Where Paul Flowers has been: Florida (born); Wales (toddler); Nashville (teen-ager); ninth grade (dropped out); San Francisco (headed there at 17); homeless (once he arrived); college (off and on); Pentagon (Navy intelligence); divinity school (virtually); and Baltimore (bike messenger, coffeehouse waiter and ponderer of the universe).
Where Flowers is going: New Orleans (to talk to voodoo priests); Arizona (to meet with Hopi elders); Central America (to visit Mayan ruins); Egypt (pyramids); Italy (Vatican); Tibet (Buddhist monks) and Australia (aborigines).
How he is getting there: A recumbent bicycle, upon which - with $42 in his pocket - he got off to a wobbly start on Jan. 26, the first leg of what he describes as a part spiritual, part scientific, mostly unfunded expedition around the world to interview its indigenous elders, visit its sacred sites and seek the answers to life's mysteries.
"I don't want to sound like an X-Files cliche, but I want to know the truth - where we really came from and why we're really here," Flowers said in an interview before his departure.
"There are answers," he added, sitting in the office of what he calls "The Harmonies Project" and scratching the ears of his Saint Bernard. "It's just a matter of looking in the right places and asking the right people the right questions."
Paul Flowers, who seems to have way too much on his resume - and in his head - for a 26-year-old, says he has been looking for those answers about half his life. When he was 13, he said, his mother gave him a deck of Tarot cards, a Bible, a giant amethyst crystal and a book on witchcraft, telling him there were equal truths in all, and that it was up to him to separate "the wheat from the chaff."
If Flowers sounds a bit unconventional, he acknowledges as much when he introduces himself on his Web site:
"My name is Dr. P.W. Flowers, D.D. I am an ex-Naval Intelligence counter-terrorism analyst, and have been doing research in the fields of archaeoanthropology, archaeocryptography, archaeotheology, World Religion, Astrophysics, and Pythagorean Mathematics for several years. But I have strayed from the mainstream belief structure. ... I and my colleagues are positing that the ... accepted theories of the origins and age of 'modern man' are completely wrong ... "
Flowers declines to talk much about his family or the year he spent in the Office of Naval Intelligence, but in piecing together his colorful past it's clear that the "mainstream belief structure" is not all Flowers has strayed from.
An only child who says he never knew his father, Flowers is no longer on speaking terms with his mother, Paulette Flowers, a former television writer who lives in Tennessee and writes a syndicated column about country music.
He was fired from his most recent job, at a Baltimore coffeehouse, mainly because he talked too much, the owner says, and at least one regular customer there - after Flowers failed to follow through on his promise to perform his wedding ceremony - is still peeved at him.
Flowers' doctorate in divinity is from an Arizona-based church that has ordained 18 million ministers - anyone who applies, free of charge - and now offers online ordinations in three minutes.
And his stint with Navy intelligence - during which he managed to obtain his master's degree in psychology and the recumbent bicycle he had longed for since childhood - ended with an early discharge for reasons neither he nor the Navy will comment on.
Records show that Flowers enlisted in the Navy in August 2000. Before he was discharged in February 2002, he spent six months in training and another year as an intelligence specialist in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland.
His duties often took him to the Pentagon, Flowers said. He was there on Sept. 11, 2001.
He stayed on the scene several days, helping take food to disaster workers, and during that time he was quoted in an Atlanta newspaper article about the recovery effort.
Today, he sidesteps questions about his intelligence work. "I learned a bunch of interesting things in the Navy, most of which I can't talk about," he says. "I think I learned a little bit more than I wanted to know."
An enigmatic sort, Flowers smokes and is a vegetarian. He has an English accent, though he grew up mostly in Tennessee. His musical diversions include classical piano and the didgeridoo. He stands 6 feet tall, weighs 155 pounds, and sports a red pony tail and goatee. At the house he shared with five roommates on Linwood Street in Baltimore, the answering machine announces, "Linwood Home For Wayward Weirdos."
Those who know him, while admitting he can go on at great length about subjects dear to him, admire his motivation, envy his adventurousness and praise his unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
"He is very much an inspiration to me," said Randy Sullivan, director of a new nonprofit organization called the Living Tree Foundation, which Flowers helped incorporate. "He is super motivated. He has some pretty strong beliefs, but I don't think any of them are too crazy. Some of them are very inspirational and very eye-opening."
"He's looking for answers to many of life's questions," said another friend, Anne Brown. "I don't always agree with him, but to just decide I'm going to take off on my bike and explore the world, I think that's pretty amazing."
On Jan. 26, after one false start, that's exactly what Flowers did.
He had loaded up his Haluzak Horizon recumbent bicycle the night before with his books, journals, didgeridoo, portable ham radio, business cards he hand-typed and keeps in an Altoids tin, and a book of blank receipts for those who donate to his trip along the way. He packed two weeks' worth of food and enough clothes "for the four different climate types in which I will find myself." He says the journey will take five to 10 years.
Over the past month, he sold most of his belongings and found a new home for his Saint Bernard, Grandy. He kept the collar and cut a lock of the dog's hair, to take with him on his trip.
