Home stretch [ME]

Brewer, ME

Maine's been an immoderate overkill of sensory delights [i.e., some of the prettiest riding of this whole trip, and way too much of the best food]. I've kind of been treating it as a a celebration of all that's come before. Go big or go home...and I can't go home.

I've stumbled along a greasy trail of pornographically indulgent gastronomical recklessness [such as duckfat-fried donut holes, distilled carrot spirits...I'll stop there].

This included a visit to La Orilla in Ogunquit [my first destination in Maine, and a town whose name took me longer to figure out how to pronounce than I spent in it], an adorable upscale tapas place that my friend from NorCal and her brother just opened. I got trigger-happy with ordering small plates, wine and oysters while getting 100 pages into a new book that made me laugh out loud with obnoxious frequency [Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, which was given to me in Baltimore]. A very sweet, very intoxicated woman came up and asked me a lot of personal questions, almost cried on me, and declared that my next wine was on her, throwing a $10 onto my table with a flourish before being summoned away by her friend. 

I also swam in the ocean [for the record, Maine's Atlantic in June is SO much warmer than California's Pacific] and rolled around in sun-warmed sand, spent a night [getting completely lost] in a thirteen-room mansion before riding onto Portland, where I went to a drive-in for the first time ever for a double feature of one movie I'd already seen, and another movie that I didn't care about at all, which is exactly what I want in a movie that I'm watching as a raucous social activity. 

Whatever your opinion of Jurassic World...if you see it in an open-top Jeep underneath the stars armed with beer, blankets, [natural-but-magically-effective] bug spray, and a lot of people who are brashly committed to not taking the movie seriously, it's probably impossible not to enjoy the experience. 

Eventually, my body punished me for the digestively ambitious eating. I foresee an impending auto-apologetic juice fast once I get to Reno. Necessarily there was been a period of convalescence afterwards [digestive bitters and naps, mostly], during which I made the delightful discovery that steeping lemon ginger tea in homemade miso soup yields delectable gut-cosseting results.

From there, I stayed in a house in Chebeague Island that belonged to someone four social degrees of separation from me [I'd been given a business card shortly before the trip, which turned into my host in Melrose and, then, into the house on Chebeague]; at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound base camp [on my very first day of riding, a girl who works with Outward Bound walked up to me in the Keys and told me to take down her number in case I needed a host in Maine], then in a random patch of lupines [right after watching the Monty Python sketch about the lupine-robber] that I'd been directed to by a bartender in Belfast, where I rolled into town as some local festival was going on [there was a brigade of ukuleles, a concert, and a woman in a photojournalism workshop stopped me to take photos of me and my bike]. There's been a distinctly bookended feeling to my entire trip...a lot of things have kind of come full-circle.

Oh. And, and, and. I rode 80 miles with 3,600 feet of climbing. That's a personal "most" for me [I've done a couple higher-mileage days, but not hilly ones]. Boom!

Also had company for most of my time in Maine since I've run into another guy who's also on a bike tour. First time of the trip I've actually really ridden anywhere with anybody [in terms of actually traveling; I'm not counting day-trip jaunts around town or to the river, or recurrently seeing people in different cities who are also traveling].

From there, carried on to Bar Harbor [Baa Haabaa!] and collapsed in this weird sort of disbelieving euphoria when I got there. Wound up at Coffee Hound, which I am bothering to mention now because I don't think I've ever met friendlier baristas in my life. I ordered clam chowder and a lobster roll, and immediately dropped the lobster roll [they were wonderful and replaced it even though I was about to just pick it up and eat it off the floor]. After I'd already been basically unintelligible, and deliriously fickle enough to ask to change my order to something else [which happened to be cheaper] once I'd already been rung up.

And then spent the last couple days hanging out in a cabin in the woods in Ellsworth, right on a lake, with a couple of rad dudes. Canoed out across the lake to check out an osprey nest. Played lots and lots and lots of guitar, for the first time in months. Played chess, and actually finished a game [it was a great game, too—lasted a couple hours, at least] for the first time in...maybe years? [I'm not good at following through to the end of a game.] Perfect little place to hide out before returning to...Everything Else, I suppose.

Finished A Walk in the Woods today, my very last day of riding. Started The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, which was a gift from a friend I made back in North Carolina but didn't quite feel ready to read until today.

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Today, rode the last sixteen little miles to Brewer, where I am now. Went into a bike shop to figure out how to ship my bike, which was not only way cheaper than flying it, but was pretty much the easiest, most painless thing ever. I didn't have to do anything. I don't know why I hadn't just gotten my bike shipped out to Key West in the beginning, but so it goes. 

Treated myself to a cheap motel. I'm fasting for today, which is something I've never done [or felt compelled to do] before. But, for many reasons that I won't go into, it feels like a really good decision today. It's almost 9pm and I'm managing just fine. Kind of crazy...usually I can't even function if I don't have breakfast within an hour of waking up [sometimes half an hour].

And, also, free continental breakfast tomorrow. Boom.

