Friday, May 26, 2017

Move Out Blog Break

I'm moving to Seattle next week.  I have a lot to do before then, so I'm going to take a week off from writing stuff.  If you need something to do, watch the really weird, hecka creepy, award winning, stop motion short Bobby Yeah.  Some things can't be explained, some things can't be unsee.

Bobby Yeah

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


You guys!  Huge news!  Remember a while back I said not to leave bikes locked up in Kensington?  And then quite recently I said that I was having recurring dreams about my bicycle that I'd had for over a decade that was stolen in Kensington in October?  Guess what!  I found Tibor!  Yesterday!  I found Tibor, seven months later!  I think this is a clear indication of remote viewing being a real thing.

Ok, some background.  I'm moving out of Philly at the end of the month, but for all I's and P's, after tomorrow, I'm gone.  I'll be out of town from Thursday to Monday, packing Monday, then leaving the city Monday night.  As part of my going away process, I've been having a lot of farewell meals.  Yesterday's was a farewell lunch on Penn's campus.  After the lunch, I walked my co-eater back to their office on Drexel's campus, and headed west on Market St, an intersection I seldom ride by.  I turned left at 34th, heading towards Spruce, when I noticed a shiny, silver bike locked at the corner to a light post.  Having been on the lookout for Tibor ever since he was stolen in October, looking at every bike I pass is not an uncommon thing for me to do.  Anyway, I turned back to get a closer look, and holy crap, it was Tibor!  Whaaaaaaaat???  He was stolen in Northern Liberties, what was he doing down here???


After some checking and double-checking I confirmed that it was, in fact, Tibor.  Almost all of the original components were intact, which I found funny because the thief had taken the time to scrape some of the turquoise paint off the fork and pinkish paint off the stem (not all, just some) in an attempt to disguise the bike, but left on the easily recognizable gold Salsa grips and wolf-insignia'd WTB saddle.  He was a little beat up, with a thoroughly rusted chain from being locked outside and a non-drive crank arm dangling from the bottom bracket, but nothing that couldn't be fixed.  I was so excited I could have exploded like a giant firework, spraying happy guts all over University City.

So I called the cops.  I'd filed a police report back in October and I wanted to resolve this the proper way.  I called back an hour and a half later after no one showed up.  After two and a half hours, two calls, and still no cop, a friend of mine came down with a hacksaw and we took Tibor back ourselves.  I couldn't tell if the cops weren't showing in the hopes that the thief would appear, a confrontation would ensue, and then they'd have something real to attend to, or what.  In any case, no one paid any attention to us slowly and unskillfully cutting through a cable lock with a dull hacksaw on a busy street corner around rush hour.

After ghost riding Tibor home from my three-speed Ross, I was able to take a good look at the damages.  The seat post had been cut down to accommodate a shorter rider, the chain was shot, the BB and non-drive crank needed replacing, my wooden crate and bungee net were gone, the brakes were worn to nubs, and most annoyingly, the steel fork that had been sanded down to hide his identity was now covered in rust.  Could have been way worse, as the expensive wheel set and high end tires were intact and undamaged, though woefully underinflated.

Based on his somewhat dilapidated state and the location of recovery, here's what I think happened.  Tibor was stolen by a Kenzo junkie looking to get high (I hope their veins fall out).  They sold him to some shady-ass pawn shop under the El for $10 (I hope their store gets broken into by a junkie).  That pawn shop then sold it to a Penn student for $50 (I hope they get buried in student loan debt).  Then, as Penn move-out was last week, that student abandoned Tibor when they left town for the summer.  Just call me Sherlock.

Regardless of everything else, finding Tibor in the 11th hour before my departure (leaving just enough time for repair work) was clearly my going away present from the City of Philadelphia.  Thanks, Philly.  That was a nice going away gift, even if it kind of was a re-gifting.

Is anyone in the market for a three-speed Ross?

Monday, May 22, 2017

ACOE Campgrounds: Who knew?

If you've been keeping up, you know that the last three places I stayed were ACOE Campgrounds.  If you didn't know or look it up, ACOE stands for Army Corps of Engineers.  Don't feel bad if you didn't know.  The only reason I knew anything about the ACOE was from my previous job, where the Corps was a customer.  Here's a general overview of the ACOE from their website so you don't have to look it up yourself:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approximately 37,000 dedicated Civilians and Soldiers delivering engineering services to customers in more than 130 countries worldwide.

With environmental sustainability as a guiding principle, our disciplined Corps team is working diligently to strengthen our Nation’s security by building and maintaining America’s infrastructure and providing military facilities where our servicemembers train, work and live. We are also researching and developing technology for our war fighters while protecting America’s interests abroad by using our engineering expertise to promote stability and improve quality of life.

We are energizing the economy by dredging America’s waterways to support the movement of critical commodities and providing recreation opportunities at our campgrounds, lakes and marinas.

And by devising hurricane and storm damage reduction infrastructure, we are reducing risks from disasters.

Our men and women are protecting and restoring the Nation’s environment including critical efforts in the Everglades, the Louisiana coast, and along many of our Nation’s major waterways. The Corps is also cleaning sites contaminated with hazardous, toxic or radioactive waste and material in an effort to sustain the environment.

Through deeds, not words, we are BUILDING STRONG.

I knew that they worked on large projects like dredging the Delaware River and building levees in New Orleans, but hadn't realized they also worked on recreational projects, like campgrounds and hiking trails.  I seem to learn something new every day on tour.  Sometimes it's that nipples can chafe right off in the right conditions and sometimes it's that the Army is responsible for hundreds of campgrounds.

