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feeling sick to my stomach and frustrated at the lack of things I could do, I spent about 24 hours feeling spacey and withdrawn.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!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Quick Note Before Leaving Romania

Holy fucking shit has life been amazing lately. The last week... two weeks? have felt like years... sleeping in the mountains, under the stars, 8-12 hours on the bike every day, drinking from springs and wells and eating a shit ton of ice cream from little dimly lit, disrepaired shops in villages in the middle of nowhere. I can't even write about it properly, it's so raw and full and unlike any other means of existence I can think of.

Three countries in two weeks (yes - it has been two), and four more to go in the following two. The mind boggles; I can't put it into linear letters following words following sentences. Total opposites.

My legs are nearly recovered from a mad dash up a mountain taken a few days ago. I tried to jog down, but it proved too steep and too long and my legs gave up. Cycling was possible, but walking was not, and even today I still need to support myself when standing up or navigating steps. Somehow, this added to the whole experience. There was nothing else I could do but ride, so that's what I did.

Definitely not in the mood to write much more at the moment. The sun has done its worst for the day, and I'd like to get to the Hungarian border before too late. I will write more about this leg of my bicycle travels later, when I've had the opportunity to process a little.

Drum bun!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pictures from Odessa

First video, now pictures. I am a monster.

I've abandoned my attempt to find a unified, non-repetitive way of publishing photos, so please bear with me as I simply link to the two places I've made them available:

Google+ Album
Facebook Album

Both are public, so you might even be able to see them without accounts on either system. Maybe.

If not, let me know, and I can throw on a few images here!

In fact, I'll just add one for the heck of it. Here's me on my way out of Odessa.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

vbeard: bleary Moldovan morning

I thought I'd post a video on this here blog because JUST TRY TO STOP ME


Monday, July 22, 2013

Go Bike

I. bike bike bike time to bike. I rode out to Woodstock Ukraine a few
days ago, and the spell was broken: I am no longer sick of my bicycle.
Once again I can't seem to take my eyes off it. A few more days in
Odessa to wrap things up and then I'm on my way.

The last week has been a little rough. Too much procrastination. I
know it's not the only solution, and certainly not the best solution,
but packing up my whole life and heading down the road is certainly a
wonderful cure for feeling mopey.

II. I didn't travel alone on the way out to this Woodstock festival. My
Odessan programmer friend had suggested the trip, so we rode out
together, stayed two nights, then rode back. I know I've done a lot of
touring in the last couple years, but I still consider myself pretty
slow, and I was worried that I would struggle to keep up. My friend is
in good shape, and I am optimized for epic distances with a heavy load -
a short, light jaunt might be challenging!

But it turns out that riding 6000 kilometers in the last year has
conferred certain advantages to me. The "short" trip ended up being 50km
one way, and while that's well under my average daily distance, it's
nothing to sneeze at. By the time my friend reached his previous one-day
record of 25km, I felt loose and overly-talkative, while he looked eager
to take his backpack off and find something to sit on that was *not*
attached to a bumpy country road. I hate to feel good about myself at
another's expense, but damn did I feel pretty good about myself!

The festival itself was quite fun. It was on the beach, and I did a fair
bit of swimming and beach volleyball. One young dude we met was keen to
talk about college, opportunity, and American life, and he plied me with
cognac while talking my ear off and asking lots of questions.

One question this kid asked was, "Black people are... sly, right?"

III. Cycling makes me feel confident and capable, but running makes me
feel like a freakin superhero.

I developed a case of plantar fasciitis some time around the beginning
of 2012 that put an end to whatever meager running habits I had. A year
and a half later, I finally feel confident running a few miles once or
twice a week. I've gone a half a dozen jogs through Odessa, sometimes
hitting the beach for a swim as well.

After just two or three little jogs, I noticed a marked difference in
how I hold myself while walking around the town. My ankles are stronger.
My balance is more tuned. If I trip my toe on something, I simply glide
over the obstacle like a hopping bird.  My shoulders are looser. It's
just amazing!

