Of Angels and Devils and the Raid Pyreneen

May 22nd- June 4, 2009
Southern France

“The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but the sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.’

~George Elliot

I was done. I mean, full-on, flat-out waisted.

For three days I’d climbed in the rain. Ascending steep succession of passes while a dense Atlantic storm lashed at the Pyrenees. Hauling 80 pounds of bike-gear up 10,000 feet of pavement, it felt as if the surrounding mountains would consume me. Moving in and out of mist like dark granitic phantoms I traced the peaks, their dark as edges disappearing into the clouds.Cold, wet, tired and lonely, I pushed my mind body closer and closer to the edge.Six hours into the fourth day, after a 4000 foot ascent up the Col D’Abisque–I reached the breaking point. I was somewhere near vaporous gray summit the demons came. Those self-critical voices that thrive on pain, fatigue, isolation and fear. ’Look at you,” they began, “your getting old…’

‘Your pathetic.’

‘Your 45, broke, unemployed and unmarried.’

‘Your not fooling anyone…’

‘Your never going to make this.”

This was day 4 of the Raid Pyreneen.

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Scotland

March 22nd-May 19th, 2009
Aberdeen Scotland

"I have often thought the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it comes upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: ”This is the real me!”

–William James quotes

To Be Young Again in Scotland

It was like something out of a Scottish dream.

At least that’s how it felt that first night, free-camped along the shores of Loch Ericht.

Tent aside, and pasta a-boil, I sipped red wine from a shiny tin-cup.

Absorbing my surroundings with a kind of rapturous ease, a purplish heather draped the hillsides. Flecked with sheep, and divided by stone, those hills painted the landscape in a rich-vibrant green.

Soundless medallions danced atop the water, shimmering upon its surface with a silverish gleam. At the end of the Loch on the distant horizon, stark, tarn-like ridges glowed with a sweep of low-angle light.

Just down a dirt road, perhaps five minutes by bike, was the town of Dalwhinnie. There, just over a set of train-tracks, the tower of its famous whisky distillery emitted a distance slip of steam, infusing the air with the distinctive smell of peat-smoke and barley-mash.

"No one will bother you back there…" an elderly woman reassured me after I’d stopped to fill my water bottles. "Go on, get yer night’s rest.."

I had come to Scotland to reboot.

To regenerate from the toxic effects of over-expenditure.

For the previous 9 months I had poured every ounce of my physical and emotional energy into a series of multimedia shows. This in hopes to drive home a message of global sustainability

After realizing what I was up against, I began to get discouraged.

A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences stated that during 2008, Americans still consumed about fifty-three times more goods and services than someone from China. Representing only 5 percent of the world’s population, we accounted for 22 percent of fossil fuel consumption, 24 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and 33 percent of paper and plastic use.

In addition, a child born in the United States today will create thirteen times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil. He or she will drain as many resources as thirty-five natives of India.

The truth was–despite the recent economic downturn–that my friends, family and neighbors spent more on ice cream per year, than it would cost to provide the most basic health and nutrition needs to the impoverished around the globe.

Recognizing this, I’d grown increasingly disillusioned, discouraged with what I felt was my own inefficiancy to bring about the smallest change.

Lashing-out in word and deed, it was time to take a break.

So I flew to the UK to rest, write, and ride.

I spent my first month within the Aberdeen Public Library, hunched over my laptop, restlessly trying to convert a wreathing tangle of thoughts into the opening chapters of a book.

After 6 weeks hidden from the light, like some tortured-typing veal-calf, I’d had enough.

I needed to get out.

And so, several days later, with my close friend Tracey Milne at the wheel, we hit the road.

Our destination: Scotland’s wild west coast.

Running like dogs off a leash for the better part of a week, we romped through the likes of Loch Lomond, Glen Coe, Oban, Arisaig, Mallaig, Knoydart, then the Isle of Skye. It was a pub-crawlin’, pint-swiggin’, butterscotch-eatin’, car-campin’ hoe-down.

When our week was through, Tracey turned me loose on my bike.

