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Online Dating & The Union Of Two People In An Impromptu Road Trip

[I can’t promise I won’t want to sleep with you, but I would like to buy you dinner.]

The message arrived to your OK Cupid inbox in early April. You couldn’t help but smile. The messenger, a gentle looking fellow approaching his sixties, had a warm, innocent smile and a profile that spoke of his love for his children and the desire to be the best father that he could be. He had taken the time to read your profile in it’s entirety–an Homeric Odyssey of rules and regulations for how to manage ones expectations if sex were his or her primary incentive.

You responded to him and said that dinner was entirely unnecessary but that you would glady meet him. You were impressed that he had reached out to you at all through your gauntlet of filters, and you couldn’t help but wonder what kind of man he was.

The restaurant he’d suggested was Zagat-rated, on The Embarcadero, and pricey. You felt obliged to dress up like a girl–walk the one mile from your apartment in your new girly leather ballet flats, feet barking, pre-bunions forming. March had been a fascinating month for such girly enterprise. You’d returned from India and Nepal a full 25 lbs lighter than you had been when you’d embarked your trip. Weight loss plus sever dehydration and a lack of appetite rendered you a shocking 170.5 lbs at one point. You’d joked and said that if your saw the 160s, you’d check yourself into the hospital. You were tired, weak, breathless, and sick. Your external appearance to others, however, did not betray your gut-wrenching condition; to them, you appeared a tall, lean, lovely, and feminine creature. You thought, however, that were it not for the bronze of Indian and Himalayan sun, you would have appeared consumptive. Regardless, your online dating profile did not betray your illness; only your first impression did that.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” you began. “I’ve just returned from Nepal and I think I may have a parasite, so if I suddenly start making faces at you while you’re speaking–” you demonstrated for effect “–don’t take it personally. It’s just my gastric distress and it usually passes in a minute or so.”

Hot.

Nice first impression. It’s a tactic: gross them out of the prospect of sex with you.

Apparently the disclosure of sever diarrhea is not enough to dissuade hopeful men from a sexual prospect.

Robert, your gentle older date, was a fine fellow. He was your average guy in most respects, save his insatiable desire for life. He’s just emerged from a second marriage and was enjoying the freedoms that came with being unattached. He felt like he’d missed out on a lot–like he’d spent his whole life working and supporting his family and being the good husband that he’d let life pass him by. But he was not discouraged. He felt he had ample time to begin experiencing the world anew. He’d been raised very conservative and religious; it was a life that didn’t suit him at all. He’d felt the need to break free from his family’s religious norms. He’d felt the need to break free from a lot and challenge conventional expectations. He was, you might say, a diet-hard relativist. 

You weren’t drinking, but were glad to sit at the bar and sip a lemon water as he ordered cocktails. Naturally the conversation turned to sex. You were under no illusions that Robert had wanted to meet you purely for your fine personality or conversation. By virtue of your having agreed to meet him, he’d managed to get his foot in the door. The next step would have been to get you a little drunk and let the conversation become flirtatious. And then… maybe after another cocktail, you might change your mind.

This didn’t happen, of course. You were very clear about being queer. You were also very clear about being somewhat smitten with a woman you’d recently begun seeing. Sex was completely off the table, but you were happy to indulge him by talking very openly about the subject–a thing older men just love about you. By the end of the night, Robert had begun to speak to you in lurid promises. You listened to his declarations patiently, with amusement.

With your eyebrows lifted, “You’re going to dominate me? Tell me more. Are you going to gag me, beat me, strangle me?”

He seemed momentarily shocked. “Well, no…” and then followed with a PG-13-rated threat.

The two of you laughed together over the conversation. He was drunk and delighted to have the freedom to speak so freely; you were sober and simply amused.

When you left him at the bar, you doubted that the two of you would meet again.

*     *     *

But Robert was persistent.

Were it not for the fact that he traveled to San Francisco almost weekly for work and had been staying in hotels that were 15 minutes walking from your front door, you probably wouldn’t have agreed to another dinner with him. But you have great difficultly ignoring earnest people. Robert, furthermore, had offered to receive a massage. You were still unemployed, very poor, and struggling to make 300 bucks a month stretch in San Francisco.

You met Robert for dinner (comped by his company), and told him what you’d been up to lately. A lot of dates–or as you like to call them, “conversational adventures.” A lot a walking around. A lot of gut episodes.

This weekend I’m hitch hiking to Seattle,” you mentioned.

Robert’s eyes flew wide open. “Seattle? I wish I’d known. I could have driven you there. We could have taken a road trip!”

It seemed a bit eager on his part, but you went with it. “Hey, no reason we can’t take a road trip in the future.”

“I’ve got a bunch of time off, too. Vacation days I’ve been saving. Hell, we don’t need to go to Seattle. We could just get in the car and go anywhere. I love the idea of just getting in the car and going with you. Have an adventure!”

“I’m good for that kind of thing.”

“Hell, we could go to Arizona, or Texas, or New Orleans!”

You chirped. Or yelped. Or some combination of the two. The noise–of girlish surprise–startled you. The noise indicated your realization that he was dead serious.

“Oh my goodness, this isn’t just mental masturbation, is it?”

Robert shook his head. He was dead serious.

You told him your reservations about a road trip. It’s expensive. The cost of fuel. The hotels. You had nothing to contribute. He didn’t care. “I want to have an adventure.”

“Okay, listen,” you began. “When you sober up you have the chance to back out. But if you don’t, and you really are serious about taking this road trip, then I will keep my word and come with you. And I promise to do everything possible to keep your costs low.” You began to hammer out logistics. Possible routes. Time frame. Budget. And more.

All on the second date.

*     *     *

You may have been less than forthcoming about the details of how you met Robert when you announced that you would be going on a road trip with a “friend.” Yes, you met him under the most lurid of hopeful circumstances. So what if he PG-13-promised you? What did it matter if he probably harbored sexual fantasies? Maybe had some hope that you would change your mind during the trip… These things you considered, but you failed to muster feelings of concern for your safety. Maybe you understand men too well by now. Maybe you’re too lenient and should be enforcing the “oughts” of behavioral expectations on them; slap the backs of their wrists when they objectify you. But you don’t. You can’t fault men for being men. You’re extremely liberal on this subject. As long as people are polite and honest, what’s the harm? (How one succeeds in politely PG-13ing a liberal lesbian is beyond the scope of this entry).

Men have their motivations, be it for sex or for company–for adventure or spontaneity. Whatever Robet’s reasons were (you decided he needed to do something radical with a partner in crime), you felt no judgement. As for you, you would get to travel through the southwest United States; it was a small goal you’d off-handedly made for yourself while still in Nepal, which you never suspected would be accomplished. So the official version of the story goes: two people met; each stated his or her conditions; the other agreed to the terms and a road trip ensued.

If there’s one thing you’ve learned about people since beginning your travels, it’s that if you treat them kindly and are honest and genuine with them, you can cut through the majority of sexual tension and potential for exploitation pretty quickly. You showed Robert your hand: you were enamored with a woman, had no desire to be experimental with men, intended to come back from the trip and immediately start school, a job, and an internship all in the same week. You would be studying biology and chemistry (and Swedish) while on the road. You would talk to him, help him find hotels, be a good navigator, suggest an itinerary, and make sure he got on his feet and saw things he might otherwise pass up. You would happily sit with him in bars and objectify waitresses, offer him moral support, and talk about sex and porn and music and movies and everything else. Bar none.

“This is really great, Maria. You’re like a guy, but much cuter.”

So you’ve been told. You have a monopoly on friendships with older, single men who want to talk about things they can’t normally talk about with their guy friends. Not without judgement; you had none to offer.

In your days of preparation, you idly wondered if you daft for saying yes. You barely knew the guy!  Maybe your character assessment had been all wrong and it was a ploy? What if…? What if…? Cue some modest level of pre-trip paranoia.

