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Week 20 - Hadley, Graham

Things I Did

  • Helped RM fiddle with the tuning of Punkin's carburetor. I'm not sure we've got it right yet, because if it's tuned to idle at the correct speed when hot, it won't idle at all when it's cold. I need to learn more about the fine points of carburation.
  • Helped my dad, his firewood dealer, and the dealer's teenage son unload and stack some firewood.
  • Rode up the Haw River and moved into my lodgings in Graham: a room in a huge old colonial built in 1919 by a general returning from World War I. In 1939, after seeing the plantation house in Gone With The Wind, he added some wings and named it Tara. Which, along with a nudge from my friend KC, inspired me to read about the history of white supremacy in the area (see below). The current owner of the house has themed my room to be the "tropical bird room". The decorating rule seems to be anything colored cyan, yellow, or pink and/or relating to birds or flowers. It's not incredibly sophisticated but it's kind of fun, and since the room is on the second story with windows looking out between the massive porch columns on one side and into trees on the other, it has a sort of tree house feel. It's angled so that sun comes in all day long, I have my own closet kitchenette and bathroom, and it's a short walk downtown. Not a bad place to spend a month. There's also a good-sized Celtic lever harp, and if I can find the tuning key I might fool around with it some.
  • Watched Kevin Bacon bust a move in Footloose at the old Graham Cinema downtown. I'd already seen the movie a couple years ago, but hey, tickets were $2 and I enjoyed the second viewing as well. A lot of critics panned it as teen fluff, but I felt like the performances actually had some depth, especially compared to modern teen movies which are way more cartoonish. I also like how John Lithgow's character, who initially looks to be the bad guy, gets humanized and redeemed over the course of the movie.
  • Rested a lot. Although the past few months have been a lot of fun, there hasn't been as much real down time as I'd expected there would be, and it's felt good to not have anything I need to do, not even keeping warm.
  • Got a license plate for Punkin! I felt sure there would be some other paperwork they would ask me for, but no, once it got started the process went quite smoothly. I had to wait for the DMV supervisor to come back because nobody else was qualified to handle a bonded title, and there was a guy in line in front of me whose case was way more complicated than mine. According to him his estranged wife had taken out a restraining order and then arranged for him to inadvertently violate it, which led to him being thrown in jail for 22 months, during which time his girlfriend fraudulently sold all his stuff, including seven vehicles, maxed out all his credit cards, and committed insurance fraud for good measure. He was carrying a binder crammed with paperwork and said he'd been working to get everything straightened out since November. All my grumbles about dealing with bureaucracy suddenly felt petty.
  • Lost most of the hair on my right hand trying to figure out how to light an acetylene torch. Then I did what I should have done in the first place and looked on YouTube, learned how to do it properly, and bent up some steel rod into a basic but hopefully serviceable set of side racks to hold up my saddlebags. I had planned out a much more elaborate design made from aluminum but as I put it together it became clear it wasn't going to be strong or resilient enough and would probably break the first time I dropped the bike. Keep it simple stupid... when will I learn?

Things I Learned

  • Graham was where the Kirk-Holden War got kicked off when the African-American constable Wyatt Outlaw was lynched in 1870. Governor Holden declared martial law and brought in Colonel Kirk from Tennessee to restore order. At one point the KKK tried to take over my hometown of Pittsboro but was defeated in a bloody battle out in the Chatham County woods. But lest you think this was some kind of victory over white supremacy, Kirk was arrested and Holden was impeached, only being pardoned posthumously in 2011. The Graham City Council is considering a proposal to rename a local park after Wyatt Outlaw, we'll see how that goes. They didn't mention any of this in school.
  • The Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 was a horrific suppression of a history that might have been. At that time the Democrats were the party of white supremacy and even had a paramilitary arm called the Red Shirts. The Fusionist party was an alliance of African-American Republicans with The People's Party, poor white cotton farmers aligned with the labor movement. When the Fusionists got elected to power in Wilmington NC, prominent Democrats started a massacre that killed hundreds of people and drove thousands more out into the swamps, never to return. After changing Wilmington's demographics by force, the Democrats were able to get back into elected office, and they instituted "Jim Crow" laws to divide people along racial lines and break the back of the Fusionist party or any potential successor. It worked and quickly spread to the rest of the Southeast. The coup leaders went on to hold powerful positions in local, state, and federal governments. Again, none of this was covered in the North Carolina school curriculum.
  • Tall beds are more practical than I thought. A waist-high bed kind of allows you to swing onto and off of it with very little effort. The major downside is that if the covers hang off the side, gravity is always short-sheeting me.

Wonderful Things

  • The smell of boxwood hedges in an old cemetery.
  • Golden-orange lichen covering a rough dark gravestone, shining brilliantly on a cloudy day.
  • A train shaking the ground as it passes with a cargo of lumber, liquid propane, scrap metal, corn syrup, potash, and graffiti.
  • Sitting in the afternoon sun on a bench at the arboretum, watching people stroll by and a couple relaxing on a picnic blanket. Feels like spring is on its way.

Week 19 - Hadley, Cary, Carrboro

Once again I'm finding it hard to string events together into a smooth narrative, so I'm not going to bother. It's all lists this week but I'll go back to the old format if and when it makes sense.

Things I Did

  • Spent a sunny Saturday morning hanging out with RM and JS and helping them reassemble a backhoe.
  • Installed a new key-switch in Punkin so it's impossible to kick start without the keys. Also glued on some reflectors for safety.
  • Met with Santa to sign a bill of sale for Punkin. Afterwards we hung out on the porch and he told me some good travel stories, one about the time he got stopped at the border coming back from Canada. "They probably thought you were smuggling a bunch of stuff from the North Pole," I said, which made him laugh. He told me about how he ran for mayor twice, one time losing by only eight votes, and how he was glad he didn't get the job because he would have hated sitting in all those meetings. The pandemic has been tough for Santa, since there were no lines of children waiting to tell him what they wanted for Christmas. He said it's made him realize how much he'd been getting out of being able to share the Christmas spirit with people. Despite the hard year, he did get to celebrate New Years Day on the beach at Ocracoke with a glass of champagne like he has every year for 30-some years.
  • Rode across Jordan Lake on a warm and sunny day and and saw lots of people riding motorcycles and fishing from their boats. The weather makes such a huge difference, especially now when there aren't any public indoor social spaces.
  • Stayed at a hotel in Cary for blood work and a colonoscopy to check into my ulcerative colitis. It's been acting up lately, and I figured I should probably take care of that before touring round the country. The 24 hours of preparation were unpleasant (although not as unpleasant as the first time I did it about eight years ago), but there were some bright spots like hanging out with my friend AA who drove me there and back, the friendly nurses who liked my new tattoo (one said hers would say "compassion"), and the fact that the doctor didn't find anything unexpected. Well, except that my vitamin D levels were low and I need to take supplements, but that was pretty predictable in retrospect given how the weather's been. Gosh I hate medical stuff but it does feel good to have gotten it over with.
  • Helped rebuild a bridge at the BH Farm workday and caught up with SE and KC. I really enjoyed the low-precision carpentry, figuring out clever ways to extract the nails from the reclaimed lumber we were using and measuring the boards so SE could cut them in half with a chainsaw. It's been a long time since I swung a hammer, so my forearm got tired and I bent a nail or two, but the end result was quite nice. Then a hearty outdoor lunch was served which finished just before it started to rain and snow.
  • Assembled and tested my new four pound titanium wood stove, which folds down to the size of a laptop, including the nine-foot long roll-up chimney. It was pricey but it does put out some serious heat, and if it allows me to stay in a tent when I would otherwise need to find a hotel or AirBnB, I think it'll earn its keep pretty quickly.
  • Helped RM and SF deliver and install a 450 pound cast iron wood stove in SF's sweet off-grid house, which used to be an optometrist's office in Pittsboro before being moved out to the woods. He'd finished it out beautifully inside, with a warm, woody, handmade, artistic sensibility that I thoroughly enjoyed. Afterwards I saw the tiny shed where Punkin spent a couple years, and was amazed that SF hung onto it for so long considering how much of his space it was taking up. But I'm really glad he did.
  • Got a fortune cookie which read: "Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid." Workin' on it.

Things I Learned

  • In much of Colorado it's illegal to harvest rainwater on your own land.
  • Pizza Hut's personal pan pizza tastes exactly the same as it did when I last had one as a kid, but it seems much smaller now.
  • The Honda Gold Wing Retriever is a motorcycle modified to tow cars. If a breakdown causes a traffic jam, it can weave through the stopped cars, lower the towing rig it carries on its back, lift the front of the car, and save the day.
  • During the Vietnam War, U.S. airplanes used a device known as the "black crow" which could detect the electrical noise from a spark plug and target bombs and guns at trucks beneath the jungle canopy. I learned this and a whole lot more from a book called A Short Ride in the Jungle: The Ho Chi Minh Trail by Motorcycle in which Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent rides a Honda C90 named Pink Panther 2000 miles through Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It's a great adventure story but also underscores how atrocious the Vietnam conflict was. We dropped insane quantities of explosives and chemical weapons on all three countries and they're still suffering the consequences to this day.

Wonderful Things

  • Stars between the spidery black branches of a tree.
  • Ducks paddling on a bright green pond.
  • Lying on dry springy pine needles in the sun and inhaling their subtle resinous scent.
  • Doing physical work with people I like.
  • Full sun breaking through the clouds while it was snowing. I've never seen anything quite like it.
  • The crescent moon reflected in the pond, one moon pointing up and the other one down.
  • Little green shoots pushing out of the ground under my washtub.

Week 18 - Hadley, Carrboro

I'm not feeling in much of a storytelling mood this week but some important things happened, so I'll just hit the highlights:

I finished Punkin's air, exhaust, and electrical systems and RM and I started the engine. There was a problem at first because gas was leaking out of the carburetor, and after we'd called the quality of the cheap carb into question and removed the float bowl, we figured out that I'd plugged the fuel line into a vacuum port (in my defense it did not come with documentation of any kind). After that the bike started right up, but the throttle was adjusted way too tight, and I fumbled the kill switch, so the engine was racing and smoking until I managed to shut it off properly. But after RM helped me recover from my anxiety that I'd ruined it somehow, all was well and we idled the engine for a while to start curing the exhaust paint. A couple days later I rode Punkin for the first time. I was pretty nervous since a lot depended on the quality of my amateur mechanical work, and I kept to the back roads near the garage so it wouldn't be too hard to push back in the event of breakdown. There was one stall but no breakdowns, and apart from a few things that need tuning it felt awesome. Lots louder than Kiddo, but not in an unpleasant way, and very fun to ride. I tried how high a gear I could reliably take off in (3rd and often 4th), tested the ergonomics of riding standing up (very comfy), and hit a couple of potholes on purpose to check out the suspension (nice and bouncy). That night I got all excited and started looking at maps for the first time in a while.

Punkin got inspected by a License and Theft Bureau inspector. On the phone she was so discouraging about my chances of getting a title that I did some research and formed a backup plan of registering in Vermont, which is apparently what a lot of people do with old small motorcycles, since they don't require a title for anything over 15 years old or under 300cc. But as it turns out, when she ran the VIN through the system, Punkin doesn't exist as far as the state is concerned, which is strange but actually makes the bonded title process possible. And when she arrived at the garage for the inspection, I think she was either charmed by Punkin's good looks or influenced by the presence of Ganesh (remover of obstacles), because she gave me some good advice about wording and said it would be a shame to keep such a cool old vehicle off the road. And best of all, she explained that I don't actually have to wait for the title, but can get plates and a year's worth of registration as soon as I submit the paperwork. So if all goes well I should be legal next week.

I got my first tattoo! It's a line all the way around my right forearm that spells out "courage" in cursive on the inside, upside down so I can look down and read it. It's a bit meta since I've been afraid of getting a tattoo for a long time, not because of the pain (which was sharp but bearable and didn't last very long), but because of the irreversibility of the decision. But it just felt like something I needed to do, mainly to sum up what I've learned in the past year and keep on reminding me so I don't forget. Courage is something I can have no matter what the circumstances: courage to allow myself to feel difficult emotions, to try new things that might fail, to stay present through unpleasant as well as pleasant sensations, and to reach out and connect with the people around me. And without it freedom wouldn't be worth much, because true freedom usually scares me a little and it requires some courage to take full advantage of. Anyway, courage feels like a value that's solid enough to warrant a mark as permanent as I am.

While I was thinking I might need to wait for months to get a license plate, I reserved a place to stay 25 miles north in Graham from mid-January to mid-February. Then I found out I could get plates sooner and the place wasn't refundable, but the more I thought about it the better of an idea it seemed. Between my job, working on Punkin, my social life, and surviving the weather, I haven't had a whole lot of downtime. It'll be good to have ample time to rest, plan, test new gear, and put finishing touches on Punkin. I'll probably be coming back down to Chatham County on most weekends, and going back and forth will be a nice gentle break-in process for the new engine, which needs to run gently for a couple hundred miles so all the parts can get to know each other and wear into a good fit.

Things I Learned

  • Indian investors are buying up classic British motorcycle brands like BSA and Norton and planning to establish some factories and R&D in England. Royal Enfield was a bit of a pioneer here, because their Indian arm split off and kept operating long after the British arm had closed, and lately they're starting to make really good and innovative motorcycles that are also cheap because of the massive scale of their home market. Indian billionaires creating British jobs: the process of colonialism begins to reverse itself.
  • In the early 1800s, there was a form of entertainment called an ether frolic, where a lecturer would dose an audience member with diethyl ether or nitrous oxide and everyone would laugh at their dopey antics. It seems silly but the fact that volunteers would sometimes injure themselves and not notice actually led to the development of surgical anesthesia.
  • I've been afraid of touching creosote from my wood stove because I thought it would give me cancer, but apparently it's not all that toxic and is in fact what gives smoked meats their flavor. Coal creosote, which is what used to be used on telephone poles and railroad ties to keep them from rotting, probably is somewhat carcinogenic. Wood creosote does kill people, but mainly through chimney fires, where it burns so hot inside the chimney that it lights the house on fire.
  • The pandemic has brought on some welcome innovations. I've been seeing a lot of devices that allow you to easily open bathroom doors with your foot or arm. Also all the crosswalk buttons in Chapel Hill and Carrboro now have a sign that says "don't push the button!" and explain that the signal has been made automatic. Maybe the only change is the sign, because I hear a lot of those buttons were already placebos anyway, but still. It's always annoyed me that if you arrive a little late and push the button after the walk period has started, it will make you wait a whole cycle until it says it's safe to cross. It should have been this way all along.

Wonderful Things

  • Driving through the smoke from a fireplace that just got lit with Christmas tree branches.
  • Driving through icy cold air scented with early-blooming breath of spring.
  • The crispy crackle of properly made bánh mì bread.
  • Coyote poop on the trail near my tent, after the rain washed away the brown part and left behind delicate white swirls of animal hair.
  • The rainbow-colored starry twinkles when the sun shines through tall icy grass. I think they're an artifact of my astigmatism (because they go away when I put on the glasses I never wear), but still very pretty.

Week 17 - Hadley, Pittsboro, Carrboro, Chapel Hill

It's 2021! I think last year was both the best and worst year of my life so far. What a ride it's been. I hope you're all as well as can be expected and do please reach out if you feel like catching up.

Saturday was Boxing Day. RM and ML were having a family brunch in the garage with RM's daughter and her boyfriend, just back from a trip to California, and they made me up a delicious plate. Then my family had moved the celebrations planned for Christmas Eve to Boxing Day because the weather was better, so I got to eat another delicious meal of seafood soup and crostini prepared by GB, with my mom's prune cake for desert. We sat around a fire and my belly was warmed by all the good food, a hot water bottle, a few sips of single malt scotch, and the holiday spirit of fellowship.

On Sunday I went to Carrboro and ate a feast at Mediterranean Deli, then had a session in the infrared sauna. The primary purpose was to sweat out the Lyme toxins I've mentioned before, but it was also great for my circulation, and the cold bothered me a lot less after that. And it got me thinking: the forecast showed a lot of damp and rainy weather for later in the week, and the galoshes I'd ordered weren't coming soon enough, so why not ride it out in town? I made tentative plans to get a hotel room for a few days.

Monday was perfect outdoor spray painting weather, which wasn't going to come again for a bit, so I spent the day at the garage. I managed to get a little work done for my job but was distracted by a headache coming on and also with helping RM and JS pull the "thigh" off a 50-year-old backhoe tractor, which must have weighed several hundred pounds. They were rehabbing the damaged planetary drive gears inside, and preparing it for a new wheel bearing to replace the original one that had been ground to a twist of metal. Between things, I managed to get Punkin's exhaust painted with high heat primer and flat black paint. The welds actually wound up looking pretty nice after being ground, polished, and painted. In the evening I went back to the tent to nurse my headache, and wound up doing some emotional work that led to a pretty big breakthrough on a problem I've been chewing on for months.

