After almost a month of vegetating on the beach and then in San Cristobal de las Casas, we are finally back on the road today. For those that haven’t heard yet, we were robbed while sleeping on the Oaxaca coast in a town called Mazunte. We’d gotten a little bit lazy from being in Mexico so long and in non-touristic places where people are a little less… uhh, trashy, or as they say here, desmadre. We were camped on the beach and had our bag of valuables bungeed to a chair that was right next to our heads in our hammocks. The waves masked the sound and he was able to pull it away and then go through the bag and got some expensive crap. He also went through our bikes and stole Brandy’s shoes, which was especially annoying, and a couple tools. Worst of all, he got an avocado. There was supposed to be a night guard, but he didn’t do shit, or he did it, or whatever. Either way, we were sloppy and got burned. From what we heard from others after the event, theft is quite rampant in Mazunte. Needless to say, this put a bit of brakes on our trip, especially the shoe situation. We ended up just hanging around Mazunte for something like two weeks figuring out what we were going to do next and trying to get some enjoyment out of the place. After all, it is the kind of place that we probably would have loved if we didn’t have the negativity. We made some new friends and re-met someone we’d volunteered with over the summer, and also helped out at this crazy Italian guy’s pizzeria. I really wish we had a camera because the image of him sticking pizzas into his outdoor wood-fired oven with his shirt off, tied around his head like a turban while smoking a joint in front of a palapa full of customers is classic.
We did finally get over our negativity and had some good times and really good food in Mazunte and Brandy even managed to find the best hammock ever, which is hopefully on its way to Wisconsin right now. We finally decided to get moving. We’d been trying to decide if we’d ride or take a bus to San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. We finally chose the bus because we’ve heard nothing good about the hot, boring, wind-blown ride between Mazunte and Chiapas and we wanted to try to go shopping to replace our stuff nearby San Cristobal and the cycling would have meant we’d skip it.
We were very glad that we did the bus because we immediately loved San Cristobal. In fact, if we hadn’t met so many great people in Oaxaca city, we’d have been mighty disappointed that we spent over a month there instead of San Cristobal. It’s nicer in almost every way. We also managed to replace almost all of our stuff, including randomly stumbling across the exact model of Brandy’s missing, beloved camera. We hadn’t expected to find it because they hadn’t been selling it in Mexico when we bought it last year. They had released a newer model in the US and sent the remainders down here, apparently. We snagged the only one they had at this huge department store called Liverpool.
We so wished that we could spend some more time in San Cristobal, but not only is our Mexico visa running out, but Brandy is signed up for some total immersion Spanish classes at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and I am signed up for a 10-day silent meditation thing that I’m still on the fence about. Not only that, but we have been in Mexico SO long that it really is time to just get going if we are going to be able to spend any time enjoying the rest of the countries we’ll be in.
It felt really good to be moving again, even if the climbing really kicked my ass because I wasn’t feeling very well. We left in the afternoon because Brandy was helping a girl at the hostel to make this nose warmer thing she’d been dreaming of, so we didn’t get too far. It doesn’t matter. The scenery was beautiful and we had a wonderful long downhill at the end of the day, even if it was riddled with topes (speed bumps). The change in feeling between sitting around and being on the bike is exhilarating. We’re almost regretting our commitments in Guatemala, but they will both be great experiences and, oh boy am I looking forward to Brandy leveling up in her Spanish.
It’s good to be moving and we’re excited to finally be entering another country after so long. Take care, my friends.
And, I was about to post this when the power went out, which of course meant, no internet. It’s good to be back in the middle of nowhere.
I started writing this when we first crossed the border and I realized we had just entered a world unknown. Lewis and I have been chipping away at it since then, and finally it is complete! It means a lot to us that you know how grateful we are.
Photo complements of Paul Downey.
It is Christmas day and we have crossed into Mexico. We are delayed in the border town of Agua Prieta, in a little hotel a bit outside of the center. The weather is keeping us… today a south wind blows hard enough to fill the streets with waves of dust and bits of trash. We decided last night there was no way we would be able to make it the 35 miles to Frontera in 20-30mph head winds. We didn’t even consider that there would be dust too.
We spent the morning walking around the town, which somehow feels full of life even though the streets are mostly void of people and most businesses are closed for the holiday. Is it the brightly colored buildings? The stray dogs? Maybe it is just the wind.
After a long and comfortable tramp around the north and west of the U.S., we have finally made it into territory more or less unknown. Even the maps are vague. It is exciting to think of the possibilities of what may lie ahead; more truthfully, the thrill is in the possibilities we can’t think of… the unexpected. But we also feel as if we have jumped out of the nest. There will be no more regular visits and long layovers with friends and family. We are so grateful for their time and support during our “training” months in our home country. We are so grateful to everyone who has made the beginnings of our adventure easier, pre-arranged hosts and random strangers too! Not to mention the fun we had spending time with all of them.
