Mexico, Photographs, Travel

Mi Perro Favorito (Photo of the Week)

This week I have several photos, but the first one is the winner.

Perro! Photo by André.

This dog lives several doors down from our house in San Luis Potosí. He’s always outside. He barks angrily at everyone who goes past, but I made him into a friend and now he’s nice to me. As I approach he hops up so I can pet him through the fence. Sometimes I bring treats.

I don’t know his name, so I just call him mi perro favorito.

Often when I walk past him I’m on my way to Tequis, short for Tequisquiapam, the local park:

Jardín Tequisquiapam. Photo by André.

The park is only 3 blocks from our house and it has some of the best street food in the evening. The monument is of a woman with two niños and the inscription reads, Homage to the Being Most Beloved, so you can guess who it’s of.

I’m not sure why the park is Tequisquiapam and not Tequisquiapan, which is how most Nahuatl place names end. But I’ve seen it spelled the other way in places, so it may simply be regional.

The monument was built by the Lion’s Club. At the edge of the park is the Centro Educativo de Montessori—a Montessori school—and two coffee shops. So to all the people who say “Mexico is dangerous,” I present Exhibit A.

(It’s not so much that we’re in a bougie area, although that’s true; it’s that half of the entire city is about this upscale. San Luis Potosí is a peaceful town, a state capital, with affluent citizens, lots of young professionals and a police force that basically does its job. Not every city in Mexico is like this—but it’s definitely not the only one.)

My favorite part of the park is this sign:

If I could I would! Photo by André.

The sign reads, “If I could do it I would! AND YOU—? Are you gonna do it or what?”

And this is why I don’t have a dog of my own.

Taking these photos has proved to be a challenge; it’s just not my instinct to whip out a camera everywhere I go. And you need to take a lot of pictures to get a few good ones. However, I have learned that the camera allows me to talk to strangers, asking them if I can take their picture and then making small talk. That gives me more Spanish practice, and more photo opportunities, so for now at least I’ll keep it up.

What questions do you have about San Luis Potosí? Let me know and I’ll do my best to answer!

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Adventure, Bicycling, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

This is what I’m doing, here’s why I’m doing it, and I want you to join me

I’ve always believed in heroism. By heroism I mean the idea that a small group of people can have a tremendous effect on the world, that we can do great things and that the world is better when we do them.

More than that, I believe in adventure. I believe that you can go on a real journey and discover, in the process, not only yourself but your calling in life, your highest beliefs, and how you fit meaningfully into the world.

And heroism often comes from an adventure like that.

Everyone has an art, a skill, a purpose in life. But most of us feel like we’re lost and wandering. The irony is that by actually wandering—by leaving behind the familiar and surrounding yourself with new people and places—you put your calling in life into much clearer focus.

All travelers feel this to some degree. It’s impossible to change your surroundings without also changing the way you think. Parts of you fall away as you’re forced to abandon your assumptions. The parts that remain become stronger. You gain a more definite sense of self, one that you’ve forged on your own, on a journey.

Journeying together. Photo by Esteban.

That’s why I started my own journey. For me, it’s a calling to South America. I’m going there slowly, bit by bit, on foot and on bike. For someone else it might be North America, or Europe, or Kamchatka. It might be by train or motorcycle. It’s not that I need South America or a bicycle to discover myself. It’s that the journey, wherever you start and wherever you go, is the great spiritual practice. To travel is to transform—it is meditation without the monastery.

Is this heroism? No. Not on its own. But it prepares you. You become more willing  to be the first to act, to stand up and speak out for your principles. On a journey like this, you are on heroism’s trail. You find its spark, and that spark is generosity, and selflessness, and sacrifice. And most of all it’s the pursuit of your own excellence, of your own potential.

As the journey remakes you, you begin to do great things.

That’s why I accept companions on my adventure. I want other people to feel firsthand how even a small leg of a journey can so powerfully transform you. Not everyone is ready to go a thousand miles or more, but I believe that joining for just a short distance has a very real effect.

So I’m inviting you to join me.

This summer or fall, I pick up where I left off in Texas and head toward the border town of Laredo. That means I’ll have about 120 miles to go by bicycle. This is completely the US side of the border, and it will be delightful. It will be my final leg in the US.

This leg could be done in as little as two days or as long as four. We can set the pace to accommodate everyone who wants to come. You don’t have to be an experienced bicyclist, and the gear you’ll need is very basic.

