The Rockies

Oh Colorado. How truly amazing you are. This. This was the reward for all those bleak miles that came before.

On the second, 80-mile day of the Boston to Montreal ride way back in the Spring, there was a steep 600-foot hill that several people were worried about. I was one of them because I kept hearing about it, and at the time, I had never done even 50 miles two days in a row, so that big hill loomed in my thoughts all day even though it wasn’t unusual by Bay Area standards. It’s definitely still tough, but it only lasted ten to fifteen minutes. After it was over, I could only conclude that I’d rather not have known about it so that it would not have dominated my day with fear. The Rockies were a looming fear factor like this from well before I even started. “Yeah, but the Rockies” is a phrase I’ve heard a lot from people trying to empathise with my plans. My reaction was to look forward to the mountains all the more strongly because, yeah, the Rockies… but I knew I’d get through them eventually, and maybe it would hurt less if it’s pretty. I got that one right!

Nine days from Denver to Dolores, Colorado—528 miles and 34,766 feet climbed, and the Rockies are officially vanquished. I’m not sure how else to describe how hard parts of this were. Or how exhilarating. But I can say that my time here has been far and away the best of the trip. Whatever it is I came here for, I’m sure I got it.

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Each day was priceless, so it seems to warrant a chronology …and cool graphs from my Ride with GPS app.

Aug 7: Front Range

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My first big day back on the bike was hard! I needed to get to Pueblo to meet the Adventure Cycling Association’s Western Express route that would take me straight to my new home. So 120 miles south, skirting the mountains, right? Wrong. That first day alone rivals all of the other days in the Rockies in terms of distance and climb. The route was beautiful, but the weather was awful. With still 40 miles to go, the rain started, I got soaked, and the temperature dropped to 55°F. I shivered for hours as I peddled, and eventually I felt like I needed to vomit from being so tired of shivering. The last 25 miles were all on a gravel and dirt bike path that got muddy, then dark (ahh, bears!). I missed getting to Colorado Springs before sunset because I had to wait out some lightning in the afternoon. Then 10 miles before the hotel I had booked, my newly tuned-up brakes both all but gave out, though luckily just as I was passing the first crop of hotels I had seen into all day. Safety first: I had to book a second room for the night and stop. It’s a good thing this was the first day, before my tolerance for ridiculousness had a chance to start eroding with the miles.

Aug 8: Pueblo

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In the morning, with a clearer head, I took a look at those brakes because I wouldn’t be going anywhere without ’em. The pads were indeed replaced as I had paid for, but the screws that clamp the cables to the brakes were both loose and the cables had slipped. Easily fixed. Good to know.

Also, lesson learned from the day before: don’t plan to need to go the usual 80 miles before getting used to the high altitude or during Colorado’s “monsoon season.” So I took it much easier this day. More rain and lightening, but I was less rushed, so I waited it out by finishing that last blog post. I got stuck in mud once on a bike path, and I had to drag my heavy bike through it for a quarter mile. Then I rode around through puddles for a while to clean off the bike.

Aug 9: Intro to the Rockies

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Woo! The Front Range of the Rockies is intimidating when you approach it head-on. I stared at a mountain that towered 4K feet above me for thirty miles before I even got to the base. It was my first all-day climb. It’s brutal. I found myself questioning if it would ever end after just the first hour. Once you’re in the lowest gear, the only option is to work harder when it gets steeper. I found that playing music helps with long, hard climbs.

You get a lot less oxygen per breath as you go up, and it’s obvious when you’re exerting yourself. Somewhere on that first big hill, I gave up trying to ram that much air through my nose, and I’ve been a proud mouth-breather in the mountains ever since.

Aug 10: Approach to the Great Divide

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I had my first long downhill, about a third of the way through the day. Otherwise I quite peacefully spent the day climbing on one side or the other of the Arkansas River. I stopped for a while in the town of Salida (Sah-LIE-da), which was hard to leave because I was just not feeling that big climb that was waiting for me after.

