Reflections from a year on the road: A letter to my family
Special to the Appeal
After my first year on the road, it is hard to count the memories.
The other numbers I’ve racked up were fairly easy to keep track of. They included nearly 10,000 miles of riding across 14 countries, where I’d written 25 stories and taken nearly 20,000 photos.
I’ve gone through two bikes, 20 inner-tubes, 14 tires, three sets of gears, three pumps, one rim, two seats, two cycle computers, two Ipods, three lenses, two pairs of cycling shorts, and suspiciously, not a single pair of underwear.
I have ridden in elevations that ranged between 200 feet below and 14,000 feet above sea level. I’ve pedaled in temperatures that ranged from 117 degrees to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, where I’d suffered thousands of dents to my ego and hundreds of flat tires.
I’ve seen the great cities of the West: San Francisco, Moab, Floyd, New York, Paris, Prague, Budapest, Edinburgh, Rome, Athens and Istanbul.
Although I can’t prove it, I am fairly certain I’ve consumed a square hectare of wheat, and at least a half-acre of coffee along the way.
Still, the farther I ride, the more I miss my home in Lake Tahoe.
I also miss many I’d been lucky enough to spend time with working in Carson City.
I miss Kurt, Tami, Chuck, and all the lunchtime lap swimmers at the Carson pool. I miss Jim Parry, Guy Rocha, Sue over at the Purple Avacado, and Rob, Mickey and Bro at the Bike Smith.
I miss Glenn Lucky throwing a wave from his three-wheeled bicycle, or surprisingly, the harassment from both Gordons, of Gordon’s Camera. I miss Father Jerry Hanley, Kim Riggs, Dennis Brinson, as well as Lee and Jeremy over at the railroad museum.
I miss the people I worked with: Lisa Tolda, Brendan Riley, Dornan, Maizie Harris Jesse, Barry Smith, Don Quilici, Dan in the pressroom, and all the others at the Nevada Appeal.
I miss Brian Reedy, and the late Eric Anderson, and all the folks that had been so kind to me in the Carson City School District. Hell, I even miss the governor, who’s not only a Republican but, rarely if ever called me by the right name.
Many of these people have sent of words of encouragement.
Many also confided that they longed to travel, and conveyed a desperate need to fly to some faraway place and get away from it all.
I could only reckon it as code.
A need to escape.
Some momentary respite from this beautifully complicated, and sometimes painful thing we call life.
I pondered how I might tell them that many of the things I’d seen may not be what they expected. Or might even be the exact thing they were trying to escape.
This might be the overwhelming tide of humanity, people from all around the world I’d come across, who were solidly, and unanimously against America’s current government, President Bush, and his war in Iraq.
Or it might have been one of the other things.
Things that we as human beings have a moral obligation to resolve: Environmental degradation, the disparity between rich and poor nations, political refugees, AIDS, and all the other world issues that – if we choose to ignore by hiding within the comfort of our armed borders – will soon come knocking at our front doors.
But one of the most unforgettable things I’d seen of late were scars. Two purplish crescents that my recent host had shown me. They had been carved by a scalpel, and were wrapped around either side of his chest.
“Reek,” he said, looking deep into my eyes, “I have lung cancer. Perhaps I’ll live for three more weeks – or even three more years. I’ve come to accept this. I just want to live well during the time that I have left.”
I couldn’t help but think of all those precious moments that those who’d e-mailed me were more than willing to carelessly throw away.
Moments that the man who stood before me, would’ve gladly plucked like gold.
One thing that was always for certain were the questions.
After I had reported on the horrors of the former Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria, many asked where I thought most dangerous place in the world was today. Iran? Pakistan? Afghanistan?
I told them that it was where it had always been: Within the hearts and minds of those who, in the name of religious, atheistic, or political fanaticism, had narrowed their thinking to such a point, that they’d branded others as less than human. Dangerous fear-based thinking, that brought us Auschwitz, Rwanda, and the desecration of the American Indian.
In turn, many asked what I thought the most magnificent place in the world was.
This was always easiest to answer, and I would tell them outright: The most magnificent place in the world can be found within the flesh and blood of those fellow human beings who surround you. Those who you love, those who you have trouble figuring out, those who you work with, and those who piss you off. Those who’ve come – and those who have gone – all of whom are constantly teaching you lessons about life, love and who you are.
Can’t see that yet?
Then I urge you to pick up a bicycle, and pedal 10,000 miles alone, halfway around the planet. I suspect, somewhere outside Wichita, you may begin to see the preciousness of those around you.
As for me, I will bow and give thanks and appreciation to those who have followed and supported this trip all along the way.
And now, as I knock on the door of the ancient Silk Road, I have (God willing), another year, and another 10,000 miles before I see many of you again.
With that, I will say, what I need to say. I love you.
I know what your thinking, “But that’s ridiculous! … How could you love me, you don’t even know me.”
Don’t fool yourself.
After 10,000 miles, through 14 countries, I know you.
I have seen you wherever I look – white, black, yellow, brown and red. I know you. You are the one who’s human … and you are part of my family.
• Editors note: Former Nevada Appeal photographer Rick Gunn recently completed the first year of his two-year bicycle journey around the world. Along the way, he is raising awareness for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. To donate, go to wish.org.
To read more of his entries and see more photos go to rickgunnphotography.com, or nevadaappeal.com and click on the Wish Tour icon.