Friday, February 3, 2017

1/19/17 - Stoneham, MA - Home Again

Vin’s odometer ticked passed 200,000 miles on our way to the airport but his sleep-filled eyes didn’t notice.  Barely 3:30am.  I was too focused on directing my sleepy chaufer.  This trip became much more than a cross-country bicycle journey – that ended 4 months ago.  

The timeline in my head is a knotted ball of yarn, my most recent memories involve ropes and rocks in the strange stretch of land known as Joshua Tree.  

But, I can still listen to certain songs, close my eyes, and be transported back to the plains of South Dakota, riding along the Columbia River in Oregon or winding through the Redwoods of California.  

Countless moments of solitude from the seat of my bike, so many miles of scenery fly through my mind like a bright red ribbon over my eyes and suddenly I’m home like it never happened, like a compelling dream that stays with you for the rest of your life.  I intentionally put the pen down a couple days into my month-long stint in J-Tree, I knew it would be a blur no matter how hard I tried to hold onto details.  

It’s a fuzzy memory, unlike anything I saw in the landscape – ok, all the mice and rabbits and coyotes are pretty fuzzy.  All the plants are rigid and defensive, a harsh place to grow.  

Even the rocks are anything but smooth, they’ve taken their fair share of skin and blood from me and many others.  I like to think we’ve all given our blood and our skin, a gesture of respect.  

There’s something compelling about that place, it takes hold of many people and beckons their return year after year, the dirtbags who live out of their cars and survive off rocks and adrenaline and meals crafted in communal dutch ovens by campfire coals.  

I’ve never seen so many people so stoked on nature.  I’ve never spent so many days in a row sleeping without a roof overhead.  The night sky became my ceiling and shooting stars were the sheep I was counting.  

To wake up outside, ready to watch the sunrise is a special thing, even when a layer of frost covered my sleeping bag.  

The sun would be up soon enough to dry it all out, to heat up the rocks for us to climb.  Everyday, we had to opportunity to defy death, to trust science and each other’s ability to implement science to get our Earthbound asses up on top of some rocks, screaming and swearing at times when we were giving all we had and sometimes a little more.  

I never thought I’d be a rock climber but damn, that’s some good adrenaline.  I’ve felt small many may times over the course of 7 months but, how humbling it is knowing a wrong move, some man-made error on a sheer rock wall can send you to your death.  

I’ve thought about death a good deal and even though I have a lot of trust in myself and my friends at the end of the rope, I never felt closer to death than my month in Joshua Tree.  

It’s something we can’t avoid, we might as well get used to it.  It still blows my mind all the things I’ve seen and done and the people I’ve I am at home with a roof over my head and all the people I’ve shared my life with except the last 7 months.  

I want them all to know and understand what went on and how I feel but damn, no words or drawings or photos will ever make anyone understand.  This whole ‘life’ thing is intensely personal but, we’re all trying to make at least one other person know what life is like in our own skull.

Days 81-82 - 12/12/16-12/13/16 - Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Park

Vin, Nelson and I aren’t the type of doods that you see around Palm Springs.  There’s some classy guys and dolls out there and we’re just a few hairball dirtbags.  They picked me up in front of the fancy hotel and we caused quite the scene breaking down my bicycle and loading it and all my bags into Nelson’s already cramped Saturn Vue.  No one could ride shotgun cause that’s where their 2-burner propane stove sits.  

I avoided the 35 mile bike ride into town and the 10 mile ride to the campground, all uphill.  That’s okay, I don’t feel like I cheated.  I hit 7,000 miles yesterday, I can take a car ride.  We stopped at the climbing store before the park, I quickly got a harness and a pair of shoes and before I could let all the breathtaking scenery sink into my eyes Vinny was already scaling a wall and I was soon to follow.  I didn’t know anything about rock climbing at this point.  I still kind of don’t.  All I know is I trust Vinny and Nelson.  I trust science, and I guess I trust the people manufacturing the gear we’re trusting our lives with.  Between my first climb and second climb on Tuesday, there was a point on each wall where I didn’t think I could go on, I felt too tired and didn’t know where I could put my hands and my feet to advance myself upwards.  But, with the motivation from friends, both above and below, I made it up my first 2 climbs.  

The very first, The Flake, the 3 of us made it to the very top, about 110 feet, just in time to watch the sun set, streaking the sky with pink and gold.  We rested in a little alcove, protected from the wind as the shroud of night fell over all the piles of rock and over all the funky Joshua Trees and we rolled and smoked a spliff by the light of our headlamps.  Now stoned, we rappelled over the side into the shadow of intersection rock.  

