My time in Palestine ended with a ride from the Golan Heights in occupied Syria at the headwaters to the Jordan river down to the Red Sea at Eilat--400 km away. I cycled from the mountains to the Dead Sea and continued south through the Negev desert.
After Eilat, I crossed the border into Aqaba. I hopped a bus to Wadi Rum and traded some time for free lodging & food at a Bedouin camp. After 2 weeks, I hopped back on the saddle and rode up to Petra. I spent 2 days wandering Petra's remains before continuing North. I felt that my legs were finally strong enough, so I decided to stick to the King's highway in the mountains for the rest of my ride to Amman.
Where to begin? Should I start in the Sequoias--my time wandering through the largest trees in the world? Or stumbling into what felt like an unofficial rainbow gathering in Mendocino? Or Yellowstone, where I spent a week amongst the bears and elk--getting snowed-on and walking though basins where the earth's crumbling crust gave way to pools of scalding-hot water?
I spent a week amongst the bears and elk -- getting snowed-on and walking though basins where the earth’s crumbling crust gave way to pools of scalding-hot water
Alas, I'll start with the present. At the time of writing, I find myself in Madison, Wisconsin. My preoccupation as of late is no longer my next backpacking trip through some US national park.
In less than a month, I'll be boarding a plane one-way to the Middle East, and I don't plan to come back to the US for over a year (closer to two).
Indeed, my current preoccupation is selling my car, getting back to NY, and finding some clever way to fit my folding bicycle into a checked bag that'll go under the bike-fee radar for the German airline on my flight to Israel.
My last major stop was Yellowstone, and my what an adventure that was! For the record, if you visit Yellowstone in September, all the backpacking permit fees are waved. And there's at least 3 campsites that are entirely accessible by bicycle. But, even if you just visit Yellowstone by car, it's quite an experience. There's fewer awe-inspiring vistas than other national parks, but looking across a low-lying basin with huge plumes of water vapor rising from patches of pools stretching out to the horizon offers a unique sort of inspiration in it's own wright.
When I arrived to the San Francisco Bay Area, my friend thrust his copy of Kerouac's Dharma Bums in my hand. "Read this" he said, "you'll like it."
Like Japhy did for Smith, I outfitted my friend, and we headed off into the smokey Sierras towards Matterhorn--to follow in Jack Kerouac's footsteps.
After living out of a car and bumming around the States for the better part of a year, I soon found myself back in Berkeley--working in libraries by day and sleeping in my Prius micro-home at night--pouring through Kerouac's description of SF and Berkeley from the 40s and 50s -- 60 years before my present bumming around the same city.
In Dharma Bums, Kerouac (Smith) describes his ascent of Mount Matterhorn (in the California Sierras), guided by their enlightened, outdoorsy friend Japhy.
My friend and I later made plans to go trekking together. It was his first overnight trek, and what better place to go than Yosemite? After all, that was where I'd gone on my first overnight trek a few years ago.
In the past few months, I cycled ~1,500 km through FL & GA, built a couple 3d printers in Missouri, summited the highest mountain in New Mexico, backpacked through Zion, saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, and became a humble guest of East Jesus in Slab City.
In the past few months, I cycled ~1,500 km through Florida, built a couple 3d printers in Missouri, summited the highest mountain in New Mexico, backpacked through Zion, saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, and became a humble guest of East Jesus in Slab City.
It's been a while since I last wrote, but I finally have some downtime as I try to survive the 46 degree heat of Slab City in late June. When I crowdsourced info on the Slabs before I came, everyone's response was pretty terse: "don't go" they said, "you'll be miserable"
It's not often that I'm in the SW, and visiting Slab City has long been a dream of mine (coupled with the fact that the police have been harassing me in the past few weeks--I was quite ready for anarchy).
As for the desert's summer heat: I've cycled through the entire width of Nevada in July, so I'm familiar with my body's limits on heat. I figured I would be OK so long as I had sufficient water & shade.
Before I left Prescott Valley, AZ en-route to California, I spent a few hours dumpster diving for water containers. I was quick to find a bunch of ~1L plastic soda bottles, but I wanted something bigger. Behind an ihop & a taco bell I found what I was looking for: used 20L vegetable oil carboys. I got two of them anticipating a ~1 week stay in the Slabs. I washed them out very well with soap & water, and I filled them (and a dozen or so other 0.5-4L bottles) to the brim with clean, potable water.
As for shade: I didn't have much in the way of providing decent shade. I could have bought a tarp, but I decided to go the interdependent route; there's plenty of full-time Slabbers who have plenty semi-permanent structures for shade. I learned that there was an Internet Cafe in the Slabs, and figured--if nothing else--I could probably bring gifts to the Slabbers in exchange for their shade and internet. But what would a Slabber value?
