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.

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