A “Young Gun” Reflection

Everyone has been asking me if I have felt a dramatic change in myself since the conclusion of the trip. And to them, I respond, “I’m not really sure. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.” And that’s the truth of it. I recognize the enormity of the accomplishment that we just completed. I haven’t, however, noticed a change in my outlook on life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve tried to live my life in accordance with the Oscar Wilde quote that I put on the back of the cards we printed for our trip:

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Over the years, I’ve developed an appetite for the unknown. When I was younger, I decided to attend Boston College without ever having seen the campus beforehand. I wanted something completely different than the homogenous “sunny and 75” days that LA brought 90% of the year. I was bored by the warm and clear Los Angeles sky, free of blemishes. I certainly didn’t feel that way all the time, and at times it felt like I was living in la-la land. I had this urge that I needed to get out and see some more of the world to figure out where I fit in.

Towards the end of my time at BC, I felt like I had become confined to the bubble of privilege and entitlement that existed on campus. It was suffocating at times, and towards the end of my graduation I had this feeling, much like before leaving high school, that I needed to get out in the world and learn how to live again.

I had a decent amount of money that I had saved up from a couple jobs that I had in college. I wanted to spend it all traveling before I moved to Paraguay to teach English. I backpacked Europe by myself for two months, meeting friends and seeing places that I had only read about along the way. I went to Paraguay, penniless, and eager to start the next chapter of my life.

In Tobati, I learned how to live again. It took some time, and certainly a lot of patience. I discovered, however, that I learned the most about myself when I was completely out of my element. It was sink or swim for me in Paraguay. I could either coast through the year, and not put myself out there or adapt to the ever so different Paraguayan culture. Or, I could challenge myself to improve my Spanish and get better on a daily basis. I think this mentality that I developed has inspired me to challenge myself in every aspect of my life and see truly just what is possible.

My work with Joel Unzain, ICRM alum and current UPENN freshman, further enforced our idea that truly “todo es possible,”—everything is possible.

It sounds like such a cliché at times, but Darren and I try and espouse this mindset and set an example for the kids at school. All of the students look up to Joel. They see what he has accomplished, and they set their focus on achieving exactly what he did. Joel is a kid who came from Punta del Este, a remote town in the jungle that loses electricity on a daily basis. The kid would study for the SAT by candlelight until 4am in the morning, only to switch to chemistry after that in order to prepare for an exam later that day.

Joel never complained about the conditions he endured. Not once. He recognized the elements around him that were unchangeable, and instead focused all of his efforts on things which he had control over. He couldn’t help where he was from, or if there was a rainstorm that knocked out electricity in his house. He DID have control over things like his own will and determination. He set his goal of getting into college, and he wasn’t going to stop until he got there.

I remember being on the phone with an admissions officer from one of the schools that Joel applied to. She told me that they had accepted Joel and he would be receiving a 100%+ academic scholarship. I was frozen. I didn’t know how to react. It was the most significant moment of my life, yet I had no outward reaction. I could envision Joel graduating from UPENN and holding an influential job down the line, forever changing the lives of his family members and those in the community. This is the type of change that Darren and I aim to create in Tobati.

As happy as I was for Joel, however, I couldn’t help but start thinking further down the line. What could I do to replicate this for other kids at the Institute? How can I help establish a system of giving back that will exist after I stop working at the school? I suppose that’s just the way that my mind works. I am always looking to the next step.

I remember being with Darren and Eric (previous director) when we initially had the idea to do the cross-country bike trip. The whole thing was actually Eric’s idea. The more we talked about it, we realized that it would be entirely doable during summer break (winter break for US). Unfortunately, Eric wouldn’t be able to join us because of his grad school commitments at Fordham.

Darren and I saw the idea as perfect for the Institute. Neither of us were cyclists. Darren’s cycling experience included riding his mountain bike to Little League practice when he was 12. Mine was riding my bike from my house to the ma and pop donut shop a mile from my house to get snacks before a full day of watching football on a couch. We wanted to show the kids that truly anything was possible if you set your mind to it. Just look at us—a couple rookies who bought some bikes and pedaled for 3,000 miles across the country.

When we were on the bikes, enduring tough gravel and increasingly irritating saddle sores, the only thing on our mind was the finish line. We encountered more obstacles than you could imagine. Fierce, protective and vicious pit bulls. Constant, frigid headwinds that sought to demoralize you to the point of quitting. Snow, rain, freezing rain, hail, tornadoes, sand storms. Flat tires and cold feet. Indigestion and insomnia. Abominable snowmen. You name it, and we had it.

You learn to focus on the good, on the things within your element of control. At one point, Darren and I would just start laughing after encountering a vicious and swirling 15mph wind. What’s the point in getting frustrated? You’re just diverting your attention away from your positive energy that has the power to convince yourself that you’re capable of achieving something as crazy as crossing the country on a bike.

I’d hear all the time while on the road how “young and stupid” I was. I guess that’s where the nickname, “The Young Gun” came from. I suppose I hadn’t thought everything out before the trip started. But how could I? We would never know where we were going to stay more than a day or two in advance. Each day we woke up with a goal to get to the next town, and we didn’t stop until we did. We networked like crazy on sites like warmshowers.org and couchsurfing to find hosts in the cities that we would pass along the way. But sometimes things happen like you getting stranded on the side of the road, and a psychic wearing a tie-die tee shirt and high top basketball sneakers invites you to crash at her place for the night (thanks Yvoty!).

The entire trip was a crash course on how to embrace the unknown. If you learn to trust yourself, you’ll be able to flourish in any situation that you find yourself in. For the past two months, Darren and I have been living in a constant state of uncertainty. Because of this, we were forced into tough situations where there often weren’t any rays of hope. It was sink or swim. We decided to swim.