If you want to spend a few days trying out the heroic life with me, this will be the last chance that doesn’t require travel outside the US. It’s a good way to experience the life of adventure, travel and self-challenge that I write about.

Bicycle adventure. Photo by Esteban.

Are you interested in joining me for this leg? Leave a comment and let’s start dreaming. What do you want this trip to be like?

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My book Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Lúnasa Days, Writing

Why Won’t There Be a Sequel to Lúnasa Days?

Yesterday I detailed my writing plans for 2014, including announcing a new fiction project (with demons!). Several people have asked me if there will ever be a sequel to Lúnasa Days.

There will not be.

There are a number of reasons for this. The biggest is that Lúnasa Days was always planned as a stand-alone piece. I really don’t believe in taking a one-shot story and tacking on a sequel, even if the story is popular; I think too many bad sequels have been made that way. The finished novella would have looked very different if it was building up to a longer story arc. Instead, it ends on a purposefully open note with no implied next step for any of the characters. That was on purpose.

Another reason why I won’t create  a sequel is the nature of Lúnasa Days itself. I knew I was picking a difficult tale to tell. The main character is a polytheist on a bicycle, so I accepted that readers and critics would assume it was autobiographical no matter what. (It’s really not.) And since it’s a fairly humane, literary work I knew it would be painful to write and require many revisions. That also came true.

The result is that finishing that novella was very much a case of “art from adversity.” The book became personal and difficult to finish. I’d like to think that’s the sign of a good book, but it also means it reflects a moment in time which is now passed. Like all lost relationships, it’s best to move on.

Of course, I realize that this is little comfort to anyone who wanted more with the same characters. The only complaint I’ve heard about the book is that it leaves you wanting more. As a reader myself I can understand that pain, although for a literary work I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

So, as much as I like Bailey and eventually learned to like Emily, any future adventures of theirs—which would surely be separate and not together—must go unchronicled.

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If you haven’t read it yet, Lúnasa Days is available in paperback and on Kindle. Get your copy here.

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Writing

What I’m Writing These Days

Having released Lúnasa Days, a few people have asked me what I’m working on next. The answer is “several things,” but until recently I wasn’t sure which ones were priorities. A big part of my sabbatical in Mexico is focusing on my writing, and over the last few weeks I’ve not only written but assembled a clearer plan. So, while definitely still subject to change, here’s a rough idea of what you can expect next.

Fiction

While I have both fiction and nonfiction projects in the works, fiction is my first priority. I have many ideas I’d love to develop, but I had to choose one to painstakingly outline, storyboard, write and publish.

So I chose the one I’m most excited about.

The book starts with one simple question: How bad would things have to get in Medieval Europe before the Pope authorized demonic magic?

The answer delves into the lives of knights who have lost their faith, friars who renounce their vows, virgin warriors of the Church, damned tomes of ancient spells, and a supernatural enemy devouring whole kingdoms.

The first chapter wipes Portugal completely off the map. Things get worse from there.

This story will be told as a series, with each episode following the arc of one character or group of characters as world-changing events unfold. The first tale follows an underpaid soldier as he’s dropped, by the dark arts, far behind enemy lines—knowing that he’ll go straight to Hell if he’s killed before he can find a priest to confess his sins.

I don’t have a title for this series yet, but I’m wide open to suggestions. I want to finish three whole episodes before I send any to press, which I hope will happen by mid-2014.

Nonfiction

Increasingly I want to take my work in the direction of serious philosophy and the effects of real life adventure. At present that involves two projects.

1. Philosophy of Adventure

Last fall, I released a preview of my long-requested book about adventure. I received extensive reader feedback on that preview version, including dozens of responses to an online survey that closed December 31. Thanks to that robust feedback, I’m reworking and expanding the book.

Originally, the book was titled Heart of Adventure. I was never totally in love with that title. It seemed better than a troped Art of Adventure, but somehow not quite right. Now I’m leaning more toward a plain, simple The Philosophy of Adventure.

Again, I’m open to title suggestions or your votes between those options.

2. My Own Story

The other nonfiction project is autobiographical. It was pointed out to me that just the first leg of my Journey–bicycling the Mississippi River–is a huge adventure by most people’s standards, and that I have dozens of stories from those hazy months. It got me really excited about writing the story of that first leg as a standalone tale, leaving it open to sequels as I reach new milestones. I can’t wait to start outlining.

