Colorado: Part 2
Most expeditions into the unknown have had a purpose, or at least sought to find and or prove something specific. However, most expeditions, when researched after the fact, have provided a variety of unexpected side-benefits for the explorer. For instance, when Francis of Assisi (my mother's favorite saint) walked to Portugal, looking for God, did he know he would end up communicating with non-human animals? Columbus sailed west when others knew the world was round, but he and his crew set off to prove it by stealing gold from people who wouldn't expect him to do it from behind. How could he have guessed he would have found so much chocolate in his search for India's back door? When Drake set out to sell slaves and plunder the coastlines of the Americas, he couldn't possibly have imagined it would someday net him a beautiful bay, bearing his name long after his death.
When Tiffany and I began talking about this trip, we discussed what we may be looking for in a two year journey of 30,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina. Our goals have been broad by necessity, and fairly well aligned in general. Where they differ, I think we are better off for the difference. Where they converge, we are incredibly fortunate.
I'm always looking to explore concepts, regardless of where we are on the continuum of adventure (before, during or after). An item of special interest for me, specifically for this journey, has been the search for human universals; those traits, habits, and needs which bind us as a species, regardless of cultural differences. Of course, I'm interested in meeting fun and interesting people who will share stories and culture with me, but mostly, I've been after the random fun you can only find when you travel with an open mind.
Tiffany has her own list of concepts and educational opportunities to explore. She is interested in experience, specifically the intersection of cultures with which she is unfamiliar. She is also interested in the idea of exploring a sense of independence; challenging herself, as well as the notion that the world is a scary place, and staying home is way safer. She also wants to see pretty landscapes.
One area where we are totally on the same page though, is that we are seeking an address. That has been a perennial search for me since I left home at 18. Tiffany's own desire to find a suitable place is equally deep-seated. While driving Tiffany to the airport in Denver, so she could fly to Memphis to spend time with her family, we were reminded of the great utility in whittling away at the list of places where we don't want to live. We could knock a few places straight off the list, Memphis, TN and Denver, CO. However, our time in the beautiful state of Colorado quickly repopulated that list with a number of potential places we could consider home.
One of the things which has changed for us since we began this journey, is the sharing of one phone. We've both maintained our own phone numbers since we were 18. About a month before we left, Tiffany ditched her old number, and we got a new phone which, according to the literature, would be the ideal phone to travel with through North, Central and South America. A week into our journey, my old phone plan expired, and we found ourselves sharing a singular device and number. Sharing the device has not been a problem at any point on this journey...using the device is a whole other matter, and could fill its own journal entry.
When I dropped Tiffany off at the airport in Denver, it was the first time in over a decade that I would be without a cell phone for any length of time. I had been looking forward to that untethered feeling for sometime. Somehow, I managed, at 4AM, to pay attention to how I got to the airport, so I could get back to where we were staying without getting lost. It is an underutilized skill which I once developed to great proficiency living in unfamiliar cities like New York and Portland; several years before GPS was something we all carried around in our pockets. I made it home without any missed turns or trouble.
For the next several days, it was just me and Pelé, taking walks, tossing the ball, and Pelé taking naps while I worked on aspects of the podcast which had alluded my focus, mostly because we are having too much fun. My pal Brett and I planned a small road trip for later in the week, but before that, I spent the majority of my time writing, fixing things in the van's interior, and playing with Pelé.
I did manage to spend some quality time with Brett before that trip though. I had the opportunity to hang out with his hilarious daughter for about an hour, as we played in the backyard, looking for tiny plastic pellets from the previous occupants' hobby of firing a pellet gun at targets around the yard. We cooked meals together, and played music together...something I have not done in many years.
Speaking of the van. In the previous journal entry, I mentioned a whistling noise which had been bothering me for several hundred miles. The only place where I felt comfortable taking the van for diagnostics, unfortunately, was the Mercedes dealership. As you may have guessed, that is not an inexpensive proposition.
