Things I Wrote This Week: Cycling, Marriage Equality, I Believe, Dream

I’m trying to get in the habit of writing daily to improve my writing and get the creative juices flowing in my brain. In the past when I try to blog daily I end up quitting shortly afterwards. So, this time I’m going to just try to write something relatively quick daily… maybe something that was distracting me while meditating, or maybe a current event, or maybe something else. Regardless, if I keep up the practice I will post them as a blog post every week or so. These aren’t meant to be a completely thought out opinion or well formatted posts, they are just some thoughts going around in my head.

6/24 – Cycling

The most common complaint I see about cyclists is that we “run red lights and stop signs”. It always makes me wonder if people are angry that some cyclists do something they perceive to be dangerous or if they are angry because cyclists seem to get away with breaking the rules. Is it genuine fear for our safety or is it a drive for equality? I actually think it is the latter. It should be noted that rolling through a stop sign and treating a red light like a stop sign instead of a light is actually legal in a few places. Bikes are treated differently because they are different, they are also the only means of transportation without a segregated path in most places to provide safe travel. Pedestrians have sidewalks, automobiles have roads, and cyclists usually have to navigate on one of those two… pissing everyone else off in the process.

Cyclists tend to get grouped together and blamed for an individual’s bad behavior. Yes, some cyclists are assholes and inconsiderate and break laws, but that doesn’t mean all of us do that. I have never heard someone say “ugh, that car just cut me off in traffic, all drivers are terrible and should be banned”, but I hear that about cyclists. Like it or not, bicycles are here to stay. In fact, they are becoming more popular as America slowly shifts away from a car culture. Ideally, cyclists would have their own protected area to operate like other means of transportation, but we aren’t there yet.

6/27 – Marriage Equality

Yesterday was an amazing day. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of marriage equality. I understand that many conservatives are upset, and I kind of understand why, but I think their anger isn’t justified. Certainly, this has altered the definition of marriage in the US on the legal level. But we humans do that all the time. Marriage was redefined when the Supreme Court ruled that people of different races could marry. Marriage was redefined on a cultural level a century ago when it started being about love instead of property. Throughout the thousands of years of human pair bonding marriage has been redefined numerous times across time and cultures. There is no objective definition of marriage that exists outside of time and place, it isn’t some sort of Platonic form. It is a human social construct that we use to arrange our society, and as our society evolves and changes to advancements in science and technology our social constructs will change. I think this will cause a shift in society, and with most societal shifts there will be some institutions that must change or be destroyed. That is the natural cycle of things, that is creative destruction, that is evolution. And that is okay. We don’t get better as a society by staying stagnant as time changes. Jobs, relationships, government, religion… they all will be forced to adjust their place in society as we advance. Those that don’t adjust will become a historical footnote.

Today is a day of celebration. My partner and I wish we could be in Minneapolis this weekend for Twin Cities Pride, but unfortunately we are far away. But, we are happy… almost in tears at times. This is a great decision for equality under the law, human liberty, and strengthening of relationships. The country is a better place now than it was 24 hours ago.

6/29 Random Stuff I Believe

I identify as a libertarian in practice and anarchist in theory. Though, I am pragmatic with many things, including my love of liberty. If it turns out that by sacrificing some of our liberties we would live longer, happier, healthier lives then I would sacrifice those liberties (though I wouldn’t force others to make that decision). It turns out that I think increasing the amount of freedom people have also makes their lives longer and of higher quality. But, as a realist my policy positions don’t always match my theoretical foundation. So, here are random things…

  • Basic Income Guarantee – I think we need to switch over to a social safety net that provides a minimum basic income for everyone in the country. It doesn’t necessarily need to get people to the poverty level, but would instead eliminate the shitty bureaucracy and allow people to transition jobs, get an education, take care of a family, etc without worrying about an ear infection killing their child or choosing between paying the electricity and feeding your kids. Welfare and stuff is alright but it is inefficient. Besides, as we move to an automated world more and more jobs are going to become obsolete. Even jobs that used to require a college education, just look at how Khan Academy, Coursera, MIT Online, and such are providing an education for free or a fraction of the cost of the university. Everything can be outsourced or automated and if we want to prevent a violent revolution due to a lack of food and jobs we need to transfer some of the wealth to the people. Maybe a percentage of money saved by automation goes into an account that is distributed, or maybe all the wealthy people get together and realize it is in their best interest to provide the Basic Income without a state apparatus… but I think something needs to happen or the US will implode into a blood bath of fragmented nation states. Then again, that might be a good thing.
  • Healthcare – Ideally the state would get out of healthcare, but that ideal isn’t going to happen. As much as many conservatives talk about rolling back The Affordable Care Act they know that isn’t actually possible. Hell, they bitched and moaned about the Department of Education but couldn’t do anything about it. I think a single-payer system is better than the crony hodge-podge insurance shit we deal with now. Other countries with a single-payer system seem to be doing much better than us. People may scream “BUT SOCIALISM!!!!” and I say, “who the hell cares?”. Of course, there is the irony that many conservatives worship the military, which itself has a “socialist” healthcare system.
  • Drugs – Legalize them all. All of them. Yes, even heroin. As bad as some chemicals can be for individuals or society it is made infinitely worse by forcing it onto the black market. The government can’t even keep drugs out of prison, they sure as hell can’t keep them out of the US. And the DARE fear-mongering program is a waste of money and brings about zero benefits.
  • Marriage – Let everyone who wants get married. Plural marriages are different than same-sex marriage, but it is still consenting adults making a legal contract with each other. There is no reason the state should prevent that from happening.

