Do you ever feel like you’re living in a dream? Like, what actually makes our dreams less real than our “real life”?
When I was a teenager, I would get a kick out of going wide-eyed and saying to my best friend, “What if our dreams are real life and right now we’re just dreaming??”
Sometimes I was sure I would finally “wake up”, and my true love—Leonardo DiCaprio of course—would be sitting by my bedside holding my hand, crying tears of joy as my eyes flutter open.
Pema Chodron says, “Every situation is a passing memory.” Think about it. Everything we do, every moment, every thought is always swiftly becoming a memory. Every second that passes becomes a memory.
And you are a part of my memories, a part of what I identify to be my self. Walker Bob, Tom Weis, Maria, Alice, John Gray, Bhakta Priya, Govardhana, Chiara. The list goes on.
Bob read a poem I wrote the other day, and we cried together, hundreds of miles apart.
Tom Weis, in a dream, has his bicycles and a small trailer attached to the back of our future school-bus home.
I talked to Maria on the phone while we were on tour last week, and she was organizing multi-colored fabrics and decomposing bison masks and boxes of feathers and bones and skulls while we talked. “Do you know what is relieving and depressing all at the same time?” I said to her. “According to the Buddha the only thing we get to take with us when we die is our mind-stream. In other words, the things that I think all of the time that I find so annoying, don’t necessarily just go away after I die. Actually, the real way to let go of my negative patterns is by meditating and doing the work.” “That’s kind of terrifying to think,” she sighed.
Just before we left on tour, Bhakta Priya called me (the childhood best friend who I would contemplate concepts like dreaming vs. real life with). “I think I know why you’re calling,” I said. We hadn’t spoken in months. “Yeah,” she sighed. Govardhana had died suddenly that morning. We recalled sledding on snowy Vermont hills with him, and how he would say things to us in Italian and we couldn’t understand him.
Govardhana was diagnosed with stage four melanoma just a few months ago. I created many memories of him in these last few months, even though I haven’t seen him in 15 years. I tried to get a hold of him, called his mother and left a message, considered driving to his house with soup or flowers or… I didn’t know what I would do. I just wanted to help somehow.
I created a memory of sitting with him, sick in bed. I held his hand and he smiled, even though he felt so ill. His eyelashes were still incredibly long. I told him everything was going to be okay, no matter what.
We drove all over Colorado and played music for hundreds of different people last week, and all the while I knew that Govardhana was being grieved by his parents, his children, his friends. And it was like this heavy secret I was carrying. Anyone who I confided in had to watch me melt down into an onslaught of tears.
With only 2 days of the tour left, we found out a friend in Vermont had committed suicide.
I held that, along with everything else. A crushing weight, like the whole world was sitting on my chest.
My friend Alice shared her day with me that night. Her dad’s death anniversary had just passed and she had spent it journaling, crying, just being with him.
We got home from tour the other day. I opened an email from my old friend, Chiara, and she told me the story of being 15 years old, her dad coming home from work and going to bed, and how it felt to discover the next day that he was never going to wake up again.
“I feel crushed,” I told Addison. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”
But here I have the quiet spaces, the time in between, to contemplate, to unpack, to consider all that has come to pass in these last two weeks.
Death is a dream, as is life. How could we be expected to continue functioning after the death of a loved one if it were really truly real?
Thich Nhat Hanh says that when we die, it’s not as if we leave a blank space behind. We can’t “subtract” ourselves from the universe. Everything that makes up our essence, our continuation, is all there. It just changes form.
The Bhagavad Gita says, “Never has there been a time when you or I did not exist.”
The Buddha says there is no “you” or “I”. But there is also NOT no “you” or “I”. We are not separate, but we are not the same.
When I think about my daughter Chickadee, and her tiny body buried in Texas, I wonder. Is there any of her essence still left there? The chickadees here in Colorado flock outside of my window, chirping and eating bugs and bringing me the memory of my child. There are chickadees all over the world who bring my daughter’s memory to anyone who has heard of her.
Wherever she is now, she is also my memory. And she is your memory. And you are my memory, as I am your memory.
May you and I continue to make more memories together for a good long while.
(names have been changed for the characters in this story, to protect their privacy, FYI)
“My loves!” he cries, as he rollerblades into the Laleeta Indian Restaurant where we are sitting. We stand up, laughing at the sight of the rollerblades strapped around his ankles, and the disconcerted glances from the Indian waiter and south African customers at the table near us.
After embracing each of us he glides into a seat across from us, where the vegetable curry and rice we ordered for him is waiting.
The first time we met Tom Peterson was over 3 years ago, when Addison and I were riding our bicycles across the United States and the 3 of us (4 counting Tom’s girlfriend at the time, Layla) ended up staying with the same Warmshowers host in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. We didn’t know what to make of Tom at the time, but we ended up cycling all the way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana with him. He raised the camaraderie and comedic factor for us during that month of travel.
He had lived on in our memories as an eccentric, bicycle racing cheapskate, who would fill his empty taco bell bag with the free condiment packets from their counter spread, horde wet wipes from the Walmart dispensers to use later on to clean out his tent when we would set up camp, and who would compare the caloric value of the three different bags of 1 dollar trail mix at the Family Dollar, to make sure he was getting the most calories per dollar spent.
But it seems that perhaps Tommy Peterson’s days of hoarding free condiments and seeking out free or under $1 meals has come to an end for the time-being. Here in Brooklyn, he tells us, he’s started a loft-bed installation business and business is booming for old Tommy Petes. He pulls his lumber and supplies around with his racing bike and custom designed cargo trailer, and has more work than he could hope for.
