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...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Dear California Navel Orange,

Why did we have to travel so far to meet?

I saw you at the supermarket
And knew you were the one
Different continent
Same love 

Your sticker says it all
We are one of the same
Products of the USA
Keen to get away

Capital of drama
Always in the news
Let's pretend we're not American
Hollywood, go away

You know how I feel
About Australian Produce
I wish they all
Could be California orange juice

So now we're here
10,000 miles from home
Yet suddenly
It's near

As close to us now
As you are to me
Yesterday a place
Today a feeling

I can't help but smile
To think it was you all along
Peel in trash
Pulp in me

I ponder again
Calling out in desperation
Attempting to ask you
Instead asking myself:

Why did we have to travel so far to meet?

It doesn't matter anymore

Like the passing of now
You're gone before it's even realized
We are all gone

Lovers can die too

Friday, April 10, 2015

My Australian Girlfriend

 I would like for everyone to meet my beautiful new girlfriend from Australia. Like many in Adelaide, she was born and raised right here in South Australia. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures featuring the two of us together, but we're working on it. I got her about a month ago, and we've been quite happy together ever since. Below you may see the photograph of her...

Isn't she perfect? It's a shame I won't be able to bring her back with me to America in a few months, which is why we find it so important to value our ever-dwindling time together now. I'm not especially disappointed, though, because I have another absolutely amazing one waiting for me at home, longing for the day we can ride together again. Some may think of me as a nefarious man to have multiple of them spread across the globe, but what can I say? I love bicycles, and bicycles love me.

The first day we were together, we went on one of the most sensational rides of my life. I initially set out to visit an abandoned building found while I was lost a few weeks earlier, but realized that I wanted to ride further than that. I use an application called Strava to track where I go as well as my speed, but my cellular died en-route leaving only part of the data recorded. This portion of my journey is included in the map below, with the green point being the start and the checkered point being where my telephone runs out of battery. In reality, I actually went to the very tip of the outer harbor, which is the peninsula in the upper left corner of the map, West of the Barker Inlet. I went past where it says "North Haven" until I couldn't go any further, about 25 kilometers each way.

There wasn't a single aspect about this ride that wasn't interesting. Recall for a moment, your favorite movie, album, book, any piece of art really. Now, can you remember the first time you experienced it? Think of how new it was, how incredible it ended up being. The very essence of what makes favorites our favorites is that they go above and beyond our expectations, they take everything that we already know and redefine it; and that is precisely what this ride was like.

I began cycling through North Adelaide and down Port Road. When I ride, I don't move through the streets so much as the streets move towards me, revealing themselves as if waiting all this time just to do so. I discovered so many derelict buildings that I ran out of time and energy to explore them all. Because of my accent, I engaged in a lengthy conversation with the owner of an American restaurant specializing in hot dogs and wings, and found out that she is the wife of former NBA player Raheim Brown. I saw the ocean at night for the first time; star-studded night sky colliding with pitch black water evokes serene, satisfied existence as easily as dark nothingness and the inevitability of death.

By the end of my ride, I had traveled over 50 kilometers and established myself into countless scenes for which photos could never do any justice. Even though my time spent near the outer harbor was a memory for the ages, it actually wasn't quite the best ride of my life. Back in 2011 I made a snap decision to take a left down a road I had never traveled before. As it turns out, this road opened me up to the world of urban exploration following my discovery of the abandoned United Crushers grain elevator complex in Minneapolis. Since then, I've began to notice that the structures I explore loosely follow a common theme. Many of the places I visit have some sort of fence or exclusionary zone isolating them from active society. However, some of these fences don't exist in the real world. There are often fences in our consciousness inhibiting our whole being from knowing what it really wants. Whether it be physical or figurative, there's always a gap of separation, a gap that needs to be overcome.

Ever since that fateful day, it's been a strong belief of mine that the unknown, previously unexplored areas in life tend to be the most rewarding; that the path to enlightenment cannot be found on the safe side of the fence. Exploration expands not only our awareness of the physical universe, but also the comfortable perspectives with which we regard it. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required. Action without certainty. Movement devoid of over-thinking.

Large cities are so full of life, culture, and raw existence that it is intimidating to attempt to explore beyond its surface. What I mean by that is even though a city is teaming with content, the majority of its visitors subject themselves to roughly the same 20% that every other tourist experiences. I remember being in Chicago and seeing all the usual stuff, but when I think of Chicago, these aren't the places that come to mind. Rather, it's the neighborhoods that were visible only for a fraction of a second as we zipped past on the train. It's the juxtaposition of graffiti to parkland to factories to houses that, even if only seen for a second, exhibit an inside glance into the livelihood of that particular locale. In that same city I recall seeing a neon sign up on what must have been the 20th story of a skyscraper. It was very late at night, and apparently, within that window was a thrift shop confidently open for business. Seeing this shop open and advertising out of a window 200 feet above the ground perfectly expresses the boundless and unpredictable variety of life in the hearts of these massive cities. Wonders like this are what make Chicago interesting, not its bean.

