Home stretch [ME]

Brewer, ME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, also, free continental breakfast tomorrow. Boom.

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

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

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

BAM, synchronicity-machine go!

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

More on that later, I'm sure.

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

Shenaniganery Leave

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Jacksonville, FL

Been a bit remote from the modeling/photography aspect of my trip for this last week, admittedly. I've had the week off from shoots [and from hanging out with industry people...not that you guys aren't awesome, but I try my hardest not to balkanize too singularly in any sort of group, no matter what it is, and to traverse as much of the spectrum of personalities and lifestyles as I can handle], and spent a while in Facebook jail. Not that I don't stress out about finances like the next model, but when life gives me a cluster of cancellations all together...I tend to take it as a sign to go on shenaniganery leave and play. Especially if I'm traveling through beautiful places full of beautiful people. Yadda yadda.

So, I've been living and laughing and getting up to shenanigans and have generally felt very lovey-dovey and blissed-out and almost uncomfortably lucky, like the karmic Daddy's Girl trustafarian of a benevolent universe. Admittedly I've got a bit of cosmic-privilege guilt.

Now I'm back in bumptious-Internet-diplomat-slash-froofroo-camera-tart mode, though, with renewed gumption! Granted, that gumption's being counteracted by lots of fatigue. Just arrived in the endless sprawl that is Jacksonville [the largest contiguous city, by area, in the US]. Now I'm back on the shoots-all-the-time train for a little bit; I've got makeup on for the first time this year. Excited to be working for the first time with a lot of clients who, at the very least, seem like they're going to be awesome. So my next post is probably going to be just as directly-related-to-modeling as this post is decidedly-not-related-to-modeling-whatsoever.

As with all life's best times, there's only so deeply I'm inclined to disclose the details of what nonsense I've been getting up to.

So here's a disjointed-scrapbook-version.

Plantation yielded unexpected but really precious solitary days full complete lack of obligations, which were spent reading and fraternizing with weird feline creatures and hanging out idly in a pool. The hours of lazy solitude were punctuated with the company and banter of eloquent, snarky people who tied me up [but not before feeding me tacos]. 

Leaving there, I had my first taste of biking in real rain en route to West Palm Beach. Along the crumbling shoulders of interstates that really aren't suited for biking, crossing over exit lanes not meant to be crossed, all while being doffed around by the wind and barely able to see. Mildly terrifying.

But it's those moments when I feel alive, to be honest. Getting pounded by Mama Nature, incapable of a wandering thought, slightly scared for my life but bolstered by the hysterical absurdity of existence.

...Uh, don't mind me. It's possible that I tend to romanticize the crap out of things.

I think there might've been a lot of laughing and "whoo"-ing and leaning-my-head-back-to-gulp-down-rainwater-because-I'd-lost-all-my-water-bottles-and-needed-to-get-new-ones. No matter how much I've tried to preempt my own absent-mindedness, I've still managed to lose one thing at every stop. But for every one thing I've lost, I've also been given at least one way-cooler-than-the-thing-I-lost gift along the way.

Anyway. Then I got to West Palm Beach. And that was when my residually-ingrained-american-workaholic-sensibilities ran completely dry for a while. Got twitterpated over some really amazing people; Saint Patricks Day happened; went scuba diving while extremely sleep-deprived and hungover [a judgment call that, in retrospect, I absolutely do not recommend...well, if you've barely dived and are a subpar swimmer, like I am, at least].

Generally I try to err on the side of leaving a place prematurely: I like to walk out the door with people already excited for my return, as opposed to relieved that I'm finally out of their hair. Especially when it comes to places and people I'd truly like to see again [after so many years of wandering around, I've become incrementally better at predicting which experiences are doomed never to progress from their pilot episodes and which might proffer further material...it's a tough thing to really know, I am capricious and so seems to be life, but I'm starting to not suck at guessing]. 

But I stayed kind of quite a bit longer than I originally expected and hope I didn't manage to overstay.

In St. Augustine, while deliberating over where I'd stay [since I had no idea], I bumped into a woman I'd met weeks earlier at the Everglades Hostel in Homestead, who happened to be camping at a state park a mile or two away and told me I could joink a bit of her campsite for my newly-gifted tent, and she'd even make me coffee and breakfast in the morning. [Incidentally, her name is Kevin—which I mention because I think that Kevin is such an awesome name for a lady, and should become a thing.]

Here, have some more photos-without-context!

It's become an ongoing motivation of mine to figure out how I can live up to the amount of good luck I've had, and to the extent to which people spoil me for no ostensible reason. I guess I'm kind of trying to reverse-engineer karma. Though I can't really afford to believe in karma, because if I believed my surplus of luck was a result of deservingness it'd give me a big head.

I mean. I spent a week fucking around and being a goon and having a great time of it. And now I'm in Jacksonville, and everything's going better than right, and people are being all exceedingly awesome and kind at me all over again, except this time they're cyclists and clients instead of divers or shibari enthusiasts.

Life's being really nice to me, and it almost makes me nervous. There are people out there "saving the world" or trying to in myriad ways.

...Then there's this scruffy kid on a bicycle with bad table manners, reclusive tendencies, a potty mouth, and a proclivity for nudity, stumbling around trying to figure out what it is I value and, meanwhile, falling into opportunities I've had neither the creativity to synthesize nor the qualifications to warrant, and managing to ward off what should've been dire or fatal consequences with trivial bribes: new scars, lost money, some heartache here and there. In other words, pretty low dues.

Trying to figure out whether there's a greater virtue buried in there, somewhere, that I'm overlooking. Or a catalyst to direct me thusly.

Photos: Theresa Manchester, Miami Beach, FL, just as the sky began boiling over with the delicious tempest that'd ravage us as we trudged the long walk home, cackling maniacally the whole way. Or, well, I was cackling...

