From sea to shining sea.
“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Riding Across America for a Cause
Before leaving home, I walked into Picky Bars in Bend and told them about the Long Bike Ride I was preparing for. Jesse Thomas is one of the owners, a five time Wildflower Triathlete Champion. He stood from his chair, walking over to me, taking a genuine interest in my story. Along with a few of the others who work there, they agreed to supply me with a sampling of their delicious real food bars. They’re designed for picky champions just like Jessie and I was able to eat a lot of them, fueling my body as I pedaled my way across America. For this, I’m grateful…
Kristina, she’s a veteran, an entrepreneur and has created a meal replacement bar for dogs. She’s full of love. You may have seen her on Shark Tank receiving the funding she deserved to grow her company. One of my friends asked her to call me before I left, and she did. Kristina understood my passion, my pursuit of the dream, and wanted to support Jo and I. She offered to feed my best friend from coast to coast, providing nearly a thousand dollars worth of TurboPUP meal replacement bars for Jo, bacon flavored. For this, I’m grateful.
Joe works at Newport Avenue Market. He keeps in stock several of the bumper stickers I’ve branded and also places my coffee beans, Elf Brew, on the shelf at Christmas time. When I approached him, asking for support, he was instantly on board. He introduced me to Lauren, the COO who makes things go vroooom. She handed me a check and a gift card, sending me shopping in their store for some delicious goodies to take with me on the adventure. For this, I’m grateful.
Julie wrote me a note out of the blue. You can find her smiling face at Straw Propeller Gourmet Foods. She invited Jo and I over to their warehouse where I was able to meet all of the wonderful ladies that make their products special. And when we left there, I had two cases, a huge assortment of individually packaged oatmeal that provided me with the delicious calories I needed to ride a bike from one state to the next. For this, I’m grateful.
Mike oversees the operations at Hutch’s Bicycles in Bend. It wasn’t to difficult to track him down, and when I did, he offered to send me on a shopping spree. I was able to pick out some biking shoes, a pair of shorts, and some other accessories I needed. I also walked out with a single pair of socks and one red bicycle jersey, which I’ve worn thin, wearing them for 80 days in a row. For this, I’m grateful.
Despite the name, Shoeless Jo, he actually does wear shoes. It was Blair who welcomed us into the Ruffwear headquarters in Bend. And it was Susan that met us in their showroom and loved on Jo. She helped him choose everything he would need to be safe and comfortable as he too made his way cross-country by bike. Jo wears their pack, is tethered by their leash, loves their shoes, and eats from one of their lite weight collapsible bowls. For this, I’m grateful.
I’ve never met Noah before, but I did talk to him on the phone for awhile on the day we were leaving Oregon. He works for Burley Designs in Eugene and offered to cut me a “pro-deal” on the Tail Wagon, half price. It’s an aluminum trailer built specifically for man’s best friend, weighing only 22lbs and that’s where Jo cooled his paws when he wasn’t running alongside of me. For this, I’m grateful.
Mike Hargous works for McDonald’s in Central Oregon. In the past, he has helped me with my mission by placing “Elf Boxes” in each of their restaurants. They encourage the community to place new unwrapped toys in them, and by doing this kind act, they are creating a brighter Christmas for children via Operation Elf Box. All it took was a call, asking him for a few Big Macs along the way, and he said yes. After talking it over with the McOwner’s, they offered to feed me for free every time I passed by the Golden Arches from coast to coast. For this, I’m grateful, and i’m lovin it.
The Gilstraps and the Claytons are popular and it’s not just because they are the proprietors of Cuppa Yo and Woof, two of Bend’s favorites; a frozen yogurt shop that neighbors their self service dog wash. People love these two families because they are lovable and do many wonderful things to support our community. And aside from helping us gather gifts at Christmas time, they were happy to support the mission, handing me a check and a hug before I left. For this, I’m grateful.
It was Ervin who owns EMR Logistics, a freight broker in Bend who provides the details for people moving things across the country. I sat in his office a week before I left, with a near empty wallet and a heart that was brimming with a dream. He was one of the first I shared it with. Ervin has watched me over the the last few years, both us having occupied spaces in the same building together, an Elf Shoppe located down the haul from his office. Ervin didn’t hesitate, handing me a thousand dollars, sending us with well wishes and the hope that our dreams would come true. For this, I’m grateful.
There are so many others also who have provided for Jo and I as we’ve been making our way. Many of those stories, the kindness, the love, the generosity, I’ve already shared with you in my blog. I think it’s important to share the kindness of others. It breeds more kindness, more love in the world.
I believe it’s even more important to give thanks. It hasn’t always been easy for me, especially when there was some trouble I was dealing with in life. But I know now that even trouble has a purpose. I’ve learned that by expressing my gratitude, in all situations, regardless of the circumstances, that I’ve become a happier person, more able to love myself and to love others. I see the blessings now in everything. For this, I’m grateful.
