Ate All the Curry and There’s Naan Left

India was my first real taste of a culture unfamiliar and uncomfortable to me. Immediately the overwhelming amount of car horns and beeps from motorbikes was incredible. It was incredible in the way that the most annoying thing in the world might be incredible. Back home, if you were to honk your horn it might mean, “hey fuck you!” but here in India the horn seemed to lose its power. Everyone has a sensitive trigger and uses the horn for any reason at all.

Get out of my way! BEEP

Hey I’m coming. BEEP

Hello my friend! BEEP

I just ate breakfast! BEEP

Ya know I haven’t used my horn in a while… BEEP

It immediately became annoying and seemed unnecessary. Even if the logic was that there were 6 billion people here and they wanted to let you they were coming at all times for safety purposes, it seemed to have been worn out considering I tended to zone out and ignore the horns after a while since I heard it every 1-2 seconds.

Right off the bat, when we arrived in New Delhi I was hit with a sickness I hope I never meet again. Some call it the “Delhi Belly”. What a cute name for such a horrific situation. The only comparison might have been when I had giardia on the Appalachian trail, but even though I was also uncontrollably sitting on the toilet every 10 minutes at that point, at least it was isolated to one area of the body. This on the other hand was both ends. As I was sick, and it seemed like an inappropriate time to leave and venture off on a bicycle through the most populated country in the world having to shit or vomit every 10 minutes, we stayed put in Delhi for a few days.

The streets outside our hostel were covered in human life and was very cool to see the parades that seemed to randomly happen. Colorful powders were covering the bodies of the people holding giant India flags and usually rolling a giant float, hand covered in flowers and other colorful things. Drums were included in these random marches of people and their faces were happy and expressive. Trash was more often than not thrown immediately on to their ground after being used. Done with a bag of chips? It was then thrown on the street without a thought. Finished enjoying a coffee in a to-go cup? Chuck that thing in the street. I found myself searching for a trash bin or a receptacle in which to throw my trash but was greeted only by an accumulation that had been swept together or a burning pile of trash on the curb in which to throw my trash.

Once I was feeling better I joined Josh on an exploration of our surroundings. The restaurants served inexpensive but delicious food. Hygienically, it was very overwhelming to see how things were done considering nobody used utensils or cutlery. You have one hand with which to eat and one with which to clean. The food was usually slapped onto a metal plate and you’d then rip a piece of bread or “naan” and use that to grab your curry or whatever you had on your plate. It was delicious but I couldn’t help to think that this nightmare caused my sickness in the first place. I considered drinking out of the sink or pitchers of water for about .5 seconds before deciding i would be buying bottles of water from here on out.

While in search of beer, the only way to purchase it was a sketchy caged sliver of an alleyway where a man stands behind a counter behind a cage you might see in prison. Hand him your money and he hands you your beer. There were no prices on anything in order for the person to haggle the price of just about anything he was selling from fruit to beer to sandals.

The Population of India is over 1,300,000,000 human beings. That’s one billion more people than the US and I’d be surprised if i was wrong about every single one of them staring at me as I rode across India. When I would stop to drink some water there would be a crowd of 10-20 people surrounding me. They’d stare unemotionally and not say a word.

“what’s up homies? You like the way I drink my water?” I’d say lightheartedly

No response. Emotionless stare.

But it didn’t stop there. No matter what there was a crowd of staring people and at most I’d get a few words out of them. This switched from feeling like a rock star where i enjoyed the attention and the stares and points, to frustration of never being left alone for even a moment. This included riding my bike. There were times when id be riding up a slight incline and as i looked behind me there would be a line of single dudes waiting their turn to ride up next to me and smile.

“Hello my friend! Can i have one selfie please” they’d sometimes say.

“Sorry dude”, I’d say “I’m obviously riding my bike and if i stop for you ill have to stop for everyone that’s waiting to get their selfie.”

“PLEASE MY FRIEND”

“no”

“okay my friend I am missing you already” he’d say while riding off until the next guy rode up next to me and the process repeated.

At a point near the end of our time in India, I had stopped to buy a cold can of coke and a couple bottles of water. I was immediately hounded by many people poking around with complete disregard of personal space and a man in a white robe holding a basket. Out of my peripheral vision i had noticed him showing me his basket, probably asking if i wanted to purchase it.

“No man i don’t want your basket, its very nice but no thank you.”

As he continued to push closer my eyes refused to look at him and i thought maybe if i just ignore him he will go away. He continued saying something in a language i couldn’t understand until finally opening the basket as i simultaneously was turning around to yell “fuck off”. At that point a cobra popped his stupid ugly face out of the basket which i thought my man was trying to sell me. Nope, he was trying to show me his legless armless creepy ass cobra who seemed unhappy to be locked up in a hot basket all day.

“Get that fucking thing away from me!!” i yelled as i bowed up ready to hit the guy.

His friend must have sensed the seriousness of the situation and pulled him and the snake away.

I fucking hate snakes.

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Agra is a city about 150 miles from New Delhi and we arrived anxious to see the famous Taj Mahal. We stood in the hot sun waiting in a massive line but once we were inside the courtyard walls it all became worth it to see this massive marble structure and its surrounding property. We got there relatively early hoping to beat the crowds but apparently that was everyone’s plan as well. The Taj Mahal was made to honor and house the tomb of his favorite wife in the mid 1600’s. During it’s building process there were said to have been 1,000 elephants and 20,000 artisans hired to complete the process. The whole construction was estimated to have cost 32 million rupees which is about 52 billion rupees today ($827 million US). All this done for this guys wife. If i die please don’t go through all that trouble.

After walking around all day we rode our bikes back to the hostel for the night. On the way back we heard a voice coming from a tuk tuk driver.

