A Brief History of Me

I’ve lived out my melancholy youth. I don’t give a fuck anymore what’s behind me, or what’s ahead of me. I’m healthy. Incurably healthy. No sorrows, no regrets. No past, no future. The present is enough for me. Day by day. Today!”

~Henry Miller Tropic of Cancer

I never heard a believable story growing up. I believed in some stories true enough, but would inevitably stumble over their shortcomings and contradictions. Or I’d simply outgrow them. This was true for the story of Santa Claus and the American Dream alike; for Disney fairytales and the ‘Path to Success’; for claims made by organized religion and those made by cultural icons. From the collegiate classroom, to the television screen, to the lofty pulpit, every story kept crumbling in disappointment. They all lacked substance. False stories led me to woe.

I think everyone suspects and tolerates a certain amount of bullshit. That’s ok. Bullshit can make crops healthy. In all of human history, entire communities of people have come and gone believing nothing but bullshit. Some of these communities are honored by modern humans for their wisdom. In most cases bullshit, or untruths, are neither lethal nor evil.

Sometimes, though, the bullshit reeks too strongly. Contradictions between the story people are following and reality itself cause frustration and hardship. When that happens people curse the symptom, laugh it off, numb it down, and move on with their lives. Rarely do they alter their scripts. The ersatz hive yields a fair share of honey for most. Along with a healthy stoicism, a decent life can be hacked out.

But I as a teenager was, for numerous and subtle reasons, incapable of reaping the rewards of bullshit. The incompetent farmer I was, I blamed the dirt. Faced with stifling disenchantment, I needed a better story. So with stark fields behind me, I set out in search of it.

Let these words be a helicopter ride, a cursory summary of my life’s trajectory between June, 2012 and today. This article will be 3,000 words at the very most and will cover more than four years of my life. Imagine having two words to describe a perfect day. Imagine having fewer than fifteen to convey a week of paradigm shifting importance; or one spent grasping a profound new facet of humanity. This article is doomed to fall short. It cannot adequately convey the transformation from broken college student into empowered world traveler. So I’m casting it out as a point of sale, a summary of how I live my life with an emphasis on the shiny veneer that might entice you, dear audience, to continue reading.

Without further ado, we take off at a graduation ceremony.

Baby Engineers, still slimy and bleary-eyed from the womb of academia, stand nervously about. And among them, me, filled with a mild repugnance that ceremony and pomp evoke. Moments like these feel as if the ever-continuous strand of a human life is being artificially crammed into a storybook dramatic arc. Moments like these feel like bullshit.

To me the underlying ‘just another day’ feeling shatters the illusion of a grand completion. It peaks over the background like the scaffolding on a cheap theatre set. My part in the ceremony was a balancing act between familial politics, a forced sense of prestige, and remaining upright and attentive through sweat-drenched, tired eyes.

So I stood in a ridiculous green gown, and smiled under a stupid hat, and shook a soft professorial hand, and let the cacophony of polite applause cascade over me. So marked the glorious end of my academic career.

The reason, dear reader, why we’ve circled this arid patch of landscape is because higher education amounted to two pivotal factors in my life; a shove and a toolbox.

Perspicacity filled the toolbox. Stumbling blindfolded into a science major was my younger self’s greatest stroke of fortune. Although I didn’t know it yet, it contained the tools of objective truth that I would use to tear down the walls of a defunct story, and construct a far better one.

To be clear, at the time I didn’t know I needed a better story. My aim was to find a satisfying role to play. But that’s the insidious nature of stories; they can be so expansive as to appear congruent with reality.

The shove set me on the divergent path I still walk today. University indirectly dissuaded me of the cultural story referred to within as simply ‘The Real World.’ Real? As in the one way it is? What a fucking joke. How I wish I could reassure my younger self that there are many, many options to living life fully.

My greatest fear, at the time of my graduation, which crushed me daily, was the imminent next chapter. I was daunted by the summons to strap on a tie, wrap myself in a suit, and cocoon myself under a fluorescent light, all for a diluted version of the college lifestyle which so failed to satisfy. According to the story, the best years of my life had just ended. But they sucked. What was I to be hopeful about?

I jumped tracks. In the weeks following graduation, I deviated from the storyline I’d been unwittingly following my entire life. On July 3rd, 2012, I watched the full moon floating above an arctic horizon through the porthole window of a Boeing 747. Eased into travelling by a savvy parent, I quickly set off alone to let the majesty of Norway’s fjords strip me of my malaise. A nascent independence sprouted under a Nordic sky that never darkened. Camping in total isolation on a granite cliffside energized me. The massive fjords that surrounded me were my playground, my sanctuary, and they extended in all directions. I drank in their scenic bliss. I felt free.

