Progress, Money, Health, Sex, Prep, Mission: Here is the State of the Adventure.
I set to cross two continents and meet the gods.
I started from the source of the Mississippi and went 1,800 miles to New Orleans, where I have been practicing Vodou.
In June I will embark once again, this time to bicycle to Texas. I will spend my time there training on sea kayaks. Then I’ll paddle down the Gulf of Mexico to continue the journey.
I. Progress and Pace
The pace of the journey is acceptable.
One of the biggest errors I made in communicating about the Adventure, at the beginning, was not talking about its slow and intentional nature. The plan has always been to allow for (a) taking time in communities to get to know the people and (b) meandering without adhering to a strict itinerary.
Many people tell me this is the “only” way to travel—not true but I feel you—but many were also surprised. They expected, essentially, a marathon bike/walk/paddle to the end destination. That is a different kind of adventure.
I do have pacing concerns. I had always planned to spend an extended stay in New Orleans, the first of many such extended stays along my route. Originally I pictured several months; I did not set a hard deadline, and it has bled.
New Orleans readers will laugh because this city does that (some local friends wrongly think I won’t continue on at all). But it was intentional. I originally planned to stay November – April in order to have the option to undergo Vodou priest initiation in April. That became extended because:
- Initiations are more likely to happen in May than April
- It would be unwise to rush to leave at the same time as initiating
So I extended my stay till June. And since there’s a major Vodou ceremony every Saint John’s Day (June 24), I naturally set my departure date at the end of the month.
That will amount to 8 months in one city. It’s disappointing for two reasons:
- Priestly initiations have been canceled this year, at least for this spring.
- This really is too long. I’ve developed a settled life and I don’t want to until I complete my purpose. I love New Orleans and maybe I will live here one day, but not now.
It’s hard to explain my feelings about settled life. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. There’s a mix of temptation (to simply stay) and regret (that I didn’t come here earlier). Yet all the happiness I have here—all the friends and experiences—would not be in my life if I’d stayed in Natchez, Vicksburg, Memphis, St. Louis, Dubuque, Mexico City. All were temptations as different levels.
It seems insane to give up the happiest life in the world, but my lifestyle is one of exploration and discovery. The happy resting point is only fulfilling as one dot in a greater constellation.
So I would not be pleased with this 8 month stay in any case, and even less so since the initiation I came here for not possible. It would be easy to say I “stayed for nothing,” but I stayed for many reasons and it has been a joy.
The lesson I draw is never to put a secondary goal ahead of my purpose. The Adventure is my life: it is my bark. Long after I am away from the beeswax scent of the Hounfo, when my sisters and brothers are nowhere for me to clasp, I will have the journey and the journey will have me. How could I put one faith above that?
I am a journeyman priest. I will learn from many masters. Seek them out, initiate, give dedication and service. But the heroic way is my highest calling. It must always come first.
This lesson comes a little too late. When I leave New Orleans it will be nearly one year since I started. It may be nearly another before I leave the US. That puts a barb in my spirit.
As a touchstone, I believe my “extended stays” in a place should be about 4 months. Texas may require longer.
I have increased my earnings and I feel confident in my income.
Earnings on the road were (barely) sufficient while bicycling. On arrival in New Orleans I plunged into a dangerous financial situation, but ultimately recovered.
In 2012 I earned a total of US $16,964 primarily from freelance writing. I love off my income; I do not have large savings.
So far in 2013 my freelance earnings are the strongest they’ve ever been, and I make over $2,000 per month. If the current trend continued I would likely make between $24,000 and $32,000 in 2013.
But the trend will not continue:
On the road I will be forced to give up some clients and scale back freelance work. It may not be as easy to build them back up once I arrive at my next extended stay.
Nonetheless I expect Texas to be easier than New Orleans for several reasons:
- Cost of living is lower in Texas.
- Less debt.
- Stronger client portfolio (more diverse) means less danger from losing a few clients.
- Experience handling New Orleans will make preparation easier for future extended stays.