We want to write a chronological special thanks to everyone who has welcomed us into their homes since we we moved out of our apartment in May 2014. We have received so much generosity and kindness and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. I wish we had the writing stamina to thank every individual who has been a part of our journey, but we must limit it to those who have sheltered us. But believe us, you are all appreciated!
Walter, Sandra, and Joseph, Brandy’s family, who took care of us for 10 or so days on their Virginia farm. Thanks for holding on to a van-load of things we just couldn’t part with for this time that we are homeless!
Melissa, thanks for putting me (Lewis) up and for your friendship and inspiration/reality about online business. I hope you can keep up living the dream.
Lauren and Misha, thanks for letting us crash on your LES, NYC couch multiple times. Why didn’t we have more sleepovers when we were living there? Thanks for holding our bikes while we were in Hawaii!
Austin and Elyza, our best festie buddies! Always a pleasure staying over at your NJ domicile. You totally saved our Hawaii vacation by lending us your super old school digi camera when we couldn’t find ours.
Eric and Galia in Brooklyn. I don’t think I need to say anything here. You already know.
Steve and Samantha on the UWS, NYC. Good times are always in store with you, us and some great beers. Thank you for busting out the good stuff and giving us a roof for the night, and for your friendship throughout our NYC life.
Yaroo and Brad in the East Village, NYC, I can’t believe we never watched Portlandia before! Thanks for that enlightenment. Brandy is really missing snowboarding with you guys!
Mike, host of the volleyball party on Molokai, thanks for letting us strangers camp in your yard! We met many great people at your party, which changed the course of our time on Molokai.
Jon and Hannah, whom we met at Mike’s party, the shelter on top of the hill behind your little house was magical. What a view! It was great sharing dinner together, you are a lovely couple.
Johnny, whom we also met at Mike’s party, thanks so much for showing us your organic farm and giving us a place to camp for a night. And thanks to Stormy for upgrading the accommodations to a nearby beach house. The fresh sushi was amazing, and the mangroves were haunting in the best possible way!
Cameron and Shane on Maui. We dropped in without a plan and you guys scooped us up and let us join your island lives for a bit. Thanks for showing us so many amazing places and spending some great time with us.
Alice and friend Cori on Maui. Alice, your children are beautiful and our little loft in your round house was wonderful! Thanks for taking us out to Hana and introducing us to Cori, who let us stay at the fabulous BnB she worked at.
Thanks to the ex-military squatter in Kona that we found camped out in the only jungled lot in town. Your stories were fascinating!
Jess, Eric and family for sharing your home and delicious meals with us and showing us around your corner of the island. We probably wouldn’t have otherwise gone to all the spots you took us and we loved getting to the market for the food there to change up the generally bland backpacker’s diet we’d been subsisting on.
Thanks to the jogging lady outside of Saratoga for letting us pitch our tent in your backyard when our other camping lead could not be found. You saved us just in time to take shelter from an intense storm!
Tim and Maureen, our Warm Showers hosts in Saratoga. You made us feel immediately comfortable and at home. It was great meeting you and spending an evening with you. Thank you for letting filthy cyclists come through the cleanest house I’ve ever seen. We hope to see you somewhere out here.
Colleen in MI, hanging with you is always good times. It was great to see the farm and do some pond floating. We have been using your kale shucking trick every time since. Thanks for giving us an excuse to go to the Phish show, as if we really needed one.
Mike and Sam in Chicago. Thank you for handing over the keys to your place while you were gone for the weekend. Mike, I’m glad you were able to rouse yourself from your birthday couch flop when we showed up super late so we could spend some time before you rolled out.
Liz, your openness and hospitality is always astounding. Thank you for giving us the option of your place during the Phish shows. I’m glad we were able to spend some time with you while we were there. Chicago wouldn’t be the same without you.
Cesar and Stephanie thank you for having us at your spot in West Bend for a few days. Thanks also for being open to my sometimes random and unanticipated appearances. We hope to see you in Panama, whenever we get there!
Jesse thanks for putting us up in Milwaukee and hooking us up with the fatty ride out past the burbs. It’s always great to see you, and that ain’t gonna change. Wisco represent!
Deb, Lewis’s ma, thanks for giving us a little break from carrying all the crap, at least for a day. It was great to finally spend some real time in your house. We had great fun kyaking with you and Jim. Thanks for visiting us on the road too!
Jake and April in Ringle, thanks for putting us up for the night, despite the fact that you thought it was the next week. It was nice to hang out with old friends after a long and perilous day. The veggies from your garden were delicious!
Len and Dawn, thanks for all that you always do when we’re there and for acting as our mail forwarding service. Dad, thanks also for getting into the bikes with us and helping us load up on tools and parts for the long road ahead.
Bob from Warm Showers, thank you for hosting us in Wisconsin Rapids and the delicious pizza. We had a lovely time with you and your family, and a great night’s rest. I hope you get a chance to host more in the future.
Hannah, thanks for putting together the Buckhorn camping trip and bringing some great beer, and for just being downright awesome.