But I plan to try something new with this one. Instead of indie publishing it, for the first time I’m going to pitch a book proposal to the big names. I’m interested in getting a literary agent—nothing drains me more than handling the business end of writing myself—and I think this would be the ideal project to shop to agents. An agent would then, in turn, pitch it to big publishing houses.

The time frame for the nonfiction projects is less certain than the fiction series. I would expect the tale of my bike ride to come out if and only if someone has interest in publishing it; and the Philosophy of Adventure book to come out around the end of 2014. Both are much lower priorities than the fiction work right now.

Becoming a Professional Writer

I’ve wanted to be a professional writer since I was a kid. Slowly, that dream has been becoming real. But it’s not something I’ve accomplished on my own.

After the initial success of Lúnasa Days I wrote that much of my success was because of my readers. Early on, readers encouraged me that the idea behind Lúnasa Days was a good one. A number of readers stepped up as patrons and helped finance the creation of the book, and stood by me patiently as I dealt with numerous roadblocks. I don’t think the book would have succeeded without all of the reader support.

So, to all of you reading this: thank you.

And if you don’t have it already, feel free to snag Lúnasa Days yourself:

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Available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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Mexico, Photographs, Vodou

Vodou in Mexico (Photo of the Week)

As promised, here is my first ever Photo of the Week. I’d like to release one every Friday, but I’m really terrible about remembering too keep my camera with me—or use it when I do have it. After all, I’m a writer, not a photographer. But I promise to do my very best to keep these coming every week from now on.

(I also promise not to use filler pics. If I end up with a week with no good material, I’ll just be honest and skip the Photo of the Week.)

So here’s the photo that gives this post its name. I like this photo because it captures how I’m not only multi-religious, but becoming a little more multi-cultural as well. I practice two religions, Vodou and Irish polytheism, and one of my first objectives in a new home is to set up a shrine. For the Vodou side I purchased a locally made ceramic flower skull:

Photo copyright 2014 André

Photo copyright 2014 André

With it is an offering candle and the necklace I got in Haiti (lovingly repaired by my mom after it broke). The necklace is dedicated to my patron lwa.

As a bonus, this week I decided to do two pictures. This second one is just a selfie, but if I ever start a band I expect this will be the cover of my first album:

Photo copyright 2014 André

Photo copyright 2014 André

What do you think? Are these any good? And what do you want to see for next week’s Photo of the Week?

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Mexico, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

How I Got to Mexico and What I’m Doing Here

The morning after my kayak expedition I was a new man. When Ken had gone to bed I was shivering, unshaved, salty, soaked and smelling like expired barnacles. Now I was groomed, packed and dressed to travel.

“You’re a real quick change artist,” he said.

He made us a terrific breakfast and then dropped me at the bus station. Online, Greyhound offers a ticket from Corpus Christi, Texas all the way to the city of San Luis Potosí, Mexico. But in person at the ticket booth that line doesn’t exist. It makes me wonder what would have happened if I’d paid for the ticket on their website.

Undeterred, I just asked for a ticket as far as Brownsville, the border town. I’d already been assured by a Mexican bus company that I could pick up one of their buses the rest of the way (this would also turn out to be a lie).

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

Me above the Emerald Gates. Photo by André.

I was in fair spirits that morning. It would have been nice to go the full distance on kayak, but I felt good about my decision. It was the best decision under the circumstances. Now I have a new mission to pick up from Riviera, Texas when I resume my self-powered adventure—either by kayak or bicycle.

And this is something that people don’t get about adventure. There’s this idea that adventure is about taking dangerous risks, the biggest risks possible. Maybe that’s true for thrill-seekers but to me adventure is about minimizing risk. You’re choosing to do something challenging and unusual that will require planning, determination and endurance—why make it even harder? It’s hard enough out of the box. An adventurer’s most important skill is risk management and risk avoidance.

When I got deep into south Texas I had to transfer buses to continue on to Brownsville. I really liked the station in Harlinged because it felt like I was already in Mexico, right down to the family vending street food inside the bus depot.

Finally I reached Brownsville. The station is a giant multiplex of different bus companies. I quickly found out that no one offered direct tickets to San Luis Potosí (or anywhere); you take one bus to cross the border and then you do your bus shopping on the other side.

