Adventure, Bicycling, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

A Ride in Louisiana River Country

In the last Road Log, I made it into a riotous Baton Rouge on a Saturday night and stayed with a host who opened up about some very difficult memories. This time I leave the big, smelly city behind me and strike out across Louisiana river country.

Day 102 (Tuesday, October 16, 2012)

By the time I left Carol’s house outside Baton Rouge I knew the surrounding streets well. I had biked to her cycle mechanic’s shop when I dropped off the Giant for repairs. Carol then picked me up by car and we did the same thing in reverse when the bike was done. The first stretch of today’s ride was familiar territory.

But very soon I turned off to pursue a very odd route. If you look at the map, I first meandered back toward the main highway. Instead of taking it I went across it, aiming for the river. Eventually I linked up with the River Road, following every curve of the Mississippi for most of the day until just a few miles from my destination. The result: a ride that could have been 54.7 miles actually took 79.1 miles, but it was far, far nicer than just cruising on a freeway.

My destination for the night was a town called Laplace, Louisiana not 35 miles from New Orleans. I no longer remember if Laplace is locally pronounced “la place” or “la ploss” because there is a ritual role in our Vodou temple known as Laplace pronounced “la ploss.” So that’s how I say it.

The first third of the trip, heading toward the river, introduced me to many iconic Louisiana sights: Cajun seafood restaurants, po’boy shops and daiquiri stops. By the time I crossed the freeway things got a bit more rural, and I went through some ripped up roads thanks to construction. Everything was green, flat and open. It’s a very different look from rural Wisconsin, where the landscape is broken up not only by slight hills but by lots of trees.

Eventually I reached the river road. A levee runs along it, so there was no view of the river from the roadway itself.

This next third of the trip became somewhat unreal. The green open areas continued, but sometimes broken up by areas of giant, gnarled live oaks with Spanish moss hanging mystically from their branches. Just as common were sprawling industrial complexes, likely related to the petroleum or chemical refining industries. The river road was devoid of normal traffic, since most people took the freeway, but had no shortage of large semi trucks plowing down the two lanes.

Though intimidating at first, I soon found that these truck drivers were for the most part extremely courteous. I had no shoulder and couldn’t let them pass easily if there was oncoming traffic, but they just hung back and followed till they had a chance. Once or twice one edged too close, but compared to regular car and pickup traffic they were a joy.

I became so comfortable with the occasional trucks that I did something I had never done before: I called up my mom and chatted while cycling. I already felt a great sense of accomplishment because I was so close to reaching New Orleans, my first major stopping point. I was a little giddy and wanted to share my excitement with someone.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey Mom! Guess where I am!

Mom: What?

Me: Guess where I’m calling you from!

Mom: I can’t hear you!

Me: GUESS WHERE I AM!

Mom: I don’t know, where?

Me: I’m—

Semi: FWHOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

Mom: OH MY GOD WHERE ARE YOU?

We then talked for about a half hour, although how much information was successfully communicated is a question mark.

This conversation ended when, through the oak trees on my left, I saw one of the grander buildings of the last 1,800 miles. The gardening was magnificent. It had a lane leading up to a small parking lot as if it was open to the public, so I coasted off the road to explore. Families getting out of cars stared at me and I described the place to my Mom, still on the phone.

I had stumbled upon Houmas House, a plantation house open to public tours:

…although that wasn’t immediately obvious, as I had arrived at the back of the estate, a curious structure that consists of water cisterns that have been converted to wine cellars. I was moved by the old brick architecture. I got off the phone with Mom to take some pictures.

The rest of the River Road was like this. Occasional beautiful old estates—most not in such fine condition—set back among oak trees on one side, and chemical pipelines along the levee on the other. There were small wooden houses with peeling paint and ramshackle country churches as well. There were even streets with names like Evangeline. It was Louisiana.

I rode at a leisurely pace, and by the final third the sun was low once again. The air became cooler. I picked up speed, but wasn’t too worried about being out after dark—I had gotten used to it. This may not have been the best attitude, since the very end of my route required that I re-join the main highway, which I reached just at dark. It was only a few miles, but I never like high-speed traffic whipping past me at night.

Finally I turned off on a quiet residential street in LaPlace. Just a few blocks away, about halfway between the highway and the river, was the house of my Couchsurfing host for the night, Judith.

