Friday, December 15, 2017

Minneapolis, MN: Changes


If you donated for postcards and you want your money back, just tell me and I'll make it happen, no questions asked:

However, for those of you who are on the once-every-three-months-plan, you will be getting one more from Minneapolis, and one more from Istanbul. So, don't think I'm done sending postcards just because I'm not pedaling right now. They just won't be bought from a bike, sent from a bike (unless I continue to India from Istanbul). Actually, they probably will be since I don't own a car... it just won't be a fully loaded touring bike.

For those of you on the once-a-month plan, I will be sending you a personal e-mail, since you probably don't want the rest of your postcards (minus one from Istanbul, possibly two if I visit a friend in China) to come from Minneapolis.

Keep Living Vicariously

If you're all like, “but Kyle, how will I vicariously live the life of a cycle tourist if you're not cycle touring right now?!?” then... you might check out some of these other cycle tourists, many of whom I find to be exceptional writers as well:
- Chris Poutney and Dea Jacobsen, who are circumnavigating the globe by bicycle, foot, and boat only – no planes or wheeled motor vehicles (until they make it around and then I think they plan to fly to some places they missed). They are funny, humble, and thoughtful, and their blog is exceptionally well written.
- Tegan Phillips doesn't so much blog as make cartoons about her tour, which is what makes her such a unique blogger to follow. I'm not sure if she's touring at the moment, but you can see her tour cartoons under “archive,” and her recent ones still make me laugh.

- Megan Jamer, who cycles mainly throughout Africa and Asia. Her posts are heavy – both in subject matter and lingo – and thoughtful.
- There's always Jacob Ashton, who I rode with from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Nairobi, Kenya. He's going around the world, but he's... weaving... a lot. As in, right now he's doing Africa north to south, and then he'll do it south to north. Worth reading if you want a reminder of just how much there is to see in the world.


On April 4th, 2017, before I left for this trip, I made a post documenting my goals. They were as follows:
  1. Meet people.
  2. Propagate humanity through music, dance, and storytelling.
  3. Learn and grow. Explore the unknown.
  4. Have fun.
  5. Don't die.
I'm pretty sure I did all those things. Goals accomplished? Goals accomplished.

(I could write an essay about how exactly I did all of those things, but why make it complicated? If you've been following along, you know it's true)

Things I Miss
  1. The thing I miss the most, by far, is the people. The people who approach you on a bicycle and welcome you into their lives and homes are generally exceptional people. I miss meeting new, exceptional people on a regular basis – once a week, at the least. I miss always having new people to exchange stories with and share my life with, if only for a brief moment in time. I could type I miss this one hundred times and it would not be enough. Maybe I'll expand this into an essay of its own.

  2. Perpetuity. This actually made me think about applying to my old job again. I was reminiscing about mornings: getting up early to go in or maybe sleeping in late because I can, sitting at my desk, looking at my calendar, deciding how to spend the wee hours... I miss having the sense that I have somewhere to be and yet the freedom to choose how to be there. Not all the time, of course – even at work there were weekends, the desire to just go for a walk or visit a coworker, to leisurely cycle in instead of taking the bus. But those moments were made more valuable because of their rarity.

    When cycle touring, I would sleep in sometimes if I found a good spot to stealth camp or maybe ask to stay an extra day with a generous host. But having the pressure, however slight, to always be somewhere, to always have something to do, somewhere to go... it was nice to be driven, and it made silence and stopping more valuable. Now, there's no pressure to get up in the morning. There are no due dates, no tent to take down so I don't get arrested for sleeping where I'm not supposed to. Now silence and stopping just seem like synonyms for lazy, and there's no pressure to do anything.

  3. Along with the perpetuity of responsibility has vanished a constant sense of accomplishment. Now it's like.... “what have I done today?” Even when I had a job, it was often all-too-easy to forget the day-to-day accomplishments. There were so many one-minute e-mails and quick phone calls and meetings where you were there “just in case.” If you want to know what you did each day when cycle touring, though, you just have to look at a map...

  4. Motion. If you ever ran into someone you didn't trust, if you ever got a flat tire or had a mechanical problem with your bike, if you ever ran out of food or water, you knew that it would change... soon. The beauty of cycle touring is that it's always changing: you're always seeing something new and you're always letting go of the past. You'll soon be out of reach of that person who talks too much, your tube will soon be fixed, you'll soon have a place to sleep... none of that is guaranteed, of course, but somehow it always worked out that way.

