Calm before the storm...

Photo: Anastasia Kole

Photo: Anastasia Kole

Photo: Anastasia Kole

Photo: Anastasia Kole

After a week of scattered panic and dithery excitement, I'm in that sort of zen-mind-resignation phase. My flight's in twenty-four hours. Today I've gotten all the essential things done [the non-essential/non-urgent things can wait]. Now...there's really not a whole lot else I can do, except relax, enjoy my last nibble of California, and wait for things to fall into place.

Other than the fact that I have no accommodation/hosting/reservations/anything sorted upon my arrival [my original host fell through], everything should be solid. And that's a minor bump, really. If I didn't pride myself on being resourceful, I wouldn't have ever put myself up to this crazy pipe dream of an adventure, anyway.

I haven't done much modeling in the last month, but wanted to make a couple honorable mentions anyhow:

A. Shot with the incomparable Anastasia Kole [who flips onto the other side of the lens as Anastasia Arteyeva...such amazing work on both sides of the lens; I'm sure you're as twitterpated as I am]. She swung by the house in which I get to squat for a month, painted my face, and set me loose in the backyard while Alex conjured up some incredible homemade sushi [Bay Area restaurants, eat your heart out—none of you know how to make sushi rice properly, first of all] and poured us glasses of Argentinian malbec.

freya-gallows
freyagallows-portrait
freyagallowsanastasiakole

...then we threw Alex in front of the camera, for good measure.

freya-gallows-alex

B. Was visited by my very, very close friend and relatively new aspiring nude model, Enoli! And am pleased that I was able to score both her and Alex spots sitting for Cuong Nguyen's charcoal portrait workshop, resulting in the awesome works-in-progress below. I've modeled for Cuong for years and he is such a skilled artist; a few years ago he honored me by opening a museum exhibition in the Bay Area that featured ten paintings each of me and of Michael [his go-to male model].

model-portrait
alex-portrait

Left: oil painting, first portrait Cuong ever made of me [years ago]; middle: seven-foot-fall oil painting; right: pastel portrait.

freyagallows-portrait
freyagallows-cuongnguyen
freyagallows-pastel

Cycling-wise, I've logged some good miles this month. Last week I clocked in around 8,800 feet of climbing in six days...and ended those six days with a voucher for one of those awesome $20 Chinese foot massage spas [so underrated: they can be much fun, and there's something surreal about being seated in rows, it's like being on an airplane...with fish tanks]. Ahhhh. 

Though as my trip's gotten closer, I've had to forgo riding in order to figure out plans and bookings and emails and packing and last-minute shopping and research and online drudgery [plus, I've admittedly taken a bit of time out to say proper goodbyes to my closest friends and family in the area: a private beach where I had a solitary morning picnic accompanied by a baby sea lion, a few ludicrous wine-fueled nights in with friends, a couple dinners and some yoga].

Currently a bit nervous about my newfound lack of an attack plan for my first hours in Florida with a boxed-up bike I'll need to put together and pack upon arrival...but I'll figure it out. My whole life's one big stumble, anyway, which is what keeps things interesting.

 

Beta Testing Along the SF Peninsula

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

There's a lovey-dovey photo for you.

That's the closest I'm going to get to acknowledging this wacky tradition of expressing our individualistic love by way of cliched, obligatory corporatism and collective bad taste. [In other words, Happy Valentine's Day.]

Hey guys! So I finally went on my first overnight trip, as a way of dipping my toes a bit further into what the "real" trip is actually going to be like.

Day 1
San Jose, CA

As usual, Chaos/Serendipity/The Universe/The Force/what-have-you did a better job planning out my adventures than I ever could have.

Originally I was going to do a big loop up starting in the South Bay, up through the city, over to Sacramento, down through the East Bay. Largely the appeal of this particular route was to visit some good friends. 

Then there was weather, which displaced my trip by two days...which was enough to foster schedule conflicts with all of the friends I intended to visit such that they'd be unable to hang out or in many cases even offer crash space. Mwop, mwop.

But I needed to get at least one practice trip in this month.

So, without much of a plan, Alex and I rode up to Pacifica to stay with Elena Zhukova, a conceptual advertising photographer who's been photographing me since I was a modeling greenhorn and she was an art student in San Francisco [i.e., for a while], and her husband Aleksey.