While travel has gotten you accustomed to trusting people and believing that their intentions are usually good, you do not trust people perfectly. You later told Robert that, no offense, you had a sleeping bag and a camping tent with you and could easily hitchhike your way back to the Bay Area if something untoward occurred. Maybe this hurt his feelings; maybe he accepted it at face value. You didn’t ask. He didn’t seem bothered.

Well, it turned out that you and Robert got along like fish in water. He was a most excellent travel partner, despite your differences in age, energy, and experience. The trip began on your birthday, May 23rd, which you spent sitting at the bar of Red Robin. You ordered a veggie burger and a devilishly “modest” ice cream sundae. It was then four hours to San Luis Obispo, where Robert lived when he wasn’t traveling to San Francisco. You spent the weekend lying about, eating your hormones, and watching hours and hours of The Walking Dead. Turned out you and Robert shared a passion for zombies. All was off to a great start.

You practically had to kick him out of his front door on Monday when he suggested not leaving for another day (he didn’t want to leave his daughter alone in her mother’s house in SLO.) It was endearing but frustrating. The delay made you nervous because if you lost another day you wouldn’t have time to get to Austen and back before your job started. You were ready to throw in the towel on the entire trip, nervous about your time line as well as frustrated by the voluntary separation from the new lady you were dating (yeah, you were pretty into her).

 You packed a box of snacks and made Robert get his shit together, which took him all of twenty minutes because he was, after all, a seasoned traveler for work. He later thanked you for spurring him into action. “If you weren’t here, I probably wouldn’t have gotten out the door at all.”

But you did! And the two of you drove from San Luis Obispo, CA to Austen, TX and back in fewer than ten days.

You learned that you and Robert were extremely travel compatible. He was a chilled out, easy-going guy. Always happy to check something out at random. You were appalled by the price of the petrol (turns out it is cheaper to fly and rent a car than for two people to drive). You did everything you could to keep his costs low, first by scavenging coupons and local deals on dive motels, then keeping your entrees under ten bucks whenever possible–sometimes under five (a baked potato in the southwest is not only the cheapest option, but the healthiest!). You split coffees with him, never ordered alcohol, and was simply content to be along for the ride. Robert often laughed at your impromptu lunches out of the car boot–the way you could chow down through pounds of raw vegetables. He was, like everyone else, impressed by the amount of food you can eat. You encouraged him to join you in your tail gate lunches–to shop from supermarkets for fresh fruit and veg and make sandwiches. He liked the savings and the added perk of knowing he’d made a healthy choice, but it didn’t keep him from caving to the temptation of a hot evening meal.

It was a standard American road trip. Nothing crazy happened. Everything went off without a hitch. You rolled though the desert on cruise control, took turns reading out loud to each other (A Billion Wicked Little Thoughts–a book about what pornographic web searches say about human sexual desire; and the autobiography of Rita Moreno, of all things!). The trip unfolded with no plan other than to head east. One night you were crashed out in a dimly lit motel, the next you were wined and dined at a Kimpton resort hotel! And then everything in between.

But the pictures tell the story better.

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On Knowing When To Quit: Feelings Are Expensive

The conditions were perfect: you’d gone to bed at 10pm, only to awaken every ninety minutes with gastric discomfort. It wasn’t unusual. Since the moment you set foot in Nepal, your guts have been on the fritz. At 2:30am, you were awakened by the deep, persistent churning of your bowels; you slipped your bare feet into your enormous boots and tramped down the hall of your guest house to take care of business.

No big deal. Only you couldn’t get back to sleep. Not at all. You lay there patiently in the dark for one hour and finally gave up. Grabbed your laptop and decided to make good use of the wifi when no one else was awake to share the bandwidth.

You talked on Facebook, sent some email, played around on OKCupid just for shits and giggles (the goal being to set up some interesting coffee dates in advance, so you could have some “conversational adventure” when you would eventually return to San Francisco). The minutes clicked by with laborious tedium. By 6am you were cold and hungry, but nothing was open. You walked the streets of Kathmandu’s Thamel district, desperate for a coffee. The only place semi-open still had no power, so no way to make an espresso. You gave up on the coffee dream and continued to walk. You shook your head at the rickshaw drivers and the egg roll carts. You bumped into a few Americans you’d met days before—they were out for a morning jog and invited you to come. You declined, since you were barely functioning above zombie status.

By 8am, coffee was available. You read A Short History of Islam by Karen Anderson for one hour before venturing back to your room to see if Maeva was awake. She was not. You got back in bed with a racing heart beat—caffeine plus six flights of stairs plus diarrhea and mild dehydration is never a nice combination.

“I’m really feeling pretty tired today,” you muttered to Maeva after her half-hour of cursing the hotel just after rousing. No hot water. No electricity. A noisy club outside your window. A generator that runs from 9 to 11pm every night. “I need an easy day.”

Hint #1 – You begin to get sick towards the end of the trip.

It wasn’t that the other days had been hard (if you excuse the nine hour bus ride for a mere one hundred kilometers two days before—the worst traffic you’ve seen in your life). It was that you were still unwell. The tummy troubles were excusable. But the feeling of being on the brink of a sore throat all of the time, wasn’t so cool. And then there was the pseudo ear infection: the pressure near your temples, the popping, yet no congestion at all. You swallowed Vitamin C, did your best to eat vegetable dishes for nutrition, stayed warm, tried to sleep adequately and walk in the sunshine as often as possible.

Maeva, thinking you'd escaped the traffic jam. Oh how wrong you both were...

Maeva, thinking you’d escaped the traffic jam. Oh how wrong you both were…

Later in the morning, Maeva ordered a chai, and you sat doubled over on a sticky bench, feet sliding in chicken shit under the table. Your guts—God, they were a mess. Chai didn’t go down well. Neither did the bunch of bananas you forced yourself to eat.

Hint #2 – You state often how tired you are.

“I am so tired,” you kept saying. It was a plea for Maeva not to encourage a day trip out of the city. You wanted just to rest a bit, even though lying around the room was boring.

You were not just physically tired, but mentally tired. When you’d met that group of Americans and told them you’d been floating for eighteen months and had been to like.. god… something like eighteen countries, you finished with, “I’m very tired. I’m going to Malaysia in a week. I will travel there for a few more, and then I’m going home.” You were counting down the days. You’d been counting since you bought the ticket to Malaysia for $212 before your Base Camp trek.

But you hadn’t been counting the days for Malaysia. You’d been counting for home.

This is pretty much how you look most recently.

This is pretty much how you look most recently.

Hint #3 – You get angry when time doesn’t pass fast enough.

As if a week in Kathmandu wasn’t insufferable enough! What could you do? Just wander the streets every day and look at all the things you wanted to buy but couldn’t because of the strain of shipping/transporting it? You dreamed feverishly of bringing home sacks of tea and spices, soaps, balms, and more. But you couldn’t, because you were not at the end of your trip. Your trip was far from over.

Hint #4 – Shopping feels more therapeutic than usual.

Sure, gifts for friends can come out of a totally different budget. It’s not exactly travel-related for you. But gifts for yourself became an issue. These pants, that shirt, those books. You had stopped shopping for travel needs; you were shopping for the needs of your future life.

Hint #5 – When the batteries are recharged and you still think about home, it’s a good indication to go.

You’d been saying that when the travel batteries are low, you must be careful. Making decisions when tired is never a good idea. Get some good deep rest, sunshine, good food, and then tackle your problems. You’ve noticed on your trip that when the travel batteries are low, you think obsessively about home. But once recharged, you are usually excited for travel again. But recently, even when rested, excitement for home prevails.

That’s when it’s time to go home. Truth. You had begun to resent the calendar. You had begun to resent Malaysia as a barrier to home. As though it stood in your way as a necessity. An arbitrary one, for sure. But you had a ticket! You have to go! You bought the ticket!

“I can’t stop obsessing over the idea of scrapping the entire Malaysia trip and just going home,” you said over lunch. Maeva encouraged this. She had, in fact, been encouraging you to not go to southeast Asia for weeks. You both had known that you didn’t have the energy for it, and yet you’d stubbornly decided to book the trip anyway.

Maeva smoked her post-lunch cigarette and you jiggled in your seat, anxious to rush back to the hotel and jump online for a looksee.

