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

Anthropological Upshot of Being a Ham

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Plantation, FL

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

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

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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].

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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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Bridging Between Two Worlds

Photo: Annie Montgomery

Photo: Annie Montgomery

Both long-distance cycling and freelance modeling are, by now, pretty well-established ventures.

However, I'm pretty sure no one's been foolhardy enough to try to combine the two in one trip until now. I typically assume I'm not the first to have done anything...but I think it's safe to say I'm probably the first to plan a trip quite like this.

While I have a propensity to dive right into things, I've put a lot of thought into this. I'm not completely naive: touring as a model and touring as a cyclist are, by default, pretty incompatible things. Each demands certain things that the other naturally complicates.

So, here are some problems, and the solutions I've slapped together [I'm sure I will discover more problems and come up with more solutions along the way].

Problem #1: Tan lines. Tan lines. TAN LINES. Cannot be showing up to shoots with gnarly tan lines.

This is one I've mulled over for quite a while, and I believe I've finally gotten it handled:

  • White pantyhose! I read about a pro cyclist who does this because he's prone to burning, and supposedly the white layer even kept him cooler during his rides. For my arms: white children's pantyhose with the feet cut off.
  • Obviously, sunscreen on all exposed areas. No-brainer.
  • Tan-through t-shirts [I didn't even know this was a thing until recently].
  • Scheduled, periodic jaunts along nude beaches [or in the private backyards of whichever of my hosts won't mind], particularly when first arriving in a new city where I've booked work. [I tan quickly and never burn, so in the past I've been able to eliminate tan lines in a day or so this way before my modeling trips.]
  • If needed/For touch-ups: slightly tinted/bronzing/shimmer lotions [i.e., not fake tan] that will help refract light and make lines disappear without making me look orange [this will also help minimize any other marks or blemishes].
  • Worst-case scenario: I want to avoid tanning booths [I have never visited one in my life], but in a pinch, it'd be better than disappointing a client. 

Problem #2: Modeling demands a certain amount of prerequisite girly-gear [makeup and wardrobe]; cycling demands that I pack light, and bring practical items.

Fortunately, I almost always model nude [and, when I am modeling with clothes on, it's often been provided for the shoot], I almost always have good skin and tend to pose completely bare-faced [except for shoots with an MUA]. However, for those occasional shoots where I am asked to do my own makeup or supply some clothing items, it's a mark of basic professionalism that I be able to deliver on these modest fronts.

Makeup: 

  • Nixed the bulky packaging on items like bronzer/highlighter/shadows in favor of a couple little replacement units that are meant to be part of a palette once you've used up that color. They have no packaging except for a disposable plastic cover.
  • Sample size items [like lipstick and eyeliner]: Not only are these either free or very cheap, but they're tiny and can easily be replaced if I use them up [though that's unlikely; I go through makeup very slowly since I don't wear it during my daily life, nor at most of my shoots].
  • One worthy splurge: got a Lorac Pro Palette! Super versatile [enough colors for any basic eye look], and the case is almost paper-thin! High quality makeup, and a good value compared to competing products by other brands.

Wardrobe: 

  • I can't reasonably pack heels or boots, but I'll be bringing some lingerie/underwear sets/swimwear. Smooshes down into nothing, and weighs nothing. If I have room, there are a couple of fun items I have in mind that I'd like to pack, too [diaphonous and ornate dresses/skirts, a crazy bodysuit...]. We'll see!
  • I've made sure that most of the clothes I'll be cycling in are photogenic enough to serve as casual wardrobe, too [basic T-shirts/tanks, sports bra, etc.], rather than bringing cycling-specific clothing that I can't model in.

Problem #3: Modeling requires regular Internet access and lots of online busy-work drudgery; cycling through remote areas sometimes precludes getting Internet.

  • Well, this year I finally caved in and got a smartphone with a data plan [chose Verizon for optimal coverage in remote areas]. 
  • I also got one of those charge-storage devices, which I may or may not switch for a generator that charges my phone while I pedal.
  • I started promotion and booking very early for a change, to get a head start. Obviously I'll still be booking while I'm on my trip, since many clients can't commit months in advance—but I've gotten the time-consuming phases of cold calls and checking for genuine interest, compatibility [compensation and content], good model references, and other eliminative busy-work out of the way. So, once I'm on the road, I will only have to manage a small number of genuinely interested possible clients, and can focus directly on scheduling with them [rather than broad-beam promotion], so if I go a couple days at a time without access to my email I won't fall far behind.

