Desert Dharma: Bicycling Big Bend

A Mindfulness-Centered Ecotherapy Adventure!

This is a continuation/expansion on my earlier post updating my 2022 bicycle tour, focusing on Big Bend National Park (BB).

I was excited way back in January to read that Adventure Cycling 2022 bicycle tours included Big Bend National Park! Big Bend is where my 2022 bicycle tour idea originated on my last trip out there in 2019. I recently published a post about the dogs on that trip. While out there in the park, I passed a number of bicyclist riding the main loop of the park, Old Maverick Rd, up near the park headquarters and visitor center at Panther Junction.

I really wanted to stop one of the bicyclist and ask about their tour. I was envious and wished I had brought my bicycle. But then, what would I have done with the dogs while I was out peddling around BB? (Sigh) And I drove on. Here I am now in 2022 and about to be off on my Texas Road Trip Bicycle Tour, which includes a loop down to Big Bend following a loop up to the Davis Mtns, departing from Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) April 16, the day after I turn 74. This trip is a birthday present to myself. What does this have to do with Mindfulness-Centered Ecotherapy, and what is Desert Dharma? Let’s anwer the latter first…


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Texas Road Trip: an update


An update to my upcoming bicycle road tour …

I’m borrowing this title from the movie, Animal House: when all the shit was hitting the fraternity’s fan, the dean and college were coming down on them, their solution? A road trip!

I’m still doing part of Adventure Cycling’s Southern Tier, but only the portion from El Paso to Austin, and adding in side trips to old Fort Davis in the Davis Mtns and Big Bend National Park. The latter being the birthplace for me of this whole bicycling tour idea. Here’s the first half of my route:

I fly out of here from GSP airport at 4:30pm, Saturday, April 16, with bike and gear and land in El Paso around 7:55pm, the day after my 74th birthday. I have a hotel room reserved east of the airport, the direction I’m pedaling, which has an airport shuttle service that will pick up me, my bicycle and gear at the airport. Sunday I get up my bike and gear redied, and head out on my journey across the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas. I’ll stop and do some shopping on the way out of El Paso: food, water, and necessities. The first day it may just be a short ride (22 mi) to Faben. (See spreadsheet below.) Depending how that goes, I can split the next segment into two days or not: a 23 mi to Fort Hancock and a 35 mi to Sierra Blanca, or do them in one long ride. I’m trying to ease into doing 50 mi days by doing a couple of short days rides at the beginning. Here in the foothills of South Carolina,,my longest ride has been 32 mi because of the substantial hills in any direction I go. So, 50 mi rides look pretty daunting. Out there though, a large part of my ride will be on fairly level ground, not the hills I have to contend with here. Although, there is a climb up to Sierra Blanca and ups and downs all the way to Sanderson Tx. Also, I’ll be adapting to a higher altitude. Here in Liberty, SC, we are at around 1000 ft elevation. Sierra Blanca is ~4600 ft.

My trip from Del Rio to Austin I’ll post about later. I have a plane flight out of Austin on 5/12, but have built in some extra days for weather and rest. A total of 915 miles. Wish me well!

For those that want to see the breakdown of my trip, below is the spreadsheet of the trip I’ve put together…


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Life Shifts 2021

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you have to keep moving.

Albert Einstein

I want to take a moment and focus of my personal challenges and blessings in 2021. As the end of 2021 slams shut and 2022 comes roaring in, I am thankful for my family, friends, blessings, health, and that I still have a sense of adventure–and the ability and resources to do something about them. In short, 2021 has been a year of life shifts for me, two which have taken place in the last week. Following on Einstein’s quote above, I have been able to keep moving forward and thereby, maintain my balance. That said, 2021 was a year of significant changes for me.

The first six months of 2021 for me while sitting at home in hermit isolation from THE COVID pandemic, I poured a lot of effort into going deeper into my Zen spiritual practice. In this regard, even though I was very isolated, the pandemic had a blessing: via Zoom I was able to participate in several intense meditation “retreats,” called sesshins, from home, including meetings with my Roshi, during those first six months. I had not done a sesshin for about seven years. If the pandemic had not come along, my Zen Windhorse Center would have never (probably) started offering remote services, sesshins, and meetings with the Roshis via Zoom. Zen is an “in person” type of practice. Offerings via Zoom and Internet was almost unheard of prior to the pandemic. Since those first days, and with vaccinations and precautions, the Center has backed off somewhat, but still offers Sunday services, weekly sittings, and the first three days of sesshins via Zoom.

