26 November 2009

Mike: "I am impossibly tired, and also impossibly restless."

Meet the Johansens. We stayed at their house while we were in the bay area and had the BEST time. Allen, Rosa Lee, and Big Mike kept us well-fed and entertained for three days while we took the time to skate, surf, and explore the city.

I took a day in Oakland to visit Sara, Felicia, and my newest nephew Armoni! To all the family and friends who haven't met this little guy yet, BE JEALOUS. Armoni is one cool little kid. He loves roughhousing, music, triangles, and of course, his Mommy and Mama. I had a great time catching up with the Steenhouse family. Thanks for everything, Sara and Felicia!

The next day, we caught the Caltrain down to San Jose, where we Couchsurfed with Greg and his dog Buddy - thanks Greg, you rule!

And then, from San Jose, we caught a bus to Santa Cruz. The best part? A bike rack that fits THREE bikes! Finally, no need to convince the driver to let us bring a bicycle onto a crowded metro bus. Yessss. Plus we made a friend, Hannah, who gave us her phone number in case we needed anything while we were still in town. When we were dropped off at the station in downtown Santa Cruz, we said goodbye to Hannah and went to Trader Joes to buy food, then ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the boardwalk, in the abandoned amusement park.

Mike and I played in the waves, then spent some time messing around on the beach, soaking up that California heat we've been craving.

Later in the afternoon, we met up with Hannah and she walked us to Younglove Avenue, where some of her friends lived together in a house. There, we met Maria, Caity, Paige, Jen, Devan, Kevin, and Sean, who graciously agreed to let us stay in there home. Some of us went downtown for $3 dollar burritos and a few margarita pitchers, then went back to the house and spent some wholesome time hanging out and playing Parcheesi and stuff.

Next thing we knew, we were hitch-hiking down to Santa Barbara to spend Thanksgiving with Caity.

First we were picked up by Will Smith and Chantal, who were able to get us to Salinas. Then there was Micah, who picked us up in Salinas and drove us all the way to Santa Barbara, stopping to buy us a round of In-N-Out on the way, animal style. This guy is freaking awesome.

He dropped us off at the Santa Barbara courthouse, and we loitered about town for a bit, until Caity picked us up and took her to her parents' house, where we would be spending the next three nights. The next morning, it was coffee...


...and a little bit of food prep.

We spent most of the day lounging in the sun (as usual, at this point), and we met Caity's eight-year-old cousin Matthew. We talked of Nerf guns, hiking, soccer, and video games.

This is the group we ate Thanksgiving dinner with, potluck style. We didn't know any of them. Well, at first we didn't. It didn't take long, though.

Incidentally, people are awesome.

Next morning, we called Micah to see if he wanted to do something while we were all still hanging out in Santa Barbara. He and his boyfriend Kevin picked us up at noon on State Street in their Land Cruiser, and took us on a hike to Inspiration Point.

Then we took a quick dip in the ocean and gobbled up a mountain of Thanksgiving leftovers before taking another trip into the hills. First, we stopped and checked out some 350-year-old cave paintings.

Then, the Big Caliente Hot Springs.

Micah, Kevin: you guys are awesome. Seriously.

On Saturday, we drove "home" to Santa Cruz with Caity, and played some more Parcheesi with friends new and (relatively) old.

I think that more-or-less catches everyone up, right? Oh, and we saw a movie today. Fantastic Mister Fox. Wes Anderson did it again, everybody. Go see it!

Our Santa Cruz friends taught us to play a game we call "Rose/Thorn/Bud," in which you take turns telling your friends one thing your thankful/happy/stoked for, one thing that may be bothering you or holding you back, and one thing you're looking forward to.

Let's play. I'll go first, but feel free to leave a comment with your own Roses/Thorns/Buds.

My Rose: the warm, clear, mighty, California Pacific, and all the recreational oppurtunities it has offered us so far.

My thorn: a semi-mysterious raised bruise on my lower back, most likely caused by one of three wrestling sessions with my new friend and rival, Kayla. Touché, Kayla. Touché.

My bud: Campin'.

