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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Winter

I know this is not how I should be doing this at all. All the things that I am about to write about, about to glance over really, deserve much more attention than what I am going to give. The only reason that it comes down to this is that I was too lazy, or whatever you want to call it, this winter to blog about any of my winter travels. This is simply going to be the spark notes version of how my winter went, just a breeze over as much as I regret not devoting the time I should have to writing about it. I'm doing it this way because I want to blog my hike of the PCT but it feels wrong to not mention anything that happened to me during my most recent time abroad. Now, with this apology to all the most amazing people I met this winter, I am going to launch into the most memorable moments of the latest adventures (in a semi-chronological order).


Gibraltar and Morocco:


When I first arrived in southern Spain, Malaga, I was already a little bit homesick. I really didn't know what to do with myself since I hadn't even planned on being there in the first place (muddled my flights pretty good). With no real destination in mind I decided why not tap into Africa, even if it is only the tiniest bit, and off to Morocco I went. To get to Morocco I had to take a ferry across the strait of Gibraltar where the legendary pillar of Hercules lies. I'd heard about this place since I was a kid and was so excited to get there I pretty much ran to the top to get my first glimpse of Africa. To me this was exciting, really exciting, an untouched continent that I had not touched yet. To me this was a new world, a gate to a whole 'nother slew of adventures that my future holds for me.




Skip forward through Tangier, Chefchaouen (the blue city), and into Fes where I stay with Bilal and enjoy a night of a cozy Moroccan party. What I was excited most about was that there was alcohol involved. Morocco is a Muslim country so alcohol is looked down upon and has been described to me as the 'most forbidden'. This just means that everyone smokes as much hash as they want (which is different than the weed smoking community in America). When I got there Bilal took out a bag to show me and ask 'Do you know what this is? This is kief!' and the way he said it made me feel like they don't get kief too often. I laughed and just told him yes, I know what kief is. It was me, Bilal, and two of his friends. We spent the night in candle light listening to music, drinking, smoking, and eating off a communal plate of chicken and rice using bread as the only utensils. Strangely enough do you know the first song they showed me while I was there? Whiskey Lullaby. Probably one of the saddest songs there ever was but somehow they loved it and I couldn't believe out of all the songs out there this was what had made it to Morocco. Even though no one spoke English we finished the night talking philosophy and eating yogurt with a lollipop as a spoon. It was the first time this trip I had been made to feel at home and by far the best part of Morocco.




Forget about Rabat, the capital, and Christmas spent in Casa Blanca, but look at this one small restaurant in a town I don't remember the name of. Moroccan food is amazing and I had been trying all the tagines I could. I got to this place and even though it was in Arabic I could recognize that they had a tagine I hadn't tried before and of course I ordered it. The waiter gave me a weird look, confirmed what I was pointing at, and the shrugged and walked off. I didn't think anything of it. Until out came, unmistakably, an entire brain. It isn't the first time that I accidentally ordered something weird and it won't be the last I am sure. All I have to say is that it was delicious.


Berlin (don't worry about Barcelona or Rome):


While I was in Morocco I got a little sick of traveling alone. Besides Bilal, which was amazing, I didn't really meet anyone else of interest. It just wasn't really the time for most people to be traveling around Morocco. Some way or another Justin and I got in contact. I met Justin my first year fishing in Alaska and had not seen him since then either. We had kept in touch though and it turns out he had been living in Berlin. Bored with m lack luster Christmas spent in Morocco I decided to go spend one of my favorite holidays in Berlin with Justin. It was a fantastic time. It was amazing to get to catch up with Justin again after so long and to hear about all the adventures he had been on. It was nice to just sit around and drink beer with a mate and try to get into the crazy Berlin clubs together too. New Years was great, low key, but great. Though nothing crazy out of the ordinary happened here I feel obligated to mention how nice it was to find someone to hang out with for a week while on the continent. Not only that, but I convinced him to come meet me, Stumbles, Mr. Miller, and the crew over in Iceland in a couple weeks too!


Portugal:

Again, nothing crazy happened while in Portugal. Just the normal things, except that I got to meet Amber here! It was such a wonderful coincidence that me and my captain, Amber, would be in Lisbon at the same time. After years and years of threatening to meet each other abroad we finally managed to make the meet up exploring castles together and experimenting with some of Portugal's more loose laws. It was amazing to be able to see her so far away and to be able to spend some quality traveling time with her. Amber you're amazing and can't wait to see you this summer!



Iceland:


At least once a year, usually more, I meet up with Stumbles for an adventure. Usually around January so that we can celebrate her birthday and this year she chose Iceland. That's really why I had been loafing around Europe for so long is because I was waiting to meet up with her at the right time. This year was going to be a little different than others as we had quite a bit of people joining us for this adventure. As I previously mention Justin would now be coming along with Mr. Miller (which is becoming a norm) and five other friends of Stumbles'. That's quite a bit of people. I'll describe it to you the same way I pitched the trip to Justin. We rented a big AirBnb with a hot tub as a home base in the country side of Iceland, near Selfoss, and planned to use it as a home base for drinking and hoping that the Northern lights would show. One of those things definitely happened and I can let you guess which.


Let me start by first off saying it is always so good to see Stumbles again, a tried and true adventure buddy. We are actually getting pretty notorious for our debauchery now, ever since that Hell in a Shell night before the bike ride across America, and that first night was a frat party to say the least. When I woke up there were empty booze bottles everywhere, the pictures on the walls were tilted, and the door to one of the rooms wasn't even on its hinges. It was amazing.





Iceland was gorgeous as usual but that trip was more about spending time with friends and being cozy inside a cabin out in Iceland. Of course we went and saw waterfalls, geysers, and hot springs, but the best part was just sitting in the hot tub with cool people drinking and looking out over the beautiful Icelandic landscape.


