Return to the present – Everyone should be an athlete – 5Boro bike tour

No, nobody that I know will ever likely be a professional athlete if you haven’t been one already, but we should all strive to be. And to clarify, I don’t know any teenagers or anyone in that age group when you could ultimately become a professional athlete. As I write that, my mind goes to the new kindergarden class of … 2017 or thereabouts—the newborn babies from this and the past few years that I am sure have livened up many lives of my friends and could ultimately achieve that goal. I am not talking about them either.

But I am talking about you and me. I am talking about each individual who has pushed it to the limit of his or her own ability. I am talking about a mental state. You fall into this focused state, where the world around you fades and your next move is clear, you count your breaths, you push and ultimately you win. It can also be in the face of danger. Looking down a steep slope, cliffs all around, knowing that if you make one mistake, you can loose much more then your pride. Or in a kayak on the open sea, feeling the wind and currents pulling you further and further from shore, knowing that every bit of energy needs to be focused and used to its fullest or you will never make it back to shore. This is what being an athlete is about to me.

The tired feeling when you are finally reaching your limit and you push through it. It may be snowboarding a 7-hour day non-stop, hiking for over 13-14 hours straight, or… biking up the Verrazano. Yeah, you know that feeling! When you can only focus on the exact next step, the next pedal, the next breath, the 10 feet in front of you and sometimes a fast movement in the background. That feeling when it is more animal then man, that feeling when your worries are gone, and so is the past, and the future. That feeling that is really a lack of any feeling outside adrenaline, that feeling that is NOW!

Then the day is over. You are finally within reach of a bed, a sleeping bag, a couch…. The tired feeling after a day that has exhausted you so much! Indeed so much that even hunger is not a good enough reason to get up, and soon you find yourself passed out on the couch for the next 12 hours. Sometimes I am so tired that I start to shiver, my hands getting so cold… And the only thing I can do is fall asleep as I bury myself deep underneath my covers (or in my sleeping bag depending on the case)!

In fact you don’t have to be an athlete. You don’t even have to focus on any physical activity. I tend to believe that the same can be achieved through meditation, or any kind of other brain stimulation that disengages you from your worries and focuses you on the present, may it be a specific math problem or a challenging day at work. My best days at work were those that I didn’t stop all day, and not because I was just “busy”, but because I was challenged by something new, something that required thought and patience and made the day go by. Yeah, like 1 percent of my days at work. But maybe a chess player would also experience this, and so would someone playing a musical instrument.

This is what we need to learn because we were never taught this in school. And even though you may not have that special skill, you can still push your own limits, whatever those may be. This is how we can cope with the stress of life. This is a way to disengage from the past, from the future, a way to be present in the NOW. This is crucial to dealing with problems that feel insurmountable, this is a coping tool for anyone dealing with depression, which we all probably have had to deal with at some point. I don’t think the issue is the feeling itself. It will happen at some point. But the issue is how you deal with it, how you can cope and if you have the knowledge and experience to deal with it. You may or may not… Asking for help is never easy but it is also crucial.

The other thought for the night was that I am so thankful. I am thankful that I made it home from my trip and all the adventures. I am thankful that I was able to ride in the NYC 5 Borough Bike Tour with such a crew of wonderful people, I am thankful that I was able to raise more than I had hoped for our charity – The Life Is Priceless Foundation – and our cause. I am thankful that it was an amazing day! I am always thankful.

But life is not that simple. I forget to be thankful most of the time. And it turns out that being thankful gives you peace. And peace brings with it better decisions, an openness to opportunities that you may have been blind to before, and in general it is a great state of mind to be in. So I am thankful. And being that my trip is over, I am still committed to finishing the rest of the blogs and completing the story, even though now it may be in the past tense.

St George, FL to Colorado Springs, CO

On the road again. I left St George and now I am in a race to make it to New Mexico. The days are blurry. It is all about driving, about getting there in the shortest amIMG_4404ount of time possible. My night in Pine Bluff was uneventful, except for an inedible meal from The Huddle House. Never heard of it, and never will again.

We leave early and are well on our way before our first stop. I kinda do that: Drive for 2 hours or so before stopping, for gas, drinks, food, whatever. I can say that until evening Interstate 40 had nothing to offer. But as the sun started setting, the sky was wide and dancing with colors. By evening I reached Amarillo. Asleep by 10, up by 6 again. A pretty sunrise and on the road again. What was left of Texas passes quickly. We get to the arid New Mexico landscape and the first mesas. I get to Santa Fe by noon and decide to have brunch there based on Shana’s advice…. Oh, we are not up to Shana yet. But for now, a name.

Santa Fe was charming. I walked around with Holly in tow and had to miss out on the restaurant I was hoping to IMG_4818go to, but we found something else, with a small courtyard and had some huevos rancheros. We also met the natives (Native Americans to be clear, “First Nation” in Canadian) selling their pottery, art and everything else. I walked into a few stores and thought the prices were exorbitant, we met a few dogs and then it was done. A couple of hours at most, not enough to discover everything, but it seems it’s all right within a 5 block radius.