Our previous visit to Denver netted a visit to the dealership, and $900 later, I had eaten 7 donuts, drank at least 4 cappuccinos, and drove off with a new secondary coolant pump, one small piece of hose, two hose clamps, and new coolant. This time, all I needed was a little help with the diagnostics.
I got the van into the hands of the service manager at 8AM. He is a kindly man, who doesn't mind swearing. I liked him. He pointed Pelé and I to the lounge area, where I set up a temporary office for me, a bedroom for Pelé, and began eating donuts, cookies, yogurt, and cappuccinos in unusually large quantities. In fact, to have one of any of those items is highly unusual for me. However, my redneck, cheap-ass southern roots would not allow me to pay the shop rate without availing myself of every possible amenity. Honestly, if it were not for the fact that I was able to shower at our friend's house, I would have washed up in their marble and stainless steel bathrooms.
After five hours of taking walks, writing, editing podcasts, and eating junk food, I finally got an email from the mildly foul-mouthed and congenial service manager. When I opened up the attached quote, my previously referenced cheap-ass nature drew my eyes to the most outstanding feature on the page; the sum of $5,387.43 was nearly undulating like a neon sign.
I calmly laid down my doughnut, leashed up my little pal, Pelé and walked over to the service manager's office. The quote I had just read was for the removal and replacement of the exhaust manifold gasket. It is no easy task, and there is a risk of seized bolts, and further expense if that happens. The quote of $5,387.43 was, as the service manager would later tell me, a fairly modest estimate.
We exchanged some pleasant swearing about the issue, and how it wasn't catastrophic, or in need of immediate attention. The issue, however, definitely needs to be addressed before we cross over the Mexican border. The service manager apologized for having to charge me for the diagnostic time, telling me it took two technicians and the shop foreman to figure out where the noise was coming from. I felt a little better about not being able to figure out the problem on my own, and paid $150 for my snack and office time.
Pelé and I returned to the doughnut lounge, had another coffee drink and a yogurt while the van was put back together. I sent a message to our pal Dr. Chris Ryan, who has told me quite a lot about his preferred Mercedes mechanic, Oliver. Chris and I have the same van, same year even! He tells me Oliver is a close friend, and trustworthy. I anticipate a somewhat more reasonable shop-rate than that of the dealership. Chris responded within minutes, and connected me with his guy. I just hope, when I walk into his shop, I'm not immediately confronted with little doughnuts...fingers crossed!
One of the many things on my phone-free, wife-less itinerary for the week, was to hang out with Ricardo Serpa and his wife Nicole. As I mentioned in the last entry, Ricardo was in the hospital in Denver, recovering from an emergency tooth removal surgery. We made loose plans to hang out before he left town. He wasn't certain if he would be physically capable of driving his motorcycle back to Miami, and was considering storing it until he could fly back and ride it again later. Our sweet friend Brett offered to rearrange the contents of his garage in order to accommodate Ricardo's substantial BMW.
We exchanged a few emails while I waited on the bad news about the van, and made plans to have dinner that evening. I actually wrote down the directions to the hotel where they were staying (he had been discharged from the hospital), and made my way there.
When Ricardo and his wife walked into the lobby of the hotel, I could have cried. He looked amazingly well! He was standing up straight, smiling, wearing clean clothes, and looking as healthy as could be. I had seen him less than 48 hours earlier, in a hospital gown, drinking water from one of those weird, brown hospital cups.
We hugged, and said our hello's, and immediately he wanted to see Pelé! We walked outside, where I had parked next to his motorcycle, took Nicole on a tour of the van, and introduced her to Pelé. After a brief chat, we decided to walk a few blocks to a nearby restaurant and share a meal.
I could talk to Ricardo for hours anyway, but that evening, I was so amazed by his resilience and ability to bounce back from the depths of suffering and misery, that I felt somehow stronger for being with him. That sounds exaggerated, but I think is not uncommon to be influenced positively by incredibly positive people. Ricardo is that guy!
