Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New Year's Predictions

[Author's note: I wrote this on December 27 of last year, and just decided to post it now. I'll let you decide if this is a good idea.]

Facebook's little "Your year" feature got a few details wrong, in my case. 2014 has been a year of stress, bad luck, and ill health. Naturally, that doesn't show up in the pictures.

I think next year will be better, because on New Year's Eve I am going to turn into a robot with laser guns. I will also turn into a bear. A robot laser bear with a nice little den tucked away in a little glen up in the mountains. There is a brook nearby, bubbling. There are stags roaring. I will eat one later. I'll sneak up on it and crush its neck because that's the fastest way.

Later, after I'm done being a bear, I will learn how to stop worrying about being a programmer, because I won't be a programmer anymore, because programming sucks. Programming is like learned helplessness, except instead of 'helplessness' it is 'sitting in a chair atrophying your muscles', and instead of 'learned' it is 'indoctrinated in the passing fad of industriousness and productivity'.

Outside the window in front of the desk at which I sit there is a bench that used to overlook the fields south of Wincanton. (Now it inlooks Rosie's front room.) It has a plaque on it engraved with the words "V R / Jubilee / 37 - 97 / Wincanton". I was going to somehow tie that to the Victorian virtues of industry and productivity, but I've given up on that now.

Anyway, 2014 sucked, but I have a plan and although I won't follow it (that's not how plans work) things will get better anyway.


Things did get a little better, although I did not turn into a bear.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Accident on the Götheborg

We had an accident in my second week of sailing on the Götheborg. It shook me up pretty good. After an initial two hours feeling sick to my stomach and frustrated at the lack of things I could do, I spent about 24 hours feeling spacey and withdrawn. I'm sort of the high-strung type.

Towards the end of the last leg, we began down-rigging as part of the usual winter storage and maintenance. I spent the last hour of an afternoon watch bundling up the stor märs (main topsail). It's the biggest sail on the ship, and weighs 500 kg. After furling it and wrapping it in its own råband, which are usually used to tie the top of the sail to the yard ("rå"), we lowered the roll to the platform. From there, we folded the ends over and then snaked some heavy-duty modern slings under the bundle. The slings were then attached to a line that went up to the top of the mast, through a sturdy, brass-sheaved block, aft down to the deck, through a snatch block (curiously, the English name is much easier for me to remember than the Swedish), and then round the capstan. I'd draw a picture, but lol.

This was now right at the end of the watch. Muster was called, in fact, but those of us on the platform stayed to finish the job. Port watch, who were relieving us, got the job of manning the capstan. At this point, my job was to help guide the sail over the edge of the platform as it was lowered to the deck. They first lifted the sail a foot, so we could swing it over, and then they began lowering. Pushing the sail over the edge was not exactly easy, and in the back of my mind I am of course assuming that it might fall at any time, so I'm trying to keep my toes out from underneath it, and my fingers away from any ropes that might suddenly start moving very quickly. We get it over, however, and they lower it about two feet, so the sail's center of mass is just about even with the platform. I'm still facing forward, watching it slide down the front side of the platform, although the job is basically done and I'm about to head down the shrouds.

Suddenly, the sail begins free-falling. 500 kg of linen doom hurtling ~10-15 m to the deck. I have enough time to see this begin happening and start yelling when it comes to a sudden halt. I would say it fell 3-4 m.

After a moment, I realize something bad must have happened at the capstan. I look over the aft side of the platform, and sure enough I see chaos. Nobody's moving much, and nobody's saying very much. A few people are still manning the capstan, but there are capstan bars and people scattered over the deck.

My worst fear is that the sail stopped suddenly because some body part got jammed in a block somewhere. Actually, my worst fear is that someone is going to begin shrieking in pain and I'll freak out and have a panic attack. Luckily, that does not happen. Eventually I see the mate in charge of the medical team talking to people, and I decide there's nothing more I can do, so I wait around until we're asked to go down below and stay out of the way. In passing, I learn there are two seriously injured folks.

The intermediate cause of the accident was the rope coming free of the snatch block. That's not supposed to happen for a variety of reasons, but that information doesn't help very much once it's already happened. The rope had been in a angle shape, from mast top to snatch block to capstan, and when the block failed a lot of slack got taken up. In passing, the rapidly-straightening rope ripped out the ladder to the sundeck, which proceeded to crash into a few folks, bounce of the mast, and leave divots on the far side of the deck.

The captain is by some accounts a very friendly and talkative person, but to me he was always "The Captain", a rather quiet and serious figure. I was very glad, therefore, when he came down to the gun deck and gave a short, incredibly calm and mellow account of the state of affairs once the situation had stabilized.