Armed with a cartographic copy of Sustrans National Bike Route 7,
"Lochs and Glens North," I began south on a 200 mile network of dirt tracks, abandoned highways, and farm roads.

I’d been set free.

But let me just say, the riding was not always easy.
The roads were narrow, there were no side-lanes, and the Scots drove like maniacs.

It didn’t seem to matter who they were–little old ladies, civil servants, boy scouts–once they climbed behind the wheel they drove as if they’d freshly caught fire.

Case in point would be a 56-year-old Glasgow resident by the name of Alan MacGregor. During my week of cycling he’d been clocked by police driving a record-breaking 271 kilometers an hour (169 mph). After having his license confiscated he was fined an equally record-breaking 3,100 pounds (5,400 dollars)

There was no getting around it, Brits drove like nuts.

I had a theory why.

I think it’s the one place they felt comfortable breaking the rules.

The hundreds, if not thousands of rules that govern their daily lives.

Many of them ridiculous at best.

Take for example a current law on the British books that makes it illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. Or another that considers it an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down. There’s even a law that claims that the head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the king, and the tail of the queen.

Conversely, I learned that a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman’s helmet.

My personal favorite (and most ridiculous rule of all) I found posted on the wall of a nearby lap pool. It read, "For safety reasons, extended observation of the swimming pool strictly prohibited."

In the UK, I soon found out, there are rules for absolutely everything.

Even for watching TV.

You actually need a license to do so. (£142.50 for a colour TV and £48.00 for black and white.)

I learned that there are uniformed officers that drive around in detector vans looking for unlicensed people watching TV.

According to their website, (www.tvlicensing.co.uk), these TV detector vans "are equipped with state-of-the-art detection equipment which can tell in just 20 seconds whether you are using TV."

The website goes on to threaten that "Some aspects of the [detection] equipment have been developed in such secrecy that engineers working on specific detection methods work in isolation, so not even they know how the other detection methods work. This gives us the best chance of catching licence evaders."
All of it seemed based on some skit from Monty Python.

After my second day on the bike tour, I felt as though I’d left all those rules behind.

From Dahlwhinnie, I cycled over Drummochter Pass, rolling without a care alongside the River Garry, past the Blair Atholl Castle, into Pitlochory.

Seeking my reward for a long day’s ride, I climbed a hill and parked my bike in front of the Moulin Inn (est. 1696.)

Ducking my head beneath the dwarfish 6-foot doorway, I stepped into the cavernous pub gloriously enshrined in dark antique wood. Much of the decor looked to be dated before the turn of the century. Ordering a pint, I took a seat at a table. There I listened to a handful of drunken characters in wool and wellies tell liquor-laden stories in thick Scottish brogue. A large black lab lay oblivious to it all on the floor in the corner.

Near my head hung a framed document entitled the "Rules of the Inn" dated 1786.

It read, "No thieves, Fakirs, Rogues, or Tiners–No skulking loafers or flea bitten tramps, No slap and tinkle o’ the wenches, No banging o’ tankard on the tables, No dogs allowed in the kitchen, No cockfighting. Flintlocks, cudgels, daggers and swords to be handed to the INKEEPER for safe Keeping.

"Aye." I said with a chuckle, raising a toast.

Behind the bar, I studied the rows of single malt whiskies: Talisker, Laphroig, Cragganmore, Lagavulin, Highland Park, Ardbegh, Mcallan, Cao Ila–all my favorites.

While the rest of the world’s economy sags, this tongue-scorching liquid may just turn out to be Britain’s economic savior.

A recent report by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) stated that in 2008, the UK sold a record billion bottles of whisky, boosting Britain’s economy by 3 billion pounds (4.5 billion dollars.) During that year, whisky netted the country a staggering 97 pounds ($150 dollars) per second.

I stepped to the bar and ordered a dram.

After a fairly lively night, I woke the next morning in a farm-field just outside of town.

The end of my Scottish bike tour came far too quickly.

I finished cycling along the River Tay, through Aberfeldy, up and over the hills of Loch Tay, then into the town of Callander, stopping briefly along the way at Rob Roy Macgregor’s grave.