7/2 Dream

I had a dream last night… not an altogether rare occasion but this one I remembered pretty clearly. I’ve heard that you can learn a lot from dreams by putting yourself in the shoes of all the different components. I’m not sure how much objective truth can be gleamed but it seems fun and will be a cool mental exercise. So, here’s the dream:

I’m standing on a cliff overlooking a forest. It is nighttime and I see that quite a few of the trees are on fire. The fire doesn’t seem to be spreading, they are just single trees burning. I walk down to the nearest tree on fire and one of my friends is standing there. This friend of mine is someone that I’ve only met in real life once, though we are strongly connected online. We have a lot of the same friends and share views on drug policy. She is also someone who goes to Burning Man regularly. To be honest, she is someone I admire greatly and wish I knew better. For simplicity let’s call her June.

As I approach she turns around. I see that she is wearing a hoodie with fur trim. Her hair is also on fire a little bit. She doesn’t seem to notice her scalp burning, she is instead looking at the tree with an expression of fear and helplessness. I start patting her head to put the fire out and she joins me until the fire is out.

We decide to go for a walk through the forest. As we walk we talk about a problem she is having. June has an elderly grandmother who does not approve of her partner. The grandmother is angry that June never told her that she was dating anyone. June says that the relationship isn’t serious and they don’t plan on marrying so it isn’t a big deal to not update her grandma about it. Grandma doesn’t buy it and wants to meet June’s boyfriend. June doesn’t want this and is clearly upset about it all, it is causing tension in the family and stress in her life. June starts to cry as we walk.

Okay, so I think there are several themes and casts of characters to analyze. Let’s start at the beginning:

Me: I exist and view this whole scenario. I think this is me as an outside observer in the lives of my friends. As I interact with June I am more than an observer, I am also a shoulder to cry on and to help put out fires. Though, I seem unable or unwilling to put out the fire on the tree.

Forest: The forest is filled with trees, and possibly one person at each tree… though I didn’t see anyone except June. Maybe while helping a friend I fail to notice other friends. Anyway, some of the trees are on fire, some of my friend’s lives are on fire. They are having problems that I can notice if I just open my eyes.

Tree: My guess is the tree represents each of my friend’s lives. They are strong and solid, and as a group they make up a beautiful forest. The fire seems to be their lives in disarray, or maybe a problem that if it isn’t resolved will be terminally destructive. The fire is also a warning sign that something must be done.

June on Fire: The fire from the tree has spread to her as a person. It is now a real danger to her life and wellbeing. Something must be done soon, even if June doesn’t notice the fire it is still there and dangerous. Ignorance to the problem won’t make it go away, it will only make the healing take longer in the future.

June: It seems that June could represent several people. First, it could be me. I certainly have problems that I neglect, and my relationship with my family is far from good. My sexuality, religious views, political views, and lifestyle have been a source of tension between my family and I. I don’t really confront these problems, they haven’t negatively affected my life much and I am very happy right now.

Second, it could be the real “June”, the girl who I kind of know but am not that close to. This seems unlikely unless there is an unproven way for people to communicate subconsciously through their dreams. Maybe June is in need of help and calling out through the dreamworld for support. I am open to this possibility but cautious about it. Either way, I sent a message to June letting her know about this dream and offering a listening ear if she needs it.

Third, June represents someone else in my life. Someone else whose life is troubled and needs someone to talk to and help putting out the fire. I’m not sure who this could be, but if any of my friends read this and feel like venting or something please reach out to me. I love you dearly and will do my best to help you. A stranger once saved my life, and I am always here to do the same.

Walking: The last element I can really remember is walking through the forest. My guess is this is a form of healing. Walking and talking, getting the pressure off of you with a dear friend in a peaceful world.

Things I Wrote This Week: Healthcare, Christian Veganism, Charleston, and Father’s Day

I’m trying to get in the habit of writing daily to improve my writing and get the creative juices flowing in my brain. In the past when I try to blog daily I end up quitting shortly afterwards. So, this time I’m going to just try to write something relatively quick daily… maybe something that was distracting me while meditating, or maybe a current event, or maybe something else. Regardless, if I keep up the practice I will post them as a blog post every week or so. These aren’t meant to be a completely thought out opinion or well formatted posts, they are just some thoughts going around in my head.

6/18/2015 – Health Care
I know I may lose my libertarian credentials for this view, but at this point I don’t really care. More and more my libertarian opinions are founded on the belief that libertarianism will bring the best life for the most people instead of some philosophical purity. If I have to muddy my libertarianism in order to make life better for others then so be it.

All other things being equal, I don’t have a problem with a tax-based single payer healthcare system in the United States. As much as the US likes to boast about being the best we are actually pretty shitty in most healthcare measurements. The VA system when I was in the military wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t worry about breaking my arm and going bankrupt. Young soldiers didn’t worry that their children would get an ear infection and die. Pregnant wives didn’t wonder if they could afford to see a doctor throughout the pregnancy. I see no reason why we can’t have a single-payer system in place that is supplemented by private practices.

