Santiago de Compostela

I stood at the bridge wondering how long I would have to ride into Spain before I could start speaking Spanish. Ten minutes? 20?, turns out when you cross into Spain you can begin speaking Spanish instantly. Not unlike crossing from Florida into Georgia and immediately being able to purchase 40oz beers. Since Porto we began to see more Camino hikers. They seem to be a colorful bunch, never have I seen so many flourescent vests and knee braces. From what I can tell so far the Camino seems to be the retirement home of long distance trails. Nothing at all wrong with any of this, who wouldn’t want to stay in quaint Spanish hotels every night with restaurants only a few steps from your bedroom.

We made it to Santiago de Compostela today, the ending point of the Camino de Santiago and the supposed resting place of St. James. The church in Santiago is in the truest sense “epic”. It seemed all the roads in the city at some point winded their way to the stone steps of the cathedral.

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Walking into the church I slipped into this sort of forced reverence. It was nice though, it felt like an important place to be. I sat in the pews for a minute and wondered how many of the gold decorations were real gold then I made my way into a little tunnel underneath the main display. It was a small cave type room with a single red prayer bench looking towards a glass window. Six or seven feet back through this window was an exact replica of the ark of the covenant from Indiana Jones, well it looked similar.

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I was in there alone for just a moment until an older gentleman walked in, kneeled at the bench and started praying. Part of me felt as if I should leave, but he was praying aloud in Spanish and I just sort of froze. If I walked out while he was praying it may distract him, so I just hung there on the wall five feet behind him acting like I was waiting my turn. He prayed for a long time and I just stared dead at that gold box and maybe glanced a few times down at my dirty fingernails. It would be really weird if I left now. He finished, stood up and walked out of the tunnel and I took a kneel at the bench so that the man wouldn’t think I was standing behind him and staring for no reason. I closed my eyes to pray but all I could think of was that scene from Indiana Jones and The Holy Grail when he is walking through that hazy tunnel in the final scene and he keeps repeating “only the penitent man will pass, only the penitent man will pass…” I think he goes on to say, “a penitent man is humble before God, a penitent man kneels! he kneels before God!” and he drops to his knees moments before a blade nearly slices off his head. I put a 2 cent euro piece in the coin receptacle, got up and walked out to find Jason. We got on the bikes and as usual made a slow crawl out of the city and back into the countryside.

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In and out of Portugal

Portugal was a flash, maybe like an emotion from a vivid dream you try to hold onto the whole next day. As I write this I am sitting in northern Portugal, but in about 20 minutes of riding we will be in Spain. After assembling the bikes in the Lisbon Airport baggage claim area we rode to a hostel I booked a few nights previous. Although saying we just rode to the hostel would cheapen the experience quite a bit. We got lost, separated and after several hours of fumbling through the twisted streets with no names we made it to the hostel. I made it there first and after carrying my bicycle and panniers up 4 stories I collapsed on the bed exhausted from not sleeping in maybe 24 hours. But, I knew I couldn’t fall asleep yet. I turned on the two way radios Jason and I bought and I stuck my head out the window overlooking the red cobblestone street. “Jason, you come in!” Here I am leaning out the window holding a walky talky and frantically looking through a pair of binoculars. If the girl that checked me into the hostel didn’t already think i was weird, all it would take was for her to see this. Jason found his way and we went for a walk. We got lost again and decided that the safest thing would be to make our way back, drink 1 euro bottles of wine and listen to the radio.

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Lisbon

We were going to stay another day but decided that those few hours we spent getting lost and drunk on wine in the city were enough. We saddled up and started trudging our way out of Lisbon. Once out of city limits and on country roads any anxiety we had was lifted. You may notice we do not have many pictures of Lisbon, there is a reason for that, we were trying to get out of there as soon as possible. Cities are not friendly places for bikes. Camping has been incredible, every evening we have been fortunate to find great stealth spots. Our total lodging cost for the entirety of Portugal: $20.30 euro. After riding many miles through skinny village roads, down into vineyards then back up into more skinny village roads we made it to the coast. It is difficult to describe the majesty of the cliffs and the perfect 15 foot groundswell slamming up against the stone walls. So here is a picture.