I don't know, man. I didn't model in Maine, nor did I hang out with models or photographers [though I get to see the incomparable Keira Grant tomorrow, which is already a fucking treat in itself because Keira's the shit...with the added bonus that she's game to take me to the airport, even though she's already driving quite a ways to come see me]. And this is, primarily—well, at least right now—a modeling-ish blog [or maybe that's just an excuse, I'm really not sure what this blog is anymore].

In any case, I don't feel inclined to divulge too many of the really confronting and beautiful inner whatevering that I've had going on. Some shit's sacred, yo. At least, it is when it's still being digested. I think I'll be digesting this trip for months to come, if not longer. It kind of hasn't even hit me yet that I don't currently have my bike with me, and that I'm about to be in Reno in two days, and so on. I don't know. Suffice it to say that in the last 12 hours or so, I've been a well of synthesis [not merely antithesis, which is usually where I get stuck]. A lot's happened. Internal, external. And so on.

Oh, wait, I do have one awesome modeling-related thing to mention. In Belfast, I mentioned to a bartender that I'd just biked from Key West [no mention of being a model] and he said, "...This might be weird, but do you know Theresa Manchester? She was here last winter talking about how she had a friend who was about to bike from Key West to Maine."

BAM, synchronicity-machine go!

Speaking of Theresa [who I last saw in Miami, on this trip], she and I will both be in Reno this summer working on Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea for this year's Burning Man [d'oh...every year I tell myself I'm going to do something else for the summer, but I got sucked into a project again...couldn't resist the crew who'll be working on this, though, which consists of several of my favorite people on the planet].

More on that later, I'm sure.

The program for the next two days: breakfast, Keira [more specifically: Bangor, shenanigans, food, booze, Augusta, airport], two layovers during which I'll probably be fighting down anticipatory giddy-anxiety, arrival in Reno [and into the clutches of a lot of people I love].

Good Luck to the Power of Ludicrous

Conway, SC

Left my partying in Savannah and made a short jaunt to Ridgeland, SC, where I forked out for a hotel room for the first time on this trip. After the last month's overload of amazing people and hyper stimulation, I wanted a night to just sit. Get on the Internet. Be sober. Take a long shower. Order delivery pizza.  

I didn't leave my room once. It was glorious.

The next day, started to push myself a bit harder. Decided in the morning I'd make it all the way to Charleston, 85 miles away, or run myself into the ground trying. My longest day till then had been about 47 miles. 

Rode through miles of unmarked dirt road—got held up and lost a few times when those roads would suddenly end. Finally came upon a Wendy's, the one food option [or settlement of any kind] I'd seen in at least an hour of pedaling. Rode on through shoulder-less interstate. 

My state of being alternated between being too physically tired or sore [it may be time, soon, to fork out for a better saddle than my $30 score...] to notice my psychological state, and being overtaken, suddenly, by a creeping sense of mortal terror, suddenly too afraid and cracked out on adrenaline to notice my physical state. I thought about venomous snakes in the tall grass, and about aggressive guard dogs, and about being stranded out in the boonies [I hadn't really thought ahead about just how remote some of the stretches I was riding along really were...I'd often be faced with the choice between extremely dangerous interstate and safer, quieter, but completely off-the-beaten-track dirt roads], about running out of water, about being hit by a car, yadda yadda.

My mood would spike in a moment of euphoria as I'd pass some beautiful swamp reminiscent of Princess Mononoke and think, Man, you're gorgeous, but I'm a bit too worried about not dying to take a picture of you, which would inevitably have me laughing out loud. A couple times I was overtaken by mysterious nausea and, unable to justify the source of it, began to feel a bit panic-attack-y, as semi-trucks shoved their way aggressively through the wind to get in front of me.

I hit a long stretch with no water, no signs of other people except maybe an odd hunting stand [which I initially thought were kids' playhouses], and I'd get tired, so tired my legs would kind of just stop working on their own without my conscious insistence at each pedal stroke to follow-up accordingly. But I knew if I stopped for another break, here, I'd never get back up. If I took a power nap here, I wouldn't make it to Charleston—I'd started the day without a plan for Charleston at all, but by noon a girl on WarmShowers had texted me saying she could host me, which gave me new motivation to get there, and not have to find some random hidden spot to sleep.

At one point I had a long stretch—several hours—where I didn't see another soul, another building, nothing. I began to ration my water, kicking myself for not having brought even more. I was running out of food, too, since I hadn't really needed to bring much with me at any given time until now.

Finally I saw the sign of a BP's gas station, and in my profound relief, I ran inside and spent $50 on snacks and drinks and protein bars, tripping over myself and dropping things the whole time. At a fucking BP's.

A man outside offered to watch my bike for me and chatted me up. Nice guy. Kept asking a lot of the same questions. I nodded emphatically as a substitute for conversation, as I shoved a ham and cheese sandwich in my mouth and glugged down a canned doubleshot. Every time I've just gotten off my bike, I'm not really ready to be human yet, but invariably people want to ask questions. I try to accommodate as best I can...but "as best I can" is not a whole lot, sometimes. Especially when someone starts in on a religious tirade, as my new acquaintance soon did.

During that last leg of the day, when I was once again switched into "too physically tired to be scared anymore" mode, all my hypothetical fears that I'd been trying to push to the back of my mind came to a head. I was chased by a humongous dog and just barely managed to outpace it until it finally gave up. Shortly afterwards, I nearly ran over a huge rattlesnake as it was abruptly crossing the road. 

