No Phone. No Photos. No Clue.

The remainder of my entries on my experiences out west won’t have as many photos as my post about Denver. This is because I haven’t had a working camera for the past two weeks. Like most modern travelers, my cell phone serves as my camera. When its battery failed two days into my time in California, I was left without a way to take pictures. Or make phone calls. Or receive text messages. Or look up directions on the fly.

In other words, I’ve reverted to an older method of traveling. I have to contact my friends and hosts in advance to confirm our plans, write down directions on paper, and trust that my friends will be at a certain place at a certain time. There’s a thrill to traveling like this. I feel more present, more aware, and more in control.

I may be a modern traveler, but I’m now feeling justified in always carrying a physical address/phone book full of contact information for my friends. Whether it’s looking up my grandfather’s phone number to get his Safeway discount or sending postcards to friends (more on that in a second), I’m glad I have all my important information stored in something that doesn’t rely on satellites and shoddy workmanship.

Still, it would be nice to talk to my family on the phone. So, on February 12, I bought a cell phone battery online and had it shipped via USPS to my temporary Portland address. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of tracking my package as it’s bounced back and forth between Sacramento and Portland — three times so far.

Phone Battery Tracking

It’s now 6pm on Monday, February 24th, and I’m on an Amtrak train three hours north of Los Angeles. If the battery ever arrives at its Portland destination, my friend will have to forward it to wherever I might be.

I’ve complained earlier about my postcard stamp problems with the USPS. Those issues have continued out west. I was charged 35 cents for a postcard stamp at the Denver Airport, 34 cents for a stamp at a post office inside a San Francisco Macy’s, and 49 cents by a Portland postal worker who measured my postcard on a chart and somehow deemed it first class mail.

To put a cherry on all of this, a postal carrier friend of mine told me that he wasn’t even aware that postcards had a unique postage rate. I love you, US Postal Service, but there ain’t much more than ideology sustaining that love at the moment.

*Update: The post office in Los Angeles charged me 34 cents for postcard stamps today. However, they had to use their old 33-cent stamps with another 1-cent stamp added on. Crazy.

A Grand Adventure

Here’s the second post in a continuing series on why I’ve decided to hop on a bike and learn to be a farmer.

Ever since I was young, I’ve had an urge to head out on a grand adventure. Many ideas have jumped around in my brain, but none have made the jump from imagination to reality until now. Here’s a look at how my ambitions have developed from the beginning up to this point.

Appalachian Trail

When I was 12 years old, I decided I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. My mother’s friend planted the idea in my head, and I soon talked with her frequently about making the trek. The simplicity of carrying everything you need in a backpack struck a nerve in me. It brought life into a sharper focus and made human existence somehow more comprehensible.

property of Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Although we never did hike the Trail, my love for wandering only grew. In high school I would sometimes walk four miles to school with my friend (although, since I was his ride, he may have been obligated to join me). I also took day-long hikes around the agricultural areas of my county. Even now, I will frequently walk somewhere rather than take a bike or a train.

Kayaking to New Orleans

Another trip I’ve talked about for years stemmed from a canoe trip. My California grandfather bought a canoe when I was 15 or 16 years old. On our visits, we’d often take the canoe out on a lake or the Russian River.

View Larger Map

On one particular visit, my grandpa suggested that my brother and I canoe down the Russian River from Monte Rio to Jenner, which sits right where the river meets the Pacific Ocean. I don’t know why he suggested this; maybe he’d noticed my fascination with the fact that all water eventually flows to the ocean.

Whatever the reason, my brother and I hopped in the canoe and headed down river. The water was usually less than three feet deep, and the wind seemed to be blowing up the river. Taken together, this meant that our canoe had much less help from the current than I’d expected. We ended up taking five hours to reach Jenner instead of the planned two or three.

Despite the challenge, I loved the experience (my brother, not so much). This led to me planning to paddle a kayak from the creek in my friend’s backyard in Greenwood, Indiana, down the various small creeks and tributaries, into the White River and the Wabash, then the Ohio River, then the Mississippi, all the way south until I reached New Orleans.

Indianapolis to New Orleans

This trip, too, hasn’t happened yet. It’s still something I talk about regularly, and I still would like to do it.

Heading Into the Wild

Come junior year of high school, we were assigned Jon Krakauer’s book on Christopher McCandless, Into the Wild. Up to that point, I hadn’t enjoyed most of the books for that class (I didn’t have a good attitude that year), so I wasn’t expecting much from the book.


To my surprise, the tale of Alexander Supertramp (a.k.a. McCandless) completely blew open a new way of thinking about my life. Here was a young man just out of college who gave up everything in order to test himself against the world. He abandoned all contact with his family or friends, ditched his car and his money, and hitch-hiked across the country for a few years.