That night I stayed at a mountain lodge 5 miles short of the continental divide at about 10K feet above sea level. Just before I was about to turn left into the parking lot, a car passed me very closely. They were turning left too, and they were probably preparing to take that left by going slightly to the right first like many drivers do. As I pulled into the parking lot behind them, the driver stepped out and right away apologized for passing me so closely. I said thank you and that I appreciate that. It also, at the time, made me feel better that probably a good number of the close calls I’ve had weren’t intentional. The group checked in at the front desk ahead of me, and there was enough time that we started chatting. The gentleman, the driver, asked where I was headed, and then he told me all about each climb I would encounter. So of course it turns out that he’s a cyclist too. And the younger woman in the group, perhaps his daughter, lives in Boston.

I woke up constantly all night long gasping for breath. I get that I have to breathe more deeply here, but my sleeping self hadn’t gotten the memo yet.

The next morning I saw the same group at breakfast. The gentleman came over to sit with me for a while, and he introduce himself as Roger. He said he’s cycled many of the roads in Colorado but not all. He added that it’s rare to see someone cycling alone cross-country going the direction I was headed. I can imagine why! Then Roger gave me his phone number and offered that if I’m ever in any trouble in Colorado, I should call him and he’d come get me; he’s retired and he wouldn’t mind! So shout out to the amazing cyclist Roger. It made my day to talk with you.

Aug 11: Great Divide and Down the Other Side

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I crossed the continental divide at Monarch Pass on US-50. At 11,312 feet, it’s one of the highest paved roads in the U.S. Great view too. And man that felt good to get there. At the top, I met several hikers who were also passing through going north or south along the Great Divide trail. I enjoyed talking to one older gentleman who has hiked 10K miles with his wife and dog over the past four years. He has diabetes, and he felt his body deteriorating, so, he thought, now’s the time! And his wife was up for it too.

The downhill from the Divide was epic. Too long, actually. My eyes were burning from the wind as if I had been cutting onions, despite wearing sunglasses. But fun! Just before I got to Gunnison, CO, I passed a group of three middle-aged guys who were clearly on their own cross-country trek going East. That’s always a thrill: “Other crazy people!” One shouted to me that I did a great job packing light 🙂

Aug 12: Black Canyon

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The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has to be among the most impressive of the western canyons. It’s crazy deep and crazy narrow. From some parts of the rim, I remember from visiting with my parents in 2003, you can’t always see the river at the bottom because the tall walls undulate and seem almost to touch. I got to spend the day riding along side it, with a brief stop in the canyon at about the 50-mile mark. (You can tell when that happened in the graph above.) The rocks are a billion years old, likely older than multi-cellular life itself. The canyon is just 2 million years young.

At a gas station that hadn’t been updated in 50 years—creaking rusted signs blowing in the wind and all—I met two motorcyclists who thought what I was doing was awesome. It was awesome for me too because mostly the two kinds of bikers consider each other separate species. Not here!

Aug 13: Hot Springs!

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I was looking forward to this for weeks. I made an appointment to stay at Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgway, Colorado as a kind of rest day. I started that morning in Montrose, Colorado, and I only had to go 30 miles and uphill about 1K feet. But one of my gear-shifting cables snapped. You can still ride a bike like that, but with the tension in the line gone, the derailleur reverts to the smallest (highest) gear. There was no way I could climb 10 feet like that without blowing out my knees. I was lucky I was in a town, but it was Sunday, so the two bike shops were closed. I really didn’t want to pay for that hot springs twice, so I had to get there. I found a replacement kit at Walmart, and, whelp, I figured it out. We definitely did not cover that part in the bike class I took. The tools I had with me are crude, but after about an hour in the Walmart parking lot cutting braided stainless steel wires with a rather blunt instrument, I made it work, or at least enough to get me to where I needed to go that day, and I got it professionally fixed at the next bike shop I found. That was my greatest bad-ass moment so far.

The same force that caused the Rockies to rise 70-or-so million years ago caused a magma chamber to rise below it, which has the effect of dotting the landscape with hot springs. I stayed , which is like a garden full of differently-heated ponds of water directly from the bowels of the earth. I got my first massage too, which was awesome. I met some nice people there too, some locals and some travelers like me trying new things. The handful of people who stay the night there have the hot springs to themselves all night. I had a giant hot spring-filled pond to myself for an hour under the starriest of skies.

