For a couple of months in the spring of 2013 a friend of mine named Cocoon had been living on my couch in my tiny studio apartment in Venice Beach, CA. By June He was getting ready to head out to the national Rainbow Gathering. He had been telling me of these so-called "Rainbow Gatherings" for the duration of our time together. I actually had no intention of going to the Gathering at first.
Ironically, all of the other tenants in my building had initially exclaimed that they'd be going to the Gathering except for me, come July I was the only one going aside from Cocoon-- Who'd already left.
The U.S. Annual Rainbow Gathering is unique in that it is always for one week only and always starts on the first of July. Most Rainbow Gatherings around the world follow a lunar cycle from new moon to new moon. Although I knew none of this back then. All I knew was that in 2013 the U.S. Annual Rainbow Gathering would be in the state of Montana.
The lease on my Venice Beach apartment was up in June and I only found out in May that my management company was definitely going to raise my rent by a hundred bucks despite my plea to thwart the raise. I already worked like a mule to sustain my little nine-hundred dollar-a-month box, and suddenly they were going to charge me one-thousand bucks monthly. “Adios,” is what I told them. I took my security deposit back, and in a flash I had the necessary time and money on my hands to go to Montana!
As I mentioned earlier, when the time came around nobody from my building was still up for the adventure to Montana. Aside from Cocoon, who'd gone early, I was the only one seriously intending to go. Funny how life works sometimes. Cocoon had already left on his travels, and thankfully a spirited friend of mine, Tiana, joined me at the last minute.
April 2014 - Baja California, Mexico
Tiana and I had a fun trip getting to Montana. We were walking into an unknown adventure together and for me it would turn out to be a transformative journey that changed my life forever. The Gathering was in part of a national forest known as the "Big-Hole Basin" near the town of Jackson, Montana. Jackson, the nearest town, was roughly 15 miles from the Gathering. Jackson is a one street town that doesn’t even have a gas station.
After taking two cross state buses, and two hitch-hike rides, my friend Tiana and I arrived in the forest to find a temporary village of 10,000 people camping in the woods. I was blown away. It took me over 3 days to explore the vicinity of the Rainbow Gathering, and by the end of the week I was still very much piecing together all that I had experienced.
I was much more impressed and in awe than I had expected to be. Funnily I never even spent time with my friend Cocoon who had guided me there. I saw him on my second day briefly, and then only once more-- on the last day of the gathering, as he was on his way out. A hello and a goodbye was all. Tiana left near the final day as well. The Gathering ended after seven days but I felt that I couldn’t leave the forest. I had too many unanswered questions and too much more I wanted to learn about the rainbow movement. I stayed for the cleanup phase after the Gathering ended. Things got a lot more close and personal as the big masses of people left, and those who stayed to clean seemed to be real spiritual warriors.
Few camps stayed up to focalize the cleanup. One of which was called "Information Camp" where a large public info board existed. One of the largest and most attractive signs on the info board bore a message in large colorful letters exclaiming: “Caravan to the World Rainbow Gathering in B.C. Canada!”
Right before I left L.A. for Montana I had just finished reading a book, "The Alchemist,” by Paulo Coelho. In the book the protagonist joins a caravan across the Sahara which leads him to realizing his personal destiny. The synchronicity was obvious but there was one problem-- The world gathering was in British Colombia and I was traveling without my passport.
By the campfire later that night I expressed my disappointment about the fact that I couldn’t go. One brother in the circle sparked my hopes though. He informed me that he had attended the "vision counsels" of the rainbow caravan, and that he had informed them of a road that enters Canada in the middle of the forest far away from immigration control. He assured us that he personally knew of the road and that he had traveled it before. He also told us that many people in the caravan were traveling without passports. A Native American brother, Nigel, was siting next to me that night and we decided to hit the road together in chase of the caravan.
The sign said that the caravan was leaving from the town of Missoula roughly a week from that date. The next day we waited several hours by the road out of the forest and eventually we got a ride in a ridiculously over-packed car all the way to Dillon, Montana.