Jennifer and Mikey, thanks for taking us and all our shit to Madison so we could spend an extra couple days there, and also for hosting us at your owl-infested apartment. By the way, there is a ridiculously steep hill lurking around a blind corner not more than a mile from your place. We had to push!
Jack and Cathy from Warm Showers, thank you for hosting us in Everett and feeding us some great meals. We certainly were tempted to stay several more days, but that really wouldn’t have made much sense taking rest days on the first day of our tour.
Pete in Conway, thank you for flagging us down right as we were about to start looking for a spot to camp and offering your land in that beautiful place. We didn’t even get carried away by giant slugs either.
Brendan, the Couchsurfer on San Juan Isle who accepted our very last minute request when our ferry was canceled and we had to change plans. After a hard few days of hilly biking, your back yard jungle hot tub was just what the doctor ordered. We hope we have helped restore your faith in CS, you certainly have helped ours!
Diana, Orin and doggies, thanks for driving us around Vancouver Isle. It was great to finally meet and get to know you a bit! I hope we’ll have a chance to cycle through your part of the world sometime in the future.
Justin, there are very few CSers we’ve had the pleasure of hosting, and then visiting on their home turf. Your little house with your wife in the woods is wonderful, and your folks were so kind to let us stay in the empty room at their BnB. It was great playing games with you, and visiting the beaches near Sooke. Brandy has the feather your pops made for us attached to her bike handlebars… so cool!
Rebecca, J.Crew just wasn’t the same for Brandy after you left! We couldn’t pass through the NW without visiting you in Seattle. Your apartment with the rooftop view was amazing. Thanks for helping Brandy slim down her travel wardrobe, and for giving her the long sleeve tee she is wearing right now!
Heidi, our Warm Showers host in Port Angeles, thank you for your kind hospitality and for convincing us to take the 101. It was beautiful and very reasonable. But when you talk about hills, make sure you remind the listener that you are a hill climbing racer. It wasn’t the big one after Lake Crescent that got us, it was the climb up to Sol Duc that laid us out (well, Lewis at least).
Anson and doggies, we are glad we kept running into you that day on the Olympic Peninsula. Good thing Lewis was wearing his Wisconsin Tee (which has since been retired to rags, sadly). Thanks for driving us to Oregon, and all of the great travel hospitality you gave us. You’re a great camping buddy!
Di’s dad Rick, thanks for letting us crash a few nights at your house in the SW Portland hills. It was great to get to know you, and see you again a few months later! Oh and Di was there too … so great to spend time with you outside of the Phish environment!
Allan and Annie and baby in Portland, what a pleasure it was to reconnect with you guys after all these years. Thanks for taking us in for so many days and spending some good times with us, despite being in recovery mode.
Tracey our Couchsurfing host in Bend, thank you for taking us in and showing us some fabled great breweries of Bend. We had a fun and comfortable time for the days we were there. Your dog is awesome too. Someday he’ll get those darn f**kers!
Araby in Corvallis, you were far too kind in letting us borrow your car for a couple of weeks, but we are so glad you did… it made so many great things possible for us. Including taking you, and a traveling young woman from Australia that we picked up in Cali, to your first Phish shows!
Julie and Tristan in Myrtle Point, thanks for having us at your awesome spot. Julie, I haven’t seen you in so many years, but it felt like nothing as soon as I walked in the door. You’re as awesome as ever. Tristan, it was great to meet you again and actually get to know you some, and it turns out you’re awesome too, which really isn’t a surprise at all. Brandy secretly wants to kidnap your baby girl, but not for too long because, ya know, kids.
David and Michelle and family in Eureka, it was great to be at the center of your little hive of activity there and get to know you now that I am more of an adult, and get to see all of my cousins again. Thank you also for taking us to so many beautiful places.
Phish folks in Eugene, connection made by Phish friend Tyler, thanks for letting crash at the party house for a night. Thanks to Woody for letting the Aussie go to sleep early in your camper, she was oh so tired after that big night!
Nick and Lindsay in Oakland, thanks for letting us explode our junk all over your small apartment and for taking us around town while we were there. It’s a cool little area there and we’re glad we could spend some time. Hopefully we can decrease the gaps.
Eric in San Fran, thanks for putting us up and giving the executive bike facility tour to this infrastructure nerd. It was great to spend some time with you, and we always love an opportunity to take someone to their first show.
Jaki in San Fran, what an amazing host you were! Your apartment was a dream… I wish we could have spent more time there, but alas, what can you do when you have to go Phishing? It was a pleasure being with you for your first show! Hopefully we will enjoy your company again.
Lorrie and Rick in Santa Cruz, you gave us a great evening, an amazing meal and some sizzling harmonica! Thanks for having us. It was nice to see you again after all these years.