  5. Faith in the unknown. Like I said, things usually work out on tour... maybe they usually work out in real life, too, but it feels like there's a lot more resistance. When cycle touring, the only resistance is the literal resistance between you and the road. It's so much easier to let go of worrying because good things – or at the least, interesting things – are constantly happening. But in the endless, daily doldrums of “regular life” – answering pointless e-mails, watching sensationalized TV (I haven't had the TV on at all but I've seen TVs in the airport, etc.), getting ghosted all the time, dealing with naysayers and rule sticklers that you can't just bike away from – it's no wonder people think the world is getting worse (it's not, depending on your definition of “worse”). How many of the jobs I apply for will even bother with a "No?"

  6. I miss not having to worry about politics. NET NEUTRALITY IS GONE WHAT THE F *cut scene*

    Okay, Congress still has to do its thing, so hopefully, they'll make the right choice... but a lot of not-right choices were apparently made when I was gone so I'm not crossing my fingers.

  7. I miss my ukulele. An easy pick-up instrument I could sing to. You can sing with an accordion, but then you're doing three instruments instead of two (let's be real, the bass side is another instrument from the treble side). It's also hard to get a lot of air in your chest with 20 pounds strapped on.

Things I Don't Miss
  1. Exercise withdrawal. This is something I experienced at the Color Farm in Ukraine when I went from pedaling 50-80 miles a day to comparatively exercising not-at-all, and I'm experiencing it now. There's not a lot of research around it because the symptoms have only been documented in professional athletes who suddenly stop, which is usually only due to serious injury, so it's a niche market. The most potent symptoms are insomnia, fatigue, immunodeficiency, depression, and weight gain.

    For the first three nights and days in Ukraine I couldn't sleep at night and slept all through the day. When I did get up, I felt asleep. I also got sick. Being with Marina and Maxym helped nullify the depression because they are amazing people. And I have kick-ass metabolism so I didn't gain that much weight, if any at all. I got through it in about a week.

    Now, I've been taking B12 which has helped with insomnia and fatigue, though I still need a good nap in the early afternoon even if I sleep through the night. Being in an environment I'm used to with food I'm used to has probably kept me from getting sick. And the depression... more on that in a bit.

  2. People who are stuck in their ways. I didn't actually think this would be a problem but... it is. It's not the people I'm close to like my best friend or my mom, it's trying to meet other people and just seeing them go about the same routine every day, stuck in the predefined college-job-marriage-house-kids path. There's nothing wrong with that path, but it feels like the people you meet while traveling – or perhaps just when outside the US – are living so purposefully, and to suddenly be surrounded by the rule- and routine- and societal-pressure-followers is a bit of a slap in the face.

    Someone actually called me pretentious because I suggested it was possible for them to quit their job, sell their car, and travel. I didn't say it was easy – mentally or logistically – I just said it was possible...

  3. I don't miss not having time to create. On a bike, you are either pedaling or looking for food or a place to sleep or eating or sleeping. At least, that was the style of my tour. In retrospect, I could have done it differently, and if I ever do a tour not on a schedule again (Istanbul to Delhi would kind of be on a schedule since I have graduate school in August) I would definitely go slower and take more time to be creative and get to know places.

    Whatever the case though, I now have most of the day to build websites, do design work, practice accordion, read, and write... which is good because there's a lot of pent-up ideas that I didn't get out during the tour.

Things I Didn't Miss That I Actually Kind of Forgot About
  1. I forgot what it was like to wonder how to be happy. I wouldn't say I was happy all the time on tour but I was occupied enough not to wonder why I wasn't happy. And now it's like... I check my e-mail and Facebook over and over again expecting a panacea to arrive, but it doesn't. I look at my wishlist on Amazon and wonder if I'll feel better if I buy something from it. I know happiness is something that comes from within, when you least expect it, when you aren't looking for it, but I can't help but feel, suddenly, that something is missing from my life.

    I think it's regular, authentic, human connection, which the US is notoriously bad at... (exhibit A: everybody else checking e-mail and Facebook over and over again instead of actually going outside). I could write a rant here about how we self-segregate and how it's harder to truly connect with people now than it was 30 years ago, but that is an article in and of itself.

