Winter in Sweden

Friday Column: Ut på tågresa - A train journey to Sölvesborg and back

Clint said this would happen on the boatride back from Åland. I was espousing how much I was looking forward to being back home in Dunderbo for several weeks. Making fires and drinking coffee and not living out of a suitcase or having to move anywhere. He said it. “Mate, in two weeks you’ll be itching to go somewhere new.”

Sled Dogging Videos

This is way more fun than should be's like asking Mom as a little kid to go out with a pair of skis and the dog and have him to you around the yard - she'd definitely say no. But now it's four dogs, bred specifically to do just that, with a sled specifically made to go as fast as possible, barreling through the forest. This day we had four dogs, for practice...the next we had six.

grandpa's sthlm

I have not paid for a café latte in ages, and yet here I am. I was told this is the hippest place in Stockholm, and I think I’ve made it decidedly less-so coming in here with my puffy coat on. I look a fool.

I passed a girl on the sidewalk just outside who was wearing a black long-sleeve shirt. It was loose fitting with a wide collar, and I could see a grey v-neck undershirt sitting close to her shoulders. She had black hair and white skin, was entirely too thin and had the worn-down, washed-out look of someone sauntering home after a night spent too late at the bar. Except it was 4:30 in the afternoon on a Friday. It was too cold to be outside without a jacket. I tried to get a good view of her without actually looking. She intimidated me. She was smoking a cigarette.

The two girls behind me right now talking Swedish also intimidate me. One is moving furniture around in the little upstairs alcove where I’m sitting (on an old leather sofa). The other is on the steps, and I cannot see her. This place intimidates me. I don’t belong here, the bastion of hipster fashion in the middle of the city (and literally downstairs from our new apartment in this posh part of town). It’s called “grandpa’s” with a lowercase “g.” They sell new clothing and accessories that are supposed to look vintage (as well as a USB-enabled turntable, to play your vinyl through the computer…?). Hence the name. I thought it was clever.

I ordered my latte extra hot, and felt better about myself after getting a good look at the customer in line in front of me…he had on an even more hideous puffy coat with floppy jeans and old running shoes. I was definitely above him on the hipster hierarchy. But the latte wasn’t extra hot, and never is here in Sweden for some reason. What with the freaking cold weather you’d think they’d like their coffee hot, but apparently not as hot as me.

Today is my day off, my sick day. I was up half the night coughing up pieces of my lung, and was convinced as I fell asleep that I had pneumonia and would wind up in the hospital today. I don’t often get sick, real sick, so I’m not sure how it’s supposed to feel. I think I have a fever and I think my cough is bronchitis because it feels like it’s emanating from my freaking soul, and my snot is green and crusty in the morning so I am probably fine. But what if it is pneumonia? Or meningitis or something? How the heck would I know? What do normal folk feel like when they’re sick? Is it really this lame? Am I just a big sissy for laying on the couch all day? Or should I go to the hospital? I won’t go to the hospital. I am probably fine.

Something Borrowed

(I stole this idea from Dave Eggers.)

Let’s try and write a story. Fiction. Or maybe some non-fiction elements thrown in, but let’s not let the reader know what is what. So it will sound like fiction then.

800 words…no, make it 1,000. It’s easier to write more and cut it down later anyway. About a guy and his dog. But we’ve got to come up with a cool name for the dog, something tough. He’s a skinny dog, but he’s a survivor. He’s fiercely independent of his owner, but loyal to a fault (like all good fictional dogs). He’ll often wander off on adventures, sometimes for weeks – no, that’s too unbelievable – let’s make it days. But he always returns. Sometimes with a new scar or a tuft of fur gone missing, but intact nonetheless. We’ll call him Andor. Andor, ‘the shark hunter.’ No, the ‘bear hunter.’ He’s an Akita. A badass.

But where should they live….obviously near the forest, what with a name like that…’the bear hunter.’ Okay, so they live on an island. But not a tropical one, that’s too cliché (and there’s no bears there). An island in the high latitudes maybe. Somewhere like the Falklands. They’re almost fictional sounding and nobody knows for sure where they’re at, so that should do just fine. But I don’t think there are any bears there. How about Spitsbergen. Yes, perfect. Another fictional sounding name nobody can locate on a map. And Andor can hunt polar bears. Yeah. Andor looks more like a sled-dog, like a husky. But a svelte, tough sled dog, not the pampered, groomed overweight types you see on those dog shows on TV. His coat isn’t quite as shiny, the white bits not so white. Andor definitely doesn’t prance around on his toes.

