People. The dramatic scenery had faded well before crossing Roy Bean's Pecos, but it was in his desolate, lonesome rolling desert stretch where wild nature offered the necessary void to be filled with that profound, lasting reflective impression.

Where or what would we be without those extremes? And not just extreme places, but radical people, far-flung ideas, ludicrous lifestyles, and strange creations. People that make the debate, people that push it too far forth, and those that tug back against senseless attack. We are the world's melting pot of people and recalling the calm, steady words of Austin's Joe Jistel, "It takes all types".

How fortunate I have been to have met so many good people over these past 94 days. Colorful details of their random acts of kindness, sincere generosity, and wholesome hospitality would fill a library's chambers with an endless adventure series. From complete stranger to stranger, situations arise that drive an excitement, an invigorating enthusiasm for life, a jingling of the keys to why we humans thrive.

With so much published negativity circulating the airwaves and paper treys, it may not seem the case. I believe that many of us are able to make the distinction between entertainment and objective attempt, but it doesn't discount the fact that so much fear, hate, and opposition are purposely perpetuated throughout popular media, showboat political arenas, rash advertising, and sadly, some of our religious institutions. This doesn't always match up to the realities that I see on our streets, let alone the attitudes and personalities I meet. Don't get me wrong, we've got major problems in this world being caused by problem people, but it doesn't warrant much of the anxiety or distrust that feeds the false expectations some of us have for some of our fellow citizens - world citizens included.

Without picking another stick to batter this beaten horse diatribe, I'll end by saying that it's rare to taste the surprising bitter bite of a bad apple - let alone one that's rotten to the core. For every Wall Street greed crazed criminal, there's 100,000 honest money pushers. And with relative similar ratio, the same could probably be said of the crooked con-artist to autonomous artisan; out-right thief to life-long philanthropist; Mississippi racist to refined southern gentleman.

To say a few words for the latter half of that last example, I have been blind-sided by the royal treatment received here in the big river state. The compliment carries the same weight in my sentiments towards the people of Louisiana. Both similar scenarios as I described with bad rap El Paso - people of places and places made by people that, to me, have defied expectations and many skewed common assumptions. There's an open, honest assuredness in their character, a steadiness, a patience, genuine concern and interest in the exchange, and often a subtle ease to their kindness that let's me know that I'm in the presence of good, down home folk that I could mistake for my own.

So from here, and as this journey's end draws near, I'll be introducing you to the good people I've met along the way. From the McGrath's back in Seattle to the anonymous man who I think was the one that bought me dinner (and dessert) last night. They are good people that have supported my journey to make it across country and effort to help our wounded soldiers. They weren't afraid to talk, to ask questions, to take time out of their day...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Bike Tale from the Old Wild West...

In the small, Mingus Mountain mining town of Jerome, Arizona, I met a man by the name of John Dempsey - an old, but stone bold character. With piercing eyes and an index finger that felt like the dull, dead lead weight of a thud-blunt rail spike, he pointed into my chest, demanded complete attention, and with a low rumble drum baritone, began a Wild West bike tale from many years ago....

"This [pointing to my bike] will be the most important machine for the rest of your life. Never stop riding. It will keep your mind clear and sane; your senses sharp; your spirit strong and in touch with the world. [Looking out and down to the valley] You climbed up from Cottonwood?"

"Yes sir. Began the day in Cornville."


"Yep, Cornville."

"How was traffic?"

"Hectic, but they gave me space."

"Good. It's never been a great place for bikes. Now let me tell you what happened down there in 1954. Back then, I used to live near Cornville, but would ride my bike to work up here to the mines and back home. One afternoon when I was headed down, a man in a truck ran me off the road. If I hadn't seen him at the last second and bailed, he may have killed me. You figure he would have stopped to see if I was all right, but instead, he burnt a tire and rode away. The SOB didn't give a s***."

"Were you hurt?"