And, fifteen miles from my host's house, I got hit by a car on the I-17.

For the record, at least through South Carolina, the I-17 is a tightly-stretched, shoulder-less road. Every time [and there really weren't many times] an eighteen-inch-wide strip of asphalt jutted past the white line into the grass, an infatuated-schoolgirl-giddiness overtook me. I spent much of my time on it looking over my shoulder and bailing out into the dirt, just to be on the safe side. I have learned not to extend the slightest trust to drivers.

The car smashed into my front pannier and sent me over into the patchy, rumpled grass. I picked myself up and brushed myself off, too stunned to have any sort of an emotional reaction. I looked at my bike, and at myself. Not a scratch or a dent. Not even a small one. I wondered if I was in shock, and if maybe I was actually in mortal peril but my conscious mind was refusing to acknowledge it.

...Nope. I was fine. 

The car, on the other hand, skidded over the lanes to its left, and then over the grassy median, landing there pointed one-eighty degrees from its former position. Not sure how I managed to send a car flipping around backwards, but hey.

Anyway. Charleston could be a contender for my favorite US city. I don't typically like downtown bar scenes, but I liked the one there because people on the street were friendly. I don't mean crass or invasive. Just straight-up, open-smile, "high five, homegirl," passing-by friendly. Re: my housing situation, I was in the company of a bunch of badass independent ladies all around my age, including one couchsurfer from Germany on a four-month solo excursion of the States. A bunch of us ran around Botany Bay on Edisto Island where we smeared clay all over ourselves. I reunited briefly with Kai, a cyclist I met back in Key West who, upon graduating high school in Oregon, decided to bike the entire perimeter of the Lower Forty-Eight. Which makes my own trip look kind of wimpy in comparison.

After Charleston came another long stretch. I rode seventy miles on the first day, which was only slightly less exhausting than my last long day had been—each time I push myself a bit further, the next time I do that same distance it feels so much easier. Nonetheless, at some point, my sunglasses bounced off me and I didn't even notice until maybe half an hour had gone by. Gnats began to get stuck in my eyes as I rode. 

I'd planned to get as far as I could [I wouldn't make it all the way to Conway in one day] and then stealth camp behind some trees. I thought I'd be riding through a good stretch of State Park. Instead, I traversed endless miles of plantation land, riddled with some pretty aggressive "Keep Out"-esque signs [like, "Whatever the camera doesn't get, the gun will," and so on] which had me a bit uneasy. Plus, half the land around me was submerged swampland.

Eventually I got to an actual town and found a spot between two old brick buildings in a church, where I could just wedge my bike and my tent and pretty much be hidden from the road on all sides. I'd resigned myself to a thrilling night of trying to catch sleep in a sort of shifty place when my Conway host for the following night [Anzhelika Lewis, a fellow model] called and insisted upon coming the rest of the way to pick me up, since I wasn't too far from her house by then and she said the town I was in was a bit on the sketchy side.

I deliberated a little bit, because I'd sort of just resigned myself to the night and was looking forward to being in a new situation that scared me. But I was also coming down with a pretty bad cough that I couldn't figure out.

So she and her husband Rick came and got me, fed me well, and I passed out on the most luxuriously wide and rigidly bed-like couch I have ever slept on. Wound up being a good call, because all that night and the next day I had a persistent, painful cough-sneeze thing going on and could barely function [not a cold or flu, guessing it's a combination of allergies—particularly given that I've ridden long stretches through traffic—aggravating residual/chronic bronchitis, but what the hell do I know].

Fortunately, I've gotten to recover over the last couple days by basking on the deck of a seventh-generation plot of family land by the woods in my birthday suit, with a good book, with horses grazing in my periphery, drinking gallons of water and eating loads of Savannah Bee Company honey. Sadly, lots of allergy meds and cough medicine, too [both things I try to avoid taking except in dire situations]. Such a well-placed extra bit of downtime.

And once I was feeling like a human being again, I did a last-minute shoot in Myrtle Beach involving hard hats and muscle cars and broken metal grinders and a four-foot tall pipe wrench. 

With a certain perspective I could probably claim this was a tough week...but my luck's been through the fucking roof. In retrospect...really can't complain.

Silver Lining Syndrome

Key West, FL

Fourteen story cruise ships loom over the tiny island like high rises. Everything here is a palm tree.

Geckos, pelicans, squillions of turtles, roosters, ibises, a macaw, six-toed cats, flamboyantly-attired bugs.

I am delirious.

I arrived at SFO with three hours to spare before departure. One cut-open and re-taped 68-pound bike box, one unpacked duffel bag, $150 in fees, several reviews of print-out policies and diplomatic discussions with supervisors later, and I managed to elicit enough sympathy of a deadpan bureaucrat for him to conjure up a creative solution to the fact that their computer system wouldn't let me check my bag. At several points I was pretty much convinced it wasn’t going to happen. 

Against a backdrop of rain and lightning uncharacteristic in the Bay, I said my goodbyes to Alex and Nathan who were both there to see me off.