As if he didn’t have enough going on already, he works at a bar every Sunday night (“for the Pina Coladas” he says), working the bar or racing out on his rollerblades to deliver food around the city. When it’s a slow night he can host his business meetings at the bar with potential loft-bed clients.
Tom doesn’t seem to say ‘no’ to work when it comes his way, even when it appears in a bizarre and perhaps disconcerting setting. And as we have come to learn, Tom is a master at attracting bizarre and disconcerting events to him.
“Yeah I’m actually remodeling a haunted house around the corner from here,” Tom tells us, in between bites of vegetable curry. He orders a mango lassi from the waiter who appears every 10 minutes to refill our water glasses.
Addison raises his eyebrow, intrigued. “Haunted house?”
“Yeah, it was built in like the 19th century. I met this lady the other night on the street corner when I was eating watermelon…” he begins.
It was 1 am, a warm night in early July, and Tom had ended up working late on one of his installation jobs. He was exhausted and dehydrated, and decided a big slice of watermelon would do him good. He pedaled his rig to a nearby convenience store and purchased a watermelon quarter and a coke. As he hunkered down on the sidewalk to eat, a woman with a pitbull walked past and said to him, “Watermelon. Nice choice!”
He thought so too, until he was a few bites into his piece and discovered that his particular hunk of watermelon had not been laid down in the ice properly and was warm and soggy from a long summer day. He contemplated the piece for a moment, then put it down, having lost interest. The same woman who had passed by him a moment before circled back around.
“Are you going to finish that?” she asked, pointing at his watermelon.
“Nah,” he said.
“Mind if I have it?”
“Knock yourself out.” He handed her the piece.
She and the pitbull settled down next to him and she began to tear into the watermelon like a wolf ripping into a fresh elk kill. Soon the juices were flowing down her face and neck, soaking the front of her shirt.
The scene made Tom feel a little queasy.
“What’re you working on?” the woman asked between bites, indicating his cargo trailer.
He told her about his loft-installation business.
“Do you do any other kind of carpentry work?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “Anything, really. I’ve remodeled alot of houses, helped build others, pretty much whatever.”
He found out her name is Kathy, and she lives in a really old house nearby and would he be interested in doing some work on it. He said sure, why not.
After some time had passed, Tom told her it’s late and he needs to get to bed. They exchange information, but as he was beginning to walk away, she noticed that he was headed in the same direction as her house.
“My place is on this street,” she told him. “Do you want to step inside to see it yourself for a minute?”
“Sure,” Tom said.
The house was everything one could hope for in an old, historic building. Grand, grimy, and perhaps inhabited by generations of the dead.
Kathy showed him in and walked him around, telling him about her various project ideas. Most of them didn’t really make sense as far as what physical reality would dictate, but Tom humored her and heard her out. She seemed to be particularly obsessed with the stairway, asking him to do things like completely block them off so the upstairs was separated from the downstairs, or to level them and build a trap door.
She told him to follow her, and he noticed that as she was walking upstairs past a room on her right, that she waved to someone who must have been in there.
“Good night,” she said to whoever was in the room.
As Tom followed her, he glanced into the open door of the room where she was looking. A young girl was sitting on the bed, her eyes rolled up in her head. She began to convulse before she fell back into the bed.
Tom stared from the girl to Kathy, but Kathy gave no other indication that the girl was even there, so he stayed silent and continued up the stairs.
He waited for Kathy on the landing while she changed out of her watermelon soaked clothes. She reemerged from her room wearing a sheer, flesh-colored, silk suit. Tom tried not to notice that her outfit was completely translucent, but rather focused on the numerous photographs of a dead bird that she had laid out on her bedroom floor.
“It happened last week,” she told Tom. “The bird flew right up next to me. It paused in mid-air and we made eye contact. It’s like it was hypnotized.”
Her pitbull had taken advantage of this strange and marvelous occurrence, by leaping up and ensnaring the bird in its jaws. The photos Kathy had taken of the bird over the next 3 days showed that the bird had been torn to pieces, its entrails draped across the deck in a gruesome collage of death.
She had photographed the dead bird at night, in the morning, in the late afternoon, at different angles, with different lights and shadows that she had created to capture the manifold looks of its carcass.
Everytime Tom was deciding it was time to leave, she would entrance him with another story, another painting, another piece of art with an intriguing story tied to it, and he felt like a captive witness to this empty shell of a woman, who had so much to say, so many stories to tell, but who seemed to be sucking the very life out of him with each memory she shared. He could sense that the real person, the spirit of this woman’s body, was there somewhere, floating nearby, but she didn’t seem to be an active participant of her own life.
Her next wardrobe change was into a sundress that she pulled up just below her breasts. Tom was kind enough to pretend not to notice that she was naked from the top up. He was well and truly ready to head home at this point, when an incredibly angry man came thundering up the stairs.
“Where’s my drugs?” he was screaming. “Where are they? I’ll kill you, I’ll fucking kill you!”
Tom did not know where the man had come from, but he decided the best plan of action was to move slowly and to act calm. His escape route would have been down the stairs and out the door, but the angry man was currently blocking the stairs. Tom casually reached into his backpack and found a chisel, which he slipped into his pocket.
Apparently the man’s name was Jim, and he was a house guest of Kathy’s. She and Tom both assured Jim that they did not have his drugs, and suggested that he keep looking. But that they were most certainly not upstairs.
Jim thundered around, breaking things, cursing, and generally expressing his displeasure at having misplaced his drugs. But eventually a silence fell over the house, and Tom heard a click and a deep puff, and knew that Jim and his crack pipe had been reunited. Peace settled in, and Jim was soon apologizing for his behavior.
