Saturday, September 22, 2007

store"e"


would you like to hear a story?


that’s nice. because i would like to tell you a story.


it is a story about scandinavia. well, mostly scandinavia. there are other “components” to my story too.

the story i will tell is factual. ok, with a bit of fiction thrown in to make it more “compelling.”


the "fact" is that this tunnel went about 650 feet under the ocean. one other "fact" is that this tunnel was about 4 miles in length. the third "fact" is that i was terrified when i noticed some water dripping about 2 miles into the thing (at which point water began not to drip but rather stream from a "special part" of me). the final "fact" is that the states really should go metric.



scandinavia – no, no, it's not “one of those countries in africa or something” - it's a term embracing the northern bits of europe like denmark, norway, sweden, and finland. a truly beautiful piece of the planet. but don’t believe me without proof. don’t believe anything without proof. it’s ok to have faith in things without proof. because faith is a sort of “hope.” but belief requires substantiation. below is substantiation. incidentally, do you have belief in love?


substantiation #1






substantiation #2





substantiation #3





substantiation #4







substantiation #5





i had some tough decisions to make regarding my route to the north cape of scandinavia, the northernmost point in europe (or so they say...). i don’t like tough decisions. in truth, i don’t like any decisions. you see, i am horrible at making them. i always quintuple guess myself. i bellyache and sleep twitchily as the infinite options get dizzy in my head. i am haunted by how a decision to do something actually entails not doing a million other things that, by the by, could be done. this is one of my, unfortunately many, eccentricities. but then there was this:


yeah, i’m not sure...

well, i would recommend staying in norway all the way up to the cape.

really? why is that?

because norway is spectacular! (hands waving) you’ve got snow capped peaks plunging straight down into the sea. countless waterfalls. magnificent fjords. and there are quaint little villages everywhere.

yes, sounds nice...but what about sweden?

sweden?! oh, you don’t want to go to sweden!

why not?

sweden is boring. nothing but a bunch of trees and lakes and mosquitoes! millions of them! and in sweden, you’ll go hundreds of kilometers without passing a single village! it's empty! there’s nothing in sweden worth seeing!

it was following this man’s concluding exclamation point that i decided to ride through sweden. this decision was, in a word, easy. scenery is nice, but scenery is everywhere. whether it’s the andes of argentina or the slums of san jose or the computer screen into which you are now staring. to me, all are “spectacular.” just in different ways. plus, the hundreds of kilometers of nothingness sounded nice because sometimes - ok many times - i don’t want to be around people.



ultimately, i made it to the north cape and, again, i want you to have substantiation of this fact so there is this:





and this (if your norwegian is a bit rusty, "nordkapp" means "north cape"):




these next three pictures are from sweden, which was "boring"





a reindeer





(top to bottom) a sky, a cloud, a hilltop, a treetop, an island, a lake






in the center of a swedish village. a curious family approaches. an explanation ensues. in comes an invitation. to their home i go for some rowing on a lake, conversations, delicious food, a bed (though i sleep on the floor, can no longer sleep in beds). the next morning it's time to continue with my life. i'm readying myself to go. the four-year-old daughter wakes up. she rushes downstairs and jumps into her father's lap. she's in pajamas, the kind with integrated feet. she is warm and now warmer from the lap in which she fits perfectly. a glance is exchanged between the two. i watch while trying not to. the father wraps the girl in his arms and kisses her. i am not there. a moment passes and i think “that; now that is what i don't have." after the passage of another moment, i (hopefully incorrectly) correct myself and say, “that's what i very well may never have.” and then i leave.


scandinavia gets very cold very quickly. so when you see trucks already putting up snow poles to mark the road, and when you see sand trucks filling all the winter road service stations, and when you see signs like these, you start to ride a little faster.




(beedaly boobaly binky binky tinky tanky tonk)

what the...? oh, i beg your pardon. you will have to excuse me. my cell phone is ringing. and when my cell phone rings, i abandon everything i was doing, every conversation i was having, every near epiphany i might have been on the brink of, and devote my undivided and full attention to it. when doing this, i consolingly say to those around me, "sorry, this is important...i have to take it." i also act annoyed that it is ringing by audibly exhaling. in addition, it gives my brain cancer.

well son of a gun, it was my wife. we're recently married and still "learning" about each other. these are the things that we said:

hello?

hi honey! i’m at the supermarket and i wanted to know whether you wanted 0%, 0.5%, 1%, 1.5%, 2%, or 4% milk fat?

umm...

wait, i’m not finished. also, whether you wanted organic, free trade, make trade fair, free range, local, or “regular”?

really, it makes no difference to...

oh, please just pick one!