On Tuesday I worked outside in the sun, and then took a trip into Pittsboro to visit the hardware and auto parts stores. I needed a section of tubing to connect the new carburetor to the original air cleaner, and RM told me a trick where you make a cardboard template of the curve you need and then convince the people at the auto parts store to let you behind the counter to rummage through the radiator hoses and find one with a section matching the template. It took some thoughtful rummaging but it worked perfectly. Then I tried out a Mexican restaurant I hadn't been to before and ordered the "molcajete", which turned out to be a lot more food than I'd expected but it was delicious.

On Wednesday I went into Carrboro to start my vacation to the great indoors. On the way, Kiddo had a bit of a mishap. Ever since hitting a nasty rock on the driveway, I'd been hearing a rattling while riding on rough terrain, but couldn't make it happen while parked. It sounded like it was coming from the front mudguard, so I wasn't super worried about it. But as I came into town it started to get worse, and somewhere on Rosemary street I heard a "tink, tink" and the noise stopped altogether. Well, I thought, I guess I just lost some fasteners. This time when I parked and revved the engine, the problem was clear: both of the bolts that held the muffler bracket onto the bike had worked their way out and the muffler was hanging on by just the head tube and the rear mudguard. Luckily it was an easy walk to Fitch Lumber and I picked up two new bolts (and a wrench because the toolkit I have lacks a 13mm one for some reason). I think that if I hadn't been spending so much time in the garage building my confidence, the incident would have caused me a lot more anxiety than it did. As soon as I get back to a full socket set I plan to tighten up every bolt on the bike. Back in 1968 Honda put lock washers dang near everywhere, so why don't they do the same in 2018?

I got the new bolts in just in time for my scheduled session in a float tank (aka sensory deprivation chamber). Back when the place opened around three years ago, I'd gotten a package deal and went once, but I recently realized that I still had two credits left. I figured at the very least it was an opportunity to take a shower, but it turned out to be a really nice experience. One reason I hadn't gone back was out of fear that the tank would encourage me to detach from my body, but this time I kept in mind what I'd learned from reading Judith Blackstone and found that not feeling the exterior of my body actually allowed me to isolate and focus on the interior of it. I discovered and released some tensions, and also the shower was great. The only unpleasant part was that the lights in the tank were having some issues and they came on unexpectedly at one point and startled me into sitting up, which caused the incredibly salty water to drip down my face and into my right eye. I managed to mostly keep the eye closed for the rest of the session but it did get a little painful at times. So yeah, very important to put petroleum jelly on cuts and scrapes and keep the water out of your eyes.

Then it was a couple days of riding out crappy weather in a swanky designer hotel in downtown Chapel Hill, at the very same intersection that I made a software simulation of for a grade school science project on whether traffic light timing affects air pollution. It's been nice to pamper myself with warm dry air, space to swing my arms and legs, a real bed with real pillows, running hot water, and lots of delicious food that I didn't have to cook. I caught up on the phone with my aunt JR and uncle KW in Texas and hung out with my parents, BF, and the P family down at the Carrboro Town Commons (as close as we could come to our old company holiday dinners). I got some good work done for my job, relatively free from bodily distractions. I played guitar and worked on relearning a few of my own songs. I took a hot bath with epsom salts and then on a whim watched Fly Away Home and cried a lot. Back when the movie came out, I just saw the death of the main character's mother as the inciting incident of the plot, but this time it struck me forcefully how losing their mothers is something she and the goslings share, and how raising them and teaching them to migrate is all about healing from loss for everyone involved. It seems so obvious now but it's taken me a long time to build my awareness of emotions and relationships.

Being outside the context of my "new normal" lifestyle also freed me up to start thinking about and planning the next phase of my adventure. I ordered some new gear that will hopefully allow me to motocamp and work through all kinds of weather; I'll talk more about that once it comes in and I've had a chance to try it out. I find that the hotel life coddles me, but also disempowers me: there's not much I need to do for myself but there's also not much I can do for myself. Still, it's awfully nice to have as an option and I want to keep reminding myself that I don't always need to tough it out.

Things I Learned

  • When the wood is a little wet, I can get my stove going by using the pump from my inflatable kayak to blow into the air intake.
  • It takes more fuel to boil water when it starts out frozen solid.
  • Fatwood is pretty great. A package of it costs $7 and fits neatly into two 42 ounce oatmeal cartons. I knew I was saving them for something.
  • RM and his siblings had dirt bikes and 26 old junker cars over the course of their childhoods, and drove them on Army Corps land and farm roads well before they had drivers licenses. They used to play a game where one kid tried to stay on the roof of the car while the others tried to drive so as to shake them off. The kid on top would usually hold onto the roof by grabbing the tops of the doors, but a favorite trick was to roll up the windows quickly to pinch their fingers and then stomp on the brakes. I think this may explain a lot about RM's calm attitude and knack for fixing things.
  • Once I get into an environment with a more neutral odor, all my clothes and gear smell a little smoky.

Wonderful Things

  • Harvesting chickweed by moonlight.
  • The tent illuminated by cold blue moonlight from the outside and warm orange kerosene light from the inside.
  • Birds singing and swooping from branch to branch as the dawn light moves slowly down the treetops.
  • Walking in the rain when you know there's a nice dry place to go back to.

Week 16 - Hadley

Saturday was my birthday, and the weather was fine and sunny. Over at the garage the social scene was in full swing, ES dropped by with a curly-haired little terrier under one arm. He was bringing in a hay spear that SF had welded up for him, which is a plate with three projecting spikes that you attach to a tractor and run through bales of hay to move them around. This one had bent and twisted under the weight of 1000+ pound bales. While RM and I were chatting with ES about tractors and wood stoves, SF drove up with some questions about why his oven wasn't getting hot enough to bake the Christmas cookies. We all offered theories (although later it turned out to be a combination of a maladjusted valve and the thermometer he was using to test it being over 100 degrees off). "I figured that thing would break," he said about the hay spear, "I didn't realize your bales were so heavy." "What kind of bales are they," RM asked, "the round shredded-wheat kind?" "Yep," ES replied. "You know they outlawed those things," said SF. We all looked at him quizzically. "Yeah," he deadpanned, "cows can't get a square meal." The conversation meandered to buses, and RM and SF told about a time they had started an old bus which it turned out had had the fuel rack removed so the engine raced uncontrollably. There was a very real risk it would come apart and hurl parts with deadly force, so the safest thing would have been to stand back until it ran out of fuel, but it was also in the middle of a fleet of other old buses in a bone-dry field, so if it blew it would also start a very destructive fire. RM and SF went in with hearts racing and finally managed to stop it. Later it turned out all the brake adjusters had been unscrewed to the point of not working and the bus had to be run into a tree. Who knew mechanical work could be so exciting? I've really been appreciating this little social scene, there always seems to be something interesting going on.

Later I helped RM sweep leaves off of metal roofs, carefully stepping only on the heads of the roofing screws to avoid making dents. I helped load trash and recycling onto the bed of his ancient VW truck. It felt good to be out and moving on such a lovely day. After lunch I took a long walk around BH Farm and ran into TM and RM talking on the road. TM, wearing a tweed coat and carrying a chainsaw, had cut back some small pine and cedar trees lining the road and thrown them over the fence to the goats, who were happily munching away and filling the air with the smell of Christmas. Then KK rode up with a load of old tin for a new goat shelter, and I helped unload it and herd goats away from the gate as the truck went into and out of the pasture. Back at the garage I noticed some details that I hadn't before. The curvy trim on one corner that playfully followed the grain of the wood, the gargoyles carved out of hebel blocks, no two alike, and the niche carved into the wall for an alter to Ganesh, remover of obstacles, which seems very appropriate for mechanical work. I reflected on the Gothic spirit of the place, the way it had been shaped by many independent hands and minds.

As the sun started setting, I headed back to AP and GB's place for a little birthday gathering, with BF, JP and LS, and my parents all attending. There was chili, cornbread, prosecco, and a gingerbread cake preceded by a row of candles stuck into a banana so that I could blow them out safely. My mom gave me some books and BF gave me a bag of homemade biscotti (which I'm still eating), some sparkling white wine (which I traded for welding work), and best of all some homemade firestarter/potpourri nuggets made from half an egg carton. It was interesting talking politics with JP and LS, who both work for the state department and have unique perspectives on the politicians they've met and the workings of the "deep state". Back at the garage RM was surprised to discover it was my birthday, "and I had you sweeping roofs and hauling trash!" "Are you kidding?" I said, "This has been been an excellent birthday." I thought back to last year's and how much had changed since then, and told RM some of what had happened since. "Wow," he said, "your life is more complicated than I thought." "Well," I said, "it was." "Now it's simpler but weirder?" "Yeah, simpler but weirder."

Sunday started out rainy, and I spent some time on a couch in the garage just sitting and listening to the rain, slowly getting up the nerve to start working on the exhaust system, which promised to be one of the most challenging parts. The difficulty was joining up the old muffler, which fits the bike and looks very cool, to a new exhaust pipe which fits the engine. At one point it seemed like it might be simple, since the straight sections of the two pipes could slide into each other, but there was a tricky offset. RM suggested we might be able to gently twist the old exhaust to get them to fit, but after some careful work a rusty and rotten section of the old pipe ruptured and it became clear that it wasn't going to be that easy. "This is hard!" RM said, "I'm glad it's you doing it." I spent a lot of time looking and thinking, and eventually decided to just keep moving forward. Clearly the rotten section had to be cut out, so I did that. And then there was a gap that had to be bridged, a three-dimensional curve that was hard to visualize and understand. Some piece would need to go in there, but the fact that pipes take up space makes it impossible to really determine whether a piece fits without cutting it, and if I cut it too short I couldn't go back. I spent most of the day thinking and planning, screwing everything down to discourage wishful thinking, tracing out the curve with wire and holding it against sections of pipe. Finally, I found a section of the new pipe which seemed like it would bridge the gap, and with two cuts and a lot of careful grinding and filing it actually worked! At the end of it all I was exhausted (ba-dum-tsch), but feeling good about the path forward. RM brought me out a second dinner of delicious yams, collards, and salad, all grown on his wife ML's farm down the road.

On my Monday morning walk, I stopped to listen to the gurgling of the overflow pipe that drains the pond, a sound I hadn't heard in years. Apparently we've had record rainfall this year and it just keeps coming. But the sun was out and I spent a glorious afternoon sunbathing and working outdoors for the few hours before it went behind the pines and the day got cold again. Unsurprising on the shortest day of the year I guess, and the days will be getting longer from there. The family got together just after sunset to look at the planetary conjunction, and A ran back and forth between us getting tickles and asking if each of us was "spooky".

In the shop I started to practice welding on scrap pieces of exhaust tubing. I hadn't welded since college, but RM was encouraging me to try picking it back up. After all it was a MIG welder, which is the easiest kind, sometimes called point-and-click welding, and RM calls it the "hot metal gun". But the thin-walled tubing was very challenging because the welder kept blowing holes through it. After practicing for a while I felt a bit more confident but my sample looked pretty ugly. "Let me try it," said RM, and it was gratifying to see that he also kept blowing through. "SF offered to weld it for me," I said, "I think I'm going to phone a friend. I know where my strengths are." The next afternoon SF dropped by the metal shop and looked at my practice piece. "Jesus," he said, "that looks terrible." Then he grabbed some scraps and started practicing, and was soon cursing as he blew holes through it. "This is tricky," he said, "it's cheap material, really thin". I felt even better about my failures since he'd actually gone to welding school. Apparently it actually was hard. "This is really a TIG job," he said, "but we'll get it. It's going to take a shitload of grinding." I asked why it would take a lot of grinding. "Well, to make it look pretty." "I don't care about pretty," I said, "as long as it doesn't break or leak, I'm happy." It turned out his aesthetics were similar to mine and maybe that helped him relax a bit.

He got the voltage and wire speed dialed in and got ready to tack the real parts together on the motorcycle, holding the tubing in place with his free hand. "Aren't you going to get burned?" I asked. "Well... yeah!" he said, and made the tack. "I'm an Arab, we're used to getting burned," he went on, "by the sun... the US government." I took the tacked pipe off the bike and got it in the vise. SF started to weld it in short bursts. "Back in school they used to call me stop-and-go S," he said. "It seems like the right technique for this job," I said. "Yeah," he said, "it's the only way." The final result looked cratered and crusty and full of what welders call "bug holes", but it felt strong and it fit back on the bike with a bit of coaxing from a wooden lever. Later it turned out there were a few leaks, but now that the major work was done, I managed to tack over them and grind it back. The final result looked a bit like a healed scar on a tree branch. I was happy.

I took Christmas Eve off from both my job and Punkin and it rained all day. I took a few walks but spent most of the day in the tent, reading Blue Highways, which MH recommended, and listening to audio books and an old episode of Car Talk for the nostalgia value. It was warm, and a few tree frogs were still hanging in there and peeping away. The creek below the field which often dries up in summer was constantly roaring. The pond got so full it overflowed the dam, something that probably hasn't happened in forty years. I splashed through the stream to have dinner with my parents on their screen porch. Christmas was sunny and bitter cold, barely climbing above freezing, and I had dinner with my parents again on the back porch around their Solo Stove. I'm starting to make plans for January... can I stick it out through the cold or should I try and move inside somewhere until Punkin runs and all my DMV business is finished? Sometimes it's hard to remember that I have choices, and don't have to stick no matter what to my crazy plans.

Things I Learned

  • The Honda Cub is the most produced motor vehicle in history. They've made over 100 million of them and counting.
  • There's a theory that Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, was assassinated by the CIA. I find it pretty plausible since it happened in 1968, which was just a crazy year. There was a pandemic and there were protests, plus a whole lot of domestic terrorism. In a way I guess Punkin is a sort of bridge between 1968 and 2020.
  • According to some, Ford used to "season" engine blocks by letting them sit outside through the Detroit winter, which relieved the internal stresses created while casting them.
  • One reason things look different around sunset is that as the visible spectrum gets dimmer, the proportion of ultraviolet light gets relatively higher and you can see more of the fluorescence.

Wonderful Things

  • Working outside on a sunny day with a friend.
  • Drinking hot tea and listening to the rain come down.
  • Getting fed with delicious food from a thriving farm.
  • Listening to sacred medieval choral music and organizing my workbench.

Week 15 - Hadley, Pittsboro

The big story this week was discovering Punkin's origins, so I'll just tell about that thematically and then mention other notable things that happened this week. On Saturday morning I was in the garage early and ran into a problem extracting a screw from a new part. I thought an impact driver might do the trick but was having trouble finding one when I heard that distinctive k-k-k-k sound coming through the woods. Following it to its source, I found EG and someone I didn't know doing some framing on a large shed. I borrowed their driver, which didn't work, but EG managed to extract the screw with a good screwdriver and some skill. The guy I didn't know asked what the part was and in the ensuing discussion it turned out he was SF, the guy who had given the motorcycle to me just before taking off on a vacation to Mexico (they actually wound up going to Arkansas and Texas). I thanked him for giving it to me and he thanked me for getting the damn thing out of his tiny workshop. Then he started to relate Punkin's origins, which were more interesting than I expected.

Someone named C had found it at a Chatham County "swap shop", which is a little shed at the dump where people leave stuff that's up for grabs. It was actually running, but not very well. Then he gave it to a mechanic in Pittsboro who wanted to restore it as a side project. The mechanic thought it needed new piston rings, which turned out to be incorrect, but he managed to get as far as removing and disassembling the engine before the project languished in a corner with the removed parts in boxes. Then the mechanic moved his shop and wanted the bike gone, so C came back to pick it up and moved it into the sheep shed at Shakori Hills. From there, SF picked it up and took it to RM's garage, where it sat for a year and didn't get worked on. Last spring RM wanted to clear some room so SF took it back and stored it in the middle of his shop, until RM picked it up and brought it back to his garage for me to work on. Some of this I actually heard from LM, who was dropping by BH Farm on Sunday to quote a paving job. SF also knew of another old 90cc Honda that a friend of his in Moncure had found in a dumpster with no engine, right next to a dirt bike that ran perfectly. He offered to bring it to me for spare parts but it turned out that Punkin's less fortunate cousin was not in very good shape. Somehow, just a couple months after fantasizing about fixing up an old C90 or CT90, I had stumbled onto this strange little network of dumpster bike rescuers.