Hint #6 – You stop giving a shit about tickets.

It’s really only happened in college when you were so manically desperate for escape that you would pay one hundred bucks to change your ticket to leave just to leave campus one day earlier. On the way home, you secretly hoped that a ticket to SFO would be outrageously pricey so last-minute, thereby excusing you of any responsibility for decision-making. An expensive ticket would simply make you bite the bullet and go on traveling.

But it wasn’t. That damn ticket was ten bucks cheaper than a ticket from Malaysia to SFO.

That’s when you started to cry. Stupidly. Pathetically. You ran back to your room, brandishing the laptop.

Maeva asked, “What’s wrong? Expensive?”

“No. It’s cheaper!” you whined and thrust the laptop into her hands.

“Well why the hell are you crying?”

“I don’t know!” Silly, but you felt like some kind of travel failure. You knew that your impulse was guided by tummy troubles and a lack of sleep. “This is a terrible time to be making this kind of decision.”

But was it? Or just what pushed you over the edge? Had you not been regularly advancing the date of your return? End of April? Mid-April? End of March? Had you not been secretly consulting Katie’s friends to organize your surprise visit?

You had. Going home, on all accounts, seemed more desirable than continued travel. You bought the ticket. And oddly felt no relief.

"Fuck this game!  I'm out, bitches!"

“Fuck this game! I’m out, bitches!”

Instead of immediately feeling that you’d made the right decision, you felt nothing. You set down the laptop and slid your butt down to the floor. Stared at the bits and pieces of food, sticks, lint, paper and everything else that littered your guest house room floor–tried to find some meaning in them.

Maeva told you it was the right decision. Austerely, sternly. With a “no room for bullshit” expression you so often wear yourself.

You have often wondered about Maeva. Even after six months of being bonded at the hip, she can still leave you wondering. You once asked her, “Do you think you understand me?”

She said, as she should have, “No. I think I know a lot about you, but I still don’t fully understand you. You surprise me sometimes.”

You feel the same way about Maeva. For starters, she never cries. And perhaps you surprise her constantly with your choices in matters you determine worth crying about: like cheap airline tickets, frustrating yoga teachers that judo chop you in the neck, teeny amorous Indian men.

And what does Maeva cry about? Nothing. Ever. She’s too damn tough.

Oh Maeva...

Oh Maeva…

It took a few days for the reality to settle. And then you were shopping like a banshee. Bought kilos and kilos worth of shit: teas, spices, pashminas, soaps, and more. All the things that made this part of the world a famous trade destination in the first place. You totally get it–the intoxicating allure. Things began looking up, but you couldn’t bask in any real feelings of relief.

Probably because you were still pooing liquid three dimes a day and felt like a colony of hamsters was running a marathon through your guts. It really sucks the life out of you. Food no longer looks good, tastes good, smells good. You eat, and then you double over with stomach cramp. Then you get dizzy. Then you scamper to the toilet–which is usually a stinky closet with no light and about 3 ounces of water left in a plastic scum-stained pitcher.

Two days before your departure, you hit rock bottom. It was a day that began with a breakfast ruined by a brass band playing three feet next to your ear outside the window, stomach troubles, an hour-long traffic jam, an outrageously priced entrance fee, weakness and fatigue that left you incapacitated on a stone pathway near a fancy restaurant. The restaurant manager entreated to to please go about your dying around this corner, in the sun, and out of sight. When Maeva resurfaced from the museum you had to skip, you told her, “I think this is what it feels like to die.” You had energy only to lie still, stare at your dehydrated limbs and wonder if you are anemic, jaundiced, or some other off-color ailment.

Back on the bus. Then to your restaurant for dinner. And then… that fucking brass band returned! You wanted to stand up, throw a stool at them. No. You want God to damn every person who has ever considered taking up the trumpet. Was life playing a cruel joke?Why were you being followed by fucking trumpets?!

Then, back in the room, you were too exhausted to do much of anything. Some crappy yoga. Some mindless journal reading. You could just feel your nerves were raw. Your tampon was overflowing. And dear God, you were so thirsty! The beginnings of that sore throat were still there. needed to buy some water. Needed to check the price of tampons… so many imperatives!

Then you smeared your last clothes in grease when you skated by a metal gate. You flipped out at a poor young man who asked you which country you were from. “I don’t want to have this fucking conversation! I’m tired! I’m covered in grease from your gate. I have to answer that fucking question fifty times a day! Enough!”

And the shocked boy said, “Why you angry me?”

You were overrun with guilt. Burst into tears. Maeva assumed you’ve had some kind of death in the family. No.

You were just. Throwing. A. Temper. Tantrum.

Good thing you had a ticket home.

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Brussels in the Snow, Brussels in the Heat: City Camping & Travel Goofs

“Do you know what’s awesome about snow?” Katie asked.  “It’s not rain!”

The two of you scuttled over icy sidewalks on the outskirts of Brussels’ city center.  You were still shaking the dregs of sleep out of your head–that early-morning Ryanair flight had you knocked out the moment that cabin was pressurized.  Only when the intense muscle cramps became unbearable, due to your contorted body, did you awaken and gaze out the window at the blanketed, white landscape many thousands of feet below.

Aaaawww fuck.

A crew member announced that it was -2 degrees Celcius… below freezing.

What did you expect?  Warm?

It’s the middle of January!

At least is wasn’t raining.  Ireland was soaked.  You mean, really soaked.  So wet that even the Irish couldn’t believe it.  Many of the local roads were flooded, and even the on-ramp to the motorway was closed (the very ramp you needed to get to the airport) with a car abandoned in the middle of a small lake.

Wet.

And wet always makes cold feel colder.

At least in Brussels, it’s dry.  But yes, still cold.

So cold that you lamented pathetically when you learned that Katie had abandoned her warm sweat pants back in Ireland.  You’d wanted to wear them under your other pants.  Nope.  You got to freeze under the paper-thin layer of your warmest pants.

On the second day, which was -7 degrees, you were more prepared for the cold.

  • 4 pairs of pants: over your undies, your shorts, your work pants, then your lightweight pants, and then your rain pants.
  • 6 shirts: over your extra broad bra, a smartwool base layer, then a tank top, then another smartwool base layer, then a zipping jumper, then a rain coat, then a t-shirt wrapped around your face and neck.
  • 2 hats: your beanie OVER the top of your cap.
  • 2 pairs of medium-weight wool socks.
  • 1 pair of cloves.

DSC_0048 DSC_0049 DSC_0075

—and you were still uncomfortably (though tolerably) cold.

The snow was falling hard, and walking was more like waddling.  You can’t begin to guess how many (or few) miles you actually trudged through.  The going was cold and slow, but your patience was unlimited (except for moments low perilously low blood sugar).

How on earth did you spend six years in New England!?  When temperatures would drop to well below zero in FAHRENHEIT, and the snow would be feet high?  And frankly, between Seattle and Ireland, one would think you’d be far more acclimated to uncomfortable weather.  What a terrible Viking you are!

This trip to Brussels was not your first.  It was actually your fourth.  You are reminded of the last time you were here, back in July of 2009 with Alexis.  That was when you were still a young traveler.

Just as you did with Katie this time around, you did with Alexis.  You landed in the Charleroi airport in the morning.  You sat in some chairs after packing your bags correctly, and ate your Sli Na Bande on-the-go egg and cheese sandwiches as you mentally prepared for what was to come.

On foot, you exited the little airport and begin thumbing your way toward Ghent.  Your first lift dropped you on the northern edge of the ring road around the city.

“Should we get going on to Ghent?”

“Well, since we’re here, why don’t we dip into Brussels and check it out for an hour or so, and then head out towards Ghent.”

Why not?

Little did you know that it would be a near two-hour walk in the sweltering sun to get to the city center.  Remember that little old lady–too eager to be helping you–ambling rapidly behind you–flanking you the whole time; you’d been utterly convinced that she was some unassuming professional gypsy pickpocket.  You finally had to shake her.

Jesus, the sun that day…  merciless.  You sweat through your shirt and the straps of your backpack soaked up your salty fluids like a sponge.