During that last day, my mind tumbled over the people and places I’d seen along the way.

Then came the memory of an elderly cyclist I’d come across a few days earlier.

I’d run into him at the ruins of the Ruthven Barracks just outside the town of Kingussie.

Pulling up with an infectious smile, he looked to be in his late seventies/early eighties.

"Where you headin’ laddie?" he queried after stepping from his bike.
"Stirling." I returned.

"Your keen," he said raising his eyebrows.

"I’ve done better."

"I did alot of cycling when I was your age." He said, turning his eyes back to me.

They were big and blue, and sparkled with life.

He broke eye contact for a moment, taking a minute to look out over the countryside. He seemed to be taking it all in, as if it some precious gift.

Studying his face for a spell, I recognized that he owned something that of late I seemed to lack.

It was that look of being thankful to be alive.

And though I’ll have trouble explaining it, I can only say there was something within those eyes. A message of sorts. A message that seemed to suggest that I set aside my book, my goals, my striving to save the world–if only for the moment.

This so as to recognize this precious gift of the present, and the life that I’d been given.

"So you heading home after this matey?" He asked as he climbed back on his bike.

"No sir," I answered, "I fly-out next week to ride across the Pyrenees."

"Ahh..to be young," he said pausing, then put foot to pedal and slipped away.

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Slovenia and the Golden Seed

June 5th-June 15th, 2009
Ljubljana Slovenia

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made of layers, cells, constellations.”

~Anais Nin

Slovenia and the Golden Seed.

I’d landed myself in the psycho-ward.

Or at least that’s how it felt that night as I attempted to sleep upon the floor of Italy’s Milano Centrale Train Station.

Laying on floor amidst a wandering mob of drunks, thugs and junkies,
it was sometime after 3 A.M. when I nearly fell asleep.

This after wailing moans of a nearby madman subsided into high-pitched squeal of the janitors trolley.

Just short of slumber, it came to me that the squeaking wasn’t coming from a trolley at all.

It was the sound of rats. Hundreds, if not thousands of them crawling all around me.

It was a sound that would mark the beginning of another sleepless night.

When my alarm went off at 5:30 A.M., I rose to my feet.

Moving my vision from the dusty splinters of light that cris-crossed the station, I turned my attention to a large electronic sign-board that brimmed with destinations: Verona, Como, Brescia, Budapest, Vienna.

Scanning each destination for some spiritual resonance, time and again I came up empty.

I felt nothing

It was a numbness I’d all but gotten used to.

It began upon my return from a three-year bicycle journey around the world.

As much as I tried to explain it, no one seemed to understand.

It’s like something inside me just up and died.

My spontaneity, my creativity, my zest for life, all seemingly sucked-away by the impossible sameness of everyday life.

I’d come to Europe seeking answers.

Like a farmer wandering his fields amidst a ten-year drought, I reached within. Grabbing a handful of dust from the cracking soil of my disposition, I threw it to the wind.

This time the winds blew me east.

My first stop was Venice.

But six hours into battling tourists along a tangled patch of canals, I returned to the refuge of the train-station.

Happy just to board a train to just about anywhere, I took a seat and quickly fell asleep.
Then, just after midnight, my train stopped, the doors opened, and I rolled my bike onto the streets Ljubljana, Slovenia.

With little or no money for accommodation, I had  no choice but to take refuge within my tent somewhere in the heart of the city.

Pedaling blindly down a series of back-streets, I scanned the skyline, looking curiously upon the silhouetted outlines of the onion domed cathedrals. Small groups of youths giggled in bar-fronts, the clink of their beer-bottles sounding through the air. 
Pushing my bike up a nearby hillside, I pitched my tent at the base of a castle that was perched above the city. Listening intently as a dog’s bark faded, I was just short of sleep when my mind reeled back to a phone conversation I’d had some 9 months earlier.

"Hello?" it began as  a woman’s voice sounded on the other end.

"Marija?"

"Rick?" the voice returned, "Is that you?"

It had been nearly two years since I’d first met Marija Kozin.

