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Monday
May162011

Project Rás

I thought I was returning to Dublin after my stint of snowboarding in Colorado but I in fact landed on Planet Bike. This is a wonderful place that allows me to sleep and eat as much as I like while allowing me to feel productive and lose weight at the same time. Indeed, it seems like everything on this planet is turned on its head. My twenty euro winnings for placing sixth in a mid-tier race is an acceptable return on the thousands of euro I invest in the sport. In addition, everybody in this world gets to be a super-hero judging by the amount of lycra suits, how cool is that? Also, I don't feel poor when I spend absolutely all my money on my bike, instead I feel fantastic as I am now going 0.0002 kph faster (the marketing folk tell me that sport is all about the margins you see). I am so busy tinkering with my bike and dreaming about races that I have forgotten about my friends and even girls; on what other planet would it be possible to substitute a bike for human company and not feel lonely? This is a strange land but it's a deadly place for now.

There is one problem however, it's not sustainable as there is not enough oxygen here. For some reason I'm always gasping for more air. You would want to be a rare breed of mortal to live here long-term but for now I'm enjoying it. Now and again I defy gravity and cheat the wind and that makes me feel good as I escape the confines of my fleshly form. I don't know how long I will stay but it has always been a dream of mine to visit Planet Bike, so now that I'm here, I'll stick around for a bit.

The main reason I landed is because of the Rás (a gaelic word for race). This is an 8-day stage-race where riders race about 100 miles each day around Ireland. That in itself is an achievement but it doesn't help when they introduce a whole load of top quality foreign teams into the mix to make the race even faster and thus, much harder. It was because of the Rás that I returned to bike-racing (and likely Ireland). Well, while out riding in the depths of middle of nowhere places surrounded by anonymous landscape, the dude realised that as much fun as bike-touring is that his constitution is really made for racing. Honestly, if I could only get this competitive streak out of me my life would be a whole lot easier ... even if a whole lot different.

The next series of blog entries are about my next bike adventure, the Rás. It's not quite bike-touring but it's still traveling by bike, albeit in a blur.

I hope the form is mighty

the bionic dude

the dude awaits the start of the hill-test. Photo © Dany Blondeel - The Belgian Project

Tuesday
Mar152011

It's Intermission Time Folks!

I'm not convinced this is the end so I've settled on an intermission. 

As I need to focus my writing on a book I am going to take a detour from the blog. With the sale of my expedition bike, the globe-trotting version of the Bionic Dude is parked for the moment. Of course, this is not the end of the road. The dude lives on, both in terms of my need to push pedals and my desire to experience the world as an international man of leisure. As soon as I hatch interesting plans I'll pick up the blog again with a different approach.

Thanks for reading, it's been a pleasure sharing my trip with you.

'til soon

The Bionic Dude

Friday
Mar112011

Home

the view across Dublin Bay from Howth Head - the city is lit up to the right out of shot (I took this in 2009)

It was nice to arrive home to Dublin. I thought I might be emotional but I had dealt with any nerves in the month prior. The flight back was simply another couple of airports appended onto one long trip. The only difference was when the policeman doing passport control welcomed me 'home'. A nice touch that I'm sure is appreciated by all those Irish people who live away from these shores for one reason or another but who still feel very rooted to the island of Ireland.  Perhaps it was a soft landing as my parents were away at the time and catching up with them would happen five days later. Still, a couple of friends met me at the airport and took me home for a hearty Irish breakfast. I love to eat and especially in good company.

My first task was to vote in what was an incredibly important general election for a country ravaged by economic woes that it brought unto itself. The next job was to build up a bike so that I could take to the roads and reacquaint myself with the city and its surrounding hinterland.  The weather was kind and showcased the incredible beauty of the Irish countryside.  I'm not particularly fond of urban Dublin but the bike regularly allows me to gasp at some stunning scenery in the hills and farmlands that lie outside the nearby city-limits. Despite all that I have seen in the world, the hills, lakes and farm tracks outside the city can always make my jaw drop. Certainly, my enjoyment of Dublin would not be the same without my bike. I clocked up over 700k in the space of 9 days retracing only some of my regular training routes to see what has changed.  Not much on the surface of things. Peeling back the layers one will be able to see the strain of economic malaise but it is not palpable in the air ... or at least, not to me yet.  I recall the veil of dread over the city during the Christmas of 2008 when every single worker in the country thought they were going to lose their job in the new year. Certainly the mood does not feel anything like it did then ... says I from the safety-net of the middle class.