Andor’s owner is a quiet man, the type that doesn’t speak unless spoken to. But when he does speak, his words are smart. People enjoy listening to him, and he can be genuinely engaging if the subject is one he feels strongly about. He has blond hair. No, that’s too clichéd too. Dark hair, but not quite black. With flecks of gray around the ears, making him look older than he really is. And a perpetual three-day-old beard (it seems that way anyway, because he only shaves every third day or so, and his face is much less memorable without any whiskers). He’s weathered from working outdoors his whole life. On ships. No, that’s too obvious. As a postman. He loves riding the mail around on his bicycle during the warm months, and cherishes the brisk saunters in the wintertime. The locals invite him in for coffee when it’s particularly cold outside (his record in one day was 27 cups). He’s never in a hurry on his mail runs, so he enjoys these visits. The town is small enough that he can easily manage his route in half a day when he has too, but he’d much prefer to make it a full eight-hour work day and really enjoy it. His bosses trust him so much that he works his own hours and makes his own schedule – the mail is always on time, the townspeople forever happy for it. He never runs to catch a train.

Sometimes Andor joins his owner on his daily route. He’s never asked, of course, for his owner knows it must be on Andor’s terms. He might be off on a three-day adventure and suddenly turn up at, say, the local fire department, and continue along the mail route as if he’d been there from the start. The locals like his presence, and only a few of them are fearful of inviting him into their houses, particularly that one prickly middle-aged woman at the end of the street who doesn’t seem to like any sort of wildlife (so why is she living on Spitsbergen?). They skip her house on the mail route on days when Andor tags along. Serves her right, she can wait until the next day to get her mail if she wants to act like that.

His owner isn’t so sure how Andor got his nickname as ‘the bear hunter,’ but he likes it that way. It adds a sort of mysticism to his dog, and in turn to him, the respectful mailman with a mysterious bear-hunting husky dog. At home they sit in front of the fireplace and Andor’s owner drinks red wine at night while thinking about how satisfying is his job as the local postman where he can be friends and drink coffee with the entire town and yet leave their hospitality on his terms and with no hard feelings, because, after all, it’s his job to deliver the mail and everybody loves him for it.

An Interview with a German Named Jens

(Originally written February 17, 2011).

I expected him to be Swedish (what with a name like Jens) and by 10:05 I expected him not to show at all. He did, and he wasn't Swedish. Which was a good thing, because I was getting cold standing outside.

We sat in the library in a "talkative" area inside the main entrance where Jens informed me he'd met friends before while someone was giving a presentation to a group who had nothing to do with them. No such presentation took place today. Instead, I removed my hat to expose a blonde head of hair flush with static electricity. Jens also had blond hair, significantly less kempt than mine. And he was goofy looking, but that didn't affect his eye contact.

We talked about Stockholm Jogging Tours, he and his also-not-Swedish but Spanish friend Jose. Jose and Jens, building a business in Sweden. They would also run Stockholm Cycling Tours, but neither of them were runners or cyclists. Instead they are students here in the city, and I didn't recall what they are studying, but it's not running or cycling or business.

I informed Jens that I wanted to work on a freelance basis, and could help them with web content and development as well as the actual cycling and running, since I enjoy both apparently more than they do. They have a network of others like me (oddly and merely coincidentally also German), so they hope to get the business going in earnest once the snow melts, which Jens mistakenly thought was happening a week ago before the city received another foot of the stuff.

Then I went up to the top of the library. It's square from the outside, but laid out in a circular fashion inside, like the points of the compass. N, E and W have wings filled with books and tables with lights on them for viewing these books, and some tables with plugs for laptops and other lights more suited to an office-style desk. I spend a lot of time at this makeshift office, surrounded by the smell of books and other Swedes, if they are sitting across from me. The S side is a staircase.

It's frustrating in public places here because the public restrooms are spotless and delightful. And this means one must pay for them. There is a slot for a ten kronor coin, and a slot for a five kronor coin and I can't figure out why someone would put a ten kronor coin in the slot when five kronor opens the door just as well. It's written right on there in Swedish, but I hasn't yet deciphered it.

I did some web work, checked my email about one hundred and fourteen times and tried to start writing about Panama, which is much harder than I anticipated (part of the reason I’m not writing about Panama right now, but instead listening to The Streets on the couch while it gets gradually darker outside). The subway was crowded on the way home but I sat down anyway and read my book until I got off at T-Centralen to buy my train ticket to Uppsala for tomorrow. I leaves at 9:30 tomorrow morning, but that's not until tomorrow.

Earlier I chatted with Nate this morning on Gmail who gave me his dad's phone number, who I then promptly called to talk about marriage. With Mia. Nate's dad, Pastor Jim, will marry us in the USA this summer one hour before all the guests arrive for the big party, and probably right around the same time that my mom starts freaking out. I have not told her this yet. Mia and Daniela are sitting in the kitchen writing about tourism and I am going to go take a shower.