But there was a hitch. Although SF thought there had been a title with the bike at one point, it was nowhere to be found. I riffled every page of both shop manuals and the owner's manual, where he said he might have stuck it, and he searched the file folder where he kept vehicle titles. No luck. Without a title I couldn't register the bike, and without registration I couldn't get the plates that would make it street legal. I researched the process for getting a title and filed an LT-260 online (which reports an abandoned vehicle) in the hopes that it might get some kind of official ball rolling. But on Wednesday when I finally got to talk to the Lee County inspector for the License and Theft Bureau, there was some bad news. "You can't claim an abandoned vehicle unless it was abandoned on your property, that would be fraudulent. There's no finders keepers." And also if a vehicle is abandoned you can't get a bonded title, which is the other common way to deal with this situation. I tried to explain how leaving something at the swap shop wasn't exactly abandonment nor was taking something from it theft, but she seemed pretty clear that there wasn't a category to fit this situation. "So basically all I can do is junk it?" I asked. "Yeah, pretty much," she said, "but maybe when the Chatham County inspector gets back in January he can help you out. I don't really understand this swap shop thing you're talking about."

This news came on a very cold and very wet day, and I was alternately feeling very anxious and very sorry for myself. Had I been wasting my time and money? I was also pissed that the system was going to force me to throw away a perfectly useful machine... well that or lie. But I had already submitted a form telling the truth and there was no taking it back, so lying might introduce more complications at this point. After it got dark, the rain let up a little and I headed over to the garage. Just fiddling with Punkin's electrical system and talking to people made me feel better, not to mention the heat from the roaring rocket stove and the cup of hot tea that RM brought me. I decided to go through the boxes again to make sure I hadn't missed anything. Well the original bill of sale had miraculously made it through all the moves, but I hadn't given it much thought since it didn't carry any legal weight. Although maybe the way forward wasn't legal at all but social. The bill of sale had the buyer's first and middle initials and last name typed at the top... sold to AC on March 20, 1968 for $350. I could find human connection rather than trying to wrestle with an uncaring legal apparatus, and even if it didn't work out, it might at least be more rewarding. I searched for the buyer's name online and immediately found a very likely match. He lived in Pittsboro and was involved in lots of civic organizations. I found clubs he was in and what church he went to. He was in his eighties and has been a professional Santa for decades, even writing a book about his experiences. When I read in an article that he likes to name his vehicles, I felt sure this twinkly old man would be willing to help me out.

So on Thursday at lunch I walked over to my parents' house and we started shaking the Chatham County phone tree. There were lots of mutual acquaintances to try, although mostly I was leaving messages. We got his landline number but it didn't work anymore. Finally we got his cell number and I left a message. A few hours later, I got a call back that went straight to voicemail. It was a 10 second message: "Goodbye. And don't call my number again please, goodbye." My heart sank, this was going to be harder than I thought. Would I have to beg a favor and get a mutual friend to intercede? But then I realized... my phone had been glitching when I tried to leave a message so I actually called three or four times. Maybe he was responding to the missed calls, or thought my message sounded like a scam. Maybe he was just an elderly person confused by his cell phone. I steeled my resolve and called back.

He picked right up, I explained the situation, and he was intrigued. I heard his wife in the background confirming they'd left the bike at the swap shop "years and years ago". I offered to officially buy the motorcycle from him for $50. "Maybe you don't know this but I play Santa," he said. I told him I'd read about that on the internet and he chuckled. "Well let this be my Christmas present to you then." I thanked him and asked if he had any stories about the motorcycle. He told me it had what they used to call "mountain goat gears", and that the manual, translated from Japanese, claimed it could carry 400 pounds of games. We laughed at the image of a huge pile of board games on the back. "I had a name for it," he said, "it was called The Red Baron." "Like the pilot?" I asked. "Yes, like the pilot." I told him that, not knowing this, I had renamed the bike Punkin. "Ohhhkay," he said, clearly not impressed. But when I told him that I was planning on riding the bike around the country, he said, "that really makes my heart soar to know it's going to keep running like that. I hope you have a wonderful time with it." At the end of the call, he said "Merry Christmas" and as I hung up I could hear him delivering, I kid you not, a hearty "ho ho ho".

So that's my little Christmas miracle this year. And I think if Santa rode a motorcycle, this would be a fitting one, all red and silver with white trim. It originally came with a seven horsepower engine... what's that come to in reindeerpower? I'm willing to bet it's at least nine, reindeer being less muscular than horses. Although as RM pointed out, magical reindeer can hardly be compared to earthbound beasts. A nice side effect was getting calls back from the messages I'd left and catching up with some old friends; I had lovely conversations with MB, my parents' accountant, and MH, a local author and creative writing teacher who related some stories from her own motorcycling days. "Riding a motorcycle really puts you in your body," she said, "it's a very tactile experience." And I couldn't agree more, I think that's what I love most about it.

On Saturday night, GB and AP made a delicious dinner and at 52 degrees it was warm enough for an outdoor movie. We watched License to Drive to celebrate me getting my license, and although my expectations were low, the movie was pretty hilarious and we all enjoyed it. Fair warning: it depicts some sketchy treatment of a drunk person without their consent. But while Heather Graham, in her breakout role, was abused on film and went on to have what seems like a great life and career, The Two Coreys in the starring roles were abused much more brutally in real life and went through some very difficult times. I'm glad we've reached a point where more light is being shone into these dark places, and I hope show business continues to become less cruel as a result.

Walking back from the garage on Sunday, I ran into AP and TC shooting a music video and waited for them to finish their shot. They had borrowed a 1972 Buick Riviera from RM, who had fixed it more quickly than expected and was holding it until the owner found a place to store it. It's an unique looking car, imagine a beige batmobile and you won't be far off. The driveway was lit up like a little movie set and the artists were taking turns on each side of the camera, dressed in various sports gear in creepy combinations. They finished their shot and we stood around chatting. The last step was to shoot the car driving, but how? They needed a driver for the Buick and another for the follow car, so I got pressed into service as the cameraman. I went back to my tent for my power supply, and we used it to run an LED spotlight pointing out the open hatchback of TC's station wagon, where I sat with the camera. To get an action shot of the back of the Buick, the cars were positioned back to back with TC driving skillfully in reverse (echoing a plot point from License to Drive). We drove through an atmospheric fog, the Buick slewing between the lanes and glowing like a low-flying UFO. Nobody saw us but it would have looked mighty strange if they had, and I returned to my tent savoring the unexpected surrealism.

Over the week I made substantial progress in the garage, reassembling both wheels, getting the brakes functional again, mounting the new engine and carburetor, completing the fuel delivery system, restoring the electrical system, and installing turn signals and mirrors. I still need to install the chain, which I plan to do over the weekend, and some wiring which is waiting on USPS to deliver a package that's been sitting in Greensboro for a week. The other big project is the exhaust system. RM and I decided to attempt to make the original exhaust work because it looks so freaking cool, but fitting it to the new engine is going to require some very careful cutting (which RM has offered to help with) and welding (which SF has offered to help with). With their expertise I'm hoping it will come out nice.

And I got to catch up with more old friends here and there. I talked with MP about adventures, healing from breakups, and the generation gap. I talked with JS who just got back from Russia with her husband and baby and is in the process of moving to Asheville. And JP was back from his long-extended tour in Paraguay so I got to catch up with him around a bonfire and meet his girlfriend LS. AP, JP, and I have been friends since we were babies crawling on the floor, and it was comforting to talk about old memories and the ways things have changed and continue to change. So many local landmarks only exist in our memories now, and we say "A's house" as if she still lived there. I must say I'm quite enjoying getting older, it's the only way to see what's going to happen next...

Things I Learned

  • In certain conditions when I'm trying to light my stove and I put the pot on top to force air up the chimney, the fire goes out and stops smoking. If I remove the pot it smokes up the tent, but if I just leave it alone, it often manages to start a draft, which blows the smoky fire back to life. I guess it's one of those cases where it's better not to fool with a process and just let it do its thing.
  • The boiled-down extract of a San Pedro cactus tastes like "the bile of a homeless man" according to CW.
  • The weather has been so damp that things never get all the way dry if I hang them in the tent. But I can dry out my socks by putting them in a drybag with a canister of silica gel. The canister is marketed to people who want to dehumidify their gun safes, and what's cool is that when it absorbs all the water it can, you can easily recharge it by heating it up.

Wonderful Things

  • Watching vultures circle the thermals as the morning sun crept over the field.
  • Eating some hearty but bland Tex-Mex indoors after days of unrelenting cold.
  • Getting some of RM's leftover birthday cupcakes right when I was starting to get really hungry.
  • Being so absorbed in a project that bedtime came as a surprise.

Week 14 - Hadley, Durham, Carrboro

I spent Saturday morning blogging and catching up on some important business, like applying for next year's health insurance. Kiddo got pressed into service to give my parent's car another jump start, it always amazes me that that's possible but it hasn't failed so far. There seemed to be some kind of electrical problem with the car, and later in the week RM diagnosed it as being a slow drainage through the power lock circuit which was "solved" by pulling a fuse. In the afternoon I dropped by to visit my neighbor AH who gave me a deer shoulder from his freezer. He's an expert hunter with bow and arrow and muzzle-loading black powder rifles, and also a great storyteller. He told me about his recent bear hunt down east, offered to let me try some bear meat next, and praised the virtues of bear oil for frying. Apparently there are black bears in this area, neighbors with trail cameras down by Dry Creek have caught some photos of them. We talked about wild turkeys, and he told about when he was nineteen and worked on a team to catch them up in the mountains and reintroduce them in other parts of the state. They would bait an area and wait in a blind to deploy something called a cannon net which can shoot out and catch a whole flock at once. Hunting turkeys is an old man's pastime, he told me, and now he understands why, because it's much more exciting than hunting deer. I admired his truck, which a local artist hand-painted with a remarkably realistic late fall landscape of tangled oak trees and boulders.

After that I headed over to the garage and did some work on Kiddo, tightening the bolts on the intake manifold and resetting the computer, one or both of which seem to have greatly improved but maybe not totally fixed the engine misfires. Anyway the throttle is very responsive now and the only practical issue is that Kiddo refuses to do any work until warmed up a little, which me too. While I was hanging around, E showed me the back deck and attic above the garage, which will one day be turned into an apartment. I caught up with TM, who was out planting shrubs here and there around BH
Farm. A few more parts arrived for Punkin and I did a little shop work before heading back to the tent. The evening's reading material was a wonderful longread called Castles in the Sky by Christina Lalanne. The story is lovely and I really admire the writer's persistent, dedicated, loving drive to preserve and uncover the past.

Sunday morning I was back in the garage as soon as I finished breakfast. After weeks of digging cat holes in the woods, I found out that there's an outhouse right outside the garage! And not just any ordinary outhouse, this one has a beautiful stained-glass window and a number of clever touches. It's like a little church of pooping. With the warm sun pouring in through the big south windows of the garage, I listened to O Magnum Mysterium and puttered around with new parts. I reinstalled Punkin's gas tank with fuel lines and a petcock (no really that's what it's called), which is a little lever that lets you switch to the "reserve tank" which is really the same tank but it pulls the gas from lower down. Back before fuel gauges were common you would just ride the bike until you ran out of gas, then switch to the reserve fuel supply and drain the bottom part of the tank while looking for a gas station, and a lot of dirt bikes and retro bikes still work this way because it's cheaper and simpler. It was a lovely sunny day, so I took an extended lunch break to walk around BH Farm to see what had changed, and wound up crying up on the hill by the grave of BL, who died last year. Her memorial stone, under a little cedar pagoda, is inscribed "More often than not, truth is found in silence..."

In the afternoon I cooked up a stew with the deer shoulder, brown rice, garden greens, and other vegetables. Back in college I spent a long weekend helping build a stone wall up at Turtle Island Preserve (which I believe is the very one in the background of the photo on their contact page). We ate a venison stew and I remember Eustace telling how traditionally people would keep a stew pot boiling on the fire and just add in water and whatever ingredients were handy when it got low. I was always intrigued by the idea, and it's very practical for my current lifestyle, so it was fun to finally try it myself, and the smells of wood smoke and gamey deer fat brought back memories of that time. While the stew was cooking I caught up on the phone with SE, who moved to Montana in October and seems to be thriving there. After eating the stew, I headed back to the garage and tried using an app to decipher the instructions that came with the engine I bought, which are entirely in Chinese. But there were social distractions I couldn't resist, and I wound up going over to DO's place to taste some delicious squash fritters he'd made and chat with folks from opposite ends of a picnic table. RM told me that he doesn't actually enjoy the physical parts of mechanical work: getting dirty, ordering the wrong parts, the inevitable discomforts and frustrations, but he puts up with them because he loves the problem solving so much. I reflected that for me the purely physical parts are a pleasure, and it's the little roadblocks and the mental frustration that I put up with. Maybe it's that I do so much abstract problem-solving in my job. But by observing the way RM works I think I'm learning to slow down and enjoy that part as well. Or at least that's my goal!

Monday was unpleasant weather, very cold and rainy, and I was stuck in the tent for most of the day. But my new guitar arrived, which is tiny and has a carbon fiber body and detachable wooden neck. That inspired me to get the tent nice and warm so I could set the guitar up and play it. So I stoked up the stove to reheat some stew, steam a dozen eggs, and make a hot water bottle. Then between tuning up the new nylon strings, which always take a long time to stretch out fully, I started to learn Polaroids by Shawn Colvin, a song that popped into my head and I listened to a lot back in Sea Level. I guess it's mostly about getting older and relationships ending, and parts of it just made me break down in tears while singing them, which was cathartic. There's something about actually playing and singing a song that's different from just listening to it; the song becomes my own in a way. It was going to be a cold night, so I put some time into optimizing my bedding, which is now both of my sleeping bags one inside the other. I fell asleep to the sound of the cold wind high in the pines.

Tuesday was chilly again although not rainy. I really didn't want to spend another day stuck in the tent so I went and worked in the garage, which wasn't super warm but was warm enough that I couldn't see my breath, which felt luxurious by comparison. I played guitar on my lunch break, enjoying the acoustics of the large space. In the evening, after a dinner of more stew, I went back to the garage and learned how to replace bearings on motorcycle wheels. I got the front wheel entirely back together, with cleaned parts and brand new brake shoes, and it felt like real progress and was thoroughly satisfying. RM showed me how to use his rocket stove, which heats the whole garage with a remarkably tiny amount of firewood. It got so cold in the tent that night that my phone refused to charge.

On Wednesday I went to Durham to hold an unmarrying ceremony with HW. JH also attended as a witness and fellow griever. We went up to the spot at Penny's Bend where we got married, at the top of the field under a big oak tree. I could almost see that October day in 2007 superimposed there, the fine weather, the rows of friends and family sitting on straw bales, RB's booming voice, and two kids in fairy-tale costumes so full of big dreams. Now in 2020 all but a few leaves had fallen, and HW and I held hands and talked about happy memories from our marriage, the things we were thankful for, the things we'd learned, the things we regretted, and our hopes for the future. JH read us a poem she'd written about the last time she'd spent the night at our house, and sang one of my songs that I'd all but forgotten but that was strangely perfect for the occasion. HW and I dug a little hole and buried our rings and our house keys. There was a lot of crying all around, and hugs, and a few laughs, and it all felt like exactly the right thing to be doing. Afterwards the three of us took a long walk by the river.

Thursday was my long-awaited appointment at the DMV to get a drivers license. I spent some time in the morning grooming for the photo. My trimmers had run out of charge so I had to use them plugged into the solar battery, which was tied to a tree underneath my spare scooter mirror. Using my poncho as a barber's cape, I gave myself a haircut and then shaved with with hot water in a bean can. If anyone had been there to see, it would have looked ridiculous, but the results were good, at least from the front (which is the only part they take a picture of). We got the correct insurance form figured out at the last minute, and I headed to Carrboro Plaza and ate a takeout bento lunch from the Japanese restaurant there. The process of getting a license was incredibly smooth, since I'd already taken the knowledge and eye tests for my permit, and road tests are currently waived in favor of a driving log. When I mentioned that I wanted to get a motorcycle permit, they let me take the knowledge test right then (I hadn't prepared at all for it but still passed), and scheduled me to come back get the permit on Friday. Which I did and can now legally ride any type of motorcycle at any time of day in any state for a year (as long as I don't carry a passenger), so the country is my oyster! I also ran into a fellow Ruckus owner who'd done some modifications: floor cover taken off for a naked look, big windscreen, big tachometer, aftermarket carburetor, air intake, and exhaust. It was still a stock engine but he said he could get it up to 42 mph on flat ground. Kiddo came off a little boring in comparison, but maybe once I have another motorcycle as a backup I might attempt some flair. I took advantage of the warm weather Thursday afternoon to organize the tent, wash dishes, and dig a third latrine trench, and joined the family for a little happy hour at sunset, which was a bit shorter than usual due to wet firewood and a hyperactive but very tired toddler.

