Machinery's starting to wear out [NY, MA, NH]

Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Melrose, MA

Today and yesterday have been devoted to resting up my knee, which have caused me increasing aggravation over the last week. No idea why. So it goes.

I feel like the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper. I'm staying in a suburban neighborhood with pretty wooden houses. It'd be nice if I were more mobile—for the sake of my knee, I've been keeping off the bike and only cursorily wandering around the neighborhood on foot [I'm a bit of a ways from the nearest T station on foot]. The greater Boston area's got a special place in my heart; in 2009 it was the backdrop for a paradigm shift that started me on the world-wandering, helter-skelter beginners-mind m.o. I've since committed ceaselessly to for going on six years. But in this particular instance I'm trapped by the needs of my damn meat-suit. 

On this trip I've gotten an empirical, concrete look at degrees of separation. You know how sometimes you'll have an acquaintance or friend who introduces you to another friend of theirs, and then you and this new person hit it off and eschew the middleman? 

Right now I'm staying with a partner's ex-girlfriend's stepdad and we're having fascinating ideological conversations over dinner. And I only met my partner in the first place because of the vehement referral of a woman I briefly worked with when she found out he and I were both in Thailand at the same time. 

There've been a lot of those, as far as my hosts go. I'll meet someone on this trip [by happenstance, or via Couchsurfing or Warmshowers, or because they're a client, or because they're staying at the same house I'm staying at], they'll set me up with a sibling or a friend or a coworker or a neice-of-former-coworker-of-a-friend-of-a-friend a couple states down the line if they think we'd like each other.

It's pretty cool. The matchmaking abilities of people I've randomly met on the road have been pretty on point.

So, backpedaling.

I left Brooklyn, hung over and sleep deprived, and biked seventy miles to Mastic Beach on Long Island. That's when my knee started to complain, and consequently the seventy miles on flat were a lot more grueling than I expected. Once in Mastic Beach, I camped in the backyard of a couple's beach house and was treated to fully-from-scratch homemade pizza with truffle spread. I was so tired that my tent caused me insurmountable difficulty to erect for the first time ever.

The next day I was rained on throughout the fifty miles to the Orient Point, NY ferry on the tip of Long Island that would take me to New London, NH. My compounded exhaustion was beginning to get to me—fifty miles had recently become so attainable, but when I got to the ferry I slumped into a bench and could barely move. 

My host had taken pity on me because of the weather and offered to come scoop me up from New London. The weather wasn't actually a problem—other than all the water in my eyes, I've kind of enjoyed my days riding through the rain, provided it's not too cold or windy—but my knee was beginning to feel a bit swollen and a lot worse. So, he came and got me, equipped with arnica cream.

In the meantime, I had a brief look at New London, a place that had never been on my radar. I thought it was very cute, and had a good feeling about it [within seconds, I knew I liked it more than everything else I've seen of Connecticut]; I made a mental note that if I ever passed through again, I'd stop by for a bit.

Tom, my host, had gone out in the morning and gathered clams and oysters and caught a bluefish for tonight's seafood feast in Westerly, RI. After quitting his job two days ago, another cyclist, Josh, was also spending the night; we decided to ride out to Providence, RI together the following day.

And then there was Providence, where I found the extrapolation of Peter Pan's Lost Boys hanging out on Pinocchio's Pleasure Island.

Got mad fancy in the funky jungle: where the roads are paved in glass, where the cops parallel park like they're on acid, where small children cart around Peewee Herman mannequins on snowboards in June, where all ideological conversations crumble into deconstructing a movie where the protagonist is a rogue car tire, where everything begs to be clobbered with drumsticks, where lort is a $3.50 mystery, where kids in rehab are cheered up with morning renditions of "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park".

Stayed in a punk house for a couple nights, graffitied into oblivion, juggling pins and beer bottles and dumpstered furniture and peeling ceilings and walls. Hung out on the porch [into which the words "No Parents No Rules" were inscribed], was offered many beers. Laid back in the bed of a truck and was carted to an underground show in an unmarked loft by a convenience store, whiling away the ride with a discussion of 90's cartoons.

I don't think I've met nicer kids in my entire life. Absolutely no pretense, no judgment. It was a rare situation where I was the only girl amongst a group of guys in their twenties...and felt neither dismissed nor idolized by anyone in any way. Just a homie with a stash of purse beers, a good spitting range, and a loud laugh.

Actually, that's not even a matter of being in an all-boy group. Being in a group, in general, of any kind, with other humans, makes one vulnerable to being compartmentalized based on their gender. These kids didn't, in the way that little kids don't [until they're soon set straight and taught to...].

Of course, no photos from this time exist. A lot of things in life are best left undocumented.

From Providence I rode to Hull, MA, an adorable beach community I'd never heard of, because a friend I'd met earlier on this trip was there and offered to spring for dinner. I was given an impractically large bottle of wine that I resolved to carry to my hosts in Melrose the next day, with the hopes that they'd consume it [no such luck, they don't like white wine]. Stopped in Boston to bask in introspective nostalgia and sunshine, sit in the grass, and eat an entirely bacon-themed meal from a food truck [I'm not even into bacon, but damn, that was a decadent oreo cheesecake bacon truffle].

And here I am, with my grumpy knee, using this time to make good on the weeks of sleep debt.

My host and I drove lazily around, admiring the diversity of architecture in a few beach communities, stopping to examine lobster traps and figure out how they worked, and wandering along a squeaking beach as the sunset painted everything lilac.

Portsmouth, NH

The overcast ride up along the coast of New Hampshire was a contender for the prettiest stretch of bike riding I've seen on this trip. I passed several amazing sand artists...somewhat hilariously/tragically, though, all their badass sculptures were defiled with the logos of the huge corporations they were endorsed by [Geico, McDonalds, etc]. So it goes. 

My body's begun to mutiny against me in general for this last leg of the trip [joints, stomach, you name it...]. Fortunately I opted not to book any work in Maine, preferring the idea of relaxing for the last leg of my trip, so I've been able to squeeze in some recovery time while still continuing to move along on schedule. So, eh. It was bound to catch up to me sooner or later.

