Monday, October 24, 2016

10/24/16: Phoenix - Go Forth Boldly, Young Man

Aside from a rather comical episode of sleep/smartphone induced disorientation leading me to spend 5-10 minutes believing I’d slept thru Phoenix and was arriving in Albuquerque without my backpack, the Greyhound from L.A. to Phoenix was uneventful. I arrived just as the sun rose and spent the next several hours at the terminal waiting for Jefe to get out of work and pick me up.

IMG_6298

Bus stations are never “ordinary”. The collection of humanity gathering at Greyhound always make for superb people watching, and Phoenix is no exception. Along with the typical strutting examples of facial tattoos and recently parolees, I did meet one interesting, familiar character.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

10/23/16: Barstow, CA - Jad, Drifters, and a Dirty Dog Escape

The clouds kept things warmer overnight. I was finally snug and toasty and climatologically undisturbed inside the bivy until around 7:30. I got moving immediately. Just as I finished packing up stray raindrops fell. They didn't stick around, but it was a prelude of later.

I finally had a goal: southwest on I-15.  Barstow. Of course, when hitchhiking there is no way to plan anything. So, I'd just take it a step at a time and let my arrival determine the next move. From Barstow, I was inclined to hitch at least to Flagstaff. But, it's rarely easy to switch interstates and always a crapshoot. I knew nothing useful about the I-40 situation other than there was (apparently) only one direction to go: east. Route 66's killer dies itself it Barstow.

Inexplicably, I went inside to charge and write. Somehow, I'd actually forgotten the 12:30 Barstow Greyhound that would be the best option for both Jeff and I once I arrived in Phoenix. He works early mornings, and an evening arrival would be easiest on him. And me. I wouldn't have to lounge at the luxurious Dirty Dog terminal.

After putzing around for 45-minutes or an hour, I suddenly realized my idiocy. I topped off the water, decided to forego Subway, and hustled over to the exit ramp for the first time hoping some good luck got me to Barstow by noon.

Few things about actual hitchhiking are consistent. One is: expectations and "hoping" that the hitchhiking gods mercifully conspire to assist my pre-conceived plans never works. Whenever I feel like I "need" a ride by a certain time, I never get it. The Hitching Gods have their own ideas. They've repeatedly made it clear that my "plans" (ha!) mean squat.

And thus it went.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

10/22/16: Primm, NV - Parolee Theater (Video)




The night inside the bivy was still slightly chilly, but much better. See, genius? It's worth the extra effort required to, you know, climb inside the damn thing!


Casa del Dirt


Having a live chat to Germany from here. "Viva tech! I hate you! No! I love you! I'm so confused! Hold me..."

Friday, October 21, 2016

10/21/16: Primm, NV - Signal Acquired

Stop me if you heard this before, but I woke up. Cold. Around 4:30. Familiar? Thought so. I'm sick of typing the same embarrassing anecdote in this space. Just go cut n paste this part from the four previous days. Cool? Good.

I rolled out of nest as the sun rose around 6:30 then spent the morning establishing a little routine: sitting at a stool inside the Flying J charging and writing.

I also rediscovered the beauty of Subway's 12" cold cut combo. Eat half in the morning. Half later on. Food? Done! And thank God. Planters and cheap beef sticks were getting really old! I appreciate the low cost, but I'm almost afraid to ask: What animal tastes like that, Matador? Nevadan Desert Snipe? Manbearpig? Or was that something trapped, caged, and butchered beneath Groom Lake?

**Related Fun Fact: Area 51 now shows up on Google Maps . #TheMoreYouKnow #TheTruthIsOutThere**

Thursday, October 20, 2016

10/20/16: Primm, NV - Mormon Ambassadors; A Desert Oasis

The first rule of Hitch Club: don't expect women to pick you up.

The second rule of Hitch Club: Forget vehicles with kiddos.

**Show of hands. How many of you parroted Tyler Durden? That'll teach you to get ahead of me.**

Such silly ride expectations will send you straight into vagabond therapy.

Knowing all this, I didn't even bother looking at the minivan; it was driven by a woman about my age with a teenager in the passenger seat as went by. So I was shocked when I glanced over and noticed them backing down the ramp's wide shoulder toward me!

10/20/16: Jean, NV - Tuning In; Bugging Out

Another cold night turned into a surprisingly chilly day. The winds kicked up and, despite the sun, temps hovered in the upper 60's all day leading to a surprisingly comfortable hoodied Wednesday.