Flowers has given his bicycle a Latin name, "Patientia de Testudo" (Patience of the Tortoise). Attached to its frame are an international banner of peace and a sticker that says "My other car is impounded."
After a wobbly test spin, Flowers decided his load was too heavy and unbalanced.
He jettisoned some books, some clothing, a few potatoes and keepsakes. Although it would drop his funds to less than $40, he planned to stop at a bookstore on his way out of town to buy a Maryland map and more Moleskine notebooks, in which he records his thoughts.
"I'm not really worried about money at all," he said. "If I needed more than $42 right now, I would have more than $42 right now."
Everything that happens, Flowers believes, happens for a reason. Conversely, everything that doesn't happen - like contributions to his cause - was meant not to happen.
Few of the items Flowers named on his Web site "wish list" - mostly bike and camping supplies - were donated, although one woman provided a portable water filter and a rack for his bike bags.
Nor did Flowers fret about not having the new front and rear derailleurs he needed, both damaged when his bike was stolen last year. The parts, which he had ordered and paid for with proceeds from the sale of his futon, finally arrived two days before his planned departure.
Flowers, who gets a partial Navy pension of $1,700 a month, estimates the trip will cost at least $5,000, and says any excess contributions will be "donated to Third World relief efforts."
In addition to the offers of free food and shelter he expects to receive on the road, Flowers hopes to get enough donations on the American portion of his trip to fund the rest. He planned to ride to Frederick the first day, then on to Harpers Ferry, W.Va., following mostly back roads. He also had stops planned in Floyd, Va., and Asheville, N.C., home of the friend who will be updating his Web site for him.
The Web site (http://harmoniesproject.tripod.com) announced the planned start of the expedition this way: "I will be leaving Baltimore, MD on the weekend of Gregorian: 25 January, 2003; 13 Moon Mayan: 16 Resonant, Yellow Spectral Human, and headed to Brunswick, GA ... "
Flowers ended up leaving the next day. He plans to spend one or two months in Brunswick, Ga., leading workshops on building and gardening at the Hostel in the Forest.
From Georgia, he plans to visit New Orleans to talk to voodoo priests; head north to Monk's Mound in Cahokia, Ill., and then stop in New Mexico to see the Los Lunas stone, a rock whose puzzling inscriptions have baffled scientists for centuries.
After that he'll head to Arizona, where he hopes to spend time with Hopi tribal elders.
He hopes also to see Mayan elders in Guatemala, Kukuyu elders in Kenya, and Maori elders in New Zealand, although he has not arranged any meetings or interviews.
"I'll work it out when I get there," Flowers says.
He expects to cover 60 miles to 150 miles a day on his bicycle, which has 27 gears, 21 of which work. He will cross bodies of water by boarding freighters or tramp steamers, or by signing on as a crew member. "Transoceanic crossing is not a problem," he said.
He plans to take a train between Greece and India to avoid Middle East trouble spots, which he says could be extra dangerous to a former U.S. intelligence specialist.
Flowers is at odds with U.S. policy toward Iraq, which he describes as "an inherently destructive position."
"The world is rather like this house," he said. "There are six people living here, and we have to figure out how to all live together without killing each other. What we haven't learned yet is love."
Flowers believes there is much to be learned from all religions, including non-Christian ones. He thinks the world should convert to the Mayan calendar, which he says is more harmonious.
The Mayan calendar's cycle ends in 2012, a year that some are prophesying could bring the end of the world or some lesser catastrophe, but Flowers is not that pessimistic.
He does believe, however, that the Earth was probably occupied by another, earlier civilization, one wiped out in a giant catastrophe. That theory, he says, has been bolstered by the discovery of models that resemble warplanes in Rameses' crypt, and to what some believe are water erosion marks on the Sphinx, indicating it was built some 7,000 years earlier than accepted.
"You don't hear about any of this in the news or National Geographic or college geology classes because it takes away their money," Flowers says. "All the grants and all the research go into propagating misinformation based on 200-year-old theories.
"Mainstream scientists would have you believe there is no point to it - that we're just kind of here by accident. They've taken God entirely out of the equation."
Flowers believes that all religions are "interconnected and convey pieces of information about the universe." Mankind, he says, has either forgotten or twisted this information.
He believes he can reassemble it by going to the elders of various cultures and hearing their oral histories.
Flowers said his degree - although the Universal Life Church grants them in exchange for a "free will offering" of $30 - was based on "the 13 years of personal research that I have conducted throughout my life" and his written thesis, from which The Harmonies Project was spawned.
"Diplomas are just pieces of paper," he says. "You can go to the library and get just as good an education as you can at a university as long as you have people to talk to."
Flowers - with people to talk to, crop circles to investigate and mystery mounds to ponder - smoked his last few cigarettes, finished off his relaxing tea and tucked the leg of his Navy overalls into his sock.
Repacked, he would soon be off, pedaling down Linwood Street, headed first to find a map of Maryland, then to solve the mysteries of life.