There are a number of literary touchstones that seem to impact generation after generation of vaguely disaffected young people. Thoreau’s Walden, Hesse’s Siddhartha, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and Kerouac’s On the Road have all influenced generation after generation of teenagers. It’s clear that Into the Wild has become a recent induction into this canon of individualist freedom.

At the time, I was 17 and frustrated with the direction of my life. I felt that school had nothing to offer me anymore, and the thought of leaving everything I knew to go exploring seemed like a perfect solution to my angst. That McCandless finally starved to death in an abandoned school bus in Alaska didn’t affect my thinking. What 17-year-old understands mortality?

To my mother’s relief, nothing came of this dream other than longer walks around the county and a new direction in my reading. Based on this reading, I soon drafted my personal vision of the ideal society: the system of laws and economics that would bring happiness to everyone. It wasn’t long before I discovered that my ideal society was essentially communism, which had already been attempted (disastrously).

Run the Camp Store

After graduating high school, my friends created traditions in order see each other throughout the year. One of the things we’ve continued to do is take a yearly camping trip at the end of the summer.

One of our early trips was a beautiful campground at Yellowwood State Forest, in Southern Indiana. There was sign posted seeking someone to serve as camp store manager. I loved the idea of spending the summer camping in the woods and running the little store, but it was not to be. A lack of nerve, coupled with commitments to various music groups, kept me from going through with the idea.

Hopping Trains

Once I moved to Chicago and started realizing the freedom that came with my new job, I began booking train trips all over the country. While these trips were a great opportunity to visit friends who lived elsewhere, I also enjoyed the exhilarating feeling of stepping off a train with no place I needed to be.

A year of this style of traveling culminated in a month-long train trip out west in February of 2013. It was easily the longest trip I’d ever taken, and it made me realize that everything I need fits into a duffel bag. Being able to carry all of my necessities meant that I had no reason not be traveling constantly.

Finally Making a Move

I’m a cautious person by nature. The idea of making an irreversible move usually leads me to inaction, whether it’s in relationships, careers, or adventures. After that month out west, it became much harder to remain inert in the face of what I had learned. I now knew for a fact that I could stay mobile and keep moving. I may have progressed through a number of different adventure ideas, but I ultimately found the perfect one for me.

A Living A-Living

What does a bird say
when asked
at a party,
“What do you do?”

It cannot say, “I fly,”
for sometimes it does not.

It cannot say, “I eat,”
for sometimes it does not.

It can only say,
“I live.”
And await the inevitable:

“Yes, but what do you do
for a living?”

What does a bird say,
after worms-in-a-blanket
and two thimbles of Manhattan,
of such an abstraction

as working for a living,
when there is only working
at a-living
to be done?

A bird does not serve a living,
and it cannot serve drinks.
Which is why one sees
so few birds
at parties.


written on the Bolt Bus from Portland, Oregon, to Vancouver, British Columbia

Denver Summary (Feb. 4-7)

Although I’m already closer to the end than the beginning of my time in the Bay Area of California, I wanted to put up a quick summary of my adventures last week in Denver and the surrounding area. It was incredibly cold (even for Denver) the three days I was there, but my training in Chicago’s Polar Vortex had me ready to defeat the cold.

My friend Andy was my gracious host for my time in Colorado. We have been close friends since second grade, so it was good to see him again. He has a gorgeous and friendly brown lab mix named Rafiki who served as our cheerleader during the coldest parts of our hikes.

Here are some of the highlights:

 February 5

  • Hiking around the dog park at Elk Meadows in the town of Evergreen
  • Eating a BBQ Hawaiian Pizza at Beau Jo’s Pizza in Idaho Springs. I learned that putting honey on the right type of pizza crust is divine.
  • Soaking in the geothermal cave baths at Indian Hot Springs in Idaho Springs. It’s funny that the two times I’ve gone bathing in the nude happened the only two times I’ve ever spent time in Colorado.
  • I can recommend the Hell For Stout (Curious Orange) from Paradox Beer Company. Everything they brew is aged in an oak barrel, and this stout had a rich flavor with just a hint of citrus.

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February 6

  • Hiking to Chicago Lake, in the middle of Arapaho National Forest. After a few miles of intense climbs and descents, we made it to the blustery, isolated, and frozen lake. It was stunning.
  • More pizza, this time from a new joint called Pizzeria Locale. Andy describes it as the Chipotle of pizza, and that’s a pretty accurate statement.
  • Delicious, locally-sourced cocktails at Peaks Lounge, on the 27th floor of the Denver Hyatt Regency. Andy and I enjoyed drinks last year on the 95th floor of Chicago’s Hancock Tower, and Peaks Lounge was another opportunity to enjoy a fine drink while looking down on the whole world.