  2. Anxiety and depression. Since getting back, I haven't had any anxiety attacks but I have had brief periods of extreme anxiety (maybe you could call them mild anxiety attacks). There's all these rules people expect me to follow now which basically amount to being “normal.” It's back to the hidden expectations that nobody says but that everybody judges you for, like that wearing a fedora automatically means you're a terrible person. Everybody knows that, right? Oh, and don't express yourself because you might offend someone... suddenly I have to answer to other people all the time and other people aren't very forgiving – they expect you to live like they do, and to always make them feel good about themselves (no negative feedback!), and they outcast you if you don't.

  3. Self-expression and straightforwardness aren't exactly valued. People often tell you they are valued because they want to make you feel good about yourself, but when you actually do those things, they often get offended and become passive-aggressive. I can't be myself as confidently anymore. I forgot what that was like, and I don't miss it.

    I didn't have any symptoms of depression until a few days ago... and then it hit me in the face like a frying pan. I'm back to my old theory of it (my depression specifically – everyone's is different) having two causes:
    - Purposelessness. I've been enjoying design work I've been doing but my life hasn't impacted anyone else's. On tour, I was regularly meeting people and feeling like I made a difference in their lives, even if it was only eliciting a smile, or telling them a story, or being a good listener, or getting them to think outside the box. It was definitely fulfilling my purpose of making the world a better place. Now... let's just say I need a job, or to volunteer, or to do something besides making things that nobody uses (yet, presumably).
    - Feeling stuck in a backward society and helpless to change it. Looking around me and seeing people check social media to try and be happy, or work jobs they hate to buy stuff they don't need to impress people they don't like, or care more about money than humanity. I'm no longer barraged with compassionate people who live mindful, interesting, purposeful, challenging lives.
    Those people are around, maybe even in the same percentage as before, but I'm not meeting them regularly. I've lost my tool, my lens for finding them: my fully loaded touring bicycle. I want to – I need to – be surrounded by those people, and it's something I think I can do, but it's obviously going to take time. And until that happens, it's just like... I'm a drop of rain stuck behind a dam of thousand rocks saying “you really shouldn't be a drop of rain,” looking for my river.

This is why once you’ve traveled for the first time all you want to do is leave again. They call it the travel bug, but really it’s the effort to return to a place where you are surrounded by people who speak the same language as you. Not English or Spanish or Mandarin or Portuguese, but that language where others know what it’s like to leave, change, grow, experience, learn, then go home again and feel more lost in your hometown then you did in the most foreign place you visited.


Partway through the tour – in Ukraine, to be exact – I made a list of things I'd like to change when I got back home (the list is here, scroll down to “To Do”).

How are those things going? Let's be fair, I've only been back a week, and I'm not living any semblance of a “normal life...” but these are still on my mind. And I'm sure there's something about our psychology that means the sooner we start them the more likely they are to stick.
- Fewer video games: Haven't played any video games at all. Hooray!
- Rollerblading: It's below freezing outside and there's snow on the ground. This will have to wait until spring.
- Exercising every day until I break a sweat: No excuses here. Okay, reasons – like that it's cold and that until I finish unpacking I won't have room to set up my trainer – but in reality I know I could get over those if I was really motivated to do so.
- Eating more vegetables: Last time I went to the grocery store I came home with ten pounds of squash. Enough said.
- Writing more: More than I did before I left? Yes. About the same as when I was on tour. Which was, approximately, the goal. So, now to keep it up...
- Reading more: My local library had a book sale for $5 per bag of books. I didn't get a bag because I only wanted to get books I would read, but I have a pile of books on my dresser. I haven't picked them up yet, but I have come close... and I've been doing design work instead of video games, so that's kind of the same idea, right?
- More of the same: The idea here was that there were things I liked about my life in Madison – going to trivia, going out dancing, biking everywhere, spending time with friends. I'm not in Madison, so I'm not sure how fair it is to evaluate this one, but I have seen friends in Minneapolis and I have been biking to and from get-togethers and chores. Good enough for now, I think.
- Spending more time with people I love: This one is hard to measure, but I have been spending time with people I love.
- Finding more people I love: I've been trying this one through online dating (both for friends and potential others), but I think it's probably too soon – I'm not really settled yet. I've considered messaging people on Warmshowers to see if they want to be friends, since I imagine I'd get along well with most of them, but I haven't done this yet. Something that will happen with time, but at least I'm trying through one medium.

- - -

I have one more idea for a post and then... we'll see. I'll probably have things to say between now and Istanbul, but I don't want to promise anything. For now, I'm off to build a website...

