Thursday, April 6, 2017

Brainfires, Puppet Comedians, and Thievary: Five Longform Questions with my Beta Unit.

Number One: 
Q: Let's just get to it, right? Where the fuck you been? I mean... seriously? Not that you've ever been any thing remotely close to consistent, but it's been a hot minute.

A: Yeah... I know. Honestly... I don't know that you'd believe me if I told you.

Q: Try me.

A: Alright... So... there's this video game in the trailer park I live in, right? And because there isn't that much to do, I've always played it. A lot. And I got really good at it, you know? High score and everything. But it turns out... it's not a video game. It's a recruiting tool. Yeah. And the next thing I know... this bounty hunter tries to kill me... a Beta-Unit replaces me... I'm whisked away to space... and I'm a fucking star-fighter pilot! With my own ship and everything! Fucking nuts, man.

Q: Ah. Yes, I see. Can we... try this again?

A: Fine. But that story's better. You're talking about the blog?

Q: Sure. The blog. Social media. Social life...

A:Yeah. I've been a little MIA. Regarding the blog... it's... just a blog. I appreciate that people read it. I very much do. But I don't have any hubris with regards to its content. It's one big emo fart joke. And it's a place for me to put things out there. Circle around ideas. Refine styles. Purge. It's one of the reasons I tend to be a bit... repetitive at times. I'll keep bumping up against some idea... trying to express it in the right way. What's funny is that some of my favorite "pieces" tend to be the least read. And vice-versa. The metrics confound me. Why some posts have SO MUCH traffic. And others, less. But whatever the reason, can I just say... that  I wish people would stop reading the really old stuff. I'll look at the stats occasionally and see that there's a whole bunch of traffic to some post from 2010 or something... and I'll be like, "Fuck... not that post... anything but that post. Who's reading that?... because now I have to hunt them down and kill them."
Like with this new Facebook memories shit... constantly reminding you of how fucking stupid you were on social media five years ago. As if you didn't already know. I guess that's the benefit of always churning out content. Bury that shit... quick!
Regarding social stuff? I guess I've just been... quiet. Dealing with some things in my own way.
This should come as no surprise to anyone... but I'm a man of high highs and low lows.

Q: What? Like... manic depression?

A: Does it matter? And it's "situational Depression," remember? My "manic" isn't really on that spectrum. Think of it less as a series of peaks and valleys.... And more as a flat to rolling plain punctuated with abyssal crevasses. Sure, I have my moments of manic artistic energy... followed often by depressive torpor. And yeah, I deal with my own level of... what would you even call them... hallucinations? But I'm not controlling the tides or anything. I'm just... maintaining or not maintaining.
Imagine... that your brain is on fire... all the time. And that sometimes... that fire just outburns all the other fires inside you. Hollows you out.
That's where I've been. Just... hollowed out for a bit.

Q: Huh. Sounds fun, psycho. Did anything in particular trigger it?

A: Yeah. Probably. Likely a few things. More than a few. Maybe let's not go there? Yet?

Q: Fair enough. So... you're back?

A: Back? Meh. Maybe? I mean... I've been posting stupid shit on Instagram again, so...

Q: Indeed you have. Like this, you mean?

A: That, I'll have you know... is a scathingly witty and incendiary indictment of the bike industry as it currently stands.

Q: Is it, now? How, pray tell?

A: Everything is so... flat. Tired. Vapid. It's all either some unfunny meme about "Road bikers be like... Meanwhile I'm over here like... Braaaaaap." Or it's some insipid faux-earnest acoustic praise song about how bikepacking will make us better fathers. Or some cloyingly shallow deification of gravel. Or a christian kid throwing the devil horns. Or some vacuous frat-party on bikes. Or some barely guised misogyny.
There's... no energy. And the energy that there is? Is just fucking boring.
Fucking puppet-comedians... Everyone.

Q: So what you're saying is that this shitty stick-figure drawing of yours is going to turn the industry on it's head?

A: Oh man... it's already got like... almost 30 likes. So, yeah...

Anything been going on?

A: That's your question? Because that's like... one million questions pretending to be one.

Q: Whatever. Traveling? Racing?

A: Well... back in January I went traveling down in Florida for a bit. Chasing some sunshine. Riding trails and dirt roads. Writing. Thinking. Getting my fucked up head straight. The usual.
I honestly think that's kind of a part of the depression. I haven't been able to travel much since then. And that kind of thing... It's pretty much what keeps me going. And... I kind of need to. I've talked about this before. Some people love rooting down. I... don't. I don't care if I'm waking up in someone's driveway... or a Walmart parking lot. As long as I'm on the move.  That shit is what sustains me.

Q: Nice scoliosis. So why Florida?

