Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Bicycling Australia: part 3 - Homecoming


The plane taking us 12,000km across the Pacific is enormous. It even has an upper deck. Maybe I was projecting, but the take-off seemed sluggish and the overhead bins actually started shaking wildly, straining under the pressure to get this beast off the ground. I was a little freaked out, especially after the constant swirl of news around the crash of Malaysian Flight 370. But there's nothing you can do in this situation, no turning back, no changing your mind. I was on the plane, and that bird was gonna fly. So I forced myself to let go of all the terrible thoughts that fill your mind on a shaky airplane, and turned to the task of picking out a movie to watch with Aims. We've been really looking forward to gorging ourselves on movies, and we did! We watched Dallas Buyers Club, August: Osage County, Blind Side, The Battle of the Sexes, Midnight Cowboy, Annie Hall, and one or two others I can't remember. My mind is currently enshrouded in a weird fog, that singular haze that only sleep deprivation provides. We stayed awake for 34 hours before falling asleep last night for an uneasy, nightmare-filled 13 hours of sleep. It was incredibly hard to get up, even after all that time, but we had a rehearsal to get to! What a gift to be able to jump right back into Seattle with a show at the beautiful Triple Door with our friends Ian McFeron and Alisa Milner.

Humans are such adaptable animals. It's only been 3 months, but I have trained myself to impulsively look to my right before crossing a street. I was really afraid in NZ and Oz of being run over by a car coming from the opposite direction, so I constantly repeated the mantra "look right, look right, look right" as I approached a street. I expected my muscle memory to take over upon my return to the US, but it's a little slow even 2 days later. I'll be extra careful again, as cycling down the right-hand side of the road is what now feels dangerous.

The last 2 weeks of the tour were relaxing and fun-filled, like a proper vacation! We snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, saw a wild koala, a wild platypus, and a wild wallaby with a joey in her pouch. How lucky! We're on this chunk of rock for 2 months, and we see these unique, only-in-Australia wonders in our last week there...amazing.

Great Barrier Reef

It's hard to sum up the experiences of this trip. I'm looking forward to digesting them in pieces over the next few weeks, sharing stories with friends and family and settling back into the life we've built here in Seattle. These months of constant physical exercise have left our bodies feeling strong, and our minds feeling healthy...we''ll try and slow down a bit, and take the opportunity to sort out all the lessons learned. For now, I think the main thing I've taken away with me is a trove of new and beautiful friends. It's the biggest change I notice when I reflect on who I was before we left. My world has expanded, and now I've got Jan, Maurice, Alice, and Sian from Fiji all the way to Frankie, Graham, Jake, Dana, Asa, and Alicia in Brisbane and everyone in between to laugh and share time with during this crazy ol' journey we're on together. I couldn't ask for anything better to have come out of this adventure.
~ Moe

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bicycling Australia: part 2 - Pale Blue Dot

You know that Breeders song "Cannonball"? That distorted "check check ahhhoooooahh" vocal intro, those drum clicks, that bass riff...that's the song we have programmed as our alarm clock. It went off this morning at 6:15am. We dragged ourselves out of bed, carried Alia's bicycle box down the hostel steps, and bid her adieu. She joined us a couple weeks ago in Sydney, and headed home to Detroit today from Brisbane after almost 300km of riding, some serious beach time, wallabies and koalas, plenty of sun, a bad head cold, a Mardi Gras pride parade, and lots of laughs. It was fun to have another person along for the ride, and now Aims and I have a mere two weeks, 3 shows, visits to the Sunshine Coast and the Great Barrier Reef, and a 24hr travel day before we get home!