In Portsmouth was treated to dinner by a friend-of-a-friend with whom I had quite a bit of overlapping interests/experience [he's gone to Burning Man for fifteen years, has hiked both the PCT and AT in their entirety—twice for the AT, and has begun photographing models for glamour and art nudes]. So many of the connections I've made on this trip have been referred by friends...social media's good for something, after all.

We then went to Smuttynose Brewing Company so I could get dropped off with my host [also a friend-of-a-friend connected to me via social media], a brewer there who was wrapping up for the day, and wound up getting a full after-hours private tour of the brewery. Boom, boom. Over the next couple days I made some new friends, rode around town on the back of a monstrous '87 scooter, and watched urassic World, during which I had a great time [but may have inadvertently precluded others' enjoyment] by continuously laughing at debatably inappropriate moments because...well...was I supposed to take any part of that movie seriously? 

On to Maine: The final frontier.

Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

DMV

Photo: Grissom Photography, Fredericksburg, VA

Photo: Grissom Photography, Fredericksburg, VA

Baltimore, MD

"I suppose if there's anything you've learned on this trip, it's to have no expectations, or that if you do have expectations, don't attach to them."

Ain't it the fucking truth.

Whew. It's been a socially and photographically dense week-or-so.

Reston, VA: Hung out with photographer Kollin Bliss and art model Blueriverdream. Indulged in some decadent TV-watching vegetation and chocolate-eating, had some good long talks accompanied by aimless wandering, seafood, and beer. 

College Park, MD: Spent a couple nights at the Whytestone Creative Outcrop, an intentional burner community. Such a delightfully eclectic revolving-open-door stream of people...artists, activists, performers...and also government contractors and corporate 9-to-5-ers with secret deviant lives. Good conversations ensued.

I slept in a curtained nook in the magically-light-proof basement that successfully nullified my [sometimes pesky] biological clock, where a bunch of us watched Ex Machina projected on the wall [supplemented with delicious beer and pizza intermission], atop a magic-carpet double-decker-couch-mattress. I spent my last day there testing out a transcendentally exciting hypothesis about protein bars, crawling around in the grass during a thunderstorm, and being part of the cackling peanut gallery for what could be described as a spontaneous and unintentional 90's Calvin Klien ad. To make a long story short.

Baltimore, MD: Went to a charity art auction with photographers Funktionhaus [below] and PK Brazil and I won a T-shirt, just as I was passing out from compounded exhaustion! 

Several days of back-to-back photo shoots.

During a beach shoot, I befriended a pretty young woman who'd been sunbathing nearby, and she told me I'd shattered her preconception of what models were like [i.e., ditzy and catty]. Score! 

Moments later, I got slashed up on a rusty fishhook on the beach. Can't win 'em all. Hoping my tetanus booster is up to date...

Spent a day riding around Baltimore [which seems to be mostly dilapidated row houses] with a badass cyclist and kindred spirit [he's on a short tour around DC/Philly/NYC...on a fixed gear bike, with nothing but the messenger bag on his back]. Then we were treated to Ethiopian food by Jim, the friend I made in Beaufort, NC, who is almost at the end of his year-long post-retirement journey traveling in a catamaran, and who surprised me yesterday with two books he'd gotten me as gifts: Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and Gary Paulsen's Winterdance.

Polaroid: Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Polaroid: Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Virginia

Photo: Mer Soleil, Amelia Island, FL

Photo: Mer Soleil, Amelia Island, FL

Fredericksburg, VA

Stayed with a Warmshowers host in Norfolk, an awesome girl who works as a civil engineer and had her last cross-country bicycle tour from San Diego to Virginia cut short when she was hit by a car in Arizona.

Norfolk is gnarly to ride through. Not in a good way. There were no good bicycle routes, so I wound up riding past landfills and porn shops, getting lost, and eventually winding up on the correct ferry despite having been mis-directed by several locals.

Made it to my next Warmshowers hosts in Williamsburg, which lent itself to much more pleasant scenery as I rode trails through the Jamestown Settlement. My hosts had a beautiful, giant house right on the river—the entire back side of their home was glass, lending itself to incredible panoramic views of the sunset, and my room had its own private deck over the water.

Set out for Richmond the next day, where I stayed and rested for a couple days at the Bainbridge Collective, an awesome house full of like-minded freelancers/artists/weirdos.

I'd ridden my most grueling five days in a row: about 320 miles in total, with some gnarly headwinds and hills. In the middle of those five days I felt my body shut down entirely; my ass was sprouting painful saddle sores [over bruises, no less] and my brain was barely functioning, especially after a few terrifying jaunts over shoulder-less highways and bridges with fast traffic [as much as I've tried to avoid dangerous roads, I've found myself having to take them on occasion]. Oftentimes I'd have to re-stock on food in gas stations, with no other nearby alternatives. 

My body hates me a little bit, but it'll thank me once I learn to crush wine barrels with my legs.

In any case, that last fifty-mile day over rolling hills felt like a breeze...I've become so much stronger. At the beginning of this trip, fifty miles was the ceiling for how much I'd ride in a day, and it would take me all day, on flat ground. 

Anyway, I fell in love with Richmond at first sight [my hosts in Williamsburg had given me a great bike route for getting to it—riding through unpopulated countryside and small local farms, and then dropping around and down a hill, suddenly, to see the skyscrapers of RVA barely popping up ahead over a dense foreground of green].

I rode into the city, on a trail along the river, through grimy chunks of industrialization, past run-down warehouses and winding alleyways, under overpasses thick with seafoam-green-stained metal brackets and woven together so densely it felt like a fantastical subtropolis.

If ever a city has beckoned me to pursue some urban-spelunking...this one's got to be a goldmine. It brought the video game Fallout to mind; a juxtaposition between anachronism and post-apocalyptic gloom. I absolutely loved it.

The house instantly felt like home. In a span of a couple days, I wound up at a free vegan cooking class, getting a beer flight at a local brewery, enthralling the resident alley cat with my feet at night, wandering Carytown and eating gourmet cupcakes, naked lizard-rock basking and swimming in the warm river, watching Red Dwarf projected onto the huge blank white wall of the tall-ceilinged house, watching cage dancers at a local goth/fetish club, decompressing in my skivvies with a new book [The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, a gift from a friend I'd made in Charlotte] on the incredible back porch, eating amazing cheese steaks from the place next door. 

