Adventure, Dominican Republic, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

The Change In Plans

Jessica and Drew

So much has changed in only a week.

The crossing of the Mississippi was successful. After many well-intentioned warnings, it was almost comically easy: I can’t imagine a more pleasant kayak trip. I can say that Jessica was as tough and capable a partner as one could hope for. She has my heart.

And that’s the thing.

As any reader should know, I finished my time in New Orleans and tuned my bike for 700 more miles. Those 700 will take me to Corpus Christi, Texas where I’ll train on sea kayaks until I can paddle the Gulf of Mexico.

Saturday morning the Giant was all loaded up. At the morning send-off party I popped the champagne, put my arm around Jessica, and made the announcement:

“There’s been a change in plans.”

Jessica and I are running away to the Caribbean.

Taking Risks for Love

I will still bike to Texas, paddle Mexico, walk to South America. But Jessica and I haven’t had enough of each other. So we’re both taking a risk.

For me it means delaying the next stage of my Adventure; for her it means cancelling a summer in New York. We’ll spend the next two months together in the Dominican Republic, in a small village on the beach.

Is this crazy? That’s certainly the word we both use. We’re nervous. I don’t really know if this is the beginning or the end. But together we’ll explore deserted beaches, scramble up waterfalls, motorbike through mountain towns. I’ll learn to cut coconuts with a machete, and maybe we will be happy.

It is right to take risks for love.

This is temporary. In August we’ll fly back to New Orleans—hopefully with a clearer picture of what we want for our future—and I’ll resume my trip from exactly where I left off. The Adventure will go on.

Perspective

At many points, when the going was hard or temptation reared her head, my friends have said it’s okay if I don’t complete the Adventure. I’m sure that many of you share that sentiment, too—it’s meant in the kindest way, and I appreciate that.

But I care.

I care whether I complete the Adventure. It’s not optional to me. It’s woven in my nature, it’s assigned by my highest self.

There will be a day when I limp, drift, raft, stumble, bike, run, or race the last 18 steps and my heart will be complete. I will know I lived a story and I will know who I am and what I must do. Until that day, I take a step forward, a cautious step forward.

And here’s what so few people know: I care about completing the Adventure, but I don’t care how long it takes.

Running away for love is not, to me, a delay in the Adventure. It is the Adventure.

We had joked about this idea for weeks, always a joke. But then reading, researching, looking at what it would take. I told Jessica we had to make a decision. She said no, I can’t do it, I can’t just run away for love. So I packed my bike.

The next day she held me and breathed: let’s do it. “We have to do it.”

And so we do. Set my bow at the storm, let us sail this ocean again. Let us sail the ocean of fear and trembling, because what else is there? Only islands, islands in the storm.

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

Journey to the End, Day 3: Who Beside You?

And after the End, what is it like? How do you get back?

One of the magic places on the way back.

One of the magic places on the way back.

The Levee

The last leg of the Mississippi River was behind us. We had biked all the way to the end, made offerings in a lonely place, ignored a sage perhaps; we were done. And it was dark, or damn near.

We planned to camp on the levee. I have written before about the problems with illegal camping, but down here was different—we were far from any farm, any house, no one was bothered, no one could find us.

We could lie where we pleased.

What pleased was the nearest, flattest, driest, quietest place we could find, with “nearest” leading the compromise. It becomes a scramble when the sun is low—I remember these days well; Jessica was about to be initiated.

Venice is built outside the levee. We crossed back over to the protected faux-basin of lower Louisiana. We took a side road that followed the levee, a high rampart above us. I spotted what looked like a service road and we went to investigate.

Below the levee’s crown was a flat spot. It was protected from view, it was grassy, and it was high up—zero danger of flooding and little of gators. The breeze helps reduce mosquitoes, though that’s a joke: you’re in a swamp, son.

We hauled our gear up by hand, to lighten the bikes. Then we hauled the bikes.

As with an air pump earlier, we had never before used the tent we’d brought. It’s actually an ingeniously designed piece of gear, but in sweaty dusk by lamplight and ear-buzz I would have welcomed something a little less ingenious, a little more familiar.

The tent went up.

Sweatbox

Inside was a nylon oven. Sweat threw itself from every pore. Itchy legs, dirty clothes, fever skin, exhausted limbs. Rationed water.

