It was 27º when I got up this morning. It’s not supposed to be that cold here but much of the country is experiencing a cold snap courtesy of the good ol’ polar vortex. I’m just north of Natchez, Mississippi, on a not so mad dash south to avoid the cold snap, obviously without complete success. Within about 4 days temps are predicted to be in the low to mid 70s here during the day with warmer nighttime temps too.
I’m heading to New Orleans after leaving here, Natchez State Park. I hope to write a campground review of this place soon. It’s a nice place for RVs although it may not be able to handle more than one or two really big rigs. Check back later or subscribe to the blog for email notices whenever I make new posts and you’ll get notice of the campground report when I post it.
So, about this bicycle trip from Alaska to Florida: as I was rolling south along Natchez Trace Parkway yesterday–a road of 440 miles which is actually a national park running through 4 states–I happened to pass a bicyclist loaded with an impossible amount of baggage. I pulled wide around him for safety’s sake… easy to do despite the narrowness of this two lane parkway because there is very little traffic. An hour or so later after I’d set up camp in the park the bicyclist came rolling in. Curious about his travels I asked if he’d chat with me about them for inclusion in RussOnTheRoad. He consented.
A handsome young man, about 31 as I figure, Harrison Brown was sporting long hair and a beard that was getting pretty long itself. You could measure the length of time he’d been on the road by the length of his hair. Having been bitten by the long distance bicycling bug Harrison flew from LA with his gear to Anchorage, Alaska, where he began his trip toward Florida last May, it now being mid November.
Originally from Wisconsin, near Madison, Harrison has been living in LA for the past 12 years where he attended film school then worked in film doing post production work. The Real World, Road Rules and The Daily Habit were shows he worked on. He also did some work for Internet companies. After growing tired with post production Harrison became a tour guide driving people around in busses in every Hills on Homes-of-the-Stars tours.
Along the way Harrison got involved in comedy, improvisation and acting. He was in a couple TV commercials. Harrison also hosted Cagematch at the UCB theater. You can find some YouTube footage online with him in it. Cagematch, if I understand it correctly, is sort of a battle of two improv groups. Something like a battle of the bands but with improvisation instead of music. As host, he was also sort of the warm up comedian, but he referred to it as the hype guy. His job was to get people excited before the main act.
One day Drew Carey came to see someone he knew in one of the improv groups at Cagematch. Carey liked Brown’s performance and asked Harrison to MC for some live performances of his own as well as to act as the hype guy for the Price is Right.
Harrison’s interest in bicycling began when he started commuting to work by bicycle for one of the post production jobs in LA. His interest expanded as he came across people that were bike touring and blogging. Harrison bought himself a touring bike and made his first trip, a two week sojourn from San Francisco down to the US Mexico border. He loved it. For a while he thought about how to draw upon his background in film and entertainment in terms of how to work that into some sort of show about bike touring. Eventually he decided to do it on his own. He decided to ride his bicycle from Alaska to Florida, a trip of some 6,000 miles. He sought and found $12,000 in funding on KickStarter.com, a crowd funding web site.
I was curious about planning for a trip like his and when I asked Harrison told me he had made some “bullet points” to use his words. “Basically I was going to leave mid-May… and be gone anywhere up until the middle of November or till the end of the year… I knew once I got to Denver which was my Labor Day bullet point I’d have to make a decision on how I was going to go and I decided to go the long way.”
I said to Harrison that obviously, once he had chosen to go the long way, there was something that was working for him about this trip. I wondered if there was ever a time he wanted to bag it, to quit. He said “There was never a time that I didn’t want to do it, but there have been times where it was really hard… worrisome situations… mostly having to do with where I am going to sleep that night.” Harrison told me about a 13 mile section of road in Alaska that was under construction, the surface of which was rocks at the time he passed through. He couldn’t ride his bicycle through that and it was really difficult to push it. Can you imagine having to struggle with that? Pushing a bicycle loaded to the hilt with dozens of pound of gear, mile after mile over an unstable, rocky surface? Yikes! “It really broke my spirits” said Harrison, but he persevered.
As I wrote above, I met Harrison near Natchez, Mississippi. I asked him to describe his route, how he managed to wind up here. I left Berkeley, CA on May 7. He left LA about a week after that, flying to Anchorage, then bicycling out of Anchorage a few days later. From Anchorage he went north toward Fairbanks by way of Denali National Park. From Fairbanks via the Top of the World Highway Harrison bicycled into the Yukon Territory, Canada. There he went to Dawson and Whitehorse and then back to Alaska at Skagway. He jumped on a ferry for a few a while, hitting ports at Hanes, Juno, Prince Rupert, and Vancouver Island. and finally Vancouver on the mainland, bicycling from there down to Seattle and to Oregon. At Portland he went to a music festival then headed east through Idaho in 110º heat in Lewiston where he ate a whole half gallon of ice cream! Then he crossed into Montana after which he headed south to Wyoming where he biked through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. After dipping momentarily into Utah to visit Dinosaur National Park he cut across Colorado visiting Steamboat Springs and Rabbit Ears Pass very close to where I had camped at Meadows Campground, crossing the Rockies into Fort Collins, Denver, to Cheyenne, Wyoming on into the Black Hills and Bad Lands of South Dakota. Traveling then to Minneapolis, Minnesota, Wisconsin, south to Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee where outside of Nashville he picked up the Natchez Trace Parkway which heads south from there through Tennessee, Alabama, and finally Mississippi where here, near its southern terminus the two of us crossed paths. Phew…
Earlier in the year Harrison was riding 60-80 miles in a day. Now, with less daylight he typically rides 40-60. Two or three times he’s ridden 100 miles in a day. He had a 70 mile ride planned for the day after he and I met. Ambitious. He explained he had a host waiting in Jackson. When I asked what he meant he mentioned a web site called WarmShowers.org where people volunteer to put up touring bicyclists as they travel about. Largely these have been “amazing experiences” for Harrison. When I said I’ve gotten some really good tips from locals Harrison mentioned that’s how he found out about the Trace.
Harrison left this morning heading, eventually, to Florida where he has tickets to see a band called Phish. Apparently he’s a Phishhead. I’m not sure that’s a term that’s used, but I liked it. Being old and uncool I’d never heard of Phish. Apparently, according to Harrison, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor Phish Food is named after the band. Now that’s something I’ve heard of ’cause something of a chocoholic. I knew about the ice cream and have some in my freezer right now, but only because the store didn’t have my favorite flavor Chocolate Fudge Brownie. Anyway, he’s got tickets for all four shows and needs to be in Miami by the end of December. Come to think of it, I think the music festival I mentioned above was one Harrison went to in order to hear Phish.
“So, what happens after the concert?” I asked Harrison. “Oh gosh, I really don’t know” he said while laughing.” I don’t have a job lined up. I don’t really want to move back to LA. There’s something about it I’m kind of done with for the moment… It’s kind of hard to do a trip like this and go back to that culture there.”
I don’t know where I’m going to land when I’m done with my See-the-USA-in-an-RV trip… whether I’ll wind up in Berkeley which has been my home for the greater part of my life, or if I’ll settle in some other place I find as I travel about. Maybe I’ll continue traveling until I’m unable to do so any longer and that could be a good many years. In my travels I’ve come across people full-timing for 8, 10 even 12 years. When I heard what Harrison had to say about his future after the trip, the unknown nature of it, I felt a bit of a kindred spirit in that regard. I asked if he’s been thinking about places he’s visited that he might like to go back to and live. He replied “Up until now I’ve tried to be really in the present, in the moment, and not worry about what’s going to happen..” but now that the deadline to get to Florida is getting closer …I’m starting to think about it a little bit more. There are a lot of places I’ve been to I’ve thought about that… I kind of bounce between a city and a smaller city… I think ultimately I still need a city because there are things about a city I still really like. The problem with a smaller city is that I like being with less people, but then it’s a Catch 22 because then there are less things to do. I feel like later on I may be ready for a smaller city but the one thing I’ve noticed which in general really drives me insane about America is the car culture has really dominated how cities are. I like biking but it’s also nice to live somewhere that things are close to you but the way things are nothing is close together so you have to have a car. So the smaller towns… I liked all the towns in Montana a lot. I really like Minneapolis as a town”.
Would you ride a bicycle from Alaska to Florida if you were able?
Wherever you wind up, Harrison, I wish you the best. I look forward to hearing more about your bicycling adventure, and your adventure in this thing we call life. Thank you for sharing your story with me.
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