Conversations and Questions

One of the things I’ve tried to be proactive with on my nomading journey—and have gotten comfortably lazy with from time to time—is meeting people. I’m taking this solo journey, but it’s really about connecting with people along the way. And not just people I already know! So, I’ve pushed beyond my comfort zone and struck up more conversations than usual in Starbucks, and even started posting on some meetup.com communities. Sometimes the conversations end as quickly as they begin, and sometimes they lead to even more interaction.

I’ve had conversations with elderly women about movies currently playing at the theater, local bike club members as they stopped at Starbucks mid-ride, and little kids about their school projects. Being unafraid to strke up a conversation led me to a woman whose sister is an art director for a local ad agency…the sister and I met up later, she introduced me to a friend who has an arts and science academy in town, and I’m giving a class soon at her school! This morning I met in person with a woman who I contacted through a meetup.com group for cyclists. We are going on a long bike ride to New Mexico tomorrow!

Along the way, I’ve been having fun when people, like the baristas at Starbucks, ask me seemingly easy and throwaway questions. My favorite is when they ask (after I tell them I’m only in town for a while), “Oh, where do you live?” I reply, “Today? Here.” It’s a good opener to tell them what I’m doing. It’s not that I’m trying to say, “Hey! Look at me,” but rather it’s a way for me to let people know something about me and this crazy idea I had. Just an icebreaker, really.

The next question they usually ask—if it’s not, “When are you leaving?”—is, “Where all have you been?” If you’ve been reading the blog, you might know. I realized, though, that not everyone knows the geography of where I’ve been, especially my friends in other parts of the world, so I made a map. Sorry, no Indiana Jones-esque plane-route animations. Yet. The map shows the cities/areas I’ve stayed overnight or major cities I’ve passed through.

where i've been

Click to enlarge

And, since (ideal) communication is a two-way street, I then feel comfortable enough to ask them about them. “How long have you lived here?” “What is there to do for fun here?” You get the idea. A city is just a dot on a map, but that city comes alive through its people.

I was told over the summer that on this journey I would be a “missionary of happiness” as I met people and, hopefully, inspired or motivated along the way. I don’t know if I’ve brought happiness or inspiration, but I’ve certainly been a “missionary of chattiness!” Recently, I’ve been focusing on some business projects for the coming year and I’ve let that side of this journey lag. So, this week I’ve re-focused my energy on at least engaging in conversation, letting people know what I’m up to, and really listening to what they share with me. That human factor, and keeping the experiences fresh, is what makes this nomadic experience worth it and keeps me going. Can’t have me getting bored, now can we?

My Two-Wheeled Travels, Part Two

Now that the craziness of the holidays is winding down a bit, I’ve had time to actually sit and write a blog entry. Also, my car is in the shop once again, so I’ve been doing a little bit of biking here in El Paso, Texas. What better time than the end of the year to catch you up on all the biking I’ve been doing? Part One of my biking diary dealt with biking in Oregon, Northern California and Southern California. My next stop after leaving Fullerton, California was Phoenix, Arizona.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA

This is the town for biking! Well, as long as it’s not July or August, I’m guessing. The weather during my week-long stay was amazing: sunny, warm, and oh-so-beautiful! Perfect biking weather.

I wish I had done a little more biking than I did, but I feel like I covered a lot of ground in Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe. Tempe was by far my favorite for bikeability. There are several irrigation canals running throughout this desert city, perfect places for bike trails. They are mostly paved, almost completely flat, and offer direct arteries through the city, mostly traffic-free. Every place I had to cross a street had a crosswalk and a light for safe crossing.

On the main streets through town, there were well-marked and well-maintained bike lanes. More than just a small shoulder, the lanes were wide enough that my friend and I often rode side by side while pedaling. The streets in general (at least in Tempe, where I spent most of my time) handled traffic of all sorts well. I appreciated this when driving, of course, but even more so when I was on two wheels. We deemed one day “car free” and ran all of our errands by bike. I think we ended up doing about 16 miles, and went to about six stores, one restaurant, and four Starbucks looking for a particular set of mugs for another friend! In addition to the lanes, I was impressed by the availability of bike racks everywhere we stopped. It was nice not to have to find a poor tree to chain my bike to.

VERDICT: The metro area of Tempe, Mesa, and Phoenix has great biking lanes, awesome weather (at least in early December), and amazing plants, flowers, and birds to look at. Pleasant biking experience and easily one of my favorite cities I’ve biked in so far!