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Unfortunately that is all I can get through right now and I know that none of this is that interesting. The writing is terrible and I am ashamed to be publishing it but to be fair it is more to serve as a memory reminder for me later on in life. I wish I would have written this then instead of now and taken the time to do so, but sometimes I am just not in the mood to write and this winter was one of those times. So soon to come, hopefully, Scotland, Poland (no need for Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia unless very briefly), Russia (Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Irkutsk (and the trans Siberian train in between those)), Mongolia, and China. Then, finally, after I do a similarly hideous job of writing all that down I will start writing about the current adventure that is the PCT. Sorry to delay everything like this and I hope that I can manage to get it all out ASAP. Quick update, I started the PCT on the 15th of March and am about 80 miles into it. It's amazing.


Hope you're all well and I will try to do better.


Beacon (no PCT trail name yet, but will remain Beacon here)

Friday, December 23, 2016

Drunk on a plane (but not me!)

          I was at the end of a long day of traveling. Not long because it had to be, though most internationals are, but long because I had made a mess of my flights. I'd only noticed my error a few days previously while at my friend Stumbles' house. I'd been sitting around vaguely reviewing my game plan to hike El Camino de Santiago (finally), a 500 mile trail in Northern Spain when I realized I'd messed up. This was the third legitimate time I've had the plan and goal to hike El Camino, but it is also the third legitimate time I have been thwarted in my attempts to arrive at the starting point. The first time I missed hiking it because I couldn't bring myself to leave new friends in Ireland, the second because I stayed in Northern Europe instead, and now this time because I'd booked a flight to leave for Barcelona while I would still be in the air to Oslo. Whoops. When I tried to rebook another flight from Oslo they didn't have any more flights to Barcelona that day, so I decided to go to Magala in Southern Spain instead. It was the next best option. This was the second part of the mess I made, I hadn't realized there were two airports that come up as 'Oslo' and I mistakenly booked the flight departing from the airport I would not be arriving at. This means I had to take a 3 hour train ride to get to the correct airport just so that I could arrive in Magala at midnight and sleep in the airport anyways. These are the reasons why it had been a long day of traveling. 

        It was on that last leg, the flight from Oslo to Maaga, that I had a sort of funny flight. Somehow I am nearly always in the aft of the plane. Wait, let's back up a second, somehow my gate is nearly always the farthest gate from me and I am nearly always in the aft of the plane. While in the aft of this particular plane I learned that if ever there is someone who is causing a ruckus during the flight the attendants place them in the aft of the plane to be able to manage them better, at least they did so on this flight, right across the aisle from me. 
          I was sitting on the left side of the airplane, in the aisle seat, with one other guy in my row at the window. He was nice, young, tatted, and on his way to a skydiving convention in Sevilla. On the right side of the airplane, across from me, was a buisness looking man enjoying his empty row of three seats. Not even halfway through the flight one of the stewardesses came back round the back and asks this business looking man if he would mind moving to a different seat because they needed to put a wasted passenger back in that area. They were doing this in hopes that the passanger who was drunk beyond belief would lay down in the three seats and go to sleep. Of course the business looking man complied and so enters a Spanish man who has had way too much to drink. In fact, while the stewardess is guiding the man to the back he can't even walk properly enough to stay up and manages to face plant into an armrest on an aisle seat and those things ain't soft. The male steward literally picks the guy up and drops him in the seat across the aisle from me where the guy proceeds to slide down into the floor space between seats. Again he gets picked up but this time they buckle him in so he can't move. Not a guy you would really have to worry about going anywhere right? Wrong.
         Maybe 10 minutes later the guy comes to, but he is certainly not coherent. He looks around hazily and then down at the seatbelt, says something inaudibly, and then begins to fuddle with the latch. It takes him a little while to figure it out, meanwhile a few people around him have seen him doing this and are telling him 'sientate' but he doesn't register much. He manages to get up but the stewardess pushes his back down and gives him a bit of a telling off in Spanish. This goes on and on for a couple hours, like literally every 5-10 minutes the guy tries to get up and wander off and someone has to get him back into his seat until it is finally time to land... 
          The stewardess comes up to me and asks 'Tu hablas espanol?' to which I reply 'Un poquito'. So she asks 'Ingles?' and I say 'Si'. She tells me then that we will be landing soon, but the stewardesses and the steward must take their jump seats for landing. Which is like a 10-15 minute process. Okay, so that's dandy but...? Well then she asks me if I can hold down the drunk guy should he try to get up during landing since I am the one right across the aisle from him. I guess that's also dandy, and of course I say I will help them. 
         Long story short, I get to hold down a drunk guy by myself on an international flight because of course he tries to get up during landing. He was off his face wasted so it wasn't very difficult, just a little bit funny and not at all what I expected for this flight. As soon as we landed the police got on and took him away and then I was off to find a corner of the airport to sleep in. Oh travel, how I have missed you. 


Welcome to Spain! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mystery of the missing skiff

Part one: Disappearance of the Crustliner

“Harry! Get up right now, we have to save the skiff.”

               A skiff is a small boat usually kept aboard a larger boat. The purpose of our skiff is mainly pleasure and we use it to get to land for some beachcombing or berry picking. We call our skiff the Crustliner. The actual brand name of our skiff is ‘Crestliner’ but the thing is so beaten and dilapidated that it is constantly trying to sink itself in a variety of manners and often required a bit of bailing.
I didn’t know what time it was but had the sneaking suspicion it was earlier than I would’ve liked. I jumped up, just in some shorts, and pulled my boots on over my bare feet. I grabbed my red hoodie as I exited my bunk and went up to the wheelhouse to see what the problem was. I expected an ‘oh the skiff is sinking again, great’, but I got up to the wheelhouse and the skiff wasn’t where it’d been tied up the night before. The skiff was actually gone…
               Amber had the binoculars out and was looking in the direction the wind was blowing. I stepped outside, into the rain, to get a better look around the wheelhouse and sure enough there it was. I wouldn’t say it was dark outside, but it certainly wasn’t light yet and it was definitely raining. The clouds were low and dark. The sea was darker still. And somewhere between the two, a good distance away, was the Crustliner bobbing on the swell with a 20 knot wind pushing her towards shore.
               I heard Amber firing up the mains (the main engines) which was my cue to haul the anchor. I ran up to the bow, still in shorts, and started pulling her. Normally I try to make the cable wrap as nicely as I can but in this situation we just needed the anchor up. Amber got on the hailer and I could hear her through the deck speakers.