I realize it will be imperfect. But our current system seems devastatingly imperfect. Particularly for people like me who don’t have a traditional life. My partner is paying for health insurance but is basically uncovered because most plans won’t cross state lines, and those that do cross state lines are prohibitively expensive. We might as well be crossing international borders. Hell, even if there wasn’t a tax based system it would be nice if there was a truly national healthcare system available. I just don’t understand why car insurance companies have figured out how to operate in both North Carolina and Oregon, but if I need to get pink eye looked at in Oregon I may be shit out of luck because my insurance is from California. We live in an online, international age but we still act like people only leave their homes for an annual vacation to a time share 200 miles away.

6/19/2015 – Christian Veganism

When God gave man dominion over the beasts of the earth (Genesis), was there any limits to this? Does this dominion mean that man can do whatever he wishes… own, cause pain, and even kill? Or does it mean that man is to care for the beasts of the earth?

I’ve seen this argument made to basically say God is okay with us eating animals for food unneccesarily. I’m not a Biblical scholar but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Christ seems to have wanted to minimize pain and suffering in the world. His message was one of love towards all, particularly those who can’t defend themselves. Maybe that doesn’t apply to animals, but I don’t see how God would be upset if we lived our lives in a way that minimized harm to animals as well.

Doesn’t the Bible also say that husband has dominion over the household and his wife? Does that mean that he can abuse and kill them as well? Maybe it is a different root word or my memory is wrong. It has been a while since I read up on this. Even if Biblical morality allows for eating animals, it seems like it is better if we don’t. Animals don’t exist simply for our pleasure.

6/20/2015 – Charleston
What happened in Charleston was a tragedy. It was a racist, terrorist act committed by a young adult who was indoctrinated and brain-washed. I’ve lived in South Carolina, I was engaged to a young woman from South Carolina, I have a little bit of insight into the culture there. There is certainly a pride in ignorance. Much of “Redneck Pride” and “Southern Pride” is about rejecting outside influence, placing tribe above all else, and racial segregation. As disgusting as the rebel flag is to many of us, the outside push for it to be removed from the SC statehouse is only going to make things worse. There is a strong current of belief in the south that all the poverty and problems are the fault of outsiders. They cling to their flag and what it means to them (sometimes racist, sometimes not) because it gives them a reason why things are bad. It is a corner of the US with a weak economy, a poor education system, and a theocratic view of government. It is no coincidence that poverty, obesity, abstinence only education, and harsh criminal penalties for marijuana all exist in the same place. There is little education available and a cultural resistance to what education can be found. There is a religious culture that views contraception as evil. I remember when my ex-fiancé wanted to get an Associates Degree at a Community College, her family freaked out and didn’t understand why she would ever want to leave her hometown (a hometown with three generations of family members living in trailers with no economic opportunities). I remember her father saying that he would never allow his daughters to date anyone who wasn’t white, though his son could date any race as long as he didn’t marry them or get them pregnant. A nice dash of sexism with your racism. He swore he wasn’t racist, just that the races mixing was unnatural… “like cats and dogs fucking”.

Regardless, the outside pressure is going to make things worse. It is going to make those in poverty believe that outsiders are trying to destroy their way of life. And maybe outsiders are, I’m all for the destruction of terrible institutions and cultures. But I will be very surprised if this outside pressure through petitions and phone calls and viral videos of  rebel flag burnings is going to bring about anything fruitful. Like it or not, if you want the rebel flag to come down the culture of the region needs to change on its own, or you will have to send in men with guns to force it.

6/21/2015
Today is Father’s Day. A hallmark holiday with good intentions, buy like many good intentions meant for universal distribution it often has some negative side effects. Those who have suffered the most often bear the worst of it. A child whose father was abusive, absent, or just a shit-head are forced to be surrounded by happy children celebrating the paternal figure in their lives. Some are likely forced to make cards by well-meaning teachers who are unaware of the hurt and pain that these children experience at home. I think it is important to show love and caring and recognition to those in our lives who are good to us, but to force a universal standard upon children is a maneuver that will hurt many.

Adults on Father’s Day are better off, for they are adults and can handle more pain, but it can still be a day of sadness. Many are plagued by memories of betrayal, sexual abuse, or abandonment. While others long to be a father but can’t due to lacking a partner or physical inability. As ads flood our tv channels, radio waves, and online searches imploring us to “thank dad” many people have a spotlight shone on their pain.

Sure, Father’s Day (as well as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day) means well. But for some it hurts. That doesn’t mean those of us with loving fathers shouldn’t recognize those in our lives who have provided support, comfort, and guidance. But maybe, just maybe, we should be aware that our perspective is a limited one and not everyone feels the same.

Helena to Bozeman (or, The Hills of Methtana)

Helena proved to be a fun little town. There was definitely a more rural feel to it than Missoula, but it still had some great breweries and bars, and our Couchsurfing host was amazing. She showed us around town a bit (took us to Blackfoot River brewery as well as Lewis and Clark brewery), and she graciously let us take over her backyard and house for a few days. I feel like Helena has a lot more for us to find if we had time to explore and dive in a bit. Maybe someday we will be back for an extended stay.

Higgs. Chillin'.