ok, 3.5% local.

that wasn’t an option!

babe (i shouldn’t have called her this, she hates it when i do, but sometimes we do mean things...), just roll the dice and grab one.

honey! (she didn’t say it sweetly and immediately hung up.)



i felt bad about calling my wife "babe" and so i was going to pick some of these flowers to give to her as a token of my penance. but after taking the photo, i forgot. so babe, if you're reading this, i am sorry. for everything.







my wife and i are relatively happy. at least tolerably so. we still go back and forth on children. we’ve done the obligatory pre-child pet routine. i wanted a cat, she wanted a dog, we got a dog. and then, discreetly but quite scrutinizingly, she analyzed all my behaviors and reactions to “dogma” (she chose the name, internally i hated it, but verbally i said, “brilliant!”). this dog-in- place-of-kid analysis was my “test.” in the end, i confessed to her that i was concerned about all the social pressure to love one’s child. because, let’s face it, i might not. i’d of course have to meet it and get to know it first. alot of times, i don’t much care for people, and the thought of one who will cry frequently, interrupt conversations, and potentially poop more than me (if this is possible...) already puts the child up against quite unfavorable odds. you may wish to say something here like "blood is thicker than water." but so is molasses. and i like molasses. but i don't like blood. so i don't know where that leaves me. but we haven’t ruled “the kid thing” out completely. they are a great hobby, i’m sure, and i’ve been told they can eliminate the deafening silence of the inescapable and eventual boredom that arises from the institution of marriage.


(the above was fiction. i am not married. and i would of course love my kids...probably.)



these are the storefronts that people enter and spend money they really don't have but they do it because they're "on vacation." and then they return home and open mailboxes and see credit card bills and they think, "mercy! what have i done!?" and to them i say, "you have done what you did." and then they pay the minimum payment due and 20% interest on the outstanding balance not realizing that you can't dig a hole in water.








i need to focus. i told you this would be a story about scandinavia. and i am a man of my word.


it really was a great place to ride.



one of the many interesting things about scandinavia is a law called “every man’s right.” roughly summarized, it means that you (women too) can camp anywhere you want as long as you are 100 meters away from peoples' homes. it also means that all sea and coastlines are open for everyone to swim, picnic, or do whatever. this is quite a contrast from some "free" countries (often abbreviated with three letters, two of which are vowels) i have been to where everywhere seems to be full of such friendly signs indicating things like “no trespassing – violators will be prosecuted”, “private property”, “beware of dog”, or “keep out!”. this brings up an interesting concept; that being “freedom.” is freedom the right to find a nice patch of trees and to feel welcome to pitch your tent there and spend a night? or, is freedom the right to go out with a staple gun and post all those pleasant notices using trees as signposts?

you can camp or walk here,





here,





or here. it's your right. is it your right in the country where you live?



the setting: a lonely road in norway, a month or so ago. i'm riding in the mountains. a monstrosity of a mobile home passes me. i notice it pulls off the road up ahead. i catch up to it. the driver side door opens....


whatcha doing? (god bless them, they're americans.)

i'm on a bike ride.

wheredya start?

vanuatu.

van-u-who?

vanuatu, it's a small country between australia and fiji.

(turning to his wife) didya hear that? he started in australia!

(letting the error slide, i silently accept my new inception point.)

well, when did you start?

about two and a half years ago.

(again, turning to his wife) didya hear that? been riding for two and a half years! (the wife confirms that she can hear me well enough. i can tell she doesn't much care for me. i think it is because she can smell me. i don't smell like soap and chemicals. rather, i smell like a human.)

where ya goin'?

from here? up to the north cape.

well that's where we're goin' too! maybe we'll see you there!

when will you be there?

probably tomorrow morning.

oh, well, i'll be there in about ten days.

for the love of pete! ten days!?

yes.

you must be slow!

i am. very.

jeez! ten days! (this time not turning) didya hear that! well i hope you're making a movie or writing a book or something!

i'm taking pictures and i am writing but not a book.

but why not? you could make a ton of money boy!

most people don't like what i write. they don't understand the difference between preaching and stating opinions.

well why's that? don't you write about the beauty? and the nature? and how many miles you've gone?

actually, there's nothing i enjoy less than writing about those things.

didya hear that? he's a strange one allright! (hearty laughter from him, hesitantly joined with nervous laughter from the wife and an obligatory, though very forced, laughter from me.)

well, i'll be! so where do you go from the north cape?

i'm slowly but surely trying to make my way back to vanuatu.

where?

australia.

you're tellin' me you're gonna ride that thing all the way back to australia! why i don't believe it for one second!

ok.

how can you? how do you get your money?

i try to live simply and spend no more than about $5 a day.