I woke up around 7:45, packed up the gear in a much more efficient fashion, and proudly found myself back at my spot by 8:15--only to discover that nearly all of the trucks were already long gone! In that annoyed moment, I resolved to be awake earlier, much earlier, if I found myself in Jean again Thursday.

The primary theme of the day was set the night before as I lay writing in the nest. "Digital Detox" once again. Presence. Being "here". As I was writing, I found myself hypnotically looking up at the moon and Orion...then back down at my phone as I finished a blog post. I found that almost silly while, at the same time, tried how technology has changed and I needed to adapt; learn to use this connectivity as a tool rather than a habitual crutch.

For much of the day, I sat there with the phone off. No music. Nothing. And in a pseudo meditative state. Completely immersed in where I was and what I was doing. My observational senses heightened because my attention wasn't fragmented between " here" and everywhere else. It was almost intoxicating as I found myself remotely connecting with people from beneath my shade tree. Looking beyond the thin, often judgmental "appearance" veneer as people walked by, pumped their gas, or walked in to get their snacks and drinks.



It's hard to explain, but the general feeling was empathy. And it was borne from having forged a tangible human connection with the "real" world. I remembered this from my other trips, but back then I was typically preoccupied with getting somewhere. Not today. Today, again, wasn't about my personal selfish mobility. It was about really "seeing" people and re-focusing my eyes on the reality of humanity. The trip's personality was beginning to show itself. And, yes. Today, I was the Truck Stop Philosopher. And content with that.

Get On Your Bad Motor Scooter & Ride!

Around mid-afternoon, three loaded down motor scooters, complete with trailers stuffed with gear, pulled into Terrible's. I was fascinated! These guys had taken the bicycle touring idea and adapted it to scooters! I had to check this out!

I slung on the pack, walked over to the gas pumps, introduced myself, and asked what they were up to. They were three guys from Las Vegas in their 20's who were planning an extended scooter tour . This was a little trial run to test things.

My people! They had the explorer's "what's really out there?" mentality and were setting forth in their little motorized ships to see for themselves. With an intense, optimistic sense and embracing of adventure. They'd seemingly embraced the "Live! Now!" notion and I loved them for it. Their almost uncontrollable excited energy was contagious.

When I told them what I'd done since '08, they had a few tactical questions about what to bring, etc. My advice: Dont make my mistake by overthinking. Just go! Don't fucking worry about it. You'll figure your own method out along the way and almost immediately.  In fact, that's part of the fun. Take too much if you must. You can always get rid of it along the way. Overlook something? Get it later.

We chatted at the gas pumps for at least 20-minutes and exchanged social media info before they left, and a large part of me wished I were tagging along. I was excited for them and even slightly envious that they were at the beginning when everything lying ahead was an exciting, invigoratingly nervous mystery! They were "alive"! And, as with the night before, I was struck by the intense reminder of "why I do this".



Meeting these guys, and being able to keep in touch moving forward, tempered any potentially pesky dogma surrounding Digital Detox. They were playing the role of returning to The Cave to show the Upper World to those still chained beneath. Even if it was unintentional and via Instagram.

No. Selfishly hoarding these experiences in a personal vacuum was certainly not the answer. One could effectively argue that the act is the height of self-centered narcissism. Not everyone "can" do this. (The day's empathy at work.) If you can even slightly help these folks by allowing them to experience these moments and insights, even second hand, why wouldn't you?

As these young men sped away on their scooters, I made friends with my smart phone. This thing can be a positive asset if it's "used" and not "using" me.

Shortly thereafter, I walked up to a NHP trooper and asked him to clarify the state's hitching law. What I learned? That the only part of hitchhiking that's illegal: raising your thumb! I could sit at the I-15 exit ramp. I could have a sign. I could even WALK the fucking interstate! I just couldn't...hold my thumb in the air. 

Really?

"What. The. Infernal. Fuck?"

Time to Go

Looking back on it, my useful time in Jean came to an abrupt end when these scooters sputtered off. That was what I needed, and from that point forward, I was first being gently nudged along. Then not so gently.

People always implore me to "be careful". I've never had trouble with rides. At ALL. It's always the seldom seen other travelers, "Rainbow Family" Dipshits, or occasional homeless dude that wigs me out. West Virginia in '12 for example.