Well, okay.

That went well enough. No one in this station—the Texas station—spoke English, which gave me a good preview of what to expect ahead (jokingly I wondered if that meant all the station attendants on the Mexico side would speak only English, in a kind of cultural cockblock exchange, but alas international relations have not evolved that far). I grudgingly stocked up on pesos, hating to pay exchange booth fees but not wanting to risk being penniless if there was no ATM on the other side.

And I ate a giant sub sandwich. It would be my last American food for some time, and my only food break before a very, very long bus ride.

Illegal Alien

Eventually we loaded up and went over. Crossing the border was very easy and low-key. So low key in fact that no one stamped my passport. I didn’t realize it till after we pulled away, and then it was too late. All that happened at the border station was we waited around while people said they would search our bags but, as far as I can tell, did not do so. When a guard saw my US passport (the only one in the bunch) he told me to get back on the bus.

This all felt like a weird repeat of Haiti, like I’m in a pulp series and my schtick is I never go through customs right. I’m now living as an illegal alien in Mexico, I suppose.

(I could easily get work teaching English here, meaning I’d also be stealing their jobs.)

Looking out the window at the border town of Matamoros really lifted my heart. I recognized Mexican brands like Oxxo, which flooded me with nostalgia; even better, I could see home-made things and craftsmen’s shops and street food cooked by grandmas and brightly colored cement walls everywhere I looked.

At the Matamoros bus station I quickly put my limited Spanish to work: No, no taxi, thank you. No, I don’t have a ticket. San Luis Potosí. What? Wait, what? What? Speak more slowly please. Oh, you do? How much? One please.

Several hours later I boarded an express bus which would make a single all-night run down Highway 101—the most dangerous highway in Mexico, the US Department of State assures me—with Narco country on both sides.

But at least they give you a snack on the way.

Bushwhacked

Sometime around 1 a.m. I woke up, probably because of the narwhale-like snoring of the man in front of me. Staring out the window, I admired the empty scrub desert in the dark. There are no towns out there, no light pollution. It’s pretty.

The bus stopped.

I tensed up. There was no stop sign out here, and no traffic. Not even police lights as far as I could tell. I rapidly consulted my dictionary for how to say, Take the snoring man, he is very wealthy.

Then the bus tried something I couldn’t have expected: it turned around.

Bear in mind this is a two lane highway with high embankments on either side. There’s no side road or turnabout to use. The bus just sort of ground one end into the embankment, made a rocky little pivot and zoomed back out of there.

I spent the better part of the next half hour wondering what had happened. Did the driver see something? Did he get word on the radio that there was trouble ahead? Worse, is he selling us out? And even if not—then where the heck are we going to end up?

We reached a junction with another endless two-lane highway and turned onto it. I realized, then, what had happened: the driver took a wrong turn.

Chaaaale.

Rogue Cellar

I made it to San Luis Potosí. My friend Cintain just finished building his new house, lovingly dubbed the Palace of the Emerald gates—a sort of Batcave for a Taoist Bruce Wayne. I’m renting a garden level room for April and intend to use most of the time to write.

My days are slow and pleasant. It’s hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was burning 6,000 calories a day and paddling through squalls. But this is the rhythm my life has taken on: short periods of heart-racing adventure interspersed with weeks or months of quiet, peaceful creating.

That’s the life I’ve always wanted.

I’ll be exploring San Luis Potosí over the coming month, and doing my best to document it. What do you want to know about, or see? Is there anything about the city or my life here that you want to make sure I cover?

Also, I’m notoriously bad about taking photos when I find something interesting. Instead of reaching for a camera I just daydream about the stories I can tell (I’m a writer, not a photographer). But everybody loves photos, and honestly I do too. So this Friday I’ll post my first ever Photo of the Week… which hopefully will become a tradition every Friday from now on.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. It’s about travel, adventure and magic. Get your copy here.

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Adventure, Sea Kayaking, Texas, The Great Adventure

I Thought the Evac Would Be Easy

Photo by André

Photo by André

The last morning of my kayak trip I woke up at 4:30. It didn’t know it was the last morning. I hate early rising, but I was in good spirits as I ate my breakfast and packed my gear, reversing the mud hustle of the night before.

There was only one place to get phone reception. I climbed the back stairs of the abandoned cottage and sat on its upper deck. There I had one bar of signal strength.

