The Nature of Our Kind of Travel: On Pokémon, Seeking, and Sharing
I've been prompted by my mother to write more frequently. She texted me the other day asking for more updates on the trip and I told her that I was "working on it." Perhaps I'm not doing that well enough. The reason why we have this blog is so that we can share the experiences that we're having as we make our way "west-and then west some more." Despite the spotty internet and limited time to write on long days I always feel like I could do better. For you. Yes- you, dear reader. I've been playing too much Pokémon Go.
Ben and I like to talk when we're on the road together, but it's not often that we get a nice stretch of road or trail with limited traffic to ride along side-by-side. There's quite a bit of time that Ben and I spend spinning in silence or listening to music on our headphones. Biking for eight hours a day for a month straight tends to be pretty introspective. It turns out there's a lot for us to think about. Sometimes I wish I could transcribe or record our thoughts. I wish for some bizarre way to bottle the essence of a moment when I feel lactic acid accumulate in my legs over the course of the day as we bike into town, when look to my left at the run-down garage and listen for the sound of an SUV rumbling along in the right lane; at that moment I want a way to mix the jumble of sounds and images with the collection of conversations that we've had with folks in different towns and download the way it feels. The closest I get to that kind of sensation is sitting down here and writing. Which is why it's unfortunate that I haven't given myself more time to translate it all. It's for you. It's for me too.
The wheels, wheels, wheels.
Yesterday Ben and I biked from Milwaukee to Madison, Wisconsin. We rode almost exclusively on old railroad trails through farmland to get here. The longest stretch we rode, straight ahead for nearly 35 miles, was on the Glacial Drumlin Trail. It was reasonably flat and painless riding. We talked and rode side-by-side, but not about anything in particular that I remember. It'd been about a week since we'd taken a day off and we were both pretty tired. We took several breaks over the course of the day and played Pokémon Go when we stopped for water in Deerfield- about 15 miles or so outside of Madison.
When we were in Detroit I tried to download Pokémon Go and it didn't work. Back when I published my last post I probably would have told you that the failure for my phone to download Pokémon was a sign. I wasn't interested in the game- and frankly considered it a bit of a dystopian nightmare come to life- but I tried to download the game a second time in Ann Arbor... and it worked. I basically ignored the app until Ben and I got to Milwaukee and then our host there showed us both how to play. I'm not sure if I was more sold by her enthusiasm for the game or if the excitement of catching Pokémon in the middle of Milwaukee's Bastille Day's celebration-- but I think I finally understood why people were being hospitalized because of failure to pay attention to their immediate surroundings.
I'm sitting in a café in Madison now, Johnson Public House- per our host Colin's recommendation- and thinking that the "Nature of Our Travel" is somewhat of a parallel to a new Pokémon trainer's ambition. Ben and I are "collectors of stories." We even joke about changing the purpose of our trip to "catch 'em all" now because with all the traveling and walking we do we've got somewhat of an unfair advantage over others at the game. Clearly though, the work we actually want to do is different. I'll draw specific delineation between the two adventures- but at this point in the trip it's kind of enlightening for me to think about how they're similar.
On our day off in Detroit, Ben and I had the most exceptional opportunity of staying at the Brick and Mortar Collective, an "Anit-Racist, Anti-Capitalist, Feminist Housing Cooperative" with a friend of mine, Valeriya. V is interning with the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) as part of a continued "semester in Detroit" through University of Michigan and put us in touch with their leadership. EMEAC has some incredibly rad roots and we were lucky to interview-- mostly because of V-- three of their Co-Executive Directors. We also interviewed several other friends of V's: a grad-student out of UMichigan studying bee populations and debunking the myth that poor are "bad for biodiversity," the Executive Director of a co-op that helped residents of Highland Park bring community-owned solar streetlights to their neighborhood, and an organizer working on water-related issues regarding pipeline proposals throughout the state of Michigan.
I can't wait to share their audio with y'all.
That night Ben biked with thousands of others in Slow Roll. He should explain the experience. I won't steal it from him. It sounded incredible. Detroit is flat. There are very few cars on the five-lane roads that criss-cross the city. For the hour and a half that he biked he (and all the other cyclists) must have felt like King of the road.
Biked to Ann Arbor from Detroit on Tuesday. Slowly out of sprawl, into farmland, and then down into the Huron River Watershed. We spent the night with another friend of V's, Taylor. She's a bee-keeper and spoke with us about the advantages of keeping a more bee-friendly world. I downloaded Pokémon Go the second time when Ben and I went out on the town to celebrate our "month-aversary."
Strange to think we'd been on the road for that long.
We completed a 70 mile ride on Wednesday into Lansing, MI that felt incredibly smooth. Left early in the morning to dodge some rain forecast for the afternoon and arrived at one of the local cafés outside of the capital building before the sky started to cloud.
