June 9, 1999

Mark Gilchrist
True America
Somewhere, U.S.A.

Dear Readers,

Let me start off by, unabashedly, saying that I just cannot believe what an incredible year this has been. If you had knocked on my door last April and told me; "Mark, you will soon be sleeping in strangers' side yards, drifting through the back roads of this country, living free on an iron horse, appearing in newspapers and magazines everywhere, and writing articles which a thousand people will read each week, I would have laughed until I cried. Laughed, because the concept is so absurd, and cried because the life I had been living was so boring, so incredibly pitiful, that any such change would be welcome.

This year, I have written nearly 90 articles in 35 states, I have met thousands of people, seen thousands of sights, done a thousand things and I have survived. I have survived frightening weather, frightening people and a couple of frightening motorcycle accidents.

I have barged in on peoples' lives, put my feet up and made myself at home. I have asked a million favors, and heard a million stories. I have worked 15-hour days, 7-day weeks for the past year, with my focus on one thing; to bring the story of Joe and Jane America to you. I have had an absurd dedication to this project, running myself weary to keep the pace of bringing to you something fresh to read each week.

One of my greatest and most enjoyable challenges has been to uncover and select the subjects to include in this grand portrait. I try to keep my own interests at bay, considering yours first, and apparently, our interests seem to be similar. I write about people, usually average ones - like your neighbor - who have an interesting story to tell. Sometimes that story is obvious - like the pilot of the Goodyear blimp - and sometimes it isn't - like a produce salesman, or a bartender. I only hope that each article you read will give you a pleasant surprise, or will at least take you on an enjoyable journey.

This year has been an incredible learning experience. I have scaled the learning curve of everything from digital cameras to motorcycle maintenance. I have learned a lot about myself, about the sort of person I am, as well as the sort of person I am not - that is probably one of the most rewarding aspects of maturity; understanding what you are not, and becoming more comfortable with what you are. Also, I am seeing clearly how the family unit strengthens a community, how community spirit strengthens a society, and how important society is to a country

I could not have achieved this impressive milestone without the help of my dear friends and family, as well as my sponsors, or the kind people who have suggested subjects for articles, the wonderful strangers who have let me park my camper in their yards, and the thousands of people who have helped me in their small ways during this incredible year.

I get email daily, from people telling me that I am living a dream, and that they wish they could do the same. One of my dear, old friends actually told me "I could never just take a year off like that" and I knew immediately that he was dead wrong.

I would have said the same thing a year ago, and most everybody would say the same thing today. The fact is, none of us would or could throw everything away, put our lives on hold and take off for a year. Not unless the payback was large enough - and that's the key; the payback. There are a few of us who are plagued by a dream, by the insidious and annoying feeling that there is something we could do, something we should do - something extraordinary - if we only had the chance. It is the mountaineer's bane, the nagging, persistent desire to reach a goal simply because it is there.

Often, it takes a drastic event; the loss of a loved one, or of a job, perhaps a midlife crisis, or anything that upsets the balance of our lives, and makes the old life hardly worth living without taking on the new challenge. But then, sometimes it only takes the recognition of this challenge, and the acceptance that nobody is going to take you there, that the only person who can make it happen for you, is you, and you can indeed live the rest of your life dreaming your dream, and watching other people live theirs - it's your choice. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if someday, I get a postcard from my friend, from Nepal.

This project is more than halfway finished, and I have the greatest challenges ahead, such as getting to Alaska and Hawaii, or working with equipment that is a year older and worse for the wear. But I am about to enter the part of this country to which I have never been, and that is pretty exciting. As I leave each state, I know I leave a hundred good stories behind, and that is my only regret. I will pick the ones I can, and leave the rest for another writer, another time and another dream. Meanwhile, under the pure, white clouds of this incredible adventure, I will keep on going, keep on bringing the voice of Americans to you, and I will keep on howling down the highway on a half ton of steel, with my eyes on the future and my heart in a dream.

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