Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Act three: the gun on the mantle.

Disaster finally caught up with me today; as it must, since I've carried its seeds from my trip's inception.

It started as a minor nuisance: with the sloshing of my water jug and clanking of my carabiner-suspended brass knuckles (a souvenir of route 97 through the Yakama res). At first I thought my load was just out of balance. Soon I realized that what I had was a wheel out of true.

I'm not very mechanically inclined, and trueing wheels has always been something I thought best left to experts, so I rode into Lake View hoping to find a bike shop. In town, I spotted a man on a bike, and learned from him that there was no bike shop, but that I might find help at the True Value. At the True Value, I learned that the fellow in question was out, but would be in tomorrow.

Ridiculous, I thought. I have the world's accumulated knowledge at my fingertips, and if I can't true my own wheel, I shouldn't be out here. Google easily returned some simple instructions, and of course my multi-tool had a spoke wrench. I went to examine the wheel closer.

To my horror I found three spokes not merely loose, but snapped. There were no spokes to be had in Lake View, or Alturas, or anywhere between here and Reno. Help - in the form of someone who could bring spokes for me - was days away. And even if I had them, I'm not sure I'd have the expertise to apply them.

I did the only thing I could think of: I loosened the three opposing spokes, figuring to at least help balance the wheel laterally. I have disk breaks, so breaking is not an issue. I just have to keep the tire on the road for another 150 miles.

I will not stop here, I will not quit. Turning on to 395, in a moment of giddy loopiness, my mind offered up the theme from "The Greatest American Hero:"

Believe it or not, I'm walkin' on air,
I never thought I could feel so free...
Flyin' away on a wing and a prayer,
Believe it or not, it's just me!

The real reason why, or, the theft of the American Dream.

I have plenty of time out here to meditate on the real reason I took this trip, and it comes down to this: I want to do things my own way, make my own choices, blaze my own trails.

There's precious little room in this world anymore for a man to walk alone, stand proud, and live according to his own beliefs, when everything comes neatly prepackaged for his convenience. Packaged meals, packaged media, packaged vacations, packaged homes, packaged lifestyles, packaged LIVES.

First off, anything that's mass produced is by it's nature inferior due to the demands of efficiencies on a scale for mass production.

But the real problem with all these predigested choices is that they're a soporific, an illusion of choice meant to lull us to sleep and keep us from thinking, sold to us by the keepers of what was once the American Dream. That dream is no longer a populist one. It belongs now to those savvy enough to understand that finite resources can not be shared infinitely; who have the merciless will and temerity to hoard that dream, by keeping the majority of the population fat, stupid and complacent with fast food and cable television.

Well, I will not play. They can keep their condos and their new cars and their 60 inch televisions. I will be out here, where I can stand tall, think for myself, and live my own god damned life.

Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.

After a quick supply stop in Paisley this morning, I ride down into my first real patch of desert, all blasted sand and scrub brush. I spend over an hour on one endless patch of road so long and straight that receding vehicles disappear into the distance before I can see them turn. The distant heat shimmer reflects the sky as clearly as a deep mountain pool.

Screaming hawks ride the air currents above me, their enormous shadows sometimes crossing my path. I once startle a desert hare and watch it lope off at twice my speed. Flocks of small black birds scatter in my wake, trailed by that electric blue aura superimposed my glasses.

The emotional roller coaster and physical sufferance of the first few days have settled into a calm confidence and steady routine. My legs have been retrained to the constant pedaling; they feel best when I resume riding after a good stretch. The travel has become not only survivable, but sustainable, emerging into not merely a trip, but a lifestyle.

The solitude, the bare elements, the glorious, unimpeded views of the road all give me the room I need to think. I know it's cliche, but I feel like this is the life I was born for. Guess I shoulda been a cowboy.


The Summer Lake hot tub is actually more of a pool; a rough cement
tank, five feet deep, sunk in an ancient, crumbling, wood beam and tin
roof bath house. Soaking in it last night knocked me right out.
Afterwards, I stumbled drunkenly back to my tent. I got up once during
the night to pee, and stood amazed by the clear wash of stars above me.

In the morning, I found that more campers had joined me, including
some familiar faces; Fremont artist Rodman Miller and his partner
Leslie, of Glass Blowers camp, and several others. By funny
coincidence, I'm on the Glass Blower's early admission list; covering
my bases in case I reach the burn early.

Bug Spray

Rolling around Summer Lake last night, I finally encountered a weather
pattern that I was not prepared for; the plaque of bugs.

As the sun dipped behind the rim of the lake bed's bowl, putting me in
shadow, I found myself riding through thick clouds of gnats and flying
ants. It was literally (and I do not say 'literally' when what I mean
is 'figuratively'), literally a hail of insects. They were thick as
snow as I ploughed through them at 22mph. They hit my face, clung to
my torso, were trapped in hundreds by the thick hair of my legs.

The bug spray lasted about half an hour, while I brushed the largest
offenders from me and struggled to keep my lips pursed shut. The
assault petered out, but not before leaving me coated with a grime of
the dead and dying.


After three days of clouds, the sun returned in full force yesterday,
and as it did, my new polarized sunglasses evinced a curious property.

Around noon, I started seeing other worldly patches of luminescent
blue haze, hovering just above the road surface. Anything on the road
that was black and reflective - oil stains, tire tread marks - was
appearing holographically through my polarized lenses. I was riding
through a 3D movie world.

Once, I was startled by a bird that appeared to be an out-of-place
blue Macaw. At second glance, it was an enormous crow, its black, oily
feathers projecting the same blue haze, giving it a shimmery blue
second skin.

By 4:00, the effect had dissipated. Aparrently the angle of light's
only right when the sun is at its peak.