Then there were other trifling incidents on my way to the gate: I must have grabbed my expired license instead of my current one on my way out the door [d'oh] and the TSA guys were convinced that there was something in my left pocket [there wasn't—nor was I happy to see them]. Two hours after arriving, I got through security checkpoint, somewhat frazzled.

My flight was delayed, which was fine by me. I dragged myself into the nearest airport bar and wound up ruthlessly bantering with an exceptionally handsome lawyer [he looked strikingly like a young Hemingway] who was sporting a black eye.

About three hours of sleep later [couldn’t get back to sleep after my layover in Atlanta] and I was spat out of Key West airport, blinking wearily at the sun.

Since then I've repeatedly been punk'd by serendipity and boggled at others' generosity. Must be Silver Lining Syndrome or something. Or the Universe is trying to teach me that I shouldn't bother trying to plan anything, ever.

Exhibit A: Every single one of my several hosting options had fallen through or gone MIA at the last minute. My arrival coincided with spring break, so finding a hotel or even campsite at such a late stage would not only be expensive, but possibly quite difficult. And I had a giant box with a disassembled bike, and all my gear, and nowhere to put them or reassemble them. I didn't really know what I was going to do [hide myself and all my crap behind a bush for the night?], but shit felt dire.

Silver lining: A friend I made during my brief stop in Shanghai last year got in touch out of the blue, and it came up that he had US hotel points that he couldn't use and that were about to expire. So I wound up with a free night at a deluxe king suite at the Hyatt, with a balcony drooping right over the shoreline; below me were beached humans flopping on the sand in front of a musician with comically poor taste in covers. I looked at them and thought: If I knew anyone here, I could easily host a fifteen-or-so people shindig and still have wiggle room. What a crazy amount of space and luxury to waste on one person.

I got on with it. Little toy cars and fake choochoo trains and pedicabs rolled by as I quaffed black coffee in a cafe patio done up in bamboo and rope, digesting a lobster and shrimp omelette, and I felt compelled by the weather—76 and all undiluted sunshine—to change into something froofroo and skimpy for a change. I wandered to the Hemingway house [which was lovely and frothing with cats, many of which were polydactyls].

Then I holed up in my room to try and figure out my bike situation, so I would be mobile and unencumbered the following day. I planned to get that out of the way, then maybe nap, then reemerge a bit before sunset and get up to shenanigans.

Exhibit B: What actually happened is that I spent six delirious sleep-deprived hours in that room trying to reassemble my bike and going bonkers, realizing I was missing essential bolts, realizing just how poorly designed my front rack was...not to mention pretty much incompatible with my frame. I attempted to jerry-rig solutions with hair ties, with limited success. The horror.

Around 8 or 9 pm I gave up. I didn't know what I was going to do...ask the guys up front if they could hold onto my giant box and see if I could bribe a bike mechanic to help me bring it to a shop? If there was a shop. Everything I looked up was geared towards cruiser rentals for tourists. But I knew I was done making decisions for a while. I resigned myself to exploring the alleged Key West party scene, though I wasn't feeling very chipper by that point. I wandered Duval Street aimlessly [it struck me as a beachy cousin of Bourbon Street]. I failed to locate oysters before succumbing to hunger and eating conch.

Silver lining: wound up hanging out all damn night with wonderful, fun people. Chilly and Kerry, a local couple who work for a cycle touring company and have gone on a few tours, and Kai, freshly-graduated from high school and four months into his first tour circling around the country from Oregon...

...Moreover, Chilly just opened up a shop in Key West and came by my room the next morning on a promise of coffee to use his mechanical sorcery to get my bike completely set up, and teach me a few things [and conjure up a better front rack]. So, basically, he's a life saver. And quite innovative. Will update with a link when I have one. 

Plus, in a few short hours, I miraculously found people to stick in my gifted-super-fancy-room-for-one-night so I could make better use of the space before giving it up. And to cover in the miles of bubble wrap strewn all over the floor from my bike box, so I could make better use of it before disposing of it.

The one negative takeaway from last night was that, at 4 or 5am, quite drunk, I thought ordering myself room service breakfast for the next morning would be a brilliant idea. I'd never ordered room service before, it had occurred to me. First time for everything! Breakfast in bed!

Mediocre gravlox, mediocre coffee, good-but-very-very-very-small portion of grapefruit juice.

I learned a valuable lesson this morning...and that lesson cost me $40.

Exhibit C: Rode to prospective host's house today. Door had accidentally been locked by a roommate, I could not reach anyone by phone and the house was empty [and my would-be host was working until late, but I didn't know where she worked]. There was Kerry and Chilly's house where I'd just come from, but I'd locked it on my way out and they'd be gone for several hours. I really, really wanted a nap. With nowhere to go, a loaded bike, and no energy, I went and got a key lime pie [well...duh] and Internet for the time being, thinking perhaps I could just slump, unconscious, onto a table in a cafe, and maybe no one would mind.

Silver lining: Wound up being treated to dinner by David, an exceedingly candid, hilarious, fantastic man whom Nathan calls his "fairy godfather" [ahah] whom I'd been advised to meet but hadn't heard from and had given up on meeting. He called, and I was neither asleep on a couch [the original plan], nor with other people, so with what may perhaps have been a bit of initial trepidation on his end, he offered to come get me and feed me. And it was a fit of fantastic conversation and, on my end, copious chuckling.