“do you want tuk tuk ride?” he said while looking right at us

“no man…were literally riding our bicycles right now” I said in exhaustion

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Our next big stop was Varanasi. It is considered the holiest of the seven sacred cities and had a huge impact on the development of Hinduism in India. Hindus believe that death in the city will bring salvation, making it a major center for pilgrimage. As josh and i rode our bikes thru the city we were exposed to dead and dying bodies in the street. It was a heavy thing to see a dying old men and women weighing nearly nothing just waiting to die in the city in order for his spirit to be brought to heaven. That night josh and i explored the city on our own. There was an eerie feeling due to the dim lights and oldness of this city. As we approached the Ganges river thru tight dark alleys and dimly lit tunnels we started to smell the fire. Sparks of orange fire flew in the air, the hissing of burning bodies filled your ears and a smell existed that only exists here as you looked over several piles of wood burning a tightly wrapped body until its ashes could be put into the river. Each body takes upwards of 1,000 pounds of timber to burn completely and occasionally a partially burned body might be put into the water and sometimes not even burned at all. A young man took us around and talked to us about what happens here and why. I thought about the differences in appreciating life and death and how different parts of the world have different ways of dealing with it.

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Josh and i ventured across India on our bikes trying to keep it together with the frustration and uncomfortable situations we had been going through. It took a lot sometimes to hold it in when all we wanted to do was scream. The easy and the hard have to exist for life to go on. As I’ve said in earlier posts, you cant go down the mountain without climbing it first.  Its important to have the uncomfortable situations as well as the good situations to balance your life. I need to accept more and be willing to appreciate a different culture while putting myself in that different or complicated situation. We’re all on this earth trying to figure it out and we may never do it.

BEEP                  BEEP        beep

BEEP BEEP                 BEEEEEP

BEEEP                         beep                       BEEP

BEEP

 

Turning Thirty

It had worked out that our timing would bring us around the Ukraine border for my 30th birthday. While biking through Romania we had realized that we could touch 3 countries in one day and that day just happened to be August 27th 2016. I had never been concerned with leaving my 20’s and venturing into my 30’s but the time had come and somehow the closer it got, the more concerned I became. No longer could I latch on to the words of others saying, “do it while you’re young”. This was different. Thirty is an age where you can no longer use your young age as an excuse to be free and ride around the world on a bicycle. A thirty year old has a career, and a wife and they’re trying for kids to start their family in their new house while paying the mortgage and complaining about their jobs. As the date approached I thought about this but only briefly as the thought of how happy I am with my life’s decisions crept back into thought. I was turning thirty, but it didn’t matter.

On August 26th, Josh and I had been riding through rural Romania on our way to the Moldova border since that was the only way we could enter Ukraine. Nearing the end of our night when we would otherwise look for food and maybe a couple of beers we happened across a small bar in this small town. There were a few guys standing around outside drinking beers and looking our way as we had stopped. They invited us over in their attempt to speak English and we sat there smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap beer while we showed pictures of our journey and struggled to cross the language barrier. One of the men we had been sitting with invited us back to his home for some homemade vodka and continued conversation since he had invited his female friend to his home because she spoke English. When we arrived to his house in the middle of his small town of around 150 people, it was well past dark and we had already gotten a buzz on from the beers. Our new friend’s house had a very modest feel to it and had a few chickens and pigs roaming the small plot of land. Before anything else he had whipped out the homemade vodka that was sitting in a vat behind the house. It was smooth and actually quite nice as the three of us enjoyed a few sips before his friend came over. Once she arrived, the four of us continued drinking our homemade spirits and the laughter grew. At some point in the night, he drunkenly brought out his accordion and started, very impressively, playing Romanian music on it.

“its my birthday tomorrow” i told him

When I mentioned this our middle aged vodka making happy friend began playing an impromptu song that he somehow combined happy birthday, happy new year, and god bless america into one hilariously drunken happy song. As I sat with my new friends drinking homemade booze in his backyard on furniture he had made himself, listening to him play his accordion under dimly lit lights I thought this is becoming one of my favorite birthdays I’d ever had.

The following morning we woke up early a bit hungover but ready to start our venture across two country’s borders and totaling three countries in a day. We arrived to the border of Romania and Moldova in no time and despite the large line of cars waiting to go through, we decided to “rockstar” our way towards the front of the line and see what happened. With no trouble at all our passports were stamped and we were in a new country. After about 10 miles of Moldova (3 beers during a break) we arrived to the border of Moldova and Ukraine. At this point I had been carrying license plates that I had found on the side of the road and had accumulated around 12 of them from various countries. The plates were obnoxious and would make a lot of noise whenever I went over a bump, but I thought it might be nice to have down the line.

“Why do you have these?” the border patrol officer said as he noticed my licenses plates.

As one man with medical gloves was going through every bag I owned taking apart everything searching for drugs or anything they could find another stood by with a powerful rifle in his hands.

“They’re memories of where I’ve been” I said, trying to actually justify why I had been collecting these license plates for so long

The man probably wondering if I had taken them off cars or if I was some serial car thief roaming the earth on a bicycle, handed the stack of plates to another officer to be run in their database. My immediate thought was, “man I hope I didn’t accidentally find a license plate that had been previously attached to a stolen car.” While the plates were being run, the gloved officer continued to search through my things. At some point feeling intimidated with the gunman and the aggressive searching of my things, he came across my ukulele.

“what is this?” he said with a thick Russian accent

“its a ukulele” i said while awkwardly stroking an air guitar.

“okay you play for me now.” he said without taking his eyes off of his current search.

I had only just gotten the ukulele and was not as proficient as I would have liked to be in front of my new crowd, and not to mention I had a bit of stage freight in front of my tough guy officers and that gun about 10 feet away from me. Once the music started (as terrible and shaky as it might have been) a crowd of about 5 others had gathered until the man who told me to play must have been put off by the lack of skill and wasn’t entertained anymore.

“okay you stop now.”

Josh’s things were being simultaneously searched at this point and we had forgotten about a small mason jar of oregano that had been gifted to us from some new friends in Greece weeks before. As the officer reached in nearing the bottom of one of his rear panniers, he pulled out this small jar filled with what must have looked like some shaky marijuana. The small crowd who had come to watch the show was now laughing and thinking, what balls these American dudes must have to try to bring weed across the border.

“WHAT IS THIS?” said the Ukranian officer in this best James Bond villain accent.

“oh god, its oregano” we laughed “smell it!” josh said

“why do you have oregano”

“to put on pizza and stuff” josh said

“you have pizza oven on bicycle?!”

The man smelled the bottle of oregano, sifted through it with his gloved fingers for whatever he could find and found nothing but fresh oregano.

“just keep it..” we said

After an intense search through this small bottle it was handed back to Josh, who threw it immediately in the trash, not wanting to accidentally run into this situation again.

