The Second Train. Nearing The City. Gary, Indiana. People in Quantity. Ok. Back in The City.

Time has passed between this happening and this writing. I do hate to give away the ending, but I am back in New York, sitting on a park bench, the poor victim of being whisked from one social event to another without much pause for You, reader.

I was lucky on Amtrak. My train was so late they let me catch an earlier direct connection to New York. Traveling with the understanding that you are magically arriving five hours earlier -- even as you chug through timezones -- pleasants things.

My neighbor on our full train was a nurse practitioner who was in Chicago to move her daughter into nurse practitioner school. She was busy reading a pamphlet that digested next week's soap operas for her. I left her for the snack car and she left me for Cleveland. Still, I remember this: early in the morning she offered me her blanket and we huddled away all the cold Ohio and Amtrak could throw at us. A nurse even in sleep, she left at dawn.

I ordered my 25th Gardenburger in the snack car and celebrated with a 26th. I sat down with a family of mom plus two happy little girls, and a young woman moving herself to Vermont. We talked bears and the environment and stayed up way later than everyone's bedtime.

I had a new neighbor when I woke up after Cleveland. Kitao is a New Yorker like me, or I should say better than me. The guy is just cool. He studied upstate with the photographer Joel Sternfeld (whose book on failed American utopias is perfect, as is American Pastoral (?)) and is interested in bike touring. We talked some, I put my contacts in, talked some more, probably slept, and then Kitao invited me to half of the ramen he was going to cook.

I love ramen and here's how to make it right.

Kitao's Ramen Recipe:

Soy sauce
Cooking sake
Bonito dashi powdery stuffy
Boiling water
Fresh ramen noodles

To do:
Simple enough, cut anything that needs to be, mix all the soy, sake, and bonito according to taste, boil water and add noodles. When they're soft, strain and add to sauce.

We were joined by Bob from a Bay Area pharma shop who was retiring whether he liked it or not it. We talked body mechanics, overnight parties on islands in Argentina, the world's worst museums, about the trapeze institute Kitao studies at in NY, great American documentary filmmakers, monastery life, and how a human being twists when he dives or trampolines.

Here's the trick. Everyone can do a half twist with their feet. While the body moves around, the hands and head are already gone and into the next turn.

My hands and head were still very much in my last turn, my turn west. The train ride back was not a very concrete bookend to my trip. It was more movement.

Fortunately, an awful woman got on in Albany and reminded me of all things bad on the east coast. She spoke loud enough for the entire train to hear, although I still can't figure out to whom. She was impossibly pregnant. I use this adjective doubly. She was impossibly large and it was impossible that someone willingly made her so.

Here are my notes on her:

Awful woman getting a tattoo of her babies footprints on her breasts. She laughed like thunder. Believes her child is a 'schizophranay' because she is moody. 'All my babies have different scents, scents; see, I'm Victoria Secret, but she [her 8 month old] is different, Poison or Clinique, I don't know. Repeated this nine times on her cellphone: "Going to see me at Auntie Asia house! Going to..." before she moved on to complaining about something else like how long the train ride was, the air temperature, or the Chinese ticket taker ("A Chinese...") she didn't like ("...gonna get dropped."). To be fair, Chinese man did ask her if she was 2 people. Couple with matching t-shirts scared of her. Everyone is. She has the ability to loudly embarrass anyone who asks her to be quiet. Convinced she thinks I'm a racist. Only hope is for a sudden diabetic coma to wash over her. Look at those arms...

We lived. We pulled into Penn Station. I walked off. My friends were there waiting for me. It was late. I ate a lamb burger. I went home. I lingered in the living room to see how long I could stretch their excitement before going into my room, feigning surprise, and then finally sleeping in my room, surrounded by my new pink walls and the tasteful array of penises they printed on them. I'm actually quite impressed by the level of detail in the prank, if not the new level of immaturity. And I am glad to have my dear, dear brother painting.

It is odd being back, my room included. There is so much sound. I spent an entire day walking around and listening to people whinge about small matters (not getting into clubs, not getting weekend off, not getting...). I heard a new jingle on the ice cream truck -- The Entertainer. I went to an unpopular bar and heard great song after great song. I heard powerlines getting fixed directly outside my window at midnight. I heard some kind of music at the art museum I went to. There was an Olafur Eliason piece that reminded me of the mist at the base of Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride. I bought and heard Baby, Let Me Follow You Down a thousand times until it stopped reminding me of that morning in Kansas. And I heard myself putting off this post (and the next and final one) until I got sick of listening, biked around town, and settled here in Tompkins with the same Blackberry I wrote everything on.

So, that brings us to now and east. I have yet to have my movie day or my last hamburger. I kind of don't want either. All I have done, when not with friends, is sit down and write. And wasn't that what I wanted more than anything? Time to write, a room of my own, a stiller mind, space to make things for the people I care about.

My final (written) thoughts on the trip are fast coming. I'm going to see the waterfall they've added to the east river and to venture to my first ever yoga session. I figure it's cheaper than a massage.


2 Slideshows of Repeated Occurrences

Once upon a time, the slideshow was this awful thing you had to slog through when your best acquaintances returned from adventuring in some place exotic like Europe or Mexico. Not any more. With clever clicking, the modern man can breeze by two months sojourn in six seconds.

Still, let's pretend we're back in simpler times. Poetry still rhymes and I'm wearing polyester. My wife, Flan, has kindly prepared deviled eggs as a canape, and since cholesterol has yet to be invented, I'm six in the hole. After some shots of me in dangerously short shorts and Flan's near fatal sunburn, we come to my experimental phase which I have kindly streamlined for you. So, lean back, have a seven and seven, and keep your grain elevated.

A. Farm Equipment of Kansas.

B. Cars of Bazine.

A Slideshow for the Lazy

I ended up getting this to work. Still, I must stress that America was 10-12 times bigger than this.

Photos from Across the Country

I give up trying to get you a slideshow here on the website. You'll end up having to click through to this larger, lovelier slideshow of some of the nicer moments on the trip. Can I recommend full screen? No? Well then I insist you turn Info On (top middle of the screen)

Note, one tends to not to pause and photograph when things are going badly, when hail is coming down in frosted clusters, when one is hailing down a mountain, or when one is surrounded by trees. Kentucky and Missouri could seem non-existent to those incapable of reading boring, boring text. Let me do them quick justice here.

Kentucky was hard to photograph because the smoke and trees wrapped around me and never really left any open vistas to shoot from. That said, one of my fondest memories was coming out of that into wide open western Kentucky, east of Berea, and having an early afternoon ride past sharp brown cliffs covered in thick green trees.

Missouri was a challenge because my camera was in the bottom of one of my bags and I'd honestly thought I'd lost it. It's a fine looking state -- much more so than Nevada -- and so I apologize. It was also the first subtle break in continuity from oaky green forest to red piney trees that burned holes in your nose with saw dust.


Day? Goodness Knows what day. The long train ride home. A new adventure. Now with people!

I am midway through the great unraveling of my trip Westward. I am in Omaha, talking with a woman from Pougkiepsie [sp. impossible] about her youthful dalliances with Frank Sinatra and that time he had his friends beat up Shecky Green at the Copa. "Frank," she needs to point out, "could be mean sometimes."

Frank from the snackbar is on the intercom saving us from illegal card games and reminding us of the federal regulations requiring shoes. Safe now, here is what I'm up to.

I am in the Lounge Car. I have become a small fixture here (a lamp?). I am one of the original 40 and can quietly trace my ancestry to the Emeryville station outside of San Francisco. We know all the other originals, we dine together on trout and vegetarian lasagna (twice), and we politely smile when new passengers complain about how slow we're going.

My great bike story is quite famous now -- I have given many variations ranging from humble to whatever the opposite of humble is -- and I click around in my cycling boots. Another guy my age is returning from a cross-country trip that was longer and harder than mine. I will deal with this. I am louder. I also have plans to throw him from the train if we ever go fast enough for it to do some harm.

Things move in and out here, just as passengers hop on and off. I move in and out of naps, in and out of cars, and when I am not in the bathroom and trying my best to shower under the sink, I am in and out of conversation. The train is a very social environment and, as a nice young man, I am often called to talk and be a fourth at meals.

We have two 12-year-olds coming back to their mother after a summer working on their father's carnival. I traded them pistachios for carny secrets, that I share with you gratis.

"Ok, so, the thing is, the hoop is an oval, it's not round, so you can't really get the ball in good. My cousin's really good at that game. Balloon pop? I'm the best at balloon pop. Once, my cousin and I made it so we played until we popped them all. It was long"

At this her brother chimed in: "My peanut." This is, apparently, hilarious because it is repeated over and over again. His sister shuts him up by wiping ice-cream across his face.

We have Robin and Sue and Sue's charming mother, Joyce, from Australia. We ate dinner together on my first night (vegetarian lasagna). Robin was once a cyclist but a particularly unpleasant hill ruined Sue's introduction to the sport and any hope of a couple's activity. I side with Sue here. Joyce is lovely; she has the voice of a bird. They are amazed that I haven't got a trace of an accent (accentless?) and I am amazed that people keep mistaking their accents for Chicagoan. Robin told me about the Auz gold rush of 51 and it turns out that some Americans, after reaching the Pacific, kept going in search of shiny rock. I am happy to be going east.