The next few days we slept on the streets, we walked until we couldn’t bare it anymore, we hitch-hiked with three different rides, and eventually we covered the 300 miles to Missoula. We arrived the day before the caravan was heading out. That evening the caravan were at a park near the river preparing for their final circle before hitting the road the following day.
It was a large group of about twenty people. Fifteen of them were on bicycles, three or four were hitch-hikers, and two were driving support vehicles with food and supplies. It was apparent that the heart of the group were the cyclists and that riding with them would be the most epic way to go.
I was so elated at having arrived in Missoula and at being at that circle that nothing could have gotten me to leave. Nigel, on the other hand, got up in the middle of the meeting and informed me that he was going off to see if he could borrow bicycles from his friends in town.
The circle ended and Nigel never showed up that night. I waited until late at the park and eventually I went and camped with the caravan. The next morning I bid them farewell since I had no bike and I found myself sitting at a homeless shelter in Missoula, Montana wondering what in the world I was going to do. Finally, around noon, Nigel showed up sweaty and full of anxiety.
He rushed me outside where I saw that he had a brand new bicycle. He told me that he didn’t have time to explain, and he urged me to hop on the handle bar for a ride. He rode me to the other side of town and stopped near a ditch. He jumped into the ditch where pulled out another shiny bike.
All I could wonder was, “where on earth did you get these bikes?!” Nigel replied impatiently, “ I stole them and I’m not gonna give them back, you wanna go or not?” He did have a point. Even if it wasn’t the most honest one.
With a tinge of uncertainty and lot of adrenaline we peddled off into the horizon after the rainbow caravan.
We chased them for four days until one morning, as had happened almost all the other mornings, Nigel was nowhere to be found. I had slept on the shore of Flathead Lake that night, and I was awoken by a park ranger the next morning who informed me that I couldn’t camp there. He was reasonable enough though and he told me that if I got out of my sleeping bag it wouldn’t be considered "camping." He then informed me that by all means I could "take a nap" by the lake shore. I got out of my sleeping bag and used it as a pillow instead.
Nigel and I had befriended a couple of french girls the night before on the lake shore. They were road tripping through the U.S. in a van. They stored our bikes for us that night so that we could sleep more stealthily. I was hanging out with them the next day by the lake looking out for Nigel who I never saw again.
Instead I spotted Eli and Marigold, a couple of rainbows from the caravan. Excitedly, I jumped up to greet them. Skylar, Antonio, and Kevin were also in their group and they informed me that they were the slow crew of the caravan. The others had gone faster on a more direct route north. "The slow crew" had taken a longer route around the lake-- thankfully for me, or else who knows what I would have done. I found out through them that Nigel and I hadn't even been riding on the same highway that the caravan had and that the faster half of them were already days ahead.
I had finally caught up to at least part of the caravan, but my road partner Nigel was nowhere to be found. We waited a few more hours for Nigel to appear but the group was anxious to get moving. Nigel never showed up. It took us a few days to link back up with the rest of the caravan who had set up camp in the town of Kalispell.
On the few days I spent with the slow crew we were hosted by a fanatical yet remarkably open-minded Jesus worshiper, we attended a Native American Pow-wow, we ate hundreds of delicious cherries from the side of the road, and we peddled through some beautiful countryside.
Eventually we caught up to the other half of the caravan who had been waiting at a great camping spot by a river. Those who'd been waiting were ready to move by the time we got there. The following day we hit to road towards the town of Whitefish, and beyond.
In the last little town before entering the forest we were hosted by a family who ran into us at a super market. They were so impressed by our crew of hippie cyclists that they offered us lodging in their home. We had been given a huge box of brown bananas by the supermarket and we put them to good use by baking tons of banana cake! We literally made between 20-30 cakes and the whole time that we spent at the families house we all had infinite cake to eat. It was wonderful.