Judith lives with her adult daughter and her family. They have a small but well kept house in a cute neighborhood of shade trees and kids playing outside. Judith herself doesn’t have much mobility, but her daughter welcomed me in and made me at home. After a good hot shower I joined them for dinner and got to know everyone.

My impression of Judith is that she’s had many adventures of her own in her younger days. She’s a straight talker and she had a true understanding of what I was doing, skipping the usual questions to talk about practical things I may not know about New Orleans. She has a great, inappropriate sense of humor that kept me laughing continuously. [André's note: Not just for that evening, either. Many people I meet on my travels say they want to keep in touch, but most never do. Judith quickly added me to her Facebook friends.]

After some chatting, we turned in for a relatively early night. If all went according to plan I would reach New Orleans tomorrow, and I could feel the excitement in my chest. But I was so tired I had no problem falling asleep… 79.1 miles. (Could have been just 54.7!)

Map.

Total traveled this leg: 79.1

Total traveled since Day 1: 1860.3

Next time I set out on the final ride, with just 33 miles to reach New Orleans and friends with a warm bed for me. But what if it turns out the friends aren’t going to be there?

Do you like reading about this journey? Help make the next one a reality!

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Adventure, Bicycling, Road Logs, The Great Adventure, Travel

Don’t Bike Into Baton Rouge on a Saturday Night

Back to road logs (finally)! Last time, I cruised down one of the prettiest roads of my trip and arrived at one of the prettiest towns. This time, it’s about to get a lot less pretty.

Day 99 (Saturday, October 13, 2012)

In the morning, Jimmy made another delightful breakfast. I lingered, as I tend to do, savoring the last moments of comfort and camaraderie. Finally I walked the Giant out of Jimmy’s garden shed, hugged him goodbye one more time, and biked away.

Getting out of Natchez involved some hiccups but once I was on the open highway it was easy and peaceful ride. That changed as the day went on. I remain impressed by the ability of the Southern sun to cook the hell out of you even after a chilly autumn night. It was like day and night were totally different seasons.

I’d pass two major towns that day: Woodville on the Mississippi side of the border, and Francisville on the Louisiana side. By the time I got to Woodville it was lunch time and I was feeling the miles. I pulled off into town.

There’s this thing that happens when you’re cycling long distance where you start to look like a monster. You’re wearing your grubbiest road clothes and you’re drenched in sweat. Your nipples are probably rock hard through your t-shirt and maybe you shaved this morning or maybe you didn’t. If you’re fatigued enough, you may look like you just stumbled out of a hospital bed. It only gets passing glances at a gas station, but you really don’t fit in at nice events.

So as I biked into Woodville I was only briefly excited to see a festival going on. There was live music, a town square full of food booths, and families enjoying cotton candy in the streets. This will be fun! I thought. And then, as people eyed me and steered their kids far around me: No! It won’t!

The other problem with a crowded festival is where to put your cycle. All your stuff is on there, and it’s hard to keep an eye on it from even a short distance away in a crowd.

I decided not to bother navigating the festival proper, instead chaining the bike outside a cute local cafe where I could see it through the window. The families in the cafe were no more excited to rub elbows with me than those in the street, but now I was a paying customer. I was tired, and the icy air conditioning ate through my sweaty shorts and t-shirt. I mostly just wanted to keep to myself anyway.

This cafe also had a bathroom door whose only lock was one of those eye hook latches, like this bad boy:

…which you may wish to note, in case you plan to open a business, will never work for a public bathroom. It always ends the same way.

I used the restroom before eating to wash up a bit, and the latch was secure. After I finished my meal I went back in, this time noting it had been ripped clean out. Suffice it to say that the toddler and mom who came in the use the bathroom were just a few seconds too late to get a very good view of my bum.

Back on the road, I had really only come about a third of the way to Baton Rouge and the day was half over. As a plus, the crosswind had let up. As a minus, it was now about 400 times hotter than it was before.

I remember this section of the ride as brutal. It was my first serious flirt with heatstroke since the really bad incident outside Memphis. I kept dumping water over the back of my shirt, which helps in a huge way, but marveled at how quickly it evaporated bone dry. As I ran low on water I wished futilely for a gas station or rest stop, but there wasn’t one until long after the border crossing. I just had to suffer through.

