Environmental Factors

It is amazing how much a change in weather can affect me. Sleeping outdoors in a cold rain storm starts a cycle that is difficult for me to break. I wake up grumpy from lack of good sleep. Instead of starting my routine of breakfast, coffee, and writing, I lay in my sleeping bag feeling sorry for myself and refreshing Facebook. Without my daily routine of writing I seem to lack the motivation necessary to work out. This leads me to neglect my diet. I end up eating a lot more junk and sweets than I normally would and I forgot to take my supplements as well. One bad night leads me to make bad decisions where my body and mind are treated terribly.

That was basically the situation yesterday. We woke up on the side of Highway 75 in Oklahoma after a night of cold rain. It was an incredibly stressful day and we made the tough decision to rent a U-Haul to take us to Dallas instead of biking the final 200 miles or so. I felt defeated and a little like a failure. This is the first time we have abandoned such a large chunk of our journey, but it was simply unsafe. This is one of our adventures, not our last adventure. Death may be the greatest adventure of all but I am simply a Level 34 Dwarf Priest, I’m not ready to solo the Afterlife. I am trying not to be too hard on myself, bicycling is a vehicle for the adventure but it is not the adventure itself. We are still doing something incredible, even if we have to use an internal combustion engine instead of an internal plant-to-muscle engine when the roads are unsafe.

Anyway, after waking up yesterday feeling terrible I got way out of my routine. I did manage to write something but my heart wasn’t in it and I neglected my push-ups and pull-ups. I also didn’t take my nootropics or creatine, and instead filled my belly with calories. It just wasn’t a good day, but it did make me aware of an area of my life in which I can challenge myself and improve. Much of the environment is out of my control, but how I react to the environment is in my control. After all, I do have free will, or at least the illusion of free will. I’m not convinced free will exists, but that is another blog post.

From now on I am going to try and shift my perspective. When weather or other factors beyond my control change my plans I will see that as a challenge from the universe. It is easy to get into a productive routine when everything is under your control, but that isn’t how the world works. Things will be out of your control eventually, but that isn’t a bad thing. Those challenges make you stronger and quicken your growth. You can’t fight baby wolves all day if you want to really level up in life, eventually you got to go find some dragons to slay.

Ohio Should Legalize

Next week Ohio will vote on a shitty bill to legalize marijuana. From my understanding of the bill, if it passes it will grant 10 companies the right to grow all the marijuana in the state. It is a shitty bill, but I think it should be supported. I can’t think of anything that is worse than prohibition and Ohio may end up waiting a decade for another chance to vote on legalization.

Each year close to 20,000 people are arrested in Ohio for possession alone. That is 20,000 people who may lose their freedom, their educational opportunities, and possibly their freedom. That needs to change as soon as possible. We can’t keep sacrificing people’s future while waiting for a perfect bill. This terrible crony capitalist wet dream of a bill is better than the police state that exists in Ohio now. With people literally being shot and killed by police for possession of a plant we need to change the laws to take law enforcement out of the drug business for good.

The Ohio measure could also have some far-reaching national effects. Ohio is a swing state and with a presidential election coming up in 2016 a vote for legalization will force the candidates to address the issue. Many of them may be reluctant to come out against marijuana legalization when campaigning in a state that voted for legalization, it is just a bad political move to disagree with over 50% of the voters in a swing state.

I also think it is beneficial to keep up the momentum. We don’t want drug-warriors to win another battle. The donors who support anti-legalization campaigns need to feel like they are wasting their money on an effort that can’t be won. We can’t let them up to catch their breath until the drug war is completely over. A small victory for prohibitionists in Ohio could breathe new life into their cause and give them optimism, stretching the war out even longer costing countless lives.

The bill is far from perfect. In fact, it is pretty terrible, but it is what we have now and we don’t have time to wait for a perfect plan. There will be plenty of opportunities to change the bill in the future. But even if the bill never changes allowing individuals to have greater freedom is still a major victory. Eventually neighboring states will see the tax revenue flowing into Ohio and change their laws, which will for Ohio to be more competitive. Ohio has the opportunity to be the first state east of Colorado to legalize, meaning they will be closest to consumers in New York, Chicago, Boston, DC, St. Louis, and many other urban centers. This could be a major turning point in the war on drugs as long as people don’t insist on perfection above progress.

Rand Paul

I was sent a Facebook message a couple of days ago by a Facebook friend (someone who I am pretty sure I have never met in real life). He apparently had a problem with me posting an article critical of Rand Paul and wanted to know why I wasn’t voting for him. He also mentioned that I am the only libertarian he knows who doesn’t support Rand Paul. I responded to him quickly from my phone but I figured this might be worth a blog post.