IV. Oh right, this is a bicycle touring blog. Well, it isn't really, but
I'm pretending it is for now. So: touring news!

On Wednesday or Thursday, I'm going to head back to Moldova and then
head into the Romanian Carpathians. I'll toodle around Romania for a
bit, maybe see some Transylvanian castles and whatnot, then meander my
way back to western Ukraine, whence I shall head to Krakow to catch my
flight back to Sweden.

That's all I know for sure at present!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Into Ukraine

(Better late than never)

In this beard, I'll use my Facebook update format to talk about a variety of topics that are basically unrelated to each other. readygo

I. I spent nearly three weeks in Kaunas, Lithuania. That was longer than I intended, and indeed, a little too long. (Getting sick didn't help.) Because I sat around for a little too long, I started to get mopey and dissatisfied.  Luckily, the cure for that situation is simple: get on the bike and ride.

II. A couple days on a bike -- hell, even one day -- is enough to completely reset my clock. Which is kind of funny to say, since twice since leaving Kaunas, I have crossed time zones without realizing it. But what I meant by that phrase is that when riding, I get back to the present, and past worries kind of fade, and the future becomes a thing of unknowable possibilities that don't seem particularly threatening.  It's an amazing way to feel.

I get back on the internet after a few days of that, and I see that people have tagged  me in photos from less than a week ago, and I think, "Damn, I was there?  That only just happened? People still care?" The things I did seem so far away and unimportant. Which is not to say that they were unimportant. They just don't matter anymore, now, presently, here-and-now, etc. etc.

III. God damn it is radical to be in Ukraine. This is the furthest I have been from home, culturally. It's still European, definitely, but something about it feels different. It could just be my prejudices. At any rate, it does feels different, and the thing about coming to a place that feels so different is that it just makes me want to keep going. How else will things change?  What other ways will I be exposed to my own prejudices, my own ingrained mores, and my own internalized beliefs?

IV. The rest of this draft went off on a ridiculous tangent concerning tents and blizzards and bugs. I'm not gonna say it was not worth reading, but I will say it doesn't belong in this particular beard.

Which, incidentally, has now been stewing for two whole months! Time to publish, baby!

V. One last thing. It did, indeed, feel pretty radical to enter Ukraine. Now I'm a little burnt out. I just spent ten minutes trying to describe my impressions, but failed. The fact is that I'm more prone to emotion than to logic, and anything I would say would be easily refutable.

Well, I can say this: I think the language barrier is making life pretty tough. I just don't even try to interact with people. If I had time to get more Russian proficiency, my attitude might change a lot! For now, though, I've just buried my nose in my programming projects and started counting down the days till I hit the road again.

It will be interesting to get some perspective.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ho Chi Minh style

A few months ago, I saw a question posted on reddit about "Vietcong handlebar extensions". These were apparently used to transport freight down the Ho Chi Minh trail by bicycle. I briefly imagined a simple solution involving rope and a scavenged branch, but I put the whole thing out of my mind shortly thereafter. Just another few minutes wasted on the internet, you know?


Carpathian scenery
Fast forward to the end of May. After leaving Lviv, I decided to take a loop through the Carpathians in western Ukraine. Getting there was quite challenging: lots of hills, lots of headwind, and a big stretch of tourist death traps began to wear on my patience. I was hoping for serenity, not gaudy trinkets.

Fortunately, the place was touristy precisely because there were mountains.

Hoping to take a break from people, I devised a detour that would let me hit one of the surrounding peaks on my way through the region. Just past Tatariv, I would head up a gully between two ridges, summit the highest of the four corners of a saddle at the apex of the gully, then slide down the other side of the ridge into Vorokhta.  My map, and guide, was a large tourist-information placard I passed on the road. I snapped a quick pic of it and continued onward.

My 'map', complete with useless compass rose
Things 'got real' immediately after coming through the little huddle of houses that marked my departure from the highway. Rains had left the rough dirt road partially flooded and quite stony. The grade increased dramatically. Soon I was maxing out my aerobic ability trying to keep the bike moving forward in its lowest gear. As the farmhouses became sparse, I began to feel rejuvenated by the fresh air and forest scenery, but I began to doubt how much actual cycling was going to be happening.