We talked about journeys, podcasts, books, travel, business concepts, poetry, love, family, and so much more. His lovely and charming wife was just as much a part of the conversation as we were, and the three of us had a wonderful time. When the check came, sweet Ricardo would not let me pay. Fortunately, I had been eating junk food all day at the dealership, and had a very small meal, so I didn't feel too bad about having my meal purchased by a guy who would soon be receiving bills from the hospital with their own undulating sums at the bottom.
Of all the topics of discussion which had me breathing the rarified air of people with insistently positive outlooks on life, it was the fact that Ricardo was planning on driving his motorcycle back home in two days which struck me most. Although, by all outward appearances Ricardo seemed fine, I knew he wasn't 100%. Riding a great big BMW from Denver to Miami (mostly on back roads which would allow for great photographs) is not an easy task when all is well. With a recently removed tooth, creating a dull ache in his mouth, that task would be much more difficult. Try bending over to pick something up from the ground next time you have a headache, and I think you will agree.
Weeks before this meeting, when Ricardo finally decided he needed medical attention for his tooth, he was on a particularly steep mountain pass in Wyoming. His tooth had been plaguing him for days, but the pain had finally become unbearable. The nearest big city was Denver, hundreds of miles away. As he headed down the mountain, he soon discovered his rear breaks were no longer functioning.
That brave soul drove his ailing bike in the worst possible braking scenario, with a pounding and searing pain in his mouth, from Wyoming to Denver (which is all down hill!), got his bike to a BMW service center, checked himself into a hotel, and spent several agonizing days in and out of dentist's offices and hospitals, before finally being rushed to emergency surgery. And yet, here he stood, ready and eager to get back on that bike to complete his journey.
I was impressed by Ricardo before this. At this point, if I were a younger man, I would ask him to be my teacher and follow him like a guru.
After saying goodbye to Ricardo and Nicole, still high on their company, I made my way back to my friend Brett's place, and was greeted by Brett and another house guest who was in town for a conference for creative startup business.
One of the many things which was wonderful about spending time at Brett's house, was having access to Brett's house! Although we prefer to sleep in our van, it was amazing to have access to the bathroom at anytime! Being able to stand up straight when I'm cooking indoors is another plus. We cooked many meals while at Brett's. My favorite part of that was sharing them with Brett.
Let me take a moment here to introduce him to you properly.
Brett Magdovitz was born in Memphis TN, roughly 44 years ago. He was raised in a large family, attended good schools, and got a great education, both at school and through his family's successful furniture and real estate businesses.
One of the many impactful elements of his youth was bullying. The halls of his high school were places of torment for him. Brett was, as a young man, the target of significant bullying. It honestly breaks my heart to picture my kind, generous and loving friend as a boy being treated like shit by his peers. It gives me great comfort, however, to know how incredibly unlikely it is anyone would ever think to try that shit now.
Brett, for all of his gentile kindness, generosity, and outgoing personality, does not take shit from anyone. He is confident, yet willing to admit when he is wrong. He is strong willed, yet able to see when his will is in the way of the correct path. Mostly, he is brave, but not fearless, meaning he is willing to try just about anything, but recognizes his limits and his responsibilities. Brett is one of the most actively “alive” people I know.
In his wanderings, and exploits, Brett has been at the helm of a number of ambitious and highly creative projects. To name but a few of his projects - he opened an incredibly diverse and fun marketplace in Memphis, TN (many years before its time), he operated a cannabis company in Colorado (a few years before legalization), he was once indorsed by a jumpsuit company, for playing the role of “The Jumpsuit Gentleman” in an effort to promote arts and tourism in Memphis, he once dressed as Elvis, and wrestled a man dressed as Jesus, until both of them were repeatedly body slammed by Jerry “The King” Lawler, he and his brother opened up a company called “Bronuts” wherein they sold a variety of health(ish) doughnut balls, and he has taught music to children and performed music for audiences of children for several years.
Brett can cook, he can sing, he writes songs, plays various instruments, he writes stories and has been involved with indy films for years. He's also a poet, a deep thinker, and an excellent friend to any lucky enough to have befriended him. Watching this gregarious and well rounded guy, get to be a dad is incredible for me to watch.