Problem #4: Showing up exhausted to shoots. Or missing a shoot due to unforeseen emergencies [bad weather, technical difficulties beyond the scope of what I'm equipped to prepare...though I've been pretty neurotic about making a well-stocked tool kit, it could still happen]. I've been asked about this a lot. Cycling aside, I'm a professional. I need to show up fresh to my shoots, of course, and be able to make a 100% commitment that I will be there.

  • The overall answer is simple: I'm creating a clear buffer between my riding days and my shooting days, as well as between one shoot and the next, to account for tiredness and even unforeseen delays. 
  • For starters, I'm not booking nearly as prolifically as on other modeling tours. In several cases, I'm only reserving space for one photo shoot in a given city, since the logistics of getting to every shoot will be complicated. Usually I'm happy to do lots of 2-hour shoots, and to do traditional media sittings for artists, but this time around I have to be very selective about what jobs I can reasonably accept, since I am relying on far fewer jobs to carry me financially, and each one really needs to count. One hard thing has been turning down many jobs that I would otherwise love to accept, simply because they would thin my schedule out too much. I could risk booking more work, but I need ample cushioning between my jobs to make up for lost time in the event that something delays me—I couldn't have gotten this far as a model, nor convinced people I was capable of pulling this trip off, if not for the trust I've established and consequent reputation I've built...one of my challenges on this trip will be making sure that I protect and honor that reputation. Fortunately, I have a lot of amazing clients who have offered to host/feed me in addition to hiring me, or who want to hire me for two half days or a full day—or even two full days!—which helps offset the fact that my availability is 5-10% what it would be if I were driving or flying. And I've also been surprised by the number of photographers who are also cycling enthusiasts and who've given me invaluable advice! Thanks to each of you who have been flexible, resourceful, supportive, and generous through the planning stages; I wouldn't be able to do this trip without you!
  • I've considered the mileage and other factors [elevation gains, potential for wind, the fact that I'm not super fast and will be carrying a lot of weight] of my entire route. Every day, every mile of it. Multiple times. And I've set myself conservative goals of when I expect myself to be in each next city destination—conservative enough that I'll still be able to make them without a problem if I were held back by a day, or even a couple days [i.e., a projected mileage of no more than forty miles in a given day, although I could, and almost certainly will, technically ride quite a bit farther through most conditions]. 
  • Also, I am only shooting during overall rest periods/rest days. If we have a shoot booked, it means that I'm getting to your area at least the night before we're meant to shoot, with ample time to stretch, get cleaned up, and get a good night's sleep. During my shoot days, I will be reliant on public transit and carpooling, and will not be arriving to shoots on my bike [except in specific cases where photographers have asked me to ride/bring my bike because they want to incorporate it in the shoot—which is awesome, by the way]. I may be a bit bonkers for doing this trip, but I still value professionalism and integrity and have planned meticulously so that I show up to every job as a camera-ready model rather than a sweaty, depleted gremlin! 

So, those are some of the main conflicts I think I've resolved. We'll see what other challenges crop up that are unique to the wonky circumstances of my trip.

Update: Had to push my trip back a bit due to fantastically unusual [for this area] weather...the South Bay Area tends to be a benign and virtually weather less place, but we've had such "torrential" rains that there's been flooding on the roads and trails and lots of road work. I was on the fence for a bit, since wind and rain will be inevitabilities on my actual trip, and I've been cooped up doing indoor exercise for the last several days. However, tomorrow's meant to be sunny and, fingers crossed, I should be good to ride the 60-ish miles from here to my friend's house on the peninsula! 8]

Do what scares you.

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

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

Reno, NV

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And I could?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were home again.

It's how you go.

On a  songtaew  in Chiang Mai, Thailand

On a songtaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Reno, NV

The beginning of this year saw me joining the ranks of millions before me. You've heard this story before.

I disembarked at Suvarnabhumi, one of Bangkok's two international airports. I'd flown in on a one-way ticket and a single sparsely-packed backpack and no plan, bringing only the clothes I'd worn on the plane and the desiccated crumbs of expired daydreams.

Early on, I was inundated with tall tales of the cliched "life-changing personal experiences" one can replicate when they've earned money, even barely any money, within a first-world economy. These must-do's read almost like a curriculum off some deluded syllabus for the privileged-but-"conscious". As usual when confronted with surroundings completely alien to me, I felt blissed out, delirious, and expansive, which chased away my cynicism for a time.