I don't know who or where this is.  The ACOE has a ton of free images on their website.  (Credit: ACOE)

Here's the gist with these ACOE spots.  They're a lot like any other regional and state park campgrounds, meaning running water, warm showers, and clearly marked camping spots.  This means that much like most regional and state parks, they cater heavily to RVs.  Regardless of how you feel about RVs, it seems the majority of Americans think camping involves air conditioning and satellite television.  Since these spots cater to RVs, they aren't cheap.  They're about $20 a night, and there aren't discounted rates for tent campers.  These campgrounds appear to be mostly run by volunteer retirees, who, if you remind them of one of their grandkids, they might let you stay a night for free.  Who knows.  Be nice and find out.

In any case, if it wasn't for the ACOE campgrounds, I really would have struggled to find places to camp in the South.  It's not like Wisconsin or Minnesota or Oregon where you can't throw a stick without hitting a state park.  I was happy to have them, but now that I'm done with the South, I'm happy to not need them.  I'm not a huge fan of RVs.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Lions and Spiders and Cares

Day 3 - Sept. 18, 2016 - Foscue Creek > Gunter Hill ACOE

As I lay there in the morning heat, cocooned in my sleeping bag, eyes too tired to open, something about my body felt strange.  It wasn't my joints; they felt just fine considering they'd spent a considerable amount of time riding through rain.  It wasn't my muscles, which after a 70-mile day felt recharged and ready to rock.  It wasn't anything on the inside of my body at all, no, it was the outside.  My lips felt puffy and swollen and my face felt like it was covered in wax.  What the hell was going on?

Confused and concerned, I got out of my tent as quickly as possible and ran up to the bathroom to look in a mirror.  I looked a little greasy, but my lips looked normal sized.  Overall, I looked like I'd just woken up, and that's about it.  I washed my face a few times and I could still feel the thick, viscous oil working its way up out of my pores.  The best I could figure was that the Southern heat and humidity were acting as a supercharged banya, and all the toxins were working their way out of my pores.  It was gross.

After a few face washings, I gave up on feeling clean.  I was beginning to think I was going to need rubbing alcohol or turpentine to get the wax off, and since I had neither, I was going to stop thinking about it.  I had plenty of other things to think about, most important being packing up and taking off.

While cooking some breakfast noodles, the campground hosts dropped by with their guard lion, Rocco.  Rocco was a fierce looking beast with a mighty mane surrounding his majestic face.  Rocco was not an actual lion, but a well groomed Pomeranian with a Serengeti influenced hairdo.  Cuter than an armadillo, that one was.

What wasn't cute was what shot out of the water spigot when I went to fill my platypus bag.  All of the little camp sites had a water pump, and when I raised the handle on mine, the stream of water shot a spider the size of a quarter (and its meal) into my water bag.  I dumped it out, rinsed, and refilled my bag.  While filling, I wondered if my face issues were the result of a late night spider bite.  That could explain wax face, right?  Sure, that's a thing.

It wasn't raining, but there were clouds in the sky.  After the day prior's downpour, I was really hoping they were just shade clouds and not rain clouds.  I had a long day ahead of me, at over 95 miles until I would reach the Gunter Hill ACOE outside of Montgomery, and I would have liked to spend it fairly dry.  I'd already had all the rashes and blisters I could handle.

A few hours into the ride, the clouds were all but gone, leaving the scorching, late-summer sun.  I'd take the mid-90s over rain.  Today, at least.  Maybe I'd be able to sweat out the rest of those waxy toxins.  Maybe I'd end up with the flawless skin of a supermodel.  Maybe I'd end up on the cover of GQ with the headline "Deep South Skin Reconstruction".  Maybe.

I was snapped from my daydreams, quiet literally, but the twang of a spoke.  Staring down at my front wheel, I noticed a slight hop as it rolled down the asphalt.  Dang it.  I pulled off onto a dirt road knowing what needed to be done.  For all the trees I'd ride through on crumbling back roads, there wasn't one to be found along the highway while I pulled off my wheel to replace the broken spoke.  While I dripped sweat standing in the sun, I was thankful to be carrying spare spokes as I had no idea when I'd be rolling past a bike shop again.  A little sweat now was much better than a wheel collapse later.

The cloudless day slowly turned into a crystal clear evening.  I'd mostly been riding on side roads since Selma, and now was in the middle of nowhere again, this time with the Alabama River not too far north of me, lending a bit of coolness to the air.  Fortunately for me, this middle of nowhere also had much better Department of Transportation (MONDOT), with paved roads the whole way.  Also, I loved what the Parks and Rec team had done to create such a peaceful ambience.  The use of explosive lightning storms in the distant northwest to enhance the calm of the clear, still sky directly above?  Brilliant.

MON Electric Co.

It was in the middle of this late night stretch that I experienced an unexpected existential panic that would usually be reserved for the moments just before falling asleep.  What was I doing out here?  I was 35 years old, living off of dwindling savings, and spending my time riding a bicycle through rural Alabama.  What was I thinking?  What was next?  Did I even have a plan?  I mean, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland were obviously next, but what was after that?  What was even the point of being out here in this part of the country, especially when I enjoyed other places so much more?  I could've been up in Alaska or stayed out in Moab.  What about this made any sense?

But then I looked up and saw hundreds of stars and dozens of constellations.  Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper, probably Orion somewhere behind the tree line, low to the horizon.  I liked all of those stars and their named formations.  That's why I was out here.  I liked stars and I liked riding my bicycle under them and I liked riding my bicycle in new places while under the stars and there was going to be plenty of time to not do that when I got back to Philly.  I told myself that I needed to be mindful of the moment.  That worrying about the future was a waste of a perfectly good present that should be enjoyed.  Besides, if I really needed something to worry about, there were still a lot of miles to ride and camps to set up and break down before I reached the real world.  All sorts of things could go wrong before I even got home!  I could get attacked by a pack of dogs, get leprosy from an armadillo, shot at by some Good Ol' Boy that doesn't like my skin tight shorts.  Or get struck by lightning.  There was always lightning.  If anything, those worries were more pressing than those of an intangibly distant future, no matter how close that future felt.

