Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It Ends

It ends.
The moment is gone,
the next is here.

Now that one too,
has departed from the world.
As gone as the oldest star,
as distant as the foreign galaxies.

It always ends.


For much of my life I thought it would be amazing to visit another planet. In the strangest of ways, Australia whittled away that longing. The new millennium has brought talk about people wanting to live on Mars, but I really can't agree with that desire. To visit is one thing, but to move permanently is another. Mars could never be home to anyone except for the children that are born there (someday there will likely be people born on Mars from parents who have moved from Earth). Honestly, why would anyone want to move to such a remote place for a few weeks of excitement followed by a lifetime of boredom and loneliness? As much as Australia looks like Mars on a map, it fortunately exists on the same planet as each of us. And unlike Mars, Adelaide is the opposite of isolated. I wasn't miserable there for even a second. But it's not home.

Everything I've learned in Australia thus far, from academics, to social relationships, to cultural nuances will all stay with me for the remainder of my life. My guess is that most, if not all other UND students that have gone off on exchange can agree with me on this one: the cities around the world we've been to are all more enjoyable to live in than Grand Forks, North Dakota. But what we need to keep in mind is that if it weren't for Grand Forks, if it weren't for UND, we would have never gotten the chance to know that. And for that, I will never be able to thank the University of North Dakota enough.

When I first arrived in Australia, I was effectively a ghost. Living on the outside, knowing no one. But after spending enough time in Adelaide, everything started to become eerily familiar. I created an entire life on my own, separate from everything I've ever known. That's scary. Not many people I know that are my age have done that yet, and I'm not sure if some of them even could. By the end of my stay, I could hardly walk down the street without running into someone I knew or recognized. On my bike, for instance, I would come across places that I not only remembered, but could trace exactly back to where I lived. Places that I knew from one angle were rediscovered from other perspectives, filling the gaps in my own internal map of the world.

Nothing is the same anymore. The places around Adelaide that were once mysterious to me are now everyday sights of life.

Earth is an amazing planet. It is filled with odds an ends and too many places to discover than time in any one person's life. But if you ever get the chance to travel, make it a useful experience. Don't let others or the media define your perspective of the world. Go and find out for yourself. And if you don't like to travel, that's okay too. This might be an unpopular statement, but I'll say it anyways: disregard those telling you that you should go out of your comfort zone. If you want to, it's your choice. And just because you do, doesn't automatically mean that your life will be happier or more enlightened than it is already. The truth is, you can remain in your comfort zone nearly your whole life and live quite happily and comfortably. Then again, if you do choose to venture out, there's an entire world of possibilities out there that have the potential of making your life more interesting, exciting and enriching. But it ultimately doesn't matter which one you choose. Even if you stay in your comfort zone, someone else could enter into your life because they stepped outside their own comfort zone, making your life better or worse. And if you're the one that steps out, maybe you end up missing out on other benefits in life because you were gone doing other things.

What I'm trying to say is that there's no perfect advice, no sayings to go by that for sure, 100 percent make people's lives better. Life is a series or randomly interlinked events that could turn your way or the other with absolutely no certain predictability. Sure, maybe you decide to go out with your friends on a Saturday to have a really great time, and you do. But in another reality, say you tell your friends you're tired and don't want to go out. Say you stay home for the night, and realize you're hungry for ice cream. Say you go to the grocery store to pick out some ice cream, and as you're heading out the door you drop your wallet in the parking lot and someone picks it up for you. Say that the person who picks up your wallet turns out to be the love of your life. It is not likely, but it is absolutely possible.

Discovery is like the cold on a Minnesotan winter morning. You can't hide from it. The world is out there to discover, but at the same time we're out there too, and regardless of where we are or what we decide to do, the world is constantly discovering each of us. And if you're reading this and think you missed out on Australia, you didn't. Because even though Australia provided me with a once in a lifetime experience, maybe it was I that missed out on life back home. Maybe it was I that missed out on the rest of the world. Maybe it was I that missed out on going to the grocery store. Maybe it was I that missed out on you.


