Tag Archives: Freedom

Open Doors

I accidentally looked past fall and saw the grey wet skies of winter.  In a flash of memory I tasted a  hot sip of coffee I drank a few thousand miles from here, and even further away when measured by sips of coffee tasted since.  I slurped that hot sip in with a rush of cooling air across the roof of my mouth, and burbled it like a sommelier, but I was just a prep cook in a pair of forgotten pants and a blue plaid shirt.  I remember that shirt for the polyester quilting inside that made it warmer than it looked.  That shirt is long gone and lost, although I do remember it making it back across the Mississippi river with me.

Why this memory here?  Why now, as I gun the van into Monday morning traffic on a narrow canopy road in town, the same grey sky as ten thousand sips ago? the air just as thick and claustrophobia inducing, but 30 degrees warmer.  That cold wet air kept outside my blue plaid shirt just as long gone as the shirt itself.

Maybe there is something important to remember about that morning?  Too bad I have so few clues to go on.  I sip this morning’s coffee, the push pot said Chiapas, and the phrase the blood of the peasants, runs through my thoughts.  It is the blood of the peasants that makes it taste so rich.  Were those words that I spoke that morning a river of coffee ago?  Did I overhear it?

This seems to be a significant detail, so I put it in my sleuthing folder with the blue plaid shirt and the faceless pants, and that leads me to a sous chef I worked under, and how he studied poetry at Reed, and how he couldn’t flip a saute pan to save his life.  He put his clumsy fingers in my trinity and flickered the diced pieces about with a scowl. I pictured those fingers tumbling out as free agents into the sizzling pan, my 13″ Chef’s knife marinated in poet’s blood.

Now I remember.  That sip of coffee, bought with a precious squandered dollar as a free man with no income.  A peasant reclaiming his blood.




The Haitian Trunk

Some years ago I finagled possession of a family heirloom, a trunk my step-father picked up in his travels in Haiti.  It is large enough to crawl inside and pull the barrel vaulted lid down on top of yourself.  I can’t say how long I have managed to hang onto it, or how I have done so without doing it any damage, or losing it in my many moves. Inside it I carry my past.  I have always believed that if I kept the thread of my stories together, I would one day unpack them and discover what my life is about, and lay out the blueprint, or the treasure map, to the story as I would like it told.

There are gaps in the narrative, and I am a shoddy record-keeper; but in the piles of notebooks, photographs, consecrated broken clocks, divine pocket knives,  fliers for bands long broken up, and letters from old girlfriends, there is a common thread-me. I picture myself at a desk, a dedicated funcionario, with an inbox on my left as high as the ceiling.  I process each item, evaluating it for its historical significance and narrative merit, then digesting it into fiction, nonfiction, or poem than placing the empty husks on my right-hand side in the outbox, where each item will be preserved, or discarded.

The Big Ring Circus, has become another Haitian trunk, full of evidence and artifacts. It is a narrative that jumps in time and space, leaving fingerprints of nearly a decade.  I found myself writing about bikes,  probably because I trust bikes to always get me where I want to go.

This is where we have arrived next, www.bigringcircus.com.



Blessed are the Pilgrims

Listening to a 35 year-old song in a 26 year-old van I feel like a historian trying on the artifacts. 

He is riding in the rain, a downpour so powerful that it drowns out the music and the rattle of the old motor jangling on broken mounts in the chassis.  A rain so complete, that I imagine there is no space left for the air he is sucking as he climbs the long grade into Taylor county.  Loaded down with full racks, he is not the visionary or the vagabond, but a rider prepared for the journey.  Is he a one-day epic artist or a cross-nation explorer?  Despite the sheets of water and the speed, I can see this is a young man.

I want to pull over and offer him something, and why is that? To see the pilgrim on hajj is to see free will flexed, and what inspires more than free will, enjoyed and asserted?  In my instant assessment I determine he needs nothing I have, and truthfully, it makes more sense to stop and ask him, “What can you spare for me?”  Can you part with a little courage? Afford me a small handful of freedom from fear? Peel off a bit of ache in the knees, and the conviction to ease up just a tad, but keep going through the rain to a soaking campsite and a camp-stove under the fly to warm the spirits.  Perhaps a little extravagance of rum stuffed in a sock and stashed in a cook pan? Brother?  Can you help me?

Sitting at the San Felasco trailhead, with the bike in the back, I watch it rain and rain, and I can’t be bothered to unload for a sloppy, slow grind that won’t be enough to break me from the tethers that keep me from tumbling off the earth. 