Eventually we were set free, after what seemed like hours of sweaty palms and anxiety attacks. The license plates were handed back to me after individually checking each one for any red flags. We knew we had nothing to hide but this process was the most intense we had to date and couldn’t wait to get through it. As if nothing had happened, as if we hadn’t just gone through a long stressful process, they were satisfied.

“okay you go now” he said. All of our things spread across the floor.

“so we’re good? we can enter?” i said

“YES GO..”

And just like that, no birthday cake or happy birthday song, we packed our things back onto our bikes and we were into Ukraine. Our bikes and bodies in tact. Entering with everything we had on the other side minus one small bottle of oregano.

Turning thirty rivaled any birthday I’ve had in my life. I went into it having a slight fear of getting older and came out of the day with a sense of happiness and excitement. In 30 years of life i have been growing towards bettering myself and focusing on what makes me happy. I have tried to surround myself with situations in recent years that will continue to help me grow and sometimes those situations are the unfamiliar and uncomfortable. The thought crosses my mind occasionally that I’m always getting older and I’ll never be in my twenties again, but the more I focus on this moment right now and the pursuit of my own self growth, the less age matters.

That night Josh and I snuck under a fence, with a sign which must have read Do Not Enter, on the riverbank near the border and set up our tents in a tiny amount of space in the trees.

I lay in my tent, happy, content, thirty.

 

A Bulgarian tale of two cities

I watched the sun rise over the black sea standing over a grassy cliff that dropped 80 feet to the beach. As the birds flew in the distance a strong breeze blew against me bringing with it smells of the ocean as I ate my pastery from the day before. A calmness came over me as I witnessed the dark blues and purples of the sea fade into the reds and oranges of the morning sky while that giant ball of fire that gives everything life slowly rose out of the depths of the dark water and into the horizon, gracefully waking up the world. The faint sounds of the few cars driving on the road behind me rivaled the roar of the waves coming in to the beach below and the only other sound was that of the birds chirping. I had biked over 4,000 miles to be here and felt it had been worth it if not just to see the sun come up, yet again, in this spot.

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Sunny Beach, Bulgria. It was a name that screamed newly modernized beachtown. It was in our path along the coast of the black sea and to be honest Josh and I were looking forward to it. We had visions of cheap gyro stands cold beer and especially a chance to swim in the salt water. We arrived smelling as if we hadn’t showered in weeks. (And we hadn’t) Our hair was mangled, our clothes dirty and our bodies shirtless with salt on our skin from constantly sweating. We didn’t quite fit the mold of the beautiful people walking around this place. The girls smelled of fancy perfumes and wore tiny amounts of brightly colored clothing. The guys all seemed to have gym memberships and stock in hair gel. As we got deeper into this town on the beach the more it resembelled Gatlinburg, Tennessee with its carnival rides and shops. High rise hotels and suites popped up along the seaside casting their long shadows on the street. Loud cars reving their engines and passing dangerously as if to say, “Look how cool I am, aren’t I cool? Please somebody tell me I’m cool!” The air smelled like the food being cooked on the side of the road at every turn and there was music playing throughout the city in order to drown out your thoughts and focus on buying more stuff. (Or so I imagined) We had found a small outdoor bar with shade and green picnic benches to sit on so we drank a couple ‘big beers’ as they were called for about $0.75 each. All the while sipping our refreshing glass of beer and watching the consistant mold of beautiful humans walk in and out of our sight with bags of clothes, handfuls of food, and new shoes. My mind drifted off thinking about what this place must have been like before the tourist industry came in. Was it just beach and trees before the high rise hotels and carnival rides? Maybe instead of the sounds of car engines one might hear the sound of the waves crashing or the birds chirping.
We decided to leave after purchasing a bottle of wine and climb this mountain out of town. It felt good to be surrounded by trees again as we pounded up this mountain going around switchbacks in the woods sweating and being short of breath. One last hello/goodbye as I waved to the (what I’m assuming were) 3 hookers standing on the side of the road before we were isolated again in the trees. The cars spread out, the woods were thicker, and like a breath of fresh air we rode downhill in search of our next campsite.
The Beach

With our food bags fully packed with two inexpensive gyros each from a local “fast food” joint in this small beach town in Bulgaria, we headed north. North away from the beach at which we had spent time and money but not before filling up our water bottles. As the water poured from the local statue fountain made of stone into our plastic water bottles a group of men with a rainbow colored van saw our bikes. “Biking around the world? Cool.” One man said. He continued asking the typical questions before finally inviting us to stay with them at the beach 3 km down the road. “Its hard to find, but if you follow the dirt road downhill through the grape vines, you should find it.” They were gone after that, piling the supplies and water they had gotten from town into their already overcrowded van.
It might be fun, i said to Josh.
With very little talk on the subject and a lack of other options we decided we would at least check it out and if it wasn’t our thing at least we’d be in isolation enough to find an adequate place to camp. We biked downhill on our road made of dirt, passed grape vines and angled fields toward the black sea. After a few kilometers I wondered if this was the right thing to do considering we had to bike (or possibly walk) back up this steep dirt road in the morning. Before we knew it, we had arrived to the sea which was crashing onto a sandy beach. The first thing we had noticed was a young man with a bun in his hair fully nude pulling a sled of logs with his equally nude friend covered in mud from head to foot.
“Well… we biked down here…we might as well see what’s up” I said, and we pushed our bikes onto the sand. We could see down the entire beach and noticed that it was covered in small homemmade huts and tents. There were friendly people waving and welcoming us with a smile the whole length of the beach and most of them were nude. This continued as we pushed our bikes through the unforgiving sand in the heat of the day until in the distance a young bearded man with his arms spread out started walking towards us. “You made it!!” He said as he approached. “Its about time!”
Do you know this guy? I asked Josh. Neither of us knew him but he still acted as though wed known eachother for years. He was a young man about 25 with dark brown hair and a trimmed beard. He wasn’t wearing shoes but in our favor he was wearing a pair of shorts.
“Come! I’ll show you where you can camp!” He said as he took my bike from me and pushed it along the sand. When I tried to help he’d sternly say no, and remind me that he chose this and wanted to help. Our new friend had a happiness that couldn’t be bent. He was very happy to meet us and happy that we had come to this beach. He was happy to introduce us to his friends and happy to tell us about where we were. He introduced himself as christo. We were falling in love with this place with its pristine location, beautiful wooded trails and Sandy beach. The people that occupied this place were among the friendliest people I’d ever met. Somehow these people had a great thing here and were able to keep it going. We approached the spot where we were to camp and set up on a few pine needles on the forest just above the beach looking out at the ocean. It was quiet in there. “I like this spot because in the morning a nice breeze comes from the ocean” he said. That night we drank wine and played music with new friends around the fire. We all ate some stew that one of our new friends made on the fire. There was a real feeling of love in this place.
This beach, however, is doomed. Within 6-8 months this place will be no more unless something is done about it. The forest will be bulldozed, the families kicked out, and the love destroyed all for the rights to build more highrises and bring in the tourists. This beach, the last remaining beach of its kind in bulgaria, will be a memory. It will no longer be the happy, free, loving place that I and so few others have been able to enjoy. Our beach would turn from a place where there’s not an ounce of trash left anywhere near it to a place where garbage is everywhere. A place where you can watch the stars at night while the sound of the ocean waves crash and the gentle breeze keeps you company to the sound of carnival rides and neon lights constricting your view of the night sky. The wooded trails smelling of pine with little pockets of tents set up around a small cooking fire would soon become a road pulling thousands to the new ‘hilton by the sea’.
Before we left our beach the next morning Christo gave us a hug and begged us, “tell people about this place so that they know. Tell them so that we don’t turn into another Sunny Beach.”