First, I am hardly the only libertarian who doesn’t support Paul for President. I’m sure there are many. Second, it is possible to be critical of a person on particular issues, even publicly so, and still support them during an election. Humans are not perfect beings and we do ourselves (and our leaders) a disservice when we turn a blind eye to their faults, even if it is in the name of some sort of solidarity. Deifying a person is a cult mentality and it is dangerous.

Now to the meat of things…

As a pragmatic anarchist I find voting in national elections an utter waste of time, unless I live in a swing state and the viable candidates are so different that one is clearly a better option. If I lived in a swing state and the two candidates for President were Gary Johnson and Rick Santorum I would find my way to the polls and make a defensive vote against the crazy theocrat. But, that isn’t the case for me. I am registered to vote in Missouri and will likely be somewhere in New York when the election happens in 2016. It is a waste of my time to go to a poll and cast a vote that will make no impact on anything. If someone held a gun to my head and told me to vote I would make a protest vote against the two-party system and vote Libertarian. My view on local and state elections are a little more sympathetic because the people can vote to change specific laws. I think everyone should vote in their state or communities to legalize marijuana, lower taxes, etc, voting on local issues (especially if you avoid voting for specific politicians) is a form of direct action that can bring about real change. Politicians are little more than delayed signals to social norms, they aren’t leaders and rarely make any changes that couldn’t have been made faster if we just got rid of them.

Anarchism and elections aside, I don’t trust Rand Paul. His religious boot-licking that he has been doing recently disgusts me and his views on non-heterosexual relationships are a worry for me. I know people say he is just being pragmatic by appealing to the religious right in order to get elected, but why should I believe he is lying to them but not to liberty lovers. I don’t have any reason to believe he is somehow being covert and won’t just turn his back on his liberty-based promises when it becomes politically expedient. Also, I do think it is a serious problem that he “wrote” a book that used fake Founding Father’s quotes in order to continue spreading the mythology that the Founding Father’s wanted a Christian country or that they were Christians. Some of them might have been but it is much more complicated than that and his lack of integrity in this matter is concerning. I know he has done some good things with prison reform and has decent views on the drug war, but so do other political candidates who don’t get in bed with theocrats. His real strength could be changing the national dialogue by continuing to filibuster and working across the aisle in the Senate to expand freedom, he can shift the Overton Window that future politicians can work in. Even if he did get elected (which he probably won’t) he would be facing a hostile House and Senate, and it is possible that every problem that happens in the country would be blamed on libertarianism. Every military death will be blamed on his dove foreign policy and every economic problem will be blamed on the free market. Getting a libertarian-leaning person into the White House without some support from Congress could be a huge step back for libertarian politics.

So no, I won’t be voting for Rand Paul. I don’t really care if other people do, they can have fun. I don’t think he has a rat’s chance in hell of winning, but if people want to spend their time and money on his campaign go for it. I did the same thing for Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, which was a little bit of a waste of time but I had some good times with like-minded individuals and I was able to get politicking out of my system early. But, this election cycle (which seems to already be too long) I will not really be paying attention or caring about what is going on with the GOP psychopaths. I’ve got too much else to do with my time.

First Impression Bias

Travelling the way we do creates a very unconventional and biased view of certain places. Little instances (like me almost getting hit by a car two days ago) will skew my opinion of a city so negatively that I don’t ever want to visit again. Even something as simple as the weather being rainy the whole visit can poison the city in my mind. This isn’t really fair, most negative events we face could easily happen anywhere in the world, but because it happened in a specific place that place is tainted for me. This first impression bias is something that I want to get over, I want to give places a fair chance and find the good in all of them.

The same first impression bias can be a positive thing as well. When we meet cool people, have good weather, or have a nice route into the city (even if it isn’t representative of the city as a whole) we end up discussing living there some day. This is particularly true if we meet or stay with super cool people. In fact, as I think about the cities I loved the most it is the people we stayed with that made it a great experience. Just knowing that a network of like-minded people exists in a city is enough to make it a potential place to live. I’m not sure if I should go out of my way to correct for these irrationally positive feelings.

I really do believe that most people can be happy just about anywhere as long as a few basic things are present, but what those things are kind of depends on the individual. Some people need wide open spaces, while others need some sort of active night life. Some need biological family nearby, while others need their logical family nearby. Some need to be able to own a multi-bedroom home, while others just need 9 sq. ft. to call their own. The first step to being happy in a place is recognizing the foundational elements that you need.

