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.Read More
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.Read More
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.”Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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!Read More
2018 was an incredible year for my mental and spiritual growth. It was a year long time out from my day to day existence. I recommitment to being my capable, beautiful, smart human self. It was a year to let go of shoulds, pursue new things with reckless abandon, not fear failure, travel, write, not listen to anybody tell me what I should or can or can’t do and to dream big. I’m in a better, more giving headspace and am a more fun person to be around. I read more books and practiced more yoga and tried more new things that I have in a long time and the momentum has just rolled right into 2019 so beautifully!
I’m really proud of myself. Here are the highlights from 2018 in no particular order:
• Wrote over 100 articles for The Culture Trip
• Read over 50 books in print, e-books and audio books
• Had the best year of consistent home yoga practice in the 13 years I’ve been practicing including a few Instagram challenges, creating a home studio and painting two murals in it
• Taught yoga out of my home and at Green Climbers Home (and did a bunch of outdoor rock climbing)
• Hosted 3 friends from the US in Laos, a country they never would have sought out had I not lived there
• Fell in love
• Wrote 12 Shakespearean sonnets that were published on disoriented.me
• Published 7 episodes of Saturn Returns Podcast with more coming out weekly in 2019
• Got over my fear of buying nice things and bought a Salsa touring bicycle
• Road said bicycle 145 miles from Columbus to Cleveland, 500 miles from Boston to Masardis, Maine, and 600 miles from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia
• Spent 9 weeks at Bushcraft School in northern Maine learning to be self-reliant and live off the grid
• Did a solo 700 mile scooter road trip from Cleveland to Chicago and back
• Spent 2 weeks on a motorcycle trip in northern Vietnam
• Spent time in 7 countries: Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, USA, Italy, Slovenia and Croatia
• Started Volunteering at the Ohio City Bike Coop
• Between bikepacking and bushcraft school superseded my goal of sleeping outside 50+ nights per year
• Presented at an international conference on using images in the EFL classroom
• Adopted and neutered a Lao kitten and found him a good home
• Started teaching English online
• Knit my first pair of socks
• Completed my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Savannakhet, Laos
• Set myself up for an awesome 2019 including 3 months in Europe, a Vipassana silent meditation retreat, hiking the Camino de Santiago, spending 6 weeks in Africa, doing lots more writing and podcasting, camping and biking
I’m sharing my accomplishments not to gloat or present a seemingly unattainable crazy travel-filled life but rather to encourage anyone and everyone to follow your dreams. I didn’t do all of these things because I’m stronger, braver or smarter than the average bear but because I set real, tangible goals and then worked on them every single day. I cut out the unfulfilling fluff from my life, streamlined my schedule and finances and started checking off bucket list items. It doesn’t matter whether you want to start a business, write a book, run a marathon or simply be the best artist/scientist/parent/chef/professional you can be. I’m telling you there’s no time like the present, no reason not to set huge goals, and no reason not to reach them.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
This is your permission to shine. Make 2019 your best year yet.
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.Read More
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.Read More
I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
Our Warm Showers host cancelled on us due to the flooding. We had just left Venice that morning after traipsing around for two days knee-deep in the worst flood waters in a decade. Warm Shower is a Web site much like Couch Surfing that connects cycle tourists with hosts who welcome them in for free lodging, a shower and often a meal. Our host’s town of San Michele al Tagliamento was being evacuated because the Fiume Tagliamento was overflowing her banks. He advised us to get off our bikes and take the train to Trieste to avoid the oncoming storm. While we respected his wishes to not host guests during an emergency evacuation, we didn’t take the train.
It had been a long 90km (56 mile) day. We started at Jolly Camping in Marghera, where I had stayed for a week with my sister a few years back. The campsite was as inviting and cost-effective as I had remember for a town as expensive as Venice. It was fortunate we were staying on the mainland as the island of Venice in addition to having a bicycle ban was totally flooded.
The flooding meant traffic was backed up, roads were closed and whole roundabouts were under waters. We cycled for a ways down a brimming canal and had al fresco cappuccinos in a small town near a church in the center. The barista made hearts in the foam and we tried two different croissants for elevenses.
Biking on a bike path is such a joy compared to vying for positioning with all the cars on the road. The canal was our constant companion through the surprisingly sunny morning. Ducks and egrets forged near the banks and we stopped for lunch at a picnic table near a cemetery. As it was October 30th the locals were busy cleaning graves and sprucing up the place for the November 1st celebration of All Saints Day. We fired up the camp stove and ate surprisingly good curry from a packet. The sunny morning started to turn into a cloudy afternoon.