When Tiffany and I were planning our wedding, I approached Brett for the job of officiant. We had spent some time together, and enjoyed each other's company, but we were not especially close. We quickly bonded over the period of time from asking him to officiate to our ceremony. It was pretty great to have a Jewish guy, ordained in the “Church of Universal Life”, facilitate the marriage of an atheist to a Christian. However, since then (over 8 years ago), we have not seen each other...and have had less than a dozen phone calls. In planning this journey, our stop in Denver to see Brett was one of the very first destinations (other than Alaska and Argentina) we agreed upon.
Cooking meals with Brett and sometimes his little daughter, was a blast for me. I love cooking with others; cooking with Brett is fun, because we trust each other enough to stay out of the way of the other. It's like working in a restaurant, we've got our jobs to do, and the finished product will be delicious, no matter what.
His daughter, Mabel, is such a unique combination of her parents. I don't know her mother particularly well, but I get a sense of her being quite sensitive and empathic. Brett, as described, is something of an outgoing “card” of a guy. Mabel blends up these qualities, and many of her own in an adorable little package.
One evening, when Tiffany was still in town, we made a comment about her being cute, or pretty, or something like that. Her reply was so telling of the way she thinks; “I'm not cute, I'm in-te-res-ting...” Another evening, I spent the night parked outside of Mabel's mother's house, and was able to spend several hours with Mabel and Brett. We picked her up from school, and headed to get some food for dinner that evening. On the way to the store, Mabel introduced us to one of the catchiest tunes I've ever heard...we sang it over and over again, in the car, in the parking lot, and in the store. The tune is fairly familiar, and I'm certain it has been used for other songs, but the lyrics are awesome, and include an *improvised word*, made up by Mabel. It goes like this:
I was going to Kentucky
Going to the Fair
When I met a Senorita
With a flower in her hair
Shake it baby, shake it
Shake it all you can
Shake it like a *Mushrake*
And do the best you can -Hey!
What an incredible little song, right?
Before we came to town, Brett introduced me, via email, to his friend Joe (“The Wiser Amuser”). Joe and I exchanged a few emails about writing projects, and said we would meet when I came to Boulder. Joe invited me over for breakfast on Saturday morning. I was looking forward to meeting him, and we set up time to record a podcast.
Joe is an enigmatic guy. He has a serious calm about him, but with a child-like curiosity and kindness in his demeanor. He is one of those people who project a genuinely inquisitive interest in you, as soon as you meet them. Joe and I got along immediately, and not just because he cooked me breakfast.
Both Joe and I like to talk about concepts, more than things. For sure, the both of us talked about plenty of “things”, but where it seemed like we were both having the most fun, was when discussing concepts like “playtheism”, the many themes in his work, or philosophical interpretations of our experiences.
Joe is a writer, a photographer, and an adept hiking and river guide. He also works as a concierge for an upscale hotel in Boulder. In every aspect of his life, Joe gets true joy from sharing his experiences with others. In every sense of the word, Joe is a guide.
When I arrived at his house, his hand and wrist were in somewhat of a cast. He broke two meta-carpals in his hand on a mountain bike accident that week. This injury did not impede upon his performance in the kitchen. Breakfast was awesome; eggs over-medium on toasted everything bagels with ripe avocado.
We spent the morning walking the dogs (his dog is named Echo), and talking for over two hours. We talked about his current book, “The Wiser Amuser”, which is available on Amazon. We also talked about some of the more incredible aspects of his life's story. Listen to that HERE. I enjoyed meeting Joe very much, and feel like I've made a friend for life.
The Sunday before Tiffany came back, Brett and I packed up the van and headed out to meet up with his friend Gerrit, who was back in the area, having secured a Phd position at a university in Germany. We met up with Gerrit after a beautiful drive from Denver to Buena Vista, Colorado. Our goal was to hike, cook, camp and hang out with Gerrit and his (now ex) girlfriend.