Did I make any progress with my efforts to go deeper? Yes. I found out how to reach a point of great stillness, which I’ve blogged about earlier (see, “Stepping into the Stillness“) and started working on my first koan, the famous Mu koan. As I have moved away now from those intense days, tapping back into that stillness is often elusive or short lived. In these holiday season, I have slipped out of being consistent in my practice. I’ve paid a price for that negligence. I can only briefly touch that stillness but not hold onto it. To “hold” it, that is, to be able to stay in it, requires more practice. The stillness helps me maintain my equanimity to cope with the ups and downs of my life. Consequently, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to get back deeper into my practice.

That first six months of 2021, I also closed down my counseling practice. I had been a professor of Clemson University for 23 years, so I thought it only fitting to step out of counseling at 23 years too. I like symmetry. No counseling practice, no need for the office space upstairs. I could downsize and move a reduced office to the multipurpose room downstairs. It occurred to me after a couple of months of being away from the counseling that, Ah ha! I could renovate my upstairs office suite into a studio apartment for rental and replace some of my counseling income.

Still in the first half of 2021, I sold my truck…


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Landlord Nightmare Before Christmas

After working several months to ge my upstairs office suite converted to an apartment, which also involved downsizing and decluttering, I was not prepared for the onslaught when I put the ad for the apartment up on FB Market last week. What a nightmare! If I didn’t believe there was a housing shortage before, I am a true believer now.

Because of the relative low rent, $450 per month that included utilities and Internet, within 30 minutes of posting, I was being flooded with inquiries and quickly became overwhelmed. I had people that were homeless, many desperate stories, in addition to a large number of not-so-desperate inquiries. The desperate stories really pulled at my co-dependent, resuer tendency that I had done so much work on through the years and the subject of a separate post later (maybe).

I had one inquirer that was homeless and living out of his car, or should I say, her car. She was trans with numerous medical problems. Another, was in a very dysfunctional family situation and being kicked out of her mother’s home that night with nowhere to go. Yet another, a mother with two children, that was homeless. On and on the stories went. This went on for two days. As a mental health counselor (retired), my red flags lit up. Many of these people had some serious psychological issues they needed to work on. This was not a counseling job. These crazies were asking to live right above me in my house. No way! It is one thing when, as a counselor and in a professional counseling situation, you can send them home after the session. The boundaries are very firmly delineated.

While I did enjoy meeting and interviewing a few of them, I had soon talked to and interacted with more people than I had for years, since doing continuing ed workshops back in the early 2000’s, I’m thinking. This caused dissonance in my hermit mindset to say the least.

Luckily, both of my daughters have very strong business heads. My oldest, Elian, quickly counseled me to tell everyone that I was only now showing the apartment, interviewing, and taking applications. That I would make a decision by the following Monday. It was Friday when I kicked off this adventure. And my youngest, Amy, slapped me repeatedly (metaphorically) when I made an early decision to rent to the woman that was sexually abused, had PTSD, and was going to be homeless that night. “Dad, you are such a rescuer! You are trying to rescue that woman!” Her persistence got through, finally. I had slipped down the co-dependency rabbit hole. Shit! Amy kept reminding me, “Dad, this is a business decision!”

This story has a happy ending…


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Dannion Brinkley


This is a story I wrote years ago right after it happened and after I had published my first book, WindWalker: Journey into Science, Self, and Spirit (2000). It’s a great story, but didn’t fit into my Guru book either. I would like to get it out there for others and want to thank Dannion Brinkley for the experience. For those that don’t know, Dannion is a international motivational speaker and the best selling author of Saved by the Light: The True Story of a Man Who Died Twice and the Profound Revelations He Received, and several other books. Meeting him was a real adventure. Experiencing his Klini bed was a real honor–as well as quite of an experience. Read on…

The Chamber

I had asked Mel, Dannion Brinkley’s cousin and a friend of mine, if Dannion would let me try out his Klini “bed.”  Mel had told me about the bed, and I had subsequently read about it in one of Dannion’s books. It was some sort of bed that put people into an altered state of consciousness.  Among other things, Dannion used the bed in his hospice and advocacy work with veterans.

