Thursday, July 13, 2006

Problems Abound

What could possibly be going wrong on such an exciting adventure you may ask?

Broken laptop monitor
Lost cell phone
Lost glove
Lost trailer flag
New cell phone is always roaming because digital signal only
At this rate may take 6 months to Oregon
Money is going to run out
Invested in 100 more t-shirts but don't have time to sell 'em
Hard to coordinate conventional farm visits
Not writing enough (can't because I don't have a computer now)
Writing doesn't capture the experience...grossly oversimplified
Recording NPR quality interviews takes more practice than I thought
Good friend of mine just lost her brother unexpectedly
Can't call anyone because I lost all my numbers with my cell phone
Partner organizations not a whole lot of help
and oh girlfriend's married!

But don't worry. I'm having the time of my life when I don't think about all these things.

No question about is a challenge and keeps you on your toes. One doesn't embark on a trip such as this and not expect kaboodles of things to go wrong. I'm going to enjoy venting today. Here goes.

Almost two weeks ago now, the monitor on my laptop quit working. There were little signs even before I left that the monitor wasn't exactly tip top, but what could I do. Then on a hot Sunday afternoon, I stopped in the town of Booneville, KY and found wireless internet connection on the porch of the county jail (strange place I know). It was so hot that day even the shade was hot. My computer fan was buzzing and my personal cooling system was pumping coolant down my forehead and neck.

Just as I was getting ready to publish all my Polyface farm pictures, splat, no more monitor!

I arrived in Berea the next day and after weighing my options (purchase a brand new computer for $850+...problem is no programs installed on a new computer, or purchase a new monitor, have it shipped, then figure out how to attach it without paying an arm and a leg) I purchased a used replacement monitor from e-bay. I spent20 minutes trying to get the transaction to go through with a change of shipping address. Frustrated I placed the order, unable to change the shipping address and sent the seller an e-mail asking him to ship the monitor to my mother's house in Birmingham. She and my stepfather are paying me a mid-trip visit at Mammoth Cave this weekend and rather than attempting to rendez-vous with the package I figured she could just bring it up.

This was all a great idea (I'm leaving out my attempts to locate a CompUSA to have it installed and my attempts to request CompUSA to become a sponsor for my trip so that I wouldn't have to pay the $150 standard service fee for the work). I attempted to contact the seller to ask him to change my shipping address. I sent one e-mail, no response, two ...nothing, three...four..... begging, pleading to change the address. He never responded. I still haven't heard from the lousy so and so, and now my monitor is sitting at the Post Office in Athens, GA and I'm weeks behind in writing about my experiences.

Ah....This is such a cathartic excercise.

Today I finally had my first flat and it took all day just about to fix. I left St. Catharine's late this morning around 11 am. My visit there was fantastically refreshing as I was housed in a sustainability cabin for the last two days. All the electricity was solar, all the drinking and bath water was from a cistern which collected rainwater from the roof and then filtered it. The toilet was composting. I relaxed, I stretched, I read books by Wendell Berry and Jeremy Rifkin, I cooked zuchinni soup and ate apples with peanut butter and heirloom tomatoes. I was well rested and rejuvenated....then I decided not to backtrack to the scenic route but to push on down a state road and kazaam.....big fat truck traffic all morning booom.....lots of time on the shoulder and ........whoaaa nelly.... glass everywhere.....ahhhhhhh....a health food co-op at Bottown. I go in and stock up on organic peanut butter and granola, I come out and the tire on my trailer is flat as a fritter.

It's noon now and the sun has come out. Now you are supposed to carry a spare tube, and I have one for my bike tires but not for my trailer, so I set to patching. I found three holes. After patching, I didn't let them sit long enough on the first try and had to reseal and sit and wait. A nice lady came out and offered me a frozen bottle of water. A man delivering clean laundry came and sat a big stack of clean towels on top of my trailer and said "Take these with you." Isn't that great? It was the only thing he had to offer. A big stack of towels was not something I needed I tried to explain and kindly thanked him.

As soon as I got the tire pumped and headed down the road, I knew it was starting to sink again. I went about 300 yards to a gas station. I'd been at it for about an hour already now. This time I found a new hole. Patched it, resealed old holes and decided to let them all sit for a while and harden. Went in and had myself a chicken salad sandwich, chips, soda, and two Reese's cups, one with caramel, one super cup with white chocolate. Now I was a bit refreshed. Just before I put the tube back in I rememberd to do the required check on the inner side of the tire and hoila! I found a nail. I felt sure I was about to be back on the road now.