We move on and after another short drive we get to Taos. Entering the motel, I only had one thought in mind: How much can I do in the few hours left of the day. I had heard about the Enchanted Drive. I asked the girl at the front desk and, as it is a loop, I asked her which way was best to start in case the end of the drive was in darkness. I wanted to actually see the best parts. She told me the high country was the best and which way I needed to head out. So, rushing, I leave the map she handed me in the room and instantly get lost. But getting lost has its place, and in getting lost I drive to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge which is a must-see. I also drive by the famous ecological buildings that are buried in the ground, a whole neighborhood of them at this point.

After that I realize how lost I am and turn around, disappointed I went an hour out of the way and not sure I can still do the drive. This is the moment where things can go one of two IMG_4862ways—disappointment or magic. But I find my way and decide that, despite my original assessment, I still try it. In retrospect, it turns out that the delay did two things: it allowed for most of the traffic to die out (and there is nothing like a twisty road in a BMW with no cars to worry about), and second, it made me catch a beautiful sunset as I was driving across the high country.

A life lesson is hidden everywhere if you pay attention. I mean, I was upset about how it was turning out, but it turns out it was clearly better off this way. Coming up and out of the canyon that I was driving through, the sky opened up and it was again dancing with colors and clouds and spectacular peaks all around me. As I turned down the canyon that would be my return route, the road started twisting again and I could again enjoy the manual transmission override and go. Adrenaline pumping, I arrive back at the motel and do a search for some food.

Summertime must be doggie heaven here, as most places will have a terrace and dogs are welcome. In the winter though, it isn’t. So I leave Holly behind and go to a cool place for tacos and some well deserved beer, “Il Camino” if memory serves me right (as it often does not). An early night, like every night. Morning comes and we pack it up and over to Taos—the ski resort. It was Holly’s first day in staying in the car for an extended  period by herself. The people I park next to have a dog as well, so I feel better. We are in the shade. The little details that I worry about. I know she’ll be fine, but you never know. According to rational thought, she can get warm with all the covers in the car, but she can’t cool off if she’s too hot. The snow is not all that great, but it’s a sunny day, a great warm up day and I still decide to hike some of the bowls, even with bare spots and thin cover, because hey, it’s my only day here. But it all ends soon, and back in the car we go. One thing about Taos is that it is beautiful scenery no matter what else happens. IMG_5020

And we drive. The vistas open up, mesas on both sides slowly grow into full fledged mountains, and we cross into Colorado with no civilization in sight and only a big C painted in white on the grass on the side of the hill adjacent to the road (and my GPS) as a sign that we are now in another state. A beautiful drive and soon enough we get to the main highway in Colorado and by evening I reach my friends in Colorado Springs.

Now friends… that is saying it lightly. The people I stayed with in Colorado are responsible for the turns of my fate. They’ve influenced my life already to its core. The reason I am here, in America, doing this trip, can rest squarely on their shoulders. But to be clear, I look at thisIMG_5032 as a positive. I mean I am here. Present. Now. Typing this. Who knows… what life would have been otherwise. But I am here. We, my mom and I, came to the States on a visitor visa granted on the basis of our sponsors at the time, Bob and Carolyn. Nothing else would have brought us here. That much is simple.

What is more complex is that I look at it as a positive because I am framing this in the context of this trip. But the trip is more then just me trying to get over the past. And the past could have easily been different. There are milliseconds that, in a different universe would have played out differently. But as it stands, it is done. So how can I stand here, still thankful to be alive, thankful to be here, thankful to have had the experiences I have had, thankful for the present moment? This is hard. But it is also so simple. Reduce the moment to NOW, to the present. I am here. NOW. That is life. This moment.

And from there everything changes. The past are lessons. The future unknown. When you tread through life as such, your perspective changes and your options are limitless. Nothing is that simple. It would be great to leave it at that. But there is no way I can say I am living without regrets. And I try as hard as I can to leave them behind, but they will follow me regardless. But I try to keep them at bay. At least they don’t constantly eat at me, even if they will be there forever. I AM THANKFUL FOR A WONDERFUL DAY! So, I am thankful. In a way, if you chose to, you could say that I have faith in God. I do, that I believe in fate. But to me it’s a little different. I am not going down this road now….

The tangent over and done with, we arrive in Colorado Springs. My friends, and really they are my mom’s friends before I could ever consider them mine, are also in the business of running a doggie daycare in addition to their own 7, yes, seven, poms (pomeranians) and 2 cats. We arrive to the sounds of a barking choir. Holly took the better of two seconds to feel right at home.  And with that… until the next chapter, we go to sleep.

Tampa and St George Island, Florida

And so we leave Miami behind. With all the good, and the amazing, and the posh. On to Tampa and to head west. Leaving Miami, I feel humbled and thankful. I am alive. I hit the highway across Florida (Alligator Alley?) and I soon understand why there are so many accidents on it. High winds, uneven pavement and a road that is straight as far as the eye can see. You can easily fall complacent and a gust of wind or the uneven road could put you in the next lane. Scary.

