THE DAY BEFORE THE LAST DAY OF 2017
I was sitting on the freezing floor of my father’s Colorado garage, shivering and nearly elbow deep in grease, when an old friend called me back and told me that he and a few others were about to cross the border. After driving through deserts from California, I decided that another 1000 miles of lonesome arid flatness before driving home couldn’t hurt. Thirty minutes later, I wrapped up my little brake replacement project, hugged pops and stepmum goodbye, and peeled my little cherry CRV west and south. Despite my Scandinavian mutt heritage, I’ve never loved cold weather. Perhaps it was my upbringing on several mildly-climated coasts, or never really learning to have heaps of fun in heaps of snow, (aka, shred a snowboard), but winter is really not my jam. I sometimes romanticize about long days playing in the mountains, hot stew, woodfire, socks, the whole shebang, and don’t doubt that my days will feature all or most of these things someday. For now, I had dusty heat and ripe fruits in mind.
I drove for two straight days through beautiful Telluride, sleeping in my yakima roof box in 2 degree weather. I left it open of course, I’m not sure why people imagine me sleeping inside of a coffin on the roof of my car, Open casket slumbers only. I spent the night in Yuma, Arizona. I could tell that I was getting close, because tacos began to taste better and better. On the morning of the day before the last day of 2017, I went to a Dennys, stole a handful of silverware rolls after grabbing a kids breakfast, and made it across before sunrise. Its a great thing that I did, because I ended up spending three hours waiting for a bank to open to exchange the money I had neglected to, in the USA where effortlessness is in every nook and every cranny. I filled my tiny peso piggy bank, topped off the tank, and weaseled South.
The usual military checkpoint at every 100 km, where bored 18 year olds sit in the middle of the desert with automatic guns asking where to and where from. Sometimes they make you get out, sometimes they tear your car apart, sometimes they try to smack your ass, & every time I fail to allow them the satisfaction. The motorway turned to dirt after 4 checkpoints and 4 hours, as it has been under construction for some time now. Sand roads had a general direction, but often veered and forks weren’t rare to find. I followed the semi trucks that were maneuvering at an incredible pace considering their chunky massiveness. Speaking of chunks, there were all varieties of them scattered about on the Mex 5, tires, bumpers, rubbish, doors, refrigerators, entire cars. I find a subtle and simple beauty in the way that Mexico forgets, leaving shards and scraps glittering the desert. Abandoning things no longer performing their functions, buzzing past, dodging a pothole or two in the process of doing so. There was rubber confetti shredded and flung in a way so careless it almost seemed intentional. I entertained the idea of asking whether it was art or not art. I shot a few wonderful dutch style still lifes, one including a sleeping street dog and a pile of whale vertebrae. The dog belonged to a leathery old pescadora named Flor, who had tough shoulders and tender eyes. She asked me why I was not married and why I was alone, I asked her the same, and laughter was shared over cold beer. Her home perched like a cat on a ledge over the Sea of Cortez, besides her and three itchy little dogs, there were no neighbors for at least 80 kilometers in every direction. We enjoyed each others company for a blip of time, and I felt funny leaving this lonely old woman in the dust, until I realized that I too was alone in the dust. Our mutually understandable Solita nature was nonverbally acknowledged, so if there was some sort of salute that happy lonely women have with one another, we would have done it.
My route and coordinates that I had been given, plopped me a little north and a little east of Catavina, where I found myself as soon as it got dark. I had been driving alone since before the sun had risen, and it was fully dark again. The map that I had glanced at that morning, boasted a big boulder field about a kilometer north on a little dirt road that didn’t look like a dirt road. I did exactly that, and had evidently taken the wrong non-road road, because I drove up to my axles into a riverbed. The shovel and planks that I had brought for this very purpose proved themselves useless when I gave up to open a hot beer on the already cold night. My head contained a cocktail of exhaustion, fear, elation, a sudden and profound wave of tranquil trust. I sat on the gritty ground next to my sand sunken car, under the watchful eyes of dozens of saguaros. Their presence was comforting despite the unforgivingly sharp characteristics they possess, and I didn’t feel like I was stuck alone in the dark on the side of a Mexican highway. Stars did their thing, and an oddly refreshing musty breeze swept the canyon floor from one corner to another.
The customary scent of burning garbage and crispy lard shards, was replaced by a dry sweetness perhaps almost as fine as wine. The six-dollar chardonnay air was brisk and still, yet I only had so much juice for nature gawking before passing out in the back seat. Some semis swooped me from my vehicle slumber, I watched the sunrise with the lizards before unpoetically abandoning camp walking to Catavina. My plan was to find the owner of the largest truck I could find on the main drag, which took about 8 minutes, which comes as no surprise because the whopping 20 residents of the town all seemed to be stopping at the market that morning. I was able to describe what I’ve done to a small squad of leathery men sitting on a tailgate. After some mutual hilarity, they creaked off the tailgate and produced a tow strap from what looked like a pile of rubbish on the side of the building. He bumbled his ford to the arroyo and in the swift sand swish tug, my cherry red rice rocket was back on top of the ground. I received an almost fatherly wink nod that seemed to be both wishing me luck and shaking his head. I popped in to this deluxe hotel that was plopped there 20 years ago for the sole purpose of a visiting president. I was looking to try and find my coordinates, then I noticed a handwritten note sitting on the desk. It had my name on it and exact directions to a place I otherwise would have never found, I was able to catch them before starting their day, the last day of 2017.