Message from Ken:

Please don’t try for Port Mansfield. Sunday will be hypothermic paddling. Hi 54 degrees, 80 percent chance of rain, and up to 25 mile an hour winds.

Port Mansfield was the next—and only—point on my route where I could touch civilization. Get more supplies, maybe even find shelter from the storm.

Today was Saturday.

What Ken was saying was, at my current speed—with a headwind still fighting me every stroke of the way—I would not make Port Mansfield today, and that would leave me stranded in a horrible northern storm tomorrow.

I scratched my head. Well, so what? I mean I had no other options, right? Part of me tingled with excitement: a 25 mph north wind would drive me forward–southward–at tremendous speed, and in the narrow protection of the Intracoastal I could surf into port in anything short of a hurricane.

But it wasn’t the wind, really, that I was supposed to be scared of; it was the severe storms behind the wind. Out on the water I’d be the tallest thing for lightning to find, plus there’s that cold Ken mentioned.

In subsequent texts, Ken offered me a convoluted plan involving turning around, going back the way I came, and meeting him on some stretch of beach where he could pick me up by car.

In other words, giving up.

The kayak after the mud hustle. See how far from the water is? It's still tied up to that post.

The kayak after the mud hustle. See how far from the water is? It’s still tied up to that post.

Speed Test

I don’t have any cosmic objections to retreat; sometimes you lose some. But I didn’t think it was necessary. If I could make Port Mansfield by tonight, I’d be safe before the storm hit; if I couldn’t, there were plenty of cottages to shelter behind. I’d just stay in my tent reading Sunday, and continue on when the weather was clear.

Ken was less confident about my camp-in-a-gale strategy. He believed I either needed to be sure I would make port tonight, or else bug out while I still could. He’s the more experienced paddler here, and I decided to listen to him.

So, could I make port? Even with my early start—which was not as early as I’d like, due to the mud hustle—I’d have to average 4 mph against a headwind to make it. Yesterday I’d averaged less than 3 mph. I texted Ken one last time:

Understood. Going to start for Port Mansfield and track mileage. If cannot maintain 4 mph will turn back to meet you. Can stop at this location and text you if so.

With that I stowed my electronics, strapped coffee to the front of my kayak, and shoved off into the wind.

Photo by André

The wind-sheltered underworld where I spent the night. Not as spooky as it looks.

Priorities

One hour later I stopped paddling. I aimed the nose of my boat into some mud and came to a halt. First priority: fill up an empty yogurt container (the two-pint kind) with urine, and empty overboard.

Ahhh.

Second priority: drink the last of my coffee. But why is the coffee gone?

And, as a distant third priority, I checked my mileage. Three miles in an hour. Respectable, job well done, but you will not make port by nightfall, André.

This was where I had to make a decision. I could go on, fall 10 miles short of a safe harbor, and camp wherever I could find a windbreak through a driving northeaster.  Or I could turn around and drift at a laughably easy pace with the wind, back to some previous point and call it quits.

Adding to the mental math was an itinerary problem. I had a friendly face waiting for me in Mexico, but if I took too long to complete this journey, he’d have to leave for weeks of business travel—leaving me nowhere definite to land.

To decide, I turned to my new policy of what is least stressful?. Viewed that way the choice was clear. My ego wanted to push on, but I turned my boat back the way I’d come. I chose to bail.

The weather around the time I made the decision.

The weather around the time I made the decision.

Mystery Beach

Going back was a joke. The powerful wind was working for me now and I made it in 40 minutes. Meanwhile, the Intracoastal had come to life; it was a weekend now, and fishermen were arriving by the boatful. Motorboats sped past me or drifted while the men aboard drank and fished. At least half the “abandoned” cottages now had boats. It made me realize that had I gone on, I might have had to beg to be allowed to camp on someone’s porch.

I landed at the same spot where I’d slept last night and climbed up the back stairs to text Ken. He gave me the coordinates of the pickup point—somewhere south of Baffin Bay. I scratched my head.

Can you confirm coordinates. I paddled past that point yesterday and it looked like desolate ranch land with nothing but windmills.

Ken texted back:

Coordinates correct. Small dirt ranch road runs along there however.

Okay. Well, that wasn’t far… hardly backtracking at all. This would be easy!

I can reach coordinate around 1:30. If I get there first I will land, look for the dirt road and paddle as close as I can. If you get there first I’ll look for you.