Later, they helicoptered both of the victims out. One had a fractured wrist and a concussion, and the other had a bruised back and spine, I think. They re-joined us as we sailed into the harbor in Gothenburg.

The carpenter rebuilt the broken parts of the ladder and had it back up in about half a day.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bus Ramble

Back in Lithuania, in the land overeseen by storks and nourished with buckwheat.

I spent the last two weeks bumming around Skåne. That's not the point. The point is I'm traveling again (I travel while I travel), and I don't write in my blog very often, so now I am traveling and writing.

On the train to Karlshamn, I met a guy who was obviously Lithuanian and looked a bit flustered. He wanted to be sure we were stopping at Karlshamn. I assumed he was heading the same place I was, the ferry, and told him we'd go together.

He was carrying a huge duffel full of liquor from western Europe. He had driven his car to Spain and Portugal, and was on his way to Stockholm when he wrecked his car and put pieces of his side window in his scalp. People are eager to tell me how dangerous traveling alone is, or traveling by bicycle or hitchhiking. Why don't we have the same opinion about cars?

The guy was in a hospital three days, and had only left that morning. He showed me his tickets: three separate trains to get from somewhere near Stockholm down to Karlshamn, starting at 7:30am. No coffee, no chance to smoke, no food, no Swedish cash. His addictions were giving him hell. He paid for the taxi to the ferry, and I bought him some coffee and soup in the terminal's waiting room. I let him drink from my water bottle, though I had to wash the cigarette smell off afterwards. How could I say no to a guy who just survived a car crash?

Now I'm on the bus to Kaunas. I totally planned on hitchhiking, but this guy was so eager to help me "figure out" the bus system that I just went with it. His mother dropped me off at the bus station. It was a typical countryside affair: a seventy-year-old granny with shovels in the back of a well-worn station wagon.

The ferry hauled across the Baltic at seventeen knots. After days of drifting along at four knots on the Götheborg, it felt pretty damn fast. It was nice to feel a deeper familiarity with being on the open sea. I admit I miss it. I'll certainly be signing up for more sailing next spring.

So, this was just a little ramble to keep the fingers loose. The laptop's battery is on its way out, so I'll leave it at that. We'll see what more traveling brings.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Trail Recipes

In the evening of August 2, I was camping behind an unfinished country house somewhere in Romania. I was feeling a bit hyper and cracked out the laptop to do some writing. Among other things, the following recipes came out. With no further ado, please allow me to introduce "Bryan's Trail Recipes", which are almost entirely true.
Tuna Salad Sans Salad
  1. Dump a can of tuna (in oil) on to an upturned pot lid.
  2. Liberally coat the tuna with mayonnaise.
  3. Add 2-3 tablespoons of mustard to taste.
  4. Wolf that shit down, then pass out in the middle of a field.
  5. Arise at daybreak.
The Cafeteria
  1. Go to a cafeteria.
  2. Order a salad.
  3. Maybe order another salad.
  4. Order some potato thing.
  5. I think that's meat? Yeah, some of that right there (point).
  6. Order vareniki, because I know what vareniki is.
  7. Pour a glass of juice.
  8. Get a cup of coffee from the coffee machine.
  9. Ooh, definitely one of those pastry things.
  10. Only pay 5 bucks for everything because this is Ukraine.
The Jar of Honey
  1. Buy a jar of honey.
  2. Eat the jar of honey.
  3. Discard the jar in an appropriate waste receptacle.
The Gas Station
  1. Stop at a gas station and realize how famished you are.
  2. Fugue.
  3. Suddenly find yourself sitting on the curb. Look down and find the wrecked carcasses of three candy bars and at least two ice cream bars.
The Mole
(A guest recipe by Stork, as witnessed by your chef Bryan)
  1. Use your beady little eyes to spy a mole burrowing close to the surface.
  2. Grab the mole in your wicked beak.
  3. The mole may squirm and resist. Try to crush his little head by tossing and catching it with your huge fucking beak.
  4. If that fails, drop him and skewer him heartlessly, five or six times, with your unbelievably menacing beak.
  5. Utter a hissing kiai, like a boxer, with each thrust. This will serve to thoroughly horrify any onlookers.
  6. Swallow whole the mole's lifeless, broken body.

But seriously, I ate a lot of food. I'm still eating a lot of food. While on the ship, it was difficult to get enough calories for the day. I can only fit so much food in my stomach at one sitting, and there were too few sittings in a day. (Three square meals? Preposterous!) I devised, but did not have time to implement, a strategy whereby I would go to sleep directly after the evening watch, and then wake up 1.5 hours later to attend 10pm fika.

