Telluride

Reunited with my mom once again - have not seen her very much during this trip!  Photo courtesy of Damon Johnston.

My Dad rolled out to Moab to take some of my gear.

 

The tour is now over, and I’ve made it to Telluride.  The trip was great.  It was a long trip, a hard trip, and a good trip.  Those were the words of another bicycle tourist I met along the road who had just made his way to Jerusalem from Germany.  I understand them pretty well now.  Germans sometimes have a way of expressing things in the  purest form, especially Germans who are speaking to you in E.S.L. which they almost invariably are.  So, now, I have stolen Stefan’s summation to his bicycle tour.  (He was, coincidentally, named Stefan).  “It was a long trip, a hard trip, and a good trip…”

The final phase of the Seize The World tour began in Moab, Utah.  It was an appropriate place for the conclusion to begin in the sense that Moab is one of the largest cycling Meccas of the world.  Perhaps the largest of all.  In Moab, you can see billboards that advertise hotels where bicycles are welcome.  I was more interested, however, in a billboard that advertised a $9 bed at the Lazy Lizard Hostel after finding out about it when my friend Kelby commented on my status on Facebook, mentioning that there were $9 beds at the Lazy Lizard.   My status said that I was in Moab and his comment asked if I was staying at the Lazy Lizard, $9/night.  It is interesting to think the things that occurred during this journey  which would not have occurred had I not posted a status update listing my location.  One such thing was a one night stay at the Lazy Lizard.

The Lazy Lizard is exactly what you might expect to find for $9/night.  I did not know that such places still existed, and the Lazy Lizard is one of the last remaining gems in terms of hostels, anywhere in the world.  It has a kind of disgusting authenticity that cannot be built or replicated.  It is a two-story house with exposed framing inside and shag carpet on the floors.  The hostel is really warm inside after coming in from riding around in 28 degree weather.  The heaters warm your soul and confuse your nostrils.  There is a TV room downstairs that always has a few interesting conversations going on to be overheard.  While I was there, the movies that were playing were “The Craft,” and “Shocker.”  I stuck around for “The Craft,” but decided to pass on “Shocker” in favor of going out to Pizza Hut to post the last update to this website.  If you want to read that story, click the link.  In the morning, I took off from Moab, making my way toward Paradox, Colorado where I planned to meet my friend Suzanne Redd.  I also hoped to meet my Dad along the road that day.

Catholic church, La Sal, Utah.

I was now riding my bicycle – this bicycle! – between Moab and Telluride for the second time.  The first time I’d done the ride had been in September of 2008, just a few days before setting out on the Seize The World tour.  That occasion had been on the Mountains to the Desert ride, a 1-day group ride from Telluride to Moab (now the ride has changed, and goes to Gateway rather than Moab…I do not know the details) with more than 100 people.  It was pretty awesome.  I smiled as I rolled slowly out of Moab on my touring bike, laden with its various bags and gear, thinking about the different circumstances of Mountains to Desert, when I had been riding in lycra with nothing but a couple of water bottles and Power Gel.  I could not quite decide which way was the better way to travel between Moab and Telluride.  Both were pretty awesome.  The scenery is spectacular.  After a few miles, I spotted my Dad rolling toward me in the Geo Tracker.  We had connected, just as planned.

 

Back in my home state at last.  Right next to the

My Dad took all but one of my panniers with him along the ride that day.  I was headed to Paradox, Colorado where our friend Suzanne Redd had offered a place for me to stay for the night.  It wound up being really nice to catch up with her and to spend some time hearing stories about life in Paradox, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and also one of the most empty.  She told me about life in the Valley for her grand parents,  and about growing up there before roads were paved, about ranching as a kid, and, basically, about living in a place where you are a long way from anything.  I was in a trance as I listened and as I absorbed heat from the wood pellet stove.  I enjoyed the feeling of being full from having eaten a steak and a baked potato a little while earlier.  My Dad was resting on the couch, and the Utah Jazz was (were?) getting destroyed by the L.A. Lakers quietly on the T.V. set while we sat in the living room.  Suzanne has a house on the NE side of the valley, which would approximately be located just below the line of the shadow in the photo below, where the valley becomes flat.  In her living room, there is a giant square window that overlooks the entire valley, which is lit up by various shades of purple and orange at sunrise/sunset.  It is an amazing place, though it is very desolate.  Suzanne would not live anywhere else.  Cities drive her crazy, though she visits them frequently.  She will tell you about places all over the country and in Europe, but but Paradox is home for her.

Paradox Valley.

 

My friend Suzanne put me up, along with my Dad, for a night at her home in Paradox Valley.  It was really awesome.

As you make your way through Paradox Valley, you pass through the town of Bedrock.  You know that you are there because you see the Bedrock store, established in 1881.  I found out a little bit about the store from its owner, Rosemary, when I stopped there for coffee in the morning on my way to Norwood.  The store doubles as a liquor store, and also as an unofficial museum because it is so old and so interesting.  Before I left I bought a six pack of fat tire to put in my empty front panniers (thanks Dad for taking my gear!) and entertained thoughts of purchasing the store myself, turning it into a non-profit foundation, opening a museum, raising cattle, and . . . but then I remembered that there is absolutely nobody in Bedrock.  And that I didn’t have any money.  But for the right person/people, or investor it seems like it would be pretty awesome.  And for the time being, Rosemary is there running the Bedrock store.  And somebody has been out there running it since 1881.  Remarkable.  For less than most houses, you could be the next owner of this place.  Call the Bedrock Store and ask for Rosemary if this dream sounds good to you…970-859-7395.

The famous Bedrock Store.  Open since 1881.  It is now for sale.  If you have a couple hundred thousand dollars and you want it, give Rosemary a call - (970) 859-7395

As I made my way along, I crossed various cattle guards.  I don’t know why they even bother with cattle guards in Paradox valley.  The ranchers fence off areas that enclose such huge stretches of land that it seems as though it’s just a waste of money.  Cattle surely get lost within the vast confines of the fences anyway.  As it is, they wander around on the roads, up the  sides of the valley, etc.  Trucks with ranchers drive around slowly up and down the road herding the cows around.  These particular cows seemed to be holding their ground pretty firmly as I approached, but fortunately they were willing to allow me to pass in the left lane.

Stand off, as I try to make my way out of Paradox Valley.  After a few moments, I decided to go left.  The cows allowed it.

These cows were walking in a drafting line to cover a longer distance as they moved from the east side of the valley toward the west side of the valley.  I doubt that they even know about the fences around them.

Drafting line of cattle making their way toward Bedrock.

At last I reached Naturita.  “Stop and Enjoy a Little Nature.”  My Dad used to live in Naturita four a couple of years.  When I was in school we used to play baseball against Naturita.  Feeling pretty close to home…

My Dad lived here for a couple of years.

Now, I am feeling quite close to home – Placerville is 16 miles from Telluride.

I could not believe that I was so close.  Placerville = 16 mi. from Telluride.

I had been making my way toward my friend Juju’s house that day.  JuJu was with me on Day One of the tour, and I had been hoping that he might be able to join for the last day as well.  It was pretty awesome to spot the tiny form of a cyclist as I pedaled toward his house in Norwood, and know that it  was JuJu, having pedaled out to meet me along the road.  Earlier in the week, I had been communicating with Daniel Murray, a friend in Telluride, who had spread the word to JuJu and a few other friends that I would be making my way into town and that if people wanted to join for the last bit of cycling that they should.  JuJu responded by offering a place to stay at his home in Norwood where he lives with Laurel, where they have many animals, and have, essentially, created a world unique unto itself.

Joyful reunion with my friend Juju.  He rode out from his house in Norwood for about 10 miles to meet me.

The ride is beginning to come full circle here – 2nd to last day of the tour.  Click here to see a photograph of day one.

On the ride to Norwood, we had gorgeous light.  We also saw a remarkable number of animals: hawks, dogs, horses, deer, etc.

Once JuJu and I made our Rendez-Vous between Naturita and Norwood, things became somewhat mystical.  The light up on the high plains near Norwood is often spectacular, and that day was no exception.  I was duly impressed.  But when various different types of wild and domestic animals began to make appearances, I reached the point of being amazed.  We were circled continuously along the way by various red-tailed hawks, scouted by deer, paced by dogs, and, at one point, we were overtaken by a pair of galloping horses running not more than ten feet from the side of the road, and our bicycles.  We were alerted to their presence by the sound of their hooves crunching through the ice.  The entire experience reminded me of the scene in Mars Attacks when all of Mother Nature comes forth to embrace the few remaining human survivors after the Martians have been killed.  Then Tom Jones begins to sing, “It’s Not Unusual.”

Juju and Laurel live in Norwood, where they have lots of amazing animals.

Once the riding day was finished, JuJu and I arrived at his and Laurel’s amazing house in Norwood where they have sheep, a Llama, a lamb, a dog, and a cat.  I was pretty happy there.  The Llama  is named Denny, the dog Chola, and the cat Peanut – but don’t quote me on the names.  We were waiting for friends from Telluride to arrive, and Laurel was cooking what was to be an amazing dinner of Ram Stew.

Chola the Dog was eager to chase things during the entire time I visited Juju and Laurel's house in Norwood.

Chola the Dog.  It does not matter how many times you throw the piece of wood, or how far.  She brings it back to you and throws it at your leg.

I believe that the Llama is called Denny.

Denny the Llama.  I think.

Folks prepare to head out.  Laurel, holding the tea cup, made an amazing dinner involving Ram Stew the night before.

Friends arrived from Telluride to join for the final leg of the journey.  Laurel cooked a spectacular dinner for everyone, and then drove my panniers to Telluride.  I felt a bit guilty to not finish the ride with my panniers.  But not guilty enough to not ditch the bags.  Thanks Laurel!

David Brankley, a Plein Air painter who spends most of his time in Telluride, was also there on day one of the Seize The World tour!

David Brankley was there on day one and he was also there on the final day!  Click here to see a photograph of day two!

These are the people who came out to Norwood to ride the last day of the tour! (L) David Brankley, Juju Jullien, me, Daniel Murray and Dave LeFevre.  I believe that Nick Leclaire was off somewhere making adjustments to his bicycle,

Being very happily rested and having eaten amazing food the night before and during the morning, our group was assembled for the final day.  Daniel Murray, in yellow, played a big role in organizing everyone and their schedules to go out to Norwood for the final leg of the tour, and it was a remarkable experience to see it all come together at JuJu and Laurel’s house during the final evening/morning of Seize The World!  Thanks Daniel!  And thank you everybody for coming to Norwood and taking time to ride along for the final day of the tour, it meant a lot and was a great experience!

Dave made the journey on a Surly Big Dummy - fortunately for our group he was good enough to ride with this yellow sign on the back!  *The bike actually is called a Big Dummy.

Dave LeFevre (Dave is in the below photo) was riding the Surly Big Dummy – it is actually called the Big Dummy.  I was pretty excited when I found out that he would be on the Big Dummy.  The last time that I was on a bike ride with Dave LeFevre, JuJu Jullien and Daniel Murray all on the same day was on the ’08 Mountains to the Desert ride from Telluride to Moab.  They did not all realize at the time that we were all there at the same time – neither did I – but I have since reconstructed the situation in my brain.  We all started at the same time, but everyone else was in Moab drinking beer about 2 or 3 hours before I got there.  That was right about the time that I was passing the white Catholic Church in the photo above, rolling by slowly, praying.

During the days leading up to my arrival in Norwood, as I learned about the nature of the group that was assembling to meet me there, my only thought was, “My ass is gonna get dropped.”  I was once on a ride with Dave when he was out front, and he kept hearing a clicking that he thought was the sound of me behind him.  Naturally, he sped up a bit.  After the ride, he discovered that the noise was just his derailleur, and that I was nowhere to be seen.

That is why I was happy to find out that Dave was on the Big Dummy for this ride!  At least there was hope.

I'm glad that the trip is finished so that I do not find myself wearing strange things on my head, neck, eyes, etc. all the time!  Dave is glad because soon he will be finished riding the Surly Big Dummy through Norwood Canyon in February.

I also discovered that Nick LeClaire would be carrying a backpack full of beers.  And that he would be wearing a ski helmet.  All of these factors added up to my feeling better about my lot in life!!

It pretty much goes without saying that Daniel Murray is fast as hell too.  At least it does in Telluride, but I will write it down here for those of you who are not from Telluride or surrounding areas.  When I asked him about the Ophir Hill Climb this year, he said, “No, I didn’t win,” and JuJu joked that he backed off because his trophy room was getting a bit too full.  Yep…that’s probably about right.