Keeping with the ACOE trend, I reached camp around 11pm to find the whole place sound asleep.  Maybe they weren't actually asleep.  Maybe everyone was just laying in their little RV beds worrying about the future.  They should have come out to see the stars.  Stars know how to make people feel better.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Goodbye, Mississippi. You probably won't be missed.

Day 2 - Sept. 17, 2017 - Twiltley Branch > Foscue Creek ACOE Campground

When I woke up around 8:30, I didn't feel human.  I was a shaky, desiccated husk that could barely move voluntarily.  The reason I woke up was because what little hydration that remained in my body desperately wanted out.  That and because the RV across from my site was having shower door problems.  Apparently only Bob would know how to fix it, so his wife was hollering loudly for his assistance.  I don't know that there are any RVs large enough to necessitate yelling.  I fell back asleep as soon as I could.

When I woke up around 10:30, I felt human enough to roll out of my tent.  Late starts beget late starts, but at least it was going to be a short day at 40 less than the prior.  Being so late in the morning, I was roasting as my tent had already been baking in the sun for a few hours, but I had an escape plan in place.  I'd showered the night prior and had been pleasantly surprised to find the bathroom air conditioned.  After dragging myself out of my tent, I limped my way up to the bathroom where I plopped down on a bench and cooled off for about ten minutes.

Normally, bathroom hangs are not a great plan, but Twiltley had two things going for it: 1) It was practically an RV park.  There were no other tent campers, just RVs, all of which have their own toilets, and 2) The toilets had no seats, just metal bowls.  Since the toilets had no seats and the campers already had their own private facilities, it smelled like no one had used the bathroom in quite some time, meaning a bathroom hang was just fine.  Either that or Twiltley has the best janitorial staff in campground history.

Cooled off and packed up, I slowly rolled through and out of the campground.  I'd come in after the park had closed the night prior, rolling my bike under the gate, and this morning I was confronted with a dilemma.  I could have easily left the park without paying and no one would have been any the wiser, or I could pony up.  I'd already had such a rough start to the tour (skewer, fender, bank, sand, dogs, etc.), was it really worth risking the bad karma to save a few bucks?  I had to decide between saving money and earning imaginary moral points.  I decided on the imaginary currency and rolled up to the payment station.  The decision paid off, as the person working the counter said that this one was on the house since no one had checked me in the night before.  I thanked him and headed on my way.  Day 2 was already looking better.

Aside from starting smoothly, it looked better because I wasn't going to be tackling any side roads today.  I'd be on US-80 most of the day, which, after the nighttime riding of yesterday, I'd gladly take the rumble strips.  Mentally prepared for the rough ride, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the highway was different once I reached Alabama.  No more deep rumble strips, just a wide open shoulder with all the room a cyclist could ever want.  Now if someone could just do something about this humidity...

The humidity from the evening before hadn't cleared out overnight.  Looking at the forecast, it appeared that the remnants of a tropical storm were on their way, which would hopefully clear out the ambient moisture.  As a light drizzle started to fall, I kept my fingers crossed that once the rain stopped, the humidity would disappear with it.

"Be careful what you wish for," said every anthropomorphized ironic twist ever.  I don't know if the humidity ever went down during the day because that light drizzle was just a lead up to a half-day full on downpour.  With how wet I was, I may as well have been riding at the bottom of the ocean.  No worries of humidity, at least.

At least it looks like this after the rain.

About 20 miles outside of Demopolis, AL, the rain finally ceased and the wet roads spread out the setting suns rays in a manner suitable for the Barnes.  I was soaked to the bone, but at least the view was nice.  I don't remember if the rain took the humidity with it, but I do know it took the shoulder away with it.  In place of the shoulder it left an army of frogs, many of which were trying to commit suicide by bike.  The last stretch into Demopolis was a hairy one with its shoulderless frog gauntlet.

Again, the campground was closed by the time I arrived.  It appeared that the ACOE hours were similar to those of an old folks home.  Same clientele, as well.  I walked my bike under the gate and found an unoccupied campground a few sites away from the closest RV.  It was only 10:30pm, but the campground was dead silent, so I unpacked and set up camp as quietly as possible.  While minding my own business and unloading my bike, I heard something rustling in the bushes between my camp and the Black Warrior River just a ways off.  I looked up and saw what appeared to be an opossum.  It was the size of an opossum, moved like an opossum, and was as unafraid of me as any backyard opossum I've ever met.  But something was funny about this opossum; it appeared to be wearing body armor.  An armorpossum.

It wasn't an opossum!  It was an armadillo!  My first armadillo!  Well, my first living armadillo!  I'd seen their corpses all along the Texas highway the weeks of driving prior, but I had yet to see one alive.  This reminded me that I'd seen a lot more giant snakes squished along the side of the road during that day's ride, and I really hoped I wouldn't get to meet a living one of them.  But that reminder was quickly replaced by the fact that a real life armadillo was walking by my camp!  It was awesome!

After my close encounter of the adorable kind (and leprotic), I hit the showers.  I was a damn wreck.  My feet were covered in blistered from moving around so much in wet socks.  My nipples were chafed bloody from rubbing against a wet shirt.  My chest was covered in a rash either from the intense heat of the day or the extended period of wetness.  The relaxing shower I took did little to relieve the grossness.

I crawled into bed feeling better than I had the night before.  Partly due to acclimation, mostly due to the barely 70 mile day.  My body was less achy, and my spirits were much higher.  I really felt like luck was back on my side.  A feeling that was reinforced by the sound of rain drops against my tent only minutes after crawling into bed for the night.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Heading Home: Auspicious Start, Auspicious Middle, Ok End

Day 1 - Sept. 16, 2017 - Jackson, MS > Twiltley Branch ACOE Campground

Knowing the sun would be Southern hot all day long, I set my alarm for bright and early in the hopes of being on the road by 8am.  That would at least buy me a few hours of freedom from the high humidity that set in later in the day, a welcomed reprieve from the 24/7 damp air of the ride down.  Seriously, I have never spent so much time wiping moisture off the screen of my phone on cloudless days than I had on the ride down.  I couldn't control the weather, but I could at least control my schedule, right?