No interviews scheduled for Lansing, but Ben and I spent several hours in the local café answering emails and... reviewing resumes. I've been applying to jobs back in New York and dreaming about what my life will look like when I return to the east coast. I'd put off the task intentionally after graduating because I didn't want to be bogged down with trip preparation and this greater life-juggling, but now I'm wishing that I'd front-loaded a little bit more. Regardless, I'm excited by the opportunities I've been looking into.
Our hosts in Lansing took us out for drinks and trivia at their favorite local bar that night and shared some stories about their jobs in journalism and tech management. They were just recently engaged and were in the process of planning their wedding (although not with us). A very merry evening it was!!
Rode in to Grand Rapids the next day and spent the night with a musical couple with a permaculture garden in their backyard. They had a Meet-Up in their garden for the local permaculture enthusiasts that evening and let us listen in. Was exceptional to be a part of. I felt like we got a real snapshot of Grand Rapids through them.
Check out our host's band, The Earth Natives, on ReverbNation.
All trail from Grand Rapids to Muskegon, MI. I remember most vividly seeing the vegetation change as we got closer to the coast. The trail followed a set of power lines from Grand Rapids north most of the way and the shrubs were lost to sand before we jumped on the road just outside of Muskegon. The character of the trail morphed in such a unique way. I'll never forget the cactus that I nearly stepped on when we stopped for lunch. Although I don't have a picture (to journalistic dismay), I promise you, there are prickly pear in Western Michigan. Just to the side of the Musketawa trail, about 15 miles south of Muskegon.
In downtown Muskegon we biked into a Rebel Rider festival and were caught up pretty quickly in motorcycles. Although they weren't quite "biking for climate," I couldn't help but try to fit in.
The same day we arrived in Muskegon Ben and I took the ferry across Lake Michigan in order to get to Milwaukee. I feel like the two pieces of travel must be separated just because of how vastly different the experience was though. Hence this paragraph.
The Lake Express ferry taxied out of Muskegon harbor with grand intensity. Before we boarded, the ferry staff told us to take some form of motion sickness pill because the waves were forecast to be exceptionally large. The wind whipped about on the cabin deck as we made our way out of the channel and I took this photo. Kind of captured the anticipation of the moment I think. To cross the lake. To cross a time zone. It is to blaze a path-- followed by a double, rooster tail from the dual hulled gasoline engines of a super-sized cat-boat-- and realize that the trails of churned water would also cross over some hundred feet or so behind us as we motored along at a 40 mile per hour clip.
And the ride was bumpy. Although Ben and I didn't get sick, we did listen to a young child cry for the first half of the trip because he thought the waves were too big. Was entirely amusing when the Captain came down to speak with him. Couldn't say it did too much for the poor kid though. Wish he'd been able to see the woman in heels try to walk across the hardwood floors through his tears. Might have made him chuckle. It made me chuckle. Maybe I'm assuming too much.
Anyway: we made it across the lake, a grand distance of about 90 miles, in just over two hours. Ben went up top when we were under full speed and said that he was nearly blown over by the apparent wind.
When we arrived in Milwaukee we biked straight into the historical district of the city and found the "Bastille Days" celebration. I realized it was July 15th. Kicked myself. Couldn't stop myself from thinking about the truck driver in France that barreled people over on Bastille Day.
Our host showed us around downtown then took us to a hip bar. Was a wonderful experience.
[Thank you, Dana! And thank you, Katie, for putting us in touch!]
And now I'm back where I started again. With Yesterday. Perusing my collective memories of the week and hoping that I can comb through with just enough precision and intrigue that you'll get to this paragraph and still want to pay attention. a;sldkfasdlf. ... Just checking. You're not trying to catch a Pidgey or something on the street are you?
This morning I had a conversation with our host, Colin, about an article he'd been reading on Pokémon Go. He was reading up on news and recounted to me how this one article [no link, apologies] seemed to suggest that Pokémon Go could shape the long-term perspectives of game players to lean more environmental. The argument loosely assumed that because Pokémon was an economy completely based off of conservation-- where the only structure suggested is in "getting outside," collecting and training the creatures that "appear everywhere around us"-- players might be motivated by the same sort preservationist mentality. [Note: I didn't read this article and I'm paraphrasing from a paraphrased talk I had with Colin... so take all of this lightly]
Colin and I both acknowledged the power of the game to move people outdoors, but then talked briefly about how we distrusted this abstracted logic that "Pokémon Go might help us save the world" because of the games' entrenchment in primarily capitalistic philosophy. It's a game that is very much marketed toward individuals, it relies on in-app purchases, and constructs a reality in which trainers are constantly competing against one another (with a mindset that is more extractive than "environmental," contrary to the article's suggestion).
