Inside my Head

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.

Kungsholmen

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!

4 FEBRUARY 2011

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
unpack.

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.

Ideas From My Bicycle

I'm not a cyclist, per se, but I am also not not a cyclist. 
For the first time in a long time (over a year?) I suited up in my spandex and took to the crowded, rush-hour roads of Annapolis on my Madone, eager to put some miles under the tires, erase my brain and get some much needed exercise.
I rode past the Naval Academy, up and over the 450 bridge and out towards Sandy Pt. State Park, a 21-mile jaunt that brought back memories of my days living ashore, when I sometimes rode over 150 miles per week on that bike. I usually take music with me, but this time it was silent, save for the traffic and the occasional bird, and my head was spinning (in a good way) with ideas.
I wanted to write this last night, when I was fresh off my bike, but there was a sexy Swedish girl in the cockpit of my boat with a bottle of wine and some French cheese, so we enjoyed the evening instead. 
I always said that I wish there were a little man up in my head who could write down my thoughts when I wanted him to. Often when running of biking, and with no music, I have a terrific flood of ideas that pass through my brain, and wouldn't it be nice if someone were there to write them all down? Here's what I remember...
Idea #1: 'The Great Chesapeake Bay Seabreeze Race'
Since somehow being appointed the new 'Commodore' of the Allied Seabreeze Owner's Association (how did that happen anyway?), I've been brainstorming about how to do some fun things with my fellow Seabreeze sailors. Why not a race?
Typically my brain will start with the seed of an idea, and in this case it started wondering how I could get involved in 'The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race' this year, but on my own boat. Then it marched right along, remembering that I am the new 'Mr. Seabreeze,' so why not get a whole bunch of boats involved? And since the Schooner Race would never allow one-sticked boats in their event, why not create  our own? It wouldn't even have to be the length of the Bay (though I'd push for that), but something different, maybe Baltimore - Annapolis? I'm going to let this one incubate for a while, but I might have something here.
Idea #2: 'Rally to Bermuda'
I spoke with Steve Black on the phone yesterday, who run's the 'Caribbean 1500' cruising rally each year, which we are participating in aboard Sojourner. He mentioned the thought of organizing a Bermuda rally, of combining with the NARC Rally in the future and got the wheels turning on my end.
Mia and I have our sights set high on reaching Sweden next year on Arcturus, which will most likely include a stopover in Bermuda, so why not get a bunch of other boats to follow us there? Of course, we'd likely end up last in the fleet, if it turns out to be anything like the Carib 1500, with the average size being around 48', some 13 feet longer than our little yawl. But nonetheless, why not?
Idea #3: 'The Self-Sufficient Rally'
I don't know how or why I got caught up in this rally business. In fact, I have a definite distaste for it, thinking that when we go cruising it will most definitely not be with a bunch of other people out in the middle of the ocean. So how can you reconcile sailing in numbers to a sailor like me who prefers solitude?
I fear (and could be wrong), that the onset of cruising rallies are making very adventurous people out of novice sailors. There has to be a way to stress self-sufficiency in the organization of these rallies, something that is not only going to get those sailors safely across an ocean, but also make them better and more self-sufficient for it. I think it's awesome having a net of cruising sailors a radio call away when something goes wrong aboard (say a blown headsail, clogged fuel filter, etc.), but there's got to be a way to teach people to try for themselves before calling for expert advice. I understand that they stress that in a rally, no one is there to help you, and I also understand how comforting it must be just to hear a friendly, helpful voice on the radio. But let's use these cruising rallies as a way to make better sailors out of folks, rather than just complacent sailors. This one needs some more time  to incubate.
Idea #4: 'The Ultimate Broadreach Trip'
It was a long bike ride, and my brain works faster than my legs. Idea #4 began while thinking about who I would want to bring as crew on a potential trans-Atlantic to Sweden next spring. Mia has already declared she wants competent - no expert - crew aboard for the long leg between Bermuda and England, just in case we need their help. I thought of who I'd want along - my Dad, Adam, Micah, Moxie,  Maddy, Darren - but then I thought of DJ, an exceptional kid and a great sailor who was crew aboard the Arc of the Caribbean program we led this summer. 
It was DJ's fourth trip as a BR student - he was immediately comfortable on the boat, fast became one of our best and most reliable leaders, and by the end of the trip became a full-on sailor, quite capable of standing midnight watches by himself on a 50-footer. Dj was also the funniest guy on the boat (Mia relieved him from watch duty one rough night coming back from Trinidad, with 30-35 knot winds bashing us around. He laid in the cockpit, enjoying the evening, even saying he enjoyed 'being a real sailor.' Not two seconds later he was swamped with a wave that climbed aboard, and not five seconds after that the working jib sheet parted with a 'BANG!' DJ quickly retracted his admission, announcing 'I don't think I want to be a real sailor anymore!'). 
Anyway, all these thoughts went through my brain on my bike ride, and I concluded, 'wouldn't it be cool to offer a crew position to DJ, the ultimate experience for a young kid who really got into sailing this summer and proved himself capable? Of course it wouldn't be an official BR trip, just an invite from a former skipper, but what an experience for him, and what a boon for us to have capable crew. Perhaps I'll think about this one some more.
Odd how all of my ideas somehow related to sailing, despite being all garbed up for cycling. I'm riding again today, this time maybe 30 miles, so we'll see what we come up with for tonight's entry.