A: Well... I don't know if you know this about me or not... but I am a Disney fanatic. Like... cannot get enough. You know those adult couples who go down there without any children... and you wonder what the fuck is wrong with them? That's me. But by myself. I'm the 40 year old tattooed guy riding "It's a Small World" fifteen times. Then eating cotton candy and sitting alone on a bench. Then taking a selfie in front of the castle.

Q: Well... that last sentence checks out at least.

A:  Nah. I admit that I'm kind of digging Florida right now. Yeah, it can be a gross mess. But I avoid the shit shows and do my own thing. Stay off the freeway. Take little roads. There's some surprisingly good riding there. And funny little pockets. Some really beautiful places. Clearwater springs. Beaches. Swamps.
That, and it's what's near by. Yeah, I'd rather be exploring Utah and Arizona. But I live in the Southeast. So...

Q: Umm... the mountains?

A: Yeah... but I also have this thing with heat. I'm built for it. I'll explore the mountains in the summer. But in the winter? I'm not ashamed to admit that I want heat and sun.

Q: So where all did you go in Florida?

A: All over, really. I'll usually head straight to Fernandina Beach, right over the FL. GA border. Sometimes I'll stop in Charleston or Savannah, but Fernandina is an easy point of ingress and egress into exploring the region. I'm pretty sure that Chris and Shanna are the ones who told me about that place. There's this park... Peter's Point, that allows boondocking.

Q: Boondocking?

A: Parking your van. Freecamping. Dorrit and I discovered a while back that Florida can be an easy place to do that. If you're on it and flexible. And she's on it. And I'm flexible.
Anyway... I'll pull into Fernandina late, pull the curtains and go to sleep. Wake up next to the beach. I've woken up in that place a ton, actually. From there, I rode a fun little trail at Fort Clinch. Then started heading south. Went down to central Florida and rode all the popular stuff. Santos. Alafia. Balm Boyette. I hit Alafia twice. Same with Santos. Tons of fun. Found some gravel roads outside Ocala. Hung out with my friend Joe in Tampa. Met my spirit animal.  Rode Croom. Climbed Panty Hill. Drank trail beers. Went to The Castle, Florida's premier Goth nightclub. Saw "the Senator."

Fact: we almost died getting this picture

Q: Wow. You're fucking hilarious.
Also, I like the way you just managed to sneak your entire Florida blog into this one.
So, is the riding that good?

A: Probably not? But I still love that kind of thing. Finding good trails in other places. I like seeing what everyone else is riding. Not everything can be Sedona, you know? I mean... if I was traveling and stumbled upon our trail system in Greensboro? I'd be pretty stoked. No. It's not epic. But it's fun. I love finding that kind of thing.
I'll write about it soon enough

Q: HA! Yeah right. Ok. Did you eat bath salts while you were there?

A: Not this time. But I did eat someone's face off. So... samesies.

Q: Anything else?

A: Hmmm. I did Six Hours of Warrior Creek last weekend. Great race. But damn, it sucked. I felt like shit from the moment we were rolling. Some days you have it. Some days you don't. I'm sure it doesn't help that I've pretty much woken up with a hangover for the past two months.

Q: Self-medicating with booze. That sounds healthy. It was a stacked field anyway. And you're old and dumb. So...

A: True

Q: Did... I hear you bought a house, recently? What happened to all that feral shit?

A: Ha. Let's save that for another time? Lots of words on that one.

Q: Alright.

Tell us about the bike. The one that got stolen?

A: God, what a shitshow.
So...During my... hiatus... Rich had reached out. Noticed I'd been kind of quiet and was checking in. I appreciated that. People don't really do that, you know? Most people don't really know what the fuck to do with their falling apart friends. They'll usually take a giant step backward. Say things like "Dude's a mess. I don't even know what to say to him."
Then he started bugging me about going to Tour de Charlotte. I didn't really have a ton of mojo, but thought that maybe forcing myself to be social... riding bikes around Charlotte in a mild but perpetual state of drunk... would be a good kick in the dick. Jolt me out of this funk. So I did.
And it was fun. And I felt a little better. Still wasn't back. But, better.

Until my bike was gone. Then I was lowwwwwwwwww.
And it wasn't even about the bike. You know? It was just... "of fucking course this shit is happening to me right now."

Q: What kind of bike?

A: It's a Cysco. Years ago, I went to this short-lived thing called the Southeast Expo. Or...SEXPO. Anyway, I met this dude, Richie Moore, who used to weld for Litespeed and Lynskey. He was starting to do his own custom building under the name CYSCO. I borrowed Jamie Pilsbury's and had a shit ton of fun. Enough that I wanted to get my own. So I did. At the time, Richie was making a ton of his bikes with the integrated seat-mast. I liked it. I mean... I get the dropper thing. But that's not really how I ride.

Q: Looks schmancy. Is it your favorite bike? Being custom and all?

