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...

1 comment:

  1. Hey Kyle,

    I hope you keep writing whether you are at home or not.

    In regards to you feeling pressure to avoid saying *exactly* what is on your mind, back in the states: I am often struck by how people in different countries with very different belief systems and values to my own will still listen and entertain them, if only briefly, my opinions when I share them. Maybe because I am the 'traveller,' the 'other,' they do not feel any pressure to accept or deny my opinions, because soon I'll just leave them forever.

    Whereas when it's with people in your culture, they put more walls up, lash out because you are a more relatable figure, you're not an alien to them.

    Thank you for including my blog in your list, I will strive to post regularly!