Author: D. S. White

D. S. White received his BA at Columbia College and his MBA at National Taiwan University. He is the editor-in-chief at Longshot Island, a magazine of fiction, poetry and reviews. While his expertise is in business, his passion is in writing. He was born in the mountains but now lives by the sea.
The Road to Bellingham

The Road to Bellingham

Something’s Out There

A Bicycle Journey into the Wild


D. S. White



In the morning the sun was out and the land drying up. I rolled over in my sleeping bag and peered out at the short vegetation growing on the ground nearby. I stared at the grass and weeds for a while, mesmerized, wondering how these little plants had escaped my scrutiny the day before. They were fascinating, vibrant with color, soaking up dew and sunshine. I took a picture, but later, when I looked at it, something was missing. The picture only appeared dull, nothing more than a cluster of pointless vegetation. Something was different inside me today and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Yesterday’s cruise from Seattle to San Juan Island had cut two-thirds the distance to Bellingham off the map. I had given myself three days to get there, the port city in Washington where ferries bound for Alaska depart. Arriving at the port in Bellingham on time depended strongly on today’s bike ride. It would be my first attempt at riding so far on a bicycle loaded down with a mountain of camping gear. The ferry up to Alaska only left once a week at this time of year, and if I failed to get there, I’d have to return home and wait another week before trying to head north again by way of the Inside Passage.

Just like the day before, my stomach rebelled against the thought of riding. How long would this routine continue in the mornings, I didn’t know. Adrenaline pumped through my veins as I prepared for the day ahead. I forced down a few dry salty crackers for breakfast, but then gave up on eating anything, afraid I’d throw it all back up in a few minutes. I bid the campground goodbye, straddled my overweight bicycle, and worked my way down the road I had traversed over yesterday, back into Friday Harbor, where I found my way down to the docks. The next boat was not scheduled to depart for another two hours. This gave me time to ride around town and see the sights. The sun was out and the air was crisp. I stopped off at the post office and mailed out some postcards, letting friends know that I had made it this far, that I was really going north for the summer.

The state-run ferries along the Washington coast are free when heading east, back to the mainland. I walked on board and tied my bicycle up against a wall. No one told me to unload my bike. No one questioned a thing I did. The crew ran around and readied the boat for departure, content to let me be. Cars lined up on the lower level of the boat and people got out. A motorcycle pulled up next to me and parked and the driver went upstairs to find a seat. I followed suit.

In the Pacific Northwest, public boats like this one sail under a much looser flag than the privately owned ships such as the one I had been on yesterday. People walked around. Some stretched out on the seats to sleep. No one minded. Warm air blew across the open deck and soon I was nodding off. Later I went over to the side of the boat and watched the waves as we worked our way between the islands and back toward the coast.

When we came to port, I was the first to exit the boat. I shot out of the terminal, well ahead of a long line of cars, putting on my best show, hoping to stay ahead of the crowd. Within seconds I came face to face with a giant hill. Like Friday Harbor yesterday, the land around the port climbed upward away from the ocean. But this hill went straight up, or so it seemed. By the time I reached the top, I’d lost sight of the last vehicle exiting the boat, somewhere now far ahead of me.

The road progressed over a series of small rollercoaster-like hills. The weather was warm and I made good time, bobbing up and down them. I stopped long enough to buy lunch in the town of Anacortes. The sun was hitting the top of the sky, half a day already gone, and I knew I needed to keep moving. But my hunger was escalating and this was the first full meal I’d had since leaving home.

“How far are you going?” a man asked, seeing my bicycle outside leaning against the window.

“Bellingham,” I said.

“How far after that?”

“Bellingham,” I repeated and dropped the subject. That would be far enough for one day.

The truth was I wasn’t sure where I was going in the long run, and at a time like this, I didn’t want to think too much about it. I just figured I’d look at the map each day and pick a road and follow it. As long as I headed north, the details hardly mattered. It was all part of the adventure.

The real problem with answering the question lay in the fact that I had left home without telling anyone exactly where I would be. This meant I had already broken the cardinal rule of outdoor travel: always tell someone where you’re going. But when you venture into the unknown, how do you know? My closest friends and family knew I was heading to Alaska, but nobody had a clue about where I might be from day to day, not even me.

This wasn’t my first journey into the wild, though. I had spent years camping outdoors every chance I got. I had been lost in the mountains for days and found my way out again. I had a collection of books on edible plants that would impress the hardest of outdoors survivalist. Suffice it to say, I had done my homework before leaving home, and on that level, I felt confident.