And now I am set up with with an air mattress thanks to Chilly and Kerry, so all is well!

See what I mean? Some cosmic force disapproves of my attempts to make plans, apparently. 8P

had been planning to leave Key West tomorrow...but I can afford one more day. It deserves another day. Plus, I still haven't given myself a proper opportunity to sleep since getting to Florida [speaking of which...I should get on that right about now]. 8]

Extrapolating on the last few days, but people can be so damn kind, and so immediately authentic. Sure, being smart and funny and charming are also virtues I admire. But really, kindness and candor are so underrated and, in the long run, probably matter a lot more.

Bucket List 2015

Photo: Lee Nutter

Photo: Lee Nutter

Not that I've really got any idea, but I think one aid towards both happiness and fulfillment is to never plateau—to never live off your past in a way that excuses you from investing in the present.

2014 was full of firsts. I visited Southeast Asia for the first time, had an idyllic first modeling tour in Australia [and made it to all but two of the states and internal territories], spent six months getting splinters and busting my balls to make a seven-story-playhouse-sculpture and learning a lot of new skills [and a few rough life lessons] along the way, got work remodeling houses on the side, and other things.

The year before that, I published my first writing pieces, worked as a masseuse at an upscale spa, learned to fabricate gigantic fire cannons, and climbed into a sixty-five foot bamboo tower in nothing but a hard hat and climbing harness in order to adjust heavy fuel lines, did farm work for the first time, etc.

In times of inertia or fatigue or self-doubt, it's easy for me to feel discouraged, even envious, of my past self. Like I can't live up to my former energy or willingness to take risks. Like I'd rather just watch documentaries.

Which is it's in my best interest to suck it up and keep chugging onward and upward—so that, a month, a year, five years from now, I'll have to outdo myself again. 

So! Goals for this 2015:

1. Successfully complete my East Coast Model/Bike Tour [at the very least, “successfully” means I’ll see the trip to its end, and that my body, mind, and modeling reputation will all still be intact when I do—though, of course, I’m hoping for much more]

2. Expand my modeling network:

  • Not counting my East Coast trip, tour at least three US cities I’ve never been to before.
  • Meet more badass traveling models. 
  • Be open to planning a future tour with another model—something I’ve always been simultaneously attracted and averse to. [Can’t force it, but I want to be receptive to it.]

3. Improve my French throughout the year through daily practice [I've been good about this one so far]; move to northern France for the summer for a manor renovation project.

4. Debut modeling tour in Europe!

As for the winter and beyond…I’m not planning that far yet, but I’ve got several pipe dreams lined up that could all settle into the end of my year nicely if no other unforeseen opportunities arise:

Could do a Southern Tier road trip and model in the warmer states. Could go to Australia and New Zealand. Could teach another ski season. Could work a season in Antarctica. Could do my yoga teacher training. Could hide in South America or Southeast Asia. Could do a writing residency. Could join a yacht crew. Could very easily be enticed by something different from all of the above. Far too soon to know. 

To wax universal, if I may:

You are not your past accomplishments: prior successes do not validate your laziness, complacency, or self-coddling today. You are not your past failures: do not continually punish yourself for having tried and failed, nor even for having done wrong, provided that you did what you could to set things right and have put the lessons of your mistake into practice.

UPDATE: Continuing to go on longer rides on harder terrain and cross-train around the Bay. Soon going on my first multi-day ride; stay tuned. 8]

Winter is Coming

Cupertino, CA

The exhaustion this last year's imbued me with finally began petering out in late November. 

I've been working a lot—many seven-day weeks, many fourteen-hour days, many of those unpaid. I've been disillusioned—witnessed [and, occasionally, been the target of] misaimed explosions of entitlement, manipulation, and even abuse from individuals I'd formerly admired. My mind, body, sanity, and finances have all taken some gnarly blows. 

I'm not ready to dunk into those memories and convert my findings into a blog post yet, and it's possible I'll never feel inclined to do so. For now, suffice it to say that I've been learning, and relearning, and relearning.

The upsides of last spring-summer-fall have been great, too, albeit largely retrospective. I've been challenged in completely unfamiliar ways, tapped into new skills and interests, improved my communication skills, learned not suffer for my sense of "justice", and climbed out of some pretty ugly messes somehow better off than I'd been before falling into them. 

And so on. 

Suddenly, my time is open again, my lifestyle lacking any sort of built-in structure or routine—how my days are spent and how I judge whether I'm spending them well is up entirely to my own whims, values, and self-discipline. But right now I have no close deadlines and no one I'm reporting to.

It's freeing, but also dangerous, especially when I'm recovering from a year's worth of wounds, subservience, and sleep debt, all of which might conspire to render me functionally inert.

Bee-lining from Arcata to the Nevada border, I originally intended to spend about five days in Reno, then about five more in the Bay Area, give or take, to tie up loose ends and decompress in two of the places that have vied for the title "Home" on my heart's compass. I hadn't saved nearly as much money as I'd hoped to over a year of radical frugality, so I was in a hurry to get to New Mexico.