We have Connie, who talks, and her husband, who doesn't, but must have at one point because he is a retired judge. They are both from Columbus, OH, although they live in Iowa and recently had some farm equipment stolen by meth heads. We all talk meth, bike rides across Iowa, and her trip to Australia.

I talked pretty about Brett Farve with a family from the Bay, Utah with an elderly couple from Utah, Joan Crawford with a gay man from San Francisco, Cyprus and recent history with a Canado-Brit, poetry with a poet from Ithaca, train hopping and hitch hiking with some smelly (but visibly priviledged) kids from Oakland, and I muttered nice things to myself as I deliberately squashed the foot of a man with a New England Patriots jersey.

One of the train hoppers, a young man my age, was reading a Lebanese poet in large print. "Khalil is the man," he said, and there was no debating this. He swapped books with the girl I was talking to and cried out loud in the part where Woody Guthrie's sister died.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I just had to pick the part when she died, you know?"

This worked somewhat, and while I was sad to stop seeing the girl, I did at least stop seeing him.

Everyone lumbers up the rocking hallways. I saw a woman barrel up it like Charlie Mund in Barton Fink. I saw a man fall into another man's lap like a child. Standing is taking your life into your own shaking hands. The most sensible woman I saw was on the lower deck of the third car. She was wearing an oxygen mask, spread herself widely across the ground, wore no underwear, and armed herself with a bucket of fried chicken large enough to sustain even with Amtrak's constant delays.

Here are some thing I did not see on the bike: telephone wires can be made to dance if you pass them quickly; stationary clouds can be moved; there are water parks; parking lots where spots had been converted into small farm plots; alkaloid fields; mountains cleared by pine beetles; Nebraska; yourself in everything, reflected in the glass.

The nicest thing I saw was this: an elderly man and his daughter drinking coffee together. They were perpendicular to me, she held his hand, and when they laughed hard and rocked you could see the features that his face had lent hers.

We pass time in different ways. Young people watch movies on laptops and portable DVD players. Very young people play videogames. Very, very young people run around screaming until they are told not to. People my age play solitaire on their computers. Older people play solitaire by hand. These same people would rather exercise their minds with sudoku than stare at the scenery. Everyone reads.

This kills me:

A, B are old ladies. C is B's sister, hitting on a woman, downcar.
A: Five letters. 'Waiting for _____.'
B: Godot.
A: How'd you know that?
A: It was in People's crossword last week.

The woman C was hitting on seemed charming. Later, she would chat in my ear while I struggled with a particularly dense passage in Blood Meridian. As I could not beat her, I joined her. She was convinced that Richard Farina was on smack at the end of Been Down So Long because she was on smack in the 60s too. She had the entire train waiting to see a dinosaur in a cage near Glenwood; this was a big disappointment. Shortly thereafter, she put sandals on her tanned feet and walked off the train.

Mr. Minx and his sister conductor Mr. Livingston are trying to make up time into Chicago. Undoubtedly, I have missed my train. Perhaps I'll have to see the town.


Day 51, the bridge

Well there you have it.

Day 51, done

And it's over. I am in San Francisco, 68/58F. Like with a good book, I want to turn back towards the other cover because I'm not so distracted in wanting to find out how it ends. I miss the middle. I miss the second to last page. Did you know the Napa grape is so loved and polished that it sparkles like sugary tinsel? Did you know that Kansas had the prettiest sky, but that once in Illinois it scared me so much I cried?

I am in a flop off of Van Ness. The dollar has given us Europe's tired and weak and it seems all they want to do is bicycle tour, buy iPods, or mouth breathe on me in dim internet cafes. They have jacked up the price of every place to stay. Good I say. San Francisco is America's most romantic city and your faithful narrator hopes they remember that to their friends. Farming, fishing, gold, shipping, insurance will ebb and flow into a town with the times; it is casual accidents of geography, architecture, cold fog, and the movies that give a city such impossible romance. New York looks up at your hills with envy she'd never confess to; for she is the City of nay-sayers, while you Californians say yes for no reason at all.

I passed through Petaluma yesterday; I mention this because I forgot to yesterday. Petaluma could be the most amazing synthesis of all cities West of the Mississippi. There is a large grain elevator for chickenfeed, a small river for transport and loft living, an historic downtown based around being an historic downtown, and a series of homes built when American architecture was at its most homegrown and tasteful. Before we imported ugliness into our academies and built rows of Mies Van der Roes, we had Queen Anne homes. Queen Anne was a style of assemblage, pieces ticked off my owners from catalogues and then shipped West -- always West -- in boxcars. The owner built the house according to his or her own rumblings, and the good people of Petaluma had good rumblings, as did the hippies who came north and saved these homes from flood and neglect.

I woke up with the idea of the sunrise and a light case of TB. I was in a dugout in a baseball field in a low hanging cloud. I biked south with the AAA map Pete gave me. As I made it further and further west I tore off the ground I'd already covered. The piece I held in my hand was the size of a coupon.

I passed by more vineyards with brunch tastings and some blah golf courses. On one green I saw twelve men in khakis sizing up twelve different putts like they were assayers. This is how we spend our precious free time and our (obviously) unprecious money. Can't we be more creative with our fun than put the ball in the hole? Does a walk need a purpose to be ruined by impatience and a reminder of our minimal athleticism?

I began to see cyclists, then I began to see lots of cyclists. People wake up early here in the Bay and they spend their Godless Sundays in nature and on their calves. I managed to catch up with a cyclist my age, Jordan, and we rode together for ten miles while he shepherded me safely and scenically to Sausalito and the top of the Golden Gate.

And then I stopped. I left something for Brenda overlooking the harbor, somewhat per John's wishes, called my brother, and then patted Rocinante on the side as we rode down to the red bridge. Red is the color of American rock and you probably want that in a bridge.

There were a lot of tourists on self-guided bike tours of the North Bay. This isn't what I'd expected. I'd expected a solitary ride down to the water. Did this cheapen the experience? Not one bit. I love cycling too much not to want to share it with farmers in Kentucky and Latvians in bleach-sprayed jeans and gelled hair.

And it was over. I biked down to the water and dipped my feet and wheels in the Pacific. I ate my last hamburger. I had to find lodging. I biked to the library and when that was closed I went to the Apple Store. When that was swamped I went to an internet cafe, and when that was a failure I went to the hotel I'd stayed at during a failed job interview out here. I showered. I bought coffee. I bought books. I bought train tickets. I bought long pants. I bought shirts with sleves. I bought a 150 dollar bottle of champagne, a 5 lb burrito, some chocolate, and other bric-a-brac only to have the cashier wave me through, gratis.

I ate my food, called friends, read, drank a small glass of champagne, poured the rest in the shower like an F1 racer, and I did a victory lap of the city. I went up-didly-up-up, and I went down-didly-down down the hills with ease and no bags. I tried to talk with everyone, but we are in a city remember and that is just not done.

And it's not over. I have to reread what I've written for errors and themes. I have a longer piece on what I've seen and experienced outside of myself that I want to give more thought. I have a short story to finish. I have a long story to start. I have a job to find. I have a connecting ride from DC to NYC to arrange. I have contact solution to buy. I have dinner with friends tomorrow. I have lodging to arrange tomorrow. I have so much more to do than get from point A to point B. Much of what I have to do has no point. I have to get an espresso machine. I have people to thank.

Stay tuned to this space for my list of top tens, likes, favorites, desert island states, and hidden gems.

Well I suppose I can get some thanks out of the way. Thank You. I wanted You to come along, I tried to give you some sense of the country and adventure, and having You with me made the experience richer because it was shared. Metaphysical question: if I fly up and over a mountain in hail and lightning and no one is there to hear me chatter, did I chatter? You'd better believe I chattered and, if this is a tautology, I chattered in large part because You made me. So thanks.

-- G.


Day 50, above the bay

I am in Rancho Nicaso, the bar where Huey Lewis cut his chops, and where tonight's entertainment is some peppy, uptempo jazz. As I can't go any further, I've resigned myself to eating in rhythm. And bless uptempo jazz, especially standards, because it can warm you when you're cold and in a cloud.

We have a responsibility to our dreams: they are our burden. I had three hours today to decide whether I was going to carve my dream of crossing into San Fran over the golden bridge or just follow the maps and ride the ferry. I knew getting to the bridge would be longer, but I didn't know it would be one of the hardest days of the trip. Good. Nothing is hard when you are almost done and you have no place to be but slightly closer to the end.

And nothing is prettier than Northern Californian farmland. Napa county is stunning. Sonoma is stunninger. And Napa city has an In-N-Out burger which got me through an awful ride on a highway without a shoulder and all of Saturday's tired wine tasters. The wind pushed me off the road a couple times. Once it pushed me into a particularly paltry golf course. The man at the caddyshack had this to say to me:

"The wind, she's a bearcat."

The women's marathon is on TV. People are drinking odd drinks in the jazz section: sambuca rocks, plain kir, vermouth with a splash of vermouth, gin with two mothballs.