Moitessier, Major League Baseball & Roger Federer

An interesting subject, I know. 
This afternoon Alex Rodriguez admitted that from 2001-2003 he was taking steroids. I'm not about to throw my hat into the  ring and debates whether or not he's a good person for admitting or a bad person for taking drugs in the first place. ESPN will have plenty of people to debate that ad nauseam all week. I'm concerned with how the rest of the world is going to react to Rodriguez, sports and life in general.
So how does this relate to sailing? Bernard Moitessier once said something to the effect that once technology as it relates to sailing (fancy navigation gear, carbon spars & composite rigging, kevlar sails, etc.) gets advanced enough, people will be overwhelmed, and will desire a return to the simplicity of old. With technology, he argued, we lose exactly what we set out to achieve in the first place - communion between man and boat, boat and nature, man and nature. Technological sailing becomes just another distraction in a daily life filled with them.
I read a fantastic article in the NY Times the other day about the beauty of sports and how the tennis great Roger Federer embodies athletic beauty in the modern, "power baseline" game of tennis. According to the article, Federer has evolved both from the finesse players of the good old days and from the power players of recent history, combining the best traits of both, to become simply the greatest player ever. And yet the only way to accurately describe his game is simply as "beautiful."
Baseball, tennis, Moitessier...? A common theme runs through each one of the above examples - simplicity & elegance. A-Rod testing positive for steroids and admitting it  is going to change baseball, and more rapidly and completely than the trial of either Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.  A-Rod has not simply opened the door for others to come forward. He's offered the fans the "blue pill," the opportunity to see the truth in baseball. And I believe that given the choice between 500-foot homeruns by men who knowingly cheat, to the small-ball, elegant game of finesse, fans are going to choose the latter. Finesse equates to skill, equates to beauty in sports.
Similarly, once witnessing Federer's five-shot setups on the tennis court, or for that matter the way Tiger can punch his "stinger" two-iron 260 yards down the fairway with only a slight draw, the player that relies on pure power seems much less interesting. 
When it comes to sailing, I believe Moitessier was right. Where is the joy in sailing when you're pushing a button to trim the jib? Where is the joy in sailing when an electronic device tells you where you are, while the wind, the stars, the coast lie outside your realm of understanding, yet remain only a glance away out of the cabin ports? Where is the joy in sailing when you drop all canvas two miles from the entrance to a harbor, chugging into a quiet anchorage under an iron genny?
And the joy of life's endeavors are not the only thing lost. What of seamanship when all your career you've fired up that iron genny only to have it fail on you when you need it most? Could you sail onto that mooring ball at the end of a narrow channel, upwind? Could you make it back to a safe harbor single-handed? Could you plot a course accounting for the set of the current without your trusty GPS? 
I may be optimistic, but I believe that we are approaching a tipping point in society in general, at the very least in the sporting world, and that in the future elegance will be admired, not pure power. Knowledge will be rewarded not with accolades but with personal satisfaction. And beauty will once again be the motivational force behind our enjoyment of sport, both as spectator and participant. 
When Mia and I first take Arcturus offshore, we will leave behind many comforts that the modern cruising sailor would not dare leave sight of land without. I'll have my sextant, we'll have our safety gear, and our mechanical wind vane will steer us toward the unattainable horizon. We'll have paper charts and old-fashioned plotting tools. And we'll enjoy our journey not for speed and power, for we'll be making a scant 4-5 knots. No, we'll enjoy our journey for simplicity's sake. We'll enjoy our journey because when we finally make landfall and sail into the harbor of our dreams, it will have be elegant. It will have been beautiful.