Thanks to Jeff, the craigslist poster who gave us a ride to the Hangtown Halloween Ball from San Francisco. Not only did you give us a ride, you introduced us to a great crew who let us join in their primo campsite, stage side! We are also glad you stopped at that thrift store for costumes, since we had none, and they were essential. Lewis’s pink wig was a wardrobe staple at the remaining 6 shows of Phish tour and the caution vest has become several pieces of visibility on our gear.
Steve in Tahoe, thanks for letting us crash at your place and then ride with you (bikes and all) to Vegas. In fact, thanks for organizing the entire Vegas Shit Show house! It was great to be a part of that. We are also grateful that you told us about the Hangtown Halloween Ball, since Brandy had really wanted to go to a west coast music fest. You made it happen!
Rick, our Warm Showers host in Henderson, thank you for hosting us. We hope we made a good impression as your first WS guests. We did enjoy the celebrity treatment we received from your son and his friends upon arrival!
Debbie & Vic in Truxton, you truly showed kindness to us strangers you met at the gas station! Thanks for dinner, and the great conversation that evening, and for letting us sleep warmly in your home. It was wonderful to meet you, and John, Roberta, and Broken Sky.
Genie and Peter in Cottonwood, you really shine as Warm Showers hosts. We had no intention of staying three nights, but you made us so comfortable and welcome! Thanks for taking us on the hike in Sedona. You guys are a true inspiration.
Amy, thanks for letting us be your roommates for so long in downtown Phoenix. It was great to finally get to know you outside of the Phish world (even though we still listened to Phish, like, every day ). I am glad we made it in time for Primus!
Jon & Kaili in Phoenix, our weekend with you was lovely, even with the smelly breath dog. It was great to scratch our board game itch before leaving the country and especially to meet the woman who has made my brother so happy.
Sashi and Di in Gilbert, your Friendsgiving celebration was the perfect way to spend the holiday so far away from home. Thanks for welcoming us into your home for so many nights as part of the family. We miss you guys already!
Ranger Georgie and the Lost Dutchman State Park, thanks for so kindly safe-keeping our bikes for 3 nights so we could hike into the Superstition Wilderness. We will visit again!
River Bottom Bar in Florence, thank you for letting us set up camp for the night in your great patio.
Meltem in Tucson, your home was a great place to rest and wait out the rains. Thanks for taking us in during finals time. I know I would hardly be able to spare a moment at the end of the semester, but yet you managed to make time to hang out and even take us to a party!
Hannah’s Hill Vineyard… the sun is soon setting, but the wine is calling! When we asked to camp on your land, you offered us warm shelter in the winery instead, cots and all! Best of luck with the vineyard, your wine is as lovely as your company!
Our Tombstone angel, who wishes to remain anonymous, your trust and generosity overwhelms us. Taking strangers in out of the cold is one thing, but leaving and trusting them with your apartment shows great faith in the goodness of people.
Couchsurfers Silvia and Edgar, our last U.S. hosts in the border town of Douglas, AZ. We hadn’t been given much advice for Mexico (except, “be careful, it’s dangerous!!”), so the tour book you made for us was an incredibly wonderful gift! You made us even more excited for our upcoming adventures in Mexico!
The other night we were the beneficiaries of some more fantastic AZ hospitality as we were invited to sleep inside a small family-run winery. We get a lot of questions on our trip, mostly about how much our gear weighs (no idea) and how many miles we do per day (30-50), where we’re from (you should know that), etc. While hanging out with the owners of the winery we were asked a surprisingly new question, and one that inspired me to think.
“What has surprised you on your trip? What sort of changes have happened to you that you weren’t expecting?”
I had to think for a second, but my main response was that we were surprised to have become much more in touch with the moon. With all the camping we do, we have gotten very well acquainted with the lunar cycle. I had very much expected to spend a lot of time looking at brilliant starry nights, but I hadn’t thought much about the moon before starting this trip. I was surprised to find the opposite to be true. There is so much light pollution everywhere these days that the brilliant splash of the Milky Way I recall from childhood has been rather elusive. The good ol’ moon also tends to inhibit stargazing where the light pollution doesn’t exist, not to mention clouds and cold nights. However, the moon is all-important as its light, or lack thereof often dictates how late we can ride (full moons mean we don’t have to worry about setting up camp in the dark) and where we camp (deep dark nights mean we can be less hidden in stealth situations). A moonlit desert is also quite the work of beauty. When we “discovered” through observation that the moon rises about 40 minutes later each day we couldn’t believe this wasn’t basic knowledge to us. But of course, as children you don’t think about it as much. The moon is either out or not. Some nights are lit up and others are pitch black, and sometimes you see the moon during the day. Once I got to the age where I might think about it, I was living in cities where it is not much a part of life and never camping long enough to watch an entire lunar cycle.
In addition to the moon, you also gain a much greater feeling for the weather. Wind suddenly matters so much more. A 7 mph wind can mean an incredible or a torturous day if it’s SSW or simple S. In fact, we stayed put on Christmas Day because a 20-30 mph wind would have been blasting us in the face all day long. You start to feel every little current of wind, even when you are not riding. In the desert, where we have been riding the past two months, you can notice slight variations in humidity and know immediately that your tent will be sodden come morning. These aren’t really new things. Centuries of farmers would laugh at our “enlightenment”, but it is new to us.