Darren detailed my second to last day of riding well. It was a 45-mile ascent through a mountain range. A storm was lingering right above the mountains, waiting to wreak havoc on San Diego. All the buzz for the past few days was how big this storm was going to be, and how dangerous the conditions were. Each person we ran into had something to say about the storm. Everyone and their mothers love talking about the weather. I sware, I must have listened to over ten hours of conversation solely about the weather over the last couple days of the trip.

Now I, in my naïve (and according to others, stupid) outlook on intangibles like weather, saw this as just another obstacle. There wasn’t anything that was going to stop me from getting up that mountain. It was the homestretch of the trip, and I wasn’t about to sit this one out because of a couple rain clouds and wind gusts. I had my sights set on San Diego, and as far as I was concerned, there wasn’t anything that was going to stop me from getting there.

Even after Graeme’s multiple attempts to convince me otherwise, Darren looked at him and said, “Mate, I know this guy. There isn’t anything you can say to stop him from getting to the top of that mountain tomorrow.”

Everyone I talked to saw the storm as a blockade. I saw it as an obstacle, an impediment. I remember being at the RV park in Ocotillo (at the base of the mountain), and listening to Graeme and Jackson talk about just how threatening the weather was. I sat back listening, with a mischievous grin on my face. It was all this negative talk about the weather, and how it would be impossible to ride in those conditions. Impossible is nothing. Something is only impossible if you tell yourself it is. If you set goals for yourself, however, and don’t stop till you get there, then you’ll constantly be pushing the limit on your realm of what’s achievable or not.

The whole time I knew that I was going to climb that beast whether there was rain, snow, wind, or pit bulls in my path. It was a challenge I set for myself, and I wouldn’t be denied.

And I did it. And it was the most glorious day of riding. I was by myself, taking in the most astonishing sights of the trip. The storm had a way of creating these unbelievable colors in the sky when there was a clear moment. The air was crisp, and my mind was clear. There I was, atop this mountain that I had just scaled, with no one but myself. It was as if I was being rewarded for pushing the limits. My enduring the most brutal conditions of the trip led to the most rewarding feeling of the entire voyage.

Todo es Posible.

Todo es Posible.

 

One of Tay's favorite photos of the day.

One of Tay’s favorite photos of the day.

I hope that our students will see what we did and realize that they too are capable of doing things that people have told them are unachievable. Darren and I are all about breaking the mold of complacency in Tobati. One must believe in himself and see beyond the walls that have been set in place by previous generations.

This trip, along with my travels and my experiences in Paraguay, has been an attempt to continue actively living. You’ll know when you are truly alive, like the moment where I was weightless on top of the mountain near San Diego with a rainbow above me and the clouds beside me.

Like Mr. Wilde said, “most people exist, that is all.” Find a way to live, and the rest will fall in place.

A note awaiting the guys at our school in Paraguay. The translation--"Teacher Darren & Taylor, thank you for the love and the great sense of belonging that you have shown to all of us who are members of this wonderful institution. Both of you are the best evidence we have to say that "Everything is possible"!

A note awaiting the guys at our school in Paraguay. The translation–“Teacher Darren & Taylor, thank you for the love and the great sense of belonging that you have shown to all of us who are members of this wonderful institution. Both of you are the best evidence we have to say that “Everything is possible”!

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The Finish Line– Pine Valley, CA—San Diego, CA

After dinner in Pine Valley, we came home and packed our bags in preparation of what would be our last and final ride of the trip. I was preparing for some serious weather. Taylor and I laid out on the dining room or table our padded spandex shorts, shirts, socks, jacket and new rainproof suits.

One of the best purchases of the trip.

One of the best purchases of the trip.

I kind of felt like a gladiator preparing for what could be his last battle ever. I slept pretty well for my final night. I woke up a few times and poked my head out the door to see how the winds and rain were performing. A fierce wind and heavy rain pummeled us between 11:00pm – 3:00pm. At around 4:00am the rained stopped. I woke up at 6:00am to a light rain but nothing that would force us off of the road. While we were getting dressed, Graeme found a breakfast cafe where “the mates” would enjoy their last breakfast together.

The dudes getting ready to leave Graeme and Pine Valley for their last day's ride into San Diego. Forecast--RAIN. Solution--Dry suits.

The dudes getting ready to leave Graeme and Pine Valley for their last day’s ride into San Diego. Forecast–RAIN. Solution–Dry suits.

What a mixture of emotions! We just spent some fantastic quality time with our new friend Graeme. We were about to finish what would probably be one of our most epic adventures ever yet. (Little do our parents know we have already sketched out a plan for our European tour and our tour along the Pacific coastway here in the U.S.) Graeme spotted a break in the rain as we were finishing up our breakfast and insisted that we get on the move before another belt of rain came through. We went back to our motel rooms, took a few pictures, hugged good ole Graeme goodbye and took off over and down the mountain.

Killing Mode.

Killing Mode.

The Dudes with Graeme.

The Dudes with Graeme.

About to take off on the last day's ride.

About to take off on the last day’s ride.

Despite the on and off and sprinkles Taylor and I were all smiles. We were inching closer to San Diego with each pedal. What a strange feeling! Our 55-day adventure was about to come to an end. After Taylor’s epic day of climbing we didn’t have but another 700 feet to climb and then we would be descending close to 4,000 feet all the way to the coast. We took a pretty great ride down the I-8 and old highway 80. We had some fantastic scenery down from Pine Valley into Alpine. Once we were out of the mountains and into some flatter land we were mostly driving in city traffic. Taylor and I were moving pretty quickly towards the shores. Taylor must have known that his friends were waiting at the pier for us. He was pedaling hard and with a purpose!

