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Just your average not-so-average day.

I decided to try a play-by-play photo diary post to give a reader a sense of what it’s like to travel by bike. The mundane and the spectacular in visually average pictures to pull back the romantic veil and show the grime and normalcy that vagabonding becomes.

Well, for trying to show the mundane, I sort of failed. My route from Niihama to Onomichi, a leg connecting me from the island Shikoku back to mainland Honshu, was amazing. Bridges connect a string of small islands between the two bigger islands, and it made for great, if at times steep, biking. But then I realized that most days are rather spectacular.

So, here you go. This is something that might happen when you travel by bicycle.

1. WAKE UP (6-8AM)

6 AM- the sun's up, where are you?

6 AM- the sun’s up, where are you?

Oh hey sleepyhead, time to get up!

Oh hey sleepyhead, time to get up!

The alarm goes off as the sun is coming up. You’re probably fairly well rested, since you go to bed around 10 most nights anyway. You don’t want to give away your wild-camping position by reading with a light on, and you’re beat from yesterday’s 55 mile ride. But you’re also probably sore and there’s a chance that it’s real cold outside.

In the heat of mid-summer Texas, wake-up was as early as 4:30AM to beat the heat. In the snow of Korea in December, I gave the sun a little head start on melting the ice.

2. PACK UP (6-7AM)

Camping success. No tent set up to take down, and the morning fishermen don't seem to have noticed me yet.  Or at least they're being super polite.

Camping success. No tent set up to take down, and the morning fishermen don’t seem to have noticed me yet. Or at least they’re being super polite.

The ever strenuous sleeping bag vs. Waterproof stuff sack battle rages on.

The ever strenuous sleeping bag vs. waterproof stuff sack battle rages on.

Pack it in. Pannier love.
Pack it in.
Pannier love.
7 AM, bike and stuff is ready to roll out.

7 AM, bike and stuff is ready to roll out.

Creaking awake, rolling up the sleeping bag and pad, changing into gear, packing away books, maps, and any spare niceties, takes about 30 minutes. Tack on time to loosen up and wipe your face, and it’s just under an hour. When you don’t use a tent, as I often ended up abandoning, packing gets even simpler.

3. ENJOY THAT SUNRISE (6:45AM)

I got to see so many beautiful sunrises over the course of my journey. I miss having the energy to wake up so early when I’m back home. That seems a little ironic though, since I have a bed and a pillow and a full shower now. You’d think waking up would be easier.

Marvel at the sunrise a bit longer.  Never take a dawn for granted, unless you pulled an

Marvel at the sunrise a bit longer.

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3. I’M STARVING FEED ME (7:30AM)

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In Japan and Korea, breakfast almost always meant finding a Lawson or 7-11, because they have the best best best breakfast food. Onigiri rice balls every day with a perfectly warm Boss coffee in a can. I don’t know why the U.S. doesn’t have hot coffee vending like this, it’s amazing and so delicious.

In Europe breakfast might be fruit or vegetables from a stand by the road, a baguette and cheese, croissant, cappuccino- all depends on when and where you wake up.

4. CONSULT THE MAP (7:30-8AM)

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Thanks to maps.me on my tablet, which offers downloadable off-Internet road maps of every country in the world, I rarely found myself really lost. But sometimes, the map revealed a complicated series of turns or an inevitable mountain range, and caused the face in the lower picture.

5. GET STARTED (8-8:30AM)

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Sometimes the day starts with a beautiful bit of road, sometimes it throws you right into traffic for your warm-up. Either way, clip in- it’ll be a few hours.

6. MARVEL AT THE SIGHTS.

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This is what the ride is all about.

7. LUNCH TIME (ELEVENSIES)

Around the 25-35 mile mark, a little snack is in order.IMG_7637

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If I didn’t have coffee at breakfast, I usually have one around now. It just puts the extra kick in your muscles. Refill on water, stretch out a little, consult the map again.

8. TAKE A PICTURE WITH SOMEONE RANDOM

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Sometimes people want to talk to you because you’re sitting on the curb at a gas station eating nuts and udon and looking unshowered and very American. You may become facebook friends.

9. FIND YOURSELF IN A DEAD END.

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Shit. That definitely says no bicycles.

10. PRETEND YOU CAN’T READ THE “NO-BICYCLES” SIGN, GET CAUGHT AT THE LAST MOMENT, GET TURNED TO A DIFFERENT ROAD, DISCOVER HOW AWESOME PEOPLE ARE.

