Home: Where the Heart is

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My Dad and me in Ohiopyle, Pa. He dropped me off to hike the 70 mile Laurel Highlands Trail.
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My brother and me standing at the Continental Divide on the Great Allegheny Passage on our way to Washington D.C. from Pittsburgh, Pa.

 

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My Great Aunt and Uncle taken two weeks ago in a blizzard. I’ve been staying with them the past few weeks visiting and catching up on work. I am also eating better than I ever have. My Aunt is a gourmet chef. At least she should be.

 

Tuesday May 5th, 2015

In an extraordinary turn of events I have decided to end this leg of the journey in El Salvador and fly home. The idea came to me as I sat at a bench along an orange wall of the panaderia (bakery) here in Ixtapa, Guatemala. I was using my computer, logged into Facebook reading a message from my friend and boss, “When are you coming home?” he asked. “I need to get rid of a guy.”

Reading this message started the wheels turning in my mind. “Maybe, I’ll cut the distance of this leg short.” Messages to my mother reminded me of my cousins wedding in three weeks further adding fuel to my burning desire to return home. While I sat perplexed in what to do, I knew the decision was already made.

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A snap of my Mom taken in her driveway.

 

It is getting late in the year. If I am not home soon, I will miss the busiest time of our work year. My bike and my equipment is falling to pieces. I’ve lost my phone which serves as GPS and maps. I am sick and have been for weeks. And I am just tired. Ten months is a long time.

Then, there was the four days I spent with the narco trafficantes, an experience that rattled my resolve perhaps more than any other. Following two men through a maze of cornstalks at sunset. With tears welling in my eyes, I paused to take in the beauty of the scene surrounding me. “It sure is a pretty place to die,” I thought, mentally preparing myself for an abrupt departure from this world.

One day I’ll put the story in writing. I’ve tried a few times, but was never able. I guess I was afraid of what could have been and what may become if I upset them. If he were to read what I write and dislike it, he may decide to take action.

The emotions involved are also incredibly complex. I was having the time of my life exploring the area and feeling like part of the family while inwardly fearing for my life and trying not to show it. “Are you afraid,” he asked, melting the edges of a bag sealing inside the white powder; 100% pure columbian cocaine. “No,” I answered. “I trust you.” I learned working with animals that they feed on fear. Predatory people do as well.

Most of all, it’s not an easy experience for me to think about. I tell the story, but the depth I most go to write the tale… to write is to live. To write this story means reliving those moments; it means sitting in that chair at the plastic dining room table watching the father in his Ray Ban sunglasses count a fat stack of cash and pass it to the man seated next to him. Payment for murder.

He was wearing a cowboy hat, a dirty plaid shirt, and beat-up jeans full of holes. He picked at the food on the table with the caution of a weary guest. Most frightening of all, he was not introduced to me and I was introduced to EVERYONE. I mean the entire town and anyone within earshot when were else wear.

At that moment I understood the expression “paralyzed by fear.” I realized if something were to happen to me, weeks or even months would pass before anyone would worry enough to seek help. Dead and no-one would even know it. We walked through the cornfield shortly after.

Morbidity aside, I am ok ending the journey before the goal. I’ve ridden over 6,000 miles through four countries and soon to be five. I have learned more of myself than I thought possible and have attained a much better version of myself. My life has found a profound purpose: to travel the world by adventurous means and share my stories with the hope of inspiring you like others have inspired me.

So, in little more than a week, I will be home. The timing feels perfect and I am happy. I’ll shower at my leisure and flush toilet paper instead of throwing it in the garbage. I’ll eat pizza. Lots of pizza. And lasagna! Hamburgers with good ol’ bacon, lettuce, tomato, and Heinz ketchup. I will not eat beans for a long time. And when my work ends for the season, I’ll set off to continue what I began. 

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Pittsburgh at sunrise.
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The Allegheny River frozen over beneath of one of the three sister bridges.
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Heinz field. Home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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Pittsburgh at night from Mt. Washington.
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Pittsburgh from the Hot Metal Bridge in South Side.

 

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2 thoughts on “Home: Where the Heart is

  1. Wow, was absorbed from the beginning of the story and needed to sit for a little while to come back to reality when the story ened.

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