When we got moving again our paved road days were over. All fifteen cyclists in the caravan rode into the forest together, and the first day all of us pulled through. We camped beside a huge river that night. The second day we were all riding off again in good spirits. However early onto the day the road condition deteriorated to the point where we were literally riding on what felt like a bumpy washboard while we went up and down hills. After a few miles on this road members of the caravan had had enough. We took a break by an icy turquoise river where half the caravan decided to turn back. The only ones who remained either didn’t have passports and/or were the most adventurous of the pack. Of the fifteen riders in the caravan eight of us charged forth into the forest on the washboard roads.
Eventually, to our deep gratitude, the washboard conditions smoothed out. Riding on dirt roads never felt so nice after that. It took us one more riding day to get within striking distance of the border. Since we were crossing illegally, or as we liked to call it "naturally," we went to sleep really early the night before we reached the border. The next morning we were up before the sun on our way to the frontier. We decided that it was best to go in small groups. Brian and I were the first to go. Indeed there was a road that led to Canada, and all that stopped us from crossing was a big sign that read something like, “DO NOT CROSS! INTERNATIONAL BORDER!” On bicycles it was easy to slip passed the car gate. Once on the other side it was like we had fire on our heels. We must have peddled twenty miles before we even looked back.
We crossed a beautiful river, and decided to hide the bikes and make a little fire from where we could keep an eye on the bridge. A couple hours later the rest of the group arrived. They informed us that two of our crew had fallen back before the border. Skyler had crashed on a steep downhill and his bike was damaged beyond repair, and Nico awoke to find out that the spokes on his rear wheel were snapping.
We were in Canada and suddenly there were only six of us: Chelsea, Brettashley, Travis, Bryan, Michael, and I. It was almost hard to believe, but when we ran into an older couple driving an SUV with Alberta plates, reality started sinking in. Their quirky Canadian accents were remarkably different and they confirmed that we really were out of the U.S.A. We rode to the point of exhaustion that day, and I remember grudgingly pushing myself way beyond my comfort zone. Just when I was about to throw a hissy fit Michael found a camping spot that was beautiful beyond words. He must have sensed it because he convinced all of us to follow him across a shallow river, under huge tree trunks, to an island in the river. I was almost at the point of cursing him until I realized that we had found a little slice of paradise.
We eventually made it out of the forest and we reconnected with other half of the caravan in a small B.C. town. It took another week or two to make it to Nelson. Nelson was near to where the gathering was going to take place but there were some complications with the location. The original spot they'd chosen was in the Slocan valley near to the town of Winlaw. It was a poor choice though since it was so close to a densely populated community. The residents of the town complained and in no time the hippies were removed from the forest by the mounties (Canadian police).
A lady who lived in the Slocan valley offered her large property nearby for the World Rainbow Gathering. Even though she had a beautiful land, along the Slocan river, the hardcore rainbows refused her offer because having the Gathering on her land violated the rainbow tradition of not having Gatherings on private lands. Those rainbows who insisted on having the rainbow on public land traveled across the province of British Colombia. They went all the way to Vancouver Island where they started another Gathering. Many people had already traveled from afar to reach the Slocan Valley and they didn't want to travel more than a thousand extra miles to reach Vancouver Island. The fortunes had it that there were two World Gatherings that year.
The Gathering at the woman's land went forth and so did the one on the island. The caravan split almost in half; some of the group hitch-hiked the thousand miles to the island while others stayed back at the Slocan Valley Gathering. I was part of the group that stayed back. I stayed in the Slocan valley Gathering until just passed the full moon.
B.C. Rainbow Gathering
A few nights after the full moon I was talking to a Quebecois sister who was driving her van to Vancouver. A brother from the caravan, J.R., and I hopped in the ride. Soon later I was on the pacific coast. I attended the end of the Vancouver Island Gathering which was on the shores of Kennedy lake. Appropriately the Gathering was on "Rainbow Beach." Afterwards the hippies invaded the city of Victoria where we set up camp on the shores of the pacific.