It's now one of my first few days back, and I'm at my dentist's office in St. Paul. After he finishes with my teeth, I get on my bike and decide to take a slight detour on the way home. I decide to go through Como Park. As I zoom down Lexington and make my way through the parklands, Conservatory, and Pavilion, a familiar thought, a thought I've known all my life crosses my mind. I realize that although some things have changed about this place, all in all, it's essentially the same. It's still the same neighborhood I've lived in and loved my whole life. It still doesn't get any better than this. After spending enough time living in this neighborhood, it's become much more than just a place. Really, it's no longer even place at all; it's my memories.

I don't view the world the same way an average park visitor does. I'm riding down Como Avenue now, but it's not merely a sidewalk that I see alongside the road. I see my 12 year old self and his friends, walking back to his house after a day at the old Como Pool. I make my way around Como Lake and pass the pavilion, but it's not merely a waterfall that I see across from the building. No, I see my 8 year old self in the plunge pool jumping from rock to rock, suddenly fleeing from the onslaught of down-pouring rain. Finally, I find myself at the East of end of the lake, but instead of making the final turn down Victoria Street, I take a right onto Maryland, going past my house, high school, and place of work. And there he is again, my young self. I can see him now, there's so many of him. He's walking home from high school. He's rollerblading to work. He's playing baseball with his brothers at the elementary school. I've only lived for two decades and the past is already starting to spook me. Because even my memories aren't memories anymore. They are there right in front of me, dancing and embracing, singing and smiling at me.

It's hard to say how much any of us really know about love, but what I know is that it's anything but superficial. You wouldn't love someone that has a negative impact on your life or a terrible personality, no matter how good looking or infatuating they may be. And the same goes for a place. I don't just love places like Adelaide, Como Park and more because they're beautiful. I love them because they have character. I love them because of the invaluable memories we've shared together. I love them because no matter where I find myself in life, I can always go back to them and smile.

For a long time, I've searched for a name to describe my love for where I live. "Topophilia" works well enough, a word that translates from Greek to literally mean "love of place". But then that got me thinking. Is it as simple as me deciding to love this place? Is love a decision? Or could it be that this place has loved me all along? After all, I never had a say in the location of my birth. I couldn't find a better term until years later, when I discovered an obscure song by MGMT, called "Love Always Remains". It's a relatively pleasant song, but the title itself is what really speaks volumes. As straightforward as that simple phrase seems to be, it's really not. The term "love always remains" does not actually mean that one's love for something always remains. Love doesn't necessarily last forever. What it's really saying is that when something lasts forever, it's love. And that's the beauty of it all. A place will never break your heart. A place will never fall out of love with you. People change, but places don't. If you truly love a place, it will love you back forever.


Adelaide, South Australia
February 2015 - June 2015
To my parents, for putting me in the right place

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Happiness only real when shared" reads the closing line of Christopher McCandless' adventure journal, written moments before death in the Alaskan wilderness. His story is famously captured in Jon Krakauer's "Into the Wild", and one of the many questions readers may have, is why is that phrase so important? Is any sort of happiness incurred alone thereby fake? The book, it appears, suggests this very notion. Krakuer does a wonderful job interpreting McCandless's journal, communicating to the reader how important it is to share memories with others. When McCandless wrote his final few words, he was starving, exhausted, and most likely quite lonely. His life alone amongst the wild at that point seems like a waste. It failed to be what he imagined, and the happiness he found there became futile because he had no one to share it with. But are memories always better when experienced with other people? Is happiness only real when shared?

Absolutely not.

A few entries ago, in my post titled "My Australian Girlfriend", I outline my solo venture to Adelaide's Outer Harbour, and how truly splendid everything about that journey was. (by now, hopefully, it has been established that I don't actually have a girlfriend.) But perhaps most peculiar of all is how I managed to have such a grand time completely alone. If I had to be classified, I would fall closer to the introvert side of the spectrum, but it's always more complex than that. Individuality is not about the black and white facts of nature so much as it is about the gray area in between. Different situations evoke different aspects of our personalities, so to appoint it with a single moniker never does any justice. Regardless, I find confidence in knowing that I can have a good time all by myself. I've found that the people I've met that can do this as well are the ones I gravitate towards most.