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(now Taylor takes over to finish the post) Riding into the populated city was not my favorite. We got the brunt of chilly, coastal headwinds. But did you really think that this was going to stop us? The ACA maps led us through a bike route in this national park which dumped us onto the bike route that was a straight shot to the ocean. I started getting giddy and throwing up fist pumps in the sky in sync with the Portugal the Man album I was listening to, “Evil Friends.” I even threw down some air guitar/drums at one point. I could smell the finish line, and I knew that all my buddies were waiting for us at the beach. When I knew there were three miles to go, I kicked up the gear into “killing mode.” I wanted to finish it like a race, as fast as I could. As I could see my group of friends in the distance, I peeped my periphery to see where Darren was. He was nowhere to be found. I stopped, knowing that I could not finish without him. I turned around, saw his bike in the distance, and feared the worst. I was thinking, “flat tire.” I rushed back to meet him and then saw him coming out of the public beach bathroom.

“Had to pee, bro!” He shouted at me. I’m thinking, “we’ve got thirty pedals to the finish line of a 3,100 mile trip and you’re stopping for potty breaks!?” Anyway, we got back on the bikes and raced to the end of the bike path. My buddies started cheering us on, and once we reached the sand we dropped our bikes and had a big embrace.

The finish line.

The finish line.

We had done it. Our friends pulled out multiple bottles of champagne and showered us with it. It was blissful. Best feeling in the world. I imagine it would be something like winning the Super Bowl. This was my super bowl. I couldn’t stop smiling, and I didn’t even mind all of the grief that I got from my friends about my out-of-control beard. We made our way to the ocean and I proceeded to bike into the Pacific. I stripped to my bike shorts and even jumped into the refreshing ocean. We’d been biking towards the darn thing for two months, I figured I would dive in and get a taste. We met a nice couple who took a picture of us with all of the guys. In the excitement, my iPod fell into the water. As if a miracle from above, the little guy still worked. It looks like he too had been hardened from the trip. My adrenaline was PUMPING!

Champagne shower at the finish line!

Champagne shower at the finish line!

The guys took us to a great place to eat and get some celebratory drinks at Ocean Beach. We got amazing fish tacos, feasted on nachos, chips and guac, calimari, and some IPAs. Feeling sky high and being with my best friends in the world was how I felt at that restaurant. It felt like a dream, and it still didn’t register that I had just finished the trip. We all went back to Tyler’s house in Point Loma. The crew was Tyler and Kirk (native San Diegans), Brian, Kaz and Mike (LA natives). I lived with all of these guys while attending Boston College. Hadn’t seen most of them in a long time. Kirk for example, flew to South America in July 2012 to join me on a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu. I hadn’t seen him since then. But it was like we hadn’t missed a beat. When that happens with people, you know that you are going to have a good friend for the rest of your life.

FInish line

FInish line

The Finish Line Crew

The Finish Line Crew

IMG_8139That night, we all hung out at Tyler’s in Point Loma and then went out to a bar in Pacific Beach. I didn’t shave. Kirk wore sandals. We all ate burritos after leaving. I slept on a cot/couch hybrid that Tyler had in the back patio of his house. I had a bed, but for some reason I was itching to wake up to the sunrise. Maybe after all that time on the road, I had developed a knack for the uncommon. We all woke up and went to get breakfast burritos at a place called “Hector’s.” Tyler was quite fond of this small shop, and had even made friends with Hector over the years. Sure enough, when we entered Hector greeted Tyler like a friend and I even noticed that he was wearing a Boston College shirt. Get some, Hector! I ordered two burritos, one for the morning and one for later. I suppose that I was still in “biking mode,” and thus always thinking about making sure that I will have food a couple hours down the line. After this I rode with Kirk and Kaz to pick up some coffee and donuts. My metabolism was still BUMPING. We went to Kirk’s place and caught up with his mom and stepdad, who were big donors for the cause. Darren and I wanted to thank them personally. The sun started to come out and we decided that it would be a good day to spend at the beach. We went to Del Mar and settled in nicely. We soaked in some rays, went swimming, and had some good conversation. A wonderful way to spend a Sunday. Kirk and I even wore bathrobes. By the end of the day we packed our stuff and headed back north to LA. Brian’s mom Carol had lent her SUV AND bike rack to Brian. This was a massive help, and allowed us to get back to my home in Westwood safe and sound. We got home, greeted the Ross family, had some dinner, and watched the Oscars. I was out EARLY.

Tay and Kirk. Bathrobes were a nice touch.

Tay and Kirk. Bathrobes were a nice touch.

Nothing like good ol' convo with the dudes!

Nothing like good ol’ convo with the dudes!

(l-r--Mike, Brian, Kirk) The finish line friends. Taylor grew up a mile down the street with Brian since he was 12. The three all were great friends at Boston College together. This is taken with an epic ocean view in Del Mar, San Diego.

(l-r–Mike, Brian, Kirk) The finish line friends. Taylor grew up a mile down the street with Brian since he was 12. The three all were great friends at Boston College together. This is taken with an epic ocean view in Del Mar, San Diego.

The hazy, rainy view from Point Loma, San Diego. Those are our bikes attached to the bike rack of the SUV in the bottom right. A special shout out to Carol Page (Brian's mom and Team Tobati donor) who lent Brian the big car and bike rack to bring the dudes back to LA from San Diego!

The hazy, rainy view from Point Loma, San Diego. Those are our bikes attached to the bike rack of the SUV in the bottom right. A special shout out to Carol Page (Brian’s mom and Team Tobati donor) who lent Brian the big car and bike rack to bring the dudes back to LA from San Diego!