$5 a day?! why that's impossible! we spend about $5 an hour!! where do you sleep? how do you eat?

i sleep in my tent wherever i can find a nice spot. never in campgrounds or hotels. it makes no sense to me to pay to sleep. also, i never eat in restaurants. for the cost of one meal at a restaurant in norway, i can, literally, eat for a week.

i see, i see...well (patting his stomach and looking at his wife’s) as you can see, we eat in restaurants three times a day (more jovial laughter as he looks to wife who is looking both straight faced and straight ahead, indicating, with silent screams, that she is ready to go. and so they went. and after some valedictions, we parted ways leaving a hanging conversation never to be finished).


regardless of gender, there should never be a land like this. and by golly billy, soon there won’t be because anger is slowly being eliminated and replaced by “happiness,” or at least the illusion of it. happiness, for reasons unknown to me, is seemingly a "good" and "preferred" emotion. and it’s quite easy these days if we’re not happy, because your doctor can give you these pills that say "amitriptyline" on them. they are sugar-coated and go down easy! i like to smile.



lately, i’ve been reading hemingway and fitzgerald. they are both, regrettably, dead. the former by a bullet of his own loading and trigger-pulling (an action called by some as “the greatest possible freedom”), and the latter by a heart attack preceded by the inevitable angina. recently i had angina. to say the least, it was disconcerting and unsettling. but there was no attack of my heart. rather, i think it was just a physical manifestation of how alone i sometimes feel, though i would never admit such a thing “on the record.”


this is a picture showing where the heart is on a moose and how most effectively to shoot and kill one. if this were a fair game, wouldn't moose have a picture like this of humans? and big guns to make them feel "manly" too? did you eat any appendages of animals today? do you think about the poor little chickens? cluck, cluck. what did the chicken do to you? where is the justice? oh how sorry i am cute little chicken! all i can say is, "welcome to the cruel world." but lest you think i claim innocence and purity, i will confess now that just this afternoon, i killed a carrot.




i much prefer to get my water from places like this rather than faucets or plastic bottles. i share the water with the animals which are my friends. i like animals because they don't talk, don't tell me to cut my hair, don't tell me to lose the beard, and mostly i like them because they just let me be. and i return the favor.




when i rolled into finland, this happened:

hi, where is your home?

i have a passport from the united states.

the united states? (sarcastically, looking at his friends as he said it) please tell george bush hello from me!

(equalling the sarcasm) that might be difficult. i don't have his phone number.

(again the sarcasm) can't you email him?

certainly i could. however, neither do i have his email address.

do you like george bush?

i don't know.

(a large group now surrounding us) what do you mean ‘you don't know’?

well, i've never met him.

i mean, do you like his policies?

some of them, yes. most of them, no. that being said (i said those three words because they sound intelligent and there was an audience present), were i to meet him, it could very well be that bush and i would be bosom buddies.

the man said something in finnish and left and the crowd dispersed. and then i left too.

but i meant what i said. sometimes, best friends are the people you agree with the least. at least that's how i feel. i'm right, you're right, but ultimately, everyone is wrong and nothing matters anyway. so who cares if you flush the toilet after every use and i think it's a ridiculous waste of water and completely unnecessary? you're going to keep flushing, i'm going to keep leaving brown and golden treasures, but we can still share a cup of tea and a smile, no? with honey please. oh, and caffeine free.



first the sky looked like this:







and then it looked like this and dumped rain all over me which i like because then i can cry and not have to account for my tears





and then the sky looked like this and both the rain and my tears went away.






and i was as happy as a rock.







it's when people try to put me in these boxes. what's your name? how old are you? where are you from? how many kilometers have you ridden? the attempt to compartmentalize. the most useless knowledge there can be. how i long for someone to ask me what the deserts of argentina smelled like!




should you care to know, lappland smelled like wet pine and fresh, steamy reindeer dung and i loved it.






these are the reindeer that leave the fresh, steamy dung. i think it is one of their reindeer games. leaving dung certainly is a game for me. one i play like clockwork every morning.





it was the place that people go to when they die, full of engraved marble and granite; full of too late kind words, regrettably (though moments existed that were right), never spoken. a woman, her young daughter, both standing, facing their fresh flowers, facing the tomb in an atmosphere of pensive silence, the young daughter not quite knowing what to do with herself but respectfully following the model of her mother. the mother, what caused it?, suddenly disengaged and turned away, daughter at her heels, the mom turns around, gently cradles the back of her child's head, then holds out her hand with which the girl gladly interweaves her fingers. they walk back to their car and drive away, the mother, i can only speculate, stifling the tears for when she is alone. and i? passing silently, simply an unnoticed spectator to it all.




the summer of 2007 was a notorious season for northern europe because:
1. it was the wettest summer in 150 years.
2. snow fell in august for the first time in 30 years.
i was lucky enough to be riding in northern europe during the summer of 2007. these next two pictures were taken on a day when the sun decided to have a brief,
very brief, little peek at me.









hi sun, bye sun.








as a result of all this meteorological mayhem, i would often hunt down barns to sleep in for the night. like this (that's my stuff on the floor):





or this. i just got sick of being wet. and also, mold was beginning to grow on parts of me that should really not be moldy.