I drove to Taos. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anyone to let me ram their tires full of earth without me paying them...so I ended up leaving town--climbing to the top of the highest mountain peak in New Mexico on my way out.
I came across the East Jesus website (a nonprofit artist community that actually owns their land in the Slabs). The website literally had a section listing their needs. After some consideration, I went to the hardware store to buy peat moss and duct tape. And then I took a trip to the liquor store to buy their cheapest 1.75 L bottle of whiskey ($14!).
When I arrived to East Jesus the next day, my peat moss, duct tape, and whiskey were very well received. As I chatted with the resident summer artist over (cold!) water & whiskey, I got a ton of useful information about life in Slab City. And--as the sun was setting while I was looking for a space in the Slabs to call my own, my friend at East Jesus intercepted me and offered to let me set up in Kaos camp at East Jesus 😀
I'm full of gratitude as I sit on this old couch under shade by big box fan, sipping my refrigerated water surrounded by a dense display of artwork, much of which is heavily accented by empty bullet casings and nitros canisters.
But how did I get here?
After completing my bicycle ride to Atlanta, I spent about a month visiting family and improving the livability of my Prius.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on an unfamiliar bicycle--winding through cars on the streets of São Paulo, Brazil. As we went over a narrow bridge, my couch surfing host shouted back at me, "watch out for the motorcycles!" They were splitting the lanes too, and a force to be avoided.
I arrived to Southern Brazil after Argentina and Uruguay. After a couple weeks in Buenos Aires, I hopped a bus up to Montevideo, Uruguay--where I spent a week. As quickly as I fell in love with the people, the culture, the herbs, and the Fainá, I was off NB again. I had 2 days to bus 2,000 km up to Rio de Janeiro. There was no bus that went the entire distance, and bus companies in Brazil require Brazilian IDs to purchase tickets online. So I bought a ticket to Pelotas and crossed my fingers. When I arrived, the bus to Rio was sold-out, but I just bought a ticket North, and--after a few transfers--I reached a station in Florianópolis with a straight-shot to Rio.
It was a bit intimidating stepping onto the street out of the bus station when I finally arrived (well, after chasing down my bus--banging on the side to let me re-board; I had forgotten my jacket in the seat pocket). Brazil, and Rio especially, is known for both violent crimes and petty theft--both on behalf of the poor and the police. This is a country with vast resources--one of the most powerful emerging economies in the world--yet there is still massive class disparity and corruption. In fact, the streets were still tagged with spraypaint condemning the political coup 5 months earlier that saw the ousting of Dilma Rousseff (from the Workers' Party).
After a week in Buenos Aires, my injuries sustained by 10 days of backpacking in Patagonia have mostly healed. I initially only intended the 123 km circut at Torres del Paine National Park in Southern Chile to take 7 days, but complications with rangers, a blizzard, and increasing pain in my ankles, feet, and--worst of all--my knees slowed my journey; fortunately I over-packed food.
my only ticket or reservation included this one-way plane ticket from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas--the furthest south I've ever been.
After 3 weeks in Santiago de Chile, with a brief weekend visit to Valpariso and Maintencillo to visit friends, I woke on Saturday--the first day of my 2 week vacation--at 05:30 to catch a plane to Punta Arenas. I had a rough sketch of plans from the time my plane arrived in this southern Chilean town until the time I was to arrive in Buenos Aires 2 weeks later, but my only ticket or reservation included this one-way plane ticket from Santiago de Chile to Punta Arenas--the furthest south I've ever been.
I arrived to the airport with a overly-stuffed backpack full of instant, no-heat, vegan, dehydrated trail food (couscous, instant potatoes, raisins, mixed nuts, tortillas, peanut butter, oil, and various soup & spice packets). My pack was bulging with two gigantic ever-running holes on the critical sides along the main zipper. My couchsurfing host amazingly had a half meter of webbing to give me just before graciously driving me to the airport, but I hadn't time to sew my pack before the flight. I hastily pulled out my ~50ft of paracord, and tightly bound the pack with the entire length. I waited in line with all the other backpackers headed for Patagonia, sacrificed a lighter to the airport security, and boarded my plane.
After my arrival to the Punta Arenas airport, I searched for a bus to get to Puerta Natales--the gateway town a short 3 hour bus ride from the Torres Del Paine National Park. The information desk told me the inter-city busses picked up at the airport, but required tickets purchased in advance. I awaited one of these busses a few hours later, standing in a line with backpackers more prepared than I. When a bus arrived and my neighbors presented their pre-printed tickets, I asked the bus driver in my broken spanish if I could pay for the ride now. There was no issue; I was told to get on the bus. Moreover, I somehow blended-in with the group, as the ticket man walking up & down the isle demanding ticket proof never approached me.
