UTOPIA

a dreamscape to manifest the physical

Category: Travel

Redwing 40

My minimalism mission meant it was time to go separate ways with my sweet Kelty Redwing 40 hiking pack that I got when I was traveling in Vermont. I bumbled around the gorgeous state and then took a long beautiful train ride down to NYC after about a month or so of walking the long country roads (getting chased by viscious cows), watching the leaves change every shade of red, yellow, and amber, and discovering maple everything for the first time. I took my Redwing to many United States, and rocked it especially hard in my grand finale state, Alaska. I traveled with it to Europe for 6 weeks of early winter all over the continent from Ireland to Hungary to Portugal and beyond. It is abundantly roomy and the compression straps can suck it down to feel like a daypack. It fits in the overhead bin of a plane, or under the seat of a train. When I’ve been lucky enough to get both seats on a long bus ride through Western Europe it sits by my side and I’d fall over onto it like a perfectly sized mushy cuddle buddy. Sometimes it was even my pillow on the New York Subway after a long day of urban trekking.

I have discovered that I have a little bit of a bag obsession. As I pare down in my glorious minimalism, I have found that I simply have too many bags. Too many ways to carry and stow and trek. I know this because most things, like my wardrobe, have been a cinch for me to downsize. I hate clothes for the most part. I am too rough and tumble to be fashionable. I get into an overwhelming tizzy when I have to shop for anything fabric related. Forget sewing! Textiles have a mind of their own and I can not handle the way they change form and shape without warning. Give me power tools over a sewing machine any day. I am OCD clean at home but what happens after laundry is washed? I can’t seem to find it in me to simply hang these things on a hanger and be done with the task. I dump the basket on my bed so I am “forced” to put them away before I go to sleep ~ but NO ~ this does not happen. Putting the clothes away simply never happens with ease. Later, tired and ready to go to bed, I grab the heap and throw it on the lounge chair and go promptly to sleep. The next day I am shuffling through the mad pile to dress myself and the shit goes spilling all over the floor. After a few days the dirty is starting to get mixed up with the clean and, DAMMIT, again, Amy?! Anyway, it’s a nightmare. So I promptly got rid of all but a capsule wardrobe in about 4 whole minutes when I decided to do the 100 Thing Challenge and go hardcore minimalist. So now I have no clothes. I have BAGS. Holy Cats! I’m a bag lady! Ummm…

SO. I was having the hard talk with myself and realized it’s time for some tough love. I simply must downsize, even my precious bag collection, for my ever inspiring minimalist lifestyle. As a Tiny House Movement Wannabe, it just makes sense. Less is more! How many hiking bags do I really need? I already got rid of 3 lightweight generic backpacks. Along with this Kelty I still have a North Face pack and my trusty Lowe Alpine that I got in 1990 when I first started hiking and climbing in the Pocono Mountains. Home turf Pennsylvania say whaaaat! I also have a gym backpack, a beach tote, a waterprood gecko swim bag, a messenger bag…needless to say there are many more vessels in my collection.

I’ve had a few things sitting on Craigslist for the past month collecting dust and trolls and I didn’t really feel like dealing with that forum so I decided to try posting it to a local Facebook garage sale page I recently began following. I couldn’t remember what I paid for it, at least $150, possibly $180. I posted it for $50. Then I looked it up and it is selling for new on Amazon for $264, and it’s an older model. Whoa! Did I pay that much? I never did think too much about what I spend on quality outdoor gear. I barely shop as it is so when I do go for a high ticket item it’s usually worth it. Still, even though I bought it in 2012, 4 years ago, all of those trips I took it on tallied to only about 6 months of use. I take great care of my gear. Wiping dust off with rubbing alcohol, shaking out the debris regularly, keeping the excess straps bound neatly to prevent unnecessary wear and tear. I always hang my hiking bags in the closet between uses, all zipped up and compressed, so pretty. I copied the Product Description and Bag Features from Kelty and posted it with a couple of pics. To my surprise I had a nearly immediate hit. A woman liked, commented, and sent me a direct message shortly after I posted. Well, that was fairly easy.