Beaten and battered while cycling across Tibet, I’d been traveling alone for the better part of ten days. Scared shitless, I’d struggled solo over a series of 15,000-foot mountain passes, struggling through flash-floods, a broken bicycle, snow, dust and windstorms.

Then, one night, as I took refuge in a rundown guesthouse, Marija just   tumbled-in out of a raging snowstorm.

I instinctively walked up and threw my arms around her.

A woman of incomprehensible courage, Marija would go on to become the first Slovenian woman to ride a bicycle solo overland from Slovenia to Beijing.

Re-inspiring my hope, the two of us agreed to travel together for the remainder of our trip across Tibet.

After completing her journey, she cycled back home.

"How are you doing…?" I asked after reaching her by phone.

A silence came over the line.

"It’s been hard." She returned in a sullen voice.

"I’ve only been back for two months" She went on, "and sometimes Rick, I feel like I’m totally lost. Everyone around me keeps telling me what I should do, everyone reminding me that I’m 30 years old now….asking me what I’m going to do with my life."

"But you did it.." I assured her, "Your famous now Marija."

"In fact I tell your story to everyone at my slideshows," I added

"People are just amazed by you and what you’ve done."

In the impending silence, I could hear the syncopated rhythm of her breathy tears.

"It’s just been hard…" she repeated in a broken voice.

"I just don’t know what I’m going to do right now."
I reminded her that she had much to give to those around her. A book, a chance to share the experience through lectures and slideshows–a chance to inspire. I assured her that there were many waiting to hear her story; those hungry for life, and her particular brand of inspiration.

It wasn’t until I’d hung up the phone, that my own tears began to flow.

With that I realized that the words of encouragement I’d bestowed upon her were the ones I most needed to hear myself.

"I hope to see you this summer," she said before saying goodbye.

With those words echoing through my head, I awoke just before dawn.

I tore down camp, blazed down the hillside, then raced from Ljubljana’s main square to the nearby town of Skofja Loka.

I made a phone call, then waited upon a bench.

Ten minutes after that, Marija appeared atop her bike, adorned with her trademark smile. After following her back to her house, she introduced me to her mother, father and brother. They welcomed me with soft, honest smiles.

For the next week, we did what Slovenians do best: Eat, drink, talk and laugh. Each night we tucked into hearty Slovenian meals lovingly cooked by her mother. No meal was complete without copious amounts of Slovenian beer, wine, or a fiery nips of homemade schnapps concocted of sugar, pure alcohol, combined with the young tips of local pine trees.

Each night Marija and I stayed up late, exchanging our own unique stories of connection to people and places across the planet.

As we did, I  that we were both the keepers of a tremendous gift: our shared stories of the human condition. Those deep, life-shifting tales brought back from beyond our borders. The ones that highlighted the fact that we are all one human family.

All of it seemed to point me inward.

With that I began to see, that somewhere deep beneath cracking soil of my current disposition, there was a seed.

That golden drought-proof seed of hope that could do nothing now but grow.

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Scotland Dispatch 1

Seven months after completing my life’s dream–a three-year, 25,811-mile bicycle journey around the planet–I began to recognize the life I’d returned home to for what it was: a flaming turd of boredom and self-torment.

I’d spent exactly thirty-four months on the road. There, I’d existed upon seemingly endless diet adventure and actualization.

Self-propelled through hundreds of cities, across a thousand landscapes, I’d immersed myself within an ever-changing set of cultures–all uniquely rich and exotic. Witnessing first hand the results of war, oppression, disease and starvation on the streets of Tibet, Nepal, India and Bangladesh, it wasn’t long before I rolled up my sleeves to lend a hand.

Then, after my soul had transcended a thousand life changing experiences, I returned home only to find most my friends and neighbors exactly where I’d left them three years previous; bathed in the same multi-colored light; staring blankly into that same soul-crushing box, as it stole precious moments of their life, minute after minute, hour after hour, night after night, until…until those moments would add into a lifetime

As I did, I recalled the words of Jack Keroauc from his book, “Windblown world.”