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Thanks for the help, friend!

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Turns out, this was a much better way. All those overpasses are the gentle climb of a BICYCLE-ONLY road that links all the islands between Shikoku and Honshu. I really lucked out.

11. ENJOY THE VIEW, PART 1,000,000.IMG_7682

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12. I’M STARVING FEED ME, PART III.

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Deal with what you have in your panniers.

13. START THINKING ABOUT WHERE YOU’RE GOING TO SLEEP.

Around 3PM, you start plotting a few potential city areas you might sleep in. Around 4:30PM, you gauge how much more distance your body can handle. Around 5PM, you settle on your final destination, noting possible campsites between you and it along the way as back-up. By 6PM, you arrive and start scoping out your campsite.

On this day, I was looking toward a campsite on the last little island before crossing back onto Honshu. But the rain was starting to loom overhead…


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14. I’M STARVING FEED ME, PART IV.

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The day often ends how it starts, with a 7-11. In this case, I found a banana smoothie that made for an alright recovery meal. The rain was starting to come down hard, though, and I was chilled and damp. I asked the convenience store clerk about a nearby campsite in rudimentary Japanese, and it seemed a little farther down the road and possibly no longer open.

15. WHEN THINGS DON’T GO TO PLAN

First, make your plan more open-ended. Then things aren’t trapped by a plan.

Second, equip yourself with a good attitude and some gear. It’s just some rain for a night- you’ll probably be okay.

Third, be open to whatever the universe has in store. Sometimes it gives you a wonderfully scrappy experience. Sometimes it gives you the surprise of a stranger’s generosity.

16. FINDING A PLACE TO SLEEP.

I was finishing up my dinner when the clerk came back outside and ushered me in. Communicating mostly with hand gestures and a few English words, I understood that he had called his wife to ask if they could host me, and that she was on her way to pick me up after she collected their kids from school. I was so surprised that he’d gone out of his way to help and taken this chance on a stranger.

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17. WHEN YOU’RE BEING HOSTED

1. Never assume people will give you things, but don’t be surprised that people are amazingly kind and generous. Always be grateful and don’t take advantage of their giving.

2. Try to offer a hosting gift, even if it’s small. Chocolate from the store, a few pieces of fresh fruit. It shows you’re thankful and aware. After a while, you can’t help but try to balance all the good karma somehow.

3. Keep tidy, and graciously accept the kindness. Take the shower, let them put your things in the laundry if they ask to. You’re only a burden if you are an ungrateful guest or a reluctant one. Let yourself be taken care of, and give back in good stories, by playing with their kids, by writing a card to send once you get home.

4. Don’t feel obliged to stay if the situation is not comfortable or safe. You can firmly assert you are going to leave without having to explain yourself. This only happened to me one time in France over dozens of nights on the road.

I was offered the kids’ bunk bed that night, and the kids slept on their parents’ tatami mats. Just. Staggering.

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18. Lather rinse repeat. Some nights you camp, some nights you find a host, sometimes you splurge on a cheap hotel room. You do your laundry at the hostel, or at a house, or in a fresh stream. You eat whatever you can find. You curse and swear up mountains and on heavily trafficked roads. You spin hundreds of thousands of cycles. You get souvenirs and take down addresses of the people who befriend you. You learn some of the language and some away full of new recipes, ideas, and friends. The world seems smaller. You find your obsessions, your confidence, your weirdest voices, and your greatest supporters. And you wear out, finish the road, take a break; and months or years later, you write one of these entries. And then you want to do it all over again.

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Trapped by the Wind

Once upon a year ago, I was in New York City to take my sister out for her Christmas present- two tickets (okay, so also a gift for myself) to the ever-excellent production of Sleep No More. I felt comfortable moving through the city without feeling annoyed or invaded, mean or isolated. I was still buzzing from the ecstasy of cycling Japan and Korea, wide open to the continuity of the human condition, ever at once a part of a whole and the entirety in a slice. Clearly, too big a sensation even for a sentence.

But January gradually wound back up into an uneven knot, all the openness and gratitude now in combat with doubt and lack of direction. Heart, playing at soothsayer, suggested simply picking something next, regardless of its grandeur or pettiness. Mind, strategist, reeled with options and grappled for any sense of focus or motivation. I half-floated, half-adventured, and clumsily threw myself back into cycling for, if anything, something to do that I figured I might as well.

