Yes, my friends, the end has arrived. And what have we learned?
There is more to say than I can contain in a couple of emailed paragraphs, for sure. I don't want to wrap this whole trip up too quickly, but I definitely do. Traveling across the country has been a dream of mine for years. Now that I've accomplished it, it's time to sit down and think, what else, what's next.
The whole concept behind becoming a well-traveled American man was to find value. A pirate among the seas of trash, I latched on to anything I could find worthwhile. I slept in a cement teepee off Route 66. I walked, sweat pouring from my brow, between Old Vegas and The Strip after locking my keys in my car. I drank a Coors with my coffee one Saturday morning to celebrate Colorado's brewery and outdoorsy spirit. Needless to say, the idea of the roadtrip was valuable in and of itself. It was born of a relatively spontaneous freedom to explore the unknown. I had the delicate ability to control the direction of my wheels, but let myself get into trouble when the engine was off.
During my last week on the road, I reached the heart of the matter. I was lucky enough to attend the Earthship Biotecture September Seminar in Taos, New Mexico. It is a magical community I stumbled upon researching The Land of Enchantment itself before I left. The story goes that forty years ago, Michael Reynolds, an unorthodox architecture school graduate and dirt-bike racer trying to dodge the Vietnam draft, started a revolution in self-sustainable housing. Through years of experimentation and wild construction, his Earthships, as he calls them, have developed into prime real-estate for living off-the-grid, that is, without any utility dependence to the outside world. Earthships are built with recycled materials, like beer cans and car tires, harness solar and wind energy to power the interior of the home, as well as utilize caught rainwater in a water management cycle which helps you wash, feed an in-home greenhouse, and use the John. And just as good ideas catch on, Reynolds has since fostered a community of thinkers, builders, and people just looking for some change.
There is more than a fair share to be said about building an Earthship home, but I can't get into it here without exploding everyone's Inbox. Hell, Reynolds puts out books and videos for that particular reason. What really struck me, though, was how attainable building a simple home, free from the anxiety of destruction or dependence, became a reality. Everyone kept asking each other if they were ready to build their own home after the seminar and my answer was always a safe "well, I don't see how I could just forget all this". And the truth is that, I saw the beauty and freedom of living off-the-grid. There are just a few other questions I need to answer before a home is my number one priority.
What really stuck out in the front of my memory was the parallel universe of New Mexico. Allow me to set the scene weeks back, in New Jersey, the night of my 25th birthday. After hours of watching old wrestling pay-per-view programs for my birthday, one of my best friends, Rob Bajor, hung back as everyone went home to get some shut-eye. I was leaving for the road the next day and Rob wanted to impart his road knowledge, considering he recently ran off to San Francisco for a month-long stay just weeks earlier. One of his favorite moments, he told me, was sitting on the Pacific Coast beach with some newfound friends, enjoying the crash of the waves and the warmth of a firepit on the sand. Back to Taos, New Mexico. I'm having one of the most valuable experiences of my trip, learning about housing and imagining a future free of reliance. The first person I end up conversing with at the seminar is named Rob. We were the East Coast boys of the group, him being from Queens, New York, me obviously Jersey. It's probably the reason we got along so well. And as the seminar wound down, Rob was cool enough to invite me to hang out with him and his brother, Dave, in the Earthship he rented out for the weekend. And you know how we enjoyed our Earthship experience? We made a firepit in the desert. Sure, it's a stretch, Robs and firepits and vacations from Jersey, but the connection gave me a laugh and shrank the distance from home. We sat around the flames like modern-day cowboys, listening to the pack of coyotes out in the wilderness, attempting to avoid the smoke, enjoying some beer, and reflect on the housing ideas we drank all weekend.
I left Taos and the Earthships behind to wonder the idea of value. Value has become a shiny word. Instead of peering inside of us to find personal value, the word easily conjures images of gems, precious medals, stacks of cash, maybe something you'd find in a hidden temple from Disney's Aladdin. Now, the switch seems to be happening. There are thousands of young people, at the moment, angry about the concept of value all over the country, specifically on Wall Street. So as I buckled down for a thirteen-hour drive to Austin, Texas, I challenged myself to see the value in my own beliefs, not so much my bank account. All I knew once I made it to Texas was I honestly valued a city atmosphere to a barren wasteland of oil pumps and cattle, and a friend who would open her front door with a smile.
Last time I visited Austin, two years ago, it was an exercise in vacationing. I ate Tex-Mex and swam just about every day for a week. I visited Chaz and Kathy, a couple I originally knew from New Jersey, but came to know better once I passed out several times on their living room couch. I still look back on that trip with fondness (hell, I even jumped off a bridge with Chaz) but times have changed. Chaz and Kathy split. Chaz went home to his friends and family in New Jersey, Kathy continued her education and career in Austin. Meanwhile, I'd been through jiu-jitsu tournaments, jobs, girlfriends, moving back and forth throughout my home state, and one difficult back injury. We were new people to one another and somehow we didn't miss a beat.
Value finally took a shirt from the transforming the outside world to tuning in to the thoughts in my head and the words coming out of my mouth. Kathy and I spent evenings on her front stoop, holding magnifying glasses up to one another in the dark. It was as if we both never really knew each other before then. We built our autobiographies answering the questions we asked one another and revealed more than we thought we knew. We shared our hopes and praise for our siblings, examined the state of marriage and divorce, shared our preference for staying out of the sun, and discussed the concept of the soul or lack thereof. While I had experienced homesickness coming and going through my travels, suddenly, I truly noticed the need for others. The value of friends began to balance my need to hit the road alone. How else would I recognize my tendencies and mistakes in my career path or through relationships or even my own personally-diagnosed mental illnesses? I couldn't. It needed to be said out loud. I could only assume Kathy felt the same way as we hugged before I left, both thankful we found a friend so similar in our struggles yet so calm and willing to ignore ourselves and solve the other's problems.
To be honest, after Austin, I had experienced what I needed to come home. It definitely helped that I had failed to plan an extensive exploration on the East Coast. In Georgia, I did manage to catch Frankie Edgar come back to life in the fourth round of UFC 136 and blast Gray Maynard, so I was even more slap-happy and content to drive thirteen more hours back to The Garden State.
As Faye chugged along, I took stock of my roadtrip treasures. I had and still have an iPhone gallery of 500+ pictures, including views from up the Rocky Mountains, downtown Chicago, glowing Old Vegas, and picturesque Route 66. Joe, the salesman, gave me fireworks in Pennsylvania and MC Lars sold me a t-shirt in West Hollywood. I met up with acquaintances-turned-friends and friends-turned-better-friends in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Taos, and Austin. I saw my godmother for the second time in two years and my great uncle for the first time since I was ten! Most importantly, I could say that I'd done it. I set sail on the American frontier and returned a better man, no doubt.
And I even wrote about it enough to please myself and hopefully all of you. Thanks for reading and rest assured that this is not really the end. I lied. It is only the beginning.
Until next time...
I explode into space.