Sunday, July 27, 2008

Blissing out on Beauty

They say too much of a good thing, isn't good.  Can one overdose on beauty?  My ride this morning is seeped in it.  The trail neanders through a lush, verdent forest.  The sun peaks through the canopy speckling my path with flashes of golden light.  Vines hang down from the branches, young deers prance across the path, cardinals play in the air before me, countless turtles sun bath on the old canal beside the path.   As I pass, they christen the air with a ongoing medlley of plops as they dive into the water for cover.  I can't get over how nice it is out here.

I passed a couple this morning who too are cycling towards Washington.  I commented on how little gear they were carrying for their trip.  "I don't want to make you envious said one, but we're staying at Bed and Breakfasts along the way".  I nodded, and smiled  to myself inwardly.  I would never in a million years forsake my non-B&B travel and the experiences it has precipitated!

The encounter reminded me of a scene from Star Wars, the Empire Strikes Back.  Luke has traveled to the planet Dagobah to learn from Yoda, the master jedi teacher.  Trekking through the jungle they come to the entrance of a dark cave.  Luke is curious what lurks within.  He grabs his light saber to investigate. Yoda shakes his head: "You not need that in there.  Whatever you bring you will meet" .  Impetuously, Luke brings it anyway.  There he meets and faces a phatom Darth Vader with a light saber also.  They fight, and when Vader's head falls to the ground, it is Luke's face that peers out.

 What you bring on a journey, shapes it.   If you're traveling in a monster RV you'll be camping in a lot of Walmart parking lots.  If you're on a bike, you see deers, turtles, and meet tons of people.  If you plan to stay at B&B's, there you will stay.  If you bring your own tent-- who knows where you will be!  I don't mean to judge.  Its not better or worse in any which way.  It just the way it is.

Paw Paw

This evening I was expecting to use my last bit of gas to warm up a can of soup for dinner.  I expected to camp in a lonely spot along the trail.  The river would be my host, I, its guest.  

 I disembarked from the CO trail at Paw Paw after a cataclysimic 30 minutes of technical disasters-- a flat tire, forgotten sun glasses, backtracking, iPod sucked into spokes, headphones destroyed, sun glasses lost, macbook battery cracked.   

Paw Paw is a little town in West Virgina , with a 'Value Dollar' store.  After loading up on my frayed equipment at disconcertingly low prices, I packed up my bike in the parking lot.  Three kids were batting their new foam swords around beside me-- one bravely inquired where I was going.  

Impetuously I told the truth.  Its not that I normally lie.  I just abbreviate.  I don't want to get into a long story with every casual inquiry.   Usually, I say "Washington-- the end of the CO trail".  This time I said "Berlin".  Something about that caught their and their father's attention.  Graciously, just as they were pulling away, the father asked me if I wanted to stay the night at their place.

I don't really need a place to stay.  I am not looking for it, nor wanting it.  I am overjoyed at each night I camp in my tent along this beautiful trail.  However, perhaps it is precisely that position of not wanting, that is drawing me so many kind and hospitable invitations.     Just the other night I camped on the lawn on a beautiful home of a Cumberland PA  family-- I was treated to a wonderful breakfast and a packed lunch.  The night before, while eating at a restaurant in Connellsville, the man washing dishes in the back stopped to talk to me.  He invited me to spend the night at his humble home.

Tonight, instead of my solitary soup, I've had a great BBQed dinner, a carefully poured Guiness, and the company of three rambunctious boys.  Their father writes for the Washington Post and Playboy.  The mother is the vice president of the World Wild Life Fund.  They invited over two Russian artists and we set a big bond fire ablaze.  

I couldn't make this up if I tried.

The stars and the velvet night sky are as lucid as in Smithers.  We're surrounded by forest and the river flows nearby.  The three kids cannot fathom how lucky they are.  Tonight they camp out on the porch with their loving and spectacularly involved father.  

Maybe one day they too will sit on a porch with a beer in hand, and realize how fortunate they were one summer long ago.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Beautiful Days

I am starting to fall behind in my blogging.  The reason is not for lack of material.  Everyday is a treasure trove of new and uncannily rich experiences and encounters.  They come at me one moment after the other.  