Prior to Sydney, we had a memorable time in Canberra, the nation's capital. Our wonderful hosts Gary and Su gave us the grand tour, including an elevator ride to the top of the Telstra tower atop the summit of Black Mountain for a panoramic view of the area. I was a little dizzy up there, it felt unnatural but amazing to be up so high in a tiny building. Canberra is a methodically planned city, sort of reminiscent of Washington D.C. We toured the Parliament House, but missed a visit to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. In fact, our entire Australian experience has been largely devoid of any obvious signs of Aboriginal people or culture. There's a legacy here of violence and brutality and oppression similar to what native North Americans suffered at the hands of European colonists. After coming from the diversity of New Zealand where we saw the celebration of Maori language and culture nearly everywhere, it's been unsettling to feel an undercurrent, a constant but subtle pulse of racism. I have to say, most of the people we've met in Australia are wonderful, diverse, peaceful, kind, interesting, and welcoming folks....but that beat remains. A few days ago I met the most profoundly racist man I've ever met. He literally told me, out of nowhere, that he "hates Aboriginals, not a single one of them will ever work a day in their lives. I know I'm racist, but that's the truth." Aimee and I were both stunned into open mouth silence. All I could wonder was whether it was worth it to argue with this old man, or if just walking away would be better. That internal struggle seemed to last forever. In the end, a few seconds passed, I told him it was good he knew he was a racist, I got on my bike and rode away. The incident keeps replaying in my mind as we ride. I keep coming up with better things to say ("you MUST know that's not true! You have Aboriginal members of Parliament for God's sake!"), but really there's no changing someone's mind with rational thought in a conversation like that. I saved my breath, and am trying to move on to constructive things.

Other Australian Encounters =

The bookstore owner at our first gig in Canberra gifted me Barbara Kingsolver's book "Flight Behavior". I loved this novel, and even lugged the heavy hardback edition across mountains. Truly a gift, and eerie to read the passage commenting on massive drought and bushfires in Victoria due to climate change.....David from True Wheel Cycles in Mullumbimby gifted me with his time and expertise (and the correct wrench size!!) to send me safely on my way, though in need of a new headset soon...Frances, Lilly, Bek, Tim, Will, Cam, Deb and Tony, Erik, Erin, David, Rhyla, Ian, Gary, Su, Kieran, Catriona and David, Deb, Shevaun, Sam, Jake, Jennifer, Graeme, Helen and more people I'm sure I've missed have gifted us with a place in their homes, among other acts of kindness. Thank you!

I'll sign off with this Carl Sagan quote...I first read it at the Carter Observatory right before we left Wellington, NZ, and I've carried it in my heart ever since.

“On February 14, 1990, on its way out of the Solar System, Voyager 1 spun around one last time for a final glimpse of its home planet, 6.5 billion kilometers away. Our place, Earth, appears as a tiny speck, lost in the vastness of space.

We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you can see a dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines...every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits, than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bicycling Australia: part 1 - Life, Renewal, and Growth.

Aimee and I are stopped along the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, and haven't seen a person or vehicle for hours. About ten meters away, a mob of 15 or so kangaroos are grazing, napping, and staring curiously at us. It's silent except for the occasional cockatoo, and the air smells of sweet lemon eucalyptus. Life is so good.

The week began on a different note. We've spent 7 days cycling through Victoria, en route from Melbourne to Mt. Beauty, a lovely little town nestled in the Victorian Alps. Melbourne is an awesome city full of cyclists, art, food, music, & smart and funny people. We had a great time wandering the city, playing a radio show and 2 gigs, and prepping for our trip into the bush. On this trip, I learned a lot about survival.

Victoria has had a brutal summer, very little rain and extremely high temperatures. We nervously checked the fire reports, and set out early each day, trying to beat the 40 degree (104F) heat. Conditions are ideal for bush fires to start and quickly spin out of control. We'd leave shortly after sunrise, already hot, and push hard to get 60k in by noon. By Sunday February 10th, so many fires were burning that locals were comparing it to Black Saturday of 2009. The air was always hazy with smoke, and our path was often of the unbeaten variety on gravel roads through pretty rural bush. The upswing of this was that the riding was peaceful and quiet, and we'd chat for hours as we pedaled along. Downside was the weight of worry, hoping the wind wouldn't change direction or a new fire would start. The scorched landscape and endless stretch of blackened trees served as a constant reminder of what may be. The weather shifting was out of our control though, so we tried not to let the stress get out of hand. Also, we passed a few fire memorials on our way from the Happy Valley to the Kiewa Valley that proclaimed "Life, Renewal, Growth." Focus on the positive, and marvel the tiny shoots of eucalyptus making a comeback.

We cycled through two 40+ degree days without many resources in between point A and Point B. This meant carrying extra liters of water (heavy!), and enough food and snacks for 2 days. We are definitely eating a lot, so food adds significant weight as well!