The residents of the house all seem to be pretty busy and active people; I had the house to myself for good chunks of time despite there being six-or-so residents, and didn't even manage to meet all of them in the couple days that I was in town. The ones I did meet were supremely easy to fall into and out of socializing with, and I hung out with in a revolving-door fashion...I'd be sitting on the back porch and one of them would come home, grab some chocolate milk or a beer or a cigarette, and sit on the back porch and talk to me for a while until it was time for either them or me to head off to whatever other plans we had next. When someone was free, they'd take me on a short adventure [i.e., most of the above paragraph], and drop me back off at the house when it was time for them to go to work or whatever else they had going on. Awesome people; before I even left town I already wanted to come back and visit again.

Also hung out a couple times with fellow traveling model Rachel Dashae, who is a total sweetheart and fucking adorable.

From Richmond, rode on to Fredericksburg. Sixty miles on a hot day with a couple thousand feet of climbing, which I managed to do [on very little sleep] in the same amount of time that it had taken me to ride 35 miles on flat ground at the beginning of this trip, a couple months ago. 

Everything's changed on this trip. My aptitude at coping with fear, fatigue, frustration, pain, discomfort, monotony. I feel infinitely more humble, and infinitely more confident. I'm not at a point where I feel I can even come close to doing any of my inner processes justice via blog entry [nor do I feel inclined to publicly share them, at least any time soon], but this trip has changed my life in a pretty huge, unprecedented way.

And I'm still only just over halfway done. No idea what else is in store.

Fredericksburg is rounding out to a pretty balanced couple of days:

Stayed with another Warmshowers host in an enormous house full of snakes [one of which may be getting named after me—quite an honor], with a six-story-tall yard made up of backyard terraces and a complicated system of wooden decks, shrouded in thirty species of tree...there's a bocce ball court waaaay down at the bottom of the terraces but you can't really see it from the house. 

Got a couple shoots lined up—knocked one out today with Transient Photography, who was absolutely lovely to work with and talk to, and am shooting tomorrow with Touched by Gray Photos, who's been very well vouched for. 

Tomorrow I'm visiting my great-aunt; she's eighty-five and has broken her foot and could probably use some help around the house. It's been years since I saw her. 8]

And! Triumph! I finally succeeded in sleeping in, after weeks of failed attempts, which was probably facilitated by visiting a buffet after riding over from Richmond and, for the first time in my life, being able to make the most out of the all-you-can-eat factor...i.e., I had five full plates of food.

Good stuff. And I've got plenty of shoots and shenanigans lined up for once I get to the DMV!

Photo: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Photo: Noisenest, Durham, NC

North Carolina [Durham through Outer Banks]

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Norfolk, VA

Many people, shoots, soul-searching-solo-stints, and harrowing holy-shit-I'm-going-to-die-today experiences later...and I'm behind on the whole blogging-updates-thing, still. [Also, still have a few cards I haven't mailed out. However, if you DID receive one, please let me know...trying to keep a head count to make sure mail's getting where it's supposed to].

This is going to be another compensatory here-I-don't-have-time-to-write-about-all-that's-happened-but-have-some-photos-instead posts, for the most part.

Everyone I meet keeps joking that I should just write a retrospective book. Wild on a bicycle. Ha. [Incidentally, I just finished reading Wild this morning.] 

Which sounds ridiculous to me, because the most essential, formative, hilarious, beautiful, exciting, monumental parts of this trip are the ones that I don't feel remotely inclined to publicize—certainly not for a long, long time. I think that's just how life is, at least if you're living a good one. 

But I'll give you a little something, context-wise, before passing out from exhaustion now that I've made it to Virginia. Which, over the last couple days, I kind of thought would never happen.

Headed from Charlotte to Durham, where I worked with Noisenest, Aureole, Bman, J Clarke. All awesome folks. I spent a lot of time running around with a flashlight in a creepy warehouse basement full of broken dolls and stuffed animals.

Photo: Aureole, Durham, NC

Photo: Aureole, Durham, NC

Photo: BmanPhotos, Clemmons, NC

Photo: BmanPhotos, Clemmons, NC

From there, went to Beaufort, NC, and stayed with Kevin at her new adorable little beachy-1800's-house-with-dolphins-for-neighbors there. We originally met at the Everglades Hostel in southern Florida for a night...then randomly bumped into on the street in St. Augustine a couple weeks later. Serendipity, boom boom.

Kevin and I went out in the morning on my rest day in town, though the pouring rain sent her back home. I spent a day wandering around aimlessly in the rain on foot, singing and enjoying how ghostly the town appeared, off-season and on an off-weather day. I wound up on a dock, doing yoga, and then after assuring myself that Kevin's house [i.e., a warm shower and a bed] were within quick-sprinting distance of the dock, I impulsively jumping into the cold water, fully-clothed. 

ut instead of running to Kevin's house once I climbed back out, I laid out on the dock and enjoyed a brief period of the numb chill, knowing it wasn't too cold. A bit of rain, a bit of a breeze, some muted sunshine peeking through for reprieve. 

On what's been such a socially dense trip, I'd almost forgotten how high I get off slow chunks of solitude [granted, those come on a bike, too—but since I've started pushing myself to do longer days, I'm often just distracted by how much my ass hurts].

Went out on my own at night for some food, and [after I elbowed off some rather aggressively chauvinistic drunk military bros] wound up befriending Jim, the only other non-local at the one open diner [we picked one another out instantly as fellow aliens in what was otherwise a rather homogenized social scene]. Jim's been steering his boat along the Great Loop for a year, and we hung out and swapped travel stories for hours on his thirty-foot catamaran. 

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From there I rode the ferry to Ocracoke on the Outer Banks, and for the next couple nights I mostly kept to myself, wanting to continue the trend of solitude I'd recently felt inclined towards. People often tried to stop me as I pedaled past, beseeching me with offers of hospitality or meals or drinks or rides, usually with open-hearted generosity [though with obnoxious and condescending persistence in one or two cases] but I'd smile and decline and continue. It felt important to put myself in a bubble for a couple days, for some reason, and the Outer Banks felt like the perfect place to do it. Besides the single-serving friends I made for a few minutes at a time while on the ferries between islands, or when stopping to eat, I kept to myself.

