From Maine to Milan, a Harrowing Journey

I walked around the station and found a cafe with free wifi. I called Craig. I told him where I was. He said it was a few miles away. I asked him to come find me, that my bike was broken and that my phone was going to die. I hadn’t brought a European charger. I felt defeated. I didn’t want to rely on him. I wanted to be strong and independent. I wanted to put my bike together myself. I wanted to find the station myself.

Out of Milan and on the Road

The sun starts to set and we know we’re no where near where we planned to be. We will wild camp tonight. I’ve never done it. Neither has Craig. I’ve never set up the new tent he bought for this trip and I’ve never been so brazen as to camp on someone’s property. We’re in a green area on the navigation which means wild land or farm land. My stomach doesn’t feel good. The milk has caught up to me. I do my business in a little ravine by a gravel road. The road runs next to a river and we decide to cycle down it a bit to see if we can find a camp site. 

Same, same, and same… but oh, so different

Friends come in all shapes and sizes, in varying degrees and depths. Cinco de Mayo of my tenth year on earth, a tiny bundle of joy entered our family, evening our the count of boys and girls and without my knowledge giving me a new perception of myself, another conscience and the most truthful, honest friend I could ask for. Marah is my twin. She says we are “same and same.” If time were not a factor, it would be eerily true. Not only do photographs of me in my early years resemble her physically, but I’ve been told that she sounds, works, and thinks as I did at her age. Marah is incredibly intuitive and far more sensitive to her environment than many children her age. She speaks blatant truths that stop me dead in my tracks or simply make me smile. On her first day of first grade she told me that she could not invite friends over in the afternoon anymore as she did in kindergarten because she is now at school all day. She ended her thought with, “I guess that’s just how my life’s gonna be now.” 

A Croatian Artists' Squat

Organizations include a daycare for children with disabilities, a community radio station, artists’ studios, yoga, magic, martial arts, dance and theater. Each organization pays only for it’s electricity use, the rent in the building is free. The building is owned by the City of Pula and co-governed through the Rojc Alliance and sees roughly 1,000 visitors per day.

The Split Clubhouse

The camp site was tucked away between a marina and a park where old men were playing pétanque. The gate was open. A few benches and tables made of old pallets were set up in the yard and a large, locked structure on the property had bathrooms and showers attached. We called the number and scouted out places we might lock our bikes for a few days while we checked out Dubrovnik. 

Cycling Brač Island

We stopped for lunch in a scrap yard overlooking the sea. We elected a bashed up car with a good view and ate meat and cheese on bread and some fruit while sitting in the front seats. I had seen a yoga retreat on Google maps and while no one had responded when I emailed to enquire, I thought we should check it out anyway. It was a beautiful piece of property with a geodesic dome, composting toilets, a few out buildings, an outdoor kitchen and a very friendly caretaker. The owner of Gea Viva, which is just outside the town of Milna, is German and she was at home when we visited. The Croatian caretaker was incredibly hospitable and introduced us to the dog, cat, kitten and donkey on the property. There is a healing circle surrounded by carved pillars, gardens and space for tents. 

Sleeping at the Edge of a Minefield

There seemed to be a different magnitude to knowing this modern, western country was carpeted with bombs not 20 years ago. We didn’t see a soul. We just kept pedaling as it got darker and darker. We knew the brush wouldn’t be safe, but as soon as we saw land that had been farmed and tilled that we would be OK. It’s not ideal to cycle on rough terrain at night, but it’s even less ideal to risk life and limb driving metal tent stakes into a minefield.

The Weather

Modern life severs people from the outdoors and I was guilty as anyone of not paying particular attention to trends in weather. Author Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” and found that kids who don’t play outside enough have weakened immune systems from a lack of microbe exposure, irregular sleep due to lack of regular melatonin, and vitamin D deficiency.

Pot Hangers 

Always carve away from yourself. Keep your knife in your hand or in a sheath, never on the table. Brace your elbows, extend your arms. Carve with the grain, not against it. There were so many rules and tricks I felt overwhelmed at first. I bought my knife off Amazon and it arrived at Bushcraft school about a week in. It had a camouflaged handle and sheath that could clip to a belt. It was huge, and unwieldy.  

Feeling 32

One year I had a snow party and my friends and I dressed in snowsuits, made a fort and threw snowballs. When I got a little older I started having sleep overs full of late night movies, gossip and pancakes for breakfast. I had my sweet 16 and 18th birthday at my grandparent’s house. Their finished basement was a huge playroom complete with a dance floor, pin ball machine and pool table.

Improvised Cooking

I found out that most things don’t need to be refrigerated. Living off the grid, the closest thing to refrigeration we had were coolers and ice. Butter will keep for weeks outdoors. Milk will keep at least 5 days. Eggs will keep for at least a week. Peanut butter, honey, jelly, hard cheese and tortillas don’t need refrigerating at all. Humans survived millennia without access to electricity and thus refrigeration. They likely had stronger and more varied gut bacteria than we do in our antimicrobial, hand sanitized and bleached world. But, hey, that’s what fermented foods are for! 

Water Water Everywhere

A few years ago, a pond was dug behind the guide shack in what used to be the field where students made camp. It’s spring fed meaning the top of the water is warmed by the sun but beneath its depths, the murky pond has pockets of freezing cold water. Bull frogs and green frogs have made their home in the reeds along the bank. When it’s warm, going for a swim is easier than showering, even if soap isn’t allowed in the pond. If there’s one thing I’ve learned here it’s the cleansing power of water. Just water. And how little one really needs to shampoo. 

Guide's Coffee

Called “Guide’s Coffee” by the instructors, it was more or less a gritty, watery, hot coffee-like concoction requiring nothing more than a pail of water and some coffee grounds. It’s fortunate that I’m not a coffee snob. While there was a 5 gallon bucket of sugar on the premises, milk doesn’t keep when the only source of refrigeration is a cooler and a brick of ice. I’ll take mine black, thankyouverymuch.

Penthouse owner's Haludovo Palace Hotel Now Sits in Ruins on Krk Island

Craig and I are both fascinated with abandoned buildings and the slow but steady decrepitness that creeps into empty edifices. The windows are broken by bored teenagers, street artist come to paint their graffiti and tag their names, the wind and rain blow through the open windows and slowly but surely plants grow sending their roots through ceilings and up pipes to crack the tile and fill them in with dirt.