Darren and the guys taking in the sights in Del Mar, San Diego. (l-r--Darren, Nick, Wilbur (Kirk's brother), Tyler, Kirk(

Darren and the guys taking in the sights in Del Mar, San Diego. (l-r–Darren, Nick, Wilbur (Kirk’s brother), Tyler, Kirk(

Nearing the finish line, the Young Gun displays his knack for adventure and decides to ignore the weather channel. Ocotillo, CA to Pine Valley, CA

Leaving Brawley, there was an exceptionally strong side wind. There were gusts between 20-40mph but there was a constant wind of at least 15mph. It felt like 15mph headwinds with even stronger side gusts. It was a hard day. It was one of those days where you just put your head down and grind out the remaining miles. Today we would be meeting up with our Australian friend, Graeme, at an RV park at the base of the mountain in Ocotillo.

25 mph headwinds in El Centro? No, thank you.

25 mph headwinds in El Centro? No, thank you.

We all arrived at the RV park at almost the exact same time. We were greeted by the owner, Jackson. He showed us around the park and we ended up in the rec room. He suggested that we camp out indoors tonight because the winds had been blowing hard the past couple of days/nights. Jackson was near certain that our tents would blow away if we camped outdoors, so we camped out inside the rec room. The RV park was practically empty so we essentially had the place to ourselves. After preparing the rec room we grabbed some burritos and a pizza at the local bar before going to bed. Upon arriving I received a few messages from my friends and even a phone call from my mother. Everyone had been warning me of the severe weather up in the San Diego area. This soon became the topic of our dinner conversation. Would we sit out tomorrow’s ride and listen to the National Weather advisory? Or would we ignore all issued warnings? Well let me tell you, I was extremely set on waiting the storm out in Ocotillo.

Hanging with Graeme at an RV park in Ocotillo, CA.

Hanging with Graeme at an RV park in Ocotillo, CA.

Taylor, however, well…he wasn’t going to be stopped. He was going up the mountain and nothing was going to stop him. Graeme looked at me and said, “If your mate really goes up tomorrow, you just come up the mountain with me in the truck and we can trail him and stay at all of the local cafes a long the way.” Sounded great to me!

A view of the windmills at 6:15 am. This was taken on highway 8 right before the massive ascent through the mountains.

A view of the windmills at 6:15 am. This was taken on highway 8 right before the massive ascent through the mountains.

The next morning I woke up early with Taylor and I checked the weather online. The warnings were still posted and Jackson even said it was a smart decision to wait this storm out. There were warnings for the Ocotillo, Jacumba, Pine Valley, Alpine and the entire San Diego area. We would be passing through each of these towns over the next 130 miles. The warning called for mudslides, hail, flash floods and strong wind gusts up to 70mph. There wasn’t a single chance I would be riding in these conditions.

Taylor about to leave Ocotillo at 6am.

Taylor about to leave Ocotillo at 6am.

Taylor said that nothing would stop him from finishing by Saturday, March 1st. I told Taylor that we could wait out the storm in Ocotillo and just hang out for a day to let the worst of the storm pass. He wasn’t having anything to do with my plan, got on his bike and road straight up the mountain in probably the worst storm of the entire trip.

Todo es Posible.

Todo es Posible.

Ascending highway 8.

Ascending highway 8.

Graeme and I cleaned up the campsite and trailed Taylor almost the entire way up the mountain. We always made sure to be within 20 miles of Taylor. If Taylor were to need any assistance we wouldn’t be far behind or in front of him. And, if the conditions got really bad we would at least be close enough to make an emergency rescue. We only had to perform one emergency rescue and that was when the temperatures had dropped about 30 degrees from the base of the mountain. Taylor’s hands were numb from the cold rain but Graeme and I hurried down the mountain and got him a dry water resistant pair of gloves. Graeme and I continued up to the motel where we would be spending the evening. We originally were going to camp but the temperatures were freezing and it was raining. None of us intended to spend our last night camping in the freezing rain so Graeme picked up a pair of rooms at the Pine Valley motel. Thanks Graeme! It sure beat camping out in the elements. Graeme and I knew we had a couple of hours before Taylor would be arriving so we went to our respective rooms and we both took a little nap while Taylor was busy conquering the mountain. Shortly after waking up from my nap, I calculated that Taylor should be arriving within the next 10 minutes. I waited outside for a while and shot a video and sure enough just after I turn off the video I see Taylor coming into the motel.

Taylor on the most epic ride of the trip. He ascended 4,000 feet over 45 miles right into the eye of the storm that enveloped Southern California for the weekend. "Gotta meet the dudes at the finish line on Saturday," the Young Gun proclaimed. "Ain't no more time for rest days." A positive of biking into the storm--you get some of the most beautiful formations in the sky (notice the rainbow in the background).

Taylor on the most epic ride of the trip. He ascended 4,000 feet over 45 miles right into the eye of the storm that enveloped Southern California for the weekend. “Gotta meet the dudes at the finish line on Saturday,” the Young Gun proclaimed. “Ain’t no more time for rest days.” A positive of biking into the storm–you get some of the most beautiful formations in the sky (notice the rainbow in the background).

Taylor in the clouds near Pine Valley. The temperatures dropped significantly around 3,500 ft.

Taylor in the clouds near Pine Valley. The temperatures dropped significantly around 3,500 ft.

One of Tay's favorite photos of the day.

One of Tay’s favorite photos of the day.