Aug 14: “To-Hell-U-Ride”

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Telluride is really beautiful. Dripping with money, really. There are gondolas that run all summer so you can take your mountain bike to the top of some of the ski runs and ride down, free from the pain of climbing and free of charge. I’m not sure how I feel about that from a purist standpoint, but if I could take a gondola wherever I wanted to go, I’m sure I would.

A bartender told me that a 24-year-old man was struck by lightening and killed by lighting while mountain biking near Lizzard Head pass the day before, which is of course where I was headed next. So I’m glad I’ve been sticking to the policy of waiting out lightening storms. It’s a reminder that the number of dangers are quite high.

Aug 15: Lizzard Head Pass

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This was my last Rocky Mountain. Really nice day too. At the top I met a couple who were taking a break for lunch. The guy said he did his cross-country ride in ’84, but that he was carrying a lot more than I was. It was interesting to compare stories. I’m using a lot of tech on this trip: GPS, lightweight tent, probably a better bike, and it only makes me think how much harder any of this was just 10 years ago.

So with that, I’m off to Utah. Plenty more mountains to climb; they’re just not officially part of the Rockies.

My Time in the Wilderness

I’m back on my bike and two days’ ride from Denver, starting out this morning in Pueblo heading straight into the Rockies. I decided, after all, to attempt to finish exactly what I started—a straight shot to SF—rather than to, say, take a detour north to see the eclipse. This post is about what I’ve been up to in the last couple of weeks, which, though not generally on a bike, is still a significant part of my journey. Last I wrote, I was freshly dealing with my decision to skip Kansas. It was obviously unsafe to continue in that heat through the open, sparcely populated plains. But knowing I should do something and accepting it are two different things.

I ended my continuous streak in Emporia, KS, which is just large enough to have a couple of rental car places but not so large that they open on the weekends, and, I found out, sometimes they duck out early on a Friday afternoon. Since I got to Emporia on my precariously de-thorned tires at 4:30 on a Friday, my only option was to take a bus to Wichita the next day to get a rental car from Kansas’s largest airport. (The kind woman at the Dollar Rental desk gave me a free upgrade to a larger car so I wouldn’t have trouble fitting my bike!) One-way to Denver International ten days later.

Why ten days to Denver? I had plane tickets from Denver to Cleveland, with the intention that I would leave my bike in Denver, fly home to get clothes, my computer, and my passport then drive to a conference in Toronto where I had long planned to co-teach a lab class with my friend Daniel Hurtubise. Then I would retrace my steps and restart in Denver a few days later. There are no intermediate destinations to return a car (or to take a bus, train, plane, or anything else) between Emporia and Denver. I also couldn’t just go slowly or wait out the hot weather because I’d miss my flight. It was all or nothing.

All this meant that meant the point-of-no-return for my change of plans was nearly immediate: the very minute I boarded that bus to Wichita without my bike. It was the hardest bus ride ever. I was crushed, but there’s only so much I can control. I knew I’d have to “make Plan B better than Plan A,” much like the original motivator of my entire ride. I think I came close.

I found myself in the unlikely and enviable position of having a week with a rental car and a totally free and completely un-thought-about schedule. Why not knock out a couple of states on my list of those yet unvisited: Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Oklahoma

I bought shorts and a t-shirt so I’d have something to wear that wasn’t spandex. I bought a cheap backpack, a hat, and some swim trunks just in case, and I went south to Oklahoma.

I tried to have fun in Oklahoma, I swear! It’s just hard. The state tourism website made a big deal about an annual Encampment with Native American dancing for a Tribe near Tulsa, but that ended up looking more like a family reunion that would be awkward to crash. On my way out of Oklahoma, I stopped at one of those over-the-top Route 66 roadside attractions, Pops Arcadia, which sells dozens of flavors of… pop (a.k.a. “soda”).