A: Honestly? It's fine? I mean... yeah... I do love it. But it has it's problems. The clearance in the chain-stays is pretty tight. I can't run anything bigger than a 2.2. And even that depends on the tire. The front fork is stiff as shit... even for a rigid.

A: Why not put a suspension fork on it, dumbass?

A: Singlespeeds don't have suspension forks. They just... don't. I honestly don't think that they have carbon forks either... but... meh.

Q: How'd you end up getting it back?

A: This is the cool part. And is kind of one of the reasons I'm really back on social media shit. Almost immediately, the call went out. Tons of people shared the shit out of my post. Stevil put the word out. Rich put the word out. Fuck. Rich even offered fucking money.

Q: Fucking-money?

A: Mebbe. I didn't ask. In any case, I was floored. (If you're out there, thanks, lil buggy.)
So a day and a half later, I'm at the shop and Rich texts me.

A friend of a friend of a friend was riding his bike around Charlotte and sees another dude ride by. On my bike. Recognizes it immediately because it was all over the inter webs. So he turns around and starts following the guy... trying to figure out how he's going to confront him about it. He loses him through some neighborhoods, then decides to check in at a pawn shop nearby. Walks in on the transaction. Says something like "You probably want to get the fuck out of here. That bike is stolen." Dude bails. Cops show up. Bike is turned over to friend of friend. Rich scrambles to get it. Then cleans it and teabags it. Naturally.

That... is what kind of broke the funk, I think. Not just getting the bike back... because it's just a bike. But the rally and response. That and fucking Spring.

Q: That... and the tea-bagging.

A: And that. Looks like Red Zinger™

Q: Jail time for the thief?

A: I don't know? Doubt it? No one's asked about pressing charges or anything? My kiddo, Milo was asking a lot of questions about that. "I bet you're pretty mad, huh Dad?" And we talked a lot about why someone might take someone else's stuff. About the kind of circumstances that might put someone in a place that they'd do that. Desperation. Poverty. Systematic oppression.
I was bummed. But I wasn't mad. If it had been one of the fuckers who'd done Tour de Charlotte with us? Yeah. I'd have been pissed. But it wasn't. Yeah... maybe duder is just a shitty person who doesn't have a sense of right and wrong. Or... maybe living on the edge and scrapping by every day blurred that line for him. It's all complicated, right?

Q: Yeah. Did you say "duder?"

A: Yeah. Whatever. And look... I'm obviously not condoning or excusing it. I was just trying to explain to Milo that not everyone who does bad shit is bad. Sometimes there's a lot more to it.

Q: Sure.
What's next?

A: Gawd. Fuck this. I'm tire of questions. Let me ask YOU something.

Q: Well... since you're me... Why not? It's all the same pretentious garbage.

Will the real Watts Dixon please step forward?

A: Exactly. So... What's ahead?

Q: Seriously? That's the question I just fucking asked YOU. God, you suck.
I have no idea. You mean life? Long term? Short term? Or just like... events?

A: Whatever you want, sunshine.

Q: Alright. So... event-wise... I'll do the Bootlegger 100 in a week or two. It's unsung and awesome. And hard as shit. Everyone jizzes all over themselves for the midwest. But that's such a nauseatingly incestuous scene. And I say that from deep, deep in the south.
Then the biggest events on my nearish horizon are PMBAR with Rich... Transylvania Epic... and Dirty Kanza. In fact, I literally leave TSE and drive straight to Kansas. Pretty smart.

A: Are you doing Dirty Kanza with Yonder Journal?

Q: Nah. I didn't make the cut. Though I appreciate them putting me front and center in their propaganda.
Speaking of which... THAT is an interesting study. Not what Yonder Journal was talking about with the whole Project Y thing. Not "why do we test push ourselves?" etc.
But who applied and how. And why.
And when I was waiting to hear if I was picked or not, I found a few of the submission videos to watch. They were sooooo painful to watch. And sooooo illuminating.

A: How so?

Q: So... One of the more fascinating aspects of social media is that it suddenly gave voice to the voiceless. And I don't mean... empowered the downtrodden. I mean... all of a sudden every dipshit with internet could be the star of their own show. Even if you shouldn't. While before, you were a nobody... now... you could cultivate this... thing. Present yourself however you want. Create your own narrative.

A: Like this blog, you mean?

Q: Probably almost exactly like this blog. I mean... come on... we all know I'm a fucking nobody. I'm some dipshit psychotic shop owner in Greensboro, North Carolina. Why the fuck are you even here, people?
Anyway... you know that line in Fight Club...

"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

It's like that. But now social media let's us all be shitty movie gods and rock stars of the most boring shows ever.
So all of these people... send in some version of the video they wish someone had made about them. Like... when the Specialized Adventure Dispatch videos came out, they all watched them and in their minds played out some version with them in the lead roles.
And Yonder Journal gave them an excuse to make the actual fucking video. Like applying for some reality show. And they went for it. Slow montages of them riding bikes on gravel. Earnest voiceovers about how they love to test themselves.
Meanwhile, it was like they'd never even read Yonderjournal or had any clue how that crew presents themselves.