EL PASO, TEXAS

As I mentioned in Part One, I had looked up bike trails on Google Maps to see what El Paso had to offer this cyclist. I was a little worried. Once I got here and started biking, however, I found that Google Maps can be flat out wrong. Recently, the city of El Paso (at least in the area where I’m staying) has been adding bike lanes to major roads. Lots of them, in fact. Having been to this city twice, I was worried about all the traffic and my safety while cycling. For the most part, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. On one of the roads, there is a buffer of about 18 inches between the bike lane and the traffic lane. Intersections and merging areas are well-marked and there are plenty of signs reminding drivers to share the road. Another street has a bike lane that is wider than most of the traffic lanes in the city! I found the instructions at intersections a little confusing, but the lanes were so wide, I certainly wasn’t worried about getting hit by a car! I’ve ridden on several streets that barely have a shoulder and cars were good about going around me. In some places, I found it safer to ride on the sidewalks, but they tended to end without warning, be covered with enough loose sand to be certified as a beach, or be littered with broken glass. Urban riding at its finest!

Riding on Montwood, to where the city ends.

Where the city ends. Click to enlarge.


Last week I took a 13+ mile ride so far east that I hit the end of the city. Really…just desert after that. Last Sunday, I biked a bit of the Mission Trail here in El Paso. If I had driven to the first mission—or somewhere close by—I could have hit all three of the historic missions on the trail. I did the northernmost two and was feeling accomplished. All in all, it was a 17 mile ride. Next time I’ll drive to the northernmost one and bike the whole trail down and back. Since the southernmost one is so far south, it will still end up being about a 16 mile ride. I’ll see what side trips I can tack on, as well.

I found out just this morning that there is a trail on the far west side of town that runs along the Rio Grande up to the Texas-New Mexico border. If you’re not familiar with the geography, the Rio Grande is the river that forms the border between Texas and Mexico. It looks to be about a 16 or 17 mile roundtrip and mostly flat and you have the option of riding the paved portion or along the dirt levee. Sounds wonderful!

VERDICT: El Paso is fairly easy to get around on via bike. The decent weather and dry desert air is, for me, an added bonus. Again, I haven’t ridden in the triple digit temps of summer or the apparently awful period know as “duststorm season.”

The Constant Traveler

My family and long-time friends will probably get a chuckle out of this, but I’m going to say it, anyway: Being so organized has helped me immensely on this journey. Me? Organized? Yep…by necessity (stop laughing, Karen). One of the things that I came to despise about living in a fairly roomy house was all the stuff that accumulated, multiplied, and spread. I think one of the most appealing ideas I had about my nomading was the fact that I’d have so little with me—though at times I feel like I’m carting way too much around. Being organized with the items I do have is key, and is a main focus for me nearly every day.

HOW DO I STAY ORGANIZED?

Everything I have with me is in some kind of container. In the car I have several plastic bins of varying sizes. There are three low, wide stacking bins containing my roughly 2 weeks’ worth of clothes. One is for my pants, one for long-sleeved shirts, and one for short-sleeved t-shirts and nicer, casual shirts.

In addition, I have a small bin that has socks, underwear, and my thermals (which I’ve used WAY more than I thought I would). These serve as my dresser, of sorts, when I get settled in to each place. The biggest bonus is that the clothes stay nice and folded and I don’t have to live out of a suitcase. I also have a small number of dress clothes on hangers. I employ my trick I’ve always used when moving, which is to slip a trash bag over the clothes and tie around the base of the hangers: everything in a neat little package, ready to hang up!

My toiletries are all in a little bin with a snap-on lid and a handle. Sounds like a little concern, but being able to get into a bathroom, have my products mostly in regularly-sized containers, and keep everything neat and tidy really makes life easier. Being mobile and as unintrusive as possible on the other inhabitants in the house keeps me from feeling too in the way. And in places where there were four of us sharing a bathroom, this was a necessity! I also have an additional small bin of toiletries that sits in the car…this is where I keep the big containers that I use to fill the little travel ones I’m using. For instance, I stocked up on Q-tips and my favorite hair gel before leaving.

I have a couple of canvas shopping bags that I call my “catch-all” containers. They contain odds and end, including some DVDs I thought would be fun to have with me, my resistance bands, some small zip-loc bags, and a scarf I thought I couldn’t live without. I haven’t warn the scarf, yet, by the way. I have a folder with important papers—things like my passport, important mail, bank receipts, etc.—that I keep near and dear while driving. In my front seat, I also have the tools of my trade: my laptop, phone, tablet, etc. in my backpack that goes everywhere with me. On the floor is a cooler with drinks, snacks, and other food items I’ve picked up along the way.