I got ready for bed.

I looked over at Jess. “How are you doing, Broome?”

She looked straight ahead. “Give me thirty minutes.”

It was the voice that brings men ulcers: the am-not-happy voice of a woman. But she was self contained. She neither complained, nor blamed, not pretended to be well: she asked for thirty minutes.

I nodded, said nothing, and gave her the time.

This is miserable, I knew. Not the trip as a whole—the trip I adore. But there is a certain malarial fatigue that happens when you race the sun to camp. You arrive exhausted, stressed and worried; you must then do physical work by little light in unsavory conditions. When at last you get into your cocoon you’re wired but deflated. You tremble, you toss around wishing you could sleep.

In 1,900 miles I had many nights like this. I never grew to like them, but I grew to manage them.

The person beside me was experiencing her very first one.

Thirty Minutes

I’ve been reading a book by Ed Stafford, the first (known) person to walk the entire length of the Amazon (thanks Sharla!). The biggest barrier to Ed’s trip, every day, was tension with traveling partners: guides, friends, locals. Learning to handle the psychological and social aspect of the adventure was far more critical to his survival than knowing how to deal with snakes, spiders or caimans.

Likewise, as I prepare to kayak the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve spoken with a wonderful doctor who’s done the same. His words about travel partners echo Ed’s perfectly.

And that was my only concern with bringing Jess (or anyone) along: we get along great, but how about under pressure?

The answer, it turns out, was not bad.

Jess calmly listed her thoughts in no particular order. Thoughts like:

  • She did not want to give up if camping out was important to me.
  • She was hot and miserable.
  • She wanted to be able to say she had camped on the levee.
  • She knew she could force herself to remain in the tent all night, uncomfortable as it was.
  • She was worried that if she slept poorly our final day of biking would suffer.

I listened to all points and suggested we go to a motel.

On the way we got lost in the fog.

Checking the phone (map) I turned us around. Jess asked me several questions: how we missed our road, why we needed to turn, how sure I was, etc. These are reasonable questions. Finally I had to answer:

“Right now my body’s tired. When my body’s tired my mind gets tired. I really need to not answer questions right now.”

She understood and we continued in silence, successfully reaching the motel.

After coffee and showers, I said: “Jess, I feel like we both did something mature tonight.”

She nodded: “I’m really proud of us.”

Ferries! (I did not make us late.)

Ferries! (Me not making us late.)

Tail Wind

All of that was the night of Day 2. Day 3 deserves little mention, because it was so simple.

We had a tail wind. We had different priorities for pace and schedule: fellow adventurers warn that this is the biggest source of contention. To her, we had reached my goal and the mission was over; get home quick. To me, we’d found one magic place at the end of the river and there were many more to discover.

We worked this out, doing mature things.

We pedaled 80 miles in a grand day, sailing on an 8 mph tail wind and strong legs. We crossed three ferries so we could follow the prettiest roads; in Algiers we faced our toughest traffic, conditions that left me with a pounding heart and an iron grip on my bike. Jessica handled it with a cool head.

We also crossed this bridge:

Highway 407 Bridge

“Report a Problem.” Problem: THIS BRIDGE!

After a rain shower and a gated dead end we reached the Dry Dock bar and restaurant (site of our first date) beside the Algiers Ferry. (For non-New Orleanians, that means one ferry ride from home.) There, no one cared about the miles we had gone or the dangers we had faced. We were just two more people with too many requests for our overworked waitress. Her adventure occluded our own.

Beer, salads, and too much food; an oddly comfortable ferry ride; a jaunt through the Quarter; coming full circle at Rogue Chateau; and 3 more miles back to Jess’ place for champagne and cookies.

This is the first leg of the Great Adventure. The first leg of a dream, a prophetic dream come true; the first leg of wresting Fate, of choosing Fate, of lightly holding Fate.

This is what it is to seek the heroic life.

This is the last part of a series. You can also read Day 1, Day 2 and reflection 2.5. Better yet, you can even read Jessica’s version.

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Adventure, André, New Orleans, Spotlight, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life

The Crawfish Chronicles

This is an excerpt from the Wandering Dragon.

Picture by Wandering Dragon.