I ninja-camped along the way in hidden spots. I read on the beach. I found a seven-foot dead mama shark, her baby still in amniotic fluid. Beautiful and incredible and sad.

In other news, I've been pushing myself harder than ever. Riding longer miles [at one point I my map lied to me and directed me to a road that doesn't actually exist...which turned into a 45-mile mistake when I had to backtrack], through the worst headwinds of the trip, for consecutive days. Rode over a bridge during sunset rush hour that wound up having no shoulder and rather aggressive traffic, and thought I was going to die. Heh. Whoops. Won't get any rest till Richmond. Oy.

And I'm going to have to take a couple days to recalibrate my appearance before commencing with Virginia or DMV shoots. These last days have inevitably left me with saddle sores [owww] and dark tan lines, despite sunscreen and so on. Which I'm sure most clients would not be very excited about. So that'll delay things by a bit.

But on the bright side, I've got some awesome Warm Showers hosts lined up for Virginia that I'm really excited to stay with [good change-up from the ninja camping, as nice as it is]. Whoo!

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Charlotte!

Charlotte, NC

Goodbye to my hosts from Conway, SC, with a celebratory flight:

Been falling in love with North Carolina. Knew I would, but damn. Charlotte, in particular, has one of my favorite places from this trip [I'd like to spend more time in Asheville, too, but, alas, I only had a couple days there...one good shoot, and one pretty hardcore miscommunication that I am trying not to be too disgruntled about].

Aaaand spent a good amount of time hanging out with [and modeling alongside] fellow model Brennan, who is an utter fucking riot and magical human. Definitely want to see more of her. 8]

Haven't had much leftover time or energy to write proper blog posts, but take that as a testament that I'm having a good fucking time.

PS: Anyone who sees this who donated before my trip began [meaning before March]...I've sent most of you cards [still got a few left to send out, been staggering], but please let me know whether or not you've gotten mail from me! Slightly paranoid that not all of it has made it where it needs to go; don't want to gyp anyone!

Georgia

Photo: Theresa Manchester, Miami, FL

Photo: Theresa Manchester, Miami, FL

Spent most of Georgia hiding out with no power and no Internet. Hence being far behind [realtime update: I'm in South Carolina now].

Stayed at the Hostel in the Forest. Easily one of the most magical places I've ever been. Was taken to a glass room on my first night, where I was treated to a magnificent panoramic light show by the local fireflies. Spent a lot of time naked-canoeing around a pond to a floating dock in the center [with little floating gardens of lemongrass and other herbs along its corners] where people would lounge around in the sun, drinking wine and jumping into a net hanging in the middle of the dock in order to cool off. Spent a couple nights sleeping in the floor of the geodesic library [below] that smelled of tree sap and had perfect acoustics; each morning I'd wake up to a couple hippies playing beautiful music in the center of the room as others sat around the edges and drank their coffee in reverence of the quiet mornings. Took hot baths outdoors, surrounded on all sides by trees. Tough life, I know.

At one point, we found a three-foot rattlesnake which was a safety concern [particularly since children stay at the hostel], so one of the guys bashed its head in and a bunch of us had to help hold it down as it was being skinned—even half an hour after being decapitated, it was writing reactively to each cut. Not wanting to waste, we then ate the meat, fried. I suppose my inner Lord of the Flies-ness came out, but I was so giddy and entranced by the whole process that I couldn't stop giggling, in complete awe, for hours.

After that, found myself in Savannah. Admittedly I didn't explore the town too much because I was too busy being enamored with the hilarious people I met there. Got dressed up arbitrarily while sitting around at home, played music, went to Tybee Island, got a stick-and-poke in my palm [my first] from one of the girls I stayed with, and it's already begun to fade. Fittingly, it says This too shall pass in Farsi.

I easily could have stayed there for a week, or a month...but I've got places to be. So I rolled onward, into South Carolina, where I am currently. More on that in my next post.

Didn't do any modeling in Georgia [was too busy being captivated by the woods and by the sparkly people I'd become so enamored with]. So you get more Miami-Beach-during-a-storm photos by the lovely Theresa Manchester. C'est la vie.

Photo: Theresa Manchester, Miami, FL

Photo: Theresa Manchester, Miami, FL

Jax to Amelia Island

Levitating. Photo: Mer soleil, Big talbot island, fl

Levitating. Photo: Mer soleil, Big talbot island, fl

Got way behind due to a combination of having-no-Internet-or-power and being-swept-up-by-the-Everything. So I've chunked up my missing time into a few time-release posts, to keep each post relatively digestible.

Blitzkrieg recap. So, North Florida was mainly characterized by modeling work.

1. Unexpectedly got hired for a gig writing copy for a start-up website preparing for launch, specifically because of my pertinent modeling and traveling experience. Wrote out project details on the back of a greasy paper place mat in a pizzeria, where I kept getting the stink eye from old couples because I was still tarted up to the nines in a skimpy black not-really-quite-a-dress dress from my morning's shoot. 

2. Shot with Norseman Photographic, who is exceptionally generous and delightfully irreverent, and gave me a parting gift of "two glass bottles of water from my home country of Norway...granted, I got them down the street". He also indulged me by pulling over and letting me clamber around the silly giant vehicle pictured below on our way to the actual shoot location.

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3. Attended BikeSmut at ZenCog bike shop in Jax. A bike-related pornographic film screening. Not only was it exactly what it probably sounds like, but far more. Hilarious. Awesome. Rode with a bunch of hooligans to Shantytown afterwards, a crusty sort of crusty dive bar where I felt right at home.

Photo: Nothing Butt Naked, Jacksonville Beach, FL

Photo: Nothing Butt Naked, Jacksonville Beach, FL

4. Spent two days shooting with Kyle, Nothing Butt Naked, and had an absolute blast. Popping water balloons, lying in caskets, drowning in Jaeger shot[glasse]s, playing with a snow machine and eight-foot-long spider-finger-things [knew that rock climber grip strength would come in handy someday], admiring the wild owl living in the backyard who was just slightly too far to get a photo of, going to the most excitable restaurant in the world [I did mean to use "excitable", yes]. 