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.

Tamer Pursuits

Melbourne, Victoria

I've been having really good luck with airplane seating arrangements.

From Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne, Alex and I were seated next to Stephen, an energetic man of about fifty who owned a decorating company in Victoria. I'd had the audacity to ask Stephen a lot of frivolous, covetous questions about how he managed to get a brownie from the flight attendant even though they weren't on the menu; this had proven to be a good move on my part, as he was awesome, and we spent the rest of our flight rambling at each other about the cultural and political absurdities of our respective countries.

He offered us a ride--which was fantastically lucky for us, since we'd arrived at around 2:00 a.m. and were thinking our only option would be to hire a cab--then, after a rather amusing series of trivial setbacks, handed us a card saying to let him know if we wanted to get a coffee or wound up needing an alternative place to stay, and warily left us in front of a dark and unassuming warehouse facade in Coburg as per our request [and repeated assurances that, yes, we were at the right place, and yes, we knew the people who lived there].

Since then, I've gone on one other flight, from Adelaide to Melbourne [having previously taken the train from Melbourne to Adelaide--aboard which I was probably the only passenger under sixty, and wound up making a throng of very sweet and inquisitive octogenarian friends who were completely intrigued by this girl dressed in fluorescent clothes she found in Thailand, and was subsequently offered well-wishes and blown kisses and vague grandma-esque insistences that I ought to visit their town by about fifteen of them upon disembarkation], during which a flight attendant handed me a flirtatious the-seat-next-to-me-is-empty-if-you-want-to-come-take-it note from a spiffy admirer about whom I knew nothing except that he was tall, dark, and from Texas, but regrettably didn't wind up rewarding this admittedly charming gesture [sorry, bro] because by that point I was already enmeshed in a fantastic conversation with a one of the most interesting guys I've met in a while. We talked about Burning Man [a given when you both realize you've both been], travelling adventures [including his experience playing music and doing a peyote ceremony up in the foothills near a remote Mexican village, and being working with locals to open up a restaurant in Indonesia], a new wave of surreal, transcendently immersive "performance art", and so on. The one-hour flight suffered a two-hour delay; the two of us drank airplane wine and carried on, not minding a bit, and once again I was spared the necessity of transit fares and offered a ride home.

Anyway, back to that dark warehouse in Coburg.

Getting in required stepping gingerly through a hole in one fence, ducking under a hole in another, and heading up some stairs sprinkled liberally in broken glass, which had recently occupied the now-broken pane in the door of the loft we'd get to stay in. I was delighted--something about having to sneak in in the dead of night just pumped my nads.

Inside was a large bed [which, after the cheap-as-shit-but-consequently-shittily-uncomfortable three-day journey from Ko Tao, rendered me almost psychotically excited even in my exhaustion] with a cheery note from Alex's friend Tim, pointing out where we could find a clean towel and sheets hanging to dry, and that there was a particular surprise for us hidden in the room [which we found--and which I'm keeping a secret]. The room was strewn with boxing gear and an assortment of books that demonstrated [in my opinion] very good taste on part of their owner. On one wall hung a large, aquatic-patterned sheet to encourage privacy and insulation. It was perfect.

Funnily enough, that was two weeks ago, and I still haven't met this guy whose bed we're staying in.

As for the place, Reclamation Artists Warehouse is still in its infancy--mostly an empty space, though intended to become something of an industrial arts workshop/party venue [not unlike the Generator near Reno, which I also got to see--and help fix up--during its bare-bones infancy and which is now one of the coolest places in America, if you ask me].

Ever since reading Down Under I've been on a mission to overload myself with information and see how much I can manage to remember. Combine this with how expensive Melbourne is [particularly compared to Thailand], and with its saving grace of free museums, and you can easily guess where I've been spending a sizeable chunk of my free time. I visited the NGV International alone on three different days before deciding I'd had enough of looking at really old things.

Otherwise, there's nothing too crazy for me to report just yet, as I've spent much of my time here focused on freelancing and haven't been able to cut loose and go on a real adventure [outside the bounds of conventional wandering, academic tourism, gastronomical overindulgence].

There've been some good nights with new friends.

On one of our first nights we were invited out by Adrian, the first photographer I've shot with in Australia, and treated to drinks on a rooftop bar rife with some really personable, easygoing people exhibiting varying degrees of artsy-fartsiness [I went home with an illustrator's drawing of a fish that had been inspired by a face I'd made], Alex and I left with a couple of art models, for a free Cat Empire show at Federation Square, and eventually we wound up drinking wine under a bridge by the river amidst several hippie types, all seeking refuge from the sudden rain [and all being barked at by rather unimposing cops as soon as the rain cleared].

Adrian Carmody: Melbourne, VIC, Australia, 2014

Adrian Carmody: Melbourne, VIC, Australia, 2014

Similarly, last night we successfully located what is undoubtedly the best ice cream place in Melbourne, followed by a contender for best cocktail bars I've been to in my life [which we only sought out because its name is also my Chinese name--we didn't even know it was a bar], followed by the swank apartment balcony of a lovely and hilarious Kiwi couple whom Alex had met a couple years prior in New Zealand, and who kept giving us wine and shots and making us laugh. The next day we nursed our consequent hangovers by seeking out the best pies in Melbourne.

In case you haven't gathered by now, Melbourne's full of good things to put in one's mouth.

And so on. Presently I'm not inspired to play storytime-dress-up and give some of my nights here the fully quixotic narratives they truly warrant...but I'm okay with that.

Taken by Theresa Manchester at the NGV Australia

Taken by Theresa Manchester at the NGV Australia

With Theresa Manchester on some rooftop bar

With Theresa Manchester on some rooftop bar