Success, I am in Oregon!

I hit the road almost a month ago. During August, I’ve learned that people are good. I’ve gained courage and self-esteem. I’ve become hopelessly uncertain and confused, but also that it’s okay. I’m starting to focus my goal for this RV trip towards challenging and eradicating my social anxiety. But, no matter what, I’ve fulfilled my dream. I drove cross country. All 3,400 miles. I made it to Oregon, to the Pacific. I could finish today and feel successful.

Everyone has suggested that I write a journal of my RV travels. Story telling is a new challenge for m because I prefer listening. So, it feels weird to share my story especially when it feels like everyone’s expecting a classic road trip novel like Pirsig’s Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie, or Kerouac’s On the Road.

In truth, I don’t know what I’m doing or even what I want. My plan had a different order:

— The Original Plan

Two years ago, I planned to make money online. Quit my job. With my passive income, I would buy my RV and travel around for a year or two without being constricted to a time schedule. I could camp for weeks in a National Forest or live in downtown Manhattan.

Instead, I ended up buying the Rialta RV first, and I’m still working. I’m very grateful for this job, but it’s still a job. Also, the other challenges are here:

— Road Challenges

I’m an introvert. The center of attention is fun sometimes, but I prefer having one on one interactions with people. Although I’ve gotten better after living in a bunch of cities, it’s still a hurdle to befriend a new person, to take that first step.

I want to meditate everyday but it’s hard to find time or places to sit while on the road. I would ideally sit for at least a hour every day. Instead, I try to do more dynamic meditations on the move.

I’m a wannabe entrepreneur. I tell myself I should be able to work every day on a business, a book, coding, learning a new skill, or something. Anything besides wasting time reading facebook, news, reddit, hackernews, and everything else.

I don’t enjoy museums. Nor am I the biggest outdoors man or nature photographer.

While traveling, the pressing questions are how am I going to do my job, and how am I going to meet new people? When I’m staying at a friend’s house, or I’m renting a home then it’s easy. But on my own? I worry where can I park? Where can I work? How will I meet people?

Actually, I’m pretty confident that I can find parking anywhere. Indeed, I know places to park in Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Orlando, Chicago, and Boulder, and Portland.

— Meeting People

But meeting new friends? In Florida, I meet all my friends from weekend nights in I-Bar as well as from the Zen meditation group. I also made a few random contacts from meetups, invitations to a party while buying a blender, and my many roommates. In Boulder, I thankfully had a few friends from college in the area, but I also meet people from the Buddhist Geeks conference I volunteered at and most randomly, the amazing girl I meet at Naropa’s library.

Most of the time, it’s complete desperation and trying until I succeed. Sometimes, I’ll go days without any meaningful social contact, and I’ll meet someone somehow, somewhere. It’s a human need to be seen, to be heard, to be in relation. Acknowledged. Hugged. That manic and excited energy I have from traveling must come out through my body language too.

Luckily, people are really nice to travelers. Maybe, it’s the mystique of being a cool traveler or maybe it’s sympathy for knowing how hard it can be to start over in a new place. I feel like every American inherits some deep urge to travel cross country. It’s just in our history and culture. And it offers a convenient excuse that this traveler won’t be around very long so no long term issues if he turns out to be weird.

— Ambivalent Feelings

Sometimes, I marvel at what I’m doing and feel grateful that I am capable of even doing it. Not burdened with student loans or manic work hours keeping me in one place. On the other hand, I often feel adrift, confused, and uncertain where to go. I wonder if anyone misses me back home. If I’m taking a useless, prolonged adolescence or a Campbell-esque Hero’s Journey. Perhaps both. Perhaps neither.

However, I also yearn for a demanding career that would occupy my every thought, a girlfriend to share a house with, and a local community to be a part of. For now, I’m a vagabond. I’ll explore the extremes to find my happy medium.

Sometimes, I worry that I’m leaving something good. That I should have stayed where I was and planted roots.

In Florida, I had some great friends and a great meditation community. I was going to the gym regularly and living healthy.

In Boston, I lived very close to my best friends, I was being ambitious and productive in my work, and never felt alone.