In a recent e-mail to a friend I had seen a week ago, I commented that it seemed a month had passed.  In the space of a week I have had a harrowing experience in a lightning storm, jumped into cool and calm rivers, met beautiful and kind people one after the other, and completed the Great Allegheny Passage Trail.  After camping in the back yard of a kind and generous family, I spent the afternoon with a beautiful young lady who gave me an improptu tour of Cumberland, Maryland and insightful discourse on the state of american culture.  And of course, while we walk-- I was experiencing it!  On the trail I have met fellow cyclists with great stories, and locals who are happy to encounter and to help out a "free radical" traveler along the road. 

 I often think that if I had just one day a month like I have had this week, back in Smithers, I would be happy.  Here I am having them everyday.  I am feeling 'free' and my journey most people are finding rather 'radical'.  So 'free radical' isn't such a bad term.

I now embark on the 185 mile long Chesapeake & Ohio Canal bike trail now.  Its a little rougher than the Allegheny trail but just as nice.  It follows a 18th century canal tow path through forest and fields.  I have stopped by the side of the trail and picked up someone's kindly unsecured wireless network.  I've been making some calls and checking my e-mail.
Now... back to the trail!

Photo taken by a fellow cyclist overlooking the continental  divide.  At this point water on one side flows to the Gulf of Mexico watershed.  Water on the other flows to the Chesepeake watershed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Resplendent Providence

I haven't know quite what to say the last little while.

Despite my silence, I find myself in a beautiufl place.  Its an incredible summer day.  Green lushly abounds.  It is as if the many months of cold and cool seasons that I have banked up in the North are being cashed in.  In return I am receiving days so intensely summerful that even the memory of Winter is melting away.  I walk barefoot, and happily shed my shirt.  The river calls me-- twice yesterday I quenched myself by plunging into its cool waters.

I am now moving on from Pittsburgh to the east coast.  I picked up an old bike, have fixed it up and am cycling on.

It was a tortuous metropolitan exit.  I am attempting to take the Great Allegheny Trail-- supposedly a "complete bike trail to Washington DC".  The first miles however were plagued by traffic, construction, merciless drivers, confusing detours, dead ends, three lane highways with no cyclist alley and two flat tires. 

 It was a little like doing Dante's Hell by bike.  

Just when I was starting to doubt the wisdom of this so called "trail" and contemplating the Greyhound an angel appeared.  More precisely a nice guy in a yellow shirt who was one of the trail monitors.  He lead me through the complex trail meanderings of Versailles Pensilvania to the a much more appropriate begining of the Allegheny trail.

Just like Dante being led by Virgil out of the Inferno, I have emerged into el Paradiso.  

Wow.  In the space of one day I went from the worst cycling experience to the best cycling.  I am now on this amazing dedicated bike path following the river through forests and fields.  It is beautiful.  No cars, no roads or highways.  You just cruise through the country side.   When it gets too hot you jump into the river to cool off. 

Slowly, but surely, my momentum is returning.  So too is my focus.  In a past blog post I spoke of how leaving Smithers was a process of gradually moving from the known (my community, my  province, my country) into greater and greater unknown.  Leaving Pittsburgh is a major plunge.  I am in awe however of how the path is unfolding with resplendent providence.  Every time I think I have camped at the most beautiful spot ever, the next one trumps it.  I did not expect the trail to be so bad, nor so good!

I move steadily onward.  Europe beckons.  I plan to cycle to NYC then fly to London.  From there I will pick up another bike and continue towards Berlin.  

For those of you who have been following my blog and haven't heard, I didn't get al the funding together for my Austrian program.  Yes... it sucks.  But, I have discovered that my efforts over the last months put me in an amazing position:  I have money, bike equipment, tons of time, and a lucid focus on the art I wish to pursue.  

The whole reason I applied to that particular program was because of my dream to work from Berlin (the MA had a residency there).  It is one of the hottest art spots in the world right now.  

So... I am following... nay... living...  my dream.  I plunge forward on a path that is more and more feeling like a destination and I continue to work on my world oneness mandala project.  

More on that one later!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Open Hand

Two dogs sit at my feet.  I sit with my coffee and journal on the porch.  Its a quintessential moment of american repose.  Gabrielle sits writing.  Birds chirp.  The neighbours stars and stripes waves idly in the humid breeze.  All of a sudden the rain begins to fall.  The leaves shudder with the dance of the drops.  The air cools and I immerse my self in the sound of their pitter patter.

