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.

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.