Thursday, August 30, 2007

the end is near

Not apocalyptically speaking... I don't think at least. But we are less than 200 miles away from Portland, OR now; three days of moderate biking which is good because my body is starting to take the toll (though oddly enough, the worst abuse came on our day off in Missoula when I went to a metal show and gave myself whiplash from headbanging).

When we were in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, the three of us stayed with Ross' cousin who is married with three kids. A lovely family and fantastic hosts. The oldest daughter, eleven I think, and her friend had dinner with us adults and they excused themselves as the rest of us sat around drinking beer and talking.

I guess they went outside for a bit, because when they came back in, the daughter said to her friend, "They're STILL sitting around the table talking?" To which her friend replied, "Let's go downstairs and try on funny hats."

And I wanted to stop them, "Wait! No! I'm still cool! I don't normally sit around and drink beer and talk about financial risks and how companies can save upwards of one million dollars by re-evaluating their phone plans. I'm still young and fun! I like trying on funny hats!"

But why would they believe me? I guess I had an inkling for a while, but it's becoming undeniable that I am, in fact, an adult. But worse than that, I'm an adult with very little direction and the desires of a child. All I want to do after this trip is over is to watch Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers.

Part of the impetus for this trip was to clear the head, find my inner compass, and start pointing my life in a direction. But it's been a sort of purgatory biking all this time. I'm literally spinning my wheels while the rest of the world continues with whatever the non cycling world does day to day. Lately, it's actually felt more like hell than purgatory since I've had the song "The Name Game" stuck in my head throughout most of western Montana and Washington. Hours upon hours of

Come on everybody!
Let's play a game!
I betcha I can make a rhyme
Out of anybody's name!*

Lincoln, lincoln, bo bincoln
fa na na na na fo fincoln
me my mo mincoln

But I feel confident once I crawl out of this purgatory, stepping on the heads of unbaptized infants on my way to heaven, a new and better armin will be the end result, able to talk about financial planning at a dinner table AND wear a silly hat at the same time.

*Disclaimer: The Name Game is only applicable to one and two syllable names with the exception of Chuck, Art, and Rich.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


A friend of mine hiked the Appalacian trail after college, and when he recently went hiking in the woods with his mom, he said she stopped at every tree to gaze in awe. "Look at this one! This one is pretty!" That kind of thing, I imagine. And he said he couldn't get into it the same way, not that he thought the tree was ugly or that it was overweight and couldn't compete with those impossibly high standards the anorexic looking trees in Better Homes and Gardens set.

It was a tree like the thousands of others he'd seen during the however many months he spent walking that trail. Even beautiful things get old. So too with biking these last few weeks. Everyone talks about how amazing it must be, what an experience it is, all the things I get to see firsthand. It's true; the country is beautiful and there is no way I could absorb it all.

But because we do it every day for hours, I guess I just don't appreciate it as much as I think people expect me to. Same thing when my family vacationed in Yellowstone. We were so excited to see our first buffalo, but by the twentieth one or so, they all sort of look the same: brown lumps of bovine.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I'm not enjoying it more. That maybe I have the wrong attitude and that's why each moment on the bike isn't a communion with God. But then again, I don't think anyone in the normal world starts his car and takes a moment to marvel at the brilliant engineering and physics occurring under the hood. Or gapes in wonder at the sheer number of humans populating the streets, as people might with a herd of buffalo.

There's wonder in everything, but conversely, I guess that means everything wonderful can become pedestrian, common, and forgettable as well.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

north dakota: no where near as shitty as some would lead you to believe

I would have liked to write this blog entry our last day in ND, but I've spent a considerable amount of time--and money--at bike shops recently. But, it's important to say that despite any rumors you hear about ND being flat and boring, the state turns out to be a lot prettier and interesting than people give it credit for.

For the sake of the North Dakota Tourism Bureau, so the operator no longer has to answer the phone, "No, we don't have Mt. Rushmore. You're thinking of South Dakota," here are some of my favorite parts of the state.

1. The Badlands-Hills and canyons composed of alternating layers of sedimentary rocks and red clay. Quite beautiful. It's very hard to bike through the region without singing "Badlands"by Bruce Springsteen even though I hate him. But since I hate him, i don't really remember how the song goes and end up singing it to the tune of Downtown. "When you're alone and life is making you lonely you can always go... BADLANDS!"

2. Fowl- Many varieties of interesting birds that fly out at us as we bike on less populated roads. I don't know anything about ornithology so I can't tell you what type of birds we see, but I can tell you they aren't penguins, ostriches, or dodos.

3. BAGA-the acronym stands for Bismarck art Gallery association. They had a lovely gallery opening one night that we stayed in town and the women were so pleasant, they took much of the left over food--fresh fruit, brownies, cheese, cold cuts, sausages--and packed it up into tupperware for us to eat during our entire stay.

4. The Missouri River- granted I did not swim in it, but I don't really swim much anyway. It was just pleasant to walk along it, watching families load up boats with food and coolers to enjoy a sunday afternoon on the water.

5. Clamdigger-at a bar called the Broken Oar on the Missouri, they serve this drink made of vodka, tomato juice (i think), worcester sauce, olives, a dill pickle, banana pepper rings, and a whole mess of other ingredients. Actually, I didn't like it much myself, but Ross hated it and watching him suffer trying to finish it was mildly amusing.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

how do you eat an elephant?

