South Shore photojournalist takes to the open road | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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South Shore photojournalist takes to the open road

Rick Gunn
South Lake Tahoe resident and professional photographer Rick Gunn crosses San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge last Friday, beginning a 2-year trip across America and the world.
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Editor’s Note: The Tahoe Daily Tribune will publish regular journals of Rick Gunn’s bicycle tour around the world. This is his first journal entry.

“Live Strong” July 1, 2005

The statement was simple and direct: “Live strong.” The words adorned a small, yellow bracelet that I unwrapped from plastic and wrapped around my wrist. It was purchased inside a bicycle shop in mid-town Vallejo. A middle-aged shop worker with a graying pony tail stood behind the counter.

“How far you guys goin’ today?” he asked.

“Sacramento,” my riding partner, Matt Haverty, said.

The owner nodded.

I was happy with Matt’s response. I had spent the last six months answering detailed questions and explaining the particulars of riding my bike around the world. I was tired of explaining. I just wanted to ride.

Matt glanced over at me and smiled. It was as if he just couldn’t keep it to himself.

“Actually, this guy is riding around the world,” he said, looking at me.

“Really!” the hippie bike-guy shot back. “Wow! What route ya’ gonna take?”

The explanation cost us a half an hour.

It had all started earlier that morning on the foggy deck of the Golden Gate bridge. I had hoped for some departing epiphany, some nirvanic moment that would lift the heavy layers of stress from the previous three months of planning.

It never came.

Instead it was replaced by something better, more real – the love and support from a core group of family and friends as we embraced, honestly and soulfully.

Matt and I pedaled our way off the bridge that morning, watching the familiar faces shrink into the distance, then eventually out of sight.

Then it was just Matt and I, and the open road. Personality-wise, we’re polar opposites. Matt is a pragmatist of sorts, who’s spent the better part of his life building a million-dollar electrical company.

Of late he’d turned his attention toward high-end bicycle building and both the bikes we rode bore his name.

But that was where the similarities stopped.

Matt is a racer and a winning triathlete, and it is reflected in his touring style. With an ultra lightweight steel frame, and the bare essentials strapped to it, Matt moved across the countryside like Mario Andretti. My bike, on the other hand, weighed in at over 100 pounds, schlepping over 40 pounds of cameras, lenses, chargers and a laptop.

Taking it all in slowly and mindfully, I had long since eschewed competition and adopted the handle “Soulcycler”

We made a good pair.

Matt enjoys being with someone who has slowed down and dreamt large, while I appreciated his ability to focus on details and bring me back down to Earth. He was seeing me off during the first two days of the tour.

We wove through small towns of Rockville and Fairfield, rolling past fields of sunflowers and wheat before we were pummeled by California’s Central Valley heat.

Just short of combustion, we came upon Solano Lake Park shores, an expansive pool of emerald-green water that was reminiscent of a scene from “Huckleberry Finn.”

I stripped down to my shorts and dove in. The water was freezing.

“Whooooohooo,” I cried out while we dove in again and again.

It was just what we needed to make it through the blazing heat along Putah Creek Road en route to the farming town of Winters.

It was there we heard a voice from behind.

“You guys going to Davis?” The words that came from a cyclist who pulled up from behind us.

Wearing a cotton T-shirt, Bermuda shorts, thick glasses and a mid-sized Afro, he seemed more like a computer programmer than cyclist. But he had ridden further than us – 75-miles – in the 104-degree heat.

Sweat dripped from his head and formed a ring around the neck of his shirt.

“Yes, we are; would you like to join us?” I asked, and he nodded.

“Y-Y-Y-You mind if I r-r-r-ride with you?” he asked with a slight stutter. It seemed more a plea than a question. “Sure,” I said and reached my hand toward his. “I’m Rick and this is Matt.”

“I’m Edward,” he said with a soft smile, and with that we were off. We rode for nearly a mile with Edward right on our tail, until I turned around and noticed he was gone. Squinting west, about a quarter mile back, I made out the faint outline of Edward on the side of the road walking his bike.

We pulled to the side and waited. When he pulled up he wobbled as if someone had freshly clubbed him.

“You OK?” I asked, placing a hand on his shoulder. Then it came to me. He had been battling heat exhaustion. It was why he asked to ride with us.

“I-I-I-I’m OK,” he said.

We pulled over to a irrigation ditch where I suggested he soak his shirt, a tactic I had learned riding in the desert. Matt and I suggested he consume more of the bottle of Gatorade he had in his bottle rack. He had hardly touched it. Without the salt and electrolytes, sweat leached from the body like a thief. It seemed to work. Edward finished the day strong, passing us and staying out front as we pulled into Davis, where we stopped and shook hands.

“God bless you,” he said as he pedaled away and finished his ride.

We continued through Davis, across the Yolo Causeway into downtown Sacramento. We had traveled the first 80 miles without complications and feeling good.

I thought of Matt, Edward and our long ride in the heat. I glanced down at the yellow bracelet around my wrist.

Today, just for this day, we had followed the mantra: “Live Strong.”

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