Sometimes, even the grandest spectacles within a city are trumped by their own icon; they are so overly well known that they have unintentionally shifted into the superficial realm of their city. Say for example, you find yourself in Paris. You can't not see the Eiffel Tower, right? Despite the fact that you've probably seen hundreds of pictures of the Eiffel Tower and that you know exactly what it looks like, suddenly it's on the top of your list of things to see. Now does that make any sense? I certainly don't think so. Sure, go see the Eiffel Tower, but keep in mind that it's probably not going to be the most memorable part of your day. The thing about going to the Eiffel tower is, you're not going to meet any locals that know the truly wondrous sights in Paris, which is big chunk of what traveling is all about. Instead you might realize that you're simply standing around taking pictures of the tower (or heaven forbid, a self picture with it in the background) with a bunch of fellow tourists. You might end up with heaps of photos to show your friends, saying "Hey, on Friday we saw the Eiffel Tower!" and yet later that night you'll probably be thinking to yourself in bed not about the Eiffel Tower, but rather about the French people you met in the coffee shop on the way to Eiffel Tower, the ones that told you about that historic neighborhood in that obscure corner of Paris. Essentially, tourists of the world focus far too much on what they think others would want them to see and not enough on what they don't yet know exist.

Now that I've been to a variety of places around the globe, I often hear travelers talk of how they want to go everywhere. But what good is it if you're just checking places off a list and seeing the same sites that anyone performing a quick google search can see? The matter is further complicated given the notion that, for some, it absolutely can be just as satisfying to do exactly that. But these are the same people that make it a point to show everyone they're traveling instead of emphasizing the experience itself. Americans in particular need help with this concept: traveling isn't merely another commodity to "consume", it is a privilege to learn more about the world, its people, history, and slated future than any classroom setting could ever teach. It's an excuse to find a site you can call your own because you're the only one aware of its existence out of everyone you know. It's an opportunity to discover that new favorite piece of art, that new favorite place. It's opening your mind up to alternate viewpoints; letting the world hack your brain, murder your preconceptions, and shuffle everything you already know up to that point only to redefine it.

If you're traveling somewhere to merely check it off a list, I certainly cannot tell you that you're going for the wrong reasons. But what I can tell you, is that you're probably the type of person who has a bucket list. Personally, I hate bucket lists. They're too limited. They entice the list-maker to focus their endeavors entirely on activities and places that are already known. They don't take into account that often the greatest days in life are the ones that, if you could somehow travel back in time and explain to yourself in the morning where that day would take you and what you would end up doing, you wouldn't believe yourself. These are the days that make life worth living. Throughout my adventure to the outer harbor I felt at peace because I knew it would certainly become one of those days.

In Egypt, I have been told there is now a chain-link fence surrounding the great pyramids of Giza, preventing visitors from entering without first paying admission. Over the years, ancient pyramids have attracted visitors from all over the world, despite most of their original artifacts being looted centuries ago. I would love to visit these pyramids, but they are no where near the top of my list - and that's because I deliberately don't have one. As soon as a list is made, as soon as an itinerary becomes finalized, some of the magic of freely exploring is already lost. I never planned on biking to the outer harbor to see everything I did. I didn't expect to run into two wild dingoes during my journey. I didn't leave looking to find a specific location, I simply traveled Northwest and let the location find me.

It is crucial to remember that a fence works both ways. Although the fence encompassing Giza's pyramids may prevent free access, everything it retains on the outside is irrelevant compared to what it retains on the inside. Of course, this fence does exist to prevent trespassers entering from without, yet many overlook a consequent philosophy fenced within. Along with the pyramids themselves, a sort of twisted ideology radiates from inside the fence. This ideology thrives on preventing world travelers from thinking outside the box, from finding their own favorite locations. As magnificent as ancient pyramids may be, not a single commonplace expedition to see them will ever be as profound as genuine discovery.

Unlike admission to the pyramids, discovery cannot be monetized. The people we love most in life don't charge us money to see them, so why should the places we love be any different? In the end, though, my opinion is trivial. Millions of visitors will pay to see the pyramids this year alone. Millions waiting to go through a gate in the fence, standing in a queue, on a path leading in. But the physical walking path leading into the pyramids is not the only path fenced by the complex; this tangible chain-link fence over tangible path is not the one we need to overcome. Rather, it is a psychological fence yearning to be broken down - a roadblock detracting our drive to explore the uncharted corners of the universe. For on the other side of this abstract fence, the Giza seeks to repress a far more critical path: the path followed by the brain in materializing a dream.