Barely six miles into the ride, Alex's old tire was shredded, and so I ferociously guarded our bikes while he ran off to get a new tire and tube—a delay that bit an hour or two into our day. There was one stretch so unrelentingly steep that I wound up walking my bike for about a tenth of a mile [cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater]

When we got to the Pacifica, we decompressed for a while, poking at bugs [we found a cluster of maggots outside] and battle droids before being treated to an awesome home-cooked dinner of fish and vegetables, and liberally supplied with beer, wine, and bourbon.

Conversation that evening was punctuated by the hum of the ocean and the crackling of the outdoor heater. I leaned on a pillow stuffed with $15,000 in shredded dollar bills. Eddy the dog leaned on me. It seemed like a first taste of what my trip might turn out to be like on its best days: long mornings of cycling through beautiful country, rewarded in the evenings good food and company and a delicious feeling of satisfaction that was a paradoxical hybrid of "having discovered somewhere new" and "having made it back home"

Day 2
Pacifica, CA

Originally we'd planned to move along the next morning, but it turns out that Aleksey is an avid cyclist, so he offered to take us on a ride the following day around Pacifica and Half Moon Bay!

In one stunning loop, I rode behind Alex and Alex [there are so many Alexes] as we climbed through steep eucalyptus forests, down along Devil's Slide [stopping to explore old military bunkers en route], past surfers on the beach, past helicopters taking off and landing on an airstrip in fields of wildflowers, past the smells of fish and chips and waffles and seaweed, past upscale marinas, through a surreal mountain tunnel, and I had a harrowing first off-road excursion along the edges of sea cliffs. At first I was going kind of picture-crazy, but eventually had to give up on taking photos in favor of just enjoying the view and the present moment [the best moments in life are typically ones when no one has the time or inclination to take photos, anyway].

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 5.32.27 PM.png

That night, we modeled for Elena, resulting in the topmost and bottommost photos in this blog entry. 

...and enjoyed a warm February night and a couple bottles of cold IPA out in the yard.

Day 3
Pacifica, CA

The trek back down to the South Bay, to tend to my neglected inbox and finish planning my much larger trip that's looming ever closer [eep!], was quite educational. 

We'd decided to do a winding, hilly detour along trails in the mountains, which lent themselves both to giving me more practice off paved roads and to stunning panoramic views that I largely didn't bother photographing [was too busy looking]. 

It was in the mountains that I wound up on the phone with an old friend from high school who, it turned out, had scored $10 tickets to the opera Carmen in a small house in San Francisco, and would be heading there from Redwood City [which was more-or-less where we were headed that day]. 

So we bombed down bumpy switchbacks, past equestrians, stopped to grab some fish and chips, coasted along the 92, no problem...and then rush hour hit.

And we were on a steep two-lane highway, with no shoulder, with sheer drop-offs, with blind turns, and we'd gone too far to easily turn back. Hills are one thing, rattlesnakes are one thing, weather is one thing...but cars. Drivers. Those freak me the fuck out. Because, no matter how defensively I ride, no matter how many bright yellow or blinky or reflective things I stick onto myself or my bike, I have no ultimate say in whether the drivers coming up on me are paying attention, or of sound mind, or sober, or whatever. Aggressive, reactive, impatient drivers are all too common. So are absent-minded, text-messaging, daydreaming drivers. And drunk drivers, or sleepy drivers. And drivers zipping around tight corners at 90 MPH. You get the picture. Besides avoiding situations where I'm likely to be hit in the first place, there's really only so much I can do once I'm on the road.

Existentially jarred after almost getting booty-bumped by two semi-trucks in a row, Alex and I pulled off and sat in a patch of grass next to a kitschy old sign that said Santa's Tree Farm, the only distinguishable landmark in sight, debating whether we ought to chug on through and hope for the best, or wait for traffic to die down or, I don't know, hitchhike. After our heart rates settled down we decided to mosey on through, walking our bikes through a few particularly bad stretches.

Lesson learned: be more attentive to traffic patterns and look at my entire route before proceeding, particularly if it's going to be on a highway [before setting off, we'd scanned Google Earth very briefly, seen that a chunk of the 92 had a nice shoulder and four lanes, and called it good]. Hurp dap.

By the time we got to Redwood City, we were a bit exhausted for the opera [even at $10 a pop, it's not all that worthwhile going to a show if you sleep through the whole thing]. Fortunately our buddy Carlos was in town, and facilitated our recalibration to life with Mexican food, card games, and a gift of rum he'd infused with vanilla beans, before we headed off to visit my parents in order to spend the weekend going on bike rides with my dad [whom I'm just now beginning to keep up with].

Final tally for this trip?

