Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Steel rails to the lake.

Last Saturday morning I put on a backpack, rode the train to Beverly Shores, IN, and hiked off into the woods. With my pack hidden under a pile of leaves, I set off to trek the perimeter of the Indiana Dunes State Park. I returned to my equipment at dusk and camped on an out-of-the-way wooded ridge outside of the park. There was light rain all night long and I could hear coyotes howling in the distance. I had seen some big sand formations, dunes and blowouts filled with dead trees, as well as twisted oak forests, white tail deer, and a lone coyote on the train tracks. In the morning I met a raccoon in a dumpster and then boarded the train back to the city.

Here are a few photos from my hike.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Escape from Chicago

Lake Michigan gets cold and choppy in the winter months. Andy & I rode to Wilmette this afternoon because we spend all week sitting on our butts at work. Their streets are made of brick and they have the Baha'i Temple. The above picture was taken at Gillson Park, from which you can see the temple.

Ira meditates on life in the workforce.

I get up early every morning before work so I have a couple hours to cook a huge breakfast and see unindentured daylight. I'm living with my friend Andy, who I met as a college freshman and have known longer than anyone in Chicago. We both eat a lot, ride bikes everywhere, and love to drink beer. In short, typical Wisconsin emigrants to Chicago. I think that on an average we go through four or five cartons of eggs, a bag of potatoes, a few sixpacks, and over two hundred miles in the saddle per week.

Wednesday morning, Andy and I were listening to NPR and watching school kids flock down the sidewalk, a school of pint-sized antagonistic tugboats with humorously foul mouths. As I polished off a giant omelet smothered in hot sauce, an essay came on the air about a woman who worked as a secretary, a job viewed by many as demeaning and unglamorous. One line stood out profoundly and I wish I'd captured it verbatim. In essence, she said, "People who climb mountains or go on strenuous adventures through Africa always get recognition of their efforts, but something like working as a secretary for years is just as difficult and never gets recognition."

I thought about that all week at work. Reflecting on my own adventure of the last five months with all it's physical and mental fatigue, I can't remember any day as awfully boring as my recent hours spent on data entry and telephone reception. These things really help you assess your goals in life. There has to be a pay-off! Someone we met on the bike ride gave this advice: "Spend your young, able bodied years doing difficult, adventurous things so when you're past your prime you'll feel good about kicking back and relaxing." One of the guys I just started working with has a goal to travel the country and drink a micro brewed beer from every state in the union. He only has seven left! He also plays in a rock band and has golfed his way across Wisconsin, both North-South and East-West.

"I want future generations to remember that I accomplished singular goals", he told me. "I don't want my life to be summed up by my job."

Anyway, this is turning into more of an essay than I had planned. The important information is this: I am going to work hard and save some money, because if I accomplish that goal I'll get to see the other half of the country by bicycle, and every hour spent behind the computer or telephone will be payed back in spades.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Life as usual

I've been feeling very bad lately that I haven't written anything in quite a while. Especially after leaving my last post, about how we're going to be updating this blog with more information which we glossed over before. My current excuse strongly hinges on my parents slow dial-up service. For some unknown reason, DSL is unavailable in the part of Flint township my parents live in. Anyway, it's not that I don't want to fulfill this promise of posting often. I really do,however, my life has been very strange for the past couple of weeks ever since returning to the Midwest.

When I say strange, I don't mean to infer any incredibly interesting strange events have been occurring. It is more that I am returning to all of my old haunts and finding my old comfortable life gone and I am placed in a world which is both incredibly familiar yet strange because the role I used to play in it has disappeared and I must redefine what my mundane every day life is in these new arenas.

The plan I had set up upon return to the Midwest was to spend a week in Chicago and then continue on to my parents house in Flint, Michigan where I knew I would be guaranteed a free place to stay and pretty confident about a job at the Borders book store my brother and sister both work for.

Arriving in Chicago, I wasn't sure on a place to stay. Ira and I had given up our apartment when we left so I spent the week floating around from place to place trying to be as graciously thankful as I could of the hospitality being offered. It was so incredibly wonderful to see everyone again, yet slightly sad and distressing to be experiencing elements of my old life as a visitor. I traveled 4700 miles around the country for 160 days, each night being unsure of the location and conditions of my evening resting place only to have the same experience in the place I considered home, shook my nerves quite a bit.

I spent the week endlessly moving from one corner of the city to the other in order to see as many people as possible. I succeeded in drinking far too much and tiring myself out completely. By the time I finally arrived in Flint, I was completely pooped. Although tired, I was very much looking forward to having my own room again and feeling completely comfortable in a space I could consider my own again. The day after arriving, I organized all my things in my room (my sisters old room in the basement) and did what I could to make myself feel in control of my own surroundings.

I've been in flint for a week now, and I already scored the job at borders thanks to my sister putting in a good word for me with her boss. You might think I would be settled in just fine. I am living with my parents and brother whom I love very much as well as have the financial security they provide me. I also have a job with which I can supplement my bank account for the sake of the trip which so far is all going according to plan. Yet, I still feel awkward, and out of my element.