But you made it to the Grande Place–Brussels’ most famous post-card-worthy tourist attraction. Alexis marveledat the square, and you again were delighted to be there.

The two of you sat at one of the outdoor tables and ordered a Trappist beer and a Belgian waffle.  That’s when the journals came out–and that’s when you gave birth to the 10 euro per day budget.

You weren’t sure how it happened.  You’d been out and about on the European continent before–by yourself.  Twice.  The first time, you did Belgium and France, mostly wwoofing.  The second, you did a multi-city couchsurfing tour.  5 weeks.  Well below 10 euros per day.

You suppose you’d simply regarded the bill on the table and reasoned that the luxury was a first-time experience, and worth every penny.  What, with the effort of walking into the city from the ring road, the ambience and the company… worth it.  Alexis savored her artisan beer and you thought back to the letter you’d sent her while alone and abroad.  The random, lonely phone call to her from deep in the mountains of Slovakia.  The words written, the Kundera references.

The message: traveling alone, while empowering and full of adventure and the unknown, is not preferable to traveling with someone you love.  Someone with whom, years later, you can share all those memories with again.  Forever.  So yes, 10 euros, while well above what you were accustomed to spending, seemed like a reasonable amount to spend every day.  An amount to keep you sufficiently rugged and honest, and still enough to enjoy the most costly aspects of foreign culture.

You knew–no, thought–at the time that she was someone you’d never let go.  You knew you could say, “Hey! remember when we soaked ourselves in sweat when we thought we’d just dip into the city center of Brussels and then make it out and go to see something else?”

If you were still on speaking terms, you’d say to her, “Wasn’t it hilarious!  After that beer and waffle?  The walking all over the place under the weight of our way-too-heavy bags?  That nap we took in the Park of Brussels, when we woke up and realized our light was fading.  The hours of walking back out the way we came in?  The realization that we would have to camp somewhere!  Yeah, we found that polluted little patch of trees not to far off from the motorway on ramps, and we were looking every which way for rubbish and vagrancy.

“Remember the first time we pitched that over-priced piece of shit tent of ours–yeah, that one with the janky front porch that induced anxiety every time we put it up?  Remember how small it was?  How we couldn’t figure our how to fit ourselves and our bags inside?  And we had no sleeping mats at all!  We were rolling around on our pounding, sore hip sockets, trying to find comfortable positions, and then some jackass in the neighborhood thought it would be great to set of firecrackers, but in our sleepy, paranoid minds, we thought there was a homicidal maniac with a semi-automatic weapon coming for us just through the trees…

“Our very first camping experience inside a city was in Brussels.  We woke the next morning and thought we could pack up, buy some breakfast, and then hitch hike out.  Only within 20 minutes of walking, I became too weak to continue.  And so we found a tiny little corner store and scored some bread and bananas, and I fell asleep in your lap on that bench while you patiently read a book.  The sun got too hot, so we moved half a mile to a nearby park and rested in the shade.  I was completely out of commission.  I passed out again and slept for 3 or 4 hours, simply recovering from the previous day’s walking!  You woke me as the sun was going down, and told me that we needed to do something.  Like, have a plan!  So we sprung for a restaurant meal at some Chinese place, in order to get the most bang for our buck.  We licked those plates clean!

“And we camped again in those dodgy, polluted trees.  All because we were total travel novices.”

Amazingly, you didn’t even bother to take out your camera and document a single moment of that whole fiasco.

Oh Brussels…

Katie might wonder whether you are bored, seeing this city for the fourth time.  But you know that you can look fondly over at her and say, “Hey,remember how I lost all of our maps on our very first day of travel on the continent?  Yes.  All of them.  And remember how we failed to set our watched back one hour, and arrived desperately late at our host’s flat? Remember the next day when I wore every article of clothing I owned and we waddled for hours in the driving snow to find a supermarket that turned out to be closed, and then to another shopping street, only to remember that everything is closed on a snowy Sunday? Remember how amazing that cup of coffee was?  Because 2 euros buys a beverage, a biscuit, a heater, and unlimited use of the restrooms.  I could have sat there all day and written in my journal if I hadn’t been too cheap to buy myself another coffee.”

Little makes you happier than caffeine-induced inspiration after a long day’s walk in a foreign city.

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Fred Mertz’ Triumphant Return!

Your truck broke down on the Idaho-Oregon border.  It broke your bank account.  It took almost every last cent for you to get your truck towed, serviced, and transported to Seattle, your home town.

You hadn’t seen your family in three years.  Hadn’t properly communicated with you ailing father, your ailing siblings, your ailing mother–anyone (and why is everyone ailing!?).  You suppose it was high time you put back into your family, shoulder a little responsibility for them, do a little work, and, well SPEND A LITTLE TIME with them.

…and get a job, because you were broke.

The job part was easy.  Working for a pay check was interesting, and you remembered quickly that money makes you stupid.  Money makes you wasteful.

What have you been up to?  What have you accomplished?  Who are you, Maria?  Where do you live?  How did you manage that?

You worked, you squatted, you ate other people’s hospitality. Sure, you bought your own gas, bought much of your own food, saw some expensive shows, went to parties, drank part of your pay check, wasted other parts at R.E.I.  Money makes you stupid.

You slept at Dan and Ryan’s house, you crashed down town, you squatted 6 weeks at the top of West Seattle, moved into your sister’s new house for 10 days, spent a couple nights at your mother’s, and finally wound up on a paid stay in a B & B–but you, being as courteous as you are, somehow so thoroughly charmed your B & B mom hat she has taken you into her house for FREE (it was her idea).  You’ve been there a month.

You’ve quit your job.  You’re ready to run.  But it’s not that easy.

Most people fear picking up and leaving due to lack of security–or a lack of a plan.  You fear it out of intimidation. There is too much to do, to many places to see, too little time, and too little money.

Too little money, too little reassurance.  Your bank account got slammed by hidden shipping fees and costs of life.  You’ve tearfully agreed to part ways from Alexis; it’ like cutting off your right hand.  You have the whole god damn world in front of you, and no idea how to begin.

You have $4,500 to spend.  That’s it.  Your air fare will be the greatest cause for concern. With the plan you have in mind, you can literally afford to fly to the destinations you desire, but will have only $1,500 to LIVE on.  That might stretch as long as 4 months at 10$/10 euro per day.  You’re going to have to make it on LESS.  A lot less.

You might try to stretch $1,500 over 6-8 months.  If you plan to fly to AUSTRALIA… after visas, hostels, wwoof memberships, unforeseen expenses, you will be broke as a joke.

And what’s up with your plan to snowshoe in the Laplands?  Where did that come from?

Are you prepared to go back on your starvation diet of *laugh out loud* 2,000 calories a day, just to cut your food costs?

Are you prepared to forego the privilege of eating 99% of your meals in a chair?

Are you prepared to do this alone again?

And if you fly as far as the southern hemisphere, are you prepared to remain alone for at least 4 months?

And if you don’t, are you prepared to spend another winter in Europe, only this time ON THE ROAD, and risk getting pneumonia again?

Or will you throw caution to the wind, risk malaria, dysentery, and fly to India?

Life is fucking complicated.  You’ve had dozens of people tell you they envy you; they wish they could just pick up and leave, uproot and go on an adventure.  They don’t understand that it comes at another cost besides all the obvious ones: you’re alone.

Your relationships with people are so fleeting, so impermanent.  You meet hundreds of awesome people, and several of them are strong connections.  You think, “In another life, we’d remain friends.  We’d be hanging out.  We’d have inside jokes.  We’d confide in each other regularly.”

But you’re in and out too fast, and people who do not live your lifestyle get left behind.  You know your presence is too fleeting to reach out too far, and you realize you end up relating your feelings indiscriminately to just about anyone who will listen because you can’t take your support group with you (tech-savy individuals might argue otherwise, as their entire social network is in the palm of their hand).

So off you go, on your own.  You’ll meet people along the way.  Who knows what will happen.  This blog will be your primary means of communicating back to the world.  You’re off to take photos, and to write–to document your stories.

