Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Off Topic

A couple of weeks ago, I sat down to write up an article about my life and times here in Berlin, and I got bored with it. So here's my last month at a glance:
10 World-Class Museums (Ancient Egypt, Natural History, Famous Old Artworks, Modern Artworks, German Technology, Jewish History, Cold war history)
1 Thanksgiving Dinner with a bunch of Americans I just met.
1 awesome date to a shmancy German-style spa
Riding the bike almost every day.
Below freezing temperatures and snow on the ground.
Great dinner parties and making new friends.
Yoga 3x per week
Rising at 10, going to bed after midnight
Cooking lots, drinking lots of tea & coffee & good beer
Cuddling lots, Jordana and I enjoying each other thoroughly
Navigating the city and riding the "U-bahn" (subway)
Got paid to teach a workshop on knots to an improvisational dance company

That about does it. The Bread here is great. The bathrooms are never easy to find or well-labeled, and there are no drinking fountains, even though everyone drinks tap water. A half-liter of good beer (the standard size of a bottle, equal to a little more than a pint) at the grocery store costs between 55 and 79 Euro cents (about $.75 - $1.00).

In addition to the day to day, I've been doing some reading and writing. Here is a sample of some stuff I thought was provocative.

A thought on the life of Outdoor Guide/Naturalist nomads:

The work community I belong to may be one of the most transient, constantly changing communities in the world. Unlike the truly destitute homeless, we generally come from supportive, wealthy and/or middle class families. We have access to or have built ourselves the resources to change our location and circumstances at will, world-wide. We are majority college-educated, intelligent, highly employable with clean criminal records and we own our own vehicles. We are the ultimate individuals in terms of where we choose to go and what we choose to do. Who sticks around from one season to the next is dependent mostly upon what adventure they have chosen to pursue, who they have chosen to spend their time with, or where the money is. It is a lifestyle of individual freedom and choice, perhaps more than any other. We are lucky, skilled and perhaps somewhat aloof. We believe that our lifestyle is (in more than one way) more fulfilling, more fun, and at the same time makes more of a positive impact on the world at large than what many other people spend their time doing. Unfortunately, I believe this lifestyle also reinforces that idea that what we want for ourselves is the most important thing. Many of us know that our parents, relatives, friends or others have expectations of us that go, in their eyes, beyond what we are doing now. But despite those expectations, we have chosen this life for now. We have chosen to follow our own wishes in the face of any other advice. And we all grew up in the same society. A society which has pushed individual freedom, hard work and prosperity as the values which matter. A society that has told all of us from the beginning that anything we want is within our grasp. I believed it. I still do to some degree. And we’ve all chosen to work outside, with kids, teaching, playing and enjoying the beautiful and spiritually filling natural environments that we inhabit.

A bit on individualism vs collectivism

I don’t believe that any one individual knows what is best for you more than you do. I am beginning to believe, however, that a group of people, yourself included, could help you discover some things that you didn’t realize may be better for you than you had previously thought. And more than this, a group can come up with goals and objectives that are good for everyone in the group, can only be accomplished by the group, and go beyond the scope of what you could wish for yourself. Therefore you are trapping yourself if the only questions you are constantly asking have to do with yourself as an individual, or even your family as a unit separate from your community.
Any time a group of people get together to brainstorm, more ideas are created than when an individual thinks for themselves. The group’s ideas will always span a broader spectrum of possibilities than if you were to come up with ideas on your own.

It seems to me that with this knowledge in hand, thinking about what you want for yourself, and what it best for you, should always be done with feedback from others simply so that more possibilities and ideas can be taken into account.

Keeping this in mind, I am inviting feedback on my personal goals for my bike trip, which is still scheduled to depart in June of 2011. What goals can we accomplish while I’m riding across the country? What endeavors can I undertake on my journey which will help everyone (which conveniently includes myself)? From what you know of me, what can you suggest that I aim to for during this journey? Do you have any goals that I could help you with along the way? Do we have goals in common that could be supported by this? Please feel free to check out the “Mission & Goals” section of this blog, and comment.

That's all for now!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Welcome to Berlin

21 years ago, the Berlin wall would have stood less than 50 feet from the door of the building I am staying in. The park that now occupies the space between the two vertical walls that once separated East and West Berlin is clearly visible from the window of the room in which I am sleeping. Beautiful, soaring towers of brick churches decorate the open spaces between rows and rows of 4 and 5 story apartment buildings, their bottom floors occupied by retail or office space. Canals cut through the city at regular intervals, their banks covered with weeping willows, thick, leafless bushes (due to the onset of winter’s grasp) and a walking path along both sides.