104 miles ridden
6,167 feet climbed

Not too shabby for someone who got her ass kicked by a few-hundred-feet climb on a twelve-mile loop just over a month ago!

My improvements have been noticeable on a day-to-day basis, and as time goes on it becomes easier [more exciting, less daunting] for me to motivate myself to push that little bit harder. Thankfully, the beginning of my trip won't involve so much climbing [since my whole route through Florida and Georgia will be pretty much flat].

Two weeks left until my flight, and I've still got so much to figure out!

Tomorrow? Morning yoga, going on a ride [of course] with my dad [he's promised to subject me to some more hills], catching up on emails [I know, I know, I'm really behind—forgive me], studying maintenance/repair/my pack list/my route yet again while not panicking.

Fortunately, I've also got a voucher for one of those wildly underrated $10 cheap foot massage places [and, as a trained massage therapist myself, while I think there's no substitute for deep, specialized, specific body work done by a qualified and intuitive therapist...these cheap line-the-clients-up-in-rows-like-we're-in-an-airplane places can be a whole different kind of awesome to non-snobs, and really are underrated].

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

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On Being Tricked into Buying Too Much Specialized Crap

Photo: vkphotography

Photo: vkphotography

In any recreational or extreme sport I've done, I’ve found that the best product is not always the “specialized” product marketed towards your purposes, though it is very often the most expensive, and are largely arbitrary or aesthetics-driven [part of the “uniform” of a yogini, a climber, a skier vs. snowboarder, a cyclist…]. Once upon a time, there was no REI. People climbed in wooden clogs and protected themselves with lengths of rope. People bundled up however they could and threw their stuff into knapsacks; there were no space-age high-performance fabrics, no ergonomics specialists. 

Come to think of it, I see this all the time with photography, too, where some poor shmuck will feel like being a photographer means he has to buy $9,000 lenses that he has no idea how to use, or that he has to use six different soft boxes to light a model for one studio shoot. Contrarily, many of my favorite photographers use the most rudimentary, jerry-rigged, low-fi gear of all. It's all about the driver, not the car! 

Of course, when it comes to the sports I have experience with, my approach is also "adapt" rather than "prepare".

Like backpacking. I almost never bring a tent when I'm backpacking. I rely more on a map and compass than I do on having enough food. On my last solo backpacking trip, three weeks in Yosemite, I tested out my pair of Vibram five fingers because they were marketed for hiking—when they inflamed my tendons, I just hiked barefoot, no biggie.

[In that vein, after much deliberation I've decided to go with my sleeping bag, a tarp, and a mosquito net. It's not enough to make things exceedingly comfortable...but it's enough that I'll be self-reliant if I can't find a host or one falls through, and won't weigh nearly as much as a tent.]

But I have a lot of experience backpacking; it isn't daunting anymore. I lived in the backcountry non-stop for half a year when I was nineteen. Backpacking and hiking were my only modes of travel, leaving plenty of room for trial and error, and exploring my limitations. I've hiked fifteen miles on an empty stomach with a full pack at 10,000 feet above sea level. I've taken off-trail shortcuts. I can afford to take some risks and cut some corners because I can calculate what the risks are.

And even if you're not quite as much of a nut job as I am, if we're talking backpacking, skiing, or rock climbing, I could also easily tell you what "must-haves" really, really are not must-haves, suggest cheaper/lighter/better substitutes for specialty gear, and tell you which items you can get away with buying used or low-end. My partner's dad just scored a pair of $800 Rossignol skis from two years ago, including bindings, for $5 at a Savers. They look like they may have been used once; one wax and they were good to go. Cross my heart and hope to die.

Cycling, on the other hand? I'm clueless. I haven't had those years or even months of rigorous beta testing. What climbers call a gumby, what skiers and boarders call a gaper, what skaters call a poser, what photographers call a GWC. When I first decided I would go on this trip, all I knew how to do was get on my bike, pedal, brake. I am in a self-guided accelerated-learning course, not only in terms of physical conditioning, but also studying [ergonomics, necessary gear, bike components, DIY repairs...].

So, I've been researching. But the demographic of experts doesn't really see me as part of their audience. Cycling, in particular, is a hobby that seems to attract people with lots of money and very little free time, but a predictable lifestyle that allows them to make long-term commitments.