In Boulder, I felt a spiritual home. The perfect place to take spiritual discipline seriously and transition into a related career. I meet a girl I fell for deeply. I meet others at the conference that felt like my spiritual brothers and sisters.

Now, I’m in Oregon among old friends again. Oregon, so far, feels very grounded. Each of my friends doing a DIY skill whether it’s homebrewing, baking bread, or making jelly. The neighbor has an entire chicken farm in his backyard. Life is slower, easier, happier here.

The last few miles driving to my friends’ house, as the Temptations played in the background, and the sun was setting, I felt overjoyed. Perhaps because I was coming to the end of a 14 hour drive. But also because I was finally fulfilling my two year dream of buying a RV to take to the west coast. To have finally completed this journey that has been just an idea in my mind for so long and to have this fiction become a reality.

— Results/Lessons

My experience on the road has taught me that most people are good. That it is not so hard to meet new people. That old friends and friends of friends are still out there, willing and ready to connect. That, we, as busy Americans are so hungry for connection yet so fearful of having to deal with a weirdo.

Two results have seemed to result from this trip. One is a sense of increased self-esteem and confidence. New reference points for my brain to show that I am capable, that my dreams can come true. That even the worse times are usually followed by the best.

Another result is the lessening of fear and growing comfort with uncertainty. Usually uncertainty breeds doubt, anxiety, and misery for me. Instead, I’m learning to live without any clear plans beyond the week, without knowing where I’ll be parking or staying tonight.

A corollary is a belief that I could almost live anywhere in any condition. Everything constantly changing apart from my job yet I’m doing just fine. Each place I move to feels reveals a sense of new identity. It’s jarring how quickly I get acclimated to a new location, how quickly it feels familiar as my home.

The only fear remaining is perhaps the threat of poverty. I’ve worked my entire adult life and a lot of my young adult life. The idea of living w/o an income source still unsettles me, frightens me. A part of me almost wants to be unemployed to see if I could find the strength, the hustle, the smarts to find my way out on my own.

It was wildly amazing to me that many of the people I meet in Florida were just like this. They came to Orlando with little or no money. Some of them didn’t fare too well. Others eventually found jobs and thrived. It gave me optimism that I could do the same.

— New Goals?

If there is any single goal for this RV trip it is to eradicate any social anxiety, to fulfill that Daoist ideal of wei-wu-wei, action through non-action, to become flexible and strong enough to make a home anywhere. To approach strangers, to connect with people.

Because it’s never been about the outside for me. The scenery. The museums. The parks. The animals. Life is just an opportunity, a dojo for where I can train my character.

Can I meet new people outside the bounds of work and school?
Can I be content and indeed joyful with minimal possessions, expectations, and plans?

I’m starting to think that I’m attracted towards difficulty, towards hardship. Maybe, I’m addicted to that catharsis after facing a fear or passing through a challenge. Maybe, my greatest growth will be in those very places where I know absolutely no one and have no idea what I’m doing.

At the same time, I do deeply yearn for a home and community again. I’ve been drifting around the past two years. For now, I’ll keep moving.

Loving Boulder Colorado for Two Weeks

top of pike's peak
So, I’ve been in Boulder, Colorado for two weeks now and been loving it.

Boulder matches my personality very well with the city often ranking consistently as one of the most healthy, happiest, most liberal, and smartest cities in the United States.

The city can be divided between Colorado University to the south with its 40,000 students and the downtown/tourist area to the north along Pearl Street. To the West lies the Flat Iron mountain ranges. All of this just miles from each other.

Boulder is an eccentric city with a predominately affluent, white population. Apart from the Mexican area in the north east, there’s a real lack of racial diversity. Despite the population of 100k though, there’s a lot of diverse, healthy food particularly Asian cuisine. I found my sushi, thai, and pho restaurants pretty quickly. I’ve never seen so many restaurants carry gluten free and vegetarian fare. It almost seems like hippies founded the city. However, all of this comes at the cost of real estate prices matching or exceeding what you could get in an East Coast city.

The small size makes walking and biking a breeze. The dry heat makes high temperatures bearable and sweat non-existent. Most, if not all, days here are exceeding sunny apart from the days when the sky is hazy from western wild fires.