I have never really lived in Flint. My parents moved here when I was a freshman in College. I have been visiting here periodically over the past couple of years enough to be acquainted with all of my sister's friends, but I only have a social life outside of my family here vicariously through my family.

I was looking forward to exploring flint more then I had in the past. I brought comuting fix gear bicycle back from Chicago to allow myself some independence as well as some consistency from my old life. Flint is not a bicycle friendly city as all my parents and friends here like to remind me. Things are very spread out and streets have no shoulder to speak of. The average speed limit on roads through town here is about 45 mph with all the streets around my parents house in the township being 50. Although a lot of the GM shops have closed Flint is still a car city. My sister always says "even homeless people here have cars." While I like a challenge, I am very uncomfortable about riding here, especially after dark. Many of the streets don't have street lights. When you combine this with the high speed limits and no shoulders, makes me nervous of commuting anywhere.

I am completely comfortable here at my parents house and I'm really enjoying the chance of being able to hang out with my younger brother as an adult. The opportunity of calling up my sister to go out for drinks or hang out and watch a movie at her house is great too. I just need to be patient about not having my environment exaclty the way I used to in Chicago. I know Flint is very different, and has a lot of great things going on, although it may seem I've been focusing only the negative. Flint is the way it is, and I can't expect to bend it the way I want it to be.

As a control freak, I always want things to be how I want or expect them. I was concerned about this tendency of mine on our road trip, but it didn't get in the way too much. When you are constantly moving around, you don't really have time to get too stressed out if you don't like a certain place. If you don't like it, you just leave and go to the next place. Ira and I had set up a rule that we never stayed with anyone longer then five days. After five days, depression usually set in. The longer we stayed with people, the more it felt as though we were trying to live their lives. I like living my own life and so we would leave and continue on with our reality of the time, which was constant movement.

Now, I AM living other people's lives. I'm living my families lives. It seems strange to say, but my family lives a much different life then I do. I've been out of the house for 8 years. I've always noticed the difference of our lives upon coming back for visits, but now living here, it is very noticeable. Neither lifestyle is better then the other, its just different for me. Its not that there are any large changes except maybe I am going to be driving more the cycling. But more subtle things.

I think the average person underestimates how important the mundane aspects of our life are. Sure maybe people can feel bored with their life at times, but these same boring elements also give us structure and a comfort in the knowledge of what we can expect things to be. With that knowledge comes a certain confidence. We don't have to waste time worrying about how the little details of things are going to pan out because based on our past day to day experience probably already know. This is why the first couple days of a new job are so stressful and tiring. Once you become accustomed to the new job's flow, you look back and laugh at how you once were so worried about fitting in.

I am just experiencing this worry and stress of the unknown right now. The strangeness comes in because the unknown details are completely surrounded by people and environments I have intimate knowledge of. Perhaps I take my family and friends for granted. I shouldn't be surprised they are constantly changing. I have been gone doing my own things, changing in my own way. Of course they are changing as well based on their experiences in an environment which I only have a superficial knowledge of.

So I've been busy lately. Not really busy doing anything of note. I have been busy worrying and stressing about setting up a new mundane life for myself. And although the word mundane carries with it negative connotations, I use it here as a completely unemotional term to describe the feeling of being comfortable with one's ordinary daily life. After being on the road for so long, I am looking forward to getting back (even if it is only for three months) to a more regular and slightly more predictable life.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wild Chicago

We're temporarily back in the Midwest, Chicago in my case. Andrea is working on a post describing our flight back and the celebration that ensued, I'll leave it at that so as not to steal her thunder.

It would be futile to try and replicate my touring lifestyle while inside the third-largest city in the nation, but I can't help but noticed my changed perspective. It's maddening to know that the closest natural landscape is seventy miles away, after spending five months in the most remote and wild the lower forty eight has to offer. To sooth my nerves I threw a leg over my trusty swiss-army-knife city bike and pointed it toward Labaugh Woods, the only place on the North Side with over an acre of dirt.

Labaugh has roughly five miles of single-track trails that follow a river through the Jefferson Park area. It's the only mountain biking (to use the term loosely) in Chicago that is an easy ride from my appartment.

I got muddy, fell down, was poked by sticks, and bounded over the mostly flat, wooded trails like a slightly-out-of-shape whitetail deer. I ride an old road bike with riser-bars, fat tires, and a fixed-gear drivetrain; not particularly fast, but like duct tape, good for almost everything.

I was taking a breather by this railroad crossing and an actual whitetail deer snuck up on me. He had eight points on his rack and was completely fearless. This is the only clear picture I got pefore he wandered down the enbankment.

I followed him into the woods and tried to get a few more shots, but this was the best that turned out.

Despite my nature experience, Kedzie Ave. was never more than a short ride away. You can't ever get out of this place.