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.

Into_the_Wild_(book)_cover

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

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.

What’s All This, Then?

Over the past few months, I’ve been telling the people in my life about my plans to move out, downsize my belongings, and head to a farm. Somewhat to my surprise, everyone’s been very supportive of the idea. People have told me how excited they are for what I’m doing, and many have said they wish they could do the same thing. It puts me in a positive frame of mind to have this positive energy coming my way.

For instance, my roommates in Chicago were excited (for me, I think) when I announced that I’d be moving out for this adventure. Many of the potential new roommates who came to see the place expressed the same excitement. Some were even familiar with the WWOOF organization.

On one of my last nights in town, my roommate and I took a taxi. As we were discussing the end of an era and how different life would be on the farm, the taxi driver mentioned that his brother has a ranch out in the country that is “so much better than the city.” He offered plenty of advice and good wishes.

I wanted to create a single post explaining all the reasons why I’m becoming a farmer for the foreseeable future to everyone who has been so gracious with their support. Suffice it to say, it’s been tough condensing the whole of this adventure into a reasonable length.

Instead, as I begin my initial travels out west, I’ll be writing up a short series of posts detailing the reasoning behind my decision. My elevator pitch for why I’m going farming is here:

  • I can.
  • It’s been on my mind for about a decade.
  • This is my Big Adventure.
  • Environmentally-responsible agriculture and lifestyles are growing in the public eye.
  • I want to prove it’s possible, enjoyable, and healthy.
  • This may lay the groundwork for my future.

Over the next few days, I’ll write a bit about each of these points in more detail. In the meantime, it’s time to watch some football.

Where I’m Going (February Edition)

West Coast 2014 - courtesy of Tripline.net

Yesterday I moved out of my Chicago apartment. I don’t know if that’s sunk in for me yet. It still feels like a quick weekend visit back to my parents’, only all of my stuff is here, too.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that there’s still so much traveling on the docket. First up is a trip to the West Coast over the course of February. I did a similar month-long journey out west last year in February to visit friends and explore, and it just seemed right to do the same this year as part of my transition from city life and stability to farming and adventure.

I’ll mostly be traveling by train, though there’s one plane trip and a bus circuit thrown in the mix. I’ll be posting regularly while I’m on the journey, but here’s a rough itinerary of where I’ll be for the next month or so.

Feb. 4-6: Denver, CO
Feb. 7-13: Santa Rosa/San Francisco/Bay Area, CA
Feb. 14-19: Portland, OR
Feb. 20-22: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Feb. 24-27: Los Angeles, CA
Mar. 1-3?: Chicago, IL (getting my bicycle fitted, tweaked, and tested w/ Ezra @ Green Machine Cycles
Mar. 4-6?: Bicycle from Chicago to Indianapolis, with potential stops in Valparaiso and Lafayette

I’ll get to some more details of the farming part of this adventure later on. It’s still over a month away, and there’s so much to do before then. Expect a post in the near future, though, that will help to explain what this is all about.