I have a run in with an amazing Cuban sandwich at some rest stop in the middle of nowhere. Just as amazing as was the breakfast for the day, also Cuban, at David’s Café. Cuban French Toast was my meal of choice, along with some cafe con leche. I had a long day of driving ahead, but I started out the day at The Standard Spa. The dog was allowed poolside and my host Kiro and I spent the morning talking of the past, but of our lessons learned. It was a wonderful day already by the time I left Miami. I felt accomplished and so the drive didn’t seem as bad.

Driving north on the Gulf Coast of Florida is different. I start to see sizable hills and evergreens, cattle country it seems. As I pass through Tampa, the GPS takes me off the highway due to heavy traffic and through the less affluent part of town. At a light a dude on a bike rolls slowly by, looks at me and says through the open car window: “Mo’ money, mo’ problems…” I couldn’t agree more.

Arriving in the Tampa suburb where my friends live, I am exhausted. I pull up and Holly is excited to hear the engine finally stop. Celeste is waiting and so are the kids. All waiting for… Holly. We eat and have an early night. Danny, Celeste’s husband, was home late and we didn’t get a chance to chat. Their home is gorgeous as well. But the morning brought with it another cafe con leche and a hearty breakfast. Danny smokes—finally someone I can enjoy a cig with and a good conversation over morning coffee, which stretched closer to noon. I found so many things in common with their views and I was so happy to see their kids, all grown up.

I also saw their son’s avocado tree… Seems he dreams of being an avocado! I loved it. I caught up on all the things a parent is going to share about their children—the proud moments, sometimes the failures, the lessons. And I learned that you can have everything and still remain thrifty and humble. Hard work has paid off for them but it has not made them any less humble.

I leave with a feeling of a roller coaster ride. They remind me most of my friend in Miami, Sebastian. And so it has been somewhat extreme to go between Marc, then Jodi, then Seba, then Jodi again, and now Celeste and Danny. But what I liked the most is that, as different as they all are, everyone has found their way to make things work, everyone knows how to enjoy life and how to maximize the positive and minimize the negative. But after this whirlwind drive, I am ready for some alone time. And it is now that time.

I leave, but not before I do they hand me a bag of goodies, which contains lots of delicious food to last me for days. It was a short stay, but amazingly it seemed like much longer. How funny, when you know you have a few days to reconnect sometimes you forget to say things and end up not really getting to the meat of things. When you have one night, maybe a morning, it seems much more important to get to the real things. And so with little time, it still seemed worth every second and I now feel that much closer to everyone.

I leave as a huge storm approaches. Looking at the radar map, I try to time my departure with the storm. I have to drive north first, and then southwest and the storm is coming through in a southeasterly direction. I should be able to drive around it. My theory proved right. I made it around it.

The driving changed as soon as I got off the main highway. Imagine: I am now surrounded by huge trees, but in a sandy setting. The sun is setting and I’m trying to make it to my campground. But as I drive, the storm still has something to say. Leftover downpours and gusts of wind make for an interesting drive. I finally hit the coast. All the houses are on stilts. As the last daylight fades, I drive over long causeways and finally find my way. I drive over the long bridge to St George Island. The park is closed by now, but I called ahead and the rangers gave me the passcode to the gate. It feels strange, but I pull up and hope it works. After two tries I get frustrated and worried, but it must have been me. On the third try it works and the gates open.IMG_4104

I drive 15 minutes on a deserted road into complete darkness. And then I get to the campground, pull up and the weather finally has its last words, the last gusts end, and now the wind is just a soft caress. I set up the tent and am happy that I have a sandy spot versus a more gravely one. All settled in, I decide that it’s about time for a walk on the beach. Still cloudy, but a full moon is peeking through some openings in the otherwise still stormy looking sky. Tomorrow should be a great day.

I sit on the beach, with Holly, pondering life. The waves are crashing a few feet away but I am nestled in the dunes. I doubt anyone will come to tell me that the dog is not allowed on the beach since I know the rangers left for the day.

I have been blessed on this trip. I think of where the storm will go, what waves will start and what shores will those waves hit. I always stand in awe of nature, of its beauty, of its power. After we call it a night, a roving band of raccoons realized Holly left some food in her bowl, which I had put right by the tent entrance. Made for an interesting night and some well fed ‘coons. I think that is when Holly finally started eating all her food again.

The morning was not the sunrise I had hoped for. The clouds were still lingering well into the late morning, so the clearing after the storm finally came around noon and we went for a hike for a couple of hours on the bay side. A park worker (not a ranger) finally saw us on our return and told us a ranger could give us a ticket. Regardless, we made it back without any incident. Upon my return I meet Bill (I think?), a man who volunteers with the parks along with his telescope. In the afternoon we looked at the sun through a filter and saw sunspots, and I was invited and did return at night to see Jupiter.
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My car was smoking so I decided to see if I could have it checked in town. Turns out one guy was telling me a week for an appointment and the other next morning. I made my way back to the campsite and we had a little time to relax, then as sunset was approaching we went for another walk to get a good vantage point. I have no idea why I was alone because there were plenty of RVs and travelers there. But it seems I’m the one person who likes sunrises and sunsets. In awe of the orange glow, a few minutes of meditation and yoga seemed prefect. As the sun was setting we returned to our campsite and I started the arduous effort of making a fire after the downpour the day before. I made a lot of smoke, and a little bit of fire. But in the end, after a few hours of this, I had enough coal to cook a can of Chef Boyardee or something, and boil some water for some tea. Along with some wine, it was a great day. IMG_4302