A strange dance began to take place, which continued to imprison Tom at the house. Jim would start talking about Kathy, telling Tom unpleasant stories and bits of information about her, and Kathy would get angry and leave, not wanting to have listen to it. When Jim would finally leave Tom alone for a second, Kathy would reemerge and demand to be told what Jim had told Tom, and then she would respond with a deluge of unpleasantries about Jim. When Kathy disappeared Jim was back, and the sequence would continue.
It was around 5 am when Tom was finally able to extract himself.
“And you still ended up working for her?” we ask him, incredulous.
“This woman had cash just falling out of her pockets,” Tom says defensively. “Someone’s gotta scoop up the cash!”
So Tom started his first project there, which was dealing with the effects that some rotting beams were having on the door frame and stripping. It was his third day at the house, and he had just done some glueing around the door frame and was waiting for the glue to dry.
It was a 95 degree day in Brooklyn, and the house had no A/C. He had been working there since 8 am that morning, and now it was nearly 1:30 in the afternoon. He was afraid to drink the water in the house, for reasons he could only attribute to the half-rotted, moldy aspects of the walls and framing. Feeling drowsy and dehydrated, and drained of energy in a way only this house and Kathy could make him feel, he lay out on the living room couch and drifted to sleep.
“Weh weh meh meh meeeeeee!”
“Hum hum hum hum…”
“Ugh, grrrrr, hmmmmm.”
Tom slowly opened his eyes, not daring to move. He was hearing people in the house, and none of them sounded very friendly. He listened for a while, and was able to discern six different voices. As far as Tom knew, the only person home was Kathy, and she was upstairs.
One person sounded like he was angry, with a deep voice that reprimanded another person, who responded with whines and whimpers. The other voices were talking amongst themselves, though Tom soon realized that he could not discern what any of the people were actually saying.
This may be the end of Tommy Peterson’s adventures, he thought, as he felt his limbs seizing up with an undefinable terror. He was immobilized. He could do nothing more than lie there with his eyes wide open, listening to voices as they got closer and closer.
Something caught his eye at that moment. It was a foot, stepping backwards onto the second-to-last step of the stairway that led to the upstairs. It was followed by a second foot, which ascended onto the final step, also facing backwards. The legs of the person were moving in a stiff, robotic way.
A silent scream was trapped in Tom’s throat. Then he saw that it was Kathy. She stepped into the living room, still walking like a backwards moving robot. The voices had narrowed down to two or three at this point, but they were all coming out of her mouth, and none of them sounded like her own.
As she turned around, her body seemed to relax and with a small convulsion, she was falling into a normal, forward moving gait that was completely unlike the robotic one she had been using before. When she saw Tom, she said, “Oh, so did you finish glueing the trim?” in her own, single person voice.
Tom sat up, gasping in confusion. “What… What do you mean??”
But he could see that as far as she knew, nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and he was forced to regain his composure without receiving any kind of explanation or acknowledgement of the bizarre event that had just unfolded in front of him.
At the point in the story when Tom had mentioned the backwards foot making it’s way robotically down the steps, I had shrieked in horror and flung myself into Addison’s arms. As I squeeze him even harder I also laugh in disbelief.
“Did you tell her she was walking backwards down the stairs like a robot and speaking in six voices?” I ask.
Tom shrugs. “Nah, I didn’t want to freak her out. She’s pretty paranoid as it is.”
Addison is shaking his head. “And you’re still working there?”
“Yeah,” Tom says, and now we are all laughing.
But I guess maybe there was a good reason why she wanted those stairs blocked off.
Sometimes, when you have writer’s block, the best solution is just to set out to ride your bicycle 250 km across a desert landscape through towns where no-one speaks English.
Works every time.
I haven’t felt like writing much these past two weeks, but day 2 on the road, and inspiration has kicked in!
For the past couple of weeks I have been struggling with ups and downs, sadness, depression, what-have-you.
Most days, at some point, I would decide I couldn’t do it anymore. ‘I can’t do it,’ I’d tell myself, ‘I’m not riding my bicycle to Brazil. And now I have to go back to Austin and face all of the people who have been rooting me on.’
I failed… this is what failure feels like, I would think to myself. I thought I could be like those cool, brave, girls in the travel blogs, or the ones who wrote books and had movies made about them.
But maybe all I want to do is plant a garden and bounce a baby on my knee… and do capoeira everyday… and ride my bicycle. Maybe I don’t have to be special or brave or amazing. Maybe it’s okay to just be ordinary.
Honestly, it was kind of cool to experience what if would feel like to give up on a dream I’ve had for so long.
It’s crazy… it felt like… like suddenly I had no idea who I was anymore, and there was just all of this open space.
But then I would remember that I can’t actually go back to Austin.
Addison is having a blast with me gone, going to bed early, waking up early, skyrocketing his career, working out to his heart’s content, having lots of ‘bro time’ with affluent-entrepreneur-copy-writer-types.
He’s rearranged our entire apartment, and his creativity has exploded within.
“The apartment feels too small for both of us now,” he told me.
Even if Addison had welcomed me home, I knew I couldn’t give it up. I want to so often, but I just can’t.
I have to try a little longer, I would tell myself. Just ride to the next town. If it’s awful, you don’t have to do it anymore. But maybe you’ll have a breakthrough.
I hadn’t actually traveled by bicycle in two weeks by this point, because of getting the ride back to Saltillo and then taking a bus to San Luis.
I suspected part of my hesitation was simply the lack of momentum, and my fear of cycling alone in Mexico.
I’ve been staying in San Luis Potosi with Gaby and co., and then I traveled to Chical. I got back to San Luis last weekend.
As I made plans to cycle to Queretaro, Gaby begged me to just take a bus or get a ride.
“It’s so dangerous!” she would wail, her mascara heavy lashes fluttering in consternation. “It’s a big highway, so many… how you say… semi-trucks!”