Today there will be no distractions

Written 18 February 2011
Today, there will be no distractions

10:27 AM: Café Linne

The café has no internet, but I’m glad I chose it over the one on the corner down by the river. This place is cozy in a way that only familiar things are. I walked into the place on the corner down by the river, and it too was cozy, but not in a soul-inviting way. They probably did have internet because they had a small sign on the counter encouraging students to stay and study while eating their sandwiches. My chair is very comfortable, the kind you’d find in a grandmother’s apartment that’s been moved around her various living spaces for years. It’s not overly large like a new watch, and it does not recline, but seems to have been designed for a generation that did not desire large things, like wrist watches, but instead things that were the right size and made you sit up straight, but in a comfortable way. It’s not the kind of chair you’d have trouble getting out of, but one that instead encourages you to remain seated because it was made for that.

I do no remember the last time I was here, but it’s been at least a year and a half, probably over two years at this point and perhaps not since Mia and I last lived here. I will stay her for the morning, having purchased by bottomless cup of coffee which was ten kronor cheaper than a latter, and bottomless. I will get very high on coffee today, but because I plan (desire) to do so, I will not notice my fingers getting jittery, and if I do, I will not mind. I will sleep wonderfully tonight.

This chair is too low for the table. I feel like a six year old trying to sit in the dining room with the adults and feel normal, but am obviously out of place because I can’t rest my elbows on the table in a natural way, and this is probably apparent to the adults I try to mingle with. The computer is slightly above me, almost out of reach, and I have to prop it up on a book so that the keyboard is tilted in such a way as to allow me to see the keyboard. I will not wear my headphones today. I want to go get another cup of coffee, but I will have to push the table away from me to get out of this chair, and not because the chair is the type that is difficult to get out of, but because the table is slightly too high for this type of chair, requiring me to pull it closer so I can sit here and type. Charming, but right now, frustrating. 

I am already high on this coffee. I will drink a lot of it today because it is not hot enough.

10:50 AM:

Two long-haired weiner dogs just walked by the window I am sitting at. It reminds me of the card I got Kate for her birthday, in anticipation. On the front there is a picture of two weiner dogs playing Wii, - it says “Wii-ner Dogs!” I find it hilarious.

11:12 AM:

Coffee cup number three. They are small.

11:16 AM:

I am laughing, out loud in this café, at a photo of Nate sitting before his dessert at the German place in Pompano. His expression is pure Nate.

12:07 PM:

Time to eat lunch. With my coffee spoon, which is very little. Small bites…small bites.

12:33 PM:

Interrupted…by the proprietor of the café, or more likely, one of his employees. He told me, in Swedish, that I couldn’t eat my packed lunch in that café, presumably because they had their own food for sale and I was somehow robbing him of a potential meal sold, despite the fact that I wouldn’t have bought anything had I not even had food. I accepted this, and left. Now I’m in the library and cannot get on the Internet. I stole one of the café’s coffee spoons and finished my lunch with it.

1:26 PM:

I could survive here, in the wintertime, with a bicycle. It would be better than riding the subway in Stockholm. Stockholm is too big, but it’s perfect here in Uppsala. This is my kind of town. Vibrant, buzzing, but small enough to feel like home.

Another café now, and another coffee (a latte this time). Though I was very tempted to get a beer, and might do so before the afternoon is out. I have a seat by the window, on a stool, my computer resting on a bar of sorts, and I’m watching the people go buy on foot and on bikes and with strollers. There are more walkers than cars, another reason why I like this town, and I can see the river flowing underneath a bridge nearby, it’s edges frozen and covered in snow with ducks sleeping on the ice. 

4:04 PM:

Still at Café Magnusson. The upstairs Stork place didn’t have internet, though it was mighty cozy and offered a delightful view of the square through the upstairs windows. I was tempted to get a beer at Café Magnusson, but got a café latte instead. I’ve peed about sixteen times today. The food smells awesome.

4:25 PM:

Lemon Jelly. Oh yeah.


Written 25 FEBRUARY 2011
Wow, 2011. It’s weird typing that.

I do not know the name of the café I am sitting at, but I’m at a table by the window which is supposed to seat four, and have a bright view of the gloomy world outside. I’m in Enkoping.

I say gloomy, but it’s really just wintry, with sullen grey sky and snow-covered streets speckled with tiny bits of gravel that often get stuck to the bottom of your shoes and make horrible clicking sounds when walking through subway stations. I managed to speak only Swedish with the proprietor of the café, but then embarrassingly didn’t realize the unique teapot she handed me when I moved to get a cup off the shelf near the milk and honey. 