We cycled on not sure where we’d stay or what the weather would have in store for us. The wind was picking up as we cycled through Portogruaro, the last town before our goal of San Michele. We started hunting for good wild camping spots. In Italy wild camping isn’t expressly forbidden and is up to the local municipalities to police and make rules. We hadn’t been caught yet and had been getting more bold and better at picking sites.
An abandoned looking building looked promising until we saw the huge flooded yard we’d have to cross to get inside. We cycled to the back and found that it wasn’t abandoned at all but was some sort of factory with cars in the lots and lights on. It was only 4 p.m. but the skies were darkening and a storm was brewing and we needed to set up the tent if we were going to enjoy a pleasant, dry night. We continued on.
A big down the road a pine grove piqued our interest but with all the rain the ground was soggy. An abandoned restaurant next door looked pretty promising and we rode into the parking lot to investigate. Craig is fond of saying that people “Can’t be bothered” to care too much about what we’re doing. With the weather coming in and the building clearly not in use, it didn’t seem like anyone would bat an eye. We went around to the back and started to set up camp. A covered picnic pavilion in the front of the restaurant filled with old signage made a great bike garage for the evening. We locked them together and covered them with a poncho and set out to unfurl and stake down the tent.
Between the windbreak in the restaurant wall and an aptly placed wooden rail we could tie the fly too we were pretty sure we’d withstand whatever mother nature had coming for us. The first drops fell just as we finished setting up.
The terrible storm we anticipated never materialized and the rain stopped shortly after it began. We cooked pasta for dinner and as there’s never much to do once the sun goes down, called it an early night.
I’m always nervous breaking camp at dawn, thinking someone will see us and we’ll somehow get in trouble. A woman and her child were waiting for the school bus across the road as I unlocked our bikes the next morning. She saw me but didn’t say anything. We packed up and headed back on the road under clear skies.
I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
“You’re late you’ve missed the party.”
“But it’s so cold, it will snow soon.”
These sentiment followed through Istra down the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Most tourists come for the hot weather, beaches and parties that define the Adriatic from June to September. Cycling in November meant a bit more rain and overcast days but it meant reasonable temperatures in the 50s and 60s F (10-15º C) which we gladly took over the 80sº F (28º C) common in the summer months.
It’s low season and many of the bars and restaurants are closed but we found a cute place for a drink just in time to be shielded from a downpour. Kings Caffe Bar was on the south side of Marina Malinska. Caffe Bars are a staple of Croatian social life. In the morning men gather to chain smoke cigarets over tiny coffees and newspapers with the news on in the background. By night they serve beer and the myriad locally liquors in flavors ranging form plum to pear to a hazelnut.
We took a table outside and ordered beers. Craig had a pale ale and I chose the red ale. We were pleased to have found a bit of civilization and clean water after roaming around the abandoned acres of Hotel Haludovo. A date was going on behind us under the large umbrellas that covered the patio. All of a sudden we heard a huge THUMP. Something had fallen onto the umbrella. The waitress came out to investigate. A stray cat had leapt from the roof onto the umbrella, crawled to the edge then jumped to the ground. Stray cats are everywhere in Croatia and groups of people fund raise to feed them in parks and alleys. We had a good laugh about it and went back to our drink.
I had elected not to wear my raincoat so of course the skies opened. We moved to a table closer to the building to avoid the sprinkles but then the wind picked up blowing the drops sideways so we moved inside. It was not a good night to cook outdoors, we would have to eat out. As the storm picked up we settled in.
Above the bar, a board displayed money from around the world. Craig added small bills from southeast Asia: Vietnamese Dong, Cambodian Riel and Lao Kip. Our waitress handed us a roll of tape and encouraged us to sign the bills before hanging them up next to the Euros, USD, Yuan and Aussie dollars. We wrote love letters to each other on the money. Southeast Asia is where we met and as we had yet to have a date in either of our respective home countries of England and America, it seemed suiting.
The sunsets early in Croatia in the Autumn. By 5 the sky is turning pink and by 6 it’s pretty much pitch black so It always feels later than it is. We started wandering back to our campsite stopping for a greasy meat-filled burek on the way. The music from Caffe Bar Jaz lured us up the stairs into a dark, smoky bar overlooking the marina. A man sat solo nursing a beer in the front and Marco from Serbia was looking bored behind the bar.
Marco had lived in Croatia for the better part of a decade and was very excited to practice his English with native speakers. He told us about the football match he was watching and how he makes more money in Croatia than he did in Serbia, but not now. Now it was quite. The tourists had gone home. We were tourists. What the hell were we doing here anyway?
