Sunday, February 11, 2007

Florida Pictures

Here are the pictures from the final leg of our trip:

St. Augustine - Key West


Friday, December 15, 2006

6,813 Down, 0 to go

Mile Post Zero, Key West, Florida.

Yesterday afternoon, at about 1pm EST, Jon Natkin and I pulled into Key West, reaching a location on the map that has dominated our thinking for the past 6 months. I'm truly amazed that we made it this far, it seems like only yesterday I was sitting in the parking lot of Wilson Backcountry Sports, hopelessly trying to reassemble my bicycle and attach my front rack (the instructions were ridiculously oversimplified, it essentially said "attach rack" as it's one and only step). Now, some three and a half months past our start date, we are sitting at the southernmost point in the continental US, succesfully raising a smidge over $8,000 for Reach Out and Read.

While I am overjoyed that I have arrived safely, my heart is heavy that my adventure is coming to a close. With horror, it has dawned on me that my daily diet of 3 snickers bars, 2 cokes, and a pound of cheese will probably not fly in the real world (unless I want take on the likeness of a bloated elephant seal), and that my diet that every five year old dreams of will be replaced by one replete with vegetables and whole grains (at least, that's the plan, we''ll see what actually happens).

Throughout the last day, images of past experiences continually have been perculating in my mind. Burned in my soul are the prints of what we witnessed: the desert sky, ablaze with fiery and intense tones of indigo and gold as the encroaching night quarrelled with the setting sun, or the tired eyes of our West Texas hosts as they talked about the way things were.

Tomorrow I'll be home, in the loving embrace of my sweetheart. The trip is over for me. But it will live forever in my heart as one of the most important experiences of my life.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Milepost 106

Key Largo, FL

We have jettisoned the mainland in favor of the more laid back, caribe attitude of the Florida Keys. While island life is intoxicating, the slow down tick of mileage posts as we approach Key West are a sobering reminder that our heady days of adventure will soon come to an end.

Yesterday, we made our final right hand turn, heading westward once again, causing me to reflect fondly on my time in the saddle. While I started out on the trip intending to ponder the hazy nature of what it is I want out of this crazy thing called life, I have found that those questions remained relativeliy imponderable, and instead I have enjoyed the scenery as it rolled idly by. The joys of the road are astonishing in their utter simplicity. A clean public restroom, and a shower, taken for granted in every day life, are causes for jubilation while on the road. Every day I have been reminded that life's true pleasures come not from the complex machinations of modern society, but from the warmth of a stranger's welcoming smile or a hot meal at the end of a long day's ride.

This is not to say that I'm not excited to return home. I miss my girlfriend and family dearly, and look forward to our reunion. I only hope that I am able to carry in my soul the lessons of simplicity which I have learned on the road.


We're in the News!! Again!!


The New Haven Register has written an extremely kind and somewhat flattering article about Mr. Natkin and myself. Click on the above link to check it out!


Monday, December 04, 2006

New Shots

Check out our new Shots from Pensacola to High Springs, FL

Full Metal Natkin

New England suburbanites are generally not know for their prowess with firearms. In fact, generally we have had very little contact with the things. So when we entered the south, Jon and I began to fantasize about going shootin'.

At first, we attempted to get adopted by a hunter in Texas. Whenever someone in camo would talk to us, we would casually lament how it was difficult for us to go hunting as we couldn't carry a rifle across state lines (as if either of us had even owned a rifle). Another tactic, when someone told us he was "out in the sticks," to hunt, was to say, in a very sad voice, "oh, we've never been hunting before," and hope that the dumbstruck Texan would load us into his truck for an afternoon of siiting in the woods with guns.

After many failed attempts, we were finally told why no one would bend to take us out. In Texas, there is no such thing as public land. Individuals had purchased huge tracts of turf, fenced it off, and charged normal folks upwards of $300/ day to shoot things. As Jon and I had no desire to spend that much money to go shoot a cute little deer, (we prefered to do it for free) we quickly abandoned our hunting dreams.

So we continued our ramble across the southland, occasionally being buzzed by a pickup truck with guns in the window, or hearing the sound of gunfire off in the woods (more common than you would think), causing our desire to feel the cold steel of a firearm in our hands to grow. As we apporached Florida, Jon began to talk of his Appalachian Trail friend, Ninja (his trail name), a North Florida native and hard core libertarian who was studying criminology at FSU. Now, to me, the equation of southern native+libertarian worldview equalled only one thing - gun owner. With this knowledge, we quickly began pondering how we would convince Ninja to take us out for a fun filled day of shooting paper targets.

As it turned out, convincing Ninja to take us out shooting was a whole lot easier than we had anticipated. I simply asked "How many guns do you own?" to which he replied "8." I followed that question up with, "can we shoot them?" To my heart's delight, the answer to this question was, "of course!"

Moments later, we were off to the Tallahassee shooting range, blowing away pictures of Osama Bin Laden with glee.

Bird Slayer

(In response to Natkin's post)

At least I don't run them over, BIRD KILLER!!!!

And in my defense, it isn't quite mace, as it is labelled "irritating spray," rather than "extremely hurtful pain-fest," and I only called one barking dog, before I knew of the full power of the weapon.