I decided against having one big party in favour of meeting people one-to-one or group-to-group.  I'm glad I did this as it allows me to savour the return and have proper conversations with people as opposed to some half-conversation that is easily forgotten to the throbs of a hangover the next morning.

It's nice to be back, how long I stay remains to be seen. For the time being I have a bike racing season to distract me meaning reality remains parked. I will work on my own projects but I may yet escape to Berlin. I learnt German in university and it has never been revealed to me why I did that. All I know is that Berlin is an incredible city that would probably suit me very well. In addition, German girls are the most under-rated and hottest girls in the world based on what I have seen. I may have to follow up on these prompts.

mind how you go

Marco

Thursday
Mar032011

Around the World in 111 Photos

It was too difficult a process to refine a photo-set encompassing all the places I visited to a mere 80 shots, so I settled on the nice round number of 111.  If you wish to see my trip in a blur please visit the gallery. Please note there are two pages of photos.

The following list details the main towns and cities I passed through on my way around.  A whole lot of beautiful nature, charming villages and middle of nowhere places in between didn't get a mention. And to think I still only saw but a small slice of Planet Playground.

Ireland - Dublin - UK - London- Cambridge - London - Nepal - Kathmandu - Pokhara - Kathmandu - Tibet - Shigatse - Lhasa - Nepal - Kathmandu - Chitwan - Sonauli - India - Lucknow - Delhi - Agra - Jaipur - Delhi - Australia - Melbourne - Torquay - Lorne - Apollo Bay - Warnambool - Geelong - Queenscliffe - Sorrento - Melbourne - Philip Island - Foster - Port Albert - Cann River - Mallacoota - Eden - Merimbula - Tathra - Bermagui - Narooma - Batemans Bay - Jervis Bay - Gerroa - Wollongong - Sydney - Seal Rocks - Ballina - Byron Bay - Nimbin - Sydney - New Zealand - Queenstown - Glenorchy - Arrowtown - Wanaka - Haast - Fox & Franz Josef Glacier - Greymouth - Pancake Rocks - Arthurs Pass - Christchurch - Australia - Sydney - Argentina - Buenos Aires - Mendoza - Uspallata - Barreal - Tocata - Iglesia - Las Flores - Rodeo - San Jose de Jachal - Villa Union - Chilecito - San Blas - Villa Mazan - Andalgala - Concepcion - Tafi del Valle - Amaiche del Valle - Cafayate - Las Vinas - Salta - Brazil - Foz de Iguazu - Rio de Janeiro - Argentina - Puerto Iguazu - Salta - Jujuy - Purmamarca - Tilcara - Humahuaca - Abra Pampa - Villazon - Bolivia - Tupiza - Atocha - Uyuni - Challapata - Pazna - Oruro - Potosi - Sucre - Oruro - El Alto - La Paz - Sorata - Rurrenabaque - La Paz - Coroico - La Paz - Chacaltaya - Copacabana - Peru - Puno - Juliaca - Sicuani - Cuzco - Pisac - Santa Maria - Santa Teresa - Aguas Caliente - Machu Picchu - Cuzco - Lima - USA - New York - NYC - Oregon - Portland - Washington - Carson - Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument - Mount Rainier National Park - Elbe - Puyallop - Seattle - Redmond - Seattle - Port Townsend - Port Angeles - Olympic National Park - Canada - Victoria - Nanaimo - Vancouver - Whistler - Lilloet - Kamloops - Salmon Arm - Revelstoke - Golden - Lake Louise - Banff - Fernie - USA - Montana - Eureka - Polebridge - Glacier National Park - Whitefish - Holland Lake - Seeley Lake - Ovando - Lincoln - Helena - Basin - Butte - Lima - Wyoming - Jackson - Grand Teton National Park - Pinedale - South Pass City - Atlantic City - Rawlins - Colorado - Steamboat Springs - Walden - Fort Collins - Boulder - Denver - Breckenridge - Keystone - Vail - NYC - Denver - NYC - Ireland - Dublin

mind how you go

marco

Monday
Feb282011

The Divided States of America

My first impression of America was that Americans are a very tolerant people. There is such diversity here that being different is considered normal. Of course, freedom of expression is considered a fundamental right and was the basis for people of various origins and persuasions to move here. The country is also considered both economically and politically free. But is the United States really the land of the free?

