Thursday, August 17, 2017

Munich, Germany: Musings from the Road

”Musings from the Road” is any post where the content is not constrained by chronology. This gives me more freedom to write about whatever comes to my mind, though the content will almost always be influenced by the tour in some way.

Beer In a Hurricane

One of my friends sent out an e-mail after Hurricane Sandy. There were a few motifs, but one was being aware that what makes other people happy might not make you happy:

If you see someone buying an xbox with their tax refund or saved tip money, after they've used food stamps for dinner, and that seems unreasonable, just remember I bought a roast and a case of beer during a hurricane.

Recently I had to buy another rear wheel. I was hoping to get something used for around $20-40, but in the end got a new wheel for about $100. I also got a new tire (since the old one had a hole in it from the old wheel exploding) and a new seat (since the old one had broken back in England), also both things I could have gotten used. In fact, I don't think I've ever owned a new bike seat before – except once when I bought a new bike, except that bike was an unsold model from 2 years ago, so it wasn't exactly new... and I ended up not using that seat anyways since bike seats are as personal as favorite coffee mugs.

In any case, someone had recently donated an amount that came to roughly the sum of these purchases with the note, “Life doesn't always come with tailwinds.” As I was riding my bike to the community bike shop to swap the cassette, my old wheel blew. BLEW. With a bang.

I had to walk the rest of the way (only 3 blocks, not bad). And I was like, “No life does effing not always come with tailwinds.” So while this person didn't specifically say, “Go buy yourself a new wheel,” it seemed fitting that the amount they donated was the same as the amount I spent and they had effectively saved me from being without a rear wheel. Yet I had it in the back of my mind that, I could have gotten a used wheel, a used tire, a used seat... those may not have lasted as long, but I would have saved money.

Ultimately, I'm okay with having bought new. I'm usually opposed to this – most of us don't really need new things (for instance, the cost-per-useful-mile of buying a used car is often immensely less than that of a new one, and don't even get me started on environmental impact)... but often, new items do last longer, and on tour, you want things to last as long as possible. Even if I quit in India next year, halfway around the world, that's still another 5000 miles. I hope this donor would be okay with that, but if not... maybe a new wheel is my beer-in-a-hurricane?

On a side note, I built the wheel that broke, and it lasted over 12,000 miles and failed because of wear, not construction. I never had to replace a spoke and it rarely needed truing. I'm pretty proud of that.

Compassion Under Pressure

A quote I try to live by is this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that” (Martin Luther King). I spend a lot of time thinking about this on tour. How can I show compassion to people who are less-than-polite? Most people are immensely kind, of course, but every now and then you meet someone who is just having a bad day, and I don't think being rude to them in return makes their day any better.

Back in the States I had a stay with a host and I kept moving the date around. First I'd overshot the date, then something went wrong. By the time I showed up I'd changed the date three times. Their review of me? “Kyle was very communicative about his arrival date.”

I was baffled. I was expecting, “Kyle kept moving the date around and it was really annoying.” And that would have been fair!

Once I was at a stoplight going straight, the light turned green for left turners, and somebody honked. I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before so I was a bit grumpy: I turned and made eye contact with the car behind me and said, “I'm going straight!” I assumed they were honking at me. The car next to them (in the left turn lane) said, “It's me, dude. I'm going straight from the left turn lane.”

“Oh,” I said. Then, “You can go in front of me if you want.”

I felt bad for getting grumpy for no reason. Yea, I was tired. But on a bike, getting grumpy at drivers is dangerous. More, it was just unnecessary. I want to be compassionate and patient even when tired – even when grumpy. Apparently, I have some work to do.

Caught Camping

I mentioned earlier that I was caught camping for the second time, but I never wrote about the first. Here it goes, then.

I had camped the previous night in a beautiful spot on an unused field (above), so I was feeling ambitious about finding yet another beautiful spot. I did, but there was a caveat: the only flat spots were either with a view of the ocean from my tent and a view of my tent from the road, or no views at all. Since England has hedge rows everywhere, the only way anyone would see me from the road would be if they walked by and turned and looked for me. I figured, what are the chances?

Well, it wasn't two hours later I was reading my book and heard footsteps. I looked up and the owner of the field was staring incredulously at me. He started to walk over but I, knowing it's always better to be proactive, stuck my head out of the tent and said hello.

”Were you planning to pay?” he said, still incredulous.

“How much would you like?” I said, completely honestly. I was (evidently) on his property, and I had my tent set up and was willing to pay not to have to take it down and move elsewhere. I would move, of course... I just didn't want to.

“There's a campsite down the road, it's quite cheap, really!”