So quit your yammering before I mace you!!! (just kidding, of course)


Exploits of a Puppy Macer

For all of my life I have enjoyed the companionships of dogs. They are so cute and cuddly. However, for some reason, dogs seem to hate bicycles. Every time that we ride by a house with dogs, they bark and chase us. My heart skips a beat as I glance over hoping to see a fence or leash restraining the animal. More than a few lack such devices. You would think that we could just out run them. But our bikes our heavy and don't move that quickly, especially if the dog strikes on an uphill. Sometimes we yell out commands such as "Stop!" and "Bad Dog!" I have found that the most effective deterent is my most fierce bark or growl in return. This will usually get them to stop and turn back.
All this has changed recently. Erik has purchased some puppy mace, commercially known by the more genial name of "HALT." In his first attempt at using this spray, he almost fell off his bike. He has since refined his technique. No longer does he fear the barking beasts. Erik now slows his bike and calls the dog to him. He then aims his spray at the dogs face and laughs his full belly laugh as the puppy retreats a few feet before falling to the ground. Not knowing what hit him, the innocent little pup buries its face in the ground trying to rid itself of its burning eyes. We believe that the pepper based spray wears off after short time but have never stuck around to see. For now word seems to be spreading among the canine community to beware of the two wheeled blinder out travelling the roads of Florida.

Friendship Cake!!

When I first set out on this trip, my one worry was that I was going to run into a bunch of psychopaths as we moved from campground to campground. It seems that everywhere you look, you see stories stoking the public's furnace of fear, spreading the notion that our nation is a deeply divided and troubled place. With all that is supposedly wrong with the world, it is surprising anyone gets out of the house.

One of the beauties of travelling the country by bicycle is that you are completely dependent on the goodwill and kindness of those around you. Exposed to the nation, Jon and I have had the pleasure to have our guards melted by the amazing people we have met along the way.

If you want to read some stories of a couple of truly great peole we have met, please follow these links:

Shawne and Jodie:

Rachel and Chris

Friday, December 01, 2006

Mississippi Tango, Continued

(Continuation of The Whiskey Tango Bridge post below, mom, avert your eyes)

Now, judging from the run down state of the pickup, and the whooping nature of the fellows we were about to ride with, I should have heard that small voice inside of me telling me that maybe I should wait for another, saner looking ride to appear. However, any sense of self preservation which I may have posessed was blinded by the idea of fried turkey, so Jon and I heaved our gear into the bed of the truck, delicately packing it around welding equipment which seemingly had been left to the elements for years, and hopped into the cab of the truck. As we settled in for what we presumed to be a quick trip over the big muddy, our soon to be guides rushed out of the service station, carrying what appeared to be half of the store's supply of liquor. "Well these guys really like to do it up on Thanksgiving," I thought as they squeezed into the truck, fired up the engine, and roared out of the parking lot at what seemed like 80 mph.

Much to my chagrin, as soon as we had departed the safety of the gas station, the passenger, Mike, was opening a bottle of Grey Goose vodka and mixing an enormous red bull drink, which he immediately passed to the driver (we'll just call him Luke) to see if he approved of its strength. "Dats a good," he growled at his friend as he opened his large bottle of smirnoff ice and accelerated to 90 miles an hour, "dat's a real good." We started to ascend the bridge, our new companions whooping and hollering about how insane we were to ride our bikes all the way from Wyoming, and looked out over the wide expanse of the waterway which drains America. "Dassa Mississippi river!! Biggest river in the World!!" Screamed Luke (I was in no mood to correct him on that point). At this point, Jon made the mistake of mentioning how happy he was to see the Mighty Mississip, causing Luke to look back at us and drawl, "You wanna see the Mississippi?? I'll show you the MISSISSIPPI!!! It won't take butta sec!!"

When we reached the other side of the bridge, Luke and Mike took a break from screaming the word Mississippi, and instead pointed to a set of tire tracks ripping across the grassy median strip. They talked excitedly in a deep southern drawl about something about a police car, traffic and him going airborne across the road. "Holy shit," I thought, "we are definitely going to die." But before I could even make sense of what was occuring, Luke screamed around around a corner, reversing our direction. and roared back towards the bridge we had just crossed. Again we passed by the deep grooves in the grass, and I was able to gather that the previous night (or week, not quite sure), Luke had been tearing ass across the bridge (much like he was on this day), and suddenly came upon a line of traffic. Seeing as he had brakes which were "a little bit sketchy" (as in not really working), he was forced to swerve around a police car, jump the median, and skid to a stop on the opposite side of the highway. Jon and I exchanged looks of extreme distress as we heard this story, and sheepishly asked about the current condition of his brakes. "They'all good now," said Mike, "but dontcha worry, he used to be a dirt track racer!!" With this information, I began to frantically search for the seat beat buckle, only to find that it was buried deeply in the seat and irretrievable (obviously).

Once back on the western side (aka the side WITHOUT the fried turkey) of the river, Luke turned the car hard to the right, abandoning the road in favor of the scrubland leading towards the water. He deftly manuevered the truck up over the concrete embankment which keeps the Mississippi from flooding the area, and plowed through the marshy terrain towards the banks of the river. For a breif moment, I was convinced that we were actually going to drive into the water, but our intrepid guide stopped just short, took a large slug of his drink and jumped out of the truck. "Thissa the MISSISSIPPI," they all screamed, "you wanna go for a swim?" Thinking the idea of swimming in the nation's Toxic runoff might be hazardous to our health, we passed on his kind offer, instead insisting that we had to get to dinner (we would have really like to run away screaming at this point, but since our gear was trapped in the back of the truck, this was not an option).

Back into the truck we piled, and I resumed my desperate search for the seat belt as we jostled through the swamp back towards the road. At this point, Mike and Luke had decided that they were fond of us, and would drive us all the way to our final destination, and peeled out for the southern entrance to the city, the I-10 bridge. Driving southward, Luke got kicks in scaring the crap out of us by driving with only his elbow while he looked back at us to carry on the coversation. "THE ROAD THE ROAD!!!" I kept on screaming (inwardly, there was no way I was going to tell this guy how to drive) everytime he peered back into the cab of the truck. But luckily, we got close enough to where we were going that I could tell him to drop us off.