Early in the evening as I was listening to the Cubs-Dodgers again, I was joined at my little desert Oasis by a desperately sketchy and disconcertingly nervous little road rat who spent much of the evening scampering around hunting and harassing disinterested truckers for rides. It was as though someone had methed-up his Newports. Think: overly aggressive panhandler. Of course he stopped over long enough to bum a smoke and use my Sharpie to make a sign. Then he vanished to the ramp to try getting to Primm's Flying J that night.

I hoped he'd have some luck, but unfortunately he didn't and would reappear shortly before I decided to bed down and prepare for an early Thursday.

"Just great!", I thought.

"Now I'd have to sneak back to my spot then lie awake in my rocky little dirt nest to see if Tweaky McBallsuck found me."

Plus, I was sure that, in the interim, he'd ask for another smoke simply to use it as a segue to tell me all about how the cops keep trying to frame him. Or how "that lyin' bitch fucked him over". They almost always do. It's fucks like this that makes life more difficult out here from top to bottom. At least the stories are good.

Thankfully he vanished. I don't know if he got a ride or what, but once he went behind the truck stop, I never saw him again. No complaints there. I did lie awake for a bit but, after the events of being found the night before, I was mindful of being overly paranoid while still not being careless. I set the alarm for 5am and dozed off, on top of the bivy again, around 11.

I woke up at 4:40. Cold. Again! I packed up in the dark, it was still an hour before sunrise, and got to the parking lot around 5:15. I was still a bit late. Several of the trucks had already left. I drew up an "I-40, 70, or 80" sign determined to at least try my best to catch a truck and get moving. No luck. Not even close.



Around 8:30, I was looking at my phone trying to connect with Scooter Guys, when a shiny little black sports car occupied by a couple of young black guys pulled up to my spot beneath the tree...and asked me, with excessive, contrived politeness, for money.

I laughed. Obnoxiously. Out loud.

"Really? You're asking ME for money? If I had money, I'd be on a bus!", I lied.

"What's a bus?", the driver answered.  Without a hint of humor or irony.

Then the passenger took over. He looked me up and down and immediately I knew where this was going.

"That's a nice jacket. Nice boots. Saw that phone. We could just come back and take all that shit. And your wallet, too."

Again, I laughed as the car began slowly driving off. The passenger said something to the effect of "see ya later" as they turned right toward I-15. I looked him dead in the eye and smiled as if to say, "Yeah. Maybe I'll see you, too", then eyeballed them as they got on I-15 north back toward Vegas.

Well, shit. Yup. Definitely time to go.

I drew on the events of the past two nights and didn't let paranoia rule the day. I was pretty sure that they were just punks looking for an soft, gullible target and had failed. Otherwise, they were poor excuses for thugs!

Nevertheless, I couldn't be certain.  So, I waited for 15-20 minutes to see if they returned, went inside to grab some beef sticks and water, then walked to the I-15 southbound ramp. My pesky decision was suddenly made. Fuck everything to do with dealing with Las Vegas. I was going south. At least as far as the next exit, Primm, where I knew there was a Flying J.

The only question? Would anyone stop? I was bolstered by the fact that it was only around 9am and I had never been completely shutout when I'd spent a full day actually hitching.



I drew up a sign for Primm, then sat for nearly three hours. Right about the time I began wondering if this was the day I'd finally get shutout, I looked over to see that a minivan had pulled over and was backing up on my direction.

My first ride was from the most unlikely of sources. And far more than a positive counterbalance to the morning's silliness...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

10/18/16: Jean, NV - Tuning Up

Cold. Late.

That was my first night back on the road. Once I finally got to sleep, it didn't take long to remember how chilly the desert can be at night. I woke up repeatedly between 4 and 6am almost shivering in my old, 20-degree sleeping bag. Sure, there are no mosquitos and little chance of rain in the desert. But there are other reasons to fight the lazy tendency to just toss the bag down and go to sleep. Like fire ants. They didn't get to me, but close enough!

"Hey! Genius! You have this fancy-ass bivy sack for a reason!"

I'd repeat the same mistake again that night. And the next. And the next. What's the definition of insanity again, Adventureman?

The Jean Nest

I finally got a little decent sleep after the sun rose and warmed me up and managed to snooze in my little rock nest until 9:15. I then spent quite awhile organizing and repacking the mess strewn around the backpack and deciding what I didn't need for task #2: finishing the incomplete gear shipment home.

