Sunday, November 28, 2010

West Philly Running

Geoff introduced me to the Fishtown Beer Runners, a group based out of the NE Philly Fishtown neighborhood where, incidentally, my Philadelphia odyssey began over four years ago.  A PhD student, the lore goes, with a proclivity towards running and drinking set out to determine whether there was really any health benefit to drinking water after a run versus, say, drinking a beer.  His experimental results were the foundation for the Beer Runners, finding that a pint of water and equal quantity of beer provided the same amount of hydration, while the beer calories were also beneficial nutrients after a run (and the beer drinkers were generally much happier than the water drinkers).  They gather weekly to run to a nearby bar where they hydrate with a pint or two.  They captured my heart.

West Philly is the place I now call home.  The community, which is generally associated with U Penn, Drexel University and the Fresh Prince is sorely lacking the unifying element of a running group that drinks together.  It would be up to me to bring this to fruition.  So I did.

Later, I decided to run the Philadelphia half-marathon.  Geoff had nearly convinced me to run the entire marathon. However, at the mile twelve marker, when faced with the decision to go on or conclude my running, I opted to forgo potential bodily harm and sprinted to the finish line.  Geoff ran on, finishing two hours later, a marathoner and [my] hero.  My marathon glory yet awaits me in the future.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Roof Over Our Heads

There are times when carefree cycling is in order and others when a sun-filled sky beckons concerted work.  At least thats the notion that occurred to me as I sat atop a wall of a roofless building scrubbing rust off steel that would one day support a new roof.  I felt glad to accept this gift of a warm day in late Fall.  Ryan knelt across from me on an the ledge of the adjacent wall, shirtless and shoe-less, looking like a boy building his first tree-house.  Happiness is found in these moments, the strain of effort directly translated to action for a great cause.  Yet, how did I end up here in West Philly so far from where I envisioned myself only months ago?

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Such interesting thoughts come to mind as you sit at your computer editing yet another cover letter for another job that you know should be yours.  But it won't be, because you know that it isn't a job you are applying for, but an illusion.  I opted to keep my sanity, conceding, recession confirmed.  Conveniently, my summer apartment lease ended at the same time as my desire to continue the fruitless search for professional work.  It was at about this time that an old friend made me an offer for a work-housing agreement.  That is, I would work for him in exchange for free housing.  The only catch is that the house is also the work site.

The first step to living in a gutted building is to take stock of what you have.  Practically speaking, my new residence had everything necessary to sustain a functional human life: bathroom with shower and kitchen - two burner propane range, slate counter.  Added to this the upright piano in exquisite contrast.  Then, after you get through that initial shock of the deprivation and the cold shower, you set about making it a home.  Our first order of business, a roof over our heads.

Monday, November 1, 2010

After a brief reprieve.

I thought I would retire this blog.

Then recently an old friend encouraged me to write again.  I pointed out, as though she wasn't aware, that I was no longer biking.  "And what would I write about now that I'm not on my trip anyway?"  She replied patiently, but clearly disappointed that I couldn't see what was plainly in front of me.  Biking into the wind has always been meant as a metaphor.  And it has never been more appropriate given the direction of my life in the recent months.  So here goes.

Monday, June 28, 2010


It is only logical to ask me if it was worth it: the pain, surgery, scars.  I live my life with the unwavering belief that when I am in fact living my life as I choose then I have no reason for regret.  I count myself lucky to have taken a risk and seen it through.  My scar will never stop making me smile.

Geoff and I rode a total of 1800 miles on this trip.  We stayed with 15 hosts and at 2 churches.  We crossed through 8 states (Geoff made it through quite a few more).  In one trip, my perception of an entire nation, a people was fundamentally altered.  I set out to see the US and I believe I succeeded in seeing what is great in it. It is easy to lose track of the things that bind us when faced with a constant barrage of partisanship.  Yet, everywhere I went I found people happy to help me carry out this dream.  I encountered people proud of their lives, their communities, their families.  Our accommodation ranged between a luxurious apartment in Saint Louis and a tent pitched behind a church where two roads met somewhere in Kentucky, but the hosts were fundamentally the same; these people were happy with their lot and open to share their lives with us.  A few folks in Kansas didn't know where Philadelphia even was, had never heard of it, which made us as good as aliens to them and yet they treated us as cordially as if we were from their town.