Control is an illusion, people.  I had about as much control over the time I woke up as I did the inbound weather patterns.  Starting an hour and a half late was a problem not just because of the humidity, but also because my next stop was over 100 miles at the Twiltley Brand Campground, north of Meridian, MS on the Okatibbee Lake.  With my pacing issues, a late start on Day 1 meant late starts for the rest of the tour home.  Picking up where I left off...

It was fine, though.  A late start wasn't the end of the world.  Rides usually work out regardless of hits and misses in planning.  After showering up and giving my bicycle a last minute pre-ride once over (that is my new favorite phrase), I said my goodbyes, gave my farewell thank yous, and hit the road.  Late start or not, it was a beautiful day.  The sun was out but not menacing, the morning humidity was low, and I was well rested from staying in bed past my alarm.  It was going to be a good day even if it hadn't started as early as planned.

I'd only barely started the ride (less than 100 ft down the first road of my return tour), when Tibor slammed to a halt.  Lurching forward, I was barely able to keep my balance and dismount.  As I climbed off, dread started to rise.  I'd inspected every bolt on the frame, lubed every moving part, and filled the 700x32 tires to 90psi.  If my bike slammed to a halt like that while on a wide open road, something catastrophic must have happened.  Maybe my frame was cracked and had fallen apart under touring weight.  Maybe a hub failed and my tire slammed into the seat stay.  I held my breath as I inspected the rear of my bike, bracing for the worst...

And the worst was a loose skewer.  Of all the things I'd checked on my bicycle prior to departure, the one thing I hadn't bothered to examin was the tightness of my axle skewers.  I use security enhanced skewers, not quick release, and they must have loosened while barreling down the highway on the way back from Burning Man.  Yeesh.  I felt like an idiot.  I'd overslept and  I'd let a loose skewer nearly knock me off my bike.  If the start was auspicious, it was all on me.  Tightened, I re-hit the road.

Knowing bad things come in threes, I assumed there would be some other problem (self-inflicted or otherwise) before the day was done.  This pessimistic assumption was quickly confirmed by a rubbing sound coming from my front tire.  That skewer was plenty tight, but the fender was plenty loose.  Bouncing around the automobile rippled flats of the Black Rock Desert had demolished the connection points on my front fender, and it was held on precariously at best, with duct tape being the primary connection method.  I'd already hand bent the guide rods so many times they looked like an EKG read-out, and now there was no unbending them off the tire.  I pulled over at an intersection and thought about my options, and as with many unique bicycle problems, zip ties were going to be the solution.  Always carry zip ties, folks.  Between them and duct tape, many problems can be at least reduced if not resolved.  I leaned my bike against a stop sign, fished around in my rear pannier, pulled out some zip ties from my repair kit, fashioned a fix of sorts, and hit the road.  My third setback overcome, I finally felt free to conquer the road.

As a quick aside for anyone that's never been down to Mississippi, a lot of homes have a small pond out front, if not multiple around the property.  Often looking a bit green for a swimming hole, I wasn't quite sure why everyone seemed to have one, as if state mandated.  It was explained to me that prior to running water being plumbed throughout the cities, these ponds were used by the fire departments if they were called to put out a blaze.  All the homes had well water, which is great for personal use, but terrible for battling fires, so ponds were dug out and filled to create aesthetically pleasing emergency preparedness plans.

Maybe don't swim in that.

Back on the road, I still had over 100 miles to go, but at least my bad tidings had come and gone in three and I was safe for the rest of the day.  I'd left my headphones in Moab a few days back, so my first stop was going to be at the first store I found, which happened to be a Dollar General.  As I pulled in and locked up, I realized I'd never put my tool kit away.  It was just sitting on top of my wide open rear pannier.  Crap.  I quickly took inventory of everything in that bag and was happy to find that I'd only lost some zip ties.  Ok.  Maybe this was the real third tiding and sleeping in didn't count since I slept in a lot of times on tour.  For real this time, my third bad thing had now come and gone and I was safe.  Seriously.

A few hours in without any trouble, I still felt safe.  At least from supernatural and other unexplainable phenomena.  I didn't feel super safe from cars.  Most of the ride that day was along US-80, a highway with a shoulder slightly broader than my actual shoulders, half of which's width was deep rutted rumble strips.  If I stayed on the right side of the line, I was safe from cars but would more than occasionally run into the frame pounding strips.  If I stayed to the left of the line, the ride was smooth, but I was assaulted by horn honks from angry motorists.  It wasn't ideal, but the one plus of the highway was that it kept me within reach of civilization, meaning I could stop at a nearby Wal-Mart to replace the crappy dollar store earbuds I'd purchased.  If I was going to be uncomfortable or dead, at least I'd do it while properly enjoying my music.  I hit a small snag when my debit card was declined, but my credit card worked fine.  No big deal.

Continuing on US-80, I had music, a bike without issue, and heat and humidity that were so much more manageable than they had been in July, so I was feeling good.  Good enough to treat myself to a gas station sandwich for lunch just past midday.  Given my day's luck thus far, I probably shouldn't have been tempting the fates with a convenience store pimento cheese sandwich nearing its expiration date, but hey, you only live once.  What was the worst that could happen?  Some roadside barfing?  Raccoons would clear that up ASAP.  While I sat on the raised sidewalk outside of the station, I checked a voicemail that had come in while I'd been riding.  It was my bank.  It all made sense now!  My debit card was declined because I was using it in Mississippi and they forgot I was on vacation!  The fraud prevention system works!

Well, kinda.  The problem wasn't that I was using mine in Mississippi as much as someone was also using it in Florida.  A hundred dollars in fraudulent gas, snacks, and sodas later, my bank froze my account.  Luckily I had some cash on hand, but I wouldn't be getting a new card until I reached South Carolina.  The proletariat never fails to hold itself down.  We keep stealing from each other rather than from those that have far more than they need.  Batman could never exist in real life because Bruce Wayne's parents would never have been walking down that alley.