Well, that didn't exactly happen. My car decided to freak out and sit pouting in an auto-shop lot for almost two weeks in Reno. Meanwhile, I grew more attached than ever to the idiosyncrasies of one of the most underrated cities in America and of my favorite people in it. 

Of course, that's what makes it a trap. My car broke down and took two weeks [and almost two grand that I didn't have] to fix. Meanwhile, I ran around amidst desert hot springs and trees full of horned owl chicks, got treated to all-you-can-eat sushi [which, at $15-25 a head, is fresher and better than any mid-range-to-expensive sushi I've ever had in the Bay—no one ever believes this, including myself from a couple years ago, until they come to Reno and are taken to precisely the right sushi spots by a local, but it's true], had a fantastic goodbye party thrown together at the last second, which got such a good turn-out that I started feeling a bit too ooey-gooey to want to leave.

Similarly, the Bay found me entangling with all the local goings-on. Visited my family and helped them decommoditize [i.e., threw away years and years of crap accumulated in the name of nostalgia—a habit that runs in my family that I've painfully had to break out of, because a nomadic lifestyle does not support hoarding memorabilia], and further prepared for my bike trip by learning some basic repairs at home from my dad, who's a cycling enthusiast. Meanwhile I was paid in chocolate milk for late-night rescue missions; was adopted by gaggles of gregarious gay men in bars on the Castro who stole me from the friends I'd come with; went on my biggest bike ride yet, with a climb that was brutally humbling [the better to kickstart my motivation for the coming months]; ate a giant penis macaroon courtesy of Hot Cookie SF; got free front-row tickets to "Margaret", a concert by Jason Webley and a bunch of amazing musicians revolving around a scrapbook one of them had found in a dumpster; underground warehouse venues; watched nature documentaries; studied French; had unexpected and delightful run-ins with out-of-town friends. 

I have no regrets, but my leeway to decompress is narrowing fast.

Hitting the road for one more detour: Christmas in Gerlach [missed peak season, and there's no sense in trying to move or get a job on Christmas or Christmas Eve], and then beelining it to Santa Fe, now eager to buckle down and get to work after a few extra weeks of family, friends, getting my life in order, and some good old debauchery. 

It'll be later than I'd originally planned—but perhaps not later than I was really meant to arrive. Fingers crossed!

Do what scares you.

With Cam Attree at Broken Head, QLD, Australia. Thankfully there was no literal breaking of heads during my cartwheelling frolic.

With Cam Attree at Broken Head, QLD, Australia. Thankfully there was no literal breaking of heads during my cartwheelling frolic.

Reno, NV

The idea for this bike trip first made its entrance in the loft of an industrial artists' warehouse in Melbourne. Like the rogue raindrops sogging the floor, it had probably leaked into the room through one of the broken windows. Meanwhile, Alex and I were asphyxiating ourselves in the vortex of scummy blankets we'd built as a stronghold against the cold.

Our discussion turned to things we'd never done before and wanted to do, and Alex mentioned long-distance biking, particularly from the States through South America. 

I cringed. My mind glued together a collage of disasters: being hit by a car, stranded in the middle of nowhere, assaulted, etc. I admitted that I'd be terrified about doing anything of the kind.

He laughed. "Don't you say that's usually when you should do something?"

"Yeah, but I don't know anything about bikes. I went on little bike rides with my dad when I was a kid, but it's not like I know about anything, not even specs and sizing and all that."

"Well, yeah....Exactly. You could even do it alone. I couldn't afford it."

"And I could?"

"Well, there's modeling. Bike somewhere you've always wanted to visit, with cities you've always wanted to shoot in."

"That's completely insane. A logistical nightmare, just for starters."

Mockingly: "Yeah, you're right....You won't."

Of course, once the idea infected my head, I knew I had to try. And, of course, once I had the conviction to try, Alex began battling his own fears of what might happen to me on the trip [which, after all, were similar to mine—that I might get hit by a car, or assaulted, or stranded, et al]. But he also knows what I need in order to be happy; he knows that I need a bit of self-validating chaos in order to maintain emotional stasis and well-being. That I have to show myself what I can do, in the face of my doubts.

I'm not a stranger to chasing the unfamiliar. Two days ago, we'd found our way to that chilly loft like aimless drivers in the night, headed faithfully along unfamiliar roads in spite of never seeing farther than a few feet ahead.

In fact, one reason I live the way I do is precisely because it's a release valve to the anxiety and fear I'd otherwise harbor. An inclination to skip winter for a year brought us to Southeast Asia, because we didn't have the overhead to visit our friends in New Zealand, and because the idea made me anxious in a visceral way.

Months later, we'd just begun to feel like Baan Mae Haad, a village on the tropical island of Koh Tao, was as much like home as any town we'd lived in, when a sudden whiff of dirt-cheap tickets to Australia compelled us to leave our idyllic beach-wandering existence and hop on a ferry, then on a wagon, then on a train, then spend a night fraternizing with stray cats in the station before our next train arrived after a six hour delay, haggling for a cab, sleeping at the airport, and finally boarding our flight, three days after initially leaving Koh Tao. 