“I don’t know if I can get close enough for us to grab it, it gets too shallow. But get the pike pole and the grappling hook ready.”

               By the time the anchor got all the way up I was already a little bit wet and cold. Parker had the grappling hook and pike pole ready while Amber was driving us closer to the skiff. I headed towards my bunk to get more prepared for whatever was about to happen. I put on socks and pants. Just that small change made me feel less miserable about the elements.

Amber called down from the wheelhouse “I won’t be able to get that close to it. It gets too shallow too fast…”

I could see the skiff still in the distance. It wasn’t close. I ran through what we could do in my head real quick. In any other circumstance where something went overboard we would use the skiff to go get it, but I’d never thought about what would happen if we lost the skiff itself. The grappling hook and pike pole were good for like 10 meters but that was going to be useless. I mean the skiff still looked to be at least a quarter of a mile from the boat and the wind was slowly pushing it farther from us and closer to the beach. It was still early and I wasn’t thinking the clearest but,

“Ummm…. Should I get in a survival suit?” I asked. “I guess I can swim to it….”
“I don’t know how else we could get it, but that is a long way…”

I was down in the galley pulling out one of the suits already. The survival suits are what we put on if the ship is sinking. That’s what they’re designed for. Mostly just to keep you alive. They’re big, heavy duty, and awkward as hell. I slipped it on over my clothes and then got back up in the wheelhouse.

“Will you zip my hair in Amber?”
“Are you sure you want to do this? It’s a long way and once you’re in we have no way of getting you back.”
“Yeah I guess. There’s no other way right? Either I can swim to it or I’ll get washed back out to sea where y’all can hopefully find me.”

               Then and there, that was all we discussed about the matter. Thinking back there are a ton of questions I would’ve raised before going. Like ‘What if I can’t get the skiff started and I’m stuck out there?’ or ‘should we agree upon some form of signaling each other?’ and about million other what if questions but, like I said, it was early and time was not a commodity.  

Part two: Into the Ocean

               I ran and jumped into the ocean. I guess it seemed like a good way to start things, a running start. Things had been happening too quickly before the jump for me to assess how nervous I was. All I was thinking about before jumping in was this movie we’d watched recently. It’s a fighting movie called Warrior. The protagonist is fighting to win some money and save his home from foreclosure. In one of the final fights, where it looks like the protagonist has no chance of winning, his coach sits him down in the corner for one of those classic motivational pep talks and says “If you don’t knock him out in this round you don’t have a chance. If you don’t knock him out, you don’t come home.” That’s what I was thinking when I was running across the deck, as I went through the air, as soon as my head dipped under and I tasted salt. If I don’t get this skiff I don’t come home.
Not that it was really that intense, but if I didn’t get to the skiff I didn’t have a way to get back to the boat. If the skiff wouldn’t start I wouldn’t have a way to get back to the boat. If the skiff beached itself before I could get to it I wouldn’t have a way to get back to the boat. If I got halfway and for some reason couldn’t go on I wouldn’t be able to swim against the wind and the swell in open water to get back to the boat. There was almost half a mile between the boat and the shore where the skiff was heading and if anything went wrong all I could do is hope that the ocean would be kind and choose to take me back towards the boat.
There was one other problem I hadn’t considered. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to find something in a swell, but it’s hard. Anything lost in the ocean can easily be hidden from sight when it goes into the trough and behind a wave. It had been difficult to see the skiff from the boat, which is significantly higher than being in the ocean, and once I was wet it was impossible to see the skiff. From the moment I was in the water I’d lost track of where the skiff was relative to me my position. I was already committed and I quickly came up with a new plan instead of trying to make it to the skiff. I decided to just swim to shore and walk along to wherever the skiff washed up instead of trying to swim to the skiff.
The easiest way to swim in the ridiculous lobster suit was on my back. The suit kept me awkwardly buoyant so there was no way to do any proper swim strokes. It was more like laying on a pool float and using my hands and arms to paddle backwards. Kicking didn’t seem to help at all either. It wasn’t fast and it wasn’t easy. I wasn’t very far before I was already breathing hard and I doubted my decision, just a little. When I got tired of being on my back I would turn over in my stomach and try to swim that way. The thing was the only place water could possibly get in the suit was where the zipper came to a stop below my nose. I could already feel the cold water seeping down my shirt from when I’d jumped in and gone under for a fraction of a second. Every time I tried to swim on my stomach a little bit more would splash in. When I tired of that I would turn onto my back again and try to make way in that position.
I was concerned at first. I wasn’t making much headway and with almost nothing to measure my progress against I thought I was actually going nowhere for a while. It didn’t seem like the shore was getting any closer or like I was moving forward no matter how vigorously I paddled, but every time I looked back at the boat it was smaller and smaller. I just kept swimming. I had a brief moment of fearfulness. It was completely irrational but the water was so large, so dark, and I was so lost in it. I thought about a storm I’d seen in Iceland once and how violent the ocean can be. I couldn’t help but imagine the space in between me and the ocean floor. I didn’t know how much depth was below me or what was in the water with me and that weird part of the mind that is scared of the dark, even though it knows there is nothing in it, was suddenly alert to the idea that there could be anything below the surface. I had a picture of huge killer whale silently gliding under me. The ocean is a deep and mysterious place though and, vaguely, that has always worried me.
I continued swimming, flipping from back to stomach every minute or so. I tried to rest some when I got tired, but every time I tried to just float it felt like the ocean was taking me farther away from shore and I was losing hard won progress.  I got to a spot where the swell was getting bigger as the water got shallower. With every wave that came through it pulled me back a little, away from shore, then as it passed it would push me forward a little, back towards shore. It was like I was stuck there with the waves pulling and pushing me so that, essentially, I wasn’t moving forwards or backwards. When I would flip on my back to try and paddle out of the stasis the swell would hit me in the face and I’d get a beard and nose full of salt water. After two facefulls I was over it and flipped back onto my stomach. I was very tired but couldn’t very well stay stuck right outside of the breakers like that. I summoned a little bit of extra strength every time a big swell came through and tried to paddle with it like trying to body surf. I wasn’t able to get much momentum while in the suit and I could only inch forward for a while until I finally, finally, caught a breaker.
It pushed me forward just enough for me to feel like I was making some progress. And then I caught one more and there was the rocky earth under my feet. I stood up and waded the last 50 meters into shore.