These are the things I wanted to let you know, that I’m grateful for you, and that I love you.
Anita was happy to let me sleep on her couch for a few nights while I was busy organizing my next adventure. I had just returned from several months of traveling through a number of the western-states, making music along the way and working on a few love projects. I spent that summer living mostly out of my van.
For about a year I had been spending time researching the Pacific Crest Trail after having a discussion with a couple who was hiking the entire length of it, 2700 miles from the border of Mexico to Canada. Their stories inspired me and got me thinking that I might like to follow in their footsteps.
Everything I had, I borrowed. With the help of friends, I filled a backpack that was to big for my frame, loading it with a sleeping bag, a tent, a camp stove, a water filter, a ukulele, and a few books. And there were lots of other things too that I carried with me. I added to it a list of objects I felt were needed to address all of the fears that I was creating in my mind. I was preparing to defend myself against everything from a bear attack to loneliness.
Another friend, Amy, she dropped me off on the side of the road, snapping a photograph of me weighted down and leaning forward. After saying our goodbyes, I disappeared into the forest. It was the first time I had ever gone backpacking and I still I had a lot to learn.
Trekking through the wilderness, I was making my way south to Crater Lake. I had planned on going further but physically I wasn’t able to. My knees ached, my tendons were on fire and both of my feet felt broken. But the following month, on a cold October morning, in the rain, I did it again. This time I went north, covering another section of the trail through the Cascade Range mountains of Oregon. And another time, I wandered through the Russian Wilderness, the Trinity Alps and eventually ending at Castle Craggs near the base of Mt Shasta.
The following summer, after riding my bicycle the 650 miles from Oregon to San Francisco, I hitched up to the Sierra Nevada’s. It was there where I climbed at least a half dozen or more of the twelve thousand foot mountain passes that stood in my way and also forded a few streams that could have swept me off my feet if I wasn’t careful.
Somewhere along the way as I shuffled my feet on that trail, I eventually began to realize what it was that I was to be learning. I learned that I was never alone, that there was nothing to be afraid of, and that the bears didn’t really want to eat me. I discovered that I was capable, powerful and that I could trust and believe in myself. My insecurities turned from worry into a humble self confidence. The restless ground beneath my feet became a path of peace and comfort.
I recall taking a seat on a rock beside a stream where the birds and I were having a drink and I remember thinking how I felt so small, so humbled, and so full of love in that moment. I began to see how the Creator who had shaped those peaks and valleys was also shaping me, preparing me for what was to come next. On the final day, I arrived on the summit of Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States.
Last January, I became inspired to lead a group into the wilderness this coming summer. I’d like to take a few young men, teenagers, those who are finding their way. It was Picasso who said, “the meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away”.
If you’re thinking of someone who might benefit by going out and discovering the gift that I received, the beauty that I found in the hills and eventually in my heart, please write me…
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. ~ John Muir
I turned my back on the Atlantic and pedaled the last two blocks from the beach to where Dorothy lives. She was expecting Jo and I to arrive here on Vilano Beach Island. Dorothy is a cousin of Sharon’s, a friend of mine who lives in Bend. She connected the two of us, being the Angel she is, she figured she would line us up with a soft place to land after reaching our destination in Saint Augustine.
Jo and I are welcomed, then pointed to a cozy room in the house where we could make ourselves at home. Dorothy is a chef. She was out in the kitchen preparing a delicious feast for us, and also offering sample after sample to Jo who sat there looking up at her with those eyes.
Nathaniel is a gifted singer songwriter. There’s a few guitars laying around the house so we sat up until it was late, picking a few strings, exchanging songs, filling their living room with the sound of music.
Dorothy wanted to show us around and I wanted to see Nathaniel in his element, performing an afternoon set at a pub in downtown. We didn’t leave the house until about three o’clock, first dropping Casey off, a housemate, at the marina where she planned on sailing away for the afternoon.
But she never left the dock because a storm blew in all of the sudden, dumping buckets of rain on everything for about an hour. The thunder that accompanied the showers had Jo wanting to hide under the chair at Stogey’s. It’s where Dorothy works and where we arrived to watch the street gutters nearly overflow as we stood inside, dry, looking out through the front door. Because of her love for music, they feature a regular cast of folksters, Dorothy booking the acts, those who perform live for an audience that is puffing on Havana’s.
After the storm passed over, we walked the streets of Saint Augustine, exploring as the original settlers might have, finding a place to sit and have dinner.
And now it’s a new day. I’m out here in the backyard, beside the swimming pool, under the umbrella that shades me from the morning sun. It’s a very peaceful place with a palm tree and a lounge chair and feels like my own private oasis, it feels like home.