As if Southeast Asia were merely Disneyland for spiritual capitalists and would-be anthropologists, other English-speaking travelers I met on the way would share their reviews, with a tone implying that they'd benevolently condescended to some quainter rhythm of life. 

Bright-eyed gap-year kids obsessively hewing together some sort of "rite of passage" ritual had become the new face of white imperialism. 

"Oh, it's so touching, the natives here, they have so little, and yet they give so much."

And, even more absurdly: "Yeah, we paid to go on this guided trekking tour to visit one of the indigenous hill tribes, but the experience...I don't know, it was just so inauthentic. So commercial, you know, like they just wanted our money."

My allergic reaction to these conversations quickly propelled me into an infinite spiral of self-questioning. 

Sure. I could criticize the hypocrisy of paying for an "authentic" experience, but how exempt was I, really, from similar criticisms? Was I merely making social observations, or were these people reflecting something uncomfortable in myself? Was I just like them? Was that why they annoyed me so much?

You've heard this before, too: I'd meet travelers along the way who'd had similar revelations. They'd scoff at the "tourists" [differentiated from "travelers" in their minds] who would stay at nice hotels, hire chauffeurs, and delight in how cheap prostitutes were. Meanwhile, these "travelers" would loaf around in hostels run by ex-pats from their home country, stocked with kids who were so like-minded that they could discuss worldly matters for hours without anyone's perspective being challenged, investigate the cheapest ways to get high, and consult their smartphones or guidebooks every time they needed to make a decision on where to go, what to eat, which "life-changing" experiences to pay chump change for.

Well...I'm not doing any of those things. Lonely Planet never factored into the equation for me. I'm not going on elephant rides or staying in youth hostels run by foreigners. I didn't even bring my laptop!...But now am I doing the exact same thing as these "travelers"? Creating a separation and looking down on them because my own protocols and motives are somehow more "pure"? What's the motivation behind that? First-world guilt or self-loathing? What's the point? Should I not even be here?

And so on, ad infinitum.

Here's what I did realize, though.

Southeast Asia doesn't exist for middle-class westerners who want to visit countries where they can pretend they're rich. It doesn't exist to proffer salvation for privileged millennials desperate to find enlightenment, or at least desperate to transcend their dark fate to a life of relative ease by constructing arbitrary "challenges" and adventures for themselves, all the while maintaining the safety net granted to them at birth.

It also doesn't exist as a serviceable substitute for having actual self-esteem. Criticizing the practices of "tourists" while exalting your own does not fundamentally separate you from them. Coming home and shoving your supposed worldliness in the face of your less-traveled friends, while dismissing the richness and depth of their own lives [perhaps levels of depth your own life is lacking, if you only took an honest look], does not make you worldly.

Call yourself a globetrotter, vagabond, pilgrim, or gypsy all you want, but going to another country, or twenty, does not define you. You are not where you've been, what you've seen, or even what you've been a part of. You're in the how: how you've chosen to see your experiences, how closely you've looked, and at what.

It doesn't exist for us at all. It's a place, existing in and of itself. Where people live, existing in and of themselves. They weren't put there in order to teach us lessons about consumerism or compassion or inspire us towards Eastern thought. They've got their own thoughts and their own shit to do, and none of it has to do with us [well, except for those who are using our tourism to make their living]. 

With the right attitude, this realization extends both liberated detachment and connection.

And, most importantly, I learned that none of the lessons I learned have anything to do with Southeast Asia, though going there acted as a catalyst for me. As far as the traveler-vs-tourist division is concerned, I've seen the same behavior in ski town transplants and college frats: deep down, you're not sure if you belong there, and so you haze everyone who appears to belong there even less than you do. 

But really, the questions were mine to ponder, the lessons mine to learn. Southeast Asia didn't exist for the sake of my personal development [though I couldn't have asked for a more enchanting backdrop].

Perhaps people like me don't belong in places like Lao: Westerners, perhaps wearing brand-name backpacks and wielding cameras that each cost more than a college-educated Laotian makes in a year. 

Or, perhaps, all of us are fundamentally world citizens who can belong anywhere, if we only figure out how.

The agitated silt in my head is not going to settle into answers any time soon, if it ever does, but while I'm floating in spirals I just hope I'll remember how to keep asking.