I write you tonight while sitting by the ocean. It rages behind my back, crackling now and again to remind me of its power. Luckily, I have a giant concrete wall behind me, as well as one to my immediate right. I’m on the lower level of the oceanfront Baptist Church in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
I rode 68 miles today (5 were on a ferry). I started in Grand Bay, and rode to Dauphine Island, got on the ferry, and traveled to Fort Morgan. From there, I rode the coast until I hit Gulf Shores. My goal was to camp at Gulf State Park. With the sun setting and thunderstorms headed my way, I searched for shelter. The wind along the coastline can be brutal, especially when you’re in a tent. After finding there was no type of shelter at the park, I decided to take my chances and pedal on. The fact that the park charges $26.00 a night for a primitive site for me to lay on the ground has nothing to do with this, but I just want to take a moment to say “Come on guys, seriously?”
The wind was intensifying at this point, and the skies were growing darker, foggier. I deployed my night gear. I was ready to ride another 8 miles to find a possible spot to camp.
It’s kind of funny how covert you become when you start touring. When the sun starts going down, your eyes begin to scan for possible low-key spots. Your brain begins to utilize all your experience on the road to come up with a statistic for getting hassled in the middle of the night. And I don’t mean by just the cops, I’m talking ANYTHING. Maybe it’s the “park for egress” attitude that comes from my jobs? I don’t know. Here are some things that roll through my head when I’m looking for a spot:
Dogs- is there poop around? Will someone be walking his or her dog here in the morning? Is that dog down the street barking at me, or a deer, and if so, will it bark all damn night?
Lighting- security lights coming on after dark? Shadows are good. Is there a bright light that’s going to keep me up all night? What angle are the cars turning? Are their headlights going to shine on my tent, revealing my location?
Ants- well that’s a no brainer right?
Bike storage--Is there somewhere to prop up my bike? It’s easier to get in and out of the bags when it’s upright. Covered storage trumps all.
Shelter—if the rain REALLY comes down tonight, is this thing going to hold up? Trust me- I learned this the hard way.
Access to amenities- Can I get water near by? Is there an outlet to charge my stuff? These are only on-site maybe 50% of the time, but it’s really nice to have charged-up stuff.
Trains—SO MANY DAMN TRAINS.
Safety—Am I going to get knifed in the belly during the middle of the night here? If you keep your eyes open, you’ll find out what the level of threat is as you ride through. Remember, just because you don’t see a crack head at 6pm, doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be out at 3am. Finding a location that is secluded is only valuable if your confident nobody is going to have a reason to wander into your spot. If you have no choice but to rest your head in a questionable area, sleep with one eye open, and keep your knife at your side.
Ok, so these are things that pass through my head as I scan, but really the best thing to do is to find a warm showers host and call it good. You’ll meet some amazing people, share some great stories, and make tons of new friends.
Rather than just preaching to folks about my “stealth camping system,” I should talk about something far more important. The past two weeks have been crazy. I don’t even know where to begin. I think it’s been much longer than that since I’ve written an entry. I know I’ve really been slacking on the media aspect of my trip, but somewhere along the way, I realized that it was stressing me out.
I’m so glad to be involved with the charity aspect of the trip. I’m also super stoked that people have been enjoying my posts, blogs, and youtube videos. Putting in 40-80 miles a day, planning my routes, and experiencing the sights leaves me little time to edit video. It takes me approximately 8 hours to upload and edit an episode for the blog. If I want to make that happen, I must commit my one rest day to doing it. This pressure has left me a little tired. This is why I’ve decided to postpone any new episode production until I get home.
I have about ten days left out here on the road. I believe it’s important to experience these next days with clearest conscience possible. One of my favorite quotes comes from Henry David Thoreau:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
This quote represents my beliefs in so many ways. I enjoy taking the hard road, if it means a better understanding myself and others. Sometimes I get tired of being dirty. That aroma of sweat and two days worth of sunscreen gets to be atrocious! But when I really boil it down, I always come back to the same train of thought- Nothing is forever or for certain.
Living on the road like a gypsy, vagabond, traveller, or whatever you want to call it, keeps me real. It humbles me. It reminds me that I have it made in my world. It helps me better understand our human condition. I’m not talking about race either. I’m talking about the core values that every good person on this earth equally understands, no matter where they’re from.
When you throw in the physical aspect of the trip, it gets even more complicated. In Thoreau’s quote, he speaks of driving life into a corner and reducing it to its lowest terms. I’ve learned about my body's needs more than a 13 year-old kid hitting puberty. It’s absolutely insane what you can do if you just don’t give up. YOU WILL GET STRONGER. YOU WILL GET FASTER. Just give it time. Focusing on what your body is asking from you is important. You can’t just bust out a century on your first day.
Maybe your knee has a weird feeling like mine did this morning. A yellow flag went up immediately, but I didn’t stop. Yes, I was trying to make some miles, but what’s it worth if you knee blows out? I down shifted and pedaled easy for 30 minutes. When I felt the pain was gone, I slowly increased my speed, monitoring any subtle inconsistencies or pops. Sure, I go beast-mode sometimes, but I do it with some calculation.
The biggest challenge is the mental game. I daydream for hours sometimes. I get focused on a subject or idea, and think about it until some external stimuli snaps me back to reality. I did this once for about four hours. When I looked down, I had ridden almost 50 miles!
Negativity will become your worst enemy, and most formidable form of resistance if you let it. This is where the mental agility really comes into play. There are a handful of things I do to keep the negative thoughts from creeping in.
Hammer down—Grit your teeth, shake your head a few times, and literally tell yourself, “Give me your best!” and get into super-bikeninja-focus.
Put on some tunes—Change it up. Try and find something that suits both your mood and your scenery. For example: Yesterday, I was riding along the beach on the coastal pathway. I put on “ Reggae Infusion.” Today I was riding through more of a Bayou of Alabama, so I put on some Lynard Skynard. If you want to crank miles, put on some EDM.
Take a quick break—Sometimes you just need to get some calories in your body and re-focus.
Stop and do something—Get off the bike and reset you brain. Do something stimulating like walking through an estuary, hitting up a museum, or getting a beer ( be careful with this one!)
All in all, I think the only true motivator that can get you from point A to point B, no matter if it’s ocean to ocean, or just to the supermarket down the street, is your desire to make it happen. Making a choice, and sticking with it is important in all aspects of life. Don’t make excuses. Figure out what you want to do, make a plan, and execute. You don’t have to get elaborate, but make contingency plans too, because things are going to get in your way. That IS one thing that is for certain. I guess it’s like that old saying, “ Expect the worst, hope for the best.”
Damn it feels good to get philosophical and wordy tonight. I hope ya’ll aren’t laying with your head on the keyboard in a puddle of drool right now. This isn’t because I care if you like what I’ve written, but because nobody likes to wake up with a screen that just says:
I have to get some sleep!
Till next time,