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. Spent a couple days with Mer Soleil on Amelia Island. Received a fancypants fairy gift in the mail from my buddy Rachel in California [pictured at the bottom of this post]. Wore hotel slippers all over town. Ate at Gilbert's, a new restaurant on Amelia Island opened by a celebrity chef that's sort of a cutesy pseudo-fancy spin on soul food. Drank IPAs and danced around to the guttural thrum of a superlative sound system.

6. Received a momentous compliment when Jay, a photographer from Naples, contacted me asking if I had any short-notice availability...and wound up driving from Naples to Fernandina Beach and back in one day, just to shoot with me for two hours. That's about twelve hours or so of driving. As an additional honor, I was the first model he's ever hired [so far he's made part-time income shooting senior portraits, family portraits, a couple weddings, etc]. Pretty damn flattering, especially given the abundance of models in the Miami area. 

7. Last Florida shoot was with Krystal Rose, a badass photographer-and-sometimes-model who felt like a real kindred spirit. We wandered around Amelia Island afterwards and then hung out in a saltwater hot tub. Rough life.

8. Saw the mysterious billboard [no fine print to indicate a sponsor/organization/business] pictured above immediately upon crossing the border to Georgia. Laughed uncontrollably for about ten minutes. 

Photos: Mer Soleil, Big Talbot Island, FL

Photos: Mer Soleil, Big Talbot Island, FL

WEEK 1: Key West to Miami

Miami, FL

At this moment, I'm sitting home alone in Miami Springs. A big roly-poly dog is scootched up to me, vigorously licking the ear of the other dog currently keeping me company. A few feet away, the cat supervises the proceedings with a sage air. It's the eighth day of my trip. I've logged about 205 miles so far.

Things have been full and fast, so I haven't had time to update. My only moments of stillness and slowness have been while I'm on my bike, going ever ever ever forward [and, obviously, I'm not writing while I'm riding].

The first several days of this trip saw me following the Highway 1. Just one long road, for days. I began to feel like the earth was my treadmill...like I was still, and it was the world that I was churning beneath me with my legs. That, with enough patience, I could draw any place to me that I wanted to go. 

Granted, I was also delirious from long days spent exerting myself underneath ceaseless south Florida sunshine.

Here's the CliffsNotes version of my time since we left off, then. Oh. Quickly:

  • Rebelle Society published a ditty of mine from shortly before my trip: Open Letter from an Allegedly Doomed Woman
  • I've visited and donated to a couple awesome non-profits this week: Key West Wildlife Rescue in Key West and the Turtle Hospital in Marathon [listed below in this post, and also added to my list of suggested causes—and take note that I am open to suggestions of non-profits to visit along my route via my contact form].
  • I've been on a quest for the perfect key lime pie, and for other local treats [like craft beer from Florida]. This seems to be the place to look, no? Anticlimactically, after trying four different highly-hyped pie places in the Keys [Key Lime Pie Company in Key West, Kermit's Key Lime Shoppe in Key West, Ma's Fish Camp in Islamorada, and Mrs. Mac's in Key Largo]...I have to admit that my favorite pie came from Kush in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami.

Day 3: Last day in Key West

Donated to Key West Wildlife Rescue [awesome place; you can visit for free though it's really not geared towards tourists...it's just a very transparent non-profit devoted to rehabilitating and releasing injured wildlife, particularly local birds; I have added it to my list of recommended causes]; underwent serendipitous stranger-recognition while gawking at a kitesurfer [I am hereby adding that of my list of things to learn] when a one of the kids I'd been observing recognized me from my WarmShowers profile; first time on a bar trivia team [where I could finally apply my high school fascination with the ShamWow commercials]; went with Will and Kerry Better than Sex: a dessert-only bar [so dark they give you flashlights] where we had grilled chocolate-and-brie sandwiches with caramel dipping sauce and strawberry champagne “soup” and homemade Irish Creme and so on. Many drinks were imbibed, many laughs were had, and I fell asleep before quite making it to bed at Will and Kerry's.

[I was originally supposed to leave this day…but got sucked into spending another. Little did I know that I’d be tempted to do the same almost every other night since, either due to the places I’ve been or the people I’ve met. Being a rolling stone—at such a quick pace, and on a schedule, moreover—has been bittersweet that way]. 

Day 4: Key West to Knight's Key

First day of riding. Knees sore. Right side burning [my arm protector—white little-girl stockings with the feet cut off—kept sliding down off my shoulder; as a result I now have a Disney-Pocahontas-esque armband]. Iguanas, iguanas everywhere, by the hundreds, some the size of dogs [invasive, I've been told].

Made my way, needle-and-thread-style, from island to island, along narrow bridges and roads overtaken on either side by turquoise ocean. I looked at other islands drifting solo in the ocean as I cranked my creaking legs to get me past them, unconnected by roads or bridges, and experienced a feeling that they were looking back at me, and offering their silent regard, like a stranger you lock eyes with momentarily from across a train platform, with a fleeting moment of mutuality.

Stopped for lunch and was swooped in on by strangers from all angles wanting to know what I was doing on my bike...wanting to know what my cause was [wanting to lecture me about how I needed a cause, and about what my cause should be], wanting to know why I was going alone, wanting to know how old I was and who my parents were and so on. Wanting to know if I was aware that "little girls" get raped and run over by cars. Wanting to know if I was aware of the bike accident statistics in Florida [I was painfully aware, because there was another "Drive Safely" memorial commemorating fallen cyclists about once every tenth of a mile]. Wanting to know if I had a gun; wanting to convince me that I needed to get one if I had any brains. 

Some wonderful, merciful people were also intrigued, but more understanding of my exhaustion, and made the nice gesture of simply offering their business cards and telling me to get in touch if I needed a host in their home state. Made it rather hard to decompress and eat after thirty sunny miles.

Ended the day with a harrowing, never-ending push across the seven-mile bridge as it began to grow dark. I imagined being run into by a drunk kid in a truck, pitched over the edge [it was Spring Break, after all], floating in the ocean, in the dark, unnoticed, miles from shore. And so on. In short, it was pretty fucking scary, and I almost peed myself in relief when I finally saw the twinkling lights of another island up ahead.