In addition to fire and dehydration, I've been worried about snake and spider bites. There was a Redback spider outside our door the other day, and all the eucalyptus leaves and bark spread over the trails makes it really hard to spot and avoid a snake. Also, walking through the bush near Wangaretta, I leaned my arm against one of these spiny caterpillar things and got stung. Yikes, what is this thing?!?

Ultimately we just had to begin each day as best prepared as possible, roll with the punches, and try to enjoy the scenery. A good recipe for a fulfilling life, right? I definitely have a renewed sense of gratitude that I live in a place with plenty of access to clean water, and limited exposure to creatures that can kill me. But I now know how to properly apply pressure bandages, to stomp on my shoes before putting them on (thanks Vic!), and have mentally practiced staying calm if bitten by a snake. But I'm not just learning and growing because of that good ol' Fear of Death! Fear really puts a damper on satisfaction, and fun. I've also newly learned how best to spot a platypus (haven't seen any yet though), that there are heaps of kangaroos around golf courses, that peppermint eucalyptus trees smell especially sweet after a rain, that Aimee loves whipped cream and fried haloumi, and that Aussies have many many accents that are hard to imitate.

We had one of the best shows of the tour on Saturday night in Tawonga...played a beautiful room to a rapt audience of locals...cyclists, farmers, adventurers, and just plain beautiful folks. I thought Aimee sounded especially great, I could hear every little nuance she beat out of that drum...and the wooden stage was fantastic for keeping a kick drum going. I admit I didn't practice at all on the long haul from Melbourne, and it felt great to get the guitar back in my hands.

The weather has cooled now, and we've just crossed the border into New South Wales. A new state, and a new leg of the adventure!


Friday, January 31, 2014

Bicycling New Zealand: part 3 - John Cleese, eat your heart out...

We've made it nearly 700k to Wellington, our final destination in New Zealand. We had 2 options to get across the mountains to the West Coast, and we decided on a route that took us through the inland college town of Palmerston North. We've read that John Cleese famously said "if you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick." In response, PN named the town dump after him. Most people in NZ raised an eyebrow when we confessed our route, saying "Palmy! Don't go there, it's so boring!" Well, we stuck to our guns (we feared the Rimutakas! ) and you know what? Our best cycling was that week! We took back roads through Waipawa, cycled through a 6.3 earthquake, hit Dannevirk, then had a massive 80+k day into Palmy. Headwinds so strong, we couldn't stay on the bikes even on flat terrain. I'm not sure how we made it so far, creaking along the downhills at a meager 8k/hr, but we did it! After all the beautiful farmland, sheep, horses, cattle, bluffs, and the Manawatu Gorge, we collapsed at a friend's house...and a town never felt so good as Palmy did. A sparkling river, well-marked cycle trails, and gorgeous citrus trees greeted us. Eat your heart out John Cleese! We loved it. And we learned to trust our instincts. People get stuck in their ways you know? It felt like an old joke to poke fun at Palmy, but people really start to believe it. Then they don't know what they're missing.

Prior to that, we had a phenomenal time in Napier. Enjoyed a 3 1/2 hour winery gig where we pulled out a bunch of old tunes. Those "jukebox" gigs as we call them can be pretty fun. We both take risks that we wouldn't normally do at a proper listening show. I took a few meandering solos, trying to make Aimee laugh. It's a good time, cutting loose during a show. I've got to work harder and become a better player, so it will be easier to go off the rails and make for a more exciting performance. Listening to someone playing it safe is so boring, but I notice myself falling into that pattern often. I'll always prefer watching a player go for something great, even if they miss the mark. We had a lovely sold out house show in Napier that was less risky, but a far more emotional performance with such an attentive audience. I love how the show changes from night to night, keeps it interesting for both of us.

We played pool in a cool old bar in Dannevirk, and the bartender stayed open late to chat and serve us drinks. Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us" video came on the tv, and we stopped talking to watch and point out landmarks and acquaintances. She asked us, "does this make you homesick?", and it made both of us pause. My immediate reaction is "of course not!" But what is homesickness? I've been thinking of home a lot. Every garden I see makes me eager to get back and dig in the dirt. I constantly imagine detailing parts of the trip to our friends, describing what we saw and learned. But all this imagination doesn't mean that I'm having a bad time, or want to go home. I love traveling. I love learning new language, seeing new parts of the world, eating new food, meeting new people, hearing new music. But I do want to go home, eventually. It's one of the best parts about travel, knowing you get to come back and share all these fascinating experiences with people you love.