A: You too, right?

Q: Nah. I mean... my video was cringeworthy, to be sure... but for other reasons. If people really want to see it, I might put it out there. But... ugh.
Honestly... I think the simple fact that I MADE a video is what's cringeworthy, you know?
Like... why? What did I hope to achieve?...because I definitely didn't want a new Specialized bike or whatever. Did I want to be famous on youtube? Part of some cool-kid cabal? Why? I already know those guys.
And what the fuck am I supposed to do with this thing now?

A: Were you bummed that you weren't picked?

Q: Meh. Sure. Rejection never feels great. I think I was feeling a little stale, and figured being a part of something like that might be an easy jumpstart. And I think that was a part of why I went quiet on social media. When that veil was pulled aside and you saw how stupid everyone's "ME ME ME! SHOW" was... I realized how stupid my own version was. So I cancelled it.

A: But... you're back for another season, it would seem.

Q: Sigh... Yeah. Short memory.
I will say this... One cool thing is that in making that video was that I taught myself how to use editing software to make movies. That was fun. So... you never know... I might put out a ton of shitty cringeworthy videos soon.

A: What else?

Q: Well... I take off later today to go rambling with Milo for a week in the van. His Spring Break. We're going to... surprise!... Florida. Beach it up. Ride trails. I might take him to Universal or something. We'll see. We'll sleep in Walmart parking lots. Campgrounds when we can. Driveways. Eat Crunch Berries. Cheese sandwiches. Oranges. Twinkies. Maybe make it to the Keys and go snorkeling. Listen to Adam and the Ants.

As for what's next in life? I dunno. Can I get back to you?

Q: What's your biggest fear?

A: Damn. Go for gusto, huh? the moment, my biggest fear... aside from accidentally grinding up a roach that got into the coffee beans and drinking him... is dying in Greensboro. I'm not afraid of the dying part. But I don't want to die here.

Q: Come on. It can't be that bad.

A: No. It's not. It's like Old Gregg. It's got all things that are good. But it's not where I want to die. Like... when Dorrit and I bought this house... the whole thing was... we're only doing this because it makes sense... financially... kiddo-wise. But this isn't "home." It's a basecamp to come back to, clean our shit, take showers, take dumps... and get moving again. In whatever ways we want and need. We do what we have to to make it comfortable for our kids and ourselves. Paint the walls. Hang pictures. Make sure the toilet works. Plant some vegetables and herbs. But that garden is the only roots we grow here. We don't spend money or time remodeling the fucking bathroom or the kitchen.
We use that money to get the fuck out.

Q: So... where do you want to go?

A: Fucking Everywhere.

Q: Then get moving, you feral asshole.

A: On it.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Get Lost Or Die Trying: chapter dead

"You ever get blown off?"
I lifted my head and turned his way.
"Sorry?" I said. Unsure if I'd missed some chunk of context... or if I was being very bluntly and awkwardly propositioned. 
"You ever have someone... just, like... bail on you?"
I looked at him. Mid 30's. A round ruddy face. Tweed driving cap perched upon curly reddish hair. 
"Yeah," I said. "I have."
I'd been fading in and out of the conversation. In that weird limbo of seeking proximity to people but also seeking respite. I wanted to be near them... but didn't really want to engage. He'd been talking to me fairly steadily for the past 15 minutes. I'd been only present for only about three of them, max. The rest of the time I was lost to my own head doing what it does. Watching shades of people move around the room. Watching them shine or quicken.  Fade or slow. 
Or looking at my phone in the universal gesture of "not really into talking at the moment." 
He was undeterred. 

"She won't even talk to me. You know? Like... won't answer her phone... won't respond to emails... nothing." Shaking his head.

"That's pretty intense," I said. Watching his ghosts... Wondering only absently what the story was... 

Meanwhile catapulted into my own.

Yeah... I'd been blown off before.

Insert topically unrelated picture here to break up word clusters and make reading more palatable for people.
(artwork by Stephen Hayes and ganked from my recent feature in Dirt Rag. Subscribe, fools. )

There was only a very small part of me that momentarily wondered what it is that makes some people open up to total strangers in this way. The rest of me understood. 
Maybe some level of anonymity. Maybe the kind of thing he wouldn't, and likely couldn't, admit to friends....whether because of embarrassment or the politics of friendship. The kind of thing he didn't want to pay to tell a shrink... but needed to get out there. 
Keeping it inside... was tearing him up. 
So why not the stranger on the stool next to him.
Even as the arch-duke of public oversharing, I got that. 