A couple weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to go to Perth by myself. One night, I walked north of my accommodation just to see where it would take me. I encountered numerous sights that took me off the beaten path, but Hyde Park in particular proved most memorable. It was about 11 pm by the time I got there. Despite being only a couple kilometers away from the city centre, not a person could be found. Hyde Park contains two small ponds, divided by a land bridge in the center, encompassed by a larger walking path. Normally I would walk around at a moderate pace, but in Hyde Park, the sights from the path prove too intriguing to do so. Ducks meander their way throughout the ponds and into the shadowy islands within. Black Swans contently stretch out along the shores. A kitten streaks by, disappearing into the night seconds later. Statues, sculptures, gazebos, and informational recordings give the park life even when no one else wants to. Perhaps strangest of all, are the random exercise equipment scattered about the path, bolted into the ground. Here, the city of Perth provides safe instruction as to how to use the equipment, as well as healthy eating habits. I actually laughed out loud a few times. I didn't walk around the ponds so much as I danced, thanks to my ipod-delivered music. I sat amongst the birds and watched the stars with a smile on my face. Somewhere in Perth, perhaps minutes away, a party must have been going on. Faces upon faces of people appearing and disappearing, striving for relevancy, for meaning. But in the midst of all that, another ongoing party was happening right there in Hyde Park — a party within my head. And no one else was invited.

When spending time alone, there are always going to be moments of sad realisation relating to how no one else can share the same memories. I can never ask anyone, "hey do you remember that one time in Perth…" except myself. But the idea of happiness only being real when shared puzzles me. Some of my happiest moments in life occur when I am completely alone. Likewise, many more of these moments happen alongside other people. But can anyone on earth share my exact same memories? Are any of them quite like me? Of course not. And that's precisely why, in addition to those close to me, there is a tremendous amount of love that I have for myself. That's why, when I wake up each morning and look into the mirror, it's not just my own reflection that I see. I see my best friend.

To fully accept and be at peace with oneself is of the most essential aspects of living, though unfortunately for some this requires more effort than others to achieve. No matter how valuable the connections you have with other people may be, none are as important as the relationship you have with yourself. Not a single person in the entire universe will ever be as close to you as you are with your own being. If at first you don't love yourself, it becomes immensely difficult to love anyone at all.

Monday, June 8, 2015



As a student to the aviation industry, I've been picking up on a lot of marketing techniques airlines use. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I've noticed that they're all pretty much the same. Cheap fares, gourmet food, top amenities, etc. They're not advertising travel, they're advertising comfort. They're advertising a chance for people to "get away" from their mundane lives. Que the United Airlines billboard:

Is this what people dream about these days? Getting away? I can picture it now: someone stuck in traffic on the way to their day job, looking up at that billboard and dreaming of somewhere far away, of sunny weekends and no work. Aviation, arguably, is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, invention of all time. When combined with telecommunications, aviation has globalized the world in ways that were unimaginable just a century ago. But ads like the one above are geared towards those who live for the weekend and slouch through the week. Ads like this remind me of why I'm attracted to a varied work schedule. Why should we go through life hating Mondays? If others think we were put on earth to work the same five days each week from 9 to 5 every day until they day we die, hats off to them. But I think life is much more than that. There are days we work, and days we don't. And both should be wonderful in their own unique ways. I don't care if I get work off on a Wednesday or a Saturday; just don't lull my life into a sense of monotony.

In fact, every day when I take the train out of the city towards Mawson Lakes for class, I see the exact type of people that United Airlines target with their billboards. I see hoards of businessmen and businesswomen unloading off the train, coming from the suburbs and going to work in the city. They're all dressed up. Their clothes look good, some of their faces look good. But the expressions on nearly all of them? Bleak. The way they walk? Hasty. As if they're late for that same thing they do every other day of the week. And there I am, taking the train the opposite way. On a spacious, comfortable train headed away from the crowd. Different from everyone else.

That aside, I bring up the subject of airline marketing because in the following story, I am about to utilize one of these airlines to get from Adelaide, Australia, to Christchurch, New Zealand. Let it begin...