Thus a second crisis is unlikely. The challenge is meeting additional financial goals, such as:
- Paying off remaining debt.
- Financing the sea kayak leg of the expedition.
- Earning enough to buy health insurance.
The last point is the most serious and many readers will likely be horrified that I am doing all this with no health coverage. Others will be completely unsurprised—not because it is acceptable but because it is the reality for most bootstrap travelers and much of the rest of the population.
I consider health coverage a medium-level priority because (a) I can go into debt to cover health costs if the worst happens, (b) once I get out of the US health care will be more affordable and (c) in any case there is no realistic health insurance plan for me after I leave the US. Policies for travelers exclude adventuring or sporting injuries, by far the most likely kind of coverage I would need.
So my financial goals for 2013 focus tightly on:
- Paying off all of my remaining consumer credit card debt (about US $7,000) before December 31.
- Outfitting the sea kayak expedition.
If I can successfully reach these goals I will consider health insurance a nice second priority.
For 3 years I’ve worked hard to reshape my health, and the last year in particular has been challenging but helpful. If there are no injuries, I expect to be in better health by the end of this year than ever before.
(In this section I will often talk about my weight, but weight loss is not necessarily a health goal. If you eat a healthy diet with a lot of vegetables and exercise regularly, your health can be above average even if you are slightly obese. Conversely thin people can be very unhealthy.)
I feel like I spent the first 30 years of my life abusing my body and will spend the second 30 years taking damn good care of it. I enjoyed abusing my body but it’s more enjoyable to treat it well. Ultimately, I derive more satisfaction from vegetables, yoga and water than from sweets, bread or alcohol.
I desire to be thin because it increases range of motion, decreases the difficulty of endurance travel like bicycling or kayaking, and correlates with lower risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. It’s also aesthetic and increases how much sex I can have.
I have found that I am one of the lucky people who can reliably control weight through diet. However there are thresholds.
For most of my life I have been at least slightly obese. Previously I looked and felt my best in college age 19-21 at 189 pounds. Throughout my 20s my weight increased with sedentary lifestyle, worse diet, heavier drinking and unhappy marriage/work life. My weight was between 240 and 260 pounds. I am 5’11”.
In 2009-10 I began to make changes to decrease my weight. By decreasing calorie intake I dropped to 215 pounds. Further weight loss became difficult, but more exercise helped get me to 200-205 pounds.
At that point I turned to healthy diet changes. Specifically I used a 4 month Chinese Medicine diet regimen that cut out carbs, meat, alcohol, gluten, and other specific foods. This resulted in substantial weight loss, which was not stable. After fluctuation I reached a stable weight of about 195 pounds.
By early 2012 in Mexico City I began to use limited alcohol intake and careful choice of foods (mostly vegetables/meat) as a de facto calorie control along with increased exercise (walking). I finally reached my old college weight of 189 and at the very thinnest, just as I returned to US, I reached 178 pounds, my lowest adult weight ever. It looked and felt good.
Since then weight has been very unstable mostly from frequent drinking and inconsistent sedentary/active lifestyle.
It has become apparent that with my normal habits my body “normalizes” around my old college weight of 189 pounds. Regimens and diet plans will not result in further, reliable weight loss.
If it is possible for me to lose more weight and keep it off, it will require lifestyle changes at a broader level.
Alcohol plays a role in the weight management outlined above but it presents special issues worth discussing.
I was raised drinking routinely and I adore alcohol. This is true in all aspects: the taste of good drinks, the pleasant sensation and its social role. It takes effort for me to choose not to drink daily.
(After extensive honest discussion with recovering alcoholics, as well as testing myself, I believe I am not an alcoholic and am able to control my drinking or abstain completely long-term.)
Additionally, weight loss interacts with alcohol tolerance. I’m used to weighing 250 pounds and easily consuming 4 or more drinks without feeling drunk; at 180 pounds just two drinks is a challenge.
Between weight loss and aging, hangovers can be severe and I no longer enjoy heavy drinking. This is particularly problematic since I now have no intuitive sense of what constitutes “heavy” drinking for me.