Ok, so maybe bad things happen in five?  Or maybe it was just one of those days.  I was starting to chalk it up to the latter.  As the evening sun set, a wall of humidity arose in its place.  I remembered that humidity.  Hadn't felt it in a while, but I remembered it.  Fortunately, I was just about to get off of US-80.  If I wasn't going to be comfortable, at least I was going to be safe.  The smooth, empty side-roads were exactly what I needed.  I had both lanes to myself and any approaching cars could be seen minutes before their arrival.

Most importantly, no more ball-busting rumble strips.  Just silky, smooth macadam.  Smooth macadam that eventually turned to rough macadam that was still better than rumble strips.  And then there were some rocks mixed in.  And then the macadam disappeared entirely and the road became just rocks, but still, they were smooth rocks.  And then came my old nemesis... sand.  After a minute of trying to ride on loose sand that had settled at the bottom of a hill, I gave up and found an alternate route that only added a mile or so.  Still better than rumble strips, I think.  Maybe?  That was until the next patch of sand, which, while shorter than the previous, had no alternative route and needed to be powered through.  Oh, and it had dogs.  Lots of dogs.  A lot of rural Mississippi has unleashed dogs running around at night.  This area was no exception.  Luckily, only the barkers seem to be running around late night, not the biters.  Those mutts wouldn't get closer than ten feet away.

I had somehow wound my way out of the grasp of civilization.  I couldn't hear the sound of cars in any direction and the only light shining on my path came from the moon above.  All around me were thick woods, something I didn't expect in Mississippi, and below me was poorly maintained roads itching to knock me off of Tibor.  I saw that a short while after Decatur, MS, I'd reach Route 494, which should provide smooth sailing to Twiltley.  Just needed to get there.

After 494, it was smooth sailing.  With the exception of the giant, headless snake I found at an intersection in Collinsville, MS.  I don't know why there was a 6' long, decapitated constrictor laying on the sidewalk next to a stop sign.  I kept moving.

When I finally arrived at the Twiltley Branch campground, I was exhausted.  It was after 2 in the morning, I'd ridden over 110 miles, and I was in no way prepared to do either that length or duration of a ride.  I had started my ride down from Philly with a poorly planned century, and having not learned from my mistakes, started my ride back with an even worse century.  But at least it was done.  The campground was closed, so I snuck in, found a spot, pitched a tent, showered, and passed out.  Looked like it was going to be another late start tomorrow...

Friday, May 12, 2017

End of the Road, Start of the Road

A few days in Moab, a few days in Denver, and finally back to Jackson, MS.  It was over a month since I'd last set foot in Mississippi, and I was happy to find the climate had changed from intolerably hot and humid to manageably hot and humid.  After the disaster that was the first three days out of Philly back in July, I was really hoping for a much milder riding experience on the way back up.  Relatively, this was much milder.  Like how Mercury has a much milder climate than the surface of the sun.

Aside from the worst heat wave of the summer being long over, the other big thing I had going for me was acclimatization.  By now, I'd spent about two months in sweltering heat and my body had either adjusted accordingly or given up on externally expressing its internal distress entirely.  Whichever was the case, all I knew was that I was looking forward to getting back on the road.  Also, given so much time had passed since leaving Philly, I had all but forgotten about the heat stroke conditions on the way down.  I don't know if that memory was purged intentionally as a form of self-protecting denial or if I'd just sweat it out naturally.

The original plan for the summer was to ride Philly to Asheville to Jackson on the way down, and then Jackson to Columbia, SC to Philly on the way back.  Having been stymied by the heat on the way down, I was only able to see Philly to Asheville on the way down, and even that was mostly at night.  This was not a bad thing, since because of that, the whole way back home was going to be new to me, making the ride all the more exciting.  Well, as exciting as riding in the South in the late summer as a Yank could be, I suppose.  I was going to get a close up look at how the other side of the Mason-Dixon lived.  I'd already been warned about being careful what I wished for.

I use a day off in Jackson to clean and prep, getting my bike and gear ready for the road.  I also used that time to get in one or two or three more homemade Pimento Cheese sandwiches from Miss Anne.  It would have been impossible to starve to death in Jackson.  Sweating to death was a different story. Related but unimportant, my hydration battle seems to be never ending.  If I don't think a lot of water, I feel dried out.  If I drink a lot of water, I pee every half hour.  My body needs to figure out a better way because I'm tired of the constant input/output.

Gear prepped, bike primped, and route planned, I settled in for one last night in a comfortable bed with freezing air conditioning and readily available running water just down the hall.  The closer I get to a departure, the more I remember that I'm going to miss a lot of the things that I normally take for granted.  Small price to pay for the excitement of being on the road.

Shiny = Hot

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Infinite Jest: Ain't that some BS

After almost two years of on and off reading, I finally finished Infinite Jest.  The first 400 pages were what took the most time, with sprawling world and character development that tried its hardest to shake my interest, resulting in multiple other books being read along the way.  But somewhere around that 40% mark, the story took off and really sucked me into the book's alternate reality.  The last week of the book was spent reading my days away with wide eyed intrigue at how this colossus of a story was going to wrap up.  With so many open ended storylines and less than one hundred pages to go, I knew I was in for a whirlwind finale.  And now that I've finally finished those last few pages, I can soundly say that Infinite Jest was possibly the most unsatisfying books I've ever read.  Rarely will I say this about a book, but I almost wish that I had never picked it up.

In summary...