It turned out that the overpriced UPS Store run in Las Vegas was completely unnecessary. There was a post office literally across Las Vegas Blvd. (yes, the same one!) from Terrible's. I wobbled across the road and boxed up the excess while cursing the fact I'd sent my jeans home the day before.

The next order of business: food and electricity. I needed to charge the phone and battery pack I'd depleted while writing and editing video and, because of my hasty departure from Vegas and the generally hectic nature of the previous day, I'd actually forgotten to eat. My body, or more accurately, the 40# bag on its back, rudely reminded me, immediately, that it required fuel. Thankfully, there was a single readymade solution to both problems: Denny's! To the casino!

I spent an enjoyably refreshing couple hours eating a massive omelette, drinking a dozen cups of coffee, and writing in my journal while my phone and battery pack got full bellies of their own. And spent entirely too much money. I rationalized it by comparing this Denny's run to my first few days whenever I go to Mexico. I usually fly into Cancun, take the ferry to Isla Mujeres, then proceed to party way too much for a few days before clamping down and becoming economically frugal. A $22 breakfast? Comparatively, that's fiscal child's play! And, besides, I needed it.



After breakfast, routine kicked in. The weather was perfect; sun, breezy, and mid 70's as I returned to Terrible's, assumed the position beneath my comfy shade tree, and waited for some variation of divine transportational intervention. Or, so it would seem.

And, again, it nearly worked. A slightly overbearing redneck from Dickson, Tennessee wandered past as his dog came my way to lick hello before relieving herself in the grass. He asked what I was up to, and when I returned the question he shared how his wife, mother, and sister had all recently died. Bad enough. But then one of Dickson's gangs wanted him to join up because (of course) he was a profound badass. When he refused? They threatened to come after him.

Dickson had understanbly lost its limited charms.

So he'd sold his house and ridden his metaphorical wagon west with his friendly dog and whatever he could fit into the van and the large trailer he towed. A timeless Coming West theme: To Start Anew. Where? He had no idea. Other than "not Nevada". In fact, he was rightfully eager to get "back to California" ; something I thought I'd never hear from a proper Tennessee redneck.

He swung his jam-packed van along side on the way out and apologetically said he'd give me a ride if he had room, but "the dog ain't givin' up her seat." 

The pup did look happy and content in that passenger's seat. Who was I to mess that up for her after all the unsolicited friendly licks to the face?

Shortly thereafter, I had this trip's first law enforcement interaction. If you're a veteran of my old blogs, you'll remember these typically being invasive, thinly veiled, blatant violations of "reasonable search and seizure": random, unfounded ID checks. On other trips, I'd taken a bit of a standoffish, if not obliquely combative, attitude to these police state tactics.

But, I've apparently mellowed. I chose to smile and be as positive and cooperative as possible. Why make life any more difficult than necessary while I'm here? Also, why not give the cop a chance to prove he's not a badged bully-cunt?

Lo and behold, he'd stopped simply to let me know that, while what I was doing now was perfectly fine, hitchhiking was technically illegal in Nevada. Convinced it was coming anyway, and in an attempt to get it over with, I proactively offered up my ID. And he refused it. 

Well, shit! A cop. Just doing his job. And helping me out with useful information? Hey! Michigan! Maryland! Pay attention!

I smiled and even shook his hand as he left and felt an appreciation that's sadly too rare today. That wouldn't be my last interaction with Nevada Highway Patrol while in Jean. Each were positive.

The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. No rides. And again: no real effort. At least now, after the hitchhiking statute lesson from my new lawdog friend, I didn't feel slothly about avoiding the I-15 ramp and began wondering about possibly walking Las Vegas Blvd. south to the next town, Primm, and its Flying J.

Around six, as the sun was falling, a young man between 17 and 20 walked with a pronounced limp past me on the way to the casino. I said hello, and told him to be careful as he struggled to cross the busy road. He meekly nodded his acknowledgment; clearly somehow disabled. He initially had trouble getting across and I nearly jumped up to help, somehow. But, he made it on his own. And I didn't think much more about it.