But still, I hesitated, not wanting to tell anyone what I was really planning. It seemed to lessen the experience, the more I talked about it. The idea behind my journey lost that raw edge. It was my adventure and mine alone and I didn’t want anyone trying to change that. I just knew I would reach my goal, I would realize my dream, that I would make it to the Arctic Ocean. After all, I only had to pedal. At the same time, I squirmed at the idea of telling anyone because I expected them to say it was impossible. How could someone like me do something like that? What kind of person does something like this, anyway?

Most of all, I was afraid I would start to believe them. By talking to someone about it, I’d give them the opportunity to hammer away at the confidence I had been hoarding up deep inside me for so long now. What courage I had would vanish, quickly dried up, just like the worms outside the restaurant window in the parking lot baking under the sun.

I shrugged my shoulders at the man and let him walk away. A moment after he was gone, I wished I’d talked to him. Maybe he was one of the good ones, the kind that would encourage me. But it was already too late to tell.

Highway 20 ran east. The road was level and the wind was at my back. I flew along, next to four lanes of busy traffic. The Cascade Mountains were visible on the horizon and I picked out one major peak to act as a reference point. Fourteen miles later, I stopped at a gas station to buy a bottle of water. Then I turned north and was hit by a heavy headwind. Two miles down the road I had to stop and rest. Throughout the afternoon, mile after mile, I pressed on, each time getting a little farther before I had to stop and gather my strength again.

Farmland swept across the world. I marked time by counting the passing of fence posts. A robin landed on the fence line just ahead of me and there it waited for me to catch up. When I did, it took flight again and moved further up the road. We played this game for a while until the bird flew away.

The town of Edison took me by surprise. I had been lost in simple thoughts, now careless about the wind, when I looked up and noticed the streets and shops passing by. Edison is the center of a farming community and it reminded me of my childhood. I would have liked growing up in a town like this, I thought to myself, before it was gone. Time returned to the present as I left the town behind.

The road stopped at a T-shaped intersection and I turned left. I made better time here, as the wind was now cut off by the hills rising up in front of me. I stopped by a bridge to munch on a snack before attempting to tackle the hills. When I looked back behind me, I saw another rider on a bicycle approaching and I waited for him to catch up.

“Get moving!” he boomed as he came nearer. Warning signs were already flashing inside my head.

“I’m going to Alaska,” I replied. “I’ve got plenty of time.”

“You need to lose something,” he said after visually surveying the mountain of gear piled up on the back of my bike.

“Alaska is a wilderness,” I countered. “I’ll need everything I can carry, once I get there.”

He stared me down sternly, as if unconvinced.

“Is that a wool sweater?” he inquired squeamishly, as if he really didn’t want me to answer.

“Uh, yeah.”

“You should have brought fleece,” he instructed.

I wasn’t exactly sure what fleece was, so I simply bobbed my head.

I had discovered a few years prior that although I was slow on a bike, I could ride forever. I just wouldn’t stop. It was the secret to long distance riding, something that people who focused only on being fast never seemed to grasp. They were clueless about endurance. The two approaches to riding were radically different in terms of the mental preparation they required. And the two kinds of rider, racers and endurance riders, usually didn’t mix. What I was attempting to do in Alaska probably went against the grain with this man, just like how our bikes, mine a mountain bike and his a road bike, differed vastly in both appearance and riding technique.

“And are those cotton sweat pants?” he asked, sounding almost insulted.

Clearly this man knew more about what went on in the dressing room than I would ever care to admit. Soon I expected to discover that he was also a fashion expert with his own TV show. Any minute now I thought he’d start complaining about the choice of colors as well. I was quickly growing tired of being schools by this man in full racing uniform.

“It’s not as heavy as it looks,” I said, defending my choices, feeling little need to explain my rule of traveling on a budget.

“Oh, yes it is!” he said, mocking me, as if he were somehow pedaling on my bike, and I on his.

This was just the kind of person I had dreaded running into. Why would a total stranger want to push me around out in the middle of nowhere? He was the exact opposite of the man I’d met riding a bike yesterday morning, the one who’d hinted I was hero.

As I went over these things in my mind, I realized how far I had come today. Bellingham was less than ten miles away. This challenge was already in my back pocket. I would be going north, all the way to Alaska. It didn’t matter what this man said. I only needed to get to the next campground, just over these hills.