The caravan had evolved. New riders had joined and others had left. The day we were set to leave Victoria my stolen bicycle was stolen from me. There was a homeless shelter where members of the caravan and other rainbows who were in town would gather on most mornings for free breakfast. Upset, I went to the shelter and as I was expressing to some brothers how my bike had been stolen an old Quebecois ex-Hells Angel overheard me. The ragged man who had befriended us during our time there told me that he had a solution. I followed him a few blocks as he limped down the city streets to a set of crappy looking bikes chained to a light post. He assured me that he put old accessories on good frames so that thieves wouldn't want to steal them. After he changed the saddle, helped me put on new tires, and replaced the chain, the bike looked worthy of the trip. It was a steel frame Bianchi mountain bike with a cool BMX style wide handle bar, big peddles, and a robust feel. The friendly man only charged me $10 for the bike and in a flash I was ready to roll again.
That night the caravan rode off together with uncertainty as to where our destination was. The idea was to ride south to the U.S. and eventually California. Trouble was that we were on an island, some of us didn’t have passports, and others were in Canada illegally. We rode that night to a town where we heard there were large marinas. The idea was to try to find a boater to give us a little lift across the channel. It was a nice dream but the next day it just didn’t seem realistic trying to find a boater to transport fifteen hippies with bicycles illegally into the U.S.
After some failed marina scouts we all joined together for a talking circle. Half of the caravan decided that they were simply going to go to the U.S via the ferry/immigration, and the other half decided that we were going to continue looking for boats. Out of all the members of the original caravan I was the only one who stayed back to look for clandestine boats. All of the others who stayed back were Canadians who either didn’t have passports or for other reasons were denied entry to the U.S.. We bid farewell to the others and the Canadians and I took off towards another small island in the archpellagio-- Salt Spring Island.
Off a tip from somebody we headed towards the town of Sydney to catch a ferry to Salt Spring Island where we heard rumors of pirate boaters who lived for free in the bay. I ended up spending about two weeks on the awesome little island of Salt Spring. We lived off of dumpster diving, the food bank, and asking restaurants for leftovers. We had a sweet camping spot above the town of Ganges with a beautiful birds eye view of town and bay.
Indeed we met the pirate boaters who evade rent and live off of charity. None of them however were keen on illegally transporting us to the U.S. After about two weeks of homeless life on Salt Spring, reality was starting to get blurry. I was itching to move again and the boat search was a waiting game I wasn’t so sure I could withstand anymore. Online I connected with a sister, Krista, who I’d met at the gathering.
Krista was in Victoria and she told me that she had a bike and wanted to join the caravan. I bid my Canadian friends goodbye, Gabriel, Julie, Charlie & Kyle, and I headed out to meet up with Krista. Luckily for me Krista is a U.S. citizen and with both of our bikes it was easy for me to fabricate a story to the immigration officials saying that I 'lost my passport while camping.' I had my California I.D. on hand. The immigration lady didn’t like it but she waved me through with a furrowed brow. A ferry dropped us off on San Juan Island and I was safely back in ‘Murika.
Krista and I did a training ride on San Juan Island where she realized that she wasn’t quite ready for the bike life. I suddenly had a decision to make; Either leave the bicycle or continue peddling solo in chase of the caravan. Bike travel was the best thing that had happened to me since the rainbow gathering which was the best thing that had happened to me in a long time. For the first time I hit the road solo. First I had to take a ferry off of San Juan Island. My solo journeys on bike commenced in the town of Anacortes, Washington.
I had a couple of smooth riding days until just passed the town of Marysville where a blackberry bush popped one of my tires. At that stage in my bike-travel life I was still very inexperienced and didn’t travel with patches, spare tubes, or even a pump. The next day I pushed my bicycle towards my destination, Everett, hoping that someone would pick me up along the way. Nobody stopped for me and I ended up pushing my bike over twenty miles.
I arrived in the grungy city of Everett in the evening and the first thing I did was to catch a bus to Seattle. I had to make up some time to catch the caravan and I also had an old friend, Helen, who was living in the city. We'd spoken and Helen had told me that she’d host me for a couple of nights. I arrived in the big city just before dark and I found the nearest pay-phone to call Helen. She answered the phone but she was dismayed to find out that I hadn’t seen her last message she'd sent me online. Apparently a last minute errand came up and she couldn’t host me that night.