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Nairobi, Kenya to Minneapolis, MN: Withdrawal, and then, Not

So it was that I found myself on the property of a mission in Kenya on a Sunday, sleeping in because I don't think I'd done that since leaving Addis Ababa a month ago. Life was starting to get a bit more leisurely, but I wasn't free of responsibility just yet.

On Monday, Jacob and I had to go to Immigration to get our visas. There hadn't been a border post in Todonyang, where we crossed over from Omorate, Ethiopia – just a very friendly police post that said we should get our visas when we could, and a Catholic mission I had mixed feelings about because well... that's another story. We'd tried in Eldoret a few days before, but the office there had been closed for the Presidential inauguration. And then we'd tried on Saturday in Nairobi, but Immigration had been closed because well... it was Saturday.

Much as we love our bikes, we did not want to bike 20 miles one way into Nairobi just to get a stamp in our passports. Fortunately, the mission had planned a shopping trip into town, and there was room for us on the bus. This required attending chapel at 8 in order to get on the bus at 9, which I had mixed feelings about, but I felt it would be respectful to attend since the mission was, after all, doing us a favor.

An hour bus ride into town and we were off with one of the mission leaders, Jackton, through the east side of Nairobi and to the west side. While walking, Jackton made a few jokes about how segregated the eastern and western parts of town were (“The mzungu here are so Westernized, they can't help but live on the west side of town! Get it...!?!”), and well... there was definitely a moment when everything changed. Cross a few streets, and the buildings became nicer, the sidewalks paved instead of dirt, the trash cans had sorting bins for recycling, the cars were nice, and everybody was dressed business casual instead of... just casual. People spoke on smartphones instead of satellite or dumb phones. It was night and day.

Immigration was fairly simple compared to how bad government office workings can be, I was told, but I haven't had too many horror experiences to compare to. We talked to 5 people, had to make photocopies of a form they only had one copy of, paid $50 each (actually, 5300 KSH, a little over $50. They wanted USD, but I had accidentally withdrawn $300 instead of $30 at the last ATM, so I was trying to get rid of it), and got our visas and entry stamps. All in all, it took a little less than an hour.

Then we were off for lunch – Jacob and I were craving pizza again, and there was a Domino's just a few blocks from Immigration. It was clean and spacious, the walls were plastered with finely fonted yet subtly colored advertising lingo and silhouettes of ingredients, and there was a TV telling you the status of your order (or, I suspected, counting down a timer that started when you placed your order – not telling you the actual status). Jackton was baffled: “I didn't know that places like this existed,” he said. We told him yes, most restaurants in the US were like that... but they were also just as expensive. This was a special treat. For guiding us to and from Immigration that day I gladly split my pizza with him. We also ended up passing a good looking cake place where a huge slice of cake was only $2. When we stopped at the grocery store, I bought him some chocolate. I guess I was feeling really grateful... my excitement about almost being home probably had something to do with it, and knowing I wasn't going to get pulled off the plane for not having an entry stamp was exciting, too.

On the way back to the bus we went through a part of town where “everything was made.” There seemed to be areas for every craft – a few blocks of metalworking where the sound of hammers filled your ears, workers filling every nook and cranny banging on everything from cooking pots to car frames; blocks of carpentry shops lined with half-finished couches and bed frames; then, the whirring of sewing machines and industrial sergers became almost overwhelming as the floor changed from rock and dirt and and exposed sewage to a three-inch thick coat of denim scraps, black from dirt and years of being walked on. We frequently had to stop in the narrow walkway to let by stacks of clothes, or cloth, or parts of a bed frame, or to wait to go around one of many food vendors stocking just three cobs of corn on their makeshift grill. Every now and then, a seemingly random pool or fusball table would appear. It was one of the most interesting and surreal places I'd ever walked through.

We made it back to the bus, and after being stuck in traffic and sun for an hour, made it back to the mission after another hour of driving. Jacob and I returned to the 2nd floor of the water tower we'd been offered, both wiped from walking around all day, and watched Logan. I was pleasantly surprised. Definitely worth a watch, even if you're not an X-men fan. There is some violence but the story and character development is very poignant.

Since we didn't want to cuddle under one mosquito net, I got about 15 new mosquito bites, but we were told the malaria parasite couldn't survive in mosquitoes at Nairobi's altitude so... my fingers were crossed. I still planned to take home some malaria medication, since it cost $4 there and getting hospitalized in the US would probably be upwards of $2000, or $8000 if I stayed overnight. I wondered: if I lost my meds on the plane, could I order more on Amazon? It's too bad the US cares more about making money than having affordable healthcare.