We did all of that. Pelé hiked up over 1,000 of elevation from 9,000 to over 10,000 ft, near one of the collegiate peaks (which are over 14,000ft). We got a late start on the hike, so only a few miles were possible before the sunset. It was an amazingly beautiful hike, of which I have 0 pictures.
That evening we cooked together, made a fire, and got about as stoned as I can get, and laughed for hours. Brett and Gerrit once took a 3 week rafting journey down the Grand Canyon. A trip like that, as I've heard it said, is a tribal experience. You come out either loving or hating the people with you. Gerrit and Brett told their versions of moments of that journey; namely one in which Brett took-on the final big rapid, completely nude, and practically standing in the raft!
Brett and Gerrit have a ton of very obvious mutual respect for one another. They have also been friends for nearly twenty years, have been roommates on many occasions, worked together on a highly ambitious start-up enterprise, and have shared a number of intense situations over their many years of friendship.
I'm always struck by relationships like these. I've had “best” friends before, but I don't seem to have them for very long. I'm certain the reason for that is me. I don't mean to sound pitiful, or come across as feeling sorry for myself; I don't. The fact is though, there is no one in the world who, when asked to name their “best” friend, would say my name. I'm a good friend, but not exactly “best” friend material. Tiffany may tell you I'm her “best” friend, and as fortunate as I am to live that reality, it is clearly not the same when your “best” friend is someone you fuck.
Having a peer who knows you, yet loves you anyway, is special. I value my friendships, I just don't feel close enough with any of my friends to consider one of them the “best” one I've got. I feel confident my friends feel the same. Brett and Gerrit have this relationship, for sure. They have seen one another at their absolute worst, and have remained friends through out.
The next morning, Gerrit left before we got up, so Brett and I had coffee and relaxed by the Arkansas river for about an hour before heading into town to run a few errands. In the afternoon, we made a plan to go to a Hot Springs about two hours away, near Crestone. The place is called, Valley View Hot Springs.
The drive to Valley View is spectacular. It was the second time in over a week where I had opportunity to drive that route, and I felt fortunate to be back. I was in such high spirits, the washboard road which made-up the final 10 miles only mildly dampened my spirits.
I had been planning on recording a conversation with Brett at some point that day, but once we arrived at the Hot Spring, I wasn't in the mood to bust out the gear, so we headed to the springs right away...with only one small detour.
Valley View is an amazing place. It is operated by a land trust, and you can tell the people who operate the place, truly care about the precious nature of what they steward. Fortunately, it would appear, most of the folks who visit the place, share in that enthusiasm for stewardship. It is also clothing optional, which means everyone is naked.
In fact, if you have any hang-ups about nudity, or bodily functions, skip Valley View, and work on growing up...that sounds snarky, I apologize, but I think you know what I mean. There is a very large bathroom facility on the grounds, but it is made up of one large room. There are stalls with swinging doors on them for sitting on toilets, and two showers with doors on them for some measure of privacy. The sinks and mirrors are shared space for all. At some point, if you are there long enough, you will end up pooping next to someone of the opposite sex. For me, that time came before we entered the first pool.
It is liberating to be naked. Taking a dump next to someone you do not know, then waiting in that same room for the next available shower was a new experience for me, but it proved benign. I'm not bothered by pooping next to strange dudes in a public toilet, why should it matter if it is a strange lady instead? It doesn't...you should try it.
Long before this encounter at Valley View, Tiffany and I had occasion to use an outhouse with two toilets, divided by a half wall. The doors were the type which could be fully closed, or half open. With the upper half of the doors open, a beautiful, pastoral scene was ours to behold. We had been walking for a bit, and it began to rain. The moment we saw this incredible opportunity, we were blessed with the simultaneous need to poop! We took our seats, divided by a ½ inch of plywood and a small ledge, next to each other, looking out over a landscape of golden aspen, healthy pines, a field of roaming cows, and a rolling mesa, and we took our first tandem crap. A more delightful magic would be hard to find in these cynical times.