Of particular attraction to me is the amount of spirituality in the area exemplified in Naropa University, the forerunner of contemplative education and a hub for cutting edge psychotherapy. Yesterday, I attended a admissions session to learn more about the contemplative psychology and divinity programs. If/When I step out of technology, this would definitely be my ideal career combining my passion for spiritual discipline/contemplation, psychology, and helping others. The financial cost would be high though and would be a rather abrupt shift.

It also helps that two of my old college friends live here, and I’ve meet a number of very interesting people. While my heart isn’t entirely settled on Boulder, this amazing city is definitely on the short list. But I’ll likely be shipping out soon north west to Oregon or south west towards Vegas.

I’ve also found plenty of free, unrestricted parking in the north east and south east parts of town along with gyms and showers so I could conceivably just live in the RV indefinitely too.

*—-

The picture was after five hours of hiking pike’s peak, 6 miles going some 7,000 feet up. The second most visited mountain after Mt. Fuji. It was grueling but worth it. My friend did a half-marathon up it, and the other two hiked back down while I took the van. Some really stellar views while hiking, absolutely amazing.

I Finally Made it to Boulder Colorado

Salvation!

I’m exhausted. But I’m finally in Colorado.

Yesterday, I was passing from Nebraska to Colorado when the scenery suddenly changed. Instead of corn fields, there’s endless, rolling hills of pasture with signs of cattle in the distance. Instead of being green, it’s….a neutral brown/yellow color. The interstate is in disrepair. At times, I don’t see any cars going west in front or behind me.

My RV keeps pulling to the right. Initially, I think I have a flat tire, but the tire pressure is good. Then I think it must be the wind although that seems odd to just happen now. Then, I suppose it could be simply that I need a wheel alignment. Finally, it’s probably my car paranoia that’s fearful that every noise or bump is a sign of a broken engine. Foruntely, Boulder has a lot of volkswagon specialists.

I arrived in Boulder late after 11pm or 1am Eastern Time. Sleep overtook me around midnight. This morning, I woke up hungry and cold at 6am. First time, I’ve actually been shaking from chills. I walked to a cafe and began my job. I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep since I left home.

I also realized I’ve only been eating the equivalent of one full meal per day since leaving Pittsburgh. I ordered a ton of food (that’s the picture above), and now, I can barely eat it.

From the little that I’ve seen, Boulder is very different. After traveling through tiny, farm towns, Boulder feels like a metropolis. A very clean, wealthy, and peaceful metropolis. But, actually, a very small town in terms of physical space.

I’ve slept four nights in the RV now. The only problem is that I stink. I really need to find a shower or do something.

Tomorrow begins the Buddhist Geeks conference. I’m not sure what to expect. All I know is that this is the type of community I think I’ve been searching for.

Traveling as an Exercise in Faith

Traveling cross country has been…challenging. Since leaving home on Friday, I’ve slept three nights in the RV, and once at a friend’s house in Pittsburgh.

Every time, I had no idea where I was going to sleep for the night. Yesterday, I thought I would stop in Lincoln, NE and find a place to sleep. Instead, I decided to drive on and sleep at a rest area. But there were no rest areas. I searched on Google Maps and came back with nothing. As the miles piled on, it was becoming pitch black, and I could see lightening in the distance. I had been on the road for ten hours.

Finally, I see that blessed blue sign indicating a rest area. But what’s this? There’s a gate blocking the entrance, it’s closed. As state budgets tighten, I’ve noticed a lot of states have closed their rest areas. Oh man.

The next rest area isn’t for another half hour, and there’s no guarantee it won’t be closed too. I drive on and on in a mild panic.

I do finally get to a rest area and promptly fall asleep among other trucks and cars.

Right now, I’m sitting in the Espresso Shoppe in small town North Platte, NE. There’s zero diversity here. I watched four old ladies play cards for a hour. My RV is parked three blocks away, hopefully it’s still okay.

I’m still working while I travel which provides its own challenges.