On Wednesday (5/20) we hit the road again. Our next major stop was Bozeman, Montana…another city we knew nothing about but shows up on a map. The day started out a little late for us, it is always tough to gather up and get moving after a few days off, but by 11 AM or so we were back on the road. It wasn’t long before we were greeted by our old friend, Headwind. Headwind sucks and I want to punch him in his cocky throat. The first hour or so was a little rough with Headwind plus a slight uphill, but eventually the wind settled down and things got a bit easier. The time passed quickly as we wound through the mountains, and we even saw some antelope (antelopes?) in a field!

The last ten miles or so of the day were pretty easy, it was mostly downhill. We are now coasting along the Missouri River which eventually finds its way to St. Louis (thank you informative sign at the campsite for that info). Also, Lewis and Clark hung out around here a couple hundred years ago, which I find kind of cool.

Home is where the tent is.

Our place of rest for the night was a little campground along the Missouri (Indian Road Campground). It was free, which is always a bonus. Also, someone left a full can of Coke on the table near our spot so we mixed that with some rum we happened to have. I don’t remember where the hell we got a small bottle of rum but I’m glad we had it. It was nice getting into the campground a bit early, I was able to plug in the solar system, get some work done, and even do a little reading. This camping thing is pretty cool when you have some daylight to enjoy it.

The night was fairly uneventful and our morning was calm and relaxed. We eventually hit the road around 10:30 AM and made a quick stop at a gas station in Townsend to get some water. The campground we stayed at was wonderful in many ways (including being free) but it didn’t have any potable water available. But, nothing a stop at a gas station couldn’t fix!

The route for the day was similar to yesterday, a gradual uphill for about two-thirds of the ride and then a downhill into our planned camping spot near Three Rivers. Despite an early appearance by Headwind (blast him), things went smoothly until about 10 miles into the ride. Then, we hit some construction. This wasn’t just normal construction with flaggers or a detour of a few hundred yards, this was serious construction. The entire road had been torn up and was basically gravel-covered mud for about five miles. Hardly ideal for a car, much less a bicycle. We didn’t really have a choice, as no alternative routes showed up on any maps, so we just continued through the construction zone cautiously as semis blazed past us at alarming speed. (It seems they really don’t care if there are no road markings or actual pavement to drive on.) About halfway through the construction, one of the workers stopped us and said we could ride in an area that was sectioned off from the main road. Apparently they weren’t doing any work in that area today so it was all ours. It was still gravel, but at least we didn’t have vehicles flying past us spraying us with mud and flying rocks.

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line. Engines pumping and thumping in time. The green light flashes, the flag goes up.

We eventually made it through the construction, got back on solid road, and were finally able to take a much-needed break. We saw a hitchhiker who waved to us, but that was about it. Then, a few minutes later, we spotted a bicycle chained to a piece of farm equipment. Sitting nearby was a bedroll, a backpack, and some other belongings. One of the tires on the bike was flat and we realized the hitchhiker may have actually been a cyclist who needed assistance. If that was the case, we wished he would have asked for our help! Regardless, Anna and I both promised to start explicitly asking any travelers we pass, especially those on foot, if they need help instead of just smiling and waving. One benefit of riding so heavy is that we generally have plenty of water, food, and electricity to share with anyone who might need it.

Peter admiring that world famous "Big Sky"

Eventually we got back on the road after our break, climbed to the top of our hill, and found ourselves staring at dark storm clouds right in our path. It was tough to judge distance but we guessed they were a couple miles away, coming our direction. There wasn’t much we could do so we just pressed on and hoped for the best. Luckily, we somehow missed the storm and made it to our campground without really encountering anything more than a few random raindrops.

Hmm, that doesn't look good.

The campsite (Missouri Headwaters State Park) was a bit of a disappointment. First off, it is expensive as fuck. It is $28 for a tent spot (despite saying $10 online). Normally a campground will offer you some amenities for that price, like running water, electricity, possibly a shower and/or laundry facility on site, maybe a pavilion, or even just beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, this campground did not get the memo. It is miles away from any actual rivers or trails or anything you would come to the state park to see. There is no electricity, showers, laundry, or even trash removal on site. The bathroom is an outhouse. And the only place to refill water is about three miles away from the campsites…which meant we had to bike an extra six miles to fill our water bottles. We essentially paid nearly $30 for worse amenities than we had at the free campground the night before. Kind of disappointing, but not much could be done. (We were pretty beat at the end of the day and biking an unknown number of extra miles to avoid this campsite didn’t sound fun.) We set up our tent, ate some food, charged the solar battery for a bit, and went to bed. Soon, we would be in Bozeman.

Rainbow!

The road to Bozeman was fairly straightforward – we had some rolling hills with small towns and farms along the way. We met some friendly horses who ran up to their fence and eagerly snatched up a few baby carrots out of Anna’s hands. This might have been some sort of farming taboo, feeding horses that aren’t yours, but everything seemed to turn out okay.

Anna feeding some carrots to our biggest fans.

And, of course, we were surrounded by meth. Anti-meth signs were everywhere. The hand-drawn “not even once” posters dotted the landscape and every city advertised (bragged? warned?) that they were a “Meth Watch” community. I really never knew Montana had a meth problem and part of me seriously wonders why. Is it just impossible to get good drugs? I guess Montana is pretty far from the traditional drug pipelines of Seattle, Chicago, New York, Miami, San Diego, etc… but man, this is the age of the Internet. I know for a fact you can order incredibly clean MDMA online and have it delivered by the postal service, and all you need is an Internet connection, Google, a few hours of spare time, and a ninth grade level reading comprehension. Oh well, I guess out here meth is king, which is really kind of sad because MDMA is such a better experience. I’ve never actually done meth unless it was mixed with Molly to make it a bit speedier. Much like heroin it really doesn’t appeal to me, but I do know people who use meth recreationally and are functional parts of society.