In September of the new school year, I'd go to each of the freshmen social studies class as one of the special ed teachers in the high school to give the kids a little song and dance about disabilities, make a few jokes, pass out candy... Generally, my only goal was that one of the popular girls would think it sweet to sit with my disabled students at lunch, thus followed by her popular girl friends, thus followed by the popular boys who want a piece of the popular girls, thus followed by anyone else in the school because they are all sheep with their popped collars and "Now That's What I Call Music" CD compilations.

Wait, that's needlessly harsh. Actually, all the kids I visited were great fun and receptive, and many, for no other reason than their own friendliness and acceptance of others, sat with my students at lunch blocks and even endured the less than discrete breast gazing of some of my male students.

But during these disability awareness talks, I'd open the floor to questions and the most clever question, the one that took the most deliberate stucturing of words for an appropriate response was the question, "What CAN'T your students do?"

"Well," says a sweating Mr. Tolentino, looking like a politician at a press conference fumbling for a response when he's presented with explicit photos of him and an underage male intern, " I actually don't know what my students can't do because I don't set limits on them. I never underestimate their potential."

And each time this question has been asked and I give that wholly unsatisfying and unhelpful answer, I wait for that one punk ass kid to raise his hand and say, "But you just told us some of the disabled students don't have the ability to speak or use sign language. So isn't that something they can't do? Could they drive cars? Could they go to college? Could they own a house, get married, raise kids, submit their taxes by April 15th without the aide of H & R Block?"

But no one ever raises his hand to challenge me. Why should they? This is the end of the class period. I've already eaten enough of their teacher's time and it's too late to open their text books to the chapter on the Fertile Crescent. I've done my job, no reason for the kids to drag it on anymore.

But if, perchance, one of them was inquisitive enough to mention this complete contradiction in my disability awareness talk, this is what I would have said:

"When all of you were growing up, hopefully your parents, elementary school teachers, coaches, clergy, everyone really, told you that you could be whatever you wanted to be when you grew up. 'Jimmy, if you want to, you could be President of the United States if you just follow your dreams.' So you were all probably told you could be Presidents of the United States because you are all precious little bodies and minds that only have to BELIEVE in your dreams to have them come true... as long as that's what you really want.
"How many of you still believe this? What are the chances that every single kid in this fresman year social studies classroom will become the President of the U.S. at some point in his or her life? What are the chances that anyone from this high school will ever become President?
"You could say, 'I don't want to be President. That's not my dream.' Sure. Fine. Let's take all the people who actually wanted to be President and were told when they were kids (and even adults) that if you try hard enough, you can be president. Michael Dukakis. Bob Dole. AL Gore. John Kerry. My knowledge of politics is admittedly poor, but I can bet you the list is even longer than that.
"So what's the point? If someone on the street asked me, 'Do you think any of those kids in Mrs. Cooper's 4th period freshmen World Civilizations class will ever become President?' I would, in the most logical parts of my mind, say, 'Nope.' Now does that mean that none of you can be President? Of course not. You were all born in the states, right? As long as you make it to 40 years old, I'm pretty sure those are the only two actual requirements. Is it likely you will be President? Hell no. Possible though? I guess.
"And so when you ask me what CAN'T my students do, I have to tell you 'I don't know because I've never set limits on them.' Same with you guys. Your teachers wouldn't dare say that you couldn't graduate high school or get into a college of your choice or work in any profession your little hearts desire. If a teacher did say that, he should be fired. We HAVE to live our lives in a constant and willful suspension of disbelief. We NEED to tell ourselves we can be things, do things, accomplish things that might seem impossible for us. That doesn't mean we are omnipotent and can do it all. But if you confuse 'a very small, insignificant, limit-approaching-zero chance' with 'impossible,' then you are doing everyone the grave disservice of never even trying.
"One more example before the bell rings. The survival rate for salmon fry from the time they hatch is preposterously low... something like the cliched 'one in a million.' Does that mean it's impossible for baby salmon to survive? Yeah, pretty damn close to it. But then again, if a few didn't make it past the herons, pesticides, frogs, and whatever else, then I wouldn't be enjoying the delicious baked salmon your wonderful high school cafeteria serves every Friday, which goes great with a side of seafood chowder and a dash of get me the hell out of here already. Class dismissed. Westwood High School Football Rules!"

Then they would clap for me or possibly raise me on their shoulders and carry me out to the field. But this never happened.

Why did I mention this? Oh, because biking cross country is sort of like that. Don't confuse it with running for president or trying to learn to talk if you have no verbal communication whatsoever. But it is a large and, at times, daunting project and anything that involves time and multiple steps--writing a novel, sewing a quilt, making a marriage work--has that aura of impossibility to it. So, as my karate sensei used to ask, how do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

if i have ever lived in the same town as you...

I have a couple questions.

1. Have you ever seen a cracker called "Chicken in a Biskit" in your local supermarket?
2. If yes, why have you never offered them to me when I've come to your house/office/place of worship?

For those of you unfamiliar, a Chicken in a Bisket is a cracker with the buttery consistency of a Ritz and the salty, bullion cube and MSG laden flavor of Ramen soup noodles. It's like eating astronaut food: an entire meal in one, compact rectangle.

And you vegetarians don't have to feel left out. I'm pretty sure Nabisco boils the flavor out of a chicken without actually hurting it.