West Texas

Next up Lubbock, Texas. Mostly it was just in the right direction on the way to New Mexico. But its roadside attraction ended up being super cool. The American Wind Power Center and Museum, or basically A LOT of wind mills. It seemed to make me feel better about my adversarial relationship with the wind. It’s fascinating how early settlers harnessed wind to pump water and grind grain. Steam locomotives could never have crossed the plains without all the water stops powered by wind.

Only once I was there did it strike me that I knew someone in town. Jim Williamson, my first professor in architecture school, is now dean of the College of Architecture at Texas Tech. Jim was also the head of the admissions committee at Cornell that decided to take a chance on a physics and French major with a portfolio that I would have been embarrassed about had I known better. I looked him up, and he quite graciously rearranged his schedule the next day to take me out for lunch. The last time I saw Jim was before my career in design technology had progressed beyond working part time in Don Greenberg’s lab at Cornell, and I’ve been so many wonderful places since. We talked about how to teach evolving technology in school, germane to us both, but where I was in a position to share my insights this time too. In the context of my journey between coasts and between jobs, it was an awesome surprise to meet one of the people who long ago helped me get here.

New Mexico

In New Mexico, I started in Roswell, where the museum for the alleged conspiracy and cover-up of the 1948 alien spacecraft crash quite satisfyingly looks like a crazy person’s scrap book. If you’re having trouble believing, perhaps the life-size diarama with rotating heads will help!

At Carlsbad Caverns, I watched many thousands of bats fly out of the mouth of the cave at sunset before spending a few hours the next morning wandering around the gothic depths myself. (In the image below, notice the maintenance worker for a sense of scale.)

I hiked for miles up and down the dunes at White Sands, the world’s largest gypsum dunes, which, yes, are just as white as dry wall. The sunset there is epic.

Just north of El Pason TX, I had a great time catching up with my high school friend Jen Lucero, who has been following my trip on Instagram. I tried to visit the Spaceport America Visitor Center in Truth or Consequences, NM, to find only a rack of post cards and a woman who admitted that she first thought they were building it to help UFOs land (that’s silly—obviously they already land at White Sands). After seeing a road sign “60 miles to…” I took a long detour to se the Very Large Array (VLA) Radio Astronomy Observatory, of X-Files and Contact fame, but in all seriousness, an awesome scientific instrument in a stunning setting.

I rode on a cable car tram to the top of the Sandia Peak above Albequerque, a ride which holds the world record for the longest unsupported length between towers.

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I ate at The Range Cafe, which is a local favorite and part-owned by my good friend Alexandra Bergin’s parents. She has a lot of stories from her childhood there, and it was very cool to visit. So good! Get anything with green chilli.

At Alex’s suggestion (she and Michael basically put a couple of days of my itinerary together for me!), I hiked through Tent Rocks, which sounded weird to me too until I saw it and realized weird is an understatement.

Then finally a quick visit to Santa Fe and a hike in the canyon of the Rio Grande near Taos, with a terminus at natural hot spring next to the river.

In case it weren’t obvious, I really got into the spirit of wandering around and indulging nearly every sight-seeing whim. I had my head entirely ripped out of the bike ride, my career, and everything else. It was awesome.

But somewhere toward the end of the week, I stared thinking: what if I didn’t go to this conference after all? What if I went back to Kansas?! I could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and the weather there was safely back in the 90’s. The math was tight, but Kansas to San Francisco was at least conceivable in the time I had left. It would require skipping Denver entirely too, but I had already sacrificed so much, so why not more?

I decided to do it. I called my friend and co-presenter Daniel Hurtubise to tell him I couldn’t make it, and though he understood as much as anyone who isn’t literally on a cross-country ride could, I couldn’t escape the thought of letting him and others down, especially so late, just days beforehand. After a day more of thought, my go-back-to-Kansas plan started sounding increasingly selfish, and maybe a little unnecessary. I changed my plans again to go to the conference in Toronto, and so I continued on to Denver, where I would meet my flight a few days later.