But the human side of things was only part of what made me fall in love with this country.  There is the 'country' itself with its geographical diversity.  I should have kept a tally of the number of times I heard the expression 'beautiful country.'  It was without fail that any town we came to, the folks there would talk about the beautiful country we had just come through.  If you spend the least of efforts, you can see the beauty contained everywhere.  The this scale of what lies out there to explore makes me glad I am here, able to take advantage.  This country is huge, even after biking to the geographical center, I can not comprehend the enormity.  For a man with wanderlust unrestrained, I can be assured a life lived here in the US will never leave me wanting.

'When the wind is blowing in your face, you know you're going the right way.' Paul from Eggleston, VA

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sticks and Stones and Broken Bones

My spirits could not be dampened in Denver.  As I strolled through the surprisingly flat town, I could not help sighting cyclists by droves, cruising through town.  I am, at my core, an urban cyclist, seeing it as the most logical and utilitarian use of the vehicle.  And so I was overjoyed to find bicycles in Denver piloted by a seemingly representative cross-section of the city's population.  Unlike Philly, where only the hip or daring are typically found on bikes (not clad in lycra), here you find an adult, casually dressed, riding a cruiser like he was plucked out of Holland and dropped on the front range. 
Often a pang of disappointment at being confined to pedestrian mobility.  Easily replaced by the beauty that surrounded me, in a city that felt like it had been built into nature, as though she had opened her arms to let it be.  You find yourself forgiving the moonscape downtown, where green was obstinately replaced by gray, for over the shoulder of the tallest skyscraper is the overshadowing mountain range, refusing to be bested.

Jason and I probably got started a little too early with our tour of Great Divide Brewery
Jason, a coworker from Philly, in a fortuitous turn of events, happened to be working in Denver during my visit and tromped around the city with me.  An afternoon will pass unobserved with the exchange of words over a few rounds of beer.  Denver may be known for its beautiful location, but the sheer number of local micro-brews may be just as important. It is certain, at least, that they compliments each other.

I rendezvoused with Emily at Golder's Denver office, where I presented my case for a future position.  They seemed to find me mildly curious, a lukewarm impression for a casual interview so we'll see how that all turns out.  In the mean time, my travels are of greater importance.  Boulder has much over Denver in terms of location, but it did not stir the same passionate drive in me as Denver had.  Perhaps in my mind, the college town is dismissed as artificial, compared to a city with its economic dynamism and cultural capacity.  An eight-hour hike into the surrounding mountains confirmed that my arm was still broken and it voiced its annoyance by swelling to a cartoon version of itself.  So I decided that I will restrict my hikes to two hours until I have surgery to fix my arm.

Sun Valley, Idaho was a brilliant half-way point to Seattle.  Next to Sawtooth National Forest, among the snow-capped peaks, Emily's old friend has a family home bordering the park.  The temperature stands in stark contrast to the 'lowlands' of Denver and so we opted for a drive through the mountain range instead of a hike (and I figured I ought to give my broken arm a rest before Seattle).  Again, I admit that my photos and words fail to express the beauty of this region.

The Gulf admires the view
A solitary rain cloud.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Not in Kansas Anymore (finally)

A patchwork of clouds covered the sky, extending towards the horizon.  And staring hopefully towards the gray expanse, I spotted it: the sawtooth pattern barely visible, but just as it had been described - purple mountain majesty.  I thought to myself, this isn't how I was supposed to get here, but I forced the thought out of my mind.  I am a traveler and my immediate goal is realized.  You may wonder how I made my way here. Many voices of doubt assailed me when I explained my aim of reaching Denver by simply asking around. These voices are ignorant to the most basic axiom of the traveler: Make your needs known and the universe will conspire to meet them. Special thanks to Coach Delgado who was kind enough to make me a guest in his home, assist me with shipping my gear home and find me a ride to Denver. I believe him to be the embodiment of the Good Christian archetype.

I have a score to settle with Kansas that must wait until my body is whole.  For now I anticipate an awesome weekend in Denver. Expect some photos soon.

--Geoff Update--
My steadfast travel companion has ventured forth, his intent to reach the Pacific by bike.  I spoke with him earlier today and know him to be safe in Colorado Springs.  A friend from home, Jeff, has traveled from NY to provide some temporary reinforcement.  The two will bike into the Southwest, across the Continental Divide and visit some of the amazing parks there.  I will try to keep up with their trip and post updates.