So our group had been assembled.  We set out at a very casual pace, everyone riding the more interesting bikes from their quivers…JuJu on a 29″ Salsa Fargo, David on a new Specialized Crossroads, Daniel on his  Ti ‘Cross bike (he informed me that it has 4000+ miles on it after he has now owned it for about 2 weeks or something like that), Dave borrowing JuJu’s Big Dummy (which JuJu had sold on Craigslist that morning to a guy in Crested Butte…yet to be delivered)…and Nick, of course, on Old Trusty.  His Trek Mtn. Bike.  It was a great mix of bikes and bicyclists.  At the end of the day, Dave said that the day felt like going out for a bike ride as a kid, just having fun.  That was pretty much it.

Daniel was probably making an effort to go casual on this particular day, on his ‘cross bike which has fenders and so on, but even so, he cannot help but just not carry anything . . . I envied the setup a bit, and was reminded of day one when I only had 2 panniers and a handlebar bag.  Daniel explained that he tours with a trailer – perhaps so that he can more-easily finish his touring days, take off the trailer, and go out for a spin on his ‘cross bike to get a bit of training in?

As we rolled along, I noticed at one point that David’s shirt (not Dave…two different people) had 50s style pinup girls on it.  This put a smile on my face.

It was a group that could be assembled in few places around the world, and I was happy that Telluride was one of them because Telluride is my home.

Norwood Canyon.  Juju (on the left) used to make a daily 'round trip commute from Norwood to Telluride by bicycle - about 75-80 miles total with a lot of climbing.

Once we reached the 3-mile bike path that runs along the Valley Floor in Telluride, we opened beers and enjoyed a celebratory ride into town…Champagne is traditional along the Champs Élysées, brews seemed appropriate along the Valley Floor.

Nick LeClaire, up front in the silver helmet, pedaling his bike (Old Trusty...) Everyone else trailing just behind.  I could not believe that all of these people turned out in Norwood to join for the final day of the tour!  Big thanks to Daniel Murray for coordinating with everyone as I approached from a ways out of town to gather people together!!

Nick leads the pack through Norwood Canyon.

Rolling back onto Telluride's main street at long last.  I was just happy to have not crashed on the sketchy black ice that coated the opposite side of the street.  That would've been unfortunate.  Photo courtesy of Damon Johnston.

It was pretty nice to roll into town, and as there usually are when trying to finish a project, there were a few small obstacles…a climb up Keystone Hill, some dark clouds during the final few miles, and some surprisingly treacherous ice along the bike path (it caused one minor spill in our party).  All of it seemed to be there for dramatic effect, however.  More to emphasize the absurdly high morale that our group seemed to be feeling.  Or at least that I was feeling.  The wash-boarded black ice on Main Street in Telluride was surprisingly treacherous.  My inner monologue as I rode past my smiling parents and a small collection of people who had  come out to welcome me home did not really involve anything beyond, “don’t  crash don’t crash don’t crash don’t crash don’t crash…”  Fortunately that did not happen, and our group concluded its tour safely in front of the Courthouse in Telluride, exactly where we had started out.  The tour had taken 1 year 3 months and 28 days according to timeanddate.com.  It began on October 15, 2008 and it finished on February 12, 2010.

Reunited with my mom once again - have not seen her very much during this trip!  Photo courtesy of Damon Johnston.

I was very glad to see my Mother, Susan, who flew out from Los Angeles for the occasion.  It was great to see her, and absolutely incredible that she was able to make it!

Celebration lunch at Fat Alley.  This was probably the best meal of the trip.  Robbie, who owns Fat Alley, treated us to our meal!!  Fat Alley has been a great help to Seize The World during this project.  Photo courtesy of Damon Johnston.

After a bit of time spent savoring the moment on main street, our group made its way to Fat Alley for a celebratory lunch.  I had spent many nights thinking about eating a Beef Brisket and 1/4lb. of fries at Fat Alley while on the road.  The moment had arrived!

The food was the most incredible of the entire trip.  Fat Alley is as good as it gets.   We went to pay for the meal to treat our friends to lunch for that day, and Robbie, who owns Fat Alley, would not allow anyone to pay.  A meal on the house.  Absolutely fantastic, and all after similar kindness at the beginning of the tour when catering a fundraiser.  Fat Alley has been a huge help for us!

While we were there, Katie Klingsporn came from the Daily Planet to ask a few questions about the bicycle ride, and then she wrote a story about it later that afternoon – very awesome!  Throughout the Seize the World tour, Katie, Matt, and Telluride Daily Planet have been amazing in terms of running stories about Seize the World from time to time, which keeps Telluride aware of what is going on with us.  A great help!

So…the tour is over.  Now, the focus is on sharing the experience, and on ensuring that the story remains accessible for all eternity.  That is something that will require more thought and more work, and I will keep you updated on the details here.

As for now, I am still riding a wave of euphoria after finishing this trip – everything is still feeling so much better.  It feels so good to put on a down jacket over a cotton t-shirt and to not have 4 layers on.  To not have sunscreen on.  To comb my hair (?!), to sell things on eBay, to hang out all day in the house, to see Cheyenne the cat, to spend evenings having dinner with my Dad, and to know that I can do all those things again tomorrow.  They are all more enjoyable after a long trip.  A hard trip.  A good trip.

Utah

Barring any accidental clicks, unauthorized hacks, or major drama in the coming days, this post will be the last Seize The World update from the road.  Right now I am at Pizza Hut in Moab, sitting at one of three occupied tables on this side of the restaurant.  The other side of the restaurant is occupied by 15-20 ten year old girls and three or four of their mothers who are fully-engaged in celebrating a birthday.  Much Mountain Dew has been consumed.  I am just glad that I will be home by my own birthday.  By the time I reached Idaho, I had begun to rest quite heavily on the crutch of telling people that I was excited and ready to get home.  But I suppose that’s okay.  I am…and people seem to understand.  At least, they certainly seem to understand that a whole lot better than they ever understood any explanation of the rest of the tour!

Train Pics are all the rage in Utah...I thought I would take a couple myself.

In Utah, train photography is quite popular.  So I decided to try to copy a couple of the photos that I’d seen for sale in Cafes and gas stations.  I am a fan of vehicle photography in general…machines = cool.

 

Look it's the same train!

Other side of the same train!

I can take pictures of Semis too.

Trucks don’t seem to get enough attention…so I took a picture of a truck.

F-16 over Salt Lake City

F-16s get plenty of attention, but I can’t resist.  When I arrived in Salt Lake City, it was no surprise to see that birds were already up in the air from nearby Hill Air Force Base, patrolling the airspace above one of the most dense conglomerations of box stores that I have ever seen outside of Japan.  Just out of frame in the above photo, below the F-16, there is a Home Depot, a Walmart, a KFC, a Ford Dealership, a Bed Bath and Beyond, and a Staples, among many many other stores.

There were also dancers dressed as statues of Liberty deployed at 1-mile intervals, each holding arrows, and waving them around wildly.  They were listening to Mp3 players, acting like lunatics, and trying to get me to go to Liberty to have my taxes done.  I made wary eye contact with a couple of them, feeling a certain sympathy with one of the Statues who stopped dancing for a moment to stare out at me with a hollow, sad expression, from the depths of his or her mask (I could not see their face, but there was a wealth of sadness stored in the eyes that met my momentary glance from beneath the spikes of the Statue and from between the earbud cords of an immitation Creative Zen player).

I waved tentatively at a few Statue Dancers – I always feel a certain bond with anyone else who is stuck outside all day, even if they are…different.  I was tempted to see what it would take to get one of the Statues of Liberty to fill out my tax return, and to bypass the Liberty Office altogether…Would they do it for $10 and a set of AA batteries for their Mp3 player?  Would they do it for a 4 pack of Rockstar Energy Drink?  Or would I need cocaine?  After 30-minutes, I had rolled out of F-16-patrolled, Statue-dancer-populated, Box-store-rich Northern Salt Lake City, and I found myself in the heart of the City.  A somewhat different scene.  A totally different scene, in fact.

The Temple in Salt Lake City

The uniform red bricks and white steeples of the L.D.S. wards had suddenly, breathtakingly, given way to the the Salt Lake Temple.  Do not be confused – the Temple is, itself, surrounded by nondescript Mormon wards – churches – but the Temple is beautiful.  I caught it as the sun was going down, and got off of my bike to walk around the grounds, which were being patrolled, not – thankfully – by F-16s, but rather by pairs of Mormon missionaries, each eager to learn about my bicycle tour.  Once they reach a certain age – early twenties if I am not mistaken – young Mormons go on missions to teach people around the world about the Jesus Christ Church of Latter-Day Saints.  Until my day in Salt Lake City, I had not actually considered the thought of being sent on a mission to Salt Lake City, or of being given the assignment of walking the Temple grounds.  It occurs to me now that the Temple is an important place to have missionaries standing by to answer questions.  I made the suggestion to one of the pairs of missionaries I met – Sister Dogget and her companion (male missionaries are called “Elder,” females, “Sister,”) that the trees which you see in the above photo, blocking the view of the Temple, be removed.  She said that she would pass my suggestion along.  Although now, the trees have grown on me.  I am not too concerned about it though – I do not think that the Jesus Christ Church of Latter-Day Saints will cut down the trees at the Salt Lake Temple based on my suggestion to Sister Dogget.  But if they do, you will know why it happened, and I apologize in advance.  I left the Temple grounds feeling peaceful and refreshed.

Downtown Salt Lake City is a place that makes me feel, as a Coloradan, as though Denver needs to up the ante a bit.  Salt Lake City is at the heart of the Wasatch Front, which is Utah’s version of Colorado’s Front Range: both are North/South stretches of the Rocky Mountains with an Interstate Freeway and dense population running for hundreds of miles along the foot of the mountains.  Between Utah’s Wasatch Front and Colorado’s Front Range, there is a great deal of Rocky Mountains – skiing, hiking, mountain biking, etc.

Salt Lake City has nice, wide, clean streets with smiling, happy people walking around on them.  I saw trains rolling by at short intervals, with nice buses making their way around all over the place – both city buses and long distance buses en route to Ogden, Brigham City, etc.  It was not until I spotted IKEA on the outskirts of southern Salt Lake that I really began to feel nervous.  At this point, as I pedaled toward Provo, I remembered the four F-16s that I’d spotted earlier…were they nervous that the Colorado Air National Guard might ….just…. decide to send a few of its own F-16s up to take away Salt Lake City’s IKEA advantage?

In a part of the world where economic advantage – and image – is determined more by IKEA placement than by Nuclear Power Plant placement, my thoughts naturally wandered to a place in which a few airplanes from CO might decide to nullify the threat posed by the box stores of their smaller neighbors to the NE, on the Wasatch Front.  Apparently somebody’s thoughts at Hill AFB in Utah had wandered to the same place.  Either that, or there were just a few F-16s out flying around practicing some stuff above the box stores on the day that I pedaled through town.  Probably the latter.

Salt Lake was also a great stop because my friend Lindsey Gauderer hosted me at her house for the night, where she lives with her new husband Christian.  Lindsey and I worked a NOLS course a couple of summers ago in the Wind River Range, and it was really good to reconnect in Salt Lake, where she lives now.  Also in town were a couple of other NOLS people – Scott and Matt, recently returned from a month spent climbing in Mexico, as well as Lindsey’s good friend Brittany, another SLC local.  As expected, the night evolved – devolved? – from an evening of great cooking (Thanks Lindsey!!!) and catching up on old times into partying.  There was a mask involved.  And a camera.  I was reminded the next day that it’s really been quite awhile since I’ve gone out drinking…sort of like…being out of practice if that sounds at all reasonable.  Which it doesn’t.  More, just, idiotic.  In other words, a rough morning after a great – and silly – night.  But fortunately I was also able to sleep in, drink water, and recover before getting a late start for Provo.  It was possible to make for a safe day after a great night by only riding 15 miles!  Great times, great times.

I camped that night in a vacant commercial lot right next to Denny’s, so beginning a Denny’s craze that has lasted for the past few days in Utah.  I camped 50 yards or so from a Denny’s in Sandy, Utah, eating a Grand Slam there for dinner, then woke up and ate another Grand Slam for breakfast.  It was the ideal campsite.

The following day saw me in Provo, where I had the great fortune to connect with Rich and Sheila Valgardson – family friends of ours, and clients of my Dad, George.  They hosted me for the night and took me out to a fabulous dinner, to celebrate Sheila’s birthday.  I was glad to be there, and so grateful to get the chance to pass through Provo!  A very relaxing, nice stop along the tour!  I hope to make it back to Provo again soon.

The following days have been a bit of a slog to get to Moab…riding through a bit of difficult weather, over some hills, through some traffic, etc. to get here.  But it has all worked out.  Altogether, Utah is a good state.  A lot of enjoyable things…open space, trains, snow, trucks, farms, ranches, highways, jets, and nice people.

Will post again from Telluride!  Thanks everyone for making this ride happen.

Stephen

This was a less-than-favorable day.

Soldier Summit

Camp in Green River accross from West Winds Truck Stop

Camping at Green River

Das Bike

 

Larry, a veteran of the road, and a Vietnam War protester who I encountered at the 24-hour Laundromat in Moab.