The next day – my last in Kenya, for the time being – I knocked out the entire box of cereal I'd bought the day before for breakfast, and again, we'd been asked to attend chapel to say a few words about our trip. Charles, preaching that day, also spun our trips as demonstrations of what it means to be a man – the guys at the mission were about to read the book Wild at Heart, and the girls Captivating, as models for each of their genders. I don't feel it's my place to comment on gender norms here, but I was happy to talk about the trip as a thank-you for letting us stay at the mission.

After chapel Jacob and I went to Charles and Darlene's to work on our bikes: me, to pack mine for the flight, and Jacob, to fix his flats and change his chain so as to not wear down the cogs too much. Darlene ended up cooking lunch for us, which was very welcome. I easily fit the bike into the box I'd gotten at the bike shop on Saturday, and Charles gave me a suitcase for everything else, for which I was most grateful. Afterwards, I went back to the tower to shower and finish packing, and Jacob went to one of the mission's skills buildings to get one of his bags serged – he'd been fixing it often, sometimes daily, since leaving Addis, and was grateful that I knew he needed to get it serged instead of just sewn. He'd made it himself before reaching Addis but hadn't known about serging, so the seams had been constantly fraying.

At 5 we returned to Charles and Darlene's where the cab Jackton had called me was already waiting and already had my bike in the back. Jacob and I said goodbye -- hopefully not for the last time -- I thanked Charles for everything, and then I was really on my way home. The cab driver was stellar, except that when he quoted 2500 KSH and I said “yes” he thought that's because 2500 was too low and tried to up-sell me. Can't the price just be the price? Not being on guard about prices: something I looked forward to back in the US.

I ended up paying him 2600 and a porter 200 to carry my bike to security, so the trip to the airport came out to 2800, about $28. The airline representative had never checked a bike before, so after waiting 20 minutes, calling the manager, checking the computer multiple times, and finally, calling Shanghai, where apparently the airline's headquarters was (German airline...), they checked the bike. On the phone with Shanghai, she rang a charge but never asked me for payment and I never mentioned it so... free checked bike! The website said it would be $150. Don't ask, don't tell...

Having time to kill and only my carry-on, I decided to go back out of security to the coffee shop in the next terminal. That ended up being a good choice – it was American fare at Kenyan prices, and since the tables were full, I was joined by a delightful group of people traveling back to the US as well. We had a great dinner together – I got a blue cheese burger with fries, a mocha, and a surprisingly good 6” apple pie, all for $15 – and then I stopped at the gift shop to buy postcards. They were an outrageous $3 each, so I opted not to get the 15 I was supposed to send from Nairobi – just two, for a host and a donor who I know will really appreciate them.

Still with time to kill, I went back through security, changed my remaining KSH to USD, and wandered all the stores, looking for cheap postcards or that perfect souvenir... I discovered Masai belts, which I had seen before, but not up close. The prices made me wish I'd paid more attention out in the real world: in the airport, they were anywhere from $50 to $130. Later, at home, I'd end up buying one I really liked on Etsy for about $40. But, it's truly my style – $40 for something awesome from Kenya that I'll wear often and possibly for the rest of my life is worth it to me.

My flight departed at 11 PM and they served an excellent dinner shortly after takeoff. The choices were chicken or beef, so I was skeptical, but it was actually the best beef I'd had since getting to Africa. Airline food can be good – who knew? (Thanks, Lufthansa). I stayed up as late as I could to start fighting the jetlag, including watching Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I had no idea what to expect since the trailer had no hint of a plot, but I found it to be quite enjoyable, even if part of it felt like the typical guy-needs-to-win-girl that's abused in every movie ever made ever. But it does pass the Bechdel test, if only just, and the female lead has a personality, so props there. A Bailey's on the rocks, and I was out (International flights: free movies and alcohol! At least until capitalism ruins that, too).

The airport in Germany was very... German. Security personnel and all the clerks were subtly rigid – that's the best way I can describe it. We had to have a mini interview about where we were coming from and if anyone put anything in our bags – “Just see my associate. It's no big deal,” said the clerk. The flight to Chicago was a United flight, and I immediately began questioning my return to the US when the flight attendant started BS'ing someone on why they couldn't move up one seat. Apparently, it would upset the weight distribution of the plane – a huge 3-4-3 seater. The flight attendant begrudgingly got out her touchpad and informed him it would be $139 to put the change through. He declined. And the food... it wasn't Lufthansa food.