Loneliness hits, as it so often does, in those moments when you realize there should be someone next to you to share this with. But I did have this. At least I can say I did, some people may never have that chance. I have so many memories of wonderful places, wonderful sunsets, and even sunrises together with Danielle. So I will keep and cherish them. I guess now it’s time for new ones.IMG_4229

We leave bright and early the next morning… but not before getting the sunrise that went missing the day before. After a few short moments, the sun peeked from below the horizon. A little yoga on the beach, and we are off. The mechanic that I had talked to started working on another car since the delay made me late. Oh well… I didn’t feel very confident in him anyway. I continue on and once I hit Pensacola I find another shop on the side of the road. He can do it in half an hour. Perfect. I go grab a bite at a chain I already forget (maybe Captain D’s?) and back at the shop to then finally realize it was a European car shop and the oIMG_4397wner collected Porsches. Seems fate brought me to the right place. He took extra care and we talked for a while. Seems his sister committed suicide back home in California. Suffice to say, we bonded in the short time I was there.

The car feeling better, we go for the distance. I have to get to New Mexico, and nothing in-between is worth stopping for. A long drive ahead. I zoom through Mississippi and Arkansas. I get to my next stop around midnight.

Miami

So, Miami.

I left off the story with me arriving. First, why I made a detour here. I know what state of mind I was in prior to leaving. I was down. I was blind. Work, the daily trials of life, and a lack of purpose in life forced me to close my eyes. Being depressed is not fun. I guess I was. I thought I was getting physically sick. I felt it coming on—a pain in my belly, another in my throat, tingly hands, electric shocks all over the place. In deciding to do this trip, it was not only for discovery of self, but it was also to recover my physical self. My body was telling me I was not happy. It wasn’t just my mind. I felt that if I stayed, the symptoms I was feeling would actually materialize into some disease. Quantum physics, or just hippie talk? If you believe it, it will happen. If you believe you’re sick, it will happen. I had to break the chain. But there is more to it.

And this is where the positive comes in. I’ve been friends with Jodi for many years. She is a light that enters your being as soon as you meet her. She is a lightness of being that inspires, she is a soul that I can feel. But she is also a teacher, a source of unlimited love. She is another one of those role models for me. She’s at peace with who she is, at peace with the world around her, but yet still active, still involved. And so I decided before all the details of my trip materialized that I would first go down to sunny Florida. Recharge. Reinvent my self. Rediscover my self. Renew my energy. Because to go on this journey without that would be pointless. Because to achieve anything, even a small fraction of what I hope to achieve, will take a lot.

So I drive through the fog. I am going to worlds I’ve never seen before, I am open to change, I am open to learning all the bad things about myself, conquering them and moving past them. I am habitually late. But not today. I get there early. Again, anxiety is trying to find its way in. But this time it doesn’t. It should. I mean, I have some thoughts that had creeped in. The dog is one of them. I was crazy to think she’d stay in the car. It’s freakin’ Miami. It’s 80-something degrees and sunny. She’d be a roasted hotdog. No way.

The other is Kiro, Jodi’s boyfriend. He is an unknown. By that I mean like in a math equation – an unknown. We need to solve for “x”. I have some data to base myself on. And that is Jodi. So if she loves him, then we can solve for “x” and I can assume I will as well. He must be a nice soul as well. And so, still just realizing Holly will not be able to stay in the car, but not knowing the solution I arrive early. And Jodi meets me and says Holly will stay at their place with Kiro while we go to her class. Well, that takes care of my problem just like that and I tell her, and thank her, while excusing my stupidity.

We go upstairs. A zen feeling comes over me. This is peaceful. Calm. No television. Wow! I need to step up to this IMG_3994level. I cut out the cable back in November, and it’s been going well. But there is still a lot left to throw me off course. No television is where I wanted to get to, but I am still finding myself wasting at least a few hours in front of it. Anyway. That, for now, should be a non-issue on the road. But wait. Last night I watched the news in the motel room and fell asleep to The King of Queens. Ugh. I need to step it up now.

We do everything I had hoped without even trying. Things just fall into place without planning, without trying.  I need more of this. I had two wonderful days. Yoga sessions (and these are power yoga sessions that Jodi teaches) to loosen the body and quiet the mind, and meditation sessions after while your mind is ready to accept and explore. Inspiring. Spiritual. I am in awe of this world. I need to be part of it. It’s not Miami, but the world of people that have love in their hearts, the world of people who think spiritually, who search and discuss topics that are important to the core of our being, to our existence. A world where the body is a temple. A world where doing what you love is part of who you are, a positive influence on your soul, on your being and not a strain on who you are.

