Road Logs

Adventure Log: Wisconsin Edition

Apparently people really like to know how many miles I’ve gone and what route I take.

I have a few of these to put up, and you can expect them over the next week. This is the second one, covering Wisconsin. (You can see the first log, Minnesota Edition, here.)

Day 40 (August 15)

Departed Saint Paul (forever?). Raced sunset, thunderstorms to make camp. First raindrop fell literally as I slid into hammock for the night. 29.5 miles.

Map

Day 41 (August 16)

Early, cold morning. Strong tailwind. Amazing time on brutal hills. Met Mom & Zangmo for lunch in Stockholm, WI. Reached Ryan’s farm at sunset. 41.9 miles.

Map

Days 42 – 44

Stayed at Ryan and Rebecca’s farm. Philosophy with Ryan, drinking with Rebecca. Wrote a great deal. Began planning novella.

Day 45 (August 20)

Looped back to Maiden Rock for fun. Could not find favorite house. Love it the first time. Pushed on to Pepin. Made friends, slept outside. 17.3 miles.

Map

Day 46

Dawn with dragons. Lunch in Alma. Ran into new friends from night before. Pushed on, camped at boat landing outside Winona. Visited Winona in evening. 43.8 miles.

Map

Day 47 (August 22)

Arrived parents’ farm! Very difficult biking day. Surprised me. Hills, dehydration? Felt sick on arrival. Budweiser made it worse. 34.2 miles.

Map

Days 48 -61

Stayed with parents. Worked furiously! Created artwork, fiction, nonfiction, and client articles. Sleep deprived. Dad & I custom built new front rig for the Giant.

Day 56 (August 31)

My birthday! I turned 29.

Day 62 (September 6)

Left behind my parents’ farm, maybe for last time. Reached Shrine of Guadalupe at sunset. Rejected by friars, slept hour by hour under trees, rain. 47.3 miles.

Map

Day 63 

Deliriously sleepy, barely rolled forward. Arrived Prairie du Chien late afternoon, nowhere to stay. A hard day. 56.1 miles.

Map

Day 64 

Took day to work, refocus myself in Prairie du Chien. Considered moving to a horse camp, decided to stay put. Ate well, worked little, biked around area. Turned to Couchsurfing for place to stay in days ahead.

Day 65

Departed Prairie du Chien in higher spirits. Mild tailwind, flat route ahead. Decided to turn off it up large bluffs to see Wyalusing, an old favorite state park. Discovered tavern where we went during family camping trips, the Dew Drop Inn. Wiped out, injured self, bent the Giant’s front brake. Camped in yard of older couple at Cassville. 36.5 miles.

Map

Day 66 (September 10)

Fought wind, hard ride. Hills. Stopped at a shrine in Dickeyville and talked to Urban on phone. Turns out he grew up next door to the man who’ll be hosting me in Dubuque! Went way off course to avoid being on freeway. Still had to take freeway bridge to cross the river. Reached Dubuque thoroughly beat. 43 miles.

Map

Total traveled this leg: 349.6

Total traveled since Day 1: 709.1

It’s interesting what can be learned by counting miles like this. My total travels in the Wisconsin leg amount to 10 miles less than my Minnesota leg, yet Wisconsin seemed vastly more difficult. I’m surprised to see so many days of just 30 or 40 miles—those days often felt long and grueling.

From this point on I had no family or friends to rely on, and learning to arrange friendly places to stay became vital.

Want to know anything about this leg of my travels? Ask away and I’ll do my best to answer.

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Bicycling, The Great Adventure

Ditch List

The other day I attempted my longest bike ride to date, a 65 mile trip from Grand Rapids to Cloquet (ish) in one day. It destroyed me.

I fought a head wind most of the way. When I finally turned off the busy US Highway 2 I ended up on rough country roads with steep hills for the final 20 miles. I was fried in the sun and my water tasted bad. Muscles gave out.

Me + the Giant after a 65 mile bike ride. Photo by Kira Hagen.

I made it, but that kind of a day requires some thinking about the gear you’re schlepping. (Note: the day after, at my friends’ cabin, I helped them with five hours of culvert digging in direct sun… which felt like a break.) I did some reflecting on the things I’ve ditched since setting out.

The Starting Package

Two days before I left my parents’ house in Wisconsin I thought I had everything ready to go, and planned a relaxing final day there. It wasn’t to be. On a hunch I re-packed everything the day of my departure and began thinning it.