Taylor was cold and wet! Fortunately we had a warm motel room with a good shower. I knew Taylor would be happy. We all napped for a while longer and woke up around 5:00pm. We were famished and found a nice little restaurant less than a 100 yards from our motel. It was still raining pretty hard on our way to the restaurant. After arriving at the restaurant we saw more weather warnings flashing on the TV screen and coming up on our telephones. I still wanted to wait out the storm but Taylor was pretty confident that the worst was over. He also pointed out that we only had 60 miles left and that all of his friends would be waiting for us at the finish line. We had to finish! There were no other options available. I agreed! We would leave first thing in the morning as soon as there was a break in the rain.

Tay meeting the guys for a snack in Jacumba after the initial 3,000 ft ascent

Tay meeting the guys for a snack in Jacumba after the initial 3,000 ft ascent

Getting readjusted before hoping on the road again.

Getting readjusted before hoping on the road again.

Breakfast Burrito=energy.

Breakfast Burrito=energy.

homemade booties

homemade booties

The dudes

The dudes

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5:30 am in Ocotillo

5:30 am in Ocotillo

Jackson's RV Park, Ocotillo, CA

Jackson’s RV Park, Ocotillo, CA

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Crossing the California border– Blythe and Brawley

Tough decision--to Mom & Dad's (LA) or Grandma's (Prescott).

Tough decision–to Mom & Dad’s (LA) or Grandma’s (Prescott).

Early to bed and early to rise. We were out the door around 8:00am needed to make our way to Blythe, California. Today we would be crossing into California! YES!!!! The finish line was in sight and we had a newfound energy brewing between the two of us. Our ride to Blythe was nothing too special. Rough roads, tough winds–nothing new to us. You know, ever since we arrived in Arizona we have seen thousands of RV’s, ATV’s and dirtbikes! On our ride to Blythe we stopped in a town called Quartzisite. It was cool, there were hundreds of RV’s lined up and down the road and in various lots for the stretch of about four miles. In the center of it all was a massive flea market that had various shops and food cafes open to the public. Taylor spotted one and pointed to a sign that said, “Bad Boy Cafe.”

Jubilation. Last state line of the trip.

Jubilation. Last state line of the trip.

Thor, happy to be back in his home state.

Thor, happy to be back in his home state.

We smiled and agreed that we would eat there. We’re bad boys, right? I mean, we ARE biking across the country for crying out loud. This cafe is perfect for us! The name sold us! We took our timing eating because we biked about 40 miles to get there and that only left us with about 20 miles to get to Blythe. It’s nice when you can actually sit down and eat a meal and not limiting yourself to 5-15 minutes for lunch. Most of our lunches consisted of PBJ sandwiches, trail mix, granola bars, and if we were fortunate enough, a piece of fruit. We usually eat these lunches while straddling our bikes or sitting on the side of the road. So it was nice to sit down and actually let the food digest before hopping right back on the bikes.

Our host for the evening was the owner of a bait & tackle shop. We were staying at her house which is where she also operated her business. We arrived and were escorted to the back yard where there was another cyclist named Adrian. Adrian had arrived two days earlier and he wasn’t alone. He brought his dog, Ferris, along for the cross-country venture. Adrian was doing our exact same route but he was going west to east…like most sane people do. Well, Adrian was waiting for his father to come with some essential spare parts so he could continue his journey eastward. The owners gave us a few cold drinks to cool off to and we got to talking with Adrian. He warned us of the brutal sand dunes that would be awaiting us tomorrow. We warned him of the shady towns and bad motels that we had run into along the way. He should have a pretty good ride– The winds will be at his back, and the weather will warm up back east. I think he left at a good time of the year, but who knows when it comes to the weather?

The Bait Shop/RV Park where the guys stayed at in Blythe, CA.

The Bait Shop/RV Park where the guys stayed at in Blythe, CA.

Residence in Blythe, CA.

Residence in Blythe, CA.

We all got hungry around the same time and were preparing to order some delivery. We asked if we could use the phone and the owner told us that his wife had just put in an order for three pizzas.  Dinner was taken care of, what a nice surprise! These kind of things have happened very often on the trip. It’s just unbelievable how gracious all of our hosts have been to us. While we waited for the pizza to arrive, we set up our camping equipment for the night. We opened up shop right next to Adrian and his dog. By the time we had finished setting up our tent, the pizza had arrived. They ordered three pizzas for the three of us. We each had a full pizza for dinner. I also purchased some Reese’s Buttercups, Crunch bars, Kit-Kats and a few other snacks to cap off the night. Adrian’s dad arrived with the spare parts right before we were getting ready for bed. Adrian wasted no time and immediately went into mechanic mode. After about an hour of him mumbling under his breath and frequent return trips to his tent he finally got into bed. We were both up early. Taylor and I had a 95 mile day planned, so we intended on being out the door by 7:00am which meant no horseplay tonight. Early to bed we went.

Sunset at an RV park in Blythe, CA.

Sunset at an RV park in Blythe, CA.

We indeed were out the door by 7:00am. We said all of our goodbyes and we were on our way. The previous night one of the guys at the bait & tackle shop gave Taylor and I some backward directions out of town to avoid the heavy traffic in Blythe. This particular gentleman had the physique of the boxer, Butterbean (http://www.pridefc.com/pride2005/images/fighter/354_l.jpg). He also was missing his middle right finger, and had a tattoo of a cobra lining his right arm. The tongue of the cobra hissed all the way down to the space where his finger was supposed to be. My bet is that homie ran into some back luck in a fight with a cobra. He also spent a good hour lecturing us on these back roads. “You don’t want to find yourself on that 78 too early in the mornin.’ OOOOOOhhhheeeeeee, you gon’ get some crayyyze traffic right about then.” He became overly insistent that we follow his EXACT directions. When another local came by and looked at our map and started talking to us about the route, he would intervene, “What’s going on here? Where’s he got ya’ll going?” I’m thinking, “pump the brakes, bud.” We appreciate the help, but let’s sit down for a minute in silence, enjoy this delicious pizza, and let the sunset soothe us to sleep.