We told him how we had ridden out bicycles from Milan and now we were on Krk island heading south to Split. He told us it was a good time to come and we agreed. We had intended to stay for one night cap but Marco’s thorough rundown of the beers he had on offer including where they were brewed and what they tasted like enticed us to stay for another.
We put out kuna in the pool table and played a game of 8 ball. I held my own but won on a technicality. Craig scratched on the 8 despite being a far superior billiards player than me. We bid Marco farewell and he asked us to come back the following day. He’d be opening at noon. We told him we would be long gone by then. How about 10? We told him no, still too late but thank you. We took our Burek down the stairs along the dark path that lead back to our campsite at the abandoned hotel and feasted on savory pastry before drawing into our sleeping bags thankful that the rain had stoped and that we had a dry place to sleep.
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.Read More
I caught my first fish when I was about 10 years old. My family was at a party of my dad’s friend and they had a big pond behind the house. I learned to thread the worm on the hook and cast the line out reeling it in slowly. I got a bite and the fish swallowed the hook and bait at once. My dad’s friend had to cut the line leaving the bait and hook in my fish’s stomach. I remember feeling bad about it. He told me it was no big deal. That bait was cheap but catching fish was priceless.
I haven’t done much fishing since then. I might have cast a line here or there, not bringing in anything of note. I don’t own a fishing pole and thought the idea of spending a day sitting in a boat or on a bank not doing much but casting and recasting sounded boring, a waste of an afternoon. Then I came to Bushcraft school.
Two of the men on the course are avid fishermen. They swap stories about types of fish and bait and lures. They debate which fish is better and how to catch them, what time of day and year and in what manner. They have stories of river trips and fish fries and it all sounded like less of a waste of time and more of an activity that involves skill, patience, luck and the ability to accept one’s losses and one’s bounty with equal grace.
One afternoon on the course we learned to fly cast. Fly rods are long and come in several pieces to assemble. The line is thick and flies like a whip. We didn’t put on a lure or even a hook as learning to fly cast can literally be a lesson in self flagellation, caught lines on trees and bushes and lots of frustration.
My line was bright green. I wore a borrowed ball cap and sunglasses to protect myself from the line I was about to whip around. I laid out a length of line in the pond then lifted my rod to 10 o’clock, a quick jerk back to 1 o’clock then watch the line for what seems like ever snake overhead. When the tail comes back to face behind, snap the wrist back to 10 and watch the line fly back overhead and out into the water. It’s an art and a science and it’s not nearly as easy as it looks.
Fly fishing originated in England and considering it’s usually done from the side of a river or pond instead of from a fancy boat it’s shocking to hear how much money people spend on flies, reels, accoutrements and guided trips to remote places where the fish are biting. Needless to say I didn’t catch anything on my hook-less, fly-less rod but I did recommit to the vague notion I developed listening to my classmates debate the finer points of angling: I was going to catch a fish.
I spent some time with David from Texas in the bait shop where hunters bring moose and bear carcasses to be weighed and inspected by the game warden. Inside are snacks and beer, an assortment of camo and bright orange clothing and a whole wall of lures, artificial bate and hooks.
I selected a little silver spinner on a 3 pronged hook and left it in the center console of David’s pickup truck. David soon departed for Tennessee with his miniature Star Wars themed fishing rod and my spinner. I had only fished with him once. I caught nothing. He caught a small sucker. Were my dreams of catching a fish dashed nearly before they began?
Part of our assignment is to spend four nights in a quad pod, essentially a teepee wrapper in a tarp, for a primitive camping experience. I set up camp with three other students right by the river where I had camped before in my hammock and tried and failed to catch fish with David.
This time I used Craig from South Carolina’s mini fishing rod and his golden spinner attached to a three pronged hook. It was dusk and the sun was sparking on the river. He told me to try my hand while he finished setting up camp. I caught a few sticks and about 50 rocks and then I felt a tug on my line. I jerked the line and started reeling it in. Out of the water rose a fish about a foot long and a pound heavy. I didn’t know what to do with it. It was flopping around and very slimy. I couldn’t get a good grip on it and so I bellowed for Allison and Craig to come down to the riverbank. Allison took my picture and Craig brought a bucket. I unhooked my catch whooping and hollering. I had caught a fish! And such a big one! In such little time. Alison and Craig retreated and I went back to casting and reeling it in, catching rocks and sticks and another fish! This one was smaller and skinnier and easier to grab and take the hook out. I put him in the bucket and went back to casting.
I learned not to reel the line all the way in and how to wait until the last possible second to let go of the button to make the line fly out into the deep part of the river. I was wearing my turquoise hunter boots for their true purpose for the first time in my life. They had seen a lot of snowy Chicago winters and wet Chicago springs but they had never stood in the water on the side of a river keeping my feet dry as I cast my line and reeled it in.