Mel helped Dannion organize and keep track of his busy appearance schedule. They grew up together in Aiken, SC. Mel talked to Dannion about my meeting him and experiencing his Klini bed. Dannion had sent word back to me through Mel that, yes, he would be at his old home place in Aiken, SC, and he would let me experience the chamber and the bed. Chamber? I thought it was a bed of some type? Nonetheless, I felt truly privileged that he had agreed. Mel later told me that Dannion only invited a few people to his house to use this special chamber. It was his family’s home and where he grew up. He stayed there when he was in Aiken from all his world travels, which were extensive. I felt greatly honored.

Dannion was a true Warrior, even though his work now is that of a healer, teacher, and advisor. If ever there was a Platonic copy that reflected the Ideal Warrior, Dannion was it. He stands about 6’3” and was striking with his red hair and goatee. Women’s heads turned when he passed. At age 56, he still looked in top shape and not someone with whom you would want to tangle. On top of all this, he was brilliant and talented. Among his many talents were his psychic abilities, which were substantial. To encounter Dannion was be a real head trip. Before his first near death experience (NDE), he was just your everyday black ops commando sort of guy.

He started this illustrious career as an angry boy in Aiken, getting in fights with anyone that would take him on and in general, raising hell. By the time he was in high school, he had to go out of town to find someone to fight him. Such was his reputation and abilities. As a young adult, the local police knew him well, and usually sent him home when they caught him out drinking and getting into his general mischievous activities. They did not want to tangle with him physically. He was likable even then.

Vietnam came and he joined the armed services. His talents and abilities being recognized, he was trained in special operations. He was a hit man. He would go out in the jungle alone, sitting for days to take out specific high ranking enemy targets. After Vietnam, he moved on to help out the CIA with similar activities in South America. A very talented guy. Then came his first NDE.

Dannion writes about his near death experiences in his book,  Saved by the Light: The True Story of a Man Who Died Twice and the Profound Revelations He Received. As his story goes, while talking to his mother on the phone one evening during a thunderstorm, he had just remarked that they really should get off the phone so that they would not get electrocuted. (Remember the days of telephone lines, before cordless versions or cell phones?) Lightening struck, and he was glued to the ceiling by the powerful electrical charge that came through the telephone line. If it had not been for his wife at the time, who was a nurse, he probably would have died. It took him years to recover from the neurological and physical damage from this near fatal accident. It ended his career as a hired killer, and turned him down the path of a peaceful warrior. He still suffered greatly from intense pain from those injuries.


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Desert Dogs Chasing Badger

This is one of the stories my editor had me leave out of my Guru book, expanded here for this telling. It’s a story worth telling though–and funny–but not funny at the time it was happening. Actually, a lot my adventures are like that: they are funny in retrospect. Here are the two main characters of this tale–

Back then I still had an active mental health practice and these were my therapy dogs, Morgan and Lacy. At the time of this trip, Morgan (left, black), a.k.a., Old Dog, was ten-years-old. He is a Retriever mix; Lacy (white) was a 14-month-old Great Pyrenees. There was still a lot of puppy in her then and still is now two years later. Morgan is Top Dog between the two of them. Lacy may be younger and outweigh him by some 2x pounds, he is nonetheless, the Boss Dog–and the leader in this case into mayhem.

This was our last Big Bend, Tx, trip in 2019. As I write this post revision (10/18/21), that was almost exactly two years ago. I’m also adding some additional stops we made headed out there. So, it’s a little expanded from the version that was in the book. It was a farewell trip. It was the only long-distance trip I took them on. I found trying to handle them both by myself was a little too much.