I’m torn on these scare tactics. I could see them being effective in a limited way if only applied to certain drugs. If we had a comprehensive education program about drugs and ended the tyrannical war on drugs, then it could be effective to have a couple drugs (like meth) that are advertised as too dangerous to try even once. But clearly that requires us to stop putting weed, MDMA, cocaine, ketamine, 2C-B, LSD, shrooms, and everything else into the same category. If you tell students that all drugs are really bad (mmm-kay) and they end up smoking some weed and see that it isn’t that bad, then you undermine the entire program. If the government is willing to lie about weed, why should I trust them about meth?

Of course, the best thing to do is to legalize everything and put more money into health services like Portugal did. Further research into addiction is showing that the environment is a major factor, and people (or rats) don’t sink their whole lives into a drug if they have a community to be a part of. The research and work done by Dr. Carl Hart is really changing how we look at drugs and policy, but sadly not many politicians are listening because power is gained by blaming drugs.

Anyway…that was an unexpected tangent.

About halfway into Bozeman, we started getting some ominous clouds forming over us. I thought we were going to be luck out again, Anna wasn’t so sure. Anna was right. I should listen to her more. After lunch we ended up getting soaked for about 20 minutes. To be honest, sometimes that sucks more than it raining all day. Getting pissed on for just 20 minutes feels like a prank. Like Zeus and Poseidon are on Mount Olympus laughing at our happiness and thinking it would be funny if we had dripping wet socks, but not wanting the farmers in the area to actually get their crops watered. Fuck you Zeus and Poseidon.

Welcome to Bozeman?

Despite the downpour (and another one soon after that, which we escaped by hiding under a Safeway awning), we made it to our wonderful Couchsurfing host’s home in Bozeman around 6 PM. We chatted for a couple hours, despite all of us being pretty tired (she had early work in the morning). Our host is going to start a European bike tour later this year and it was fun to exchange experiences, talk about equipment, and hear each other’s plans. Sadly, we are only staying here one night and the rest of our time in Bozeman will be with someone we met off Warm Showers. She seems pretty awesome too so I am sure things will continue to be great. In some ways this bike ride is more about the people than anything. We meet such awesome fucking people. Hell, we even had a stranger offer to let us crash in his living room when we were buying supplies at REI. The world really is filled with beautiful, amazing souls who genuinely want to help others reach their potential and experience all this world has to offer. It is an inspiring thing.

**If you are interested in more photos of our journey we have a Facebook page you can follow (www.facebook.com/shiftsandhiggles).**

Helena to Bozeman - Map

Helena to Bozeman - Elevation

Missoula to Helena (or, The Camels Were Gone from Montana by 1867)

Well, my partner and I are back on our multi-year bicycle tour around the country. I will try my best to bring my posts from our travel blog (www.BarelyFunctionalAdults.wordpress.com) over here. If you are interested in more photos of our journey we have a Facebook page you can follow (www.facebook.com/shiftsandgiggles). I will try to post other personal stuff that comes to mind on this page as well but writing time is limited.

——————————

Saying goodbye is never easy.

As excited as we were to hit the trail again, it was hard leaving Missoula behind. We met so many wonderful new friends and strengthened old friendships as well. Missoula is a home to us now, a place where we feel loved and accepted. It isn’t easy leaving that, but, like most things in life, the easy way is not the way of growth or adventure… and we had an adventure to restart.

There are moments in life when language rings hollow. Trying to express how much we will miss this friend is one of those moments. Part of our hearts stay here in Missoula with her.

Our first day of travel was the perfect way to begin – exactly what we needed day 1 to be. We stopped at Black Coffee Roasters one last time for some world-class coffee and their batshit amazing avocado toast. Then, around 11 AM, we got on the road and headed east towards the mountains with wide shoulders to ride on and beautiful weather to boot. The terrain was uphill, but only slightly. This was a great opportunity for us to test out our new bike and trailer set-ups – prior to leaving we never got a chance to ride around with our trailers fully packed. (Smart, we know.) Turns out they are heavy, but not overly so, similar to our previous leg of the bike ride. The new bikes and trailers are incredibly stable and provide a much smoother ride than our old gear did. Higgins loves his new set-up as well. He doesn’t hesitate or resist getting into the trailer anymore and loves being able to stick his nose out the front to smell all the things. (Don’t worry, we have two leashes attached to his collar and the inside of the trailer to make sure he can’t lean too far or jump out and hurt himself.)

Higgs is ready to roll!

As our first day continued, we passed all the usual Montana things like a distillery, a bunch of farm animals, deer, a skunk, ghost towns, etc. We were lunching along the Blackfoot River when Anna’s front tube mysteriously went flat while her bike was just sitting there. I’m not sure why, the puncture was on the inner ring of the tube and this was the same tube that came with the bike to begin with. Oh well, it was an easy fix, and hopefully the flat was a fluke! The late afternoon brought some clouds and the threat of rain, but as we climbed to the top of our final hill the weather was still on our side. The original plan was to just camp on the side of the road but we found a campground in Lubrecht Experimental Forest that had unlocked cabins (which were furnished and even had electricity!) We weren’t sure if the campground was actually open…there were no signs to help us, and the only people we encountered just waved at us from a distance. We waited for someone to approach us so we could ask whether it was okay to sleep there, but no one ever did, so we just had a nice dinner, set up our stuff in one of the cabins, and went to sleep.