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Jason about to be swallowed by the sea.

I ended up getting food poisoning on day 3. I in no way can blame any particular restaurant on the count of we have yet to eat in any. We have sourced all of our food so far from markets. Turns out meat and cheese doesn’t last as long in the panniers as I had hoped. I stayed up for most of the night shaking and vomiting by a big fire Jason had built. Slow recovery the next day but we were still able to do some miles.

Yesterday morning we went through Porto and crossed a breathtaking bridge. Porto is possibly the most beautiful city I have ever seen. It would have been lovely to stay for a few days to loiter in cafes and get lost in the streets. But being on bikes and anxious from the city and not speaking a lick of Portuguese ( not even “hello” for the first 2 days) we decided to hoof it out of the city asap. There is a certain terror that comes with biking through a city no matter how stunning it is. Maybe one day I’ll go back to Porto, get a hotel overlooking the river and drink too much wine and write a book, but for now I will keep biking. On to Spain I suppose.

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Porto

Journal excerpts from Pacific Crest Trail

This past summer I spent some time on the Pacific Crest Trail, a hiking trail which winds from Mexico to Canada. I’ve decided to post two journal entries from this adventure here, enjoy.

 

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           Sometime in June in the desert        

  Well here I am, off the trail. I hitched to Warner Springs with Michelle Wilson, a mail driver who acted surprised when she picked me up. “I thought all you guys were through the desert by now!” she said. “I’ve decided to book it to the Sierra.” I told her. After a hitch back towards Julian with a horseshoe maker I’ve found myself sitting behind Julian Pie Company at a picnic bench. Tomorrow morning I need a hitch to Ramona in order to catch a few buses and trains to Lancaster where I can get a bus that will take me twenty four miles from Kennedy Meadows; the accepted ending of the desert and beginning of the South Sierra Wilderness. For now I am bumming with nothing but my backpack and two bloody feet. Fortunately gas stations sell liquor here in the great state of California so I picked up a half pint of Fireball to get me through the night. I should have picked up a full pint.

A few moments ago a helicopter was circling above me. My first thought was, “Oh shit, lost hiker!”, “rattlesnake?”. Turns out there was an accident up the road. The copter landed not forty yards from where I sit, sending my thermarest across the parking lot and launching dust into the atmosphere. From the distance the dust mixed with light from the general store and it looked as if the mountain in the background was on fire. This was my first thought, I said “here we go, this whole place is about to go up.” Is it sick that I wish there had been a fire? A rescue team shoved a wrapped up figure into the rear of the helicopter and as quickly as it happened it was over. It lifted once again scattering dust so thick I could feel it on the tip of my tongue. A girl with a backpack and a stuffed animal walked away from the scene and sat on the step of the store. She almost looked like a PCT hiker, but then again it seems so far a lot of people in Cali look like hikers. I walked to her and stuttered as I asked if she was OK. She said yes and didn’t seem to want to talk. I walked back to my table and here I am, about to swig some more Fireball, hoping no one shows up and that this adventure keeps moving in a safe direction.

A drunk woman at the gas station earlier asked me, “What makes people want to do that? Walk through the desert in the middle of summer!” I struggled to find a profound answer for her. “I have no idea.” I said. I guess we would have to look at the context of my situation. But we didn’t have time for that. She was nice enough to wish that she could give me a ride. She said, “Just stand over there, some pretty girl will pick you up in no time.” They hurried off with their twelver of Steel Reserve to fuck somewhere on the mountain behind us and I am still here smoking cigarettes and drinking alone at a picnic table behind some dumpsters in the dark.

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Kennedy Meadows

I made it to Kennedy Meadows the day before Independence Day. Took the bus from Lancaster. Lancaster was as sad and depressing as I expected. Stayed at Knights Motel right next door to an In And Out, I took a pill, did laundry, made two trips to In And Out and watched a Back To The Future marathon. It was wonderful. The Eastern Sierra Transit bus left at 2:00pm, it took us up through the desert towards Mojave. At a Mojave gas station a guy named Dave boarded the bus and I overheard him telling the driver he needed to get to Kennedy Meadows. I gave him a fist bump. Dave is a taller, older dude in his late 40s. He lives near San Francisco where he works as a bike mechanic. He told me how a man left him a bag of cans while he was waiting at the Mojave bus stop. “I suppose it’s time to shave.” he said. “Nah,” I replied, “those cans coulda paid for your fair man!”