I think I’m pretty lucky in this regard, I can be pretty happy in any city of at least 90,000 people (but not too big). I don’t need a rocking night life, though I would like a decent number of food options and maybe a place to see a shitty band or listen to a comedian occasionally. Ideally, I’d like to have a smaller home with space for Higgins to play and a garden to grow vegetables. I want rent to be low enough that I can work part-time online without a supplemental job, and maybe a river or mountains within driving distance. Having a college in town would be a plus to bring a younger, more liberal and tolerant element to the city, and to provide continuing education opportunities. I’m not so concerned with the legal environment in most places, like Heinlein said “I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them.”

So far on this bike ride there are about 30 cities that meet this criteria with about half of them having a super positive impression in my mind. There are even some upcoming cities like Austin, TX and Asheville, NC that already have a positive view in my mind.

These are the cities that meet our basic criteria in the order in which we encountered them, with a * next to the ones we loved a lot:

  • San Luis Obispo, CA
  • Santa Cruz, CA
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Arcata, CA *
  • Ashland, OR
  • Eugene, OR *
  • Bend, OR *
  • Corvallis, OR
  • Astoria, OR
  • Olympia, WA *
  • Spokane, WA *
  • Missoula, MT *
  • Helena, MT
  • Bozeman, MT *
  • Billings, MT
  • Dickinson, ND
  • Bismarck, ND
  • Fargo, ND *
  • Cloud, MN *
  • Madison, WI *
  • Milwaukee, WI *
  • Green Bay, WI
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Kalamazoo, MI *
  • Bloomington, IN *
  • Louis, MO
  • Jefferson City, MO
  • Columbia, MO *
  • Tulsa, OK

Military Lessons

In some ways the military and college are very similar. In both cases (at least for me), the lessons I learned and benefits that I’ve brought with me after leaving have very little to do with the specific skills I was taught. Sure, I am a decent shot with a rifle or machine gun and I know how to navigate with a compass, but the real world benefit I got from those skills pale in comparison to the lessons I learned from my leaders and peers. The real benefit from the military (and college) is being around different people, having challenging conversations, and being put into a mentor/mentee situation. Here are the lessons I learned from some of my military leaders:

  • Drill Sergeant Koehnig was my first real leader in the military. Unlike my other two drill sergeants he took a personal interest in the troops and got to know us as individuals. On more than one occasion he pulled me and Private Amrine aside and would take us on walks through the woods when we were in the field. He would impart a little bit of wisdom on us and ask us our plans for the future. I don’t remember the details of most of these sessions but one particular lesson did stick with me. He basically said, “During your life you are going to have a lot of leaders, good and bad, and there is something you can learn from each of them. Take the attributes from the good leaders in your life, try to be like them, and use the bad leaders to show you what you don’t want to become. Both good and bad can be inspiration for improvement”.
  • Sergeant Baker was, by far, the most influential mentor I have ever had in my life. It is not possible to sum up all his lessons in specific stories. As my team leader in Afghanistan he was responsible for my personal and professional development and health, and he took that very seriously, but he didn’t take the military hierarchy seriously. He challenged authority when he thought the mission plan was bad, he asked us to call him Vinnie instead of Sergeant (something I never got good at), and he demonstrated often that being the biggest or strongest guy doesn’t mean you are the best fighter. He challenged me to evaluate my views on religion and the way I was raised, and he encouraged me to leave the military as a better person than I came in. He wanted his soldiers to be reading and educating himself, and when heartbreak or family problems hit any one of us he was supportive. He was also hated wasting time and would take his team out regularly to train in some advanced lessons for our martial art instead of bullshitting around the barracks waiting for Battalion to release us for the day. Out of everyone I served with I owe Vinnie the most for helping me become the person I am today. I’m sure we don’t agree on things much these days, I rarely do with my military brothers, but I don’t think that will stop us from sharing a beer someday.
  • Staff Sergeant Pearson is the opposite of Vinnie and one of those people who showed me what I didn’t want to be. He seemed to care more about his image than his troops. He had big muscles (that he would order his soldiers to feel) and talked as loud as possible, but I’m still not sure what skills he brought to the table. I did my best to avoid Pearson as much as possible.
  • Staff Sergeant Shearin was not a leader of mine for long but his silent strength always impressed me. He had the most combat experience of anyone in our unit before going to Afghanistan and his calmness in stressful situations acted as a foundation for all the younger soldiers. He was an example of what I wanted to be.
  • Sergeant First Class Barry was my platoon leader and one of the most impressive people I have ever met. Through example he showed that leaders don’t need to be loud or in your face, they can be calm and quiet. In fact, that is a better way to be a leader. When SFC Barry spoke, everyone listened. He also protected his troops from the bullshit that poured from the upper levels of the military. If Battalion had some bullshit detail for us he would do all he could to get us clear of it. Also, he helped protect me from greater punishment when I got in legal trouble with the Military Police. I know that if he hadn’t stood behind me when I went before our upper leadership for punishment things would have been a lot worse for me.
  • First Sergeant Hawley was the leader of my company when we went to Afghanistan and afterwards he moved me from my combat platoon to help in Operations. This may have been a move because I wasn’t particularly compatible with the combat role, or maybe he truly saw some potential in me. It doesn’t really matter what the reason was, he ended up being a mentor to me as I began to transition out of military life. It was pretty obvious that I wouldn’t be re-enlisting and Hawley encouraged me to take classes and hone my non-combat skills. He gave me opportunities to be a leader and sent me to military programs where I could shine. I am forever thankful for the opportunities he provided.