Greece part 1 (the late great Lape)

Herbert Newton Lape. He was my grandfather, father of 6 children (including my dad) countless grandchildren and great grandchildren, a legend among anyone that knew him, and an incredible inspiration on my current life. He would attack life as if it were a game set up specifically for him, strategically putting him in the position of happiness. He was funny, loved his family and close friends, and sprinkled in just the right amount of asshole to balance everything out. When I decided to thru hike the appalachian trail it was his idea that I borrowed. (See my post titled ‘Inspiration’) He has traveled around the world to some his favorite places on earth and even managed to choreograph a family reunion every three years in a different place around the u.s. The love story of his wife and him is unmatched. He worked with THE ohio state university, flew small airplanes, and even ran for mayor of Bexley, Ohio. I can still picture him and I in his car as he bounces his elbows to bluegrass music and simultaneously slaps my leg as he says with great enthusiasm, “what do ya think jase?!” … I loved him. On July 17, 2016 he passed away at the age of 90.

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Herbert Newton Lape on top of the great pyramid

 

 

I had found myself yet again ahead of Josh as I came to a road crossing in greece. It was about 11 in the morning and conveniently placed at the crossroads was a shady little resteraunt with meat dripping on a spit filling the air with gorgeous smells of Greek food. I felt I deserved a meal and a cold can of coke while I waited for my buddy as well as to route our next move. I ordered a healthy portion of lamb meat with a side of potatoes. As I turned on the wifi, messages started to pop up on my screen. “I miss the way he laughed” “he was a great man that loved his family”
No. I thought, hoping to hide the unavoidable thoughts that were creeping into my head. I knew it would likely happen as i was traveling but still wasnt ready. The tears started as i continued to read. A young bearded man brought me my food as I threw my sunglasses on trying to keep it together. The food was incredible and only appropriate considering my grandfather’s go to meal was usually some kind of Greek food at a place called “the easy street café” in Columbus, Ohio. As josh leaned his bike against the wall and walked up to my table he saw that I was crying.
“Whoa dude, you okay?”
“Yea man, this food is just incredible” I said as I shoved another bite of food into my mouth trying to mask the sadness.
“I’ll have whatever he ordered” he told the waiter.

I thought about him a lot the next few days, imagining him hiking the mountains around us, or having a glass of wine in some of the cafes we visited. Josh and I had slowed down a bit in greece not only to enjoy the beautiful scenery of mountains and cliffs but also because we were ahead of time and would have to wait for our packages if we made it to athens too early. While taking a lunch break at a bus stop (our favorite place to eat lunch because of the shade and a place to sit) a tiny kitten ran across the road fearing his life. I was making a makeshift gyro out of thin pita bread, fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, and tzaziki sauce when I saw the little furball. It was terrified yet curious and I thought the only humane thing to do at this time would be to offer him some water and maybe a bit of cheese. Everytime I came near he would sprint behind a bush behind the bus stop so I left a small kitten size portion of feta on the ground in front of him and a puddle of water in the lid of my container. After eating it quickly i offered up some stale bread or croutons and Josh threw in some old bananas which this little guy ate. After Josh fell asleep on the bench I made it my goal to get closer to this cat through love and food and after about an hour of slow movements and more food this guy let me pet him and eventually pick him up purring as I stroked his fur. (Probably had never felt love or the touch of a human before)
“Josh, wake up” I said
“Haha! What? You trained the cat?”

I wanted to take him with me, imagining people seeing the cat hanging on the back of the bike and referring to me as that dude that bikes with a cat. After a few trial runs with my new friend on the back of the bike I snapped out of this love affair with the kitten and realized the only logical thing to do is to leave the cat behind. With a slight sadness and a heavy heart we biked off after filling his water dish and leaving a few more peices of bread and cheese. I named him Ferbert Crouton Lape. Ferbie for short.

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Ferbert Crouton Lape on top of my bike

After waking up early, sweating with the morning sun burning through my tent we packed up our things and were on the road. After 20 miles or so of beautiful curvy roads sandwiched between smaller mountains and the sea we came to a resteraunt hidden under a large canopy of vines and trees. There was plenty of shade and friendly faces inside so the only thing left to ask was if there was wifi. There was, so we ordered a coke and some water.
“You eat Greek food!” Our young waitress said to us. So we ordered some meat and potatoes to go with our beverages refusing the salad and about 3 others things this young waitress/salesman was offering. As we sat there longer than the average person, watching locals come and go, our waitress who was fascinated with our bikes and the fact that we were biking around the world, offered us a place to camp next to the resteraunt.
“How will you get across the oceans?” She said.
“Swim” we said while making swimming hand motions.