We agreed to meet at a nearby coffee shop the following afternoon. I slept as hard as ever since I’m now doing bricks to train for my first triathlon. I woke up at 5am ready to conquer the to do list and saw the appointment on my calendar to sell my Redwing. I suddenly had a hint of seller’s remorse. Not as much of a hint, really – more of an onslaught. “This thing is in excellent shape,” I thought. “Have I been underutilizing this bag?” “Should I sell the Lowe Alpine instead? The Kelty is newer technology! What am I doing??” I continued to wonder if I was doing the right thing as I dragged myself out of my house to deliver it to its soon-to-be new owner. Maybe she won’t like it. Maybe she will find it awkward. Yet, lo and behold, when I met her, I couldn’t help myself: my REI member-salesgirl persona came tumbling out all over as I excitedly showed her all the cool features. How it was so big and so small at the same time. The trick velcro side pockets that opened up for tent poles or walking sticks. The secret camelback compartment that opened through the top while doubling over enough to still keep the rain out. Comfy, slim straps for the female torso and an external spine that distributes the weight absolutely perfectly. So much back padding! The perfect bedroll straps, the countless carabiner loops on the bottom, the compartments, the top loading ~ OHEMGEE~.

It was a hard break up, but at the end, my knapsack was starting a new love affair. The best part came when she told me she will be using it to hike the Continental Divide!!! All of a sudden, I was ABOUT IT. YES. So much YES. “Prior to the trip, planning, preparation, and training can take anywhere from twelve to eighteen months. The trip itself takes about six months on foot, when averaging 17 miles per day.”** I am grateful to provide something so useful to this woman’s incredible journey and the look on her face told me she was super pumped! Kelly got her Kelty and I am stoked to know this Redwing has many more adventures ahead. Bon Voyage!

**continentaldividetrail.org

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Navigating Poland

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It’s been 11 days and 3 (or 4) countries since I left the US. I barely know where to begin to transcribe all of the amazing that has occurred since I landed in Dublin. The freshest memories are the newest so I’ll start here in the middle, writing from Warsaw. It’s pretty amusing how I spent my first few days getting sorted in this latest foreign language.

I flew to Gdansk, Poland from Edinburgh, Scotland much to the surprise of many fellow travelers I’ve met in Europe. It is apparently rare for an American to go from the UK directly to Eastern Europe, even skipping England completely. If you know me at all then you know I’ve never done anything by the book. I like to do things my own way and I especially like to stay off the beaten path whenever I can help it. My decision to skip over the pond to Poland was easy. For one thing, despite the fact that I am a typical American mutt, I’ve discovered that I am 1/4 Polish from my mother’s side. Coming from a broken family, I wasn’t raised with much culture or genetic awareness and I’ve recently become interested in unearthing the mystery and tracing my roots. It’s a funny thing not knowing much about one’s own ancestry, a bit like floating aimlessly while also being very grounded in pure biological humanism. I haven’t gotten too far into the search yet but it is fascinating to look around at these Poles and see similarities in cheek bones and hair texture to the extent that many look as if they could be my cousin. On a simpler note, the other incentive drawing me to Poland is that my buddy, Daniel, whom I met while we were both traveling in Alaska, lives here in Warsaw and it’s always fun to visit with a fellow traveler. We are a special breed and I always enjoy that unique brand of comaraderie.

Daniel has a job during the week so the plan was to meet up on the weekend. I found a ticket to Gdansk for about $20USD so that seemed like a good place to start on my own. Daniel suggested Poliskibus from Gdansk to Warsaw so I busted out my iPhone to check it out. Google Translate immediately popped up to assist but the translation was some combination of Polish and English, or at least it was some mixture of letters that appeared to be in either language, and the result was completely nonsensical. I fought my way through it for a spell but then I decided to cross reference the budget airline RyanAir and sure enough I found a flight from Gdansk to Warsaw for another $20. I booked directly on the app from a pub in Edinburgh while enjoying a half pint of Innis & Dunn and still succesfully avoiding Haggis…I’m just not brave in that way. When I got around to telling Daniel about my plan he enlightened me to the fact that the airport I booked, Modlin, is quite a long way from the city center. I didn’t really mind. I figured some days are longer than others and I’ve never been afraid of a little extra hike. It typically gives me time to catch up on reading and journaling.