Food > Sleep.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The People

[Written Saturday, 31 August]

The best thing about being on board a replica of an 18th century sailing vessel is the people.

It takes a while to realize that. You start off visually overwhelmed: huge sails, towering wooden masts and poles, and a web of rigging doing god knows what. Telling yourself, "Hey, I'm gonna be using these things," is like driving into San Francisco over the Bay Bridge, with the Golden Gate Bridge framing the dense cluster of tall buildings surrounded by the sea, and telling yourself, "Hey, I live there."

And then you, and all the folks who came aboard with you, start learning the ropes (ha!), learning your responsibilities, and learning the rhythm of the ship. Then you and your watch - around 15 people in my case - are awakened at 3:20 so you can muster in the early morning subarctic light at 4 AM. Then it's climb, and haul, and scrub, and chafe your hands raw on sandpaper rope and stiff linen sails, until 8 AM when you collapse on the tables on the gun deck, huddled four to a bench over your late breakfast and coffee. Exhaustion spirals out from the pit of your stomach, paralyzing your legs and making your vision swim. Then it's down into the aktre skans (don't know the English word for that), up with the hammocks, and sleep till lunch at noon.

It's 8pm now, and the midship watch (that's me) was on call for 24 hours until two hours ago, so I'm about to pass out again. I ain't gonna write much more right now, and if I don't publish what I have, I won't publish anything at all. Let me take a shortcut back to what I was saying.

You work hard, you sleep when you can, you climb rope rigging and deal with a million little details and fuckups, and you throw one more load of cups into the dishwasher, and back up the little ladders to muster under the stortoppen at 4 in the morning, and you might -- MIGHT -- ask yourself, "Wait, what part of this do I actually enjoy? Why am I absolutely loving every moment of this?"

I had to think about it for a day before it came to me. It took a while because one it's so blindingly obvious and ever-present. It's the people. Those bodies you climb over to haul on the same rope, and embrace after a long watch, and sit around playing guitar with are what make the ship special. Age, nationality, and gender slowly fade into the team unity. You sleep together, hammocks bumping into eath other; eat together, crawling over each other to get off the bench and around the cannons to get second third helpings; work together, pushing and hauling with a unison born of necessity; and share the same joy and love for the beauty of the ship and of the forces of nature that power it.

And that's just week one.

It's true that most of my watch signed off here in Norrtälje, but I don't think the friendships will end so abruptly. Plus, there is now a whole new bunch of people to meet and befriend. You won't find me complaining.

View larger slideshow

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Donations and Directions

I think I might have to give the blog a rest. It's not that I don't write, or don't benefit from it. I have a huge journal on my computer! Writing publicly, however, is a different matter. Occasionally I get a small boost of peace doing it, but maybe that's just because I wrote anything at all. I don't look forward to it, I don't enjoy the process, and I'm not proud of the result. Compare this to cycling a 12-hour day into headwinds and up hills. I bound out of a damp, dewy sleeping bag eager to do it, spend the whole day feeling positive about it, and feel like a king at the end of it. All this is true in spite of the pains, frustrations, and complications. This trip, it can be said, has taught me what it feels like to Do The Right Thing.

Having said that, I do have news. I'm going to donate my bicycle to a charity.

Shock! Gasp!

Like I said, I know what it feels like to Do the Right Thing. It's time for a break. It's time for a different bicycle. It's time to not put the poor bike into a constricting box and trounce it around inside an airplane's belly. It's time to make the question marks bigger.

I'm going to keep the perfectly-moulded-to-my-butt saddle and my Ortlieb panniers, but everything else is gonna go. This will greatly simplify my life as I fly to Sweden and then board a ship that is half modern, half 18th century. I am ready for whatever life throws at me once that's done. If it ends up that I'm supposed to keep touring, well, I'll just find another bike! There are millions of them out there!

Hence the title of this beard: donations and directions. One is kind of a big thing, and the other is a happy mystery. During a particularly euphoric stretch of cycling a few days ago, I had a thought that sums it all up (the first part to be read in an evil-genius voice):

    Yeeesss.... everything is going exactly according to plan! (There is no plan.)

P.S. I am totally not certain about taking a break from blogging.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pictures from Odessa to Krakow

Most of these were taken in Romania, which is a fantastic country for bicycle touring.

I'm planning on writing up a travelogue over the next couple weeks, once things have settled down for me a bit. I'm still figuring out accommodation in Krakow, and I'll be heading to Sweden for some tall-ship sailing in less than a week!