But Pancho, a cyclist who took me on a day ride with his group in San Luis Potosi, said, “Hey, do what you have to do. It’s not a bad road, just a lot of traffic. It’s okay. Anything could happen to you anywhere. And you need to ride your bicycle, so do it.”
It’s about 250 km from San Luis to Queretaro, so I knew I needed three days at least.
I mapped out my route, making sure I would end up in some kind of town each night that would hopefully have a hotel, or a church, or a ‘bombero’ (fire-station).
The night before I was planning to leave, Alejandra and her son Daniel came over, and Alejandra asked me:
“Did you look at the weather for tomorrow?”
It had been sunny and between 60-70 degrees everyday I’d been in San Luis, so no, I had not thought to.
When I admitted this, she said, “Well, it’s supposed to be very cold and raining for the next two days.. and maybe even snow!”
I quickly looked at the weather app on my phone and discovered she was correct.
What?? I thought. I’m already having trouble motivating myself, why this?
Gaby smiled happily. “It’s okay, you stay here, we go to the movies… you can live here if you want!”
Alejandra and I made plans for the next day, but it was hard for me to hide my disappointment.
It’s not that I wouldn’t love to spend more time with Gaby and Alejandra, but I was stuck and I needed to unstick myself, and the way I could see how to do that was to ride my bicycle to Queretaro.
Well the next morning when I opened my sleepy eyes, I saw immediately that the sky was a little cloudy, but the sun was peeking through. And when I stepped outside, although the temperature had indeed dropped, it was as dry as a desert ought to be.
I gathered up my bags and began to do the final stages of packing where I had left off of yesterday.
Gaby came home from her morning spin class and observed that I was leaving after all.
Being the good sport that she is, instead of trying to stop me, she began making phone calls to her friends.
What blows my mind here in Mexico, is that friends seem to be available to eachother at the drop of a hat, anytime, any day.
People would come by to visit Gaby and spend hours at her house, with little more than a half hour of heads up.
Or we would go to a restaurant and slowly, over 4-5 hours, a whole retinue of friends would cycle in and out, sitting at the table together and talking talking talking.
The communality of Mexicans is amazing to me. I would like to see more of this in the States, at my own home and with my friends.
All of that is to say that Juan Ramone appeared at the door with his pick-up truck 15 minutes after Gaby called him.
“Leaving San Luis, 57 (the highway I was planning on taking) is very very dangerous,” Gaby explained. “Juan Ramone is going to drive you just outside of the city. It’s not so good even after this, but it’s better.”
Juan Ramone is in his late 40s and is very deliberate and thoughtful. He can’t speak much english, but I could understood most of what he said because he actually spoke nice and slowly.
We transferred my gear and bicycle into his truck, and then I said good-bye to Gaby.
Gaby has a busy, full life, and even so she took the time to make sure I was safe and that I had a good route planned out, and made me feel welcome to stay as long as I needed. I appreciate her so much!
I’m looking forward to seeing her in Austin when she visits, or to taking vacations with her in Alejandra to the beaches of Mexico.
Juan Ramone (well, his full name is actually Juan Ramone Grande Primero, he instructed me, when I was adding him to my contacts) drove me 20 km out of San Luis.
Indeed, Gaby’s concerns had been legit.
The highway leaving the city was god awful.
I was so grateful for the ride.
We stopped 30 km away from Santa Maria del Rio (the town I was planning on cycling to first) and I assembled my gear onto my bicycle while the semi-trucks and other traffic screamed past (and while Juan Ramone reminded me repeatedly to not step in the dog shit that was lying just near my front wheel).
I was rather nervous.
I said good-bye to Juan Ramone and then heaved myself onto my bicycle and wobbled away.
I’m doing this, goddammit, I thought to myself. I’m doing this!
We are at a Couchsurfer’s house named Sarmach, in Allende. As usual he (and his sister), are ridiculously kind and generous. They brought us to a restaurant immediately after we arrived at their house. They took us to a store so we could get some warmer supplies [we’ve been pretty darn cold these past few days!]. They let Dagan buy a blanket, but insisted on giving me a sweater from their house, as well as a ‘tuk’ [a warm hat] for Dagan.
The houses and restaurants were all cold (again, no central heating), so by the late afternoon I was cold through and through. But I finally warmed up once we took a nap in the evening, under piles of thick, warm covers.
I dreamt I looked into my own eyes. I was afraid to hold eye contact with myself, but I finally did. Than I embraced myself. I felt what it was like to hug me. The “other” me started crying. I could feel my back move as I cried. And I realized I was crying too.
I look to this dream as some progress on my path of self love.
I am in Rayones today. The sun is shining brightly on the faces of the enormous mountains that surround me on all sides. Tufted titmouses are singing in their Southern, mountain accents. The fronts of their little mohawks are black, and around the base of their beaks is white. [Different than Austin titmouses]
Yesterday Sarmach and Co. drove us up the long, winding mountain road to this town. They brought us to a small restaurant, which also turned out to have two rooms, one of which we stayed in last night.
When we were driving here, just at the base of the first mountain, a new road had been put in. But you couldn’t drive on it yet. There was a big pile of dirt blocking the entrance, with construction signs perched on top. But the side dirt road that would take you around was blocked by a huge semi truck that got stuck in the mud.
Cars and pick ups were turning around at various points on the dirt road, or they had just given up and parked somewhere. We turned around as well, and parked in front of the dirt pile.
Without hesitation, Sarmach got out and grabbed his archaeological pick [he likes to dig for dinosaur bones, of which there are many to be found in these mountains, he told us]. He began to attack the dirt pile with his small pick. This spurred the other Mexican guys who had been standing around into action. They seized the constructions signs and wielded them like alien shovels. The girls (and me and Dagan) grabbed at random stones or clumps and tossed them aside.