Then I flew to Madrid, Spain and spent a few weeks with my sisters. No matter how far I travel, how distant and deep a crevice of this planet I meander into, my friends and family remain ineffably dear. Every infrequent reunion with them brings on the rapture of sharing our unfolding lives with one another. What new experiences and insights have you? What new accomplishments and goals? What new person have you developed into? I have chosen a life that distances me from those I love, but I appreciate ever more dearly when we are together again.

Then, for three months I spent a European Summer with a medley of international dirtbags. My exposure to the diversity of European culture flowed through the community of highliners I found company in. It didn’t come through ruins and museums, sites and must-sees. Taking my impressions of a country through the company and hospitality of its citizens, not the famous sites, would come to define my travels. It would take me from slums in India to skyscrapers in Singapore, from hippie communes in Australia to mountain village shacks in Vietnam. I would rub shoulders with backpackers and locals all over the world, and from around the world.

Rich and poor; English and non-English speaking; sedentary and nomadic; gay and straight; confident and insecure; old and young; urban, suburban and rural; bigots and openminds; the funny and boring; the shallow and profound; and people of every ethnicity and education and religion.

The three months I spent in Europe in 2012 set the method of my travels.

On my float through Europe, possibly the first big wall of inhibition that crumbled did so as I exposed myself to the virtues of hitchhiking. A two-day, 1,200 km, international marathon with two Polish kids started me off. The first ride I ever hitched was with a driver who had no thumbs. I’ve never looked back. Since then I’ve hitchhiked on every continent visited.

Accommodation was mostly free. In between camping in Polish dormitories, German alps, Czech castles, Swiss parks, and with English circusers, I would crash at a German friend’s place in Munich. Meeting people outside the pretext of academia resuscitated my sociability. No more were conversations sodden with complaints about looming exams or mountains of homework. Thus a thirst for meeting people I’d never known was sparked. My long held personal beliefs about introversion began to dissolve.

Rough sleep on mountain tops, cheap feeds, and living simply out of a backpack began dispelling my illusions of need. Personal growth and new love revived a deep contentment I’d long forgotten. Along my way I left a wake of genuine friendships. And for the first time in a long time I was happy.

Then I flew to India and dove headfirst into Asia. My initial venture into that subcontinent was the single most jarring, illusion-smashing experience of my life. India became, and remains, my favorite country in the world. It’s like the whole country oscillates more closely to some hidden truth than any other place I’ve ever been. Compassion and empathy flow through the populace with a simple facility. I found an intangible piece of my own maturity in India. Beliefs, presumptions, and expectations of every kind disintegrated. After India, I never again brought expectations into a new country.

After two months in that wonderful country, a great mistake landed me in Australia, alone and undirected. There, by the grace of pure chance, I met up with a group of riparian gypsies and capped a yearlong world tour with a transcendent experience in early April 2013.

In the final week of my first world tour, the sweetest love I ever felt concluded the best year of my life. The epitome of bittersweet, that love was abruptly truncated on June 14th, 2013, when I returned to the United States. My year abroad had irrevocably changed me for the better. From there I set myself to saving money so that I could see more, do more, and continue the expansion of self that seems limited only by this mortal flesh.

Then again on March 15th, 2015, I flew South & West across the Pacific, heading for New Zealand, to pick up where I left off. Within 48 hours I was hiking around Auckland with two German lesbians who hooked me up with a Singapore contact I’d take advantage of six months later. That’s networking working.

Within two weeks I was living in the most beautiful hostel I’ve ever been, surfing world class waves daily, and living almost free of charge. Two hours of laundry a night paid for board and breakfast.

After a month, I returned to Australia, continued the beach bum lifestyle, and then hitchhiked up the East coast all the way to the Daintree Rainforest in far North Queensland. I flew to Indonesia and surfed thundering breaks on Bali. I broke my back there, but slowly recovered in time to tackle mainland Asia.

I entered Southeast Asia through Singapore, and spent the first days in that world-region lounging in a sauna, deciding my tactic and route, and tending a newly-recovered back. Fell in love with the dense, tropical jungle trails of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Love was cheap and delicious Indian Veg Thali. It was bio-luminescence while camping on Monkey Beach in Pinang, and otherwise staying in an old Thai royal estate, converted into a quaint hotel.