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I always loved yoga. But in my world, it is not a lifestyle, it is just merely an escape from life. It can do that well, but it will never find its full effect until it becomes your life. Getting up in the morning to do meditation is something I would look forward to, unlike the recent past when I could not get moving due of anxiety and due to a lack of enthusiasm for the day to come. No sunrise, no sunset. Just a cubicle. No personal contact. Sterile. And I just can’t get myself to be that. It was a struggle to begin with. I was always against becoming the corporate ant (or hamster, or whatever animal that lacks individuality). You go to work to make the corporate machine make more money for the few, the 1%. You do this because it provides a livelihood. You do this because you feel you need to so that you can have a home, you can send your kids to college.

But in the end, those problems find their own solutions and you end up realizing, sometimes too late, that you have sold your soul. Because you are not doing anything to improve society, or create something new, or add some value, any value, to the human race. And this has become a central issue to my finding myself. Because it starts with that. We have to somehow survive. So if it is a matter of survival, it becomes easy to sell out your dreams. And further down the line you find that in doing so, you no longer are yourself. You have morphed into a being that is much more closely resembling a robot than a human.

Miami. South beach. Beautiful people. At least in the circle of friends of my friends that I encountered. Of course it has a lot of the things I despise. The flaunting of wealth, from cars to mansions, to being removed from the reality of the world around you. We go to eat on Lincoln Road. Doggies everywhere. I loved that part. A tourist atmosphere, but I felt special. I was feeling like an honorary local. I had my dog. I had my friends. I didn’t feel out of place or in an unknown place. It all felt natural and chill.

I can’t say enough about the yoga classes Jodi teaches. I can’t say enough about the experience I had with her and Kiro at the two meditation sessions I was invited and able to take part in. So I won’t. Suffice to say, I found some answers. And it turns out they were—are— always there, inside yourself, just waiting for you to discover them. But as we are often blind to what goes on around us, so are we blind to what goes on inside ourselves. And for me to tell you my discoveries of myself may only mislead you. Everyone has their own journey to make. I can say this: You can’t change anyone along the way, you can only lead with your example. And if you want to effect change, it has to start with you. So here I am. I am doing the things I feel are best for me, the things that I hope will lead me to the life I want.

My other time in Miami was spent with my other friends. Sebastian, whom I know from childhood along with his wife and daughter. They live in suburban Florida. There’s a big difference between the two experiences, but both have their lessons, both also have their similarities. And there is beauty in seeing two different lifestyles and being able to reconcile them. I am here to learn. I am hear to see and listen. I am trying to be as flexible as possible, as open as possible, while at the same time inviting myself into people’s homes based on conversations and open ended invitations made in the past that may or may not be accurate in the present. So it is hard, but imperative to adjust. For me especially. I am trying to break out of the life I had. But I find myself reverting to old habits and thoughts.

And as hard as it is to adapt, it is exactly what I need. It is that constant change that keeps me on my toes. It is that constant change that will hopefully lead me to understand who I am (again) and who I want to be (again). I say again because I have been here before, maybe twice before.  I have found myself in my high school and first years of college always trying to figure out who I am, what I will do. I never was able to figure out the positive side, who I want to be. I was able to figure out who I don’t want to be though, and it was clearly not the person I am today from a lifestyle and career perspective. And at some point later I can pinpoint the moment that was thrown out the window and it became ok to sell out certain principles for the greater good of providing for a family, a home, etc.

So Holly and I got to see and be part of their life for a day. Holly was an instant hit with their daughter. They had met before, a long time ago, in New York. So as soon as we walked in, Holly had a partner. Going for walks, playing fetch, and so on. Another beautiful home, which shows that it has loving owners. The next morning we decide to try to see the sunrise and I am so excited. This is what I would do if I was alone. We have a good starting point for our day in terms of wanting to do and see similar things and of course in terms of starting the day with the sunrise. Sadly an overcast day put a different perspective on the sunrise idea but we still woke up bright and early and got to the beach, more to a fishing pier that would have afforded us a great view.

But we met the local fisherman, we met some pelicans and returned home for a delicious crepe breakfast. I finally had some time to write, take a moment to revisit the past few days. And the afternoon consisted of a drive around Palm Beach, which had a double effect on me. First, I was not looking forward to gawking at mansions. The wealth that is there to me is astonishing, but it is also something I somewhat despise and don’t really see the point in me wanting to see it. And it was mainly big gates, big beautiful gates, with a chance to peek behind, over or through them at what was behind. And then at night, driving back, it was only the gates. And then things came into perspective. Gates. Surrounded by the mystery of what lies behind them. Gates, that in their own were beautiful, that in their own right could be admired, gates that no longer were a secondary to the grounds behind them, gates that became the primary object of ones attention. Gates represent an entrance, gates represent a passage from one side to the other. Gates, doors – all there waiting to be opened.