There are thousands of reviews and critiques of this book.  It's been hailed as post modern genius and it's been derided as a liberal arts love note to AA.  In the foreword, David Eggers calls it, "drum tight and relentlessly smart," but others may be more inclined to call it braggadociously verbose and heavy handed.  This book, like all books, is open to subjective discourse, so as a brief nod to DFW, you can, like, think whatever you want.  Personally, I think that this book doesn't goddamn end, so I don't really care how masterfully crafted, intelligently insightful, or imaginatively told it is if it's not a finished product.  If a story can't be wrapped up in 1,100 pages, just keep writing and I'll read it once it's complete.  What's another 200 pages?

Before continuing down that path, I just want to say that I can see what critics and literarians love(d) about this book.  DFW is an amazing writer.  The world development that managed to be both expansive and fine-grained, the floating narration with character dependent affects, the exciting and interesting storylines, the introspection and thoughtfulness, the waits and reveals, the character development both forwards and backwards.  It pulled me in and I loved it.  I was so invested in the lives of these people that I wanted nothing more than to see how their intertwined follies wrapped up in a messy little bow.

But being pulled so deeply into the story and its players made the non-ending all the more aggravating.  Why spend so much time building this world and narrative to just seemingly stop mid story?  Is that the joke?  Is the joke on me for reading for so long?  For the sake of those that can't be dissuaded from making the time investment, I'm going to put my list of dangling thread gripes in a white font, so if you want spoilers, just highlight the space that appears empty below:

  • Gately - He's in his hospital bed, as physically incapacitated as he had been at the end of the dilaudid binge that resulted in Fax's death (presumably in a horrific manner), suffering through a clear message of damned if you do/if you don't.  But that message seems to have been pretty clear throughout the whole book.  Why not end on a stronger message or at least with some sort of character closure?

  • Hal - He's losing his mind on his way back to the Y.G., with an unsubtle message around drugs not being bad for everyone, and in some cases, a life/mind saver.  Why don't we get to see the climactic shift?  I would've loved to hear in Hal's words, not in my own.

  • JVD - Were the lights a reference to an Ennet Houser accidentally finding the Entertainment and then wiping out the whole house?  Same goes for Gentle, Tine, and crew.  Was that final viewing infiltrated?

  • Marathe/Steeply - So... not wrapping that up in any way?  No one is going after the casket?

  • Mad Stork/Wraith - Why introduce the wraith so late in the book to then never really use him again?

  • Darkness - Was he the telepath moving things around?

  • E.T.A. - Was there a mass murder at that final hob knob soiree?

  • The Entertainment - I like that the Entertainment wasn't explored too deeply, but I would've really loved to see some sort of personality type that was immune.  My assumption was that the clinically depressed would be safe from it, and that would be some sort of reveal.  I guess the Entertainment was just another form of addiction.  Oh well.

  • Orin - Should I be surprised that the only character to receive proper closure is Orin?  What could have been more cathartic to DFW than to horrifically murder the symbolic manifestation of every character trait he so deeply loathed in another person (assumption on my part)?  Just try and kick your way out of that one, O.  That turn was about as blunt as renaming North America to O.N.A.N.

  • Misc. - There were more open threads, like Pemulis' future, the Mario/C.T. reveal that went unexplored, John Wayne, Stice's forehead/face skin in relation to telekinesis, and more, but I think I hit the big ones.  

Maybe the joke wasn't on me.  Maybe the joke was on an entire industry and I just happened to be a casual bystander turned collateral damage.  Maybe DFW tricked the entire publishing and literature industry, spending a decade laughing as they paraded down the street naked in the finery, bragging about their understanding of the unfinished garment.  I don't know.  Maybe I just don't get it and should keep re-reading it until I get it.  I'm not going to do that.  If you get it, don't explain it to me.  I'm done with this book.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Generation CD

As my move date approaches, I'm steadily working my way through all of the things I don't want to waste gas money on by letting it drag down my gas mileage crossing the country.  The current stop on this disposal voyage is one that most people my age will eventually slam their memory cruise liner into, my CD collection.  Music CDs, computer CDs, burned CDs, you name it CDs that've been accrued since the mid 90's.  We're talking a milk crate, multiple binders, and a couple spindles, some of which have been moving with me, others have been stored in my mom's basement along with boxes of books that are next on the list.  And if I weren't moving at the end of the month, you'd better believe none of them would've ever been tossed.

Aside from the move in general, the main impetus for this mass CD disposal, really, was the desire to not be hypocritical.  I'm currently in the process of helping my mother shed a large quantity of what I would consider garbage from her house.  My childhood home has an unnatural density which has resulted in old clothing, unsorted boxes, and other unwanted odds and ends being unable to escape it's overwhelming gravity.  Once I'm out of Philly, anything I've left at that house will more or less join the abandoned ranks of my childhood tighty whities and broken tennis racquets.  If I were to depart without getting rid of those CDs, I would only be helping to increase the total mass of that black hole, which would make me a total poser jerk.

It took a little over a week to sort and rip/toss the CDs.  It was a simple, mindless task, and I should have done it years ago, rather than drag that crate and those books of CDs from apartment to apartment for the past decade and a half.  So why hadn't I?  Prior to starting, I couldn't tell you, but after getting only a few dusty CDs in, I can without a doubt say it was for the exact same reason there were unmarked cardboard boxes lining the wall of my mom's garage.

As a child, I first listened to cassettes.  Those cassettes still live under a bed.  As an adult, I listen to digital music.  Those files litter my phone.  But in my formative years spanning those years between, the ones where music leaves indelible marks of meaning throughout ones memory, compact discs were king.  The reign of the CD as the dominant form of media distribution overlaps perfectly with the years in which I was a pop culture vacuum, so it seems reasonable to assume that the medium became just as important as the message in my brain's heart.  Really, why else would I have a pristine copy of Spacehog's Resident Alien?  Spacehog just happened to come along at a time when personal meaning was being assigned indiscriminately at an overwhelming rate in an attempt to form some sort of personal identity and sense of self.  Related, I just found out that Spacehog's lead singer/bass player (Royston Langdon) was formerly married to Liv Tyler, and I cared far more about that fact than I imagined possible, which is to say, at all.