Back to the US... the land of BS: caring more about rules and profit than happy customers.

In Chicago, I visited a sushi restaurant I like to visit on my way home from international flights. It was more expensive and not as good as I remember, and the waiter was very nervous about upsetting me, even though I was wearing a t-shirt and a fleece. I told him to relax and tipped him 50%, which didn't even begin to cover the tips I didn't give overseas (they don't tip much in restaurants outside the US, they just “believe in paying a living wage,” I'd been told over and over. Yes, back in the US, where wages are low, but CEOs live in castles...). The people-watching was sub-par – interesting as patrons sat, absorbed their surroundings, and interacted with the waitstaff, but once they ordered, they became just a bunch of individuals spaced one seat apart all staring at their phones. Welcome home.

Wanting to fight the jetlag, I walked by 3 Starbucks contemplating if I wanted to spend $6 on coffee. Two hours later, my eyes drooping at the past-midnight time in Kenya, I decided I did.

A lot of Americanisms were occurring to me at this time. The US is expensive – in just three hours I'd spent more than I'd spent in three days in Kenya. We pay our employees shit and our CEOs take home the difference (on average 312x more than their employees), and then we whine about taxing the rich because “they earned it.” How someone can work 312x harder than someone else, I don't know. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Everybody's afraid of offending each other, because if there's one place you can sue someone for upsetting you, or get fired for being honest, it's America. And the people here are so... Americanized. I can't describe it beyond that. Europe is more diverse, the clothes they wear aren't so branded, the language not so singular, the mindset not so “make money buy stuff,” the demeanor not so closed off and “let me just scroll through my news feed in peace.” In Europe people actually seem like individuals, not a nondescript blob of amoeba robots all sitting one seat apart, staring at their phones, drinking $6 lattes, trying to remember to smile.

I was definitely going through withdrawal.

Anyways, after a 1.5 hour flight to Minneapolis, I finally got to see my mom again for the first time in 8 months. Tears were shed. We loaded up my bike and went to Panera for that salad I'd been craving for weeks, driving through the snow and 15 F weather to get there. And then, we went home.

The past few days have been a bit of a blur. I still haven't unpacked – not that I need to since what you need to live on a bike and in a house are drastically different. So there's a small pile of stuff sitting in the living room that's everything I've needed for the past 8 months, and then there's my desk, among other things bigger than that pile, that I'm going to get out of storage tomorrow, because apparently, it will make my static life easier.

There's my mom's dog who always wants to play Bite the Head, every golden retriever's favorite game. There's my mom, of course, and her cooking, which I missed dearly. There's my oldest, bestest friend, Nic, who has had me laughing harder than I've laughed in a long time. There's thick, creamy yogurt, and ripe berries, and drip coffee, and OJ that's not watery. And there's blueberry pancakes.


There's YouTube, and fast internet, and touchscreen phones. I've already applied for a job, signed up for health insurance (sadly, even if I stay only three months in the US, it's arguably necessary to do this – if my appendix bursts and I'm not insured it could cost $25,000 or more. Bye-bye, grad school!) and am considering buying a fat bike for riding through the snow. I've also started a few design projects for myself and some friends.

It's been three days and life is already drifting back to the way it was. On the plane from Frankfurt and during my layover in O'Hare, I was worried I'd be stuck in withdrawal forever, wanting nothing more than to go back to Turkey to bike to India. Having been home a few days, I'm not worried anymore. That's still on my to-do list, and I still can't predict how I'll feel in three months, but for now, I'm glad to be home – to feel at home. I can live without the technology and the desk and maybe even the food, but seeing my mom, and her dog, and my oldest bestest friend has been priceless. Feeling like I have meaningful things to do, besides just riding and sleeping and trying not to get pissed when people ask me for money, has been priceless. And in the next month, I'll get to see many more friends and have many more adventures. If there's one thing this trip has taught me, it's that I can live without all the conveniences we have in America. I can definitely live without America. What truly makes me happy is creating beautiful things with, creating memories with, and spending time with the people I love.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Gilgil, Kenya to Nairobi, Kenya: Winding Down Now

Much to our surprise and delight, breakfast was included with the room in Gilgil. Much to our dismay, it was not a buffet. This is, of course, an understandable way for hotels to save money, especially when serving cycling tourists. We were served two cups of coffee or tea to order, a small omelet, two pieces of toast with jam (actual jam!), and a single piece of sausage. Jacob scarfed his down in just a few minutes; being I wasn't feeling sick (for once) I took just a little longer. Out of curiosity we asked for seconds and were told the price would be 450 KSH each – about $4.50 – which, even by American standards, is arguably bit much for packet coffee, toast, two eggs, and a single piece of sausage. The morning before we had both had 4 eggs, hot chocolate milk, and plenty of bread for 330 KSH combined – about $3. The contrast was ridiculous.