When I flew into Gdansk I hopped on the 210 bus into town and it was about a 30 minute ride. The bus was a bit crowded but it was modern and easy to follow the stops on the digitized scroller. When Brama Wyzinna showed up I knew it was time for me to pop off and then it was an easy 1km stroll through the main plaza. My hosts were hilarious and kind. They made me pierogies and bought me a special honey beer that was delicious. I was provided with a bicycle the next day and biked down the river and all around the town. I adore architecture. I didn’t ever realize this until I moved away from Philly a decade ago and found myself complaining about the buildings. I thought it was an odd thing for me to be going on about but I realized how lucky I am to have grown up in one of the original 13 colonies with so much care and craftsmanship in the architecture. Many modern US cities have bland square buildings that were just assembled quickly and cheaply and it’s quite unappealing to anyone with a creative eye. The old buildings on the square of Gdansk are lovely and feel like a movie set. They are colorful, super tall, and flat in rows. At the top they are curved and had a real eastern european feel. I could go on but I don’t know enough proper architecture terms so you’ll just have to come some my photos when I get my cafe up and running. I’ll have lots of travel pics up as part of the main decor and I’ll be doing a series of exhibits from time to time.

Fast forward to my flight out of Gdansk which was scheduled to leave at 6:40am. I’m no stranger to early flights so I was unphased until I spent what felt like eternity trying to find out what side of the road the night bus runs. Everyone had a different opinion because Brama Wyzzina is a new addition to the night route and also there was some construction happening there. I had 2 reputable sources disagreeing with each other so I decided to walk around to the bus stops and see which one listed the “N3” at the stop itself. It rained all day but it was a soft misty rain so it was irritating but not driving enough to sour my experience. I walked to all the covered stops on both sides of Brama Wyzinna and none listed the N3. I then walked down to the central station and checked the 8 or so consecutive covered stops and only one listed the N3. You would think this was a relief, but it was on the same side of the street as I arrived and I was uncertain if I could trust if it was a pickup and not a drop off location, especially with the locals arguing about it.

I don’t want to spend this whole post complaining as that’s not my style so I will try to summarize the issue briefly. I’ve flown other budget airlines in Europe so I know it doesn’t have to be this way but this would be my 2nd flight with RyanAir and I was starting to discover the hassles that they provide. You can check in with their app but with a US passport they will not provide a digital boarding pass and then as I found out you have to pay an additional $20 to print a boarding pass at the airport. I could’ve printed it beforehand but I’ve never heard of such a thing before and had no foresight the first time. Additionally they want you to be at the airport 2 hours early for some reason. I thought this was all because I was entering the country the first time, but then it was repeating itself as I tried to prepare for my flight to Warsaw from within the country. This meant I had to catch the 4am night bus and the boulevard is so wide that if I missed it for being on the wrong side of the street then there would be no way to recover. I finally said screw it and ordered a taxi to pick me up at 4am. This would cost 50PLN, $13US. If I had done the conversion early I would’ve realized that my sanity is certainly worth that low amount but I was still having a bit of culture shock and was simply taking too much in to realize. Besides I typically like taking the local route to get that extra dose of culture but screw walking to an unknown bus stop at 3:30am.

I messaged Daniel in my exasperation and he informed me that the bus from Gdansk was only 44PLN and drops me at the metro line 10 minutes from the location where I was planning to stay. With the flight it would cost 50PLN for the taxi and the airport  was an hour out of the city and would take a shuttle to a train to a metro to get to my place. I don’t know the cost of all the combined transportation from Modlin to Warsaw but the answer was becoming clear: burn the flight and take the bus directly….like Daniel said from the beginning. HA!