Later that night we met Niko who was the son of the owner. It seemed that everyone in the family had a role at this resteraunt including Niko (10 years old) who would bring us more food and beers and his two younger brothers Billy (8) and George (6). I taught them magic tricks with the playing cards they had and made stupid noises with my hands which they thought was the absolute funniest thing they had ever seen. They sat at our table while we ate and did funny tricks trying to make them laugh. We looked around at the other people sitting enjoying the Greek music playing over the speakers and eating their meals and wondered what they must think of these two American boys with bicycles and tents set up next to the resturaunt. After a few hours of games well past our usual bedtime as the sun sets, Josh and i were exhausted. “What time do you go to bed?” I asked niko. “Around 3” he replied. I decided a rowdy game of basketball on the dusty patch next to my tent might tire these kids out and we could go to bed. It didn’t work so finally around midnight, now exhausted from basketball, i told them we were going to sleep and we’d see them in the morning. After climbing into my tent and about 9-10 “good nights” from George, the youngest brother, we went to sleep. He even came back after what we thought was the last one 10 minutes later and whispered “goodnight” thru my thin tent. Josh and I laughed and my last thoughts before shutting my eyes were how lucky we are to be in the position we were with great food, great music, and great friends around the world.

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Albania Mania

Life out here can be simplified to biking up a mountain in order to bike down a mountain. Everything has to be earned and everything has to be experienced. That expirience includes the hard climb up while you sweat and your legs burn for sometimes an hour at a 10% grade as well as the effortless ride down the other side with the wind blowing through your hair and cooling your soaking wet shirt from the sweat. The same thing goes for the extreme wind in your face, the lack of good hot home cooked meals, or the constant buzzing of traffic to the point where you’re going crazy. I don’t think i would enjoy this trip as much without the constant reminder that it’s hard. Without those negative parts, like the bugs that seem to purposly dive bomb my face while I ride or the cars buzzing just a little too close for comfort with no regard for this humans life, the good of this trip wouldn’t be as fullfilling. There’s always the good that balances with the bad. The ying and the yang. The angel and the devil. I make it a point everyday to know that it’s important to earn everything out here and not just be handed 100% great moments all the time because I don’t want to become spoiled. If you work hard both mentally and physically good things come out of it. If you keep churning that cream it eventually becomes butter. Butter is great.
…so is cream.
(Sorry, I’m hungry)

I woke up in a field of 4 foot tall grass that I had matted down with my feet in order to make a place for my tent. It wasn’t a flat spot by any means. The ground was lumpy and if my tent wasn’t staked to the ground, a good rain might have been the lubrication needed to slide down this gradual slope. Nonetheless i had slept through the night without any major issues making it a success. As I packed my things back into their daytime homes in my panniers, I said to josh who was doing the same thing,
“New country today”
We had been going through a lot of new countries in little time across Europe but today we’d cross into Albania, making it our 9th country. The road to the border was great. It was small, had lots of traffic that would have to wait for on coming cars, but had a real rural West Virginia feel. The kids covered in dust on the side of the road would see our blonde hair and sunburned faces and would yell “ha-low!” as they gave us a smile and the peace sign.
As we pulled up to the line of cars waiting to enter, a blue van with an arm out the window was holding two red bulls for us. The man in the van had just denied the little girl begging for change but gave us a much appreciated ice cold can of red bull. A stamp on the passport and a look of what I think was “are you sure?” from the semi attractive female border patrol officer and we were in Albania. A large welcoming party of ragged looking beggars and homeless were lining the streets welcoming  us to their country including one bearded man with more fingers than teeth. He sat in his wheel chair, arms spread expressing in desperation, “pleeeeeease…money…please!”
I remembered the enormous driving machines on the side of the road in France that would move down the shoulder with a 10 ft rotating blade cutting any overhanging branch or limb off the path of the road for clear driving. Accompanying this machine were 6 or 7 employees weedwacking and picking up any loose debris in the road. In albania I saw a guy hacking with a knife tied to a stick.
The traffic through albania was chaotic to say the least. No one cared for anything but their cars it seemed, frustrating us because we were being buzzed by everyone. Not only were these cars driving too fast and too close to us but they insisted on honking every time they passed. This wasnt the typical “hey good job! Keep up the good work” honk. It was to tell us they were coming at 75mph and weren’t planning on moving off their straight line even if it meant endangering our lives. As if we had no idea that this car was coming without the annoying honk even though there wasn’t 2 seconds to spare between cars.
Now throw in a head wind.
Rain.
Nowhere, NOWHERE to camp.
As we breathed car fumes for the last time we thought, “were never going to find a place to camp”. We eyeballed one of the many hotel/gas station/café/trash dumps on the road and decided for 20 euro we could afford to stay in a room. After being denied the chance to keep our bikes with us in the room at the first hotel we moved to the next one down the road. We refuse to lockup our bikes in the garage of this rundown hotel on the highway from intercity hell just because the creepy hotel manager said everything will be fine. Our second option, without speaking english, let us carry our semitruck bikes up the stairs to our dark tiny hotel room where the lights didnt work and the toilet didnt flush. So there we layed like Bert and Ernie in our own single beds staring at the 9″ tv screen on the wall drinking beer from the lobby.
The next day was ground hogs day.
More rain.
More headwind.
More asshole drivers.
More weird people that don’t say a word but slowly walk up to you and stare.
As I was biking a man out of no where under a bridge popped up holding a dead rabbit in his left hand as if to say “yo, you want this rabbit?” No I don’t want your rabbit! I want out! I had had enough of this country and was losing it.
The shitty road.
The consistent honking.
Breathing car fumes.
Another dirty hotel room for 20 euro.
“We wake up early as fuck tomorrow and do our biggest day to get the hell out of this country.” I said before going to bed.

The next morning we were sluggish. Tired and not prepared to face the road of tears that we had come to hate the past couple days. After watching the end of a kung fu movie in Japanese with Albanian subtitles on tv we dragged ourselves out of the room and onto our bikes following directions to a “new road” that would take us 150 km to the border.
The road was perfect. The wind changed direction and was pushing into our backs. The traffic slowed and people were even giving us space. The honks were there but followed with a thumbs up. There was a “shoulder” for slow scooters, horses and bicycles. The road was new so there weren’t potholes or cracks. The air smelled like Autumn and the views of the gigantic mountains were endless. The clouds even joined in the game as they gave us cool shade from the hot sun as they slipped around the mountains next to us. People were friendly as one guy gave me a handful of weed (which I put in an empty cigarette pack and purposly left in the bathroom before the border crossing.) I was feeling good about albania for once as I effortlessly biked over 80 miles to the border. I waved to shepards hearding sheep, kids selling seeds on the side of the road and the dozen or so people burning corn on a grill for sale. We had a send off of, yet again, more homeless beggers at the border before getting our passport stamped and into Greece.
Without the horrible couple of days in Albania, the one good one wouldn’t have felt so good.