It’s all a mystery to me. I don’t know what lays ahead in the days and weeks to come. I’m okay with not knowing. That’s what I tell myself anyways. I’m living by faith, just here in this moment, listening for that small voice to speak up inside me.
It was like I was throwing myself off of a stage, surfing the hands of strangers. But instead, I was taking a leap of faith, pursuing a dream that’s rooted in love. I threw myself into the arms of the universe, being caught, and gracefully carried across America.
There was no red ribbon stretched across the finish line for us to blast through. No string of bright colored balloons hanging in an arch up above it. I did not see a band set up on the shoreline, playing The Eye of The Tiger. The rows of people lining each side of the path, applauding and cheering us on for the last half mile, they were not there either. And on the podium, where the tall attractive blonde lady stands with the bottle of champagne that I corked and sprayed into the air, celebrating, none of that existed.
What actually happened was this…
The sun was warming things up outside in Gainesville. I had just finished gathering my stuff together, squeezing it into my panniers. And then at noon, I rolled my bike out toward the street, in my awkwardly tight shorts, tossing a leg over the bar. Jo and I set out to ride the last eighty miles or so to the Atlantic coast.
A breeze helped to push us further east, rolling along the final stretch of the Florida highway. The clouds in the sky provided temporary shade as the sun dodged in and out from behind them. Thunder was clapping in the clouds to the north, the sky beginning to transform to a darker shade of gray. And then the heavens opened up and poured rain down on us for a half an hour. There was no better feeling.
Shoeless Jo seemed to know that we were arriving at our destination, getting a good look of everything while balancing on his wagon.
Behind the soulful lyrics of Into The Mystic that Fogerty was singing to me through my head phones, I was recalling many of the experiences that Jo and I have shared along the way. I was picturing the faces of the people, all of the angels we have met and have been blessed by. I pictured everyone online, those that Jo and I know, and the others we haven’t met. I imagined that each of you were pedaling along with us, a parade of friends on bikes.
I was crossing over the last bridge, the Atlantic was in sight. I veered onto the Coast Highway and made another turn, pedaling down a sleepy street that led to the oceans edge.
Where the sidewalk ends, and the sand begins, I stood there looking out at the water, considering for awhile, all of the love that has been exploding all around us. I know this is all part of a grander plan, so I lifted up a silent prayer, thanking the Spirit for grace and mercy and abundance, for love, and for you.
Every dream that becomes a reality begins with a leap of faith.
Almost everything I work at, I either do it with fearless passion, or I don’t do it at all. There’s no dragging me in to something I have no interest in. I like to have variety in my life, so I involve myself with a number of different projects, hobbies, loves, hopping from one to the other, working at building the dreams that have come to me. I do my best to do what feels right in that moment, and I keep things as simple as I know how to these days.
When I was young I enjoyed reading, penning myself in one place, taking in an authors work, sometimes from cover to cover. I still spend time reading on occasion, exposing myself to the minds of others, the stories they share and the pictures they paint with their words.
Billy Collins is a poet, one of the most read, and a former U.S. Poet Laureate. He also has a book on the New York Times Best Seller’s list, Aimless Love. He’s one of my favorites to read, and so i’ll share one of his masterpieces with you…
The Trouble with Poetry: A Poem of Explanation
The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night —
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky —
the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.
And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,
and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.
Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.
But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.
And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.
And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti —
to be perfectly honest for a moment —
the bicycling poet of San Francisco
whose little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.
You can find more of his poetry here at: http://billycollinspoetry.com
It’s been suggested to me before that I write a book. I’ve always thought that I’d like to explore that opportunity, but in the past, I haven’t felt like I was ready. As I’ve been pedaling my bike across America, I’ve been practicing, everyday, writing, sharing it with you here.
The trouble with writing is that it encourages the desire in me to write more, which is an observation I stole directly from Billy Collins, to be perfectly honest for a moment.
Sometimes I write from the corner of a hotel room, planted in a chair, my feet up on the ottoman. Or at a wooden picnic bench in a campground where the morning birds are singing from the tree that leans over the pond. I’ve written from the home of angels, those who’ve taken Jo and I in, disappearing out on to their patio or sometimes while sipping coffee in their recliners. I’ve penciled my thoughts from plenty of coffee shops, either seated outside under the big umbrella in the uncomfortable black metal chair, and other times, inside, nestled in a soft wingback. I’ve posted up in recreation rooms at RV parks, and I’ve penciled my thoughts from the inside of my tent while looking out at the neighbors who sat in their canvas folding chairs. One time, I positioned myself on the sand in Galveston and documented a days experience from there. And I’ve woke up next to a cactus and wrote from the floor of the desert in California.
And so I’m going to take another leap of faith and continue to pursue this passion in this next season of my life. And none of it would even be possible if it wasn’t for the encouragement you’ve given, the continuous out pouring of love, for letting me know you believe in me, and the support from friends, family and strangers. Forever grateful.