I was still there, listening to the Cubs-Dodgers  playoff game, when he returned an hour or so later. He waved and smiled this time as he returned to the truck parking area. Five minutes later, he re-appeared again. This time with a man I assumed was his father. This smiling fellow also had a strong speech impedement, but was quite friendly and offered me a beer he had hidden in his front pocket. I politely, but emphatically, declined thinking the last thing I needed at this point was impairment! I thanked him anyhow, appreciating the gesture.

Then he walked over to me and coyly, secretively even, slipped me a five dollar bill. Unprepared and taken aback, I took it not sure what to think. Let alone say. Where did this come from? Maybe I read too much into it, but this was WAY out the ordinary. The best I could figure was that he was trying to express gratitude for something, and I was deeply moved by the act...an effect having nothing to do with the $5 itself, but what it represented. A bit more of my toxic, divisive summer cynicism melted away and I was again reminded of why I do this. These two: obviously a couple more of the abundant good guys.

I finished listening to the Cubs game and made my way back to the same sleeping spot feeling much better about things than the night before. My "Spidey Senses" were tuning in and it had become obvious that they had NOT atrophied. In fact, they seemed more enhanced. I hoped to lay out my bag and crash early, but my night wasn't quite over.

About 10-minutes after setting up and lying down to decompress and reconcile everything, I noticed a rather larger person's silhouette coming toward me from the parking lot!

"What the fuck!"

Instantly, I sat up and instinctively puffed my body out in some bizarre, primitive attempt to make myself look larger than I am! I also reflexively dug the knife out of my pants pocket.

This was something new. I've been stealth camping since 2008. This was the very first time I'd ever been found! Never even close! Before tonight! Of course, the paranoid reptilian brain went into hyperdrive.

"He saw you walk back here and he's coming to steal your boots and Clif Bars!" 

The reality? scared the living shit out of him! He wasn't a vagrant predator. He was either staying at the casino's hotel or in an RV, had gotten stoned, and didn't want to risk possible interactions with the police. So, in his inebriated state, he thought it was wise to cross I-15 on foot to get to the Chevron station on the other side! Why? I have no idea. And, after the shock was in no mood to ask. But, there I was. And he was legitimately terrified I was going to shoot him!

He was almost comically apologetic, despite the fact that there's now way he could or should have expected me to be there. That, after all, is the point of stealth camping! He lingered for a minute trying to defuse any potential conflict, obviously picking up on my own agitation; an aggression I was subconsciously projecting intentionally! "Project strength to avoid conflict." I think that's a Fight Club thing. Tyler Durden. Get to know him.

My new friend never made it across I-15. He discovered the fashion perils of encountering barbed wire and returned defeated 5-minutes later. This time, thankfully making plenty of noise so as not to startle me! And, repeating his request that I not shoot him. We spent 10-minutes chatting before he mercifully left me alone. It took 40-minutes before Mr. Reptile Brain was finally convinced he wasn't just scoping me out for a return 2 am assault. In retrospect, almost another Vern Moment. But not quite!

The only return that night: the cold. Of course I stayed atop the bivy again. And again, woke up at 4am. Freezing.

Genius.

Monday, October 17, 2016

10/17/16: Day #1 - Jean and The Tin Man

In retrospect, the decision to hit the road Monday (10/17) felt a lot like the original choice to leave Chicago the week before: completely unprepared. When I woke up and sat down to write that morning, I had no idea where I'd be struggling to sleep in just a few hours!

 The day's big event was supposed to be a simple post office run. But, without making a conscious "decision", I  gathered the rest of my stuff and by 2:00 we had made my dropoff at a UPS Store (unable to fit everything in the one overpriced box ), and were on I-15 south heading out of the city to terra inc√≥gnita. My only pre-trip request: "when I leave, get me to a decent spot betond the city sprawl!"

I didn't have even a vague notion of where I was going, so direction didn't really matter. I suggested Hoover Dam, thinking hitching the road south toward Kingman would be a good way to break myself back in and that I could eventually go whatever direction I decided by the time I got to I-40.

Natali didn't want to drive that far, so it was essentially a decision between north and south on I-15. North almost surely meant Utah: The mythically infamous Hitchhiker Blackhole! So, since we are already on the south end of Vegas, I told her to just go south and make it easy. From there I relied on her knowledge of the area. She had a spot in mind, so I trusted her judgment.

The Rusty Tin Man Creaks Forth

Maybe 30-minutes later, Natali exited at Jean and dropped me off at Terrible's, a Shell station/small truck stop across from a rather large casino otherwise in the middle of Desert Nowhere.