Standards

I've long believed that the standards that people generally adhere to in everyday life are incredibly low. From the food we eat to the entertainment we watch to the things we create, what's considered acceptable is laughable.
I encounter this phenomenon daily. And I'm not just blaming America or Americans - this is a worldwide issue. 
My biggest complaint is, obviously, the things that most people accept as edible. And not only edible, but enjoyable. I'm aware that I am in the very small minority when it comes to food and what I consume on a daily basis is a far cry what even healthy people consider 'normal.' But in general the food that people accept and enjoy regularly is atrocious.
Take 'The Flaming Pit' for example. I went there two nights ago with my grandparents. Upon entering, it was immediately apparent that this was not going to be a meal that I would be enjoying. I scanned the dining room that looked like it hadn't been updated since the 1960's, and at least 90% of the clientele had white hair or no hair. I glanced to the right and noticed a younger couple seated aside who appeared to be their grandparents, and I immediately sympathized with them. We walked towards the back of the dining room. I observed an elderly man, not more than 120 lbs, with the tanned and wrinkled skin of a lifelong snowbird, absolutely devouring a deep-fried chicken wing, the grease dribbling down the left side of his chin. He was actually smiling. My attitude at the outset of our meal was not exactly positive.
We were seated at a table for four, directly behind the salad bar. This was no ordinary salad bar. It haad the requisite salad fixins for sure, but it also offered pasta, meatballs, fruit salad, pudding, a variety of hot vegetables and an enormous dessert selection. And of course no olive oil. How in the world can a restaurant not have a bottle of olive oil in the kitchen, the basis for nearly every single meal I cook in a day!? Standards are low indeed; this was not a good sign for the main course.
I ordered the salmon, which I planned to place atop an iceberg salad from the aforementioned smorgasbord. When it arrived, the fish was absolutely tasteless. Undoubtedly this piece of fish was cut from the body of a fish who spent his entire life in a pen likely no larger than a small swimming pool, and fed corn on a daily basis until he was plump enough to be killed and served to me, the unfortunate diner. I simply cannot understand how anyone could think that piece of fish tasted good, let alone tasted like anything at all.
My wine was atrocious as well. I ended up sending back the glass of burgundy I'd ordered and instead getting an entire bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz, the pinnacle of the lackluster beverage selection. I drank two glasses and brought the rest home, which I consumed while talking to Tiffany on gmail last night.
I'm sick of mediocrity. 
I thought I had more to say on this point, but I'm decidedly uninspired at the moment, have been for a while. I can't write well unless I have something exciting to write about, and though I'm enjoying myself here in Florida, I still feel like I'm treading water. I'm advancing my career by going to school (I hope), but after that I'll be working as a taxi driver on the water, which will be fun, but living with the g-rents is not exactly what I look forward to coming home to at night. I cannot stand that television, and it is on constantly from 4pm-11pm every single day. 
I'm stealing this idea from Tiffany:
Now Playing: Coldplay, Yes