The truth is I am a working man, who owns a bike.  I like to ride it when I can, but it’s raining today and my dress shirt hangs ironed behind my head, and people are expecting me to help them tomorrow, with things I can’t ignore.

So is this still the adventure?  Is he killing time, or am I?


Old Men and Soldiers

Sitting in the van watching the rain pour down, neither Squatch nor I were too happy to see a grim Joey B roll up to the Munson parking lot on his bike.  Standing out there in the rain, shaking his head at us, we pretended we didn’t understand his get on your bikes gestures so we shrugged and waved and called out hey bro it’s raining! through the tiniest crack of the window. 

Wisely, he slid open the bay door and joined us, slopping sweat and rainwater into the velour of my ’98 Safari.  Get out of this car and get on your bikes he ordered, as we filibustered retorts of hey man, you watch the tour today?  Crazy huh? He was having none of it, so we grimly decamped the vehicle and suited up for a grind.

The guy parked next to us made his move at the same time, remarking something like Might as well get this suckfest over with, and after a few I hear that brothers! our crew pointed due south for Twilight where we enjoyed a sandy and grit-filled spin through the carpet of ferns and pines, Joey a few hundred yard ahead most of the way while Squatch and I rode 2007 style chattering and clucking like hens.  The wet crust of sand cracking as we rode over it, the grit splattering up shins and into every crease on the bike, the pace just fast enough, yet not really fast at all.

Back at the van, with the rain relenting, Joey B asserted his prowess and passed on the free ride home, pedaling off up the St. Marks Trail to town.  Squatch and I what’s upped? the guy next to us, also just wrapping up his ride. 

Ryan, recently back from Afghanistan, glad to be done with his service, done with school and casting about for what comes next.  Ride your bike and avoid all responsibility I thought and said out loud. This younger generation though, cursed with ambition and purpose, he was leaning more towards finding work.

Bigringcircus, google it I told him.  It’s the perfect place to start this next phase of your life. 

I hope he finds this, and lets us drag him around the woods until he knows what’s next.


Wily Cooter

I don’t know Calipash from Calipee, but we ran into this soft-shelled turtle up on the banks of Lake Lafayette on Sunday morning.  It was three feet across at the shoulders, and she croaked out a tune that sounded like Wayfaring Stranger, but I can’t be certain of that.  The air was so wet the poor girl probably thought we were in her lake and not she on the land.

We visited with her long enough for one fellow to pull the plug of white pine out of his seat tube and whittle it down some more, having broken his seat bolt within minutes of starting the ride.  Now, for myself, a broken seat bolt is a God-given first-class ticket to the couch on a steamy North Florida morning.  Such a catastrophic mechanical is a guilt-free reason to bump down the A.C. and watch Elle Woods win over the curmudgeonly brunette and triumph in spite of, and with the aid of, gender stereotyping.  A broken seat bolt?  Why it might take until October to fix such a thing!

Instead, we were treated to a first-class trail save the likes of which I have never seen.  I have packed ripped tires full of pine needles, trued wheels with force against trees, converted more bikes to single speed than are worth counting, and wrapped more dollar bills under sidewall tears than George Washington, but I had never seen this particular solution of plugging the seat tube to hold up a seat post.

it’s getting a little techie in here, and I apologize to my friends who prefer to knit potholders, or devise a cooling system for a 1965 Shasta trailer, but I am talking about American Ingenuity damn it all.  It saved us from the Nazis, and it brought us the 37 flavor serve yourself yogurt bar so you would do well to endure the minutiae and appreciate a man who carries a pocket knife and knows how to use it.

So by the time Joey had risked losing a finger to this old girl, JB was back in the saddle and ready to roll.  1992 steel frame, rigid fork,  and cantilever brakes surrounded by full suspension, carbon fiber, and 29 ” tubeless tires.

Only a bad carpenter blames his tools.  If you want it, find a way.


Ole Boy’s Club

We stood around the car talking tomatoes like farmers.  What do you do about boring caterpillars? Walk away or change the subject? I thought but I guess they meant something different.

Just a scorching fast out and back up the Miccosukee Greenway sliding around the shell-covered turns hoping to not see a family of four, or a dog-walker around the next blind turn.  Just four of us, an uneventful day except it is so unlikely to see the old BRC crew together again.  All we needed was ole Tommy the Torso and it would have been a reunion.

I’ve got to take it easy! says one.
I thought we came out to ride! says another.
What about some fellowship? says Sasquatch.
I can take you all any time I want. thinks Juancho.

