St. Louis Routine – Post Mortem

Last Thursday my partner and I took off from Myrtle Beach to visit her family in St. Louis. This was the first real challenge to our health and fitness routine and, overall, things went pretty well. It is always really difficult to keep a food and work-out schedule while travelling, particularly when four out of the seven days we were driving 10ish hours a day. Disrupting the routine also creates opportunities to have a good time (which is kind of the point of increasing our fitness, to have more opportunities to enjoy life), but those opportunities cash in some of the health credits we’ve racked up over the last couple of weeks.

So, here is a rundown of how we did. I don’t have any regrets or anything, though there were areas for improvement next time we travel (probably in mid-September).

Perfect: There were only two areas where I wasn’t disrupted at all… I kept track of my calories and I weighed myself daily (we brought our scale with us).

Pretty Good: We only missed one run day while traveling, which is pretty good. We also only ate out for three meals out of twenty, and we were relatively healthy during those times. My calories were only significantly higher than average on two nights.

Okay: I blogged most days, but missed a couple. My orgasm frequency was also pretty good (which is definitely a challenge when you are staying in other people’s homes). I drank a little bit more beer than I wanted, but it wasn’t anything too crazy and it was only at social occasions.

Needs Improvement: I didn’t do any reading, German practice, meditation, book writing, or working out (except for running). I really don’t have an excuse for this. I was lazy and thrown off by being in a new environment. I also justified slacking because I was “on vacation”, which is kind of true but I need to want to be able to keep some sort of routine even when traveling or on vacation. Life is never ideal.

Overall, I did okay, but I’m excited to get back to Myrtle and into my routine. I am almost a month into our time in Myrtle and it is time for me to re-evaluate my schedule and add more areas for improvement. I’m particularly interested in adding weight-lifting and intermittent fasting into my routine. I also need to really put some thought into things like learning a new language, I don’t seem to have a strong passion or desire for it and I’m not sure if it will provide a good return on investment.

Anyway, life is in flux and we will see what the future brings.

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Off to St. Louis

This morning my partner and I took off to visit her family in St. Louis. It is going to take us about two days to drive there, then we are spending three days in STL, and then two days driving back. This is going to be the first real challenge for our workout and health routine. Travel and time away from our kitchen is not ideal for maintaining a consistent health practice, but that is life… things are never going to be perfect and we need to be able to thrive in imperfection.

So far, my biggest concerns are staying consistent with my push-ups, pull-ups (we brought our pull-up bar), and planks. I already struggle with motivation to do those daily and sitting in a car most of the day is not going to help with that. I imagine this is also going to really effect my body’s metabolism because it is used to getting up and going for pretty decent walks 3-4 times per day, in addition to any running we do in the morning. I’m not really going to be too embarrassed or anything to do push-ups at rest stops, any discomfort I had for that type of thing has disappeared due to the bike ride… we spent a lot of morning brushing our teeth and having meals in public, I’m just going to lack motivation. Maybe I can try and shoot for some sort of maintenance exercise instead of my normal routine.

We did shift our running schedule around to be more flexible. Our two rest days each week are now during our driving days, and I’m optimistic that we will keep each other motivated to get up and run while in St. Louis. Our diet is also a small concern… we aren’t going to be nearly as strict as we’ve been for the last three weeks but we are going to eat and drink in moderation. We agreed to confront each other directly if we try to order a second drink on any given night and when we go out to eat we are going to have salads for appetizers and probably share a entree to keep the portions in size with what our bodies are used to. My best case scenario is we don’t lose any ground on our fitness, but I imagine that we will have taken a step or two backwards by the end of the weekend.

That’s okay though. Life is about living and not just preparing for the future. Even if I stumble completely and gorge myself on 3,000 calories of beer and pizza and don’t exercise one day I won’t be mad at myself. All I can do is dust myself off and keep moving forward… and record my progress and measurements for the world to see.

On the Road

I just finished “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac. This novel, which is probably one of the most famous American novels of the era, is the true stories of Kerouac (as Sal Paradise) as he takes four trips across the United States in the late 40’s and early 50’s. I really enjoyed the book and, in several ways, I could relate to a lot of what Kerouac experienced in terms of environment, people, and the spirit of travel in this country. Though, the times have certainly changed in the last 75 years.