He wrote:

“The kind of lifetime most often observable in obituaries–the kind of life that can actually be summed up in two or three paragraphs–these lives must surely have been used as cheap coin by the deceased. A few hollow titles, a few “public services,” a medal, some property and means, a diploma for something–that’s what they leave for their children to mull over, if indeed their children are capable at all of mulling over anything in the heart of blind acquisitive days. My father’s life was so rich and so deep that I still spend my days absorbed in its details, which could fill a book. My father did not die blankly leaving life to be fulfilled, if at all, by his children. He fulfilled it, just as I want to fulfill it in my way, sincerely. ”

Quickly building a multi-media show, I began to draw crowds. IÂ roared against the herds in collective slumber, encouraging them to follow their passions vs. re-runs of Scooby-doo.

The sad truth was, that few could relate.

Many just hoped after three years of constant motion, that I’d gotten the travel bug out of my system. That I’d finally “settle down” into a what they considered a “normal life.”

There were only two problems with this:

1. I’ve never (not even once) been considered “normal.”

2. The phrase “settle down” (in my mind at least) was synonymous with the term “dirt nap.” (Think lilies and a headstones.)

And in this respect,I no longer fit in, and I can no longer deny it.

For me, true happiness came from a place of constant motion, constant change, constant growth…constant actualization. This usually took place atop a bike, loaded to the gills with camera and writing material, as I meander some out-of-the-way road in some faraway place.Â

The truth is, the road is no longer a place for me. It’s part of who I am.

This is not without consequence.

In fact It’s is hell on relationships.

I reckon it’s like trying to build a life with a nomadic sheepherder.

And so it came as no surprise, that after crash-landing a 5-month relationship, I did what any sane bicycle-tourist would do given the circumstances.

I started looking at maps.

I spent the following hours and days stuffed into an armchair at my local bookstore, piles of travel literature scattered around my feet like a chain-smoker’s butts.

My mind became a virtual 1:100,000 scale replica of Michelin’s finest cartography: Scotland, France, Italy, Switzerland, the Pyrenees, Provence, the Swiss and Italian Alps. And before long, I felt confident I could recall western Europe’s finest cycle-able villages, wine-regions, mountains, or lightly-trafficked “D” roads.

Then, one night, came the plan.

It happened while bathed in candlelight, after I happened upon one of Allen Ginsbergh’s travelogue-poems entitled “Wales Visitation.”

It read,

White fog lifting and falling on mountain brow

Trees moving in rivers of wind

The clouds arrive as if on a wave

Gigantic eddy lifting mist above

Teeming ferns exquisitely swayed along

a green crag glimpsed through minions

of glass and valley rain

Roar of the mountain winds

Slow sigh of the body

One being on the mountainside trembling

One being so balanced, so vast

That its softest breath moves every flower

In the stillness of the valley air

The great secret, is no secret…

Although words will fail to explain it, there was something within Ginsbergh’s words that acted as a catalyst of sorts.

And all at once I picked up the phone and dialed my close friend Tracey Milne in Aberdeen Scotland.

I told her I was unhappy. That I needed a place to decompress. That I needed a space that would spark my imagination again; where I could work on my book, without interuption, preferably in a place far from home.

Several days later she called to inform me that she’d wired the money for a plane ticket, and that her extra room was waiting for me as a quiet space to write for the next two months.

And so it is that I sit here now, within the walls of an old stone cottage in Northeastern Scotland, typing these words. With that, I prepare to spend my next three months abroad, writing, riding, growing, actualizing.

That and dispatch the occasional journal from the road.

And as I do, I recognize the return of that glowy-light within…that distinct something inside me I will simply call happiness. And although it is not always easy, and undeniably lonely at times, I also recognize my new-life for what it is–and has become.

A virtual rolling circus.

All I can say at this point is, be prepare to be entertained…

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Scotland Dispatch 2

March 22nd-May 19th, 2009

“I have often thought the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it comes upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: ”This is the real me!”

–William James quotes

To Be Young Again in Scotland

It was like something out of a Scottish dream.

At least that’s how it felt that first night, free-camped along the shores of Loch Ericht.