He was completely incredulous that we were going to bike 80 miles in a day on the 78. “Pickup truck gonna come and ride ya’ll asses right off the road,” he told us. He worked for the fire station (allegedly) and told us of all the bikers he had seen get thrashed on the side of the highway. Dude didn’t even know what we had been through. Biking crowded interstates with ridiculous gusts, getting sucked by big rigs, getting shouted at by hicks in four-wheelers. Riding a skinny shoulder didn’t really phase us at this point.

Butterbean had us on a series of backroads that should have eventually lead us onto route 78. Well, his directions ended up leading us into a conservation site. We were lost and there wasn’t really anywhere to ask for directions. I suppose we could have gone back 15 miles in the reverse direction but we figured we could find out our way out faster on our own. I’m not sure if that was correct decision or not. After a while we did come across a Latino gentleman who worked on the conservation. He gave Taylor some very detailed directions and even drew us a small map to help us out of the conservation site. Side note – this whole conversation happened in Spanish. The gentleman said we had some pretty rough roads ahead of us but said it would be quicker than turning around and going back. We followed his directions which lead us on dirt roads and tough rock roads which actually forced us off of our bikes. We probably walked a full two miles on this rocky road which took us over 60 minutes to traverse. It was brutal! Eventually we did make it to route 78 but at that point it was almost 11:00am. We had been on the road four hours and we had only traveled about 25 miles. We still had close to 70 miles to get our destination. We still had hills in front of us and we had the sand dunes were not far ahead. There were no services from Blythe to Brawley but we had prepared quite well the night before with snacks and water.

We rode hard and passed one solo rider named, Nathan. He had just started his west – east cross country journey. He had actually stayed with our host in Brawley two days ago. He told us he didn’t think we would make it to Blythe because it was already a little late in the afternoon. We made it though, we biked really hard this day. There was no cover from the wind. We just put our heads down and grinded out 95 -100 grueling miles. With our detour to the conservation we aren’t exactly sure how many extra miles we logged but I wouldn’t be surprised if we rode over 100 miles. We rode so hard that we came to a border patrol stop and rested there for close to 20 minutes. We stayed there and refilled our water supply and took a nice snack break. The border patrol agents brought out a big five-gallon jug of water. I think Taylor and I consumed close to two gallons out the tank. We drank like fish and made sure all of our bottles were filled up because we knew this would be our last stop. We left and after an hour of riding we ran into a couple of girls who were also doing the Southern Tier. One of the girls had a dog with her. She built her dog a little trailer—it was cute. The pup had a ton of blankets to sit on, it looked pretty comfortable to me. One of the girls was actually from L.A. so she and Taylor hit it off. We chatted for 5-10 minutes and then we cut the conversation short. We had a long way left and we would be losing daylight shortly.

We passed sand dunes, mines, bombing sites for the Air Force, lettuce fields and cow farms.

Passing the sand dunes in Glamis, CA.

Passing the sand dunes in Glamis, CA.

Hot hot heat in the sand dunes in Glamis, CA.

Hot hot heat in the sand dunes in Glamis, CA.

Finally around 6:30 pm we arrived to the center of Brawley. We went straight to McDonalds and spent $30.00 on our dinner. We ate as if we hadn’t eaten in weeks. Even the servers were impressed by the quantity of food ordered. They were even more impressed when we actually finished the entire meal. From McDonalds we only had two miles to ride. We had to stop at the gas station before leaving because both of our front lights were not working. We figured it must be the batteries even though we almost never used our lights. A few AAA batteries solved our problem and we began our first night time ride to our host’s house.

This happened. Post 100 mile day into Brawley, CA

This happened. Post 100 mile day into Brawley, CA

Taylor, about to inhale a good 3,000 calories after a 100 mile day into Brawley, CA.

Taylor, about to inhale a good 3,000 calories after a 100 mile day into Brawley, CA.

Our host for the evening called us to make sure we were alright. By the time we left McDonalds it was close to 7:15pm and it was extremely dark. Fear not, we both had red rear flashers and front lights. We were OK! I gave our host, Bill, a call to tell him that we would be arriving shortly. When we pulled up he and his dogs were in the garage waiting for us. His wife, a nurse, was still at the hospital but would be arriving shortly after us. They were both avid cyclists and were happy to take us in for the evening. Bill’s wife was actually from Brazil so our story hit close to home.

She was familiar with the brutal conditions of slums like the favelas in Brazil, so she understood what our mission was aimed at.

Bill and his wife have participated in numerous mission trips and service trips all over the world. Bill was also quite the photographer—he had a great collections of shots that he had taken throughout his lifetime.

We left Brawley around 9:30am or so. Bill had a racquetball match with his friends over at one of the local air force bases. Taylor and I only had to bike 40 miles so we weren’t too worried about our departure time. We snapped a few pictures with Bill and we were off to Ocotillo, California.

Tempe, AZ—Salome, AZ

The dudes at the AZ state border.

The dudes at the AZ state border.