I don’t know of Kerouac’s spontaneity was common back then, but if it was then times really have changed in spirit. He and his friends were willing to hitchhike, take buses, and do whatever was necessary to get where they wanted to go. They wanted to get from NY to SF, so they found a way. They rarely had money, so they just figured it out as they went along. They lived in a time when clean water was not readily available, cross-country communication was expensive, money took time to be transferred, and cars were unreliable, but they did what they desired despite the dangers. It is ironic that we currently live in the safest, most stable time in human history but people are more afraid than ever. It has literally never been easier to go on an adventure but people crave security over liberty, even though security is less needed.

Maybe Kerouac and his crew were an exception to the average person living in post-WWII America. Just like some of the people we meet on the road are the exception to modern Americans. Maybe in all generations there is a stable percentage (1%? 5%? 10%?) that have an insatiable drive to explore, experience, and wander, even at the expense of their sanity or their lives. I think we need this crazy ones, the ones who explore the depths of our mind and spirit, the Earth and the heavens. They help push humanity forward, as painful as that journey can be, it is necessary to find new barriers to blast all to hell.

Or maybe I’m missing the whole point of “On the Road”.

I’m going to re-read this one soon. It had so many beautiful passages that articulated the extreme emotions you can experience while wandering North America. I know that this book had a huge impact on the Beat Movement (something I know nothing about) and I want to read more of the books from that era. Luckily, Kerouac has given me a cast of characters who mostly all wrote books during that time that I can dive into. All in all, it was a good read that I finally got around to. In some ways I wish I would have read this sooner, but in other ways I’m glad that I finished it when I did. Books seem to come to me at just the right moment in your life, and this one was no exception.

Why Travel?

Travel is really important to me, but that wasn’t always the case. My family didn’t travel a whole lot when I was a kid, mostly because the logistics and funding required to get a family with six kids and two adults on vacation made it impossible. I lived several places growing up throughout Washington, California, and Oregon as my father found teaching positions and we moved to be closer to my grandparents, but those places were always “home”. We didn’t really go on vacation and I was perfectly fine with that. In fact, until I joined the military I had every intention of staying in Gresham, Oregon for my whole life. I even turned down an option to be stationed in Italy in the Army but turned it down because I didn’t want to be far from home… Travel just didn’t appeal to me.

All that changed once I got my feet wet and saw a bit of the world. My first travels were in the military and, as such, were a little bit unconventional. I didn’t really get to do touristy things, but I did get to see the beauty of other places and meet a lot of people from diverse backgrounds. I spent a lot of time in a guard tower with an Italian soldier who talked a lot about his life in Italy, he also introduced me to the concept of consensual non-monogamy when he offhandedly mentioned that his girlfriend was sleeping with other men and he slept with other women. It didn’t seem like a big deal to him, though my views were still very conservative at the time and I promised to pray for him.

I also met many interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as soldiers from the UK. The most influential people on my drive to travel ended up being in my own unit. My squad was made up of an eclectic bunch from all over the US. My team leader was a African-American Muslim from Kansas named Vinnie; the other SAW gunner was from Rocky Mount, NC; my grenadier was an Irish Catholic from New Jersey; etc. We really reinforced the 82nd Airborne Motto of “All American”. This ragtag group of soldiers from all over the country made me want to see the country for myself, and as my belief system shifted to a point where I saw all borders as artificial and all humans as my brethren I became more interested in seeing the world.

In some ways travel is an unending task, and that might be one of the things I like about it. There will always be another place to see, festival to experience, person to meet. Even as we’ve spent two years bicycling around the United States we have only gotten a taste of many places we’ve been. There is no end to travel, even if certain vacations and adventures do end. After each adventure you become more aware of other adventures, like all things as you get deeper into them you realize they are more complex and beautiful than you could have ever imagined. I will never see everything I want to see, and that’s okay.