And while I just wanted to drink my beer in peace...  And didn't really want to play drunk-therapy to a stranger in a Memphis bar... I turned on my stool toward him and asked the question:

"So what happened?"

Meanwhile... Somewhere in Texas... 

The rocks in Palo Duro were sun baked and warm. I gingerly placed my bruised face and cheek against the cliff wall; An admittedly bizarre rite that has meaning only for me... but is undoubtedly absurd looking to any casual observers. 
But there were no observers. Just me.
There was bustle below, in the base of the canyon. A running race. Oddly enough, almost twenty years ago... in another life...back when I fancied myself an Ultra-Runner... I'd passed through Palo Duro before and encountered the exact same race. 
Whatever the movement below... up here there was no one. Just a warm breeze. I sat on the ledge and stared out into the gap. Trying to soak in as much of this as I could. Filling stores that might get me through the next few months. 

After my ride yesterday, I'd prepared to leave. To drive roughly an hour or so away to another state park. Part of the same canyon system, but more remote. But sunset was coming. And the chances of my making it to the next park in time to see it were slim. And I didn't want to be somewhere on the road when it happened. So I decided to hang out. Watch it from here. Set off after dark. Pull in late. 

Parking near the bathhouse, looking for a shower to clean off the red patina of dust that covered me from head to toe, a man approached me. "You the guy looking for a spot to camp?"
Indeed I was. The campground was full. The footrace. People from all over. Hence my arrangement to camp elsewhere. But someone had overheard me talking in the park office and word had spread. 
"You can just park with me, man" he said.
Well damn.

His name was Russell. He was a nurse in Waco. That night we sat by his fire and talked about running. About fatherhood. About the challenges we face and the pride we feel when we watch our children become their own person. He told me about the day his daughter came out as a lesbian. About her trepidation to tell him... afraid of his rejection. About his own complicated and complex feelings about it, and about his overwhelming pride in and love for her.
He turned in early. And I sat by the fire a little longer with some bourbon...and with my own complicated and complex feelings about things. And eventually crawled in my van and slept.

The next morning, after drinking my coffee and eating my O's, I set off to find more sun and rock. Even though some of the trails would be off limits tomorrow, I'd ride the ones that weren't. Climb to the rim of the canyon again and follow the narrow path I'd seen up there.

Those Yonder Journal boyz are pretty damned funny. 

You obstinate fucker.
I... am gigantic.
(and, incidentally, very funny)

(and according to sources... a selfie obsessed tween girl)
rightly so...
Interlude: A brief word on selfies. 
It's not vanity. I know it seems absurd, but it really isn't. Vanity implies self-love. There's nothing like that happening here, I assure you.
I'm sure it's partly my mom's fault. Some early lecture when we were kids about how film was expensive and if we were really going to take a million pictures of the backyard, to at least put someone in the picture. And she's not wrong.
I can't imagine a scenario where I ever add to the world's store of great landscape photos. Because real photographer I am not. I'm just a moron riding my bike and snapping brief, shitty pictures with my phone. So I tend to put other shit in the pictures. People. And because I'm a lone-ferret... I often tend to be the only person around to put in the picture.
And I mean... Look at the picture above. Now... remove me. Sure, it's a pretty rock and all... but it's also a pretty fucking boring photo.

Yeah... we all look stupid taking pictures of ourself. And yeah...we all have that one friend. The one whose Instagram feed is a thousand iterations of the same picture. And looks like this...

Yeah, I fully committed to this...
It took almost ten minutes... which was entirely too many. 
But that's less vanity and more... a cry for help. Trying, in a very lost way, to figure out who they are. As cringeworthy as that is, I get it.
And come on... even the most self-despising of us still has a morbid fascination with seeing photos of ourselves, whether we admit it or not. A "is that really what I look like?" thing.

Do I look like this?"

"Or like this?"

(Speaking of which.... You know what sucks? When someone looks at a particularly terrible photo and says "Oh! This is a good one of you!")
And you realize... how the rest of the world views you... and that you truly are as unattractive as you feared.

Also, for whatever the reason... selfies tend to get the most likes on Instagram. Who the fuck knows why?

Back to Texas...

After exploring every nook of the canyon I could, I sat in the sun and drank a beer... and reluctantly... started east. Unsure where I would even end up that night.
Driving down a random street in Oklahoma City, looking for coffee, I spotted a tree full of bikes. The first indication that maybe something beyond my scope was happening here.

Who knows what sets us off? What flicks the switch inside our brains? What starts the unraveling? Sometimes it's circumstance. Absence. Proximity. Sometimes emotion. Sometimes confusion. Sometimes an exploded burrito.
Whatever the case, I was beginning my unraveling.

I hear that epileptics have a thing called an "aura." This thing they see or feel before the onset of a seizure. While I can't say I've ever experienced a seizure... not in any traditional sense, at least... I think I know a little about these auras. I call them "clouds." And I know when they're building. You can feel it. The light in your vision changes. Like there's a filter over it. Your air gets heavy. Thunder rumbles inside you.

