A farewell to a year

12.28.2013

Dear 2013,

I haven't known you very long, but I'm going to miss you. You were so full of wonder, of new discovery and new adventures and new ways of thinking, of realized dreams and sparkling new aspirations and limitless learning, each day spent with you an invaluable education to the ways and the worth of the world.

You taught me things I never knew: my own strength, the astonishing kindness of others, the precise hue of crimson the sun makes as it reflects its rays off the red rocks of the great Southwest. You showed me things I'd never seen: canyons so deep and trees so tall and nature so beautiful, endless roads and starry skies and grassy plains that stretched for days.

And perhaps most importantly, you reminded me of things I'd forgotten: appreciation, humility, gratitude. You reminded me of the power of love and the value of time and the fragility of life, of the necessity in making every remaining minute count, of the depths of the human mind, of the cosmic fabric that holds each and every one of us together.

You brought me friends and you gave me gifts that I'll always treasure, you built me a home and you blessed me with ample time to enjoy it. You were kind, overwhelmingly kind, and I'll never forget that. 

I promise to stay true in your absence, to continue living the deliberate, examined life. I've set goals and I've pledged resolutions: I'm going to finally finish the house; I'm going to finally see for myself what lies on the other side of the Atlantic. I'm going to take my minimalism to a new level, and I'm going to pepper my time with smaller adventures and explorations: the trials of a freegan, of a neo-Luddite, and more, climbing ever toward the dual apexes of self-sufficiency and of simplicity. And I'm resolving to be better: a better person to those around me, one who listens more and talks less, a person better at compromise, at attention, and at maintaining those relationships I cherish.

I'm going to miss you, 2013, but I hope I'll still make you proud in the year that follows. Thanks for everything.



Making a packlist: 12 things for 90 days in 30 countries

12.05.2013

Last time I took to the open road, I aimed to pack light—and failed considerably in that pursuit. Sure, I made it by with no more than what could fit in a fifty-liter pack and a very small scooter trunk, but still I felt anchored by my stuff, always dragging it along on my back, always cramming items within Rousseau's under-seat compartment. I brought what I thought were the essentials, but really, I brought far more than that.

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a story about two adventurous travelers who took to Europe for three weeks with nothing more than the clothes on their backs—and, well, a few miscellaneous accessories:
Passports, credit cards and iPhones made the cut, as did a small notebook, a toothbrush and a clipped map of the Balkans.  Jeff stuffed his core items in his pockets. My dress lacked adequate pocket space, so I substituted with a small shoulder purse that allowed me space for a few additional toiletries, an iPad Mini, and the awkward-looking retainer I’ve been wearing since my braces came off 10 years ago. 
That was it.
Instantly, I was inspired. Three months in thirty countries is certainly longer than three weeks in eight, but still: the thought of simple, (nearly-)weightless, unencumbered travel—ultraminimalism—shook my foundations. And so, I've made my list.

Caveats abound: for one, I'm bringing more than nothing. In addition to the clothes I'll wear when departing DC on the fourth of May (with pockets containing a phone, headphones, wallet, and passport), I'll carry along a small backpack with some non-essential-but-really-really-desired electronics by which to document the journey, and hygiene products to keep me (semi-)fresh. And I'm not opposed to picking up a few more things once I cross the pond: a windbreaker in Oslo if it gets chilly, a pair of sunglasses in Fez if the sun's a touch too blinding. And of course, as May nears, I'm sure I'll make a few tweaks—additions, I fear—to the list below.

But for now, here it is.

  1. GoPro camcorder. For documenting sights and sentiments.
  2. Roll-up wireless keyboard. For blogging on the go.
  3. Kindle. For reading in the most weight-efficient way imaginable.
  4. Fork, spoon, and knife. For eating on the go.
  5. Sleeping bag. For sleeping on the go.
  6. Tent. For sleeping a little more securely. 
  7. Toothbrush (and toothpaste). For hygiene.
  8. Deodorant. Ibid.
  9. Second pair of socks and underwear. Ibid.
  10. Hair trimmer. For grooming on the go.
  11. Water bottle. For staying hydrated.
  12. DSLR. For more serious photographing. Still ambivalent on whether to bring.

With the exception of the tent, all of these items can fit together in my daily messenger bag with room to spare, ensuring my travels east of Edinburgh won't be bogged down by heavy luggage or random junk—and packing won't take longer than a minute.

Am I forgetting something?

To Europe

12.01.2013

2013 has been a spectacularly great year for me, and it all began with one firm pledge: to commune with the wide open road, just me and my pack and my scooter, and explore North America, to discover and appreciate its treasures, its sheer awesomeness, its natural beauty. In the words of Thoreau:
I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived ... I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.
In this pursuit, I succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. I could never fully explain just how valuable, how vital, how necessary those 15,000 miles of adventure were to me, the life-changing transformations that occurred during my sixty days on the road. Never had I made a wiser use of my time, never had I learned so much in so few days.

Time for round two.

I've never been to Europe. I want to go to Europe. So this summer, I'm going to Europe—to the Old World, to England, to Germany, to France and Spain, from the magnificent Mediterranean to the captivating cathedrals and cobblestone corners and cozy conviviality of Copenhagen.



I'll get started in Morocco—that much I know. And I'll end in either Turkey or Ireland—that much I think I know. The rest is marvelously undetermined to date. Oh, I most certainly have destinations: dozens and dozens, Stockholm and Hamburg and Amsterdam and Munich and Lviv and Budapest, as far west as Lisbon and far west as Istanbul, as far north as Oslo and as far south as Casablanca, and as the months race forward, I'll be once again circling a great winding route 'round a continental map, but for now, 'tis all up in the air.

I'll leave in early May. I don't know how I'll get around. For months, I've flirted with the idea of bringing Rousseau abroad, getting another two continents under her belt, reuniting for yet another epic adventure. But truth be told, as much as I loved the scooter part of the Scooter Diaries, I'm not sure we'd both survive another go with the open road, so this time around, I think I'll be leaving her at home. Instead, I'll be flying into Casablanca with nothing more than my pack, my wallet, and whatever ingenuity I can muster, and I'll find myself alternate transportation northward, to Spain, to Portugal, and beyond.

I'm excited, but I'm also characteristically unprepared, so please: recommendations, advice, cautionary tales—let me hear 'em.


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