The afternoon also held a surprise in our visit to a church—Bethesda-By The Sea. The stone building, with a somewhat gothic look from the outside, lay hidden behind it a beautiful inner courtyard, IMG_3837full of flowers and fountains, a koi pond and gazebos. It was to me a very eastern type of layout and atmosphere which I love, very peaceful and zen. Afterwards we took a long walk which was highlighted by many more tall fences with glimpses of the mansions behind and the boats docked at their individual private piers. A quick drive and we go to dinner in a very quaint part of downtown Palm Beach (I think). We return home. Holly gets to meet Ruby, which is their pet guinea pig. She had been sniffing and trying to get to her in her cage the whole time, and finally we got her out and had them meet. Uneventful occasion except for its cuteness. The next morning me and Seba took our time. We had a little time to talk, which we stretched to its limit. And here it turns out that my problem, my quest if you will, my feelings— they are there in the hearts of many more. Many who are successful at hiding them and keeping them at bay. And then I look back at the past years, and I understand. I understand that I was also there, and like most, I had a good enough reason to keep on doing what I did. In the end, goodbyes were said, and I received a book for my journey, a book that to Seba meant a lot and a book that he thought perfect for my journey – “Three Men In A Boat” and “Three Men On The Bummel” by Jerome K. Jerome.IMG_3521

A side note to the visit to Miami (really south Florida) was finding the doggie beach, seems the only legitimate one, in Jupiter. Aaah, this is how it should be. Why is it not like this everywhere? Or at least a section on every beach? But I am complaining. To me I was just happy to find this spot. It was a wonderful morning. I did this on my last day, as I went from Seba’s place to Jodi for my last day with them. IMG_4012In this same sidenote, to be mentioned is the Spa at The Standard hotel, which I was able to enjoy with Kiro the morning I left. An amazing experience that will go with me. And so I end, leaving Miami in route to New Mexico. But my first stop is Tampa with some more friends, and then on a whim I discovered a beautiful place to camp in the Florida panhandle.

More to come.

NY to Miami

So it’s been a few days on the road. 1,200 miles already, a 10th of the trip in miles. Arriving in Durham a few hours late of course, because who in their right mind would think I can get anywhere on time? This part of the trip is highlighted by two things—my stay in Durham with Marc, Cus and Eva, and my day with Jodi and Kiro in Miami. Living simple. Living free. If there were a headline to write, that would be it. Because in both cases, that is the underlying message I found.

The materialistic world we live in ties us down. For the wants of our life—the objects of our desire—we’re willing to go to great lengths. We are willing to give up our freedom, to give up our time (the most precious thing we have), to give up our soul. We end up conforming to society’s rules. We have false idols that give us our standards—false idols on TV, false idols on the street, in our neighborhood. We end up worshipping money and doing everything we can to get it. We emulate the goals of the people we see around us, and in doing so we pay no attention to what is truly important.

So where to start? We can on the one hand try to surround ourselves with likeminded people. But who are they? Where do you find those people, how do you find them? First you need to search inside. Because without knowing who you are, you will never know who your peers would be. And this has been a theme for me, for my life. Whenever I need an answer, I usually find it within. Searching and following your heart is the best advice I can give. You need to understand your emotions. Without understanding what you feel first, you will not know what the answers are. I think maybe that is part of the problem and part of the solution – teach ethics in school, teach how to understand emotions in school, teach people how to feel and they will do good. Someone might ask – how about those people who are bad, who are racist? Well, they have the same influence over someone who doesn’t know themselves and will take advantage of that. I believe that ultimately you are not born good or bad. Therefore if you search within yourself you will learn only good. It is others that teach us to be evil.

My first leg of my trip took me past Mount Holly. Oh my…. the memories that stirred in me. On a cold January day, 3 and a half years ago, we took a drive through New Jersey to southern Pennsylvania, right on the border with Delaware. That day we finally got to meet a little fluffy thing that was then called Bambi. As we were driving, Danielle suggested that we should pick a name we see on a sign on the way there. And soon thereafter we passed the exit sign for Mount Holly. Hence—Holly is now the loving springer spaniel that is licking my toes as I write this.

We took this ball of fur home and then we had the craziest snow in New York, 2-3 feet of snow. She was so small I had to dig pathways in our yard to let her out. I laid down a track for her to run around, and once in a while she’d take a dive into the deep snow on either side and be buried completely in the snow. Fun times! The dog has been my therapist, my companion, my medicine, my reason to go home over the past year when all I wanted to do was run somewhere far way. I can’t say enough about what a dog will do to someone’s state of mind. A wagging tail is the best antidepressant ever. And as I think of the first time we met her, I also think of all the adventures that followed—the road trips that we committed to taking at least once a year prior to getting her so that we would have one vacation with her and then we’d do another one just for us. And all these memories are good. All these memories are what I cherish. They are what I remember. Not the time wasted at work, not the arguments, not anything negative. I keep with me a memory of all the good times.

Anyway, back to my trip. I was anxious as I arrived at my first destination. I grew up with road trips as my vacations. I grew up with staying in complete stranger’s homes. But that was my dad’s doing and I was just the plus one. He had a way about him of just coming up with a plan at the last moment, of improvising. Lots of sketchy plans but they almost always worked out. And when they didn’t they just became part of the adventure. Now here I am, following in his footsteps, falling back on that obscure part of my memory where this must reside.

