December 9, 1999

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

Dear Readers,

It is through the written word, that we enjoy some of our greatest passions. Fireworks may burst above our heads and drama may unfold on a stage before us, but we are enthralled so much more when we are allowed to produce those scenes in our minds through well-written verse. Often, a writer's finest achievement is not merely to describe a person, place or thing, but to convey their own passion so eloquently that the reader gains respect - even admiration or love - for the subject.

Six years ago, I had been given a beautiful gift when I learned about Ernie Pyle, and as I read his work, I was swept away. I visited brave men fighting for freedom around this world, and I traveled through the heart of America during our great depression. Pyle told a simple story, about simple people, and he led a great adventure. I easily admit that I wanted very badly to be like him.

When I set out on this journey, I had no idea what I was about to do, and I just took it one state at a time - I still find it hard to believe that I have been able to achieve so much. I have nearly watched myself experience things as if it were happening to someone else; boarding a freighter and sailing to Alaska, riding through the great mountain ranges of the northwest, and even flying to Hawaii. It was surreal, watching these amazing events just creep right by, like the sweep of a second hand. One day, I would be anticipating doing something incredible, like my first skydive, then the day would come and I would be there, watching. Caught up in anticipation and excitement, I found myself jumping out of an airplane, and then it was over, and a week went by, and I still couldn't believe it was I who had lived the experience. I have felt like a beauty queen, parading through her reigning year, and then realizing one day, that something I thought would never end, has already come and gone. In January, this trip, this odyssey of mine will be but a fond memory, and on December 31, I will join the rest of the world and watch as a new century greets us with the ordinary sweep of a second hand.

I've done more than just ride through 50 states and 50,000 miles, I have ridden my motorcycle through rain, sleet, snow and horrible wind storms, crossed time zones nearly 30 times, and the continental divide a half-dozen times. I've camped in fields, vacant lots, driveways, garages and even a small boat. I've ridden on small and large boats, rafts, ships, trains, airplanes, a hang glider, and a blimp. I've scaled mountains two and a half miles high on my bike, and from that height I have jumped out of an airplane, I've walked a mile under the earth, and I've touched fish 14 fathoms down. I've been above the edge of the arctic circle and below the tropic of cancer, and after all this, I will probably be able to think of nothing else, but riding this trail again someday.

I have enjoyed being what Ernie Pyle called a "rolling stone" as I don't have to maintain long-standing relationships. Before I can grow tired of a place or even a person - or they grow tired of me - I could move on. The hectic pace of this trip has ensured that I spend very little time in one place (usually a day, and never more than a week or two.) Garrison Keillor once said something to the effect of; "a good house guest knows precisely the moment when he has worn out his welcome, and leaves just prior to that moment." I have brazenly barged into people's lives and charged through their streets to get stories. I have been amazed at their hospitality and their willingness to tell their stories, and though I don't write for the benefit of the subject, I imagine some of them read their articles and felt that their time was well spent.

I would like to thank the people who have helped this project along. From the sponsors to the wonderful strangers who have accommodated me, and my friends and family who have morally supported me - I could not have accomplished this without you!

What event is next in my life? I do want to settle down for a while, and I am seeking work on a newspaper in the southern states. I look forward to simple pleasures, like reaching into my own fridge for a drink, sitting down in my own bathroom and sleeping in my own bed. I get giddy, thinking about telling people to call me back on something other than a pay phone or pager. I may miss the attention of being the one person doing what thousands wish they could do, but I'll trade that in for a little stability, thank you - at least for a while.

Many of you have asked about a book. I have been offered a small publishing deal, but have declined it - aren't there too many books about wandering travelers already?

I did not set out to create a book out of this project, or even try to document this incredible journey. I just wanted to write about the people who comprise the greatest country on this planet. I didn't want you to envy me, so much as I wanted you to understand and feel something for the people about whom I wrote. But most of all, I wanted to give you the greatest gift -- that of being able to fall in love with America.

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