A lot of Europeans emigrated to America to be free from the religious persecution they suffered at home. Indeed, the number and variety of Christian churches is impressive in the US. Religion seems to maintain its relevance to many Americans unlike in Europe where the church is dying off such is the increase in secularism. Of course, the Christian message has been spun and made to seem cool to maintain appeal. Regardless of Americans' true beliefs it seems that people enjoy the sense of community associated with the church. It is this sense of community and harmony that led many of the early churches to migrate to less populous parts of the country. The Mormon religion migrated west to the Great Salt Lake to re-establish its church so as to avoid persecution. This was the biggest movement of a people ever across the US at that time. However, it is interesting to note that the state of Utah is not the most tolerant of places nowadays. It is staunchly conservative and such is the strangle-hold of the Mormon church in parts that there is a huge amount of resistance to liberal ideals. So much so that liberals feel persecuted to the degree that the Mormons once did and at some point feel the need to move out of state to practice their own beliefs in peace. The point is that America is a deeply hypocritical society.

Such hypocrisy is most evident at a political level. People are usually either Republican or Democrat. Very rarely do you hear people who try to explain their political beliefs as being something different. However, the largest vote in America is from the people who choose not to vote. Naturally, some of the 45% of the electorate who normally don't vote may be out of town at the time, but this percentage mostly indicates the amount of people in the US who feel that their point of view is not really represented on a national stage. This leaves the Democrats and Republicans to determine the agenda and that is always one of not too much change. If change does occur it is usually at the behest of lobby groups who have a very real vested economic interest in the budgetary or legislative decision-making process. The more time you spend watching the Bill Mahers (Democrat) and Bill O'Reillys (Republican) of this world the more you realise that the arguments repeat and that they are being championed by people who are already rich and thus, don't really care. Politics should never be the prevail of simply the monied class, it is supposed to represent both the rich, the poor and everyone in between. Thus, one quickly realises that the US political system is deeply flawed. Both Democrats and Republicans create noise to engineer a perfectly balanced stalemate. The emphasis is on prolonging the debate for as long as possible so that no decision is ever taken. This facilitates both sides of the political divide (even if there is no divide in US politics) who do well regardless of who is in power. They both purposely add noise to the debate as the last thing either party wants is a decision and thus, real change. My guess is that an impotent Obama has come to the same conclusion. As long as the status quo is maintained the less chance there is of the the under-represented ever being represented. In this context what Martin Luther King achieved for American society is incredible. But then, he was assassinated. So much for freedom of expression, it says it all really.

Financial freedom is what unites all Americans; pretty much everybody is consumed by the idea of striking it rich. Indeed the legacy of the gold rush remains in the psyche of Americans. What I find deeply troubling is that so few people question the plentiful barriers to riches that are an epidemic part of US society. There are always examples of people who worked hard and rose from rags to riches, however, there are also loads of people who worked hard and were never going to be given the chance to make it. Americans seem to focus more on the ones who made it as opposed to the ones who never had the chance. Even the forgotten homeless person who has access to very limited social services gambles his beggings on lottery tickets. In this way he too keeps alive the American dream of becoming rich. Of course, money is both a desirable and finite resource. As it is in relatively short supply there is huge pressure on people to protect their access to it and prevent others from acquiring it. Because money is so prized, an increase in wealth is also an increase in station. To display this wealth one needs to engage in the consumption of expensive goods that are beyond the scope of the majority. Thus, it is possible for someone to experience an increase in their standard and cost of living without any real increase in their wealth. The only way to bypass this is to borrow money. However, credit creates the perception of wealth whereas savings are real wealth. The indebtedness of Americans and their addiction to credit is staggering. The super rich have been incredibly successful in promoting credit growth to fuel consumption of their goods. The result is that most Americans are under a spell and become enslaved to either the bank they must repay their loans to or the power of marketers promoting even more consumption. Only in America is it possible to graduate from college as a 23 year old and have student loans the size of a mortgage. It is incredible that a society allows young people to take on such a massive debt burden but it does so to promote slavery under the guise of economic freedom. Students begin working straight away to pay down their debt. There is little chance for them to imagine a world without this debt and so long as they are in some form of debt they will struggle to experience the world and free their minds. Indeed, everywhere you look Americans are working hard. Whether you work 80 hours a week on Wall Street or 80 hours each week trying to keep down two low-skilled jobs to put food on your family's table, everybody is slaving away. Americans are rewarded with a measly amount of vacation days. US corporations have somehow engineered a scenario where there is never the possibility to clock off for long enough to catch your breath, think clearly, realise how enslaved you are and thereby revolt.