It was quite a week. And lots of motorcycle parts have come in the mail, so I'm looking forward to spending a good part of the weekend with wrench and wire strippers in hand!

Things I Learned

  • I've been told there's a new TV show with the same format and feel as The Great British Bake-Off but it's about blacksmithing. I can't seem to find it with a quick search but it sounds fun.
  • When you put live kimchi on hot food it kind of crackles and pops like Rice Krispies.
  • Butane lighters just stop working if they get cold enough.
  • Alternators need to be powered to set up a field before they can make any power, like priming a pump.
  • Back in the day, some motorcycles had manual ignition timing levers that you had to operate along with the throttle. If you failed to do it properly the engine would start knocking and fail catastrophically. I imagine how challenging it must have been to be a trials racer using all four limbs to manage clutch, throttle, ignition, front brakes, and rear brakes while balancing and steering up the sides of rocky gullies. Across Scotland. For five days straight.

Wonderful Things

  • Chatting casually and unhurriedly with friends.
  • Petting affectionate dogs with floppy ears.
  • Being helped by friendly and helpful bureaucrats.
  • Listening to an audiobook with only my nose poking out of the sleeping bag.

Week 13 - Hadley

Sedentary life always seems to settle into a pattern, for better or worse. Possessions find a customary place, routines are optimized, new skills are honed until they require less and less thought. It's an interesting challenge to grapple with the occasional anxiety this brings up, the way the known can be as scary in its own way as the unknown. Will this go on forever? Is this really the life I want to be living? But most times I'm too absorbed in the moment to worry about that, and I've had quite a few wonderful moments this week. Several people have asked me when I think Punkin will be finished, and I've told them I have no idea, never having done anything like this before. I feel like my work right now is to practice enjoying the process even as a certain restlessness passes through me from time to time.

The "beach group" is a group of families that have been celebrating Thanksgiving and going to the beach together every year for over 40 years. This year everyone celebrated Thanksgiving day in nuclear family groups, but they did come out here on Saturday afternoon to socialize outdoors and take some exterior home tours of AP's ever-expanding deck and my little camp. JRM and SM were in from Asheville and brought their baby R who's just a few months old, and fell blissfully asleep in the warm sun on his grandma's shoulder. EA was in from California with her son F, who hopped around on a little mountain bike and was very interested in stories about my dirt bike class, because he's saving up for one of his own. His grandpa GA told me he's been biking on greenways, trails, and pump tracks around the Triangle and is really gifted, although he falls occasionally because he's trying crazy tricks. It was really nice catching up with everyone, and JRM and I had a good philosophical talk about bumps in the road and how to find the good life.

As the sun sank lower and it started to cool off, people started to leave, and my new engine finally arrived on a FedEx truck. My mom volunteered to supervise me driving it over to the garage in the trunk of the car, and on the driveway we saw a huge flock of wild turkeys, around ten or so, running across with heads frantically bobbing. Although I often hear them or come across their scratchings in the woods, it's a rare treat to see them up close. Benjamin Franklin argued for the clever and resourceful wild turkey to be our national bird instead of the bald eagle, which often lives by stealing fish from smaller birds. I guess we have a bit of both in our national character, it's just a matter of emphasis. Anyway I spent the evening in the garage, and AP came over to do some work on his truck, changing a tire, replacing the air filter, and swapping out coil packs, frequently cursing at how hard Ford made it to get to everything. Meanwhile I mostly measured things and shopped online for parts, adding to the steady stream of packages coming in from all over the place. On the way home the moon was very bright.

On Sunday JH organized a walk down the Pokeberry Creek trail in Bynum, and lots of old friends showed up. RW came in from Cedar Grove. JB and ES were there with their daughter N, who whittled on sticks with her Swiss Army knife and whistled on pieces of horsetail. KC showed up in a car with "Rednecks for Black Lives" hand-painted on the side, and dropped a lot of botany knowledge along the trail. She pointed out the bitternut hickory as a possible local source of vegetable oil and a few people sampled the flesh and found it lived up to the name. The Haw rumbled by, still swollen with recent rains, and we stopped to snack and talk among the majestic pines and golden beech trees, on sandbanks and rocky outcroppings. JB shared acorn biscuits and slices of a delicious crunchy persimmon from their backyard tree. JH shared a thermos of chai-spiced cocoa, which JB drank in tiny portions from an improvised leaf cup. We crossed the big creek by wading through the shallows or balancing on a log as each felt called. I helped JH cut loose a mess of rusty barbed wire from an old tree, and she worked it into a sculptural ball and carried it back on a stick to dispose of. I talked solar power, rain gear, and homesteading with DD and SS, and caught up with the other JH about his experiences providing healthcare for old folks during the pandemic. There was an emotional moment where he told us all how thankful he was to have us as friends, and I think the feeling was shared by all. Most of us hung around awhile in the parking lot, talking about this and that: manatees, the cost of tiny homes, the various methods of processing humanure.

After the walk, JH and I sat on her porch for a while and discussed her part in the "unmarrying" ceremony that HW and I are planning, and we talked some about our evolving relationships with our parents. Then I went over to DD and SS's homestead and got a grand tour of the garden, PF Memorial Bocce Court, solar power systems, humanure outhouse, cypress siding, and fresh hardwood floors. By the time I left it was good and dark with a bit of light rain starting to fall, and I finished this very social weekend cozy in my sleeping bag, eating chocolate and reading Motorcycle Engineering by P.E. Irving by the light of a kerosene lantern.

It's an interesting little book from 1962, and still pretty darn relevant, especially for a motorcycle built in 1968. I have a theory that every technology goes through a period when it's moderately popular but there aren't any "best practices" established yet, so you get lots of enthusiasts experimenting with original ideas. For computer software this era was the 50s and 60s, and it's pretty common to have a seemingly brand new idea that it turns out somebody was fiddling with back in the day. Some of them like Grace Hopper invent something like a compiler that it's hard to imagine life without, and others are like Edward Fredkin and invent something like a computer that can do a calculation and then run it in reverse so you wind up with the inputs again. But who knows, maybe some day reversible computing will turn out to be a crucial technology. Anyway, for motorcycles this era seems to have been the first few decades of the 20th century, before the Great Depression took out almost all of the small producers. Eventually the industry settled into distinct categories with mostly predictable design choices. I think one of these creative eras may be drawing to a close for the web, because I'm seeing an increasing tendency toward uniformity. Although there's an explosion of tools, they all seem to be made for doing the same kind of thing, and I expect many of them will be abandoned in the next few years as standards continue to solidify. I'd love to get into another area with that same feel, but in the computing space that would probably be virtual and augmented reality or machine learning (aka artificial intelligence), neither of which interest me very much.

Strong winds and rain blew through the beginning of the week, and then it turned bitter cold. Once again I started burning fat and releasing Lyme disease toxins, which made it harder to concentrate on my work, but I kept it mostly under control by stepping up my consumption of citron jelly tea and bitter gourd tea. On Tuesday we celebrated A's second birthday with a song and cake, which let's be honest is just there to convey the all-important icing to your mouth without getting it on your fingers. I rode into Pittsboro one night for groceries and a special treat of takeout Chinese food, and found out that even with improvised liners my motorcycle gloves are no longer warm enough for the colder temperatures. After a painful ride home where I had to choose between going slower to reduce the wind chill or going faster to just get it over with, I promptly ordered some proper winter gloves and a neck warmer. On Friday I went over to AP and GB's house to use their space-age washer and dryer, and in exchange helped AP and CW move a little dirt to cover the foundation piers of the addition they're building.

I made a little progress in the garage, fitting new LED bulbs, replacing the hand-grips and throttle cable, and stripping out some of the old electrical system. I also used a power washer for the first time to clean the frame, and once most of the dirt and dust were gone it became clear that a previous owner had slapped some house paint onto Punkin's rusty spots, so there are at least three or four shades of red going on. I actually kind of like the funky look and decided to leave it that way. I also removed the stock air box because the placement of the new carburetor makes it hard to use and it really breaks up the clean lines and offends my design sensibility. And indeed the Honda designers made it look way better in the 1969 model. RM helped me test-fit the new engine and it turns out the bolt holes have a different spacing from the ones on the frame. At first I felt despair that it wasn't going to work, then I resigned myself to welding, grinding, and drilling the frame until it would, but then I did some research and found a special bracket for exactly this frame/engine combination for $25, thank goodness. So with that and a little reaming to correct a mismatched hole size it will hopefully work. I'm slowly learning not to freak out when I hit an obstacle.

Things I Learned

  • Persimmon leaves give off an unpleasant smell in the spring, at least for some varieties.
  • I can actually collect more solar power on cloudy days. Although the light is less intense, the clouds bounce it back down so it gets over the tall pine trees that otherwise shade my panels from the south in the morning and evening. It's true that I get more peak power when there are no clouds, but since I can only absorb around 60 watts of it at most, it's not really useful to me.
  • Hot water bottles have many uses. With just one firing of the stove, I can use a batch of hot water for steaming beans, rice, and eggs, keeping me warm while working on a cold morning, and bathing and washing dishes in the afternoon once it's cooled to a more moderate temperature.
  • US shoe sizes are measured in barleycorns, which are now fixed at 1/3 of an inch, but once referred to the length of a grain of barley.

Wonderful Things

  • The low winter sun shining through a forest of wet branches, all glistening like impossibly bright strings of fairy lights.
  • Dead leaves covered with delicate spikes of frozen dew.
  • Festive city lights on a crisp evening.
  • Standing in the full sun on a cold day and feeling the heat work its way into my bones.

Week 12 - Hadley

For some reason I keep expecting things to slow down, but it was a surprisingly busy week. On Saturday morning I ordered a new engine for Punkin, a Lifan 125cc with a semi-auto 4-up transmission and electric start built in. Then it was time for my first car-driving practice with my dad. The plan was to take a load of trash and recycling to the collection center, come back to pick up my mom and take her to her weekly Nia class, then run some errands in town and take her home on the way back. Although it was a frosty morning, we were going to be driving with the windows down and masks on. But when I tried to roll the windows down, the already sticky mechanisms were frozen in place, and the stalled motors drained the battery enough that the car refused to start. Kiddo to the rescue! While my dad set up the jumper cables, I ran to the field, rode back to the car, unscrewed the battery cover, and was able to quickly get the jumper clips on thanks to my practice run with those three Latino guys at the motel. Once again the car started right up, but because of the delay we had to squeeze my mom into the back seat with the recycling. Cramped, chilly, and with a novice driver, it must have been like the world's worst Uber ride!

But driving a car came easier than I expected. My anxiety of former years was mostly gone, I was fairly familiar with the rules of the road, and I had no trouble staying focused after several thousand miles of scooter travel. In fact, the skills I needed to work on were just the things that are different between a car and a motorcycle: going in reverse, letting go of the wheel to let it spin straight, placing myself in the left side of the lane, turning so that the long wheelbase tracked correctly, and maneuvering with a massive read end. Some habits created a weird sensation, like expecting to lean on turns and then having the irrational feeling that the car would fall over because I couldn't lean it. Some habits were kind of counterproductive, like looking over my shoulder before turning, which makes a lot of sense when "driving like you're invisible" as motorcyclists are well advised to do, but not so much when you're taking up the whole lane anyway. I also noticed that being relatively invulnerable in a metal box makes speeds seem slower; at one point I thought I was driving quite slowly but was shocked to look at the speedometer and see that it was up around 55 mph. But overall it was mainly a matter of re-calibrating and getting comfortable with the controls. At the end of my trip when my mom (who is a bit inclined to anxiety) said she felt safe, I figured I couldn't be doing too badly.

Back home I headed to the garage to disassemble and clean Punkin's gas tank. This was done by vigorously shaking it with a little gasoline and a piece of chain inside, which by the way is a great workout. During the process I discovered that the red paint on the tank is soluble in gasoline, so I ended up with sticky red hands that looked like I'd murdered somebody. This explained all the red on the underside of the seat, which is hinged to the gas tank, and the sort of drippy appearance of the paint job around the gas cap. RM and I debated whether someone had made a massive mistake when choosing the original paint or whether a previous owner had repainted it. I half-seriously speculated that the tidy Japanese engineer had never dreamed that anyone would let gasoline dribble around during a fill-up. But eventually the tank got nice and clean on the inside and I washed my hands, which came out cleaner than when I'd started because unlike my tent, the garage has running water and orange-pumice soap. I went back to the tent for dinner and then returned to the garage to measure things and order parts. It's been slowly dawning on me that this project might involve at least as much time with my hands on a keyboard as on a wrench. I'm very lucky to have the original shop manual, but even so it can be tricky to figure out which parts will actually fit when all you have to go on is a few photos and a dubious description on ebay. Even if the part fits, I also want to avoid the twin traps of overpaying for parts aimed at purists (who want their bike to resemble the original as much as possible) and overpaying for parts aimed at gearheads (who want their bike to have "top of the line" everything). And it's not just about money, the more I can use generic parts, the easier it'll be to replace them if I break down on the road.

On Sunday morning RW and two of her woofers visited for a tour of the mud hut and other dwellings on the land. They were eager for any and all information about homesteading and self-sufficiency, and they ate up my parents' tales of living in a bus and building community. It's interesting how, when you hear old stories told to new people, you catch fresh details or emphasis. This time it struck me how both my parents tried to recreate favorite aspects of their childhoods. My dad wanted to live in woods like the ones around his great aunt's house, who along with her husband had proved up a 160 acre claim in Michigan during one of the Homestead Acts. My mom wanted to have a community like the suburbs she grew up in, where the kids could run around and play freely on long summer evenings. Not having experienced the originals, I can't say how well they did, but they seem happy with what they've created, and there's no denying that it's beautiful land that only gets more so as the years go by, with the trees growing taller and grander, and the underbrush thinning out to open up the sight lines. Our visitors left with big smiles, carrying the old family grain grinder that I'd converted to pedal power ten years ago, an ancient copy of the Village Technology Handbook, and the carcass of what RW was sure was a flying squirrel that we found in the driveway. In the afternoon I drove with my dad to visit JW at his new twelve foot square cabin in Snow Camp, and we talked about the state of the world from the top of a little rise in pretty woods bordered by bright green hay fields and blue skies.

During a lunch break in the short work week, I explored the surrounding woods some more, including the M land where they've started surveying and cutting an access road for a 175-lot development. It's kind of hard to believe but the suburbs are coming, and the long commutes along narrow, winding roads that were previously a restraint on rural growth may soon be a thing of the past. Of course they've scheduled the public meeting about this development to be outdoors and after dark in December, with no clear mask policy, perhaps hoping to scare off any aging hippies who might raise objections, but we'll be there nonetheless. I practiced some night driving and perpendicular parking, doing some driving every day of the week but one. It got more comfortable and natural, but now I'm even more sure that I don't want a car, because it's just not nearly as much fun as riding a motorcycle. My dad got new solar panels and, using scrap wood and some electrical odds and ends he had lying around, I installed three of his old ones on top of the star tower. Now I don't need to be so miserly about power usage since my battery can get a full charge even on a cloudy day, and it also allowed me to move the battery system and cellular hot spot and antenna into the tent, so I don't have to climb up and down a ladder to turn the power and internet on and off. I dug a new latrine trench next to the old one... I guess that's one way of marking time.

Thanksgiving brought a four day weekend and apart from a nice chicken and potatoes dinner with my parents and hanging out around the fire with AP, GB, A, and BF, I've been spending most of my spare time in the garage, pulling apart both drum brakes, removing all the grease in the parts washer and ordering new shoes, seals, and bearings. I'm learning a lot from just having my hands on the parts and absorbing little tips and background knowledge from RM. I ordered a few books about motorcycle engineering so I can really get deep-dipped. It felt like a major triumph just to finally identify the designations of all the light bulbs on the bike: the numbers PX15D, BAY15D, and BA7S cost me several hours of research to arrive at, and in the process I learned more than I ever wanted to know about bayonet fittings. The new engine was on the FedEx truck for delivery on Thursday, but didn't show up, then on Friday a truck showed up but with no packages to deliver, and now it's supposed to arrive Saturday... we'll see. I've been literally chopping wood and carrying water like the Zen master advised, and now I'm starting to get into the same sort of mindset with my mechanical project, listening to music while I scrub away grease and rust with a toothbrush, and trying to relax into the fact that no matter how many rookie mistakes I make, the job will get done eventually and I'll be back on the road with a one-of-a-kind bike that's partly my own creation. It's an often frustrating process that pushes many of my anxiety buttons hard, so I'm pretty sure there's some spiritual growth in it as well as a new motorcycle.