“There isn’t much further to go today,” I said quietly, more to myself than to him.

“Be careful up ahead,” he said, softening his voice. “These hills are deceiving.”

I nodded and he rode on.

The next four miles turned out to be the most demanding part of the day. The unwelcomed stranger been right about that. The road cut back and forth as it climbed up, away from the plains. Once higher, I glanced to the side, taking in the ocean. Sunlight fell down through gaps in the trees and the air was filled with the fresh smell of salt and the sea. The water stretched out forever.

Larrabee State Park was established as the first official state park in Washington in 1915. The Larrabee family donated twenty acres to the state, and in1923, the park was officially named after Charles Xavier Larrabee. Today, it covers thousand of acres on the western side of Chuckanut Mountain. Down below, Wildcat Cove is open for swimming, and up above, miles of hiking trails lead to scenic viewpoints.

After finding a campsite, I threw together a pot of macaroni and cheese for dinner. A gray and white cat, drawn in by the smell, came over to see what I was cooking. It looked half-starved, as if it had been left behind. Often, pets will be abandoned at campgrounds, either intentionally or by accident. This has been a growing concern for park staff everywhere. I dropped a spoonful of food on the ground, but clumps of dirt stuck to the cheese, and the cat, uninterested, walked away to find something better to eat.

Not much later it came back and ate what it could. With a twist of the face and a scrunch of the nose it indicated that it did not like the pepper I had dumped on my food, but would eat it anyway. I tore off a piece of paper from my journal and put it on the ground and gave the cat some more to eat.

As I wrote out the day’s events in my journal, a squirrel jumped up on the park bench and climbed inside my backpack. I had left my pack lying there, half-opened, and the animal jumped right inside. The furry little creature pawed at my things for a while, and then, coming up empty-handed, turned to look at me. I offered it some almonds, then some raisins, and finally some potato chips, putting them on the bench in little piles. Each time, the squirrel ran off into the woods with whatever it could carry, and then came back to grab something more. In time, I had to stop feeding it. I wasn’t even sure if it was even the same squirrel or not. It occurred to me that I might have been feeding the whole countryside one mouth at a time.

A tall thin man with graying hair and a beard stopped by my campsite to talk.

“Have you seen my cat?” he asked.

He’d been hiking in the woods behind the campground when he’d lost his cat, he explained.

“I fed a gray and white cat about a half hour ago,” I said.

“No, my cat is black.”

“What’s his name?” I asked.

“Mr. Happy,” the man said with a smirk on his face. I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the cat or himself.

His said his name was John and he was camping next to me. It wasn’t easy to miss the yellow school bus parked one site over, blocking my entire view to the south. Then I noticed the Alaskan license plates on the vehicle and we struck up a conversation about life in the north.

He had proptery on Prince of Wales Island and was going to build a house there soon. He owned a small sawmill and was using it to cut the lumber growing on his land. Over the winter he worked in California and each summer he returned north to continue the project. The school bus was a new and he was using it to haul building materials north.

“Have you taken the ferry before?” I asked.

“Oh, many times.”

“What’s it like?”

“Once the boat leaves the dock, I already feel like I’m home,” he said, his eyes lighting up.

“What do you mean?”

“The atmosphere on board is exhilarating. Just wait. You’ll see what I mean tomorrow.”

John looked over my bike with a keen eye for mechanical things. It had a lightweight aluminum frame and a front shock. There were bar-ends, straight handlebars and wide knobby tires. Instead of a road bike, I had taken a more radical approach to long-distance cycling. I had stuck to my mountain bike and had not altered it in any way from the off-road riding style that I preferred. I had no idea if they paved the roads in Alaska.

I recounted for John the events of the last two days and the distances I had traveled. Today’s ride from Anacortes had been significant. It meant I was physically in shape for what I was about to do. Also, on a mental level, the warm weather and passing scenery had been helpful. And I had learned something useful from fighting the wind; that was, to break the ride up into segments. In fact, the past two days had been a series of short rides with small rests thrown in between. Now, the ferry to Alaska was just a stone’s toss away.

John said goodnight and went back to his campsite. He’d been encouraging to talk to, not one of the naysayers. I regained my confidence and shut out my vulnerabilities. When you’re exhausted, especially when riding a bike, it’s not easy to see everything in a positive light. And those outside influences, people, not nature, can put a damper on what you’re thinking. I wished I could say I was stronger as an individual, but I was just too exhausted to do handle people better at a time like this.

