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.

Anthropological Upshot of Being a Ham

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Plantation, FL

My mornings at Henry and David's house in Miami were relaxing and lazily fluctuated between easy conversation and solitarily sitting in the sun, drinking too much coffee, watching the dogs stare dolefully at me, watching the cat almost choke on a live lizard, and working on a bit of tan line reduction for the sake of my upcoming shoots.

On Day 9, Rumi came to pick me up for my first modeling job of the trip [not to mention my first ever shoot in Florida] at a Weston condo for a laid-back half day of portraits, figure work, glamour shots, and painting references [I even got to read his new Alan Watts book for a few minutes of more candid/unrehearsed portraiture—nothing like getting to read a good book on the job]. We'd previously worked together twice in the DMV area and I hadn't seen him for a couple years. We discussed our mutual inability to understand golf, Madagascar, prohibiting oneself from aspiring to one's dreams out of fear or guilt, and in between changing locations and lighting set-ups I flipped through a couple books containing photos he'd taken in Cuba.

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

One of my favorite aspects of this job isn't the modeling itself—it's the spectrum of people I get to meet and briefly connect with in a one-on-one setting. A photographer can be anyone from a straight-up professional photographer [and, even then, they might make a living as a fashion photographer, a stock photographer, a wedding photographer, a glamour nude photographer, or shooting senior portraits...] to an art student [and then, that might be a young precocious art student, or it might be someone who's recently immigrated or left a more conventional career with dreams of being an artist], and retired hobbyists from all manner of professions and backgrounds. 

The interaction is ephemeral, and sort of "outside" of society [particularly during a nude shoot, which is an rather unconventional way to first meet someone], so oftentimes conversation quickly transcends stifled small talk. On drives to shoot locations, or while changing lights, or while taking breaks to re-up on coffee or Calories or change outfits, talk gets real, quickly, between people who might never cross paths otherwise. 

Modeling ensures me a life richly furnished with other people's stories: hilarious, tragic, intimate, extraordinary, and taboo. Survival stories, existential woes, forgotten dreams, marriage gripes. I've left shoots with new books on everything from quantum physics to the history of skepticism. I've left them with beadwork from Panama and cigars from the Dominican Republic and homemade wine and contacts for seasonal jobs in Antarctica. And my shoots often involve being privy to the unique perks of different people's lives and jobs: I've gotten to drive heavy machinery, smash a car, and wield oxyacetylene torches; I've gotten to hang out in eye-bogglingly fancy high-security establishments, pretending to be similarly pristine and decadent...but keenly aware of how long ago I last washed my hair in reality; I've gotten to crawl through secret tunnels and storage vaults in giant museums and take a bird's-eye peek down at dinosaur skeletons from above; I've been immersed in an intentional living community in the mountains, where I was dressed up as Disney princesses. All because of modeling.

It's an aspect to being a freelance traveling model that's rarely discussed but, for me, randomness and anthropological interest are key highlights of this job. Learning about different lives.

On my last day in Miami, Henry took me J. Wakefield Brewing, which just opened up in Wynwood. Fanfuckingtastic beer! Went home for my shoot with David [and we let Henry photograph me, too; he scuba dives and does awesome underwater photography but this was his first time photographing a nude model], who then took me out to dinner, gave me a parting gift of a few small bottles of scotch, and passed me off to his awesome partner Sarah who is now hosting me in Plantation. Today Sarah's been at work and I've had a mellow solitary day in of reading [Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino], catching up on emails, and hanging out in her pool.

I've been so well cared for by good people on this entire trip, and these last few days in particular have been so easygoing...I'm quite spoiled. Where'd all the brutal, validating struggle and turmoil I'm supposed to be undergoing disappear to? 8P

Anyway, these few days of modeling and relaxing have been a good little holiday from sweating and pedaling and sleeping-behind-random-buildings, but the riding will be resuming pretty soon and my next cluster of gigs aren't till Jacksonville!