Part three: The World’s Dumbest Horse

Despite not being able to see the skiff for the entirety of my swim I washed up not far from the skiff. The wind was already trying to beach it. I unzipped the suit down to my chest, took my hood off, and took my arms out so I could have some dexterity again. I hurried over to the skiff to make sure it hadn’t already put itself on the beach.
               It was shallow and sandy where the skiff had landed. Behind it, between the boat and us was a small outcrop of rocks I couldn’t very well skiff over. I needed to get around the rocks, but on either side of the outcrop were sandbars creating breakers. I just had to go through the breakers. I pushed the skiff out a little and pushed off as I jumped in. It stopped immediately as my weight combined with weight of the water already in the skiff bottomed us out. I put my suit back on all the way and jumped out again to push the skiff to deeper water.
               Once, before this, Luc and I had been doing something with the skiff and he’d told me sometimes he felt like he was leading the world’s dumbest horse. That was how I felt as I pushed the skiff out. The wind was blowing hard and the surf was against us. I was already exhausted. I was feeling nauseous from the exertion and all the salt water that’d gone up my nose. I turned the skiff against the wind and surf to get the bow pointed out. It was a struggle. I pushed it until the water was waste deep and then jumped in again. It was a struggle to get the outboard down and started with that dumb suit on and I wasn’t even sure I could get it started. While I was messing with the outboard the wind turned the skiff sideways and a small wave came in, putting more water and weight in the skiff. I got it started cranked the throttle turning into the breakers when I hit the sand bar.
               I’d been hoping it would be deep enough for me and the skiff to make it over the sandbar. I was so tired already and it would take a lot to keep pushing the skiff out. Worse still I was right where all the waves were breaking. I quickly raised the outboard to and jumped out to push against the wind and the surf again. I was taking extra care to keep the bow pointed into the surf to avoid sinking the skiff beyond my ability to save.
Again, once I was knee deep again, just past what I prayed would be the last obstacle, I jumped in the skiff as fast as I could and fumbled to yank the pull cord on the outboard before the surf and wind could turn us again. I got it on the second try and immediately let loose on the throttle. With me and the large amount of water that’d come in all the weight was in the stern of the skiff. The prop went into the sand but I didn’t let the throttle go. I gave it more gas as I leaned forward to try and get some of the weight off the stern. The skiff started moving forward just a little. It hit a wave and the bow raised a ridiculous amount and, for a moment, I was afraid the swell would flip us. When the bow came down it raised the prop enough to get it out of most of the sand and I started moving forward for real, at last.
I got over the last few breakers with the bow continuing to raise to crazy heights. I got over them and into the swell before turning towards the boat. The little light on my suit was blinking and I hoped they could see me to know I’d managed it. And I had managed it. I had the dumb horse, and I was going home.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Frozen

Intro: I've never really written a blog post like this before. First you might think to ask why not? And then you might remember yourself and ask what kind of blog post this actually is. Well it's just a more personal post and there are a couple reasons I don't write these sorts of things, but it's mostly because it's none of anyones business and I've never had the mind to make these sorts of things their business either. In all honesty though, this is part of traveling much of the time. Magical experiences like the one I am going to try and relay here. And yeah they're a bit personal for my taste, especially just to throw out there all willy nilly like this, but of late I've just enjoyed writing and I thought 'why not?' Why not write about this too? Why not blog about it? And in accordance with the 'why not' philosophy it looks like I'm giving it a shot. Bang.


Frozen

It was a dark and cold night. The kind of night who's existence is forgotten by the average citizen. The kind of night you wouldn't want to be digging a grave in because the ground was frozen solid. The old frozen snow blanketing everything in sight seemed more like a permanent feature than an incident of weather and it was more like the actual soil itself felt frozen far beneath that thin sheet of ice. The sure sign of a place that knows a long and deep winter. There was no moon in the black sky, just the tiny pinpricks of bright stars crisp through the cold air and some low lying clouds reflecting street lights back down to earth. The cold was tangible, I could almost taste it in the air and the wind cut through most of the clothing I was wearing as we stood at the bow of a ferry breaking out of an icy harbor. I hadn't packed for zero degrees, I'd packed for thirty and this was about the downward limit of my worn jacket and leggings. Still, it felt good to be cold again. Especially in contrast to the tropics and deserts my last two months had been spent around. The loss of dexterity in my fingers and shivers running across my shoulders felt good to me. We were both leaning over a waist high guard rail to watch the cloudy white chunks crunching under the bow as the ferry made way. Every so often it would hit a larger chunk of ice and a piece of it would go spiraling forward through the air just to land back in the water and have it happen all over again, like a football player juggling the ball towards the goal with short violent taps. I wasn't entirely aware of the silly chain of events that'd led me onto this vessel at midnight. Or how this beautiful Finnish girl had come to be so close by my side. We were pressed up against one another as we looked forward, mostly just our shoulders touching, but it was a firm touch. It wasn't helping to keep either of us warm really, but it was comforting and a little bit electric which I think helped to warm us indirectly through through a quickening of the hearts. Only a couple hours before then I'd been hunkering down in the airport for the night when, then and all of a sudden, I wasn't. All of a sudden the stars were piercing above me, there were these light blue eyes, pupils huge in the night, that kept looking at me, and this lovely Finnish accent floating in frigid sea air. We weren't talking about anything super deep, about family and things. About travel, the stars, and what it feels like to be on the ocean. How pleasing the sound of crunching ice sounded to us right then and what this country was like. Making jokes and and exploring humor. Those were the small things we talked about as we neared the mouth of the harbor. There I could make out small houses on small islands and then the end of the ice field as we we neared a channel a little too large for the ice to have reached. It was a hard line in the water, one side imprisoned by ice and the other had freedom to dance in waves. It became almost eerily quiet when the boat slipped out of the ice field and the steady thrumming of frozen water on steel was gone. All we could hear was water slapping up against the hull now and the wind blowing from somewhere off shore. She pointed a short distance away to a large building with a bright light whirling around the top and explained to me it was actually a Russian church left over from the occupation and not a lighthouse at all. It was built on an island with a name I can't remember and probably couldn't pronounce either. As we approached I could see snow blanketing the ground and clinging to the bare trees hat were following a large stone wall that looked like it had belonged to a castle at some point. It looked peaceful in the yellow lamplight, like an illustration from a child's story book about Christmas. It was old and magical as if it was a scene from a long time past. Some how, I think, everything is more beautiful in the cold.