In any case, we continued on. That morning continued the zebra sightings that had begun the day before. We must have seen 50 by the end of the day, many quite close to the road, not even fenced in. We wondered how, or if, they were managed: were they wild? Raised for meat (a sad thought, but a definite possibility in Africa)? Who knows...

We stopped for lunch and were pleasantly surprised by the personality of the waitress. She was quite kind and bubbly, spoke very good English, and even seemed to understand it. She went through the menu with us, made some recommendations, and we only had to ask once when we wanted more. After we got our food she came and sat with us and told us about her life and how she wanted to move to America. We told her she could probably get a job as a waitress or help, but that she would probably have to pay for health insurance, so Europe might be better. There are many great things about America, but many not-so-great things... she seemed a little dismayed, but was still quite kind. It was a nice break from the usual dining experience we have: not really knowing what we're getting, not being able to communicate what we want or that we want more, not understanding why it costs what it costs...

After lunch I noticed my front tire was bulging out of the boot I'd put on a few weeks earlier, so I decided to put on my spare tire. Schwalbe will apparently send you a new tire if your sidewall goes, so that will hopefully be waiting for me in Minneapolis. But of course, who says the new tire won't have the same problem? Time will tell...

As I changed the tire, some kids stood by and watched. I've taken to just staring back at people. I can't really think of anything else to do, unless I have the energy to engage and talk to them -- which, given that hundreds of people try and get my attention a day, I usually don't. Suddenly one of about 11 walked by, tapped the tire I was working on as if he owned it ,and continued walking to the porch of the store next door. I looked up at him with a blank expression and shook my head. He smiled huge and raised his eyebrows incessantly, over and over again, nonstop. This is very common in Africa: though I think it's just how people say "hi," I can't see it any other way than a cocky fratboy trying to assert himself. I continued shaking my head with an empty expression, and he continued smiling and cocking his eyebrows like a broken robot.

Sometimes when people do this I just want to say, "Hey. Something's wrong with your face." But I don't. I just went back to working on the tire.

Just as I was finishing up, it started to rain. We made it to the next city, at the base of our climb out of the Rift Valley, and it started to pour. And so we climbed out of the Rift Valley, up a narrow, busy road, in the pouring rain. It was quite nice, actually. Rain, for whatever reason, makes it easier to focus – maybe because there is more to focus on. Up we went, being quite defensive so we didn't get run over by all the trucks and buses. The buses are the worst, by the way – they rarely give more than 2 feet, and some of their axles are misaligned, so they drive crooked. As they pass you, they get closer, and closer... (some of the trucks just cut you off).

After the climb the rain let up, and we made it into a small town that I'm not even sure I would call a town, it was more like a square. Around the outside were buildings, and around the inside were slum shacks. The only bar offered accommodation, 500 KSH (about $5) for a one bed room, but with enough space for two bikes and someone to sleep on the floor. The bathroom didn't have a door, but Jacob and I were well past that by now. For dinner we walked around the square and settled on a vendor selling sausage, potatoes, and ground beef samosas off his grill – we tried a bit at first, then brought more back to the room, then went out and got more, and some Kenya Cane (a hard liquor made, I guess, from sugar cane) to celebrate our last night cycle touring together.

All told, it was $3 of food, and $3.50 for a quarter of Kenya Cane. I had two bites of sausage, but decided it maybe wasn't the best idea to have more than that, so ate mostly samosas and potatoes. Jacob had a lot of sausage. It was very rich. He would pay for that over the next few days. Okay, we both would – we share bathrooms.

The room amenities - a bar of soap and some toilet paper.

Wait -- did I say "our last night cycle touring together?"

Indeed. It was one more day to Nairobi, and I'd decided I needed to return home. I used the SIM we shared to buy a plane ticket, making it official. If you've been reading along, you know I've been physically sick, and that has made me homesick. To be honest, though, I think it's been coming for a while, and the past few days had just been the impetus. When riding through Turkey, before I even left for Africa, I thought hard about going home – but Africa would be different, I told myself. Maybe I'd feel differently. Maybe I'd want to continue on. I should just try Africa for a bit.