Larry – one of the characters of the road.  Moab, Utah.  He has been traveling cross-country for decades, never sleeps inside, and tells his most passionate stories about protesting the Vietnam War.

Idaho

Diane (L), me, and Kim.  Kim read an article in the University of Colorado Alumni Magazine which, eventually, led to Diane contacting me and my going to Boise!

My latest stop on the Seize The World tour was Boise, Idaho.  After pedaling through the lonely, barren wastelands that make up Eastern Oregon, I really did not think that there was anything out there to top the experience.  But then I rolled into Boise.  I went there to give a slide show presentation to the Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho, which is headquartered in Boise.  As it turns out, the slide show wound up being just one small part of a much greater experience.

My contact person in the city was Diane Foote, who I came to know because she is one of the directors of the Epilepsy Foundation, and also the elected Secretary.  Through one of the strings of connections which, afterward, can seem intricate and bizarre, but which initially seems humdrum and familiar, Diane’s supervisor at a different job, Kim Bunning,  put the two of us in touch.  Kim initially read a magazine article about Seize The World in The Coloradan, then she handed it across her desk to Diane (I am taking liberties here, as I did not actually ask for this much detail when I inquired about how things initially went down) and then Diane read the article, and wrote me an email.  A couple of weeks later, I was in Boise, posing for the above photo in the very office where Kim had first handed the magazine across her desk to Diane.  To read the article yourself – and to see how it might change events in your life too, click here!

The two best things you'll find in Idaho: Boise and Flying J.

When I first arrived in Boise, it was clear that things were a bit different.  I noticed that something was a bit off there: on day two, I spotted a drifter walking along through town, on a crossing course with a police officer riding a bicycle.  The drifter was a man with a scraggly beard, tape all over his jacket, and a slight limp.  Traits which could be used to describe me at many points along this journey, in fact.  As the drifter neared the officer, my nerves tensed slightly, wary of a confrontation.  To my surprise, and relief, the officer responded to the man by saying, cheerfully, “Hi John!  How are you?”  The man replied, only slightly less cheerfully, “Hi Jim!”

Both men continued along their paths…  This encounter now defines my overall impression of a city in which people look out for each other, care for one another, and are, generally, good people.  Sort of a Pleasantville of the high mountain plains.

Boise is surrounded by farms and ranches; backed by mountains.

 

My stay in Boise began at Tom Foote’s house.  Tom is Diane’s ex husband, and they are the parents of Adrienne Foote, their 23 year old daughter who has epilepsy.  She is the big reason that Diane is involved with the Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho.  Returning to day one, I arrived after a 20-mile day from Caldwell to meet Tom and Dianne at a book store in downtown, Tom with his pickup truck, Diane with her car.  Tom was kind enough to load my bike into his truck and drive my stuff out to his house, where I stayed for the first night.  Unfortunately, Tom couldn’t join Diane and me for dinner that night – work to do – so we went out to a local brewery (or was it just a place that had like 80 beers on tap???) for beer and sandwiches.  So began the first night of having drinks in Boise, and making friends with new people.

I learned that night that Adrienne also has seizures every six months or so, the last of which began at the top of a flight of concrete stairs.  She hit her head, hard, and lost a bit of memory.  Though she has gotten it back, I could not help but feel nervous and amazed as Diane described horrifying events that her daughter had recently dealt with over a beer, and with a cheerful tone of voice.  Scary as hell was all that I could think.  Order another beer was all that I could do.  It felt great to be speaking to a person who understood everything really well.  Pretty rare to have that.

Later that night, I found myself back at Tom’s house, after being driven up a long steep hill, which I would ride my bike up the next day, thankfully sans panniers.  After saying bye to Diane, Tom and I wound up staying up for another three hours or so talking about various outdoor adventures – including one of Tom’s which involved an off-trail descent into the Grand Canyon in the middle of summer on a route that involved almost no water.  For the second time in the evening, I found myself grateful to be sitting in a comfortable place with a cold beer in my hands.  Later on, Tom told me a little bit about his job – he is a tax lawyer – which sounds completely awful, but which also sounds entertaining enough in story form.  I am hoping that he might get the chance to speak with my Dad, also a lawyer.

The following morning, I was off to meet Diane for lunch, cruising down this monster hill that I had been driven up the night before.  A nice roll into downtown Boise, passing friendly people, rolling along on orderly streets, being greeted by anyone with whom I made eye contact.

In a way, these characteristics make me feel a bit uneasy – almost like, “what’s the catch?”  I suppose the answer to that question would have to be Meth billboards.  And, of course, users.  The government of Idaho – or is it Boise? – has decorated an area surrounding 50 miles of the city with billboards that depict people with their faces falling apart in an effort to discourage the use of methamphetamines.  Nice.  Reminds me of when I was in Phoenix, where governments have responded similarly to meth.  However, I suppose that all of this is a small price  to pay for being in a great place!

The countryside is decorated with anti-meth billboards...

My spirits were lifted once again when I started rolling past the various (hundreds!) of drive-thru coffee shops that protect the northwestern approaches to the city.  THE HUMAN BEAN, which reminded me of Roald Dahl’s “The BFG,” was my fave.  Boise is at the heart of the Drive-Thru coffee shop craze that has swept certain parts of the nation.

This coffee shop is in Boise...Idaho seems to be at the heart of the Drive-Thru coffee craze that has swept the nation.  I believe that the idea of the Human Bean originated in Roald Dahl's

This is what the State Capitol Building looks like in Boise.

Idaho State Capitol Building, Boise.

I made a visit to the Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho during my rounds of the city as well.  www.epilepsyidaho.org.  The ostensible reason for my visit to Boise was to see the Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho, and to give a presentation to E.F.I. about the Seize The World Tour around the world.  Looking back on my visit now, it feels as though the slide show and the stop that I made at the E.F.I. office were details within a much-greater experience in which I became friends with the Foote family – the Foote Clan? – the Epilepsy Foundation, and the state of Idaho at large.  Maybe that’s a bit sappy, or maybe it’s too-broad a generalization.  But it’s to say that one event can become the nucleus (hah – used nucleus in a sentence…will try to avoid doing so in the future!) around which other things build.

Returning to the Slide show, Marcia Karakas, the executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho,  was a huge help in setting up the slide show together with Diane Foote.  I was blown away by the reception that I got in Boise, by the Footes, by the Epilepsy Foundation, and by anyone else I met there…amazing.  Directors of the Epilepsy Foundation, Robert and Casey Wechsler provided a digital projector for the show – making it into a slide show.  Dr. Robert Wechsler is, as far as I know, the only epileptologist practicing in Boise.  A valuable resource for people with epilepsy in the area!

This is the local branch - affiliate - of the Epilepsy Foundation in Idaho.  They were amazing hosts while I passed through Boise!

Debbie Snow, who works at the office 20+ hours/week, was at the slide show, and she was also on hand at the Epilepsy Foundation offices to give me the tour!  Debbie has epilepsy herself.

Debbie Snow, showing off the newly-remodeled conference room at the Epilepsy Foundation Offices in Boise, Idaho.  Debbie has epilepsy.

Chris Beeson, another director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho, arranged a place for me to stay while I was in town.  I was quite surprised when I discovered that it was the Hotel 43, which is a really awesome hotel.  They give you a free entrance pass to get into the Boise Art Museum, as well as a guide book to arts and entertainment in Boise – info about the Boise Balet, the Boise Philharmonic, Jazz venues, etc.  Very, very cool place to stay.  Lots of artwork, and photography of Boise on the walls – e.g. Boise Depot, Library.  I commented several times to my hosts in Boise that I am rarely surprised to fiind myself sleeping in a sketchy/dirty/weird places, but that it came as a total shock to find myself sleeping, together with my bicycle, in a room at a place like Hotel 43.

The Hotel 43 agreed to host me - and my bicycle - while I was in town, because I was there with the Epilepsy Foundation.  Amazing...

 

Another shot of the Hotel 43.  They give you a free pass to the Boise Art Museum when you stay there -

By this point, you may be asking, “What was the slide show actually like?”  Well maybe you weren’t…  But I am going to tell you.  There were about 25 people there, all from the Epilepsy Foundation as far as I know.  It was a great atmosphere, the show was at Bardenay, a distillery where gin and vodka are made in Boise.  We had the back room to ourselves, with appetizers, candles, and a projector.  Quite similar to the slide show that my Aunt and Uncle put on in Seattle, on a somewhat smaller scale.

All of the ingredients…  People mingled, then at some point, they sat down and I spoke about the tour for about 10 minutes while showing slides.  This was an audience that already knew basic seizure first aid, what epilepsy is, etc., so I did not talk about those things, but kept the focus on travel and on travel with epilepsy.  A few people did have questions about health care systems in other countries, and there was a question about India.  It was a good show from my point of view, made that way by a great audience!

Importantly for me, Adrienne Foote was there, who I had still not met.  Until I got the chance to speak with her I really did not realize what it might be like to meet someone else with epilepsy.  It is strange to consider the things that you have not thought about before you think about them.  Meeting someone else with epilepsy is one of those things.  Strange to consider that I had not really met anyone else with epilepsy, particularly not my age.  So meeting Adrienne wound up being, completely unexpectedly, a powerful experience.  Similarly, it was very good somehow to have Debbie Snow in the audience, who also has epilepsy.  I do not know if others there might also have had seizure disorder, but I am now regretting finding that out.  It would have been good just to get a show of hands of people with epilepsy who were there.

The following night, Adrienne rounded up a bunch of her friends to go to a fundraiser in support of employees of a local restaurant, Barbacoa, that had recently burned down in Boise.  She invited me along, and naturally, I said went.  We went out at 8 or so, but never made it to the fundraiser.   Six of us made rounds of several bars in Boise, and I learned a bit about Adrienne’s experiences with epilepsy throughout the night as we got increasingly hammered.  It did not occur to me that I was, myself, right on track to have an experience with epilepsy pretty soon: my seizures are caused by lack of sleep and lack of food…and alcohol just makes it all more likely.  Between shots, mixed drinks, and beers, I took opportunities to chat with the various people in our party about topics ranging from working at the Boise State Book Store to the absurdity of Gerard Butler’s role as the Phantom.  By 4a.m., Sean – one of our group – was able to demonstrate proof of this on YouTube, by which time we had switched to beer…it was Miller Time.

The following morning, it was seizure time.  In my conversations with Adrienne’s Dad, Tom, we had talked a bit about the importance of determining your priorities and figuring out acceptable levels of risk, where to draw the line in your life when making decisions about those priorities, etc.  The above example is a case of an easily-avoidable seizure.  The question then becomes, “is it worth avoiding t?”  That is a very personal decision.  It varies completely depending on your priorities in life.  For me, I would repeat the evening, but that’s just me.  I live my life in a style which includes a seizure every six months or so.  It’s still important to be safe: to be aware of where you will be the following day, to not be in a dangerous place, etc.  I could, potentially, live with fewer seizures.  But to me, it is not worth it to be so closed off.

One day, we will have dumped enough money into finding a cure, and researchers will have come up with enough solutions for controlling seizures so that there will not be a need for compromise.  But until that day, it is important to determine a series of creative solutions to keep yourself safe enough to do the things that you love, and to then decide what your priorities are in terms of how often it is appropriate to risk seizures.

I am glad to have gone out that night in Boise and to now have a friend with epilepsy.  Not so psyched to have had another seizure, but they happen.

Moving along, past Boise, I did, eventually, have to depart.  I am now on the road once more, nearing Salt Lake City.  On the way, I passed through Twin Falls, Idaho, where I met a friend of Diane’s, Kathleen Olmstead, for lunch.  It wound up being a surprise great encounter, Kathleen driving me around for an hour or two to show me, in rapid succession, the sights of Twin Falls.  They include a dirt launch ramp that Evil Knievel used to attempt to jump the Snake River, the Perrine Bridge – one of the best legal spots in the world for BASE jumping – and, most notably, Shoshone Falls (pronounced “SHOW-shone” Falls).  Take a look at some pics below…  Before I took off, Kathleen gave me a Zip Lock bag full of home-made Caramels.  I finished the last one yesterday, and have not eaten anything else besides caramel since then.  I believe that the single bag moved me about 140 miles or so.  Incredible.  And incredible good taste.  We are still in touch through text messages, and she has said that she will mail finish line caramels to Telluride.  I do not know what I would do with them without an outlet for such insane energy.  Grow I suppose.