Sure enough, I quickly gave up pedaling and started pushing. After cresting one small shoulder, I realized that the climb would only continue, but the arc of my mood only followed suit. I love mountains!

Suddenly, I thought back to the handlebar extensions. Mountains are great, but lugging an overloaded bicycle up them is basically the height of absurdity. Might as well apply the noggin to simplifying the process, eh?

I had some paracord in my kit, and I figured I would just find a suitable branch that I could lash across the handles. Lo and behold, at that very moment, I looked up and saw a good-sized construction beam laying in the path.


Detail of lashings
Now I was feeling super pumped. And I can report that pushing a bike, as demonstrated in my video, really is easier with such an extension. I found a comfortable angle at which I could counterbalance the weight of the bike, and in this position I could use less twisting and more straight-arm pushing. Plus, my panniers were only mostly in the way, instead of entirely in the way.

It wasn't a panacea. It was still a ton of work. Being forced off the 'road' onto a 'footpath' (that may have actually been a deer trail) certainly exacerbated the challenge. But the lashings held, nothing broke, and I was buoyed with the feeling that I was channeling the spirit of both Bear Grylls and MacGuyver.

Complete with rusty nails
After a couple hours, I got to the saddle, got rained on, ate some food, took a nap, and decided to camp out. During the night, I was visited by flatulent horses.

Rolling hitch ftw
The morning was fresh and beautiful, and I felt surprisingly fit. I left my bike in the saddle and went for the peak. In spite of my "map" missing half its compass rose and indicating the peak in the wrong location, I made it in reasonable time. Sadly, deep forest negated any interesting views, and the top had nothing to show for itself besides a wimpy little 'summit cairn'. I ate a celebratory raisin. (Any more would have been a bit overdramatic.)

I jogged back down to the bike, removed my "handlebar extension", waved farewell to the horses still windily grazing nearby, and white-knuckled my way down the gravelly, wet goat trail back to the highway.


More photos in my Carpathian album!

Thursday, June 13, 2013


This beard is not about riding bikes. I stayed in Kaunas, Lithuania, for about three weeks, and I'll talk about some of the my impressions and shenanigans from that city.

I first started drafting this article over a month ago, when I was still actually in Kaunas. Then I did some more writing a couple weeks ago while I was in Ukraine. Now I'm in Moldova, and damnit, I'm gonna publish it today! Heh.

Let's start with what I wrote while still in the city:
I am still in Kaunas; I think it's been two weeks now. I've struggled with a cold the last week, and in fact my sinuses currently feel like they're trying to explode.  (Maybe this is spring allergies, too? I've never had them, but I've also never done spring in Europe.)
Today is one of the warmest days yet this year. Dozens of beautiful Lithuanians are streaming by on this pedestrian street in old town.  I'm just about ready to ride again, but I still don't mind wiling away time in this town.
Next, here's what I began to wrote while in Ukraine:
I've been in Ukraine two weeks now, but not ten minutes ago I accidentally said "labas" instead of "dobre dayn". In Lithuania, I met a lot of amazing people, did a bunch of super cool things, and generally have a lot of love for the country.
So let's start there!

Fluxus graffiti
Lithuanians will tell you I'm crazy because I like being in their country. Many want to leave. The country is poor, wages suck, crime and suicide rates are high, winters are brutal, and it is not very culturally liberal. But at the same time, many Americans I know would jump for joy at the sight of so many gardens in the cities (let's not even talk about the countryside), the relatively low level of suburban sprawl, the diminished fear of cops, and the cultural knowledge that forests and lakes are for people, not for dangerous animals, weirdo outdoor freaks, and unabombers. Also, to be poor in America means to rely on a system that does not work. To be poor in Lithuania means to grow your own crops. There's despair and frustration on both sides, but they seem to run deeper in the US.

There's also a feeling of possibility that exists throughout eastern Europe. The power structures are not well-established. Community is important, and the exhilaration of independence (Lithuania became indepedent in 1991-2) has not worn off. Yeah, there is corruption and cronyism, and barring global revolution the divide between rich and poor will just continue to grow like it does everywhere. But the powerful people are still treated like small-time crooks, and they don't have the pervasive control exhibited by Western media and multinational behemoths.