I arrived in Enkoping on a bus that was ‘ej i trafik,’ meaning not in service. Mia’s friend Bjorn was at the helm though, so I had a private chauffeur all the way from Balsta. He was remarkably friendly despite his armful of tattoos (or maybe because of them?) and we conversed about skiing, snowboarding and weddings. His band (with seven members and two female singers) will play at the party in June. Bjorn has just returned from a snowboarding trip to Norway on Monday, and will set off again next week in hopes of becoming a ski instructor there. Bjorn has never skied before. 

Yesterday we ran towards our new apartment on Kungsholmen, much closer to town and in a much livelier neighborhood. It will be within walking distance of the Boomerang Hotel, the one and only Australian bar in all of Stockholm, and Kristian’s choice of watering holes, which I discovered two nights ago. We were not running specifically to check out the apartment building, but it was a convenient detour en route to the Alpint ski shop where my brand new cross-country skis were being re-glued back together after the base began delaminating from the ski. I discovered this to my chagrin on Sunday after 25km of skiing (and was going to quit before realizing the bus would not be leaving for another hour – so I set off again, my right ski dragging behind like a snow plow where the base had come off). And I skied two days later as well, for several miles on the frozen water of Stockholm’s archipelago, a route that Mia had discovered, and quite likely the most beautiful sporting I have ever done. On the ice!

The day before our running excursion in town (which also saw us take the watery route to the south of Sodermalm – we ran beyond the marina docks and mooring balls where several sailboats remained frozen in for the winter, jogging oddly close to a green channel marker right in the center of the normally wide waterway), I met Kristian at the aforementioned Boomerang Hotel, and oddly enough, enjoyed a couple Weihenstefaner weissbiers with him and his girlfriend Malin. Kristian (a Swede) is an old acquaintance whom I met on my 21st birthday in Wellington, New Zealand – almost two years to the day of when I’d meet Mia and Johanna, the other two Swedes who had an obviously bigger influence on my life. When Lindsey, Mara and I continued onto Australia, Kristian followed a few months later, crashing at our apartment along the Brisbane River for a week on his way south (or north?) along the east coast of Oz. Which, I suppose, is why he likes the Boomerang Hotel (though they did not have Cooper’s on offer that particular evening). 

We ran across a large bridge in the city, the same one we traversed twice during that dreadful Stockholm Marathon of a few years past. Mia informed me that ‘if I want to kill myself, this is the bridge to jump from.’ Okay. At it’s apex, hundred of locks were shackled to the guardrail, and this is also apparently the spot to ‘lock your love,’ – many of the locks were inscribed with couples’ initials and a small heart in the center. Okay. But most remarkable was not the bridge, but the waterway below. From atop our lofty perch (for the highest building in Stockholm is the TV tower – the bridge provided a nice view), you could make out the routes of the ferries and working boats still active despite the season. The whole of the archipelago was frozen in save for narrow channels cutting throughout the city – broken chunks of ice littered the channels, which were lined on either side by snow-covered plains of very frozen water. Oddly enough, this scene seems okay, what one might expect of February north of 60º north. And yet upon further reflection at the top of that bridge, I found this stark winter scene incredibly beautiful and utterly amazing. I do not want to take for granted my winter experience here in Scandinavia, but it’s easy to do so, the ease of transportation throughout the city frankly astounding given the conditions. 

The thermometer has not risen beyond 0º in the three weeks (as of today, actually) that I have been here, and we’ve received about 30cm of snow in the same time frame. They do not plow the streets in the city, save for the major thoroughfares, and this is flatly accepted. Bits of dirt and gravel are spread on the sidewalk, but essentially the snow removal is dealt with by cars and walkers tramping down the newly laid snow into something one can (carefully) walk and drive upon. Vehicles here are required to have winter tires installed past November, which have small metal nubs in them providing traction on the snowpack. Most runners wear a similar style shoe in the winter, and the few brave cyclists on the streets do the same with their tires. The snow just doesn’t melt here, and people (I guess) learn to live with it. I, for one, have learned to enjoy it (but get odd looks when I pass people wearing my barefoot shoes when out running in -8º temperatures).

I have little more than a month remaining here, and lots of wedding to plan. I just remembered that I must go to the Park Astoria hotel here in Enkoping today (part of the reason I came) to book some rooms and do some recon for Mommom, Pappap, Scott and Laura. We’ve covered Bjorn playing in the wedding, so I can check the music off of my list. Check. 

Wintertime in Sweden!


Today is Friday, Day One of my fourth trip to Sweden. I am
surprisingly unashamed to admit that this, what I'm writing here, is a
journal, and only a journal. For once I'm not trying to serve a higher
purpose, do something meaningful. I'm just sitting down to write about
my experiences.