I cracked Thailand’s border from the South and stayed awhile on a beach, rubbing shoulders with youthful backpackers who used the word ‘paradise’ liberally. I met a lesbian with a wide smile and inky black hair. We climbed and slacklined, and shared a mutual thirst for all things travel. And I smoked a sad cigarette with a German PhD physicist. Erudition is a rare resource on the road that I value when it’s present.

From there I hitchhiked up the West coast to Chiang Mai, escaping the expat bubble for a couple weeks. I slept in the backrooms of restaurants, beside the mattresses of my drivers, and in a cheap hotel beside some natural hot-springs. I spent time with locals with whom speaking was severely limited. I learned to get along without language.

My knee swelled to the size of a mango when I let a mosquito bite go infected. But two days of antibiotics and a lot of betadine sorted me out. I’ve never taken a Malaria pill. I’ve never had a typhoid shot. This is the worst I’ve had of illness, and my travels are rugged. Fear not would-be travelers. A healthy body begets good health.

Then I made it to Chiang Mai. It quickly swept me up in its varied charm. I fell in love with that city. It is without doubt my favorite city in the world. In my time there, I witnessed the sky filled to bursting with glowing orange lanterns. And I played on a sandstone waterfall straight out of Eden.
I continued into Lao, and was caught in the decadent hedonism of backpacker activity. But I rocked it. I’m not for denying any experience no matter how revolting, shocking, debaucherous, uncomfortable, or superficial. So I thrived on the drinking and smoking and fucking. The drugs and the dancing. Elation that crashes into madness. Manic joy that sinks the stomach and burns the throat. Fun & brief & magical in its own right.

As the cycle goes, it was time to leave the backpacker bubble once again. I returned to Thailand and spent a month with a local woman who showed me Thailand like no backpacker could dream of experiencing it. We made a little love nest in a city no non-Thai has ever heard of.

Then I cured myself of love’s loss in the sweat-bowl of Siem Reap, and in the filthy capital of Phnom Penh. I played poker nocturnally in Phom Penh. Immaculate neon-lit casinos and brutal soviet architecture set my time there. Drunk Vietnamese men, offering wide profit margins, dominated my social agenda. I’d swim in the Olympic pool by twilight, play poker by night, and finish each day with a sunrise joint.

As my visa neared expiration, I leaped over into Vietnam, bought a junker motorbike I knew not how to drive. And then I drove it 2,000 km from Ho Chi Minh City all the way to Hanoi crafting with every arduous kilometer another sublime experience. Vietnam challenged India for top spot. More will be written.

When my time in that beautiful country was over, I flew back to Thailand and spent a third month there. In the right place at the right time, I was blessed the opportunity to experience Songkran, a three-day water festival and Thailand’s New Year celebration, from both the foreigner and local sides. Heed this, dear reader, as a recipe for bliss; a super soaker & bicycle with basket & costume & Chiang Mai & Songkran.

A few days later I took a rough exit of Asia. A wretched 40 crucible. After a bus ride, and three planes separated by horrific layovers, I set foot again in Australia. There, I purchased an old manual Volkswagen van I knew not how to drive. And then I drove it 1,650 km from Cairns to Brisbane to begin work on a blueberry farm.

That was six months of hard work ago. Now I’m stacked for a third round of pure travel and my Junior year at ‘On The Road’ University. My plans are to head South surfing every decent break I can find, befriending every wandering character I meet, and applying a carefully attuned mindset to summon an intangible quality of life that lies at the heart of my every drive. I’ll fill every day until my visa expires on April 22nd.

That’s me for the last four years. That’s what I’m about. One final mention is that these adventures weren’t paid for with silver spoons. I spent $13,000 the first year, and that includes a $6,000 mistake. I spent $6,000 for the second year, all inclusive.

The posts of this blog will further detail the outline of this article. The topics I write about are up to you, my audience. I can cover the brass tacks of travelling cheaply. I can advise on where to go for any specific purpose. I can be a typical guidebook, or I can write about augmenting personal outlook. I can elaborate on deep insights into human nature at the personal, communal, and societal levels. Just as easily I can relate a connectedness with fellow organisms and the Earth at large. Up to you.

Without input, I will use this blog as my Facebook, my digital profile. Where most use the medium of pictures to share their lives online, I write. And slowly, slowly I will upload this mind and the story it has crafted, the life that has made it. Maybe a few tips will get through to help you take control of your own story. Here’s hoping.

Thank you for reading.

-C

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