When the bus dropped us off we were very much in the middle of nowhere and I cursed. “We’re still in the fuckin desert!” It was maybe 110 degrees and we needed to walk twenty four miles straight up. Fortunately I was able to hitch with a nice Singaporean couple who planned on doing a section to Yosemite. Although I’m pretty sure they are gonna die out here. His girlfriend was shocked to find out there would be no cell service for some time. This is where my adventure begins, here at Kennedy Meadows. I met Hal 9000 and Lawless. Hal started on the first and Lawless at Campo. The next day would be July 4th and we decided to take a zero together and hike out the next day, just to soak everything in before enjoying the 200 miles of desolation ahead of us.

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This was maybe the strangest 4th of July I’ve ever had. It started waking up in a teepee in the dirt with faint sounds of the Grateful Dead coming in through the tattered brown canvas. I knew I had to get up because at noon there would be a parade coming up the hill. In a town like this, pop. 200, you never want to miss a parade. I sat at a table up high on the side deck of the general store overlooking the last of the chapparells rolling over the hills in the south. Hal was with me, also Dave, Lawless and Caitlin (Lawless’ trail girlfriend who seems to have been following him in her car up the trail ever since Deep Creek hot spring) and Ted Glazinski, not to be confused with Ted Kazinski, of who our Ted had never heard of. The parade consisted of three or four tractors and several off road vehicles being driven by children a bit too young to be operating heavy machinery. Some guy showed up in a single seat go kart with his dog. We drank at that table and ate burgers for several hours before piling in Caitlyn’s white 2015 Lexus and heading to Grumpy Bears.

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We were told by the owner of this tiny bar/restaurant there would be live music and great food. We pulled up and a rainstorm began surrounding us. We shot-gunned Tecate in front of a sign that said, “No alcohol in parking lot!” This was our first disrespectful hippie action. In the bar we sensed a cold vibe. Like maybe we had just crashed someone’s family reunion. People mostly looked at us with disgusted faces, a few men in the corner put their Stetsons back on and left through the back door. I knew nothing good could happen here, especially after noticing the way Lawless’ mouth can run. After a few beers we were on the porch sharing a cigarette. An older local woman with short grey hair joined us and was listening to Lawless tell a story about a group of Japanese soldiers who continued to fight in a forest in the pacific for years after the war had ended. Another local joined us, she was a bit overweight and had short black hair shaved up on one side. She interrupted Lawless several times until he had had enough. “Would you just shut the fuck up for a minute?” he told her in his New York accent. She quickly retreated indoors. “Just wait you guys, in just a minute some cowboy motherfucker is going to peek his head out here and try to start shit.” he said. “Yeah, how much you wanna bet he’ll be wearing a cowboy hat and some kinda American flag shirt.” I said. Lawless continued and right on beat the door creaked open. Here is our guy, sure enough wearing a hat and tucked in sleeveless flag shirt. He was short but projected the energy that he could throw a mean punch. “Is there a problem out here?” he asked, a little red in the face and obnoxiously dominant. Lawless diffused the situation like an expert. He returned back to the bar clearly fuming over what had happened for the rest of the hour. We had a few more out of the trunk of Caitlyn’s car, we were leaning on the railing leading to the front door when our friend shows up again. This time looking even more like an angry dog. He shoves me and my headband falls out of my hair. Hal, Dave and I back off, he keeps coming at us ready to bite, yelling and smelling like liquor. “Get!” he says, “Get off this property, down to the road and take a left!” We laughed a bit, not sure if he was giving us directions or still trying to fight. The storm had cleared and now a wonderful sun was turning the mountains a bright and comfortable red. He is being shadowed by the owner of the bar and we are not sure if he is trying to fight as well or is there to make sure sharp objects stay in everyone’s pockets. He starts sprinting towards us and we take off, effectively running us out of town. I look back once more and seven or eight other angry looking people are on the front porch with arms crossed staring. Here we are running and laughing when Hal struggles for a breath, “Dude, whatabout Lawless?” We knew he was still inside and there would be a problem. We sneak back through the brush around back and try to signal him with our headlamps. Lawless comes out the front door and we continue to lie there in the sand. “Hey, there’s the other one” someone yells in a slurred country accent. “Hey boys, ya’ll seen my friends?” Lawless asks. “Yeah, your cocksuckin friends went that way.” says our proud cowboy buddy. Lawless cups his hands and yells, “Hey, cocksuckers where are ya!” Fortunately he got out with his girls help, she dragged him by the arm to her car and shoved him inside. She picked us up and drove us back to camp. That night Lawless and his girl got in a fight, it sounded very much like he punched her in the face. He packed up and I set up my tent for her. Next morning we all had breakfast together as if nothing had happened. Hal, Lawless and I hit the trail. It was the last time I saw Dave.