Let’s say 2 pm so you’re not waiting.

Of course, I didn’t need nearly that long to get there. But if this was my last day, I might as well enjoy the scenery and a leisurely paddle.

And enjoy it I did. I pulled up along fishing boats and asked if they needed a tow. I chatted with kids and cheered for fishermen trying to pull up a giant catch. I saw a scrawny coyote trotting along a mud flat and chased after him, getting as close as I could by boat. Sometimes I just drifted in the current, enjoying the ride.

Finally the time came. I was back in wide open water and kept a sharp eye on my GPS. I angled toward the spot in question and surfed good tailwind waves across the bay toward it. I remembered this shore: low and barren, generally sandy but with heaps of rocks scattered anywhere. Could be a rough landing.

As the waves rocketed me toward shore, I ripped open my spray deck (the thing that holds you in the boat and keeps you watertight), aimed at a seeming bare sand spot, and leapt out of the boat to run her in. Sure enough, there were sharp rocks all around but the spot I’d picked was clear. With me carefully guiding the boat, we reached shore safely.

I’d hit the GPS coordinate almost perfect. It was 1:30, and a few hundred feet away was a two-track dirt road. The only other thing worth noting was scrub grass and fire ants.

Well, I beat Ken, I figured. I began to unload the kayak and carry every piece of gear to the road, ready for pickup. To make life easier, I marked a trail around fire ant mounds with pieces of driftwood.

But Ken usually runs early, and I started to worry. He didn’t reply to my texts. Finally I just tried calling him.

“Hey, where are you?” he asked.

“I’m at the road!”

It was pretty staticky.

“You’re at the road? They won’t let me in.”

“What!”

“The ranch road is closed. They won’t let me in.”

Oh.

Ohhhhhh.

So here I was, more than half the day gone, farther from port than ever, and a storm coming in. With no one to pick me up. Ken would later tell me that armed guards actually blocked his way at the ranch entrance.

“What are our options?” I asked.

“Well you could camp and wait it out–”

I looked around. This spot was more desolate than any so far. There wasn’t a scrap of shelter for miles.

“–or there’s a boat landing at the end of Baffin Bay. It’s over 20 miles from you.”

The end of Baffin Bay. I’d crossed the bay entrance yesterday, but the bay itself cuts deep inland. I looked at the coordinates on the GPS. Yeah, that was a long way to go.

“What time is it now, 1?” I asked.

“It’s 1:30.”

Sunset was at 7.

“I’ll meet you there at sunset.”

“I don’t know if you can make it that far by sunset.”

“If I can’t I’ll let you know. But I’ll be there.”

“Okay André. Good luck.”

Click.

Map of both proposed pullout points.

Map of both proposed pullout points.

Too Eager

Before I could launch I had to re-load every piece of equipment. I ran them back to the beach, armload after armload, and shoved them into the hatches. At 2:00 I pulled back out through the rocks and made for open water.

To make my rendezvous I’d need to average 5 mph. I knew I wouldn’t hit that average on the first leg, as the wind had swung around to the east. It was crosswise to me now. But I hoped to make up the pace once I reached the opening of the Bay itself, turning west and catching that powerful tailwind once more.

It took 90 minutes to reach the Bay opening. I tore through my water bottles at an alarming rate, straining all muscles to keep the boat going at maximum speed. If I made my destination, I had a shower, a meal, and a warm bed waiting for me; but if I failed I’d be camping without shelter on a desolate wasteland, and still two days from port when the storm passed.

At the entrance to the Bay there’s a point of land, and I cut too close to this. Churning forward through the waves I saw the faintest tint of shadow flicker under the water.

“ROCKS!”

I actually yelled that out loud, to no one but wind demons.

At the same time I executed a perfect full-stop, which is a series of backstrokes Left-Right-Leeeeffft.

The Epic floated dead in the water while I inspected our surroundings. Yes, we were in the midst of a boulder field; we were already deep inside it.

Timidly I poked the sea bottom with my paddle. Like a hand in the dark, I felt out the rocks around me. The wind and current kept the kayak moving sideways even as I poled it forward toward open water. With the vigorous wave action, one collision could crack open the hull, stranding me.

We moved almost like a crab… a little sideways, a little forward, stopping every few yards to feel out the surroundings. I wasted ten minutes there, but eventually emerged from the minefield unscathed.