I climbed inside my tent and opened a book to read. The sun went down and in the flashlight glow I continued to follow the words across the page. Then I grew tired and shut the book to sleep.





Entering the Islands

Entering the Islands

Something’s Out There

A Bicycle Journey into the Wild


D. S. White



“All I have to do is pedal,” I told myself as I took off down the road.

Two blocks from the house I stopped to vomit. My nerves were tense, my muscles tight. This was going to be one really long bicycle ride.

Three blocks later I met another rider on a bicycle.

“You going camping, bro?” he asked, seeing the mountain of equipment strapped down on the back of my bike.

“I’m going to Alaska, man.”

“No way!” he shouted above the wind.

“Yeah, this is my first day out on the road. I’ve been planning this for months.”

“Bro, I ride my bike to work every day and they think I’m a hero.”

“You are, man, you are,” I said and waved him goodbye.

I rode my first five miles in fifteen minutes. I tried to tell myself to slow down. My helmet felt too tight. My stomach was tied in knots. I couldn’t slow down. I couldn’t breathe. After seven miles I stopped to gag three times and nothing came out. I couldn’t even spit. I grabbed my water bottle and took a drink, but it didn’t help.

It was early morning in Seattle and a light rain was falling. Cars and buses took to the streets and boats fanned out across the harbor. I arrived downtown and bought a ticket for a ferry going north. Over at the dock a deckhand asked me to unload my bicycle. I hesitated. For the last two weeks I had been packing and repacking the contents on my bike and I hadn’t expected to have to unload it so soon.

“I need to lift your bicycle up to the second deck,” he explained. Up above another man waited, arm stretched out, ready to pick my bike up and stow it on board.

My bike weighed more than I cared to admit. I could see why they wanted me to unload it.

Figuring out the right configuration of camping gear and clothes and food had been challenging, as I tried to foresee every possible scenario that might unfold in the journey ahead. Then, that first test ride had nearly killed me. It was damn heavy, but there was no way I was leaving any of it behind now. Alaska was a wilderness. There was no telling what I’d need up there.

Where was I to begin? I’d never considered unloading the bike, only loading it up. There was a right place for everything. The gear on top had been strapped down tight. The bags secured to the sides of the rack would only come off with a tool. I’d tested it and didn’t want to change anything. If loaded unevenly, the bicycle would canter to one side, with a tendency to want to fall over, nearly pulling me down with it. To dissemble such artwork made me question my motives for being here. Had I taken a wrong turn already? Should I have just biked up the coast to the next port? Did I really need to take this boat?

For over half a year, I had played around in my head with the idea of riding all the way to the Arctic Ocean without any boats or vehicles. I had imagined myself meandering through river valleys and trekking over mountain passes in the heart of Canada. I would live the life of the solitary traveler, taking in the beauty of the great outdoors. I would write of the bliss I experience in poetic perfection. The world would be stunned when I returned, when they learned of it.

But the ocean I sought was a long stretch from my home here in the northwestern corner of the Pacific Northwest. At the moment, feeling hassled by the deckhand, Canada almost sounded romantic, compared to the bears and wolves I expected to find in Alaska. Should I just ride all the way north, to the top of the world, from right here in Seattle? Then a chill in the air woke me up again. Riding through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory would take several months on a bike. Summer was just beginning. If I stuck to the Alaska Highway, I’d wander back and forth for over fifteen hundred miles before even coming close to the Arctic Circle, which was short of the Arctic Ocean. It would be the middle of winter by the time I got where I wanted to go. Riding all the way on a bike just wasn’t possible at this time of year.

I removed a backpack the size of a boulder from my bike and waited to see what would happen.

“Nope,” the man said. “The law requires we tie your bike securely on the second deck.”

Two more bags came off, my sleeping bag and sleeping pad.

“You’re traveling kind of light,” he joked.

“How is it now?” the man waiting up above asked.

“It’s still heavy,” he replied.

I looked at him and shrugged. He picked my bike up and hoisted it in the air. The man up above complained about his back. They tied it to a rail on the inside of the bow of the boat and pulled a tarp over it. Beads of rain formed on the tarp as the boat moved beneath my feet. Suddenly, I felt an uncomfortable distance away from everything that was vital to me. The realization that I was now committed to going north, north, always north, reverberated in my very core. This was it, the moment I had been dreaming about.