Maybe you can see what I’m getting at. There was a grieving process for me because I feel like I failed myself by skipping Kansas, fair or not. It took days for me to work through, and maybe I’m not totally over it. It’s hard to describe, but I have long known that you can’t do something as big as what I’m attempting unless you really want it. I do, and that makes it hard to accept anything less. But I certainly don’t regret my week off, my time in the wilderness. In all the nearly three months since I was last fully employed, outside of that one week, I was never not working hard: consulting, traveling to weddings, moving, finding a new job, and of course biking. New Mexico for me was a time that was fully free of stress, and I’ll tell ya, that works wonders for the soul.

In other news, I discovered that now I’m totally ruined: touring by car isn’t nearly as satisfying as the full-contact-sport kind of touring you get with a bike.

Colorado

In a few days in Colorado, I re-found family and caught up with old friends. My grandmother’s twin Ellen and her family moved out to Denver in the 70’s, long before it was “cool.” I knew it had been a while, but when I showed up on the doorstep of my mom’s first cousins Sharon and Vern Carpenter, we realized that we hadn’t seen each other since I was five. It turned into a very late night of laughing and drinking together with my Great Aunt Ellen, a nonagenarian who can apparently stay up later than I can. I also met my second cousin Collin (he’s older, so my parents stole the name) for only the third time; we were teenagers the last time, and he’s still a really cool dude with a very fun wife, Suttida, and new baby, Adelyn. We all had a great night drinking too, sans baby, who got carded. So cool to re-find family (left image).

I also got to stay with, and ride to Red Rocks Amphitheater with, my high school friend Ian MacKenzie. Ian decided he needed an adventure, and he moved west, found a better job, got married, and had a baby in just two years. Damn, son. Ian and his also-adventurous wife Kate were great hosts, even storing my bike for me for a week while I went to Canada and picking me up from the airport. Their daughter Aili is adorable. I gave her a stuffed alien from Roswell, and reports so far are that she likes it!

Oh! And I have to mention that I finally got to visit Four Noses Brewery in Broomfield, CO, which is co-owned by a grad school friend of mine David Bibliowicz and the three other noses in his family. Great beer and a beautiful space. David’s brother Tommy runs the place, and he gave me a tour. Tommy also once rode his bike across the U.S. with a group when he was in high school. He also volunteered that they skipped a couple hundred miles once too,… because it was too hot!

Toronto

So to that conference. You know what? It was an honor to be there. Daniel publicly gave me crap for canceling and un-canceling, but in the process we got a great substitute-for-me-turned-third-partner John Pierson. This was also a great way for me to step back into the working world, albeit briefly. The result is that I’m looking forward to the end of my journey all the more, because I’ll get to work on really cool stuff with a lot of the people there. Thank you to everyone who made it possible for me to attend as an unemployed cyclist, especially Daniel and Chairman Wesley Benn. And thank you to my friend Tobias who let me use his computer for a day in Boulder so I could get ready for the lab.

On the last day, I played hookie and went kayaking with my grad school friend Ben, which was also awesome.

And that’s when I made it all public…

The News!

In September, I will return to Autodesk, to the Generative Design product team in the architecture/engineering/construction division. I’ll be a product manager for Project Quantum, which is a data-centric cloud platform that in all probability resembles the future of professional architecture software tools. Basically, architectural design requires an insane amount of information of all different types, with different authors, consumers, and legal requirements, which needs to remain useful over sometimes long timescales. Today’s software tools are mostly spot-fixes, which together reflect that general disorganization. The idea with Quantum is that project information should live in a central, shared infrastructure that is acted upon by software services as needed (optimize X, simulate Y, check zoning requirements for Z, etc.). Dynamo is a piece of this, but the whole project is a lot more ambitious. Among my responsibilities, I will help make Quantum useful for architecture workflows that I will also help to identify and describe.

I’m also happy to share that I will co-teach a new required course this fall at California College of the Arts with the general theme of digital workflows in architectural practice: building information modeling (BIM), parametrics, digital fabrication, and visualization. The first two in the list are my specialties, including a great deal of overlap with my day job. My partner in crime Clayton Muhleman will bring it home with the cool stuff: digi-fab and VR.