"No, I didn't break anything....was lucky. The bike was bent up pretty bad though. Once I drug it out of the draw, I walked it through town, passing the local watering hole where I saw his truck. There's the second mistake he made. It was at that point that I decided that I was going to teach this guy a lesson. I went straight home, got my 45, went back to the saloon where I found him. He musta been a barrel deep cause it wasn't much to sneak up behind him, grab his collar, and put my gun up against his throat. I told the bast*** that if he ever ran another bicyclist off the road again, I'd find him and kill him."


"Yeah, the barkeep told the sheriff, who then told the judge, but he knew I was from good people, and he let it go after a short talk. Just told me to go easy...that I shouldn't be threatening nobody like that."

"So maybe I should thank you for laying the law long ago in that town I just rode through...guess you instilled one heck of an ethic?"

"Well, you can't just let hateful idiots run reckless. There's consequences. I got my point across."

"I'd say so."

"Anyway, you're losing daylight. If you're trying to make the pass and get across Lonesome Valley, you better get going. Otherwise you'll have to dump off the side of the road up in the forest, which ain't bad, but you won't freeze as easily down near Prescott."

"Thank you Mr. Dempsey."

"Get on now."

Monday, November 9, 2009

This Veteran's Day

We live in a great country. A country whose greatness rests largely upon each citizen's upholding belief in ideals above and beyond their individual selves. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the primary ideals that represent the collective conceptual core of how we begin to define our America and ourselves as Americans. Few, if any other citizen exemplifies a full commitment to these ultimate ideals more so than our veterans.

Seven states and four thousand miles gone by, I've met dozens – each with stories or insights into a life of service for our country. From brief sidewalk conversations to gory details over dinners, there always seemed to be some reflective questioning and yet humble dignity etched within each discussion. Has there ever been a struggle in which all was left on the battlefield? The answer is quickly revealed within a vet's choice vocabulary, or sincere tear, but made quite obvious with sharp angle, no non-sense logic that cuts directly into the proverbial heart topic. Once we reach such tragic depths of the actual morbidness that can be found in a single moment's mortality (e.g. whether or not to try and save your brother soldier by dragging his half-alive-half-body out of crossfire) I have no frame of reference - no way of attempting to imagine that emotion or life-long impact.

Our veteran's are living history. There are many ways to honor their service and sacrifice, but what many seem to appreciate the most, is having someone that will take the time to sit down and simply listen. In west Texas, I met an incredible man and Vietnam veteran by the name of Rex who said, “...that I don’t think any of us (Veterans) are complaining, we all want to forget the dirty business of War....God bless you and take care of the flag, my old WWII buddy told me yesterday that most of the time, “it” (The UNITED STATES FLAG) was the only friend he had.” Find the time to seek out and talk to our nation's veterans.

Downtown Seattle - Day One of My Journey

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Sunrise, Another Tragedy, Another Chance to Question

Early this morning, from an upstairs bunkhouse in rural east Texas, the sun rose like it usually does. And for most of us, whether we traveled to work or pedaled along a highway, we went about another Thursday. A hundred miles to the northwest of the pasture shown here, the soldiers at Fort Hood did the same. But as you may have heard by now, a tragedy occurred. Condolences and prayers we extend to the family members, friends, and loved ones of those killed or wounded. At this point, there's nothing further to say.

Two days ago, I was intercepted by Eric Foltz - veteran and fellow cross country bike riding fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project. It's been great to have an experienced cyclist along the route to exchange stories, hear of different places, perspectives, and experiences, but it's been a privilege to have a guy that's spent time with the military, in Iraq among countless other places around the world (including Vieques, Puerto Rico). Together we caught the news this evening of what had transpired only miles away, our heads shaking in disbelief.

It's unfortunate that it often takes a tragedy for people to wake up again and begin asking serious questions: What is going on and why? What should be done? What could be done? What could I do? Well, as it should be in a free country, it's up to you. If you need an idea, come join us for a ride.

Rural Ranch Roads of Eastern Texas