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Back In Action!

04/04/10

Fred Mertz went on the verge of being broke. Going home to America turned out to be vastly more expensive than you could have dreamed. Okay, so you had a little extra cash from working in Ireland, and from selling your stuff. It all got pissed away. 350 bucks to renew your personal training certification. 675 for a cap for the truck. 400 for a full truck service. Another 100 for truck storage. 36 bucks a month for liability insurance. Occasional hits for gas and food (250). Oh, and you still have not converted your euros into dollars… so your bank account is paltry. You left Woburn, MA with about 2,000 bucks. No problem. You can travel for at least 4 months on that, provided that NOTHING goes wrong with the truck. But that has already been proved impossible.

But first, a debriefing on what has transpired in the last couple months.

Muse Concert in Boston (AMAZING)/ Go-Karting races against your pal Rebecca and her friends from Harvard grad school/ hitting the YMCA gym every day, often twice a day, and getting into the most ridiculous shape of your life (85lb Turkish Get-up!)/ taking Neil on his shopping trips to Walmart, etc./ trail running in the fells/ hiking Mt. Monadnock in the snow/ walking downtown Boston and finding out you have to pay 12 bucks to cross a tiny rope at the top of the Prudential center/ laughing your ass off to Zerophilia/ getting hooked on Reddit/ going to the dyke bar and meeting the Alpha female/ taking a trip to NYC and walking everywhere/ seeing Cat and Taft and Christine/ going to the top of Taft’s building and seeing into the Big Dig/ walking the Brooklyn bridge/ training Alexis’ baby brother, trying to get him into shape for football/ feeding a family of 6 an 90% organic diet on 140 dollars a week/ urban exploring in an abandoned mental hospital/ family dinners at granny’s/ lunches at the 99/ taking the most embarrassing shower of your life…

And now that you are up to speed… you and Neil escaped Woburn and headed to New Hampshire to the White Mountains, where you hiked and saw the Franconia Notch, as well as a neat ice-covered gorge. It was closed, but you took off your shoes and started walking up the stream bed before the daggers of pain in you feet were too much to bear.

The next day, you snow-shoed near Mt. Washington, in Tuckerman’s Ravine, and had one of the best moments of your life, standing in the center of a giant snow-covered basin, walled in by ice and being blasted by wind. It was all you could do to balance your camera on a rock, sprint in your snowshoes against the wind, and jump into the photo (of just you) before the shutter release. The day after, you found yourselves caught in a heinous rainstorm, which followed you all the way into Maine, down the coast, and back to the house. Another week at Lex’s house, and then you were really off! For good!

1) 20 minutes into the trip, you got pulled over for something minor. No ticket, but not a good sign. 2) Your indicator was broken. Oh well. You drove all the way to the tip of the Cape and showed Alexis and Neil Provincetown during the off-season. Charming, but not that exciting, given the time of year, and you later learned that rain was forecasted for the next three days.

They didn’t tell you it was like, the Storm of the Century. Your truck was caught in the shittiest weather, and rain soaked pretty much everything. Being damp and cold all the time was terrible. You tried to make the best of it, and embrace the elements. You went running barefoot on the beach in the rain, and later charged across the mansion-studded cliffs of Newport, RI, rain and wind whipping your face mercilessly. Generally speaking, you were okay, but your travel companions were more subdued. Many hours were passed in Walmart, McDonalds, and Starbucks. You purchased a game of travel Scrabble, and that has become a nightly ritual before your bedtime of 9pm.

You told the gang to look on the bright side. That the trip was starting out HARD, but could only get easier…. right? 3) your bass speaker stopped working, which really PISSED you off. 4) while driving in the downpour, your windshield wipers decided very suddenly to STOP WORKING. You panicked, pulled over to the side of the road, and also knew that 5) your hazard lights don’t work. Shit, shit shit! What to do. You slowly rolled down the road, head out the window at times, and found a mechanic who let you dry out in his office while he repaired the loose ground-wire for the wipers, and put in a new circuit board for the indicator. By then, you were way off budget, by 23 dollars (Neil spilt the cost of the repairs).

But, YAY! Everything was working again, and you went to Newport. Later in the evening, your truck started to cough, and hiccup, and sputter. Slightly at first, but then more and more. What was going on? Why? Why this, on top of the rain and everything? You tried to escape the region as fast as you could. The roads had flooded (record rainfall in the area over the past three days) and cars were abandoned. Your truck coughed all the worse, and you finally pulled into a gas station for the night.

In the morning, the problem was worse. You sputtered your way to a Shell station in the middle of nowhere, where a mechanic scanned your engine and found nothing wrong. He checked for vacuum leaks–nothing. He looked at the fuel filter: brand new. There was nothing he thought he could do without spending more time with it, but the station was flooded by all the little cars that koncked out during the rain storm.

You drove on. Made your way to Connecticut, to New Haven, and gave Neil of tour of Yale University. It had been at least three years since you set foot on that campus. As you gave him the grand tour, you were in awe of your own school, and couldn’t believe that you actually went there. Big Dan called you via Alexis’ phone, and you thanked him for telling you to take up rowing as a sport.

After it all, you grabbed a gourmet sandwich from Atticus and thenyou drove up to Hamden to hike the Sleeping Giant.

The rain had finally stopped, and the roads were drying out. The car started to run a little better, but not much. The next day, the truck drove like complete shit, and you were scared to death for her. You pulled into another service station and stated the problem. You walked out with a stupid little bottle of alcohol and anti-freeze, which you dumped into the tank and hoped for the best. As the truck was warming, it ran better, and you put the problem out of your mind in order to go hiking. Except suddenly Neil had to go to a doctor because he’d gone deaf (had lost a ear bud IN his ear, which he pulled out with great effort, but which rendered him quite hard of hearing). You had some insanely good luck and got a walk-in appointment with a local doctor in the mountains, who fixed him right up. The rest of the day was spent hiking Mt. Tremper in the Catskills region of New York State. When done, you spent the rest of the afternoon in a dark park with about 20 dogs, and Alexis stayed in the truck to read.

Day 2 in the Catskills, the truck was so bad, you thought surely she wouldn’t get you OUT of the region, but her congestion cleared up in about 20 minutes. You hiked Mt. Peekamoose tat day, which took 5.5 hours, and was quite covered in snow.

Day 3, you blew out the gunk in the truck in about 7 minutes, revving her engine at a stand-still. She cooperated. You drove to a new location. The sun was shining hard, and you were all a little sunburned. You put your mind to things and fixed the problem with your bass speaker (bad connectivity to the battery). The three of you had a SENSATIONAL hike up to North Point, which offered incredible views for 360 degrees and took abotu 5 hours. During that hike, you made the acquiantance of Kerry and Robin, who where from Manhattan, but came to the Catskills every weekend. The told you to drop by their place.

And you did. Easter Sunday, you drove out of the mountains down to the Hudson River. Spent some time organizing your lives in a Walmart parking lot (Walmart, at that point, had become home-bbase, as McDonalds has been in Europe). You arrived at Kerry and Robins riverside home at around noon, and spend the afternoon in remarkable company. They took you kayaking, eagle-watching, made food, offered you showers, and gave regaled you with tales of their travels and lives. They had very good information about what roads to take en route to Seattle, what times of year to see things, which parks were just “okay” and which were “sensational.”

The three of you started to get REALLY excited. Truly. Even Neil, on his day off from hiking (after four consecutive days) missed it.

And to top it all off… this morning, you started the truck, and she only coughed ONCE!

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Oh La La Baguette Baguette

August 26th, 2009

Yes, annoying that these updates are so few and far between, and that they are completely outdated by the time they are posted online.

Paris was awesome, and after you left Edouard’s house, you embarked on a new type of adventure. How to live on the road, in a tent, for 9 days in a row, with no laundry, no showers, no toilets, no modern-day comforts? In fact, in all you road-side camping experience, you never had to do so more than two nights.

No fear! You and Alexis handled it well. Too well, as you went for a tour in the Loire Valley in order to see the chateaus, but later losing interest and finding more excitement in the local Touraine valley wine.