Things I Learned

  • Chickens can hunt mice, at least some chickens can.
  • According to the manual, the 1968 CT-90 was supposed to get 178 miles per gallon riding at 25 miles per hour. I always think of 60s automotive technology as gas-guzzling, but people were getting three-figure gas mileage, you just had to go slow on a light vehicle.
  • Food runs out surprisingly fast when you eat the same thing every day. When I ran out of oatmeal, I found that Triscuits make an acceptable porridge if you crumble them up and mix in hot water. But eat it fast because it's pretty gross and gluey when cold!
  • Steamed eggs are amazingly easy to peel.

Wonderful Things

  • Mossy old cedar stumps in the woods. I think some of them rival the best sculptures I've seen, and as a kid I once tried to take one home, but to move them is to destroy the magic.
  • The aroma of motor oil, gasoline, parts washer fluid, and Liquid Wrench. These kinds of smells used to repel me a little but at the moment I find them exciting.
  • Mullein leaves with dew on them. As a kid it used to amaze me that a plant can be so soft and furry, and it still does.

Week 11 - Hadley, Durham

Well I don't really have any travel adventures planned for the near future, so this blog is going to become a bit more about domesticity and nature, with maybe the odd philosophical musing thrown in when I get the urge. If you get bored, you could check back in around New Years and maybe something more exciting will be happening. Or life could get exciting in some way I'm not planning for, because there's still some more 2020 left!

On Saturday, potential social plans fell through so I didn't have much to do. This was nice because it'd been a while since I last had a zero day. I did some organizing of the stuff in my tent and ran across my parents old Aladdin kerosene lamp, which was an unfinished project begging to be finished. I pried the crusty wick out of it so a fresh one can go in, and packed it up to give to my friend JW who's currently furnishing a little cabin in Snow Camp. I experimented with cooking a meal in my new steamer, which is a style of cooking that's a bit new to me. I'd always avoided it because I wasn't into bland food, but with my recent forays into learning to enjoy the bland and the boring, it seems to be the time. And steaming just works really well with a wood stove because there's no need for precise temperature regulation, the water just handles that naturally. I was able to cook two cups of sushi rice on the bottom tray, and on the top tray garden greens, carrots, green onions, mushrooms, and two duck eggs. I added a little sauce to the veggies and assembled a very respectable rice bowl. And I think the secret is to embrace a more Korean food aesthetic, where the staples are bland but the garnishes pack a punch. I added kimchi, pickled ginger, and pickled ume plums, and while I've made better rice bowls, this one definitely topped the the made-in-a-tent division.

I ate lunch sitting in the warm sun, and just drifted for a while. Did a bit of reading in the afternoon, and watched a little flock of cardinals with five males, which is more than I can recall seeing together in one place. They were very striking and it occurred to me that male cardinals are a lot less conspicuous in the fall than at other times of the year because they fit right into the color scheme. After dark there was a movie night on AP and GB's porch, with super delicious homemade pizza (probably made even more delicious by the fact that it'd been a long time since I'd had pizza), salad from the garden, and fresh banana bread. I drank a cute little 50mL bottle of Japanese plum wine warmed up on my hot water bottle. After dinner we bundled up and watched Runaway Jury on the outdoor projector screen.

Sunday I spent some time working on a complex problem for work, with frequent breaks to take walks and let my mind chew on it. I poked around the remains of things I'd made and abandoned, some of which I couldn't even remember the purpose of. I felt a bit like an archaeologist digging into my own past. And there was a sort of hush over everything--maybe it was the wind blowing in the dry leaves and the dry leaves blowing in the wind--and I felt like I was on the verge of remembering something. Big dramatic clouds blew across the sky, and I watched the rather dark sunset from the top of the tower. Bats flew over, and a flock of swifts, and a big vulture, all silhouetted against the evening sky like a huge and delicate shadow play.

On Monday afternoon I rode to Durham to sign the separation contract and get it notarized. Afterwards I grabbed a few small things from my storage unit, went to Bulldega to buy some quality chocolate (one of my best weapons against the cold), and had a nice phone conversation with JC while sitting in the afternoon sun on the elevated plaza of the Durham Center. Then I had dinner at BCBB, and stopped by Li Ming's on the way back to pick up more of that plum wine, some brown rice (since I'd accidentally bought sushi rice the last time), and a whole lot of persimmons. As I headed back to Chatham County the temperature was dropping fast. I appropriately stopped at Frosty's Trading Post to put on some more layers. Right at the end of the trip, on the driveway, I got a little overconfident in my off-road skills, slipped in a mud puddle, dropped the bike, and wound up sort of stepping over the handlebars with no harm done except for getting Kiddo really filthy. I made it back to the tent and went to bed to the sound of coyotes howling in the distance.

Tuesday was quite cold. The cold and darkness have been my main obstacles lately, and because it's hard to eat enough to make up the energy I'm using to keep warm, I'm continuing to burn body fat and release old Lyme toxins, which causes various inflammatory symptoms. I guess all of these trends will reverse in the near future, with the solstice, spring, and getting as lean as my body will let me, but for now they're what I'm dealing with. I think it didn't get above 48F on Tuesday, so with all that and being cramped in my chair working much of the day, and some major emotional processing, I wound up feeling pretty depleted and out of whack, not even motivated to make dinner, and in the end decided to stop trying to fight it and just curled up in my sleeping bag for the night. But then by Wednesday afternoon, it was warm enough to work in the sun and all was well.

Thursday morning, temperatures were around freezing, but I was starting to feel a bit grimy and really wanted to wash. I struck on the brilliant idea of using my still-warm hot water bottle as a sort of crude shower and managed to get up to the courage to go out in the freezing cold wearing only my hat and sandals for a quick splash. It was really quite invigorating. When it was time to work I had another clever idea of snipping the fingers off of some cheap glove liners so I could keep my hands warmer while typing. During my lunch break I wandered around the network of logging roads on our neighbor's land, looked at their deer stands (I think I saw five or six of them), and probably got caught on a trail camera that I spotted too late (which is okay since we have long-standing permission to walk there). I also spotted a mylar balloon with a pink flower stuck in a tree, and a "dominant buck dripper", which is apparently a tube of pheromones that you hang up to make male deer think their territory is being invaded, so they hang around to defend it. I nearly stepped on some chantarelles growing in the path, but didn't pick any since there were only a few. When I got down to Dry Creek, which I hadn't been to that part of in a long time, I was a bit surprised to see the huge houses of the neighboring golf community on the other side. I sort of knew they were over there in a theoretical way but hadn't fully connected the geography, probably because I didn't really want it to connect. Much as it feels like I'm out in the wilderness sometimes, I'm really not.

On Friday I did some laundry in the sun by stomping on it in a metal wash tub and hanging it on the line. We celebrated my dad's 73rd birthday with dinner around the fire, and I had a nice rambling talk with my parents and then just my mom under the crescent moon and stars.

On Thursday night I'd gone over to RM's garage to tell him I was interested in his friend SF's fixer-upper motorcycle, and he set things in motion. On Friday night he kindly brought it back to the shop for me on his trailer and I went over to get a look. It's a 1968 Honda CT-90 with the frame in great shape, original paperwork, two shop manuals, and a box of parts. It's mine for free, although it's going to need a lot of TLC, including a new engine. But I feel like it's going to be well worth the trouble, because it's a great looking, sturdy bike from the golden age of Japanese manufacturing, and when I'm done I'll know every inch of it thoroughly and be a more confident mechanic. I've been wanting an opportunity like this for months and somehow it just fell into my lap! Anyway I've already named it Punkin. Prepare for me geeking out about motorcycle restoration.

Things I Learned

  • They make bitter gourd tea. It's basically just freeze-dried bitter gourd slices, but it's great because I like the taste and feel like it must be at least a little bit medicinal, but it's not so easy to find fresh and now I have a consistent supply.
  • Wringing socks is way easier if you do a bunch of them together in one bunch.
  • There are still glow worms on the ground! I haven't seen any fireflies for them to mate with but they are still hanging in there, or at least they were earlier in the week.

Wonderful Things

  • Sashaying around potholes on my scooter with a little flick of my hips.
  • The chirping of tree frogs which I fell asleep to so often as a kid.
  • Whorls of frosty grass sparkling in the morning sunshine.
  • A really gooey persimmon, which to me is the fruit that tastes the most orange.

Week 10 - Fredericksburg, Hadley, Durham

Originally I was signed up for dirt biking classes on Saturday and Sunday, but it turned out that hunters were also using the land so the Saturday class was cancelled and the beginner class was moved to Sunday. Since I had a place to stay all weekend and was already planning to be off work on Friday and Monday, I decided to follow the original schedule and take Saturday as a vacation day. I spent Saturday morning blogging, then headed into town for a little tourism. My Airbnb host S was in the Marine Corps for 24 years and retired a few years ago to grow bushy hair and a huge beard and start a brewpub downtown. I figured his brewery was probably as good a place as any for lunch, and it saved me having to read a bunch of reviews and decide where to eat.

It turned out to be a very hip joint, with a large sign by the entrance saying "Please do not enter if you have any symptoms of: COVID-19, Racism, Bigotry, Xenophobia, Homophobia, Transphobia (if you do... this is not the brewery for you)". With clever signs, a locavore menu, and award-winning beer, the vibe reminded me a little bit of Bull City Burger and Brewery in Durham, only with a slightly less cluttered aesthetic. I got some great food and a flight of four beers to taste, which I was only able to drink about half the total volume of, being such a lightweight these days. The sour was my favorite, very clean and lemony with only a hint of funk at the tail end. When I left, my belly was full of richer food than I was used to and my head was a bit light from the alcohol, so I walked up to the old cemetery, half of which is filled with important old families of the city and the other half with Confederate soldiers. There was nobody there (well, nobody living), and I stretched out under a big oak tree and read some of The Wilding by Maria McCann (good but not as good as her first novel As Meat Loves Salt). It felt like an appropriate place to be reading historical fiction.

It was only 3:30 but the sun was already dropping, and I figured I should get moving. I was still feeling a bit off, whether from old Lyme disease toxins, something emotional, or a combination, I couldn't tell. I walked for a while along the lovely canal trail and back down one of the main streets, and looking at passersby, listening to their conversation, and consciously centering on my own body I started to feel a bit less lost and detached and a bit more grounded. I headed back to the house, finished my book, and went to sleep early.

Sunday I woke up at dawn, had my tea and oatmeal, and sat on the front porch for a while watching the bright red leaves drift down from a massive maple tree. By this time I'd made friends with two out of three of the cats, Bella and Buddy, and finally I was sitting still enough for the very squeaky but very shy Fella to come by and gave me a rub. Later while doing my exercises inside, I had the thought that exercising can be an act of interpretation like music or acting. Just as music is more than just playing the score and acting is more than just reading the script, there's a way of exercising that seeks the intent of the movement, its fundamental essence. When I entered this mindset it became much more interesting, and suddenly my mind and many more of my muscles were engaged. Shortly before it was time to leave for the class, I realized that my left toe, which I'd stubbed earlier on a sharp bone one of the dogs had left lying around, was now bleeding. And it was the very toe that would be operating the gear shift on the dirt bike, which was what the entire class was about. Luckily I'd brought my first aid kit, and with some gauze and surgical tape the toe was padded enough that I totally forgot about it for the rest of the day.

On the way to the class, I stopped at a gas station in Sealston to buy a couple things that were on the recommended list for the class. Long socks I found easily, but where were the sunglasses? I asked the owner at the front, a middle-aged Korean guy. "We take them down. Summer is over," he said as if I might not have noticed. But then he offered to get some for me from the back, "you don't care which pair?" After a while he returned with some dusty aviators. "You ride motorcycle, right? I think these ones good for you." I couldn't argue with that, and I was touched by his thoughtfulness. The rest of the ride to the class on highway 218 was absolutely magical. Like Raven Rock, Fredericksburg is on the fall line where the piedmont meets the coastal plain, and where it's not flat the land is like miniature mountains. The road wound sinuously through open woods in the very peak of their fall colors, and the air was clear and mild under blue skies. As I turned off the main road and crested a hill, the wide blue Potomac stretched out in the distance. I decided that even if the rest of the trip was a total disaster, that half hour was probably worth it.

I got to the class about an hour early, and the instructors gave me a warm welcome and had a lot of nice things to say about Kiddo. BJ, who owns the business and teaches the adult classes, told me that she's also a scooter person, and rides a pink Buddy 170i named Piglet. She tries to park it among Harleys whenever she can, and often comes back to find big bearded dudes sitting on it for photo-ops. The other instructor A, who was teaching the little kids class, took me to get fitted with some shin guards and told me about the time he crashed on a track at 120mph. He was able to get up and hobble away and actually wound up proposing to his now-wife later that day. The motorcycle on the other hand was "taken away in hefty bags".

My class was for ages 12 and up, and was full at eight people. Eight red and white Honda dirt bikes in various sizes had already been lined up in the field. I was curious about who else would take a class like this, and watched as the other students drifted in. There was a dad with his son and a mom with her son. There was a high school senior who wanted to be able to drive her dad's Ducati Monster instead of just riding pillion. There was a girl who was into dirt biking already and very stoked. She'd brought along her friend who seemed a little less stoked but was gamely showing up in solidarity. All the kids were around 12, and many of them had clearly been waiting to take this class so they could graduate from the automatic transmissions the little kids had to use. So all in all we were two girls, two boys, two women, and two men. One of the families spoke a Slavic language and another spoke something Iberian. Yet again, the motorsports demographic confounded my stereotypes.

The class started, and built up skills in easy stages. My bike seemed to have the idle set low, so right off the bat I had to figure out how to add throttle while easing off the clutch to keep from stalling. But really it was easier than I expected, and pretty soon I was shifting without really thinking about it, which was good because there were plenty of other things to think about. The disk brake on the front had far more stopping power than the drum brakes I'd gotten used to, so I needed to learn to be very gentle on it. Using a foot pedal for the rear brake was entirely new, as was riding on foot pegs at all. In street riding you're supposed to lean into turns, whereas in dirt riding you lean out of them, so I had to revive my old bicycling habits which I'd spent so much effort trying to break. Fairly soon in the class we switched to a standing posture, and the inside of my knees got a little bruised from gripping the gas tank harder than was probably necessary. All in all I did quite well until the end when we were all riding figure eights, and among the complexities of negotiating the crossing traffic in the middle I got flustered and kept stalling and then inexplicably downshifting into neutral, which is not supposed to be possible. I tried to pull over to collect myself but BJ made me get back on the bike because she wanted me to finish on a good note, and I did.

After the class it was still bright and warm out (nearly 80 degrees in November!). The ride back wasn't quite as pretty though, I think it had to do with the direction of the light or something. On a whim I stopped at a seafood restaurant in Fairview Beach and had an early dinner at an outdoor table with a dockside view of the Potomac. I got back to the house around dark and spent some time playing with my kitty friends Bella and Buddy. Bella made a nest in my motorcycle clothes and Buddy took over the towel basket, and both of them had to be picked up and dumped out in the living room before bed.

Then came Monday morning, and the thought of spending another entire day in the saddle was not appealing. I had brought a carton of boiled eggs, which I'd eaten ten of, so at S's encouragement I filled the empty spots with fresh duck eggs from the overflowing bowls on the counter. I got on the road around 7:30, and I knew I'd be riding until dark. The 240-ish miles ahead of me felt like a chore, so after taking some of the back roads I'd enjoyed on the way up, I banged out a lot of miles on highway 360, this time not seeing any signs forbidding mopeds. It was boring but efficient. I stopped for brunch in Goochland. I bought some pink lady apples from a roadside orchard stand. I crossed the border to NC and picked up some groceries in Roxboro. But as I passed through Cedar Grove, Efland, and Chestnut Ridge, the chill air and the magnificent fall foliage cut through my funk and got me back to enjoying the ride, so I was singing by the time I reached home.

On Tuesday, AB, my friend and ex-coworker (or perhaps once-and-future coworker), came out from Durham to do some co-working in the warm sun. We set up near my parents house, and my dad joined us for a bit as well, so it was almost like the old office, except outdoors, and socially distanced, and running on solar power, and... well I guess it was pretty different, but very nice all the same. In the middle of the day we spotted a big snapping turtle leaving the old pond, which is now more of a wetland, and making her way across the dam, maybe having just finished laying a clutch of eggs. She let us get a close look, hung out in the sun for a while, and then continued into the woods. That night I moved my stove outdoors and cooked a fancy meal with two dishes, a dozen ingredients, and even garnishes. I figured it would be my last chance for a couple of days.

