Thursday, May 31, 2012

Road to New Orleans: Riding, Hitching, Loving, Wheeling

I biked 94 miles from Asheville to highway 85, awaking at 4 am and leaving in the still dawn, cresting two little mountains and enjoying the roller-coaster descents off the back side. I hitchhiked for 4 hours the next day, and stretched to the tether of my sunburnt morale, cursing every single-occupancy truck and SUV with their slouching owners barreling up the onramp without me. Finally I got a Hail-Mary ride with one guy all the way to New Orleans, and jumped out early, now landed in the bird-and-bullfrog-cackling everglade forest outside of the city.

I'm feeling pretty invincible. Which means I'm past due for a mugging, a collision, breakdown of communication, the extinguishing of inspiration, heartbreak, or possibly all of the above. My forearms and biceps look lobster red through the caking sunscreen, an irony, my body rippled and lean. My bike is heavy-slung, war-proven, dotted with talismans from the road, including a new leather and copper saddle obtained through the guile of a good deal; and dirt, scratches, and stickers from a 900 mile ride.

Along the way I discovered the American south, the multitude of worlds, confirmation of stereotypes, and stereotype-defying surprises.

New Orleans has been an indulgent revival, clothing-optional swim parties and 3 dozen oyster meals. A place to see old friends and make new ones, to be cosy, to love. Sometimes eaten by flies in the heat, sometimes stupefied by air conditioning. The city is decrepit and opulent, decadent and hungry. The scabby roads and Spanish Moss remind everyone that the swamp wants the city back, but the humans are giving entropy a run for her money in a rude industrious way.
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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Something Real Outside of Asheville

People of every stripe gushed about Asheville on our bike trip and before it, as far back as New York folks would wax nostalgic for this hip little southern town. Excepting Dave, a tattoo artist in weird Floyd. "Asheville? It's played out, man. It's all hype."

Dave turned out to be right. Asheville itself is a fairly safe and cooky facsimile of a radical town, one part washed up hippy and one part oblivious granola yuppy enclave, all coffee shop and food co-op. It's nobody's fault, really, and the quality of life appears to be good (though, like Portland, being young and over-educated is a common problem). It is a damn shame, though, because the whispers underneath this marketable main street version of an alternative, art and community oriented way of living are based on something real. It's the Asheville of the past, maybe, and certainly the Asheville of the periphery.

We were lucky, through some good friends, to stay somewhere that lives up to the hype, so to speak. A place pieced together up a steep hill from downtown, buried by trees and secluded by a series of unmarked dirt roads. 5-6 houses, each built over time by their inhabitants, made up of salvaged lumber and scavenged brick. Tin roofs redirect water to giant containment tanks, from which it is filtered with slow drip double pots for drinking. Heat is passive, or from efficient wood stoves. Electricity is forgone, or comes from solar panels. Toilets compost human waste in a simple way, and the results are fed to the garden.

The garden produces herbs, berries, onions, chard, kale, leeks, potatoes, carrots, beets, garlic, and even artichokes, along with a host of things I didn't even know to ask about. Chickens lay eggs in an elevated coop house and whine pitifully when you take them out from under them. One house centers around a piano, another is filled with bicycle powered lathes and grinders a-la Maya Pedal. There's a kiln in the works, and a venue for shows.

Most of this little world was constructed by bike trailer trips, and it's still close enough to the city to go in every day. After 6 months in New York, it's quite inspiring to see people my age living on their own terms and gathering tons of skills that they can use to create food and shelter for themselves. I had an oddly deep pride for my co-generationals after seeing what they'd done with their time, it's the kind of place I always knew existed but had never seen first hand

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Alleyquest tomfoolery in Asheville

Joergen and I happened to be in town for the Asheville Pedal Punks Alleyquest, which was a medieval extravaganza. Highlights included storming castles, hassling strangers, hidden messages in obscure spots of town, and slaying the dragon! Everyone was very appreciative of our out-of-town spirit.
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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Civilization in North Carolina

The road to Asheville, mountain biking in Greensboro, long hot stretches of fast tarmac, America's addiction to cars writ large.
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First Flight Bike Shop is a secret shrine to 80's Moutainbikes!

What was supposed to be a browse-and-bounce head pop-in to a small town bike shop turned into a 2 hour wander through the history of the bicycle, with a happy emphasis on the greatest hits of the utilitarian, innovative, wacky, and pretty advancements in Mountain bikes through the late 70's to early 90's.

This fully functional shop has a hanging museum above the sales floor, a cabinet of curiosities in the repair area, and an upstairs vault of treasures. The best thing about the collection is the invisible transition between what's for sale and what's a priceless mainstay of the collection. You get the feeling that you could buy an early Ibis or Breezer if you were persuasive enough and had deep pockets, or even walk away with a bright pink lugged Stumpjumper if the collection was a little overweight. Quite the gem in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina.
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Friday, May 18, 2012

Elsewhere: a biome of junk

On the surface it looks like a hyperexaggerated junk shop, and that's what it was until 1997, when the hoarder/owner died and something had to be done. Instead of throwing away all of the unsold knicknacks, fabrics, and debris, they decided to make an art collective.

On the advice of Aliya, who was an artist in residency in the space, we checked it out on the way through Greensboro. It's right downtown, on a cute street of gentry and whimsy, surrounded by still-operating antique shops and art galleries of varying degrees of safeness. It could have been just another monument to the story-less lives of cute collectors objects and broken tools, the things that didn't sell, except for one important rule:

Nothing goes in, and nothing goes out. Resident artists can embark on any project or performance based off of the materials in the place, but their tools are limited to what was already in the 2-3 story shop at the moment of the owner's demise in 1997. This creates a false economy of useful objects and a false surplus of others: what does one do, for example, with hundreds of nails, no hammer, and a soldering iron? Or hundreds of dresses and 2 mannequins. The space is both constraining in its rules and limitless.

Collectively, the workers, interns, and residents have developed a knack for aesthetic organization; fabrics and machine parts and other groupings will be made along inscrutable organizational guidelines, a little bit functional, a little bit material. The space is fairy-like and surreal, begging to cameo as a set in an animation series.

The collective acts as a museum (admission: $1), accepts artists in residents, and has a variety of classes to share its collection with the community.
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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Roanoke, That is all

Up to speed, portraits and pictures.
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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Shenandoah Fog

300 miles, at a rate of about 60 per day, have passed. Riding over the spine of mountains is no joke, and leaves plenty of room for existential speculation. Even more so when a good majority of that mountain-conquering was done through heavy fog. We climb steep grades, breathe mist, eat fortified mush, rest, and repeat. Sisyphean and simple. Sometimes the fog is so thick we lose all bearings on the grade or surroundings, and are surprised by the apparitions of passing hikers, tunnels, cars.

Occasionally, the sun comes out, and it's incredible. Green on green on green. Thundering rainstorms, friendly southerners, obligatory mile-tallying, and looking forward to the next meal. A welcome static between the ears.
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