Tomorrow, October 23, 2010, the Conversations with US project officially begins. I wanted to share one final note before setting out on the road. This will probably be my final substantive post for some time, but I will check in each week with audio clips from some of the folks I speak with while riding through the Deep South.
Preparation has been exciting, if a little stressful. I have been amazed at the amount of time I've had to devote to planning and research in order to understand the technical issues raised by living on a bike for 5 weeks and 1,700 miles while trying to stay connected to the world. A few of the things that I have had to figure out are: packing for both hot and cold days without bringing lots of clothing, keeping my bike in working order and being prepared to make roadside repairs, possibly riding in low-light conditions, keeping myself healthy and hydrated, how to avoid an uncomfortable derriere, how to get sufficient calories (some 5000 per day) at a relatively steady rate, how to keep my electronics charged and dry, how to use my phone and netbook for editing/storing/uploading photos, blog posts, audio files, GPS data....and so on. Add to these considerations my planning for different sleeping conditions (camping, hosteling, a nice bed from time to time) and social situations (don't want to wear sweaty biker shorts to dinner), and trying to figure out the best way to seek out folks to speak with, and you can see why the project planning phase has felt like a packed two months. At this point, however, I suppose I'm as prepared as I'm going to be.
Before pedaling off into Dixie, I want to thank the many individuals who have been invaluable in helping me to take this project from an office daydream to an impending reality. I have been blessed with support from family and friends, and would like to give special thanks to the following: Reema Sheikh, for helping shape the project in its infancy; Kuralay Nurmanova, for her enthusiastic project photography (see her work at http://1001angles.blogspot.com/ and right here in this post); Mike King, for being an overall solid supporter and ideas man; City Bikes in Washington, DC-especially the mechanics Brian and Mark-for their support with the bike and showing me how to maintain it; George Place, for his consistent support and feedback; Brian Jackson for his work with graphic design; Aurelio Garcia, for helping me setup a trial project-pitch at the IDB Toastmasters Club; the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (www.waba.org), for their support; my mom, for allowing me to spread my gear all over her living room floor and for cooking a delicious pre-trip supper; and Howard Taylor, for providing the project launch pad in Charleston, SC and for promising to help me meet interesting folks once I'm there. Thanks also to everyone who came out for the project launch party in mid-October, to those folks who have spoken with me so far.
Finally, a warm thanks to all of you who will be following along once I begin. I look forward to sharing with you the experiences that await me out on the road. My excitement is growing by the hour, as is my curiosity about the people and places I will discover along the way. Am I nervous? Without a doubt. I don't really know what I am getting into. Will folks want to take the time to speak with me? Where will I sleep? Will I be safe? Will the weather and my quadriceps cooperate? Will my bike break? Will I get attacked by hungry wild animals? These are a few of the questions that provide a bit of balance to the otherwise robust optimism I feel as I repack my panniers and tighten the Surly's bolts and screws one last time. Nevertheless, it is my ever-present enthusiasm for learning who we are-and for sharing that with you-that is the framework upon which the project rests. If I can harness this, and use it to fuel a meaningful and enjoyable exploration of America, one which seeks out our commonalities and shared stories, then I will have succeeded. The first step along my multi-year, 17,000 mile journey begins tomorrow. What are you ready to share with me, America? I'm all ears.