( a preluding n.b. - yes, i could have accepted all that was offered and not placed it in my mouth, but then i'd be wasting (detestable) and i just feel that stating the truth is the best policy though some would call my actions rude or ungrateful but i just can't see it that way...)



i met a group of people from austria, czech republic, and slovakia. they were eating and invited me over. i didn't want to go but i went. i didn't want to go because i screw everything up. don't believe me? :


what are you doing?

cycling.

from where?

(i pull the string on my back)

wow! you crazy or something?

it's quite likely.

(laughter. quite the comedian, i)

join us for some food! here, have a burger!

oh, thanks so much for the offer, but i don't eat meat. i'm a vegetarian. but really, thanks anyhow. i'm not so hungry anyway...

no meat? jeez! you are crazy! well anyway, here's a beer.

thanks again for the offer, but actually i don't drink alcohol. just a personal decision, but i'd be fine with just some water. thanks.

no alcohol?!? how do you do it?

(assuming rhetoricalness) so what's austria like? (the assumption is wrong).

i suppose no cigarettes either? and no drugs?

nope.

(this is me. it's never a problem. as long as it's just me. that's why i've, with a baton in hand, orchestrated a life where it is just me.)

(we do, however and thankfully, move the conversation onwards and, though strained, it cumbrously flows).

(food is finished.)

here you go, a nice warm cup of coffee.

(pinching my thighs through my pockets, vomiting an obligatory laughter) actually, i don't drink coffee either...ha ha.....ha...but thanks again for the offer. i really do appreciate it.

what?! no coffee?!

yes, that's right.

ok, one more question for you...do you have a girlfriend?

(facing the music i have conducted) nope, though this isn't necessarily my choice...

so let me get this straight. no girl, no coffee, no drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no drugs, and no meat?

(fearing i've drawn blood from my thighs, though nevertheless flexing the smile muscles) that nails it.

and off i go.




i do too, friend. me too.





and they all ("they" being me, the fictional me, various others of me, and indeed the voices too) lived (though slightly amitriptyline-induced) happily ever after.



and that's my story about scandinavia.



7 Comments:

Anonymous Ted said...

What a wonderful story about Scandinavia! The pictures were magnificent! Keep being "you" and keep enjoying life and your awesome trip through it!

Saturday, September 22, 2007  
Blogger michelle said...

Hello friend...I hear voices too! Ha..love your comments about your wife. And the photo's are incredible. Keep smiling! Hope to see you soon. Michelle

Saturday, September 22, 2007  
Anonymous ferre said...

Just brilliant.
I found out about your bike ride a coupple of weeks ago.
Reading your thoughts is almost addictive.
I'm catching up and reading averything from the beginning.

Sunday, September 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mr hirsch. a long afternoon.
sooner or later. see you a

Sunday, September 23, 2007  
Anonymous gayle said...

Hey there!!

Been a while since I have written in your blog. Love the photos, love the stories, can't wait for the next installment. You still inspire me! Take care my friend!

Gayle

Sunday, September 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos Hirsch. Makes me want to go to Scandinavia too. Although I already live in Angermanland, as long as the Saints are losing.

I'm thinking the restrictions in the US--no trespassing, no swimming, etc--are more than anything, because scumsucking ambulance chasers are happy to sue property owners on behalf of the person who somehow gets injured on the property. Perhaps if folks weren't so scared of frivolous lawsuits, they would be more easy-going about stuff like that.

Carrie

Tuesday, September 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"i don't smell like soap and chemicals. rather, i smell like a human" i doubt you smell like a "human," but more likely reek of bacteria that has mixed with the sweat, dirt and grime that undoubtedly cover your body. compare this thought to a load of towels forgotten in the washer for a week--they would not smell of "laundry," but of mildew and rot. will you next stop brushing your teeth, turned off by the "artifical" toothpaste scent? please wash your stinking self before you come over next time--use unscented soap!

awesome pics, by the way!! -jaime

Tuesday, September 25, 2007  

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