All of a sudden I was all alone with just over $10 in my pocket in one of the biggest cities in the U.S.. I had nowhere to go and darkness was falling. It was an emergency so I called my father to see if there was any way he could help me. Whatever the case was he couldn’t send me money that night. My father suggested that I find a hostel where he could wire money to. Normally I’d be fine finding a place to sleep in a park or hidden away behind some bushes somewhere, but in a city like Seattle that seemed like a grim prospect. I asked a couple of hostels if somebody else could pay for me by phone but they all said no. I rolled my bicycle around the looming city at night looking for a place I where I could stealthily sleep. There were too many rugged street people around and nowhere seemed safe. Eventually I spotted another hostel in the China town district, and decided to give them a try. Luckily, the friendly clerk behind the desk agreed to my unorthodox payment method, and we phoned my father. That night I felt like a proper tourist with my own bed and all! The next day I met up with Helen at a coffee shop. We exchanged stories of how our lives had changed since we’d last seen each other in the rooms of young people’s A.A meetings in L.A. I spent the next couple of nights at her apartment.
While I was in Seattle I found out that two members of the caravan were not too far ahead of me. They were in the town of Olympia only 60 miles south. The next day I hopped on a bus to catch up with them. Brettashley and Jonathan had split from the other caravaners and were on a little honeymoon. I joined them as a third wheel but it didn’t bother me at first because it was nice to be with rainbow family again.
They were staying with a warmshowers host and that was my first warmshowers experience. We stayed a couple of days there. Since we were so far north from the other caravaners we decided to find "craigslist rideshares" to Portland. We found two different rides and the next day we met up again in Portland-- where we stayed at another warmshowers house. Two other touring cyclists from Alberta showed up, Lee and Michael. Lee and Michael were on a serious tour all the way to South America. They arrived after us and left before us.
I started feeling like the love birds were on their own trajectory and it didn’t seem like they were getting ready to move any time soon. Although we started feeling pressure from our warmshowers' hosts who were tired of having us at their house. I remember on one of those days I was feeling really confused and unsure about what to do next. I needed a new hoody so I went to the salvation army. Not only did I find a cool hoody but it also answered my dilema. The logo on the hoody said, "Cycle Oregon."
The next morning I took off solo towards the unknown. I ended up peddling from Portland, Oregon all the way to Arcata, California. I basically traversed the entire state of Oregon solo which greatly boosted my confidence bicycle traveling. Arcata is where several of the caravan members had ended up. Some of the caravaners were natives to Arcata and others were there because it was trim season. I figured I’d hang around and see if I could find some work cutting weed. I was in the "emerald triangle" after all. Many people chasing the "green rush" camp out in the woods around Arcata. One day I bumped into one of the caravaners, Justin, who showed me to his camping spot. Nothing like camping in the redwoods with friends.
I spent a couple of weeks camping in the Arcata forrest and I never got any work. I did however connect with a few members of the caravan and other rainbow family who were around there at that time. It was nice seeing Michael and Chelsea, two of the six who I had crossed into Canada with. I was out of money. I didn’t want to ask my dad for more and it didn’t seem like I was going to get any work around there. Frankly I was getting a bit tired of the homeless life. A couple days after halloween I took off with my last $20 down the California coast. I rode the first day to Eureka where I camped in the park. The next day, as I was peddling off, an SUV slowed down next to me on the highway. A voice exclaimed, “Hey you wanna ride?!” This seemed like a God sent at that moment, so I jumped in the ride.
I found out within the next couple of hours that the two teenagers who were driving the SUV had stolen it from their aunt who was out of town. They had essentially $0 which is why they picked me up. They were driving erratically and didn’t have drivers licenses. Realizing the critical situation I was in all I could do was to be an agent of the light. I helped give them some consciousness about the gravity of their decisions and I did my best to pass them that message in a language that they’d respect. I also helped them with gas money, and despite the adrenaline-filled ride they got me all the way to Fairfax, California.
