31 Aug 2010, 5:55pm

birds flying backwards

i’m writing from a library in larned, kansas, where i’m supposed to be camping in the backyard of a woman named kathy, so if she calls me i’ll have to take off. i stayed at “elaine’s bed and breakfast bicycle oasis” in tiny bazine last night, and elaine worried about me staying alone in the city park here in larned, so she called up her friend kathy and arranged it. i am not one to turn down hospitality! (the b&b was pretty great. comfy bed, two homecooked meals. nice to treat myself.)

three days ago i crossed the border into kansas. two days ago i crossed into the central time zone, which means i’m closer, as far as time is concerned, to the east coast than to the west coast (yay!). today, i crossed the humidity border. actually theoretically that was yesterday, at the 100th meridian, but boy did i feel it today! also today, i turned off of hwy 96! today i was riding south, directly into the wind, for nineteen miles. i will not complain any more about the sidewind. actually, by the end of the headwindy part, i was feeling pretty zen about it. i think i’m gonna make it. and so on.

the wind in kansas is funny. for something that’s theoretically objective and measurable, it is awfully subjective. no one seems to have the same opinions about it or even know the same “facts” about it. i’ve been told that this strong wind outta the south is due to hurricanes in the gulf right now and i’ve been told that it’s always like this and i’ve been told that i’m lucky i’m going east ’cause the prevailing wind is out of the west and i’ve been told just the opposite. here’s what i know i know about the wind: only what it’s doing right now. and how i feel about it: pretty zen.

today the route went past the fort larned national historic site and then, a few miles later, the santa fe trail center museum. when a. and i would stop at places like this, we used to joke that when people asked us where we were riding to, we should tell them, “here. we rode our bikes from oregon just to visit this very place.” i realized today, though, that it is pretty much true. i mean, i’m sure not riding my bike to yorktown, virginia, to go to yorktown, virginia. the little museums and sites and historical markers and mountains and rivers and, of course, people, are the reasons to do this ride. the reasons we/i didn’t know about specifically.

you think a lot about “why” when you’re plowing into a headwind across the endless kansas plains. here is another reason: a little placard on the wall in elaine and dan’s house last night: “don’t worry when you begin that you don’t have the strength. it is in the journey that god makes you strong.” (or: it’s the journey that makes you strong, it’s in the journey that you make yourself strong, etc.) was i capable (whatever that means) of biking across the country when i started? probably not. am i capable now? i dunno. will i be when i finish? self-evidently. the proof is in the pudding.

and: awhile back, matt posted this link to photos of the “tough guy challenge,” a race in england, on his facebook wall. (yup, of course i check facebook from the road.) the race involves mud, fire, ice, and all kinds of horrible discomfort to the racers. and my reaction, as well as that of everyone else who commented, was “awesome!” but it seemed strange to me that all of us would react so enthusiastically to something so objectively unpleasant. i wrote, “i think it says something about our culture, or our human need for real challenge/engagement of our bodies and so on and the fact that our culture does not provide it, that this looks awesome. i mean, because it’s sort of meaningless, isn’t it? says the woman who is currently engaged in another arguably meaningless and sometimes painful pursuit for reasons i don’t understand intellectually but feel intuitively.” matt replied, very insightfully i thought, that it probably appeals to the part of us that needs something to react to, fight against, and/or overcome right in front of us–because “most harm wrought upon us nowadays is in myriad, small, boring, soul-sucking ways. We can’t punch Enron or BP or Wal-Mart in the face, as much as we’d like to. It’s just not possible, and so we (I, anyway) get itchy for things that we can look at, and understand, and know either You win, or It does.” the fact that i am riding my bicycle across the country makes me feel totally badass, like I Definitely Win. but on another level, it still feels meaningless. i don’t Need to be doing this. and i think one of the big things i am figuring out is, i Need to do something Needed. (but first, i am gonna bike across the freakin’ country.)

oh! today is day 63 of my trip. the other day, i was thinking about how far i’ve come, and how much farther i have to go, and i thought it might be cool if i finished in exactly 100 days–a nice round number. then i counted up all the miles i have left to go, and if i continue at the pace i expect, i will arrive in yorktown on october 7th–day 100! yes! i did not fudge the numbers or calculate differently or anything. so there you go; that’s my goal. i’m looking to buy my train tickets soon. planning to visit philly, nyc, family in upstate new york, boston, my grandparents’ place in maine, and chicago, then take the train cross-country to the sf bay area. i will probably be back in portland around thanksgiving, i figure. i’ll stay for the holidays, and then, i think, i’ll leave again.

i ran into a westbound cyclist the other day who asked me (as folks ocassionally do) what i do that i can take this time off to ride across the country. i said i was between jobs and that, actually, i was sort of using this ride as a vision quest to work on figuring out what i want to do next. he asked me if it’s working (”yeah, sort of”) and told me that in his experience you come home from these trips feeling like anything is possible, but within a couple weeks you end up mired in the same stuff you were before you left. i told him i’d thought of that–and in fact being away from portland has given me some perspective on it that i think i really needed. i LOVE portland, and i feel like it very well may be “home” in one way or another for the rest of my life. but when i am there (at this point in my life), it’s so easy to just hang out, float along, and so on, without really having to live/grow/make things happen that need to happen for me.

so. there’s that.

anyway, kansas is: plains, plains, plains, oil rigs, feedlots, really pretty sunrises. pictures coming. (incidentally my p.o.s. netbook is getting more and more difficult to use–the connection between the screen and the keyboard part is failing, such that in order to see the screen it needs to be at an increasingly acute angle. if it gets much worse i might just send it home to save on weight, and then i’m not sure i’ll be able to post photos anymore–a tragedy!)

1 Sep 2010, 10:01am
by Jim Bangs

Good blog today.
Your self-inspection is very understandable, especially when you tour on a bicycle. As you ride and think about your life….I would just like you to hear a different point (maybe not so different!) of view from a 54 year old man.
The need to live/grow/make things happen….never goes away. I did a bike tour this summer and though not as far as across the country, long enough for the mind to work it’s way through the many thoughts that come along while pedalling alone for days.
After the trip, the day-to-day routine does start-up again, it has to. But the good thoughts and feelings are easy to bring back up…those feelings of “winning” out there on the road.
Good Luck to you and keep up the good writing!

Hey, keep an eye out for Janeen. She is riding solo westbound and as of today, Sept 1, she is halfway through Missouri. Her blog is: nodirectionknown.com

1 Sep 2010, 10:23am
by Jim Bangs

I take that back…Janeen is in Hutchinson Kansas today so maybe you will see each other here pretty quick!



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