The rest of the riding through Idaho and northern Utah has been quite empty, with valleys full of . . . emptiness.  I remember asking my friend Dustin, who was, at the time working at Telluride Sports with me – Dustin also witnessed a couple of seizures – what he thought was the greatest invention ever.   After a moment, he replied, “Center Pivot Irrigation.”  “Oh.”  Well, he might enjoy Northern Utah, and SE Idaho.  Huge, wide valleys with nothing but center pivot irrigation systems and raptors circling overhead to observe them.  Not even any cars or tractors or houses…just center pivot irrigation and raptors.  I would look up occasionally after hearing a “whoosh whoosh whoosh!” to see a massive hawk taking flight from a center pivot system next to me, and then I would see it circling above for five or six miles until I had exited his or her valley.  I kept looking over my shoulders throughout the day, somewhat concerned that I might see, all of the sudden, some sort of bird with a 40-foot wingspan swooping from behind to pluck me from my bike and haul me off to its den, somewhere out among the center pivot systems.  Fortunately that hasn’t happened yet.  Still a couple more days to Salt Lake…

 

Shoshone Falls, outside of Twin Falls, ID

These two dudes jumped off the Bridge about 45 seconds after the picture was taken.  They have parachutes on their backs.  People are a bit different in Idaho I guess.

These guys are seriously about to jump off this bridge.

Off he goes…

There he goes...

Emptiness in Idaho.

 

Camping just outside of Snowville, UT

It could be emptier, but not much.

Oregon

The cows always look at me.  I always look at them.

I have now arrived in Caldwell, Idaho, about 30 miles west of Boise.  The past ten days or so have been spent on a tour through Eastern Oregon.  I now consider Eastern Oregon to be its own distinct region of the world.  Sort of the same way that West Virginia is a distinct region of the world.  To gain access to Eastern Oregon, I spent four grueling days pedaling east up the Columbia River Gorge, beginning in Vancouver, WA, and ending – at last – in Biggs, Oregon, after crossing the river.  It would not have been grueling – and would, in fact have been pleasant – if it were not for the wind.  There is a steady easterly wind that runs through the Gorge, which made a 7mph pace into hard, cold work.  I spotted a barge or two out on the river, plugging away upstream, and tried to keep up as they chugged along.  My efforts were fruitless.  They were going about 8Mph.  At one point, I checked into a hotel after a 19 mile day, feeling thrashed, frozen, and really excited to be in a hotel.  The next day was the day I crossed over to Biggs, made my way to Wasco, and began my Eastern Oregon adventure.  One of the purest, loneliest, easiest, best parts of the Seize The World tour to date.

Getting every degree of warmth that I can from my sleeping bag - check out the layerage!!!

As the ride began, I found myself climbing right away from Biggs Junction, Interstate 84, and the Columbia River, into cloudy, desolate country.  There is even sage brush there.  I was riding toward a place called Wasco, where I hoped to get a bit more food (hah!) and would then be moving along to another town called Condon, about 40 miles further along.

Those 40 miles wound up being some of the strangest, least comfortable, most interesting, 40 miles of the tour.  I was riding through freezing fog that I could feel on my face.  Visibility went down from about 200 yards to about 70 yards or so, in a murky white blanket of weirdness in which an occasional reflector post or fence post covered in 6 inches of snow on one side was the only evidence of a world outside of the black tunnel of highway 7.  Bizarre.  The snow was accumulating on one side of all surfaces because the fog was cold enough and wet enough to freeze when it touched things, and the wind was strong enough – 10mph or so – to blow the fog into those things.  The result was that all SE-facing surfaces (such as my face, my glasses) would get covered with about 6 inches in snow after 30 minutes unless it were swept away.  I noticed white lines forming on my panniers and on my jacket.  I found myself talking to myself about two or three times more than I usually do – which is usually a lot anyway.  Put differently, I was listening to an uninterrupted monologue about whatever was running through my brain.  I was reminded of the shows that occasionally run on the Sci-Fi channel about the Bermuda Triangle in which a fishing boat will be floating through fog and will then suddenly see a 200 year-old pirate ship.  I was wondering if I might arrive in Condon to find myself in the year 1849.  But then I would hear the tires of a Dodge Ram pickup truck approaching from 1/2 mile behind me, and watch it roll by lazily, reminding me that I was still in the present day.  Or at least sometime within the past few years.  I got to Condon and was relieved – though a bit disappointed – to find out that it was still 2010.

I pulled up to Condon’s only coffee shop – Thank God there was one!!! – and the shopkeeper, Darla – a Doc Martins-wearing, woman in her mid-forties who self-consciously informed me that she likes southern Gospel music – gave me a free chicken sandwich and a thermos full of espresso.  I could not hear much of what she was saying over music about Jesus, but when she did come over to join me at the lone coffee table in a shop full of flowers, chocolates, picture frames, tea, and potpourri, I felt as though I were having dinner at a place where I have dinner every day.  My clothes and helmet were still dusted in snow and I felt spent.  My bike was leaning against the window outside, flashing so brightly in the dark that it was a bit uncomfortable to look at it.  I looked back into the coffee shop.  I don’t turn the lights off ever…  The food was insanely good, as was the coffee and the company.  After about 3 minutes more of hanging out and enjoying coffee and talking with Darla, I told her that I should probably take off in order to find a campsite before it became fully dark and cold, though I could have stayed there for the rest of my life.  I was still in a dream state after pedaling for 6 or 7 hours through freezing fog.  After she gave me a bag full of snacks for the road, I took off, back into the fog, to find a campsite.

It was quick work to find a place to sleep, just a matter of descending for five minutes after leaving from Condon and turning left onto an overgrown gravel side road, then pitching the tent.  I began to warm up immediately after putting on three layers on my legs, two on my feet, my down jacket, my awesome Mt. Hardwear hat, balaclava, etc.  I watched about 45 minutes of The 40 Year Old Virgin before closing my eyes to try to sleep.  This has become a nightly routine – that movie is sort of like my social life out here in a way, strange though that may sound.  My other choices on the iPod are Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, District 9, and Garden State.  I have pretty much decided to just watch The 40 Year Old Virgin every single night.  And I do.

I still got quite cold once I settled into my sleeping bag and stopped moving.  The freezing fog had not lifted, but had, in fact, invaded my tent.  Many of you are familiar with the experience of being in a steam room.  This was sort of like experiencing a steam room that emits 28-degree steam. (Fahrenheit) Although it was not terribly cold that night, the humidity made things chilly.  I resolved, that evening, to contact my friend Jessie in Denver in order to see if she might be willing to mail me her zero-degree sleeping bag out to the road.  It should be in Boise tomorrow.  Thanks Jessie!*

*I had initially brought a zero deg. bag of my own out from Telluride but it was too bulky, so I mailed it back…good to keep the Postal Service busy I suppose.  UPS too.

SO…the following morning, I resumed my journey, breaking free from the fetal position an hour or two later on in the morning than I should have, and climbing out of my sleeping bag.  The fog had lifted and the skies were clear.  I began to cruise across Eastern Oregon in earnest.**

**Condon is in north-central Oregon geographically, however it is still a part of the greater Eastern Oregon region as described in this entry.  In fact, you could say that it is the Gateway to Eastern Oregon.  They should say that, in fact…

The days blended together.  I would ride along for about 30-40 miles each day, seeing a lot of scenes like the one below…

The cow from the first picture was in this group, just out of frame to the left.

I applaud the Oregon Department of Transportation for their excellent signage of the entire Eastern Oregon Region.  In case travelers fail to notice any of the various elements that make up the Eastern Oregon Landscape, ODOT has posted signs to remind them what they are:

 

 

 

 

Didn’t quite know what to make of this one…perhaps it was referring to my nasal drip, a condition experienced by all of Eastern Oregon’s visitors.

ODOT gave no warning of this thing, however.

After reaching a point about 3/4 of the way through the Region, I found myself in the town of Unity.  Unity is as out there as out there gets, having a population of less than 200 people, and being a long way from anywhere in terms of groceries, entertainment, etc.  Being aware of the second element – entertainment – the ranchers in Unity (everybody in Eastern Oregon is a rancher) have come up with one of the most fascinating entertainment systems that I have witnessed in my entire life.  The Burnt River Bulls, the high school sports team in Unity, Oregon, is that system.  You might be saying, “ah…high school sports…not so fascinating.”  Read on.

The squad is composed of ten players.  Two of them are the sons of ranchers in the Unity area.  Eight of them are imported each year from countries around the world, chiefly in Asia.  When I stumbled upon this team – and, in fact, this entire system: Unity is only one of many towns in the Region that brings in exchange students to play sports – I was amazed.  Ranchers all over E.O.R. import their sports teams so that they can have Friday Night sports.  Unity just seems to be better at it than its neighbors.  Or at least they were on the night that I was there.

When I arrived, it was a typical end to a riding day at 4:30p.m. with the sun going down as I rolled into the icy parking lot of the high school.  I had noticed a school bus passing me just outside of town.  When I spotted it offloading students in the parking lot a few minutes later, I checked the school marquee.  There was a basketball game on the schedule to start in an hour.  My mission was now to find a place to sleep ASAP so that I could make it to the game.  I checked into the empty RV park at the other end of town for $5, changed my clothes and put on deodorant in an effort to be semi-presentable.  Then I rode my bike back to the gym.  You cannot understand the excitement that I felt upon suddenly having the opportunity to watch a high school basketball game.  I had spent the past six hours – really the past 15 months – riding through empty country with not much to do besides mutter things to myself.

Before leaving the RV park, I was given a short briefing on the nature of the Burnt River Bulls by the manager of the adjoining convenience store:

[paraphrase]

“Oh you’re going to the basketball game?  Enjoy it.  Our team has about 8 foreign exchange students.  They’re doing pretty well in basketball.  Got kinda crushed in football, but we’re doing a lot better in basketball.”

“Okay…cool.”

She also told me that this might be the last year that the team would operate – and, in fact that it might be one of the last years that the school would be open, with only about 50 students K-12 including the foreigners.  Oregon was going to put an end to the system of foreign student dormitories that these small schools were using to house their imported sports teams.  In the case of Unity, the dorm is a double-wide trailer not too far from the school.  Bearing these things in mind, I began the 1/2 mile ride over to the school, where I was pretty confident that I would be at the heart of the action in Unity that Friday night.

I got to the school parking lot to see what must have been pretty close to 100% of Unity’s fleet of flagship pickup trucks: Dodge Ram 2500s, Ford F-250s, Chevy 2500s, all lined up, shining under the pair of lights that were illuminating the parking lot in the cold.*  I was getting in the mood pretty fast.  I locked my bike to the flag pole right in front of the door and walked in, getting out my wallet as I entered.

*In the E.O.R., ranches typically consist of a house, a few animals, a shed, and some vehicles; not including tractors, A.T.V.s etc., a typical fleet of vehicles might include a sedan or two, a few disembodied pickup truck beds for use as trailers, anywhere from one to three pickup trucks between one and 3.5 tons made between 1950 and 1995, and one 2.5-3.5 ton pickup truck made within the last five years – the flagship pickup truck. 

“You don’t have to pay to get in,” was the immediate response to my taking out my wallet, from a 16 year old sitting behind a table with an array of baked goods.

“Oh.  Ok.”

“Raffle tickets for the cake raffle at half time are 5 for a dollar.”

“Alright, I’ll take 5.”

I made my way into the gym and took my seat in the back row, camera in hand.  I took as many pictures as I thought I could get away with without seeming creepy.  Afterall, nobody knew me there.

There were, indeed, eight foreign exchange students on the Burnt River Bulls basketball team.  What I had not been aware of before arriving was that the team had only ten players.  There were only two local kids – Caleb and Justus if I am not mistaken.

Before the game got underway, the seniors from both teams were announced by name.  Then everybody stood, and faced the U.S. Flag hanging on the west side of the gymnasium as we listened to the Star Spangled Banner.  We did not face east, toward the various flags hanging on the that side of the gym – China, Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, Thailand, others – to hear their anthems.  Without further ado, the game got underway.  The Bulls (in white) got off to a bit of a slow start, but it was clear that they were a better team.  By the end of the half, they were easily controlling the game.  By the end of the third quarter, I did not quite understand why both teams were not playing their second string players, as there was no way that the game was going to be won by Long Creek.  The Bulls, at one point, were up by 17 points I think.

I was quickly reminded, however, that it was still a high school basketball game.  The Mountaineers rallied, the coach shouting for a full court press, the Bulls got a bit sloppy, and somehow, by the end of the game, the Bulls had won by only two points: 57-55.   Unity's star basketball player, from somewhere in Asia, moves easily around a Long Creek Mountaineer (in red) with help from a casual screen from his teammate (also from somewhere in Asia).

Through it all, I could not get over my simple feeling of awe.  Sitting on one side of the stands, I kept looking out over the audience, many of whose heads were capped with baseball hats and cowboy hats.  It was a mix of ranchers in their 50s and 60s, as well as a smattering of high school-age kids, and a few people my age.  Most of the 100 or so people there likely did not have kids in the school, though many did.  It was fascinating to me that this community of people had organized themselves to a sufficient degree that they could import Friday night entertainment all the way from Asia.  I gazed once more at the flags hanging – appropriately – on the east side of the gym, and saw them not so much as flags representative of their countries, but more as a big “Made in China” sticker, and it put a smile on my face.  Absolutely amazing.