There’s plenty waiting for me on the other end of all this in California, and I can’t wait. But I don’t want to rush this. But I have to keep peddling. I’m not leaving Boston anymore, I’m going to San Francisco.

As for that whole skipping Kansas thing, well, now I’ll have a ready-made, meaningful way to spend a week clearing my head if I ever need it in the next few years. Not in July.

Remember the Goal

Years from now, I’ll remember today with quiet and heartfelt thanks. I learned something I never expected in starkly beautiful Kansas.

Yesterday

Yesterday was a perfect day. At about 10am, I crossed into Kansas, which more than any other milestone before, truly blew my mind. This is faaaar, and somewhere herein lay the journey’s halfway point, though exactly where depends on how I count and how far I ultimately go. The temperature was high, 101°F with a heat index that says it felt like 121°F, which I don’t contest. Towns were spaced perfectly for me to stop and drink something big and cold every 1-2 hours. I spent the supposedly hottest part of the day in a local library and eating lunch, but even when I emerged from that at 3:30pm, it was still over 100°F. By the time I was in the next town over at 6:45pm, it was still 95°F, and I still had 20 miles to go to camp, with an 8:45pm sunset to race. I crushed it, and after an 87-mile day in that heat, I arrived in plenty of time to set up camp and enjoy the lake view before dark. The stars were vividly clear and the air was full of fireflies. I left the rain fly off my tent so that it was simply a bug net, and I fell asleep looking up at the Milky Way, seeing it clearly for perhaps only the 5th time in my life. It was a perfect day because it was hard and I did well, but most importantly, everything lined up.

I’ve spent months dreading this state for its emptiness and its famous winds. Even historic issues of the famed Providence Scrabble Club Newsletter will attest that months ago I was most concerned about Kansas. Now just shy of 2,000 miles peddled since Boston, I’m here and the moment is now.

Today

This morning at first light, I woke up on the wooden bench in the shower house. At 3am, I was damn-near convinced that there was a bear trapsing around in the woods next to my tent, and though I knew that wasn’t probable, I really didn’t care about statistics at the time. It turns out there are no bears or mountain lions in Kansas, and later evidence suggests that the squirrels in the treetops can be large, slow, and noisey. So, ha!, you got me good.

Today’s ride was supposed to be a given: 75-mile bike path, probably rough, but shaded and protected from the wind, protected from trucks, headed directly west, and with well-spaced towns for food and water. But at just seven miles in, I got a flat tire. The bike path was a lot rougher than I had expected, and the cause of the flat was immediately obvious. My 3-day-old new tires were studded with thorns.
Just as I had picked out the first few thorns with tweezers, a golf-cart-type vehicle drove up and stopped. That’s rare, I later found out—the remote path just opened last year, and maybe only a handful of people use it per week, and these guys were there to investigate reports that someone was digging holes in the path. The exchange was fast, something like:

“Having trouble?”

“Yeah flat tire.”

“Thorns? That just happened to a guy last week. The trail is rough here. I’ll tell you what, Dan here will drive me to my truck, and I’ll come back and take you into town. Is that okay?” [Note, esp. regarding my last post: Dale drives a pick-up truck, as do many many good people, so of course they’re not all bad!]

Now recall my last flat tire incident where I said no to help four times, and I ended up having to ride that flat tire 26 miles. And it wasn’t 100°+ then. So I said yes very quickly. GG in Illinois will recall that I really didn’t want to be driven anywhere if I could help it because it was “against the rules.” Saying that today seemed even stupider, so I said thank you very much, and Dale took a break in his day to drive me the ten-or-so miles into Osage City. Even at the time I wrestled a bit with the idea that this would be my first caveat to the whole coast-to-coast-only-by-bike claim. But of course that was the right thing to do. This was a life safety issue, and I had no way to know whether I could fix so much damage on my own.

Dale had me choose my destination. There were no bike shops, so I chose the hardware store. He walked in, told them I was there, and left me with the assurance that his wife also worked next door, so I could contact him through her if I needed anything else.

