June 21, 2014 : Asheville, North Carolina : [ Day 25 ]
There are some things that can’t be shared. They just can’t. The most memorable things in life, even the most important things that motivate and define us, so often can’t be put into words or photographed. We are all made of experiences that no one else will ever know. So having people in our lives who we bond with, at some deep and unspoken level, is a most fortunate thing. Sometimes these people are family, and we are doubly lucky, because that bond is even stronger.
My cousins are like that for me. We all just seem to “get it.” I had a great time with my cousins in Ohio, and an equally amazing time with others in North Carolina. As the miles ticked by between the two, I thought about the fact that we’ve never before had a good chance to get to know each other on a personal level, because every other time we’ve been together, it’s been part of a large group – reunions and such. It was great to be able to spend some quality time with them, just hanging out and living easy. It’s crazy how fast life moves when you’re away from it.
In Raleigh, I was finally able to get to a shop and pick up some chain lube. It took a couple of hours with cleaner and a wire brush to get the previous two week’s worth of rust off of my chain – getting rained on every night during that period made a mess of it pretty quickly. I also picked up an oil filter, so I’ll be prepared for the oil change that must happen before I head west. The only problem with a bike like my Triumph is that dealers can be few and far between, so traveling by backroads requires a bit of foresight.
After a few days, with a clean bike and a clear head, I took the long way back to the mountains. Even with the 100-degree heat and the 5-o’clock storms, it couldn’t have been a better day, short of having someone along to share it with. I thought about that a lot as the day grew long. Recently, a friend asked asked if it was lonely, traveling by myself. I told her yes, it is, but my life is lonely. It’s not like anything is different now except the scenery, and the fact that I feel FREE for the first time EVER. And that feeling is worth everything.
Asheville has been a strange stop for me, but in a good way. I guess I forgot to mention that on top of everything else that was burning me out prior to the start of this journey, I’ve been a grad student as well. It is a distance-based program (read: online) but don’t let that fool you. It’s been a lot of work, and I’ve been working with some of the world’s best on my thesis project. Thinking back over the last two crazy years, I did a lot of my class reading by headlamp in an underground mine in Montana, did a lot of my research from an oil rig in North Dakota, and yesterday I defended my thesis from a Motel 6 in Asheville, North Carolina.
And you know what, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Guys like me can’t be traditional students, it doesn’t work. Quit my good-paying job to live on the poverty line, stranded in a college town? Nope. Never again. But I feel that going back to school was important, so that I can change directions in a meaningful way. We’ll see how that all pans out.
So I haven’t had much of a chance to see the Asheville area yet, but I did go out on the town last night to celebrate the end of academic hell. It’s always weird going out drinking in a new city by myself, but by the end of the night I usually make a few new friends and things just tend to work out.
I started at the Seven Sows, sampling bourbon. But the prices drove me out, and I wound up here, at the One World brewery. The entrance is back in an alley and down a bunch of stairs – and it’s awesome. I played a game of Dutch shuffleboard with a guy from Charolette and his wife and then headed back out into the sunshine.
Last night, there was some sort of percussion festival downtown – basically a big drum circle. It was great people watching. Asheville seems like a pretty laid-back hippy town, nestled in the mountains. There were musicians on every street corner, which was refreshing. I love street music.
But street music isn’t the same as a good live show. On a whim, I bought a ticket to see Jake Bugg at the Orange Peel. My friend back home says he’s like a British Bob Dylan. I’m not sure I agree with that, but the show was worth seeing, and the Orange Peel is a neat venue with a lot of history.
A bit later, I ended up next door at the Wicked Weed brewpub. I met a local geophysicist named Jeremy who told me about some old gold mines nearby. Super nice guy. We made a plan to go out and pan a little today – I brought my gold pan with me on the bike, like a good little geologist. But by that point the bourbon was catching up to me, and I somehow failed to save his number into my phone before my cab showed up and took me back to the motel. I hope he doesn’t think I did it on purpose.
And so with a wild night and a hangover, a major milestone was reached in Asheville. My masters is done save for some minor, last-minute thesis edits, and I am hoping all of that work will pay off soon, as I take my career (and my life) in this strange new direction.
For the first time ever, I feel something so close to happiness that I’m almost inclined to believe it. A song lyric from Reckless Kelly has been winding up in my thoughts these last few days:
“I’m gonna find my freedom, and brother you should too
‘Cuz if you don’t do it now, you’ll be one year older when you do…”