Despite the constant dampness and clouds, people are out walking, getting their shoes muddy along the bare paths, walking dogs, riding bikes and playing Bocce Ball on sandy public courts when the sun peaks out for the afternoon. Large children’s playgrounds are gathering points for parents and their toddlers. Cafés with outdoor seating fill up on warm days. Everyone has their winter jackets on, even though it is not that cold. It has yet to reach freezing, though I am warned by everyone that in a few weeks, it will be bitterly chilly. Last year, the temperature hovered around -15 C for weeks in a row.

I spent my first few nights here in the apartment of Jordana’s friend, Hannah. Hannah had gone on holiday to the Canary Islands where she learned how to kite surf, and had gladly loaned us her place so that we could have each other all to ourselves for my first few days in town. I am now at Jordana’s 2 bedroom apartment, where she lives with her cousin, Adam. It is a cozy, well-lit space that I imagine is very typical of the setup here in Berlin. One thing that is taking some getting used to is the fact that in order to access his bedroom, Adam has to walk through Jordana’s. Thankfully, we are all very comfortable people, and this is not being a problem so far.

In the past few days, I have met several of Jordana’s friends, all of whom are interesting, intelligent and genuine people with big hearts and positive energy. Two nights ago, I went to a dance performance where Todd, a Californian whom I met at Burning Man the same time I met Jordana, was one of the stars of the show. It was a captivating, modern dance performance, the likes of which I had never seen. Dramatic classical music, a company of 30 performers on stage, and fast paced, almost seizure-like movement characterized some of the more memorable parts of the night. In what must have been and incredibly tiring performance due to the sheer speed and intensity of the show, Todd’s solos stood out as elegant and natural.

At the show, we also ran into Uli, an incredibly talented illustrator who shares studio space with Jordana a few minutes bike-ride from her apartment. After the show and a few failed attempts at finding some good German schnitzel to eat, we all sat down at the local go-to eatery for some delicious falafel and chicken schwarma. There is a notable Turkish population in Berlin, due mostly to the need for cheap labor several decades ago. They are now quite an established, respected and successful minority, and both of the neighborhoods in which I have stayed are heavily Turkish influenced. This makes for really tasty Turkish food, which is also the cheapest take-out around.

Yesterday I met up with Wayne, one of Jordana’s friends from Australia who is in the process of somewhat of a world tour. After spending 4 months in India, he has been in Berlin for several weeks now, and heads to Barcelona next week. He aims to end up in Los Angeles at the end of his trip, quite a while from now, and start a legal organization (he’s trained as a lawyer) to encourage those with money in Hollywood to do something more useful with their dough than buying ten million dollar homes with 50 extra rooms. We saw eye-to-eye on many issues, had great discussions, and enjoyed a latte at a great café.

Here in Berlin, it would seem that either business is good, rent is low, or both, because every space is being used. The café which we were sitting outside of was down a small stairway from the sidewalk, on the edge of a court which seemed to be bound on most sides by warehouses and stone walls. The café had only a small sign, and there’s no way you’d know it was there unless you were looking specifically for it. Wayne had been there a few days before, and liked the atmosphere, which I admit was very unique and relaxed. Only a few others wandered into the café as we were sitting there, and our drinks, which came with a couple of tasty cookies, were quite reasonably priced. I couldn’t understand how a place like that would drum up enough business to stay afloat, but it seemed established enough. The building the café was in looked, as many buildings here do, as though it had been repurposed many times. Numerous healthy vines grew all the way up one wall to what looked like a window to an attic. The walls were blasted with graffiti. I’m coming to realize that this city is known for its ubiquitous graffiti, much of which took obvious effort and planning to paint on the sides of five story buildings. Some of the scenes depicted are very political, and were painted by well known artists.