The spot had everything I'd need to get my legs beneath me: a gas station for food, water, a Denny's across the road to get coffee and charging facilities, and truck parking. Also, an abundance of open space for stealth camping. We hugged, I snapped a pic, and suddenly I was hitchhiking again. For the first time since my short and family-aborted Texas to Colorado run in 2013.

The first emotion: youthful exhilaration. An excited sense of utter uncertainty psychologically framed as "adventure". I'd had this feeling several times before. This time though, it was tempered. "Been 'here' before..." Considering it had been so long, I was surprised that almost instantly I reverted to instinct, method and experience. I automatically surveyed the grounds, walked inside for water, some snacks, and cigarettes.

Yes. The cigarettes were back. I'd left Chicago with vaping gear planning to decrease my nicotine levels along the way and quitting a week or two later. Good plan. It had worked before. Except, the previous week my battery had gone to hell and I was forced to drop an unplanned $50 on a new one, tank, and coils. That was ridiculous and pissed me off. "Fifty bucks?!? Why not just fucking smoke? How the hell am I going to keep this battery charged?" I answered that silent question immediately. when my smokes and I were reunited. And yeah, it kinda felt good! Hitchhiking and smoking go together like cigarettes and booze; smokes and coffee. Trump & Putin. It's weird.

Why am I even explaining this? Don't judge, fuckers.

The second instant realization: a repeat of the week before. How moving from "abstraction to action" annihilates the internal "what if" anxieties. As soon as we were on the road, the "what ifs" turned to problem solving and forward motion. I was reminded more than once of the "molehills" in the lead up to my original departure in 2008. How everything I'd worried about for nearly 4-years was proven ridiculous. Almost immediately. Our minds are both our greatest assets and our biggest nemesis.



There was a shade tree set in a perfect spot between the parking lot and the road. An ideal place to be seen by the traffic coming and going. I plopped the pack down beneath it and exhaled. Almost immediately, I nearly got out of there. Had I been "saltier", I believe I would have.

A truck driver saw me and my setup, walked over, and said he could tell I wasn't a bum and asked what I was up to. I gave him the now-unfamiliar, unrefined, and poorly articulated "out to see people without electronic eyes" version and we spent 10-15 minutes chatting. He talked about how he'd given rides to people similar to me and how they'd stayed in touch. In retrosepct, it's obvious he had taken into account that I'd just been dropped off and was waiting for me to ask to come along. But, apparently I was waiting for an engraved golden invitation, not wanting to seem (feel?) like a transportational panhandler. Had I been a bit more tuned in, this trip would look vastly different. He went north. Presumably toward Salt Lake City or Reno.

Almost directly on the heels of my new trucker friend came Curt & Judy. They were in their late 50's or early 60's, had parked their RV at Terrible's, and were in the area to do some off-roading in their 4-wheelers. They struck up a conversation while walking from the RV to the canino's Denny's. They were quite curious about my base motivations and we hit it off immediately. We shared philosophical views about the existentially corrosive effects of chasing money and careerism, among other things. I told them about the inspiration I drew from Plato's Cave and gave them an Upper World Photo card with an invitation to contact me via my Facebook page. They invited me to let them know if I made it up to Seattle and I immediately warned them about such polite, off-handed invites! I tend to take folks up on them from time-to-time! Eh, Shawn? Kim? Jeff?

While I slightly hoped to find a ride Monday, there was no "real" effort. Any hope stemmed mostly from directional indecisiveness. I had no beacon whatsoever. I'd decided that I'd wait for my first "real" ride out of the desert and off I-15's north-south LA to Vegas/Utah asphalt funnel. Thus, despite my vast experience failing in such matters, I was targeting trucks. And had just let one go!

Yes, I was certainly rusty.

In reality, it was good to just sit with myself and just be. To slowly disconnect from the electronic eyes, embrace the old "Sit Down and Shut Up" idea, while simultaneously basking in the positive energy of the post-drop off day, and reconnect with the real, raw world.

The cynicism that I'd felt returning all weekend as I attempted to "pay attention" to the election and "current events" almost immediately evaporated and was replaced with positivity borne from real interaction with real people in the "real" world. I know of no better "therapy".