Once we were safely out of the truck, we said our goodbyes, and chalked up another fantastic adventure (albeit scary as hell).


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Austin to Pensacola Pictures

More Pictures

The Whisky Tango Bridge

So much to say, and so little time with which to say it. Unfortunately, we have been unable to update the site recently, as the past two weeks have been marked by incredible distances travelled and an astonishing lack of libraries (it seems that eastern Louisiana and Mississippi do not believe in them). So I will fill you in on some of the choicest morsels of our recent experiences (moms, if you wish to not worry too much, I would advise skipping this post, Jon is also adding some nice pictures which you can look at!).

The situation was this: we needed to eat Thanksgiving dinner, as I can think of no greater travesty than two cyclists, whose favorite activity is the mass consumption of calories, missing the greatest eating holiday of them all. The problem was that the one location where we could possibly join in this holy day of turkey and football was located in Baton Rouge, LA, 500 miles east of our location in Austin, TX. In Baton Rouge lay the promised land. A good friend Matt had kindly invited us to his family's giant Thanksgiving reunion, where there would be not one, but TWO fried turkeys and one baked turkey, there was no way we were going to miss this.

The day was Saturday, giving us 5 and one half days we could use to get there. With this knowledge, we immediately set forth to squander one day by sitting on our butts watching the Ohio State - Michigan football game and going to a movie (Borat, funny as hell and quite possibly the most offensive movie of all time). Thinking "No Problem!! We can easily peddle 500 miles in 4 and 1/2 days! (proving that the one thing Colby really taught me was how to be an excellent procrastinator).

The following morning, at the crack of dawn, we rode eastward. The wind, having turned against us in Alpine, remained its conspiratorial self and continued to blow in our faces the entire time, whispering its morale depleting whine into our ears (thank god for the Ipod, that wondrous invention which helps mask that sound). The following four days were draining, and at times I had my doubts, but by Thanksgiving Eve, we had made it to Opelousas, LA some 50 miles west of Baton Rouge. After setting up camp, I left jon to his Ramen noodle dinner and set out to find some Crawfish Etouffee (he had had his fill of cajun food that day, we had stopped in a wondrous little town called Mamou in the heart of Acadiana country and eaten a feast of Alligator Po-Boys, Crawfish Pies, and gumbo at a local restaurant called Frenchie's, plus we had spent most of the morning consuming Boudin sausage at every gas station we encountered). Luckily, I came across a small place called the Palace Diner, a small joint straight out of the fifties located on a side street under a lone street lamp. As I ordered my food, I got to talking with the owner of the establishment, a stalky cajun in a plaid shirt, about our journey and the road ahead. We were planning on taking highway 190 (essentially the old east-west road across the state before highway 10 was built) straight from Old Opelousas across the Atchafalya and Mississippi Rivers into Baton Rouge. When I told him of this plan, he shook his head and offered me a free slice of Pecan Pie. "That's crazy" he said, "there's a good shoulder most of the way, but there are two bridges you'd have to cross that don't have nuthin' and the speed limits' 65, I wouldn't ride my bike across 'em."

"Huh," I mumbled, "well is there another way into the city?" I asked. "Not if yo wanna get there for dinner." he replied, "But you can probably hitch a ride with a pickup across the bridges no problem, as there be fillin' stations before 'em both." Armed with this knowledge, I thanked the gentleman, drained the rest of my lemonade, and rushed off to inform Jon of this new obstacle in our path.

The following morning, we again shoved of early, with visions of fried turkey skin dancing in our heads. Before reaching the Atchafalaya, we easily hitched a ride with a 50 year old mustached contractor who grumbled constantly about his wife's inability to remember how many cans of chicken broth she needed for thanksgiving dinner. We laughed heartily at his stories, and soon enough were dropped off on the other side of the bridge. He wished us well, and sped off to collect more cans of broth.

After another 30 miles of relatively easy peddling, we saw the great red steel expanse of the Mississippi river bridge before us, and again pulled into a filling station to look miserable and beg a ride from a pickup truck. At first, we were doubtful if we would be successful in our efforts, and sat sadly on on the curb eating a Little Debbie's oatmeal creme pie (delicious cycling power food). Just as we were about to give up hope and were going to take our chances riding over the bridge, into the station screamed a multi colored pickup truck, three guys, one of them strangely resembling Cool Hand Luke, the famous rambler played by Paul Newman in the movie, jumped out and ambled towards the store entrance.

I approached and asked if we could bum a ride over the bridge, and before I could even finish my sentence, the guy flashed a sly smile, and in the thickest Cajun accent I have ever heard, said "Load 'er up!!!"

to be continued..........

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Las Cruces to Austin Pictures

More Pictures

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Press Coverage

We have recently received some press coverage. Bill Sontag from Southwest Texas Live has written a nice article:

Bicyclists reaching, encouraging children to read

Our visit to a Flagstaff, AZ Reach Out and Read clinic was also in the local paper. There was also a story in the Jackson Hole News and Guide just before we started the trip. Unfortunately neither of these can be found online.

Junkyard Cowboys

As a New England native, my perception of West Texas has always been of a wild and free land, filled with various ruffians and colorful individuals living on the open range of an America long forgotten. I had no idea that my preconceptions were so accurate and inaccurate at the same time.