Between Seattle and Alaska lie hundreds of miles of wooded coastline. Out in the Pacific Ocean, thousands of islands cluster together, forming a water route called the Inside Passage. Boats pass between these islands every week, transporting passengers and freight north. By going around Canada I could cut out months of tedious pedaling. With this in mind, I put my life in the hands of the captain and went down below to find a seat.

We left the port promptly. The vessel I was on was a clipper boat, a high-speed catamaran which moved forward under a water-jet propulsion system. It was one of the fastest boats of its kind in the world. We bounced away from the dock and skipped across the harbor. Once out in Puget Sound, we turned and raced north toward San Juan Island.

An amplified voice called our attention to the sights out the window. The Olympic Mountains were just visible to the west through a dense cloud cover. On a bobbing sea buoy slept a sea lion, rolling back and forth in time with movements of the ocean. Two bald eagles perched on a protruding rock and a flock of seagulls circled them looking for a place to land. To the east, hidden below a curtain of rain and behind layer upon layer of clouds, were the Cascades.

Farther north, killer whales shot through the surface of the water. It was a rare to see so many of them at the same time. A crowd ran to the side of the boat to take a closer look. Fins flipped and tails tipped. Black and white markings indicated which were male or female. I counted eight whales in the pod.

When we arrived in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, the men handling my bike complained about the weight again. They said I’d have to unload it completely next time. They had no idea I wasn’t planning on returning this way. In fact, I had no idea whether I’d ever return or not. The future was a mystery to me, as clear the fog that now enshrouded the harbor.

I threw my gear over the side of the boat and it landed with a thud. At least it had hit the dock and hadn’t landed in the water. Passengers left the boat and wandered into town as the crew prepared to shove off. Then the boat pulled away and I watched it recede across the water. Alone now, I heard the lap of the waves against the shore and the sound of a seabird whose cries were lost in the fog.

I waited there a while, standing still, growing acclimated to this new world all around me, before I prepared to move on. There’s something about the gentle motion of the waves in the water and the inner still silence one feels when you and the ocean come into harmony. If ever you’re having a rough day, try it sometime. Just go down to the water and do nothing but listen and feel the pier move beneath you.

The San Juan Islands are part of a great archipelago of 172 islands. In 1790, Spanish explorer Francisco Eliza named many of them. In 1858, Great Britain tried to rename San Juan Island as Bellevue Farm, hoping the name would encourage English farmers to move there, but the name didn’t stick.

I packed my bike up again, laboriously attaching my bags and gear in the appropriate places, then tested the bike to be sure it was balanced, before I got on and rode away. Crossing the town took some time. More than once I got lost and had to stop and look at the map. The streets stood vacant now, tourists all driven inside by the rain. Like most harbor towns, the land stretched uphill away from the water. Row after row of quaint shops embraced the road with a welcoming appeal, as if inviting me to stay there for the night, or maybe forever. I struggled to get anywhere.

Once out of town the land leveled out. The road I was on circled the island, following the coastline. It moved over low rolling hills and through open countryside, passing farmland and cows. The view was scenic, but in the drizzling rain I kept my head down and focused on pedaling. All I had to do is pedal, I reminded myself. Someday, somehow, I’d get there.

The morning’s adrenaline rush had dropped off, and a lack of sleep the night before was quickly catching up on me. I was also in desperate need of something to eat. At midday I pulled into a campground, my internal compass spinning in unpredictable arcs. I reminded myself that this was I had set out to do, to ride as far north as I could go; however, the road was already fighting me. It would not stop fighting me for the next two months.

“I rode my bike here from Seattle,” I told the lady working behind the counter, after stepping into the campground office.

She glanced up at me. I smiled broadly and reveled in the warmth of the room as a hint of satisfaction rose up from deep inside me. I had accomplished my first goal on the long ride north. I had made it to the first campground on my map, with still half a day left to spare. Then I remembered that I was on an island. What I had said to her didn’t make much sense.

“I mean I rode my bike on the ferry,” I said, trying to correct myself, but it still didn’t matter that I wasn’t making sense.

She wasn’t paying much attention to me. For a moment I pictured myself riding circles on the top deck of the boat, like a clown in a circus, swaying from side to side under the heavy load as we traveled over rough waters, and I almost let escape a laugh.