We've come to the end of the first third of this adventure, with our final show mere hours away...then off to Oz for another two months! I can't wait to tell you all about it! ~ Moe

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Bicycling New Zealand: part 2 - Upside Down

The world can turn upside down, did you know that?  I've been staring at the moon, it's waxing gibbous in the opposite direction than I've seen my whole life. It's been creeping toward full, filling in to the right.  The sun moves right to left across the northern sky.  Water runs down the drain clockwise.  I've finally seen the Southern Cross, and Orion appears to be doing a cartwheel.  The night sky is quite a spectacle down here.

The tour had a sober beginning. A few nights ago in Auckland, we passed a blocks-long traffic accident. At the end of the scene, a white sheet covering a still body. We found out the next day that a cyclist had been hit by a truck and killed.
It's hard to explain the feelings that come after witnessing such tragedy. Fear, for one. Will I be killed as well? Will I watch Aimee get pulled under a truck? What happens when we die, anyway? Many of the songs on our new album revolve around the topic of death...as well as true love, being true to self, and taking care of each other and the spaces we occupy.  But death has been on my mind, and it's been recently suggested to me that I should seek out a spiritual center, find some comfort in a higher power. I wonder, what spiritually grounds most of my friends? What do they think happens when we die? Why haven't I asked them? Am I being too macabre?

I ponder some of this as we cycle.  The cycling so far has been pretty great. Short days, less than 50k, with lots of beautiful rolling hills and only a little rain. We've played 2 incredible shows, explored a cave 60m underground while blackwater rafting, seen thousands of sheep (they all turn to look at us as we slowly creak by...we often call “whaaaaat are you staaaaaaring aaaat"), got sunburned, and had lots of laughs.  We've just completed a massive trek through the mountains from Lake Taupo to the Art Deco city of Napier.  We had a fantastic view of Mount Ngauruhoe (otherwise known as Mt. DOOM) as we cruised out of Taupo.  145k and 2 days later, we finished a steep 7k climb and finally descended into beautiful Napier, nestled at the edge of Hawkes Bay and the center of New Zealand wine country.  We've got some great shows lined up here, we'll report back on those soon.
I try and start each day feeling grateful for my life and all it's riches. When you see firsthand how quickly it can all end, it really brings urgency to the business of being happy, and kind. The world can turn upside down in a flash, you know?  Here's to enjoying these lives we have to the fullest.

~ Moe

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bicycling New Zealand: part 1 - Auckland

Ralph the ginger Tomcat is curled up inside my cardboard bike box, discarded in the sunny gravel driveway out here in Auckland.  You can see his feet in this photo.  Aims and I have decided to assemble the bicycles today, a beautiful morning on our second full day in New Zealand.  

What an amazing country so far!  I can't even begin to describe how wonderful our hosts Toby and Vic have been.  We were met at the airport by Vic, big smile on her face, waving a colorful sign declaring "MoZo!" as we wheeled out of customs.  We felt so cool!  Neither of us have ever been met with a sign at an airport before.

We've spent a lively few days meeting a bunch of musicians ("musos"), having great jams. Some nice mashups of trad tunes with Aims' snare backbeat gave me a few ideas.  I've been practicing my Maori pronunciations, though everyone here seems to have a slightly different accent, so it takes a bit to get it right.  Vic has been phenomenal in pointing out all the traditional names for every mountain, valley, plant, animal, you name it!

Auckland reminds me quite a bit of Seattle and the NW.  Beautiful, liberal and environmentally friendly. Mountains and oceans and bush all rolled together in one little area.  We took a spin through the Waitakere range to the west coast beaches and ended up in a huge cave.  Apparently the super fine, soft black sand has been slowly filling it up for the last couple hundred years, and the cave floor is now buried about 22ft below.   We hear tell it used to be a European community center, and that there is a kauri (a coniferous tree) dance floor under there!  Imagine that huge cave with an additional 20 feet of ceiling space...amazing!  We sat around playing a bit of music, the acoustics were so sweet.

First show of the tour is Wednesday night, got to get our sets together.  First up though, is a ride through the hills today, past Titirangi.  We've got to get our legs in shape after all this sitting around! Ralph disagrees, stretches his legs, and seems to say he'll meet us back at the house.