Late in the afternoon a faint breeze kicked back up and the worst of the heat passed. I didn’t have time (or, at this point, much interest) to turn off into Francisville although the name intrigued me. I do remember feeling a slight sense of elation or pride at finally crossing the state line, as this was the last border of the trip and the entranceway to my new home. Mostly, though, I just pedaled.

My speed increased and I hoped I might actually make my destination before nightfall. I had arranged to stay with a Couchsurfing host we’ll call Carol, who lives in Baton Rouge. But my hopes were burst, as many times before, by yet another flat tire. I changed it—and then another one shortly after—along a golf course by the light of the setting sun. I noted with chagrin that my tubes were old and much-patched, and I was running out of good ones.

The golf course was the last scenic visa I’d see, and even that had pipelines running near it. By the time you approach Baton Rouge, the banks of the Mississippi River are nonstop chemical plants. I didn’t get to savor the green space long, though. I had emailed Carol to give her my ETA and received a reply:

“What route are you taking into the city? It gets very dangerous especially on a Saturday night.”

I frowned, not too worried. I gave her the route Google Maps gave me. A second later the phone rang.

It turned out that the route I was taking would lead me through most of Baton Rouge’s worst neighborhoods. She gave me a different plan, one which would only take me through some of its worst neighborhoods. And she warned me it would be “rowdy.” That wasn’t the half of it.

Entering Baton Rouge was, at first, like entering any city: heavy traffic, bad pavement and piles of tire-popping garbage on the shoulder. But soon everything changed. The sidewalks and street were packed with people. Hundreds of bodies per block milled around in the street. Traffic backed up. Police cruisers parked on sidewalks with lights flashing.

This is, apparently, any Saturday night in Baton Rouge. During Hurricane Katrina over 200,000 people fled from New Orleans to BR, raising the city’s population by one third overnight. Not all of those people stayed, but the population did jump by 200,000 total between 2000 and 2010. Even as a growing metropolis, Baton Rouge was not set up to handle these new arrivals.

That led to crowding, tension and crime. Of course, those who fled to BR and stayed were mostly those who already lived in poverty—who didn’t have the means to go back. To add another layer to it, most of the impoverished people in the exodus are of black descent. I’ll let you imagine local attitudes about this in a Southern US city.

In those conditions people have to let loose somewhere. So what otherwise might have been a block party, a neighborhood festival or a concert in the park became, essentially, a sidewalk-to-sidewalk street party.

Then I reached the street that Google had told me to turn on (which Carol told me to go straight past). I looked down it as I went by. It was completely closed to traffic by police barricades, with a sea of humans beyond.

My strategy was to keep moving. While cars ground to a total halt and drunks stumbled off the sidewalk, I swerved and dodged. I moved from lane to lane, into the oncoming, onto the sidewalk and off of it, around parked cars. Sometimes people noticed the cyclist with his bike loaded high with gear, and their eyes went wide or they pointed me out to their friends and yelled at me—but not until I was already passing them.

My strategy worked well, and I got through the party to a deserted industrial part of town that wasn’t much more reassuring. I had simply taken too long on the road, however, and Carol’s house turned out to be in a suburb well beyond the far side of the city. I had two hours of biking in the dark, through poorly signed residential neighborhoods and along heavily trafficked highways.

The final jaunt into Carol’s subdivision came with fresh breezes and a sense of relief. She lived in a two story home with a cast iron bench out front. She welcomed me in and gave me beer and food, in that order. 97.0 miles

Map.

Me wih "Carol." Photo by André.

Me with “Carol.” Photo by André.

Days 100-101 (October 14-15, 2012) — Rouge Priest

Sunday I joined Carol for church. We had spoken about it the night before and she didn’t pressure me at all to attend. Rather, I asked if I could come along. I made clear that I was only hoping to learn about their tradition and am not Christian myself, and that was fine with her. Given the positive experiences I’d had with churches earlier in my trip, I was interested to see how this one celebrated.

