That Time I Dodged Flying Manure, Found Authenticity, and Ate Chocolate from a Dumpster

20161027_083354While I was in Montana, I had one of my favorite experiences of my travels. Dave from a previous episode connected me with a few friends of his in Montana that were setting up their river camp for hosting a few students that they would be teaching some primitive skills to. A man named Barnes was who I got in contact with and as we exchanged texts and a couple brief phone calls, he determined they were comfortable with having me come and spend a night or two with them.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I camp, but I’m no mountain man, like what these folks sounded like to me. Barnes indicated that he wouldn’t be around when I arrived, but the others in camp were aware of me coming, so I could just settle in when I got there. Figuring I’d be out of cell phone service, I had written down a few directions to get me to the location. I got there without issue and pulled into the property. A great earth lodge was near the entrance. Driving down the dirt road a bit, there were two men out in a pasture, kicking a soccer ball at a makeshift wooden goal. I got out of my car and they looked at me and without a word kicked the ball in my direction. We made introductions and I got comfortable with Neil and Chris as we kicked a soccer ball around.

After a while, Neil decided throwing a frisbee around might be a little more low-key than soccer. So he ran and got his frisbee while I went to my car and changed into some shorts. We converged at the other end of the pasture that had been our playing field. A brown mound that had been at a distance earlier was now close enough for me to notice it was a rotting dear carcass. It seemed quite natural to them. The circle of life happening around them.

We tossed the frisbee a bit and then Neil joked that we ought to throw dried cow and horse manure at the frisbee as it glided through the air, to test our accuracy. Then somehow, we found ourselves actually throwing dried manure at the frisbee. The real challenge ended up being the task of catching the frisbee while dodging the flying manure. I joked that this seemed like a natural alternative to using meth, as there were a multitude of anti-meth billboards throughout Montana.

Soon Barnes arrived with another friend and we all converged, along with Chris’s partner, Bartle, on their hangout hut/kitchen. We ate and gathered around their wood burning stove, and started to chat. Often I find there can be some reluctance on the part of those that I record. But these good folks just carried on as usual. They talked about themselves, some for my benefit, but we joked and laughed and just enjoyed each other.

As we chatted, Barnes opened up and I was struck by how profoundly authentic he is. There is nothing contrived about who he is. He lives as he wants to. He is educated and chooses to live a somewhat isolated life in Montana and understands that life is a process and he’s learning just like everyone else. The beautiful thing in the whole experience was that he didn’t take himself too seriously. None of them did.

Here’s the clipisode with Barnes. You can also find it on iTunes and SoundCloud. Be sure to scroll down, because there’s a bonus clipisode.

The bonus below is the group chatting about dumpster diving. I was interested to get onto the subject, because when we first converged in their hangout hut, Neil went to a corner and walked back with a handful of unwrapped chocolate and handed it to me while he sucked on a bit of chocolate himself. I happily partook, being a man with an ever-present sweet-tooth. As I savored this delightful chocolate, the discussion illuminated the fact that the chocolate had been found in a dumpster, during a dumpstering adventure. I would’ve felt sick, but for the fact that I felt like the chocolate was vetted, as they were eating it too. Neil proudly displayed the large sack of reject chocolate after the revelation it was from a dumpster.

My time with these wild folks was sublime. Seldom have I felt like I was in the presence of such authentic people. And that authenticity made it feel so natural that it barely seemed weird to throw manure and eat chocolate from a dumpster.

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Me entering Montana the day before I met Barnes, Neil, Kevin, Chris & Bartle

Episode 11 Dumpstering

This is a sort of bonus clipisode to go with the previous one—Episode 10 Barnes Clips. In this clipisode, some of the folks at River Camp with Barnes talk about strategies and experiences in dumpster diving. The subject got readdressed after the host, Kyle Wheeler, had been given some chocolate they found during one of their dumpster diving ventures.

Music used in the episode is by Andy G. Cohen, the song Land Legs from the album MUL/DIV. The artist’s music can be found at the below website:
freemusicarchive.org/music/Andy_G_Cohen/

Music used under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International. Full terms found at the following url:
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 

That Was Awkward

Since my current focus with Reflection is traveling around the US to collect stories from different people, it stands to reason that this is becoming somewhat of a travel blog too. There have been a multitude of beautiful moments where I’ve met people that were willing to open a window into their souls for a brief moment. There have been contemplative moments, where I’ve gotten to reflect on myself and what I’m doing with my life and discover what I love and value. There have been opportunities to explore breathtaking places in nature and see landmark structures humanity has raised up. But for each of those awe inspiring moments, I feel like there have been just as many awkward moments, that maybe we don’t talk about from our travels. So I thought I’d share a few.