It was like biting into an orange without peeling it, bitter and horrible at first but because we kept going it got better. You can’t bike down a mountain without biking up it first..

The Croatian Coast

“When was the last time you smoked weed?”

I thought this was a strange question coming from the 20-something border patrol officer with a gun on his belt as we were crossing into Croatia from Slovenia. He had seen our american passports and wheelbarrows of bicycles with all our things on it as if it were some mechanical drug mule trying to sell a few kilos in his country.

“Do you have anything to declare? Weapons, knives, guns, drugs?”

I have a bottle of multi vitamins, I said.

“What’s in the black bag up front?”

Phone for music, sidewalk chalk for notes, and a multi-tool to fix bike problems, I replied.

Seeing that we weren’t going to have the giant stash of drugs he was looking for and that our bags were just filled with camping equipment, bike parts and cheap food he lost interest.

“Okay bye.”

Wait, so were good? We can go?

“Yea. Okay bye.”

A fist bump from Josh and continuing the superstitious tradition of following behind him across the border, we rolled our bikes into Croatia.

________

I eat when I’m hungry. I drink water when I’m thirsty. I sleep when I’m tired. Fortunatly I am able to listen to my favorite music as I ride my bike over some of the most beautiful roads one can imagine. The coast of Croatia is undeniably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The heat of the midday sun, at almost 95 degrees, melts the giant mountains of rocky grey into the cool clear blue water of the Adriatic sea below. The road in which we peddle our bikes slices along the sides of cliffs like a hot black knife. Cliffs that drop off 100 feet below to a beach covered in smooth grey stones that have been weathered over endless time. Occasionally that steaming hot black road has seemingly melted through the rocks and stone on which it was laid forming 30 ft canyons 3 ft from the road on either side. Those canyons giving just the right amount of shade to cool my sweaty over worked body before opening up to a vast seascape of incredible beauty. In the distance are floating brown mountains. I liked to imagine that no man has ever been there and no man ever would. The sights reminded me of the final scene from the goonies paired with neverland. We would sleep unseen and unheard on the sides of these cliffs under olive trees next to grape vines sipping wine from the bottle and watching the deep orange sun burn through the now misty blue mountainous hills on the islands to the west. Occasionally woken by the ringing bell around the sheeps neck as the weathered shepard holding his staff walks his sheep to graze. This country smells like the pig being smoked on a wood fire spit next to the road. It’s carcass spinning and sweating as the scent brings your head towards the air conditioned restaurant where the waitresses are required to have a perfect ass. Like the pig my skin is slowly cooked from the hot sun above, but as I sweat and burn the cool salty breeze from the crystal clear blue water cools my skin. I am an animal who’s only job is to ride a bike and be free. I am occasionally rewarded with a place such as the Croatian coastline where everyday seemed to give way to the next, becoming better and better.

As we crossed the border out of Croatia and into Montenegro, our border patrol officer handed us back our passports.

“You two are American and biking around the world? Respect!”

Thank you.

“No. Seriously, respect.”

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPRO

The Italian Mafia

“Where did you start?”

A voice came from the right as Josh and i were drinking our beer. Marcos, a friendly faced man in a fedora sat down next to us with his 18 month old son Matteo. He must have seen our bikes parked out front of the pizza place at which we had found ourselves. (By pizza I don’t mean pizza hut, im talking real authentic fresh italian pizza) We had come to know this place by accident after passing through the town of Ravenna. There was a beach near by and a decent amount of cover from the thick trees across the street that we could potentially camp in. Considering our arrival to this strip of bars and resteraunt along the beach we decided it was a bit premature to set up camp across the street in the thin slice of woods in hopes of not getting caught. As we rode, scanning for the perfect place to waste a few hours before the sun went down we saw the sign. WiFi free zone.

“I bought you a beer”

Josh said as I arrived back to our table to a giant 1 liter bottle of beer. Shortly after, Marcos and his “mini-me” Matteo sat down to ask us about our trip. He invited us to enjoy a cookout with him and some friends. We were introduced to some of the most amazing people I’ve met on this trip including, but not limited to, Marcos’s wife who was Spanish, living in Italy, and had a northern english accent. She had spent some time living there and thus adopted the accent. We met the three brothers, all who were around 50 and very into surfing and kite boarding. One of the brothers was the twin of Antonio Banderes if he were 7ft tall with bushy hair. Some of the most beautiful Italian women including my favorite, the one in the yellow shirt. Before we ate Marcos brought us to the beach for what he called “romantic time.” As he pointed in the direction of the water he talked about the tanker ships and natural gas rigs out in the water. This place was once rich in natural gas to the point that fires would start on land from gas spewing from the earth. This, among other things would usually be blamed on witchcraft. He pointed to the two wind turbines in the distance along the shore and went on about the importance of renewable resources and the ridiculous argument against them, that they are an eye sore. At this point it was time to eat and we made our way to the family style table where everyone sat facing eachother on wooden benches as pitchers of beer and bread were passed around. As all 15 or so of us were sitting around the table the feeling of warmth and family continued grow like the candles on the table or the red sun setting behind us. So much food was then brought out including piles of different kind of meat and sausage, grilled peppers and tomatoes. “Here I can’t eat all this” Antonio Banderes said as he handed me a peice of grilled melted cheese wrapped in some kind of thinly sliced meat from fucking heaven.

More beer.

“Speech! We want you to speech!”

Josh, feeling motivated instantly got up on the wooden bench and mentioned what we both were feeling at that moment. In his speech standing tall on his chair looking down on the table of half empty beer glasses, rib bones and food scraps he told the honest truth that this was the best hospitality we had received this entire trip and were incredibly greatful to have met such amazing people.

One of the brothers whipped out a knife..

..and cut up a giant watermelon which he put on plates and individually handed out to everyone.

More melon .

More beer.