I have been extremely lazy since I’ve been here. My schedule has changed drastically due in some part to jetlag, but certainly also due to the constant gloomy skies and Jordana’s night life. Last night, Wayne and I cooked up a delicious meal of pumpkin stuffed with rice and veggies, roasted and served with a crunchy cabbage salad. It was a hit with the 8 folks who attended a cozy dinner party here at Jordana’s apartment, including all of the people before mentioned. The meal was served around 10 pm, so needless to say, we didn’t get to sleep until much later. I am adjusting surprisingly easily to this drastic schedule change, due in part to the fact that I have no obligations in the mornings yet, and can sleep as late as I like. Not being on a hard schedule for the first time in several months is being very nice.

Jordana is being wonderfully accepting of my invasion of her apartment and her life, graciously inviting me into every aspect of her life with open arms, a warm smile and lots of kisses. We share openly and honestly with each other, cuddle often, and enjoy each other’s presence thoroughly, even in the midst of the most mundane of circumstances. I greatly appreciate the way she treats people, her keen sense of other’s needs, and her self-discipline when it comes time for her to work. I am somewhat in awe of how well she balances her life.

I am enjoying myself greatly! I look forward to many things in the near future. I already have a social calendar which is filling up due to the wonderful people Jordana has introduced me to. Adam (our apartment mate, Jordana’s cousin), has loaned me a spare bike to toodle around on for the duration of my stay. There are galleries to be visited, neighborhoods to wander through, cafés to sit in and enjoy the unique, relaxed atmosphere that this city has to offer. I can already tell that I will not want to say goodbye when the time comes to depart.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Back in the saddle

Finally, I've been able to get in a few rides on my trusty SURLY Long Haul Trucker, the bike I took to South East Asia, and will be taking on my cross-country ride starting next summer. I retrieved it from storage, and first rode it through the streets of Oakland and San Francisco, visiting family and friends along the way. I then loaded it into my car and brought it to Pt. Reyes National Seashore, where I worked for 2 weeks, and rode through the hills of Marin County during my time off. This week, I'm in Big Sur, and have been fortunate enough to ride yesterday and today along Highway 1, taking in beautiful, sunny views of the coastline and navigating tight turns through moderate traffic. It is not nearly as scary as I would have thought, and nowhere near the heart-pounding fear of biking on the bumpy, crowded highways of Vietnam. In fact, it was downright wonderful. I think I rode down the longest hill I've ever descended without braking today. The turns were smooth and visibility was good, so I had no need of brakes for 3-4 miles of beautiful Redwood forest passing by Big Sur Station and Pfieffer Big Sur State Park.
In other news, I will be spending 43 days in Germany this fall/winter with the wonderful woman I met at Burning Man, Jordana. Every moment I've spent with her thus far has been rejuvenating, relaxing, caring and fascinating. She's an accomplished artist, check out her website: As of this moment, I have no definite plans for what I will be doing with most of my time in Berlin, but ideas are flowing, and plans are in the works! Also, coincidentally, I met a lovely German couple on the beach here in Big Sur yesterday when I rode out to check on the groups of kids here this week. One of them gave me her card, says she comes to Berlin quite often, and would like to meet up when we're both in Germany this fall! The world continues to help me out on many fronts, and I am enjoying life greatly.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Burning Man

12 days after having left Black Rock City, I feel that I can finally put some of my experience into words. Burning man was an event unlike any other, and is therefore very difficult to compare or describe based on the day-to-day experiences of normal people. The final conclusions that I have come to about it are these:

1. It falls into the category of things that have expanded my notion of what is possible in this life. Every once in a while, I hear or see or experience something that makes me say, "whoa, I didn't know people could do that!" Burning Man fits that bill nicely. The last time I remember feeling this notion was when my friend Japhy rode his bike from Los Angeles to the tip of Argentina. It expanded my realm of possibility.

2. Unadulterated freedom does not translate into pure chaos. Yes, there were lots of naked people and crazy costumes and giant mutant vehicles roaming around the desert. Yes there were people dancing and partying and drinking and doing drugs and riding bikes covered in fur and neon lights and making themselves available for all kinds of behavior that would not be accepted along the streets of any other city...but it was not at all out of hand. I did not see any fights, no one vomiting, no one being harassed or insulted or belittled. It was incredibly refreshing to see that enormous variety of lifestyle choices being celebrated and supported and interacted with by anyone who passed by. And it was organized. People stayed on the roads (all riding bikes) for the most part, property was respected as well as personal space. There was a program and a schedule that was adhered to for the most part, activities were planned and the Port-a-potties were cleaned every day. Not only that, but the potties were lined with cheeky, original poems about not throwing trash in them and getting a "pee funnel" (which was being given out for free by a camp dedicated to just that purpose) to make it easier for ladies to use the urinals. For the amount of people and STUFF that was packed into that 2 mile diameter beacon of craziness in the desert, it was all quite put-together and pleasant.