After having been in association with this guy for over four years, I can honestly say that he is the most cunning, determined, and foolhardy person I know… I have come to New Orleans to see him and symbolically “send him on his way” across a vast unknown that most of us would fear to tread.

He questions religion, belief, even experience, and yet sees the need and the usefulness for things like magic, ritual, and community, and does his best to ensure they reach those who need them. It’s like he wants you to believe in what you believe because you really believe it, and not for any other reason or self-serving excuse.

In his article Of Crawfish Boils, Magic Spells and Revelations, my friend and brother the Wandering Dragon (Mauricio) goes on to paint a picture of me as traveling philosopher that is at once embarrassingly accurate, and touchingly astute. This article was published weeks ago, and I hesitated to share it: would it be too self-serving? But he knows me (and my ideals) better than just about any human alive, and what he wrote keeps strumming chords in me.

If you want to get a look at what I do, and why I live, from the inside out—I don’t believe anyone has ever captured it this well.

Wandering Dragon is a blog of many topics, and you never quite know what you’ll find next. But I hope you’ll take a look at Of Crawfish Boils, Magic Spells and Revelations and leave Mau a comment or a question—tell him what you think, and dig for a little more.

Thanks brother. And thanks to all who follow me on this crazy adventure.

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Adventure, The Heroic Life

Sometimes you stand alone

Photo credit: “Venture” by orangeacid

Adventure is a way of life. It is putting your ideas ahead of your abilities, and your dreams ahead of your fears.

Before you begin to adventure you are mocked, judged, criticized: that will never work! But once you take your first step the whole world is rooting for you, the people you meet are amazed, they want you to succeed.

Not every single one of them, but enough.

Along your way you’ll find the lowest times, the deepest pains, fears in your soul that you did not know you harbored. You will look around, gasping, for anyone to blame—and there will only be yourself.

At these times you must pull forward, one hand over one hand, until you can walk again. You will want to give up, but adventure has its own siren call, and you will perhaps keep going. First you must forgive yourself.

You will meet companions. Some whom you trust, some whom you don’t; some likable and some grotesque; you will learn to check your judgment, to silence it, and not to mock others as you were once mocked. Sometimes the people least like yourself will be the ones you love the most.

You will enjoy nights of fatal bliss, nights beside a friend you will never see again: one you understand perfectly, and who understands you. You will speak in hushed tones like two thieves planning conquest. And you will know that, no matter where you go, you will always find your kin.

And when you kiss! When you kiss, it will never be halfway. You will grab them and possess each other.

Then you will learn to talk to storms, winds, streams, and wooded glens: the world will become an old chum, a well-known companion in her own right. You will learn her temperaments, and speak to her not as shaman but as lover. Her rhythms will beat warm against your skin, her temperaments endearing.

The world has both good and bad. When others run in fear, you will walk peacefully toward the wind.

And your fearlessness comes in. Not rashness but a knowing smile. You pull the arrow from your side and tend your sewing kit. You give shelter to those who shrink, you forgive those who run. Sometimes you stand alone, sometimes you are creatures of legend.

This is a simple process. It is not elusive. Adventure gives you hardship, victory, and unshakable peace. It is the practice of heroes.

Can anyone adventure? Yes but—no one will ask you. Every force will hold you back except your heart. If your heart aches for it, the door is open. Adventure is open.

It is the practice of heroes.

-

You might also enjoy my essay The day I had nothing left.

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Spotlight, The Heroic Life, Travel

I told a friend I would never be happy

Used without permission from Jodi Ettenberg.

This is an excerpt from an essay by Jodi Ettenberg.

A long time ago, I told a friend that I would never be happy in life. That my brain was too whirry and too busy thinking of all the things I could/should/will be doing and never able to focus on the present. How can someone be happy if they’re thinking of something else all the time? In the last few years, however, I came to accept the fact that this overarching, fuzzy idea of happiness couldn’t be my goal. It was unrealistic, and I felt that I was failing  – people were writing to say “oh, you’re living the dream!” — but internally I was struggling with what I was doing and why I was doing it.

What I was feeling made sense given that I got here by accident (as in, I didn’t quit my job to be a travel writer or seek happiness), but I still needed to parse through my thoughts and also take stock of who I had become after many years of travel.