On the plane we met a man who offered us a ride from the airport and dropped us off, after our repeated assurances that he'd taken us to the right place [and, even then, only after we'd agreed to take his business card just in case we wound up in a jam], in front of a dilapidated warehouse, dressed modestly in barbed wire and a broken chain-link fence, at 2:00am local time.

The upstairs loft belonged to a guy Alex had befriended in the States years ago who was off working the mines. He'd left us a "Welcome to 'Straya!" type of note that indicated a gift under the desk, which turned out to be weed and rolling papers; even though neither of us smoke, the gesture had me giddy over its adorableness. In our seven weeks home-basing in Melbourne, during which I'd take short solo trips around the east coast, I never met our host.

The morning after our arrival, we walked through a maze of industrial buildings feeling a dazed mixture of culture-shock and reverse-culture-shock after our months in Asia. It was pure warehouseland, without a residence or business within twenty blocks, and consequently it was a dead silent neighborhood [if you can call it a neighborhood] except around 3am, when teenagers would show up to loudly drift and sometimes wreck their fancy new cars without fear of interruption. Eventually we emerged onto a main road, spotted a tram stop and waddled up to it. In our pockets were Thai baht, Lao kip, Malaysian ringgit, and a few US dollars. The operator shrugged and beckoned us aboard, anyway. Without local currency, electronic devices, local contacts in town, or any idea where we were going or how we'd find our way back, we hopped on without hesitation.

We were home again.

Channeling My Inner Chickenshit

For weeks now I've repeated, like a broken record, the same phrase to whomever's asked me how I'm doing: "About to fly to Bangkok with a one-way ticket." Each time, the words emerged automatically; meanwhile, I was catatonic, not registering the words that were fast becoming my own personal fucking catchphrase.

Really, that's not an answer to the question How are you doing? but everyone I've said it to has accepted it as such.

This is the last time I'm stating it, but this time I'm at least half-conscious of my words: I'm flying to Bangkok in a little over twelve hours...and that's basically the extent of my itinerary thus far.

As my departure's been arriving, a lot of people I've caught up with or run into--mainly acquaintances or bygone friends from a past life I no longer relate to--keep saying things to me like, "I wish I could just get up and go like you, by the seat of your pants, caution to the wind, [insert cliche after cliche here]--you're so fearless/free-spirited/bohemian." Or whatever.

They couldn't be farther from the truth.

I'd like to officially come out: By default, I'm actually pretty fucking neurotic. I overthink, overanalyze, overspeculate on worst-case scenarios. My natural tendency is to swing between being a control freak, and being opportunistically lazy. I am aeons away from being inherently free from fear and anxiety.

A very select few close friends of mine know this all too well; on the other hand, my acquaintances tend to invent a persona for me that I generally haven't bothered to disillusion them from because--I'll admit--the persona is pretty flattering. However, it's a fucking facade, and after a long-ass while of being adulated [and even iconized] on false pretenses got me feeling pretty worn-down. It's that whole it's worse to be loved for what you're not than hated for what you are platitude-majigg, incarnate. This incongruence was a large factor behind my compulsively deactivating my Facebook a while ago [which I've just now reactivated, after the persuasive barrages of a couple friends--given that I'm traveling without a phone, and with a camera].

Now, presenting the reason I'm writing all of this:

By birth, I'm chickenshit. That's not meant to be self-deprecating; rather, the thing I've just realized is that that's kind of the whole fucking point.

Listen. On my first solo road trip, I scraped together $900 and left my credit/debit cards behind. I packed my car with a sleeping bag, climbing shoes, and a couple cans of soup left over from my winter supply. That was to last me through three months of driving a vague loop from Tahoe down to San Diego, up to Vancouver, then back down to Tahoe.

It should be obvious to anyone with the faintest grasp of American gas prices, cost of living, and geography that $900 was not even remotely in the vicinity of being almost enough for such a trip. I had no jobs lined up, and no firm plans of where I'd stay along the way.

Call it poor planning, but I did that on purpose. It forced me to have a better time than I ever could have had if I'd taken the precautions of responsible planning and budgeting, if I'd been able to buffer myself in creature comforts, if I'd been able to maintain all the same habits.

Why? Because doing so was the only way to finally quell the unfounded fear, anxiety, and paranoia that had been plaguing me all winter.

To use an excerpt from an email I wrote an old friend the other night, featuring the exact moment this realization of my own behavior and motivations suddenly hit me:

My winter's similarly been a succession of catalyzing shaker-uppers. Lots of out-of-nowhere encounters [with people, but also other things--books, experiences, coincidences] that have propelled me to be introspective in a productive way, rather than "introspective" in that punishing, paralyzing, depressed way...which I don't think is true introspection to begin with. I think true introspection might lead you down dark passageways, but eventually comes full circle back out into the light--a brighter, cleaner light than whatever you'd been basking in before.

Blah, blah, figurative language. Metaphors and shit.

Anyway, you're welcome? Not really, though--I mean, not that you're not welcome, but it was a symbiotic exchange. I've been learning about myself from all my interactions this winter, too--in gauging how I react to different questions or situations, in gauging what feelings emerge or linger when I'm alone again after the interaction is over. It's interesting. I've dug up a lot of old ghosts from the past [ranging from casual acquaintances...to closet-skeletons].