Back to the Hot Springs...People do generally tend to wear clothing when walking from their campsites to the springs, and from spring to spring (which are spread out over dozens of acres of mountainside).
Something else I've never experienced, was spending time with a friend while naked. Brett and I sat together in hot springs which varied from seven inches deep to nearly six feet deep. At one point, in order to enjoy a fantastic view of the valley below and mountains beyond, Brett and I laid prone in one of the shallow pools, with our chins resting in our hands, to face the view. The view from above us, must have been a sight. Two grown men, completely naked, with their asses sticking out of the water, enjoying the view of the mist covered valley beneath them. Any worries I may have had at any point in my life about being perceived as homosexual, have long been out the window. However, it would have been a hard sell to convince anyone who may have seen us, that we were not a happy gay couple.
We spent hours in and out of the pools. There is also a sauna on the grounds, with a somewhat cool pool inside of it. I've never seen that. In-spite of drinking four liters of water that day, I stayed in the sauna way too long, and ended up sweating myself into a headache the next day.
One of the great things about Valley View is that it never closes. You can get in the pools at anytime of day or night. There are no lights on in the pools, and one of the few rules which visitors seem to respect, is no talking after a certain hour. That was my favorite rule. Another great aspect of this place, is the fact that the springs do not stink like sulphur.
We took one last late-evening soak before bed, and as soon as we got up, we were back in the springs. We had to leave early though, because Tiffany was coming back that day. The drive back was as mellow and relaxed as could be...until we hit traffic. Traffic which would ultimately have Tiffany sitting at the airport, waiting for me to pick her up, for over an hour. That sort of scene will harsh your mellow, no matter what, maaannn!
I dropped Brett off at his house, let Pelé out for a piss, coerced Pelé back into the van, and headed to the airport to collect Tiff. When we approached her, patiently waiting near baggage claim, Pelé was out of his mind with excitement! Tail wagging, licking the air, and whining, ever so slightly, he greeted Tiffany with every tool in his communication kit.
We spent that evening, cleaning up the van, doing laundry, and restocking for the next few days of travel ahead. We would be leaving Colorado in a day or two, after almost a month of being in the state.
The following evening, we met up with Brett, Mabel and Julie (Mabel's mom) at the same Vietnamese restaurant from our first encounter. We had one last meal with the infectiously hilarious Mabel, and said our goodbyes, and sang the “Going to Kentucky” song, one last time...we did it for me, honestly.
The next morning, Joe, The Wiser Amuser, was planning on another breakfast, where Tiffany and Brett would be in attendance. Once again, with one arm almost out of the game, Joe came through with another fantastic breakfast.
We chatted for over an hour, then took a small hike on some public lands about a mile from his house. Tiffany enjoyed meeting Joe about as much as I did, and truly appreciated his gentle and thoughtful countenance. We said goodbye to Joe and Brett, just as rain began to fall.
Having the opportunity to spend so much time with my pal Brett was truly one of the great gifts of this journey so far. Getting to meet some of his close friends was a bonus who's value I could not have anticipated.
When I think about what we have been searching for on this expedition, I rarely think about what we originally set out to discover. Instead, I think about all of the accidental discoveries. The “Silly Puddy” of our journey has been the time spent with friends, new and old. Getting the opportunity to meet people like Dave and Melisse in Homer, or Lyle and Amy in Wyoming, Nate in Salcha, or any one of the dozens of people who have enriched our journey over the nearly six months we've been on the road, has been the greatest discovery so far. Getting to know a few of my existing friends a little better has been eye opening as well.
We set out to find fun and interesting people. We are searching for a new address. We anticipate finding beauty in nature and unfamiliar cultures. We did not realize however, we would find a whole new sense of what home is all about. We did not anticipate the profound impact of spending un-rushed time with good people. In the face of a growing sense of doom for our financial well-being, I am heartened to know our actual well-being is being looked after so effectively.
Leaving Joe's house, we traveled West, in the rain, to the edge of the state, with an indescribable sense of gratitude for the many people in our lives with whom we now feel so at home, so far from home, yet always at home, and never alone.