And then the lightning arcs through your head.

It's difficult to explain. But if you know, you know. And while most nights I can outdrink it... alcoholic torpor crossing the finish-line before suicidal ardor... some nights you get beat. And tonight... if I didn't surround myself with people, then I'd likely lose sight of my life-lines. Whether I wanted to or not. Storms a comin'.

So I drove past my would-be campground. Into Tulsa. Up to the bar at Prairie Brewing. Where I sat and...thought. Surrounded by, but not engaging people.
From there, I wandered up the busy street... to a bar called the Sound Pony. Noise and chaos. A band. An aggressive woman.

Tulsa. My experience was fleeting, to say the least. A moment in time.
But head-space aside... I liked it. There was bustle and energy. Young people.
Greensboro... sometimes it seems to be the most bizarrely devoid of young people place I've ever seen. At least... young people like me.
(Editor's note: Watts... firstly, you are fucking 40. Whether or not you conduct yourself like a goddamned 16 year old, you are not young. Secondly..."like you?" More people like you is a fucking nightmare. Think "world destruction.")
I admit... The Sound Pony might be my favorite bar in the country right now. That... is a big deal.

The only picture I took at Sound Pony that even kind of turned out. 

And this is part of why I get lost. Finding those pins on a map that you'd have never considered. Finding the extraordinary in the mundane. In so many ways, it helps me get a better perspective on my own town. The one I bitch about all the time. Make the comparisons. Why do I like fucking Tulsa, OK more than Greensboro? What did it have that we really don't? it all really just me? Because here I was, on the road... doing that thing that supposedly makes me happy... and still battling demons. Not to be too terribly trite... but "wherever you go, there you are" has some truth to it.
If you visited me in Greensboro, I could make shit look great. Take you on a great ride. Eat at a great restaurant. Drink at a great bar. Hang out at a great bike shop. (The owner's a psycho, though.)

Still... Tulsa.

I ate some breakfast at Bramble. Bloody Marys and coffee. More coffee at Dilly Diner. Then headed off. To Bentonville, AR. I'd gotten rained out before, but the weather looked quite fine. I pulled into town and having ridden SlaughterPen, went to find the Back 40; one of the newer trails being cut there.
It proved a bit elusive... the first time the MTB Project App has let me down in the least. Taking me to random points in various neighborhoods and saying "you're here!" Here being someone's house. Or a gravel road.
Finally, I figured it out and started riding... immediately coming up on a Westy parked on the side of the road. There I met Dawn... who was doing the same thing I was... tooling around the mid-west, but in reverse. She'd had problems finding the trailhead too... hence parked on the side of the road.
She gave me intel on other places to check out... became my Instafriend... and I set off to ride the Back 40.

Post ride, I walked down to Pedaler's Pub for a beer and curry fries. But was super bummed to discover they were closed. After an early dinner at Tusk and Trotter, I stopped in for a red-eye at the fascinating Onyx, and I saw a stray social media post from Mike Ferrentino that they were at the Pedaler's Pub. Well shit. I'd intended to ninja camp further down the road, but what the hell... I walked down and crashed Bike's private party.

The owner of Pedaler's Pub. Who has a damned good thing going here.

Bryce and the Butcher.
This is not a photograph.
Then I crashed at the Bike house one more time.
The next morning, ordering a coffee at Onyx, the pretty barista smiled and said, "Watts, right?"
Huh. I was already a regular.

Bentonville is another one of those bizarre, unique pins on the map. And my feelings about it are conflicted. And not just because of the time I got copped. The riding is excellent. A good mix of fast, flow and tech. Take your rigid SS. Take your XC bike. Take your Trail bike (whatever the fuck that even means anymore). The food and drink is superb. Tusk and Trotter. Pedaler's Pub. Pressroom. Onyx. The Hive.

But all of it... is Walmart affluence. And regardless of however much has been invested in making Bentonville the cultural hub that it is... it's all still built on Walmart's aggressive destruction of culture in every other pocket of the country.
So yay for Bentonville and all the trails and food and art and pretty baristas and shit.
But it comes at the expense of worker's rights and cultural identity everywhere else. And that kind of sucks.

Fuck. You. Walmart.

Again... Random picture to break up the words. 

From Bentonville to Memphis. To a bar. Where a stranger told me his story.

"So what happened?"

And the answer was... he didn't know. She just... disappeared. Stopped texting. Stopped emailing.
It was already complicated, he said.  There were...other people involved. And got messy. "You know?"
Yeah... I knew.  I knew pretty fucking well.