20 November 2009

Us + Joe

On the Caltrain

Pier 39

The power of the machines as we left the city was incredible. For the first time, being on a bicycle made me feel powerless, small, almost incompetent. City traffic rushed by us without the slightest regard for our livelihood. California.

We came into the city early the previous morning, not used to the metropolitan vibe or the thunderous roar of commercialism. It felt like we no longer had any imprint. Suddenly everything we were doing seemed unreasonably unimportant.

We rode through the city blocks, not looking for anything in particular, hoping that something great would fall into our hands like it did so easily in the weeks before. Nobody seemed approachable, everybody had more important things to do. We were lost, terribly lost. So we reverted to the one thing we do know about; the internet. We found refuge in the free wi-fi outside of the Sacramento Public Library, where we sat and tried to make sense of our suddenly meaningless lives. We Googled the nearest McDonald's to our location, and decided to look for comfort in a sausage McMuffin with egg and cheese; soulfood. The nearest one to our location was about a mile away, we didn't mind. So we saddled up, and headed out on our way. But it wasn't long before our weary hearts were turned upside down by two kindred spirits called Jazzy and Juan.

The first thing I noticed was the eyepatch. It was exactly the type of thing you would expect to see in a bad community theater production of The Count of Monte Cristo. A big, black, pirateous eye patch. I didn't know what to think.

"Hey where you all going?" he inquired.

"Down the Baja Coast," I recall somebody (probably Steve-o) answering.

"Holy Shit!" he exclaimed, "and where'd you come from?" he asked in disbelief.

"Washington" the anonymous "us" replied.

Cut action. This is where we realized that Juan and Jazzy wanted to talk to us for a while. So we all stopped riding to answer any sort of questions that they might have had.

"Yeah but we kinda cheated," Stephen said with a slight tone of dismay. "We took a train from Salem, OR to here, we just got in this morning,"

That was the first time Jazzy spoke up. "Oh I just rode the train in from Spokane a few weeks ago!" She seemed excited to have a connection.

"Cool," we said, and from there the conversation flourished. We ended up hanging out with them for the better part of a half an hour, listening to them and telling them everything strangers would ever want to know about each other. We found out that Jazzy was a girl who had been traveling for the past ten years, and hadn't really been in one place for too long. Her older brother was a traveler too, and had custody of her since she was a young kid, and he had been taking her around from city to city. Her home was the road, and it was amazingly self-evident when she spoke that she was a kind and warm vessel. Underneath her tattered eyes and worn out clothes, you could see a beautiful woman; independent and intolerant to the indecencies of humankind. Truly inspirational because of her blatant disregard for social norms.

And then there was Juan.

Juan embodied the essence of strange, but in a completely normal sort of way. Talking to Juan was like talking to your good acquaintance's dad for the first time on a car ride home from a basketball game. He asked all the right questions and offered all the right nuggets of advice and made us feel comfortable through several really uncomfortable moments. But for God's sake, he was wearing that ridiculous eye-patch, and disappearing for extended lengths of time at a time, and walking around the streets with Jazzy and their adopted street puppy, and living in a warehouse in downtown Sacramento. He was truly a character in some sort of quirky short story. But he left his mark on us and we will never forget what he said to us as we parted. He looked each of us individually in the eye and with his raspy and worn down voice said this:

"Remember, there's a lot of beautiful people in this world...but there's also some ugly ones. Just watch out for the ugly ones."

We all froze for a second. Processed it. Took it in.

"Yeah," I thought. Coming from him it sounded real, like he had really experienced the beautiful people, and the ugly ones. It sounded as if he truly lived by those words. Now we would live differently, too.

Juan's words were not only important for our trip because of the content of the statement, but also because it started a new project for us. It was his advice that made us realize that just about everyone we have come in contact with so far on this trip has given us some sort of "nugget," we just weren't listening enough. So we decided to write all the bits of advice that we receive from people for the rest of the trip down so that we are being consciously and directly influenced by each and every person who is interested in us. Juan implied that there is a lot to learn from the people in this world. We will see more people on this trip than we could ever imagine, each individual person living their life in a different way, regarding different truths, learning from different sources, finding meaning in different places, and each and every one of these people can help us in our mission to find ourselves. But there is one golden rule: there must be no judging people by their lifestyles. We must respect everyone equally and never scoff at anyone's advice. Whether it's the words of a crazed homeless man walking up the street, or a successful business woman living in the most expensive home on the California coast, we will respect and take in the words from all.