This was a thing (Photo Taken from Zimbio)

Years later, I now have these boxes and books full of CDs, but they're not CDs, they're little scratched up memories that mean more symbolically than physically.  They're my damn boxes, and they need to go.  Regardless of the space they take in the basement, they take up way too much emotional memory if I'm not able to just throw them out without thinking about it.  I am not the physical manifestations of memories!  Better than Ezra should have been gone out with the Buzz Bin, not somehow taken up permanent residence.  Ugh, I can't imagine the amount of weight these CDs would have carried by the time I reached my 50's.  We have the tendency to polish memory turds, and I never want to be a septuagenarian that looks backed embarrassedly on the years when I went through that late-1990's in the early-2030's phase.  I do not need fuel for the midlife crisis that will later fuel my late-life crisis.

Ok, I can't let go of this Spacehog thing.  I just found a superb video of their performance on Letterman in 2006, so click on that link, watch it, then come back to this paragraph.  Let's walk through this for a moment.  First off, Letterman's staff must throw out more CDs in a week than I could throw out in a lifetime, 2) that look on the guitarist's face during the intro, 3) those pants, 4) still those pants, 5) those smug face ooooohs, 6) vocal vibrato, so much vocal vibrato, 7) work must have gone into the studio version because his voice is sounding strained (still infinitely better than Dexter Holland live), 8) just realized the other guitarist is wearing a sheer, collared shirt, 9) that drummer is going ape shit, good for him.  Who'd have thought they'd be one hit wonders?  Here, cleanse your Network TV-based aural palette with Sabotage on Letterman in 1994.  Or Rage on SNL.

Anyway, this purge already has me feeling lighter as the possessions that once weighed me down are now weighing down future generations while they resist biodegradation at the bottom of a Philadelphia landfill.  In the meantime, there's going to be a bunch of free CDs on my porch for the next few weeks, so feel free to stop by and grab a couple discs.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Leaving the Desert to go to the Desert

After two and a half weeks in the Black Rock Desert, it was time to get back on the road.  The airport was all but gone and so were most of the people that had worked there.  In a few days, nothing would remain except for tire tracks and post holes that would be swept away by the wind or filled in by the dust.  That and the giant fenced in perimeter surrounding the entire event.  The DPW folks would be cleaning up for a few more weeks, and that fence wasn't coming down until all loose debris had been secured.  I'm not sure how a corporation like Burning Man is able to convince people to stay and work (more or less) for free in the blazing sun for weeks after the event ends.  It's kind of a cult like that.

My cultish obligations were over for the year, though, so I was free to do as I pleased.  What I pleased to do was return to Utah as quickly as possible for a few more days in the canyons before taking the truck and trailer back to Mississippi.  I still had over 1,300 cycling miles between Jackson and Philadelphia, so while I wasn't in any position to dawdle.  Buuuuut... when you're in that part of the country with an air conditioned truck, you should really take advantage of the situation.  I knew I was going to have to be efficient with my time, so the first thing I did was head west.

Just west of Reno, in the opposite direction of Moab and Mississippi, is one of my favorite vistas in the entire country.  I'd say world, except I've seen more of a percentage of the US than of the world so country carries a bit more weight relatively.  The first time I'd seen it, I was on my bicycle sick as a dog, with gravelly lymph nodes, and a brain swimming in DayQuil.  The second time I'd seen it, I was in the passenger seat of a dusty minivan with the check engine light shining bright on the dash.  This time I was going to see it with a properly functioning body in a properly functioning vehicle, the most ironic way to view the home of one of the most dysfunctional stories of the frontier days.  I'm talking about the Donner Memorial State Park, named for the om nom Donner Party.

A gorgeous spot for a picnic.

The Donner Pass summit sits around 7,000', overlooking Donner Lake and the sometimes green, sometimes brown, always steep walls of the Sierra Nevadas.  There's a little parking lot just beneath the top, and to be able to sit there for a while just looking off into the eastern distance is easily worth the fifty or so miles it adds in each direction.  My good idea for the day was to leave the trailer I'd been hauling back at my hotel parking lot outside of Reno.  Ok, Donner Summit was complete.  No more distractions.

Buuuuut... Nevada is pretty nice when the sun is setting.  To just drive through without stopping to take it all in really seems like at the least a bad idea and at the worst completely sacrilege in a Mother Gaia kind of way.  Did I really need to get back to the concrete of Philadelphia that quickly?

I couldn't not stop, you know?

No.  No, I didn't.  Also, the human bladder can only hold so much fluid, so I had to stop any way, and I may as well stretch the old legs out and take some pictures, right?  Yeah, that's right.  The above photo is what a lot of Nevada looks like.  If you've ever wondered what the bottom of the ocean would look like if it was all dried out and the dead fish all removed, there you go.  Nevada.

It was getting late (nothing to do with the detours), so I pulled off on a big, roadside turnout for the night.  There is no shortage of places to pull a car off the road for a nap in Nevada.  It is not a heavily populated state, and most of the pop density is focused in and around the gambling towns, of which I was nowhere near any.  I was mostly near scorpions and camel spiders, and they took up very little space.  At least after a nice long nap I'd be refreshed and ready to drive the rest of the way to Moab without any distractions.

Well, almost all of the way.  You see, the last time I was in Utah, there was a site I really wanted to visit, but it had been raining on the day I was nearby the aforementioned, unnamed site, and it's not really the place to visit in the rain.  Aside from the roads becoming impassable and walking paths unwalkable, the main fun of this place is that it's full of climbable hoodoos that were carved out of the ocean floor millennia ago, if you believe the Earth is that old.  And said hoodoos are impossible to scale the moment they get even slightly damp, the fine dirt that's ever present turning into a viscous, earthy shortening.  Terrible for walking, terrible for cooking.  But it was nice now, sooo... probably should stop for a while.

This is a place.