Fairfax is near to where my mother lived on her first trip to the United States in the eighties, and many of my family's Brazilian/American friends live around there. Tereka and Richard are friends of my parents since before I was born. I had been planing to go spend time with them since my return to the States. Tereka greeted me in her wild and excitable way. Tereka and Richard opened their home to me, and I would spend the next several months living there.
The only conditions that they had for me was that I kept the space clean, didn’t bring over strangers, and either went to school or worked while I was there. It was more than fair. I had a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and a loving family. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to get into during my time there, and I imagined that I would delve into activism, since I was in one of the most "liberal" parts of the world. I got two jobs within my first month; One as a barista at a gourmet supermarket, and one as a server at a Brazilian Pizzeria. The rest of the time I looked for ways that I could jump into activism. It seemed like most of the activity was happening in and around Oakland which was quite a distance from Fairfax. During one of my trips to "the city" (San Francisco) my bicycle was stolen. It seemed like my bike karma had gone full circle. My stolen bicycle was stolen, and then my following bike was stolen. I hoped I was finally karmically balanced but suddenly I needed new wheels.
Luckily for me Richard is a bike mechanic and he had a spare bike I could borrow. Around this time I also found out about an awesome bike shop in the neighboring town of San Anselmo. The shop was none other than The Bicycle Works.
The Bicycle Works is a sweet bike community center started by young guy named Jelani. Jelani has a vision of converting car to electric bikes, and also creating a space where people can come and work on their own bikes as well as build their own bicycle with a huge inventory of used parts. I started doing volunteer work at the bicycle works on my spare time. In exchange I received $10 an hour credit towards their used bike inventory, as well as full use of their tools and workshop. My existence in Fairfax had been relatively lonely until I started volunteering at the bicycle works. In fact, the folks at the bicycle works were the first friends my age that I made in town. Things were starting to pick up for me but I still had no idea of my next move.
Upon talking to Richard one night the idea of peddling a bike to South America arose. Richard had ridden a bicycle from Northern California all the way to Baja California back in the 70’s, and talking to him was the first spark of the idea to take off south on a bike. Online I had been following the two cyclists, Lee and Michael, who I’d met back in Portland. Their bike trip all through Mexico and into Central America was very inspirational. Several of the rainbow family I had met in my travels were traveling through Latin America at that time. My caravan brother Michael had hitchhiked down to Costa Rica, and he was living at a permanent rainbow community called the Rainbow Crystal Land. It was as if I didn’t have to think much-- my journey was unfolding itself.
My path was becoming clearer and clearer by the day. Two very inspirational books I had read back-to-back had mentioned another book called the "Iching," and so I sought out the book. I found a copy of the Iching at a spiritual book store and bought it without any idea of what it actually was. The Iching is a divination book that tells the future. I asked the book if I should peddle my bicycle down to South America, and it’s response was something like, “You are considering a very perilous and grand mission. If you take this mission upon yourself you will attain many fortunes and you will be protected. However, you are not ready yet and need to consolidate your forces.” In retrospect I know that there could not have been a better message for me at that time.
I took the message to heart and I ran with it 100%. With the help of Richard, Jelani, and Brett I began building my current bike at the Bicycle Works; La Bomba Diggidad. A couple of months later I had a top notch bike, mechanic skills under my belt, all the supplies for bike travel, and roughly $2000 of money I had saved up.
I asked the Iching if the time was right to hit the road. This time the oracle told me something like, “You are on the right track. Do not look back and ride the current with all your force.” I heeded the message and it gave me lots of mental strength on my first few days riding down the California coast. Mentally some of the most challenging days of my bike travel were my first days out of Fairfax. I sang rainbow songs, meditated, and broke many barriers in my mind. I think part of it was that my destination was so far away that it was like a mental mountain weighing down on my psyche. The rest of the story you can read/watch below!