I'm dead tired here, but I should mention this: I plan on illegally camping in the dugout of the little league field opposite the Rancho. I hope no gray hairs head out to the park to get saucy. Speaking of gray hairs, this trip has started (or coincided with) the graying of my hair. Add to that the cracking of my knuckles, the pain in my back and knees, the fact that I'm up at 6 on a Saturday, and that I take leftovers of everything and I think we'll find that for all the weight I've lost I've gained some age.

Some bigger thoughts will come, but I'll wait on them. Tonight I'll rest. In the morning I'll head down to the top of the bridge and pause.


Day 49

Do you remember how I said I wanted to end my trip with comfort and dignity? Well, here I am alone at PF Chang's family style low-wattage hotspot waiting on my almond chicken. I am in Sacramento. I think I must have insulted the 'concierge' at the hostel because this was his recommendation when I asked for an unassuming place nearby where I could eat by myself.

The hostel is surreal. It's in a 19th century flour magnate's mansion. The downstairs is kept immaculate and in period dress. The concierge sits behind an oak dress and blasts thin Britney Spears through his computer speakers. Two separate sets of young couples, bankrupt, are eating noodles in testy silence. Upstairs, dance halls and dining rooms have been converted into barracks. I am in room 2, bed 10. A Spanish guy was sleeping off what looked to be a bad case of ebola.

I'd rather describe Sacramento. This is the state capitol. It seems to be on the up and up. There is a summer concert that has gotten everyone from the surrounding area into the city center. Half of them biked in on these chopper-style beach bikes that are quite neat. Everyone is good looking and poorly dressed. I saw a couple of drug deals on my ride down 12th. I saw many more families, some of which were headed to what sounded like a Beach Boys cover band in a downtown cathedral.

I started today in minor redwoods. In hours I was down in the valley. I rode along fields of strip malls. In one mall, I saw an ad for a smoothie bar/tanning salon which actually seemed popular. How? Perhaps for miners to keep up with everyone else. Everyone is tan here. Everything is tan: the grass is bronze, the paint is faded, the road is faded. And everything looks hot.

I rode on a fairly long bike trail today down the American River. There were wild turkeys and deer. There were powerlines. There were riders in all kinds of leotards. It was like the procession before the Palio.

I'm back at the hostel. There's a nice painting of the Matterhorn in front of me. As I am braindead, I'll leave you with the Mark Twain quote hanging from the entrance:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts."

Sounds nice.


Day 48, part two

I am very, very tired. I'm sure there are numerous possible why's, but I can't put my finger on it. Was Carson Pass steeper than I thought? Did I stay awake too late yesterday talking about American food policy and what will happen when an entire generation doesn't know where its French fries come from? Has the desert caught up with me? The heat certainly has.

No matter. No matter at all because, give or take a few bumps in the road, it is all downhill to San Francisco. Fundamentally, not constantly, but still fundamentally downhill. That gist pleases me to no end.

I am also really happy to be in California and her mid-high Sierras. I'm sitting surrounded by redwoods, which will always remind me of the movie Vertigo (and La Jetee). Looking upwards at them does make you a little dizzy; thinking about how old they are is dizzying still. To think: some of these trees could have been at Woodstock.

To celebrate, I made what I hope is my last Pasta alla Mansfredo.

Whole wheat mini-macaronis
Excellent olive oil (I found mine in a vitamin shop in Dolores)
Freshly ground sea salt

1 Bring water to table.
2 Put pasta in water. Warm with gas stove.
3 Take off before boiling to save fuel. Drain water.
4 Add oil as if you were filling up a pickup.
5 Add salt as if applying fake snow.
6 Enjoy.

I just realized that the salt shaker I took from our kitchen in my mad dash to the Chinatown bus must weigh a good 5 pounds.

Sitting in an RV park really makes you wonder about dysgenics. I know this is a very ugly topic -- justly so -- but let me tell you what I'm staring at.

Man stands astride fire. White truck is next to man. Woman sits in awe of man, US Weekly. Man and woman's eight children incapable of sitting, too in awe of fire and Gameboy. Woman asks man how he plans to start fire in California's dry north. Simple he say. He holds up red jug of gasoline. Altitude slows burning down so man throws gas on fire to beat altitude. Man also throws gas over fire and into surrounding area. Man misses family. Fire miraculously dies, man doesn't.

Meanwhile in Metropolis, a college professor and his corporate lawyer wife decide the world is too cruel to raise children in and get both their tubes tied. They invest the savings in a pretty impressive wine collection and a fierce organic food habit.

So I don't know how far from the end I am or when I'll get there. Sacramento is in a 107 degree heat wave and that might slow me down. On the plus side, I'll be biking along a river and I could always jump in.

I leave you with the end of an inscription on a shaft of granite at Carson Pass.

"...dedicated by the noble E Clampus Vitus...the Transierra Roisterous Alliance of Senior Humbugs"

*Addendum: The Times has an interactive piece on the noble Clampuses.


Day 48

I am 7000 feet up in California. I have 9 more miles to go and then I will have no more mountains to cross. From 8573 feet up I can look down into the valley, pick a point in the distance and hit it as I undo a nation's worth of climbing.

I am taking my sweet time. I will make this the slowest 9 miles of my trip. I have stopped in every diner along the east side of the mountain. I will probably stop in more. I won't stop when I roll over the top.

Day 47, one more thing

There are many ways to have a great finish. One is to end comfortably and with a feeling that you've gotten better at this thing. Another is to limp across the line like you've got nothing left because you've given it all away.

I've dreamed of both for this trip, and I think my bike and I will have both. We rode across the desert and collapsed at help; when we ride across the bridge, we will wear proud faces.

Day 47, redemption

I am repaired, safe and sound, and well-fed beyond belief at Pete and Barbara's in Carson City. I am proud to say that the bike, my fair Rocinante, is back in good health too after 200 odd miles of bad limping. Let's backtrack.

I burst my tire on the smallest, darkest follicle of a truck tire while riding through a meteor shower. The hole was the size of a letter a -- a as you see it now. Duct tape did the trip. I headed to the next bike shop 60 miles away only to discover the shop no longer existed. The hole was the size of a bullet wound. I went to the next town with a bike shop. This was Fallon and it was 110 miles away. I was beginning to dislike Nevada through no fault but mechanical.

The tube inside my tire pressed its way through the bullet hole -- at first like a zit, then like a tumor -- until at last the lump popped. Tube 1 dead. Fixed on the side of the road in 100 degree heat. No one slowed down. That's a lie: one woman slowed down to laugh.

I made it to 4 miles outside of Fallon and had a liter of soda at the 1st gas station. When I got back on my bike my tire was flat. Too weak to fix it. So I inflated it, rode a mile, inflated it, rode a mile, inflated it, rode on the rims for a mile. I lost 6 spokes in the process. I stayed at the first motel I saw, which was lovely. The Indian manager and I talked about his priest and the guy's many real estate holdings. I cooked everything I owned and ate it.

Of course, there was no bike shop in Fallon. All there is to Fallon is the Naval Air Base. The inland desert is an odd place for a naval base. I didn't see any soldiers. All I saw were the sad kids of soldiers, moping around in parking lot after parking lot because all kids have in Fallon are parking lots. The adults have casinos.

Sprinted to Carson City on a WalMart tire and fumes. Rode across a bit of the desert where you had to turn on your headlights because you'd be nothing but a shifting black object without them. The heat was real.

I passed a town that was just cathouses or kitten ranches or whatever you call those places where you walk in and pick a woman to screw like you would a happy meal -- number 5, please. Personally, I find nothing less unmanning than walking into a double-wide trailer and acting like you own the place.

Like the best gambler, I just knew my luck would change on my next roll. Pete spotted me from across the street and offered me a place to stay. The bike shop stayed open late, fixed my tire, and told me that we were all settled when I offered to pay. I biked through a neighborhood where the streets were all unfashionable women's names -- Ann, Ida, Marion.

Pete took 5 years off, sold his company and house, and set to traveling the world by bike. He took time off, time off to teach agriculture in the Ecuadorian rainforest or to work in an orphanage. His wife Barbara walked the length of Nepal. Nepal is the opposite of the United States, she feels; they are rich with spirituality and poor in stuff. I haven't been to Nepal, but, yes, we are very rich in stuff.

They raise chickens in their back yard.

Pete just lost a primary run for mayor on the central premise that we need more places for community than casinos. Some old boy won, but not for long. Nevada won't remain a tax free haven of ignorance forever, I think. It's too close to California for one.

And so a change has come. I feel a little guilty about breezing past Nevada because these two generous people are from Nevada, frustrated but here and living by example. More generous people are moving to Nevada. And tomorrow, I will leave it.


Day 47, a bad start

Of course there wasn't a bike shop in Fallon. Fallon is a Naval Air Base service station, and I don't see our boys in blue spandexing around the desert too much. High Desert Cyclery is a chop shop that recycles steel, thank you maps.

WalMart to the sort of rescue. I still have 6 broken spokes, but I have a new tire and tubes and should make it to Carson City. A very large part of me wanted to screw today -- it's already 100 out -- and stay in with a Lego Star Wars set I saw on sale. As a compromise and much needed morale booster, I bought a cheap lightsabre.

Day 46

Complete disaster in the desert. I'm too tired to do it justice (does it deserve justice?), but a teaser follows.

