10,000 miles, 10,000 pages: Scooter Diaries reading list


As I begin actual packing for my trip, which commences in a dizzyingly short number of days (ten)—including the downloading/uploading of some excellent playlists to listen to while on the road (thanks, friends; please keep 'em comin')—I've also begun to electronically pack away a small library of books to read during my many hours of relaxation by the campfire or café.

Below is a nearly complete list of what I'll be reading on my journey: some specifically chosen for this particular adventure (On the Road, for example), others works I've been meaning to get to for ages but regrettably have not found the time.

I offer this list to fellow travelers seeking a good read (to be fair, I haven't actually read any most of these just yet, so they could all be atrocious selections) while on the road—and as always, to solicit any recommendations that are an absolute must-read for the active transient.

On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, Robert Pirsig
Blue Highways: A Journey Into America, William Least Heat Moon
Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit
Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
The Wild Trees, Richard Preston
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Hunter Thompson

Philosophy and such
Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered, EF Schumacher
Thus Spake Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About the Good Life, Shimon Edelman
The Man Who Quit Money, Mark Sundeen
In Search of Time: The History, Physics, and Philosophy of Time, Dan Falk
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body, Steven Mithen

Novels, letters, and poetry
The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, Albert Camus
The Plague, Albert Camus
The First Man, Albert Camus
The Stranger, Albert Camus
A Happy Death, Albert Camus
Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Lev Tolstoy
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
Ulysses, James Joyce
The Fifty Greatest Love Letters of All Time, David Lowenherz
Love and Other Difficulties, Rainer Maria Rilke
Poetry of the Taliban, Columbia University Press
Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

(Physical) packlist coming soon.


"It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake." — Betrand Russell, "In Praise of Idleness"

Two weeks until departure: anxiety and audio in the age of Twitter


"In long-range planning for a trip, I think there is a private conviction that it won’t happen. As the day approached, my warm bed and comfortable house grew increasingly desirable and my dear wife incalculably precious. To give these up for three months for the terrors of the uncomfortable and unknown seemed crazy. I didn’t want to go. Something had to happen to forbid my going, but it didn’t." — John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America

Six months ago, when I first committed to taking a cross-country scooter trip sometime in the distant future (May 2013, back then, felt like just that), I don't know if I ever really expected the trip to happen. At the time, frolicking about in the backcountry of the nation's most inhospitable wilderness seemed something of a fanciful notion—something I wanted to do, sure—but something that I'd probably end up kicking along like a rock down the road of life without ever really saddling up and hitting the road. But now, In just under 400 hours, I'm set to depart. And the truth is, it's really, really terrifying.

More than 10,000 miles of driving is scary enough, with all of the battling-against-awful-drivers-on-cell-phones-and-trying-not-to-get-run-over entailed, as is the whole backpacking-in-the-wilderness-and-doing-lots-of-intense-hikes-and-climbing-lots-of-tall-mountains. But perhaps what I find myself most anxious about is the simple act of not knowing: not really knowing where I'm going, or how to get there, or what I'm going to find if and when I do get there. Sure, I have an itinerary, and a super-fancy smartphone to navigate me from point to point, but I'm used to planning, researching, preparing, knowing my destination before I set off into new terrain, and based on the sheer magnitude of this trip, that's just not possible (though it certainly doesn't stop me from trying to, well, research the fear away anyway).

And so, as I check the final few boxes off my things-to-do-before-I-leave checklist, and accept the realization that in just two weeks I'll be leaving the comfort and security and familiarity of my friends, my community, and my home for the unforgiving lands of the great unknown, I have just one favor to ask to smooth that transition: playlists.

Yes, playlists. I'm going to be doing a lot of driving, walking, hiking, running, and if I don't have something to fill the silence every now and then, I'm afraid within a few weeks I might just go all Castaway on my helmet and begin treating it (and talking to it) like a dear friend. So please, send 'em over. I'm not picky—if it's good enough for you to recommend, it's good enough for me to give a listen to—and I'll take not just music, but killer podcasts and other forms of auditory entertainment as well. I'm on Spotify at jayaustn (preferred means of receiving stuff), but I'll also take emailed MP3s or just straight-up hey-you-should-check-out-this-band recommendations. My last few days will probably be a frantic scrambling to get things in order, so the sooner, the better.