Aviation is fantastic because it provides rapid transportation over vast distances. But it's where we go after the luggage carousel that makes everything worthwhile; the places airplanes cannot reach. Upon arriving in New Zealand's South island, we rented a car and set off for the various sites it has to offer. Beginning in Christchurch, we essentially circled the island by heading north along the East Coast, West along the North coast, South along the West Coast, then turning back East in the center and back to Christchurch. What I noticed, quite curiously, is that the greatest places we discovered could only be found on foot. No cars, boats, planes, or even helicopters could safely land on the mountains we scaled. And none of them would ever be seen on the bike path leading us to the serene grandeur of Lake Wanaka.

You know that feeling you get when you're so exhausted that you don't really want to talk to anyone? That's how I felt after arriving back in Adelaide from New Zealand. It's not like I was annoyed or crabby, I simply didn't feel awake enough to adequately listen to whomever spoke with me. My three hours of sleep left me so tired that I forgot about doing simple things that would make me less tired, like taking my backpack off while sitting down.

In order to get back to my residence from the airport, I needed to take the bus. So I sat down next to the airport bus stop, and after almost getting on the wrong bus twice, decided I needed to review the different routes. Hand on head, backpack still on back, I leaned to the side and noticed a familiar sign beaming in the afternoon sun. Despite my contempt for advertisements, this particular ad displayed to me a very conflicting, yet strangely comforting phrase...

It's funny, really. This idea of home. Australia is not my home, but as soon as a trip to New Zealand is involved, suddenly it is. I've developed a new life here in Adelaide, and once that life is put on hold for 10 days, everything other than Adelaide is a vacation, and Adelaide becomes home base. A journey within a journey. A round trip flight within a round trip flight.

So when I looked up at this billboard presented by Australia's flag carrier, I couldn't help but smile. I knew the simple phrase it conveyed was wrong, but at the time it felt so right. It was the two words I needed to hear most.

Qantas. Welcome home.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


We were up before sunrise. Adelaide, South Australia - Sydney, New South Wales, - Christchurch, New Zealand is how Qantas delivered us to our intended location; to explore New Zealand's South Island. When I learned that we would be stopping in Sydney for a more than a few hours, I was distraught. That's too long to sit in an airport! But then it dawned on us: why not just take the train into the city for a bit? With only a couple hours of freedom, one cannot delve too deep into the complexities of the beast that is Sydney, NSW. It really only leaves enough time to see the basics: the high bridge, opera house, downtown, etc. And yet a couple hours is all I need to make a place memorable for what I anticipate to be the rest of my life.

I'm sitting on a bench in Sydney, right underneath the tip of the opera house. The clouds provide much needed shade, and my eyes are reminded of the 3 hours of sleep I had the night before. I'm also reminded of the fact, that, mere hours before, I had no idea I would be in downtown Sydney at that point in time. My gaze wanders across Sydney Harbour, to the other side of the bridge and the unknown wonders to be found in North Sydney. There is park beneath the bridge, and to the west of that is a peculiar clown face looming from the entrance to what I eventually learn to be Luna Park. Surely, something like this could only exist in someone's dreams. I begin to wonder: How did I get here? Why am I here right now, at this exact place and at this exact time? Everything felt eerily familiar, yet surreal. And that's when I fell asleep - roughly 20 meters away from the most iconic building in Australia.

If memory deletion were to somehow be possible, I wouldn't use it the same way I imagine others would. I would use it for travel. I would book a flight, and upon reaching my destination, I would delete all memories associated with how I even got there; like a dream in reality. Remembering part of a dream hardly ever includes how we get to a place. We are where we are and there is no reason why. When I awoke from my short slumber of no more than a few minutes, Sydney became my own abstract world. Suddenly, I forgot where I was, let alone how I got there. Suddenly, the line between reality and surreality blurred. I didn't wake up from a dream; I woke up and entered one.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Call Me Brett Favre: I'm Un-Retiring From American Football... In Australia

I'll always remember the first football game I ever played as a starting running back. It was 4th grade. Since my home city of St. Paul didn't have a competitive youth league back then, I played for Roseville's youth interleague system, in which a number of Roseville teams just played against each other. I played in 3rd grade as well, but that was the year I only played middle linebacker and had (somehow I remember this) a coach that didn't know any more about football than I did. And I was a little kid who had never played before! In 4th grade, my coach observed that I was one of the fastest kids on the team. So then, he tried me at running back during practice and it goes well enough for me to stick with it. Our first game was coming up on Saturday, and the nervousness began to sink in before my heightened duties.

