Friday, September 23, 2011

Colors of Autumn and a Wedding

I am using a new camera which was purchased so that I can keep recording the beautiful world around me when I go into the backcountry without having to worry about the weight and break-ability of my current camera.  My new camera is a shock-proof, waterproof, freeze-proof compact camera.  It is very convenient, but has had trouble reproducing genuine colors, which is frustrating with all of the brilliant shades of autumn about.  Also, none of the video that I took this week is retrievable in its current format.  I'm working on it.

The latest pictures were taken earlier today in Duluth, MN.  It is in industrial city, having mostly to do with its being the furthest inland port in the US.  I crossed over the the St. Lawrence River to visit Superior, WI, so that I could pedal over the bridge, get some pictures and get another state under the belt.

Day 69: Pine City to Moose Lake, MN: 50 miles

The seasons are changing. This was difficult to notice for the first couple of months of this trip, due to the fact that I started off in a very wet, cool Oregon in the middle of summer. Rain has found me in nearly every state, and Minnesota is no exception. Today was the coldest riding day I've had, and yesterday threw both wind and water at me. Two days before I arrived in Minneapolis, it was 90 degrees, and I couldn't drink enough water to stay hydrated. This morning when I left, it was 45 degrees, I barely drank 3 quarts all day, and had to stop every hour to pee.

Fall colors abound on the endless bike paths of Minnesota. I spent most of the last two days isolated from highway and city by a line of trees of varying width, all of which are beginning their preparations for the winter. I cannot remember the last time I saw so many shades of pink and orange. It has been a long time since I've been anywhere but California for an autumn, and mostly in deserts or on seashores for the last several years. I feel as though the change in the seasons is somehow coinciding with the change in pace of my trip, as I get ready to settle in one place for a while. The world is telling me that great things await in the north.

I spent exactly one week off the bike. During that time, I prepared for, helped with, and attended the wedding of my great friend Greg Krajacic as one of 6 groomsmen. Greg and I were roommates in college for 2 years, and became constant revered companions. We also played Ultimate frisbee on the same team, and 8 of our teammates (not including Greg and I) also attended the wedding. This made for a posse of awesome dudes with whom to pre-party as well as celebrate with during the event. We all had a great time together playing soccer, poker, quarters, wrestling and dancing our butts off at the wedding. As is to be expected with such a group of dynamic, motivated, intelligent and energetic guys, I enjoyed their company thoroughly.

As I grow older, I begin noticing different things about such gatherings as weddings. It has been longer than I can remember since I attended a traditional wedding without a partner, and even then, the last wedding I attended was over 3 years ago. At Greg's wedding, I noticed that there were nearly zero single, unattached women close to my age. I think part of this could be due to the fact that it took place in the mid-west, but age must also be a factor. About half of my frisbee teammates are now married, with several others engaged or about to be. All of the bridesmaids were either married, engaged or in a committed relationship. For the second time in my adult life, I have not been in a committed relationship for about 6 months. I must admit that this is certainly intentional to some degree (how could I have a girlfriend somewhere and ride my bike around the nation?), but it is also a unique circumstance for me. In a few months I will turn 30, and though I don't feel that this will limit anything I'm trying to do, it is making me aware of how I'm using my time, and who I'm spending it with.

Due to the fact that Greg and I have the same first name, we generally go by our frisbee nicknames when we spend time together, so I'm “Ace” and he's “Krackerjack”. Everyone in Greg's family knows me as Ace, and to simplify things, this is how I was introduced to a number of people at the wedding. Greg and I got to spend an hour or so just the two of us as we drove to the airport to pick up his brother, Chris. We chatted about life, and it was nice to notice that we are able to maintain the high level of understanding that we always had when conversing in college. There aren't too many people who I can have that kind of candid, connected conversation with, and it dawned on me how much I appreciate Greg's friendship for just that reason. As he is taking steps to move on to the next phase of his life having married, bought a house, and planning children not too far down the line, it is comforting to me to see how our friendship will evolve and grow and remain intact. Connecting with friends whom I haven't seen in a long time was one of the primary reasons I undertook this trip, and I'm so glad I did.

Another friend who I was able to spend a few hours with was Jenna. Jenna and I went on a bicycle tour through Southeast Asia two years ago, and had an amazing adventure. It was that trip, with Jenna's help, that showed me what an amazing way to travel cycling can be. Upon my return from Asia, I was immediately motivated to begin planning my next bicycle tour, this time in my own country.