The Complete Guide to Long-Distance Cycling, the book I'm currently reading, is a great example. I've learned a lot from this book, but it's also done a good job of using a doomsday, worst-case-scenario approach in order to convince me that I need to buy a million things [like several pairs of padded shorts, and leg warmers, and a million toiletries, and so on] in order to avoid an untimely end [or at least the ER]...and that I cannot possibly train effectively without a cycle computer, heart monitor, and stationary bike. If I were a middle-aged professional with a predictable annual schedule, consistent cash flow, and superfluous paranoia, I might take a lot more of that advice.

But that's not me. I'm a crazy quasi-hippie who burns bright and fast, but not always steady. Frugality is compulsory for me. And my life runs in fast, dense chunks, rather than a steady flow: I can more easily devote every waking moment of one month to intense learning and training than I can devote two days a week for several months. 

So, I've sought out experienced cyclists at various bike shops, sporting good stores, and REI, and barraged them with questions, hoping to find some who share my adaptation-oriented, minimalist sentiments. 

My favorite so far has been an older guy who told me he tours in cargo pants and old tshirts and doesn't bother with special rain gear or gizmos, and doesn't like to wander around towns "looking like a cyclist". A man after my own heart. 

I've been buying equipment in little batches as I've learned more about what I might need [or really, really want and have a good use for].

A few cool items and tips I've picked up:

  • Proud of this one: For cycling shoes, I'm using a pair of Scarpa rock climbing approach shoes on clearance [got a kudos from some cyclist employees at REI for that one]. Cheaper, and better, than those "casual/street" cycling shoes recommended for tours [since I want something that'll double as a street shoe]. These are low profile [to fit in cages], laces go all the way to the toes [for easy loosening if/when my feet swell after a long day of riding], the soles are stiffer than "street" cycling shoes but more walkable than super aggressive racing shoes. I re-laced them so that the bows are on the outsides of the shoe and less likely to get tangled up while I'm pedaling, even if they come untied. Plus, they'll be useful when I next go hiking or climbing. Score!
  • Discovered that several items are cheaper at REI and sporting goods stores if you get them in a color that's being discontinued. I was going to pass on a sporty rain jacket/windbreaker and find another way to deal with the weather...till I learned that it'd be $35 less if I was just willing to get one in light purple.
  • I've been offered sponsorship of a GPS/safety watch, so we'll see if that pans out! Will obviously be posting more about it, if so. 8]
  • Skipped a lot of the bucket list things: the jerseys, the hydration pack, the solar charger, the route maps [which would be great...except they're $15 a pop and I'd need to buy about seven]. However, I did cave in and get one pair of padded bike shorts [considering the mileage of this trip, I think that is a totally reasonable luxury] and one of those little charge-storing doohickeys [which I might exchange for a generator that charges my electronics while I'm cycling...supposedly there's now one that's safe to use for a phone].

I've also got some very specific items with me in order to smoothly bridge the worlds of cycling and modeling [i.e., avoiding tan lines and blemishes, and having basic makeup/wardrobe without substantial bulk and weight], and feel I've managed to be pretty clever about some of my solutions—but I'll save that for another post.

Update: Tomorrow is my biggest test yet, where I show myself just what I'm cut out for [I hope]. I'll be starting my first multi-day trip: about three hundred and fifty cycled miles in six days, largely moderate terrain but with a couple intimidating climbs.

My training over the last few weeks has seen me improving enormously, but I'm still pretty nervous. I'll have Alex with me, and will be carrying minimal gear, since this is going to be my first accurate taste of what touring is going to be like. Wish me luck! Will post photos and so on afterwards, of course. 8]

I'm starting to get it.

Visual proof, for you non-believers! As for my tour, picture this, but with a lot more luggage piled/strapped/jerryrigged on. And probably a lot more blood, sweat, and tears.

Visual proof, for you non-believers! As for my tour, picture this, but with a lot more luggage piled/strapped/jerryrigged on. And probably a lot more blood, sweat, and tears.

The appeal of cycling, I mean.

There's the obvious stuff that doesn't take being on a bike for long to work out: great exercise, not spending money on gas, reduced carbon footprint. Blah, blah, yes. That's not what I mean.

I mean the real appeal. What makes people go kind of crazy for it, and spend lots of money for it. Granted, I know there are a lot of different reasons people are drawn to the sport and my experience is not a universal one—but I've been discovering my reasons. And that the real magic of it is far more subtle.

Since it's subtle, I'll try to illustrate what I mean, rather than tell you outright.

I tried riding to the climbing gym/yoga studio instead of driving for the first time about a week ago [I've now ridden there several times since].

In that one ride, I passed homeless shanty towns in jungles of concrete underbrush and chain link overgrowth, nestled just out of view of roads and train tracks.