What saddens me is that all-pervasive control is coming. I see it in the ubiquity of Coca-Cola and McDonald's. It's in the big loans from the EU, with forests given as collateral. It's in the big fancy cars, even if BMW and Mercedes are seen as redneck cars more than anything (in Estonia, anyway). I just hope they only go kicking and screaming.


So what am I doing about it? Well, there's this thing called music.

Solo in the Nemunas
In Kaunas, my main contact is fairly involved with the Fluxus Ministry. It's one of those things that would make Americans jealous -- a litigation nightmare of an abandoned shoe factory that houses galleries, studios, a bar, boarded up stairways, and bathrooms with no running water. I arrived just in time for the anniversary of its move from Vilnius, where it was first set up. (It was first organized by the mayor of Vilnius, also known for driving a tank over illegally parked luxury cars.)

Kenny Wolleson's marching band
The anniversary event was a fluxus jazz festival that featured a number of musicians from America collaborating with locals. And lucky me, I got to be one of the 'locals'! I was handed an old, busted-up, duct tape-enhanced museum piece of a trombone (seriously, I just saw a trombone in a museum that looked in better shape) and spent all week as a Real Musician, playing for hours a day in a variety of ensembles.  It wore me out staying energized until 3 in the morning, which did not agreeably complement the cold I was fighting, but what a blast.

I am now at least six weeks ahead of the events I'm writing about, so it's in everyone's best interest if I keep things moving along! So to summarize the rest of my stay, I slowly got better from my cold, had a lot of great conversations, met with new and old Lithuanian (and American!) friends, and watched intently as spring fully unfolded from the slumber of winter.

Finally, I packed up and headed south. I've come 2000km since then, so there is plenty more to talk about! Sooooonnnnnn

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Beard Two: Return to Lithuania

[Written 3-4 weeks ago.]

Last time I may or may not have described the first few days of my trip through Sweden. Oh wait, I described the entirety of my trip through Sweden. Great.

I arrived in Lithuania at nine a.m. on the ass-end of an industrial wasteland outside Klaipėda. My first introduction to the country was miles of forest and very small villages, and this, my second, was rolling off a clanging, exhaust-filled ferry while dodging many large trucks and larger potholes.

I made it to the town center, but as I am not much for city tourism I can't tell you much about it. There is a nice little canal, though.

After dawdling for a few hours (including writing the previous beard), I struck off for Kaunas with basically no preparation. I had no map, little food, and no cash. I came to regret the last, but only because it prevented me from getting ice cream a couple days later. The point is, touring in Lithuania is not a complicated activity.

I took Lithuanian highway 141 all the way from Klaipėda to Kaunas.  Every 5-15 kilometers I passed a village shop (parduotuvė) where I could get water, snacks, and the occasional vegetable.

The weather was amazing - chilly at night but +12-15 in the day. On day one (which started at 14:30) I made 70 km, still a big number for me, and felt great.

This is getting boring. Quick!

Day 2: Headwind. Glbargleflguhr. Still manage 91km in 9 hours, which may or may not have been a mistake. The incessant internal tour-dialogue picks up this day, and occasionally becomes verbal. I climb a tree.

Day 3: Finally recognize the signs of heat exhaustion (night sweats, fuzzy mind, dehydration) and decide to give the morning the big ol' middle finger. It rains until 12 or so, which is fine because I was in my cozy tent. F u, world. F u.

Day 3, cont'd: TAILWIND!

Day 3, denouement: in eight hours (14:30 to 22:30) I made 108km - my second biggest day ever.

In three days I made 270km, and on two of those days I didn't start until the mid afternoon. I am at least twice as fast as I was when I started touring Europe last year!

Of course the best part of touring is not just haulin ass. Besides the storks, the brightly colored houses, the horse-drawn ploughs, and the plethora of backyard gardens in villages that seem primarily comprised of back yards, I... okay, that sentence is already long enough. But let's not forget the little field sparrow, whose courtship display involves chirping constantly, without apparently stopping for breath, while flying straight up from the flat, damp farm fields, straight into the sky, until his body is a little speck and his song can hardly be heard. And the cats, hunting in the field - one in particuler perched intently on a miniature Pride Rock, all tendon and anticipation while the grass in front rustles with potential and opportunity. And did I mention the storks? So majestic and elegant, although let me tell you, they are brutal as hell and I've seen them do some things with their beaks I won't soon forget. (Poor little mole.)