Our tale of Texan intrigue and excitement actually began outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico, where Jon and I were riding through Pecan country, desperately searching for a sweet delicious pecan pie to satiate our growling tummies. While wandering the back roads of an orchard, following signs towards a promising lead on said pies, we ran into an interesting cat named Ray. He chatted us up about our trip, and informed us of his two "hippy" friends in Alpine, TX, who would gladly put us up when we went through. Always eager to meet like minded individuals, we gladly accepted the phone number, and continued on our way towards El Paso. (also, we never did find a tasty pecan pie, as the sign lied to us about the orchard's business hours, causing much sadness, but it only means that we will have to consume two pecan pies when we get to Louisiana).

A few days later, we contacted Jon and Beverly, and confirmed that they 1) indeed had a place for us stay and 2) were not insane. Passing these two important tests (I later found out that I would need a new method of ascertaining the latter), we got directions and told them we would be there soon.

Rolling through Alpine, in search of our host's abode, we quickly left behind the town and entered the trailer park section of the area. Shortly thereafter, the trailer parks began to fade away and we were confronted with what appeared to be a junkyard. Decades old trucks, which resembled rusted relics of Kerouac's rides in On The Road, littered the desert; old and dusty RV's were strewn about, giving the place the feel of a crazy, modern pioneers camp, encircled to protect against society's onslaught of judgment. At first, we thought we had been led astray, but with a sense of trepidation we looked at the number on the side of the creaky and malformed mailbox, and realized that what seemed like the place old scrap heaps came to die was in fact our accommodations for the evening.

We rolled in through the gate, squeaking a worried hello? when from behind a jumble of scrap emerged a woman in a home made dress, her face betrayed years of hard work beneath a scorching desert sun, and her tired eyes, while friendly and warm, also belonged to a soul whose mistrust of modern living ran deep in her veins. She introduced herself of Beverly, and nodded towards a long broken mobile home, indicating our sleeping quarters for the evening.

We chatted for a bit, and stopped for a second to soak in our surroundings. Behind us a shirtless man, his body deeply browned and wired, loaded scrap metal onto a trailer, which would be taken to Odessa the following day and sold. Another man, a caricature of the old and grizzled Texas cowboy, ambled about, his belt buckle and white ten gallon hat glimmering in the setting sun, tinkering with various pieces of machinery. As we looked about, we noticed that interspersed with what we thought was junk were beautiful sculptures and cars which had been painted with gorgeous Texas ranch scenes. I realized that everything was not as it first appeared, and a tinge of guilt swept over me as I realized that I was guilty of prejudging the very people who had opened up their home to us.

Having absorbed our surroundings, Jon and I shuffled into the RV in order to get ourselves settled for the evening. After a brief quarrel over whose turn it was to enjoy the evening in the larger bed (actually the only bed), I realized that my attempts to smooth talk Natkin out of his rightful turn at comfort were not going anywhere, and I slinked away defeated. My sleeping quarters, which resembled more of a small bench than a bed, gave me leg cramps just looking at it. Grumbling, I plopped down, and was immediately enveloped in a plume of dust, "Well," I thought, "at least Natkin's dust allergies will keep him from enjoying that big bed too much" (I can be extremely petty when I lose arguments, but I'll just chalk that up as a character defect and move on). I realized just as quickly that the increase in allergy activity would greatly increase the volume of his snoring, ending any selfish enjoyment I might of had.

After making some phone calls to check on the election, I stepped outside to join everyone by the fire. The scene was striking, three men sat on various hunks of metal and machinery, the light of the fire's flames licking their faces in the dying hours of the evening as they slowly sipped tequila out of shot glasses. Here, I finally had the pleasure of meeting the two men I had spied earlier. Jon, Beverly's husband, had a quiet nature to him, and when he did speak, he did so with a deep Texas drawl which drew you in with its guttural tone and elegant simplicity. The other gentleman, Luke, peered at the world through his one eye, as his life cowboying from Arizona to the Texas panhandle had claimed his other and most of his teeth. The scars of his past were hidden behind a long and white conquistador goatee with a week's worth of stubble, and when he looked at you, you could see that he had seen his fair share of unpleasantness, and carried with him more knowledge about the West than Jon and I would ever be able , or hope, to acquire.

As darkness crept across the landscape we chatted for a while about Jon and Bev's life in Copper Canyon, Mexico. There they lived by farming on the nearly vertical walls of the abyss (which is over twice the size of the grand canyon) and had some interesting stories regarding "altered experiences" while partying with the local indigenous population. To say the least, we were impressed the rich experiences of these people who had so little in the way of material wealth.

The next morning, we said our farewells and headed into town in order to secure an automobile for a brief sidetrip down to Big Bend National Park. With temperatures forecasted to reach well into the 90's, Jon and I decided that we weren't interested in adding 350 miles of barren and mountainous terrain to our agenda, and were pleased with our decision. Unfortunately, upon our arrival at Mountain Motors, we were informed that every car in the entire city was out for the rest of the week (every car amounting to exactly 2 autos, one pickup and a sedan), and that if we wanted to see Big Bend, we would be forced to rent a U-Haul truck. Now, I have a sordid history with u-haul, and the last time I dealt with an agent of the company in Cambridge, the conversation quickly devolved into threats of lawsuits from both ends, so I was not to pleased that we would be giving this awful company so much money so the we could enjoy south western Texas. But, things being as they were, we were forced to rent a monstrosity of a truck (enough to move a one or two bedroom house mind you), and roll our way southward.