I saw some true feats of resourcefulness. There were sophisticated little villas made of tarps and reclaimed mattresses, with a makeshift shower system, common hangout areas, little sculpture gardens made of found junk. One residence had a decadent entrance constructed of felled trees and planks of wood that made an imposing stair set and tunnel. I saw structures that the average white collar employee, if he hit hard enough luck, would never dream up, let alone realize. As I zipped under a bridge, a group of traveling dirtbags with bikes [what I'll be soon, in other words] whooped supportively and yelled, "Get it, girl!"

I rode along a river [rampant with signs of a recent flood], through a park, passing one guy who was swaying to the sheet music he was reading, another guy baffled by his mountain of camping and cycling gear strewn over a picnic table, and an obese squirrel wrestling with an entire loaf of bread. I rode through an international airport, and behind a decadent hotel.

Then I turned on a random road because a sign was posted in front of it with my first name and an arrow, and I'm a pretty avid follower of arbitrary circumstances and coincidences [i.e., when in doubt, flip a coin]. That road led me to a bike shop, where I had some very helpful conversations, and to a good cheap dinner spot.

I got to the gym, having logged about seventeen relatively flat miles, warmed up and ready to keep moving.

 

The alternative, in a car, is about twenty-minutes on congested suburban main roads.

[PS: I've logged 135 cycling miles, six hours of yoga, seven hours of climbing, and a wee bit of jogging in the last four days! And somehow managed to keep mostly on top of my emails, promotion, and errands. Mostly. I'm doing stuff, I swear!]

Recent ride around a lake, which was teeming with turtles and birds, but conspicuously devoid of bipeds.

Recent ride around a lake, which was teeming with turtles and birds, but conspicuously devoid of bipeds.

Crunch Time!

It’s begun. From now until the end of February, I can spend virtually all my time preparing for my trip. 

This sudden freedom-to-be-single-minded isn’t random; I’ve spent a year trying to get to this point. I’ve saved up and hustled skrilla over the last year to allow myself this cushion of time, and finagled the perfect situation: I’m house-sitting, so I get a comfortable private space with no rent, in a place with mild weather. There’s no WiFi, which has a silver lining in that it forces me to get out of the house to get online and makes me less likely to waste the time that I do spend online. Plus, I’m relatively close to two REI stores; several great grocery stores; and Planet Granite, my favorite climbing gym in the country, where I’ve just bought a one-month membership. All are within a seventeen-mile bike ride.

So, I’ve been getting emails pestering me for updates on what I’m doing, or interrogating me about my training methods, previous experience, packing list, etc. 

And I’m stoked on the interest [really, I am, that’s not just me being PC—the positive reception I’ve received so far was honestly pretty unexpected and has got me feeling ecstatic] but I honestly do not have time to answer all these emails [my time on the Internet’s already being spent studying the terrain and conditions of my route down to the mile, scheduling bookings, investigating camping and making arrangements with hosts, and learning about bikes from the ground up]. 

Here’s the full disclosure; hopefully it’ll satisfy everyone’s questions. 

Training

Last week and this week:

  • 2+ long rides per week [increasing what “long” means each time; yesterday I did a thirty-mile ride, so my next ride will be thirty-five or forty]
  • 2+ shorter rides per week done to my maximum capacity [anaerobic], ideally with a steep, sustained climb
  • 2 rest days [meaning no long or hard bike rides], only bicycling for small, local commutes [i.e., errands like grocery runs or going to cafes to catch up on emails, or doing small loops around local trails and roads]
  • Cross-train daily, but particularly on rest days. For cross-training, I’ve been climbing and doing yoga at PG, and doing NeilaRey.com workouts at home [a fantastic site, with something for everybody: some of the workouts are far too easy for me, but others completely demolish me].
  • Incorporate weight loads in some of my rides, incrementally increasing the weight. 

Yesterday’s thirty-mile ride was my first with weight, and while I only packed ten pounds, it showed me just how crucial minimalist packing is going to be on this trip. If you ask me, riding with a loaded bike is worse than hiking with a heavy pack, and I know plenty about that: at the end of my season working for the Parks, I had to hike out our last twenty-five miles with seventy pounds on my back…and on top of that, had to drag a friend’s eighty-pound pack for the last couple miles when half our crew came down with some crazy flu. Now when I go backpacking, I’m obscenely minimal, so much so that I’d never suggest to anyone that they ought to pack as little as I do.

Some people have asked me about what computers or heart rate monitors or what have you I'm using; the answer is "none".