The first things to go were my beloved sandals. They would’ve been so sweet for walking into muddy lakes to bathe, but I can’t justify the extra weight. I still miss them—in theory. I’ve never actually needed them since leaving.

I departed with 44 pounds of gear. That’s a lot, but on a bike I figured it would be no problem.

Heh.

The Ditch List

In the car I chose more things to ditch. In fact, from the beginning of my quest I’ve ditched things almost every day. So here’s a complete Ditch List.

Jujutsu notes. I planned to carry these with me just long enough to finish typing them all up, so my notes on years of practice would be able to travel with me on my laptop. I intended to drop them at my parents’ when passing through Wisconsin. Instead, they are safely stored at a friend’s house as they took up just too much room.

Art supplies. I had it all narrowed down to what fit in one small waterproof jar: a set of oil pastels and some tiny tubes of goauche paint. Still too much stuff. Abandoned them at Beth’s place in Saint Paul.

Pepto. Too easy to find on the road if needed, too bulky to carry with my first aid kit. Gave it away.

Fancy shirt. My packed clothes are mostly T-shirts, underoos and socks. But I included two nicer button down shirts: one that I wore on the ride up and one stowed in my pack. I immediately discarded the one not stowed. The other may follow soon.

Tomahawk. What a great tool. Hand forged, it holds an edge and it’s super light. But light for a hatchet is still a pound or more and it’s bulky. This was the hardest thing to give up, no doubt. Beth fought me on it and tried to convince me to take it anyway. Ben arbitrated and pointed out I have a tiny, shitty saw on my multitool. So no hard need for a hatchet. I sent it back with Beth when she dropped me in Duluth.

Sunglasses. They broke on Day 1 of biking. I don’t miss them. It was annoying to try to secure them and my helmet has a visor. Eff sunglasses. Sunglasses are for chumps and Lady Gaga.

Bug spray. You’d think this would be important but in rural Minnesota you are just, fact, going to be eaten by mosquitoes. Your puny spray means nothing to them. I left it as a present at the semi-abandoned garage near where I camped my first night.

Camp Mirror. This was a cool little mirror that you can hang from a tree or whatever. Great for shaving. But I never want to shave outside (see also: bug spray) and I can put in my contacts with no mirror. It broke from a bumpy bike ride and I discarded it. Kind of sad because it’s been in the family since I was a kid.

Stinky Water Bottle. A Trek water bottle that made everything taste like rubber. Get your rubber out of my mouth, Trek. That is so not consensual. I left it on a picnic table at a gas station. In the morning it was gone.

That’s what I’ve ditched. I know I need to get rid of more. There will be a lot of off-loading in Minneapolis and Wisconsin. I’m even reducing how much water I carry.

Anything you think I absolutely can’t live without?

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The Great Adventure

Introducing The Giant

I’m safe! I’m well! And I’m happy to be on the road.

Last week I said genius inventor Ben would gift me a bike to start off my trip. He came through. Big time. Here’s us (me and the bike, not me and Ben, who is camera shy) together:

When we picked up the bike he needed some tender loving care. Ben showed me how to remove, clean, and re-install the bearings. We got new tubes and a spare for the road. We cleaned him off and I tested him out. I’ve never used toe clips before, and they scared me. Toe clips are basically torture devices that hold your feet firmly to the pedals even if you’re wiping out and wish you could bail. But they let you deal with hills a lot better (you can put strength into the up-stroke as well as the down-stroke) and Ben convinced me I wanted them. He says I’ll be happy with them. Okay.

After we got the bike all set, Ben and I drove up to his parents’ cabin for a relaxing evening. His two nephews were in the car, too. I told Ben I had a favor to ask.

“Okay…”

“Well, since you got me this bike… you have to name it.”

From a nephew up front: “Oh shit.” It could be seen as an honor, but it’s kind of a big responsibility and all. Ben’s family are the type who, like me, take that stuff seriously.

“You’re a bastard,” Ben told me.

He didn’t start throwing out options. He began reviewing them in his head. It would be nearly 24 hours later, just moments before the final departure, that he’d decide.

We were walking the shore of Lake Itasca. I was in my trunks. Before starting the Adventure I had a plan: swim to the center of Lake Itasca, which is the source of the ‘Sippi, and place an offering there. As we walked, I told a story.

The story involved fomhóraigh, the titans of Irish folklore.

“That’s it!” he yelled.

“What’s it?”

“That… whatever you just said. That’s your bike’s name.”