So now I'm in Kaunas. Next time I'll write about my experiences here.  I also intend to write about more than just the raw experiences of touring -- maybe discuss some of the philosophy that is generated by this lifestyle -- but eastern Europe is still too new (again), and there are too many experiences to write about! So. Some time.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Beard One: Gothenburg to Karlshamn

375km; six-ish days. I followed Sverigeleden, mostly but not entirely on purpose, and then followed Banvallsleden along a converted train track. On-road about half the time, with extremely minimal traffic.

California plates.
Left Monday April 15 (tax day!), 9:30, after a medium-length goodbye from the crew. I finished packing early that morning, then had fika with the crew at 9am, as usual.

For the previous month and a half, I had volunteered with the Götheborg.

That's worth another post in itself, but if I start writing about the past I'll never actually write about anything at all. So!

After leaving the ship with more than a few bittersweet emotions, I wandered in a lost sort of way around the city of Gothenburg, finally getting to the posh seaside suburbs around 11. The rain started pretty quick, like it always does when I start a trip, but it never rained hard. The day was basically uneventful, except for the familiar cycling euphoria that took hold, even if the landscape is still all grey and cold and hoping for warm weather. It never sucks to be riding a bike, with the past completely behind you and the future entirely in front of you and nothing in the present but the present.

The first night was spent with another volunteer with the Götheborg, Martin. He lives in a huge old farmhouse in the countryside. He recognized the Couchsurfing logo on my laptop a few weeks earlier, and a couchrequest was duly sent some time later.

The next day was a slow, late, "what is this cycling thing you keep talking about, we legs are unsure of the concept" day. There was sun.  The rain started about when I set up camp.

Wednesday the 17th was probably the highlight. I was able to do some sunbathing, I ate a lot, and I cycled 81km.

I don't remember where I stopped, except that it was the forest as usual. This part of Sweden is pretty sparse. What villages exist are nothing more than a collection of farmhouses. I am used to being able to stop and resupply every 10km or so, but I was spoiled by Latvia and Lithuania. ("Veikals, veikals, veikals", as one fellow cyclist said when explaining his trip to a fellow countryman. I cycled with that dude and his friends for a day and a night last summer.) Central Sweden had lots of trees and hills but not much in the way of shops.

Thursday the 18th was rough. So was Friday. My legs hurt, I was chafing in places I prefer not to chafe, and the wind was a mess. The weather was trying really hard to change, and unfortunately having little success.

I camped in some pretty sweet spots though. Incidentally, have you heard of allemansrätten?

I also passed a pretty sweet sign on the border of two Swedish provinces.

I just learned that the provinces are historical with no modern political purpose. Hooray, internet.

Finally, early on Saturday, I arrived in Karlshamn, a pleasant seaside-y type of place. I dawdled for a bit, then boarded the ferry around 4 in the afternoon. It's no East Indiaman, but my cabin was a bit bigger than what I had on the Götheborg and I was able to hang up my gear to dry it a bit. Self included.

Ok that's already too long! More next week, after I travel to Kaunas!  I bid farwell with this two-sided boulder near Karlshamn:


I have tried and failed to blog on a couple different occasions.  Here's another go!

I have been traveling, ish, for three years. The last year has been spent in Europe. I mostly live on my bicycle. This, therefore, shall mostly be a bicyle touring blog.

The blog's title, Beard in the Mailbox, comes from a Swedish expression that is unrelated to blogging or bicycling. But I thought Damn that would be a great blog title, so here we are.

So where exactly is here? At the moment, Klaipeda, Lithuania. This, after spending six weeks, maybe a bit more, in Gothenburg, Sweden. In the coming weeks I will be making my way to Ukraine, and then other countries in that region of southeast Europe. The first Beard shall be a description of the trip from Gothenburg to Karlshamn, where I boarded (bearded?) the ferry to Lithuania!