Carol is Episcopalian. I had dated an Episcopalian once but never gone to a service. Although she lives in the burbs, Carol drives into the city every week to attend worship service at St. James, a giant historic church that looks like this:

She introduced me to fellow parishioners and we settled in for the service. As a priest, I believe that ceremony is part performance (though that can’t be all of it, or you’re just a carny). St. James definitely knew how to create atmosphere and give their words and music impact. On the other hand, that week’s message wasn’t one I could connect with. The readings from the Bible included some real old fire-and-wrath stuff, and the theme of the week was tithing. For me, there’s always an inherent tension between the spiritual purpose of religion and the administrative need to solicit donations. (As a former nonprofit worker I know that that doesn’t make soliciting donations wrong. It just needs to be handled well.) To me, the heavy emphasis on giving money—during worship—felt uncomfortable. Especially coming from very well-heeled congregants who clearly didn’t have to sacrifice as much as others in the community might to tithe.

But the fire-and-wrath bits were extremely juicy poetry, and I saved the week’s program for inspiration in later fiction writing. After the worship service there was a breakfast on the church reception hall, and I met several of Carol’s friends. Everyone I met was friendly, warm and supportive of my journey across the Americas.

Afterward Carol wanted to show me the best view in Baton Rouge. The Louisiana State Capitol is the tallest capitol building in the US, at 450 feet with over 30 floors. It’s also open for visitors, and we got to see powerful WPA-era murals in the grand art deco lobby. We peeked in on (empty) courtrooms and legislative chambers and then ascended the elevator all the way to the top, where the observation deck was open.

Carol was a great tour guide. Aside from showing me around, she explained the history of Louisiana. She told me the state capital was originally New Orleans but it was moved to Baton Rouge “to get the politicians away from their Bourbon Street prostitutes.” She made good use of the view to orient me to the major landmarks of the city and explain all the industry along the river. I really enjoyed it.

Photo by André

View from the Capitol. Photo by André

Also as seen from the Capitol. Photo by André.

Also as seen from the Capitol. Photo by André.

Afterward she gave me a little driving tour to show me a few more spots, then we stopped for Puerto Rican beer at a local grocery. On the drive home we managed to run out of gas (!) on the freeway. Carol seemed nonplussed, explaining that Baton Rouge offers a roadside service that will “change a tire, jump a battery or give you one gallon of gas—but only one gallon.” Sure enough, the taxpayer-funded rescue service showed up in less than 15 minutes and we were on our way.

Back at her home, Carol understood that I needed to do some work. She showed me the nearly unlimited supply of tamales in her freezer and I had these and beer for lunch. It went to my head pretty quickly, leading to an interesting afternoon of work.

That evening over dinner, Carol told me about the social business she runs in Nicaragua. She had visited that country many times and made local friends, mainly women. She saw that the women from the villages made beautiful handcrafts and sold them for tiny prices. Large merchants or foreign buyers resold them for much more in urban centers to tourists or overseas. Carol had worked to form a collective where women in several villages could pool their handcrafts at a single urban shop that they owned together. That way they could sell their work at tourist prices and keep the profit. I love it.

Carol’s work had two highly visible results in her life: she spent a lot of time in Nicaragua, and she had a ton of great artwork in her house. The less visible but equally important result was that she had a strong sense of purpose and determination.

During dinner I commented on a painting upstairs that I liked. Carol said it was painted by her son, which took me by surprise because she had never mentioned having kids. She didn’t offer any more details about it. Sensing this, I didn’t ask any questions.

The next day was Monday. I had told Carol about my sad, leaky tires and how I was debating pushing on to New Orleans anyway—just two days away if the bike held together—versus taking a day to go a bike shop. She told me she knew a great bicycle mechanic who worked out of a shop behind his home, and by mid-morning we were on our way.

The bike mechanic was an older gent and was as skilled as Carol had said. He taught me a few things about my machine while he turned it upside down in his shop. We left it with him for a few hours and the Giant was as good as new, wheels trued and ready to roll.

That night we again had dinner together. This time Carol opened up more about her adult son. She told me that he had died several years earlier. She struggled between a sense of anger that she could barely contain, and the urge to be polite and positive in front of company. I told her she could talk honestly and she did.

I won’t share Carol’s son’s story here, but I will say that she had a great deal of advice for me: about my trip, about my family, and especially about my sister. (I had told Carol it bothered me that I never got to see my sister, who was cloistered in a Buddhist monastery.) I listened carefully and tried to absorb her advice. It was hard won, after all, and if she had learned lessons about how to live a good life after the immense hardship of losing a child, it would be a sin not to take them to heart.