And indeed we did pay for all that warm weather with some serious rain. Wednesday was fairly modest, but Thursday's rain was torrential. I stayed dry enough, but some water came in through the open door, which I could have closed but it's just so much nicer to be able to see outside. Some also came in around the stove jack I put in for the chimney, which I'd kind of expected given it wasn't very dry back when I caulked it. I bailed the tent with a rag, but there wasn't much to be done about the condensation. Outside the ground became squelchy, the mud slippery, and the flooded mole tunnels ready to swallow unwary feet. I had to wade through a swift-flowing stream to get to the garden and the well.

One thing that did make life better was finding an old hurricane lamp hanging outside the mud hut, which I'd missed before because of all the vines growing around and through it. Once I freed it from the vines and filled it with kerosene, it turned out to be in good working order, and brought some much-needed light and heat to the tent. I'd already ordered a bigger lamp from Amazon, so now I have two! But in any case it was just in time, because the shortening days had been getting me down a bit, and I was so tired of my headlamp's cold and flattening LED light. It's just kind of depressing to eat a meal while using a headlamp to see your food.

On Friday afternoon I went into Durham to exchange the steamer I'd bought at Li Ming's for a smaller one and get my first COVID test so I can pod with my parents for driving supervision. Man, that swab up the nose is not pleasant!

Things I Learned

  • I can fill my stove with corrugated cardboard rolled up into little logs, and it'll boil all the water I need in the morning. Now I'm looking at a lot of trash like "I could burn that!"
  • Cutting up cardboard will dull a utility knife surprisingly quickly.
  • Those Aladdin mantle lamps are really not made for tents. They need a flat surface, have to be moved very carefully, and send a jet of super-heated air straight up. I still want to fix up the one I have, but I'll probably give it away instead of using it.

Wonderful Things

  • When the fall scenery in my rear view mirror turns it into a moving postcard.
  • When the light on the road hits those squiggly asphalt repairs just right and it looks like glowing elvish script on a ring of power.
  • Eating as much arugula as I want.
  • Hearing heavy rain beating down just a few feet above while wrapped up all warm and dry.

Week 9 - Hadley, Cedar Grove, Durham, Fredericksburg

I spent the first part of Saturday puttering around camp. I started a batch of honey locust hooch, borrowing two quart mason jars, filling them with torn up pods, and pouring boiling water over them. The fermentation got off to a slow start because of the cold but there have been bubbles so I assume wild yeasts are doing their thing in there. I made a rack for drying clothes out of some bamboo I found in the back of the garden. I talked to my mom while filling a huge box with sticks that had come down in the wind. In the afternoon I carpooled with JH to an outdoor Samhain party hosted by RW up in Cedar Grove. She and her ex started a little homestead there three and half years ago, with a big barn and rainwater collector, an elevated outdoor kitchen, and a yome. The party involved an elaborate performance art walk in the pine woods and a DJ'd dance party, but what I really came for was the meals, the conversation, the fire, and the camping, and they did not disappoint. I guess I'm missing the group camping experience of the Haw River Learning Celebration, which was a very formative experience for me as a kid when my family and I started volunteering for it nearly 30 years ago, and unfortunately like so much else it's "virtual" this year.

I spent some time talking to RW's woofer D, who reminds me a lot of 20-something me, with stars in his eyes about returning to a simpler life. He's started on building a wattle-and-daub meditation hut to RW's design, so we geeked out about natural building, traditional heating methods, living out of vehicles, and the thoughtful incorporation of industrial technology into one's life. Dinner was a potluck feast at scattered tables around the fire, and JH and I had a table to ourselves. There was a part of the meal where we were encouraged to talk about the dead with our table mates, and I felt a lot of grief come up about the passing of PF. I think when he died, my estrangement from my family and my own emotions stopped me from grieving for him properly. I thought of a picture in my parents' house of my dad kissing him on the cheek and regretted not having said goodbye as well as I wanted to. If you're somehow reading this, I really miss you old friend.

Costumes were mandatory, and not having easy access to my wardrobe or sewing machine, I improvised by sticking a crown of yellow leaves into my hat, daubing my cheeks with some mud from the bottom of a puddle, and wearing my camouflage army poncho. People seemed to interpret this as "the spirit of the forest" and I got quite a few complements which I hadn't expected given how little thought and effort I'd put into it. The hostess was dressed as a sexy vulture and D was a construction worker. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera arrived carrying "Ruth Baby Ginsberg" complete with robes and a gavel in her tiny fist. There was a very appropriate plague doctor and a pair of murder hornets. Tony Nader and an acolyte showed up in full regalia. A Mexican belly dancer and a lanky red-headed skeleton started an impromptu rhythm and dance jam by the fire, and I joined in with my Vargan. The plague doctor extolled the virtues of Amanita Muscaria infusions. Altogether the most satisfying celebration of the holiday I've spent in years, hard as I'd tried to get into the spirit of the watered-down version that is the neighborhood trick or treat. I enjoyed some more conversation around the campfire and headed off to bed just as the dance party was really getting started. Despite, or perhaps because of, the bass thumping through the woods and the temperature dropping quickly to near 40, I fell asleep quickly and deeply under my tarp.

It started raining around 5:30 in the morning, and I spent some cozy time reading Walt Whitman, looking up at the leaves, and listening to the raindrops. I love how Whitman is so eloquent about nature, but also about every aspect of the human world: industry, agriculture, work, religion, the social sphere, the sick as well as the healthy. He just embraces everything enthusiastically and when I get onto his wavelength the whole world feels charged with energy and perfection. If I were looking for an authoritative text to start a new religion, I think Song of Myself would be a great choice, and yet something tells me that wouldn't be in the spirit of the poem at all. Forget these dusty words, Whitman would say, and go experience the world I'm talking about! He was very much a "finger pointing at the moon" kind of person.

In the outdoor kitchen there was cowboy coffee with whipped cream and a pancake breakfast. One of the murder hornets shared a jar of the elderberry syrup she makes with local honey, and we geeked out about herbs. An ER doctor from Florida, no longer dressed as a walrus, told medical horror stories and showed me pictures of his encounters with big fish, sharks, manatees, and dolphins. I talked with D some more and felt the consistency of the mud he was planning to use for the hut. But eventually it was time to say goodbye to new friends and acquaintances. On the way back, JH and I continued our meandering conversation about relationships and our explorations of comfort and discomfort. In a previous blog post I may have given the impression of dismissing the value of comfort, but on further reflection I think it's more about valuing the movement between the two extremes rather than pursuing one or the other. As D pointed out, comfort is all about contrasts, and in my experience a hot shower after getting soaked in the cold rain can feel transcendent even though the same shower after sitting around the house all day usually doesn't.

Coming back from a nascent homestead to the debris of my own homesteading dreams got me reflecting about that trajectory. Like RW, I think I used to expect and maybe even wish for the collapse of the industrial ecosystem. Then I kind of stopped caring, then for a while I experimented with being one of the techno-optimists. But now I find myself focused more on the spiritual dimension, seeking what Bruce Tift calls "a good experience regardless of circumstances", and from that viewpoint how the world changes isn't something I need to control or constantly watch like a gambler hoping for good luck. I'm not saying it's easy but I'm working on it. Back on the land, I gleaned the last of the windfall tomatoes nestled in the garden mulch, drank some mulled wine with the whole family in the last of the afternoon light, and then we went out to cover the greens against the coming frost. Miraculously, an Amazon truck arrived a day early with my new 20-degree sleeping bag and hot water bottle, which dialed the coziness up to eleven just when it was really getting cold at night. Industrial goods are pretty amazing!

I finally figured out how to light the new stove, once I stopped trying to fight it and just built a truly upside-down fire. The genius of this method is that instead of sending the flames through the cold, damp fuel, which reduces burn temperature and creates smoke, the insulated firebox slowly cooks the fuel from the top and sides until it's ready to light on its own. I could now make large batches of hot water to fill the hot water bottle and make tea, oatmeal, and soup. In the cold mornings I worked half inside my sleeping bag, and in the warm afternoons I worked in the sunbeams. AP and A came to visit and look around my "little village". During my lunch breaks I walked around the land, and on one of my rambles decided to poke around in what we used to call the "white bus", but has since lost all its paint to rust. Inside I found the old Aladdin brand kerosene lamps that my family used to use when I was a toddler, before they got solar power. I picked out the prettiest one, with a cut-glass reservoir, and took it to pieces, finding that everything was in good order except that the delicate mantle had disintegrated and the wick adjustment knob was stuck. I took it back to my parents' house and my mom went upstairs into a closet and immediately found two spare wicks and two spare mantles in mint condition, which had been sitting up there for thirty years! This kicked off a purge of all the other stuff in that box, like spare parts for stoves long since gotten rid of, which was still ongoing when I left to get back to work. Daylight savings had moved sunset back to near 5:00 pm, and it's only going to get worse until the solstice. I'm hoping to get the old lamp working again to make heat and light in the long dark evenings.

Kiddo has been suffering from what I'll call, as long as we're anthropomorphising, some heart trouble. Mostly needing extra help to start and an intermittent loss of power while accelerating, and also the gas mileage hasn't been what it should be. On top of this, the 5000 mile service calls for an inspection of the brake shoes which I didn't have the tools to take on, so I made an appointment at a shop in Durham to get it looked at. Deciding to make a town day of it and do some laundry and shopping as well, I got on the road at 7:30, and the damp cold was intense. My thin gloves with the mesh backs that are so nice in summer did not serve me well, and my fingers were intensely painful after just a few miles. When I couldn't stand it I would pull over and warm my hands on my belly, but it didn't last long once back on the road. So I pulled into a country store shivering and aching, the backs of my hands a worrying dark purple, and was delighted to find that they sold five kinds of gloves, one of which was thin and fit under my motorcycle ones. I had a transcendent experience watching the sun come up through the trees and eating a snickers bar with my fingers wrapped around a hot cup of coffee... there's that contrast for you.

I realized I had no idea how the election went, unless the church sign saying "I spoke and God heard my voice" meant something. I decided it would be Schrödinger's election for me until I happened to hear news that would collapse the superposition. I stopped at a hardware store to get some odds and ends like kerosene and a rain cap for my tent chimney. I also got some more plastic storage bins... so I've gone from a two-bin person to a four-bin person but I swear I can stop! Then on to my storage unit to drop off the bins and then to the shop, where I dropped off Kiddo and switched to being on foot. I did laundry at the laundromat, ate Chinese takeout for lunch, and shopped at Beauty World, which amazingly had a $2 florescent orange beanie that will come in handy for keeping me from getting shot while walking in the woods during hunting season. How such a thing gets to be in a fashion store is beyond me, but maybe with the right accessories? I worked in a shady corner of the shopping center, then outside the bike shop once the laundry was done. Several hours later I paid a bill for $240 and got Kiddo back. They had replaced the clutch shoes and variator rollers but the problem was still there. They suspected an ignition problem and would be happy to do more diagnostics another day. Well.

On the way home I stopped at Li Ming's to get a few food items, a pot for boiling water, and some other housewares. I wound up selecting a big steamer pot, which actually turned out to be too big for the stove and I'll need to exchange it for a smaller one when I get time (for the moment the pot I borrowed from my parents is working fine). Kiddo's acceleration problem seemed worse if anything, or maybe the clutch repair was just making it more obvious. But clearly the repairs had helped in some way, since I could now hit 40 mph on the level which had been impossible before. After I got home, I was a bit worried about Kiddo's health, especially since I had a trip to Virginia planned for Friday. And it could be a safety issue if I couldn't accelerate into a left turn fast enough. After some research online I decided the next most likely problem that fit the history and symptoms was a clogged idle jet in the carburetor. In the morning I texted my friend RM to see if I could use his garage to do the repair, and he said "help yourself". I felt a huge amount of anxiety about doing this type of mechanical job, sure that I would screw something up one way or another. On the other hand, it was something I wanted very much to learn how to do, so despite my anxiety-induced headache I stuck it out and took Kiddo into the shop in the late afternoon. Getting the carb out was a rough sort of surgery, requiring a lot more force pulling on hoses than I'd expected, but I got it out and open on the table with some much-needed advice and encouragement from RM. Sure enough, although all the other parts were squeaky clean, the idle jet had something in it, which was soon got out with some sprays of carb cleaner. We put everything back together, the engine miraculously started and ran, and a test ride in the driveway felt promising. I thanked RM, headed back to my tent (with a stop at APs to see the work on the custom MIDI mixing board he's building), and crawled into my sleeping bag feeling better but too exhausted and strung out from all the mechanical anxiety to even brush my teeth.

But waking up Friday at sunrise I felt optimistic about the trip ahead. I packed and was on the road around 8, this time insulated enough to be a little cold but not painfully so. The farms and woodlots of rural Chatham and Orange counties were lovely in the morning light and I crossed into Virginia quite early in the trip. I always forget that the border isn't that far away. I stopped for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Keysville, and when I tried to get back onto highway 360, a sign at the on-ramp told me that pedestrians, horses, tractors, and mopeds were all forbidden. I decided to take this more in the spirit of travel advice than prohibition, and indeed the alternate route Google came up with was stunningly beautiful, with flame-colored trees, blue skies, rolling fields, and slanting afternoon light. Although Kiddo was still a little shy when accelerating, the problem was nowhere near as bad as before, and my second gas stop of the day showed that I had gotten 115 miles per gallon! Of course this is around what Honda claims you're supposed to get, but I'd assumed it was one of those little white lies manufacturers tend to engage in. The mechanical work had paid off, and I was excited to do more of it myself, especially since the $80/hour mechanics had messed up the threads on a bolt and two bolt holes, which I had to clean up with RM's well-loved vintage tap and die set. Heck I might even try to fix up an old Honda Super Cub another friend of RM's has sitting around. At least I can worry less about mistakes with a bike that doesn't run in the first place. Also wrenching on and riding an aged Super Cub would make me more like one of my heroes.

Anyway, I got to my Airbnb outside Fredericksburg around 5:30 pm, very cold but still energetic. The house was warm and the hosts were so relaxed and welcoming that it felt like staying with old friends. There were three cats and the two dogs Harvey and Brew'dis (later three when one of the host's parents came over for dinner and brought Brew'dis's brother Tuna). They offered my dinner but I had leftovers that needed eating, although I couldn't resist a piece of the apple crisp. Which I think, along with the heat after being so cold on the road, caused me to start nodding off while starting the first paragraph of this blog post. So I went to bed at the late hour of 7:30 pm!

Things I Learned

  • Because of the neoclassical revival during the little ice age, some Europeans took to wearing togas even though it was really cold. Apparently they carried around little metal balls with embers in them to keep warm.
  • The dish I've been making with dehydrated potatoes and fresh greens could be seen as a type of colcannon, a traditional Irish dish made with potatoes and cabbage. You can't escape your ancestry apparently.
  • D3O, a magical polymer used for motorcycle armor that's nice and soft until it experiences an impact, is also rock hard when it's cold.
  • Virginia has a lot of road signs that explain basic traffic law like "don't pass school buses unloading children" and "the solid yellow line on your side means no passing". It strikes me as kind of condescending but there's probably some good reason for it. However this is totally balanced out for me by the "share the road" signs with a silhouette of a horse and buggy instead of a bicycle.

Wonderful Things

  • Zipperless sleeping bags. Their geometry is hard to explain but I was an instant fan.
  • The smell of burning paper as a wood stove is being lit.
  • The moon setting over a frosty field.
  • The very particular smell of a deciduous forest breathing as the weather alternates between warm and cold.

Week 8 - Hadley

This week was mostly about establishing a base camp out on my family's land. I'd set the big tent up the Saturday before to let the plastic-smelling vinyl floor and the treated canvas air out a bit, but I'd pretty much just dumped my stuff on the floor and taken off.

Since Thursday had been leg day with all the hiking and Friday had been arm day with all the paddling, I started out a little sore on Saturday, but loosened up by gathering a huge load of sticks and breaking them into lengths for my little cooking stove and my new bigger heating stove. Now that I'm going to be in one place for a while, I can store up fuel and let it dry out, which will hopefully lead to less smoky fires and less need to gather sticks every day. I did some emotional work, and in the afternoon headed to the hardware store to pick up four patio pavers to go under my stoves (weighing 17 pounds each), two five gallon buckets to store and carry water, a 25 foot extension cord, and some pipe fittings for the chimney. Amazingly all of that fit inside my bins just fine. In the parking lot, I was admiring a car with a canoe on top and lo and behold, inside it my old friend and neighbor JD and a buddy, just coming off the river. This is one of the (usually) nice things about living for a long time in a small town: you tend to run into people you know. Although Pittsboro is hardly as small as it used to be, and it's on track to be quite big indeed once the Chatham Park development gets fully underway.