Once back on solid ground, the adrenaline began to fade and I had the realization I’m sure all rock climbers have after make it off the ground, this real intense metaphor for life: trusting in the people holding the rope, trusting the gear and trusting your own movements; taking it slow one move at a time but, also knowing no system is perfect, failure and death always seem close by but that’s no excuse to avoid danger, avoid the journey, avoid the rewards.  What is the reward?  I’m not so sure yet, besides the adrenaline rush and the beautiful views.  

Day 2, the 3 of us set out with another climber, Heather.  After everyones’ warmup and my major workout, we scrambled across the wilderness, through the perfectly manicured gardens of trees and cacti, and boulders, up and down piles of rock, laid out like a prehistoric playground onto the next climb.  A perfectly straight crack, very thin at the bottom that opens up a bit more at the top.  The journey to this climb was enough for me but, it was pure beauty watching Heather lead this one, figuring out the puzzle one limb at a time, finding ways to place gear and move herself up.  

There’s an amazing difference in leading a climb vs. following someone else.  Leading, you are going up to the unknown, carrying what you can around your waist, climbing and little, setting a piece, going further and hoping you set your gear right.  It’s beautiful watching people push themselves mentally and physically, coming down breathing heavily, excitement exuding, thankful to be on the ground but already looking forward to the next ascent.

Days 78-80 - 12/9/16-12/11/16 - Los Feliz to Claremont to Redlands to Palm Springs, CA

My time with Hallie and Jack was a perfect way to end my stint in the city, going from LA to San Diego and back up, I was pretty fed up with the traffic and red lights and crazy drivers that don’t give a shit about cyclists.  

I lucked out with a couple Warm Showers on my way out of the city.  Oris in Claremont took me out to dinner and breakfast, emphasizing the importance of conversation with locals and other travelers and the potential for interesting interactions by sitting at the counter rather than booths.  He’s logged over 100,000 miles in his 82 years on this Earth.  

Next was onto Kathy and Roger’s orange grove in Redlands.  Kathy met me 10 miles out and we rode to a local brewery where Roger met us.  They were very recently on a 10,000 mile loop tour on their tandem bicycle but were hit by a car with just about 300 miles to go.  They were both taken to the ER, Kathy needing some stitches, Roger twisting his knee a bit.  

They’re still recovering but, they’re mostly there.  Their bike has been considered totaled.  Kathy was happy to have me, they needed to hear some tales from the roaad to reignite their desire to finish their tour.  I was up and out early, around 9:00am, after coffee and oats.  

I sleepishly rode through more orange groves until the landscape opened up into more barren desert.  The sun came out and the wind picked up, luckily it was on my back and pushed me all the way to Palm Springs which is quite literally an oasis in the desert; riding in on 111, there was an abrupt shift from dry, dusty land to seeing, rich green palms lining the road.  

Max took care of my sleeping arrangements: a fancy fuckin villa once utilized by Howard Hughes back in the day.  I lived in luxury for one more night before Vinny and Nelson would be me up tomorrow morning.

Day 77 - 12/8/16 - Day Off - Los Feliz, Los Angeles, CA

Hallie and Jack both make art full time to support themselves, whether it’s comics for some magazine or website, or collaborating on a book together.  I had no expectations of them going out of their way to make sure I had something fun to do, I can’t even imagine how much more work they do than the average joe.  It’s probably comparable to working on a pot farm but you actually need real skills and dedication and I don’t think being a freelance illustrator requires you to shit in a hole in the ground, I could be wrong though.  

So I sat and did what everyone else was doing and did some drawing.  It felt really good.  I was working on a couple images for a friend and it just felt incredible to produce something I was happy to look at on top of making something for a friend’s project.  Talking to these two artists, I explained where and when the momentum of my art production fizzled out after college, I felt guilty, like I could’ve done more but, it also made me think I could get back on track.  It’s been an inspiration time with these two.  

Tonight was movie night at Jack’s  Hallie had too much work to do so she stayed behind.  I got to meet so many of their friends, some of them didn’t even know each other so I wasn’t so far outside the circle of friends.  In fact, it was like the creation of an entirely new circle, like a new planet that would only last a brief time, just one night, where everybody chanted ‘John Malkovich’ and complimented each other to the point where ‘over the top’ was an understatement.  Everyone hugged upon meeting, strangers hugging before any real information was exchanged, all based on a shared relationship with an individual.  

At least in my memory, life isn’t usually like this back home, I don’t meet a ton of new people and it seems like that’s all I do now.  Might as well hug.  Maybe 8 of us watched “Some Like it Hot” an old flick where 2 doods dress like women to avoid being whacked by the mob.  Both of them looked great as girls and there was plenty of evidence that transgender and homosexuality was barely even a thought in show business at that time, maybe the 40’s?  Early 50’s?  It certainly wasn’t offensive, just sort of laughably ignorant.  Jack drove us to Sketchparty after the movie, just him and I, everyone else went home, it was close to 11:00pm.  