1554555_1455686278057393_5985798124334613138_n

The night went smoothly, except for when we were woken up at 4:30 AM by a tow truck backing up near our cabin (we never figured out what it was doing there – there were really no cars there to tow). Morning came soon after that and we hit the road after donating a few dollars to the camp as a thank-you for such nice accommodations. The day started with a steady downhill along the highway. The shoulder started getting a little narrower and had more and more sand and gravel on it. It was still nice but the conditions were deteriorating slowly. We also had a lot of hills… and a lot of hill optical illusions (when you look ahead and it looks like a downhill but turns out to be an uphill, AKA why are we pedaling as hard as we can to go downhill?? Pretty frustrating). We took our time though and had breaks whenever we needed them. Everything was pretty much going according to plan until we hit the intersection of Highway 200 (the road we’d been traveling on) and Highway 141. The plan was to continue up 200 to Lincoln but the shoulder basically disappeared, traffic was zooming past at or above the speed limit of 70 MPH, and the road started winding up a mountain with a cliff on one side. It just wasn’t safe. So, we decided to have a change of plans, turn onto 141, and head directly south towards Helena instead of going through Lincoln.

Doesn't the

Highway 141 was probably the safest and best option we had, but it turned out to be a pretty miserable option. We quickly found ourselves in farmland facing a terrible headwind and crosswind. Apparently, when you destroy all of the trees in an area, it becomes incredibly windy. The climbs also continued with fairly steep rolling hills the whole way. I am beginning to think staying in Missoula for 8 months and storing lots of calories in our bodies for future use was not the wisest thing to do.

11050684_1455685258057495_3572389371188107719_n

Anyway, the temperature started to drop and any time we stopped biking to take a break, the cold made us pretty uncomfortable. We were trying to make it to a lake in the hopes there would be camping options there, but as the hours passed and we got more and more exhausted, we realized we weren’t going to get to the lake in time. There weren’t a lot of other options for camping, but we eventually found a spot on the side of the road with some bushes where we set up our tent. We fell asleep quickly and slept hard, despite the cold and the occasional sound of passing cars or deer sniffing our tent.

WHY?!?!

The next day started cold and a bit damp. Since we had changed routes unexpectedly, we really had no idea what the day had in store for us, but we did know we had two days to go (about 60 miles) until we reached Helena. We started riding with the gloomy, overcast sky hanging above us, threatening to pour rain on us at any moment but rarely doing anything more than drizzling. The road was pretty decent with very little traffic and the usual hazards that come with rural bike riding… loose dogs running across the highway at us (luckily they turned out to be friendly), skunks hanging on mile marker signs, etc. By early afternoon we’d made it to the “town” of Avon where we stopped to rest on the porch of a building next to the local fire station.

11054782_1455684594724228_5578615915098623243_n

While we were resting and eating lunch, a truck pulled up next to us. It was Old Bill. (Name changed to protect Old Bill’s privacy, and also because we don’t know Old Bill’s real name.) Old Bill asked us what we were doing and made general small talk. When he found out we were going through The Pass he let out a friendly laugh and told us to watch out for the snow. We chuckled along with him. Old Bill was always joking about snow. We were sure the weather wasn’t going to be THAT cold up on the mountain. Old Bill continued on his way and we continued resting. A few minutes later Old Bill came back, and told us about a great restaurant down the road where we could stop in to get some coffee and warm up. Then he laughed again and pulled away.

11261926_1455684534724234_6448127036275459203_n

We hit the road soon after that and started heading east on Highway 12. The traffic was heavier but we had a wide shoulder to use as we crept upwards towards The Pass. The first 9 miles or so were pretty easy and we arrived at a gas station/convenience store in Elliston at around 6 PM. We stopped to get some coffee, use the bathroom, and convince our muscles they were ready to climb The Pass directly ahead of us. The next five miles or so were going to be hell already, so of course the clouds above us decided it was time to dump their load. We knew that waiting wasn’t going to get the job done, so we got back on the road despite the rain, quickly finding ourselves at the foot of the mountain where the following historic marker sat.

If I had a time machine I would go back 150 years just to see camels in Montana

The climb was terrible. It really wasn’t a ride, it was a walk. We pushed our bikes nearly the whole 5 miles. The 8% grade was just too much with the gear we were carrying and the days of travel behind us. It didn’t help matters that we had a very narrow shoulder and lots of wind, plus visibility had decreased dramatically because of the rain and clouds. We often found ourselves pressed against the guardrails when cars passed by too closely (GET INTO THE LEFT LANE, YOU FOOLS!) But, after hours of pushing our bikes, ignoring our numbed hands and feet, being blasted by strong winds and rain that turned to sleet, we managed to get to top of The Pass just before sunset. (Although the sun was nowhere in sight behind the thick clouds, we assumed it was setting somewhere). We set up our tent quickly, put the tarp over our equipment, ate some glorious baked beans out of a can with nutritional yeast and Frank’s hot sauce, and then fell asleep. Sleep didn’t last very long. The tent collapsed on us in the middle of the night because of the heavy winds (mental note #1: always stake the tent down, don’t be a lazy asshole) and I ran out into the cold sleet to fix it, breaking our food bin in the process (mental note #2: plastic food bins cannot support the weight of a full grown human being). After fixing the tent I fell back asleep quickly, but the morning came soon and with the morning came snow. Old Bill was right.