To Carol, my ambition in riding to South America reminded her of the son she had lost and was part of why she was so supportive of my trip. To me, it was touching that this woman was willing to share with me the pain that she carried. I knew I could do nothing to relieve it, but I also sensed that it helped her to speak about it. I listened as long as she wanted to talk.

By the end of our visit, Carol had invited me to meet up with her in Nicaragua if we’re both in that country at the same time. Creating this social business was the project that gave her something to do with herself after she lost her son. I would love to stop and meet the women behind it one day.

Total traveled this leg: 97.0

Total traveled since Day 1: 1781.2

The next morning my first Baton Rouge visit ended and I took off once again. I’ll tell that story soon. Until then you can also read the previous road logs.

Keep this journey going:

Fellowship of the Wheel bicycle adventure

Your contribution helps us afford crucial safety precautions, AND you get exclusive perks like behind the scenes video logs, letters from the road and blessings from Mexico! Click here to support the the Fellowship of the Wheel

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Religion

Doing My Job as a Priest

Image by Justin Ornellas

A friend of mine has been facing repeated heartbreak as he tries to get a fledgling relationship off the ground. We talked recently and he asked me, “Why do I have to keep paying in tears and pain for the sin of desiring romantic human companionship? Sometimes I feel cursed.”

This led to a conversation:

Me: Do you ever talk to your spirits?

Friend: Other than an aimless “why?” screamed towards the Heavens, no.

Me: Might not be a bad idea.

Friend: Why? You think I’m cursed?

Me: No, I don’t. If I’d felt that I would have done a ceremony for you already.

Friend: I don’t think I’m cursed either.
Just unhinged.

Me: The spirit world has a way of unblocking things that are blocked and pointing out things that aren’t easy to see. That’s the reason I suggest it. Gently, of course, with with total respect for your own freedom to do as you see fit spiritually :)

Friend: How should I begin? I need answers with this thing. I’m losing it.

Me: I would begin by just going to a quiet place and talking to them. Bring a gift, even if it’s just water or a few coins. Ask them for their guidance and listen with an open heart.

They may ask you to make changes or to do something. If you feel comfortable with what they say then do it. If you make the changes they tell you to make you will see the ripples of it across your life.

That is my experience.

Friend: Did you sense something? Hear something? Like how did you recognize the guidance?

Me: I think it’s different for every person. I wouldn’t expect a voice to whisper in your ear (might be a bad sign if it does). I feel it in my heart.

Friend: LOL
I’m going to the Beach this afternoon. What kind of offering do you think I should take? Pennies to throw into the water? I’m honestly clueless about these things.

Me: I think pennies are a great idea.

I may no longer run a temple, lead many public ceremonies, or even have a clear sense of whether the gods exist outside our heads… but I’d like to think I’m still doing my job as a priest for those who need it.

Join a handful of adventurers on a spiritual journey across Mexico:

Fellowship of the Wheel bicycle adventure

Your contribution helps us afford crucial safety precautions, AND you get exclusive perks like behind the scenes video logs, letters from the road and blessings from Mexico! Click here to support the the Fellowship of the Wheel

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Adventure, Adventure Prep, Fellowship of the Wheel, The Great Adventure, Travel

A Roguish Update

Preparation for the Fellowship has kept me busy this week (and therefore quiet on this blog), but I wanted to give everyone an update.

I’m in New Orleans, as I have been since the Texas Leg. For the first two months here I rented a room, and this month I was invited to stay in a friend’s guest bedroom. I pay utilities, help him with a few errands, and we’re all getting along great.

My to-do list while here has been a whirlwind. First I had to get the word out about the ride across Mexico and recruit cyclists, which went well. Then I had to put together our funding campaign, which I did but the results have been slow. And this month I’ve had to focus on getting our little group ready: making sure everyone knows where to be and when to be there, and that all the arrangements are in place when we show up to get started.

This has by far been the most intimidating part of the preparation, and I spend pretty much every day racing from one task to another. I’m the sort of person who really prefers to have a single, large project to lose myself in (like writing a novel or a batch of 10 articles for a client). A to-do list of dozens of smaller, unconnected items is pretty much my nightmare. But it’s also to be expected before just about any large adventure.

Given that I also have client work to do, what’s fallen by the wayside is much of my own personal preparation. I realized this week that I haven’t yet gotten a physical, gone to the dentist or gotten new contact lenses as I’d planned to; I haven’t registered for an absentee ballot so I can vote from Mexico; I haven’t switched to my new phone or made a final decision on what shelter I’ll be sleeping in on the road.