After picking up some food at the local Market, we shoved off towards our eighth National Park of the trip. Jostling southward under the electric blue desert sky, we were saddened as one by one, all radio stations abandoned us, leaving nothing but the vast emptiness of the west Texan desert hissing at us through the speakers. Turning off the static, we looked off towards the horizon, and our next adventures in the Chisos Mountains.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Tasty Tasty

So a few days ago, after leaving Silver City, NM, we climbed Emory Pass, our highest point since Yellowstone. The views into the Rio Grande River Valley from the summit were spectacular. We descended the other side down to Kingston to spend the night. At the small roadside campground we met a fellow named Tom. He already had a nice fire going to help keep warm on a chilly night. We brought our cook gear to the fire and chatted while we shared dinners. Luke offered us venison with onions and potatoes. We offered our staple of Annie's Mac and Cheese. Both were tasty and complimented each other well. It is always enjoyable to get fresh meat. The tubular kind gets old after a while. Tasty goodness.

Did I mention that we were eating roadkill.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

New Photos

New Photos - Santa Barbara to Las Cruces

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Elusive Clarity

It is no secret that my story has been impacted by alcohol. I have long felt like a vessel trying to navigate the murky seas of existence, attempting to reach landfall on the shores of reason and sanity. Besieged by self imposed ideals of what I should aspire to in life, I sat paralyzed, adrift and rudderless, and afraid to move forward.

At first, booze was my great savior. Its warmth coursed through my veins and by bathing in its glow, I was insolated from the fierce realities which we all must face. Eventually, the warmth of drink diminished, and it only served to feed the tempest which was brewing inside of me. As a result, I forfeited my dreams in favor self serving lies which carried me to the depths of despair.

Two years ago today, after many attempts to give up the drink, I finally put it aside for what I hope is the last time. Unfortunately, putting aside the bottle proved to be the easy part, as the same uncertainty and fears which had paralyzed me before remained embedded deep inside of me. Slowly, however, old tools began to surface which have helped me gain a loose grip on reality. A sense of adventure, long dormant, was sparked by my friend Jon, and pryed me out of a safe place in order to pursue experiences of the like that I would have only dreamed of a few years ago. I am astounded that as I sit in the saddle of my bike, with the countryside slowly ambling by, my mind occasionally puts aside its doubts and fears and becomes emtpy, filled with only a clarity for the present moment. These moments are fleeting, but striving towards grasping them is a goal that I am happy to have.

Through it all, though, I am reminded constantly how amazing the people are who surround me. My loving girlfriend supported me when I felt that I was broken and there was no hope for the future, my friends stood behind me and counseled me, and my family gave me their love when I needed it most. Without these people in my life, I have no doubt that I would have failed, and to them, I am eternally grateful.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Arizona the Beautiful

Our stay in Arizona was quite enjoyable. The scenery and climate were constantly changing. We went from the low desert to the high desert, into the mountains, to the Grand Canyon, then by snow capped Mount Humphrey. After a day off in Flagstaff, we stayed up around 7,000 feet before descending from the Mongollan Rim back into the desert. We have now climbed over the mountains and into New Mexico, crossing the Continental Divide for the 7th and final time.
Along the way the met many fascinating and generous folks. From Jim and Val Perry in Prescott to Gabe and Casey our hosts in Flagstaff. Kathy Collins, our Reach Out and Read Contact in Flagstaff was extremely helpful. She chauffered us around town and made an excellent dinner. Absolute Bikes in Flagstaff also hooked us up with a generous discount as we needed some new bike supplies. And, of course, we are still dining on wonderful Annie's Mac 'n Cheese courtesy of our sponsor Annie's Homegrown.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Spreading Literacy Love

Flagstaff, AZ.

Over the past few days, Jon and I have become acutely aware of the fact that the seasons are changing. Given that we had found riding through the Mojave Desert immensly enjoyable and comfortable should probably have clued us into the fact that absolutely bone jarring temperature changes lay in front of us.

That change came suddenly on Wednesday when we were ascending back towards the rim of the Grand Canyon after spending an evening at Granite Rapids along the mighty Colorado River. After a putting in a good morning, Jon and I stopped to a eat a typical lunch of summer sausage and cheese (in fact, at this point of the trip, I am pretty sure that the quantity of summer sausage I have consumed over the past two months has taken at least a few months off of my life expectancy). As we sat and enjoyed our meal, the blue sky was quickly overtaken by ominous clouds and a fierce wind began to pick up. Jon and I watched in horror as a thermometer positioned near the trail dropped 23 degrees in a matter of minutes (from a nice 70 to a not so toasty 47), marking the end of the warm temperatures. Later that night, the temperature dropped to 5 degrees (not celsius, fahrenheit mind you), which almost had me thinking that Jon and I would have to huddle together for warmth. However, I would rather freeze to death than cuddle with Natkin, so that idea was quickly erased from my mind.

The following days ride, though absolutely frigid, was equally as gorgeous as we ascended up to 8,046 feet, our highest elevation since Montana. The day was dominated by the snow capped Mount Humphrey, the tallest peak in Arizona, as we made our way towards Flagstaff.

Once in Flagstaff, we had the opportunity to visit another fantastic Reach Out and Read site. The facility was amazing, a local artist had painted large, child friendly pieces in each of the waiting and examination rooms, books were everywhere, waiting to be snatched up and read to waiting children, and the extremely enthusiastic staff was entirely behind the program. The highlight of the day was reading a book to a number of children waiting for appointments. The book, "click-Clack-Moo," about a bunch of cold cows and chickens who go on strike and demand electric blankets, was pretty funny for a children's book, and it was especially enjoyable screaming "CLICK-CLACK-MOO!!!" with the children, simulating each time the cows wrote a letter to the farmer.