Taylor and I were feeling quite refreshed after our two day stay in Tempe, Arizona. Our first night in Tempe, Graeme took us out for Mexican food. The three of us actually ended up ordering the exact same carnitas dish. Shredded pork, rice, beans, flour tortilla, some salsa and guacamole… It was delicious! We came home at a very reasonable hour and shared war stories from the road with our mate Graeme. Graeme went to bed on the earlier side and Taylor and I stayed up a bit watching tv. I remember waking up and walking over to Taylor who was soundly sleeping on the couch. I rose with intentions on taking the day off and I was hoping that Taylor felt the same way. We had a long and hot ride from Superior, Arizona which was a bit taxing on us. More than anything I think it was the heat that wiped us out.  Well, I poked Taylor and asked how he was feeling and if he really wanted to ride. He didn’t have to say much, but the look on his face said it all. So, we would be taking an off day. To be honest, the night before I had envisioned that this would actually happen. Upon arriving at Graeme’s house, Taylor actually looked like he had a bit a heat stroke after we had finished. Graeme had prepared a simple, yet delicious breakfast consisting of two loaves of French bread, butter and strawberry jam. After inhaling breakfast numero uno I was quick to prepare a couple of bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches for Taylor and myself.  Graeme opted to skip our second course but did continue sipping on his morning coffee with us while I polished off the rest of mango juice that he prepared the day before.

The dudes with Graeme at his place in Tempe, AZ.

The dudes with Graeme at his place in Tempe, AZ.

We didn’t leave the house until around 5:00pm. We went to the supermarket, grabbed a few supplies for our next couple of days and picked up something for dinner. Over dinner our new mate warned us of the dangers of city biking and asked if we could consider a ride out of the Phoenix area to avoid heavy traffic tomorrow morning. Personally, I enjoy riding in the city. Taylor doesn’t get any pleasure out of city riding and Graeme absolutely despises city riding (but not as much as he detests hills). We told Graeme we’d consider it and give him an answer in the morning. The remainder of our evening was spent relaxing outside and talking for hours on end. There was never a dull moment. Graeme was great fun! We had such an awesome time that Graeme had thrown out the idea of meeting up with us 4-5 days later in Ocotillo, California. He warned us that a very large mountain climb would be awaiting me and Taylor just after Ocotillo. He said, “Hey mate, I got an idea! How about I meet you two lads in Ocotillo, we camp out for a day, you two can ride up the mountain without your gear and save your knees and then, we can camp out in Pine Valley. Then, you two can ride down into San Diego with your gear and finish like champions! How does that sound?”

Thor trying on Graeme's hat that he got in China.

Thor trying on Graeme’s hat that he got in China.

Tay roughin' it at Graeme's place in Tempe, AZ.

Tay roughin’ it at Graeme’s place in Tempe, AZ.

AWESOME! Graeme wasn’t a 100% positive that he would be able to swing it because of some volunteer commitments he already had set up. I went to bed a happy camper with thoughts of hanging out with our new mate and riding up the mountain without any gear. Sweet dreams for me!

Taylor's blood pressure in Phoenix. Normal, right?

Taylor’s blood pressure in Phoenix. Normal, right?

We woke up early and Taylor and I both agreed that maybe getting out of the city wasn’t the worst idea. Besides, Graeme said it is especially hectic during the morning hours and insisted that he drive us just outside of the Phoenix city limits. “Don’t feel guilty,” Graeme said. We took him up on his offer, threw our bikes in the back of his truck and he took us to Surprise, Arizona. We still had a long trek ahead of us to Salome, Arizona but at least we would be free of stop signs and constant traffic lights. They really throw you out of your rhythm. Our goodbye with Graeme was very sad. We didn’t want to leave our new mate but our journey had to continue. We all were hoping that Graeme would be able to make it to Ocotillo and he told us to be expecting a call from him in the next day or two confirming whether or not he would be able to meet up with us or not.

The guys leaving Graeme in Tempe, AZ

The guys leaving Graeme in Tempe, AZ

Our ride to Salome was dry and hot. We were still very much in the desert area but fortunately there were towns every 25-30 miles so water was never an issue for us. We were able to refill at every stop. We made it to our motel in Salome around maybe 4:30pm or so.

We were greeted by the owner who was from Ecuador. She was a great! We spent close to 30 minutes inside speaking with her. She even showed Taylor her collection of different currencies from all over the world. Taylor noticed that she didn’t have any Paraguayan bills on the wall so he gave her one. She smiled, and gave Taylor a bill from Iraq which had the face of the ex dictator, Saddam Hussein.

Some old Iraqi money that an Equadorian motel owner showed us in Salome, AZ. Saddam!

Some old Iraqi money that an Equadorian motel owner showed us in Salome, AZ. Saddam!

Eventually we made our way to the motel room. Taylor took a little nap, I walked around, made a few phone calls and then picked up dinner at the local bar. We were off to bed early in order to get ready for our big ride to Blythe, California the next day.

Journey Complete

Hey guys, we finished in San Diego yesterday and were met by a group of friends at the finish line! Things have been pretty hectic since then, but we just wanted to let you know that we finished safe and sound! Our thanks lie with all of the supporters.

We will give a more in depth update in the next day or so.

Todo es posible!

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T-minus Six Days and Counting

So the Bear did a pretty epic recap since Kerville. Props bud. I write to you from Tempe, AZ (Phoenix area) on the couch at our new mate Graeme’s house. That’s Graeme like Graham. And ya, I said mate. He’s Australian, and now we’re mates. We are taking a day off today to get ready for the final 420 mile homestretch into San Diego. We are going to finish (weather/intangibles permitting) in San Diego on Saturday, March 1.

Tay roughin' it at Graeme's place in Tempe, AZ.

Tay roughin’ it at Graeme’s place in Tempe, AZ.

Thor trying on Graeme's hat that he got in China.

Thor trying on Graeme’s hat that he got in China.

I’ve got some pictures and videos from the past couple weeks. Wanna see?

Good. I’ll give a quick little description for a few of them.