THE WILD SCRAPPER I LEFT BEHIND
I found a bike in a Praga squat house on the old side of Warsaw. It had cracky tires, a plastic seat, and was only 40 dollars, she even had the name “wild scrapper” on a decal that was chipping off into rounded sunbleached shards. The transaction was swift and I was shooed off once the lanky painter had a small grip of Zloty in his bony hands. In the evening, The rickety soviet train serving herbal vodka swapped itself for a shiny quiet one featuring bike racks and deadlines, once it got itself to the German border. I got on the wrong train to Koln, and didn’t make it there until the next evening. I had bad vertigo from sit-sleeping in a swaying car for so long, so I trudged through hoards of perky folks popping home from work. I found myself a cheap bed for the night with a perfect stoop for painting and beer, which was my primary use for it until I was joined by an entire Dutch rugby team. I was a specimen for these meaty men, and I kindly accepted an invitation to join them for dinner.
Thirty pitchers of beer later, I was desperately trying not to pee my pants while 18 hypermasculine meatballs sang Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” in an unsuspecting tiki bar on a Tuesday night. I found myself in a suburban full of these freshly shaven animals, bound for a supposed club on the other side of the city. We all walked into an old stone castle outfitted with purple upholstery, coated in plastic. It didn’t take more than a single moment to observe that I was the only woman in the building who was wearing clothes and not working. The space was terraced and had an unmistakable porn dungeon vibe, and they boys wanted to buy me a lap dance. In 2012, the cultivation of the ‘you only live once’ mantra stole the hearts and souls of internet attention trolls, and in this grossly indulgent place, my inner yolo bro manifested a tender yolo moment. In one minute, my face that had been dizzy and droopy only hours before, was being smooshed between two firm, lopsided, and surely manufactured breasts. My eyeballs hid safely behind their lids, with the exception of a peek to watch the bug eyed booty gawkers. Ice was melted on her leathery forty-something legs and underwent its routine transformation to its liquid form, resulting in a sensational resemblance of being out in the rain, awkward sex rain. I felt a generous dollop of remorse for the anonymous woman who had melted a pewter goblet of ice onto me, but it was likely the easiest 200 euros she made all night. The sun was still in bed when I tucked myself into mine, and a simultaneous laugh-scoff started my day and my janky bike trip. I pedaled out of town without a map or a desire to own a map.
Reminiscing at my 20 year old self, bright eyed and oblivious, in a yellow onesie covered with lemons, eating peanut butter with a stick on the side of the autobahn, which at the time exuded a greatness that was momentously unbearable. I’m not sure who had relayed the idea to me that the massive no-speed-limit motorway was safe and legal to cycle on, but evidently was not. A red and veiny-faced policeman met my pace and screamed with a furor that revealed every pearly white in his mouth, “AUF!” “AUF DAS AUTOBAHN” was what amplified from this little police car and its particularly displeased driver, leading me off an exit entering a truck stop. My new friend blasted past me, and I resorted to side roads and dirt paths. South-Eastbound trajectories had me on the way to Luxembourg by way of an incredible Eifel Nature reserve. I rode so hard one day that I couldn’t be bothered to pitch my tiny tent, and awoke to a scurrying dog-size critter approaching my dirtbag nest. A blip of instinct or whatever you want to call it, had me growling behind clenched teeth as if I were some sort of police bear protecting my own zone. Like my human human comrade, I too had deterred a potential threat from my vicinity, and the critter was no longer something to worry about. Another night I found a treehouse and slept inside, another night it was the corner of a cow pasture, another a buggy creek. I think it was John Muir who once ridiculed the way that some humans sleep outdoors. He wrote in length about the eloquent ways that birds, deer, bears, squirrels and even spiders hold their sleeping place as something sacred. While these wild animals are considerately and carefully creating a space to sleep, man makes a pile out of his stuff, goes to sleep on top of it without even taking his shoes off. As a shamelessly sloppy sleeper, my weary head has come to appreciate a fluffy bed every now and then, in between bouts of bush snoozing, little can compare to the simple pleasures that a warm, clean and dry bed can provide. Maybe we’re all just sloppy sloths with the secret sensitivities of a suburban stepmother, maybe its the other way around.