Saturday arrived and the quarterback called everyone in to announce the first offensive play of the game. Sure enough, he called a hand off play to me. Before I knew it, there I was, standing in the end zone. What? I didn't even know what to do. I handed the ball to the ref and got off the field until my coach threw me back in for the extra point I didn't know existed. In summary, the center snapped the ball, the quarterback handed it to me, I ran around the corner, turned left and continued for 80 more yards into the end zone without being touched. On our next drive, we tried a few different things involving other players until they decided to hand it off to me again. Touchdown. "Is this football or track" I must have wondered, because no one could touch me, much less tackle. The exact sequence of the remainder of the game is a bit foggy to me, but I remember without a doubt that I was handed the ball two more times. What did I do in my next two attempts? Touchdown, followed by touchdown. After we won, I remember sitting in the back seat of my dad's van on the way home, wondering to myself  "is this what it feels like to be bound for the NFL?" I don't blame myself, either. We've all heard of baseball pitcher's having perfect games, and how difficult that is. But football players? Running backs? I was handed the ball four times, and each time landed me in the end zone. I went the entire game as a running back, the position that gets tackled the most, without being tackled at all, not even once.

Although my football career began on a perfect note, it wouldn't be like that forever. Yes, I did eventually get tackled. And yes, my organized football career did end after 9th grade, but that was a choice that I decided to make based on preference rather than skill. In the 7th grade, I tore my hamstring playing football, and even though I made a healthy recovery, I haven't been able to run as fast ever since. The next two years would prove to be my final ones playing organized football, but not because I wasn't good anymore. Instead, the fun of it all simply began to dwindle.  Every season through senior year, the coach at my high school asked if I wanted to play, and every year it was the same answer. If I could have simply shown up to the games, be handed the ball without worrying about memorizing plays and just run I would have been fine with it, but we all knew that would never be the case. And as much as I would have liked to be part of that American stereotype as a football player adored by their classmates every Friday night, some of my favorite memories happened while sitting next to them in the stands. After all, there was plenty of time in the winter for them to admire my hockey playing instead.

And thus, was the end of my football playing days...

Or was it?

This past week, a couple of my friends invited me to join them in our University flag football club's welcome party. The field, or "oval", as Aussies like to call it, is located in gorgeous Mawson Lakes, the same site of my aviation courses at UniSA. A series of small buildings and strip malls constitute this quaint area until the shops give way for man-made lakes, fountains, and sculptures. One can almost see the amount of effort and precision it must have taken to build the area up in such an aesthetically pleasing way. If this place is an album, it's Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. Beautiful, ambitious, sparkly, yet characterized by an underlying sense of it all not being possible without ridiculously expensive production.

By the end of the day, I was a part of another team, "5 Star Service" and successfully penetrated the social bounds of an Australian clique. In order to garner notice from them, now my teammates, I made what was admittedly a spectacular interception in our own end zone that sealed our win for the scratch match. All of this, I preceded simply by walking onto the field and playing, which was preceded by sitting on a train, which was preceded by whatever else I did that Wednesday, which was preceded by waking up.

"Oh, sh*t! This bloke can catch!" Chris turned to me after I came down with the same ball the opposing quarterback had just thrown. "What's your name, mate?"
"Thomas, but just call me Tommy."
"Damn mate, where did you learn how to play like that?"

I looked down at the brown ball sitting quietly in the grass, its white teeth sticking out in a grin, as if knowing what I'm about to say next.

Then, in in my unapologetically American accent, I for some reason decided to say, "United States, mate."