* * *

I use the term “building a life” a lot lately. It’s become my preferred expression to discuss my choices because there is such weighted agency in it – I, Jodi Ettenberg, chose this path. It has been a fallback to say I got here by accident — factually accurate, no less — but relying on kismet or coincidence also lets me off the hook for the hard and very damaging decisions I made in leaving New York. I left a place and people I loved, and a career that was going well for me.  It’s true that I didn’t do this to “be” happy or because I was burned out. But regardless, I did it because I wanted to see the world, and the pull of that otherness – not just to see it on a short vacation, but to live it and get my hands dirty – it drew me in. It became bigger than me, a restlessness that corroded. It grew and it grew until I had to act on it; ignoring it was just hurting people around me and myself.

When I left for what I thought would be a year, I found that the restlessness dissipated. I wasn’t looking to travel around the world indefinitely. That’s never been an aim. However, the restlessness was replaced by an extraordinary curiosity for just about everything I saw. I wanted to build a life around that curiosity. All of the work I do – the consulting, the food writing, the blog – is to facilitate that, and to enable me to see and experience more of the little things in life. In acknowledging this shift away from restlessness and toward learning, I came a long way to accepting more of where I am today. I’m making choices only for me, which is not something everyone has available to them.

Jodi is different than other travel bloggers. She speaks about her own experience and doesn’t try to sell you on anything. Here, she really inspires me by showing that travel really does work as a practice—one that helps you find your purpose and live by your values. And that means it also works as a lifestyle. 

This is one of my favorite articles about travel. I hope you will read the rest and share your thoughts. 

-

In the last year you have helped me launch an adventure, complete a novella (currently in editing) and fund a community atelier of magic. You are the best readers in the world. Thank you. 

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Adventure, Meditation, Religion, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

I’ll keep dancing

“Red Boat” by Odilon Redon

I’m going to keep on dancing.

I have been dancing for a long time. A lot of people watch. Some smile. They like the way I dance.

Others think I look stupid.

Sometimes people get very upset. There is no dancing here! I am going to keep on dancing, sir.

I’m on display, but that is not why I dance.

Because this isn’t exhibition: this is practice. I am testing the idea that travel is itself a spiritual exercise, one as profound as meditation, as meaningful as prayer, as worthy as the study of myth—perhaps more direct than any of these.

The premise of my journey is that we can meet the gods, therefore let’s go out and find them. This is a practice open to anyone, an alchemy of the soul wrought with sun, wind and rain.

I will keep dancing, I will dance forever. I will dance alone while others stare from afar. But as I dance I smile. I enjoy the dance. The dance is fun; it is good. Perhaps others wish to feel the same joy that I feel. Then run out beside me, dance too—dance your own way, differently from me. I am here, and I will keep dancing.

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Adventure, New Orleans, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life

The view from her window is just like Vietnam

I’ve never been to Vietnam. But I see from her window. Layers of tropic plants bright as noon with a cloud-stained sky. Past the trees, the white porch of a French mansion. The French were here, once; the French were there, once.

She has no curtains. Any French colonel could see us nude. But the colonel is away. He has not been home in some time.

This street is forgotten. It’s the last road to the Zone, the place where the sidewalk ends. Only memories live here, and ghouls, santurists and painters.

This one is a painter.

Strange noises break the hum. A squeak, the clash of a shutter. Once this was a swamp. Then came the wealthy. We feast on their leavings, like the rats who never left.

I look at her in that sunlight. It’s a cold white light, a half-spring half-rain light. Her den smells like linseed. She has 80 grand of furniture, made by her own hands. She’s not selling.

She looks at me and smiles. I know you, I think.

I can’t say the words. What if they’re a lie? I would never lie to a woman but I do lie to myself. What if the words, the dreams are wrong?

I lean back on the bed. In June she goes north; in June I go south. As with all good romance, we are under the threat of destruction. But one doesn’t promise the other.

She mumbles. Maybe “I know you.” I didn’t hear. I hold her hand and I breathe, sweetly drumming, sweetly drumming. One day we’ll be too old for ghost mansions. She’ll have kids and a more reliable man. I’ll have stories and an empty bed. Her great-grandkids will forget her name. Stories get forgotten, too.

Every wave recedes to the ocean, even the Flood, even the Flood.

It all goes to the ocean in the end.

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