You made your way south to the Chateau Chambord. More stunning than the second time you saw it, since you got to see it at sunset. You and Alexis shuffled a few hundred meters away from the chateau, jumped off the footpath into the neithboring trees, and pitched your tent. Camping so near the chateau and foot traffic was unnerving, to say the least, and as you tried to calm yourselves by reading a few pages out load of Anna Karinena, you were stopped several times by unidentifiable noises–snapping twigs, wildlife, dropping acorns… no, none of it could be attributed to approaching people, but your imaginations frequently get the best of you. It wasn’t until loads of noise overwhelmed your senses that you frantically put out the light and remained inmobile, in terrified silence. You stared wide-eyed at each other, through the darkness, when you suddenly heard low, ascending tones from the distance. Tones rising in pitch and voulme. “We’re going to be abducted by aliens!” Alexis rasped, trying to surpress nervous and confused laughter. Your curiosity won over. You squirmed back into your trousers, unzipped the tent, and went out for a look. As the music became so loud, more meoldic, and somewhat deafening, Alexis was compelled to join you.

No, no aliens. In fact, the chateau has a light show it plays on the weekend against the face of the edifice—a symphony of sorts—and you happened to choose to camp within perfect private (and FREE (saved 18 euro)) distance of it. It was by far the best light show you have ever seen, demolishing all the productions you have seen in Disneyland. Plus, you were viewing outdoors, under a clear, dark sky—so perfect you could see the edges of the Milky Way.

The next day, you paid the 9.50 euro to enter the Chateau. It was another, “Excuse me, is this castle worth paying for?” moment. And it certainly was. You won’t bother to describe this work of art, the construction of which spanned over 200 years. The project was started by a man who said, “If you are too concerned with the idea of completing something, you’ll never start anything.”

After the Chateau, you hiked 24km to the next-nearest chateau town, Cheverny. With your backpacks, it took nearly 5 hours, and you learned that Alexis’ fierce endurance and long legs could make you feel like a little girl trying to keep up with Daddy on a day he takes you downtown. Yes, you were practically jogging next to her, the last two hours, trying to match her stride. 5 hours on the highway, baking in the sun, dehydrated and delerious with fatigue, you decided to reward yourselves with a bottle of wine. Thus began your love affair with wine.

Chateaus are beautiful, but Chambord was the cream of the crop. You couldn’t justify paying 9 euros for another chateau, when you could by several bottles of wine for the same price. You busied yourselves for the next week laying around in fields, sampling wine, eating baguettes and cheese, recovering from the hikes, swimming in the River Cher 2-3 times a day, sneaking into campsites for showers… night time skinny dipping, sleeping in a corn field, working out in your underwear in a field (Alexis would like to make it clear that SHE was appropriately dressed). You saw St. Aignon, Montrichard, Cheverny (you hiked to all of them, one by one, eating wild cherries, peaches, apples, blackberries, and plums the whole way). It was awesome and relaxing. The weather was stunning and you have tanned darker than you have ever been in your life.

At last, it was time to hitch hike up north to Normandy, in order to meet up with your friend Manon, with whom you worked in Ireland. On the 23rd of August, you had the WORST day of hitch hiking of your life. What was the deal? Everyone in France was coming back from vacation. You were stuck in Tours, walked down the motorway over the Loire River, people honking angrily at you for marching along the narrow shoulder, over a gorge, in the wind, pleading with your pathetically small sign, feeling underfed and dehydrated because non of the shops were open on Sunday. A man saw you, jerked his car over immediately, and told you to “Get in! What you are doing is SO dangerous!” He drove you 80km out of his way to Le Mans. There, you were abandoned at a toll booth, where you stood nearly an hour and not a single person would give you a lift. So back onto the motorway you went… walking 3-4 km without a single person pulling over. The sun beat down on your heads, you staggered with sore blistered feet and thought to yourself that you had been through worse, but could not really come up with an example (spring training trip to Florida with the crew team?).

A highway security vehical passed you in the opposite direction, honked his admonishment. You jumped over the barrier, beckoned Alexis to follow you. “A security guard just honked at us. I think we are going to get yelled at. Come sit over here in the bushes in the shade. We’ll take a break.” You sat together, feeling completely dejected, knowing you were 8 km from the nearest rest stop. No food, but at least you had enough water. You tried to keep a positive attitude.

When at least, you saw the security vehical approaching in your direction, you said, “Oh boy, here we go. He’s found us.” Alexis panicked. “What?! Oh my god, are we going to get in trouble? What do we do?” You shrugged. “I’m just going to sit here,” you said stubbornly. “If he wants to find us, well he can come find us. I’m not going anywhere.”

The security guard decked in neon yellow came strolling through the tall, burnt grass. You pushed yourself to your feet, appeared from your shady spot, and sheepishly greeted him, “Bonjour!” He proceeded to tell you that hitck hiking was prohibited on the autoroute. You played dumb, like you didn’t understand the word “interdit.” You explained that you were having bad luck that day, that you decided to walk the 8km to the rest stop, since otherwise you would be trapped at the toll booth. He said he could take you there. As you coralled Alexis, two members of the gendarmerie pulled up on motorcycles. Wonderful. You were given a lecture by a stern cop. “Hitch hiking on the motorway is prohibited.” “Yeah, this guy already explained that to me,” you said, already fed up with the man’s desire to play tough cop. You walked away from him and got into the security guard’s van. The man drove you to the rest stop, and you chatted with him like a stupid little girl the entire way, feigning your innocence, claiming that it was all a misunderstanging (not really true) and bad luck (certainly true).

After he dropped you at the service area, the two of you remained there for four hours, failing to persuade anyone to give you a lift. There was immense confusion regarding whether you were even facing the correct direction, whether you didn’t look cute enough, clean enough, positive enough… you continued in the sun, laughing harder and harder in order to stave off tears of frustration. As the sun was low in the sky, to Britsh women offered you a ride out of there, and you jumped into the car excitedly. Thrilled to get out of that nightmare of an area, thrilled to be able to speak English again.

It was unfortunate that you were still two hours away from Manon’s house when the ladies dropped you off, and you were unable to continue. You had to pitch your tent in the dark, on the outskirts of a city. Climbed over a barbed wire fence and slept in the corner of what you thought was a cattle field. Woke up repeatedly in the night, terrified by the violent noises made by the cattle in the neighboring field. When you are a in a half sleep, your imaginations get the best of you. You thought you would be trampled by angry bulls, attacked by farm dogs, chased off the land by french farmers wielding flaming baguettes. But none of that happened. You made it through the night, hithc hiked the rest of the way to Manon’s house (though you were at the end of your endurance, for the previous week of walking in worn-out hiking shoes left your toes so blistered and infected that it could scarcely bear weight. You altered your stride to accommodate the pain, which fucked up all your muscles and ligaments in your legs and now you are hobbling around like a crippled person). At least, that day, hitch hiking was seamlessly easy—the universe’s way of apologizing for the day before.

Things you have learned in the past two weeks:
1)The French do Bread Runs the same way Americans do beer runs. In fact, they are freakin’ fanatical about their baguettes. “French-french-french-bla-bla-oh-la-la-baguette-baguette.”
2)You are not housebroken.
3)There is such thing as the Perfect Moment.
4)Homeless people are very aggressive.
5)Milan Kundera is a prophet of Fleckenism.
6)McDonalds is the hot spot.
7)France is the land that keeps on giving. Rivers, sunsets, starry skies, fruit trees, cheap wine, beutiful architecture, art, philosophy, cheese, fromage, and long live the baguette!
8)Mon Canon is a heartbreaker.
9)Alexis can speak French!
10)Magnum ice cream bars are BETTER than Haagen Daaz bars.
11)Normandy butter is delicious. Calvadar is also delicious. And an Embuscade (meaning: an Ambush) is the delicous grenadine-falvored Caen version of the Long Island Ice Tea..

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Silence.