“What kind of car are you driving?” she finally asked, ignoring for a second the paperwork strewn out in front of her.

I pointed out the window to where my bicycle was waiting, leaning against a tree. She took a look outside and paused.

“How often do you get people who show up on just a bike?” I inquired.

“Oh, we get those kind, every now and then…” her voice trailing off, concern now chiseled across her face.

The phrase ‘those kind’ ricocheted around in my mind. Who was I? It was a question that would come back to me over and over again as I moved farther and farther away from home. What kind of people did things like this?

She handed me a map of the campground and I went outside to look around. I needed to pick out a campsite and let her know which one I wanted. Not that there was much competition. The campground was mostly empty, probably due in part to the thin drizzle of rain as well as the fact that this was not a weekend. I wasn’t in the mood for crowds anyway; I had left home to get away, to travel the seldom trod path. It was solitude I sought and a chance to get to know myself better.

And so there I was, camping on an island in the sea. I had picked out a place near a river and set up my tent overlooking the water. How there could be a river on an island, I didn’t know. It was all part of the mystery. The sky was overcast, a cold mist blew through the trees and dew clung to the grass. Yet even with the miserable weather, something drew me out. I stirred to the call of birds I’d never heard before. Sounds became clearer, colors grew stronger and the air was filled with scents. A kind of magic overcame me, as often does when I spend time outdoors. This sure beat working.

After a warm shower, a sparse meal and a hot cup of tea, I put my thoughts aside and settled down for the night, well before the sun went down. A few hours later, something awoke me in the dark. It was the urge to go north. It arose from deep inside me, like a forgotten dream from my childhood. It was the need to get out and discover new worlds, to experience life in a way that I would never forget. Alaska, Alaska, I kept repeating to myself. I knew I wouldn’t stop going north until I saw the farthest shores of that dreamlike world called Alaska.

You have to believe there’s something out there or you’ll never go looking for it.







Something’s Out There

A Bicycle Journey into the Wild


D. S. White


I was never eaten by a bear. But I did have a bear chase me down the road one day. This road was in Alaska.

I wasn’t attacked by a pack of vicious wolves and torn to pieces, either. Yet I saw them watching me day by day along the tree line that wove contrariwise to the road I followed. At night I heard them howling in the distance, like a freight train lost, as I slept in the wild in a thing you’d hardly call a tent. In the daylight, they’d watch me with keen eyes as I pedaled my bike mile after mile toward the top of the world.

Days went by without a soul in sight, and often to pass the time, since I had no one to talk to, I’d sing to myself. Eventually my courage grew and I sang even louder, opening up my voice to the natural world. I hardly expected to come across a moose or a wolverine that might laugh at me. But you never knew. Alaska is a wilderness, and the wilderness is unpredictable.

We often define ourselves by the context that surrounds us. Sometimes our definition of who we are will last for years, but then, in a moment, without notice, it will change. The call of the wild, as some put it, does that to you. As a boy, I’d often looked down roads and wondered where they went. I tried to imagine what might be around the next corner of that dusty road in the countryside where we lived when I was young, but I had no idea, and not knowing, it drove me to explore. In Alaska I came to understand that the roads we choose to travel define us as well.

This is a story about roads. Now, the ideal of a solitary mountain man taking on the wild, surviving by his or her wits, I don’t put much faith in that. I wasn’t going to take any chances; I’d spent time in the wild before and gotten lost in the mountains for days; I was aware of how hard it is to survive alone in the wild. I had a collection of books about edible plants that would impress most outdoors survivalists. But there was one thing that I knew for sure about the wild, and this is one of the oldest laws of civilization. There is strength in numbers. We need each other to make it all add up.

As I traveled across Alaska on my bike, I met many Alaskans living in the wild, in remote places, and some doing quite well. But however thin the connection to the outside world might have become for these people, they still had a means of making contact with someone. They still relied somewhat on their neighbors to pull together and help each other out when things got tough. No, this is not a book about getting lost in the wild and seeing your life flash before your eyes just when you think everything is about to end. This is a book about taking the road that leads to seeing your dreams come true.

My journey to Alaska began when I first wondered how far north I could go on my own, without a lot of money, without any outside support, without anyone knowing where I was at the time. I looked at the map and saw a road going north and wondered if I could reach the other end. I’d have to live cheap and travel light. The bicycle was the perfect catalyst for my dream. Let’s take a minute and step out of the clouds, breaking that down into manageable concepts.