There’s no doubt that these projects will get done. I wake up every morning, check my list and dive in. What will get triaged, unfortunately, is my own writing. Aside from not blogging here this week, I have three finished short stories I won’t have time to edit and send out before the trip, and I’m about 40% of the way through writing another book. It gets extremely strong feedback from my writers’ group, but I won’t make much more progress on it till after we reach the Yucatán.

All of this, of course, makes me question the Adventure overall. I felt the same way last time I left New Orleans to push the journey forward. In one form or another I’ve been planning for this journey since March, when I finished the kayak leg. There’s no denying that it’s taken my focus away from other things I care about.

So I ask myself: what takes me forward? It’s more than just a stubbornness, a refusal to quit (though that is something I excel at). There’s also a sense of excitement. Finally getting to cruise into the Yucatán on my bicycle, the wind in my face, is an image that grabs me. It’s a day, like the day I rolled into New Orleans, that I want to remember for the rest of my life.

And this time I have companions. I don’t know how much will change, compared to past legs, with fellow adventurers at my side. It should make many of the hard times easier, and it will also bring problems of its own. But the individual personalities of those who have stepped forward are recommendation enough, and I would want the chance to mingle with a group like this whether we were on an adventure or not.

So a good crew, a good goal, and a certain amount of refusal to give in. Is that justification for a great adventure? I don’t know. But I’m damn well going to find out.

Please help us launch this adventure:

Fellowship of the Wheel bicycle adventure

Your contribution helps us afford crucial safety precautions, AND you get exclusive perks like behind the scenes video logs, letters from the road and blessings from Mexico! Please support the the Fellowship of the Wheel

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Deadline Extension

Fellowship of the Wheel adventure campaign

Several people have contacted me and said that they would like to be able to contribute to the Fellowship of the Wheel fundraiser, but won’t be able to before the campaign deadline. Several others have suggested that I should extend the deadline so that people can give right up till the day the trip starts, which will make it more exciting and possible lead to a few last minute contributions.

So, good news: the deadline has now been extended through November 8!

If you haven’t heard, contributions to this campaign will help us cover important group costs, like a support vehicle to tail us through the notorious border region. In other words, the money you contribute to the campaign directly helps us stay safe as we cycle. It will also help provide must-have equipment such as a wireless device we can use to get wi-fi anywhere in Mexico. That helps us stay in touch and further contributes to our safety.

Supporters get much more than a thank you (although your name is inscribed in a thank you card that will travel all 2,000 miles of our journey with us). You also get all kinds of perks, from video logs recorded as we travel to a series of stories inspired by the places we visit. We can even send you postcards and hand-written letters from the road.

If you haven’t already, please consider contributing to the campaign. Even a $1 donation helps (and gets your name on the card). And please share the link and tell your friends. Check out the campaign here.

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On Losing an Adventurer

Photo by Amsterdamized

Recently I wrote that a total of 18 people have expressed interest in the Fellowship of the Wheel, of which about nine are serious. So what happened to the other nine?

A trip like this is a big commitment. I’ve always assumed that not everyone who threw their hat in the ring would actually show up. Taking a cue from my college activism days, I expected the “law of halves” to take effect: half of all interested would be serious, and half of those will follow through. In other words, if just five adventurers show up in the flesh I’ll be quite happy.

So I wasn’t surprised that a handful of people have bowed out so far, although I am surprised at the reasons why. I assumed that security would be the biggest source of attrition. Potential adventurers would start out enthusiastic, I imagined, but then balk as friends and family scared them with stories of mass graves in Mexico. (Speaking only for my own friends and family, who have overall been amazingly supportive, telling me these horror stories is an eerily popular activity.)

At least two group members have indeed reported warnings from friends when they announced their intention. But out of 18 people interested, only one has cancelled over safety concerns. And even in that individual’s case, the worries were more his wife’s than his own and it sounds like a busy work schedule was a bigger factor.

Another individual who dropped out had very different reasons:

  1. He doesn’t approve of a fundraiser to help defray group costs;
  2. He couldn’t understand why we’re taking “so long” (80 days) to bike across Mexico.