I did. I'm glad I did. I enjoyed many things about Africa. But I've been away from home for almost 8 months now. I'm not able to enjoy cycle touring anymore because my head and heart are yearning so much for home.

I will make an official post when I get home about what's to happen with postcards. I plan to send a round from either Nairobi or Minneapolis, and then again from Istanbul in March. Yes, I will still visit Ogulcan in Istanbul in March, as planned. Whether I will continue the tour again from there to India, I cannot say. My gut is “no,” that I'm ready to be home for a long, long time. But maybe being home will inspire me to continue again. I just don't know right now. Whatever I do, I plan to continue to live out the ideals embodied in my “what” and “why --” in short, prioritizing experiences over possessions, choosing to spend money on travel instead of a car and a big screen TV. Those things have not changed.

In any case, the next morning we got up and continued to Nairobi. I got a flat tire – a nail – a grand send-off for my last day of riding, but that being the only real tribulation (aside from biking through a dense, hilly city), we eventually made to the Yaya mall, where the only “modern” bike shop in Nairobi was. Jacob's pedals were loose, after only 10,000 miles; his seatpost had broken a number of times in a number of places; he was out of spare tubes, and he wanted to see if they had tire sealant – which no doubt would have made the nail in my tire a non-event, not to mention the many thorns we'd had over the past few weeks.

Malls tend to cater to... people who don't want to eat ugali fry, shall we say, so we also found pizza and ice cream. It was glorious. So, so glorious.

We paid for it, of course – $10 per pizza and $5 for a bowl of ice cream – but it was worth it. My stomach was happy. Yes, I ate a whole pizza and my stomach was happy. Something familiar, it said.

Then we tried to visit immigration, but they were closed. “Come back on Monday,” they said. Just our luck – we had tried to visit immigration in Eldoret, a few days earlier, but they had also been closed. All we want to do is be legal tourists! And give them our money! Why do they make it so difficult!? (I hear being a legal visitor to the US is even more difficult. I'm sympathetic)

So, off we went, towards Jacob's friends just outside of town. Charles and Darlene run a boarding school to get kids off the streets. Talking to them about their mission and the effects they've seen has been immensely interesting – basically they take kids in around 13, many of whom have been involving in drugs and theft and just getting by day-to-day, and teach them English and math and skills for getting a job. By they time they are 18 they are ready to go out into the world, and many land stable jobs and are doing quite well. Their website is here if you want to learn more.

When we first arrived in their home we could smell chocolate cake. It was the best smell. After a shower and putting our laundry in a real laundry machine (!!!), we sat down, were passed a piece of warm cake and coffee, and told, “Welcome to civilization.”

It was a really, really happy moment.

After cake we were walked to where we'd be staying, in the second floor of the water tower on the boys' campus. We met some of the boys – all spoke good English (“except 'yes' in Swahili is a negative response to a negative question,” said Charles, “unlike in the US”) and they spoke loud enough we could hear them, not all that common in Africa. The water tower had two beds; running water, including a hot shower; and wifi. We could eat with the boys, we were told, or we could go back to Charles and Darlene's for tilapia and vegetables – which didn't mean “boiled kale.”

Heaven, again, awaited us. I don't think I'd ever been happier to see broccoli, or sweet peas, or carrots, or green beans. The tilapia was good too, of course, but... having been sick of boiled kale for two weeks, I hadn't had many vegetables.

We slept very, very well that night. And we slept in. For once I didn't feel like I had to get up to go somewhere: to get out of a hotel room by check-out or before breakfast stopped being served, to make a certain number of miles, to appease a host. For once I could just lie in bed in the morning and... not worry about anything.

Like whether breakfast will make me want to vomit.
I have come to appreciate so much the small things in life. Food my stomach doesn't want to vomit up. Vegetables. Freaking broccoli. Ice cream. Sleep -- in a bed, not behind a bar, without an alarm (of the sun, a schedule, or otherwise). Electricity. Running water. A toilet with a seat. A toilet that works. A bathroom with a door. Water that doesn't make you feel sick. Tap water that doesn't make you feel sick. The list goes on. Really, I should make an entire post about things I appreciate more now. I probably will. But I'm going to watch a movie... something else I missed being able to do.

Finally, I can rest.