Well, that was nice.  Crystal clear day and only one other car parked in the lot.  And I only almost got myself into inescapable danger once.  Good for you, sir.  And now that the final (I swear) detour had be taken, I would be in Moab by the evening, meaning time to grab some beers at City Market before settling in for a night of jigsaw puzzling.  All I had to do was just make sure I didn't get distracted and stop somewhere along the way...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Tibor Dreams or Remote Viewing: You Tell Me

It's been almost seven months since Tibor, my city bike, was stolen during a brief visit to Northern Liberties.  Since then, I've moved through the seven phases of grief pretty quickly, lingering on anger for the longest (and most creatively, as I had caught and forced penance upon the thief many times over and in many different ways in the perfect justice system of my mind), but given enough time and a dirt cheap replacement bike, I've gotten over it.  The theft didn't really hit me in the pocket, just in my bike heart.  Tibor was a bit of a Frankenbike, having been fixed up and decorated over the years, not a financial investment.  If anything, it was an emotional theft, as I'd been riding him for over a decade.  The hardest part for me to get over was the fact that he is likely sitting in a scrap yard currently, as even a pawn shop would have trouble moving him (he has a crank arm that falls off every ten miles that I was eventually going to fix but it was fine for my needs and I usually just carried a 10mm hex wrench to fix it on the go).

What kind of Kenzo junkie monster would steal that bike?

Months had gone by, life had settled back into place, and Tibor thoughts had faded into the background.  I had finally settled into the Seventh Phase.  Good for me.  And then last week I had a freakin' dream that I found Tibor just leaning unlocked against a bike rack in the city.  Actually, I think it was down on Kelly Drive, just west of the Falls Bridge, except in the dream the Falls Bridge was in the city.  I grabbed Tibor and rode off reunited into a sunny day, but then I woke up and Tibor was gone again.  It was an unexpected dream, but I shrugged it off.  Dreamland is where the subconscious deals with the deals that are still undealt with, so I clearly had some unresolved feelings buried beneath the topsoil of my mind even if I couldn't see them under the vegetation.  If anything, that was probably the dream that would clear my mind of the remaining Tibor cobwebs that still hung in the corners.  Cool.  Not the best dream, but not the worst.  When I was little I had a dream that a large fish kept leaping up from the ground and trying to swallow my arm whole.  I'd shake it off and it would keep leaping back up, its mouth sliding all the way up to my shoulder.  That dream is still the worst.  Close second is the one where the big orange monster from Looney Toons was chasing me around my house.

Figuring my Tibor trauma had finally been resolved, I was surprised to then have another Tibor dream only a few days later (a few days ago).  What was going on?  I hadn't given a single conscious thought to Tibor (other than the ones prompted by the previous dream) for months.  Why was I having another dream about him?  I was flummoxed and looking up pro bono therapists when I stumbled upon a possible answer.  

There's a podcast I listen to now and again called Astonishing Legends.  I love supernatural tales, especially when told in a non-fiction format, as this allows me to properly suspend my disbelief.  A suspension which has provided plenty of terror over the years.  Thanks, Fire in the Sky.  Don't let children watch that movie.  And don't let them listen to Whitley Strieber's Majestic on cassette in the middle of the night at Boy Scout Camp.  I still don't know how I've never been abducted by aliens.

Anyway, Astonishing Legends did an episode back in April about Remote Viewing, and I finally got around to listening to it just the other day.  I listen to a lot of podcasts and it had slipped down the priority list, so the delay wasn't a reflection of interest level.  Remote Viewing is a fairly hip paranormal phenomenon that has found its way into pop culture whether you know it or not.  There are books about it, movies based on books, and it's how Eleven spies on Russians (and finds terrifying creatures) in Stranger Things.  Those pop references are mostly based on the Stargate Project, a declassified CIA study in the use of the phenomenon for spying purposes.  Briefly, Remote Viewing is exactly what it sounds like, a way to look places where you're physically incapable of looking, usually over far distances.  This is done while in a meditative or hypnotic state with the help of guiding questions.  While the exact mechanism isn't really understood, it could have something to do with the Jungian Collective Consciousness or just that all matter/energy in the universe is interconnected by way of its humble beginning as an ultra dense mass that exploded outwards making all of us.  Or maybe it's just the result of people wanting to believe in something so much that mind overtook matter.  Or maybe it's all a hoax.

In this episode, the AL guys talk to Lori Williams, a renowned Remote Viewer that teaches classes on Viewing and has done private work for companies all around the world.  While talking about the basics of RV and how it's used to find missing people or understand unexplained events (the episode focused on its use in determining what happened to Flight 19), it occurred to me that maybe my dreams about Tibor weren't actually dreams, but remote views into his current whereabouts.  Hear me out on this...  the gist of RV is that it creates a bridge between your conscious and subconscious, and while bridged your conscious mind can tap into this universal information that the subconscious can always access.  Normally the Collective Consciousness would blow your mind to pieces, so the subconscious acts as a buffer, but in the hypnotic state, the buffer leaks a bit and your conscious mind can sneak some peeks.  Going from there, when else do the conscious and subconscious minds intermingle like that?  Oh, I don't know... maybe when we're asleep?  I don't think it takes too much of a leap of faith to say with complete confidence in science that this clearly points to my dreams being direct visions into the location of my missing bike and has nothing to do with unresolved feelings regarding its theft and the sense of personal invasion and vulnerability that all theft leaves us feeling.

That said, if everyone can just keep their eye out for my bike and when they see it be sure to maybe put up some sort of subconscious red flag for me so I can find it at night while I'm sleeping, that would be just great.  Include as many landmarks as possible in the surrounding area and try to not cloud the memory with symbolic representations of childhood traumas as I will not be able to find that tree from back home in Tennessee where you and your brother hid while your parents fought after pappy drank too much because the factory laid him off (for his drinking) when I'm looking around in Kensington.  Real trees only, no symbolic trees.  Thanks!