I've been using the free versions of Strava and Ride with GPS apps to plan/track my rides, that's all.

Research

  • As of now, I’ve read most of The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling, and have been obsessively Googling articles and watching Youtube videos to answer my questions [and, before that, to figure out what the questions were that I should be asking, because I had no clue].
  • I’ve been scouring sites like Adventure Cycling Association and East Coast Greenway and repeatedly, neurotically plugging my route into Google maps, one chunk at a time, to check miles and terrain and make modifications. Over and over. Revising and revising. I’m finally at a point where I’ve got the skeleton for my complete tour; there’s some wiggle-room and I’ll be making some changes, but I basically have my dates outlined, and it’s looking like the tour will take exactly [or close to exactly] four months from Key West, FL to Bar Harbor, ME.

Diet

Pretty simple. High protein. Aiming for about 125g a day [since I weigh between 120-125 lbs].

Otherwise, healthy/varied in general, low junk. [Though I’m a sucker for free food, and cave whenever the opportunity arises.]

Other

Since a few people have wanted to nerd out about gear, I’ll jabber on about that in a separate post.

Upcoming Agenda

  • Planning a couple multi-day bike trips in February. As of now, I'm dreaming up one up the coast, and one down the coast; hopefully I'll have time to do a few more before I leave California
  • Continuing cross-training 
  • Continuing bookings. I don't expect to have everything finalized by the time I head out on my trip, but I want to at least be past the filtering/reference-checking/cold-calling/figuring-out-who's-actually-serious phase. [Psst: Got a serious interest in hiring me? Contact me ASAP! We don't have to schedule or confirm anything right away, but I need to get you on my list.]
  • Looking into hosts and camping
  • Buying the rest of the shit I need [I've got a little stack of REI vouchers for February, ka-ching!]

Hibernation

I've been perfecting the art of hiding from the clutches of the Digital Age. In this case, in a cave made of recycled Christmas trees in a snowy park in Nevada.

I've been perfecting the art of hiding from the clutches of the Digital Age. In this case, in a cave made of recycled Christmas trees in a snowy park in Nevada.

As of tonight, I've plopped down to set roots and get serious for a month-or-so. Sorry I've been so MIA, Internet. Actually, no. I'm not sorry. But I am acknowledging my MIA-ness to you now, nonetheless.

To those who've emailed me asking where the hell I am...I suppose I owe you some sort of an update. [Someday I'll manage to frolic off-grid for a full year, or ten, but as long as I'm still making a living largely thanks to the Internet, that day won't soon arrive].

I capriciously threw New Mexico out the window. For a few reasons. I wasn't fitting logistics together so perfectly [plus, the people I was corresponding with there were almost invariably telling me things along the lines of, "Dude, the weather we've had lately will make you vomit."] and, moreover, I was bludgeoned with a few opportunities in Nevada and California that were far too enticing to turn down [dammit, California and Nevada, you're both so clingy...you always do this to me right when I'm about to leave you for a while].

Not that I'm complaining. I mean. This is what my world has looked like for the last month:

Those are all ripped off my Instagram, but accurate and relevant.

My life has been a series of cheesy vignetted moments, in fact. Trudging through ice to a hot spring out in the desert. Sliding on hardwood floors in socks in a swank vacation rental. Eating dinner atop a cliff while surrounded by phenomenal bluegrass musicians jamming to the sunset. For crying out loud, I was woken up the other morning to a kitten chewing on my nose, in the loft I'd made a temporary nest in the previous night. That. That is my life right now.

I am extremely fucking lucky to know the amazing people I know, who are frequently luring me over with compelling opportunities, projects, odd jobs, and so on, and taking better care of me than they ought to. Even when I've been broke and on the verge of existential deterioration, I've gotten treated to some pretty fantastical adventures and learning opportunities.

So, okay. Enough hippie-jabber.

For the next month-or-so I'll be house-sitting an awesome spot in the Bay [one of the aforementioned California opportunities I decided was too good to pass up] with Alex for our last month of farting around together before our first prolonged separation in about a year [usually we make it a rule to spend ample time apart, but this last year sort of just dragged us around together], i.e., my trip.

Mild-weather bike rides, taking advantage of a one-month membership at the old climbing gym and yoga studio I used to haunt fanatically, continuing to research/plan/learn, geek out on juicing, continue studying French in preparation for what's yet to come [fingers crossed].

Far more perfect than my original plan. Sorry, New Mexico, but you can wait—winter's not your prettiest season, anyhow.

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!