The Barista at my New Cafe

I found a new coffee shop in Ft. Lauderdale. Finally. My search for a place to relax that had internet that is not my grandparents living room with the TV constantly blaring (I loathe you Bill O'Reilly) was fruitless. Starbucks' are everywhere (of course), and they have the freaking nerve to not only charge $4 for internet, but also have partnered with AT&T. Yet people still go there.
My new cafe, Cafe Rustica, is next to an old movie theatre, has big comfy couches, an authentic proprietor who really knows how to make coffee, free internet, and fantastic music. 
So I'm relaxing here now, talking to Mia on the computer and lamenting the fact that I have one more shot at perhaps the biggest test of my life tomorrow, one that I cannot study for, but must leave to fate. There is one thing about myself that I cannot change - how my freaking eyes see color. Tomorrow's my last chance to pass another color exam. I'm confident.
Today was Day Three of my Yachtmaster Offshore course at MPT. We spent the morning continuing with chart plotting, set and drift, tide tables, etc. I love that stuff...it's high school math class all over again with a real-life application, and my brain is absolutely alive when solving this stuff. 
The afternoon was spent on the boat, a 48' motor yacht / trawler type thing that was way bigger than I expected it to be, way higher, and way more complicated than any boat I've ever driven. Yet it was incredibly simple. Two engines make quite a difference. I'm going to do well in this class.

An Evening with Wine in Hard Bean Cafe, Annapolis

The girl that served me wine is sweeping, no mopping, the floor in front of the counter. A guy who thinks he's smarter than he probably is, is speaking far too loudly for the atmosphere right now, to his pony-tailed companion, about politics and things that smart people discuss. I'm sitting up against the window in the front, drinking a glass of Zinfandel while a girl sits three seats to my left peacefully reading a book. I'm intrigued by the girl's presence - she seems utterly content and completely oblivious to the annoying couple at the far window, espousing about Jack Kerouac. He's wearing a freaking corduroy blazer, the douchebag. Dave Matthew's plays on the radio.
Unfortunately, my glass of wine is now but a glass, and as the clock strikes 8:15pm, I'm debating on going home and going to bed, for lack of something better to do. I enjoy coming here to read and write (and copy cd's onto my computer, which I'm doing now), and was thrilled to learn that Hard Bean is now serving select beer and wine. For better or worse, my evening yerba mate tea has now turned into a glass of vino, which helps with my writing, I think.
I quit the Examiner last week - I'd rather write for myself, especially if I'm not getting paid, and I felt like I was selling my soul to something I don't believe in, namely finding internet travel deals for other people. I need to write about experiences, not about plane tickets.

Day One - Redux

So that little commitment about working out everyday until the marathon lasted exactly one day. With my adventure in the big city eliminating any chance of exercising yesterday, I had to take a mulligan and start over. So today, again, is officially Day One.

And I almost missed today too. After waking up in West Chester, Kaitie drove us home, where I packed up the farm truck with all the crap I needed to take back to the boat - clean clothing, Christmas gifts, wine - and lots of food. We ate lunch at the Ranch House with Scotty and Dad, then I hit the road, in the rain, cinderblocks holding down the tail end of the truck, headphones in my ears. You see, the old pickup, reliable as it is, has no stereo.