This winter's been existential boot camp for me. Asking myself a lot of unhealthy questions, dealing with unwarranted anxiety and depression. [Granted, who's to say when those things are and are not warranted? Are they ever warranted? Are they ever not? What does anything mean? AHHHH!] 

Then I climbed out. The boy went away, so that I'd be left alone to make sure I was standing on two feet and empowering myself [rather than turning to the comforts of a partner to use as a crutch and distract me from myself--knowing him makes me wiser]. I pulled out my fucking IUD, which had never even occurred to me as a culprit. I started tackling one important task at a time, instead of overwhelming myself with several and being reduced to arresting procrastination. I went outside. I woke up earlier. Then I started meeting up with people I hadn't seen in a long, long time--and seeing myself reflected in ways that I denied at first, resentful ["they're just projecting some idealized archetype onto me, rather than simply seeing me"], and then later accepted as facets of truth. Just because a perspective is dissimilar--and incomplete--doesn't mean it's ALL wrong. I mean, it's limited, embellished, but so is everything--we limit things so they'll be simple, and embellish them so they'll be memorable. And even if the projection seems too lofty, the answer isn't resentment--or big-headedness--it's comparative self-evaluation to the other person's projection of me...and then converting it into a challenge, or an inspiration.

Anyway, that's what my own internal process for this winter looks like. Letting go of arbitrary fear.

In all honesty: as much practice I've had in chasing uncertainty [and I've had a lot of fucking practice in the last few years], it still scares the steaming shit out of me every time I walk up to the precipice.

However, I know from experience that--once I jump--the fear becomes obsolete, and all that's left is adrenaline and a sense of infinity. 

[This is literal, too: One of my best ways of getting myself out of a depressive funk is to go jump into a cold body of water--ideally an ocean, lake, or river, at night, in winter. And when I get out of the water, I feel so alive and not at all cold. The initial apprehension is there every single time, and never even really diminishes--but as I keep logging mileage this same pointless thing countless times, I become more and more assured of how I'm going to feel, once I get it over with, by a deeper knowledge that beats off my instincts to back down. It's my own version of practicing/cultivating something like faith.]

So, a month ago I worried about mosquito prevention, worst-case scenarios, theft, issues at the border, being targeted by the police, running out of money...I even thought about all the things I could put my money towards, or all the work I could get, or things I could do, if only I chose to cancel the trip and stay in the States.

The closer it gets--the more of an inevitability it becomes--the more relaxed I feel. I get this sort of zen-like resignation. I'm packing next to nothing, and I know once I get through airport security, I'm going to feel like I've finally returned home. That warm narcotic-orgasmic-bracing relief of tension I didn't even know I'd been carrying.

It never, ever feels like that's going to happen before the fact, but I know from experience to have faith because that's always what happens.

Incidentally, this is why I only buy non-refundable plane tickets: because I know myself well enough to know that, if I allow myself an easy way out, I'll end up taking it. I have to trick myself, all the time--not only with traveling, but with more mundane things [like studying, exercising, working, errands, hygiene--anything requiring discipline, which is something I decidedly do not have a natural-occuring supply of.

Tricks...I have to leave myself no easy way out, or make things into a game, or make it so that I'd have someone to answer to should I back out--where I'd lose face or let someone down by doing so. 

Some people seem to be easily self-motivated, or truly fearless. Lately people keep making the mistake of thinking I'm one of those people. Not even close. In truth, I am as lazy and cowardly as the next person. I just don't let my laziness and cowardice get the best of me--I corner myself until I have no choice but to act constructively.

Tonight, I sat on the roof of my old house with Alex. We were silent for a while.

"I'm nervous."

"I'm nervous."

"That's why we're going, though."

"Exactly."

It's not just about questing for adventure because it's fun [though that's obviously a big part of it]. If I was actually fearless, and living exactly the way that I do, it'd be gratuitous. I'd just be wanking my ego, over and over, resulting in weak thrills, at best. There'd be no rush, no challenge, and most importantly, no growth. 

I have no use for a stagnant life--even if that life appears on the outside to be rife with extreme sports and strange encounters. Nothing disturbs me more than meeting someone with a life that appears full and rich and surreal, only to find that they've become desensitized and adopt a too-cool-for-school attitude towards everything in the entire world--that is, towards their own existence. It disgusts me, even. They do all this cool shit, meet all these people, but have nothing to live for: philosophical zombies in glamorous packaging.

A couple days ago a girl asked me, "Why Thailand?"

"Well, not just Thailand. Not sure where else I might be going from there."

"Yeah, but why Thailand, in particular? As your first stop."

"Because it was cheaper than New Zealand, and more of a departure from what I know."

"That doesn't answer my question, though."

"...Doesn't it?"

Thailand's got nothing to do with this trip, really.

The ultimate reason I'm going is unknown to me, of course: if I already knew my reason for going on this trip, then I wouldn't need to bother going.

More generally, the reason I do what I do is because I'm not a philosophical zombie yet, and this trip is just one of succession self-vaccinations against becoming one.