As I was driving from San Diego to LA I was starting to get a little hungry. Sometimes hunger demands a simple sandwich. So I pulled off the freeway to some unknown place and found a Jimmy John’s. Because I had just spent the last couple nights in a communal sleeping area and had a few more of those sort of nights in front of me, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity for solitude that my car provided me. I took my sandwich to-go and sat to eat in my car in the parking lot.

I should explain that I have this sort of condition where from time to time food gets lodged in my esophagus. It’s uncomfortable, but when I feel it happen, a big swallow of water will usually wash it down. Just such a moment happened as I sat in my car eating this sandwich. I took a swallow of water and then that familiar feeling that happens from time to time arose. The water wasn’t washing it down. When this happens, my gag reflex goes into action and sends the water back out.

I jumped out of my car to save the interior from a spray of water mixed with chunks of masticated sandwich. I stood in the parking lot spewing out the water. Panic tends to set in with these episodes, because despite the airway not being blocked, there is a sensation of choking, so I continued to pour water down my throat only to be met with yet another violent rejection of the newly introduced fluid. I stood in the lot, spewing multiple times as cars slowly passed me by, passengers staring at me and my ever growing puddle of regurgitated water.

Finally, after multiple attempts, a successful swallow of water dragged the lodged food further into its digestive journey. Feeling the movement, without any sense of control over my reaction, I raised my hands in the air and shouted out “YEEEAAHHH!!!!” Suddenly, the eyes of those that had driven by were back on me as the were walking into the various shops they had come to.

As I made my way up the coast of California, I found it difficult to get a couch surfing host to let me stay at their place in the San Francisco area. So I decided to camp at a site a couple hours south of the Bay area. I found myself at an utterly vacant campground that evening. I had expected to find other campers and thought I might be able to strike up some conversations. Given a situation where I was alone, with no other person apparent for miles around, I embraced my solitude. I listened to the sounds of the creatures, trees, and wind as I fell asleep.

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The next morning I went out for a run on one of the trails leaving the camp area, continuing to soak up the beauty of the wilderness and feeling alive in the moment. I could easily just leave it at the beautiful moment I had camping and running. But things got awkward.

Now being all sweaty from my run, I decided to get cleaned up before hitting the road. With water spickets being at each of the camp sites and my being alone, it seemed appropriate to strip down to my underwear and splash water on myself, lather up and rinse off. The cool water would be refreshing and a nice clean up after a run would set me on the road feeling mighty fine. I pursued this very plan and just as I was rinsing off, a man emerged down the road. I awkwardly tried to hurry my rinsing and get my towel wrapped around me before he noticed me. But it was too late, his body language said it all. He awkwardly looked at trees, bushes, anything he could place his eyes on that wasn’t in my direction and slowed his pace significantly.

I got wrapped up in my towel and walked back to my car to put my clothes on. This gentleman walked past, seeming to be content to maintain a respectful silence. To borrow from the words of the great comedian Mike Birbiglia, what I should’ve said was nothing. But what I did say was, “Nice day to take a bath!” as I smiled at him, clenching the towel around my waist.

I wish I could say that was my last moment of partial nudity. But it of course was not. Further up the coast, I was exploring the Redwoods. Again, I could leave what I share from that experience to the simple beauty of what it was like to wander alone in the midst of those towering sentinels. Walking barefoot for a time with the soft fallen foliage below my feet brought a smile to my face. The previous night’s rain dripping from the heights of the trees into puddles and onto the ferns brought a dose of perfection to the whole scene. I walked, lost in thought and bliss.

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I was aware that rain had been in the forecast, so shaking myself from the dreamland I was in, I started to notice there was more than just the drops of water falling from the trees, but what appeared to be rain. I hastened my pace back to my car. Less than half a mile away, the rain began to fall hard. I found myself running from tree to tree, feeling as though I was going from one massive umbrella to another. Despite the protection of these beautiful trees, I still found myself getting soaked.

As the road came into view, I sprinted to my car and jumped in. I started to quickly peel off my wet clothes. It was awkward, given the small quarters of my car and the wet clothes clinging to my body. My shirt came off and just as my pants were coming down a minivan filled with a vacationing family pulled up right next to me. Oblivious to the scene they had just parked next to, the parents stared at their phones, clearly trying to figure out where they were. Meanwhile, their children stared at me, bewildered. Completing the removal of my pants, I clicked into place my seat belt, started the car, put it into gear and drove away with a wink, as if I was some kind of frightening Santa Clause.

Traveling around the country in the early going has been an incredible experience. And I am in love with the awkward moments that come with the beautiful ones. As much as the plan is to have heartfelt, uplifting experiences with people, these awkward moments will happen too, and I’m glad they do.