It’s not that you don’t want to update…

It’s that you don’t feel like it. Hmmm… or nothing really happened. Nothing of interest. but that’s not really true either. After your trip to the UK, you had only a few days to get the house in Ireland in order to prepare for the group of 37 Belgian students that you would be hosting for a week. No big deal. Wasn’t THAT much work.

That is a lie. It really was, all the way up to their arrival, and then non-stop work through the week. Up in the morning with a hangover, roll into the kitchen to help prepare breakfast, go to the chalet to lead workout sessions, back to breakfast to wash dishes, make lunch, drink copious amounts of coffee, squeeze in training sessions for yourself, Jane, and Neil, and start drinking again at 5pm. Wow, it was your last week in Ireland, and you thought to make your best alcoholic effort. Something like 8 consecutive days of drinking, and in spite of the minor beer belly that resulted, you don’t regret a moment of it. Good times, good laughs, good bonding moments with the members of the family, and memorable jokes with what turned out to be the best combination of Wwoofers so far. You (USA), Griet (Belgium), Justin (Canada), Manon (France), Bethany -aka- Eggsalad (USA) laughed your heads off, played Kings (I’m sure the French girls from the summer remember it well), and bombed on peanuts, crisps, and Marlene’s homemade chips. You passed out at 8pm, woke up at half one, and realized you still hadn’t packed. Your area in the attic had been thus far a nuclear blast of dirty clothes, garbage, and art supplies. Try packing quietly half drunk with four sleeping people in the attic. Not easy. But you managed, and found that you had once again unsuccessfully managed to lighten your load. You left well over 1/3 of your clothes and still couldn’t really fit all the gear into the bag. Jesssus….

All really boring updates here, so you’ll get to the point. You are in Belgium now, staying with Griet, who took you for a walk along a beach in Holland, then to Bruges yesterday–and it is like a fucking fairytale (not a bad movie either, if you enjoy watching Irish people take the piss out of Belgians–and a fine job they do!). You stopped for coffee at a chocolate bar and slipped briefly into ecstasy (not quite as nice as Starbucks, but the truffles made up for it). After ALMOST going the whole of Lent without dessert of processed sugar, it was a nice treat. After your Dutch lesson in a neighbouring forest (Griet turns out to be an excellent teacher), and after returning home, you went on a pleasant bike ride, followed by a quick run, followed by glasses of wine by a creek in the middle of the greenest field on the planet. Met one of Griet’s best friends and had some interesting chit-chat. The best part of this whole changeover is that your bed on the couch looks out through a full wall of bay windows, which overlook a green cow-filled field hugged by mist. In the morning, it is so bright (the woodwork in this house is so light is is like a beach house), you think you are overlooking the sea. But no, you are in the middle of farmland here. The quietest farmland EVER. You have not slept so hard in 6 months. Really. Hangover from sleep. Or maybe you are so exhausted from drinking during the Week of the Belgians. Who knows. It is dead silent. Placid. Unbelievably calm.

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Scorried Enthusiosity

…that’s the name of the trip. Words coined by you and Neil, as you were hiking the Sugar Loaf mountain in Wicklow Co. Neil mentioned that he was “a combination of scared, worried, enthusiastic, and curious,” about your upcoming trip to the UK. “Scorried Enthusiosity?” you asked.

What was there to be scared about? Nothing, really, besides wondering how long you would be able to tolerate each other’s stench after days upon days of hiking, exploring, sleeping in the back of the car, and sweating. And you are a cheap sonofabitch, so you worried he might not like the “way you roll”–that is, spending virtually no money. But he held his own, eating out of grocery stores with you, in the back of the car, sleeping with his legs lofted on the spare tire.

Your first stop off the ferry was completely random. You saw a sign with a little picture of a castle, exclaimed, “Castle!” and veered off the motorway. It might have been a thirty minute detour, and you both had your doubts, but upon reaching the town of Beaumaris, you were not disappointed. As it turned out, of all the possible castles you could have chosen at random, Beaumaris is apparently the best—the biggest castle commissioned by Edward I. You don’t like paying for things, or seeing things that demand an admission fee in general, but—as the gift shop girl who claimed to be an historian claimed—it was well worth the money. The pictures say it all.

Second stop was Snowdonia National Park in Wales. The original plan was to hike Mt. Snowdon, which is the tallest peak in Wales, but a woman older than the mountain warned you against it (it was already too late in the day to start). You found the mountain, but right next door was another—EVEN BETTER—mountain, which you affectionately named Mt. Miner. It was an abandoned quarry, totally fenced off to the public. But you and Neil are the deviant adventurous types. You crossed under the barbed wire and into the quarry, then ran up the side of the mountain, up old tram tracks, dilapidated shanties, and sliding rock faces. Again, the pictures say it all.

The second day was gay—in a bad way. You basically sat in a car the entire day. Traffic, and a misguided adventure to a site in New York State and NOT the UK (you wound up touring a mildly satisfying science museum). But after crossing into Scotland from England, the roads opened up, and so did the terrain. Sort of an interesting drive through the hills, past fields of sheep and (not bison!), long-haired cows. Slept in Edinburgh on the pier, peed behind the apartment buildings.

Day three: Edinburgh castle. Nice looking from the outside, but your going to be honest, really isn’t worth the ten quid to see the inside. Very unsatisfying. You basically felt like you were in Disneyland—in an overly re-furbished castle playing the Braveheart theme really hard, with clay statues, walk-through attractions, and a guy who barked at you after you attempted to steal a picture of the Crown Jewels. The two of you left, disenchanted, and went back to the car. Now what?

Good question. You parked outside a residence, stole wireless internet, and researched the only other thing you wanted to do on the trip: derelict buildings. There was an abandoned bunker in Edinburgh, left from the 50s. It took forever to find, but turned into the highlight of the trip (sorry Mt. Miner!). The bunker was fenced off and left for dead. You found a hole in the fence, crawled through, and had a photographic orgasm. Graffiti, broken bottles, old tires, camp fires, shit-stained toilet paper, rusted wire, and tossed spray paint cans, the colors of which were unidentifiable, save what could be seen in the myriad of artworks covering every sun-splashed surface. You and Neil kicked through the garbage, ducked into the gutted rooms, took in a visual feast, and frowned when you saw that there was far more to the bunker than met the eye. What was available to “the public,” otherwise known as vandals and vagabonds, were a few trashed out rooms that still enjoyed sunshine through holes in the roofs and walls. An ominous locked door barred your entry to the mystery of the other innumerable chambers. It also appeared that a couple decades ago, every conceivable hole in a wall granting access had been sealed off with sheet metal or concrete. Stuck.

You, however, are not so easily dissuaded. You re-entered a previously explored room, searching for exposed air ducts or missed holes. And you found one, high in the wall and well over your head. You hoisted yourself up for a look and could see nothing. So, with your torso through the wall and your legs still dangling—knees and hips scraping along the brick—you held your camera out, hit the button, and watched the flash illuminate rooms and corridors beyond. Majorly creepy. The discomfort became too much. You slid out of the hole, down the wall, hit the floor and wiped your sooty hands. This hole was the only access into the building, and it was impossible to fit through; the smallest hole that doubtlessly would dump you head-first into a pitch-dark, garbage-laden nest probably chalk full of Nazi zombies (you played way too much Call of Duty 5).

Too small? Never! And you were about as graceful and nimble as a cat, twisting and contorting—scraping and scratching—your body in impossibly tight jeans. Lo and behold, you managed to turn the whole of your body while perched in the hole so you would not plummet head first. You slid into the darkness, then bellowed for your camera.

There is something rather terrifying about walking through pitch darkness and going by the dim light of your camera menu screen. Now and again, you hit the shutter button, sending out a flash. You would catch a brief glimpse of your surroundings, and then only blackness. Ever seen I Am Legend with Will Smith? He goes into the dark, abandoned building and finds a circle of panting zombies… yeah, well, all you could think about he entire time was the possibility of a flash of light catching a human figure—some psychopath, a homeless person, or a junkie ready to stab you to death for some spare change. And if not that, then some putrid, rotting corpse, or maybe the bones of some dead dog. (Knowing how difficult it had been to access the interior of the bunker, you wondered when the last time someone had even been in there.) Jesus, your imagination was going nuts, and you dared not go too far. With each camera flash, a few dozen steps. Pause. Flash. Step-step-step. You could hear Neil calling after you, stuck on the other side of the wall, as he didn’t have the same height as you, which had enabled you to make it through the hole in the first place.