Since Juan, we have received good advice from many people. But this project doesn't end here. We plan to milk this for all it's worth, getting advice from as many people as we possibly can.
We have all seen inspirational quotes from reputable and influential people posted on the walls of our classrooms and written in books. But the idea behind this project is that all people have something to contribute to how we live our lives. On an earlier blog post, I wrote that on this trip I have learned to listen to nature, taking the advices of the Earth to heart, but now I challenge myself and everyone who reads this blog, to listen to the people in this world as well. Everyone is crying out in some way or another, we should listen to their cries and try our best to learn from them.

Later that day and on into the night, we collected advice from everyone we could. Here are some of the words of wisdom that were given to us. Some people we asked for advice, some people we just listened and they spoke. All of these words will certainly help us in our quest. We hope they will help you, too:

"Life is mandatory, misery is optional."
-Street Chuck

Chuck came up to us as we were headed toward downtown Sacramento at around 7:30 p.m. on Thursday evening. He asked us for some spare change so that he could buy a blanket. He told us that he had recently lost his job and his family and he was not on drugs or drinking and he was going to be homeless for about a month. He seemed so real. Tyler gave him five bucks. He thanked us, and upon departure, gave us his bit of advice. We left the situation feeling very good, especially since we didn't even have to ask him for his advice, he just gave it to us.

When we got into downtown Sacramento, we decided to go into a dive-bar and get a drink. So we walked into the crappiest bar we could find and had a two dollar bottle of Pabst each. Inside the bar were about six people, all of which seemed to me at first glance to be the "town drunk" types. Bob, the most vivacious of the bunch, overheard us talking about our ride the next day. "Sixty miles you're gonna ride on a bicycle tomorrow! Holy shit!"

Suddenly everyone in the bar was interested in us. We talked for a good bit and had a few drinks with them and told them about our trip and listened to them talk about things, and before we knew it we had four new friends, connected by a string that was attached to each of our souls. These people were good people, living the way that they decided suited them best. It was at this point that I realized that people don't respect each other enough these days. Most would look at this bunch of guys in a dive bar in downtown Sacramento and think, "that's sad" or "look at those drunks!" But those thoughts are absolute fallacies. These people had interesting pasts, important ideas, and most of all, hearts of gold.

Bob, a mid-fifty-year-old veteran and car mechanic, was born in Duluth, MN and moved to downtown Los Angeles before high school, where he attended an inner-city school and graduated with a more diverse high school education than I could ever imagine. David (pronounced dah-VEED) was a refugee from Eritrea that fled from the tyrannical Eritrean communist rule when he was sixteen, walking for two weeks on foot to get into Sudan. From Sudan, he acquired a fake passport and saved enough money to fly into Beirut, where he acquired yet another fake passport and fled to Italy where he admitted to the Italian government that he was a refugee from Eritrea. Four years later, the Italian government gave him several options of the places he could go. The United States was one of them. He chose to be sent to America and ended up in Las Vegas, Nevada and eventually migrated west to Sacramento. He now owns his own custodial service in Sacramento and comes to the bar twice a week to quench his social thirst. He said that he had worked with some of his coworkers for sixteen years, and has never told his story to anyone he has worked with. The injustice of it all! Listening to Bob and David talk about their past changed me significantly. I will never forget that night in the bar with my two best buds and four strangers who took us in and poured out some of the most introspective and intelligent words I have heard in a long time. They've been places. They've seen things. They're out there, I mean really out there trying to make sense of this unsolvable puzzle known as life. At the end of the night, we asked everyone in the bar for their advice. Here's what they said:

"Be nice, get along, and if you respect others, they will respect you. God bless all, and absolutely love all."

"Life is pretty short, so STEP ON THE FUCKING GAS!"

"Stay out of the [San Bernadino] valley!"
(I didn't say anything about Ryan but he was a really nice guy that was absolutely adamant about us staying away from the valley. He said it's the ugliest place on Earth and if we rode our bikes through there it could possibly suck our souls from our bodies. It's not the first bad thing we have heard about the valley. Our best bud and fourth member of our group of connected-at-the-hip-azoids lives in the San Bernadino Valley. He doesn't have many nice things to say about it either.)