Sketchparty takes place at a bar one night a week, they cover all the surfaces and tables with paper and let all the drinkers doodle the night away.  If my environment at home was so geared toward art, would I be where I am right now?  Would I have found some alternative route to venture down?  It’s impossible to say but, being around so many creative folks in LA made me want to make more art.


Day 76 - 12/7/16 - Dana Point to Los Feliz, CA

I don’t know if Los Feliz is the actual town or if it’s just some sub-category of Los Angeles; whatever, this is where I am.  I’m staying with more people I know through the internet.  Hallie and Jack, they don’t live together but, they’re both here right now, a couple artists that work at their craft a lot more consistently than me.  It’s nice to be around people that dedicate so much of their time to creating, a nice change of pace from the people that spend all their time riding bikes although, I have yet to get sick of those people yet.  I met another one today on the train from Long Beach to Los Feliz.  

James got hit by a car this morning somewhere in LA, nothing too serious, his ankle was sore, he said. A guy that saw it happen owns a bike shop and gave his bike a complete overhaul, took it apart, tuned it up, cleaned everything and gave it back to him as a new bike, pretty much.  We talked about our gear, our trips, (he’s been riding East to West from Florida) he told me about one of his bags getting robbed from him at gun point, al his money and credit cars.  I gave him some food and some money before we parted ways, I would’ve wanted someone to take pity on me too.  

I’ve had worse mornings but, it was a complete shock to be kicked out of McDonalds.  I’m 90% sure it was because I looked like a homeless guy who was loitering outside earlier but, at the same time, could we have really looked that much alike?  Or did she just assume I’d be hanging out all morning after ordering only a small orange juice?  Who knows, it shouldn’t bother me, McDonald’s is garbage anyways.  But, here I am after a fast and beautiful bike ride back North along the beach, listening to Vince Guaraldi in Hallie’s living room with her roommate, Alice, and Jack.  Plants are everywhere, Alice makes floral arrangements.  Plants make you feel not so alone.  I remember the one pot of English Ivy I had on my shelf under my lofted bed in my room in Peabody; that seems like a lifetime ago, 10,000 miles away.  

Hallie and I took Ozzy (dog) for a walk when I first showed up.  We talked of her’s and her mother’s book in-progress that deals with the reality of a parents death, how do you deal with that?  What are the objective and subjective steps to navigate through this inevitable part of life?  I think my mom needs to read it, if only it was ready.  She asked me all the questions everyone asks me about my trip (and she knew it, too but, I never mind talking about it!).  She also asked me other questions that no one else really asks like, what have you learned about yourself?  I explained my sincere trust in the universe but, failed to elaborate on much else.  “If you could ride your bike next to yourself you’d know everything,” my friend Matt said this to my friend Colin.  What a thought, what an image.  What is there to know?  Must I know what there is to know before I can know?  Maybe it’s one of those things you can’t really put into words, maybe not as gracefully until you’re older, maybe what you know about yourself can only be illustrated through examples, through stories where your character is tested.  

I was made at the woman in McDonalds this morning, mad that she couldn’t give me an answer for why she was kicking me out, who complained and what did they say.  Everyone has a right to refuse someone something.  Everyone has a right to stand up to their rights but, was I going to do that for orange juice that I didn’t even want?  I was just trying to be nice while I used the bathroom to change and fill up my water bottles.  She hurt my ego, judged me on my appearance and it hurt me, bothered me to know someone can look less presentable and be denied orange juice.  I might be misunderstood who I was, what I was doing.  I wanted to yell, my blood pressure went up but, life went on and I’m here amongst friends now, everything is perfect, I feel good and happy, I’m warm and fed.  Every thing has its resolve, life will go on.  And then one day it won’t so why even get upset?  Choose your battles, the orange juice at McDonalds is pretty shitty anyways.

Day 75 - 12/6/16 - San Elijoh SP to Dana Point, CA

I got donuts at VG’s Bakery this morning with Randy and Jenny.  They’re real fun, I”m glad I got to meet them even if it was for a short time.  They were headed South, Where I had been but, my adventure takes me back up North.  It was a nice ride today, just as nice as the first time I did it.  I was cruisin’ definitely in some kind of groove.  

When I stopped to take a leak in Oceanside, I met this kid who was sort of drifting from place to place, not much on his back, on some kind of spiritual quest.  He gave me some coffee he had in a big Hydroflask, it was the perfect drinking temperature, as hot as it can be without burning your mouth or lips.  I didn’t really know where I would sleep tonight, I still sort of don’t as I sit here and write this in some community park by these baseball fields.  