Saana was her name, and she was taking me to this island because she finds it beautiful. We'd gone out together earlier that night to listen to a Finnish band playing gypsy music, but when the performance was over neither one of us were quite ready to part ways. It was to be my last night in Finland and there would have been no chance for us to simply meet another time. That's how we found ourselves, a little past midnight, on a sparsely populated island, full of old fortress and sea walls, walking through what I could only describe as a story from a fairytale. 

She was right of course. The island was beautiful, and the stars were too even though we couldn't see the fainter ones with Helsinki so near. It was quaint, cute, dark, and empty. After leaving the ferry dock we didn't see another person for the remainder of our time. The small community built  here was full of old wooden docks and stone bridges with an icy gravel road that wound from building to building. I followed her as she wound her way around the island. I had no idea where we were going, but I could see that this was an old familiar path she'd walked thousands of times before. I couldn't help but glance at her often during our walk and I could imagine it. I could imagine her wearing a sweet summer dress and walking this island in the long summer days, laying on the boulders to read, or swimming at the small beach facing towards the harbor and Helsinki. As we walked she told me small stories about this or that which happened here or there and some of the funnier things that had come to her through this island. But she had this way about talking, she would start on a story and in the middle of that one get lost in the explanation of another or of some subtle Finnish thing that I would previously have never been aware of. It wasn't a bad thing, because she told the stories so well! It made me want to listen to that adorably soft accent and it made me want to learn Finnish just so that I could better understand her. With the few silences that made appearances I found a lacking and a longing in the air where her voice had just been.

She led me across a small bridge to a stone building with old arched doorways leading into the dark. They were rooms that could've been used for anything in the past. The kind found in all old castles and fortresses, strangely empty and, at this time, very lacking in light. She didn't use her phone as a torch when we stepped from the dark night into the darker hallway, she merely hooked her right arm through my left. I was a little surprised at the sudden touch and closeness of her, but pleasantly so and I clung to the darkness all the more for this small excuse to be in physical contact with her. We took hesitant steps down the hallway, from one empty room to the next, walking gingerly because we couldn't see our feet or where they were landing. I was less focused on where we were walking now and more so on her arm in mine. I lightly placed my right hand on the arm she had hooked through mine. We were softly joking about murderers and ghost as we shuffled down the stone and then wooden walkway until we reached a dead end and had to turn around. I'm not certain, but I think we walked slower on the way back. I didn't want to let go of her arm as we stepped out into the night. I did let go, of course, less because I needed to and more because I'm shy, but I hadn't wanted to. 

As we strolled through an open courtyard we heard a noise echoing down the brick alleyways. She gave a jump and grabbed hold of me thinking maybe it was one of the possible murderes we'd been making fun of. Even though we had been laughing about them, it was still night and there is always a feral fear of those things lining humor. Anyways, she jumped and grabbed hold of me. I was ecstatic for the touch regardless of the reason. Gloves, jackets, and other clothes between us didn't matter to me either. We laughed about her start, but we heard the sound again almost immediately. A little more distinct this time. Then a third time. It was an owl! One lonely owl out there who-ing away. We followed the noise until we made our way through some bushes and into a small clearing at the top of a wall. We had a clear view overlooking a shipyard and a small construction site and there, at the top of a crane, was our owl. Hooting like a metronome every 15 seconds. It almost sounded like he had the hiccups and couldn't shake them. We stood there in silence for a while as we watched and listening to him. It felt secluded behind the bushes like this. Like somewhere two lovers would hideaway to sneak a few kisses. I was nervously aware of how much closer we were standing now versus the distance between us at the beginning of the night. Her touch was still fresh in my mind and when she did speak to break the silence her voice only managed to draw me closer to her. We started joking about the owl as we stood there, but now it was a little different. She would lightly grip my arm when she wanted emphasis or I would give her a small and playful nudge when I made a joke. The small silences were a little tenser, almost as if something was expected, and we would smile and look into each others eyes. Sometimes tens of seconds would pass before one of us, usually me, would avert their gaze shyly. I doubted myself though. I wasn't sure if she was just being friendly or if maybe she was feeling the attraction I felt towards her. And I didn't want to impose on her either. I really didn't want to impose on her, or face getting turned down. So I didn't try to kiss her. I thought about it. I thought about it the whole ttime we stood there. I thought about asking her, 'Would you be terribly opposed to me kissing you right now?' Because I'm awkward like that. It was on my lips more than once before I bit my tongue. Maybe I'd been misreading the signs? She could just be this nice with everyone. She was gorgeous, but I couldn't work up the confidence and after an especially long silence she turned to lead me back through the bushes and out into the courtyard. 