The Voice

I love reality competition shows, particularly anything involving art or talent that I don’t have. I think these types of shows provide a venue for talented individuals to be discovered and prosper in a way that they couldn’t ‘just a decade ago. TV reality shows provide opportunities for people where talent is more important than who you know in a particular industry. The Voice, Face Off, Masterchef, etc are all variations of the same theme, create a program that shows the talent involved in a particular art (and make a little money for everyone), it is a beautiful representation of how far we’ve come as a society. People can follow their art while bringing entertainment and value to others.

Right now, my favorite is The Voice. I think the talent is amazing, I love the concept of admission to the competition being based on singing alone, the judges are entertaining, and it is well-produced. Sometimes, while biking along a lonely stretch of road, I’ll fantasize about being on The Voice and what I would do if every one of the judges wanted me on their team. This is really a pure fantasy, as anyone who has ever heard my try to sing can testify, but I think it is fun to imagine these things once in a while.

So, if all four judges wanted me on their team I think I would go with Adam Levine. Gwen Stefani has had the most influence on my musical taste (I still have “Oi To The World” as the first track on my holiday playlist) but she is hot and I get distracted by pretty things too easily. I’d crush too hard on her and make mistakes. I really respect Pharrell and Blake Shelton but I am not familiar enough with their work to feel confident working with them. Besides, Levine also does yoga and could maybe give me some advice on how to get some rockin’ abs. If I can’t win my fantasy reality tv show, I might as well look good after I’m done competing.

Intentional Scarcity

Being on a multi-year bike ride puts a lot of things in perspective, particularly how durable we humans are and how easy we have it in a lot of ways. Adherents to the Stoic philosophy often recommend that we all intentionally make our lives worse from time-to-time to remember what we can endure and be fortunate for how much we have. The ancients advised living on the street occasionally without warm clothing or travelling without shoes or eating less desirable food. I think this intentional reduction in the quality of life also increases our empathy for people that have less or are in less fortunate situations.

On the bike ride there are a few things that are significantly scarcer than they would be if we had a more traditional life, the most important of which are shelter, water, electricity, and food. Whenever I decide to turn on my computer I need to make sure I know that we have enough energy with us to keep our phones charged. The same goes for wireless data, I don’t want to dick around on Facebook too much or else I may not be able to work without incurring extra charges. Whenever we refill water we need to make sure we are confident that we will find more water sources before we run out. These are all things we keep track of on an almost subconscious level. We act thrifty with all our finite resources.

Shelter is the most difficult thing for us to know we will have. As we travel through Oklahoma right now there are not many campgrounds, or concentrations of people big enough for websites like WarmShowers.org or Couchsurfing.org to assist us. If you look at our route plan under shelter for the most of the next week it simply says “Offroad”. Offroad means we are going to try and find a place out of sight to set up our tent. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes it isn’t. If we are in a place with lots of trees it is fairly easy to find shelter, but right now we are in farmland, which offers little protection from the elements or prying eyes.

Last night, for example, we ended up setting up a tent off a highway. Unfortunately, we were not out of sight and all night long we were woken up by cars driving by and stopping with their headlights directly on our tent. I’m sure we were a curious sight and nobody meant us any harm, but it made for a terrible nights sleep. Also, there is a certain level of increased stress when you are sleeping in random place and you may not be allowed there. It is very easy to accidentally trespass or to break some stupid law. Luckily, last night the worst thing that happened was nosy people.

I think there is a perception that my partner and I are partying or shirking responsibilities because we are travelling for a few years. This isn’t a vacation though, we face struggles and challenges just like everyone else. They are different struggles to be sure, but that doesn’t mean our lives are easy. There is nothing easy about denying yourselves the comforts that come from a stable home, but it is worth it for us. It is challenging but it has made us both aware of some of the strength we have inside, and how little we really need to live with in order to thrive and be happy.