Though the sites and the people have been truly amazing, it is really nice to see who well the Reach Out and Read program works. It has given us a new sense of purpose as we continue to spin our wheels towards Key West, FL.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Friends in High Places

We've reached the Grand Canyon, the cornerstone of every American family's roadtrip to discover our nation's extremely diverse natural wonders. And though the scenery is fantastic, the real gems of our northern Arizona experience are the people we have had the pleasure of meeting.

While in Prescott, we were kindly put up for a few days by Jim and Valerie, a young retired couple whose youthful exuberance far exceeds that of most of America's 20 year olds. Quite honestly, these were two of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. When they found out that our cycling route would not be taking us through Sedona, they took it upon themselves to drive us there and take us hiking so that we would have the opportunity to see the spectacular red rock country.

In addition to these fine folks, we also had the opportunity to meet up with two other like minded souls for a quick bite at the Prescott Brew Pub. Josh and Mike were friends who had thru hiked the PCT a few years ago, and it was great to spend some time exchanging stories from the road and plans for future adventures. It's amazing that the beauty of Arizona goes far beyond its landscapes, it is also captured within its fine citizens.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Grand Canyon State

Howdy from Prescott , Arizona, a beautiful mountain town at 5,300 feet, which is decidedly not what I had previously pictured Arizona to be like. The Jojoba bushes and Cacti have given way to Ponderosa Pine forests with a sprinkling deciduous trees for some variety, and the temperatures are far from the scorching highs of the low desert, residing comfortably in the mid 60's or 70's

Since we departed 29 Palms, the riding has become pretty interesting. The 100 mile stretch of desert without services that we had so feared in the previous days proved to be some of the best riding conditions of the entire trip. A stern tailwind and gentle grades allowed Jon and I to spin along at a brisk 16.2 miles per hour (average) as we traversed the entire Mojave, crossing the mighty Colorado river and pushing well into Arizona in a single 110 mile day.

The following day proved to be a little more challenging, however, as we spent the entire day ascending a slight grade towards Prescott, in fact we didn't have a descent the entire 85 mile day! However, the endless climb did make it possible for us to stay at one of the most beautiful campsites we have had in a while. We were able to place our tent at the crest of a small hill with a commanding 360 degree view of the desert. To the north, we could see the steep climbs that lay ahead of us on our way to Prescott, while to the south, the slowly sloping desert, dotted with enormous cacti, slid off into a mountain lined horizon. Jon and I cooked dinner atop a small rocky hill, awed by the beauty that surrounded us. Arizona had beaten my wildest expectations, and it seems that each day is better than the last, and I couldn't be enjoying myself more.


Monday, October 16, 2006

Natkin of Arabia

Whenever I think of the American Southwest, images of a crazed coyote inexplicably risking life and limb in order to catch what appears to be an entirely unappetizing bird always come to mind. Thankfully, the Mojave is far more scenic than I ever could have imagined. After spending two days in Joshua Tree National Park, scrambling around rock formations which seem to have been dreamed up by some crazed cartoonist, I can easily say that Jon and I have fallen in love with the high desert. What was truly amazing was the variety of plant life which blankets the desert floor. Multi armed Joshua Trees stand tall, waving their branches at onlookers like some ancient hindu god, while the shorter yucca and multiple varieties of extremely sharp cactus ( I found this out the hard way), add a little spice to the scenery.

As an added bonus, One of Jon's friends from the AT, Doctor Chickadee (along with her brother, Chris and friend Byron) joined us for a night of revelry and mass consumption of marshmallows, making our Joshua Tree experience that much more enjoyable. Now, it's on to Arizona and a 100 mile stretch of Desert without services.


Desert Rain

We have finally left the Pacific Coast. After about 1600 miles riding along the ocean we have turned towards Florida and Key West. Almost immediately we entered the desert. We have spent the last couple of days in Joshua Tree National Park. Among others, we were joined by my friend Dr. Chickadee from the Appalachian Trail. The landscape is amazingly dry. But there is still abundant growth. The Joshua Trees, a relative of the yucca, are everywhere here, yet no where else.
Funny thing is that it rained as we approached the park. I thought it never rains in the desert. According to the park visitors center, Joshua Tree has received 0.58 inches of rain this year. And that is after the quarter inch or so that fell on us. What gives?
We plan to leave Twentynine Palms this afternoon after things cool down a bit and start towards Parker. Next services about 120 miles. We hope to put in a long day and do most of it tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

California Dreaming

California, from San Francisco on southward, has been kind beyond words to Jon and I. The sun reappeared, ending weeks of gloomy, bone chilling fog; we entered the land of the cheap, sub 2 dollar tacos (causing much joy) and the amount of traffic on the roads has increased dramatically.

Once again, transitions in landscape are what are most striking as we made our way southward. The Monterey Coast, also known as Big Sur, presented Jon and I with breathtaking scenery, as Route 1 was seemingly etched into the mountainsides above the ocean with a pen knife, presenting us with some challenging riding as we hung along the precipice with large RVs driven by German's blaring techno music caused much worry (at least we assume they were german).

Leaving Big Sur, the landscape changed almost instantly from jagged mountainsides to rolling prairie land as we approached San Simeon, where the reclusive William Randolf Hearst made his home. San Simeon marked the beginning of our transition from the central coast to southern California, a land in which palm trees, spanish architecture and even more taco stands (score!!) dominate the landscape.