3. It feels good to get it all out! I spent at least one full day wearing just a speedo, a red cape with gold stars, and a blue trucker hat with the words "dork" printed on the front, and no one batted an eye. In fact, on that day, I was enthusiastically beckoned into several camps where people immediately offered me drinks, and then I just chilled out with a bunch of strangers and chatted for several hours. At the beginning of Burning Man, there is so much going on that it is shocking. It took me several days to get used to, but by the end, the pure freedom and acceptance was wonderful and normal and I found myself wondering why more of life isn't like that. I danced for hours in front of a car that had been converted into a very modern version of a Rhino equipped with an enormous sound system, set-up in the middle of the desert. I climbed a crazy metal tower, a human ant farm, a temporary 5 story building made entirely out of scaffolding, an art tree with metal cables for branches, a huge wooden honeycomb, and a stack of speakers 20 feet tall. I took a foam bath naked in a trailer with 30 other people, all of whom treated each other with respect and helpfulness. I played on a 50 foot long slip-and-slide for 2 hours wearing only a skirt. I learned how to do a back-flip on a trampoline. And through it all, I met wonderful, interesting, enthusiastic, energetic people with whom I connected and talked for hours and made friendships that have already been maintained outside of Black Rock City.

A fantastic experience. I may yet return.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Heading into the desert

After a super-fun weekend last weekend splashing in the waters of the Little Kern River in Sequoia Nat'l Forest (see pictures above), I am heading to the desert. I will be attending Burning Man for the first time, along with 8 of my co-workers and a few other friends who I hope to run into somewhere during the chaotic awesomeness. Finished my first fall week of work for NAL (Naturalists at Large), and had a great time uniting with old friends as well as making some new ones. Life is really swell!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In Preparation

Still in transit to California from another summer with teenagers outside. This time, I went up to Oregon & Washington, climbed some mountains, paddled some rivers, a lake and the Puget sound, backpacked on a beach and in the mountains, and had a blast. Take a look at the pics!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Here we go!

Friends, family, brothers & sisters of the Earth,

I am planning to embark upon the journey of a lifetime. An adventure into the heart of the United States of America, a country which I do not know well enough to suit my liking, after having been a part of it for my entire life. A journey of spiritual awakening, bonding with my fellow humans, discovering the lands, peoples and artifacts of the country which has shaped world policy and culture for the last century. This will also be a personal journey, connecting it all with my own body in a healthy, sustainably driven message of hope and progress.
In June of 2011, I plan to depart on a self-supported bicycle tour of unknown duration. I will begin at my family’s home in Trinidad, CA, and go North through Oregon and Washington before heading east through the northern states to arrive in Minnesota for the wedding of my good friend, Greg Krajacic in late summer. From there, I plan to spend winters in the south and summers in the north, traversing the country from top to bottom in the spring and fall. I will stay with friends, family, friends of friends and family of friends. I would love to visit each and every one of you along the way. I will also stay with strangers, with new friends, with other travelers and alone. I will blog and take photographs and stop for several weeks, or perhaps months, in several places. I will seek out centers of sustainable living, progressive ideas, intentional communities, and bright hope for the future of our planet. I will seek out ancient wisdom and natural order, and strive to follow the teachings of the wind and that water and the mountains. I will raft rivers and climb mountains and build fires and spend time in the wilderness alone. I will visit as many national parks, states, “cool” cities and places as I can, and I will come back when it feels time. I will live simply, breathe deeply, and keep my mind as well as all of my senses open to the teachings of the world.
I would love and appreciate your support on this journey. Though I am undertaking this journey by myself, I know that I need other people to make it happen. On a new website which I am creating, I will be posting my proposed route, along with photographs and a summary of my previous few days of adventure. If you or someone you know happens to be living or traveling near my proposed route, I’d love to say hi! I will be asking much of my fellow humans. Places to lay my body for the evening, hot meals, showers, internet access, etc. Though I am planning this journey alone, I do not plan on being lonely. I will stay connected to the community of people that I’ve become a part of over the past few years, and connect them to new people who I meet along the way. I am still in the planning phases of this journey, and just now gathering the resources, equipment and information that I will need to succeed. If you have the time and the inclination, I’d love to hear from you. Please read on!