I pursue travel for lots of reasons, but primarily it is my love of novelty. Travel has allowed to have experiences that I couldn’t get at home and that technology hasn’t reached the point of accurate simulations. Whether it was a threesome at a pagan festival, getting snowed on in the Montana mountains, skinny dipping with a group of nudists in Florida, getting stoned in New Mexico and going to the hot springs, working the “Orgy Dome” at Burning Man, cycling through the Redwoods, or a thousand other experiences that I’ve forgotten, these are all things that I wouldn’t have experienced if I stayed home.

Travel inspires me, it makes me more creative, it keeps me healthy, and it makes me more loving. It shows me who I am and who I want to be, and it gives me greater love and appreciation for the little battles that other people face. The internet has connected us in many ways, but it also isolates us. We see a shadow of a person and reduce them to soundbites and a few views, we don’t get to see the passion in their eyes or heartache. Travel reminds me that we are all human and even if I disagree with a person they aren’t evil.

I realize that not everyone has an interest in travel, but I think we all have an interest in new experiences and getting the most out of life. There are many paths to reach those ends, mine just happens to involve a lot of movement.

Race

We’ve traveled through 19 states and countless cities now, and in some of those areas being white made us stand out. As I’m typing this I am at a home in a historically black neighborhood and we are the only white people I’ve seen in the surrounding blocks. I’m going to be honest during this post, even if I feel a little shame for my feelings.

There are times I felt uncomfortable biking or walking around certain neighborhoods. I have no logical reason to believe I was in any danger or that anyone wanted to harm me, quite to opposite really. But, when you are walking through a neighborhood and you stand out because of your race it can be somewhat unnerving. Particularly when the cultural norms are so different than what you are used to. I never grew up in a neighborhood where dozens of people hung out on the street throughout the day and night playing music. I’m not used to seeing my neighbors.

I don’t want to be nervous in places where I’m different. I’m feel shame when I recognize this feeling because I know it is irrational, but in a lot of ways society has reinforced these feelings. We’ve met several people on our bike ride who have warned us about going into non-white areas because “you better have a gun” or “some people will attack white people just for being white”. This goes directly against facts, but the fear can still plant seeds in your mind.

In fact, the only time we have ever been directly threatened or had people treat us poorly was a group of white people in North Dakota. Every other person we’ve encountered has been incredibly friendly, even when they are baffled by what we are doing. I recognize that two vegans travelling by bicycle with their dog and a solar system stereotypically falls firmly in the category “shit white people do”.

I want to get over the nervousness and the internalized knee-jerk reaction when I’m in an unfamiliar place. I realize I shouldn’t be naive, but in the United States there are very few places that are truly dangerous to us. Violent crime is super rare. I guess the best option is to keep going places that are new, expose myself to the true people and cultures of this country, and not beat myself up too badly. My first thought might be “uh oh, this place might be dangerous because I’m white”, but my second thought that occurs when my logic kicks in is “fuck that noise, this place is fine. Stop stereotyping. Everyone here is probably kind and friendly. Rarely does anyone want to hurt a stranger”. And, hopefully, it is the second thought that is more important.

Home town

While sitting at a gas station in rural Louisiana we were approached by a man getting gas. He was curious about two raggedly looking white people were hanging out in the parking lot next to two fully loaded bicycles (we don’t always stand out for being white, but in this town we did). He asked us what we were doing and where we had been. When we told him the places we had been in Louisiana he commented that we had seen more of the state than he had, and he had lived in that area his whole life. This was not an uncommon sentiment, in fact, we had said the same thing before to people visiting our previous “home towns”.

It was common for me to remark on this when I lived in tourist traps like DC and Los Angeles. I never really explored my town unless people were visiting me. Instead, I would spend years in the same city and go to the same places each weekend. The same bars, the same bike routes, the same restaurants, varying only occasionally but not really going much beyond my neighborhood. I never explored my own towns until I was leaving.

It is a shame. Many of the places I lived had amazing sites and experiences just outside my comfort zone. DC is a prime example. You can take a bike trail from DC to Pittsburgh, but I didn’t realize that route existed until I left. There was even free camping along much of the route. There were cool little towns with quirky coffee shops and restaurants. I could have abandoned the terrible swamp town that is DC and been in small town Maryland within a few miles along the bike trail, but I never did that.