It’s getting so hot I could start riding naked, and this ain’t nothing yet, as we say all summer long.

4 old guys leaning on a Volvo talking about tomatoes, carbon fiber, and the weather.  Yes ma’am, yes sir, a thrill a minute and punk rock still lives.  Deep down inside our gluten-free hearts, just around the corner from Mortgage avenue, in a coldwater flat at the end of marriage and family way.


Reality tastes like dust

The dust that Poncho bit down south ended up in Lefty’s mouth, and I know how Lefty feels.

The forest floor was still smoking from a burn, the trail an ashen pillow, and me- the last in line. I hit that section the last of seven and holding up well enough, the pace so hard I felt I was being reeled in, the prize lunker.  I clawed for my jersey zipper, yanking.  It was already down to my navel. I sucked water and coughed it out as the need for air took priority.  The trail turned uphill and rivets started popping from my hull.  A scrub oak branch snapped back into my face, I spit blood and grit over my front tire, and that is about when I called it quits.  Dropped my friends, like a hit record on the first day of summer.

My last few rides had me believing I was better than that.  Two hour epics of flow and spin with my friend Steve, the ever-steady man of mystery.  Turns out we were caught in a collective delusion.  Two bums straightening each others’ collars, “And a fine good day to you sir, don’t you look smashing this morning!”  “Well thank you good sir, you are the perfect image of vigor and health yourself if I have ever seen a more able gentleman I will eat my hat!”  And away we go toddering down the trail and passing the Wild Irish Rose.

“There is no such thing as patience.”  Bill said, “There is only impatience and the way the universe reveals itself.”  Or something like that.




My right ear has been closed up tight for almost two weeks.  I think it is trying to protect me by prohibiting negativity from coming into it.  The doctor says it’s an infection.  To each our own. I still have one good ear so that means I’m listening, but just barely.

A friend took a scary fall at the Santos trails down in Marion County, FL last week.  We got a pensive call from his girlfriend late at night with scant details.  I spent the next 24 hours pondering the possibility of his death, or permanent incapacitation either mentally or physically.
That’s the kind of information my ear is trying to shield me from I think.

He tumped over from a small height onto his head and lay there unable to move or feel anything below the neck. “I think I broke my neck” is what he was reported to have said.  I know a bit about broken necks and a life without movement.  The thing nobody acknowledges is that it goes on.  My step-father is quadriplegic, as is a childhood friend from back in the day.  They live, they get things done.  They travel the third world and get drunk.  You say you would rather be dead, but you wouldn’t.  We all persist. We accommodate.  We adapt.

For some minutes my friend must have lay there amid the crumbled limestone and pine needles and contemplated such a transition.  How will I earn a living?  How will I eat? How will I everything?  I imagine those minutes will become very important to him, much like my Crash of Great Clarity.  I can’t recommend enough a terrifying accident or crisis when one needs to prioritize their values.

As feeling tingled back into his fingers and toes, and the paramedics loaded him up, was he making amends?  Counting his blessings?  Who knows?

All of that is personal between he and his moment.



Am I out of my groove because my inner ear is infected, or is my inner ear infected because I am out of my groove?  Either way, this record has been skipping in all the wrong spots.

Time to make it right.  I got the antibiotics, but the rest of the prescription reads something like:

  • Acquire perfect summer theme song
  • Swim against the current
  • Consult the Angry Monk
  • 2 tblsp Turpentine
  • 1 bushel of barbed wire
  • 100 miles per week

I now welcome any and all non-binding, should-free advice from you- my crowd-sourced board of directors.



On the River

My sweetheart wasn’t gone 30 minutes before I found myself parked next to a dumpster eating a burrito in the van.  Three days of living alone was more than enough for the kitchen to become the garage again, with bikes stacked against the refrigerator and greasy rags  in the sink. It is hard to resist that late afternoon ennui that leads to drinking beer in your underwear on the back porch while plotting against that beast of an orange cat that haunts your own cat’s dreams.  Where does that orange cat hide out?  I want to hit him where he lives when he least expects it, a barrage of green kumquats raining down on his tattered head.  He is as big as a five gallon bucket.

Oh well, nothing to do but plod on, resist the torporous daze and go for a ride.  With a rookie.  And crush him. Some things never fail to cheer me up.

My honey cruises through Dothan, her faithful dog presses her face to the stout 70 mph wind, while the rookie and I cool off at the local rope swing, a couple of old guys trying not to break an ankle.
An adolescent gator watches like a wallflower from 50 feet away, which seems like plenty of space when you are in the air, but a bit too close once you hit the water.