"What if... she's just... done with me?" he asked. Not because I had an answer for him, but because he just needed to say it out loud.
I answered anyway. "What if she isn't? What if... she's just dealing with her own shit? Processing in her own way Maybe... that's how she copes with shit. Shuts down for a while. I... I've... known people like that."
"I... Maybe?" He paused. "I just want to talk to her, you know? Figure out where she's at. If she's ok."
"Yeah, man. I know."
"You think... I should keep trying? Or do you think that will just push her away?"
"Fuck... man, that's not really something I can answer. But... for what it's worth... it's what I'd do. Even if it wasn't the right thing. Sometimes... you can't help it."
"What if she... never speaks to me again?"
"What if she does? Man... I don't know you. And you don't know me. But personally? I'd rather feel stupid for chasing the things I want... than feel stupid for not chasing them. And if you want her. You tell her. Even if she can never want you the same way. And even if... you don't know if she can hear you."
He sighed. Stared into his glass. I did the same. Both of us a thousand miles away from some stool in a bar.

Once upon a time... after picking myself up off a bloody bathroom floor... I made a promise. That from that point on, I would chase the things I want and feel... at all costs.

To live any other way... seems tantamount to being dead.

Me? I'm kind of done being dead for a while.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Get Lost or Die Trying (part two-ish)

I woke up next to water.

The van door flung open to the elements. A warm wind rustled the trees. It felt... almost tropical. Like morning on an island. My head hurt. Possibly from the whiskey that had finally brought me a merciful three hours of sleep. But definitely from the fight I'd gotten into that night. Fisticuffs and shouting. Wrestling on the ground. My tender right hand the evidence. Along with my tender cheekbone. The one that brought on a wave of nausea and made cracking noises when I pushed at it too hard. Who did I fight? Memories of some ugly fucker. Sad, uneven eyes. Exaggerated, cartoonish features. Long in limb and twisted in spine. Belligerent and frothing. Wild and flailing.
Splashing water on my face...I saw him in the mirror.


I need help.

I was at a state park outside of Tulsa. A lake. Muddy brown water tossed into swells by the wind.
I made coffee and sat in the door of my van. Let the warmth blow in. Took in the sky. Bright blue with pink and white clouds.  A good sky.

And I did what I do... Stared into space and let my brain go where it does. Watched Oklahoma unfold. Its history. Its people. Its ghosts. Its gravity.
A melodrama of bodies and conflicts far removed from the RV's at my back. This confused feeling of sympathy and sadness at the evolution our wandering ethos has taken. Frontier spirit gone awry. Every inane comfort of home dragged with us wherever we go. Sprawling houses on wheels with showers and toilets and carpet and pets and patio furniture. Cats staring hungrily from the doors of their prisons on wheels. Golfcarts and mobility chairs dragged along to enable our bodily decline. Decline brought on not from the tax of scrapping and scraping and living with some desperate frenzy. The frenzy that I feel every day...
But a decline...of effort. Succumbing to the inertia of content. Defeated by our own tendency toward sloth.
Native people displaced and eradicated from the region so that corpulent white Christians who don't even believe their own lies can drive a motor boat on the water. Like Jesus.

With a long sigh, I pulled my shit together and set off to find some breakfast in town... and ultimately keep moving.


Van-ity. Get it?
(kill me)

While there is undoubtedly a heart buried somewhere beneath the blanket of trees that covers the eastern side of the country. Hidden and dense. One that beats and beckons with wood and green.
It's not mine. somewhere dry and sparse. Exposed and and vulnerable. Red in rock and coarse in temperament.
I've felt its pulse since I first saw those rocks...saw that sky...however long ago. Something inside me beating in time.
That I live so very far a source of much angst.
But then...what fucking isn't for me?

I'd spent the last two nights in Palo Duro Canyon. Soaking up the sun and sky... and riding everything I could, multiple times. It's a good trail system. A mixture of fun and flat. Fast, and challenging. Rocky climbs to the canyon rim. I saw rattlesnakes. Big horn sheep. Tarantulas. Descending one trail, a roadrunner leapt out of a bush behind me, bounded off my helmet and up onto a rock ledge ahead. It was...amazing.
If I could have... I'd have stayed in the Canyon longer. Stayed with the stars and the moon. With the red rocks. The ones I'd set off in search of in the first place. The ones I'd driven 2400 miles for. At least partly. There were other reasons I was out here. But they're complicated. Hard to qualify.
But then...what fucking isn't for me?


When I travel in my van... rarely is my evening still. Rarely do I get to watch the sunset from my settled camp. Rarely do I get to sit by a fire and watch the stars come much as I always promise myself that I will. More often than not, that's when I'm moving. Having spent the day doing whatever it was I wanted to do... riding bikes, wading in water, basking in sun, sitting and watching the ghosts... Once the sun sets... I set off. Driving past evening, into the night. Pulling into my next destination in the dark. Often late. With time to lock up the knives, and drink however much bourbon is required to finally sleep. And as much as I may lament missing a lazy dusk... sitting and reading (something about seafaring, hopefully).... Waking up somewhere new is enlivening in ways I can't describe. Opening the curtains to find out where I am. Wake up to this...