Okay, I lied when I said this won't serve any purpose. Today marks the
first day of the official run up to two of the most important events
of my life – my upcoming wedding to the most beautiful girl in the
world; and our subsequent trans-Atlantic passage in Arcturus. I say
it's the first day because it's the first time that Mia and I have
been together in a 'home' situation in over four months – prior to
this was a measly two weeks in St. Lucia surrounded by people in a
working environment where we never even got to say a proper goodbye to
each other. So it's different now.

And it's different because I am focused. I'm no longer a fish out of
water in Sweden – I have a lot of writing work to get through in the
next few months and a wedding to plan. I am comfortable enough with
the language to make a fool out of myself and not care. I have an
enormous athletic challenge in less than four weeks – 90km of
cross-country skiing – and I've yet to even learn the sport.

I was motivated to start writing this in a real-time, journal format
after reading the first few sections of Black Swan. The author makes
an intriguing point that history is always explainable with the
benefit of hindsight, but that seeing things in real-time gives one a
more intimate perspective when viewing events through the rear-view
mirror. So despite what I recall of this time, between now and June 18
(and the remainder of the summer), I will hopefully have this record
to confirm or deny what really went on.


SAS flight 904 landed this morning ahead of schedule. We had a
magnificent tailwind, according to the pilot. I wouldn't have known
anyway – by a wonderful stroke of luck, I managed to doze for most of
the flight, sprawled out across the four middle seats, all of which
were empty. This was indeed a fortuitous turn of events, as I began
the flight against the window, sharing the neighboring seat with a
rather wide man. Once the plane was fully boarded, the flight
attendants roamed the cabin recommending that anyone sitting too close
to their neighbor could move seats if they preferred, as the economy
class was curiously empty.

I was slightly surprised to see the sun this morning at 7 in the am as
we de-planed. I was anticipating the winter darkness until I recalled
that the darkest nights were over a month ago, and every day is
getting brighter and brighter. It didn't last long though – by the
time I got to Mia's apartment (via the Arlanda Express train and the
tunnelbana), the sky was overcast and it was heavily flurrying.

Arlanda Airport is incredible. For some reason the passport control
guy knew I lived here:

- 'Talar du Svenska?'

- 'Ja, lite.'

- 'Du bor har, eller hur?'

- 'Ja vist!'

I was through in less than a minute. Five minutes later my big Helly
Hansen bag emerged on the carousel, and I snagged my skis from the
special baggage department on the way out – they had already arrived.
I don't remember the Swedish astronaut on the wall exiting the
terminal. Is he new?

Oddly, the excitement of seeing Mia kind of wore off once I left the
airport. Being back in Stockholm and riding the train brought with it
a  strong feeling of familiarity – it was like I'd never left in the
first place and riding the train was the most normal thing in the
world. I lucked into meeting Mia as she was leaving the apartment for
school. She was off in an instant and I was left alone again, to

When she returned we made a thermos of coffee and walked down to
Arstaviken and sat on a dock overlooking the frozen waterway. The
middle of the channel had obviously been used by the local ferries and
shipping traffic – it'd been broken and refrozen dozens of times over,
leaving a wide swath of jagged ice interrupted by occasional pools of
melted water rippling in the slight breeze. The ice near our dock was
firm enough to stand on (though I only tried for an instant), and was
covered by a thin layer of fresh snow from the flurries this morning.
The occasional jogger ambled by on the trail behind us, and the train
whoosed above our heads on the bridge to Sodermalm, but otherwise we
had the place to ourselves overlooking the water and the city.
Stockholm, Sweden's biggest city, still has places to escape to, and
this is what we love about it.

Mia was off again at 4 to head to Globen for work, so I grabbed my
skis and was off to Sodermalm to the Intersport to have the bindings
mounted. I expected to have to drop them off for a pickup sometime
tomorrow. Instead the guy downstairs apologized for not being able to
do them on the spot – his colleague was using the mounting machine –
and told me I could pick them up in an hour. Okay.

Sodermalm was crowded, but it's Friday, so it's was to be expected. My
timeframe is all out of whack given the six hour difference. It was
getting dark as I emerged from the tunnelbana station at Skanstull. By
the time I'd dropped my skis off and startes strolling up the hill
past Medborgplatzen towards one of my coffee shops I'd assumed it was
nigh on eight or nine o'clock. Alas, it was only just after five. The
darkness I had anticipated.

Tully's at the top of the hill was jammed, so I went across the street
to Wayne's Coffee, Stockholm's version of Starbucks which I'd normally
pass by. There was one table open next to a pair of beautiful girls,
so I sat down, but the internet wasn't working. I didn't stay long.

Instead, I hurried back to Intersport where the skis were waiting for
me (150 SEK later), and made my way home to Globen on the tunnelbana.
Dinner consisted of two baked potatoes with cheese and olive oil while
I watched biathlon on Swedish TV. I was bored afterwards, so I went
for a nighttime run down along the water on Sodermalm in my barefoot
shoes and had a glorious time.