Laughter in the dead of the night.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Invisible Oceans Part 2

I tuned out the birds and continued my voyage, thinking about this word, "reality" when a strange thought crossed my mind. Why is this scene in front of me real? And how? If I had never became an exchange student, never gotten this exact bike to cause myself to be here at this exact moment, there would have been absolutely no way for me to believe that this particular place exists on the same planet I grew up on. Maybe I would have looked up pictures of Adelaide online, but would it have shown this particular spot along the river? Of course not. And even if I somehow did see pictures of this place, it still wouldn't have been real to me. The picture would be, but not the place itself. Take Antarctica, for instance. No one I know has ever been to Antarctica, so how do I know it exists? Because there are pictures of it and other people tell me it is. But what then is real, the pictures, or the actual place itself? I'm not denying the existence of Antarctica, but rather pointing out that it's not real to me unless I've been there, felt the cold, listened to the silence, and thought to myself: "This is Antarctica. This is what it feels like to be in Antarctica. There is a place on Earth called Antarctica, and I am standing in it now." So during this seemingly straightforward bike ride along the river Torrens, all of my senses were busy coming together to simultaneously deem the situation as real while explaining to myself why it is real in the concrete world. And all of this happens every time we discover a new place.

Along with actual reality, there is a faux reality, or "perceived reality". A strange phenomena exists that blurs the line between reality and perceived reality. Say, for example, a random person from across the world discovers this post. We'll call this person Vincent. Not only would Vincent find out that I exist, but he would become certain that I (whoever I may be) am alive at the exact moment of this entry being sent. But he still doesn't know me and I have no idea he even exists. So tell me, am I more real than the next person, the next blog out there that Vincent doesn't discover? To him maybe I am, but who's to say? It's the online version of walking past a stranger along the street only to never see them again.

It happens with celebrities, too. You know Jimmy Fallon, right? I mean, not personally of course, but you know who he is. In fact, I bet his face popped into your head as soon as I mentioned his name. Now, if anyone were to ask Jimmy Fallon if he knows me, of course he would say no. It is quite discomforting really, how we feel like we know certain people only from reports, interviews, and what others say about them. Now it even occurs within everyday, non-famous society, stumbling upon the online profiles of people we haven't even met. Condemning, fantasizing, concluding anything, really, about people we have yet to meet is one of the most dangerous things we can do in today's facebook generation. It is even more strange to think that, when and if we do actually meet these people in real life, we feel like we already partly know them before they even know us. Jimmy Fallon has no idea who I am (I hope), but I am referring to him directly right now as an example. Therefore he is real to me, but I don't exist to him. Perceived reality.

There are two more questions that sum up this phenomena, one that can be answered and one that cannot: Are the planets out there that we have yet to discover less real because we don't know about them? Of course not, but none of them are specifically real to any of us. So this brings up the unanswerable question: Is reality reality, or is reality merely a perception housed in the brain? Why do we accept realities that we ourselves have never seen, and doubt others? Life as we perceive it isn't as forthright as it seems. Up to this point, I've hesitated to mention a third reality. We are well aware of the reality we know and see everyday in our lives, the one our parents grew up in, the one computers exist in along with the words you are reading now. Some of us may even know about the misleading "perceived reality" that occurs via indirect exposure. That leaves us with perhaps the most fascinating reality of all. This, my friends, is called undiscovered reality; the things out there that either we ourselves do not know about, or that no one on earth even knows about, yet exist as part of our universe nonetheless. Relativism states that reality itself only exists to the people who are consciously or subconsciously aware of it. That it only pertains to us in terms of culture, history, and human existence. So what then, of the galaxies far beyond human scope that exist without any of us knowing? Are they less real because we don't know about them? Is the fact that I'm talking about them silly because they actually don't exist? Questions like these are so rhetorical that no one in today's age could factually answer them. But that doesn't stop us from wondering, from questioning.

Essentially, when we ask a person any question, what we're really asking is, "What is your reality? What do you know that I don't?" Similarly, when we enter a new place for the first time, we're asking the universe that exact same question. This place, the area next to the river Torrens east of Adelaide city, would have remained in my own undiscovered reality for the entirety of my life had I never moved to Australia. One day we'll all meet our one common and final reality. Until then, it is imperative to accept that there are realities out there beyond control, beyond discovery even. Australia may not exist to you, but it does to millions of other people. Famine may not exist to you, but it does to millions of other people. Exclusion, loneliness, depression all may not exist to you, but they do to millions of other people. Don't let your own realities get in the way of understanding others - because in the end, this is what invariably makes each of us human.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Invisible Oceans: Part I

Interestingly enough, the bicycle I mentioned in my previous post was actually not the first one I purchased in Australia. I bought a very cheap one when I first arrived, but sold it in favor of the much nicer one. Usually when I go an adventure, I do so with via my bike. However, the story I'm outlining today occurred during my first few days in Adelaide, a day in which obtaining the bike was the adventure itself.