After work, I’ll be doing the final leg to Boulder, CO. I have no idea where I’m sleeping. Initially, I was looking at airbnb.com but abandoned it. I know couchsurfing is too late now. I’m hoping I find a quiet street.

I say traveling is an exercise in faith because outside of my home, I’m confronted with raw reality. There are less layers of manufactured safety or security. There’s a lot of unknowns on this trip. There’s a lot of doubts. Is it safe to park here? Is this trip worth it?

In the end though, I just have to cultivate that trust and faith that everything is going to work okay as it always does. I have to acknowledge that I’ve opened myself up to a lot of risk and potential danger, but that it is a very small chance.

It’s not a belief because I still have my fears and doubts. Despite those doubts, I keep going on, trying to remain calm and relaxed. And, everything has been going pretty well so far apart from the physical exhaustion.

In that sense, this RV trip is an intentional, artificial experiment of constant crisis. Rather than react to all these unknowns and fears with dread and fear, I can respond with faith and confidence that I’ll make it through stronger, better, and wiser than before.

It’s this type of faith that makes great souls so powerful. Without this faith, it’s very difficult to even do a mildly panic inducing adventure like this trip.

Sometimes, staring off to the rolling hills of cornfields, I smile and remind myself to cherish the good moments. I’ve imagined this moment for years, and it’s finally happening. Joys and sorrows altogether.

Gotta have faith

Chicago – Working inside the RV

I’m sitting inside my Rialta. It’s Monday, 8:24am, Chicago time. It’s 9:24am, Eastern time. I’m working my job with a laptop and voip phone. My phone is getting Sprint 4G internet which is tethered to my laptop via USB which feeds internet to my voip phone via ethernet cable.

I’m hungry. The fringe and stove are off. All I have are water and chips. I still have to work my Eastern US based  job schedule; there’s 4.5 hours left. Maybe, I can take a lunch break and grab some chicken from Mr. Pollo down the street later.

Yesterday, I drove some nine hours from Pittsburgh to Chicago. An amazingly dull and exhausting ride. The traffic outside of Chicago is the worse I’ve ever seen. It must be some combination of a White Sox game and Lollapalooza ending. Chicago also has the highest gas prices of any US city.

I parked about a mile north of Logan Square, a neighborhood mixture of young hipsters and Mexican families. Got a beer and sandwich at Longman & Eagle and then stopped in New Wave Coffee to relax and do some planning. It’s funny how all the hipster coffee shops from Florida to Chicago look exactly the same. The dilapidated, unusual mix of chairs, sofas, and odd airplane seat. The fine selection of loose leaf tea. The skinny and tattooed patrons.

Walking home, I started feeling really bad. I was exhausted. I had paid around $200 traveling 800 miles. I could have flown and saved time and money. I still wasn’t sure where I was staying in Colorado or what I was going to do afterwards. I was in a strange city with no friends, no real home, and no stories.

Of course, I knew from experience this was just physical fatigue. I would feel better after sleeping. And the same night, my friend contacted me that I could stay at her place in Boulder for the week. So, the RV thankfully cooled down with windows open, and I was able to mercifully fall asleep.

I never really noticed this before, but streets are always at a slight angle in order to channel water. This means I have to sleep at a slight angle which is an odd feeling. Although there were cars driving past, and the odd pedestrian, I’m getting acclimated to staying relaxed. The entire RV traveling is an interesting type of mindfulness practice.

This RV is sixteen years old. I constantly fret and worry that something might break, but it has actually been a real trooper. I’m still debating whether to keep it and really make it my own or sell it once I get to the West Coast. So far, all my trips have been frantic dashes to reach a faraway destination  in as few days as possible. This makes poor traveling experience and negates the entire purpose of the RV. But, maybe, I’ll find better use for it on the West Coast.

Despite all the anxious moments, the truth is that the RV pays off itself in spades in terms of experience even if it seems like a financial mistake right now. I’ve unexpectedly meet and reconnected with some really great people that would never have occurred otherwise. And, while traveling, there’s a sort of forced liveliness and mindfulness. It’s not possible to waste time because it is so preciously scarce.

*–

Klink is a great Android app for sharing internet, and the author is a great guy.