Finally, I am immersed in a culture of bacchanalia and the assumption in New Orleans is that heavy drinking is part of social activity and fun. I have discovered that my friends are (wonderfully) supportive when I choose not to drink, but it’s still hard to be in a drinking environment and abstain.
The result is that I am heavily focused on adjusting my alcohol usage. If I consume 2-3 drinks and stop, or pace myself at less than 1 per hour over long festivities, I find my reaction tolerable. Even at that rate I worry about the immediate recklessness of intoxication as well as long-term health effects.
In my ideal health world I would never drink. In my ideal aesthetic world I would drink freely for pleasure.
I greatly enjoy vegetables. I also enjoy carbs but I recognize that in many cases they are not a healthy choice.
Meat is a poor health choice. Killing animals for food is 100% ethical and I will never support a righteous vegetarianism. However for health reasons I would prefer a largely vegetarian diet.
Often I will snack on fruits or nuts and eat two meals of only salad per day. That’s one of the healthiest possible diets. When eating that way, I find it no problem to consume some sweets, carbs or meats each day.
However, I am caught in a back-and-forth. I can eat healthy and enjoy it for 2-4 weeks losing weight the whole time. Then I will get intense cravings for sweets, carbs, cream, meat and alcohol which lasts for 1-3 weeks and regain the weight.
My body has been in its slightly obese form for so long that is panics if I lose too much weight. It takes intense effort to continue healthy eating habits during these craving periods. It is part of why I believe I need to change habits at a broad level in order to continue transforming my body.
I no longer seek a “program” like the Chinese Medicine one. I can easily make dramatic changes to diet and achieve impressive results, but they erode afterward as the cravings set in. What I need are sustainable healthy habits I can maintain long term.
Presently I adhere to the “mostly salad” intake (which I enjoy) but I give myself free reign with a daily dessert and some light alcohol intake. My hope is this will bolster my willpower to keep my healthy habits during the cravings and, ultimately, change my habits and my body’s expectations.
Muscle and Exercise
I am physically strong and have no particular muscle-building goals. I value flexibility over pure strength.
I practice Ashtanga yoga five days a week and it’s wildly effective. It increases muscle, flexibility and my desire to eat and live healthy.
My health desires are to look like a lean athlete, which to me is an inspiring image, and to have the physical capability to perform extraordinarily when needed—either for my own survival or to help others.
By losing approximately 15 more pounds of fat while maintaining muscle and flexibility I will be in the fitness category that satisfies me. I believe I can do that before the end of 2013.
I have adapted well to the short term, passionate relationships of the road.
I value romantic love over one-night stands but have enjoyed both. I have sex frequently which is healthy and proper.
I sometimes wonder if, eventually, I will want a long term relationship. Right now I find the fatal nature of my short-term loves to make them sweeter—not only sweeter than a long term relationship overall, but sweeter than even its “honeymoon” phase.
I suspect I’ll continue to make love to many different women as I travel. I’ve become much better in bed and am a more romantic, relaxed man. I remain (often close) friends with the women I’ve loved. I believe they too are happy with our time together, and in turn that brings me great happiness.
My 1,400 mile shoes have done their time and need to be replaced.
Renting a furnished apartment in this country is stupid ridiculous. This country is not for travelers. I need to reach out ahead to contacts in Texas and have a network on the ground before I arrive.
I should probably get a new laptop.
The Giant needs a new seat, professional air pump, more hardcore tires, tire goo, new front light, and a lighter load. I will ship some stuff ahead so I am carrying less. I may install a sound system on the bike.
The purpose of the Adventure is intact and succeeding. This is more than a way of life, it is a statement, a belief, and a credo.
The world is good; humanity is good; we can do amazing things; travel and you will find it.
The heroic faith is my religion and it has brought me to the very gates of Forever.
Thank you for sharing it with me.
The State of the Adventure will not be an annual report. It will be released between each major leg of the journey.