And the World Holds it's Breath...

My girlfriend Mia is sleeping at a friend's house tonight in Stockholm. They are waking up at 4:30am to watch the news to get the results from the election for the next President of the United States of America. 4:30am, 4 hours before Sweden will greet the new dawn as the fall becomes darker with each day. This is not because she is dating an American guy...this is because, whether we like it or not, the World is watching.

Swedish for Beginners

That's the name of a band that a friend of mine I met this summer told me about. His name is Anders, and he is friends with said band. We at Broadreach nicknamed him the 'Dirty Swede,' for his affinity for watching Shanon shower with a bucket when she had a stitches in her knee. I digress. 
I'm back in Sweden now, right about where I started last year when I thought I'd be living here indefinitely. Well, that didn't happen. So much has happened in my life since I was last here, yet things are about the same on the other side of the world. I'm enjoying it more, that's for sure. 
Last night Mia and I, and her old swimming friends Ida and Anna went to Globen Arena (incidentally, we live right next door), and saw Coldplay. I'm a casual Coldplay fan at best, and generally don't even listen to them unless someone else puts them on. Sometimes I think it's a bit gay to be a Coldplay fan, no? Last night was not gay. 
Ida and Anna came over around 6pm, and since we only had a two minute walk to the Globen (which, resembles and enormous white golf ball), we had some dinner first. I prepared the finest curry I've ever eaten, and redeemed myself for my lackluster effort at Mia's friend's house the week before with Ryan. They girls supplied some wine. The three of them chatted in incomprehensible Swedish while I lounged on the couch looking at photos from New Zealand and wishing I could go back there, like now. 
The one and half glasses of red wine I drank merely put me in somber, sleepy mood, and I spent the first half hour of the opening act (who happened to be the drummer from the Strokes - pretty sweet), yawning my brains out. As usual, there was about a 45 minutes delay between sets, and Coldplay finally came out around 9:30. Someone, Ryan maybe, or maybe Nate told me that they put on a good show - it didn't disappoint. 
Chris Martin must be one speed or something, because he didn't sit still for the entire concert and was full of boundless energy. Even playing his piano he was jerking and gyrating around. The band truly looked like they were having an immense amount of fun. The songs were played with enormous energy, second only to Dave Matthews and his namesake Band in my opinion. In hindsight, it was probably the best 'stadium' concert I've ever been to. Well, maybe a close second to U2, my first concert in Philly with Nate and Dane. But anyway, it was surprisingly awesome. 
And the audience was insane! They sang along to every song with remarkable clarity. During the brief intermission before the first encore, they were chanting and stomping and the whole place felt like it would cave in. Quite impressive.
At one point, the whole band ran off the stage and sprinted across the floor towards the back of the arena and proceeded to climb up the stairs to the lower level of seats, just under where we were seated. According to Martin, "We can't fly all the way to Sweden and not come visit the back!" They played two songs from right in the audience, and both included a harmonica. 

Finding my Way

It's a rare moment when you can confidently say that you've found your place in the universe. It was about 11pm, the moon had not yet risen, the sky was alight with billions of stars, the wind was on the starboard quarter, we were making nine knots, and I was at the helm, alone, mesmerized by the phosphorescence making fireworks in our wake. I'd found nirvana. 
It was a tiring afternoon. Immediately after sending off our last bunch of kids, we left the dock, yet again, bound this time for Dominica, and this time without kids on board. I had lucked into delivering a Lagoon 440 from St Martin to Dominica, with my dive instructor Shanon. The quicker we got there the more free time I'd have to explore the island before picking up my next group of little angels. We set sail just outside the exceedingly narrow channel in Anse Marcel (so narrow, in fact, that in a cat you have to straddle one of the greens when you exit the breakwater). Anguilla channel is notoriously windy, always on the nose, and creates a strong, foul current. Beating out of it, especially in a cat, is challenging.

But we were not in a hurry. No, with over 200 miles to sail, we simply enjoyed ourselves, enjoyed the peace and quiet of no kids on the boat, enjoyed the beautiful weather. As the sun set behind us in the west behind a panorama of billowing clouds, we tacked one final time to clear St Barth's. I took the helm for the first watch while Shanon escaped below for some much-needed rest. 

I taught Shanon about nautical twilight, that magical time of day when the first few stars come out, as the sky turns the deepest blue as the last bit of sunlight fades beyond the horizon. Before GPS this was the navigator's hour, the time when the horizon is still visible in the waning sunlight and the brightest stars peek through the atmosphere, allowing him to get an accurate fix. To most modern sailors, this time no longer matters, for we simply jump below and take a fix off of that deadly accurate machine called a GPS. It's ironic that for centuries we used the heavens to find our way - now, technology has pierced the night sky and we receive our positions yet again from the heavens, the man-made stars called satellites that float around in space. 