The following day, my ridiculous thought of the day – I have one or two ridiculous thoughts each day that build throughout the day in terms of their level of insanity.  They sustain me by keeping me smiling and by preventing me from thinking too much about cold, wind, etc.  My thought that day was about the process by which Unity had  imported its team from Asia:

I imagined the basketball coach, sitting up late in his doublewide, 20 miles outside of town on his own small ranch, burning the midnight oil as he pored over hundreds of applications that had come in from students around the world to study abroad.  His task for that night was to make a short list – 30 or so – of the best athletes within that group.  Because the next day, that same fleet of flagship pickup trucks that I had seen at the high school would be parked in front of the Church to make the selections for next year’s basketball team.  At 1a.m. he had come up with his list and gone to sleep. 

 The following day, the fleet had arrived, carrying the ranchers and their husbands or wives – no kids present for this meeting.  After all, it was the ranchers who would foot the bill for the exchange students.  Once everybody had settled in, the coach would begin by showing slides of five or six of the players who he felt were at the very top of the list, and were worth going after with recruitment packages: give them free cowboy boots, hats, access to a truck for making runs into Boise, etc.

“This kid Kim Lee is going to be our only hope of beating Prairie City next year…and if we want to take ’em down, we gotta get him.  Simple as that.  He’s from Korea, and I have it from a reliable source that he was a starter on the team that won the basketball championship in Seoul last year.  No joke – kid can play.”

***much shouting, pointing of fingers, and pointing of cowboy hats***

“Settle down!  Settle down!”

“Just how do you know all this Jim?”

 [ahem]  “Well…it’s a bit strange actually…But my daughter’s been playing Starcraft online with him…well, in fact Caleb and Justus have too…so have all the kids.  They’ve gotten to chatting, real casual, and they found out about all of it.  Don’t worry, the guy’s not too good at Starcraft – meaning he spends his time playing ball I think.  Well . . . he still kicks our kids’ behinds.  He is Korean after all…Matter of fact, I’m a bit concerned about how much he’s been chatting with my daughter, but that’s another matter…”

 “WHAT in Tar-nation is Starcraft?  What are you talking about?  Are you going to get us in to another situation like 2004?”

“That don’t matter Mr. Hutch!  Just take it pure and simple on faith here – I know the kid can play.  You’re going to have to trust me on this one.  Alright?  Okay – next player here is…”  

The slides continued to click through, the bottom third of the screen silhouetted by the outlines of cowboy hats, perms, and ball caps.  The discussions heated up, or cooled down, but decisions got made.  With difficulty.

After going for several hours, the good citizenry of Unity had, in classic town meeting style, decided upon which athletes would be recruited with scholarship/bonus packages, and which would simply be “accepted” as exchange students, just as they had applied.

By 8p.m., the hour at which basketball games are typically over, the parking lot had cleared, and the coach was, once again, alone, in a town with nothing to do.  Reminded of the importance of his task.  The following day he would make his calls to the exchange office in Portland, which would, in turn send out acceptance letters.  But he would, also, be making a few personal calls to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and other cities, making offers of scholarship packages to the families of the kids whose athletic potential seemed like it might give them a hope – finally – of crushing Prairie City come next season.

I do not know how close to the truth the above description might actually be, but it would not surprise me in the least to find out that it is actually pretty close.  It was incredible to watch Unity’s team destroy Long Creek – a town nearly twice its size – with kids from Asia who could really play.  Especially when I had no idea that such imported basketball teams even existed!

Sadly, the team will face challenges next year when they lose funding from the state of Oregon, which, as I understand it, pays for some of the expenses of the dormitory that houses the kids.  Too bad.  Because this is awesome.  It is a phenomenon that promotes cultural exchange, active lifestyles, and entertainment.  Incredible.  There is, doubtless, a component to the issue of which I am unaware – I believe that Oregon wants to force ranchers to drive their own kids in to the schools in order to play ball rather than importing Chinese players and homeschooling their own kids – but it seems a sad thing to pull the plug on such an amazing program.

If you want to read about the Unity / Burnt River Bulls on the NPR website, check it out here.  And in case you were wondering, I did not win a cake in the raffle, but a kind woman who was, together with her husband, on a diet, gave me a plate of homemade Toll House cookies as she was leaving the game.  “For the Trip,” she said.   I ate them all.

Over the next few days, I made my way to Caldwell, Idaho, just outside of Boise.  Tomorrow I will meet up with Diane from the Epilepsy Foundation in Boise, and on the 21st there will be a slide show in Boise.  Stay tuned on Twitter for details about the show, and I will post them here as well.  If you know people in Boise, send them along  to the show!  Look out for time, location, etc. on the Twitter sidebar of the site, or on our twitter page!  Follow us if you’re not already a follower.  Okay then.  Thanks for reading!

Stephen

cold morning after some fresh snow.  roads stayed pretty clear, fortunately.

Cold morning getting out of the tent.  Clear roads, however.

Vale, Oregon is full of murals.  This one depicts a train called

 

Clear skies outside of Prairie City, Oregon.  I saw one of two cyclists that I saw on that day right at the spot where I took this photo.  The only others I saw in Oregon were in Portland.

 

Night entry into Idaho.

 

 

 

 

Back from Christmas

I have returned to Portland, Oregon after spending a week or so visiting my home town of Telluride for Christmas.  “Wait,” you say, – “Home already?”  Yes, if I have learned one thing on this bicycle tour, it is that your family is important.  In the case of my own family, we typically come together once or perhaps twice each year.  Having now realized that my family is important (Thanks Bicycle Tour!) I made an early return home by bus (Thanks Greyhound!) to visit them.  This all occurred immediately after my family had all just come out to visit me in Seattle upon my arrival from Japan.

The past two weeks have been good from a family and friends point of view.  Really, the past month has been good.  Ever since I met my friend George in Wuhan, China (and, in fact, my mother not too long before that in Chiang Mai, Thailand!) I have been meeting people on the road on a somewhat regular basis – after George, I met up with Ian in Japan, then my Aunt and Uncle Betsy and David in Seattle, and then an interesting bus journey got me home for Christmas – totally by surprise – to see my parents and my sister once again in Telluride.

The trip to get home involved a 27-hour ride on a Greyhound bus which began in Portland, OR.  I left my bicycle at a shop in Vancouver, Washington (immediately North of Portland) on Christmas Eve, all bags attached, and they agreed to keep it while I visited home.  The encounter was remarkably easy: “Would you be willing to keep my bicycle for a week while I go to Telluride?”  “Yes.”  “Thanks!”

 

As I walked away from the shop, still warm from riding for about 20-miles to get to Vancouver – a city which is, humorously – and sadly – taking loads of hotel reservations from ignorant tourists for the upcoming Winter Olympics, which are to take place in Vancouver, British Columbia – I felt giddy.  I also felt homeless, with mud on my feet, stubble on my face, a carton of milk in my hand, a plastic bag in my other hand, and a light shoulder bag on my shoulder.  I was headed for the Greyhound Station.  It is truly remarkable how much my sense of the world changed when I ditched the bike.  Moving much more slowly, but feeling much more free.  I took a sip of milk.  I wished that I had not left my box of Corn Pops in my right front pannier.  But I also was glad to not be carrying them.  I will buy more milk for the Corn Pops tomorrow.

I spotted a bus stop half a block from Vancouver Cyclery – that’s where I stashed my bike – and ran along after a bus that passed by just before I got there.  It stopped and let me on.  The woman driving told me that she would take me to another bus that would drive me to downtown Portland, about 10 miles away.  30 minutes later, I’d gotten a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and a ticket to Montrose, Colorado at the Greyhound station in downtown Portland.  The station was packed.

I had heard from various sources that Greyhound – aka the Dirty Dog – is one of the best places in the world to meet interesting and unsavory characters.  I walked into the station thinking, “I’m ready for anything.”  Thank God I’ll never get the chance to visit the Mos Eisley Cantina, because the experiences of the next two days taught me that there are some experiences and places that exist where I am not quite in my element.  And certain places and situations in which I encountered myself during the packed Greyhound Bus ride that began in Portland on Christmas Eve are definitely some of them.  However, I have now also decided that I will not be traveling by any method except for Greyhound because everything else is simply too boring.  Well…except bicycle perhaps.

The first – and most memorable – character from the trip was Candace the stoner.  She was right in front of me in the line to buy tickets in Portland, telling the people in front of her that she was getting out of Portland because there were too many cops, and too many nosy neighbors.  Her only luggage was a queen-sized inflatable mattress.  I believe that Candace had read the Idiot’s Guide to Being a Stoner.  By the time we reached the Idaho line, I had learned about several dozen things in her life that were hella legit, (her two cases of Swine Flu not being two of them) and had also learned about the various stores where she would go to purchase marijuana with her medical marijuana card (this was actually a story that I wound up overhearing several times on my Greyhound rides, though Candace was the first to tell it).

I also heard about the story of Alex, a Toronto native on his way back to Toronto after a messy relationship with his ex – everybody on Greyhound has an ex – in which he discovered that she was cheating on him, and he responded by, “beating the &#&$” out of the other guy.  When given the options of facing charges or heading home to Canada, Alex decided to make his way back to Canada.  By way of Boise, Salt Lake, Denver, and New York.

My seat mate, whose name I never learned, was a very quiet man who I felt sorry for after he told me about a heart condition with which he was having trouble.  I helped him out by giving him Advil for the pain and some water and food when we stopped.  When he told me that his chest was really giving him pain in Boise, I asked if I should get an ambulance.  He said yes – but first he wanted me to help him to make sure that a Greyhound employee would ensure that his ticket would be valid after his trip to the hospital.  I pulled our driver – unwillingly – from the bus to sort things out.  The driver marked up his ticket and had the ticket salesman call an ambulance.  When paramedics arrived, they found track marks all over the man’s arms.  So this turned out to be a bit of a sad story, though nothing too surprising I suppose.

Of course most of the people on the bus were normal people.  The guy who was sitting next to me on my return trip to Portland from L.A. could have been a clone of myself, except that he was tall and thin and using an iPhone instead of a Droid.  And he smelled like lavender.  Amazing.

I am just glad that I made it off the bus without being decapitated with a hunting knife by my seat mate and having my lips eaten.  This very thing happened to a Greyhound passenger about a year and a half ago.  Read about it here.  So…Greyhound…no joke!  Well…I am sort of joking.  It’s mostly normal.  Well…not really.  But seriously though, you’ll be fine.  But not really.

All of this time on the buses was worthwhile to get to and from my family in Telluride and Los Angeles.  As I wrote in the second paragraph, I arrived by surprise, because until I walked in the door on Christmas night at 7:30 in the cold and the dark, I really did not think that it would actually happen.  But to crash my own family’s Christmas dinner was a really wonderful experience.  My Mom and Dad and his friend Bonnie and my Sister Graef were all hanging out in the house, which was warm after walking in from 15-degree temperatures.  I felt, once again, like a homeless person, particularly crazy-eyed, wired, excited, and sketchy looking, wearing windpants and a down jacket.

After shocked introductions, I made my way to my room, and quickly changed into khaki pants and a polo shirt.  I was still wide-eyed however.  But at this point I was hanging out with my family.  My eyes did not calm down until about noon the following day.

We went out the following evening to watch the movie The Wildest Dream, a Conrad Anker movie about the search for George Mallory and Sandy Irvine on Mt. Everest.  It had some great footage of climbing Everest, as well as some great historical footage of Mallory and Irvine’s 1920’s expeditions.  I was trying to keep a low profile as I walked the streets in Telluride, not wanting to cause undue confusion in my home town where a newspaper story just a few days ago had listed my location as being Seattle, Washington.  “Wait…what are you…?”  “Actually I’m still in Oregon.”  “Oh!….”  It was great to see a few friends from school and also to say hi to people at Telluride Sports.  Returning to Telluride is always a bit of an interesting experience, because it is so powerfully like home, and also so small, that things and people always change there noticeably in a way unlike any other place I can imagine.  I wish that I could maintain an alter-ego (or a Surrogate) that always lived in Telluride while I remained free to go out an about to do other things so that I would not be quite so thrown by the changes which occur so quickly and so drastically there.

Bonnie and my Dad and I went skiing the day after The Wildest Dream on a sunny, crisp day.  I had not been skiing for quite a long while and it felt great to be on the mountain again.  I was on my old skis – I had sold the “new” ones to fund this trip last year – but they still felt great.  I was back in the groove of clipping into the chairlift with my harness, putting on my costume, staying warm, etc. before I knew it.  Skiing is pretty awesome, and I have never skied anywhere that I like more than Telluride.  An amazing place.  I am glad that my Dad wanted to go, because I may have been inclined to sit at home and make waffles and drink coffee and watch DVDs had he not been gung ho about the idea.