But years of living here, of adhering to what is “normal”, have changed who I am. I am finding it hard. I had not seen Marc in 10 years or more. So what awaits? I am weary. I am late and that adds to my anxiety. Will we get to hang out or do they go to sleep at 10? Will we be able to connect? Will we have things to talk about?Image

But all these worries dissipate as I walk into their home. It is what I had hoped. A home, untamed, wild, full of memories and art, full of books and ideas, full of charm and secret corners. Character. History. Personality. Yes, it is a home, an object, but it is also a living entity. One that has grown with it’s owners, one that welcomes anyone walking through it’s door.

Hugs, kisses and formalities go quickly and Eva is in love with Holly. Her joy is contagious. We have a bite to eat – they waited for me. The whiskey starts pouring. IMG_3662We reminisce and time flies. Marc is someone I look up to. He has done what I only hope to do. He has found his passion, quit his job in New York and followed his dream to Durham where he was able to attend school and ultimately get a job. A lot was said about this but clearly I’ve learned nothing is easy, even if it is what you love. Hurdles at every step, but I guess if there is passion then you face them and get past them easier, but that is a reflection on the self, not on the problem. The problem is the same, the perception of it is different. Reflecting on this now, it leads me back to saying that all our problems come from inside. A theme and discussion that I also had on my next stop.IMG_3670

And we move on. Me and Holly. But I am left with a great memory and lots of love. Eva told Holly she will miss her after only one night. Sigh. Cus gave me a private tour of Durham in, it seems, under an hour. Marc took a picture of a Blades sticker on my car. This is our connection. We met while working at Blades those many moons ago. Small memories to keep with us as we move on in our lives and I hope our paths will cross again.

A long drive awaits. My plan is to make it to St Augustine today. 8 hours. But as I arrive there in the dark I realize my plan is not going to work. I was going to camp but the campsite is really a RV camp and the tent sites are tiny against a perimeter wall flanked by monstrous machines that I don’t quite enjoy. It’s windy and cold, and a misty rain has suddenly turned into real rain. Time to move on. Thankfully they cancel my reservation without an argument and they refund my fee. It’s dark and so all there is to do is try to get as close to Miami as I can without passing out at the wheel. I drive another 2 hours or so and search for a motel and find a Motel 6 that has dog friendly rooms available. We stay there. A bit funky even for me. But clean. I open a bottle of wine and pour a glass, take out the laptop thinking I will write something but I end up passing out as soon as I take my first sip. A good thing since I need to wake up at 6 to get to Miami by 10.

There’s a lot of fog as I start driving. Knowing that I will go into a yoga class as soon as I  get there, I put on my meditation playlist. This, coupled with the fog, makes for a very mystical drive. We go between palm trees and tree groves and in my mind I am taken to imaginary places that are only that – my imagination filling in the blank canvas that the fog has left for me to paint. I make it there by 9:45, which gives me enough time to find my friend and drop the dog off as we head to an amazing yoga class. I feel free. I feel that there is enough distance now between me and home, between me and the past, that all that matters now is the present. I am here. Someone asked me why did I come? My answer is simple – Jodi. Here I stop. I stop because to write about this chapter can only be done after it’s over and I am still here.

Angels

I waited for this. I didn’t want to focus on it, I didn’t want to get into a negative state of mind. But this is real and this is life. At least now I can post this in a series of 3 posts, ending with my first leg of my trip. Things turning around and going well. Positive.

I started counting my angels first when my grandmother passed away. I was too young to understand what was really going on when both my grandfathers passed away, but when it was grandma’s time to go I was already in college. I remember the day clearly. A cold and misty day. I remember walking aimlessly around the gray and depressing SUNY Albany campus, trying to gather my thoughts. And in the end, it was at a time when I needed something to break me out of a big rut, and this did. The sadness passed and I focused, I moved on.

Last week another soul that had guided me with her presence, her insight, her determination and outlook passed on. I started looking at pictures, remembering our times together. Marina is my stepmom. But really my second mom. It’s really complicated or not, depending on what standards of normal we use I guess. No need for details. I doubt they would translate anyway, but suffice to say that they were great times and I am left with wonderful memories. These moments are what life is really all about. Connecting with another soul, creating bonds that persist across the line between this world and the next. Instead of focusing on the loss, this is a time for me to remember those wonderful moments, to try to solidify the image that will remain. I try to hold on to the conversations we’ve had, I try to send my love to her. But sometimes that is futile in placating the negative feelings. There is no way to bypass the sadness, the emptiness left behind. And the more that our physical lives are tied together, the harder that is. I am thankful I had one last vacation that I was able to enjoy in her presence. I am thankful there wasn’t anything left unsaid.

I look up at the sky. I pray. I pray you find peace. I pray you were ready. I pray you’ll find the others that are waiting for you. And I pray you help Danielle find her peace. I look out to the ocean. I pray you will be part of the infinite, a wave that washed on these shores only to retract back into the sea. I see a bird fly by and hope you’ll get to see and hear everything that was still left here for you to discover. I look up at the night sky and pray you are up there with the stars, traveling the universe, transcending space and time back home (yes – home), back into the fold of the universal energy, eternal.