I am reminded of an incident while cycling down Vancouver island.  A rare leaf fluttered down from a tree overhanging the highway.  As it wafted downwards I approached on my bike.  I raised and opened my hand as if to catch it-- surely a preposterously impossible feat given its cascading flutter and my unadjustable linear trajectory.  

The leaf fell into my open palm.  It was almost unnecessary to close my fingers its landing was so perfect.

Sometimes I yearn again for the open road.  I must remind myself that the summer leafs that fall from these trees and the wind that blows them are no different.  The same magic is there.  One's hand needs simply to be open.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I am in America

I can't help it.  Undoubtedly it is my Canadian tinted glasses, but in my time here in the US of A, I have picked up some quintessentially american statements.  In several cases I had my laptop open and typed them out as they were spoken.  In others, their sheer stature seered them into my memory!

These words were overheard the other day on way from Port Angeles to Seattle.

"I need some greasy tater totts-- they will heeaaaaal my bod-ay!"  (spoken in a thick southern accent by someone who had been complaining about eating too many vegetables and salads while in Canada).

"Apparently, the whole mountain is for sale"  A comment made by the bus driver when someone alluded to the nice scenery.

"The Power of a Positive Wife"  The title of a red white and blue book in the window of a Christian book store.

"Live. Worship.  Shop"  The motto under the sign in Bellevue, one of  the towns around Pittsburgh.

"Usually the ferry has a coast guard escort-- they have big guns on board to protect us from Terrorism"  Another comment by the bus driver on the ferry across to Seattle.  He was however speaking with genuine cynicism.  The conversation that follow by the various locals was about the collossal waste of money the escort entailed.

The Knight in the Forest

We all know those epic movies that follow a lone knight as he battles dragons, trolls and other impending obstacles on his way to some lofty, near impossible goal.  On his (or her of course!) long journey, he traverses forests, rivers, oceans and mountains, toiling in the rain and blazing sun.   

Not to be too melodramatic, or too influenced by Jospeh Cambell, but, this evening I feel a little bit like that knight.

Yes, I've been cycling over mountains and now I happen to write from a ferry while crossing the ocean to Seattle.  However, if the anology falls into place tonight, it is because I have just escaped the firey breath of a dragon.  The US border patrol to be precise.  I just barely, barely made it across this evening to Port Angeles.  It turns out that a past crossing difficulty 5 years ago is still linked to my passport-- my brand new passport at that.  

However, I had arrows ready to let fly, my sword in its scabbard, and steed well watered!  I have learned from past crossing experiences.   I had all my tickets, letters of reference, proof of residency, proof of funds, etc... all ready to go.  Presented one after another in a barrage of steely facts, I was able to convince the overworked, distant and skeptical officer the truth of my story.  

And, just in time.  

The ferry horn had already sounded I  rushed on board last.  The gate was closed behind me as I scuttled across the deck to the nearest bench, a nervous wreck!

Of course, once aboard, it only took a moment to sheath my sword, and tie up my trusted stead-- or rather park my luggage and pocket my papers and laptop. 

Onward ho!  Off into the sunset I sail-- a small colourful respite.  Does the next monster even dare rear its head from the depths of the bright sea?   

Pedal by Pedal: An Intimate Goodbye

There is something wonderful about departing a place by your own power.  Each pedal, each little rock and each massive mountain that I pass on the side of road is one more pedal, one more rock and one more mountain away from Smithers.  With each pedal being a raw physical act, the intention and meaning seeps deeper and deeper into my departure.

The fact that it is all happening in slow motion-- it has taken me four or five days now-- to get to Prince Rupert, is also fantastic.  It gives me not only time to reflect, but time to add the last layer of harmonious closure to my departure.  And of course, it is also an opportunity to reflect on the new opportunities before me.  As I move further away, the opportunities grow brighter and I catch myself pedaling a little faster.

My pedal by pedal, slow motion departure is also a way to intimately say good bye to the land that has been my home for the last four or five years and where I grew up.  The highway that I am traveling, from Smithers to Prince Rupert, is rife with places that have meaning and memories for me-- side roads, campsites, towns, cafes, hotels, galleries, mountains, trails, signs, views, rocks-- you name it.  

As I pass them by, the memories come back.  As I pedal by, I have a chance to turn them over like a beautiful stone picked up on the beach, and feel the emotions and the weight they come with.  

And... I have the chance to nod my head, push down on the pedals and move steadily on.