Another tug! I jerked my line and reeled in the biggest fish I had caught yet! This time I felt like an old pro taking it out of the water, holing it still to remove the hook and throwing it in the bucket with the others. They were splashing and thrashing so much I had to put the lid on as I thought they were going to escape.
With David I learned how to cut the heads off smaller fish, make an incision along the belly to the anus and rip out the guts. But these fish were bigger and Craig wanted to properly fillet them as the bones wouldn’t soften and you couldn’t eat them like the ones he caught before. I watched him descale the fish alive and cut through the spine to kill them. Their gills fluttered and their mouths moved even in death as phantom twitches of the nervous system fired through severed nerves. This is where meat comes from I told myself. This is the freshest, happiest meat you’ll ever eat, I thought. It was alive and swimming in the river less than an hour ago.
I dunked the fillets in egg then dredged them in flour to fry in a pan over the fire. The coals were hot and I balanced the pan on two big logs on either side of the fire. I was impatient to flip them but Craig said to wait until they were browner, more golden, crispy. Allison gathered for boughs to soak up the grease and set a mesh basket on top to keep the cooked fish until it was time to serve them for dinner. Accompanied by leftover rice and beans and veggies the fish was delicious, even more so because I caught and cooked it myself.
Will I become a professional angler? Probably not. Will I spend more time appreciating the river, wasting time with a rod and reel? Most definitely.
Poling is something of a lost art that natives in Maine used to travel in the low, meandering rivers of the northeast to travel upstream. There are those who say you shod never stand up in a canoe but those people have never heard of poling. It's just what it sounds like. You stand in the stern of the canoe with a 12 foot soft wood pole with a metal shoe on one end for jabbing rocky bottoms of shallow rivers.
What does one bring on a two mile canoe paddle? I wore my bathing suit and life vest with my neoprene booties as I knew there's no way to canoe without getting a bit wet. I brought. Y dry bag that I bought when tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos. I had my lunch (two hard boiled eggs, som trail mix, apple sauce and a banana) by dry clothes and my phone inside. I brought my rain coat just in case, and took down one of the instructor's numbers just in case we became stuck upstream without a paddle (which we didn't take because we hadn't finished carving ours yet.)
We took three 18-foot canoes out on the Aroostook River from the canoe racks near a decrepit shack that may or may not be part of Tim's property. When he bought it the neighbor asked if he was going to live in it. Tim said no and the neighbor said that was good because he thought the cabin was on his side of he property line. It's a no mans land in a place where no surveyor was consulted and the neighbor isn't around too much.
I went out with David "Giggles," who just finished the Appalachian trail in March southbound. He's from Gunbarrel, Texas and loves to fish. Allison, a junior at Boston University went out with Zander, an 18 -year old from Canada and Craig, an Army reservist from South Carolina took his own boat. We planned to meet at 9 and be on the river by 10. We brought a case of PBR and a packed lunch to meet at the bridge that runs over route 11, two miles upstream. I cycled over that bridge on the way to Jack Mountain.
It's a lot of work to move a boat upriver. Keeping the pole on one side of the boat the person in the back launches the canoe off the bottom. The pole stays in the water and acts as a rudder to direct the canoe. The Aroostook River is only 6 inches to two feet deep right now. This summer has been a drought in northern Maine so the river is a lazy slow moving trickle between 25 and 50 feet across. There are a few fast moving rocky areas but mostly it's a meandering River flowing with the wind and current.
David and I traded off and on standing and doing the work in the back and basking in the sun in the front. Poling is a subtle art of reading the river and watching the pole to keep it parallel to the side of the canoe instead of sending the boat careening to one side or another. It was a beautiful day but frustrating work. We heard a whoop from around the bend and knew the bridge was in sight.
We ate our lunch under the bridge and played some Red Hot Chili Peppers to celebrate the occasion. A few cars drove overhead but mostly it was just the sound of the water and five novice canoe pollers hanging out.
Poling back was easier due to the downriver direction and the lessons learned from spending the time poling up. Craig found an orange traffic cone half buried in the bank and we finished the case of PBR which was in a cooler of cold river water as ice, which has to be bought in town, doesn't last up here very long. We arrived back to camp in the late afternoon and pulled the boats back on the rack. It was a great Sunday on the Aroostock.
The bar was literally empty when my friend David from Texas walked into Freem's, the one bar in town. It was Saturday night and we figured if there was ever going to be a crowd tonight would be it.