I have two suitcases that I use when I go on business trips, so I need to have those at the ready, if I should need to fly out somewhere. Conveniently, the small one fits precisely inside the bigger one, so they don’t take up much room. I put all of my biking and workout clothes inside the little one to save even more space. I also threw in a small duffel bag at the last second and it’s come in quite handy. If I’m staying for just a night somewhere—either in a hotel or at a friend’s briefly—I use it as my overnight bag. That way I don’t have to lug in a bunch of bins. As it is, I keep letting people know, “I know it looks like a lot, but I’m really NOT moving in!” On my longer stays, the duffel bag holds my biking/workout clothes.

Before leaving Colorado, I also visited IKEA with a friend. As a side note, when you don’t have a home, a shopping trip to IKEA doesn’t hold as much wonder. That being said, I got out of there for under $25. I bought a collapsible laundry hamper, which has been so convenient: pops up when I need the hamper, but I can tuck it away in the car while traveling. I also bought a small clip-on gooseneck light to light up whatever makeshift desk space I create in my room.

Other bins and containers contain:

  • odds and ends electronics, like chargers and adapters
  • backpack with my hiking clothes and hiking poles
  • bike pannier, helmet, bike accessories
  • sleeping bag and Therm-A-Rest pad
  • blankets and sheets
  • inflatable mattress
  • a box of dominoes…I’m hoping to find someone to play with along the way

And, of course, my bicycle is on the back of the car. Along with the bike, I have an intricate—and probably overly-complicated—system—of lashing straps and locks to keep it secure, not only from would-be thieves, but freeway speed winds. I also purchased a chain cover to keep the road grime out of the chain and derailleur.

carpack

UNPACK, ORGANIZE, CULL, ORGANIZE, PACK, REPEAT

So, that’s what I have, but how do I keep it all organized? Well, I know where everything is in my car and where it all needs to go back when I am ready to move on. I thought about making a packing “map,” or taking in-depth pictures, or making a detailed list but decided that was too much work. The key is to be organized when I’m at someone’s house (or in a hotel room).

I keep all the stacking bins stacked in the same order, with the toiletries bin and my hair dryer on top. My important papers go on the desk if there is one, or onto whatever piece of furniture has enough room to act as a desk or table. Using a few Eagle Creek quarter cubes makes sure I don’t leave any little thing behind. The dress clothes get hung up in a closet, the hamper goes somewhere I can see it so I don’t accidentally lose a sock behind it, and my catch-all bags go wherever they make the most sense.

The biggest boon to keeping it all organized is the activity I’ve named “Cull and Org.” I do this every couple of days. I make sure I don’t have any stray clothes laying around; everything goes in the hamper, gets hung up, or goes back in a bin. This is what I would do at home, but putting it on my to-do list every couple of days keeps me from getting lazy or forgetful. While it wouldn’t be a huge deal if I left something behind, I don’t want to have people needing to mail forgotten items to me all the time. During the “Cull and Org,” I go through every little piece of paper I’ve accumulated. If it’s a receipt I need for tax purposes, it goes in the folder of important papers. If it’s a ticket of somewhere interesting I visited, I take a photo on my phone to remember it, but the original goes in the recycle bin.

Just yesterday, I also culled out some clothes. I realized there were several items I thought I would want to have with me. A few of them I wore once, but most I hadn’t worn the entire trip. That says they’re probably never going to make the cut, so I decided to stop dragging them around. A couple were too big for me now, anyway, so they were donated to a thrift store. Many are being shipped back to Colorado, and one (the “Ridiculous Pants of Hiking”) was returned to REI for a healthy refund!

WHY DOES IT MATTER TO ME?

Being organized has helped me in a couple of ways. For one, it keeps me from feeling like I’m dragging all sorts of useless things around the country. I’m sure the people I’m staying with appreciate that a lot! More importantly, it’s helped me see what’s really necessary on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been wanting for years to live with less, in less space. Seeing what I use on a daily basis, and what I can totally live without, I am looking forward to doing just that in the future.

Until then, I’ll be traveling around in my little red Volvo, with my stuff in bins and bags, and enjoying spending time with friends and family while experiencing new places and some familiar ones as well!