Not wanting to argue with him about how that campsite was full of camper vans and being the only tent sucks because nobody realizes how noisy camper vans are when they are in one, I offered again: “How much would you like?”

“If you would've asked I would have said yes!”

“I didn't know who to ask,” I said, honestly. I wasn't even sure where he'd walked from, there were only barns nearby which had been empty when I'd come in.

“As long as you're gone in the morning, I'll let you stay,” he said, and stammered off.

I'll fully admit my ambition got the better of me here. I was happy to have gotten permission to stay there, but felt bad that I had made someone angry. It is never my intention to make people feel taken advantage of, and I hope that after he cooled off he thought maybe I needed a place to stay that wasn't covered in camper vans and he had done me a favor at no cost to him (he did). But ultimately I know stealth camping comes with a risk of being found. I should have gone with the spot that didn't have a view of the ocean and couldn't have been seen from the road; since I got caught, I just tried to be as humble as possible.

Shotgun Edition - Lots of anecdotes that don't fit anywhere else

1. In Europe, you now have to verify your ID to buy a SIM card, because terrorists have been using them as throwaway methods of communication. My current host gave me a SIM card he had lying around, but only after he was on the phone with someone using his camera to take pictures of my ID.

2. Switzerland is expensive. I tried to buy as little as possible there. They even use their own currency so it's hard to know how much you're spending. My current host has heard stories of people paying what ends up being $8 for a coffee. In Germany they call this being “Switzerlanded.”

I had to call my Swiss friends while I was there but I was still on my French SIM card. Not wanting to spend 1E/minute, I used a payphone. The display read 0.10E/minute.

A $51.50 charge has posted to my account.


(yes I am contesting it, the call was only 3 minutes!)

3. Are we obliged to gush about people who are kind to us? In the age of five-star reviews, more and more companies and people get angry or insistent if you don't tell them they are amazing. Why isn't a four-star experience acceptable? What if something was imperfect but I still had a great time? When I stay with hosts that are a little messy, or have a smelly refrigerator (pulling these examples out of thin air, by they way, they aren't actual feedbacks for anyone in particular), I don't really care – but someone else down the line might. Should I write an objective review? Is it possible to communicate I had a five star experience even if there was street noise all night? If the host explodes in rage that I didn't profusely congratulate them on their imminent perfection, does that say more about me or more about them?

For my two cents, honesty and humbleness are some of the most underrated and underused tools we have. Accepting criticism with grace and still knowing you're awesome, that it's okay to get 99/100 and that one or two pieces of negative feedback doesn't mean you're 0/100, is something we all should be working on.

4. This is my life now. It's finally settled in. I live without a static home, moving from place to place, sometimes meeting people and sometimes sleeping where I can. It no longer feels temporary, like something that will end any day now. It's just my lifestyle. There are ups and downs, like life. There are easy days and hard days.

This is my life.

Happiness: Tim Kreider Edition

I talk a lot about happiness and how it's not something you can chase or grow or produce. It's a byproduct, best enjoyed when it decides to show up and more likely to return the more gracefully you let it go. I love Tim Kreider as an author, and recently rediscovered an excerpt of his that I very much like on this subject. I thought I'd share it. The build up is about 2 pages, and it's all beautiful and I find it all to be true, but in order not to plagiarize I've selected only the conclusion.
Perhaps the reason we so often experience happiness only in hindsight, and that chasing it is such a fool’s errand, is that happiness isn’t a goal in itself but is only an aftereffect. It’s the consequence of having lived in the way that we’re supposed to – by which I don’t mean ethically correctly so much as just consciously, fully engaged in the business of living. In this respect it resembles averted vision, a phenomena familiar to backyard astronomers whereby, in order to pick out a very faint star, you have to let your gaze drift casually to the space just next to it; if you look directly at it, it vanishes. And it’s also true, come to think of it, that the only stars we ever see are not the “real” stars, those cataclysms taking place in the present, but always only the light of the untouchable past.

The book is called We Learn Nothing and I recommend it to everyone, if only for the occasional artistic bits about life's truths like the one above.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful musings. There's so much to be said for understanding others' points of views - one never really knows what they've dealt with or are dealing with that is the reason for their reaction, comments, position. I recently had the amazing opportunity to get to know a family whose son has cerebral palsy. They are an amazing family, model parents. It opened my eyes with regard to what they are dealing with (i.e., a handicapped accessible home is so much more than ramps and bars), how it changes you for the positive, and what we don't know about what others are dealing with. I keep learning that if one can attempt to understand others and make every interaction about me growing and them feeling good about themselves, I've left the world a better place. It touches my heart to see you doing that all around the world. Wonderful excerpt on happiness. I've printed it out and will read it often. Love you, Mom