I was taken back. I couldn’t refuse it. The duty was given to Ben and he fulfilled it perfectly. But the titans of Irish tradition are not exactly loving beings: they’re selfish, cunning and dangerous. Enemies of the gods. In a sense, Ben had just cursed me.

(I managed to hold back “You’re a bastard,” in reply.)

But with some thought, I like the name. There are stories of heroes who safely employed the fomhóraigh, bonded in chains. (Well, just one story, but still.) I can handle that, right? Right?

And so my bike is named the Fomhor (pronounced like foe + or) or, to make it easier, The Giant.

“I’ll travel with giants,” I mused.

“You’ll be carried by a giant,” Ben corrected.

The Giant is a Miyata 1024. He’s almost as old as I am. The years treat us both the same: battered but ready to take the world. Loaded with over 40 pounds of gear, he handles like a large shark—agile, but give him room. The gears run smooth and he chugs halfway up a hill before I have to pedal.

Ben and I gave him panniers we built out of $10 tote bags. (The engineering was all Ben; I was just extra hands. Like I said, inventor.) At first opportunity I’ll decorate him with something suitably Fomorian. Perhaps a single eye in the middle of his frame.

The Giant and I do well together. I got a late start on Day 1, but made 33 miles in 4 hours before setting up camp. I hung my hammock in a stand of red pines near an abandoned shed in the country. The following day I began troubleshooting strange noises from The Giant’s belly and made another 46 miles. I camped in a forest owned by an Ojibwe family near Ball Club, Minnesota. (Yes, Minnesota has a town named Ball Club. And that entire town is three houses of Ojibwe families. Population 171 my ass.)

The Giant taking a break. That’s all my worldly belongings hanging off of him.

Today I put in 20 miles to Grand Rapids where I’m using wi-fi at a cafe. The barista volunteers at her church and I’m hopeful she’ll find a place for me to crash tonight. If not, it’s me in a hammock somewhere off of US Highway 2.

Thanks for all your great, encouraging comments last week everyone. It means the world. Adventure on.

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The Great Adventure, Travel

1,400 Mile Shoes

My long quest for shoes is finally over. So after all the tests and ideas, what did I go with?

Requirements

I had something very specific in mind. Because of injuries I didn’t want to go with a totally flat thin sole as many runners and hikers now favor. At the same time, my tests allowed me to feel firsthand why a jacked up heel is unnatural and potentially dangerous. I looked for a compromise that leaned toward the minimal sole end of the spectrum—a suggestion my readers came up with very early on in the process. My ideal shoe would have a padded sole with arch support but very little heel support.

Other factors also matter. The shoe needs to hold up to lengthy wear and tear, be suitable for nearly 1,400 miles of biking (the first leg of the trip, through New Orleans, will be on bike) and be relatively lightweight. Low tops preferred, and if possible, it slides on instead of lacing. I figured that last one was pie in the sky though. Ideally, it also looks good.

I looked at five different shoe stores including the shoe department of Gander Mountain (moderately helpful staff) and local outfitters Midwest Mountaineering (the best staff I have ever dealt with). Thanks to the experts at Midwest Mountaineering I found a shoe that matches all of my criterion.

The Patagonia Cardon

Cardon by Patagonia is not a hiking shoe. It was in a separate area at Midwest with the casual shoes. Nonetheless it is built to last. It came up when discussing my needs with the sales person.

The Cardon features a sole with 8 mm of heel padding, enough to do the things a padded heel is supposed to do and yet still so thin it’s officially categorized as a “minimal” sole. It offers arch support as well, and if you remove the insole and look at it you find it’s built just like Superfeet inserts. Unlike the hiking shoes, my salesman suggested I would not need inserts with the Cardon (though I have some anyway, just in case).

Since I’m starting on bike, coolness/breathability and comfort will be important considerations. The Cardon wins in these categories. It’s incredibly comfortable and it’s hard to overheat in them. It loses out compared to good hikers in terms of handling water—the Cardon will take longer to dry out. It also wouldn’t work well for 8 hours of hiking with a heavy pack, and would leave my feet sore. I expect to need to buy new shoes by the time I start doing that.

The Cardon is also incredibly rugged and durable. The seams are double-stitched and everything is well made. They can take years of wear.

One of my favorite things is that they look like classic shoes. Originally soft, suede-like nubuck, I’ve treated them with a wax waterproofing product making them a darker walnut color with a smoother texture. They look professorial and I could wear them to more formal events, a boon since I won’t have room in my gear for dress shoes.

I’ve been wearing them for nearly two weeks now and I love this shoe. It’s an all around winner and does everything I want. You can check out the Cardon here (and like all my recommendations, that’s not an affiliate link).