And finally I could turn with the wind. From here it was one long, straight run with a tailwind toward Ken… and I needed to average 6 mph to get there in time.

Racing a Storm

I shoved down my only food of the day and tilted into each stroke. I paid close attention to proper form. During training, one of our friends saw how much I obsessed over speed and told Ken that kind of stuff didn’t matter to them.

“Well,” Ken had said. “In kayaking, your speed stats are a good indicator of how good your form is.”

Now every stroke had to be perfect: lean forward, push with one foot, tilt the paddle, thrust like a spear, turn with the body. I repeated this until my torso burned, and then I repeated it some more.

Every hour I would guzzle water and check my speed. It was… questionable. The average was still just a touch too low. I managed to dig in and paddle even harder.

And the wind picked up. The reason it had switched from Southeast to East was, of course, because it was bringing in tonight and tomorrow’s storms. And one of them was early.

I don’t know what time it was when I noticed the sky change. Risking a look over my shoulder, I saw massive dark clouds. The wind grew stronger and colder and the waves were bigger and more powerful. They had miles of fetch behind them, running the bay and batting my kayak like a toy.

Racing with waves is a funny thing in a kayak. It’s a speed boost, to be sure, but each wave throws around the stern of your vessel side-to-side. They don’t really approve of you coming with them; it’d be funnier to the waves if they could turn you sideways, then just roll you over like a window shade.

It was more unnerving because of the weight I carried. Fully loaded, the kayak resisted most of the fish-tailing… only to squirrel around at rocket speeds for the rare wave that managed to grab me. And as the waves got steeper and faster, the heavy boat just sort of sank into the trough between each set, swamping me with water.

This is why I trained, I thought, and paddled on.

Finally things got bad. Another furtive glance showed a wall of rain bearing down on me. A squall, and I was in the middle.

I thought about going to shore. The closest shore, to my left, was more of the same rocky ranch I’d landed at before. No rescue there. The farther shore, barely visible on my right, might have some access road or at least shelter—but could I even make it across in time?

Sometimes you just have to impose human will onto a situation, simply refuse to let Nature dictate the next move. I wasn’t going to shore.

I pointed the kayak at the next marker in the endless chain that led, in theory, to some safe harbor near Ken, and decided to surf the squall-waves and see what happened.

What happened is I was slammed by wave after wave, got blown off bearing… and gathered remarkable speed. When waves picked me up and surfed me, I’d propel forward so fast that I was no longer the pilot, I was simply along for a ride.

As it happened, the worst of the squall passed south of me and I didn’t get rained on for long. I continued my trek toward safety.

Drawing by André

Drawing by André

Twilight

With the squall past, beautiful Áine showed her face. She smiled.

“I always seem to find you like this, Rogue Priest.”

“It’s a bad habit.”

“I can’t give you any more time.”

I looked around. I was still nearly an hour from my destination. I was out of sunlight.

“I know,” I told her.

“What will you do?”

I laughed. “What I always do, my lady.” I stared out at the distant shore, barely a smudge on the edge of vision. “I’ll survive.”

Her clouds closed back over her face and, so veiled, she made her way to bed.

Off on my right was one final point of land. Empty of life and devoid of shelter, it looked about as welcoming as Mars. But I could land there, right now, and still have time to set up camp before total darkness.

Or… I could keep going.

The final crossing, from this point to that distant smudge, was only a few miles. But it was a few I’d have to cover, ultimately, in the dark—without even knowing exactly where my destination was.

Are we here to adventure, or aren’t we?

While the ghost of the sun dropped below the horizon, I left the bewitching safety of that final point and began my crossing.

Me looking awful confident about the weather.

Me looking awful confident about the weather.

So Close

At first I strained in the vain hope of still making land before total dark, but as the sky fell greyer and greyer I knew the truth, and felt at peace.

The wind was still behind me, but softer now, and the waves slowly built down from buffaloes to lambs. On the distant shore lights began to appear: some white, some green, some tiny and twinkling. I chose a set of green lights, hoping it was a harbor, and paddled on. I felt a strange confidence in my lack of good sense, the confidence of the serial adventurer.

Crossing that last stretch I pictured Ken waiting on the shore for me, and hoped he could see my red boat front-lit by the dying daylight. Once, I thought I saw a blinking of a flashlight on shore, as if someone was signaling me, but when I yelled out—fruitlessly, I’m sure—it disappeared and didn’t return.