I try not to go into the intimate spiritual beliefs I hold. Not because I don’t think they are right, and that they are defendable, and even that they should be embraced by others. But as much as I am happy to meet others with completely different sets of beliefs, sometimes those people are not reciprocating. These thoughts are private, intimate, fragile and sacred. I can get past the intimate private part. I am already putting myself out there to an extent that doesn’t leave much room for privacy. On the other hand the fragile part. Here, I can’t help but feel that spirituality is not coming from within for a lot of people. And in taking something so important from outside yourself, you have a hard time defending it and trying to see another perspective. And the next piece – the sanctity of those beliefs and therefore their status as unquestionable – is nothing but a natural extension of the first. In light of that, it is easy to step into an argument if you are not willing to see the other’s point of view. I guess that is an universal truth, a truth we see played out daily in our government, but also in our daily experiences.
But I made my life easy. I have ended up with the feeling that everyone is right. We create our future. But it does not end with this world. We create what we want to find in the next. I see more and more proof that thoughts can influence the real world. I am sure arguments here can be made on either side of this. To me this doesn’t end with the world we are in now and continues, as we believe our soul does, and we make it BE, we make whatever comes next EXIST.

I feel. I feel… This is something that came out of Danielle’s passing. I will not deny what I feel. I will not try to go against what I feel. I will not compromise if I FEEL it’s not right. I will not act if I FEEL it’s not good. I will not hide my feelings. I will not deny my feelings. I will listen to them, follow them as best as possible. The thing with that is, it’s kinda like finding a hidden object with someone guiding you simply with the “hot” or “cold” remark. Feelings, unlike thoughts, are not even remotely specific enough to guide you directly. And here comes the trial and error part of life. And I feel my current situation is unhappy and so change is coming. But what will be the thing that I will find to be right? That is yet to come to me. But patience is a virtue, and I am willing to wait. In the meantime – time to do what FEELS right. Time to get away and put some distance between me and…

A lost post from a week ago

I waited for this. I didn’t want to focus on it, I didn’t want to get into a negative state of mind. But this is real and this is life. At least now I can post this in a series of 3 posts, ending with my first leg of my trip. Things turning around and going well. Positive.

So I am trying to stay excited about this. It has not sunk in yet. I mean it’s next week. I am leaving next week!! Holly crap! I need to make some lists… I need to pack. I need to organize. I need to pay all my bills. I need to say goodbye to everyone just in case anyone would be offended by me forgetting. But most annoying of all, I still have to work until a day before I leave. I can’t even get excited because if I was going to, I would just walk out of here this very second. But I can see the light. I assume once I am actually driving on the NJ Turnpike, heading South… past Atlantic City somewhere… it will sink in. I am actually doing this! That next breath, the breath you take after the weight is lifted, that breath you take that empties out your lungs along with all the evil, all the sorrow, all the pain left behind. That breath! I am excited again.

Camping gear has been inventoried. I need to test the tent, check for holes, make sure all the poles are still intact. I just wish it was warmer so I don’t have to do it in my living room. A new -300 F sleeping bag has been purchased. Long johns, check. More socks and a collapsible snow shovel on their way. GoPro accessories check. Still waiting for the remote to get here. It better! Winter tire chains on their way. Still need to go food shopping for non perishable items. Snowboard gear check. I wish I could upgrade on some items… but hey, I have acceptable things. Of course I have a long wish list but that is nonsense. I have the necessities and that is all I need and want. I am in good shape actually. And so, it all seems to fall into place. Nothing can stop me!

But how wrong I was right there. So many things can stop me. Here I am, at the receiving end of an international call. I look at the caller ID. I already know what to expect. F#CK! There is this apprehension, this tightening of the body. I know bad news is waiting on the other side of that call. I pick up and there it is. I can’t even cry. I am at my desk. I have been through this before. I am falling back on that experience. I will be stronger this time. I will not scream, I will not cry. I will get up, walk outside. The cold, a cigarette. Sobering. I am shivering awaiting the call back. And it comes. We cry. But we knew it might come. I had refused to think it, while at the same time knowing it. Oh, how the mind can trick itself. It’s almost funny in that way. But I believe your thoughts do at some level influence the real world and so I only wanted to hold on to the positive, to the hope, however slim, that things will be ok. And here I am. A world away, yet it seems so close. Decisions. Do I go? I want to be there, next to my brother, next to my sister. But I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to say goodbye to anyone anymore. No more. Enough is enough. When will it end? But I am wrong, as I have been before. I am not the victim. This is not something that is about me, this is not something that has happened to me. I am but a collateral of this. This is another one of those – a fact. Unchangeable. Pure in it’s resolute reminder that life is short. No compromise.

Can I get there in time? But someone else is making these decisions for me it seems. Weather back home is causing the airport to close, roads are closed, trains are cancelled. Maybe just an excuse. But as a day goes by, the moment has passed. It’s now too late. So I am here. Maybe it’s better this way. I am not sure I had it in me to be supportive. But then again, being in a position to help, to be the one to support someone else… That actually helps in your own heeling process. But everything has this duality. And so it goes. Life doesn’t wait for you to heal. I am caught. I am here, now. I have a tough time thinking of my trip, while feeling so shitty at the same time. Hopefully some sleep and tomorrow will bring with it a new attitude, a new perspective, and renewed energy. Somehow, subconsciously, it seems my body has built some immunity to tragedy.