We walked back to the ferry dock a little early to make sure we didn't miss it. It was to be the last one for the night. On that side of the island we could hear the water softly lapping against the seawall. It sounded like one of those tapes people listen to for help falling asleep. With the cold and the snow all around us it was incredibly relaxing. Our conversation was light and she was funny. Really funny. I liked it. A lot. Her high heeled boots were making little prints in the snow as we walked along a path that followed the line of the water and I couldn't help but to continue admiring her. I realize now that I have not described her yet, so let me try to do so. She was neither short nor tall. She was well dressed. Not just in a cute shirt and coat but more coherently with her outfit all flowing as one and it looked almost as if she had stepped out of the directly out of a 60's swing dance. She had short golden blonde hair that reached to about her shoulders, a face that was petite with small feature and fingers that were slender. In the cold air her cheeks simply glowed rosy on her fair face and I could see that even in the dark. She was cute, precious, funny, and sweet. I think, that is all that can be said, because, in the end, it is impossible to really describe a woman. And, some how, I think, everything is more beautiful in the cold.

-----------

An Amerrican boy and a FInnish girl were sittting on a bench by the water rubbing each others arms, partially to warm each other and partially just for want of being close to one another, when the ferry they had been waiting for snuck out of the dark. The vessel approached expertly, with no need for any of the crew to do anything other than lower the gangway. Two lonely people got off, eager to get home to a warm bed at such a late hour, and two young people took their places as the only passangers for the short ride across the harbor to Helsinki. They hurried inside the small ferry house in search of a little respite from the cold and the wind. As the props churned up ice and salt, the ferry purred slowly away from the dock and into open water. Inside gloves came off and hands touched, unhindered for the fiirst time, with the pretense of warming each other, but after one minute there was no more pretense and they sat pressed together, side by side, with hands lightly held. Her hands were small in his. He could only feel the smallness of them though, not see it, because he was busy searching her eyes. He was searching for a sign. For a flare. For any hint of temptation. For one small affirmation that what he wanted she wanted too. He looked for one second. Then two. Three, four, five. He squeezed her hand an imperceptible amount and leaned in a little closer to her. Hesitantly. Questioning. Six. A little closer, asking her for her permission not with words, but with his movement. And then she moved too, recognizing his question and answering in turn. Seven. She moves her face, nervously, towards his. Eight. Nine. Faces inching together they close their eyes. Ten. And cold lips meet for the first time. Softly and gently, like snowflakes lost in long eyelashes. And, some how, I think, everything is more beautiful in the cold. 


Be happy, 

Beacon 



Monday, February 15, 2016

Netflix and chill

I haven't seen Adrian since high school. It's not even like it was senior year high school either, more like sophmore year high school. That's like 8 years time almost! Even if we had been best friends during our collective time spent in the STEM program 8 years would still be enough to change each of us into a different person completely, leaveing us strangers. As it was we hadn't been best friends, we'd been friends. We talked sometimes when we had classes together but that was about all. So, now, a crazy amount of time later it's nearly like meeting someone for the first time again, nearly. We're both still the same at the core I don't doubt, but the details have blurred since then. Despite this whatever the space that this time had created between us had also been mended just as much by the world of travel. It kind of works like this. If I'm somewhere in America, but not in Texas, and I meet another Texan we're automatically friends you know? Like when I'm abroad and meet another American there's some instant bond of brotherhood. Or if I was on Mars and met an Earthling, we'd probably have such a huge element in common that we coudln't help but be friends. Facebook has done a good job keeping track of most everyones lives so we were both vaguely aware that the other travels quite a bit. Adrian for the military and me for the hell of it. This small similarity between us, the worldy notion, is more than enough to bring two high school acquaintances back together, 8 years later and clear on the other side of the world in Okinawa, Japan.

I found myself in Japan feeling as if I had never left high school. Not because of who I was with, but because of what we were doing. You may think I came to Okinawa to admire the beautiful beaches, eat sushi, and do whatever else it is one would do here, but not I. No, apparantly, I came to Okinawa to make science! Let me explain that better. Adrian has been taking an online biology course for his degree. The course has a lab included, so they send him this big box with all these pipets, test tubes, mysterious solutions, and graduated cylinders you know? To do science things for the lab part of the course. And, extremely simply put, that is how I found myself, almost a decade later, repeating biology with someone I went to high school with. There was a uncanny amount of deja vu involved, bringing me directly back to Ms. Spriggs biology lab freshman year but without all the negative implications that high school brings along. We could drink coffee and make jokes and generally lolly gag our sweet time with it. I find it hilarious that that is what I ended up doing in Japan. 


All the sciences 

It wasn't all homework and science though. I did do some of the other things Okinawa is known for. Kind of. The main thing we did was went up to the huge aquarium on the North of the island. It's the second largest in the world and it was crazy!! They had a tank with three whale sharks in it. One would be impressive, but they had three! Not only that, but the manta rays in the tank were almost as big as the whale sharks! After there were tons of sea turtles ranging from little babies to, I assume, ancient as can be. And they had some flying dolphins. It was a great place and the drive there along the azure coastline was breathtaking for the most part. But, for the majority of my stay, the weather was cold and rainy. 