A strange magic comes over the water at nightfall. The wind went still, and every lap of the waves sounded plaintive and empty against my hull. It all gets so quiet, then; you see only dark reflected by dark, and some dots of light that could be one mile away or a hundred; you are completely alone in a force of nature vast and powerful, one which would gladly eat you and no one would ever know—but you can’t see it, so you aren’t afraid.

I made up a shanty and sang as I went. Perhaps this is human habit in such lonely surrounds. It also warned others I was there before they hit my unlit boat.

Oh the wind is calm,

And the night is clear

All hands on deck!

The shore is near—

And if we make this port,

There’ll be beer for all,

But if we hit that rock,

Then down we’ll fall.

Far from the best song ever composed at sea, but this dubious hymn led me through the black on my way toward the speckled lights of shore.

Getting close, I did not in fact hit that rock. The green-lit dock was a dud, and I made my way to another where dozens of men night-fished. They had no idea I was there till I called out, just yards away. They couldn’t agree on where to find a boat ramp or sandy beach. I disappeared back into the dark as quickly as I’d come.

I went pier to pier along vacation homes, none of them with a suitable kayak landing. (The piers themselves were too tall for me to use.) Finally, I found one lone night fisherman sitting on some rocks and just packing up for the night. I asked him to shine his flashlight on the shore for me. (Mostly he just shined it in my eyes, which by the way, does not help.) I saw a line of rocks with maybe a line of sand in front of them.

“You’re just going to have to choose a spot and land,” I told myself.

So I did.

In black shallow water I leapt out of the boat and walked her in, guiding her around rocks to the sandy beach, laughing with the wind as I made it.

By the time I called him Ken was halfway home. When he pulled up I called out, “How’s it going?”

How’s it going?”

He flipped me off with both hands.

It was good to see him.

We put the gear in his car, loaded the kayak, and headed toward his house. I was up very late. I had to change, shower, unload all the gear, clean things, and sort everything for the trip to Mexico—plus investigate bus tickets, since I wasn’t exactly leaving from where I’d expected to leave.

“You know, you’ve got an incredible amount of endurance,” Ken told me.

“Yeah, it’s my only good quality.”

Me that night at Ken's.

Me that night at Ken’s.

I honored the words of my shanty, pouring out beer for those spirits who’d been aboard, and having a sip myself. I never did end up making dinner—other than one of Ken’s world famous protein shakes, there just wasn’t time.

After midnight I feel asleep clean, dry, sore and warm. The rain fell outside. And somewhere, far away, the waves kept moving.

 

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Find out more here.

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André

Why I Changed My Name to André

Last summer I started calling myself André. That’s now both my pen name and my nickname in real life. I usually don’t use a last name, but in places where one is required I use André Sólo, which just means “only Andre.”

This is my permanent name now and I’m requesting that friends, readers and family use André going forward.

The name change has been surprisingly difficult. Last time I switched sobriquets was to “Drew” in 2010 or so. People really liked the switch, probably because it’s so informal compared to “Andrew,” my previous preference. (Oddly, I myself never liked Drew very much, as catchy as it is.)

But what really made that name easy was that I switched just as I transitioned to a new job. My new coworkers didn’t know me any other way, so the new name caught on fast. The same has not been true this time around.

The difference is that I’ve built a small amount of fame under my old name, and it’s not easy to shift that momentum to André. Of course, it would have been a lot smarter to make this switch before publishing Lúnasa Days last year, but I was advised against that.

To me, the name André is immensely meaningful. It’s a name that stands for everything I believe in, while emphasizing my pan-American dreams. It may not be what it says on my birth certificate, but it’s for more than just book covers: it’s my stage name, and I live it every day. I use it in person as well as on all my creative work.

So, although I know it’s hard to remember, I hope you’ll all indulge me by using André.

(And don’t worry, I’m not a stickler for the accent mark.)

I’ve already picked up nicknames. Aside from André Sólo, my Mexican friends have now dubbed me simply El André, and radio host Greg Berg took me up on my original naming invitation, consistently calling me André del Mundo. I like both of these, and I welcome other variations.

Of course, I won’t take offense if someone honestly forgets, but I really do only consider André to be my name. And I appreciate it every time someone remembers.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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