I enjoyed watching Office Space with my Mom on DVD the next evening – the DVD was a gift from my sister a couple of years ago . . . Thanks Graef!  I was particularly enjoying it because my Mom is, herself, a manager at a store, and I could not avoid thinking about all of the things that must have been running through her head as she watched a movie about management and employment in corporate America.  I decided to get her a Swingline Stapler for her Birthday.  I don’t know if anybody has seen it.

Before I knew it, my visit to Telluride was over and Graef, my Dad, Bonnie and I were all loaded up in the Subaru on our way to Los Angeles, where my sister lives.  I was just being carted along to L.A. and would then make my way to Portland from there.  The family freeloader/hitchiker.  It all worked out well.  In L.A. I wound up spending the New Year with my Dad and my brother Philip and his wife Vicki at their apartment in Marina Del Rey.

While we hung out, I spent about two hours playing an iPhone game called Five Square, which my brother embarassingly told me was written by my nephew Carter.  Embarrassing in the sense that my 15 year old nephew can write this game and I cannot even win a single board when I play it.  Philip told me this right as I began to play.  Naturally, I felt increasingly compelled to win a game.  However, I also was fairly addicted to the game.  If I remember everything correctly, Carter and a friend invented the game, Carter wrote the software for the application, Phil (my brother) made various sound effects for it – I never got to hear what it sounds like to win a game – and now they are selling it for $1.99 in the app store.  Carter is 15.  I am 25.  I am going to win a game come the end of this tour.  That is one of my new goals.

As my tally of Five Square racked up, Phil, Vicki, my Dad and I were glued to the TV screen watching ESPN’s No Limits New Year’s event: Travis Pastrana in a Subaru Rally car, flying 260+ feet off of a ramp over Long Beach Harbor.  We spent about two hours watching this event, seeing video clips of motorcycle crashes, base jumps, etc. before ESPN finally showed us the jump.  This was, apparently, a new Red Bull record for the longest Rally Car Jump over water.  “He’s definitely on the Bull,” commented Vicki while watching Travis as he spoke to the camera in a sort of a manic craze just moments before take off.

The flight was nearly-flawless.  The car flew over the harbor just as planned, clearing the 250 foot gap without any problems, landing hard on its front left wheel before Travis put it into a sideways slide in order to slow things down before running into a Formula-1 fence that had been set up to prevent the car from rolling into the harbor after landing from the flight.  It all occurred very quickly, and the landing looks smooth and fast when watching the regular-speed video.  When watching slow-motion, it is sort of remarkable that the car did not crack apart on landing, or break through the fence on impact.  Check it out on youtube here.

So…if any of you out there had ever asked yourselves, “What is family life like behind the scenes?” perhaps now you will have a few more insights into the answer.  It was great to spend time with everyone during Christmas.

Tomorrow morning I will return to Vancouver Cyclery with a $20 bill (to tip the employees for keeping my bike safe…if, indeed it is still safe) and a carton of milk (for the Corn Pops).  Then I will get on the bike and start riding east up the Columbia River Gorge on the Lewis and Clark Highway toward the Idaho border.  I will make my way to Boise eventually, then Salt Lake, then Moab and Telluride.  I do not know exactly which roads will be involved, but my new Droid phone will help out when it has batteries, as will the various people who I encounter along the way who speak English – or Spanish! – which I am pretty excited about!

The bike is now in winter mode with front panniers, fenders, a hub dynamo, and a really bright light on it.  Inside the front panniers are winter boots.  I brought back a 0-degree sleeping bag, ski goggles, a thermos, ski pants, leather gloves, and more socks to stay warm.  The bike has changed from what was, initially, sort of a road bike in to what is now, essentially, a tank with various gratuitous junk and rattling things hanging off of it.  It will all make things easier for a cold winter ride though.  I think…all sort of an experiment as I’ve never ridden for weeks at a time during the winter.  Keep on checking in!

Stephen

p.s. Sorry for the lack of photos – this update was made from a pay-as-you-go computer at the Hostels International Hostel in Portland – I cannot seem to put up photos this time, but will put up pictures next time!

Seattle…On the Road Again

Ian and I had a great flight back from Tokyo.  My first thought in answering questions from all of my family here was that there was lots of entertainment on the flight…  The fun began with this safety video that everybody should watch, regardless of whether or not you ever plan to fly on an airplane.  Be safe.
Seattle, U.S.A.
My sense of wonderment and hilarity had risen to a fever pitch by the end of the safety video, and I was happy that Ian was there to share the excitement of the experience, because I did not see any other passengers on the airplane who seemed to appreciate it.  After the video, Ian and I played a multiplayer game that was kind of like checkers.  We played for an hour or so before we settled into a rhythm of watching movies.  This lasted for about six hours until we were descending into Seattle.  It was wall to wall entertainment on NWA flight 296.  When we arrived in Seattle just before 7a.m. we had beautiful dark orange views of Mt. Rainier and other less-important mountains as we landed.  It was 23 degrees and clear.
Once on the ground, we went through various corrals as we were herded through customs by a woman speaking to us with a microphone and a P.A. system: “U.S. citizens, please enter through the gate marked, U.S. CITIZENS.  THANK YOU.  FOREIGNERS GO THAT WAY.  U.S. Citizens, please enter through the gate marked…”  I was comparing the U.S. Customs procedures to those that I had gone through in the past year…smoky rooms and petty bribes in Syria…young Israeli guards demanding to see cash from all Muslims before allowing them to enter Israel, nice video equipment and fast entry into Thailand, electronic fingerprinting in Japan.  I decided based on my own subjective set of loose criteria that the U.S. Customs Bureau ranks near the top 1/3 of those that I have experienced in terms of speed, ease of passage and general feeling of security.  The best so far was Thailand or Japan.  The most memorable was Syria or Israel.  Though if you really want to know who the best is...check this out.
I enjoyed the videos that were playing showing fields of corn, and people saying, “Welcome..Welcome…WELCOME!…welcome…Welcome…”Welcome to the United States of America.””  Spoken first by a farmer, then a businessman, then a woman on the corner, etc. – Americans from all walks of life, welcoming people from all parts of the world to America.
Right after that, I was asked if I was carrying food.  “No sir.  Well…Just a box of chocolates.”  “Okay.”  “Have a good morning.”  “Bye.”  Home at last.  Ian and I found ourselves once again in one more of a long series of bizarre, surreal situations that had occurred during our tour.  We were really tired, waiting for our bicycles to appear from out of a wall in an underground baggage claim room lit by fluorescent lights at 7a.m.  For us it felt like negative 7a.m. or something even weirder after not sleeping on the airplane and after watching some really strange movies while in flight.  We had also watched the Delta Safety Video as well as the orange views of Mt. Rainier while arriving.  All was followed up by the “Welcome to the United States” video courtesy of the Customs Bureau.  The result of all of this was a sort of euphoric daze in which I found myself not really caring if my bike ever showed up at all.  Really I was just hoping for some sort of closure one way or another so that I could go rest soon.  I was in America.
Once almost everyone else was gone, and Ian and I were practically alone with a couple of guards and a Delta employee, the bikes made their appearance from the wall.  Ian and I hugged each other and said a quick goodbye.  I gave him a postcard and a can of Final Fantasy XIII Elixir drink that I had picked up in Japan.  He continued on toward his home in Denver.
I surrendered my bicycle box again.  I did not quite understand why this had to happen, but the lone Delta employee told me that I would have to pick it up at baggage claim upstairs, like she had told me just a minute ago.  “Okay.”  “Bye Ian!”
After 30 minutes of sitting on a chair in the sun upstairs at a different Delta baggage carousel, at a different wall, catching a sort of a half nap, with my head between my knees, sitting on a chair with sun coming through the glass of the airport, I was the only one left from from NWA296.  My bike appeared once again after I had been there for 40 minutes.  I took a shuttle to meet my aunt Betsy in downtown.  It was 10:30a.m. or so.  I was in Seattle again.
***
The arrival in Seattle has been good.
Seattle has sort of a subrail/bus system!  Trains and busses share these underground tubes in an interesting kind of underground warren of public transportation whose likes I have not seen anywhere else in the world.  Strange and cool.
The highlight of this trip has been, without a doubt, family.  My trip began with seeing my aunt Betsy, and then later the same day, her husband David.  Soon thereafter, I reunited with my long-lost cousin Noel.  Noel would not tell you that she is long-lost, though I had not seen her for several years, and it was great to reconnect!  She and her boyfriend Maged joined Betsy, David and me for dinner in Belltown (one of Seattle’s districts (sectors?) and then the following day she showed me around Fremont, where she lives.  She took me to a statue of Lenin (Vladimir Lenin that is…not to be confused with John Lennon, of whom I do not believe statues are made).  They really have a statue of Lenin there.  We also saw a missile statue in Fremont and then we saw a troll statue underneath the George Washington Memorial Bridge (or the Aurora Bridge) in Seattle.  I believe that we must have seen the highlights of Seattle that day.  If not, then Seattle really has some mind-blowing things that I have not-yet seen!  It was great to see Noel once again.
 Noel Allen and the Aurora Bridge in Seattle
Betsy and David have lived in Seattle for a long time.  Betsy is the sister of my mother Susan, and works as an aide for a city councilman here.  David works for Boeing.
I have been continually impressed by their lifestyle during my stay at their apartment.  Both of them awake at a horrendously early hour each morning in order to catch busses to go to work, where they usually put in ten hour days before catching busses to get back home.  On the rare occasions when they do need a car, they drive things called Zip Cars.  I don’t even know what Zip Cars are, but they are definitely amazing.  Zip Cars are controlled by iPhones.
During the past month before arriving in Seattle, a big cause for excitement has been a party that Betsy and David organized for Seize The World.  The party was a celebration for the bicycle tour which was organized to bring together people who might have an interest in epilepsy or cycling.  The party happened on Monday night and it was a wild success.
My family in Seattle, post-party: Rob, Marcia, Betsy, Me, David, Graef, Susan, George
There were lots of people at the Spitfire Grill, where Betsy had set things up, and we showed video and slides.  It was the biggest presentation that has happened, to date, for Seize The World, and though it was not organized as a fund raiser, it succeeded nonetheless in producing a great deal of funding to help us to continue to promote the idea that people with epilepsy can lead active lifestyles and to help us to raise awareness about what it is like to live with seizure disorder.  It also helps us to fight epilepsy directly by funding research to cure epilepsy.  In short, the Seize The World Celebration was a wild success!  Major thanks to Betsy and David for putting it together and also to everybody who attended and gave support!
Here's a bizarre story - James Lobb is a cyclist who I met in New Mexico more than a year ago while heading out to SC.  He is now in Seattle and heard about the party by chance, and turned out with his girlfriend Brooke to celebrate!  Thanks for coming to say hi - check out http://lobbadventures.blogspot.com/ for James' story of his own cross country bicycle touring adventure!!
[side story: James Lobb is a bicycle tourist who I met in New Mexico more than a year ago.  I was east-bound, James was west-bound…he found out about the Seattle party by chance, and came to check it out.  He and his girlfriend Brooke are also considering a bicycle tour of the California coast in the near future.  They also took the party balloons from the STW party with them at the end of the night! go to lobbadventures.blogspot.com/ to read about James’ bicycle touring adventures.  [end of side story.]]
As I make my way home across the United States, there will be more appearances/slide shows/video presentations.  I am working with an epilepsy foundation in Boise, ID to arrange something right now, and there is potential to make things happen in other cities along the way as well.  Stay tuned here for updates.  I am really happy that Monday night was a great success – great to experience something like that after a long time of touring in what is, largely, a solitary experience.
This is the view from Betsy and David's apartment in Seattle...pretty cool.
***
Looking toward the road ahead, my route takes me south from Seattle to Portland, then east to Boise, and from there on a diagonal SE line toward my home in Telluride.  I will pass through the cities of Salt Lake City and Moab en route to Telluride.  The trip will be roughly 1,400 miles long, and I will be getting home in early February assuming that all goes according to plan and assuming that the weather, road conditions, etc. cooperate.  Keep checking back here for more information!
Thanks for your interest and support with the project.
Stephen

Kyoto and the Shinkansen

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Click here to read the article in the University of Colorado Alumni Magazine, Coloradan, about Seize The World, if you have not already done so!

Life in Kyoto, Japan is good.  My friend Ian McKittrick and I rode about 200 miles from Narita, Japan through Tokyo and around Mt. Fuji to the city of Hamamatsu where we boarded a commuter train bound for Kyoto.  Well…it was actually bound for someplace else.  But after two transfers and after having ridden three trains, we wound up in Kyoto.  Ian and I were pleased to have completed about 2/3 of the journey from Narita to Kyoto by bicycle – we did the rest by train – and were happy to have shared some amazing experiences on the road.
We found our way out of the city of Tokyo on our bicycles . . . an all-day affair that ended at a campsite near the city of Fujiyoshida and with dinner at a hunting lodge type restaurant at which Ian and I were the only patrons for an hour until a few more folks arrived…we enjoyed eerie music-box style music that was utterly relaxing as we sat next to a warm fire and looked at antlers and bullets hanging on the wall.  A very peaceful, enjoyable end to a long, stressful day.