As a treat, Southern California has marked the halfway point of our trip, and has brought about a few reunions which have brought me much joy. First, my beautiful girlfriend, Carolyn, flew into Santa Barbara for our 4 year anniversary. And secondly, I have had the privilege to stay with an old friend of the family, Danica, in Malibu. Hopefully the next half of our trip will be as fruitful as the first!!!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Onward South and East

We have now been relaxing in Santa Barbara for a couple of days. It feels good on the body to not be working so hard. Yet I am itching to get moving again. We plan to head a bit south late this afternoon before reaching Los Angeles tomorrow. I'm a bit intimidated about riding there. It is an extremely large and sprawling area that I don't imagine to be especially friendly to touring cyclist. Fortunately, we have some friends who have offered us refuge in their homes as we pass through the area. Our immediate goal will then be Joshua Tree National Park on our way to Key West. There is obviously much terrain in between that we are still trying to determine the best way through. But at least we will finally be headed east!!


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Santa Barbara

We arrived in Santa Barbara yesterday afternoon. Most definitely southern California.

Check out some more pictures.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

More Pictures

Check out our pictures from Seattle to San Francisco

Click here for shots from Jackson to Seattle

Saturday, September 30, 2006

San Francisco!!!

Holy smokes, I can't believe that I have pedalled my bicycle all the way to San Francisco!!

It's truly amazing the changes we go through in life. A year and a half ago, I was lying listlessly on my couch in Boston, chain smoking cigarettes, with no ambitions to jog down the block, let alone ride a bicycle for thousands of miles. I have clear memories of driving to my friend Seth's house in Middlebury, VT, and scoffing at the spandex clad cyclists huffing their way up the winding mountain roads. "I think I would rather break my own kneecaps," I would think to myself as I inhaled an entire Camel Light in one breath. Today, I am that spandex clad moron, and I couldn't be happier.

However, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Many of my good friends know that I have a close affinity for what I call "snacky treats" (Basically any food which would make a cardiologist shake his head in disbelief that companies are actually allowed to produce such artery clogging death darts). When I first signed onto this ride, I had visions of a diet of little chocolate donettes and fried chicken dancing in my head. "perfect," I thought, "now I can eat every food item I have ever wanted, and still lose weight!"

Unfortunately, my diet that every little boy dreams of has been shown to be a disaster. When I stepped on a scale recently, I learned that I have lost one pound. One Pound!!!! Now I am faced with a dilemna, do I change my diet plan and try to be healthy? Or do I continue with my diet of impulsivity? Given the fact that Jon and I ate a breakfast of an entire Blackberry Cobbler and some cinnamon buns two days ago, I fear that my impulsive side is winning this war. Oh well, I only live once, more cobbler please!!

On a side note, if you are ever in Mendocino, CA, it is absolutely imperative that you stop at the Garden Bakery. The two people that run it are to of the nicest folks one could ever care to meet. And their pies are absolutely out of this world!!!


Wednesday, September 27, 2006


The other day I got my first ever flat tire on my trailer. I think it was sabotage. We were in Crescent City, CA and were eating lunch on the beach. The bikes had been left leaning against a rock; not far from us, but out of sight. When we returned from eating, my trailer tire was totally flat. Upon inspection of tire and tube, I found no leaks, no way for air to get out other than through the valve. Coincidentally, a strange guy immediately came out of his nearby van to see what the problem was. He offered us his dogs water bowl. I know that we sometimes look like dirty vagrants, but I most certainly do not wish to share my water with fido. He drools too much. This man is the assumed sabateur.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Winds of Deception

Howdy from Lincoln City, OR, where rains that would have caused humans to build an ark in long ago eras have forced Jon and I into the public library to peruse the happenings of our society via the internet.

The weather has not been to kind to us as we have made the left hand turn to follow the coast towards Santa Barbara. Though the weather reports had filled our heads with images of golden sunsets, our sunshine dreams have been dashed by near constant headwinds (which is pretty abnormal, given the fact that nearly every publication ever written about cycling the pacific coast has extolled the virtues of the northwest wind which "gently pushes" you southward) and driving rain, leaving us to believe that the local meteorologist would have trouble predicting what day of the week it is, let alone the weather.

Though the weather has been dreary, I cannot complain about the scenery along the Oregon Coast. One fringe benefit of the near constant rain is that the cloud formations and mists hovering above the shoreline add an eerie beauty to the complex rock formations which dominate the area. At times, it has been difficult to keep up the pace as we find it difficult to tear ourselves away from the truly awesome views. This morning, Jon and I spent some time perusing Cape Kiwanda, where the incoming surf has carved the sandstone cliffs into an array of caves and points, causing incoming waves to put on quite a show for us.

On a completely unrelated note, we have reached our goal of raising $6,000 for Reach Out and Read!!! While we were in Seattle, we had the opportunity to tour the ROR program at the Harbor View Hospital, and to say the we were impressed is an understatement. It is amazing how enthusiastic everone on the hospital staff is about the program, and even more amazing how the kids in the clinics are enthralled by the books they are provided with. Though we have reached our goal, we hope to continue fundraising, so if you haven't already given, please do, and know that your money is going to a great cause!!


Monday, September 18, 2006

Bike Problems

Near the end of yesterdays 75 mile ride along the rainy Pacific Coast, I ran into some major bike issues. During the day, I had noticed that my rear derailleur seemed to be bent. Then it happened. The derailleur caught on the spokes, breaking three of them on the freewheel side of my rear wheel. Not a problem easily fixed on the side of a darkening rainy road. Fortunately, we were able to hitch a ride for us and the bikes the remaining 2 miles to Cape Dissappointment State Park campground. Then this morning, with suprising ease, I got a ride with my bike from the campground directly a bike shop in Astoria, OR, about 15-20 miles away. I am currently waiting for the repair to be completed. The cause of all my problems appears to be a slightly bent drop-out for my rear wheel. It must have happened 2 days ago when I fell over while rushing to get into the woods for a quick relief break.