After a sleepy ride on the bus with more comfortable chairs than the plane, we arrived to Puerto Natales' main bus station. I previously searched for the cheapest hostel online, and walked there with my fingers crossed. They had a 13.000 CLP bed in a mixed dorm, and offered cheap luggage store during the trek for 1.000 CLP. I separated my items, leaving my electronics and some superfluous clothes & toiletries behind. I spent the rest of the night sewing long patches of webbing to pack's critical rips. I ate dinner and went to bed early.
The next morning, I had a fast breakfast, grabbed my webbing-patched pack, and was on the bus to Torres Del Paine by 07:30. The scenery was mostly the same--Patagonia is mostly large, empty fields with cows--with only the occasional mountains & glaciers, to which I intended to immerse myself in shortly.
we had to ford a river...I stubbornly didn't want to remove my boots, so I decided to jump...While I was able to jump to the sandbar without issue, I did so immediately after I had thrown my backpack directly into the water
We arrived, stood in line, paid for entry, and watched a bilingual video about the rules of the park. Their biggest concern was wild fires, as careless tourists from Czech Republic & Israel have tragically burned down nearly 500,000 hectares in 1985, 2005, and 2011. Personally, I didn't even have a stove. Everything I had could be rehydrated cold--though I would never do this again where the water source is glacier melt and the temperature is regularly less than 10 degrees!
We awoke to the sound of a marmot under our mini-van shelter atop Hatcher Pass. It was my last weekend in Alaska, and S wanted to take me outside the Anchorage bowl--where I've been living the past month. We ate breakfast as we gazed upon the snow-capped mountains in the distance, then grabbed our packs and climbed up to the ridgeline, stopping to appreciate the fine view of Mount Denali--the highest peak in North America.
I hosted S as a couchsurfer in my temporary "apartment" in Anchorage, but we initially met in an online form; we were both searching for a travel companion to split the cost on a ship from Anchorage, AK to Vancouver, BC.
3 months ago, S left her office job in Zürich, flew to Vancouver, and bought a mini-van named Bourbon. Living in Bourbon, she drove through BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, and west into Alaska. I hosted her a few times when she passed south through Anchorage down to Homer, then again West to Valdez. Our last weekend in Alaska, we took one last trip outside Anchorage before she sold Bourbon
After climbing down from the ridgeline above Hatcher's Pass, we drove through the valley down a long gravel road to the Reed Lakes trailhead. 4 miles and much climbing later, we arrived at the most pristine, glacier-fed lake I've ever seen. A local told us it's the best lake in Alaska, and that the glacier that fed this lake (just over the ridgleine) was called "bomber glacier", as a crashlanded (world war 2?) bomber plane could be found atop the glacier. If we had more time, gear, and food, it would make a glorious multi-day weekend hike to Bomber Glacier--perhaps for my next visit to Alaska.
I began my ascent into the Himalayan mountains via a bus from Delhi. My stop was the last stop, Manali. The mountains were beautiful, and I was completely taken by surprise when I found myself on a Bollywood set, paid 1500 rupees to be an extra in a film.
A French couple departed the bus with me, so we shared a rick shaw to Old Manali, where we stayed in a cheap ~300 rupee/night guest house. It was November--Manali's off-season, yet there was already a half-dozen other travelers from France, Germany, and Korea staying at the guest house.
I immediately recognized Himalayan Blackberry and I could smell ganja in the air--two plants that reminded me of California.
Soon after I arrived, I started walking North along the river, basking in the peaceful sunlight in the valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I immediately recognized Himalayan Blackberry and I could smell ganja in the air--two plants that reminded me of California.
I continued walking along the deserted mountain road above the river for a few hours, passed through a village where I saw smoking men relaxing in the morning and women washing clothes from a stream running down to the river. I turned, walked back to my guest house, ate lunch, and then continued in the opposite direction towards the hustling & bustling New Manali. It was an overcrowded tourist trap full of shops, restaurants, and overcharging rickshaws--a stark contrast to my peaceful morning walk. Though it was off-season, I met local that offered to guide me on a day-trek for much cheaper than the "adventure" companies charge. We had chai, agreed on a price, and a time/location to meet early the next morning.
On my walk back up to my guest house, a man behind a gated entrance with a radio earpeace stopped me. He said they're shooting a Bollywood movie, they need a foreigner to play as an extra, and they'd pay me 1,500 rupees, and feed me for my time (for reference, 1500 rupees would pay for my lodging at my guest house for the next 5 nights).