Being a cyclist outside most of the day, you start to notice many other small things you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, such as the creaking clunking noise the highway guardrails make when expanding in the morning sun. The abundance of life in seemingly empty places is also startling, and the variety of insects is simply incredible. Luckily we have been able to mostly avoid the biting kind, but all sorts have been sighted from weird beetle things to walking sticks; mantises; all sizes of grasshopper from super fatty to itsy bitsy; bees galore; flies of all shapes, sizes and color; moths and butterflies filling the desert with color; dragonflies and so on. Then there is the wildlife. A bicycle is like stealth mode animal attack. They can’t hear you until you’re right on them, and then when they do see you, they often have never seen anything like it, so they stare curiously. You get a lot of up-close views of birds as you flush them out of their bushy hiding places next to the roads. There were a preposterous amount of mice on the ride from Tucson to Douglas, which explains the nighttime sock caper. I heard the tiny crashing as they ran deeper into the grass almost every 100 feet, although I never once actually saw one of the sneaky little punks. Thanks to the healthy population of rodents, huge hawks are prolific along the roads of southeastern Arizona and they never ceased to put on a wheeling show as we passed.
This is the first rambling in what I hope to be a series of such called Shifting Gears – How dramatically altering our lifestyle has affected us, how we have changed and are still changing, and how we grow from our experiences.
I already had some experience with travel, as well as with “roughing it”. The weekend-long or longer camp-out music festivals I attended in the 90’s and early 00’s taught me to embrace being a dirty free spirit (today’s fests offer a lot more creature comforts, like showers!). And thanks to my solo cross-country jaunt when I was 22, as well as many of the trips I have taken with Lewis, I am no stranger to not knowing where I am going to rest my head from one night to the next. Constantly packing and unpacking? Done that. However, this cycling adventure is pushing things like these to a new level that is taking some getting used to.
There are many things we have to remind ourselves of that were once just basic thoughtless routine. Brushing teeth, for example. It is one thing to forget to brush your teeth once or twice during a weekend outing, when you are heading back to the normal schedule on Monday morning. But to regularly skip this daily hygiene ritual once or twice a week or more? As I sit here at our campsite on Orcas Island, WA, sipping coffee from the Jetboil and watching Lewis experiment with fire-building techniques, I wonder did we brush our teeth last night? Yes… good. When living on the road, it is easy to become distracted and forget things like this, or to be too lazy to unpack the toiletries, or too tired from a long day – who wouldn’t rather go directly to sleep than fumble around in the dark with such a tedious chore? A habit of skipping it in such a situation, birthed from short-term excursions when we knew we would be back in the routine soon enough, could become a regular bad habit if we are not disciplined.
Along similar lines of hygiene… we don’t often have access to a shower. I am not one who needs to be squeaky clean and proper everyday… even when I lived with a shower, I would often skip a day and be fine, as long as I didn’t smell (noticeably) bad or do anything that caused me to be dirty or sweaty. Now, just existing in this new way of life makes me soiled and smelly, and quickly. Riding a bike for 4-7 hours a day does not leave one feeling fresh. When we are several days along without a shower, we can make do with public restrooms, baby wipes, and fresh clothing so as not to offend the waitress at the diner… but I can’t help but wonder, at what point does a bit of dirtiness start to be a health concern? Another thing we have to pay close attention to.
The packing and unpacking that goes along with bike touring is more tedious than we are used to, since it is happening on a daily basis and we have a lot more stuff than we have ever traveled with before. It is a time consuming process that we have to build hours into our mornings for, depending on the degree to which we unpacked the night before. It is frustrating when we get up at 6am but don’t hit the road before 11. Luckily that doesn’t happen often (usually only when we have stayed at a place for 5 days or more and have really settled in). We have streamlined the process quite a bit, and everything has a very specific spot; the bags are packed such that like is with like, and seldom used things are at the bottom, so that everything does not have to be unpacked every time. It has taken a while to get to this point, and it is still a work in progress. We have already sent some unused or unnecessary things away, and I am constantly contemplating what else we can get rid of. The fewer things we have, the simpler our lives become… something we all know, but now I am seeing quite clearly in action.
Another benefit of fewer things is lower weight to carry on the bikes. Right now we are carrying quite a lot compared to the typical bicycle tourist, because we are not just bicycle touring. We are traveling long term, as a lifestyle, and are not intending to be on the bikes every day. We need (or think we need) options. After 3 nights in the tent, having an opportunity to sleep in our hammocks is a great joy and luxury that I would be pained to give up. Our “kitchen” is minimal but more than most would carry, but we want to cook our own food as much as possible, with options of how to do it. For example, having small pots and a pan afforded us to have cooked apples and pears alongside our scrambled eggs this morning, and the Jetboil gets us quick coffee too. Not having a few options to allow creative cooking would lead us to eat at restaurants more than we care to afford. We also carry more clothing than is necessary for biking, but again, we are not spending all the time on the bikes. I especially, with my interest in fashion, want some varying outfits for when we spend a week in Portland, or a month somewhere in Mexico. But the weight may eventually get to us (or the bikes), and we may find ourselves sending more and more things home to our mothers.