On the way home I picked up some groceries for the week, and at the head of the driveway ran into my neighbors JM and DM, sitting in the sun on their swing set. I'm not sure quite how old they are but they're old enough to be great grandparents, and JM's father used to farm here and sold my parents their land. They urged my to come on over and "set a spell", so I took a spot on one of the swings and we caught up a bit. We talked about all the changes in the neighborhood and JM told a story about when they got electricity in 1945 and the first thing they got was a washing machine for his mama. For some reason, telling them I was getting divorced got me really choked up, maybe it's that they've been married so long, and also I was in a tender mood. "Such a sweet young woman, we thought," he said. They urged me to come pick some scuppernong grapes from their loaded vines, and kept dropping handfuls into my bag until I told them I could only eat so many at a time.

Back at camp, I pitched a tarp for a little outdoor kitchen and stowed all the food in one of my bins to keep it safe from the raccoons and possums. I used the other bin to store all my solar gear on top of the tower so I wouldn't have to carry it up and down the ladder every day. I set up a tidy little system with an extension cord dropping down into the tent and the hotspot inside the bin with a directional booster antenna attached, which actually gives me faster internet than the wired ADSL connection my parents have at their house. Later in the week when high winds came through, I strapped the solar panel to the bin so it wouldn't blow over, and rigged some shock cord to allow the flaps to fold up in the gusts and then drop back into place. I filled my buckets with water from the well, which involves dropping a long, narrow bucket down and pulling it up by hand. As I carried the water back to camp, I stopped every so often to rest, sitting on one of the buckets and gazing at the moon and at Mars, which has been looking unusually bright lately. I ate a simple dinner of oatmeal and tea, and listened to Imogen Heap's album Speak For Yourself, which I've been kind of obsessed with this year ever since running across an amazing a cappella cover of Hide and Seek. I hadn't been listening to music for so long that it hit me powerfully, as if I was hearing it with my entire body.

On Sunday I worked to make up for having taken Friday off to paddle. It was rainy and damp, with temperatures in the low 60s, but it felt great to have such a large dry space to hang out in, and the patter of rain on canvas is one of my favorite sounds. I got to try out my new rain poncho (which is in the vintage military style with snaps and grommets that allow it to be set up as a tarp shelter or a bivvy sack) and I totally love it. I mean it's horribly unfashionable, but it doesn't get clammy inside because it's so well ventilated at the bottom, and best of all I can walk with my hands inside my warm dry jacket pockets without rain running down the sleeves into them. I guess in a way it can be seen as a sort of wearable tent. I walked to the garden and nibbled on mustard greens and cherry tomatoes, and down the driveway to look at the leaves, where I had a nice conversation with long-time neighbor DB, who was driving over to take care of my parents' cat while they were on vacation in the mountains. For dinner I invented a new dish that's just instant mashed potatoes and raw arugula and tender kale stirred together with boiling water so the potatoes re-hydrate and the greens are just barely cooked, which is the way I like them.

I experimented and found out that with some very careful positioning, I can do all the Muller System exercises inside my tent. I learned about this system back in March while reading a novel from the 1920's, and it's been really great for keeping me sane and flexible through a lot of different environments. It doesn't require any equipment except some way to hold my feet down for the sit-ups, which I managed by tying a stick crosswise to the bottom of the central tent pole. This will become increasingly important as the weather cools off, and outdoor exercise gets steadily less appealing even as I need it more to counteract the stiffening effects of sitting in the cold all day.

The week remained a bit damp and cloudy for the most part, which made for some beautiful scenes at night when the moon seemed to fill the air with its glow. I delighted in fresh salads from the garden, night walks, stars among the tree branches, and glow worms in the grass. South winds brought warmth and fresh smells, and blew down all the dead pine needles to form lovely orange-brown carpets. They also blew down all the ripe pods from the honey locust tree near my camp, and I gathered a bag full. If you're not familiar, the honey locust makes long brown leathery seed pods, seemingly evolved to be eaten by some extinct megafauna, and if you crack them open there's a sticky sweet goo around the seeds with a flavor that reminds me a little of green apple Jolly Ranchers except more bitter. I've heard the old timers used to make a fermented beverage out of them and I've always wanted to give that a try.

I borrowed some tools from AP to make a backing for the stove jack and installed the chimney in the tent. I made a coat rack from a cedar branch, a little broom from broom sedge, did laundry down by the creek, and dug a latrine trench. I tried out my new heating stove, which is an unusual kind with some sort of clever Chinese reburner technology. It's incredibly efficient, but a bit counter-intuitive because you have to build the fire upside down and it burns from top to bottom like a candle. I figured I'd probably fill the tent up with smoke once or twice trying to figure out how to light it and control the airflow, and that's exactly what I did. But eventually I got it into its happy place and it definitely did its job, boiling the big pot of water that I'm using as a thermal reservoir and making the tent nice and toasty, at least compared to outside. I also managed to cook one of the tastiest wok dishes I've ever made on it, although doing this inside the tent was not a great idea, and in future I'll probably move it outside to use the wok.

I geeked out with AP about vintage synthesizers, and stayed up late talking with him and GB about relationships and stories from their courting days. I visited my old friend and neighbor RM, who's a geologist by day and a mechanic by night. He and his friend L were pulling the transmission on a huge truck, but they came out from under the lift to catch up and shoot the shit about vehicles, fuel economy, camping, #vanlife, rocket stoves, yurts, and the Appalachian Trail. I spent a wonderful evening hanging out with JD, and we had a long rambling talk on his patio about philosophy, culture, the nature of adventure, and the pursuit of happiness. He had a tree with three tiny oranges on it and we each ate one. When the power came back on I watched him work in his glassblowing studio for a while. I particularly enjoyed the delicate incandescent peach color of the glass when it had just come out of the flame, which reminded me of the sky at dawn.

Oh yeah, and I voted! And of course some more of my neighbors were outside the polling place handing out blue sample ballots and putting signs back up when they blew over in the wind. Wow... it's so hard to believe that it's only been two months, it feels like much much longer (in a good way).

Things I Learned

  • There's such a thing as a two-story yurt. I'm not sure whether it still truly qualifies as a yurt in the traditional sense though.
  • If you use a Linux laptop (and I know a couple of you do), powertop is a great tool for figuring out what's using power and making your battery last longer.
  • Apparently there's a new kind of card theft scam, because somehow a debit card that I haven't used in months was cloned and used to run up hundreds of dollars of charges at a Food Lion in Burlington. I wouldn't have thought they could fake the chip and/or PIN, but since the exact same thing happened to my parents, it's possible that Food Lion's point of sale system is what got compromised. This kind of thing fascinates me but it's hard to find out much about it.

Wonderful Things

  • The smell of tomato plants after you brush past them.
  • Leaves fluttering and wheeling like a flock of tiny birds on the wind.
  • The ticking sound that a wood stove makes when it's heating up.

Week 7 - Hadley, Raven Rock

On Saturday morning, I left the Extended Stay America as early as I could, happy to get into the fresh air, and headed downtown. I dropped by the farmers market and picked up some watermelon radishes and a hefty loaf of Danish rye bread. Then I went to my storage unit and reorganized gear, storing the tent I'd been carrying around and picking up some extra clothes for the cooler weather. The plan was to go out to my family's land in the township of Hadley and set up a base camp for the next few months, where I can work in cold and wet weather while I get my drivers license figured out. I had ordered a canvas tent and a small wood stove to heat it, and there was also the inflatable kayak to unpack and test out. I wanted to get all this done on Saturday, because I'd reserved a campsite at Raven Rock State Park for the week and would need Sunday to get settled in there. So once my gear was organized and stowed, I headed out to Chatham County.

The ride was gorgeous, with crisp weather and the leaves starting to turn. As soon as I got there and had chatted a bit with my parents, I went out to scout a location for my new tent. It was important that I could get both sun and internet, and the big unknown was whether I would be able to use my hotspot or would have to extend my parents' WiFi signal somehow. My first choice was up in "the big field", and I was very happy to find that from the top of "the star tower", a sixteen foot tall structure originally made from the remains of an old hunting stand, I was able to get a cell signal, not an amazing one but enough to work with. I hauled the tent and stove there in a cart and pitched the tent. It's not technically a yurt but it's quite yurt-like, round and twelve feet in diameter with a pointy conical roof. It felt incredibly luxurious and spacious compared to the two-person tent I had been working in on rainy days, and I was excited to get it fully set up. I didn't have the time or the parts to install the stove, but figured I only had to get through one cold night, and then I wouldn't really need it until the weather got consistently cold. In the late afternoon I tuned in to my first virtual wedding (of my friends HG and KO), but just before the ceremony was about to start the internet stopped working, so I decided to watch the recording later. However I did get to watch some cute midwesterners catching up and some elders using Zoom for the first time, which was fun.

I ate dinner with my parents out on the back porch. Slinking around us was my parents' cat October (or Tober for short), the abandoned runt of a feral litter that GM caught and HW and I adopted around when we got married, and then left in Chatham County when we moved to Durham. The last few times I'd visited she'd run away from me, which wasn't surprising since she's very shy of strangers, but which had made me sad that I'd become such a stranger to her. But this time, for some reason she seemed to suddenly recognize me, and made many passes to rub on my legs and accept head pets. She had just recently turned thirteen but seems to still be in excellent health. After dark I headed over to AP and GB's place next door for a bonfire and an outdoor movie. The bonfire was nice, and the movie was the original Halloween, but I didn't get to see the whole thing because after all the setup but just before the really dramatic part, I started getting sleepy and had to head off to bed in the new tent. It was supposed to get down to 41 degrees that night, and I figured my lightweight down bag would just about handle that with a bivvy sack around it. I had some condensation buildup inside the bivvy, and a few cold spots during the night, but slept far more deeply than I had been during the last few weeks of staying indoors. Near where I'd pitched the tent was a place where the tall vegetation had been pushed down, and I had wondered how it happened, but the mystery was solved as I drifted off to sleep: I could hear deer skirting the camp and snorting in alarm that someone had invaded their resting place. Hopefully they can find another good one. But after that it was total silence with not even an insect making a sound.

When I got up in the morning it was way too cold to lie around. The sun was just lighting up the top of the pines with an orange glow, and there was ice on my motorcycle seat, not just a little dusting of white but crackling ice, so the temperature must have dropped somewhat below freezing in the night. Something about the powerful dreams I'd had, the thick layers of memory in this land where I lived my first sixteen years, and the freedom of being in a wild place again allowed my grief to come to the surface, and I had a good cry while packing up for my trip to Raven Rock; I'm learning to multi-task with emotions when needed. The kayak filled up one of the bins, and I had to slim down my camping equipment so that everything else would fit into the other one. But the weather forecast was sunny and moderate temperatures all week so I was pretty confident I'd be comfortable. I headed over to breakfast with my parents, AP, GB, and little A around a campfire, where I toasted my socks that had gotten soaked in the cold dewy grass. A flock of geese flew in formation low overhead, heading roughly south.

Due to much socializing, I got on the road to Raven Rock a bit later than I'd wanted to, but since I'd dropped my original crazy plan of paddling all my gear to the campsite, there was plenty of daylight to do what needed doing. The beginning of the ride was along my old school bus route, which I'd ridden literally thousands of times, but this was the first time I was driving it alone. Just a few miles down the road, the tears started to come again, so I pulled over for the second cry of the day, this one very deep and cathartic. When I felt steady again, I got back on the road and enjoyed another beautiful ride, with farm ponds sparkling through the trees and the smell of black walnut husks and fermenting wood chips in the cold clear air.

Raven Rock State Park is a really beautiful place and only about an hour by car from the Triangle, but I'd only been there a few times and never for very long, so I looked forward to having time to get to know it a little better. The central feature for which it's named is some rocky cliffs that stand a hundred feet above the Cape Fear River, looking far out over the beginnings of the coastal plain. It has a bit of a mountainous flavor, but it's a lot closer than the actual mountains. And apparently the word is out, because when I got to the park gates there was a long line of cars waiting to enter, and a sign projecting waiting times of 45 minutes to an hour. Apparently it was based on parking capacity, because as soon as one vehicle left, another was allowed to enter. Thankfully I had to wait less than half an hour, and of course because of the carefully regulated line at the gate, there was one and only one parking space available. The next step after checking in at the front desk was to get my gear down to the campsite, which was a 1.6 mile hike from the trailhead. By leaving most of my "office" at the top, I was able to do it in two trips, the first with camping equipment and half the food, and the second with the bin containing the kayak and the other half of the food. Along the way, the walnut-wood stiffener in my homemade tub carrying strap snapped, allowing the tub to drop really low on my back and forcing me to walk doubled over like an old rice farmer. I immediately hatched a plan to paddle all my gear out so I didn't have to make the same trip again except uphill.

Down at the campsite it started to feel like a bit of a race against sunset. I filtered water from Little Creek, a clear swift-flowing mountain stream, during which the bag to my water filter sprung a leak (but was easily replaced the next day with a Diet Mountain Dew bottle from the recycling bin). I gathered sticks for the stove, decided there was just enough time to inflate the canoe and go for a quick paddle, and then used my new kettle to cook up some mashed potatoes and ginger tea as it got dark. As I got into bed at eight, really looking forward to some cozy reading time, I discovered that my e-reader had run out of batteries at some point, and I had no way of charging it until the morning. It was probably for the best because I fell asleep almost immediately and again slept deeply. I've noticed that my dreams have become much more relational lately, almost always involving close interactions with other people, whereas in the past I think that's been somewhat rare. I think it might be from the emotional work I've been doing and I take it as a good sign.

The week fell into a nice pattern, oatmeal and hojicha for breakfast, commuting to work by hiking up past the charming miniature waterfalls of Little Creek, working and people-watching under the trees at the edge of a disused grassy parking lot, a lunch of hearty Danish rye bread thickly slathered with good Irish butter, with a side of homemade radish pickles, dinner and ginger tea back at the campsite, and reading in my cozy hammock until bedtime. All night long there was the gentle ticking of falling leaves, the patter of condensation falling from the trees, and the thwacks of acorns, hickory nuts, and black walnuts falling from the trees.

Once I went out for a morning paddle in the mist and scared up a large fish, a herd of deer, and what I think might have been an otter although I only saw the splash as it dove into the water. One day a distraught young woman lost her dog, and her family came out in force to help look for it, walking the trails over and over in both directions and calling his name. I got their number and the dog's description, and so did everyone else, and it was the talk of the trail-net for several days. Unfortunately the dog was somewhat shy of people, and I never heard whether he was found or not. A graphic designer out of Fort Worth stopped to chat and ask me about my remote working setup, because she was driving around doing the same kind of thing as I am, only based out of hotels instead of camping. Once when I was working next to a little-used trail, some hikers got spooked because, with my wide-brimmed sun hat hunched over my laptop screen, they mistook me for a witch!

I'd reached the part of the Judith Blackstone book where she explains how to release trauma held in the body, and I'd also traced my periodic headaches back to a certain tightening or hardening around my heart, which pulls on my shoulders and upper chest, which pulls on my neck, which tightens muscles in my head. Using her process I practiced inhabiting and softening this place around my heart, at which point I would almost always start to cry. And I cried about the loss of my marriage, about the things I missed in childhood, about the sheer improbability of being incarnated on this harsh, crazy, beautiful planet. I even cried at the end of All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, even though it's quite a happy ending. Over the course of the week the crying got gradually less intense, and afterward I always felt incredibly present and grounded, and everything in the world was more rich and spacious and emotionally evocative. I like the direction this is going.

I'd been watching the level of the river and the speed of the current drop steadily over the course of the week, and on Thursday I decided it might be wise to paddle out on Friday before it got much lower. Since I hadn't gone down to the base of the cliffs yet and since this was my last chance, I decided to work near the overlook at the top of the cliff, with a splendid view whenever I looked up. At lunchtime I walked down and felt the presence of the massive rocks, then climbed back up and worked at the top for a bit, then worked from behind the visitor center to quickly charge my batteries at an outdoor outlet. I quit early to set a shuttle so I could paddle out first thing in the morning. This involved parking Kiddo at the ramp at Cape Fear River Adventures just above the Lillington bridge, then taking a Lyft back to the park. The first part went smoothly: I parked, left my $5 for the use of the ramp in the honor box, walked into downtown Lillington, ate a nice takeout dinner watching the sunset, talked to a retired welder and pipe-fitter about the time he drove a hitchhiking itinerant priest with an eighty pound backpack all the way to Fayetteville, and bought some snacks from the CVS.