I found a suitable match on Australia's version of craigslist, The seller lives in Athelstone, a northeastern suburb of Adelaide, which meant I had to take the bus there, and ride the 25 kilometers or so back.

While on the way to Athelstone, I met an older woman on the bus from Los Angeles. We talked about my aviation ambitions briefly, and how she has lived in various Australian cities during the past 15 or so years, but she kept going back to talking about how handsome I (allegedly) am. That's another thing. What is it with older women (over 55) and being so confident with telling me how much they like the way I look? I'm sure it's not just to me, either - it seems to be a common occurrence. I suppose people like her are not intimidated by the notion of saying it aloud, speaking in a matter-of-fact-like tone, and, due to her age (at least 70, I presume), impossible to be perceived as flirtatious.

After awhile, she pressed the button that alerts the driver to pull over at the next stop. She had two larger bags that she needed for her house cleaning job, so I helped her carry it down the step and out of the bus. Unfortunately, when I say "out of the bus" I too, went out of the bus, and stayed there. All despite the fact that I was about 5 or 6 stops short of where I needed to be. A little embarrassed, I told the lady it was coincidentally my stop as well and that it was nice talking with her. As I turned to walk the other direction she told me goodbye and that she would one day "see me in heaven". Perhaps when we meet in the afterlife we'll both be young again.

I told the man I would be at his house at 10:30 which was in 15 minutes. I didn't know exactly where it was, so I had to follow the bus stops to get to the one I should have gotten off on. The problem was that it was 2 or 3 kilometers away and the day was hot and sunny. So then, I began to jog. Oddly, I wasn't irritated about my predicament. In fact, the whole time I imagined how funny it would be for someone watching me in the neighborhood to know my actual reason for running. To them, I must have looked like an unfamiliar Australian going on a jog with no resemblance of any type of workout clothes on and a baseball hat strewn very far backwards on his head. When really, I was a dehydrated American thousands of miles away from everything he's ever known, jogging in a neighborhood he's never been, wearing his hat differently to prevent sunburn, literally lost in the grandest sense of the word, all for the sake of meeting a complete stranger for the purpose of purchasing a $15 bicycle.

To explore and cycle under the sun or stars is quite possibly what I love to do most. So yes, this is what I do for love.

I found his house with a bit of luck, but also because one of my greatest talents is situational awareness and spatial retention. The closest thing I've ever had to photographic memory is being able to trace back and memorize the exact routes I've taken places, via bike, car, feet and rollerblades. At this point I've even developed the skill to assist while I pilot airplanes, so it has proven quite useful thus far.

The garage door opened and here was this man standing at about 5' 5" right in front of me. And yes, the bicycle he was selling was fit for him. After a bit of minor maintenance such as raising the seat, I was off, bound to find my way back in this foreign land along the Torrens river.

Making my way down the windy river path, I realized how lucky it was for the man's house to be next to a trail leading right back into the city. Since I live in downtown Adelaide, this was one of my first experiences getting up close and personal with Australian nature, and the contrast it has with Minnesota's nature is particularly eerie. Sometimes, I can even trick myself into thinking I'm in downtown Minneapolis in the summer. It's not until I venture out into the surrounding neighborhoods that something doesn't seem to fit quite right. The trees are different, the grass is different, the animals are different, even the calm is different. None of it is inherently bad, just unsettling.

The most disturbing difference, I found, is the way the birds sound. In Minnesota, songbirds may gently sing us to sleep during an afternoon nap on a summer's day. I'll never forget the tune the birds sing near my house in St. Paul. And yet, the birds in Australia don't sing at all. They laugh. In fact, they were mocking me. "You'll never find your way." the birds were whispering to me "Who do you think you are, trying to survive on your own here, with no water or means of communication? And they weren't wrong, either. Here I was, riding a dodgy bike down a path I had never been and with no cell phone, all while battling dehydration. I didn't have any doubts about my situation before, but now the reality of it all started to sink in...