Even when it comes to marriage Americans are divided. 50% of American marriages end in divorce. The person you marry first is the one with whom you start a family. However, the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life is the person you meet after you divorce. Parents divide the week so that each parent can see their kids and kids divide their loyalties. The concept of family appears almost transient. Since kids typically move out for college, parents do not really expect their children to be around once they become adults. The result is that kids assume a real sense of personal responsibility from a very young age. They learn from marital break-up that they can't rely on their parents but parents also force children to stand on their own two feet by either working or leaving home to go to college. The result is that Americans can experience a great sense of separation and seek to shore up this loss of family in their friendships. It is for this reason that sub-cultures and communities such as the church thrive in America; people are desperate for friends and a sense of belonging.

The reason America appears to be a tolerant country is that it is geographically large enough to tolerate diversity. It is not uncommon for humans to want to live amongst their own and it is this tendency that can be seen in the very contrasting vibes and values of all the different towns and cities across the US. The innate transience of Americans causes them to seek out communities where they fit in and it is amongst their own type that they will settle. People from California, New England, the deep South and indeed the mountain states are all very different. However, the personality of each particular landscape is what attracts people. Certainly, there are some small-town Americans who have no desire to ever leave Smallville. However, there are plenty of people who flock to New York to try their luck, or to California for its liberalism or to Colorado for its balance. The point is that Americans are blessed with the space to move. Most Europeans can move freely within the European Union but not without experiencing strong language and cultural barriers. It is this vast space that affords Americans the appearance of being a tolerant and free nation. If America didn't have such geographical largesse the country would undoubtedly be in a constant state of civil war. This is because such divided beliefs and opinions would be forced to co-habit too small a space that people just wouldn't be able to get along. Let there be no mistake, there are very deep divisions within the supposedly 'United' States of America.

mind how you go

marco 

Monday
Feb212011

Denver Pictures ...

... are up in the gallery.

Sunday
Feb202011

Homeward Bound

I was in no rush to leave Colorado but unfortunately an expiring visa left me with little choice. I have been in North America since the 1st of July and while I could scram to Canada for a while to appease the folks in Homeland Security I have no problem being European for the summer. Some close friends are getting married so it will be nice to share their day with them.

Initially I was nervous about the prospect of being back in Dublin again but now I'm ok with it. I have no problem living an unsettled life when travelling, it's the settling that I hate – trying to find a suitable rental, moving in, your house-mates getting to know your habits etc. Thus, having just settled into Denver it's a little annoying to contemplate packing up and moving to Dublin again. But at least I'm a lot fonder of the city now than before I left. Indeed, it is no wonder I was confused by Dublin. The city has easy access to the coast, mountains, vast open country-side, a pint-sized centre with all the arts and culture that entails and an airport to nip over to Europe for a different kind of culture. It's incredible we take all this for granted as most places in the world are one thing or another or a lot less balanced. Thus, it's harder for Dubliners to discern where our geographic sensibilities lie – in normal circumstances it's only sun worshipers or big-city people who feel prompted to jump ship.

Of course, Dubliners are no longer living in normal circumstances and this will likely be the hardest thing about going back. Well, the hidden sun might irk me a little too now that I have lived somewhere with so much sunshine. Amazingly the weather never really bothered me before I left. At least It was consistent; scattered showers or sunny spells. I digress, for someone very sensitive to injustice I'm expecting I will find the economic and social hardships difficult to bear. If someone in a hoodie launches a brick through Bertie's window in my hometown of Drumcondra you know where to look. However, I feel a lot more engaged by what is going on now. I didn't like the way things were when I left and my sense is that more people are starting to share my point of view. I was very disenfranchised by the Celtic Tiger. I was shaking my head all during the boom and I rolled my eyes through all the crises that have befallen us since the top of the housing market. So much of it was predictable that I tuned out. Now that I am somewhat settled I have managed to catch up with events again and I find them intriguing. In some bizarre way I actually want to witness what is happening at home as it has gone beyond what people could conceive. It is unlikely that I will ever see Ireland in such bad times again in my life-time. Of course, I empathise with the suffering and feel fortunate that I intend to dodge the labour market for the immediate future and don't have the burden of negative equity to bear. Times are terrible but it is in tough times that people really start to care about things. Our country was neglected for far too long and I feel encouraged that people now want a say in it. I want to have a say too, so I return to vote on the morning of the Irish Election on Friday the 25th. While the timing is purely coincidental I will realise a promise that I made to myself before I left; that I wouldn't return to an Ireland with Fianna Fail in power. It is a terrible indictment on the people that FF have been in power for as long as they have. It was very clear what they were up to once they made Charlie Haughey their leader all the way back in 1979.