Wound up spending the night at an RV park in Knight's Key [the staff were really sweet and inquisitive, and threw some perks my way], sitting in a lawn chair and shooting the shit with Tom, a retired elementary school music teacher from the midwest, and Dale, a kooky ex-army truck driver who showed me some neat tricks for lighting matches. Slept on the ground, out in the open air, not even in need of a sleeping bag in the heat.

Day 5: Knight's Key to...flea-bitten hammock outside Tavernier?

Visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, which is doing amazing things; the offer paid tours in order to help fund their operations. They rescue sea turtles [ravaged primarily by litter, of all things, but also by general ocean pollution and boat accidents] and rehabilitate/release as many as they can back into the wild; a few turtles are injured to the point of being unable to survive in the wild and stay on as permanent residents. What an adorable, awesome place [got to peek in on a turtle surgery—removing tumors from a green sea turtle due to a virus that has been spreading in their species which attacks their eye—during which an assistant was manning a ventilator, because turtles are conscious breathers, unlike us...they have to think about breathing in order to keep doing it, so they never "sleep" quite the way we do; their sleep consists of holding their breath for an extended period]. I learned so damn much about turtles [random fun fact: a turtle egg's position in its nest determines its sex...eggs laid first, in the cooler bottom part of the nest, develop as males, whereas eggs laid last, in the warmer top part of the nest, develop as female; the interesting thing is that most reptiles' sexes are determined with their eggs in the opposite way]. Anyway. I could go on and on. [Did you know leatherbacks can dive several thousand feet, deeper than whales, and that their shells are completely soft?...God, I need to stop].

Took a lunch break in Islamorada, which is where the stress [compounded by the fatigue from a long ride in the sun] came in.

It began when I walked into a bathroom and saw my face for the first time in two days. Oh, boy.

Now, if I were traveling purely for pleasure, I wouldn't give a damn how I looked. For realskies. The last time I went backpacking by myself, my entire face peeled off in what was nearly a face-wide second-degree pus-tastic sunburn [I was at 10,000 feet above sea level, see...], and I hadn't been fussed about that.

But the fact is, this is not just a cycling trip, but also a modeling trip. A trip I couldn't afford to do in the first place unless I were modeling along the way, anyhow [even with the savings I'd scrounged up for it for a year...since I spent six months last year volunteering full-time, my annual earnings had been laughably close to zilch]. My reflection stared back at me: red, blotchy, burnt, swollen, and with severely sunburnt eyes. Like a Darth Maul shade of red...

Would definitely have to nullify all that before arriving in Miami [where shooting would begin]. Didn't know if that was possible. Began to think that this whole trip, this idea of combining these two disparate things, had been some wildly conceited, ignorant mistake on my part. Hubris.

...And also realized my prospects for lodging that night were slim. I didn't know any models or photographers around Key Largo or Islamorada. Couchsurfing and Warmshowers had yielded nothing. Campsites were all booked full [and I could've showed up and asked some campers to share their space, except the main campsites were all either south—the wrong direction—or too far north to make it before nighttime]. Hotels were all not only exorbitantly expensive, but booked full. Spring Break, you know.

Whoops. Well.

I wound up getting a lead to call Florida Bay Outfitters, an outdoor store, since their staff might be in the know about last-ditch stealth-camping options. A really nice guy on the phone gave me directions to a quarry where I could post up.

Of course, I get to the quarry, and am immediately ravaged by biting fleas and biting ants. Well...not the worst thing. It grows dark. My imagination goes berserk. I become a bit paranoid about the dark standing body of water I'd have to camp right by [since I've been told there are crocodiles and alligators in freshwater bodies in the Keys...granted, attacks are *aaaaalmost* unheard of, I'd been assured]. I have no tent. I think, a chilly iguana might cozy up to me at night to get warm—and while they're generally docile, I wouldn't want to be at the receiving end of the claws or tail-whip of a startled iguana that I might awaken in the morning. Etc. Etc. Every noise sounds like someone, or something, coming at me. If only I had a tent, I wouldn't feel so exposed [but I so rarely camp with a tent, honestly...then again, I've never camped before standing buggy water in Florida before].

I try to settle in, fleas notwithstanding. I flipped a coin, and it told me to get moving. I resolved to go on a walk, under the full moon, to explore the place and quell my nerves, and ran into a man leaned against a rock. I call out to him and shine my light at him. No response. I walk right up to him and he's cool, cool, cool. Placid as the black water. He tells me he was on Lance Armstrong's team for seven years. He tells me he's ridden all over the country on a WalMart bike. He tells me I can put my food in his tent to keep it safe from raccoons.

...He was probably fine, honestly, a nice, maybe slightly eccentric old man. But it was too dark to even see his face, and in my frazzled state I erred on the side of paranoia...and I shuffled off. I tried to flip a coin again and, I shit you not, the coin disappeared when it fell to the ground. I searched for five minutes with my headlamp before I realized how absurd it was to be devoting five minutes to finding a penny when I hadn't established camp somewhere.

So I left the quarry. I came upon a church and a children's center, complete with creepy moonlit playground [the slide was a giant yellow fish that swallowed children up as they slid down it]...with a hammock concealed in the backyard. Perfect.

I posted up there, woke myself back up at 4:30am the next morning after a couple restless hours of sleep [a wind chime by the children's center sounded suspiciously like the whipping of a heavy chain...] and continued on in the dark, stopping to rest only once the sun had come back up and my primal imagination could retire for the time being.

Day 6: Key Largo to Everglades Hostel in Florida City

Woke up, scuttled through the dark to the one Starbucks I'd seen or heard of on the Keys [the only place in Key Largo open at 6am, as far as I could tell]. Charged my electronics. Felt delirious, off almost no sleep and a couple days of heavy sun-blasted riding against headwinds. Was probed at by curious fellow patrons [one of whom bordered on invasive] whom I didn't have the heart to inform I was far too tired to make small talk with just then. More refrains of, "You should have a man with you, you should have a gun, why don't you go do something more sensible, don't tell me you were biking just now in the dark, that's so stupid, now see here young lady, I am a stranger but I know what's best for you, etc., etc., etc."

[Don't get me wrong, most of the strangers I met have been exceedingly kind, encouraging, and even wildly generous...but that morning, and it was barely morning, still dark, after such a frazzled and anxious preceding night, the criticisms I was receiving from strangers were winding me up in a much more prominent way, and I was too exhausted to engage them, or to disagree].