Here I am in El Paso at our Warm Shower’s host for the night. As you’ll be able to tell, I was very excited when I discovered that we reached our fundraising goal of $25k. I decided to celebrate by jumping as high as I could on a trampoline. Emma, the 11 year old daughter, not only decided to join me, but was happy to offer her launching assistance. Thanks, Em.

The guys with Mike (our host)in El Paso. He geared up and rode with us most of the way towards our next destination, Las Cruces. Apparently he didn't get the black on black memo for the uniforms.

The guys with Mike (our host)in El Paso. He geared up and rode with us most of the way towards our next destination, Las Cruces. Apparently he didn’t get the black on black memo for the uniforms.

The wolf pack started with a tight-knit two. Then it grew to three with Mike. He called two of his homies, and soon enough we were five deep. Holler!

The ride to Las Cruces was great. There wasn’t any wind, and for the first time we could really tell just how strong endless pedaling into wind vortexes had made our legs. We busted out 40 miles in about two hours. We were giddy with joy.

Pecans make you STRONG!

Pecans make you STRONG!

Pecan trees in New Mexico

Pecan trees in New Mexico

Earlier in Texas, we were stuck in Valentine and decided to check out a roping.

That afternoon we were kind of just sitting on the side of the road because we had run out of water and didn’t want to test the 45 mile stretch to Van Horn without agua. Enter Yvote–a short woman around 50 years old sporting a tie die tee, a headband and a pair of “Shaq” high-tops (Shaquille O’neal’s sneaker line). She talked Darren up and took a genuine interest in our fatigue. Next thing we know we are crashing at her house with Cosmo and Aki–her two cats. Taylor forgot to lock the door behind him the next morning when he ran out to the garage to grab some supplies. Cosmo and Aki both escaped. My heart stopped. “Have you seen the cats?” Yvote asked us. “I think I saw one of them step outside for a second,” Darren replied. I was too embarrassed to reply. I was like a dog with my tail between my legs sitting in front of his owner after pissing on the carpet that has been in the family for three generations. The cats were found, eventually.

The dudes with Yvoty (her spiritual name). This welcoming hippie took us in after we ran out of water in Valentine, TX (a town with a population of 217). A self-proclaimed psychic, Yvoty explained to us the up-and-down journey of her life, and how she came to find herself through the discovery of metaphysics. Taylor accidentally let her cat, Cosmo, out the front door which prompted Yvoty to frantically search and call for the feline for 45 minutes at 7am in the morning. Later, she gave Taylor a free psychic reading. Apparently, he is going to marry a foreigner that he is going to meet in South America. Stay tuned!

The dudes with Yvoty (her spiritual name). This welcoming hippie took us in after we ran out of water in Valentine, TX (a town with a population of 217). A self-proclaimed psychic, Yvoty explained to us the up-and-down journey of her life, and how she came to find herself through the discovery of metaphysics. Taylor accidentally let her cat, Cosmo, out the front door which prompted Yvoty to frantically search and call for the feline for 45 minutes at 7am in the morning. Later, she gave Taylor a free psychic reading. Apparently, he is going to marry a foreigner that he is going to meet in South America. Stay tuned!

The day’s ride into Valentine the day before was gorgeous. We had just left the McDonald’s Observatory and taken the 55 mile scenic route to Valentine. The bear almost ran into some serious trouble on a steep descent.

Rocks leaving McDonald's Observatory.

Rocks leaving McDonald’s Observatory.

In New Mexico, we decided to stray off the ACA route a little. We had to shave some time off the trip, because we had fallen behind on account of the terrible weather. We made friends with the I-10 highway which was a three day straight shot across the state. Not a fun ride at all, but ran into some pretty hilarious situations, some of which include getting a free magic show at a rest stop for 30 minutes.

Leaving Las Cruces, NM. Because of our time constraints, we decided to avoid a mountainous route and a breathtaking view at Emory Pass and have off a couple days riding by riding the I-10. I do not advise anyone to ever do this. Sorry Mom!

Leaving Las Cruces, NM. Because of our time constraints, we decided to avoid a mountainous route and a breathtaking view at Emory Pass and have off a couple days riding by riding the I-10. I do not advise anyone to ever do this. Sorry Mom!

Las Cruces sunset.

Las Cruces sunset.

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Ride to Safford, AZ.

Ride to Safford, AZ.

Thor, happy to be in Las Cruces!

Thor, happy to be in Las Cruces!

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Soon enough we crossed into Arizona. Now THAT was some desert. Lots of cactus and plains, great rock formations. This next picture has an amazing story behind it. The cliff is called “Apache Leap.” A long time ago when the Americans were pushing out all of the natives during the Trail of Tears, a group of Apaches had evaded the American troops all the way to the edge of this cliff. Instead of surrendering, they rode their horses right off the edge and fell to their death.

Apache Leap in Superior, AZ.

Apache Leap in Superior, AZ.

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View from Gonzalez Peak. Leaving Superior, AZ

View from Gonzalez Peak. Leaving Superior, AZ

Our host in Superior, AZ. He is wearing a "Settlers of Catan" themed t-shirt. The cat says, "I got yarn for tuna." You kind of have to understand the board game to get it. But the three Americans in Paraguay play about three times a night.

Our host in Superior, AZ. He is wearing a “Settlers of Catan” themed t-shirt. The cat says, “I got yarn for tuna.” You kind of have to understand the board game to get it. But the three Americans in Paraguay play about three times a night.

We have had an unbelievable and memorable 50 days on the road. Somehow, the Bear and I aren’t sick of each other. #blessed #besties. If you haven’t found this post entertaining, I leave you with this video to trigger your chuckles.