When enough dirt had been cleared, we got back into Sarmach’s Explorer and drove through, creating a path for the smaller cars.
There was another dirt blockade on the other end of the section of new pavement, but Sarmach dropped down the side of it and around.
I hope the semi-truck will be gone when they return, because I wasn’t sure how they would climb back up onto the road on their way back, without having to dig through another dirt pile.
Last night, while I was journaling in my tent with my light on, I heard the sound of a car coming up the mountain road.
“Do you hear that?” Dagan asked.
It was the only car we’d heard since the one pick up that passed us at the beginning of our ride from Rayones to Galeana.
“Yeah,” I said, quickly switching off my light. “I turned my light off.”
We’d left Rayones around 1:30 pm that day, knowing that maybe we couldn’t make it all the way to Galeana before dark, but that camping would be an option.
The only road between Rayones and Galeana cuts through the mountains, and is rutted dirt. Some places large boulders lay across the path, other parts there are steep drop offs along one side, and then there’s even the occasional cow. We didn’t see any houses once we left Rayones. Just mountains, some distant caves, and enormous cactuses of many varieties.
At around 3:30, my back rack started making funny noises. I kept stopping to investigate, when I finally discovered the bolt holding my rack on the frame (and, consequently, all my sh**) had snapped in half. One side of the rack was dangling, so to speak.
Dagan had pulled over to wait for me, and was feeding us oranges.
“My bolt broke,” I told him. “And I don’t have another one.” I swore. “Watson, the bass player for our band, is also a cycle tourist, and he told me I should have a bag of extra bolts, screws, etc. But I didn’t have any bolts at my house, so I just brought screws.”
“I’m eating another orange,” Dagan replied. “You want one?”
“I’ll eat one after I fix this.”
I dug into my panniers and found my bag with lube, screws and a spoke wrench.
“I guess I’ll just have to use a screw to hold this on,” I announced.
Dagan didn’t say anything, so I drew the conclusion that this meant he had no bolts as well.
He held my rack up while I lined up the fender attachments with the rack opening. I turned the screw in, and watched tiny shards of metal fall from the hole.
“Well,” I said, “it’s a screw, but I think it will hold.”
As if awakening from a dream, Dagan peered down at what I was doing and then said, “I have a bolt you could have used.”
“What??” I stared at him, laughing. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t know you needed one.”
“I said 2 or 3 times I needed one!” I told him. “I took your lack of response to mean you didn’t have any either.”
We laughed and I swore some more. When he did produce a bolt for me, I discovered it wouldn’t work in the hole anymore.
“I think I stripped out the opening with the screw.”
Afterwards, when I tried to put the screw back in, it didn’t really work as well either. Eventually I ended up holding it all together with zipties.
“Great, just great,” I sighed, feeling how wobbly the rack was. “I ruined my bolt hole.” Where the rack attaches to my bicycle is a part of the actual frame, so it’s not just a piece I can replace.
It was an hour later when we decided we should find a place to camp before it got dark.
After some exploration of a relatively flat area, I insisted we push our bicycles up an old horse track (at least it appeared to be a path beaten down by horse hooves), where we would be out of sight of the road.
“Is this really necessary?” Dagan had asked. “It’s not like any cars have driven passed us all day.”
“Even if one car drives up through here tonight,” I said, “if we’re camped right next to the road where they can see us, I’ll feel really paranoid and probably won’t be able to sleep. I’d rather be out of sight and have the upper hand on any situation that might come up.”
Well, lying in my tent right then, listening to a truck driving up the road and then stopping at a spot that sounded like it was just below us, had definitely gotten my adrenaline pumping.
I held absolutely still.
Dagan, on the other hand, rustled around on his sleeping pad (which, for some reason, sounds like a herd of gastronomically challenged giraffes when he moves around on it), unzipped his tent, and looked out.
“I don’t see anything,” he told me.
“I heard an engine die just a minute ago,” I whispered. “And now I hear voices.”
We both fell silent. So did the two men’s voices I had heard.
“I don’t hear voices,” Dagan said.
Just then, I heard them again, and the car door open and slam. The vehicle began to drive again. The way the sound carried, it seemed like they had turned onto the dirt track and were driving up to our site.
They must have seen my light, I thought, adrenaline squirting into my blood stream at a rapid rate. Why are they trying to find us?
The car drove past. I lay still, shaking.
“Good call on choosing a camp spot on higher ground.” Dagan rustled around some more.
“I think they were looking for us,” I said weakly.
“I don’t think so,” Dagan insisted. “I saw where the car had stopped. It wasn’t anywhere near where we’re camped. We’re in the mountains, so sound carries really far.”
It took a while for me to calm down, especially when I heard a car coming back the other way. It also sounded as though it were up to our camp spot, but it eventually passed us by.
Trembling, I went out and got my pepper spray and gave Dagan his dog mace. We lay in our tents, discussing the possibility–or lack thereof–of our likely demise.
“I don’t feel any fear, whatsoever,” Dagan assured me.
I was relieved to hear this. It’s easier for me to calm down when my adventure partner is calm.
“I don’t believe in random acts of evil,” he said. “If someone was desperate enough to find us and steal our stuff, they probably could really use the money.”
“I’m not afraid of my stuff being stolen,” I told him. “It’s just the thought of unknown people rolling up here while I”m exposed and vulnerable. Not knowing who they are and what their intentions are.”
And I don’t relish the idea of being raped, I added silently.
I thought about what the shaman/seer/medium, Elena, had said to me.
“You have an intrinsic belief that the world is not a safe place, because of a past life experience.”
The world is a safe place, I told myself. I am safe.