The transition I am most eager to see is an increase in my strength and stamina. I was noticeably stronger after our short tour from Vermont to Saratoga, NY a few months ago, but we have not been steadily on the bikes since then, except for some days in Wisconsin, which is relatively flat. Riding Orcas Island recently was a challenge, and was my first feeling of real discouragement – if I cannot handle these hills, how can I make it over mountain passes in Chile? Everyone says you really get into a groove after two weeks of riding; I hope that groove includes the ability to power through long and steep grades.
All these challenges sound like a real pain in the ass! Ha! Well, it is true. But I love it. It is something different, something new; it all comes with the territory in this new life direction we have chosen to take. You know what else is a pain? Commuting to the office every day, and getting only precious short weeks to see the world. This is a trade we have been happy to make!
I was reading the latest update from Almost Fearless, a great blog about a nomadic couple traveling with two toddlers. I was disappointed for them to find out they had cut short their bicycle trip across Europe because of some broken gear, but the way Christine ended her post filled me with a great sense of excitement and promise
We lounged in the park in Pula, Croatia while the kids played. After a few days we were looking to move on.
“Where should we go?”
“Um, the Euro Velo 6 picks up in Osijek, we could go there.”
“We don’t have bikes, Christine.”
“Oh wow, it is going to take me a while to remember that.”
“We can go anywhere.”
This summer has been the best travel experience of my life. I learned so much. I got so close to my kids and husband. We became this little cycling team, having the most lovely pedal through Europe. It changed us. We can do anything, absolutely anything.
“Let’s go to Romania.”
This reminded me of exactly why we are doing what we are doing. We can go anywhere. That’s the whole point. Bicycle to South America? Cool, let’s do that. Find someplace great we want to settle for a few months? Great, let’s chill out. Side trip to Whateverthehell Island? Absolutely.
I had been a bit bummed since we made the difficult decision to skip Colorado. We realized it was necessary for both time and money as we would no longer be stressing about a too short visit to my family in Wisconsin, and we would get an earlier start on the west coast leg of our bicycle trip.
Regardless of how pragmatic the decision was, I had been suffering from some serious FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Not only are we missing some great shows and great party, but even worse, we are missing out on seeing a ton of friends we had been looking forward to visiting. This won’t be the last compromise we’ll make on this trip, but I was still feeling a bit down about it until reading that blog post the other morning.
“We can go anywhere.”
Those three lines in Christine’s post this morning have almost completely replaced the bummer I was feeling with the original sense of freedom that initiated this trip. We may not be able to do everything, but we can do anything. We are not taking this trip to do everything, or even anything specific. We are doing it to do whatever it is the road leads us to do. I can picture me and Brandy sitting in that park in Croatia, watching people stroll by on their afternoon walks and saying, ‘hey, let’s go to Romania.’ Those little moments are a huge part of why I travel and now as we are preparing to leave Wisconsin, we are entering into the open road portion of our trip and it feels great!
Or, how not to quit your job and travel…
If you want your new traveling lifestyle to get off to a stress-free start, take a few lessons from our wearied asses. Cut your old life free quickly without lingering around your old stomping grounds doing this and that. It’s great to enjoy your newfound freedom in your home, leisurely visiting with your friends before hitting the road. However, don’t plan a half dozen trips to and fro. If you must do so, get your gear down to what you’ll be taking with you on the BIG trip, before you start bopping around. Consolidate and organize.
A crazy long stressful drive through an absurd rain storm awaited me following a very relaxing week of chilling on the in-law’s farm in Virginia. This wonderful entry into super stressville was the result of one part mandatory recall on the rental van and two parts Brandy packing debacle (I should note that Brandy spent pretty much the entire week hunched over her sewing machine magically pounding out half our gear, while I sat on my ass leaning against a post with a piece of straw hanging from my gums).
Too much stuff, organized in random disarray, revolved around our sad bodies slumped on the floor of the living room of every friend we stayed with. “Where is this shit? Oh, I think it’s at Lauren’s, no wait, did we leave it in Virginia? Maybe at Austin and Elyza’s? Do we really need this crap? Well yeah, for Hawaii, but what about the biking? That’s for the bicycle trip, but not Phish, but we need this other stuff for terr…”
… my brain fuzzy for days from the hellacious drive, recovery not at all aided by several beers per night. Finally, our last day before Hawaii and I’m feeling normal again, no longer shuffling around gazing at miscellaneous objects with a blank look of despair. Too bad Brandy and I split apart so I could get my chompers worked on, while she finished sewing and packing, so we could not use my newfound focus to great effect. Of course, miscommunication and assumption lead to several items left behind, including Brandy’s camera, and my camera charger. Well, I guess we’ll have to put that whole thoughtful photography idea into play after all.