Tent aside, and pasta a-boil, I sipped red wine from a shiny tin-cup.

Absorbing my surroundings with a kind of rapturous ease, a purplish heather draped the hillsides. Flecked with sheep, and divided by stone, those hills painted the landscape in a rich-vibrant green.Â

Soundless medallions danced atop the water, shimmering upon its surface with a silverish gleam. At the end of the Loch on the distant horizon, stark, tarn-like ridges glowed with a sweep of low-angle light.

Just down a dirt road, perhaps five minutes by bike, was the town of Dalwhinnie. There, just over a set of train-tracks, the tower of its famous whisky distillery emitted a distance slip of steam, infusing the air with the distinctive smell of peat-smoke and barley-mash.Â

“No one will bother you back there…” an elderly woman reassured me after I’d stopped to fill my water bottles. “Go on, get yer night’s rest..”

I had come to Scotland to reboot.

To regenerate from the toxic effects of over-expenditure.

For the previous 9 months I had poured every ounce of my physical and emotional energy into a series of multimedia shows. This in hopes to drive home a message of global sustainability

After realizing what I was up against, I began to get discouraged.

A recent report by the National Academy of Sciences stated that during 2008, Americans still consumed about fifty-three times more goods and services than someone from China. Representing only 5 percent of the world’s population, we accounted for 22 percent of fossil fuel consumption, 24 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and 33 percent of paper and plastic use.

In addition, a child born in the United States today will create thirteen times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil. He or she will drain as many resources as thirty-five natives of India.

The truth was–despite the recent economic downturn–that my friends, family and neighbors spent more on ice cream per year, than it would cost to provide the most basic health and nutrition needs to the impoverished around the globe.

Recognizing this, I’d grown increasingly disillusioned, discouraged with what I felt was my own inefficiancy to bring about the smallest change.

Lashing-out in word and deed, it was time to take a break.

So I flew to the UK to rest, write, and ride.

I spent my first month within the Aberdeen Public Library, hunched over my laptop, restlessly trying to convert a wreathing tangle of thoughts into the opening chapters of a book.

After 6 weeks hidden from the light, like some tortured-typing veal-calf, I’d had enough.

I needed to get out.

And so, several days later, with my close friend Tracey Milne at the wheel, we hit the road.

Our destination: Scotland’s wild west coast.

Running like dogs off a leash for the better part of a week, we romped through the likes of Loch Lomond, Glen Coe, Oban, Arisaig, Mallaig, Knoydart, then the Isle of Skye. It was a pub-crawlin’, pint-swiggin’, butterscotch-eatin’, car-campin’ hoe-down.

When our week was through, Tracey turned me loose on my bike.

Armed with a cartographic copy of Sustrans National Bike Route 7,Â

“Lochs and Glens North,” I began south on a 200 mile network of dirt tracks, abandoned highways, and farm roads.

I’d been set free.

But let me just say, the riding was not always easy.

The roads were narrow, there were no side-lanes, and the Scots drove like maniacs.

It didn’t seem to matter who they were–little old ladies, civil servants, boy scouts–once they climbed behind the wheel they drove as if they’d freshly caught fire.

Case in point would be a 56-year-old Glasgow resident by the name of Alan MacGregor. During my week of cycling he’d been clocked by police driving a record-breaking 271 kilometers an hour (169 mph). After having his license confiscated he was fined an equally record-breaking 3,100 pounds (5,400 dollars)

There was no getting around it, Brits drove like nuts.

I had a theory why.

I think it’s the one place they felt comfortable breaking the rules.

The hundreds, if not thousands of rules that govern their daily lives.

Many of them ridiculous at best.

Take for example a current law on the British books that makes it illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. Or another that considers it an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down. There’s even a law that claims that the head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the king, and the tail of the queen.

Conversely, I learned that a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman’s helmet.

My personal favorite (and most ridiculous rule of all) I found posted on the wall of a nearby lap pool. It read, “For safety reasons, extended observation of the swimming pool strictly prohibited.”

In the UK, I soon found out, there are rules for absolutely everything.