Jenna is in graduate school and the University of Minnesota for Occupational Therapy. She has found a great apartment in a very culturally diverse neighborhood in the heart of Minneapolis. We had dinner together at a Somali restaurant after walking through a Somali market. Inside the market, I felt immediately transported back to the markets of Costa Rica or Cambodia. Narrow isles lined with dimly lit stalls displaying all manner of watches, clothing, trinkets and tons of absolutely gorgeous cloth. The religion of most Somali immigrants in Minneapolis is Islam, and it occurred to me that many of the women must make their own clothing, which involves much more material than the clothing of most non-islamic women. Jenna and I still get along perfectly well, and it was very comforting to see her thriving and enjoying her new environment.

Many sayings, phrases and bits of advice have stuck with me from a young age. One that always seemed to make sense was, “The more you know, the more you know you don't know.” I suppose this is referring to the fact that as we become more educated and knowledgeable as people, we begin to understand that there is SO much more knowledge and information in the world than we could possibly expect to learn in a lifetime. There are definitely times in my life when I lost sight of this concept.

I remember being 17, a junior in high school, and having the parents of a friend or two ask me what I was going to do with my life. I was very confident that I was going to be an actor and that I had the world figured out. I had trouble understanding why so many people struggled at making sense of life, when I, at 17, had everything figured out. Entering college and having my brain filled with mounds of information that I never knew existed was a lengthly process, but it certainly humbled me in terms of making me realize the quantity of knowledge that I would never be able to obtain. That process probably helped me to build more character than many other things I've done in my life.

I had a similar experience in 2006 when, in combination with getting a job where I was backpacking and camping all the time, a loved and respected colleague from college began a bicycle tour from Los Angeles to the tip of Argentina. Both of these expansions of what is possible in life filled my head with even further possibilities, greater achievements, vaster realms of knowledge on physical, spiritual and emotional levels, rather than purely intellectual knowledge, which is what I had primarily focused on previously.

At this point, I feel like I'm in the midst of having another “aha” moment, where some previously overlooked realm of possibility reveals itself to me. College was one of those “moments,”, but I don't think this one will take quite as long. My recent trips to Berlin and Australia, falling in love with an artist and experiencing the world through her eyes, have played an important role in helping me step out of the box of creative understanding that I now know I was previously in. The bicycle trip is helping me to drop my very strong, thoroughly implanted preconceived notions of the lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors of people all across America. My new job, which will send me back into the wilderness, where my current lifestyle was born, waits for me only a few days away. I am excited and open and ready.

Last night, I had a tremendous couch-surfing experience once again. I stayed in Pine City with Val and his pitbull mutt, Angel, a total sweetheart of an animal. Val and I operate on the same wavelength. The man is doing all he can to improve the world around him, while enriching his own life in the process. We chatted about martial arts (he teaches), economics (he has a degree, but hasn't used it), animal rescue and corporate irresponsibility. He used to race bicycles until he got into a bad crash, and now he just restores classics once in a while. We both snowboard. If it's yellow, we let it mellow. We got along great right from the start, as he gave me the tour of his cozy home, decorated with furniture from garage sales which he has fixed up and made worthy of collectors.

For dinner, we ended up at Froggy's pub for burgers. I ordered the ½ pound Froggy special, with everything on it (onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, 3 kinds of cheese, mushrooms, jalapenos, bacon), and finished it while Val still had 1/3 left of his slightly smaller burger. It sure hit the spot. While we waited for our food, ate it, and for quite a while afterward, Val and I were entertained by Frank J Cummings, a retired police officer from Missouri. Frank was about drunk and half when we came in, and continued ordering himself pitchers of beer the whole time we were there. At 58 years of age, he looked 70 (the age he told us at first), and reminded us constantly that he was “one mean son of a !#@%$” He immediately told Val and I that we looked like the Beegees, and then insisted that we were federal agents. Frank was loud and smart-mouthed and full of wise-cracks, but never quite hit the point of mean-spirited. He did impressions of several famous people, sang a line from a song every now and then, and tried to impress every women who'd look at him. Anytime anyone asked him a question, his reply was, “none of your business!” Since Val and I were sitting right next to him at the bar, we were the “watch this” guys of choice, and I think we satisfied his need for attention. He insisted that I looked like Kid Rock (blech!), and ended up giving me his address in Missouri, so that I can come visit when I go through. I think I just might.

1 comment:

  1. Ace,
    You are a phenomenal writer! When I start reading one of your blogs, I can't stop! Seeing you for the week of my wedding was a true pleasure, and I share your exact same sentiments. It was great spending time with you and our mutual friends. Enjoy the next leg of your adventure up North, and see you when you get back! Love ya, brother!