11295549_1455681858057835_2453847273345377208_n

There’s something you need to understand about Old Bill: he is always joking but always serious. There are innumerable rumors about his origins. Some say that his Granny was a settler named Helen and the city of Helena is named after her. Others say that his great-grandpa was Sammy MacDonald who came over as a settler after the Civil War, and that the MacDonald Pass was named after him. Some others say it goes further back than that –  that Old Bill is the last direct descendant of the ancient Montanan Native American tribes and the state is named after his ancestors. Finally, some claim he has Elven blood in him, that his ancestors chose not to travel across the sea with the rest of his kind to the Undying Lands before the Dawn of Man.

Regardless, Old Bill was right. We got snowed on. A lot.

Due to the snow and our general tiredness we didn’t really get moving until about 1 PM. Luckily(?) our day started with a 7ish mile downhill. Normally, that would be awesome. But this wasn’t a normal day. It was bitterly cold out and we couldn’t ride for more than a couple miles before needing to pull over and stick our hands in our crotches to warm them back up, lest we lose any of our fingers to frostbite. The combination of strong winds, cold temperature, and wet conditions had taken its toll on us. There was an unexpected bright spot though when we pulled over at a scenic outlook. A nice elderly couple in a car had pulled over there as well and they were very excited about our adventure. They chatted with us a bit and kind of brightened our morning. We also met another cyclist who was traveling from Phoenix to Minnesota…he looked pretty rough. He was missing most of his teeth, had some pretty intense sun damage to his skin, was wearing shorts in 35 degree weather, and he didn’t have front brakes. The three of us took off down the hill at about the same time but he quickly passed us while yelling “Ho ho ho!” to Anna. It was weird.

11252106_1455681464724541_6149139373537345210_n

Eventually we got to the bottom of the mountain and pushed on into Helena, where we found a Starbucks to sit down and warm our bodies. While we sat there a man named Fred Cowie approached us. It turns out Fred is a Professor of History at Carroll College in Helena, but his true passion is art. He chatted with us a bit about our lives and the adventures he has had. Just before he left the Starbucks, he gave us a beautiful small watercolor he painted and his business card. It was an amazing meet-up.

After we got a bit of work done at the Starbucks, we ran some last minute errands and then headed over to the home of our host for three nights. Nicolle found us on Couchsurfing and offered to let us stay at her place while in Helena. She has a beautiful house on a big plot of land with dogs and chickens. Overall it has been a great ride so far but we are looking forward to resting a bit, exploring what Helena has to offer us, and prepping for the next round of travel.

Missoula to Helena - Map

Missoula to Helena - Elevation

An Intersexual Child

While reading “Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex” a question popped into my head, what would I do if I had a child who was intersex*. It is unlikely that I will have any children, and even less likely that my partner will go through pregnancy to have our child, so I posed the following to Facebook to see how others handled this:

Before having kids did you research and discuss with your partner things like intersexuality?

Like, how would you handle it if your child was born with both male and female genitalia, or “abnormal” genitalia?

The results were kind of mixed. I’ll start with the group that I agree with.

Do Nothing: Unless there was a medical need for survival or the health of my child I would do nothing. I wouldn’t remove testes, trim back a phallus that was “too big” for a clitoris but “too small” for a penis, alter the urethra opening, create a vaginal cavity, or anything else. If my child decides to alter their body to conform to how they feel inside that is a choice they can make when they are adults. I don’t think permanently altering the body of a child (and this includes circumcision) is within the rights or responsibilities of the parent unless that permanent alteration is necessary for survival or a healthy life.

Don’t Worry About It Now: The second group basically said the chances of it happening are so small that it isn’t even worth discussing until it happens. Personally, I don’t operate that way. My partner and I discuss a lot of things that probably won’t happen, we don’t sit around worrying and fretting, but we do have basic plans if something unexpected (tragic or not) happens. While numbers are very hard to come by for intersexuality current estimates put about 1 in 100 babies are born that differ from the standard binary, and about 1 in 1,000 babies receive surgery to “correct” “abnormalities”. That isn’t a small number and is in the realm of a child having Down Syndrom (which seems to be discussed more often). That seems like something that should be discussed at least once if you are bringing a life into this world, at least to get an idea that you and your partner are on the same page. You may not know exactly what you will do but the discussion seems worth having.

Abort: One person put abortion but he may have been trolling. I disagree with this for two reasons. First, it is technologically impossible, you don’t know whether your child is intersex until after it is born. Secondly, wanting a child but aborting it because there might be some difficulty raising it is a shitty move. Don’t have a child if you only want it to be easy or normal.

Appeal to Authority: Another response was to let the doctor decide what to do. Honestly, this may have been my response before reading the book. Aside from giving a view into the history of intersexuality in France and Great Britain, the book also showed that doctors have traditionally had a vested interest in maintaining a heterosexual binary in society. To many of them all sexuality should fit in two boxes, humans are either MEN (male, attracted to women, masculine) or WOMEN (female, attracted to men, feminine) and there is no room for things in between. That is changing in some circles but doctors aren’t gods, they are biased humans who lack a lot of knowledge and won’t bear the consequences if they make a mistake when permanently altering an infant.