Time does not exist at sea at night. The minutes that passed could have lasted for weeks, the hours, centuries. Yet they passed in the blink of an eye. As the boat sailed herself on a fast broad reach, there wasn't much to do to pass the time. Trim the sails a bit here or there, take a quick reef as the eastern sky seems to be darkening, plot our position, make some coffee. Enjoy the night, enjoy the silence. Live.

As my watch entered it's final hour, I fought hard to stay awake. Sailing at night is so rythmic, so enchanting that it invites peace, invites sleep. You must fight it off. I found myself in the galley nearly every 10 minutes making a cup of tea, loaded with honey. I trimmed the sails when they didn't need trimming. I sang to myself. Anything to stay awake. I found enjoyment in this challenge. 

I woke Shanon 10 minutes before her watch began so she could adjust to the darkness, rub the sleep out of her eyes. Shanon was not a sailor before this summer. She is now. By 2am, after my first watch, sleep came easy. It came easy because I trusted Shanon to sail the boat well, but more importantly, to wake me up if anything went askew. Though by then, I'd become so attuned to the boat that had anything really been askew, I would have undoubtedly woken up on my own. Sleeping under sail is incredible. So close to the hull, you can feel the water rushing by, hear every groan and creak of the boat as she pounds her way south. You can really feel the boat laying there in your bunk. It's a wonderful way to get to know a boat better...simply listen, simply feel.

My three-hour respite from the duties on deck felt like an eternity, and upon waking I had no idea where I was. Strangely, I felt more rested than I do at home in nice warm bed after 8 hours of cozy slumber. I awoke with renewed vigor. We were still sailing, 12 hours after having departed St Martin. I'd never woke before while still under sail. I checked the chart and was astounded by our progress. Every hour a new little dot appeared on the chart, nearly 9 miles distant from the previous one. Montserrat was only 5 miles off our starboard bow.

It was 2am at the start of my second watch, and the moon had risen, now nearly full. We sailed into it's reflection upon the ocean, and it illuminated the clouds in a way I'd never seen before. The clouds towered over the boat, and seemed enormously high in the soft light of the moon. I put another reef in, two now, as light squalls marched in from the west, eerily ominous as they glowed in the moonlight. The stars disappeared behind the veil of the moon.

Another three hours passed, another millenia gone in the blink of an eye. I found myself perched at the helm, looking aft at our wake. The sense of speed while watching astern was astounding, the power of the boat evident with each passing bit of foam. We were flying, now on a beam reach, right on the rhumb line. 

I'm Back Baby!

That was short-lived. But it was successful. I received a handful of postcards and a hilarious letter from Blake comparing me to the una-bomber. I concluded however, that as with most things, a balance is necessary, and in this case, email and the ability to post my thoughts in the ether of the interweb are benefits that outweigh the cost of technology eating my brain. I still think the internet is an enormous distraction beyond that though, and since moving back on the boat, I've successfully avoided it for all things non-communications related.
So, bottom line, I can still be reached by email until June 3, and I still prefer the real mail. Keep in touch. Peace.