1. Pick a destination: The first step you’ll need to take is to pick a destination. Possibly you’ve already got one in mind, or possibly one will leap out and take hold of you as you read this book. Make your destination bold. Be as big as you can imagine.

2. Choose your transportation: The second step you’ll need to take is to choose your method of travel, which will determine to a large part your budget. I wanted to travel by a simple means of transportation, without a lot of money. I chose a bicycle, but by the time I returned home, I’d been on a bus, a train, several boats, a float plane, and I’d even rented a car. Traveling to the most remote places on earth is not just for those with a large bankroll. If you’re thinking you can’t do something like this because you aren’t rich, you can.

3. Follow your dream to the end: I started looking at maps and saw a road to the top of North America. I wondered how close I could get to the North Pole by myself. And so my simple dream took hold of me and I couldn’t let go. This leads us to the third step you’ll need to take. And this one is the most important. Follow your dream. A simple dream has power beyond your ability to solve problems and connect the dots. Whatever you do, follow your dream to the end.

Lastly, keep this maxim in mind as you read this book and follow your own road.

MAXIM 1: You have to believe there’s something out there or you’ll never go looking for it.

At the end of this book, you’ll find a list of all the key points made on these pages. Some fall under the category of “tips” and relate more to daily things you should to keep in mind when traveling on a bicycle. Others fall under the heading of “maxims” and these focus on good principles for life, whether on or off the bike. Realize that the list is not complete and you a free to follow whatever road you choose to travel. As you read this book, write down your own ideas and discuss them with others.

Now, let the adventure begin!




The Needle and Me

The Needle and Me

I never thought I’d write a zombie story. But I saw an open call for stories of the undead and wanted to know, could I really do it? Could I write to market?

About this same time, I was watching a documentary about the life of composer Cole Porter. His new producer said Porter’s songs were all too serious. He wanted Porter to write something lighter. And so Cole Porter came up with his hit, “Be a Clown”. I was thinking to myself, I should try writing something just for fun. Be a zombie!

I believe that you write some stories to satisfy an artistic itch, and some stories to get published (and paid). Hopefully both. In this case, I wrote to get published, but I found I enjoyed it so much afterwards that I was satisfied as an artist. I certainly learned much about genre writing along the way.

Before long, I found myself researching the zombie sub-genres. I’d never know there were so many. Some zombies move slowly, such as in The Night of the Living Dead, and some are fast, like in World War Z. Some move individually and some move in swarms. Some are reborn because of disease and some are souls returned to this earth because hell is too full. Some can bite you and turn you and others just want to eat out your guts or brains. Some stories focus on the gore and others focus more on the drama, like with The Walking Dead series.

One of my favorite story arcs is the simplest. It looks like this:

  1. Put the cat in the tree.
  2. Start the tree on fire.
  3. Get the cat down.

But for a short story about zombies, I quickly realized I couldn’t do the whole zombie apocalypse, not like you see in zombie movies. I had to have the cat in the tree already. I had to pick a single incident in a world already full of zombies. Something akin to a single TV episode. What would it be like to live a day in the shoes of a zombie hunter? So I introduced the main characters in the first paragraph, and then within another brief paragraph, explained that the world had already been overrun by the undead. My characters were mercenaries hired to clean up the messes zombies were making in undeveloped countries, places that couldn’t manage the problem well by themselves.

Another thing I believe is that most art is derivative. However, if you steal too much, you get labeled a copycat. If you try not to copy, if you really want to be a totally original writer, people won’t follow what you’re doing because it will appear too alien for them to grasp. Good art, to me, is a bridge between what’s already been done and something new. So I wanted to add a new element to the zombie genre. I came up with the idea of a cure. But it wouldn’t be a cure that only the rich could afford or that only evil corporations had access to, or governments, such as in Resident Evil. I made my cure very common, easy to come by, not expensive, but with a twist. It was highly addictive. And it had some really nasty side effects. In my mind I was thinking something along the lines of opium with hallucinations. I don’t know if my contribution to the genre will be recognized, much less transform the genre, but I’m happy I created that bridge.

Near the end of my story, I played with the idea that it was just a story. That none of it was really happening. But I didn’t want to fall into the cliche of:  ‘it was all just a dream’. So I only hinted at the possibility. The guy has been hallucinating, struggling with addiction, so who knows?