When we settle into a new town after the bike ride (probably Baton Rouge at this point) I want to make a point of exploring more. You can find a lot of hidden gems just by opening Google Maps and typing in “camping”, or you can use ReserveAmerica.com to find local campsites. Then, when you find a campsite just plug in biking directions from where you are and take off. Just about anyone can find a campground 30 miles from their home and make a weekend trip out of it. You leave Saturday morning, liesurely bike 30 miles with your gear in a backpack, and then camp. On Sunday you reverse the trip.

I’m sure there are other things to do besides camping. Most cities have museums, tours, botanical gardens, and parks to explore. Or you can find rivers to raft, intramural leagues to join, or vineyards to visit. Every town we visit has amazing things to do, and every town we visit is someone’s “home town”. I wish I would have realized the potential of my home towns before I left.

People Rock!

We get warned by people, a lot. People in cities warn us about country folk. People in the country warn us about city folk. Suburban people warn us about everyone outside of their housing development. Violence happens everywhere. Well, except the place where we currently are. Everyone else is violent, but not here, people here are good. It is everyone else who is “crazy*”.

Often, people tell us to carry a gun or a knife or something. We have both of those things, including bear mace, but I’ve loaded the weapon less than 20 times in the last two years and kept it outside of the case even fewer times. Most of those times we were in areas with potentially dangerous wildlife like alligators or bears. The change of an attack is still miniscule, but I still feel more comfortable if I am ready.

I kind of understand everyone’s fear, particularly from people who haven’t spent a lot of time out of their hometowns. If you watch the news there is always someone committing an act of violence “out there”. Even fictional television shows encourage fear. Shows like Law & Order (and their seemingly hundreds of offshoots) come up with a case of rape, murder, and kidnapping every week. These crimes happen somewhere else and seem to reassure the general population that the only safe place is in their homes. Going outside is dangerous. Travelling is dangerous. Every mile you venture outside of your bubble your chances of being a victim is magnified tenfold.

Luckily, none of that has been our real experience. Despite all the warnings we have had an almost universally positive experience with everyone we have encountered. We really only had one personal experience that I would call bad, and it wasn’t a violent one, we were just accused of a crime by some people in North Dakota. Everyone else has been incredibly supportive. People offer us water, shelter, food, money, and weed all the time. When we use websites like Couchsurfing and Warmshowers (which do have varying levels of security) we are invited into stranger’s homes and often left there alone. Hell, the couple we are staying with now gave us a spare key after knowing us for less than three waking hours.

People are generally good. Out of thousands upon thousands of people we have encountered over the last two years of travelling none have gone out of their way to harm us. It would be easy to harm us too. We could be killed by a car on a lone road and nobody would be there to help us. We could have someone try to steal our bikes or equipment and we would be left alone without any support. But that hasn’t happened, we haven’t even felt like it is likely it would happen. Nearly all people on this planet want to go their whole lives without hurting another, cooperation is in our nature.

I do realize that there is an element of privilege in this. Anna and I are two white, relatively young, not completely unattractive, people who have access to showers, razors, and clean clothing. If we were a different race or much older or looked like unemployed transients it is possible that we would be open to more violence or, at the very least, being treated with less kindness. Though, overall, things are getting better. Violence is down. Crime is down. Prosperity is up. Opportunities are up. The improvement is not dispersed equally in the US (and definitely not in the world) but we are getting there, and I think we need to recognize that. Living in fear and seeing fellow humans as “the crazy other” is no way to live.

 

 

* As someone who has seem mental illness and has my own mental demons I hate when people use the word “crazy” when they mean “dangerous”. We could unpack this a lot. People who say this seem to be implying that in order to be violent you must have a mental illness, but that mental illness tends to be the sole problem of everyone else. The person talking is the only sane person in a sea of chaos, that is why we need things like the death penalty, police, the war on drugs, NSA surveillance, appeals to God as the foundation of morality, etc. We need these parental figures for everyone else, but not us. Blargh.