Friday, September 15, 2006

We've Got Pictures!

Check out our pictures from Jackson to Seattle

Thursday, September 14, 2006


We have reached our donation goal of $6000!! But we would love to exceed it and are still collecting donations. Thanks to all who have supported us.

We hope to raise $6000. $1 for every mile ridden. There are three ways to donate online with your credit card. You can also send us a check. Find the address here. Some employers will match your contribution. Let us know if you need ROR's tax ID number for this.

1) 90% to ROR, 10% to support the ride. Unfortunately, this option is not tax-deductible. But it will be very helpful to the riders. You may also specify any other break down of funds that you like. Just let us know in the comments section.

2) 100% tax-deductible donation directly to Reach Out and Read. Under the Gift Information heading, please fill in on the occasion of "Ride for ROR."

Donate Here

Please remember to recognize the Ride for ROR in your donation or we will have no way of knowing that you donated.

3) Donate separately with each link above. That way your donation to Reach Out and Read can be 100% tax-deductible. Then you can also send whatever amount you desire to the riders through paypal and have 100% of it go to support the tour. Just be sure to tell us in the comments section what you are doing.

We thank you very much for your support. Check back soon for updates.

Donors as of 11/28/06

Mel and Patty Alperin
Amity Bike
Harry Anastopoulos
Annie's Homegrown
Carolina Balsbaugh
Richard and Maureen Balsbaugh
Barbara Lee Family Foundation
Martha Beebe
Amy Belkin
Mr. and Mrs. Noel Bishop
Kenny, Sondra, and Emma Bogursky
Erica Bonthrone
Tim Brett
Dr. and Mrs. Richard Brogadir
Shanna Brownstein
Jessica Gifford Busch
Dr. Stephen Castracane
Jenn Cavallari
David Cepoi
Joyce Della Chiesa
Clif Bar
Da Boyz Pizza - Yuma, AZ
Dalia Kitchen Design, Inc
Mary Davis
Peter and Sheila DePascale
Becky DiSavino
Christopher Donovan
Richard and Mary Doucette
Paul Enderle
Patrick Essig
Dr. and Mrs. Gerald Forman
Marcy Gandolfini
Joshua Gerber
Andy and Rachel Goldfarb
Peter Gori
Charles (Timmy G) Grayson
Courtney Greene
Janice Greenwald
Scott Hawkins
Eric Hersh
Dr. and Mrs. Stanley Hersh
Larry and Roslyn Hiller
Matt Houlahan
Steven Huffstutlar
Meredith Johnson
Heather Kahler
Kathy Keating
Quinn and Chrissy Keating
Marianne Kennedy
Dr. and Mrs. Kurt Koral
Johannes Kratz
Mr. and Mrs. Irwin Kurns
Elaine Lamphier
Bianca and Ed Latessa
Dr. and Mrs. Fred Levy
Dr. and Mrs. Michael Margolies
David Natkin
Dr. and Mrs. Sheldon Natkin
Heidi Natkin and Gilson Sirvas
Lisa Natkin and Jon Levy
Sarah Pacheco
Steve Payne and Lee Reid
Danica Perez
Dr. and Mrs. Mark Schpero
Benjamin Schreiner
Joel and Gloria Schwartz
Jonathan and Maggie Seelig
Timothy Sharpe
Helen Sofaer
Brian and Penney Stone
Kelly Storrs
Natalia Subira-Cordova
Eva Claire Synkowski
Edith Tress
Emilie Tucker
Rachel Tyler
Margo Vigoreaux
Vitale, Caturano & Company Foundation
Carol Wilgus
Wilson Backcountry Sports
Mark Winthrop
Eliot Wright

I can update paypal donors immediately. It will take some time for those who donate directly to ROR or via check to be added to the website. We will be getting period updates from them on donors.

Friday, September 08, 2006

And Hello Washington

Republic, Washington

The past few days have been nothing if not exciting, we hit the 1,000 mile mark, crossed into our fourth state, and today began our onslaught of the Cascade Mountains with a crossing of Sherman Pass, a 4,000 foot climb which was not at all fun in any way on the way up, but pretty nice on the way down.

We began our foray into Washington State a few days ago when we left Sandpoint, ID, for what was to be a relatively easy spin along the Pend Orielle (pronounced Pond-Eray, as I found out, I'll let you imagine how badly I butchered the name) River. Things changed drastically, however, as we crossed the border and turned onto a small backroad named Leclerc. A dreaded orange construction sign noted that in five short miles, our nice relaxing ride would take a turn for the worse as the road would detour. As we neared the construction area, my hopes that this would be one of those detours which would require cars to change course, yet allow cyclists to slink on through were dashed, as a giant "road closed" sign barred any forward progress, and an inky black arrow pointed up a cliff at what some people would call a road, and I would call a nightmare.

In a sweat-drenched profanity fest, I struggled up the 14% grade (Natkin, on the other hand, slid up the hill in the same easy manner by which he moves through life, further adding to my anger) only to find that the pavement gave way to washboard dirt, making our passage even more difficult.

After a a few miles, we returned to the main road, thankful to have made it through the detour without being obliterated by one of the many contruction vehicles whizzing by. As we continued along the river, I looked around and took in the beauty of my surroundings. The sun, soften by the haze of a distant forest fire cast its light delicately around us. A barn, broken by the weight of time and surrounded by golden fields of freshly reaped grain, became instantly familiar, representing a personally long held image of americana, almost like stepping into a real life representation of Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring. It was a deeply moving experience, and I wonder if I would have seen it the same way if I had not had to work so hard over the previous five miles.