As we continue to explore what it means to be human we are finding that sexuality is far more complicated than anyone could have realized. Terms like pansexual, polyamory, and genderfluid didn’t even exist a generation ago. What it is all really pushing towards is an acceptance of individuals as individuals instead of pushing them into boxes. Many power structures (particularly religion and government) have a vested interest in keeping everyone in easily defined boxes and categories but, thanks to the internet (imo), that is changing. Someone’s gender, chromosomes, and genitals are becoming less important. Questions like “are they straight?” or “is that a woman?” have always been cover for what we really want to know “Could they be attracted to me?” or “Do they fit into a category?”, those questions replace individuality with tribalism and changes their value based on whether they will be a potential sex partner.

Thankfully, we are moving away from that. We are moving to a time where we love ourselves as we are and we love others for who they are.

*I realize definitions can be tricky but for this blog intersex means that the genitalia (internal and/or external) do not easily fit into the male/female binary. I think that binary is limiting and bullshit given the diversity of our evolved species but that is for a different blog post.

Pathfinder

For the last few months or so I have been getting together online with my brothers and few other friends to play Pathfinder (basically Dungeons and Dragons), but sadly that time has come to an end. Trying to coordinate the schedules of five or more adults who have families, kids, jobs, etc has become unmanageable. I guess that is a common story when it comes to D&D and I am a bit surprised at how sad I am about the whole thing.

This was my first experience with “pencil and paper” games. Growing up I was told that D&D (and similar games like MechWarrior) were evil, tools of the devil, would cause addiction, would destroy my grades, etc. It turns out that isn’t really the case. What struck me most about playing is how open it is, you can literally try and do anything. This sets it apart from video games, even massive games like World of Warcraft. We are just not at the point technologically where software can even begin to compete with the human imagination.

Playing D&D is more of an art than a science. Sure, having book knowledge about your characters and rules and such is necessary, but the real enjoyment comes from using creativity to find solutions. Often, the most fun is not shooting fireballs and swinging swords, but is getting into your character and talking your way out of a solution, or even finding a way to avoid a problem altogether. I am going to miss taking a few hours out of each week to become a cleric with a hawk on my shoulder and going around bringing balance back to the world, but maybe I’ll be able to play again soon. Until then, I have those wonderful guys at The Adventure Zone podcast playing D&D version 5.0 to keep me entertained.

Rules

Recently my friends Isaac and Zak posted some of the “rules” they have for their own life. It seemed like a cool idea so I did the same thing, though many of these rules I break regularly and some are more like goals instead of laws in my life.

  • Drink plenty of water: Cutting out soda and other beverages (except for evening beer and morning coffee) has really made me feel healthier. Sometimes I forget to drink water regularly throughout the day so I have an app called Plant Nanny that reminds me to drink water and rewards me with cute plants that grow.
Untitled

Aren’t they cute? (Despite the terribly fuzzy picture)

  • Apply my ethics to food: I strive to apply my ethical stances on harming others (basically, don’t harm others) to my food sources as well. That means I am generally vegan unless the food is going to go in the trash or is a gift from someone. A bonus to this is eating a minimally processed plant-based diet has been really healthy for me.
  • Partners Come First: My sexual partners should have at least one orgasm before I have mine. Aside from just being polite, focusing on the pleasure and satisfaction of another person is an incredibly rewarding experience.
  • Unfriend Negative People: I try to unfriend people on Facebook who contribute nothing of value to conversations and only serve to be a negative force. I don’t mind debate and discussion on my posts (though I think Facebook is a terrible platform for that) but some people seem to show up just to dash the happiness of others. I don’t need that in my life.
  • Lose Pants: I take off pants (and all clothes) whenever possible. Environment often dictates this but if I am in a public or private place where nudity isn’t going to get me arrested or kicked out of a home then I will go au natural
  • Educate Myself: The internet provides access to nearly endless amounts of education so I try to do Khan Academy or watch educational videos or listen to podcasts before I get on Facebook each morning. Similarly, I try to blog before Facebook each day (this is new though)
  • Go Digital: When I want a new book I try and purchase an Audible or Kindle version. This is both for practicality (I can’t take all my books on the bike ride) and to guarantee I have access to that information in the future. It is unlikely something saved to Amazon’s server will get lost or broken like a book will.
  • Yelp: Write yelp reviews often, and try to be as honest as possible
  • Kiss: Kiss my wife passionately at least once a day and make sure she knows I love her
  • Savor Beer: Only drink good beers as the first or second one of the night. If I’m buzzed I can’t appreciate the artistry of brewing.
  • Minimize Distractions: When I am working or creating I put my cell phone in a different room and close all tabs that aren’t part of the task at hand.
  • Balance Art and Entertainment: When I am watching something on Netflix, reading a new book, or listening to music I strive to balance artistic stuff that makes me think and analyze my own life, and entertainment which serves to relax and distract for a time.
  • Love Myself: Whenever I get out of the shower I take several moments and look at myself naked in the mirror. I then mentally pick out the things I like about my body.
  • Minimize Trash: I purchase products in bulk or second-hand whenever possible.