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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