Runner Up

It’s worth mentioning the other pair of shoes I really like, the Cardon’s biggest contender in my book. These are the Chameleon Stretch by Merrell. Although uglier they offer an amazing sole and construction, and are indeed perfect for lengthy hiking with a heavy pack. They’d handle getting soaked better, too. I’ll likely switch to a pair of these after New Orleans, for hiking and kayaking.

Bargain Option

I spent $140 on my Cardons, made possible by my wonderful donors. The investment was definitely worth it and I feel good about having professional quality shoes to start my Adventure with.  But I should note that Midwest Mountaineering’s discount store, Thrifty Outfitters, also offered some great footwear. For about $40 they had a pair of hikers very similar to the Chameleon Stretch. The sole and heel in those weren’t quite what I wanted, but anyone bootstrapping an expedition should know there are lower-cost options.

Many thanks again to everyone who donated to the Gear Drive. I have virtually everything I know I’ll need… making me wonder what kinds of surprises I’ll run into and how my gear will change with time. Any guesses?

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Adventure, The Great Adventure

Where the Hell Are You?

In case you’re wondering, here’s my current situation and the best and latest plan for the Great Adventure.

I’m in Wisconsin

That’s exactly as unexciting as it sounds. I’m in rural Wisconsin visiting my parents, and I’m sick of it. I love them both dearly but it’s time for me to get on the road again. I’d love to meet up with my mom for drinks every Thursday afternoon if I could, but I’d rather be wrestling bulls in between or learning to ride tigers or something. Sitting on the porch writing articles is not quite the same.

I’ve Been Kayaking

About a week ago I went on a trip to Duluth, MN where I kayaked for the first time (on Lake Superior!). Kayaking is like crack. It’s more fun than even a motorbike, at least when you hit big waves. A lot of people would only go kayaking if it’s calm weather… myself, I would pay extra if someone could start up a lesser squall while I’m out there. Playing with waves makes me giggle. Even if I did twist my knee.

The reason I was kayaking was to see if it would be a good way to go through Mexico. Yes, if I haven’t announced this before, I’m thinking of kayaking down the Gulf coast next year. The original reason was so I wouldn’t have to walk down lonely roads in dangerous areas of Mexico. The new reason is because kayaking is fucking awesome.

And please remember: the stated plan of my Adventure is to power it all under my own muscles, which means walking, biking or paddling. Not just walking, even though it often gets shorthanded that way.

I Should Start June 21…

That’s the planned start date. I’ll start from Itasca, MN which is the source of the Mississippi River. I’ll swim in Lake Itasca that day so I literally start at the source… like in the source.

I start off biking, with a wonderful touring bike an adventurer friend has gifted to me. See also: not always walking.

…But I Might Not

A minor injury is healing, but it’s a slow process. My knee is shaping up too. But it would be stupid to push myself and go if I’m not 100% recovered.

I should know by the end of the week whether I’m good to go or not. If not, I’m considering alternate start dates of July 4 or, at latest, Aug 1.

First Stop: Head South

From Itasca I’ll head south more-or-less along the Mississippi River. I’ll pass through the Twin Cities in July or August, and reach New Orleans by October. That’s at a leisurely pace and meandering route.

If you live somewhere between Minnesota and New Orleans and want to meet up you should let me know. Bear in mind that one day of biking will only take me 40-60 miles. So if you live 200 miles away from the Mississippi River and are excited I’ll be coming “near you,” let’s meet halfway.

There Will Be Goodies

I plan to release my second book, The Adventurer’s Way, in the next 30-60 days. It will be a much more in-depth look at adventure as a real way of life, a tool for making the world excellent.

Rogue Priest: Confessions, the pay-what-you-will serial, will also appear soon. The final kinks are worked out (fingers crossed) in terms of the back end, and the digital issues are in production. So in case you were wondering what exactly a Thai schoolgirl does with her hips when she sees an attractive priest, or wanted to know whether Harvard lawyers make good beer pong partners (hint: choose Cornell), hold your breath just a little longer and Confessions will hook you up.

That’s where the Hell I am. Where the Hell are you?

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Adventure, Favorites, Heroism, Personal Development, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

Purpose: Find the Heroic Life

As June 21 draws near I confront my motivations for the journey ahead. This is the final installment of a three part series on why I’m going on the Adventure. Find Part I here and Part II here.

A Heroic Faith

What is there to say?

In my heart, I believe we can do great things.