I still have a few days of my trip left to enjoy in New York City. It's the third time I have been here on this trip. If Dublin doesn't do it for me again, then I may become an economic refugee and move on anew. Certainly Berlin or Languedoc Rousillon appeal. Of course, there is always the prospect of Colorado in the summer. Certainly it was my favourite place to stop on my trip but without a girl or a job it's not sticky enough. As cool as my 10 year tourist visa is I can't work here. For the next five months however, I'm hoping the distraction of a racing season (and a good book) will help keep my mind off anything I may find upsetting at home. I'm going to give it until the August bank holiday to make up my mind in terms of whether I'll commit to the place or not. After 17 months away it's a little unreal to think that I still have Dublin on probation. Will I ever make up my mind?

Crap! This is really it for the Bionic Dude! I even just sold my bike on Craigslist. I'll miss her but it is better that she is used for another adventure in the great outdoors than be miserable in a box. I have six bikes and no garage to store them. That's one down but four is the sweet-spot for me.

I still have a few bits and photos to post, so I'll be on again soon.

the dude

my bike on craigslist ... boohoo - she'll be missed

Thursday
Feb172011

Back to the Future

The big problem with reality is that you have to live on society's terms. In going back to the life I came from I am obliged to consider the future. I wouldn't mind if it could be the fanciful future I want for myself, but to achieve a future on my terms I have to navigate society's terms first. It is amazing how the future is thrust upon us constantly in life and from such a small age too. In school we are told to get good grades so that we can get into college. Once in college we have to get a good degree so that we can get a good job. These good jobs only force us to plan a career-path.  Once we have a good career we can look forward to the next thirty years of mortgage repayments so that we can own a house. Of course, we must also be sensible in terms of contributing to our future via a pension or indeed insuring against unknown future events. It's all a bit bland really. Whatever happened to dreams?

One of the reasons why I decided to go travelling was that I had no picture of my future in my head. While I'm currently drifting, I'm not that spontaneous that I could continue along this path indefinitely.  Indeed, I still wish to be productive and to contribute. As uninspiring as some people's picture of the future is I acknowledge that all the above things are important to some degree. I would just not emphasise their importance to the degree that society currently does. As my future was a blank canvas in my head I decided I needed to take time out to paint a picture of it.

But where do you start?

I guess I wanted to be able to connect to the things that stirred me inside. These are riding my bike, trying to take a nice photo, the odd moment when I write with great zeal and finally, provocative thought. These four things were to be the main components of my trip. Traveling through foreign lands and unfamiliar cultures by bicycle has been pretty provocative to say the least. Naturally, the website has made me feel productive on the writing and photography fronts. The interesting thing is that I still want to focus my energies on these areas.  I could easily have finished the trip and said; biking, never again. This in itself is very encouraging even if I can't see down the road with these things. I may not do any of the above to a professional standard but if I sow the seed and give them energy then maybe over time something will germinate and bloom. Thus, the next chapter in my life is really a continuation along the same lines. This means that I will continue to suspend reality. I will still be productive but I will not be working in a productive capacity for society; taking an income and paying taxes on it and all that.

I am sure it is not that much of a surprise to people that I am working on a book at the moment, although I'm not being very disciplined with it. My travels only inform part of it. I don't think there is anything particularly unique about what I have done so converting a ca. 120,000 word blog into a manuscript is a waste of time. However, the blog is there to mine for material if I need it. When I started the trip I wanted to run two blogs. One was to be a kind of Polaroid – very light-hearted, experimental and simply snap-shots of moments in time that when put together would tell a very random story. The other one was to be quite dense and abstract and deal with all the provocative thoughts I was forced to confront while on the road. Of course, maintaining a blog takes a lot of time. In the end I ended up with just the one blog that was neither one thing nor the other. Thus, I am now trying to write the more heavy-going blog since my perspective is a rarer thing than simply the traveling. I'm committed to finishing it, not simply because I hope it will read well and can be sold but because it will allow me to complete a lot of half-thoughts; thoughts that may provide clarity as to what I should pursue next. The book is a journey in itself, so once again I find myself on a road unsure of where the ultimate destination will be. I hope I can do a good job of it but if it is not a successful venture then no big deal. I wouldn't be the first person not to have finished a book or indeed failed to have a book published. The challenge is not so much in getting my ideas onto the page but in weaving some complex material (although I would argue it is simple) into the context of a story that makes my point of view both accessible, relatable and compelling enough to read. The reality is that I'm not really a writer. I'm more a thinker but I can't say that to people without being slapped around and told to get over myself. Obviously, I am not attesting to the quality of any thought but thinking is what I innately do best. However, I view a thinker's craft as one of words. The art of expressing an idea is to encode it with great energy in both the spoken and written word. If I can learn to speak articulately and write eloquently then that is half the battle and I may have some chance of monetising my thoughts. Who knows? I'm still uncertain as to what they are.