I continued on when the sun was up and passed out under a tree for an hour [photo at top of post].

Headed to the outdoor store that had tipped me off about the quarry the night before. I owed them one, and I needed some supplies anyway [least of all sunglasses...needed my eyes to not be sunburnt anymore]. The girl at the register wound up giving me a discount out of pure goodwill, and the guy on the floor had an extra cheap tent in his car that he just gave me for free.

Then, ten miles out from Homestead, an SUV pulled over in front of me, and Maru, a woman who'd been working at Ma's Fish Camp yesterday [where I'd been hemming and hawing and trying-not-to-freak-out over having no clue where I could stay, or even where I could sneaky-stay], jumped out of the car and yelled my name.

"...Whoa, hi!"
"I was thinking of you this morning. See, I was tired. And then I thought, well, why am I tired when you're biking to Maine. And then I thought about you biking to Maine...and that made me more tired."

She wound up giving me her number and making a tentative offer of dinner-or-something.

I carried on, in considerably better spirits, feeling like the Universe was giving me kudos after having tested all my anxieties the previous night [though, of course, I'm somewhat inclined to believe that we live in an absurd Universe rather than an organized one, but hey, what the hell do I know...].

The Everglades Hostel is the shit. It's like a little Rivendell in the middle of urban sprawl. I showered off and was pleased to see that my eyeballs and face had made a miraculous recovery in the past 24 hours from their rotten-tomato-ness [as evidenced below; photo taken thirty feet off the ground in a net hammock high up a tree]. I didn't make it to Everglades National Park [on the bucket list for later], but rode around and took some pretty sunset photos.

In the evening, I socialized with some awesome people from all over the world [including some French kids who let me practice on them and who told me I had a great French accent, which felt validating whether or not they were being sincere] and somehow managed to splash beer into my eye...ghost pepper beer, that is.

Day 7: Florida City to Miami Beach

It rained in the morning, which gifted me with a day of cloud cover [for which I was decidedly thankful]. 

I must admit that when I rolled into Miami, my first impression was that it looked exactly as I expected it to. The soggy-lush vegetation, abrupt colors and nouveau riche architecture, the tile shingles. I don't know. It was hard to put my finger on, but Miami looked very Miami, as I had envisioned it. Neither a good nor a bad thing, just a thing. 

Managed to meet up with my buddy, fellow traveling model Theresa Manchester, at an intersection, whom I last saw when we were both on our debut tours in Australia; she'd invited me to stay with her in a swank seventh-story beach condo for the night that she'd been given the green light to invite me to. We ran down to the beach for a brief shoot, only to be decimated by pounding, torrential rain within minutes.

Theresa called out, "I told you, a year ago, it rains everywhere I go! Even Miami! If we ever go to Hawaii together, it'll rain there too. Watch. I'm leaving tomorrow, and the sun'll come out once I'm out of town."

I'd had a couple beers by that point and couldn't stop cackling. I jumped into the ocean and just sat in it for ages, up to my neck in turquoise water, it was so warm! 

[Stay tuned for resultant photos in a future post; there were some good ones; Theresa's damn competent with maneuvering a camera, not just with being in front of one.]

Anyway, the night continued with Cuban food, hot tubbing, and understated conversational tomfoolery. I broke out in giggles about once every few minutes at the absurdity of being in a city again—the valet guy who may or may not actually have been a valet guy who may or may not have scammed us, the way the staff at the beachfront condo don't allow you to handle your own luggage because, apparently, rich people aren't capable of such things, the weird little dogs we kept seeing. We chatted late into the night; I scrounged up some sugar and olive oil and attempted to scrub the saddle sores off my ass as best I could since they'll be no-no's come photo shoot time [man, sitting on a bike all day, for days...it can fucking hurt].

Day 8: Miami Beach to Miami Springs [i.e., wandering aimlessly around Miami]

Biked to Haulover Beach so I could do some tan line damage control, except it was chilly and overcast and rainy. Biked to Wynwood, stuffed full with stunning street art—would definitely like to spend a bit more time exploring there. Ate and drank at Kush, which was amazing [and the purveyor of my favorite key lime pie since arriving in Florida...ha]. Came home, got to know the roly-poly dogs and cat with whom I'd share my new hosts' living room for the next couple nights. I had [another] dinner with one of them, Henry, as well as one of my favorite conversations I've had since beginning this journey [I've been eating a lot].

I'm ceaselessly amazed, when traveling and living so ephemerally, at how many great people I manage to connect with in such a short time...some people feel like strangers after years; some feel like old friends after minutes.

Tomorrow marks my first rest day from cycling since I was in Key West. Also! Tomorrow, the photo shoots begin! Working with Rumi, who hired me when I was last in the DC area, and then with David, my other host here in Miami Springs. Whoop whoop whoop.

Blast off!

On our last night together for the next four-or-so months, Alex and I were noodling around and decided to make a little rough recording of us playing/singing as something of a souvenir, you know, in case the world ends this spring. Tralala:

Bike is ready to go in a box big enough to supply not only a cardboard fort, but likely an entire cardboard gated community.

Bike is ready to go in a box big enough to supply not only a cardboard fort, but likely an entire cardboard gated community.

Tonight will soon see me deposited unceremoniously at SFO. 

Fingers crossed that my bike survives its cardboard box armor. The cheapest bike bags I could find were several hundred dollars a pop [closer to a thousand for a hard case]...and then I'd either have a big bike bag with me for my whole trip, or would have to deal with shipping it somewhere or giving it away. And, as it stands, I'm already going to have to pay a minimum of $150 to fly with it. I'm hoping TLC and bubble wrap will be serviceable substitutes for waterproof casing, bang-proof casing.

My other baggage [i.e., everything I'll be lugging around on my bike every day] clocks in at about 40 pounds. Hm.

This is the part where I wax sentimental and thank everyone. You know, in case my plane crashes on its way to Key West and this whole year of planning turns out to be some ludicrous anticlimax.

...Or something.

So get your barf bags ready!

Firstly, thanks go to everyone whom I could probably call "fans" [those who've been following my progress and supporting my journey whom I know neither personally nor professionally] even though using that word feels horribly pretentious and dismissive. 