SO! it took me a day to get in the groove with transport in Poland but a few days later I’m finding my way fairly easy. I’m living it up now, learning some history and local customs, a few key words, discovering the arts and local scene while meeting lots of fantastic people in cozy boheme cafes. Flow has been achieved.

Adventures in Shakespeare: Getting There {Throwback 6.29.10}

I’ve had many adventures since I left Austin, so many that it feels I’ve been gone for weeks. The train ride was awesome; I made a couple of buddies along the way that were handy in keeping things interesting, especially as cabin fever set in. The ride itself was much faster & more comfortable than I anticipated. I was directed to a lower cabin car which has wider seats, more leg room, & only 12 seats. This cabin had 5 riders besides myself so I had two fat seats, with more leg room than I have legs, all to myself, making a generally pleasant ride with the exception of “The Queen of The Train”: a woman in her 50s who rides the rails often and ruled our car with her giant vocal chords which were active most of the time and usually had nothing interesting to broadcast.

We arrived in Los Angeles at about 7am on Friday, June 6th. Considering I hadn’t had coffee yet and no food since the night before, it seemed like an eternity for me to get my bike out of train storage. The brand new box I put my bike in in Austin was beat to hell and buried under 30 giant boxes belonging to a family of 5 that were moving to California from the East Coast. I twitched in anticipation of getting my sweetheart out from under that heap. Finally, after a gazillion years, I ripped through the little pieces of cardboard that barely remained on my bike and swiftly straightened my handlebars and put my pedals back on. Passengers aren’t usually allowed in the receiving area but that didn’t stop me from test riding my bike in giant figure eights in the belly of L.A.’s Amtrak station. Now that my bike was working I was ready to go get lost, which I did swiftly!

I wanted to ride my bike the 13 miles to the hotel in Westwood but now it was 8:30am and I still hadn’t had coffee. Additionally, upon lifting my bags, I realized that somehow they were heavier than I planned for them to be. Some gremlin must’ve stuffed some extra tools in there while I wasn’t looking. So I asked around about a bus only to learn that the folks in LA are either confused or confusing when it comes to describing their bus system. After 3 failed attempts at understanding the bus in my caffeine free state, I tied my luggage onto my bike rack with bungee cords, did some strange maneuvering of my limbs, and managed to get on my bike. I then used nothing but will power to make it go, without falling over, through downtown traffic, during rush hour, all the while kicking myself that I didn’t shell out the dough for some paniers to balance my heavy load. My GPS picked this moment to go apeshit and kept telling me I was in the middle of a dirt field in Indiana and other blatant lies. Literally, Indiana. Again I had to rely on the vague descriptions of the people of Los Angeles. OK Go straight. Turn left on 7th street. Got it.

After 9 wavy uphill miles of 7th street where I crossed 3 freeways and hit a dead end before finding the street I was supposed to turn on from there, I had to practice my broken portunol (a rare mix of portuguese and spanish that I learned in Brazil) with an old Mexican man walking his granddaughter to school. He told me I was ass backwards. I turned around and went a few blocks while questioning my language skills. A lady was watering her roses and spoke some English. She confirmed that I was ass backwards and gave me a bottle of water for my crazy/stupid bike ride. She didn’t exactly say that, but her face said it. Somehow the 9 mile return was also a steep uphill. I mean STEEP – like really really hard without a load & impossible with 60 pounds on your back. Was it 60 pounds? It felt like 60 pounds. It was too early for this, I didn’t have enough water, and my bags weren’t packed right so any further description of this segment would just result in a lot of cursing.