Though if I'm at Switchgrass and Lake Wilson in Kansas, I will likely always try to find this spot.

From rainy Bentonville, I'd driven north... chasing the sun. In that way that I do.

Once... long ago, traveling in Washington State... we picked up some hikers trying to get back to their car. Throwing their bags in the back, we drove them toward wherever they were parked. Winding through lush green hills, we talked about the beauty of the region, and I casually mentioned my love for sunshine and were I to live here, the potentially hard time I might have with the seeming preponderance of cloudy days in the region. One of the hikers, a woman likely about my current and pretty... said something along the lines of "Well...that's what happens when your sunlight comes from outside rather than inside."
"Fuck you" I said.
I didn't, really. But I wanted to.
Whatever she thought she meant, she was still right. There's no sun inside of me. There's no dawning and dappling light shining from within. No pleasant warmth.
Just split atoms. A blast furnace. A supernova. Maybe even a black hole. Deadly heat and radiation. Crushing gravity.
That's not something you let shine.
So yeah... I shield the outside from my inside... and chase my external sun instead. All the time.
Fuck you.

Hey Tulsa...You Ok.
get it? because...OK?
(...kill me)

As I headed into Kansas... toward Wilson Lake and Switchgrass... and the cloud cover dissipated into the blue I needed, I detoured from the pavement and drove into Emporia on gravel roads. I stopped in and had a beer with fellow heathen, Kristi Mohn of Dirty Kanza at Mulready's Pub. Tim was headed to Lawrence to play a show with his band. And while I considered driving that way... an extra hour in the wrong direction after all of the driving I was already doing was hard to swallow, as badly as I wanted to see them play. After getting a tour of Kristi and Tim's soon-to-open cycling and lifestyle store, I walked over to Radius brewing for a beer and the best fucking Mac and Cheese I have ever fucking had.

I'd considered boon-docking in the van behind Mulready's. Riding Dirty gravel the next day. But I went ahead and drove to Switchgrass. Pulling into a deserted campground at midnight. Somehow into the same spot I'd pulled into late one night last year. The best spot, incidentally.
That night, I froze. Every blanket and sheet and towel I had piled on top of me. Sure, I could have put on clothes, but that was more effort.
In the morning, I sipped my coffee... watched the sky change... and thought about the land. I like Kansas. Particularly this region. I thought about the way places have their own...power. Pull. Magic. I thought about native Americans and what this place must have meant to them when they first found it. The cliffs and bluffs. Rolling hills in a predominantly flat area. I thought about the pull of water. I thought about how I totally fucked up in my Dirt Rag article when I talked about the region...and said "limestone" when I meant "sandstone."

Finally.... I got riding.
Taking a thorn less than a half-mile in, I turned around and ran back to the van. Yeah, I had tubes, but if I'd already hit one thorn, I was going to hit others. Wilson lake isn't like the rest of Kansas. It's practically high desert. There's cactus and wild artichoke. And like in Oklahoma... these fuckers.

Hey Oklahoma... Fuck you!
So I filled my tire with Stan's and put too much pressure in there. Yeah, I got a bunch of android blood in my face for the first couple hundred yards. And yeah, occasionally I'd hear the seal break, and I'd spin the tire until it resealed. And once or twice in the first few miles, I had to pump it back up a few PSI. But after that? It was done. And that seal has held for the past 30 days of riding.

Grade A android blud.

Me and all my friends.

After a few hours of riding loops at Switchgrass, I headed south. Toward Palo Duro. Through the panhandle of Oklahoma. Stopping in some dunes to watch the sun go down. Attacked by spiky death balls and tracking sand into the van.

Is my face swollen and bruised? Or distorted by the camera?
Could be either?

I stopped at a bizarre brewery/steakhouse on the edge of Amarillo. Drank passable beer. Ate salty things. And pulled into the canyon...again at midnight. The next morning, for one of the first times in my life... even the clouds couldn't quell the pleasant warmth I had inside me. I was where I wanted to be. Where I'd set off for. And even with the knowledge that the melancholy would press in soon enough... and I'd face some demons in time... I was happy.

Oh man! Another sweet van pic!

I rode all day. From the moment the sun melted the clouds and peaked over the canyon the moment it fell below it. And afterward, sitting in door of the van...drinking a beer and ignoring the flies... along with the lovely ache in my legs, I could still feel that warmth inside. I missed people. And wished they were there. But even with the ache of absence, I was happy. The blast furnace at an easy burn. 
At least for the moment. 
In a day or two it would quicken its pulse and try to consume me. 
But then...what the fuck doesn't?