I sat down on the couch in Colin's room and we continued talking. He poured a cup of coffee for me from the french press that he keeps in his room. Our conversation eventually expanded into more Marxist critique of our current economy... and I quickly learned just how well-read Colin was. I probably shouldn't have been surprised, after he mentioned the night before that he'd received the Rhodes Scholarship-- and would soon be shipping off to Oxford-- but the precision with which he spoke to issues he was clearly passionate about, largely those regarding a new form of "environmental governance," was inspiring. I probably asked him too many questions. We later did an interview and he connected us with folks in Madison that would also be exceptional to interview.
We broke for brunch and then I made my way to this café that Colin and one of his other housemates recommended I travel to. I played Pokémon Go on my way here. I nearly got run over by a car, but I caught a Vulpix and was kind of proud it. While I stood on the sidewalk flicking my fingers into the middle of the street I couldn't help but feel completely ridiculous. Did the Pokémon I just caught have a high CP value? Maybe I should incubate some eggs for this long walk. Can I take a detour through the park on the lake? Catch some water Pokémon? You know... you have to catch like 200 Magikarp before you can evolve one them into a Garados?
I walked by the capital building, the largest capital building outside of DC, and I leveled up at one of the many Pokéstops conveniently located nearby. I realized I was trying to hide the fact that I was playing the game by only making occasional glances at my phone. I didn't take any photos of downtown Madison.
If Pokémon Go is disturbing, it is only so because it creates an incredibly strong lens of worldly perception in its users that can't be shared by everyone. That's what Augmented Reality is all about, really. It alters our perceptions-- or adds to them (take your linguistic pick)-- and generates an entirely new experience of the world around us. Trying to catch that wild Charizard has clearly proven such an incredibly entertaining task that it's driven many to distracted walking, but makes us feel unique, special, and somehow like we're living out our childhood dreams. With that new form of constant entertainment we find walking as a way of fulfilling in great Poké-spirations (sorry, had to)-- but also have to recognize that our phones isolate our experience in an alternative reality that has no real grounding in the physical world.
When Ben and I are biking I often wonder about the reasons why we're actually on the trip. I tried to write down the reasons why I felt so compelled to bike across the country once... or several times really... but I don't think I could come up with one concrete reason why it mattered so much that I was going to spend about 3 months of my life pedaling between time zones, state to state, biome to biome, farm to farm, city to city, and person to person.
So I'm afforded reflection.
The experience of riding a bike ties me to the road, to my "leg machine," and to my bodily functions. I am part of the landscape. I leave a trace when the sand spins up in my tires and leaves an extended mark in the trail I'm riding. An infinite "I." Reason why I feel so spectacularly selfish sometimes. Then I'm glad to have Ben with me. We make an "=." Not sure what it equates to, but it's a comforting sign nonetheless.
Then we stop. By the lake, the abandoned dairy farm, or outside a host's home. We talk to people. I manage to find some internet. Maybe we record a story or two. We take photos. Or we don't. And the experience is relegated to memory. It feels precious. The tissues of my brain will continue to zap me with these images and recollections from time to time. If I'm not corroded by an neurodegenerative disease, like rust on my chains only a clogging in my brain not mechanics, I'll keep them with me until I stop breathing or my heart stops beating-- and the adventure ends.
I feel so lucky to have this experience. To be able ask people about their passions and why it is that they "do what they do" to address an issues like Climate Change or Environmental Degradation that can seem so nebulous at times. Not that we can't see them, I mean, they're real. They're very real. It's easy to put the pictures of glacial melt together now. It's easy to analyze global temperature means. It's easy see the erosion in the Pacific Islands that's washing away the people that live there. It's NOT easy though to imagine the future of our communities so drastically changed. Moved. What do we do?
The people we meet make this trip what it is. Even if they're not "activists." Even if we don't do an interview.
You're one of those people too.
What I'd like to do is continue to show how people can be so drastically effected by the changes we make in the landscape, by the power that we afford institutions and business, by the ambitions that we make our livelihoods-- and give reference for folks by collecting snapshots of folks we find particularly compelling for a cause both Ben and I feel quite passionate about. I would like to give you that people's lens from the back of my bike, allow you to check in, and share this with me.
We're "collecting," but the true intention lies elsewhere. It's in the written work and audio that can hopefully transport you and provide a new lens on the changing world that we're a part of. I'm still trying to figure out how to encapsulate that sensation without bludgeoning it with too much personal therapy in my writing. Like I said when I started: I want to do more, but I have to be realistic with my time. I hope this isn't too much. Sometimes I repeat myself. I tend to write cyclically. I'm probably thinking too much about it. Declaring too much. The freedom here is overwhelming-- and exciting. Oceans and continents of words. Let me know if it's what you want to hear, Mom. I'm flexible.
But I always have to get back on the bike.
Love the people. Love the road. This travel is addicting.