So my workout began tonight around 8:30, after spending almost 3 hours at the coffee shop updating my blog, writing on my Examiner page, and furiously revising a Spinsheet article at the 11th hour. I'm still buzzing from the 12oz. latte I guzzled at the Hard Bean. It stopped raining just in time, and I started out on the dock, in the dark, swinging around my kettlebell while I rocked out to the Flaming Lips and gazed out at the harbor. The kettlebell, essentially a cannonball with a handle, humbled me after so long a layoff. It was wet and cold, after spending two hours in the back of the pickup in the icy rain this afternoon. It energized me as well, however, and after 100 one-arm snatches I galloped off into the night, running a short loop around the historic district. 

Stockholm Marathon: T-minus 144 Days and Counting.

My Cinnamon Girl

Neil Young is echoing in my head on this early morning. I'm enjoying my second cup of coffee in the frigid cabin of Arcturus. I put some cinnamon in my coffee today, which I expected would remind me of this past summer, because I put cinnamon in my coffee everyday this summer. But no, it reminded me of Sweden instead, and I like that. Perhaps because it's dark outside, which is almost always is this time of year there. Or maybe because I'm wearing my puffy coat despite being indoors, and it's chilly. 
 

Roots

On the plane home from Tortola last Friday, I thought about the traveling I've done in the past year. It feels like a lifetime ago; but less than a year ago I was actually in Prague, enrolled in that self-awareness class disguised as a TEFL course, created solely for my generation of post-grad twenty-somethings trying to 'find' ourselves. Prior to that I'd embarked on my first journey to Sweden, where at the time I thought I was actually going to settle down and live. After Prague came Ireland, where Michael and I climbed the highest peak on the Emerald Isle, an adventure that remains at the top of my list of un-planned, extremely rewarding experiences. Then back to Sweden for a few months, home, off to the Caribbean, to Blake's in Charlotte, back home, down to Florida, home, to Bermuda and back, and finally to Tortola via sailboat and back again on yet another plane ride. Added up, I think I took close to 20 different plane rides in the span of less than a year...
Have I arrived? Since my first trip to Costa Rica back in college, I've dreamed of making a living somehow through travel. I've certainly got the travel bit down. Now I have to figure out how to make the living part of it work out. I'm on my way. This last deliver (which I did for free) was excellent experience, and a great addition to my resume for future trips. I'm supposed to leave for the Bahamas on another boat next week, this one paid(!), then what? A winter in Annapolis, returning to my roots, to the job that started all this sailing nonsense, back working with my friends at the Woodwind. And my fingers are crossed that this spring's plan will work out - I'm off to Sweden again, this time with contract in hand to deliver sailboats around the Baltic for a charter company. After that it's back to the Caribbean to sail from St. Martin to Trinidad with a dozen kids in tow.
So maybe it's finally starting to take shape...? I've secured a column in Spinsheet, where each month I'll get a full page to write about, well, whatever I want to. I'm going to focus it on adventure travel, with an obvious tilt towards sailing. But I want to write about more than just sailing, because I believe that people are also interested in just reading good stories. I've got a lot of them up here in this head of mine, and they're all true. I'm finally finding out that there might be an outlet somewhere that could even be worth my while.
But as for this blog, I'm taking a cue from Tiffany, and writing about whatever I feel like without thinking about it. It's funny, because even as I'm writing this, my mood has lifted, I've started dreaming again, and the words are writing themselves. I sat down yesterday to write January's column for Spinsheet and stared at the screen for 10 minutes before typing a single word. And then each word had to be wrestled from my head, and the whole process of writing 850 words was excruciating. The finished product, after much editing on my part, is pretty good I think, but it wasn't easy. This is easy. Thanks Tiffany.

she's not so usual

I have a friend named Tiffany, who has a blog (http://tntalsma.blogspot.com). I was reading it today and decided that I miss my friend, but I also decided that it's nice to read something that has no pretensions, no self-serving motives, no polarizing opinion. I like Tiffany's blog because it's honest, and it's her. I've been trying so hard lately to write things in the attempt to get them published, that I've neglected to simply write for the sake of writing whatever is on my mind. This is what Tiffany does so well in her blog, and what I want to start doing again.