The more you explored, the scarier it got. The deeper, the darker (not really. It was pitch black to begin with), and the more dangerous. Your camera went on the fritz, left you hanging in your inky surroundings too long, and you freaked and retreated, smashed your head against a low hanging rust-covered something-or-other (you managed to hit the flash and catch the shower of rust); eventually you stumbled back to where Neil was trying in vain to get through the hole. You implored him to get through—you really wanted to explore, but you didn’t have the nerve to go alone.

Neil would not be left behind. He’s been attempting to kick through the iron barriers, the locked doorways… but nothing. At long last, he found a cinder block and smashed it continuously around the access hole for 20 minutes, until he’d taken away two rows of bricks—thereby making it lower and larger. You hadn’t thought it was possible… after all, it was a bunker, designed to protect soldiers from nuclear blasts… but not from a determined Neil wielding a cinder block. He joined you after just as gracelessly descending from the hole.

Together, using two camera’s and a mobile phone, you illuminated your path just enough to avoid major pits, weak points, and pools of murky water. You traveled down a long tunnel, deep underground, and through labyrinthine hallways, rooms, and stairwells. Months ago, you read The House Of Leaves (very good read) and so could imagine the layout of the bunker shifting, expanding, and shrinking in response to your malaise.

You spent almost two hours exploring the bunker, finally finding yourself spit out at the bottom of hill, out the back door, far, far from where you’d started. You were covered in cuts, dirt, and grime, and the bottom of Neil’s trousers were soaked with mud. The sad thing about the back door was that the amount of effort it took to get through the access hole had been for nothing. But, then again, the back door was so far out of the way, totally secluded, and still within a fenced off area… maybe very few locals knew about it after all.

You returned to the car, left Edinburgh, and headed for Glasgow. You suppose you hadn’t had enough. There were other abandoned buildings. Once in Glasgow, after the sun had gone down, the two of you located an abandoned warehouse in a sketchy part of town—a warehouse that loomed five stories high and overlooked other derelict yards. You’ll kick yourself for months over the fact that you left your camera battery charger in Ireland, because your camera died only a few shots into the adventure, and Neil’s phone battery threatened to leave you stranded in the warehouse littered with the stiff bodies of pigeons and sounding with the scurrying of rats. No more camera, no more fun. And the worst part of all, the last picture you wanted to take: a yard full of old tires, a moldy mattress, weeds… with a cluster of blooming flowers right in the middle of all that sadness. You couldn’t capture it.

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Looking So Hot

It’s been a while since you have written, but not because you have had any shortage of things to say. Picking up where you left off…

…shortly after chasing pigs through the graveyard, you had yourself a little accident. Nothing too serious, and thankfully nothing that required hospitalization. You’d lately been occupying your time stealing trees from the forestry and chopping timber. One snowy afternoon, you took the axe and wheelbarrow, headed into the forestry, and hoped to collect another load. Long story short, after chopping though a branch, the separated piece rebounded off the chopping block, or the axe, or god-knows-what, spun through the air, and struck you squarely in the nose. BAM! Dazed, you stepped back, then felt the blood come a-gushing.

Broken? You weren’t sure. Gingerly touched at your nose, tried to see if it moved, if it felt chunky–if the blood was internal or external. Unclear. You needed a specialist: Angus, who’d already had his nose busted numerous times. Held your face and hoofed it back to the house, coughing mouthfuls of blood along the way because the stuff wouldn’t stop pouring out of your face. Who HAPPENED to be at the gaff? Angus. The very man you wanted to see. Shocked, appalled, though not surprised, he helped you doctor your face took you to the chemist to buy some butterfly plasters, and upon entering, threw his arms victoriously into the air and exclaimed, “I won!” The chemist asked you what happened, and you said you fell down the stairs.

You got lucky. Could have lost an eye, or knocked out a number of teeth. Instead, just a crescent-shaped gash on your nose, and two black eyes. Very sexy. Every day Marlene remarked how awful you looked; awful not just because youhad two black eyes, but because you were also covered in cuts and bruises from the last weeks’ work. What can you say? That’s how you roll. You did your darndest to clean yourself up for Alexis’ arrival. But the family admonished you for looked “awful.” Okay, fine, a shower, a shampoo, and a comb-through… a band new you. You met Alexis at the bus stop, nearly knocked her over with a hug, and then heard her ask in horror what on earth had happened to your face.

Cuts heal. No big deal.

Having Alexis stay for two weeks was nothing short of amazing. Practically life-altering. You were reminded of all the good things of your other life–the one back in the States–and really warmed you to the idea of returning sooner, rather than later.

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A Knack For Getting Yourself Into Weird Situations

Well, it’s true. Today, you lassoed a pig in a graveyard–and since you drank coffee before bed and are suffering from insomnia, you will do a poor job of writing this adventure.

It was just another day. The pigs got out again. Nothing unusual about that, though still entirely inexcusable. Edouard and Maria had escaped, only this time they’d left the property and had started turning up the soil in the graveyard. This was bad news. The city council would be very upset.

You grabbed a can of corn and starting shaking it to gain the pigs’ attention, to see through which hole they’d escaped. And you found it. It just so happened that while you were squeezing though this small hole in the fence between the edge of the farm and the graveyard, belly down on the ground, a family had come to pay respects to a long-buried relative. Perhaps a father, two grown-up daughters, and grandma. Who knows? But they were surprised to see you pop out of the ground. When you’d gained your feet, you apologized for the pigs. Told them you were doing what you could to get them out of there, futilely shaking the can of corn. No bother.

But when the pigs didn’t cooperate, the father decided to be a do-gooder and tried to help you corral the pigs toward the hole in the fence. No go. Grandma was looking mighty defensive of her relative’s grave, which had thus far neither been turned nor trampled. After 5 minutes, the father suggested you get a rope, which at that point didn’t seem like such a bad idea. The pigs were not enticed by your offering of corn–they have never trusted you, most likely because you never feed them usually hurl disparaging comments their way with every encounter (usually the aftermath of another escape). You came back with a couple ropes, and unfortunately with the farm’s idiot German Shepherd in tow. You handed one rope to the father, and took the other. After making a lasso, you surprised yourself with the ease with which you managed to snag Edouard. Then you cringed at the commotion he made.

The poor pig didn’t know what to do. Squealed and kicked maniacally. Maria ran away immediately, knowing fully well what was up. You tried to control the pig, but the fucking dog got excited and started nipping and biting Edouard until both dog and pig were in a complete frenzy. The father could not snag Maria and had only managed to chase her back toward the hole in the fence, but Maria veered right, and charged at Grandma, who panicked and tripped over a grave. You handed Edouard’s rope to the father and took the free lasso, hoping to catch the girl pig. You chased her ’round the graveyard, leaping and trampling over graves, charging down rows, climbing mounds of dirt and rock, darting, veering, cutting off her every move. Buuut… she’s always been cleverer than the other pig, and you were unable to catch her, feeling more and more embarrassed (embarrassed by an animal, yes) that she’d bested you.

You heard tremendous squealing. Screaming, really. The family was trying to shove Edouard through the hole in the fence, which seemed about as impossible as shoving a cat into a box. He was not having it. There was so much noise, Grandma got fed up. The daughters did as well, as they were uselessly throwing kernels of corn at the pig, like rice at a wedding. The dog didn’t stop biting and barking at Edouard. You thought the soundtrack to your life ought to have played circus music.

In the end, the pigs were returned with the help of Declan, whom they followed far too willingly, making you seethe with indignation.

Just another day at the farm.

In other news, you spent February 8th puking your guts out. Coincidence? Maybe. You also lost your bracelet that day. Coincidence? Who knows.

Perhaps sleep will find you now.

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