I eventually drifted to sleep, only awakening occasionally when Dagan’s herd-of-gastronomically-challenged-giraffes-sleeping-mat sounded.
When Addison found me on the side of I-35 with my bicycle (Tuesday, Dec. 23rd) I was grinning from ear to ear.
“Wow,” he said me when we sat down together at the gas station picnic table. “You seem so happy. And your face is so tan — I can tell you’ve been riding in the sun for a few days.”
“Yeah,” I told him, sipping on a soda with ice (a tooth-destroying activity that brings me much joy on cycle tours). “I don’t feel stuck anymore. Like I know what I’m supposed to be doing right now, even if I don’t know where I’m sleeping tomorrow or where I’ll be in three days. I feel in alignment with my purpose.”
He nodded, smiling.
Addison has been very sad to see me go, but we both know I’ll be happier finally doing this trip, rather than trying to stay in Austin and avoid the inevitable. And without me around telling him everyday about how much I want to ride my bicycle to Brazil, he’ll be happier too! 😀
“I don’t know why I feel the need to do this ride,” I said. “But I’ve been happier in the past four days since I left Austin than I have been in a long time. I was thrilled to sleep in an empty building under construction–next to that church! I was so happy lying in my tent in that empty room. It’s almost weird.”
“I do know I won’t be happy the whole time I’m on this trip. I know sometimes I’ll be terrified, lonely, sad, or just craving a hot shower and a soft bed. I know I’ll find myself missing you, and our home in Austin… But that just doesn’t seem like a good enough reason not to go.”
Our next move that evening was to find a place to sleep before crossing the border in the morning. We had an offer to stay with a friend of a friend in Laredo, but Addison felt the need to be with me alone during my last evening in the U.S.
I thought it was probably a good idea. That way we could talk and blubber uninterrupted for as long as we needed to that night.
We ended up getting a room at ‘The Lonesome Dove’. An old hotel off of the highway, owned by an abuelo and his wife. We met them down in the bar…“Cowboys: scrape shit from boots before entering.”
…and then they showed us our room. It wasn’t much to look at, and the shower water wasn’t exactly warm, but it was private.
I realized that night that there was nothing I could say or do, nor Addison, to make us both feel good about separating. It was just a difficult experience we would have to go through, and it was inevitable.
The next morning I had a call with a seer/shaman/medium named Elena. My dad had offered to set me up with a session with her, to gain some clarity around my trip. She is from South America, and, as I soon discovered, is pretty perceptive for someone who just met me on the telephone for the first time.
“What do you wish to get out of your journey?” she asked me.
I hesitated. For me, just doing the journey is enough. I know I will derive many experiences and lessons as I travel, and it will change my life. So I tried to explain this to her.
She told me about a past life experience that is still affecting me now.
“You are trying to prove something to yourself even now,” she said. “You want to prove to yourself that the world is safe, although you don’t really believe it is. So you are challenging yourself and the world by going on this journey, because you want to know that you are safe in this world.”
I can dig that.
“But,” she continued, “I want to make sure that you know something important: you don’t have to make this journey in order to learn the things you need to learn. You don’t have to do it. Only if you want to.”
It felt nice to hear someone tell me I don’t have to go on this crazy adventure.
“Ok, I think I understand,” I replied. “But I feel that I must make this trip. I don’t think I could ever be at peace with myself if I don’t do it. Or at least try.”
As we continued our session, she talked to me about self love. “You have never actually fallen in love,” she told me. “You may love your partner, but you have not let yourself fall in love, because you are not able to really receive love in return.”
I was surprised to hear this, but not surprised at the same time.
“You will fall in love sometime over the next year,” she told me, “but you will have to learn to love yourself first. You cannot fall in love with anyone until you fall in love with yourself.”
When I finished my session, I felt more clear about my intention for the next year:
Falling in love with myself.
That sounds more difficult to me than riding a bicycle to Brazil!!
But I’m up for the challenge.
After we packed up and left the hotel (and after Addison had written me a message in my journal while weeping and splattering the pages with his tears), we headed for the border in Laredo.
But first we had to stop and figure out how to activate the international plan on my phone.
And I had to buy us some gas station coffee. As I was filling our cups and searching for lids, creamer, etc., I realized I was just as confused as to where everything was as the two Mexican immigrants who had arrived by bus just then. They asked me to help them, and to show them were things were, and I gestured helplessly.
“I’m just as confused as you are!” I told them, laughing.
But I asked for help at the check-out and they found me lids so that I didn’t have to navigate with two lidless coffees through the crowds of Mexicanos that were piling out of the buses.
I was so nervous as we pulled up to the border, especially because google maps sent us to the wrong one at first! (apparently it was only for semi-trucks, and the attendants were very distraught at the sight of our little blue subaru coming through the lanes)
We drove through the border into Mexico.
Except that instead of a shiny office on the side of the border lanes with someone in a booth asking me for my passport, there was just a crusty old hobo with a tin begging cup standing next to some police officers with huge guns on their backs.
The hobo threw his cup down and ran to our window.
“You need visas? Tourist visas? Permits??”
“Uh…” I was in the driver’s seat, looking at him in confusion. “Si… pero…”
“I take you!” he cried excitedly. “You follow me in my car!”
He gestured wildly to an old, beat up car with its windshield smashed and taped together, and the front fender hanging on by a few ties.
I laughed. I thought he was joking.
That is, until I realized he wasn’t.
He leapt into his old beater with his “amigo”, and tried to get us to follow him.
Instead, we pulled into a currency exchange office and changed some dollars to pesos and asked them where the hell we should go to get visas and permits.
They tried to explain it to us, but we ended up driving in a circle back to where the hobo had returned and was holding his tin cup again.
When he saw us he threw the cup down again and raced to my window once more.