I was pretty sure this would be my last trip out here to the Big Bend area and even to Texas. For some 50 years I had been driving to Texas to visit my parents, both of whom now, recently had passed. Consequently, there were some special places I wanted to stop along the way and say goodbye. It was a trip of memories, of goodbyes, as well as a farewell trip to Big Bend itself.

However, the old saying, “Never say never” applies here, as I am now planning my 2022 epic bicycle adventure tour, which includes touring Big Bend and surrounding area on my bicycle. In truth the whole idea for my upcoming bicycle tour started here in Big Bend on this 2019 trip. Consequently, this story and trip is part of the background for my evolving 2022 tour for which preparation, planning, and training are now ongoing. (Anybody willing to assist me in this venture, there is a “Donate” button below, and thanks.) Back to our journey…

We had spent four long days driving out to Big Bend, making stops for lunch at Mary’s Cafe in Strawn, Tx., home of the best chicken fried steak in Texas, or for my money, anywhere, except, of course, the one I prepare from my own kitchen! Here I was at that “last meal.” Don’t worry, the dogs got a share as I couldn’t possibly eat the entire thing–and that was their small!

I hadn’t told anyone in Texas, family or friends, that I was making the trip. Just me and the dogs on a last trip West. It was a trip of closings, including my third (and final) marriage and my parents’ deaths. After Mary’s and just up the road about 20 miles, we stopped and visited my parents’ graves. Dad had died in 2016, Mom in 2017. It will probably be my last and only visit since there burials. In it reside many of my relatives: aunts, uncles, grandparents, and more. The graveyard sits on property donated by my grandparents and later my parents. It abuts the family farm. From it you can see the house my parents built and lived in for over 20+ years. They then later moved nearby to Ranger, Tx, just down the road.

Then there was an early evening dinner at the famous Johnny’s BBQ in my growing-up town of Odessa some 250 miles down the road from Strawn. Our destination for the night was Ft. Stockton. Johnny’s was one of my favorite places to eat BBQ as a teen growing up in Odessa. Still there and still making a great BBQ! Hadn’t changed much in 53 years. (Somewhere I have a photo of this and will update if/when I find it.) I wasn’t hungry from my big lunch, but got it to-go, and had it later that evening at our motel in Ft. Stockton. I put it in the back of the truck as the dogs, who mainly road in the back seat, would have gone crazy smelling it. Maybe me too.

Arriving at Big Bend the next day around noon, we were all three exhausted from the four days of driving and riding. However, we still had about two-and-half hours to go before we got to our camping site. Once past the entrance to the Big Bend NP, it is still about an hour’s drive to the ranger station to get a camping permit, another 20 minutes around to the turnoff to the back country on Old Ore Rd, to our camping site. An hour and ten-minute, four-wheel drive later on Old Ore Rd, we arrived mid-afternoon at our campsite. After an initial, cautious sniffing and exploring by the dogs, we all three just laid around, exhausted. Morgan liked the back seat of the truck and was sacked out there.

Lacy was lying out in the shade of the bear box, a heavy-duty metal box to put your food and trash in to keep it away from the bears, javelinas (peccaries), mountain lions, etc.

I need to point out at this point before we go further, both of these are “city dogs.” Neither has been to the desert, and the desert can be a very nasty place. Everything bites, stings, or has a nasty disposition, or chemical defenses. Survival in the desert is a very Darwinian “bloody tooth and nail.” I had been concerned about bringing them because of their unfamiliarity with and the many dangers of the desert. So far they were doing okay. I had brought some special first aid stuff to get thorns out, etc. But, Jesus, there were rattlesnakes, scorpions, cacti, thorny bushes, all kinds of nasties everywhere. I grew up in the desert and had spent time camping and hiking in it, so I knew it. It is my natural stomping ground.

I was napping/dozing in the front seat when I heard Morgan charge out of the truck. I sat up and went into panic mode: Lacy had spotted a badger and Morgan was tearing off after it! I didn’t even know badgers occurred out here! Morgan had no idea just how dangerous badgers were. He thought it was a funny looking cat probably. He loves chasing cats. Doesn’t know what to do when one doesn’t run or turns and faces him off. He just stands there wagging his tail, unsure what to do.


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