More conversation. Never feeling out of touch because everyone did their best too speak english. Always smiling, my heart felt warm.

Marcos brought out a drink for Josh and i which was made from the skin of grapes used to make wine, fermented in wooden barrels. It tasted like whiskey.

Little tiny cups of espresso.

Coffee ice cream which was more cream than ice and the greatest topper to an amazing meal spent with our new family. Marcos looked at me as i was in a moment of bliss and said, “you know Jason, this is the Italian mafia”

The night as then finished off with a 2 mile walk down the starry beach with our new friends to three different bars all with different styles of live music from the italian jam band playing songs in Italian which apparently were dirty with titles such as ‘anal history’ and 3 or 4 kids walking around like zombies as if to say “I’m tired, put me to bed.” The second bar had a band that resembelled the strokes with ‘the cure’ style singing in English and finally a giant dance party with a dj and 100’s of beautiful people dancing on the beach. “Who cares, I’ll never see any of these people again” Josh said as he swung his arms and jumped around thru the crowd of younger attractive italians dancing to the loud music. In the distance we saw fireworks, once again welcoming us to our home for the night. As we walked passed a paticularly fishy smell of the ocean, one of the brothers mentioned, “smells like sex.”

Our Italian expirience has been great. Everyday has been beautiful and above all this time with our new friends, our new family, I have never felt so welcomed and appreciated.

The next day, as I sat with Marcos at a small table over looking the Adriatic sea with a cool breeze coming off the ocean he reiterated a point which sticks with me everywhere. Positive outlook attracts positive situations. When youre an open door its easier for good people and situations to walk into your life. As we sipped the glass of wine and sprite he had brought out we talked about the importance of actually experiencing life and not just bragging about which hotel you stayed in. Don’t get dumbed down by the everyday speeding train of life. Put down your phones, read a book, and travel.

From the mouth of Marcos himself, “Make sure when you get back to the states that you tell everyone how terrible it is here and how Italians are all assholes.”

The importance of wine

Like the trash I’d seen piled up on the side of the road on the outskirts of town I sleep in a bag, hidden amongst the trees in the dirt with the bugs comforted occasionally by the thin walls of my tent a cold can of food and a bottle of wine.

The importance of that bottle of wine (among other crucial items) is an essential part of one’s sanity and happiness on a long distance trip like this. It the small pleasures, as anyone that’s ever lived on barely anything and traveled some distance knows, that really keep you going. It’s the can of coke when you’ve been drinking filtered creek water for weeks, or the hot shower with actual shampoo after days and weeks of dirt and sweat. These small things can be the boost you need to get you up that mountain later on or just keep your head about you.

France has been one of those places I was started to doubt existed in Europe. Not that I was counting on it, but there wasn’t a single bit of ‘trail magic’ with the exception of Joshs friend from home who hooked it up the day we hit the northern coast of spain. However, from the day we entered france, more specifically the town of Bayonne, I was greeted by two nice looking french girls Charlotte and Capucine who spoke perfect English and invited Josh and I back to their house for a shower and some food. We quickly rode to their house on the country  enjoyed our warm shower, bread cheese and sardines, and good conversation. It was nice to talk to some fellow travelers that happened to be girls as well. Before we left we exchanged information and wished eachother well on our adventures as they were leaving in the morning to ride their horses for 3 weeks (check out hoofprints of Patagonia). We left feeling refreshed, happy and full. Three things that are hard to come by when you live in your own sweat and filth wearing the same clothes you workout in for days at a time eating cold cans of ravioli for dinner and talking to imaginary people as you ride. The mental kick we got was incredible. So far throughout france we have run across many instances of little help like this. Whether it was the lady outside the grocery that gave me a bottle of milk, the ladies from the pharmacy that came outside with a bag made specifically for me filled with hair product and shampoo (haha), or the french middle aged people on a rental boat on the canal du midi that offered to fill our water bottles, gave us coffee, and send us off with any food they could spare. Unlike anything else, this brings me from about a 4 to a 10 instantly.

Wind can be your best friend in the world on a bike or your worst enemy. In most cases the more wind there is the more it seems to say, “hey fuck you” and smash directly into your face at 20mph stopping any kind of momentum you have and forcing you to use all your energy just to go forward. Downhill. But in some instances on the right day if it’s a full moon and the stars are aligned you may get a tail wind. As if god himself were pushing you down the road you peddle with ease, flying at top speed. Going uphill is nothing, downhill you’re hugging the breaks and on the flat straight roads it’s silent because the wind is your friend going the same speed you are, right by your side. The wind direction/speed can take you from about as low as you can get to as high as you can get, busting out big miles with little effort. We had a tailwind at some point every day in france (some headwind too) from Bayonne to Toulouse. Flying down a bike path on the canal du midi from Toulouse to the meditaranian sea past giant canal boats and surprisingly a lot of British people. Even a day of tropical storm winds in our face where we were cursing the unforgiving wind that was burning thru our flesh as it ripped past us, it switched and gave us hours of easy riding where were laughing and riding the wind like a sailboat.

I carry a portable radio with my that can be charged by the power of the Sun and has a small crank on the side to get power for emergencies. What’s almost worse than having jingles stuck in your head that you understand is listening to spanish or french radio and replaying that jingle back in your head having not a clue what they’re saying. The radio however is an incredible device to listen to local radio stations and take your mind off the monotony of riding your bike all day every day. Surprisingly, American pop radio (the absolute worst shit) plays all over the radio here too.. So now I have a jingle I can’t understand in my head, my legs are burning as I go up hill and I cant lose my momentum so I leave pit bull blasting thru my headphones. There are, however those moments of greatness when you find a Paul Simon marathon, or a jazz radio station with great original french jazz singers. Those moments I’m able to drift off and zone out the monotonous riding untill the next view or break.

It’s not always rainbows and butterflies. The stories you hear are a small portion of bicycle touring around the world but in reality there’s a lot of time to think and a lot of time to get frusterated, but the small things that snap you out of it and pick you back up are important. When were on our backs, losing our cool and missing home, these few simple things bring us back. So tonight as I finish biking, unpack my bike and set up camp for the 30th time so far, I will celebrate and reward myself with another 1 Euro bottle of wine made from the grapes in the vineyard up the road.