These are a few things that I could use help with at this early stage:

1. If you’d like a visit and happen to be on my route in the first 3 months (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota), please send me your most up-to-date address and contact info. Also, if you know people in the area who you think would be happy to host me, please let me know.
2. If you’d like to ride with me, I’d love to have your company for any length of my trip. I expect to do most of the riding alone, so I won’t mind if you want to join me for an hour or a month!
3. Representation: I am actively seeking organizations and individuals which would be interested in being represented by, sending a message with or asking a specific task to be taken on during my journey.
4. Suggestions of the best places to see and things to do! Think low-budget, low tourist traffic, and ideally accessible by bicycle. Where have you traveled that shouldn’t be missed? Nationwide. Please check the website for a list of places that I am already planning on visiting.
5. Equipment: I’d love to give a new life to any of these things you may have laying around:
a. Front bicycle rack & panniers
b. Semi-pro digital SLR camera (not too fancy)
c. Cold-weather bicycling gear. I wear a men’s large in most things.
i. Skull cap
ii. Gloves
iii. Leggings
iv. Wind-resistant, form-fitting layers
d. Lightweight, waterproof bicycle cover
e. Keychain-sized USB flash drive, 4 GB capacity or higher – for backup!

I would like to take a moment to thank those few dozen of you who followed my journey in Southeast Asia. The comments and kind words that you gave me boosted my morale and stimulated my motivation to take on something even more fantastic and meaningful. Thank you.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Plan

Bike Trip across the US:

Mission: Make relationships and find opportunities for a fulfilling, sustainable, passionate and joyful life of hard work, celebration, education and compassion. Inspire others to do so. Learn about the country and people that I am a part of. Spread “FourYears. GO.”

• Guiding principles:

1. Listen and learn.
2. Everything is connected; gently help people to see what they are a part of, and cherish it, if they are so inclined.
3. Everything is constantly changing. Trying to keep things the same only promotes unplanned, often undesirable, change. Be the change you want to see in the world.
4. Find wisdom & let it speak to me.
5. Celebrate! Joy is essential to a good life.
6. Let the trip determine where and for how long I stay. Take opportunities as they arise.
7. Health is necessary for joy, awareness & survival.

• Primary Goals:

1. Listen to the problems, concerns, needs and desires of my countrymen. Strive to see things from their perspective.
2. Help people to see their connections. Bring a message and a physical example of sustainable travel, sustainable lifestyle, and urgent sustainable change wherever I go.
3. Meet up with, stay with, visit with and take an interest in the lives of friends and family, wherever they may be.
4. See the country and the people that I am a part of, that I am able to influence, that I represent to the world.
5. Visit towns and cities recommended by friends as outdoorsy, progressive, or just plain cool.
a. Visit sustainable communities, intentional communities, centers of progress and change.
6. Visit as many national parks as feasible, stay the night in the wilderness when possible.
7. Visit Indian Reservations and seek ancient wisdom from native elders.
8. Hit all of the states I have not yet seen.
9. Couch surf as much as possible to save money and spread the love and the message.
10. Blog the trip

• Secondary Goals

1. Support myself by finding employment in sustainable endeavors wherever I may be. (sponsors? Bike shops?)
2. Spend time in the wilderness to recharge.
3. Support myself by other means.
4. Travel by the seasons, summers in the mountains/north, winters in the desert/south
5. Visit all national tourist sites (Mt. Rushmore) that are reasonably priced.
6. Hike a piece of each of the big trails (Appalachian, PCT, Ozark, Continnental Divide)

Cities to Visit, in no particular order:

Oregon: Ashland, Eugene, Bend, Portland
Washington: Olympia,
Arizona: Flagstaff
Texas: Austin
Michigan: Ann Arbor
Colorado: Boulder, Nederland, Durango
Indiana: Bloomington (Charles Deam Wilderness)
North Carolina: Ashville, The Outer Banks, Turtle Island!
Kansas: Lawrence
Utah: Salt Lake City, Logan
Minnesota: Duluth, Minneapolis
Vermont: Burlington
Washington DC
Louisiana: New Orleans
New York: New York

If it is on the way:

Kentucky: Red River Gorge
Jon Young – inspired wilderness awareness programs