I’ve created a practicum which, if followed, is supposed to race you toward that end:

Taking action, living for high ideals, charging fearlessly into new and grand plans, building a name around your art or skill, and using your life to change the way the world works.

The whole thing must be tested. I mean “tested” to see if it works; I also mean it the way a baby tests his legs. I will never understand the vehicle I’ve made unless I enter into it and live it for myself.

Neither will anyone else, unless they do too.

Why This Journey

The Heroic Life is a philosophy of action. It is not believed but done, not theory but experience. Its central practice is action: leave and go on a journey.

Many readers will look at my story, take a little piece of the philosophy, and fit it into their lives. I approve of that. I hope it helps your life, even if your life is not one of travel.

But for the heroic to be more than fiction, there must be people who believe in it so deeply, so humanly, that they live it. It is those people I wish to walk beside.

And if I don’t walk it myself, suggesting it is unconscionable.

The Value

If small knots of people join together to live this way, the world will be greater. A fellowship of heroes-to-be: let us leave home, walk where we will, learn what we can, and offer cheerful aid to troubled people.

If this one idea can catch on, the sky will look a little different.

When just a few people give everything to uplift others and carry no agenda, hope travels with them. Then more people take heroic action.

The next two, three, five years will teach me how to make this machine work. If there is a philosophy that can create and unite this kind of fellowship, I will discover it. And when I know how it works, then the real project of the Great Adventure will be complete: then I’ll have used travel to find my purpose, and be ready to help others do the same.

Wish me luck, Rogues, and if you want to lend your support, help a traveler sometime.

What’s the best way to learn about the heroic life as I travel? Do you have suggestions?

If you enjoy reading Rogue Priest, believe in my journey, or just love seeing a spirited adventurer on the road, please consider making a donation to the cause. Your gift will help fund professional-quality equipment for the Great Adventure. It’ll keep me safe and help every step of the way.

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Favorites, Religion, The Great Adventure

Purpose: Meet the Gods

Arise, awake, and learn by approaching the exalted ones,
for that path is sharp as a razor’s edge, impassable,
and hard to go by, say the wise.

Katha Upanishad 1.3.14

As June 21 draws near I confront my motivations for the journey ahead. This is Part II of a three part series on why I’m going on the Adventure. See Part I here.

Why the Gods?

Here’s the world I live in. We are on our own; we make our own Fate; the world is good or bad as we create it.

But it’s a haunted world.

Around us are the sources of wonder. Things so grand and vast that we remember how small we are. We remember that the quest for dominion is a doomed sortie, a fight against a superior force, Eternity. In quiet moments we reflect on this, and voices whisper to us the greatness of the living universe where we struggle.

Myth tells us these voices are the sound of the gods.

The gods did not make this world, and not one of them rules it. They are its executors, its functionaries, more to the point its soul and its face.

I am not convinced that’s wrong.

Can awareness be transferred, recycled, disembodied, left in the rain? If so, it can dwell in world around us.

The Value

The language of religion is one of humanity’s best technologies.

Classical philosophers saw fit to retain and use the language of myth + religion. They encouraged people to treat it as metaphor. This is because the language of myth, even when explicitly stated to be nonliteral, speaks to the core of the human spirit. It’s exactly why I just used “spirit” and not “the core of the human mentality.”

Meeting the gods isn’t about proving whether they’re real, though the quest may give me some insight into that.

The reason I want to meet the gods is because they represent what’s highest and best in us. To pursue them necessarily spurs the pursuit of our own divine nature.

I want to meet them because they inspire.

And most of all, I want to meet the gods because that’s the stuff of myth, and wherever the journey takes me that’s how I want to live.

The Form

Is prayer the right way to do this? Possibly. But prayer seems a lot like talking to yourself in the dark.

The object of the Great Adventure is to meet them in person. Knock-on-Mount-Olympus-style meet them. Oh Zeus isn’t here? No worry, I’ll grab a seat meet them.

Impossible?

Whatever sounds impossible is fertile ground for adventure. I’m putting the ideal over the acceptable. When Gilgamesh set out to find a cure for death, he failed—but what he achieved is epic.

If there are gods to meet then the mere act of living mythically, of following the quest to its final end, is the way to attract their attention.

If there are gods to hear us, I wish to be heard.

More: I wish to listen.

If you enjoy reading Rogue Priest, believe in my journey, or just love seeing a spirited adventurer on the road, please consider making a donation to the cause. Your gift will help fund professional-quality equipment for the Great Adventure. It’ll keep me safe and help every step of the way.

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