 

The art of the dip-slip

Dip Slip

(dip-slip)

verb

1. The action of leaving unannounced in a way that leaves a person wondering “what happened to so and so?” From the words dip, meaning to leave, bounce or ski dattle and the word slip, as in ‘to slip away’.

The young man was uncomfortable and didn’t know how to say goodbye, so when she wasn’t looking he dip-slipped.

_______

“What’s up mother fucker!” I was surprised to hear Joshs familiar voice shouting these words from the road adjacent to the grocery store parking lot in which I had just resupplied my food for the next few days. I had dip slipped the previous morning out of Burela, Spain after he had slept in longer than I had planned on leaving. It wasn’t a big deal, but the thought of spending anymore time in this town after a day and a half already was far from what I wanted at the moment. I knew that one way or another, maybe 3-4 days down the road, we’d be reunited and not to mention a little time alone is good every once in a while. But there he was shouting obscenities my way. I couldn’t be happier. “Did you take 632a?” “Yea it was amazing!” “I know!!!” We were biking along winding forest roads in and out of coves along the most beautiful coastline i had ever seen. Lots of climbing and decending, tall superhighway bridges and quite a few camino hikers. Josh at this point had been riding since 5am and still had a great head of steam buzzing off the great road we had just come from. Knowing that the town of Avilés wasn’t more than 20 miles away, after a cold coke and some chocolate, we got going. When we arrived to town we prematurely sat down at the first café available and ordered our typical ‘café con leché’ considering it’s the only thing we really know how to order and it tastes good.

“Wi-Fi?” I asked. “Nada” she responded.

The point of the café, other than to enjoy a tiny cup of coffee, was to use the internet and update our social media and such. So at this point our visit was short lived. We decided to put back the shot of coffee we had just ordered and continue our search for a café that provided us with the desired wifi. There were a few options but we settled on the one with the etching of a hiking backpack on the window and some people sitting outside. There sat Robert. (Roll the hell out of both r’s as you say it) Robert was a 30 year old man from northern spain with dirty blond dreadlocks and a passion for life and fighting (and possibly cocaine). We looked somewhat similar in ways. He brought us in, bought us beers and some weird shot that we were first introduced to here at this small café. The shot was poured from a liter glass bottle well above your head into a glass as low as you could hold it while staring straight ahead. It tasted like Apple juice mixed with emergen-c. Not bad, whatever, it’s free. We were offered a place to stay a couple blocks away in Robert’s apartment. I imagined that his apartment was a cold wet kickboxing ring with piles of cocaine on tables, dimly lit with melted candles and the constant blasting of German metal playing through the walls.

“We’d love to stay with you” we lied.

Robert had a group of friends sitting at the table outside who seemed nice and normal and occasionly we were able to jump into conversation with them only to be abruptly interuppted by a clentched fist and something aggressive being said from our new friend.

Josh and I would then mumble as fast as possible, as if speaking in code that there’s not a chance in hell wed be staying with sir Robert. Up until this point robert had mentioned that he was in prison for fighting, loved to fight, and wanted to fight. He did this while clenching his jaw and occasionally pressing his dready head against mine while holding the back of my neck. “I AM ROBERT!” hed say in his thick Spanish accent. “LIFE…” he paused.. “..IS LIFE!!!” Life is life has become our new motto. We had 3 beers, 3 shots of whatever that stuff was and a rum and coke mixed in there while robert called us pirates.Feeling good but ready to go we planned our escape.

“When he goes inside we race out of here as fast as possible.”

“Hes gotta pee sometime…”

With a small bag of coke he apparently had for us, Robert was ready to go home. “Vamanos!” He said and pointed to his house, as he was planning on walking us over there. Where’s my knife, I thought. I could take him but it’d be a tough fight. It’s now or never, I thought as the three of us grabbed our bikes and took a step towards the road.

“now.” I softly said to Josh.

At that moment we hopped on the bikes and faster (and drunker) than we had ever biked, we peddled in the opposite direction of Roberts house, into the middle of the town with robert yelling and whistling.

Don’t look back, just go.

Once we were a mile or so away we ducked behind a big wall in a city park next to a swingset and laughed for a minute, buzzing off the adrenaline from the way we left and the booze we had just drank. We looked at the map for 3 seconds, making sure we weren’t going to somehow end up in the direction of Roberts house and continued east down the road until we camped for the night successfully pulling off a very successful dipslip.

The Hotel

A bottle of wine stuffed in our panniers and 55 miles under our belts on a chilly day of biking up and down hills Josh and I were ready to call it a night early and find camping. We had visions of sitting by a fire in the cold evening air with the sun burning it’s way through the trees of our secluded campsite hidden from the rest of the world while sipping wine until the sun went down and we’d crawl into our warm sleeping bags until we finally rested our eyes. A nice downhill while looking for a place to sleep means no peddling and we could focus on the task at hand. Popping into little openings through the trees only to find it was too overgrown or had too many thorn bushes. Lucky for us there were plenty of options. We did this for 20 minutes; exploring little nooks only to be denied because of our own specifications until we saw it.

HOTEL

In giant letters on the side of a moldy wall this caught our interest. If not to stay the night at that particular  moment, then to at least explore what we thought would be a rat infested drug den with a nice view. As we rounded the corner of the wrap around balcony overgrown with vines and weeds we could see that something was strange about this place. It continued on multiple floors with broken windows, strange graffiti in Spanish written on some of the walls and decay everywhere. With every corner we turned through this vast world of unknown and mystery a heavy creepier feeling began growing inside. Dark stair cases leading to cemented off rooms. “Why was that room cemented.. what happened here?!..” more decay and dark hallways with a cold air that no man should ever venture. The pool outside surrounded by tall evergreen trees was filled halfway to the top with rainwater which had turned green and stained the sides of the pool walls as well. Back inside, retracing our steps, we made our way into what must have at one point been the resteraunt but at this moment with all its amenities removed and giant panoramic windows destroyed and broken it became our balcony overlooking the modest town below and the misty mountains in the distance. As the sun began to die and the sky turned a sort of red hue our attention was grabbed by the old white curtain in one of the windows blowing in the wind resembling a person in a white dress. Out in the open, dark hallways behind us, strange cemented rooms to our right, and slightly to our left were red hand prints dripping on the walls we opened up our bottle of wine. 

“Yea, we’ll sleep here tonight”