Even for watching TV.

You actually need a license to do so. (£142.50 for a colour TV and £48.00 for black and white.)Â

I learned that there are uniformed officers that drive around in detector vans looking for unlicensed people watching TV.

According to their website, (www.tvlicensing.co.uk), these TV detector vans “are equipped with state-of-the-art detection equipment which can tell in just 20 seconds whether you are using TV.”

The website goes on to threaten that “Some aspects of the [detection] equipment have been developed in such secrecy that engineers working on specific detection methods work in isolation, so not even they know how the other detection methods work. This gives us the best chance of catching licence evaders.” Â

All of it seemed based on some skit from Monty Python.

After my second day on the bike tour, I felt as though I’d left all those rules behind.

From Dahlwhinnie, I cycled over Drummochter Pass, rolling without a care alongside the River Garry, past the Blair Atholl Castle, into Pitlochory.

Seeking my reward for a long day’s ride, I climbed a hill and parked my bike in front of the Moulin Inn (est. 1696.)

Ducking my head beneath the dwarfish 6-foot doorway, I stepped into the cavernous pub gloriously enshrined in dark antique wood. Much of the decor looked to be dated before the turn of the century. Ordering a pint, I took a seat at a table. There I listened to a handful of drunken characters in wool and wellies tell liquor-laden stories in thick Scottish brogue. A large black lab lay oblivious to it all on the floor in the corner.

Near my head hung a framed document entitled the “Rules of the Inn” dated 1786.

It read, “No thieves, Fakirs, Rogues, or Tiners–No skulking loafers or flea bitten tramps, No slap and tinkle o’ the wenches, No banging o’ tankard on the tables, No dogs allowed in the kitchen, No cockfighting. Flintlocks, cudgels, daggers and swords to be handed to the INKEEPER for safe Keeping.

“Aye.” I said with a chuckle, raising a toast.

Behind the bar, I studied the rows of single malt whiskies: Talisker, Laphroig, Cragganmore, Lagavulin, Highland Park, Ardbegh, Mcallan, Cao Ila–all my favorites.

While the rest of the world’s economy sags, this tongue-scorching liquid may just turn out to be Britain’s economic savior.

A recent report by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) stated that in 2008, the UK sold a record billion bottles of whisky, boosting Britain’s economy by 3 billion pounds (4.5 billion dollars.) During that year, whisky netted the country a staggering 97 pounds ($150 dollars) per second.

I stepped to the bar and ordered a dram.

After a fairly lively night, I woke the next morning in a farm-field just outside of town.

The end of my Scottish bike tour came far too quickly.

I finished cycling along the River Tay, through Aberfeldy, up and over the hills of Loch Tay, then into the town of Callander, stopping briefly along the way at Rob Roy Macgregor’s grave.

During that last day, my mind tumbled over the people and places I’d seen along the way.

Then came the memory of an elderly cyclist I’d come across a few days earlier.

I’d run into him at the ruins of the Ruthven Barracks just outside the town of Kingussie.

Pulling up with an infectious smile, he looked to be in his late seventies/early eighties.

“Where you headin’ laddie?” he queried after stepping from his bike.

“Stirling.” I returned.

“Your keen,” he said raising his eyebrows.

“I’ve done better.”

“I did alot of cycling when I was your age.” He said, turning his eyes back to me.

They were big and blue, and sparkled with life.Â

He broke eye contact for a moment, taking a minute to look out over the countryside. He seemed to be taking it all in, as if it some precious gift.

Studying his face for a spell, I recognized that he owned something that of late I seemed to lack.

It was that look of being thankful to be alive.

And though I’ll have trouble explaining it, I can only say there was something within those eyes. A message of sorts. A message that seemed to suggest that I set aside my book, my goals, my striving to save the world–if only for the moment.

This so as to recognize this precious gift of the present, and the life that I’d been given.

“So you heading home after this matey?” He asked as he climbed back on his bike.

“No sir,” I answered, “I fly-out next week to ride across the Pyrenees.”

“Ahh..to be young,” he said pausing, then put foot to pedal and slipped away.

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