Thank you to those who've helped sponsor this trip. I wasn't sure how to feel when I first put up that sidebar: a few people had emailed me, asking me for an easy way to contribute to my trip, which surprised me. So I offered the option, but with a sort of uneasy, ambivalent trepidation and what I like to call "first world guilt" [guilt is rarely, if ever, a productive feeling...but can be a tempting one nonetheless]. I mean, yes, I'm financially independent [and generally financially responsible]—but I'm also someone who has the privilege to customize my life according to my values, my whims, my passions. And yes, I do realize that some of that "privilege" has actually been created by my actions and choices [I have plenty of friends who are perfectly capable, with relative freedom in their lives, most of whom have considerably more in their bank accounts than I do in mine, telling me that they wish they could do what I do...and really, the only thing stopping them is themselves]—but it's undeniable that the other chunk of that privilege really is due to the circumstances and opportunity of my birth and immediate surroundings. I am of able body and sound mind [well, more or less], my genetics allow me to make a career out of my image, and I grew up in a first-world country without insurmountable obstacles between me and my dreams. None of that was a result of my choices or virtue...that part was just luck. Yes, I've worked hard to build the life I have—but for some, it doesn't matter how hard they work, external circumstances will still block their path.

Anyway! As a thank you, I've got plenty of handmade cards protected in their own little waterproof freezer bag fortress stashed in my panniers that I will fill out and send intermittently on my trip. I've also got some extras, in case anyone else wants to jump aboard and contribute while my trip is in progress! Should be fun! You won't know when yours is coming [hint: sometime between March and July]! I've spent a lot of time on them, so I hope you'll all be stoked! Exclamation points! Whoo!

Also, thank you, thank you to those of you who've sent encouraging emails [not the dick pics, though—you guys can keep those to yourselves, eck]. A few months ago I was wondering whether this was even a trip worth documenting online, this trip that is ultimately about my own journey. Me: cycling, pushing myself, getting in shape. Me: trying something new and hopefully having fun and being challenged and learning shit and, you know, "finding myself" in the middle of nowhere and all that jazz. Me: modeling in big cities. Regardless of what I choose to do afterwards with my time or money, this trip in and of itself is an individualist pursuit.

I didn't know if my trip would feel relevant to anyone else...so receiving encouraging words and contributions from people who've found me inspiring or relatable [or totally alien], or from people who've wanted to share things with me that they think I'd benefit from [cycling resources, inspirational videos, photographer suggestions, places to visit on my way, book recommendations...] has meant a lot. In the context of this one-woman adventure, it almost gives me this sense of anonymous solidarity. Anyway, while I'm a capricious correspondent [especially on the road], I'd like to keep this trip as interactive as possible by taking people up on those recommendations as much as I can, and reporting back here, so don't be shy!

Also, while many of you found me through my modeling work, which is what I would've expected, some of you found me through my articles from back in 2013, which I find especially flattering in this age of throwaway click-bait web articles that you share on Facebook and then promptly forget. I've admittedly put writing on the back burner [I don't count keeping this blog as "writing"] and hadn't submitted anything for publication since 2013...and am starting to think that I am really out of excuses for not having done so ["Wah, I don't have time right now to write something good, so why bother at all?"] so as an exercise in telling perfectionism and procrastination to shove off, I submitted a little ditty today. Fingers crossed!

TLDR: Really, I'm damn tickled that people have been inspired enough by my stumblings through life to freely invest even a modicum of their attention, good vibes, and money, towards supporting it. 

Enough on that. That brings me to the second "thank you": to those photographers who've hired me on this trip.

I know hiring me on a trip like this requires an extra leap of faith, particularly since many of you have not worked with me before. This is not a normal modeling tour. This trip has been very polarizing to photographers: they either think it's the coolest thing ever and feel even more inclined to hire me than they otherwise would...or they think my going on a bike trip is a frivolous and unprofessional impediment to my performing aptly as a model. 

To those in the former group, thank you for respecting both my profession and my spirit, and trusting in my reputation.

It's taken most of my life to grow into those cheeks

It's taken most of my life to grow into those cheeks

And, finally, getting a bit more personal.

Thanks go to my dad, for helping to push me during this last training period, sharing his knowledge and taking me on weekend training rides that kicked my ass. He was, and as of now probably still is, a better cyclist than I am. Rewinding: I've always been a difficult kid, and it took a while for my parents to realize I ultimately functioned better with a laissez-faire approach. That I will figure things out, even if I insist upon doing so the hard way. My parents did not spoil me, even when they could have, and I was working my first job [shoveling horse shit in Utah] by fourteen. Of course, I hated that at the time, but looking at how helpless a lot of my former classmates now seem to feel, adrift in their lives and bogged down in school loans [and, in some cases, incapable of doing things as simple as booking their own flight itineraries or buying groceries]...I'm very grateful to have been raised a bit differently. 

A friend of mine discovered this photo on Lightning in a Bottle 2013's promotional page. some random stranger had taken it without our knowledge, which makes me like it all the more.

A friend of mine discovered this photo on Lightning in a Bottle 2013's promotional page. some random stranger had taken it without our knowledge, which makes me like it all the more.

 

Lastly, thanks go to my primary partner/accomplice/inamorato, Alex, who provides endless constructive support, but is never coddling. He is a rare breed for many reasons, but for starters, he has never demonstrated entitlement or possessiveness towards me, gives me ample space when I need it [whether I want it or not], and is never afraid to be completely accessible and vulnerable. Not a common set of virtues to find in the same person. Plus, he sets a good example: he loves everyone with an open hand; he sets his own standards for himself and doesn't dwell on judging the virtue [or lack thereof] in others and is an eternal child: infinitely goofy and infinitely wise, and very good at laughing at himself. My life has been infinitely better since we haphazardly collided out in the desert in 2012.

...Oh, yeah. And also, he knows a shit ton about bikes, makes good food, and makes me laugh.

And, as fate would have it, my other favorite man [not one of the aforementioned two] is flying to Taiwan out of the same airport, around the same time, so we'll be able to get up to some shenanigans before my red-eye. So I've got lots of lovey-dovey in my day, hence the nausea.

All right. Time's a-wasting. Airport, ho!