"Enjoy the path you are taking, and cherish it, always cherish it."

(Victor walked into the bar while I was talking to David. Tyler and Steve-o talked to him more than I did. His voice sounded like Popeye's voice and he knew a couple fisherman from our area. That's about all I know about him, besides the fact that he gave us some pretty darn good advice.)

Since that night in the bar we've received advice from many others. Here's a few of the things that we learned:

"Anonymity only leads to contempt."
-Allen Johansen, Big Mike's dad

"Money is at its best use when it supports adventures like these."
-Patrick, a friend in Aberdeen we met through Stephen P.

"All you need in life are two can-openers and a hole-punch for your beer can and a pocket knife with a saw, not a Swiss Army knife, but one of those ones from China. Here, I'll show you mine!"
-Crazy Sacramento Sam

"I wish in my life to be significant, not successful."
-Big Mike (along with the catch phrase he coined while freestyle rapping "Put that in your book!" Good stuff.)

"You're not living unless you are risking your life."
-Joe the Couchsurfer.

(Joe was probably one of the most generous people we have stayed with. He offered us pretty much everything he had, and ordered us massive amounts of pizza. We played video games all night and got pretty darn good as a band on "Beatle's Rock Band" the x-box version. That game is AMAZING. I don't think we really thanked Joe as much as we should of. So this is an official shoutout to Joe, the most badass dude in Pittsburgh, CA. We love you, Joe!)

If not anything else, this trip has taught me that every single place we go, and every single person we meet, has value in our lives and must not be ignored. We have learned from the people and we have learned from the land and we have discovered that so many things matter beyond just our own small lives. Like Juan once said, there's a lot of beauty, there's a whole lot of beauty. And it's all here for us to enjoy and learn from.

No Living Room 2.0: Still Young, Less Restless, and More Hippied Out Than Ever Before!

And now, to make a long story short, an equation:

Salem, OR


Yep, you got that right. A palm tree. In Sacramento, California, baby. We'd had enough of the abysmal northwest weather and decided not to waste our time or our money putting up with it. So we bought ourselves three tickets and hopped on to the next Amtrak south. They even let us ship our bikes on the train! We had to take them apart just a bit.

Of sixteen hours traveling, 2.5 were during daylight hours. When we arrived in Sacramento at 5:45 in the morning we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves, quite literally. So we just sort of put our bikes back together and rode around.

It was still early, but we were able to steal enough internet from the closed Sacramento Public Library for long enough to email some people last-minute about possible Couchsurfing options.

Unfortunately, we found none before it was beginning to get dark, so we checked into a very cheap hotel (oh well!).

Next morning, we mixed up sommathat delicious dried potato soup Patti gave us in Seaside, and figured out just what route we should take to get to Pittsburgh by the end of that day, where the Generous Joe had told us we could crash at his place.

Another twelve o'clock check-out, and we were off.

First through the city...

...past Arnold's house...

...then along the surging Rio Vista. In the first 25 miles, I think we gained about 16' in elevation.

A short set-back:


Also, we rode past a Chevy Avalanche that had evidently been through some serious physical trials. It was connected to a tow truck beside the river, and water was still dripping down the sides and from the bottom. The weird parts were the handcuffs dangling from one of the handles inside, and the diver we saw gearing up just a couple hundred feet down the road - mob hit?

That was weird.

We just started this new thing where we will buy a container of peanut butter, a container of jam, and a loaf of bread, make eight or nine PB&J's, and put them all back into the bread bag. Makes for very good picnics, and the peanut butter and jam lasts for several loafs!

Mmm. Twelve-grain.

And the report comes tonight from Pittsburgh, California. Today's miles: a whopping 74! We actually spent a couple of hours riding in the dark there toward the end, which was not so pleasant. But we didn't take any pictures of it, so it's sort of like it never happened. Tomorrow's agenda: bike, BART, and Sisco! Don't touch that dial, folks, things're aboutsta get crazy up in here! CraziER that is!


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