The previous week's ideas about Digital Detox were certainly top-of-mind Monday, and would be for the foreseeable future. Clearly, I'm no prospective Luddite! But, finding balance and a sense of intentional utility with technology is obviously key. I'd never tried hitchhiking with a full-on smartphone, and I was rightfully concerned about it before I even left. But, the usefulness is undeniable. On Day 1, I shot and edited video and found myself finishing and uploading my "October Surprise" post while stashed away behind the truck parking lot! And, yes, I also occasionally found myself habitually reaching for my device as I became bored. But, at least I was mindful of it. At the same time, I was mindful of Plato's "Return to the Cave".

Finding a spot to camp as the sun fell around six was a breeze. I laid the bivy/Thermarest out on the semi-rocky ground, flung the sleeping bag on top, and laid there unable to sleep. I was semi-productive with the writing and editing, but I couldn't shut down the brain.



Clearly, there was more to this trip than I was even aware of...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

10/16/16: Las Vegas - Dabbling With Digital Detox

I had been to Las Vegas a couple of times. Once when I transferred Greyhounds when I was 13. The other for an airline transfer. Leaving the airport in the wee hours of Wednesday morning with Natali was the first time I'd actually seen the strip, even though from afar.

Except for her to walk her dog, the two of us didn't leave the apartment until Friday. We spent 2 1/2 full days just talking about everything imaginable and getting to know each other. Nearly nonstop from when we woke up in the morning until we went to bed. It was exhausting but, in some distantly familiar way, exhilarating.

For those two days, I tried putting the notion of Digital Detox into practice. Despite the glaring irony and inconsistency, that have their reasons, I've been concerned about living and seeing the world electronically for a long time. After reading a fantastic piece (online) by Andrew Sullivan about his struggles to reclaim his humanity and essence from cyberspace, I decided to give it a shot.

For these two days, the phone was in another room and the TV stayed off until there was an actual specific purpose for either of them. Facebook? Ha! Nearly a nonentity.

What I discovered? It was so much easier to concentrate on the conversation, focus on who was in the room, and maintain a sense of positivity and presence without the distraction of having "the whole world" right there in front of me.

Out of sight, out of mind. The simple act of making the iPhone a non-reflexive, non-habitual entity made the entire process work and I felt reconnected to the "real" world. That's something, not coincidentally, that also happens when I travel in Latin America without cellular voice or data. And, a corresponding and inevitable disconnection also typically occurs when I get to a hostel with...you guessed it...wifi! Then it's like Starbucks. A roomful of people posting selfies and oblivious to each other's existence.

Peru was an inadvertent case study in that. I spent two of my three months off-the-grid at Chris' eco-hostel 13,000 ft. up the Andes skirt. The only power was gathered by modest solar cells. Everything after sundown was done by candle light. Wifi? Ha! Slow, rudimentary cellular internet at best. And it didn't work most of the time. Internet wasn't a taken-for-granted utility. It was a sparsely used tool. Hour long trips were planned to go down the mountainside to Huaraz just to get it. And not very often.

In the meantime? People...talked! To other real people! Who were IN THE ROOM WITH THEM! Eureka! When they weren't talking ? Reading. Writing. Taking world class hikes. Just sitting down. Shutting up. "Being". Without any contrived external entertainment.

It was a bit unnerving at first, but the mental batteries recharged and clarity of thought and focus returned. These weren't just my observations. Other people from different backgrounds around the world noticed, commented on it, and appreciated it as well. There were ways to bring wifi to The Hof if Chris really wanted to. He didn't. That's exactly why.

One other Peruvian observation: even after all that time unplugged I still an unconsciously resumed old habits as soon as I returned to "civilization". Our brains are being rewired and reprogrammed by our machines.

Another thing I noticed last week: How politics changes my entire mood, vibe, energy, and general outlook. And, I don't need to be discussing it for that to happen. Social media or TV? Doesn't matter. As soon as election "news" or commentary is put in front of me, and I put any degree of focus in its direction: ZAP! Whatever positive energy that was there before was gone. Cynicism floods in to replace it. And it was sometimes difficult to get it back. More so the longer I was immersed in it. I would have another stark in-person example provided for me the day I finally began the real"trip"! (Foreshadowing now!)

There is an incredibly instructive, overreaching society-based idea to be mined on that last point. Obviously, I'm not unique in that regard. I'm simply not wanting to poke this complex observation into a fucking iPhone while lying on my sleeping bag behind a truckstop in the desert! Not the "cushiest" place I've written! (Foreshadowing Forever!)