“I tell you to follow me, you no follow me!” he cried. “I take you to where you get visas and permits!”
A truck filled with policemen in bullet proof vests and army boots pulled up. The officer driving said something in spanish, and the hobo ran to his window and explained the situation.
He nodded to us and gestured to the hobo. Yes, you can follow him to get your visas and permits. He won’t lead you down an alleyway into a nest of narcos. That was my interpretation of his gesticulations.
So we followed the car that looked like it shouldn’t be able to drive even one mile without breaking down. It led us to what looked like an official building for permits and visas. A miracle.
The hobo stopped his car in the middle of the road, blocking traffic. He came to Addison’s window.
“Okay, you go in here,” he told us. “You get visas and permits.”
“Gracias,” I said.
“Now you give me ten dollars,” he commanded. “Give me ten dollars.”
I gave him 200 pesos and bid him adieu, as the cars that were stuck behind us began to blow their horns in impatience.
All the signs inside the building were in spanish, so it took us almost an hour to figure out which line to wait in, and by the time we figured that out, we also realized that we had to wait in every single line that we saw in the building, one after the other.
None of the attendants spoke english.
I kept opening google translate and typing in questions, or tried to translate the signs that hung over the lines.
One of us would run outside or poke our head out a window every 20 minutes, to see if my bicycle was still on the back of the car. It was locked to the bike rack, but the bike rack can be taken off.
By the time we got back into the car with our paperwork squared away, it was almost 2 pm. We sighed in relief.
Next stop, General Zuazua where my friend, Ismael lives.
I was very tense as we drove our first miles in Mexico.
I’ve been in many other countries, but never driven a car anywhere but the U.S.
We arrived at la casa de Ismael a few hours later. Ismael was not home, but his housemate, Mario, was there.
Mario did not speak any english either.
We followed him inside and the three of us sat in relative silence, smiling politely and playing with their two little chihuahuas (Kookie and Kookien). After a while I asked Mario if I could bring my bicycle into the backyard, and where we could put our ‘cosas’ (things).
Ismael had said I could stay as long as I wanted at his house, because he had ‘an extra room’.
What he meant was that he was going to sleep in Mario’s room and give me his room!
We piled all of our stuff in there and then Addison played us some songs while we waited for Ismael to get home from his work at the ‘cookie factory’.
Ismael is a manager at a big factory in Monterrey where they make Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Fig Newtons and Ritz crackers.
When Ismael arrived, I hugged him 2-3 times, as I had not seen him in 4 years or so.
We ate dinner, and then he showed us his artifacts collection that he brought from Chical (the tiny village he’s from that’s located south of Monterrey about 800 km).
That night I was afraid.
Okay, I thought. Now I’m in Mexico. Now what? I don’t feel any more confident about cycling here than I did before.
Dogs were barking from every cement yard in the little town, and mariachi music blasted throughout the streets.
Addison left the next morning.
I thought if I just stayed at Ismael’s for a few days, than I would work up the courage to get on my bicycle and ride out of there.
Here’s some pictures of the next few days…
Ismael took me fishing…
And we accidentally caught a tortuga!
Mexican pizza = a lot of jalepenos!
Painting on the left is Ismael’s and mine is on the right (the plant grows in his village and is called ‘Corona de Cristo’)
Finally it was time for me to try riding my bicycle in Mexico…
So on the morning of Dec. 27th I packed it all up, while Mario and Ismael watched in amazement.
And I rode into the city of Monterrey…
I was terrified.
For reasons mostly in my own head.
But I made it to my host’s house in under 3 hours.
His name is Max (or ‘Cejas’, which means ‘eyebrows’).
He is a physicist, a writer, a coder… and he is very curious and fun.
He lives with more dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rabbits than I could count.
Oh, and his girlfriend Maria, and his sister.
That night we played Cuban Dominoes (first time for me) over much joking and shouting in spanish.
Somehow I managed to win (I never win games!)…
The next day I was supposed to ride to Ramos Arizpe, a town about 75 km Southwest of Monterrey.
Maria squeezed me fresh orange juice and bid me farewell.
The next four hours scared the living daylights out of me.
I could not find my way out of the city. The only options seemed to be massive interstates with no shoulders and lots of traffic.
There is no bicycle option in Google Maps, so when I would load a route for walking, it would send me up one way streets going the wrong way, and when I realized what was happening I usually had to do some crazy maneuvering to get out of harm’s way.
When I upload a route for a car in Google Maps, it sends me onto huge interstates where no cyclist should ever set tires down.
The sidewalks do not have ‘ramps’, so to speak, so in order to get up onto or off of a sidewalk (which is usually very narrow, broken up, and will have random trees, posts or blockages in the middle of them without any warning ), I have to lift my 80 lbs of bicycle up onto it, and then lower it down again when the sidewalk suddenly ends or gets too narrow.
I kept breaking down crying, which annoyed the crap out of me.
I felt so alone and confused, especially not knowing how to speak the language, and everyone stared at me like I was a space alien.
After stopping at a Krispy Kreme and charging my phone (and nearly weeping all over the donut attendee), I kept going.
When I found myself dodging enormous potholes and treacherous chunks of cement that were posing as some kind of sidewalk, while semi-trucks and buses screamed within inches past me at 70 miles per hour, I gave up.
I pulled into a gas station.
I can’t dothis, I thought. I’ll never make it to Ramos, what to speak of Brazil. How is this trip going to be enjoyable if I’m terrified the whole time?
I’m not brave. But I wanted to become brave by doing this trip.
I thought I would feel more brave after a day or two of riding in Mexico, but maybe Monterrey was a bad place to start…
I sent a whatsapp message to my host in Ramos, Julian.
He offered to pick me up.
I cried some more and accepted his offer.