When I was a child, the Guinness Book of Records was the most fought over book in library class. There was one photo of the record setting hottest place on earth (Death Valley I believe) and I remember worrying to myself later that this would be the worst place to have your car break down.

Our worst fears tend to repeat themselves, over and over and over, but it is the lucky few who get to live them out like a masque; luckier and fewer are those who get to do this twice.

Today, I was the luckiest man on the loneliest street in America. But I am safe now. I have used a revitalizing motel shampoo and it works. I'm cooking as much food weight off as I can using the Mr Coffee, an iron, and a microwave in small concert.

My duct-taped tired held up, then broke, then held up, then broke, then held until 4 miles out of Fallon at which point I decided to ride on the metal rims because I could not hold my head up any longer. The head is the first to go. Good night.


Day 45, my longest day

I think I left you in Eureka. My plan was to take a nap and then head out at night. I vividly remember saying to David, the cyclist I bumped into, that I was disappointed that there would be no more challenges and surprises left on the road. I might as well pointed a gun at the sun and fired.

I went to the park. Two guys were building something to the sound of the sappiest country music I've ever heard (something about it's so hard being poor or it's so hard being rich because you aren't poor any more). To make up for their wet music, the men took to swearing and using a power saw. I took to finishing The Road. It moved me, I loved it, and You will too. If you hurry, you can find a copy on the L park bench where I left it.

I drank my coffee in a can and pushed off into the sunset. The sun was orange and in my eye line; then it dipped behind a mountain and turned the sky colors; once the sky looked like the box to Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout; then, imperceptibly, it became something different; and then it disappeared. The stars start turning on one by one. Some of them shoot. Some of them do twinkle. And they all distracted me long enough to blow out.

I ran over a shred of tire and the steel braid ripped a hole in my tire and took a spoke off. I think. So, in the shoulder of the Loneliest Road, I worked by dark. Duct tape now holds my tire together where kevlar once was.

This was all my fault. See this was my first flat. I got it into my head that I was going to go the entire country without a flat. To avoid jinxing, I did not rotate my tires midway through, nor did I ever really look at the things as they peeled thinner and thinner. Now, I've got 110 miles to go before I can swap it out. Everything is ginger.

Still, the night ride had its moments. The moon lit the road once so it looked like a white river; occasionally, the white light made the desert look like the moon itself; and I saw a meteor shower or shooting star fest. The stars fall fast and explode like blue magnesium.

I'm tired. I slept for four hours. The Early Show is on and they're trying to convince me that men are going to start wearing makeup. A small price to pay for nice pancakes.


Day 45, more

I would like to add that Eureka Nevada is a lovely town, completely justified in calling itself The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in America. They've offered me their library, pool, and town park. People come up and talk to you and are lovely. I just wish there were more Eureka across the state, one every twenty miles, like spiritual rest stops. Oh well.

Day 44

Eureka, Nevada.
"He would have made it if he'd lasted just one more jump. But that was a mean horse. Well, I'm pretty proud of that boy."
The old timer talked out of the side of a smile, holding a picture of his grandson at the rodeo riding a wild horse to a gallery of open mouths. The boy came fourth, but he did have his photograph land on a bottle of local wine.
I forced myself to sleep late. The purple light from the neon signs kept me awake later than usual, but the sun woke me up regular. I left up into the hills and can't say I really remember anything. There was a DOT truck or two, some dumb cows who insisted on eating right on the side of the road, mild heat, then a small dust kickup on a bit of unbrushed road. At the base of the last hill, another cyclist, conversation, running out of breath from talking, thirsty, then downhill into Eureka, a fish hamburger, chocolate milk, my book.
I will nap. I'll wake myself up at 9-ish and bike by night to Austin or beyond. I don't get physically tired anymore. I just get bored.
There is a reason we bomb ourselves here. Nevada is not our prettiest place. It's our gallbladder. I wouldn't really mind if the basins did fill up with water. I think an archipelago in the mid-West would do wonders for the look of the country, provide a nice visual contrast for Maine and Florida's pointy points.
Las Vegas might serve a social function. Every country should have a space for luck-seekers, cheap-hope, and second-rate theater. It should be bright. We should go there on intervals, eat violently, have fun or else, and then leave safe in the knowledge that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
But Las Vegas is a bright dot. It's actually a very thirsty dot and it wants water from everywhere across the State, water for those who do get stuck and live and who require green lawns, swimming pools, water spectacles, and other things reasonable from a city in the unreasonable desert. We can always move Vegas south or east or west or north because it has no real business being where it is. The rest is stuck here.
You don't mind Nevada. It's not really that bad. It's just not that anything. Nevada is in its name: say it fast. Nev-ada, N-vada, Nada. There's nothing here.
There shouldn't be a place of nothing in America. It's un-American. There should be a city to house next year's Hannah Montana memorabilia, a city made of corn, a massive waterpark, military bases, I don't know. Just fill it up. Every inch of New York is filled up so you can hardly rest your eyes without seeing an ad for something you need. Move that here.
I'm on US Highway 50. They call it the Loneliest Road in America. It's not. Road's don't get lonely; that's pathetic fallacy. It goes from coast to coast. It has all the good gossip from California and it's plugged into the Washington scene. Lots of other roads intersect with it and it probably knows what kind of terrible drivers they have in Chile. The Road is far from lonely. The people on it aren't lonely either. They're waiting.


Day 43, ice cream in the desert and my Coke moment

I am horizontal in Ely. I'm reading The Road and I've got women's synchronized diving on mute in the background. The feed is from Salt Lake. In between dives, we have commercials for one stop missionary clothes shops and for stool softener.

Ely is an old western town of the type that might warm Wim Wenders' heart. I'm staying in the Hotel Nevada, once the State's tallest buildings, and as I look down at the drag I see cowboys, bikers, the downtrodden, and the odd tour group. The wind kicks up and a tumbleweed or Starbucks cup floats down an alley.

I had a great bit of coffee cake and an espresso for breakfast in Baker.
The guy there brought me cream with my coffee and I tried it out. Espresso and cream is fantastic!

I had another long stretch between water and people. So I got to singing. Home on the Range is a really annoying song. For starters, I can't see any deer or antelope -- standing anyways. Secondly, a discouraging word is seldom heard because nothing is heard. It's just you, thinking to yourself, often discouragingly.

In the middle of the dryness, a bar. I had a real Coke moment here. I open the fly screen, I'm covered in sweat, and I plunk some change on the counter.

"Make it a Coca Cola."

I gulp it down, plunk the empty can on the bar, and realize that I don't really like Coke. My commercial was ruined. And if Coke is America in a can, what does this say about me?

The lady who ran the bar was lovely. She gave me a Snickers, filled my water bottles up with wonderful tasting water, and she gave me a chocolate ice-cream cone. I'm much more of a chocolate ice-cream fan.

I've spent much of the day reading. Still, I did read outside and chat with a man who owns the vitamin shop down the street.

"Man what you're doing is crazy. But you gotta have your hobbies. You gotta have that. What's my hobby? Tattoos. See?"

This is actually not so unreasonable.

"A hobby's got to have meaning. Every one of these tattoos has meaning. I did some of these on my forearms. I designed the rest."

I don't quite know what the meaning of a snake and a wolf fighting under the full moon is (avoid the full moon?), but I nodded as this all made sense to him and as I expect people to nod when I talk about biking.

Two sad gamblers, a man and a woman not in love, sat in the booth once removed from mine at the casino's 24 hour restaurant. We were in section 1, Dana's section, although judging from the artwork it belonged entirely to Dale Ernhardt. I ordered the bbq pork and shrimp. When the treff was gone, I sat listening to the gamblers talk. Faintly, in the background, the sound of country and fruit machines clanking. Dana left me the jug of coffee.

"She had my system beat."
"I know what was that?"
"Pour me some coffee. Every move I made, every card I played, she knew it. It's not my week."
"No it's not. And you're driving us back."
"We've got Reno or Vegas it's your pick."
"Vegas is closer, but you know."

I spent the afternoon reading. I did approach a girl my age who was staring intensely at a wooden replica of a cowboy.

I begin:

"You know that's 16th century."
"Is it now?"
"Don't touch. It's priceless."
"Oh I won't. What's your name?"
"I'm Richard. Richard Nixon. And you are?"
"Charles Bronson."
"Charles? That's a funny name for a --"
"Well I'll be the judge of that."

Charlie and I get to talking, and then her party headed over.

"Well, if you're out and about, I'll be over at the low roller's table by that woman with the gray hair."

And I might be. Currently, I'm smuggly wrapped in my blanket and in slight awe at this fact: I have one week to go.


Day 42

Goodbye Utah or, if you prefer to be maudlin about things, hello Nevada. Or, if you wish to remain neutral but imply progress, I'm in the Pacific timezone.

I slept in Millford's pavillion yesterday. I stayed for storytime at the library and the nice lady gave me string cheese and two apples. The story was about dragons.

I went to bed early. I woke up in a little while to the sound of four teenagers either eating junk food or doing drugs. It's amazing how, if you take away the visual element, you would not be able to tell the difference. Consider:

[Bubbling sound or sound of slurpy slurped]

Ow my brain.
I know dude.
Man Mike got busted fighting. He beat his best friend up.

[Snorting sound or sound of really enjoying a smoothie]

I can't touch that stuff. It makes me shake.
Dude let's go. Some homeless guy's in the corner.
Ok. Who wants to watch the new Batman?

[I do!]

Much of my night was jake brakes and gravel screaming, but that gave way to the sound of wild dogs picking at the trash. I screwed waking up early.

Today's ride was 84 miles between water and people. 10 cars passed me. I skipped up along the Nevada-Utah border and it was interesting riding. Since this is what I have to look forwards to for the next week, here's a brief description.

Imagine riding from island to island in a small Caribbean paradise, except that a thousand year drought has dried the trees and seabed to hard rock. You start up at the top of an island, quickly dip down to the old waterline, and then crest along the dried harborfloor for 10 miles before resurfacing and climbing the next island. Repeat until any beauty is lost in a hail of cursewords and boredom.

I'm at Silver Jack's in Baker. Baker is Silver Jack's. There's a public shower, a cheap laundry, very little shade, and a senior center. Terry of Silver Jack's has kindly allowed me to sleep for free provided I eat at his establishment. As it is all filling veg food, I see no short end to this stick.. This is an even stick.

I made one mistake today. I picked up a copy of Cormac McCarthy's The Road that someone left in the laundrette. It's sad, moving, incredibly readable (if you don't stop to wonder what an 'autistic night' is), and might weigh me down heading into Ely. I think I'll try and go to sleep just so I can wake up, beat the heat, and spend my casino day reading at the buffet. I might combine stargazing with riding and head out at 4.


Day 41, goodnight Utah

This is my last night in Utah and all I want to do is watch the Olympic Games. As this was a completely nondescript day of cycling, save a much-needed trip to WalMart, I'll take the time to answer some reader mail.
Cletus, 42, from Vatican City, Vatican City (the city so nice they named it twice) wants to know, "How do you go to the bathroom when camping?"
This is a fair and valid question. In fact, I hope this opens up an entirely new avenue of scholarship. There are the metaphysical aspects we can skip by -- does the Pope shit in the woods? -- and let's focus on ugly facts. You dig a hole as deep as your forearm, toss it in, and then use any of smooth objects nature can provide to finish your toilet (this is hard to do in the desert). Then you close the hole and bury your secret in the ground.
Mary Kate, 13, from New York says, "What animals have you seen? What was your favorite?"
Wild animals are notoriously fast and tough to see. Luckily, intrepid naturalists and truckers pin them to the road so that cyclists can better see and smell them. I have seen an entire Looney Tunes stable of roadkill: Speedy Gonzales, Bugs Bunny, Foghorn Leghorn, Pepe le Phew, Andy the Armadillo, Tweety, Wil E. Coyote, and Sylvester. Today I saw a heart and lungs with no animal attached, although my suspicions are egret.
I happen to love birds of prey. Today I biked with a condor floating beside me for a small while. I also saw an eagle dive down and pick up a mouse from the middle of the road out of the goodness of its heart. I also like deer. They are graceful, fast, playful, and run alongside of you if there are no cars. Fields of sheep are nice things to pass by, especially the one I saw in Western Colorado where every bell was tuned to a different, lovely note.
I do hate bats. I wish more truckers rode at night. Desert ants scare me, but there is something beautiful about them when they swarm into their giant anthills. It's a bit like a broken beer bottle coming together and reassembling itself underground.
Sleve Pillow, 64, from Detroit is curious: "Are you doing this for a cause? What's the point?"
I hate this question, Sleve. The purpose, I assume, is self-evident. If not, read the blog and you might find some areas that are evident-evident. If it still isn't evident, might I ask you to pause and consider what the purpose of anything is. If, after you decide that there is none and that curiosity is not its own reward, can I then recommend any of the thousands of cliffs I have crossed as a perfect space for further contemplation.
Here is my issue with "are you doing this for a cause?" This is fun. Honest. You can't have your friends and family sponsor a charity for you to have the time of your life crossing the country. That doesn't scan.
I like this subtext. You think you can cross the country but you know there are times when you'll wish you were elsewhere; then, use the fact that you have the Clean Air fund relying upon you to carry you up that hill. Fine. I've done this but I've done this differently (I've brought You along; I told too many people so failure would be too embarrassing). There are some pursuits in life that are inherently solitary, but the pursuit of those pursuits needn't be. We can get by with a little help from...
I hate this subtext. Running a marathon is hard. Chronic fatigue is hard. Do these sufferings equal each other? No. First off: running a marathon is the only time a regular adult can have a crowd of 200,000 people cheer them on. It is beyond fun. Second off: it's not that hard.
So why does "I'm doing this for myself" sound so selfish? It is, isn't it? Is that wrong?
That may be why I'm doing it, but that's not what I tell people. I know when people might find an answer of some value, so I say this: "I'm not doing this for anything specifically, but I hope the people I talk to will want to see more of their State or the Country, or maybe ride a bike somewhere new, or maybe just get to say "You'll never guess what I saw today!""
Cheese McMillan, 28, of the former Luxembourg, offers his two cents: "I wish could ride a bike across country, but you make it seem so hard and awful. Is it? I'm a former Olympic medalist who is training for the Ironman. Do you think I have what it takes?"
Probably not.
Jaime-Lynne Banderas, 74, writes: "What have you found indispensable on this trip?"
The backside of hills. Milk. Sleep. The joy of showering. Coppertone Oil Free SPF 30 Broad Spectrum UVA UVB Odorless Sunblock. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. The ACA maps. The big gears on the front part of the bike and the little ones on the wheel. Oh. Water. The kindness of strangers. The Blackberry. EMS' 35 degree sleeping bag the folds down to the size of a credit card. The bike. Lots and lots of hair product, especially in this dry heat.
Darby O'Russell of Tel Aviv wants to know "where the prettiest sky was."
Pretty skies usually come with or before rain. I liked the sky in Kansas a whole lot just before that really long day. It was broad and very rich in orange, probably as a result of all the methane. I liked the sky in Colorado when you were up at cloud height, but oftentimes that was accompanied by hail and lightning. And Utah, colorful Utah, has had the most variety in it's evening sky: one end of the horizon could be pink and pale blue, while the other side is bright red and starry. I do, however, hold out for Nevada on all things stargazing and skywatching.
John Tesh, 18, gets the last word: "So you've got eight easy days left. Give us a sneak peak and let us in on one thing you want to do when you reach the end?"
That's a good question. I want to find a bar with a good jukebox and give that Bob Dylan song we heard at Elaine's in Bazine, KS another listen.
My cellphone reception will be spotty from here on across Nevada. I'll try and keep current, but I can't be certain of anything.


Day 40

Today was the last day of canyons and the tip of the desert. I was cold.

I left the motel late. I loaded my bike up in front of an old hot dog roller that had been modified to heat taquitos. This disgusted me, but later, in Cedar City, I would have a man deep fry my Chipotle-style burrito and I would thank him crazy for it.

I rode 36 miles up(steep)hill to the top of Cedar Breaks and barely glanced down at the canyons. More storms were on me and I wanted out. I went over the break and down the seventeen miles to Cedar City in forty minutes ... look, this is beginning to get repetitive.

I haven't much time left, yes, but I do have this tremendous desert between me and the Pacific that can't be beaten quickly. I'm am tiring. I really do want to go home. I don't want to see the Neil Simon festival in town, or the Shakespeare for that matter.

This is not the most productive attitude, and so I will have to do away with it. The real source of my recent discontent is my consumption. You see, they get me when I'm weak and tired. It's then, when you're cold, that you'll take anything to feel otherwise. I have been taking pie and double hamburgers and deep-fried lardwiches. My body, too smart for its master, has said enough. It's empty and it's expensive.

Change starts small. I began with a shower and shave. Waugh shaved throughout the war; so did the foolish man in the white suit from Heart of Darkness; you may remember him as Robert Duvall. I don't think it's a gesture of civilization amongst the savageries of the RV park; I think of it as a small change.

My face looks different now. It is cleaner and younger, pale where sideburns once hung. I'm outside and it feels good against the light wind. When you shave, you are forced to look at areas of the face only the most studious painters pay attention to: that ridge-valley-ridge below the nose; the hair that sticks closest to your nostrils; the dark side of your neck; etc.

So now I am optimistic about the desert. It will dry me out some, but that could be good. Plus, I'll have two chances to play cards. Am I supposed to double down on 7, 11, and 6? What is splitting the deck? And how do I win in slots?

As I have little to report today, best tell you about my Mormon church experience.

I went to the church here in Cedar City for an architectural tour that was light on architecture and heavy on literature. On this trip I have collected three kinds of pamphlets: religious whatnot, national park maps, RV park maps. My hosts showed me a well produced video about the building, took me to the church to look at the red cedar pews, and then we headed downstairs to the font and a corridor decorated with paintings that conveniently explained how Joseph Smith was the 13th apostle and what Mormonism is about.

Most of the American Christian sects are really Christ heavy. Often, they will pray to Jesus. So far as I'm concerned, the guy doesn't even show up until the sequel: God is the star. Some evangelicals believe that the Mormons don't believe in Christ. Here's what I got: they believe in SuperChrist.

After Christ dies, he teleports over to the New World to teach the Native Americans. One really strong Native American who looked a lot like Magneto became a prophet. He buried his extra books of the bible in upstate New York and, as time passed, young con artist Joseph Smith stumbled onto them. The rest you know from South Park.

Now, if somebody wants to argue that that sounds ridiculous and all Christ did was turn water into wine, make fish out of thin air, and resurrect himself after three days, fine. Cast the first stone. My argument would always be belief requires thinking the fantastic is real, although we probably shouldn't reward those who think the most nonsensical things are true if we want to keep society moving orderly towards the future (Rapture, yes!).

Actually, I hate to delay you some Mormon facts, but a quick thought on the Rapture. This, like Jihad, is Christianty's poisonous idea and is completely misinterpreted by scaremongers and other bad people. How about this for a great idea: we're on this Earth, we'll be stewards of it for a long, long while, it's not going to blow up any time soon, and if it were, that would be a sad day for everyone and Kirk Cameron. Bearing this, recycle that Pepsi Blast in the name of Jesus.

Some promised oddities: Mormon communion is taken with water and bread (and this is the world's fastest growing religion?); every church has at least a half-court basketball court in the rec room; when you marry, you don't marry till death due you part, you marry into your afterlife on the Celestial plain; good people who don't believe in Christ (me?) get to go to the Terrestial plain; crappy people go somewhere else.

What interests me about the LDS folks is how American they are. An angel descended from the heavens and picked New York of all places. All their religious iconography is either apostles dressed like Thomas Jefferson standing about, or it's strong jawed men in grey flannel suits and white buttondowns with other men in flannel suits. They have basketball courts in church! Their missionaries dress like office boys from the 50s. We'll wear nametags in heaven. Their church is structured like an American corporation or social lodge, with Presidents and Aldermen. And they're so, so nice.

Tomorrow I'll be answering some reader mail and, hopefully, staying at a Lion's Club. We'll see.


Day 39, Bryce

Is it possible to go a day without cell signal in the US? I guess so. Apologies if today's and yesterday's posts come lumped together. If they're unreadably long, tough. You'll be quizzed on both days next Monday.

This was a really special day for me class. I saw Bryce Canyon. Yes, I was almost killed by lightning, I broke another spoke on my rear wheel, and I got caught in freezing rain (in Utah? how?) -- no matter. I cannot complain because I have seen it.

I woke up and had a very European breakfast of espresso, nutella bagel, nutella Cliff Bar, and nutella nutella. A small German child was fascinated to learn that you can eat an entire jar in 5 minutes. His mother covered his eyes.

Nothing too eventful until Bryce, except that I saw some trees. I remember trees. In my tradition, we kill them for Christmas.

Trees came and went. So did the rather optimistically-named town of Tropic. I ate three donuts and that made me feel guilty. If a food product can make a man who eats like me and who uses up 10,000 calories a day feel some guilt, then perhaps that food product is dangerous. I would have done anything to get that bear claw from around my heart.

The hill up to Bryce started steep enough and, as is often the case, it became the target for some heavy rain and lightning. Rain and lightning was horrible in Colorado; it is inexcusable as you rise up-and-up a mountain almost incapable of keeping trees.

I sprinted to the top only to find that the top was a large treeless plateau. I put on my helmet because lightning hates polystyrene. And I kept on sprinting.

Bryce was 4 miles off route, and then it was a 19 mile loop of some kind. As I neared my target I saw a sign for a free shuttle bus. I raised my hands in joy and then quickly, cautiously lowered them. A wonderful woman in a kiosk agreed to watch my bike as I waited out the lightning with a coffee.

Seated to the left of me were two French eight-year-olds drinking espressos and talking about an affair the smaller one was having with some bourgeois girl over in the ball pit. I stuck to my maps and Twain, and away from the windows. An awful man was yapping away on his cellphone, which really irked me because mine ceased to work.

Lightning be damned, I'm seeing Bryce. I went back to the lovely woman in the kiosk, got my tickets, took the bus, ran up to the highest viewpoint and stood as far away from the tallest Dutch tourist I could.

It won't photograph, but I took pictures. I could try to describe it, but it won't come across (it looks like a thousand thousand-foot sandcastles made by dripping wet pink sand). It really has to be seen in 3D.

Actually, I remember there being a computer program called Bryce with the sole purpose of rendering canyons and spires. This was the mid-90s, and is probably responsible for the wealth of 3D canyons on New Age albums of the period.

I have a lot of respect for the 3D artist and the man who makes that artist's tools. Pixar have been on my mind because I really believe their pastel color tests for Cars are the most accurate representation of the Utah sky I have ever seen. Again, a camera cannot reconcile the canyon and the sky in their separate but equal brightness: there should be no contrast.

Another part of the Pixar business is making Renderman, a painting (with time!) program a gazillion times more complex than Bryce. A gazillion times more complex are the canyons themselves.

I saw them from two Points (Sunset and Independence(?)) and tried to triangulate what I saw so I could walk it in my dreams. Every spire changes color subtly; every surface is smooth, then jagged, then crumbled and lost; every spire casts a shadow on the next and changes it; every cloud works like a spotlight that darkens; people wind in and out of it like an Esher drawing; it just gets complicated.

I am in a motel in Panguitch now. It's almost as cheap as a campsite. This is the first time I've been indoors and alone in a long while. And good. The building has been struck by lightning twice.

Out back are six Geos that have been painted bright colors and then wrecked in the derby. The guy who cooked me dinner races occasionally. The other guy who cooked me dinner caught a 20 inch tiger trout in Panguitch Lake with a marshmallow.

I will hit my last bike shop before Sacramento tomorrow. After that, it's pushing each other across the deserts of Nevada. 800 something miles to go.

Day 38, your thanks has already been included

Let me tell you about bad sleep. I finished at the rollerpizza and went down about 500 ft closer to Capitol Reef. I opened a cattleguard, pushed the bike up to the top of a small cliff, took my tent, went down to what was on the other side of said cliff and set it on the only flat spot -- three dead cacti and hard rock. I set my leftover pizza on a rock and went to bed.

At about 12:50 I hear James Brown telling me to Stand Right Up from directly behind me. The stereo at the restaurant has turned itself on and it's loud. Loud like let's spook the guy in the tent down there and then kill him to start Tuesday off right. Then, much closer, the sound of fast running or galloping coming down the cliff. They've killed my bike, pushed it off, and I'm next.

"Who's there?"

I run out of my tent in my underwear, cycling shoes, and the acrylic shirt that guy gave me at the free box.

"Huh? Who's there?"

Nothing. Just Hot Fun in the Summertime from up the canyon. I run up to my bike. I haven't got any contacts, so I what I actually did was run up to my blur. It was still there. So was my lovely pizza, which I had only given a 50 percent chance of finishing the night anyways. They must be starting out slow.

I put my contacts in and sit and wait in my tent. I can't run to safety. I'll sit here and play it by ear. Grab something hard. Think rationally. What's their motive? I asked for Fanta and then got water when they didn't have it? No. They just don't like me? It's possible. No. It must have been a deer and some late night rollerskating. Then it began to rain, I put on my rainfly, and my night vigil went on until...

I ate anchovy pizza for breakfast. I lived through it -- both the night and the pizza -- although the only evidence I have of sleep was that I remember waking up. They weren't murderous centaurs. Here's my final guess: last night's lovely hostess loved a boy she met at her grandmother's roller-rink in Salt Lake. At night, sometimes, she skates to remember him.

I stopped at a Ranger station 10 miles out of Torrey and was met by a nice older couple who volunteer for the Park. One perk: they have a wood-burning stove. They gave me a fresh bran muffin and it was so good it tasted store bought. Outside, two families from Montpelier (France) sat fascinated with the hummingbirds at the hummingbird feeder; as, indeed, they should have been, because the things move around like Tinkerbells and they have never hurt a fly.

I wish to make a small sartorial digression on the dress of the European tourist in the canyonlands. The families from Montpelier were exceptionally well dressed; here are the rest.

I took my morning coffee at the Best Western up the valley from Capitol Reef. It's very popular with the French, Belge, and German tourist. Coming in and out I saw: a man in hi-cut 80s sports shorts, no lining (ew), tight red shirt and the kind of sandals Jesus would have worn if he were more athletic; his wife had shock red hair and a ludicrous pair of spectacles. Heading inside were two stern looking men with long necks and stubble for hair; they had two different, ludicrous pairs of glasses, both neon. A visibly-German man had a fanny pack (honest), khaki shorts, and matching pink socks (pulled high) and shirt (tucked in). A Belgian man made it easy: he wore a shirt with the word 'Belgium' on it. In almost all cases, teeth point in all sorts of directions.

I have lost my quiet canyon voice as I have left the canyons. You notice things like this in absence. The voice in my head was whispering all throughout the canyonlands. When the winds were up I could barely hear myself talk to myself. Now I'm back to normal (shouting in my odd accent) and I miss that stillness. Thankfully, I'm so exhausted that my mind's voice is a bit out of breath. Am I alone in finding fatigue -- earned fatigue versus, say, jetlag -- a pleasure of sorts? Like nice quiet?

So I went up to the mountain, rolled back down the other side, and ended up back with canyons of Escalante State Park.

A bit of a bad thing happened at lunch today. I pulled into Boulder and wanted the hippie-cooked meal somebody promised me down the line. Locally sourced beef? Sounds promising, only the second I sat down and the beef planted its cruel worm in my brain I am told that they're all out of the local stuff but that, never fear, Sysco has a solution. Fine. Sign me up for the ruben-on-top-of-my-burger burger. A glass of homemade ice-T sir? Yes, I'll reward local industry, sure. Very well, we pour the hot water over these here Lipton's bags ourselves. Then we add ice. We don't add sugar because that would be like cooking. One tea, coming right up.

Everything is satisfactory. I have a piece of pie only to remind myself how special Cooky's was. Cooky's was. Then the bill comes. Wow, but it's ok because I've heard her telling other people that tip already in there. Is tip in there? No. I only do that to the Europeans.

This is the last straw! I hate this! This really bothers me! And you call yourself a hippie. These people have crossed an ocean to see your bit of dirt, fueled only by their curiosity and a weak dollar, and we reward them with this? Am I wrong in being of the opinion that we should roll out our finest china for the guests, especially the French, to whom we owe a great debt, who don't think too highly of us, and who are, let's face it, unfairly caricatured as skinny bohemians in ludicrous glasses.

Let's discuss two things: is tipping culturally American and, if so, so what? And, is short distance transportation of food worth 20 percent of said food?

Tipping 15 and now 20 percent for service might have began as a sincere gesture of gratitude, but it has become status quo probably out of every American's fear of social failure and penury, worked its way into the pay structure of the restaurant industry, and taken some nice myths along with it (struggling actor, artist, mother, etc). Now, if we want to pay everyone fairly (and we should), we simply have to see it as a hidden tax in a largely cash business with curious accounting. For if we're really truly being generous, then surely 40 is the number -- 20 for cost, 20 for thanks. That seems American and extortionate.

For argument's sake, let's say it's a particularly American peccadillo that we do out of our wonderful magnitude. If that were the case then we can't demand it of others. It should be its own reward, and when we go to Belgium and leave two dollars by a plate of fries, the loud cries of 'merci merci' should further convince us of our big generosity.

Of course that is not the case. More often than not we are held prisoner in Europe, because the service is so much slower (as a meal should be), that when you're finally confronted with the bill you want to say I was not impressed and end up leaving 18 percent. This means nothing to the waiter. This is just extra money.

Now to the question of whether or not the lifting of food is worth 20 percent of it. I've laid up a bit of a straw man here. It's not just the carrying; it's the smile. My waitress is putting a human face on beef. She is the last thing I see before I shove it down my throat. My mind thinks, 'She made this out of thin air in 5 minutes.' This is what I value and I value it 20.

She didn't do it though. This beef passed through a lot of hands, some of which I've shook on this trip. The feed, the cow, the fattening, the Mack truck, the slaughter, the Mack truck, the Mexican who unboxes things for the restaurant, the mind of the chef, the cook, the waitress, me. Of all these people and machines is it hardest to say no to a smiling woman? Versus the tough truck driver squeezed by rising fuel costs? The trucker should be so lucky as to be thought of before their work is eaten. This seems American and naive.

I want to reward thought and talent. If chefs were capable of smiling (they're not, cf. Bourdain, Ramsey, D. Chang, et al) they'd get in on the action --

"You're eating that wrong. You want to grind the veal down into the plate with your forehead and then -- ONLY THEN -- pick it up with your wallet and chew it twice."

-- That's where the skill lies. Instead, we've got a system where when people are genuinely nice to you (hey, free bran muffin) you're left reaching for your pocket and mental tip calculator.

I don't think we're rewarding talent here. We're rewarding friendliness. We're talking about quantifying and commodifying the simplest and greatest gift we have got going as humans -- that which holds us together -- and we're capping it at 20 percent?

Question: Is there not a difference in interaction between someone who smiles at you, gives you great advice, makes you feel happy and interested, and the same experience with a small tip jar in your peripheral vision? I've begun noticing these everywhere. They're US Parks standard issue. When the Ranger came and offered me that muffin my initial response was of complete thanks; but then I slowly felt ill at ease and wondered whether I should walk back into the shop and 'donate' something small.

I've been very fortunate to have people offer me their homes, churches, and food with no expectation of compensation other than in the giving; when I give back to them out of a desire to feel that same feeling of giving, that is a rich experience. Perhaps that is why I have fallen into this digression (kudos on making it this far). I also wish to tie this together with more thoughts on food in my final trip summary as, often, the dinner plate is where America can come to you.

I rode out of there and along the backbone of Escalante's most spectacular canyon-dunes at 35 miles an hour. I forgot the silly business from above and made it to Escalante (town), to pizza, to the tremendously nice Britons (who'd had service added to their bills!), to my first shower in 4 days, to running water, to 2 hours on the Blackberry and work. Now, here in my last sentence, I must appologize for the length.

Day 38, for the record

I did end up tipping her the full 20. I was very far away from the front door and these people have cars here. I wouldn't have gotten very far.


Day 37, still awake

Utah is canyons and people. The canyons are constant; the people are spread out, just seeing one is amazing, and meeting them is a delicacy.

I left Hite at 3 in the morning. It actually wasn't much colder, but it was its coldest. I couldn't see anything. It took a while for my eyes to make out the stars. Then the canyons: at first they were silhouettes, all shoulders jutting out high above me on both sides. The brightening sky sketched some features onto them, and then some pale colors. When the sun neared the horizon, the canyons took over coloring themselves. We began with grey Moon canyons, red Clint Eastwood canyons, red Mars canyons, orange I-Don't-Know-What-canyons, and finally Tatooine canyons into Hanksville, my latte, and my morning post.

I was driving down a particularly grey canyon when I stumbled across an organic coffee shop/farm. This is quite a stumble. If the Bible were written in reverse, the would be the shock of coming from dirt, plague, pestilence (and knowledge) into the rich Garden of Eden. Plus, God's got some coffee on.

Inside are four kids my age. Cool kids. Dave is tremendously bearded, organizes music festivals, and plays new folk music. The couple seem similarly artistic, and they know every swimming hole and cold spring in a wide radius. The girl (try and remember names) Ingridchen is rolling dough, making me two cinabuns, cutting melons, and chatting with me about music, food, kombucha, and whatever else my sleep deprived mind bounced into play. She was quite pretty and she had armpit hair (don't stare). The coffee was the best drip I've ever had (stop, stop). And we listened to some throat singing (she sees you!).

I left with tons of recommendations and tremendous good feeling. People like me, here. There were clouds in the sky: somebody up there loves me.

Canyon riding is biking at the bottom of a lost ocean. That's why so many of the rocks look like petrified Canard Cruiseliners. If I could get up to the top I'm sure I could see the caveman shufflepuck board and the caveman climbing wall hanging over the bough.

Blah blah blah beautiful, uphill, humid, swimming in a waterfall with French tourists and grown men who can't bring themselves to swear, blessed nap, unblessed pain in my knees, final slog up a hill and 1500 ft to Torrey.

I'm at the Patio, a pizza joint and one of America's best restaurants. In the background is a tremendous iron canyon. The sun is on it. Our hostess is 55, glittery blue nail polish, three Bic pens in her hair, on rollerskates. Our music is Patsy Cline, Devo (!), Hank Williams, Beatles, and unheard Peter Gabriel. It's perfect. A dog is licking my legs clean of salt. I'm going to camp somewhere in that red mess over there. Two women have inspired my next trip: juke joints in the Mississippi Delta. The lovely Brits took an easy day and have found this place too. A man here plays harmonica with David from the farm. Perhaps pizza on rollerskates is how people find each other in the desert.

Early day 37, some old stories

I took a bath in Lake Powell by sunset, ate my last meal (soup!), tried to sleep on the hot concrete, woke up at 3, rode by dark, then stars, then sunrise, into Hanksville, and right up to this latte, which I plan on snorting.

Now might be a good time to give you three stories that have slipped through the cracks.


I found another Shake Shack. This one is in Monticello, Utah. I can't say it was as great as my Shake Shack, but if gristle is any indicator, they do use real meat in their burgers.

The hostesses were two scarily Aryan sixteen-year-olds who were either sisters or the girls from Brazil. At the counter was Jed, picking up an order for Jred. It's rude to presume someone a methamphetamine addict, so let's just say that the lack of any fat in his temples did not bode well for his brain.

All of this did not put me in a turning around mood. Keep your eyes on your milkshake. Plus, I was in a booth. Behind me was a man and a woman and I swear they didn't have any children with them. Still, their conversation went --

M: Well anyhow it was great seeing you and Dan, and what are we dooey wooing...
W: Oh I know, bwabuwabuwaba, we've got to do it again.
M: Yes we do, yes we do.

It went on like this for twenty minutes before I ran out.


There are three lovely young Britons riding on the same route as I. They're being sagged by two very nice, older Britons named Paul. Occasionally, the Pauls will find me on the side of the road and offer me water and kind words from their red minivan.

This story was told to me by the dreadlocked girl at the laundrette in Salida. In the interest of narrative simplicity and making it seem like I'm good with names, I'll draw three from a hat for our Brits.

"I saw Harry and Hermione at the base of the hill; Ron was at the top and getting his face shouted at by a trucker who'd stopped in the middle of the road. I hate that that would happen in Colorado [Ed: so do I]. If you see them again, please apologize to them from me on behalf all Colorado."

I bumped into Ron again (smiling, Ron) and confirmed the story.

"Were you there? [I explained] Yeah, this van drove up beside me and he hit me with his mirror. I said something impolite to him and he stopped his van, got out, and then he hit me in the face."

This is the part that kills me.

"I thought he was terribly rude."

Trucker gets back into truck, Wendy's gets their hamburgers, Ron has been hit in the face on the side of the road, and this is the level of his consternation. Were it I who was hit -- and I wish it was -- I'd be Blackberrying you snide comments from a wood paneled circuit court in Denver. I'd probably be in a neckbrace.

Ron is a better man than I, and he has the right attitude. Whereas I would have spent the next thousand miles dreaming of fun and dangerous ways to kill that guy, I honestly believe the whole gang had forgotten about it until I brought it up.

"Yes I remember something about that guy hitting me with his car and punching me in the face, but, you know, water under the bridge..."


Three fishermen called their wives from the payphone in my bedroom yesterday night.

The first one called his wife 'snookums'. Honestly.

The second one called his wife 'babe', repeatedly. "Babe, the stripers were biting, babe. Babe? Babe! I thought I'd lost you..."

The third one called his wife Wendy. She seemed to have no idea he was off fishing. He had no idea she was away at a family reunion. He agreed that he should turn the water on for her when he got back.


Day 36

It's hot.

I'll get back to how hot, but first, an addend. I did not sleep outdoors yesterday. As I was about to close enter Slumberland, a big bat flew across my face and I crashed out of bed. I should never have eaten that Welsh rarebit. My tent was up in seconds.

So it's hot. The only surprise here is that it was such a complete surprise to me. I biked to Natural Bridges to fill up on water and that was fine. I bumped into two guys riding east and they seemed fine. They were in a band and were carrying their instruments with them. They actually seemed great.

Here's how it hit me. Natural Bridges is at about 7000 ft in altitude. I am in Glen Canyon, up above Lake Powell, and at about 3000 ft in altitude. For every 1000 ft I went down the temperature jumped about 7 degrees until here, Hite, where it is 120 something with hot wind.

The greatest part of losing altitude is going downhill. I never felt that. According the the Salt Lake Tribune, today's wind is blowing in whatever direction I am not going. This makes sense: I was riding down the exhaust pipe of a particularly hot oven.

I was compensated otherwise for I am in canyon country. Hot wind can't keep your eyes from this beautiful land (although it can make you tear up uncontrollably). There are canyons that look like rainbow trout with flat heads; canyons like oceanliners; canyons like cobras; canyons like Buicks. There are buttes: Cheese Box Butte, and another one I call 5-Finger Butte. I am surrounded by them now. They keep me warm.

I was going to explore some of these caves but it was when I stopped moving that I became fast aware of the temperature.

I stink. I haven't showered in days. There's a fine layer of red dust in every crack and crevice my skin has. My shirt is starched thick with sweat. I look forwards to a dip later in the lake.

I am going to have to beat Utah in the mornings. I'll be up at 3 tomorrow to ride, dip, and ride up all that elevation I lost and towards the mountains.


Day 35

I don't quite know how we went from day 33 to 44 to 35; perhaps time is getting a little unstuck as I move in a straight line; perhaps I'm going so quickly that, like with Superman, I am rotating the earth backwards.

I am looking up at the desert sky. I am pretty sure that's not a Sting song, but it very well could be. It could also be a fragrance. I must have a fragrance of my own because the desert fly loves me. I must smell dead.

I pulled up short of Natural Bridges National Monument, but I am much further than I thought I was going to go. I was too tired. I just stopped my bike, walked off the side of the road, and went into the desert (of Desert Sky fame).

The reason I can walk into the desert is I am carrying 8 liters of water. This could also be the reason I couldn't make it up the hill.

I am in Utah. The first 8/10ths of the day was a bit lackluster. I left the reservoir, biked down a canal, noticed how the canal kept everything wet while I dried out. I was in Utah before I knew it. Their state sign is an impossibly ugly piece of Photoshop. The landscape was a bit like eastern Colorado. I went to a town called Monticello, which is solid evidence that America is repeating itself.

After a shake, I went to Blanding, and decided to keep moving. Here's where it gets beautiful. Bicentennial highway runs along a canyon valley until it turns up into a narrow slit in the canyon, winds through that and opens on a lush valley lined with red canyons on both sides. Despite being the most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and being mostly downhill, I stopped and took photographs for You because -- wow -- it was amazing. A thin shaft of light came through the clouds and lit the distant canyon wall LionKing-ish.

About five miles after that, I lost the will to pedal. I boiled rice with a packet of mac n cheese mix and lay down to write this.

The woman in the Blanding info center said this is the darkest sky in the nation. I suppose that's another way of saying, there ain't nothing there. I look forwards to some stargazing, light sleep outdoors, and then getting on the road so I can skip Lake Powell and its cursed jet skis and maybe make another park.


Day 44, More Than This

As often, I am drinking a malt. This time I'm in Dolores and it's chocolate. A terrible cover of Bryan Ferry's More Than This is on the radio. The original is brilliant: "You know there's nothing more than this." Of what comfort is that?

I woke up this morning to a tent that smelled of cold pork. The human body sweats a liter of water in sleep, and mine had a high ratio of Fat Albert's pulled pork. It was kind of the bears to spare me.

After packing, I bumped into John with whom I've been friendly since getting into Telluride. He has dreads, sweatpants, and is in his mid-30s. I saw him smiling at the free concert, smiling his way down main street, and smiling his way to the gondola with a bike. He's just a nice guy.

John has a weird favor to ask me. I tell him anything, which, by the way, is bad policy. John worked at Golden Gate State Park. I will end my trip there. He worked there with a woman who used to guide kids from Oakland on confidence building rafting trips. She drowned on one of those trips. John and some friends buried her -- actually buried her, with their own shovels.

There is a plaque in her honor hidden between Sausalito and a town that begins with an M. He asked me to leave something there for her, from him. He said it could be a pine cone.

I will be looking for the perfect pine cone, or a really round rock, and I will leave it with her because I said I would.

I went back to Maggie's Bakery for breakfast. Today I was joined by Dan Pearlman. Dan is the inventor of the halogen lamp. He made it for the movies. It was supposed to be a miniature sun; a black body that glows with color when heated to 3700 K. He sold the patent, but he won an Academy Award for it.

We have breakfast for 2 hours. Dan is in town before he's due in front of the Supreme Court to argue his latest case that, under the Constitution, the government does not exist.

Dan sought me out actually. He'd wanted to eat breakfast with me yesterday, but I was with the cycling geophysicist and family. Dan is also a cyclist. He rode a bike around for 3 years, living off patents and money he made as a film producer, and then road magic and the kindness of strangers. There were days when he'd find 20, 40, 100 bucks stuck in his bags.

He recommended the desert. Once, when riding practically-abandoned highway 50 in the desert, he came upon a large guy carrying an even larger cross. The cross had a little wheel in back. He asks the guy if he's religious.

"Not particularly," the man says. He just liked the idea of the cross. Isn't it a bit weird to be walking around with a cross in the desert?

"Isn't it a bit weird to be riding around with a bicycle?"

Further up 50, he spots a large, er, spot on the horizon. Clean the glasses, put them back on, the spot grows bigger. Soon the spot is passing over him at 1000 miles an hour. It was a supersonic jet. It knocked him clean on his fanny.

Further further up 50 he sees an antique store. He heads in. Everything in there is smashed into pieces.

A: I'm so glad you're here. This is a good day.
D: Excuse me?
A: I was just about to go bankrupt.

It seems that every year or so, this woman goes out and buys a bunch of glass antiques. She puts them right on the edge of her high shelves. Then she waits for some flyboy to line up on the highway and have the Air Force buy her a new set of china ... and then some.

Dan has run for President. His name was on the ballot. He has also run for governor of New Mexico. You see, there's lot of competition at the lower levels of government, but only a few candidates at the higher level. No harm, no foul is a motto.

His case before the Supreme Court is also a longshot, but it is being heard. He's gonna go on Bill Moyers beforehand and then head out into the desert to think on it. He holds it as self-evident (axiomatic) that 2/3rds of the population need to vote yay or nay to elect an official. Obama got a little more than half of a lot less than half of the population, ergo he's illegitimate. Ditto McCain. Ditto GWB. Ditto everyone. Ergo, the thing is undemocratic.

In its place, he hopes to put a voting machine that allows every American to call in or go online and vote for their preferred candidate (Sanjaya?). Even though this trip has shown me how intelligent and generous many Americans can be, I can't believe that we wouldn't just vote in our best interests and put the future off.

The farmer sees the future. The bro in Telluride does not. Experiential living is liberating until your (occasionally philosophical) unwillingness to live for tomorrow closes off some doors. Again, a good question to ask is, where are the children?

He wished me good luck in my life and we parted.

I left Telluride late but an easy ride got me into Dolores early. I'm in a restaurant that wants me to pay for my water and that has made me really angry. I'm off to the massive reservoir down the road to go swimming.