Oh well, we may have forgotten some shit, but hooray! we boarded our super AM flight and we’re off to Hawaii after a brief layover in Atlanta.
Huh, we don’t seem to be moving from the gate. Oh well, nothing to worry about… Hmm, what’s this, you say… a problem with the luggage conveyor belt, but we’ll be moving in a few minutes? Ok! Back to my nap.
Gee, it’s an hour and a half later and we’re taxiing down the runway… well, they’ll make up some time and there are a lot of people connecting to Honolulu, they’ll probably hold the plane for a few minutes.
Nope, the plane is gone.
Aww, shucks Delta, ya shuddunt’ve! Thanks for rebooking us on a later flight that connects through LAX! Well Shubby McGee! Looks like that one won’t get us there in time for our flight to Kaua’i – booked on a different airline, nachurly. Hmm, some of these other options on the website look pretty good. How about tomorrow through LAX, but then directly to Kaua’i! We’ll lose a night on the Kalalau Trail, : ( but at least we won’t need to buy another interisland flight : D
Well that’s done, but WTF will we do in friggin’ Atlanta for a day?? Wait a tic, my cousin Matt and his wife Jen just moved here a few months ago!! Hopefully he kept his Wisco number. Nope, but the fine fellow or madame who got it was kind enough to forward on the new one. An hour later I’m on my way to Matt’s apartment. By happy coincidence Matt has taken the next couple days off work and is free to hang.
“So did you give your phone to somebody or something?”
“Funny story… That number was my old work cell, and when I quit, they apparently chose to give up the service. My brother waltzed into the store to get a new phone a couple months later, and lo and behold, guess which number he gets.”
Brother Ben’s response to the coincidence was, “I could have won the lottery, but no, instead I get to be your personal secretary!”
So this little disaster turned into quite a pleasant unexpected visit with my cousin, his wife and his ridiculously adorable daughter. The fact that I was able to harangue Hawaiian Airways into changing the missed flight into our as yet un-booked Hilo to Honolulu flight for a nominal fee was simply icing on the cake. Never mind that we had gate checked our clothing bag, which ended up with its own saga, so our seat neighbors on the following day’s flights got the intense pleasure of the wafting fumes of my well-worn travel tee.
This was not the only ‘tragedy’ to come with its share of platinum lining. The forced car exchange, which conveniently took place in the middle of a parking lot at the exact moment the Noah-level downpour decided to make its debut, brought us a bit of fortune. We were able to level down to a more fuel-efficient vehicle and we got the rental company to knock off a day of our fee. Not only that, but Brandy found – get this – a fifty dollar bill! in the shit bin in the side of her door. One can only imagine why someone would shove Grant’s face down there, and for how long he could have been grumbling in the isolation of his plastic dungeon, but thanks?
So what have we learned here? Get your shit together early and remember that you cannot do as much in as short of a time as you can when you have an actual home. We are very experienced travelers and generally have everything down to a T, but with all of our stuff in bags scattered across various locations, suddenly our little equilibrium got tossed and we were like n00bies dumping our entire collection of CDs into a handheld duffel bag for our first backpacking trip to Europe*. We also were deeply reinforced with that wonderful fact every traveler knows: the road giveth and taketh and your attitude determines to a great extent how you fare.
One final note about starting a travel life, my first Monday after leaving my jorb was like a dream wandering around the city with no need to be anywhere or do anything. Thinking on that first day softened the ensuing stress, even when I was a serious grump glob.
*This may or may not have happened on my first backpacking trip to Europe :/
Or, more so in 571 Leonard.
We have two weeks before I’m done with my job and Brandy is frenetically liquidating the apartment. Packing, planning, hanging with friends. It’s all coming together in a jumbled ball of beautiful, but filthy yarn.
We’ve passed over the pre-departure blues and are into the downslope of activity and excitement that immediately precedes such a thing.
We’re starting to get a bit antsy about the massive amount of time we have planned for the US and pieces keep being cut and trimmed to get us to Mexico sooner. After all, we did not quit our jorbs just to hang out in the US, much as we love her. We made the tough (for me) decision to skip San Diego and Baja (probably) and tackle the Sierra Madre Occidental straight from Phoenix instead. I had wanted to check out SD for the beer and a couple friends we have there and Baja after reading much about it, but it simply doesn’t make sense for us to swing all the way back after visiting my brother and our buddies in Phoenix.
Of course, our plans will change change change, but that detour has been one of the weights on our minds and it feels good to have it lifted.
Our buddy Arthur introduced us to his gf’s friend, Kevin, who will also be making the southward trek very soon, so we met up with him last night. Kevin plans to start in Alaska in a few weeks and head straight down the coast, so hopefully we’ll run into each other somewhere out there, but who knows with the road. Now that we have met up with someone else on the circuit, albeit right in our very apartment, I think I can say that the trip has officially begun in our heads.