I rode for six days, on peanut butter, stale bread and the occasional dandelion leaf/wild strawberry salad. At the top of a hill, that descended down to an adorable riverbank town that resembled a drunk Mondrian painting and a Disney movie. There were little homes built into corners of little shops carved into the stone, with precious pastries that mimicked the unbearably cute town that they were folded, rolled, sprinkled, baked, and devoured in. Nestled it was, there were tiny flowers popping out of every archaic crack in between cobbles, old women sitting and weaving in their windows, when they weren’t waltzing and whistling next to the creek that flowed directly through town. I could see this tiny treasure from a distance through the orderly brigade of trees that lined the road, when the chain took its final revolution around my rear cassette. Two spiny spinny circles linked by many little links, its so dull simple that it couldn’t quit, or so you’d think. As if in an act of protest, perhaps the responsibility of changing the pace was far too much, the little guy flung off like a frond in a hurricane. An unencouraging metaly crunch had me in the ditch with a handful of tiny greasy balls and an expression of incredulity plastered on my sweaty face. If I could point and cackle at myself I would have, but I just sat there like an idiot in a ditch with an inoperable bicycle in the forest. An hour hadn’t passed by when a spandex-clad dad squealed the breaks on his swift cannonade steed and screamed so many German words beyond my limited vocabulary only one of them that I knew meant “shit”. He was flustered and much more hysterical than me, he gestured that I stay put, and turned around, whizzing back over the hill crest. A crispy clean BMW popped over the same crest in a mere 15 minutes, and my rickety rat pack was insistingly offered a lift to the little Christmas town. The driver of the plush and climate controlled silver bullet generously delivered my royal jankyness to a campsite on the corner of town, he peeled out of the lot before I could even offer him a cold pint or money for petrol.
I bought myself a bottle of Rose, bathed in the frigidly babbling brook, and thought about the amazing bike co-ops in Koln, Berlin, Duren, and how far away I was from scrappy parts within my minuscule budget. I called my mom, I bandit camped across the river from the manicured family campground, leaned the wild scrapper against the back of a dumpster, and caught the first bus north in the morning. It took seven effortless hours to get all the way back to Koln, where I had been at the beginning of that week with ambition in my young soul and old boobs on my face. For an even grander change of pace, I found myself on a high speed train to Paris, where the language was known and money was blown, on a fluffy bed.
SAIGON IN THE SPRING
I woke up in Saigon on a king bed with Camille and Barny, as the previous night we decided that the small change we could save by all sharing one bed in a room, could afford us beers. The evening involved age-old hostel activities, rooftop haircuts and beer consumption. That morning, they, and two others, were on a mission to purchase motorcycles, and I, unsure of my desire to own one, joined them anyway. We took little buses and taxis to many different corners of town, expectedly finding overpriced clunkers in every nook. While they haggled with stubborn Vietnamese salesmen, I stepped into a shop for my third thick, cold robusta coffee of the morning.
The rushy American in me, the rickety caffeine whirlpool that occupied my guts and mind, or, likely a combination of the two, told me that I had to leave, now. I hadn’t seen the ocean in maybe longer than ever, and my new mission became swimming in the South China sea by that evening. I took a swift gander at a map, and saw that the coast was a mere four hour drive away, the city of Phan Thiet. Feeling stubborn, hasty, and adventurous, I managed to produce a cardboard sign stating “Xin Xe Phan Thiet”. Within minutes of finishing my coffee, I found myself on the back of an old man’s motorbike swerving towards the motorway oriented eastward out of town.
Within a few more minutes, I was sitting in a massive yellow semi on its way to Phan Thiet. We only spoke a small handful of words in eachother’s language. He showed me a photo of his family, and stopped to pick up milk for his baby. I picked up a few mystery steamed buns, which contained quail eggs. It had been seven hours when, in the last light of the day, we drove under the red portrait-embellished arching sign, Phan Thiet Province. Now in the night, I had assumed that we would be going to the city to offload whatever this truck contained. Instead, we pulled over on a barren motorway, next to a small home and covered outdoor space, where a family sat on the floor watching television. I was an unexpected specimen, and the notion of me wanting to get to the city proved offensive to their generous Vietnamese ways. I sincerely accepted the invitation to spend the night on their porch.
A few hours later, I found myself sharing tea and conversation, translated by a 13 year old girl, with the drivers 70 year-old father. We talked about life in Vietnam, fish, food, climate, and then it became known that I am from America. Energy shifted momentously when he stood up, screaming accusingly at his son, and at the stranger that was brought to his home. Amid this instantaneous argument, the daughter stated that I was no longer welcome at their home, and that there was a hotel 5 kilometers down the road.
Within minutes, I was walking, at one in the morning, down the motorway, to what was claimed to be a hotel. I gingerly stepped through the heavy sheet metal gate, and was acknowledged by wild dogs, men sitting darkly in their cars, and a slinky old woman in a mini skirt. She took five dollars, and gestured to a room at the end of the building. The doors were affixed with red and green lights, and a timer on the inside. In the place of a body-sized towel and soap, was a condom and a hand-sized towel. It took less than a moment to identify this place as a brothel, and was happy to find a lock on the door. I stayed up watching chinese soccer games on the television, dozing off with exhausted thoughts of inescapable identity, womanhood, and history.