The two guys who had been smoking on the park bench outside came in through the door behind us. One was the owner Joel and the other was a local with his own pool cue. He had been practicing billiards for 16 months. The cue was a gift from his lady friend. He told us about the 6 months he lived in Florida and hated it. He told us about how he had a different lady friend in Texas he refused to move in with because they have rattlesnakes down there. He told us how he's done odd jobs, worked as a garbage man and always ended up back in Maine. He asked David to play pool.
A woman walked in and asked for something fruity. Joel made her a homemade jolly rancher and said the first one was in him. She had been married at 19, divorced at 21 and had a kid. Ashland was her hometown. She tried to live in Portland for a while but she didn't like it. She was wearing too much eyeliner, had gauged ears and a black shirt with gold chains on the shoulder. She reminded me of Averil Levine. "You're not from around here huh? What are you doing in Ashland?"I told her about bushcraft school and riding my bicycle from Boston.
A few other patrons had trickled in. A stoic younger man with a beard had his eye on Averil and a blonde thirty some thing with a blue tank top got a bud light in a bottle set in front of him without even asking. But the crown jewel in this trifecta was an old Mainer who talked with his hands and had a thick, black mustache and a heavy accent.
His name was guy and he was either drunk or had had a stroke or just had the thickest Maine accent I had ever heard. He talked out of the corner of his mouth as if it were full of marbles. I had heard mild Maine accents and I had heard what I thought were incredibly exaggerated imitations of the Northern Maine woodsman dialect but hire was a man in the flesh who was a living breathing caricature of himself. He told us about moose and what they do when they're getting ready to charge. How they paw the ground and snort. He told us that if one was pawing and snorting in front of him, "do you know what I'd do? I'd pump four rounds right into his chest. And did you know what I'd do if he kept coming? I'd give him three more."
Joel's father opened the bar in 1994. At the time it was half the size and next door in the same building was a barber shop. The barber pole from that shop hangs next to the door of the bar. The whole thing burnt down and Joel, who used to work as a welder rebuilt it. The bar is custom wood with a metal inlay, the same as the pool table which miraculously survived the fire. The counter gave out at 16,000 games of pool. Joel estimates that table has brought in over $30,000 worth of quarters over its lifetime.
When he hears I'm from Ohio he tells a story about hunting deer from a standing blind on an abandoned strip mine in Choshocton. He used a deer horn to lure two does and a buck out of the woods. He nabbed the buck and dragged him 2.5 miles out of the woods over the snow with his boot laces tied around the rack. He shows me a light fixture he made out of deer antlers. "See those two dark ones right there and there. I pulled those off another buck I found in Ohio. Sometime I'll have to go back and you and me will go hunting." I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd never been hunting in my life.
I ordered a second Preque Isle Honey Blonde. David was back from winning the longest game of pool ever. His opponent scratched on the 8. Averil and her suitor had taken up residence on the smoking bench outside and Joel had taken out a pink plastic water bottle a quarter full with a mysterious brown liquid.
"You ever heard a duck fart?" He asked. I admitted I hadn't and added in the trivia that rabbits were incapable of farting.
Blue Tank Top said "go look at the sign of this place, you'll see two ducks farting. Joel, where are those tee shirts?"
Joel comes out from the back room with two XXL Freem's bar shirts. Est. 1994 and sure enough there are two ducks facing opposite ways. One shirt was orange and the other was black, I mentioned those were my high school colors and they're also the colors of the Ashland Hornets. I said the orange one would be good for every day and the black one would be better for a date.
"Why wouldn't you want to wear he orange one on a date? You want her to see you doncha?" Asked Blue Tank Top.
Joel poured out four shots in clear plastic cups out of the pink water bottle. "This here is a duck fart. Well, I added raspberry to it so this one's a duck queef," Joel said raising his glass. I've been in this town a week and I'm slowly becoming immune to the level of vulgarity I hear on a regular basis. It tasted like Baileys and raspberry schnapps. Not bad.
The conversation turned to whether people who drive around shooing animals out of their car aka "heater hunters" were brilliant or weak. Joel meanwhile is pouring whiskey, baileys, Kaluah and a slew of other liqueurs into the pink water bottle. He tasted it and made a sour face. "This is why I always end up so drunk," he said adding more whiskey to the concoction. The second shot was much worse than the first.
It was getting late and we still had a drive back to camp. David and I paid our tab, said our goodbyes and headed out. Blue Tank Top asked how long we'd be around and I told him the next few months. "See you around then," he said.
"Yeah, sure," I said, "I'm sure I'll be back."
"Well," he said, driving the fact that this is a one bar town home, "where else you gonna go?"