I met Mary Sue, who with her husband Willie, owns and runs Osage Hardware in Osage City. I spent more than an hour there picking out thorns from both tires, while using their covered outdoor area for shade. Mary Sue gave me a bottle of Gatorade and tried to convince me more than once to come inside to cool off to do my work, but I really didn’t want to intrude further, and I knew she could tell that. I picked out all the thorns I could find—many dozens—then reinstalled both tires. Though they seemed to hold air, it would still be a gamble to get to the nearest bike shop 35 miles away.

When I was ready to go, Mary Sue insisted on feeding me lunch, I think to help give me energy just as much as to give me time to rethink my plans. Willie offered to drive me the 35 miles himself, and probably just plain knowing how stubborn I must be to get even that far, he followed up with the offer: okay, go ahead and try yourself, and here is my card, call me at anytime if you have trouble and I’ll come get you myself. “I really don’t mind.” He gave me plenty of local advice on which routes to take going west after. Then, finally, after acknowledging that my adventure is hugely respectable, he offered: “Though really I’d prefer if you just took a plane to San Francisco.” I hugged them both good bye and I headed off.

That 35 miles, though, was simply brutal. The tires made it, and I made it, but it felt like only barely. The actual temperature today was 109°F, and I had 20-30mph headwinds the entire way. My left knee, which until now was doing splendidly, was strained with the wind. I nearly ran out of water, and I was already rationing it at 15 miles out. Even that would have been worse had not Mary Sue given me that Gatorade bottle, my fifth bottle, that I refilled and kept. And once again on a nearly-empty road, an angry pick-up truck driver decided to express his thoughts about my existence, this time by “coal rolling” me, or clouding me with black soot from his illegally-modidied exhaust pipe as he passed.

Last week and this week are supposed to be the hottest of the year here, and the only break, down to the high 80’s, will come on Sunday with days of thunder storms. There are no trees, few towns, the heat hurts, and quite frankly this part isn’t remotely fun. It’s clearly dangerous here too. No one should be riding a bike across Kansas right now, and hubris is what gets people hurt.

So this is perhaps my greatest lesson from my journey so far: I should seek peace in failure. (Thank you, Dustin, especially, for your comments on my last post.) It is the unambiguously wise thing for me to do to skip Western Kansas. It means I’m going to “break the rules,” so to speak, but seriously only I ever imposed that, and it’s purpose is to motivate me not endanger my life. So “failure” more properly needs a reference frame.

As a designer and educator, I know that any design project should be judged chiefly by the project’s own goals. My project, I said, is to have a “challenging and hopefully inspiring” journey. And on that, already, just halfway through, check. And here I was used to thinking of days like yesterday as “perfect” days because I achieved a lot of miles in good conditions. Wrong again. Based on my premise, today was the best day so far at just 45 miles. It was certainly challenging, and the true kindness of strangers is awe-inspiring. Thank you Dale, Mary Sue, and Willie.

Thanks also for those thorns. Were it not for the flat tire, I would have lost any good option to stop after today.

“Make Plan B Better Than Plan A”

Tomorrow I’ll take a Greyhound to Wichita to rent a car, come back to Emporia, KS to pick up my bike, then head off in some indeterminate direction to explore this part of the world for a week, mostly off the grid, partly on bike. I’ve been to 43 states, but that list doesn’t yet include Oklahoma or New Mexico, and I’ll fix that.

I’ll head to Denver next weekend to visit friends and family, then leave my bike there for a few-days’ round trip to Toronto for a professional conference where I’ll co-teach a lab with my friend Daniel. He was very insistent that I figure out how to get there in the midst of my trip, and I realy didn’t know how I could until recently. (That, and Daniel has a way of moving mountains to make the right thing happen too, so thank you.) Besides the fact that I’m very much looking forward to seeing friends in Toronto, it’s both a nice way to honor my former work with Safdie Architects while dipping my toes back in the waters of the professional world before I’ll be a fulltime member again soon enough.

Back to Denver by the second week of August, I’ll get back on my bike, with four weeks to play wherever I want, free now from the shackles of “the rules.” So I saved the best for last: the Rockies!