Whale shark

Flying dolphins and the overcast sky

Keeping the dreary outdoors in mind we went out to a quaint country bar one night where we were apparently being all quiet in the corner. I don't think we were being that quiet because we were sitting there singing along to the spot on playlist like we were back in Texas, but maybe we just weren't as loud as everyone else. In the end the owner came over, attracted by our silence, and chatted it up with us for a while until closing time. He even bought us both a drink. I forgot to mention, this was a biker bar. A chapter of some biker gang had opened up this bar and they kept it pretty much in line. I didn't realize the gravity of it until the owner was sitting, talking with us and people would keep stopping by to pay their respects to him. It reminded me of a time long ago, when I was sleeping in a garage of a woman named Peggy during a massive thunderstorm in Gorham, New Hampshire. But that's a story for another time ;)

In the end, the best parts about Japan for me were probably not what you would think. I always wonder what people think I do while I'm traveling. Of course I do the big things, but I wonder what people thing I do in between all that. Like here, in Okinawa, I went out and exploed a bit, went to the aquarium, ate sushi, offroaded a bit, and won some chips at one of their crazy crane machine places, but those are just a few things we did. There is so much more time in the day than that. It's not all spent exploring all the time. Sometimes I feel better served resting. Plus it was cold outside and rainy for a good bit of my time there. So Adrian and I had a couple movie days where we just sat around and watched Netflix. Between movies one of us would run down to one of the million vending machines and pick up a few hot coffees to drink while the cold wind howled outside. Sometimes we would take a break to cook some noodles or make some science. But, for the most part, all we did was chill. And sometimes that's all I want. 

The source of my coffee addiction 

Thanks so much for everything Adrian, it was great to see you again and I'm glad we finally met up! I'm also glad it was there in Okinawa and not middle of nowhere Germany! Keep in touch and maybe I'll see you in Canada! 


Be happy,

Beacon 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A little Vietnam and some Hong Kong

The way I see it, I only had three options. Option 1: Stay the night in the airport. Always a valid option and usually even a good one as I sleep really well tucked away somewhere behind an airpot bench. But tonight was my only night in Hanoi, Vietnam, and it was the beginning of the Chinese New Year, so, after some quick soul searching, I realized I would only regret spending the night in the airport instead of seaching for some festivites.

Option 2: Go to the city and end up stealth camping. I usually prefer this options, as I love my tent. It is a kind of third home to me, right behind my 'real' home and the boat. But I needed to be back at the airport early the next morning for my flight to Hong Kong, by around 7am, and didn't really think camping in the city was a good idea. Mostly because I get way too comfortable in my tent, especially in the early mornings, and I knew that I wouldn't want to wake up early in order to make a long trek to the airport. 

This left option 3: Stay out until the rooster crows. Literally though, they're everywhere. Not an unfortunate option, but not the wisest either. It was possible for me to make it through the night since it was already 10 and even if I couldn't make it all the way there's always the opportunity of bailing into a cab directed towards the airport at any hour. Obviously, I took option three. 

The cab ride into Hanoi was much longer than I had expected it to be. Not long, maybe 45 minutes, just longer than I had expected and more expensive too. I hadn't even had a location for the cabbie though, I knew nothing of Hanoi. I'd simply told him the name of the city as if he didn't already know where I was headed. There's just the one city. He asked me twice where I wanted to go in Hanoi, and I continued to claim simply 'Hanoi'. I trusted he would just take me to the center or whatever it is people come here to see. I couldn't see much as we were driviing into the city, the only thing I noticed is the air seemed smoky. I could tell we were getting closer to my unknown exit when I started to see more and more New Years decorations. Then there were people selling celbration items and balloons. The balloon sellers were holding so many balloons it looked as if they couldn't hardly hold another without disappearing into the smoky air. Soon there were to many people for the cab to even drive down the street so I got out short of the center, still not exactly sure where I was going. It was easy enough to follow the swell of people and it led me to this amazing lake in the center of the city. The whole thing was surrounded by such amazing festivities decorations. Buildings were lit up, there were lights in the trees and on bridges, and merriment all around. It took me over an hour to walk the circumfrence of the lake with so many people moving through the streets. By the time I made a complete loop I realized this wasn't simply a meet up and celebrate, everyone was waiting for something. I had the sneaking suspicion it was fireworks, because, well obviously because wha would New Years be without a firework show? I was milling about like everyone else when I decided to by some hotdogs on a stick and the first boom went off at midnight. A cheer rose up from the thousands of people gather to watch. Now there is no need for me to describe to you what a firework show is like, but, let me just say, I saw some of the biggest fireworks I'd ever seen that night.




All the festivities 
-----------------------------------------

It's easy to forget I'm an educated man sometimes. College was such a blur of clawing my eyes out from boredom that, for the most part, I don't even remember going. Not that I finished mind you, I dropped out with one semester to go, but I wasted a decent chunk of time there. What I remember best about college was playing ultimate frisbee with an awesome group of people on Monday nights. Nobody cared who won, it was just a fun excuse to run around after a light up frisbee in the dark. That's where I met Kelvin. Kelvin from Hong Kong. He was studying at Texas tech the same time I was. Our only interaction was during a speckle of ultimate frisbee games, but that was enough. He would always joke that I should come visit him in Hong Kong some day as most people everywhere often do. If you meet someone it's not uncommon to extend an open invitation on the odd chance they come through your parts. It hardly ever happens that they come through, but that doesn't make the invitation any less sincere. I always reply to these offers the same. 'I'm sure I'll get around one day'. If there is anything, anything at all, you should know about me it's this: I take my 'one days' very seriously and I most certainly do get around.

So there I was, almost three years later, coming through with a light promise and meeting up with Kelvin in Hong Kong. It's always good to see a familiar face after such a long time. The catching up, chatting about frisbee, and how everyone we used to know is now married. I don't get a lot of that sort of chatting, since I'm always meeting new people, so it was a drink of cold water on a hot day. We spent the day chatting aimlessly as Kelvin lead me through the maze that is Hong Kong. Seriously, a maze. Almost every building is connected to another building by underground tunnels and skywalks. The buildings are so large on the inside that I immediately lost all orientation as soon as I entered. Not only that, but each of these buildings is fucking tall as well. True skyscraper status. Needless to say it was pretty cool. The malls were crazy, most of them had an ice skating rink inside somewhere. Some were upwards of 10, 11, or 12 stories of just mall. I went on a five story escalator! One even had a fake sky on the ceiling! And those floors were just the malls at the bottom of the skyscrapers, I'm sure there were still hundreds of floors of mysteries still above all that! It was a large city in every right.