Without giving away too much, I’ll end my thoughts on how I wrote this piece here. Download a copy of the publication in PDF format at the link below. My story is on page 44. While you’re reading, look at some of the other stories and ask yourself, did they contribute to the genre, acting as a bridge, or just repeat what’s already been done? If they repeated what’s already been done, did they do it better than anyone who came before them?

Read the story here.

In retrospect, I’m totally happy I wrote this story and thankful Sirens Call published it. It made me a better writer.


One Oar

One Oar

Where do ideas come from? Recently a short story of mine, One Oar, was published in Pif Magazine. I’d like to talk about my thought process behind this one.

Read One Oar in Pif Magazine

If you were to see the original draft of this story, you wouldn’t recognize it. Like most of my stories, it was hard work and took a lot of time to craft. In retrospect, it’s easy to ask, if the process is so long and tedious, couldn’t I have found a better way to go about writing stories?

Several years ago I was teaching writing at a university and I came across an interesting concept buried deep in an uninviting textbook. When it comes to putting words on the page, we have to consider both fluency and accuracy. Fluency has more to do with creativity and accuracy with editing. The two thought processes are different. When you’re in the editing state of mind, you’re thinking critically, which means you aren’t being creative. When you’re in the creative state, you aren’t self-correcting. The ideas are flowing. The story is growing. You’re brainstorming. But a lot of mistakes are being made.

With my students, I told them not to correct their writing. Write as many words as you can on the page. But sure enough, they’d correct mistakes during the process, whether it be spelling, grammar or even plot line. They wanted to look good. It was their own egos that held back the creative process.

The advantage of fluency without accuracy is you can be the most creative. Then, when you’re done writing, you can go back and fix the mistakes. You can focus on accuracy. If you think about fixing mistakes first, you’ll never be as creative. But if you approach the story from a creative state first, you get both parts in the end, fluency and accuracy.

For this story, One Oar, I let my mind soar. I wrote whatever. It’s sometimes surprising what comes from the depths of our creative wells. It often happens that I don’t even understand what a story is about until I write the end. Then I go back and revise the details in the story for continuity.

Writers also have inhibitions blocking their creativity, whether it be family values, fear of what a friend will think, or even a strict adherence to writing rules. How often have you heard, show don’t tell? And if you’re worried about things like that during the creative stage, it will hold you back. Let your inhibitions go and write whatever you want. You can always change it later. You can always throw it in the trash. Just write.

The downside to all this is that, while you end up with something highly creative, you’ve got a lot of fixing to do. And somewhere along the way, if you’re like me, you’ll wish you’d just written it the right way the first time. It tooks me months to fix One Oar.

I also showed the story to friends who gave me feedback on it. The story just felt stiff to me. It’s a very compact story, where every word counts. It’s just under 1,000 words, but I hadn’t intended to write it as flash fiction. Eventually, with enough time and distance, I got the story to loosen up and come alive. During that time, though, it was rejected at dozens of places. When I’d finally crafted it well, it was accepted for publication. A part of me almost knew at that point that this one was now ripe for picking.

I think when we are at our best, we are both creative and corrective at the same time. The more you write, the more often that will happen. But until then, you’ve got to split the process up and write the hard way. You’ve got to spend the time. I’ve resigned myself to that fact that, as a writer, I’ll have to revise each story hundreds of times, at least until I get better at it. For others, the process may go faster.

Read One Oar in Pif Magazine

For this story, I didn’t use quotations for dialog. I’d been reading James Joyce and thought I’d use the hyphen to indicate when people are speaking. It’s the only time I’ve done this and I’m not sure I’ll do it again. But it was a good experiment.

I also used a lot of sentence fragments in the style of Cormac McCarthy. I’d just read China Miéville who also uses this style. Sentence fragments are incomplete sentences, as opposed to run-on sentences. Run-ons have two sentences or two subject-verbs. Sentence fragments, on the other hand, are lacking in subject-verb, the two things needed to make a sentence.

Here’s an example of sentence fragments:

Night of your birth. Thirty-three. The Leonids they were called. God how the stars did fall. I looked for blackness, holes in the heavens. The Dipper stove.

This comes from the open in Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. “Night of your birth” isn’t a sentence. It’s only a detail. Same for “Thirty-three.” McCarthy is well known for his descriptive writing style. He doesn’t use quotation marks for dialog, either. Remember, let those inhibitions go! Just write.

Read One Oar in Pif Magazine