Now upon today- again, January. Tiny citizens of snow made a bitter commute from the clouds, barreling into the 9AM rush hour with us. The Hospital, future home, waits at a ten-minute walk from my latest apartment. I haven’t developed photos from the summer yet, but I’ve been meaning to. They look, honestly, really good. I wonder what to do with them, because most everyone I live with and know in New York is really sharp with media platforms and would encourage me that way if I asked for help. I’m still just enough of a Luddite to argue the existential questions of an online personality and end up so muddled about my goals with media to do anything with it. I’m the person who scoffs at the idea of a social media intern who would actually need one the most.

See, already I’m grossed out. Social media savvy? Advertising your image? Bikes are easier. But escaping on Hermes and making my way with a pannier, no money, and no need to consider Instagram ever again isn’t a permanent solution for my qualms either. A damn good temporary one, but not an attitude that will help me reconcile with modern workings.

Staring at rows of red-brick project complexes under the ather than finding inspiration in the boreal wind, I feel caught in its grips.

I don’t mean to navel-gaze (well, maybe a bit), but to observe the cycle in motion (okay, navel-gazing a lot). It’s easier to imagine leaving again and getting back on the road. But, for any edge of bravery that bears, creating roots seems to me to be the much greater challenge.

I am trying so hard not to slip into banalities here for the sake of a post with a lesson. There isn’t a lesson. Currently, there isn’t a clear plan. Kind of like biking, I’m making it up as I go along.

Discovering greatness

I tried to deliberately record the feeling of placing my feet on the Great Wall so that I could go through it again long after I’d left it. I knew that, in the moment, I was only absorbing a fraction of the powerful impact that connecting with such a long human lineage inspires. I loved Japan and crossing Korea, I made it to China, and this ancient rumor of a structure became a solid stone entity around me.

I set out to bike around the world, and I think I’ll get there. So far, the journey has brought to surface and healed rough patches of myself that needed to come out. Pains, hesitations, confusion, self-doubt- I’ve been seeking a direct and gentle confrontation with these, for who knows how long. It brought me to Hermes, gifted an impossible set of serendipities, sent me to a safe path where I could let go of all my fears. And the bliss and wholeness that I expect on the other side of this walk with myself, that is the goal I need to pursue right now.

Until soon, my biking plans are suspended. Travel will continue. Adventure is inevitable. The internal journey rolls on in the deep rivers that have carried me this far. I’ll let you know where I must go next. It’s with the cavalry of support I feel behind me at all times that I know this is the right direction.

At the end of Europe, in Istanbul

I’ve avoided writing, photographing, and thinking in general the last week as we settled into Istanbul and locked the bikes up for good. But, with our muscles healing and our guts continuing their valiant fight against an onslaught of Turkish coffee, pastry, and cheeses, we have arrived at the end. We’ve stepped foot on the Asian continent. I’ve even booked a flight home.

Until I can sort through and upload some photos, look a the big map, and catch up on journal entries, I’ve more or less forgotten that the last few months were on a bicycle. It seems like I’ve just returned to Istanbul to continue the time I was here last, no thousands of miles unfurled in between. I need to be home to let it sink in and form a new sedimentary layer on the ocean floor of memory building up.

I keep map gazing- Turkey is only another 1,000 miles, and the the horizontal line plunging east gets noticeably closer to where I left off in China. But it can wait. There’s no need to do or become of transform. Here is enough.

The end is near!

Greg and I are watching the Mediterranean from the somewhat grungy beachside of Alexandropoulis. It was a short but hot day, and fully satisfied with food, there’s not much else to do but wait for the heat to break. We are to cross into Turkey tomorrow, and then it’s a matter of just days to Istanbul.

I’ve got a job lined up working in a hostel in Istanbul for a month, then a farm outside the city for October. I’m excited to have a base camp for a while and an occupation. After that, who knows, but I expect I’ll be home by Christmas.

Greg and I sleep outside a lot on these warm nights, and it saves a lot of money! Oh being young and having odd priorities… Our needs are well taken care of, and besides a place to crash and chill during the day, we are wont of nothing. We’ll have ten days or so in Istanbul together- guess that buffer period we planned was more than we needed.

You won’t believe our tan lines…

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