Swimming Upstream

Wednesday, November 11, 7:59 PM
Kiukacham, Laos

Four difficult days into a five-day trip, I can say (so far) that I’m biking against the current. I’ve passed a dozen or more other touring cyclists, plus a couple groups of at least 10, and they’re all headed South, the way I came up from. I won’t say I was “wrong”, but they’re cruising mostly downhill, and I’m struggling mostly uphill. The cool thing, though, is I have earned about 35km of downhill riding tomorrow into Luang Prabang, and only one 15km uphill climb in the middle, and I’m totally psyched. After today, 15 up will be cake. (It took me 2.5hrs to go my first 20km/12mi with an excruciating 3.5mph average!) Then I had to complete 60 more to my goal, 40 of which I did (for a total of 6.5 hours in the saddle and 8 on the road) before hitching a ride in a pickup the final 20. (I asked to go just up the hill, which was actually the whole rest of the way! Man, that would’ve taken me another 3hrs!) I was smiling the whole way, and actually felt accomplished for thinking with my head instead of my pride. How sweet it was!

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a moment of desperation, a mere 30k (and 4 hrs) into a much longer day
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i see many critters on the road, like this 8" fellow (who could stand up 5" tall) and LOTS of snakes, (many of them half squished, not pictured.) i guess i could be worse off!

Wow, that screeching thing outside my window is loud!

I’m testing out a new full-screen word processor called WriteRoom, and so far I’m thrilled. I love my computer, a little too-much, and hence it’s so easy to get distracted while typing. WriteRoom makes my screen black, with a gorgeous column of green words down the middle, like an old computer terminal. Of course I’ve got enough keyboard shortcuts up my sleeve to control iTunes, but otherwise I’m poised to be productive.

For some strange reason, my head isn’t as mellow this time around as I felt the first time I came to Asia. My brain still buzzes with so much static that I can hardly think straight. In a way I think the last four months have been a sort of relapse from my newly-simplified self. I started partying again in South Thailand, went home and relished all the goodness that I valued there, had immeasurable fun with my friends and family, went to Burning Man and kept the flame a’burnin through the following month, canoodled with women, and then I was enjoying Thailand and Cambodia on foot (without responsibility of my bike), the resulting me being more like the old ME than ever before. I guess it’s because it’s not a mental vacation anymore… it’s life again.

So I’m listening to my head and it sounds a lot like the old ADD I’m sure I’ve got, all my loose-ends interjecting loudly above the music in my headphones, or whispering eternally while I’m trying to fall asleep. I’m surprised by all this because I thought I was on the path to controlling it out here, with the exercise, meditation, detachment, and general simplification of my life. But as with all disciplines, they’re only as good as your good behavior!

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a day in the life on the road. flat, up, up, down, and up, up, up again!

My “second coming” has been different in a bunch of ways: I’m traveling alone, and therefore subject to my every whim; I’m perpetually on-the-go, with little or no plan for tomorrow; I spent much of the past month “backpacking”, which is a much different pace for me, as I have no business or routine save for sightseeing, eating, drinking, and easily chatting-up other travelers on this tourist trail; and I’m not farming. With all the possibility of planning for myself, I’m a bit scattered. But I’m happy to be on the bike now, A) because I have my “work”, a vocation that keeps me from drinking and staying up late, B) I feel less like a tourist, as my vocation lends my day a purpose instead of the frivolity of tourism, and C) it’s ass-kicking. I’ve never said traveling is easy, but this biking is hard, and I like it.

Right now I’m in the process of breaking both my body and mind (again), and slowly my head is calming. On this tour, my first day, third day, and especially fourth day (today) had me seriously questioning my choice of sport. (The second day, however, was so fun, as the stunning hill scenes and rewarding downhills rendered me ecstatic after the doldrums of Vientiane’s sprawling flatness the previous day.) Yes, I’ve embraced the hills [Jamey]! Where I had doubt about whether to continue on another 8-10 day tour beyond tomorrow’s destination, now I say Hell Yes! I’m even considering going on a detour tomorrow towards another pretty town, then back… yes, backtracking for the sake of a ride! Was it BeerLao I was lusting for in my moments of weakness (which I abstain from any pre-biking evenings), or the possibility of another week parting on the islands in Thailand that made me want to just hop on a bus? Or laziness? All of the above, I’m sure. But would I really be happiest inside my comfort zone? What am I doing out here? I’m learning about the world and myself, testing my limits, striving to find balance, and continually confirming how little I know (a principal which I love and live by). I’m out here to bike, which is for me a vehicle to go slow and focus. I’m reading again, and writing. And settling into the peace of solitude. The mind games are fantastic.

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what is that I see? i do believe it's another giant ginger root sign!
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cute piglets, and a big ham

I was reminded of something today while watching the sunset over a schoolyard full of kids playing volleyball with only their feet, heads, a string tied between 2 ropes, and a small woven plastic ball one can buy at every five-and-dime for fifty cents: Everything I need is right Here, no matter where I am, or how much I’ve got. I don’t need anything or anyone to be happy, and I already have way more than I could ever need. It’s not what you have, or who you possess: it’s how you use what’s all around you. As an American seeing myself through the world’s eyes, I’m coming to understand the nature of our sadness, the quality of our privilege, the beauty and horror of both sides. I am right here, complete and in abundance, with everywhere and infinity to go, and nothing to accomplish.

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