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I’ll end this with a WWI poster that Andy’s roommates have hanging on their wall. It seemed appropriate to my imminent farming adventures, and I’d love to see these food rules come back into fashion.

food rules

Currently listening to:

Lissie“Mountaintop Removal”Back to Forever
I happened to catch Lissie’s performance on Craig Ferguson last month, and her stage presence and voice were enough to make hers the only album I’ve ever purchased based on a late-night talk show performance. Her voice on this song, in particular, is as powerful as anything I’ve heard.

The Freedom of Nothing

Galesburg, IL

As I write this, I’m sitting on Amtrak’s California Zephyr, bound for Denver from Chicago. It’s dark outside, and all I see are the occasional lights of a small town flashing by. This probably won’t get posted until I arrive in Denver tomorrow.

One of the primary reasons I am able to become a farmer and travel the world at this point in my life is because I have the immense freedom of having nothing tying me to a place, a person, or things. This freedom overwhelmed me at first, but I’m finally taking advantage of what it can offer. And it feels good.

I have nowhere I have to be.

The most common question I get about my plans is how I can afford to do this. In simple terms, the companies I work for have no physical offices. I’m an independently-contracted writer, and I primarily write SEO content for a couple of content providers. I know. I also didn’t know that was a real job until I saw a Facebook acquaintance’s post at the perfect time in my life.

The great and terrible thing about social media is that it makes equal “friends” of people you’ve known your whole life, people you met once at a party, and people you’ve never met at all. My contact in this case was a friend of a friend who I had met through our mutual work at the student radio station for Indiana University (WIUX-LP FM).

Two weeks before I moved to Chicago, I hadn’t lined up a job or an apartment. I found the apartment through Craigslist; my English degree qualifies me to perfectly intuit how much I’ll enjoy an apartment and its roommates from a three-line ad. The job came from my radio acquaintance posting a Facebook request for writers an hour before I left for a California vacation. After submitting a writing sample and emailing with my contact, I had a job.

Tangent Alert

This story is a great example of why I wouldn’t be able to do most of what I have planned without the internet. While the thought of becoming a farmer is often seen as anachronistic or willfully technophobic, I wouldn’t have even learned of the WWOOF organization without the internet. Nor would you be reading this on my website. I’m very lucky to be living in a time where this type of digital and wireless infrastructure exists.

I have no spouse.

In previous generations, men my age would usually have a wife, a steady job, and children. My generation has not seemed to subscribe to this timeline. Some say it’s because the economy collapsed. Others blame social media and the paralyzing number of potential spouses the internet provides.

Many may say that people my age are taking longer to sow their wild oats. I’ve apparently decided that I will need to literally sow some oats — in a literal field — before I’ll be prepared to marry. If Wendell Berry’s thoughts on marriage “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine,” “The Body and the Earth”) hold any truth, I’ve not yet gotten married because I’ve not yet had a reason to do so.

For Berry, a marriage can only succeed when there is a physical manifestation of the couple’s love. This has traditionally been the purpose of the household. Women and men today are working longer hours at jobs outside the home, however; this leaves less time and energy for strengthening a home. We see homes today full of designs and appliances that try to eliminate the need for work wherever possible. All this convenience leaves the couple without a common bank in which to invest their love.

I’ve started thinking of marriage as a committed partnership more than a romantic relationship. Married readers will know whether or not I’m at all accurate. Nevertheless, these thoughts have made me long for some kind of solid household in which I can invest my love for someone. Farming seems to be a path that directs all work energy toward the household itself. In this light, my adventures in agriculture might lay an ideal foundation for a strong marriage.

I have no stuff.

Finally, my freedom comes from not having much in the way of personal belongings. I’ve already written about selling, donating, and recycling a great number of my possessions in the lead-up to my move from Chicago. The persistent notion of dropping everything and going on adventures aided my efforts to avoid accumulating belongs, as did never having much of an income. Everything I own now sits in a single closet of my parents’ house or is with me on this train heading from Chicago to Denver.

Owning little also means owing little. I have no property taxes or insurance. Without a car, I don’t pay for gas or insurance. I no longer have rent or utilities to worry about. After this West Coast journey, my monthly expenses will be limited to phone service and insurance (health and bicycle). Everything else will go into savings or toward a beer every once in a while.

I’m grateful for these freedoms, and I’m eager to start work on something solid that comes with tangible results. It may not be my own household yet, but it’s a place that will receive my love in the same way.