Sadly, this little two-day experiment didn't last. Natali left Friday night to stay with her cousin so she could take her to the airport early Saturday morning. I was alone in her apartment, so my flirtation with cyber-celibacy ended abruptly.  It started with me innocently editing and posting a YouTube video. Before I knew it I was right back where I was. Habitually grabbing the phone like a crack pipe. And wondering how this was going to be when I finally hit the road! A smartphone? That had never been attempted!

The rest of the weekend wasn't worth talking about. The TV came on, phones went in hand, and that short, surprisingly intense connection we'd forged was mostly gone. I suppose my little visit to Las Vegas was a miniscule microcosm for what I was describing about Peru. No phone: human connection. As soon as it returns? Poof! Zombie from Electronistan!

In retrospect, I should have left Sunday. But, since I'd not given myself time to think thru everything thoroughly before I left, I needed a post office. Or, so I thought! (Make Foreshadowing Great Again!)

One thing for sure: by Monday morning, it was obviously past time for me to fly...

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

10/11/16: The October Surprise

When I returned from Peru in February, the "plan" (ha!) was to spend the summer hitchhiking. A glorious and heroic return to the method, adventure, and free-flowing existential orgies of 2008-2010. With a "real" camera this time! Then vocation took over. I underestimated how difficult replacing the computer that was stolen last fall in the break-in would be and how much I had to learn about putting digital photographs on paper! Long story short, I got sidetracked. Not that I "couldn't" go. I didn't feel "right" about half-assing this exponentially expanding photography project. Before I knew it, it was late July. My first photo show was rapidly approaching in August. My remaining resources were put into production and presentation. I had no expectations but lo and behold! I sold things. I made money. Then I entered another spontaneous show in September. I sold more things. I made more money.

 

"Hey! Maybe I was right about this photography thing." Unfortunately, the summer wasn't just photo shows. Life's never that singular and monolithic, is it? It was also complicated by redneck Vulture Family Values drama. The details aren't for you to consume, but suffice it to say that in a spasm of self-destructive rage, I sold my camera and telephoto lens. I put some of that money toward upgrading my travel gear thinking, wrongly in my fit of DNA disgust, that I was ready to scrape photography to the ground and just "go".

I'd been here before. I should know better. Add an unneeded photo gear complication for later in the year. That would be fun to deal with! After the last show, things got annoyingly familiar. Again: what the hell was I going to do? It was almost October. Getting late in the year to be thumbing and stealth camping, unless I was eager to be fucking around in the snow. Which, if you've been around from the start, you know I'm most certainly NOT!

My friend Natali and I had been tinkering with the idea of me starting a trip at her place in Las Vegas for the past few months. She'd been subjected to my indecisiveness firsthand. After a couple of weeks of mentally masturbating and creating all sorts of the old, familiar doomsday narratives in my head, September had become October, and I decided to jump.

On Tuesday the 11th, I bought the ticket to Vegas. For that night. I gave myself approximately 8-hours to prepare for a completely improvised and open-ended trip. The only things I was mindfull of at that moment: "I'm sick of the sound of my own voice. I'm sick of the same internal conversations. I know what this is: the same irrational, contrived anxiety that stopped you from starting this for four years, from 2004-2008. Unfounded fear. And you know how ridiculous it was then. How the imaginary mountains were in practice tiny molehills. Figure it out on the fly. The only way you'll do it is to take your own mind out of the equation. Fuck the camera. Just go. Dumbass."

I went. Before I could second, third, and tenth guess it. As soon as the ticket was bought, all the abstract redundant silliness of the summer abated. What mattered was what was ahead of me. First: getting the gear together for my flight! I had to focus and act. Amazing how useful that is. By 8:30, I was headed to O'Hare. I had no idea what to expect beyond getting reacquainted with my friend. And, once in the air I noticed a remarkable mix of both excitement and calm resignation! I'd always talked about just "going" no plan. No expectation. Just to see where the road took me. I was finally doing it. And without "planning not to plan"! It's neat when you realize you can still surprise yourself.



I shot an email off to Chris. He understood. And, despite everything you just read, there would be a mini encore performance as well as a cementing of some recent realizations in the coming days. Particularly about the absurd corrosive effects of social media.

 How does that saying go? "If you're suffering, you're thinking..."