Currently known itinerary:
May 2: Last day at work (Lewis)
May 6: Daily Show!
May 7: On to VA
May 15?: Back to NYC
May 20-Jun 25: Hawaii
July 3-13: Lots o’ Phish
July 15-17: Visit Colleen in Michigan
July 18-20: Chi-Phish
… : Wisco
End-ish Aug: Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins
… : somewhere in the NW to start cycling
For those who don’t get the reference, a must see: http://youtu.be/2UFc1pr2yUU
We take a lot of photos. A lot. A weeklong trip usually yields between 1,000-3,000 photos, most of which are garbage. Of course, in a life of perpetual travel, this is unsustainable.
I like taking photos. Not just for me, but for posterity. I like looking at old photos and seeing what places looked like in the past so I like to record some of the future’s past while it’s present, especially the mundane, gritty, or otherwise unremarkable. I love finding a perfect composition, capturing some incredible light and just plain freezing shit. I like looking through my photos and remembering random places and events. I also like having all of this media at my fingertips for future projects. But that begs the ubiquitous question, with all this snapping, what am I missing?
Brandy took on the heroic task of going through our vast stockpile of poorly organized photos from five years of trips. While watching her going through our Puerto Rico trip, I realized with a start that we had many incredible moments of pure beauty, opportunities for meditative silence, but I could not recall one moment where we simply sat and received it. Yes, we did have plenty of relaxation moments, but all of those incredible sunsets and sunrises and crashing waves were accompanied by dozens of clicks trying to capture the light and the splash in the right way. I am always very conscious to live what I’m photographing and get a lot of enjoyment from it, but there is a big difference between appreciating the beauty of a sunset between clicks, and sitting down and allowing it to wash over your full attention as the sun traces its descent behind the sea. You are a part of it. It captures your soul.
Our goal going forward must be to take fewer, better photos. Random clicking does nothing for anybody, especially the poor sap who has to go through them at the end of the day. Finding the great shot will help us grow our photography from random chance to purposeful composure. Taking that shot and putting the camera away will allow us to become part of the scene and live in the now of it.
After the storm I leave the bike dry in the vestibule. The salt cake from the previous storm has been washed from tubing and gears, so I give it a break from the grime.
On the corner, no bus. I walk and am rewarded well.
Brilliant white clutching to every limb and twig. Morning sun dancing about, seemingly caught in the park’s white maze, increasing in luminance as it bounces branch to ground to branch to eye. Shrouded with snow, the trees seem to shrink the darkly dressed humans to ants as they stroll along the troughs cut through the thick blanket. The AM dog convention is proceeding in earnest in the ball fields. Clutches of humans stand in self-selected clumps laughing and sharing tidbits of news while their grinning beasts bound through the thick snow chasing balls, joy, others. Ice and snow has collected in the hurricane fence around the batting cage and the sun glints through a thousand little crystals. Yesterday’s packiness means solid snowmen and forts abound this morning.
White surrounding the streets leads you to forget for a moment the shabby brown and grey. Slush is already beginning to grasp the corners and flood the ramps, but as yet it brings smiling sidesteps rather than grumbled curses. I descend (to the subway/the stairs) with a smile.
I’m finding it more and more difficult to describe our plans to people in an easily digestible format. At first it was simple, we could just say, “we’re biking to South America.” But as it gets closer to the date, I have to more face the reality that this is not exactly a true statement. We do have a vague idea to probably bike to South America, but we aren’t planning it as some straight off trip. We’ll be doing some other stuff as well. We may stop to live somewhere for awhile, and we may not bike the whole way if we don’t feel like it. We may end up just hopping on a flight at some point and flying off to some other continent entirely. Or home, whatever that means.
So really, it is a departure from a lifestyle, our New York, office-based lifestyle. Perhaps forever, but perhaps not. It is an exploration of ourselves as much as it is of the world. What kind of life do we want to live? Maybe we’ll find it, but perhaps it’s already found, and it is this settle in, then uproot life that we love. Saying we are finding ourselves feels silly because I have never felt more found than I have in the past year. I think we are already where we want to be – in a perpetual state of growth and change.
Are we going on a trip, or a life? We aren’t traveling somewhere with a home waiting for us someplace, we are changing to an on-road domicile, until some place or idea grabs us enough to fill in our address blank. How do you describe this though? People can comprehend a defined trip, even “biking to South America,” while crazy, can be internalized. Quitting our jobs to travel, somewhere, until… ? That doesn’t compute quite as well. I even find myself asking what that means as I say it.
But really, this is how every human lives. No matter how stable the lifestyle, everyone is constantly flowing and changing through life, but always in the present moment, so maybe my lifestyle isn’t so much different than anyone else’s. Perhaps I should just say that we’ll continue living and eating stuff, just not here, and we don’t much plan on showing up to any offices after May 2, 2014.