Both of these objections come down to personal preference. The Fellowship has a clear mission to make adventure accessible and to use that adventure as a chance to learn about ourselves and the world. Both the fundraiser and the slow pace are intentional choices to support that mission.

The fundraiser in particular helps reduce barriers to people who wish to come. The trip is already expensive: you need a plane or bus ticket, a decent amount of cycling equipment, and money for food and lodging on the road. The individual in question, an older adult with a lot of cycling experience, wrote that “I… would rather just pay my share,” instead of relying on contributions. And that’s a very reasonable preference. But not everyone is an experienced cyclist, and it’s easy to forget how costly it can be to a beginner. If I asked everyone to pay a $300 entrance fee I suspect we’d lose several of the younger and less experienced members of the group, and some people may never have expressed interest at all. That would go against the core mission of making adventure accessible.

Likewise with the length of the journey. Our 80 day trip includes three day rest stops every week or so, plus a week long break in Catemaco for Christmas and New Year’s. “The three day rest stops could be eliminated or reduced to one day,” our erstwhile companion wrote. “The 80 day trip could be reduced to 40.”

Again, this is a very reasonable preference. Some cyclists hit the road in order to challenge themselves athletically, to see how many miles they can log per day or how fast they can go. This competitive spirit is a huge motive in the cycling community and can be a lot of fun.

But it’s not our main goal. The breaks give us much more than physical rest—they give us a chance to learn from the towns we visit. Three days is time to see pyramids, to talk to locals, to try a regional dish, to tour a museum, or simply to explore the streets of a new place. These are the activities that make you think about yourself and your place in the world. They’re opportunities to make new friends, to learn about a people and to see things you would never notice rushing by. This is where a sense of adventure and exploration comes from.

I wasn’t the smallest bit offended by this adventurer’s reasons for dropping out. I was grateful he explained them. It made it clear that we want something different from our travels. And it was a good reminder that I should clarify expectation on pacing to each and every member of the group before we hit the road together. We’ll have both long, disciplined days on the road and slow, easy days of freeform exploring. The people who enjoy both are the ones who will be happiest with our Fellowship.

Please help us travel safely (and earn amazing rewards!) by contributing to the Fellowship of the Wheel today.

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Adventure, Bicycling, Fellowship of the Wheel

My Growing Group of Nomads

Photo by ItzaFineDay

I’m amazed by the group of adventurers who’ve joined the Fellowship of the Wheel.

We have a Buddhist who bicycles every day. He keeps vegetarian, but said he isn’t too worried about lard in his beans and rice. And if it’s served with chicken, he told me, he’ll just pull out those bits and give them to someone who eats meat.

We have a webmaster who was already planning a ride across Mexico of his own. In the past he has driven dogsleds in Alaska and built earth houses in New Mexico. He was going to make the trip across Mexico solo but, like me, thought it would be more fun to go with a group.

We have a creative writing professor, a Quaker who studies international education, and a girlfriend/boyfriend duo who do their bicycling as a team.

There are more, but you get the idea. At first I was floored by the sheet number of people who responded to my call for adventurers—about 18 total, and roughly half of those are serious—but as I get to know them better I’m increasingly awed by the types of people they are. Not all have cycling experience, but all have some kind of adventurous spirit and have lived amazing, unusual experiences. Many are nomadic.

One trend in particular stands out. I asked the group members to take turns introducing themselves by email. One after another said the same thing: they sold or gave up their possessions so they could live a different life.

In many ways that’s the ultimate commitment for someone seeking a life outside the ordinary. Once you give up your belongings you are burning the ship that brought you from a traditional life to one filled with adventure. I remember the freeing feeling during the summer I gave up my things. I rarely think of the belongings I once had, which held me back from traveling, and when I do it’s with a sense of relief.

Needless to say, I’m excited to meet each of these adventurers in person. Once we hit the road together I will introduce them here on Rogue Priest, but more importantly I’ll also ask them to start blogs of their own and report their own experiences. It’s good to have a multiplicity of perspectives.

Meanwhile, you can help us make this trip a safe one by making a contribution. In exchange you get access to video logs of the journey, stories about the places we visit and even get postcards sent from the road. Please contribute to the Fellowship of the Wheel today.

Do you have questions about the people I’ve recruited, how I recruited them, or how I went about screening them? Leave a comment below. What do you think of the group so far?

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