I finally found myself downtown again and GPS was toying with me as to which bus to take. I was a couple of blocks from where my droid was telling me to go and standing directly beneath a bus sign that said Westwood. I decided to listen to the sign. The fascinating adventure of bussing in LA shortly ensued. Lifting my monstrously heavy bike with the bulk of my belongings strapped onto it onto a bus where the driver is too pissed off at her lot in life to lower the bus was only the beginning. Yay, more pre-coffee oddly shaped exercise for me. Huff. I get on. She hits the gas pedal and immediately starts yelling at me that I put my bike on wrong and it’s going to fall off. So I stand there, helplessly watching it wobble and waiver while waiting for her to stop driving like a maniac so I can go fix it before the bus rolls over it. “Get behind the yellow line!!”, she screams as she continues to torture me for three jerky, stop & go, city blocks before stopping to watch me lift, twist, & lift my heavy life properly onto the bike rack. I finally get to squeeze me & my overstuffed turtle shell of gear through this sardine can to ensure my place among many indescribable smells & sounds. I try not to look completely overwhelmed but my eyes are bulging and I spastically keep leaning forward to see the names of the upcoming streets, hoping & promising to turn my back on atheism if my stop comes soon. I think I picked the busiest bus with the longest route in LA, and for all the whining I’ve done about how Austin lacks diversity, let me just say, I found it all on that bus. That delectable intimacy lasted about 45 minutes.

I get off the bus and it wasn’t soon enough so I continue to turn my back on god. The hotel is a mere block and a half away and I begin to feel relief but it is snatched out of my heart when the grumpy old imbecile behind the counter tells me my room isn’t ready and he doesn’t know when it will be as he practices facial twitches which indicate that I am the bain of his existence. He was almost as much of a brat as the bus driver but I have yet to get coffee and all those smells on the bus have made me testy and impatient. I proceed to gently put him in his place for being a bad human. He backs down and helps me put my belongings into a storage closet. Me & my empty bike go out for coffee. Finally.

After two hours of ambling through the UCLA area my room is ready. I unload, catch up on some breathing, and soon I’m driving with my long lost cousin and her precious offspring. I spend the next two days getting to know my young, thrice removed cousins and biking the area. My favorite ride was to Santa Monica Pier and all along the beach down to Venice. The bike path is just the right distance from the actual scene that you’re close enough to laugh at it without actually having to touch it. On the way back to the hotel I stopped for Persian Ice Cream which is potentially the most divine flavor I’ve ever tasted. Then, ZAP!, I’m off to the jobby job in Thousand Oaks. Getting there, accomplished.

Fight Or Flight {part 1}

I somehow arrived in the Bay Area in a completely different situation than originally planned. Everything was rapidly crumbling and the words “lost” and “stranded” kept shouting at me. While initially disturbed, I refused to allow more than a brief pout. Sadness has expired and would not be tolerated. It was true that this particular leg of the trip was not fully planned. It was impossible to plan. I didn’t understand what I was doing, or why I was here. The reasons I had last month were vastly different than they were now, not to mention there was a sad truth uncurling that for the first time in my life I did not know exactly who I was. I could not, at this time, justify the junction of my confusion. Yet while all of this mystery was occurring, I ignored my troubled mind as my survival depended me to do. My stubborn mentality was doing something useful, saving me from a meltdown.

Since I was so fervently living in the moment, I quickly turned my head to realize that while I was stuck in deep Oakland, I had landed in an enormous dance studio. I was alone for the first time in months, and the very walls of the building were demanding Missy Elliott into the stereo and the worries that had been crawling on me be thrown out the window. I complied; I danced.

I hadn’t danced since July 13th, 2004.

I have never been good at not knowing. I am made completely of curiosity and an insatiable hunger for learning. I dissect everything that passes me, from electromagnetic fields to the psychology of fashion at LAX. There is not enough time in the day to learn everything I want to know and I can’t decide if that is a flaw in Pope Gregory’s design or the fault of the moon. After some hearty self-analysis, I decided to do an experiment in unknowing. I made bold moves. I bought plane tickets. I stopped calculating my expenditures. I talked to strangers like I knew them for years. I forgot to worry. Sometimes my decisions could be considered unwise but they screamed of necessity anyway.