Unfortunately, I'd based my estimate of Lyft driver availability on the fact that whenever I started to book a ride it claimed I would be picked up in 3 or 15 minutes. However once I actually booked a ride, this turned out to be bullshit, and the app would just string me along indefinitely until they could find a rider willing to go way out of their way, presumably either by shafting the driver or taking a loss. I won't waste your time with a rant about the evils of the Silicon Valley worldview, but some choice words were on my lips at the time. I called the small local taxi company, but it turns out they'd shut down because of the pandemic. So my remaining option, short of scootering back to camp and spoiling the paddle plan, was to engage in old fashioned ride sharing, the kind that is actually sharing a ride. A local told me the Minuteman gas station was a good place to ask around, so I headed over there and started waving at cars. On my fourth try, I met a used tire dealer who was willing to take me. We had a good conversation once he'd had a chance to vent his political views a bit. He hadn't been down to Raven Rock since high school, when they used to "skip school, screw, and smoke weed" but he intended to go there some time and walk around. He wouldn't take money so I just thanked him for the ride and hopped out at the gate. It was fully dark by that point, so I hiked back to camp by the light of the moon and my headlamp on the lowest setting, made a cup of tea, and went to bed.

Friday morning got off to a slow start, but since I'd already set the shuttle there was no big rush. The inevitable finally happened and I got smacked by a falling hickory nut, from a very tall tree, probably at least eighty feet, and right in the ear. A ranger went through the camp with a leaf blower... good grief is any place safe from the damned things? But eventually after the fun challenge of figuring out where to put everything and how to secure it, I was packed up and out on the water. The boat tracked and handled a lot better when loaded. Honestly it's not perfect but it's a hell of a lot of boat for $120. And the seat is by far the most comfortable one I've ever used in a boat, which makes sense coming from a company whose main business is making air mattresses. I paddled by great blue herons standing at attention, neon-green willows bending over the water, and showers of yellow and brown leaves. I shot some easy rapids and the boat undulated up and down over the waves, handling great. Once a bald eagle took off from the west bank, dipped low on the east bank, and came back to a higher perch on the west bank. Interpreting this as an omen, I think America is going to be just fine.

The six mile paddle was over before I wanted it to be, and I started making plans to do more paddling in the future. I ate lunch under the gazebo at the boat ramp, deflated the boat, re-organized all the gear into bike mode, and took a dip in the cold river to wash the sweat off. Then I took the scenic route, including some charming back streets of Sanford, admired the cloudscapes, ate dinner in Pittsboro, and managed to get back to the big canvas tent while there was still some light left.

Here are some photos.

Things I Learned

  • Site #5 at Raven Rock is the best for hammock camping, and site #1 is the most secluded.
  • It turns out one of the owners of the place I stayed at in Sealevel is an old acquaintance, which I only realized when I was prompted to review the stay and it showed their last name. I think he's the one that taught me the trick of "ferrying" a canoe across the river by paddling upstream at an angle so the current pushes you sideways.
  • They make pacifiers that glow in the dark. I spotted one on the side of the trail during my night hike and got very excited thinking it was some kind of glowing mushroom, but no.
  • Hammock straps make great gunwale ropes, you can clip something to them anywhere and it won't slide fore and aft like with regular ropes or straps.

Wonderful Things

  • Fall colors against gray skies.
  • Clean dry undies on a clean dry bottom.
  • The smell of fungi reaching their hyphae up into the fresh carpet of brown leaves.

Week 6 - Sealevel to Durham

The week started with my alarm going off at 4am on Saturday, because I had to help my dad with a database replacement for work (unfortunately for us, we have to do these things at odd hours to disturb the smallest number of users). I made some instant coffee with butter melted into it, which kept me sharp all the way through, and we finished the job without anything going wrong. I spent the rest of the day pretty lazily, shopping for a shelter system that'll allow me to keep working as it gets colder, reading James Herriot, and fantasizing about a walking tour of the Pennine Way. I called up JW and we had a good talk, and I picked his brain for tips about camping gear and living outside. We're in similar life situations at the moment, although he's been camping for longer and is getting ready to settle into a 12x12 cabin. In the afternoon I took an amazing hammock nap out on the gazebo, and fixed my by-now-routine dinner of brown rice, beans, gobo with carrots, and my homemade kimchi.

Sunday I slept in until nine. Light rain had arrived during the night and was set to hang around all day. I gave myself a haircut under the covered walkway out front. I think I'm getting better at it every time, or at least more confident, although it can be a bit hard to tell how the back really looks. The one dollar camping mirrors turned out to be pretty crappy, probably okay for shaving but the spare scooter mirror is really the thing for haircuts, with its slightly wide-angle view, and plus it doubles as a spare part. I had another hammock nap on the gazebo, and the falling rain took the coziness to the next level. For dinner I ate a bowl of clam chowder, just from a can I got at the Dollar General, and probably not nearly as good as what I missed the weekend before, but it paired well with the weather. Then I watched Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which is a very beautiful film, like an animated brush painting. It's also a lovely story about the contrast between life as a poor bamboo cutter's daughter happily engaging with the natural world and a princess shut away in a house, heavily constrained by manners.

Looking at it through this lens of embodiment vs disembodiment that I've been trying out, it made me wonder if what we call comfort might be a way of reducing the noise from our bodies to a minimum so we can ignore them and live more in our heads. For example, the mesh office chair I used when I had an office was rated for six hours of continuous sitting, so I could really zone out and concentrate on the computer all day. My current chair (a Crazy Creek Hex 2) is far less comfortable, but it forces me to get up and move around periodically, which is what the experts say you should do anyway. And of course it would also be possible to get arbitrarily uncomfortable by sitting on spikes or something, so there must be a balance. My friend DN described a working posture he was experimenting with as "not uncomfortable and not comfortable, which seems good". I think there's something to this, and it's very like Buddhism's "middle way", which I think encourages us to avoid the temptation of trying to rest in one of the extremes and instead just live in the tension between them. The desire for comfort is so strong, and yet I'm not sure that getting it has been a net positive for me. Or maybe it's that there's a deeper comfort to be found resting in the inherent discomfort of being embodied. Still chewing on this.

The rain kept up all through Monday, but died down in the evening, leaving the air unusually still. So still that the no-see-ums came out and I had to use the netting on the hammock when I slept out. I started looking at the news now and then, mostly just reading the headlines because I don't want it to become a bad habit. Google News has a section for local stories and it was nice to see headlines like: "Eight Artists to Paint Outdoors on Ocracoke for a Week" or "Fall Foal Born at Cape Lookout National Seashore". This is the kind of wholesome content we could use more of! I did read the actual articles for both of those, because how could I not?

After work on Tuesday it was time to say goodbye to Sealevel and ride off into the sunset. I mean, I was heading west so I literally rode into the sunset, and it was pretty good, though not on a level with some of the ones I'd been seeing the past few weeks. Which was probably for the best from a safety standpoint. I had reserved a room for the night in a subdivision west of New Bern to cut a couple hours of riding off the trip back to Durham, and because there aren't as many roads near the coast I had to do a stretch on the wider and busier parts of 70. But traffic was light and it went fine, and in fact I sometimes wonder if I might be safer at night because my running lights and reflector vest stand out so well. The room was generic like the cul-de-sac it was in, and the air conditioning was so cold I had to put on a sweater inside. Why do people do this? But I went to bed early and slept great, which was the only thing I really needed to do there.

In the morning I found the temperature had dropped and a heavy dew had fallen, soaking my seat and the helmet I'd foolishly left outside. I toweled things off as best I could and was on the road by eight. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun was bright. The wind rushing by chilled my neck and torso until I shivered, but it was well worth it. There's just something about the light in the early morning that makes any landscape look its best. It felt really good to be on the road again, and I started singing to myself as soon as I got out into the country. "Take On Me" by a-ha was on heavy rotation in my helmet, especially the lines: "stumbling away / slowly learning that life is okay / say after me / it's no better to be safe than sorry". I've been hearing that song for my whole life and never really noticed those lyrics, yet now they seem to fit so perfectly. Maybe I just wasn't ready.

I rode through horse and cow pastures lined with goldenrod in full bloom. The soybean fields were turning lovely shades of yellow and ochre, and the cotton fields were a rich burgundy dotted with white. Without even really looking for somewhere to eat, I ran across a place called FatBaby's Country Cooking at the intersection of two minor highways, surrounded on all sides by fields. I decided to stop for brunch and was glad I did. It was an old-school country restaurant where people stop to read the paper and chat and ask after each other's relatives. It was like going back in time, and even the prices seemed to have let inflation pass on by. The hot greasy food and the cup of decaf coffee were just the ticket for taking off the chill. As I approached more densely populated areas, the driving got less fun and the other drivers got crazier. One tried to pass me in a no-passing zone with an oncoming car and just barely made it; I was too busy slowing down and getting the hell out of the way to see just how they managed to get back in the lane. Ironically the speed limit dropped to 35mph a hundred yards later and then there was a red light, so I wound up right behind them. Later someone coming towards me crowded my lane while passing a bicycle in a no-passing zone, and someone else passed me on the right in the acceleration lane. I wish people weren't in such a damned hurry!

I stopped in Apex at a cute little combination outdoor outfitter and skateboard shop, and picked up an ultralight kettle to take camping next week. I'll be on a kayak so I need compact gear, and I'm planning on trying a soup-driven diet that I can cook in a kettle. The home stretch on 55 was boring and stressful, and by the time I got to Durham I was more than ready to be off the road. I unloaded my gear into my storage unit and went to string up my hammock in Central Park for a nap. My sleep was somewhat disturbed by the trash-talk of teenage skaters and the chattering of young moms, but the air was crisp and the yellow leaves lit up against the blue sky were nice to look at.

Once I felt like I could handle another few miles, I headed over to check in at the hotel I'd booked for three nights. It was an Extended Stay America, which if you're not familiar is a low-cost hotel geared toward long-term stays. One thing I like about them is they're very cooking-friendly, with a fridge, range, microwave, kitchen sink, and cabinets. Of course being so cheap, most things are in a barely-working state. The bathroom looked like someone had gone apeshit in there and ripped out all the fixtures, which had then been halfheartedly repaired. The light switches were all fiddly, the shower valve was stuck in the up position, and the temperature indicator was mounted upside down. But it was still luxurious when compared to camping, except for the fact that the room smelled like cigarette smoke and there was no fan to pull in fresh air from outdoors.

One big upside was being within walking distance of Li Ming's, my favorite grocery store. I walked over there for their cafeteria-style dinner, and then spent some time browsing the aisles, in the end only picking up some green tea and muscadine grapes. Outside, the sun was setting and I saw a cute young couple who'd been shopping come out and get on matching motorcycles, which made me smile. Back at the hotel I spent some time reading in the open doorway for the fresh air. You meet many kinds of people at these hotels, all friendly in my experience and more open to connection than at the more expensive places. But it's also hard not to see how regulation and modernization have knocked off the bottom rungs of the housing ladder. If you don't have family support, this is pretty much the last step down before sleeping in your car, wide open to being harassed in most places, and from there the next step down is total homelessness. Then to climb back up the ladder you need such a big boost to get to the first rung. There was a time when legal flophouses provided that easy first step, a place you could stay on a day laborer's wage and still manage to save something. The closest thing we have now is homeless shelters, but because they're charitable enterprises and cost money to run rather than turning a profit, there's a shortage of them. Anyhow, hotel rooms often leave me feeling something between ennui and despair, and thoughts like these didn't help. In the bed I felt itchy and anxious that I might catch scabies again, but I'm pretty sure it was imaginary. After a night of indifferent sleep I got up early and headed downtown.

I set up to work in the farmers market pavilion, which I've recently discovered has functioning electrical outlets all over the place, so I didn't need to drain my batteries. There were some homeless guys in one corner also taking advantage of the outlets to charge their phones. After a while, a guy drove his Prius into the pavilion, popped the hatchback, and set up a big speaker. Soon a younger man arrived and they started having a dance lesson. I enjoyed watching them as I worked, and it slowly dawned on me that they were both b-boys that I used to dance with years ago when I was into breaking, but I hadn't recognized them right off because of the masks. I wasn't feeling sociable enough to say hi, and eventually they finished up and left. Very soon after, a young woman drove in, rolled out her yoga mat, and started doing some kind of lesson on her phone. In the park across the street, a couple was doing a crossfit routine, sharing a set of dumbbells. All this was getting me inspired, and reminding me that the pavilion used to be one of my favorite places for dance practice, being wide open yet shady and with nice smooth concrete floors.

When it was time to break for lunch, I went to my storage unit to change and pick up headphones. How luxurious to have options about what to wear! Back at the pavilion I did some dancing to Maître Gims and MC Solaar, practiced walking on my hands a bit, and tried to incorporate my embodiment practices, which all felt really good. I realized that I hadn't done this since all the way back in March! When I got tired, I started to meander over towards the lawyers office to sign the closing paperwork for the sale of the house. On the way I visited my old barber to explain my disappearance, and peeked in the window of my old design firm's office, which has been vacant for years. The closing was pretty simple, just me and the lawyer sliding paperwork under a glass partition in the middle of the conference table. Afterwards I felt a melancholy that had been slowly building up. Durham feels so layered with past lives; I've been in and out of it for 22 years now, and so much has gone away or changed.

I walked over to American Tobacco to clear my head, and saw that they'd completely drained the water feature. I found a quiet spot under fragrant osmanthus bushes and did some emotional work. Then I headed back to my storage unit to start on Kiddo's 5,000 mile maintenance. When I'd wheeled the tub with all my automotive tools and supplies down to the parking lot, I discovered to my dismay that a jug of distilled water had sprung a leak inside. There was mildew, blooms of white fungus, and an unidentifiable snot-like substance swimming in the bottom of the tub. So I had to take care of that before I could do anything else... good frustration practice! Once I got started it wasn't as difficult as I'd feared, and the only thing lost was a gross towel and some cheap mechanic's gloves that were too moldy to wear. I completed the most important maintenance tasks, ate dinner, and looked at an outdoor photography exhibit that shows up every year on a temporary chain link fence. I feel like this year's show is better than last year's, more emotional where last year's was more political or conceptual, and several of the submissions were quite moving for me.

Friday morning was rainy. I'd forgotten to bring any rain gear to the hotel room, and besides I didn't feel much like going out, being cranky and a bit sore from walking on my hands the day before. So I worked in the doorway for the morning, then went to Li Ming's for lunch and picked up a cheap mug to make hot beverages in. By the time I left, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out, but a cup of hot ginger tea was nice to have anyway. Later, while I was getting some air out on the walkway, I saw three Latino guys looking under the hood of a car in the parking lot below. One of them asked me if I could give them a jump. I said I only had a motorcycle, but was willing to give it a try. I had no idea whether it would work, but I couldn't think how it could do any harm other than draining my battery, and unlike them I had a kickstarter to deal with that situation. They were game as well, so I pulled Kiddo around the back of the car, unscrewed the electrical box cover, and figured out how to hook up the cables. I hit the throttle and amazingly the car started right away! They were very grateful and offered me money, which I turned down, then beer, which I also turned down. While I was putting the cover back on, they asked a bunch of questions about the bike, where I'd traveled, and where I planned to travel. It always feels good to give someone a jump start, and now I know it's something I can do if I ever run across a stranded motorist. The day ended on a high note with a walk in Forest Hills and then a delicious dinner with M&J and G&L out on the screen porch.

Wow what a packed week! I expect the upcoming one to be a little more placid. The plan is to camp at Raven Rock State Park with my new inflatable kayak and watch the leaves turn.

Things I Learned

  • Luggage expands even if you don't add any extra stuff. Like the universe as a whole I guess.
  • There's a really amazing new mural in Durham on the side of 313 Foster St. It's just white paint on bricks but it's my new favorite. It depicts local history in a style that's somewhere between Rajasthani block printing and ancient petroglyphs. Well worth a look if you're in town.
  • Outdoor clothing companies are starting to make camo for crunchy people now, although they're easing into it cautiously with maple leaf patterns and an aqua/brown color scheme. It makes total sense to me because camo is a nature-inspired print, which hippies would be all over if it weren't for all the cultural baggage associating it with violence.

Wonderful Things

  • Sun-warmed air blowing out of a pine forest in the cool evening, scented with jasmine.
  • Dry leaves blowing across the road in a shady vine-draped hollow.
  • A jazz saxophonist rocking out at a picnic table.