Signing Off

This will be the last entry in my short-lived blog, for a long time, I hope. The few of you who actually read this may already know why, but I'll explain anyway.
I just configured my email to send an automatic reply to all future emails that I receive. The details of the email are unimportant, but the basic idea is this...I'm going to experiment with removing myself from the interweb for a while, and see what happens. I will still be reachable, of course, and would love to receive a real letter in the mail from my friends. All mail will be returned by myself, and from now on, when I'm out in the world, I'll keep in touch with postcards and handwritten notes sent to my friends. 
I could wax philosophically about how technology has corrupted society and how everyone exists in a tiny tiny world within themselves, removed from real life. But that's not what this is about. This about me, and me only. I want to see what it's like, to see if it's possible to go back in time a little bit. 
I want to experience real things. I just gave my digital camera to Mia in favor of a cheap film camera I bought. I've never owned a film camera, but will always remember that the most exciting and entertaining picture viewing occurred when my Mom would bring home developed photos and we'd all gather round for a look. Everyone can admit that it's much more fun to receive a hand-written postcard in the mail from a friend than it is to receive an email you'll probably forget about in 10 minutes anyway. There is something to grabbing a magazine with real pages and plopping on the couch to flip through the articles and read something tangible. 
There was an interesting article written by someone about how technology has increased our choices in life, including everything from a pair of shoes to the color of a car. The thesis was that people are more and more depressed because of the amount of choice we have, and having to choose adds stress to everyone's life. This is a little off the subject, but interestig nonetheless. Imagine if you only had to pick from two different brands of laundry detergent. It'd be pretty simple right?
Anyway, I have larger motives for this decision as well, most importantly the practicality. I'll be heading to the Caribbean this summer for three months and will be out of touch from the interweb anyway, so I figured I might as well start now, and get some practice. There is also some satisfaction to be had in actually looking up a phone number and speaking to someone rather than sending a voiceless, lifeless email, whatever the circumstances. And I've found that I enjoy writing much more when I sit down with a pencil and a notebook and just write. Granted no one else can see it, but just send me a postcard and I'll gladly send you a hardcopy of my journals if you're that interested. Or you can read my book when it's published.
I know I'm going to sound stupid for doing this, and will probably be ridiculed that it won't work anyway, and why should I want to do this in the first place. I don't know, maybe I'm bored. But it should be an interesting experience, and I hope I actually do get something real in the mail. Maybe it will add perspective to things, maybe it will force me to go outside more often, I don't know. The point is, I don't get anything particularly important in my email anyway, and all the internet has done for me lately is distract me from things I could be doing in real life. This idea is probably the product of reading too many sea stories from Moitessier, but his simplified ideas really hit a nerve with me. Just take a long hard think about this idea before you cast it off as ridiculous, and think about what life was like before the internet. If you want to join my revolution, please do. 
Send me a postcard. I'll be the first to reply with a handwritten letter. Adios.

Sterling Hayden's 'Wanderer'

"To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... cruising it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

I've always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of security. And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?"

The Business of Dreaming

Mia and I went to the Stockholm International Boat Show yesterday. It was inside at the convention center, and it was massive. We went aboard several sailboats, including a 28-foot double-ender built in Finland which was exceedingly ugly, but very intriguing nonetheless. I picked up two books, one written by a Swede who spent ten years circumnavigating and financing it by taking along paying crew. The other by Moitessier, 'Cape Horn: The Logical Route,' written before 'The Long Way,' beginning with the commissioning of 'Joshua,' his beloved steel ketch.
It's been an enormous inspiration to read about sailing once more, after having exhausted my supply of unread books in the past month or so. I'm already living my dream of circumnavigating by reading the exploits of others, and simultaneously planning the adventure in my head as I go. I almost lost my focus in the last weeks of relative inactivity, but now the inspiration has returned. It's going to be fun and exciting seeing how this drama plays out in my head in the coming years. I finally have something to focus on. I've figured out that one thing that I can do exceedingly well instead of floundering with a million projects that I can never fully see through, and my motivation to succeed is higher than ever. Of course, I'll still have my other pursuits, but now I have a clear priority.
Where that is going to take me in the next years is another question entirely. It's one thing to have a dream - eventually, the grim reality that a dream of this magnitude requires a substantial amount of cash becomes clear. The biggest challenge is going to be figuring out how to maintain the balance between living a satisfying lifestyle and not compromising my lofty ideals on how my life should be enjoyed, while earning some real money. I think I have an interesting solution, but I'll wait and see what happens. In the meantime, I'll keep reading, keep dreaming, and day by day what's already happening inside my head will eventually manifest itself into something I probably can't even imagine.

Inspiration from Moitessier

"I had no intention whatever of writing a book, thinking that one had to be very gifted to be able to write. All I wanted was to get lost among people, make a niche for myself among them, not too deep but very wide so that I could get out of it quickly in a real boat..."
"Paris...I had been there three weeks, feeling terribly out of place despite my adaptability, the secret weapon of all who spend their life roughing it. There was something which made me feel ill at ease: all those unknown hearts and faces seemed closed to me, hardened by the ruthless struggle for the daily bread."

Closing Doors

Check out this NY Times article that Nate sent me. The premise is that we often suffer psychologically by having too many options open to us in life, whether it's with friends, job opportunities, places to live, etc. The conclusion is that it's not our want of having many options on the table that make us act this way, but rather the fear of watching an option disappear.
Which is the core problem of my existence at the moment. I'm stuck in a rut of doing a lot of different things very well, but not doing any one thing particularly magnificently; and I'm not doing anything that makes me any money. It's funny, my triathlon habit reflects this problem - as a whole, I swim, bike and run pretty well, but when the events are isolated I'm only slightly above average when it comes to racing. 
And there is this business of a career. I have a million different paths I could choose, and I know I'd be good at anything I decide on, but I can't seem to forfeit one path to pursue another, and I'm stuck with exactly that - a million options and no actual career. This will be something I need to figure out come fall - until then I have the spring with Woodwind to look forward to and the summer with Broadreach, but come next winter I want to have something to really focus on and forget about all of this other nonsense that is distracting me from being successful.