The state park doesn’t offer Hiker/Biker sites and the regular sites were going for $40...I lingered there a bit, wondered if I could camp there without being seen.  I moved on down a bike path, saw a flat patch behind the fence of the baseball field I’m sitting at now.  Hopefully no homeless folk have moved in on my turf...I miss doing this, I haven’t boonie-camped in a while, not since Oregon.  It changes up the routine.  

I really can’t wait to get away from these heavily populated areas, there’s just so much crammed between the ocean and the mountains, there aren’t many places to hide in that aren’t already taken by the people that are living on the streets out here.  There aint much room for us folk that are just passin’ through, except at campgrounds.

Day 74 - 12/5/16 - Chula Vista to San Elijoh State Park, CA

I woke up with a scratchy throat yesterday and thought I just slept with my mouth open or was snoring or something but, I definitely have a little cold, we’ll call it the sniffles because it’s really not that bad.  The last time I had the sniffles was after I left Chicago.  I’ve come to the conclusion big cities are gross and get you sick.  I could’ve stayed at Rafa’s another day but not riding when you’re sick is like not riding in the rain, you just gotta suck it up.  It was only a 40 mile ride anyway.  I did a lot of backtracking through the streets of San Diego, back up North along the coast.  I’m heading to LA to meet a couple more artists before going to Joshua Tree to  see Vinny and Nelson and a bunch more dirtbags, no doubt.  

I don’t know if these sniffles put a chip on my shoulder or what but, I was extra annoyed at all the red lights and inconsiderate drivers on the road today, I’m never usually annoyed at all, maybe 6 months of being on the road is getting to me or maybe it’s the city life that’s bugging me.  I can’t get out to J-Tree to see my homies fast enough.  I met a real groovy couple here at San Elijoh State Park.  Their sailboat is docked in New York, they flew out West and have been riding down the coast for a few months like me.  They even met Blue a few times on the way down!  Their plan is to ride back East through the South and then up to NY and then hop on their boat and sail away.  

They’ve already sailed around the world, stopped in many places to work and travel and explore which includes a brief stint operating a banana plantation somewhere in Australia before a monsoon flattened everything.  Randy said he found the biking community to be incredibly similar to the sailing community, other sailors are quick to lend a hand.  It’s gotta have something to do with finding peace in self-propelled travel.  Maybe sailing is my next venture.  Maybe I’ll at least hop on their boat when they sail across to Europe.

Day 73 - 12/4/16 - Day Off - Chula Vista, CA

I spent the entire day typing up journal entries to get caught up on  I didn’t even realize I had a whole month of journals just waiting for me.  The last time I updated was at Adrian’s which was a month ago at this point.  Jeez, time just flies.  I didn’t even finish typing it all up but, that’s ok.  

Rafa left tonight, she also spent the whole day with her father so I didn’t see her except for coffee in the morning.  It was nice to have a down day, to sit and work for a change, let Clementine and myself rest.

Day 72 - 12/3/16 - Day Off - Chula Vista, CA

I retraced my bike ride from yesterday, this time Rafaela accompanied me.  We even went to REI again like I did yesterday.  She was excited to ride her bike, Maria, and I was excited to see the beautiful lake again at the foot of the mountains.  We watched the ducks swim around for a while before heading back.  Today was her mother’s surprise birthday party, we had to be at Rafa’s aunt’s by 2:30 and she wanted to take me out for some good vegan food beforehand, we were fully booked for the day.  

Rafa asked if I was ready to be the outsider at the party, the only person who can’t speak and understand Espanol.  To be honest, I was excited.  I’ve been so inspired to learn the language since I’ve been on the road meeting all sorts of bilingual people.  It seems silly to me to only know English.  I know there’s situations out there where the true meaning of a statement gets lost through translation or doesn’t even translate at all.  To hear something in another language and to understand it only in that way is fascinating to me.  

I met her cousins, aunts and uncles in the backyard around the patio.  The band was warming up, singing and playing songs en Espanol and any conversation I heard was foreign to my ears aside from a few words here and there.  After we successfully surprised her mother the party went on non-stop.  Everyone ingested the food and the music, the beer and tequila and danced into the dusk.  I did my best to talk to friends and cousins en Espanol.  Luckily, they all spoke English so I could fall back on my native tongue and they could tell me how to say certain things.  I feel so lucky for the experience.  

Language is an extensive puzzle, una rompecabeza, that we can allow to keep us separated or we can help each other understand as best we can.  I’m certainly no expert in Spanish, nowhere near fluent, it will be a work in progress.  It’s sad how much opportunity to learn I’ve wasted instead of embraced.  It’s never too late to learn something new, even if all you learn is that you want to learn.  That’s where I’m at, I want to learn, I wish I felt this way in high school.  Oh well.