I also endeavour to pursue photography. I have been sorting through my better photos and I'm still left with the realisation that they are only marginally above average. There is some reasonable composition at times and naturally the foreign locations make them interesting in themselves. However, they are mostly point-and-shoot with an emphasis on composition and the intent of shooting from a different perspective. In some ways I achieved what I set out to achieve in that I never expected to be able to use anything from this trip, rather that the trip would be part of my schooling in terms of trying to form a bond with the camera and create a perspective that is unique to me. Looking at the pics on my computer they are not sharp enough to reproduce. They will inevitably be a treasure chest of memories on Picasa but it is good to know that I still have a real yearning to improve. I have been studying some books in an effort to move it up a notch and I have just completed on my first photo assignment; portrait shots for a friend's professional website. It all went very well considering I had no studio or lighting equipment with which to work. I had to work with natural light and figure out suitable locations to shoot. I was happy with my execution and thankfully it seemed to come quite easily to me. As far as I'm aware photography is considered an art form. The difficulty of the arts is that painters and sculptors typically have part-time jobs to pay the bills since despite any acclaim there is limited money to be made from the sale of their works. Some are very successful but most struggle. Of course photography has a commercial element to it that makes it a viable career choice for someone who can find their niche. Commercial applications include wedding photography, studio photography, photo-journalism, corporate head-shots, architectural project shots or indeed fashion shots. 

I guess I'm also responding to prompts I've had from people who tell me that I should pursue photography or write a book. I see a lot of flaws with my work but there must be something in it if (some) people respond as they do. Their voice is a form of market research, which suggests some level of demand even if I don't know how much and in what format. If you don't put yourself out there then you won't meet the people who can bring you on. I guess this is what I am trying to achieve, to produce something on my own account so that I can engage with the kind of people that I want to hang out with. I'm not meeting them as I currently have no voice but If I express myself then maybe I'll find what it is I'm looking for. I don't know but it's all I have to work on for the moment. As I said in the last post, rowing back to reality is always an option. It's the soft option for me so for now I will avoid it as I still feel the need to go beyond and experience a different kind of reality.

But what about the bike? I love to race so I am doing my best to get back into racing shape. No easy task considering I want to move it up a level next season. I'd love to ride the Ras, Ireland's internationally renowned 8-day stage race. This may be too ambitious but I will train away and see if I can discover something resembling class. Winter in Colorado has not advantaged me. I was wondering why my form was poor and then I realised I haven't actually done that much training. I spent November getting cul de sacced as I tried to find my way out of the city to train. I have lost 15 days on trips to NYC (no complaints). I have also lost 15 days to snowboarding (again, I'm not moaning). The most damaging has been the weather, I have lost another 28 days due to snow and a few cold snaps. All I can do is chip away.

Ok, I have said too much.  I'll be on again soon.

Marco

Tuesday
Feb152011

Limbo

My period in Colorado is all about my transition from a vagabond to someone who can contribute to society in some sort of productive capacity again. I did not want to head straight back to Ireland as it is difficult to think ahead when you are on the road. Coming straight home would have been too much of a shock as nice as it would have been to reconnect with family and friends. I did not want to return on the back foot. If it weren't for the human relationships I might not come home at all, although I have come to my own conclusions about Dublin. The location suits me wonderfully but the mind-set of the people still makes me very nervous.

To a large extent the Bionic Dude evaporated in the thin air of Mile High Stadium. That Broncos game was the symbolic conclusion of the dude's adventures even if I must return to Dublin to officially complete on a round-the-world trip. However, the Bionic Dude very much lives on as a thought-form. Naturally his experiences have informed my world view and while the trip was supposed to be one big hoot on one level, it is impossible for someone like me to travel and not absorb and process so much more. Allowing myself the time to process the trip and think ahead is the essence of my stint in Denver. While I had my own agenda throughout to a certain degree, travel opens you up to so many things that I needed to stop and stew them all over. I view travel as an informal education much like a masters. Now all I have to do is write the dissertation!