Hong Kong

Five story escalator 

Fake sky

During my time in Hong Kong we ended up walking all over the city. Kelvin asked me if I wanted to see fancy or the ghetto. I always go ghetto. We took a long bike ride that was absolutely gorgeous and ate some amazing things on the streets. I got a pretty good feel for the city I would say, but still look forward to coming back and doing more which is a nice way to feel after leaving a city. Exploring the city was fun and all, but the best time was spent with Kelvin and his family in a more 'real' setting. Chinese New Year seemed a bit like Thanksgiving, where the whole family gathers to feast and spend time together. I was lucky enough to be allowed at a family gathering and get a taste of the tradition. It was incredibly welcoming and a great relief to me considering the amount of holidays I've missed back in America. It's a weird blessing to feel a part of something and I don't always realize that I miss it. 

Kelvin

The last night I was there was the night of the firework show. Remember when I said I saw some of the largest fireworks I'd ever seen in Vietnam? Well the show they put on in Hong Kong was at least five times the show of Hanoi's. It was fucking huge. So massive that it took 7 seconds for me to hear the boom after seeing the first explosions. 7 seconds! Yet, despite the distance, they still looked huge especially with the Hong Kong skyline in the background. I had a great view after joining up with a few Irish to sneak past a few guards and onto the landing of a fancy looking building. All in all it was an exciting couple days in Hong Kong and now I'm off again! Ever on the move, flying to Okinawa, Japan. 

Boom

Be happy,

Beacon

Monday, February 1, 2016

Realizations

I had my bandana clenched between my teeth. Hard. As far as bad ideas go I've made my fair share, but this was the worst by far. It was godawful. Literally the worst pain I have ever had the disppleasure of feeling, yet, somehow, I continued to pour Listorene over the large swaths of raw flesh on the outside of my left leg, elbow, and shoulder, as well as some other odd places. I'd thought maybe it'd sting like alcohol, painful but managable. This was so much worse though, worse than getting tattooed, worse than anything I have willingly done to myself before.

I'd managed to get myself into a motorbike accident while in Bali. Don't ask me all the specifics as it was a flash. It wasn't particularly my fault, but I could've been a little more careful as well. I was thinking about just that, how I could've been more careful, as I took a deep breath and braced myself for the next pour. I didn't want to do it. I really really fucking didn't. I did it anyways... On the way home my wounds had merely stung, but when I found myself at my room it was a long time after that and the adrenaline had more than faded. I was beginning to feel everything all too clearly, which is why I'd gone into the closest convenience store, not bothering with a real pharmacy, hoping they would have the things I would need. They didn't sell any first aid materials, bandages, or whiskey (which would have been doubly useful). So I bought some dry facial wipes to dab at my wounds with throughout the night, as they were sure to ooze for that long at least. And I bought some Listorine, because it's an antiseptic as well as, interstingly enough, a floor cleaner. 



So, there I was alone in a dark room and a foreign country learning a quick lesson about pain. Literally torture, like pouring acid into open wounds. Forget salt, this stuff was nasty horrid. Heed my advice, only as a last resort, a very very very last resort, should you use Listorine to clean a wound. All that said, I felt like I was in a Jason Borne movie or something. Injured in a foreign country and using my limited materials to clean and bandage my wound. Not counting the searing pain, it was actually really fun.


This being said and done, I'd planned on spending the rest of my time in Bali laid up in bed recouperating and reading. Which is awesome in it's own right. Sometimes it's hard to find an excuse to dim the lights, lock the door, and just read for three days straight. Except, as with every plan I've ever been within twelve feet of, that's not how it went down. Eventually I had to make my limping way out of my room for food and maybe some real medical materials. I was immediately confronted by an inflatable alligator and three Germans. Sandra (Gigi), Lisa, and Magnus. The alligator also had a name, but I only new him shortly so I'll refrain from getting him tangled up in this story.

Simply put, they had an infectious childlike exhuberance. They were mid pool party when I entered the scene and while I couldn't join them in some of the more physical exhertions I could join in the drinking. Which is the most important part I think. What I can say is the rest of my time spent in Bali was quite nice. We stayed up at least most the night that day and the next held even more shenanigans. I won't claim to remember it all, but I vaguely remember throwing back the long island iced teas and dancing in a cage at some point. It was beautiful and fun. Most of my remaining time spent in Bali was with those three and it was really really lovely.  


All said and done, everything was AMAZING. Meeting the Germans, as well as getting into the motorbike accident. Little did I know, but that crash was one of the better things that could've happened to me. It was an eye opener in a way, but not in the way you think and by all means I do not mean the things I'm about to say in condescending or offensive manner. The thing is just that... I realized that day, when I got into the crash, that my life had become mundane. That my life has been boring me. It'd been bothering me in the back of my mind and I had been unawares of what had been bothering me until this incident finally made me realize what it was. That there have been no real real surprises for me in a long long time. I'm not saying traveling isn't incredible and isn't amazing and isn't the lifeblood of a subclass of human beings. Because it is, it's beautiful and full of friends and amazing people. But it has been four years now since I began traveling. Four years. That is so long to me. It's long enough for traveling to become a second skin for me. Not even, it is my only skin to the point where I feel uncomfortable at times in civilization. That's how much it's taken ahold me in these four years and the ways I've changed and things I've learned are more than pricelss. But, and I do not say this lightly or without constitute, there is something more out there that calls to me. And I mean to go chasing it. I am not sure what it is that is calling me, so do not ask. I only know that it is more. As with most great things I'm sure it will be a long and painful road and a part of me welcomes that. A wildly insane part of me craves an insane challenge. And I think it's finally time to begin chasing that madness. 

Wish me luck and be happy,

Beacon