Nope. Those patches weren't going to hold. Those little holes, once you got some high pressure air behind them were just blowing those patches up like Hubble-Bubble bubblegum. It was time for some help. All my fear of approaching total strangers is long gone by now and some young guys who installed air-conditioning systems were buying some beer and they had what I needed, a long bed truck and plenty of room in it. I asked if they were going towards Bardstown and asked for a lift. They didn't seem too thrilled but I didn't really give 'em any room to say no. Down the road about three miles we pull into Wal-Mart. They said they didn't think there was a bike shop in Bardstown and did I want to go here. Well no, actually I've been thinking on this trip that it is a moral responsibility of all consumers to use better judgement than to shop at Wal-Mart. I pulled out my map and looked up the bike shop phone number, called it and sure enough....out of service.

I could tell they were looking for me to get out so I said, "Hey thanks for the ride, I'll just get out here." Now the sad part of this story is Wal-Mart had exactly what I needed, and while I was there I bought a car charger for my phone too so I can utilize my solar panel again.

Now I'm at the Bardstown library, it's about 5:45 pm and I'm tempted to go down the road to the Maker's Mark distillery and get snookered.

This is all part of the experience to be honest. I enjoy figuring out these problems and pushing on. I'm not discouraged. Frustrated maybe, but not discouraged.

I found out a little over a week ago that the fella that started this same adventure, same time as me in Yorktown got mentally and physically beat down and headed home. I was stunned because he had been dreaming of this trip for 19 years and I threw my trip together since December. The pieces I am gathering are quite amazing. It's so hard to fully appreciate the experience because of the pace.

It's very difficult to know what this journey is about at this stage. There is no question that something powerful is happening within me, in how I see the world, in how I communicate, in my understanding of what it feels like to be a farmer in the modern world, with the nature of the struggle they face and the culpability that every individual in America has in how our food is produced. I am beginning to posess a skill I didn't have before. I can talk to the traditional farmer and relate to them. If you are able to get a farmer to talk about their dream, their vision for their farm, then you will truly see something special.

I received one other challenge from the road this week. Someone I was once close with sent me the following comment regarding the content of my travel stories.

"Don't rely too much on fate or God or some other external force to guide you on your path. [....] Strength comes from within."

I share this personal exchange hesitantly as it is easy to hurt feelings discussing private exchanges in a public forum. I care about this person, and that's why this statement bothered me.

I have utilized this experience and this forum to open up in way that I have been afraid to for many years. I am an extremely private...almost secretive person....some might say downright mysterious, and a lot of that has been out of fear or shame, or doubt. A lot of that is dropping away from me now as I realize that I am just human like everyone else out there. I've made some whopper mistakes, and if I'm going to learn anything from them I can't be afraid to talk about them.

One of those mistakes has been to rely solely on my own strengths in building character and principles that are worth something. When I have relied on my own strenthgs I have tended to be overly proud when things are going well, and overly depressed (one might even say devestated) when things aren't going so well. When I am overly proud I tend to show off my accomplishments which either makes people around me feel inferior or annoyed. When people feel inferior or annoyed there is no chance of learning anything from them, having a genuine exchange. Same is true when you are depressed.

Inner strength is extremely important, but what is the source of that strength? That is the important question I am asking on this trip. Is there a difference between genuine strength and the outward appearance of strength? Most of what we call strength today is actually pride, or a disguise, or a defense, a prop.

I have placed myself in a very humbling situation, one in which I am exposed and vulnerable, where without the goodwill of man I would never survive. I'm not pushing on because I want to prove how strong I am. I am absorbing strength through interactions, through learning, through nature, through generosity and exchange, and yes, through prayer. That is my experience. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I can feel the difference between feeding off of other people... the competition, the positioning......and genuine sharing with other people.
Some walls are falling down around me, even as I struggle with setbacks and challenges. It's time to get a bit further down the road. I've still got a long way to go.

This entry was posted on 7/13/2006 4:00 PM

  • 7/14/2006 11:44 AM Kit wrote:
    I read these daily and it is inspiring to watch you grow. There is a wonderful and amazing plan for you in the future and each of these experiences is preparing you for that, I'm sure. Know that your family is with you on your physical and spiritual journey.

  • 7/17/2006 12:50 PM Dean wrote:
    Right on Justin! I feel those same sentiments about the American lifestyle as did Susannah on her return to America from Guatemala. I haven't lived eight yrs (not even one) outside of the US, but I can still see the discontent in people's everyday faces. Unfortunately, I feel it too, when I'm bound to some "gainly" employment. Apparently, we think the solution to our discontent is to have more, not realizing that contentment is most likely found in the land and lifestyle we choose, rather than a wealth of things to tend to daily. Keep rolling and writing Justin, for all of us!

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