I left Dublin as if on a whim. Certainly the trip was conceived and pulled together in the space of two and a half frenetic months. That period entailed requesting a sabbatical, finishing up at work, building a bike, figuring out the camping side of things, establishing a route, booking flights and insurance, moving out on my rental and of course, creating this web-site. However, my unease with the status quo was brewing for a couple of years in the back of my mind before I ever jumped on a plane to Kathmandu. My 13 month adventure on a bike as far as Denver informs only part of a fundamental shift in my thinking in terms of how I approach my life. I was once one of the most career-oriented and capitalist people I knew. My competitive tendencies made me appear A-type to a large degree. That was then, this is now. I shudder at the thought of being A-type these days. While I'm still familiar with that persona and maintain all its positive qualities, my outlook is much more whatever the opposite of A-type is – Z-type? The truth is that for me, there is a richer vein coursing through life than simply the one we see on the surface and I find my attempts to mine it intriguing. This sounds very abstract I know but I feel like I'm on a whole new journey chasing some other version of reality. I only have a sense of it so it may be pure folly on my part but it seems a lot more fun than the reality I left behind.

While the trip was a success in that I achieved what I set out to do and was blessed in avoiding mishap, the real success of the trip will only be learned down the road. It is how the trip informs my life one or two years henceforth that will provide the litmus test. I'm not suggesting that the trip could ever be viewed as a failure, simply that I am left with a choice. I can either row back to the reality of a desk-job or continue on a voyage of discovery with no sense of the destination. The way I see it is that reality is relatively straightforward. You make a decision as to where you want to live and what you want to do and you focus all your energies towards those ends. In this scenario, the voyages of the Bionic Dude would simply sit within parenthesis to the corporate life I left behind and then, re-embraced on my return (assuming somebody would actually hire me). It is a much more fixed existence but as my mind is in a state of flux, I think a more fluid life would suit me better near-term. The alternative scenario is to acknowledge that I have only seen a slice of the world and that there is still so much more to learn. I am pretty happy that I have a handle of all things geographic at this stage. Thus, I don't really feel the need to explore further the natural rhythms of the world that pulse and repeat around the globe. Of course, I find nature infinitely calming and it will always be a source of strength for me. When you have travelled largely solo across vast landscapes you realise how incredible nature is and how the human soul feeds off it. However, it is also clear that we need human energy to grow and blossom too. To a certain extent my travels by bike prevented me from really exploring this as I couldn't readily follow the flow of people I encountered. Now that I have had some time to recover and that the days are starting to lengthen I have found the strength to consider new adventures. I am not sure that any may transpire but I certainly would have the desire to travel with a merry band of crazies to explore the more human sides to life. It doesn't necessarily have to be travel, just some sort of project that is focused more on the people side of things as opposed to the money side.

As I wallow in a sort of limbo between the travel dimension I left behind and the real world I am expected to re-embrace, a large part of me says to forget about reality a little while longer as it's the easy option. It's familiar, and while it presents its own difficulties and changing scenarios I don't find it a particularly difficult world to navigate. That is not to say that I am successful in it. People will rightly point out that I'm still without a mate and I'm uncertain as to my vocation. However, in the greater scheme of things I am well and good. For that I feel very fortunate and while my star and navel-gazing may be particularly self-indulgent I do it with a great degree of calm. Serenity is a rare commodity in the real world so I see no need to rush back … for the moment at least.

Plans for the immediate future up next.