While I waited for him to come with a car, a lady sat near me, watching me curiously.
“Cansado?” she asked me. Meaning, ‘are you tired?’
“Ah no… Estoy esparando a un amigo con un carro.” I pointed to the highway swarming with traffic. “Esta camino es muy malo para el bicicleto.”
She nodded in agreement.
I somehow was able to explain to her that I was headed to Brazil, at which she was duly impressed. However, I wasn’t so sure this was accurate information anymore..,
Than I offered her an orange, which she happily accepted.
When Julian arrived with a bike rack on his car, I hugged him and thanked him repeatedly.
He said, “It’s no problem. This road is very bad even for a car. I understand.”
Julian rode his bicycle from Ramos to New York City about 9 months ago, and then flew to Europe and cycled around there. He knows that cycling in a city in Mexico is much more hazardous than cycling somewhere like Manhattan, where it is a common activity and there are bike lanes and alot of awareness around cycling.
As we drove along the highway to Julian’s home, I stared in horror at the last 40 miles I would have had to cycle.
If I had tried to ride this highway, I think I would have died, I thought.
We passed a semi-truck that had hurtled off of the road into a ravine and was dangling there like a giant, metallic carcass.
On either side of the highway are mountains that literally touch the sky, and at their feet spreads out the desert, with cacti that are 10-15 ft. high.
Julian’s family received me with incredible hospitality, and stuffed me full of pasta, salad and tortas.
Than I crawled into bed around 6 pm, still shaking, and cried myself to sleep.
I wonder when I will be brave?
I don’t really want to ride alone anymore, so I’m praying to the universe to send me a traveling companion, at least until I feel more at home on the road and in Mexico.
To be a part of my journey and help me get all the way to Brazil, please visit Patreon.com/jahnavi
P.S. I’m not writing all of this to complain, but simply to be honest with every part of my experience. It takes a lot of courage for me to admit to being terrified and crying all over the place, so please suspend your judgement if you can! 🙂 Thank you!!
You know, when your hormones are so jacked you can’t see straight, and just the thought of the other person sends you into state of unencumbered bliss?
I’m guessing this has probably happened to you, even if you don’t want to admit it. 😉
What I always find interesting about falling in love and about human beings in general (‘interesting’ is a nice way of saying ‘really fucking annoying’) is that when something is happening to us that we perceive to be really good, we can’t help but dread the potential end of it.
As always, we fear death.
The death of relationships, the death of the life we know now.
Even when we can recognize how healthy and normal change is, we can’t help but fear it subconsciously.
Well, at least I do, anyways. 🙂
So during the last bout of falling in love I did (which was about three years ago, thank God), the song Dark Angel was born.
This song asks alot of questions…
But does not provide any answers.
Here’s how it goes:
“I’ll be your innocence if you’ll be my sex appeal
Yes, I’ll be your innocence if you’ll be my sex appeal
You’ve got everything it takes to drive this situation wild
I saw you first, I saw you first
I saw you first and now you are mine
But I’m losing control of this situation all of the time
And are you the best thing that’s ever happened to me?
Are you the one to make my blind eyes see?
Or are you my dark angel of death?
Are you my terminal breath?
I’ll be your calling if you’ll be my answering
Yes I’ll be your calling if you’ll be my answering
You’ve got everything it takes to make a murderer of me
And are you the best thing that’s ever happened to me?
This week I thought it would be fun to share the story around one of our most popular songs on the album, Nobody Wants to Die.
Nobody Wants to Die is the title track of our latest album, and set the tone for our album’s theme: death.
But when I think about what the song’s original roots are, I remember that the song arose into my consciousness from a very potent, and virile emotion: jealousy.
The way that I experience jealousy, at least these past 5 years or so, is pretty specific: I become extremely riled up, and talk about or imagine the offending party’s death at my hands.
I’m not proud of it, but the fact is it makes for good song-writing fodder. 🙂
So about three years ago, when I was afflicted with a case of such jealousy, I attempted to make Addison admit that he was madly in love with the offending party; but I could coerce no such confession from him.
As I sat down in front of the piano late that night, I decided that he wouldn’t outright lie to me, so in order for him to withhold the truth for me, he would first have to lie to HIMSELF.
So I sang:
“Well he lies to himself, so he can lie to me
Well he lies to himself, so I won’t really see.”
And I concluded that the reason he would decide to not admit to being madly in love with this other woman, was because he was afraid I might murder her if he did.
“Cause nobody wants to die, nobody wants to die
Well he tells me lies, ’cause nobody wants to die…no.”
And understandably, who really does want to die?
I did quote him in the song, when he tried to convince me against this jealous idea:
“‘Oh be reasonable, see this reason:
I want you more, I will always want you more’…”
But I concluded once again:
“He says this to me because…
Nobody wants to die, nobody wants to die
Well he tells me lies, ’cause nobody wants to die…no.”
Once I had completed the song and eventually performed it for Addison, it was pretty short, only 2 minutes at best.
Addison and I decided (once my jets had cooled a bit) that he should write his own part, and have the song be a conversation between the two of us.
He didn’t write what I expected him to, though his words were coming from a defensive place (understandably):
“How many times has she set her mind on some way she thinks things should be?
She tells me what she sees, and how she wants to meet me in her dreams.
So I accept what she suggests, ’cause I love her the best
But when those dreams turn into tests sometimes I got nothing left
Still I say ‘yes’ ’cause…”
And then he sings this part during the chorus:
“I don’t want to kill her love for me…
I would never lie, but I don’t want her love to die.”
So this song began as an unpleasant ordeal, but nowadays it has become a fun song to for us to play together, and I believe it will continue to be as the years roll on… 🙂
Click on the link below to listen to Nobody Wants to Die and/or purchase the song: