To Hell You Ride

In June of ’93 my girlfriend and I hitchhiked from Phoenix, Arizona. to Telluride, Colorado. It is almost 500 miles by car and we made it in one day. We had already hooked a ride in a friend’s U-haul because she was moving to Phoenix. Our original destination was the Grand Canyon and we didn’t have a plan after that. We just wanted to see the country. Hitchhiking with a girl is much easier than going solo as a man. We hit the highway and immediately got picked up by a couple in an old recreational vehicle built in the ’70’s. We tossed our oversized backpacks inside and happily answered their questions as they chugged us up the hill towards Flagstaff, AZ. We left the extreme heat and hit the snow at the top of the mountain in just a couple hours.

We were too young and naive to be scared. We welcomed the opportunity to meet new people. The couple in the RV dropped us off somewhere in Colorado and we set out in search of our next ride. Again, it didn’t take long to get picked up. This time it was two women from Mexico who were also going to see the Grand Canyon. They didn’t speak much English and we didn’t speak much Spanish but we got the general idea. The ride was fortuitous but the snowstorm was following us north. We would stop at a pull-off and get out to enjoy the spectacular view until the storm caught us in a white out. We would all pile into the car and race to the next stop and do it again, alternating between sunshine and snow. Finally the two women said they were going back home and dropped us off to fend for ourselves.

We didn’t know what to do. A blizzard on June 1st? We stuck out our thumbs and hoped for the best. Providence arrived in an old AMC Pacer. He was a single man and it looked like he had all of his belongings packed into the hatchback. I took the front seat and Joie sat in the back of the tiny car crowded in with our two packs. The man told us he was going to Telluride and wanted us to go with him. I pulled out my folded paper map (No GPS back then) and was discouraged to see the town was miles away in a box canyon where the highway just ended in the mountains. It would take us forever to hike out in the morning. We didn’t want to get out and look for another ride because the snow had turned to a heavy freezing rain. It was getting dark as I scoured the map for an alternate route.

The storm made the decision for us and we stuck with the man who assured us we would enjoy Telluride and would find good places to camp. As we crested the small hill entering the town the rain and snow stopped. We were surprised to see crowds of people spilling out of the bars into the street, partying at midnight. A banner strung over the road welcomed us to the annual film festival. Our saviour drove us to the end of the small canyon and told us we could set up our tent at a place he vaguely gestured over to our right. And that is what we did. We didn’t know we would be staying the whole summer.

In the morning someone was tapping on our tent. I opened the flap to find a man in a park ranger’s uniform. He told us we couldn’t camp in the middle of the baseball field but it was free to stay in the National Forest just a couple hundred yards away. Embarrassed we packed up and walked to the woods.

Every spot was claimed by someone but we met a small group of people and they invited us to pick a spot with them. Everyone was so nice. We were surprised to meet a couple in a small school bus with their three dogs. They were from Maine which neighbored our home state. There was a woman named Sparrow living n her old Volvo wagon and we met Victor, the crazy self proclaimed Mayor of Telluride.

Over the course of a few weeks we had some unusual experiences. There was a hot air balloon weekend and it started early in the morning. Joie and I were sleeping and heard loud noises in the sky. We hurried out of the tent and saw the brightly colored balloons just over our head. They were hitting the gas hard to fight the down draft of air coming off the mountains and they were losing. We saw the Allmann Brother’s Band perform in the baseball field we camped in the first night. We didn’t have to pay for a ticket, we just sat up on the mountainside.

Two men started camping with our group and they had brought some mushroom tea with them from Louisiana. It was moldy and they kept boiling it down to make a reduction. One day about ten of us drank a cup and ran up the mountain without stopping. These mountains were tall. At the top we saw a great field with small alpine flowers blooming through the snow. We all thought we were having the same hallucination and had to agree that it was real. Then we ran back down the mountain. I think we scared some other more leisurely hikers.

In the National Forest you can only camp in the same spot for two weeks and then you are supposed to move. We drove down to a bigger spot about a mile outside of town. By that time we had at least twenty people in our group. We had a table set up with a gas fired wok. There was a couple there with their baby living in a converted full size school bus. It had a full size stove and oven. We cooked some good meals for a lot of people. Each day we would all go to the store and bring back a piece of the meal and take turns cooking. About twenty more people would show up with their own bowls and spoons at mealtime. They would talk big about peace and love and sharing but they never brought anything to share. They wouldn’t even help clean up after. They just chewed and screwed.

I was the explorer of the group. I would scramble up the mountainside to see what I could find. Once I used someone’s binoculars and spotted a cave high up. I climbed up the broken rock. It took me half the day and when I got up there I saw someone had stocked it with a full size mattress and candles. They were living in it so I left it alone. Another time I found a great cabin abandoned in the middle of the forest. It was well built and I have no idea how anyone got the materials out there. It looked like someone used it part of the year so I left them alone too.

It was funny. When we first started making friend’s, everyone thought I was police because I had a shaved head and I wasn’t smoking weed with them. They tried to hide it from me but they weren’t very good at it. They didn’t know I had done more drugs than all of them. Victor even bought me a tie dye t shirt that said, “Drug Free and Happy to be” on the back. They all loosened up when they knew I drank the tea. I don’t blame them. I looked the part. I had a short hair cut and clean shaven face. Everyone else looked like hippies from the sixties. I never had anyone think I was police before.

I’m not much of a believer in all the mystical shit everyone was into. There was a couple in our group with their daughter. They had left Nashville Tennessee in their van and just started living on the road. The husband carved totems on walking sticks and sold them for extra cash. His wife read Rune stones. She did mine one day and it was weird. I drew three stones from the Crown Royal bag. One each for past, present and future. I did it three times and each time I drew the arrow rune for the present. The arrow rune stands for the flow and when it comes up for the present time it means you are in exactly in the right spot for the exact moment in your life. That is how I felt that summer in the mountains. If we hadn’t been hit by that snowstorm on the first day we never would have ended up in Telluride and making all our new friends.

Our plan was to travel the country but we were having such a good time we stayed in town for three months. Winter came and we hooked a ride with the couple in the big school bus. They brought us all the way to Pennsylvania. There we couldn’t get a ride and we spent half the day under a bridge to stay out of the rain. Finally a man in a nice new car picked us up and drove us all the way to his home in Boston, Massachusetts. His wife made a great dinner for us and he sparked us up. That time I did smoke. Maybe it was the relief of getting back home. He was very nice and drove us forty miles from his house to my mom’s doorstep in the middle of the night.

I think about going back to Telluride but I see online it has changed a lot. It has become a more popular tourist attraction with all the annual festivals they have. I don’t know if they just let you camp out for free anymore. I think you need a lot of money to stay there now. Plus it is a popular ski area. I’m too old to spend the summer in a tent again and I don’t think I’ll find another girlfriend who wants to pick up and hitchhike around the country.

I am tempted to get back into the “flow”. I have never felt like I was so much in the right place at the right time a when I was traveling the country.

To Vegan or not to Vegan?

Good question. Once a month I sear up a nice, fat, juicy rib-eye steak. It is the only meat I cook at home now. The rest of the time I eat mostly vegetables. When I am outside the house I eat whatever I want. I first got interested in vegan/vegetarian diets late in life because I have always struggled with my weight since I got on medications. Other diets never worked for me. Also because when I first started watching Netflix I watched one documentary and after that all they suggested for me were documentaries. Most of the films were about the benefits of eating more veggies or the horrors of factory farms. That also helped bring about this post.

A few years ago I was doing most of my grocery shopping online for delivery. It made me realize that I was eating a shit-ton of meat. Each month I would order 6lbs of ground beef, 10lbs of chicken breasts and about 4lbs of boneless pork chops. On top of that I would go out and have my fill of greasy cheeseburgers. That was all for me. One person.

(Disclaimer: This only works because I can eat almost anything.) At first I started out with an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet because I couldn’t think of giving up eggs and cheese in the morning. I didn’t include seafood because that is disgusting. In the first month I lost 10lbs but for the next 2 months I leveled off and didn’t lose any more weight. So I decided to go strictly vegan. I could do this because although I live most of my life in excess, I was in a very disciplined state of mind. I can be quite stubborn when I want to be.

Going cold turkey worked immediately. I lost 20lbs in a month and kept it off. I had quit sugar and corn syrup in my 20’s but along with going vegan I also cut out refined carbs such as are found in bread, white pasta and white rice. It was easy for me to make the switch because I’ve always had an affinity for vegetables. Now I eat as many of them as I want. I stay away from corn mostly because I don’t trust it because of the “cornspiracy” in America.

I tended to take the anecdotal evidence in the documentaries I watched with a grain of salt. A lot of the same “experts” would pop up in different movies. Many of them had no scientific credentials. They were just there to promote their own book full of pseudo-science. The most convincing study I heard about the benefits of eating mostly vegetables was “The China Study” by T. Colin Campbell and his son, Thomas. You don’t have to read the book. I can give you a good idea in the next paragraph.

The China Study was the largest study of diet that found a direct correlation between the amount of animal products consumed and a person’s health. They chose 6500 people from all across China and followed their diet. They found that poor people who couldn’t afford to eat much meat had the lowest instance of “Western diseases.” (Heart disease, diabetes and cancer. etc…) and also had the longest life expectancy. I trust this study because it involved the largest cross section of people and got into extensive details on diet and disease.

What do I eat besides that delicious, perfectly seasoned, medium-rare Rib-eye? I’m lazy so I’ve settled on some easy recipes that I eat over and over and I also eat whatever I want when I go to a restaurant. My favorite dish I discovered by experiment is the easiest. I cook a box of whole wheat pasta and microwave a pound of frozen broccoli. I add oil, celery salt, garlic powder, dried oregano and dried basil. Then I dress it with soy sauce and a drizzle of Sriracha sauce (I put that shit on everything) and then I top it off with a healthy dose of Parmesan cheese. OMG! I end up scraping the bottom of my plate. This dish is great for my meager finances because it gives me 4 meals for less than 5 bucks per pot. (I finished writing this then cooked and ate 2 plates; It’s soooo fucking good!)

One common misconception is you need a huge amount of protein to make it through the day. That is a myth perpetuated by the huge meat industry in the U.S. I eat less than half the recommended daily intake of protein and I can walk or ride a bicycle all day if I have to, no problem. I’ve also seen many interviews with top professional athletes who suffered no loss of performance after switching to a plant based diet.

I’m not being preachy, I’m just bored and needed another topic to write about in my new blog. Although having people switch to a plant based diet could help save the planet. If you accept the science of climate change, you’ll be interested to know that despite all the fuss made of carbon dioxide, it is actually methane produced on livestock farms (yes, cow farts) that is a much more potent greenhouse gas.

Another dish I created to get my protein is pretty tasty too. I cook a pound of white beans, a pound of whole wheat spaghetti and a pound of Brussel sprouts or asparagus. I spice it up with salt and again with the celery salt and garlic powder. (My 2 favorites.) It is also very economical and lasts me a few days.

This diet only works for me because I can eat all the same foods over and over each month. If I get tired of it I go buy something with meat on it. But yeah, I’m weird. I can eat almost anything. A couple common snacks for me are steamed green beans or asparagus with just salt. A treat for me is a bag of tortilla chips with roasted red pepper hummus or spicy salsa. I can polish this off in a day. It may sound like deprivation but I actually enjoy it.

After my last few posts you might think I’m obsessed with my weight. I’m not, I just like to be able to tie my shoes without too much of a struggle. I had a doctor who was really into BMI. I personally think it is bullshit. He told me at 5’10” I should weigh 160lbs. I haven’t weighed that much since high school and I was a puny little punk back then. Besides he was my height and weight 160. He did not look healthy. I could clearly see all of his tendons and ligaments. It wasn’t normal.

Okay, I promise I will find something more interesting to talk about in my future posts besides my diet and weight. Disregarding the BMI I think my ideal weight was 175. I can’t get down there again but I hover between 180 and 190 which is fine with me and my dad bod. I’m comfortable and my clothes fit nicely and I have no problem getting around. These are important to me because my brain is all fucked up and I don’t want it to show on the outside.

Well, it’s a new month; almost time for a new Rib-eye. I’m not a very good vegetarian.

Meditation by Distraction

Rubic's cube

I stumbled upon this technique after my weight ballooned to over 260lbs. I ignored the warning on my medication that listed weight gain as the main side effect. Instead I went to the gym. I didn’t really know what to do at the gym since I had been naturally athletic my whole life before I started taking meds. I knew walking was a good form of exercise so I started with the treadmill. That is where I accidentally found my kind of mindfulness meditation. My therapist had been trying to get me into mindfulness but I couldn’t grasp the concept. My brain was too chaotic.

Here is how it happened. I set the treadmill at a faster than normal walking speed with a slight incline and doing that caused me to exert myself to the point of sweating my balls off. Even though the gym had air conditioning. I also had to concentrate on walking fast enough so I wouldn’t slide off the end of the treadmill. While I was doing that I listened to my favorite playlist with earphones in at a pretty good volume. In front of me were 10 televisions suspended from the ceiling in a row. They were all muted with subtitles and I would pick a channel to read. Along with all this were the other people working out. I didn’t like that there was only one other fat guy there in the pretty large gym. A lot of people seemed to go there to socialize. They didn’t need to work out, they were in perfect shape. But it was good eye candy for during the television commercials.

With all the above happening at the same time, I would get into a zone. There was so much external noise it took away the noise in my head. It seems unorthodox but with the treadmill in the back of the room and all the action going on inside my body and directly in front of me, I could really focus. I would do the treadmill for about 45 minutes then switch to the weight machines. I did light weights but concentrated on the muscle movements and the music. It usually took me about 45 minutes to do all the machines I liked. Then it was back to the treadmill and another 45 minutes of pure distraction. I forgot to mention that during this gym phase I was manic so I never got tired. Lucky me.

After the gym I would drive home and I could enjoy about 3 hours of peace. I was calm enough to eat lunch and sit still on the couch. I didn’t know I was practicing mindfulness at the time (I did associate it with a kind of Zen) but it was the only time in my life that any form of meditation worked for me.

I enjoyed all this for about 6 months until I had to move and could no longer get to a gym. At least not the cheap one at $10 a month. I was still manic and still felt the urge to keep moving. Luckily I had a bicycle to burn off some excess energy. It wasn’t until I started doing long 2 hour bike trips that I discovered it was happening again. I would get a respite from the voices and be calm enough to take care of myself for a few hours.

Biking is different than the treadmill but I have a lot of the same methods; just different distractions. I have to concentrate on my leg muscles propelling me forward, keeping the bike upright and avoiding cars. I live near the seacoast so there is a lot of wind to struggle against. Because of all the traffic in my area I don’t dare to wear earphones but I have a constant earworm repeating in my head. This is all enough to give me the distraction I need.

I could never do the traditional forms of meditation where you focus inward. It caused intense anxiety and made everything in my brain worse. Now that I am no longer manic and slightly on the depressed side, I only ride about once a week to my daughter’s house. But that is a 2 hour round trip and I get the extra external stimulus of talking to people and the happiness of being around my daughter. These days are markedly different than my usual routine of just sitting around the house. After a day of riding I find I need less of my anxiety medication as my mood is naturally lifted.

Writing this with music or television in the background is another form of mindfulness I practice while I am stuck at home. It only works in the moment and doesn’t give me a lasting effect. I need a lot of external distractions to get me into the zone. It seems like it doesn’t make any sense. Everything I’ve been taught about meditation has been about being quiet and focusing inward. I don’t know why but I never get a better natural calm than I do after these exercises.

If this wasn’t long enough for you, I found another blog post from Amy with The Bridge that explains it better than I do.

Mindfulness

I can’t meditate for shit. Most times I’ve been hospitalized, they start the day in group with a meditation. The first thing they say is to concentrate on your breathing. That’s when my anxiety starts. Am I breathing too fast? Am I breathing too slow? Why am I holding my breath? Am I going to suffocate? I know you can’t hold your breath until you die, that is just one of my irrational fears. That is the point where I have to get up and leave the room.

The only time I had success with one of these meditations was a long time ago. It was different. The nurse leading did a guided mental imagery meditation. She didn’t mention breathing. She just told us to close our eyes and imagine the scenes as she described them. I tried but couldn’t follow, so I opened my eyes and that was when it started. The room looked like a giant fish tank. The other members of the group were still there but there were large, colorful fish swimming through the air, even though she was saying nothing about fish. I had an incredible sense of calm and peacefulness. After it was over I found the nurse to describe what happened. She said she was glad it helped but she didn’t seem to want to listen. She just thought I was another crazy person in the ward. I was.

I never tried again for years until my therapist gave me a link to the M.I.T. website. On there I found a guided body scan meditation I tried it because it was the shortest one. About 20 minutes. In it, a woman tells you to focus on your foot and then guides you through different parts of your body. I can’t concentrate so I would keep losing it and coming back to it 5 minutes later, realizing I had skipped whole sections of my body. That worked to calm me down a little but nothing like the experience of being in an aquarium.

You can search for “guided meditation” or “guided body scan” on YouTube and find tons of them. I tried out a lot and eventually got to where I could sit still and listen for about an hour. Still didn’t compare to my one good time but it did help a little with anxiety. I have never tried the apps for your phone but I can’t imagine they are much better. I recommend searching online where there are millions of them for free.

I did have one strange experience for about a week. I was interested in finding out what Tai Chi was all about. Again I searched YouTube and found a video that looked interesting. I had trouble following the motions but I really liked the calming music that went along with it. I’m not sure how I came up with the idea but I started doing my own version of Tai Chi. Whenever I was alone in my apartment, I would put on the music and move very slowly and deliberately every time I got up from my chair. Everything I did was like a Tai Chi pose. Walking to the kitchen to fill my water bottle, retrieving something from my bedroom, even a trip to the bathroom. Everything I did was done slowly with purpose. After a week my body was sore like I had overdone it at the gym but it did help to calm my mind. But after a week I couldn’t do it again. I’ve tried several times but I guess I don’t have the same discipline.

That is my experience with meditation. All the times it worked, at least. Most times I have to give up after the first few minutes because of the intense anxiety. If anyone has any suggestions I am open. With one caveat. I am not into anything new age or spiritual or having to do with chakras. I’ve also tried white noises like bubbling brooks or rain falling but those kinds of noises cause me to hear voices and it’s not very pleasant.