Mind how you go

marco

Saturday
Feb122011

The Dude Tries to Reconnect with Civilisation

My three week search to find a bolt-hole for the winter resulted in Denver getting the nod ahead of Boulder. While Boulder promised more on the biking front, Denver just seemed to offer a lot more off the bike. The Denver Arts Week and the Denver Film Festival were looming on the events calendar so having the opportunity to experience these things made me want to stick around town as opposed to commute from Boulder. Plus, the bigger smoke just came across as a whole lot more fun with plenty of cool people around. However, re-embracing civilisation again was no easy thing. First I needed to pick up a beard trimmers and tidy up the mop of hair on top too. I was starting to feel decidedly uncomfortable about the locks in Denver. In the mountains one is just assumed to be a little feral, however, back in a city full of homeless it would be easy for people to consider me a transient as opposed to a drifter. It was me who was pre-judging Denver though as people here just don't care about that sort of stuff too much. I think I started that particular beard back in Lima towards the end of my South American adventure, so it had remained untouched for four months. My hair had not been cut since I left Dublin making it 13 months long at the time. Of course, when a beard is long enough that it should be combed it's too long in my view. I was not particularly fond of being able to see it without the need for a mirror. Still, I decided to keep the beard, albeit in a trimmed format, and I only took a little bit of hair off in a vain attempt to style my straight unstylable locks. Being the age of Christ, I decided I may as well embrace the Jesus look for a while longer. Why not. In keeping up appearances I also needed to kit myself out with a new wardrobe. America is great in this regard. I popped down to Target for some no-brand plain tees and a hoodie, I went to the charity store for some trousers and a sports jacket and I scored a couple of great shirts in the retro stores. I managed to assemble a wardrobe for next to nothing.

Now that I had the appearances of being normal I had to begin acting like it. I needed to start surfing the airwaves by buying a cell-phone. With a contact number I could now set about trying to find digs so I could pay monthly rent. It was time to abandon my tent. Jeez, despite the unfamiliar surroundings my life was starting to have a familiar feel to it once more. Having patrolled the city observantly on my bike I had managed to narrow down where I wanted to live. I wanted to be central. What's the point of trying to live somewhere it you are too far out in extraburbia that you can't really experience it? Thankfully rents are not that big a deal in Denver unless you are staying in yuppieville appartment towers smack in the middle of downtown. I've never been one for an appartment so that ruled out living in LoDo (Lower Downtown) and RiNo (River North). I set about trying to figure out which residential part of town I liked the most. Top of the list were Baker, East Colfax and LoHi (Lower Highlands). Thankfully Craigslist managed to find me a sublet on East Colfax right on City Park the day I got kicked out of the hostel. The manager there was a knob and just went off the handle at me for absolutely no reason resulting in me getting the boot. Honestly, after all the hostels I have stayed in around the world you couldn't have a more considerate guest than me.

East Colfax is a great part of town. It has some really cool bars and is a place where other people in the city come to for a night out. My favourite bar is the one nearest to me, Lost Lake. It's not a dive but it is a small ridiculously chilled-out bar with great bar staff and no nonsense at the door. Fixed-gear bikes are very attached to this establishment. While they hang-outside with the smokers their hipster owners are inside. If hipsters like the place then that can be perceived to mean that Lost Lake is cool but not too cool and not somewhere that has sold out. Indeed, the owners are definitely not in it for the money, $2 beers can't be good for profits. In addition, East Colfax is blessed with the Bluebird Theater, one of the principle live music venues in the city. It also has what can only be described as the blessed trinity of culture. In one complex lies the Denver Film Center (indie picture-house), the Tattered Cover bookstore and Twist 'n' Shout, the best music/record store I have ever seen.

Of course, there is no point living in a cool part of town if I didn't have good eggs to enjoy the place with. As an alien I rely on house-mates as my social outlet. I'm sharing a 4-bed 2000 sq ft home with Melissa, Corey and Chris. Chris is mostly down in his bunker studying for the Colorado Bar so he's not often available for selection. As for the other two, they are pretty much game-on. Melissa is both brilliant and crazy. Full of ideas she is hoping to make back the millions she lost. She is an entrepreneur who scratches for a living as an online lecturer and a public speaker. However, behind the scenes she is scheming on a very grand project. Corey left Houston to tour bars across the country with his guitar and a random group of musicians who entered and exited the fray over the course of his road-trip. He never made it back properly to Houston preferring to hang out in Colorado. He has a friend run his music studios while he is absent and works a couple of mornings a week in Denver drug-testing the Broncos. The upside of all this for me is that both Melissa and Corey are around the house during the day a lot. This makes the house feel quite akin to college when I would wake up with good intentions, before I would start chasing the day only for those productive intentions to become lost as the day peters out and life ultimately is postponed. I never thought I would have my college days back but I have. This time around I'm not stupid enough to actually worry about exams. My time in Denver feels very similar to my time as an Erasmus student in Bavaria, it doesn't get much better than this.

More soon

Marco

start of trip - Kathmandu Valley Oct 2009US Visa photo - Salta (Arg) Mar 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Paz airport - June 2010the end of the road - Denver Nov 2010 (too much?!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

my housemates - Corey (& Alsiha), Melissa and the dude reinvents as the Cat in the Hat