The biggest of these twists was renting an apartment in Ocean Beach while I was working in five other cities and did not have any prospects in San Diego. I paid rent but never lived there for more than one weekend. I had tons of work and stability in Austin but I was experiencing an undefined aversion and fled. I could not decipher if the discontent was brewing within me or if I had too much disagreement with the city itself. In the past I had always stopped and faced my demons. This time I ran from them, ignored them, beat them around the corner and hopped on a boat before they could get to the dock. Was it smart? That remains unanswered but it was definitely liberating.

San Francisco September 2010

I still have several days to kill before I get to work in San Francisco. I’m running out of money, bored with myself, and spending an exuberant amount of time in coffee houses expecting to be fulfilled and surprised like I was when I was graduating my teen years at The Last Drop in Philly. The next thing to do was always found at that vortex of 13th & Pine, even if it meant just sitting on the stoop at 13th & Pine. You could get drunk, get drugs, get a boyfriend, get dumped, get coffee, get inspiration, get philosophy. You could link up, meet up, hook up, grow up, grow dreads, shave your head. The world was completely available and if it wasn’t cheap, it was free.

These days I don’t tend to expect much more than a good cup of caffeine. Some tasty grub helps the experience and good tunes certainly don’t hurt. I suppose that was what I was expecting when my friend recommended Muddy Waters on Valencia. To be fair, he hadn’t been here in a decade and said he couldn’t really vouch for the current operation, but the last time he was here they made some damn good coffee. That is true. The brew is so thick I had to double my creamer.

Since even the suckiest places in San Francisco have delicious food, I wasn’t expecting my egg & cheese bagel to form in less than a minute with the egg shaped like it popped out of a plastic mold and the orange slice of Velveeta shockingly unmelted. I thought Velveeta was born melted.  I did not want an egg & cheese bagel in the first place but the menu is sadly limited and even Dunkin Donuts can pull those off with a smidge of flavor.  Judging by the cute butch in the Anti-Racist Action shirt sitting next to me and the fact that one of the baristas looks like a Palestinian Freedom Fighter and the other looks like a quintessential seventies feminist at a jazz lounge, young punks and anarchists surely adore this place. The walls haven’t been painted in at least twelve years and they only take cash, which means they are really stickin’ it to the man. The paintings on the wall have rage and potential but they are lazy and unfinished, which does not stop them from being overpriced. Most of the time there is not an ounce of sound outside of the boisterous table near the window but every once in a while the barista gets bored and starts watching youtube on her iPhone which is connected to some dime store speakers behind the counter. It is a dim and distant sound and within nanoseconds the phone rings, or a customer comes in, and she turns it off, keeping her dine-in audience feeling distraught and discombobulated, a perfect emotional stratum for a protest on the square.

Recommended for anyone with an abundance of angst or a simple taste for coffee to go.

Booking Confirmed

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Ahhh Tolkien, author of the echo of the incessant nomad. We defend ourselves in this quote, the wandering, carefree, roaming travelers. If not, we are “running away”, “hiding”, or “lost”. Those addicted to routine, hidden behind statues of finance that dictate how money is allotted, with travel listed as a non-priority, these sweet regular folk can’t perceive the how or why. Some envy us, others judge us. The pictures aren’t big enough and you can’t smell geography. You have to GO yourself to understand why we expedition junkies must gallivant extravagant itineraries, why we must submerge in foreign cultures just to grasp what human really is, and our suffocating need to breathe so much pure oxygen in untouched landscapes. Honestly, YES, sometimes I do run or hide but rarely am I lost. If ever I am, it’s certainly the best way to be found. Most of the time I am running, though, it is to, not from. It is to explore. It is to discover. It is to unearth. It is to grow. Every time I roam I ascend. I conquer fears and disappointments. I vanquish the confusion produced from the western daily grind. I go to and I get my damn priorities straight, effortlessly, as I witness exquisite beauty from coastlines to kinsfolk. I wander and I am found.