Ian was enthusiastic about seeing Mt. Fuji, so our route took us along highway 20 to the city of Fujiyoshida and then along highway 71 south around the volcano to the much-larger city of Fujinomiya.  Our circumnavigation of the volcano was an experience characterized much-more by frigid rain than by picturesque views of beautiful symmetrical snow-capped volcanoes.  However, the experience was still a good one.  From Fujiyoshida, Ian and I enjoyed a 20-mile descent (through rain) that managed to be enjoyable despite the cold.

We found our way through more cities, we stayed in a hotel after bitter cold rain one night, and we camped for a couple of nights.  The highlights of the tour of Japan have been varied…but one of them has been that during the evenings, we have listened to radio broadcasts while camping in the tents.  I would download podcasts to my computer while we were in hotels so that we could listen to radio during nights when we were in the tents.   We enjoyed listening to a show about conspiracy theories, and then talking about the endless possibilities the next day while riding the bikes.  Podcasts have turned out to be a fabulous discovery…perhaps radio in general.
Now, Ian and I have arrived in Kyoto, Japan.  We spent last night camped at what was, perhaps our best campsite of our tour in Japan.  After a string of commuter train rides to cover about 140 miles from Hamamatsu to Kyoto, which is located on Japan’s south coast, we arrived in the popular tourist destination at 8:30p.m. on Saturday night and began to assemble our bikes.  2 hours of fruitless searching for a hotel room saw us back near the train station once more, and had me wondering how it had somehow slipped under my radar to remember to reserve beds for ourselves in Kyoto before a Saturday night arrival.
During the entire experience of searching for hostels and hotels, I kept asking Ian if I had anything strange on my face before entering various hotel and hostel lobbies to try to check in.  I did not want to appear any more shifty than I already did, arriving by bicycle at 9:30p.m. with flashing lights, at my wit’s end.  I was reminded of the importance of having a clean face by a recent post from my friend George the Cyclist in which a long day on the road, and a face full of dirt, had prevented him from finding a hotel for a couple of hours.  As it turns out, Ian and I never did find a room in Kyoto yesterday.  But we had bikes and tents.
Ian and I decided to go to Mini Stop – Japan’s most common, and perhaps highest quality convenience store – in order to energize and regroup before setting out in search of a campsite.  We knew from our maps of the city that there were large blank spots to the east.  Blank spots usually mean trees, and camping options.  We headed east.  15 minutes later, after some steep but short climbing, we found ourselves at a sort of a classic city overlook point at about 10p.m.  Nice lights, great view of Kyoto’s version of the Space Needle (less-dramatically called the Kyoto Tower…).
At this point, we were standing in what we thought was a vacant lot for a yet-to-be-constructed house.  Morning revealed that it was actually a parking lot for an adjacent Shinto  Shrine.  The view at night was spectacular, we got sleep, and the following morning – this morning – we were energized enough to visit the Nijo-jo Castle and the Kamigamo-jinja Shrine, two of Kyoto’s seventeen UNESCO (that stands for “U.N. – E.S.C.O.”)  World Heritage Sites.  The Nijo-jo Castle is a 17th-century castle built by a Shogun ruler.  The grounds of Nijo-jo were greatly expanded upon by subsequent rulers, with more palaces, more paintings, towers, etc.  It is a massive complex with beautiful rock walls, perfect angles, gardens, and nearly empty palace interiors with sliding wooden panels, tissue paper windows, and textured wooden floors.  Ian and I saw all of it in fall colors, with leaves falling, and Japanese tourists out in force and high spirits to visit the Nijo-jo castle – a great time to visit Japan as Ian said.*
The other monument we visited, the Kamigamo-jinja, is Japan’s oldest Shrine.  It dates from at least as far back as the 8th century, though it may be older.  We rode our bikes out there on one of Kyoto’s bike paths following a river, watching people walking their dogs (everyone has extremely well-groomed dogs here).
This evening, Ian and I are bedded down at K’s House Backpacker’s Hostel.  We discussed, after checking in here, how we felt somewhat strange arriving at K’s…  I remembered how my friend James had mentioned to me that sometimes he felt a bid odd checking into these hostels after stretches on the road…as though he were wandering in out of the wild.  I understand that comment a bit better now.  Ian and I rolled up on our bikes initially to K’s last night, cardboard bike boxes strapped onto the backs of our bikes, fatigue radiating powerfully from our eyes, through the dirty lenses of our glasses, and, surely, into the hearts of all who encountered us as we searched for anyplace to sleep at 10p.m. (we need the cardboard boxes to box our bikes for the train ride back to Narita).
When we checked in today, not showered, not shaved, it came as no surprise when one of the receptionists, Yoshi, half-jokingly asked us if the boxes were our houses.  Ian quickly clarified the nature of the boxes by letting Yoshi know that they were only used as housing for our bicycles.
Tomorrow, we will house our bikes inside our cardboard boxes once again and board the Shinkansen bullet train bound for Tokyo at 5,790Mph.  Ian and I are both excited about the Shinkansen.  Our experience of Japan has departed slightly from the classic bicycle tour model, I suppose…but on day one of Ian’s arrival in Japan, we sort of agreed that we were in Japan right now, and that if we could make it happen while we were here, we would.  Whatever it is that “it” might be.  We can make the Shinkansen happen tomorrow, so we probably will.  So far, a lot of amazing things have happened leading up to tomorrow.  Stay tuned for another update soon.
-Stephen
*U.N.E.S.C.O. actually stands for United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization…

 

Back to Japan

Ian and Juro.  Juro took time to guide us out of Tokyo--thanks Juro!!

Ian and Juro. Juro took time to guide us out of Tokyo–thanks Juro!!

Japan…It is my first time back here since I visited when I was three years old.  The only things I remember since that visit are a vague – but intense – excitement about the Shinkansen – Japan’s bullet train – and Tokyo Disneyland.
This time, my friend Ian McKittrick has flown out to join me for two weeks of cycling in Japan.  It has been some incredible time, characterized by frequents hilarious moments and liters of coffee every day.  Ian and I are both really into coffee as, it seems, is the nation of Japan, which means that we have been enjoying hot cans of coffee each morning from Japan’s endless supply of coffee robots.  There are vending machines here, placed in pairs or in threes, that can be found at 500-meter intervals throughout the country.  In addition to hot and cold cans of coffee, they also sell energy drinks, coke, mountain dew and water.  We have not yet tried the water.

Ian McKittrick is a good friend of mine, 26 years old, who works as a biological researcher for the University of Colorado Health Science Center in Denver, Colorado.  We became good friends over the course of the years that followed his moving out to Colorado from Illinois  when he was in middle school.  After finishing high school, we both went to the University of Colorado in Boulder.  Today, Ian volunteers as one of the Directors of the Seize The World Foundation.  After what began as sort of an offhand comment many months ago by Ian: “It might be nice if I could tour with you for a little while in Japan,” or something similar, we are now living the dream.  It is exciting every single day.  I do not think that either one of us can quite believe that we are actually in Japan.  Or perhaps it is just me that feels that way.  Or rather: to be in Japan, and to have Ian here too…unbelievable.

Our journey began at the Narita Airport.  If you book a flight to this airport, it might be called the “Tokyo Narita Airport.”  This makes a certain amount of sense because the two cities are fused together conveniently by one of Tokyo’s railway services.  Whether it is a subway or a train I am not sure – we rode our bikes.  Tokyo’s subway system is far and away the biggest and most heavily used in the world, getting more than 3 billion rides every year, more than 8 million each day.  After spending two days in the city with Ian, I am prepared to say that these figures are inaccurate.  Way low.  Ian and I rode the Tokyo Subway at least 8 million times during the two days we were there.  We saw lots of other people on the trains too.  Click here for the full story on Subways… 
Resuming the story in Narita’s airport, I was very glad to see Ian as he dragged his bike box out of baggage claim, looking calm and upbeat as he always does.  I gave him a hug, he gave me some letters from my friend Bruce as well as replacement debit cards that my Mom had mailed out to him before his flight.  He began to put his bike together, and things were coming together well.  I was feeling euphoric.
An hour later, Ian and I wheeled our bikes out of the sliding glass doors of the airport in search of the Narita Airport Hostel.  It was dark outside, but we only had 3 miles of riding to get to the hostel, assuming we could avoid getting lost.  We got lost, of course.  2 hours later, we had arrived.  The hostel was empty, so we just started hanging out in the empty living room of an empty house.  Walking into such a house in the middle of a forest felt like the beginning of a horror movie, but this was real life, so I felt safe enough in doing so.  Besides, Ian was with me.  We just sat down, and listened to the music that was already playing in the living room.
 30 mins. later the good staffer of the Narita Airport Hostel, Homa, arrived.  As it turns out, Homa was, himself, a bicycle tourist, who taught us some invaluable info about touring in Japan.  He told us the best roads to use for getting from Narita to Tokyo, he advised us about whether to ride on the coast or inland, and he told us about the logistics involved with taking trains with bikes in order to return from Kyoto to Tokyo – our plan was to ride from Tokyo to Kyoto and then take a train back.  In short, Homa proved an invaluable resource.  Perhaps most valuable of all, he taught us how to say “Doku Deska,” which means, “where is” in Japanese.  Used that one a lot to get out of Tokyo… “Kyoto Doku Deska?”
Ian pulled off a heroic effort that evening, staying awake in his jet-lagged state until about 9:30 p.m. (That’s like . . . 7:30a.m. in Denver, which is where Ian had come from the day before, after 25 hours of travel).  I stayed up for a bit longer, listening to stories from other travelers in the lobby about their favorite foods, people, and experiences in Japan.  I was getting more and more excited about various things that might be expected in the days to come.
Ian and I were on the bikes the next morning at 9:30 or 10 after some last minute advice and conversation with Homa, the receptionist/driver/housekeeper at the Narita Airport Hostel.  We had resolved to visit the Narita-San Temple – a site that we thought it might be interesting to see.  It was that.  I suppose that I had an idea in my head of a typical Japanese Garden, and perhaps an idea of what a pagoda should look like.  However, those ideas changed after I visited Narita-San.  After seeing the temple in Narita, I realize that my ideas were nowhere close to as exciting as the visions of the people who built this facility.  To see Narita-San in late November, in fall colors – awesome.
Ian and I took off at noon, making a stop at Yoshinoya, one of Japan’s sort of high quality fast food chains that is actually a sit down restaurant with well-dressed servers who are really polite.  Of course, everybody in Japan is really polite.  Ian and I have been stopping for one meal a day at such restaurants, and getting the remainder of our food at either 7/Eleven, Mini Stop, Family Mart, Daily Yamazaki, Lawson Store, or similar extremely-high quality convenience stores of which Japan has millions.  We cannot avoid conversations about the quality and quantity of these stores each time we enter one.  Each store has one or two people whose job it is to make constant rounds of the store rearranging inventory, and another person who sells things at the register, and greets people: “Ohio Gozaimas-ta!….Arigato Gozaimas-ta!”  Always with their eyes bowed, change given with two hands, with a small bow of the head.  It is a very different world even as some things are very similar.
7/Elevens all have heated Washlet toilet seats.   50% of the other convenience stores have Washlet toilet seats as well.  Before coming here, I was briefed on Japan by a couple of sources.  Some of the things I learned about Japan were from my Mom, who told me a bit about what it was like to take me here with my Dad and my Sister when I was 3 years old.  One of the things that she mentioned was that people were very polite; another was that toilets could, at times, be a bit difficult to handle.  Squat toilets…not so clean, etc.  It is my great pleasure to report that times have changed in Japan since my last visit.  Squat toilets have now been replaced with Washlet heated toilets in almost all locations.  Washlet heated toilets seem to be points of pride as well as marketing devices.  When I was searching for a hostel for our first night in Tokyo, I found myself browsing through listings that featured three-line descriptions of hostels that included mention of heated toilet seats.  Naturally, I chose a hostel that featured heated toilet seats.  The seats are really good.  I have only used a toilet with a cool seat once during my visit to Japan. Though it is occasionally good to have such experiences to build character.
Enough on toilet seats for now.  Ian and I are looking forward to a nice road out to Kyoto.  We are riding along the coast of the Philippine Sea on Japan’s Highway 1.  It is an extremely busy road, and today we found ourselves riding through driving rain on what must be the world’s most amazing bicycle path.  The path that follows Highway 1 along the Philippine Sea in Japan goes right down the middle of a 10-lane highway that is itself bordered by a set of two electric railroad tracks off to one side.  The bicycle path is protected from the ocean by a sea wall to ward off high tides.  There are complicated interchanges overhead at regular intervals.  To ride along this path at 4:30p.m. as darkness was falling, and to do so in 40-degree weather through drizzling, freezing rain, with the flashing lights of passing cars and trucks and their accompanying noise, was an experience that I will always remember.  I hope that a similar path will take us all the way to Nagoya, 200Km away.  Strange to wish for 200Km of riding in close company with heavy traffic…but under these conditions, it is just a really cool experience.  From Nagoya, Ian and I plan to catch a train the rest of the way to Kyoto where we will spend a day or two seeing the city before reversing our route (by train) to Narita and then flying to Seattle on the 8th.  The coming days will be great I have no doubt.  Check back here often for more news.
       Stephen

Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China was the perfect monument to wrap up my tour of China.  Gigantic, well-made, lots of shopping options throughout the entire process of my visit.  A thoroughly-representative example of my experience in China.  And a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving.  This, of course, makes me remember my last Thanksgiving…though that is another story!  All I will say here is that I hope that the Pepple family is well, and that I thought of you while visiting the Great Wall!
The Great Wall of China
I woke up this morning at 7:45 – early for me, but these past few days have involved early starts.  I believe that a combination of 4 or 5 lattes a day with a sort of Christmas Morning feeling are making for early starts whether I want them or not.  I walked into the lobby of the Forbidden City Hotel (aka F.C. “Hostel” on the business cards) and ordered two breakfasts.  Although I did not need that much food, it is not possible to simply turn off the high metabolism that I develop when touring, backpacking etc.  I am hungry all the time.  Especially when, on rare occasions, options might include fried eggs, bacon, or french toast as they did at the Forbidden City Hotel – an amazing find at 50Yuan/night (maybe $7.35 U.S.) being located right next to the Forbidden City.  They get you by selling you breakfast though.
After my meal, it was time to visit the Great Wall of China.  I was happy about this.  Feeling peaceful, and not quite able to believe that it was happening.  The Great Wall was, together with The Great Pyramids one of the most exciting sites that I have wanted to visit during this trip.  Perhaps during my life.
In Beijing, a tourist has various options for how to actually get to the wall.  I could have done it in the most pure style, of course, which would have been to ride my bike up there.  But at this point, I could not even conceive of doing such a thing.  When you arrive in a massive city with your bicycle, sometimes the thought of pedaling your bicycle out through that city to a giant tourist trap suddenly seems less romantic than it did two years ago when everything had been envisioned in fantasy form.  That is fine though – I was perfectly happy with reality.  And in fact, I welcomed the chance to go on an adventure with Beijing’s public transportation system(s).  And an adventure it was!
I knew that I needed to get to the Deshengmen Gate a few miles NE of the Forbidden City in order to take bus 919.  My plan (a lame plan) was to walk in that direction, and maybe flag down a tuk tuk if possible or a taxi and get a ride if it were reasonable.  A Taxi was 50 Yuan…that seemed high at the time.  I kept walking.  I knew it was only 3 or 4 miles if I walked the whole way.  A little while later I arrived at a bus stop.  I waited for 10 mins. or so and then boarded bus 60  – I did not know its route, but I had maps saved on my iPod, so I could roughly follow the bus’s progress as it moved along.  1 Yuan for the bus ride.  I got off 15 minutes later when (I thought) the bus had begun to move a couple of blocks too far North.  ***35mins. after departure from the F.C. Hotel***
     At this point I was feeling good about myself.  I backtracked from the bus stop to what I thought was the street on which I might find bus 919 to the Great Wall, and began to walk East.  If my directions (or my sense of direction?) were right, I would be at Deshengmen Gate in a few blocks.  I spotted a tourist center on my right, so out of habit I went in to pick up the free map that Tourist Centers offer.   A short convo with the receptionist revealed that I was a 30 minute walk and many many blocks south of Deshengmen Gate.  Fortunately he outlined a new bus itinerary.  I hopped on a Trolley (#111) of which Beijing seems to have 1 or 2, but will hopefully build lots more.  These are just busses, but with poles sticking up on back that connect them to electrical cables that allow them to run off of power from the grid and reduce pollution in the city of which there is an impressive amount.
I connected onto one more bus, which rolled around a bit more, until I was satisfied that I was lost.  Or at least thoroughly off route.  I noticed that I was next to a Wu Mart.  I spotted two of those during my adventure…imitation Wal-Mart?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps Wal-Mart is the imitation…more investigation will be necessary.  Unfortunately I did not have time to enter Wu Mart.  I wish that I had.  I will be thinking about it until I my return to Beijing.
Wu Mart
I got off of the bus (now number 22…I had been enjoying watching some of the flat screen TVs in the busses) and got right into the Taxi cab that was parked in front of the bus stop where I got off.  I said “Nih-how” to the woman in the driver’s seat, and then pointed to the Deshengmen gate on my tourist center map and said “Deshengmen Gate?”  And she said some things and started driving.  We were on good terms though.  I looked up “Great Wall” in my iPod’s Chinese dictionary, and, not finding it, simply showed the driver the word for “Wall” and the number 919 (the bus number that I needed) when she started asking me questions about our route.  Understanding flashed across her features immediately, and she continued speaking to me as she drove around, honking at other cars and things.  She started the meter at 10Yuan – $1.50 or so – and it wound up running to about $2.50U.S.  I tipped her $1.50, and then took a minute to confirm that we were, in fact, at Deshengmen Gate: site of the famous 919 buses to the Great Wall.  She pointed emphatically over at a stone building across the street, and looked at it with wide eyes as she spoke, and showed me some incomprehensible characters that she had written down on the receipt for emphasis.  I felt reassured and walked across the street in search of bus 919. ***2.5 hours and 28 Yuan invested in the journey to the Great Wall up to this point.***
I found 919 in about 15 seconds – the wrong 919 as it turns out, but the correct one was right across the street – and got on board.  I picked up a sweet potato from a vendor right outside before embarking.  It did not occur to me until hours later that this might also be appropriate food for Thanksgiving.  Sweet Potatoes were one of my best discoveries in China, I just wish that I had discovered them before meeting up with my friend George who let me know about them.  The bus had one other westerner on it that I could recognize, and became full, after a few stops, with Beijing locals who were using 919 to make their way to various huge apartment complexes on the outskirts of the city.  It actually carries virtually no Great Wall traffic at all – I was one of only four or five people who got off the bus at the Great Wall.
I slept for about 35 minutes of the 50 minute ride (I think that’s how long it was…).  When I awoke, we were in craggy green hills, and remarkably, the grey, cloudy, dark, haze was gone.  In its place was clear, pale, soft yellow light.  We had climbed out of Beijing’s smog and humidity.  It felt almost like sunset, though it was just after 1.  1:30 p.m. is late afternoon in northern China this late in the year.  I caught a glimpse of the Wall and it was big.  Yep…that was the Great Wall.  Looking like one of hundreds of walls that I had made when I used to play the computer game Age of Empires II.  But this wall was outside the bus, actually on the hills in real life, rolling by along the landscape.  I think that it was more impressive to drive past it in a bus.  There were tunnels, road grit, guard rails, highway crew walking by in orange safety vests, tractor trailer rigs passing our bus on the left, big green signs, the forest rolling by on the right, the hills, and the Great Wall of China out in the distance on the right.  It was another part of that scene.  A part of the landscape.  If it were not so famous, you would just look out and think, “hmm…I wonder what the deal is with that wall…”  And if you could drive along its length, you might be wondering, a couple thousand miles later how long this wall would go.    The answer is complicated.  In actual net distance from east to west, it seems that the answer might be approximately 1,250-1,400 miles.  However, if you were to figure out how much actual wall there is, then the answer is different.  There might be more like 5,500 miles – or at least there were at one point.  Sections of the wall erode away or get taken down in order to be used in construction for houses, etc.  Although much remains, much is gone and continuing to go.  Check out this map to see how big the Great Wall of China is when you place it in the United States – roughly.
The Great Wall at Badaling
Once I got there, I asked someone how far I had to walk in order to get up to the wall.  The answer was, “that way…5 minutes.”  I could not believe I was that close…
The nearest manifestation of the Great Wall to Beijing is in Badaling – a sort of tourist outpost that has been set up with shopping, an informational movie theater, tourist info centers, etc. in order to support a very well-maintained section of the wall (at least five miles or so that I saw, I do not know how far it goes in such a pristine state.  It gets visited by millions of tourists, including Barack Obama just a few days ago.  It is not possible for me to describe, in any way that would give you an appropriate idea, how big all of it is.  The Great Wall dwarfs the Pyramids.  You stand on it and walk around, and you walk, at length, from guard tower to tower, each one of which is a massive structure in itself.  But you look at this wall stretching to the horizons on either side of you, winding through hazy, craggy mountains for miles before it gets there.  The approaches that are involved to even get onto the wall itself are large in a classic Chinese sense…wide, calm streets with formidable restaurants and businesses lining their edges: Starbucks, KFC and various Supermarkets and souvenir stores.  All of it is done in sort of a uniform, tasteful style that makes it look “wall like” with granite facades, a log here and there.  It is all solid.
The Guard Towers made great resting points out of the wind...nice, quiet, peaceful.
By the time I actually got up onto the wall, I was pretty much satisfied already.  But of course, I spent a couple of hours up there, and took pictures, and just hung out, looking around.  In addition to there being the Wall, there are also just really nice mountains.  Badaling is a good area.
I walked down around 4p.m., picked up another cup of coffee at Starbucks, and then got back on bus 919.  It was a good ride back to the city.  I spent a bit of time examining my map en route to Beijing, and noticed that Deshengmen Gate was actually quite close to a subway station.  A fact that had escaped my notice when I originally made my way to the Gate to go out to Badaling.  Upon noticing this, I felt a wave of excitement wash over me, and knew at once that my route back to the Forbidden City Hotel must involve trains.  It was…the only way.
After a few minutes of map examination to confirm everything, I was off on foot once again in search…this time of a subway station.  15 minutes of walking and asking around had located it.  Subway stations are similar to most public things in China in the sense that they are not flamboyantly advertised.  It was slightly difficult to spot the station from across the street, with only one discreetly lit white sign leading into an escalator, leading into the most incredible underground world you could possibly imagine.  Once I entered the subterranean world of Beijing…Whoa.  I did not want to go back up.  I would probably still be down there if I did not have to eat, sleep, etc.
Fleet of city cargo/trash collection bikes.  They went out to go to work 10 mins. after this photo was taken to make their rounds.  9p.m.
The Beijing Subway System is definitely the most awesome Subway system I have ever seen.  More lines, more stations, and more trains are only the foundation of that awesomeness.  Upon that foundation, they have added features like light up maps in the trains so that your current location is color coded with flashing lights and you know where you are at all times.  That is fun to look at if you are not more distracted by watching one of the half-dozen or so LCD TV screens that are in each cabin.  Or by watching anime on the iPhone of the guy standing next to you.  Various bright green and red light up arrows point in various directions no matter where you are…these did not help me, but they look cool.  Entrance to the subway is controlled by magnetic keycards – similar to the cards used to get into hotels.  You keep the piece of plastic for the duration of your ride.  You must insert the card into a machine in order to escape from the subway.  I really had to pee when I was trying to figure this out, but fortunately some security guards taught me how it works right when I needed it most.  I burst out of the subway and up to freedom to find one of Beijing’s 20,000,000 or so public toilets within 30 seconds – not one second too soon.  Naturally, they have escalators all over the place in the subway.  But Beijing is the first ever subway system that I have used to feature flat moving walkways…airport style.  They also have tons of video cameras all over the place…the big white rectangular ones like in Goldeneye.  It makes it all feel important.  If I’d had a cell phone, I might have called the customer service hotline that was advertised all over the place in the cabins.  The busier transfer line stations (I rode 3 lines…sort of by accident, but it was actually a fairly efficient route) have plexiglass walls up to ensure that it is physically impossible for anybody to fall in front of or to get pushed in front of an arriving train.  Once a train stops and opens its doors, sliding plexiglass doors open in sync with the train.  Good idea.  I found myself on the subway at 6p.m. on a Thursday evening, so it was one of the busiest times of the week for the Subway.  Trains were packed, but moving fast, crowds moving fast, a good system it seems.  Huge.
Beijing has toilets everywhere
By the time I got home, I had, sort of by accident, used various busses, a taxi, and 3 different lines of the subway system here during my 8 hour journey out and back to visit the Great Wall of China.  I plan to ride the subway to Beijing’s Airport tomorrow.  I discovered that there is also a line that runs all the way out to there.  Hopefully I will be able to get onto the train with my bike.  I will jump off that bridge when I come to it.  It was a great Thanksgiving.  I will write more from Tokyo – will be there tomorrow afternoon.   And you know what that means…I will be on Facebook and Twitter tomorrow afternoon after having been unable to access them for about a month while traveling in China.  Oh yeah…  Thanks for reading.  If you have not seen it already, please check out the article about Seize The World in the Coloradan magazine – view it online here.
 Stephen