While I'm on the subject of getting ready to leave, I should also note that I—hesitantly, begrudgingly—got a Twitter. Though I am something of a social media hermit who bristles at the thought of things like Facebook and Instagram and, yes, Twitter, something tells me the latter will come in handy on my journey: whether to share an occasional photograph of some beautiful landscape, to let folks know where I'm going before I disconnect and head into the backcountry of Utah, or to quickly get in touch with friends in cities I'll be soon entering. I'll definitely still be blogging here throughout the trip, but for more frequent updates, they'll be on Twitter.

All that said, I'll definitely be publishing a final post before departure (including a pack list), but until then: yes, please, playlists. The more, the merrier. Thanks, friend.

"I believe that nearly all our griefs are moments of suspense, which we experience as paralysis, because we can no longer hear our estranged feelings living. Because we are alone with that foreign thing, which has entered into us; because everything in which we have confidence and to which we are accustomed is for a moment taken away from us; because we are in the midst of a state of transition, in which we cannot remain. The grief, too, passes. The new thing in us, that which has been added to us, has entered into our heart and penetrated to its innermost chamber, and is no longer there even—it is already in our blood." — Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Build update: Siding, trim, porch


With just thirty days remaining before I depart for my cross-country scooter journey, Matchbox building has kicked back into high gear. When I last updated in late February, the tiny home had just gotten plaster walls, kitchen cabinets, floors, and a touch of siding, so during the past month, attention turned toward finishing up that siding and making further improvements on the interior, such as window trim, door trim, and baseboard.

Siding (Days 34, 35, 36, 37, and 38; 40 hours)

After burning another stack of Grasmick Lumber's fine western red cedar boards (many thanks to Tiffany, Bryan, Cari, Laura, Aldo, Lauren, and a few others for their help on that), we began slapping the charred wood onto the side of the house, starting in the back left and working around to the front. There's still a fair amount of work to be done—a little more charring, lots of oiling, the installation of a gutter above the door, corner trim, and another few days of work finishing up the siding on the north and rear elevations of the house—but the shou sugi ban wood is looking beautiful, and is certainly (even in its unfinished state) a vast improvement over the hideous Tyvek HomeWrap of this winter.

I should also mention—for the sake of those embarking on their own siding and/or sugi projects—that wood has a tendency to contract over time, and if using non-lapped siding, like the Matchbox, it's likely that the bright white Tyvek and accompanying rain screen will shine through the cracks, regardless of how tightly together the boards are initially pressed. A fairly simple—albeit crude—solution to this is simply spraypainting the housewrap before the siding goes up: just a few thin black strips where the boards will meet along the length of the house. As a disclaimer, there's little information on how spraypaint and homewrap get along, but a few anecdotal reports suggest the former won't compromise the latter's water-resistant properties. And by spraypainting thin strips (as opposed to painting the whole thing), breathability shouldn't be too badly affected as well. In any event, the black backdrop does make a difference, compared with the first few boards at the back of the house that aren't backed by some black paint.

Left to right: Lee's Pera House, Elaine's Lusby, my Matchbox (with siding!)

Window trim, door trim, baseboard (Days 39 & 40; 20 hours)

While I kept busy on siding, Tony worked diligently to finish out the windows, door, skylight, and floor with a clean white trim and baseboard. Blurry pictures of progress below:


You may have noticed the Matchbox's awning has gone missing. After careful thought, I've decided to scrap the quasi-functional rain cover (which, based on height, probably couldn't have protected porch-sitters from too much rain anyway) in favor of a much cleaner-looking porch with just a small gutter above. So down the awning went, and to round out porch renovations and make the space a bit more amenable to a pair of rocking chairs, we took it out another twelve inches for a full four-foot deck.

Speaking of decks, just this morning I received some lovely tongue-and-groove yellow pine—salvaged from an old barn, generously donated by Matthew Compton of Foundry Architects, and kindly picked up and delivered from Baltimore by my good friend Abby—to use for my decking. Expect another post on the porch and gutter (including rain chains!) in the coming weeks.


“Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time. I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life. For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done.” — Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution

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