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A quick positive mention of the restaurant industry.

 


           I have worked on and off as a busser, waiter and bartender since 2008 and perhaps it is time I admit something I am proud of. There is a distinct high in restaurant work, an eventual sense of belonging, the moment you realize you are not a disposable asset just as the kitchen erupts in a panic. Food is spilling out the window and managers are screaming for runners and threatening to fire anyone leaving the kitchen without a plate in their hand.  There is a state which I think most long term waiters must reach at least briefly where at this moment of chaos and dissonance they find a special sort of clarity. There are five tables out in the dining room which have all listed a series of things they supposedly need and the only way to remember which items are to be delivered where in this environment of sweaty over-worked and occasionally rude and bitter employees is to isolate this calmness. Sometimes it involves focusing on a single floor tile so intensely you begin to understand you are fundamentally no different than the burnt bread crumbs in the grout all the while the other waitstaff crowd their way into the expo window so tightly it becomes impossible to see the stinky food being slid through the window. I imagine it is a varying degree of the same sort of calmness and accuracy a surgeon must find when something unexpected happens during a surgery. Now, this may seem like an unfair comparison but I will say this, there is quite a bit of job security that comes with being able to stand and act like a normal person in the expo window when the whole kitchen is burning down.

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We waitstaff have a luxury the surgeon will never have, the ability to just not care. Amazing things happen when you do not care about your job. It is in many ways the most liberating feeling next to maybe paying off all your student loan or credit card debt. We do not deal with anyones lives or personal finances. We bring you your food, you shut up and eat it, then you give us money, and for the ones who when we make a mistake act as if we sold them on a bad investment, they are mostly lost individuals who will likely never make it to retirement anyway. I know there are many positives to being passionate about a career and dedicating yourself to a trade but these past several years I’ve spent post college in the restaurant industry have allowed me to essentially do whatever I want. It goes without saying I do not have a family to support, but what I also do not have is a career where I have spent so many countless dedicated hours that quitting now would seem like a tremendous waste of effort and life.

So with all this said, I have 68 more days left here in Key West, 45 more shifts at the restaurant and roughly 400 more hours bringing people food before I fly for Portugal and ride a bike for a very long time.

A pre trip blog post

I am still learning how to work this website. I now understand why people are willing to pay so much to have a site built for them. Here I am, in Key West, Florida working as many hours as I can at Outback Steakhouse and anticipating a day when the source of my anxiety is no longer singing birthday at the foot of a ranch covered table in an “Australian” themed restaurant. Anyway, enough negativity, Jason and I bought tickets for Lisbon last week. We fly out of Jacksonville, May 21st, 12:20 p.m, I picked up a brand spanking new Surly LHT for a supremely discounted price and although I have to sell the bike I rode through Oregon, the new bike has made this adventure start to feel much more real and incredibly close.

My little brother gave me his old Go Pro for Christmas, I am learning how to use it and we have honest intentions of making Youtube movies along the way. I will post any videos that happen here on this blog. I am a little nervous about traveling with a laptop, it is something I have never done before, but I am excited to have an outlet and public place to work on my writing. Jason will also be making posts once I teach him how to use this thing.

I suppose the direction of this website will develop along the way. As for now it will be something to show people when they ask what we are planning. Keep checking back because we will have plenty to talk about in the time leading up to our exit from Key West.