Pittsburgh, Pa: Three Seasons in the Hometown and a Tool Trailer

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Getting muddy in Frick Park riding my new Surly ECR.

Tomorrow morning, I board a train to New York City with my Great Aunt and Uncle. Then, in thirteen days, the real adventure begins. It actually starts in eleven, as that’s when I board the bus, but who’s counting. For this trek I’m headed to Maine for the second time in my life. The first time was in 2012 when I pedaled a bike to Bar Harbor from Pittsburgh, Pa. This time, I’m a wa’kin from Georgia. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is one of my oldest dreams. It’s time to check it off the list.

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The hike begins March 9th, 2016 at Amicalola Falls State Park in Northern Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, the same National Forest I suffered through for days during the TNGA (Trans North Georgia Adventure, a grueling bike race across the state.) I know the pain I’m in for and it’s gonna be awesome!!! I cannot wait.

I’ll go into more details in future posts. In this one I want to get caught up on the time I spent in my hometown after cycling from the Canada border in Washington state to El Salvador.  Continue reading

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Home: The Next Adventure Awaits

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May 13th, 2015

Loudspeakers announce arriving and departing aircraft, first in Spanish then in English. Electronic boards convey the same information in an easier to understand form. I am in the El Salvador (5th and final country of the trip!) International airport returning from the bathroom. I’m still a little sick.

A chubby latino boy, returning home with his family from a visit with relatives, waddles up to me with a curios twinkle in his eye. “Gee mister,” he says with a hint of southern drawl. “You sure have a lot of stuff.”

“I do?” I say scrunching my face perplexed.

“You sure do! Stuff’s hanging all over you.” I think back to the reflection in the bathroom mirror. Two yellow bags, each nearly the size of my torso, hang on each side and are stuffed to overflowing. Another yellow bag from my handle-bar hangs around my neck. A small black backpack clings to my back.  Continue reading

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.

 

A Day in the Life: Camped on an Island

This entry is a compilation of journal entries.

Today was a lazy day. I woke at sunrise and spent the morning reading. I spent the entire day reading actually. All day aside from a few breaks for chores such as washing a rubbermaid bin full of dishes in the channel and cooking eggs with Rio for lunch.

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Washing dishes in the ocean was almost fun. The tide was coming in as Rio and I stood in the sand below the rocks. Waves would head into the rocks threatening to carry away all our dishes. They threatened to soak my pants containing my passport and notebook. I do not want to loose another notebook.

Anyway, we pulled dishes from the container and rubbed them with sand to scour away remaining food. Sand works wonders for cleaning, although, it does not remove grease leaving our dishes a little slimy. Once clean, we rinsed the dishes in the oncoming waves and placed them in a separate bucket to be hauled up the surf-breaking boulders when our task was completed. There were many dishes to wash from the birthday celebration two nights before. Continue reading

Homesick and a Private Island

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9am — I am sitting on the edge of a deck by a small river. Over my head is a roof of palm fronds from which three hammocks hang. The hammocks were our bed for the night. My back hurts from the sleeping position; my body itches from all the mosquito bites; and the smell… it’s making me nauseous. The water reeks of pure sewage. Perhaps it is only the mud. I sure hope so.

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I am proud to say I survived yesterdays ride. The ride itself was an easy one but the state of my stomach challenged every mile as much as the mountains of Copper Canyon. The uphills in the beginning made me faint and, later, I would need to stop to lie on my back in misery. But, I made it.

Lucky for me, the pooping basically stopped. My stools, as of late last night, are pure liquid. The frequency reduced to a few a day. The urgency is gone as well. I can now poop at my convenience. Almost.

Enough of my poop. An old and wrinkled man in a boat whips a lure into the water. He allows it to sink a moment before retrieving the line by hand. The line goes taught and moves slightly side to side. He’s caught a tiny fish.

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Watching him makes me long for home. Its the end of April: trout season. Were I home, I may be on the water at this very moment. Floating around the lake in my kayak dragging two lures through the water waiting for my dinner to bite.

 

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10:15am — We board the blue, flat-bottomed boat with the hotel owner, her father, her sister, and three dirty dogs. The old man takes position at the back and, with a pole nearly twice the length of the boat, pushes us through the water towards our beach-front home.

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The ride is short lasting perhaps 15 minutes. It was not long before the crashing surf entered our ears to spur our excitement. I have not seen the ocean in months.

We round a bend in the tributary. The women seated on the bow of the boat announces that our house is in sight. It’s the last one on the island in front of us. The old man beaches the boat in the sand and we walk to the house.

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Last night we were told of others already staying here; Italianos and Gringos. It turns out they are the very same ones from Merlin’s house. Our friends.

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I have not looked around much but from the little I have seen we are in for a very special treat. Hammocks hang from covered gazebos of palm fronds. A small shack serves as the bedroom; another, smaller and of concrete, serves as the kitchen. The toilet leaves something to be desired: a lidless bowl manually flushed with sea water stored in a blue plastic 55gallon drum. It is our chore to fill the barrel from the ocean.

I am in a hammock now. Laying and writing listening to the surf behind me and feeling a cooling breeze blow across my skin. I have not eaten in a long time and have little energy as a result. Otherwise, I’m on top of the world. I’m on a practically private beach in Guatemala near the border to El Salvador.

 

 

 

 

Travelers Disease: When farts turn frightening

It’s 5am and I’m in the bottom bunk of a six bed dorm room in Antigua, Guatemala. The mattress is protected by a plastic cover that crinkles with every turn, but that’s not what woke me this morning. I’ve been in this bed for days. How many? I don’t know anymore. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I spend my time staring at the wooden slats of the bunk above; the streaks of blood from misquotes squashed on the wall; the tips of trees peaking through the tiny window. I watch movies when I have the energy. Anything to forget the terrible contractions of my twisted stomach.

It’s the grumbling that woke me yet again. I kick the covers from my feet to run to the seatless toilet, but I’m too late. I pull the nearly dry underwear and two bandanas from the hanger on the edge of the bed. I grab a small, green stuff sack full of toiletries and walk through the open courtyard, wet underwear sticking to my butt.

The shower is under construction so I squirt a bit of soap in a five-gallon bucket and fill it with water from the tap. The water is cold. The air is not much warmer. Not until the sun comes up that is. Then it will be hot. Sweating in the shade hot.

I drop my dirty drawers on the concrete floor and sponge myself clean with the bandana. When I’m done, I dry off with another bandana and toss the underwear in the bucket. I clean them as best I can and hang them in their place before returning to bed. Travel tip of the year: BLACK underwear only. Continue reading