Story last updated at 10/31/2012 - 2:29 pm
A light drizzle of rain on my face made me realize how unfamiliar the sensation of moisture had become. Sitting on the cool and clammy sidewalk outside of the grocery store in Crescent City, Calif., it came to me that we had just pedaled the entire Oregon coast without a single drop of rain. With the change in weather, I also started noticing some cultural differences in this new state.
Our first handful of encounters suggested that Californians are under challenging economic times. Folks in general seem to be having difficulty finding meaningful work, getting fulfilling nutrition, and finding a stable home. Despite the tough times, however, it seems that The 99 percent are still willing to give selflessly and help one another out. A recently freed prison inmate shared huge delicious apples from his mother's tree. A physically and mentally disabled house-less man joined us for a snack and offered his shelter and friendship. An Alaska-bound couple looking for fishing jobs while living out of backpacks gave us safety advice and directions to a free campsite. Although many are struggling to make ends meet in the mainstream economy, a few have chosen a more unconventional route.
As we pedaled toward the beach, a tall, skinny man on a well-equipped bicycle joined our gang. Along with our friend Evan, who had just met us at the bus stop to ride through California with us, this new stranger made us a southbound party of eight. We invited him to our camp for a chili feast, and while we shared a meal around the campfire, the unique story of this interesting character slowly unfolded.
Jared is 26 years old and lives in the United States. He doesn't belong to any town, county, or state. His residency can not be specified in any more detail finer than the national level. When he finished high school in Florida, Jared took off, initiating the beginning of a new lifestyle. Living with only what he can carry on his bike he appears, at first glance, to be in poverty. Interestingly however, this man is profiting monetarily and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Working as a website designer and photographer, his skills are in such high demand that he can go anywhere with WiFi access in the United States to make money. This freelance lifestyle has allowed him to be flexible to all conditions, on the move, but open to direction. He eats well, sleeps comfortably, gets the constant stimulation of new people and places, and saves a considerable amount of funds each year.
Jared's nomadic life as a digital prospector grants him incredible freedom because he is not attached to a mortgage or a cubicle. The property that sustains his livelihood is virtual and intellectual. It exists on the internet. It seems that Jared has achieved the unimaginable of having abundant leisure time and choosing when and where he works. His lifestyle could not have been possible in past eras of human history. The digital age does not require being in a fixed static place - one can instead opt for continuous travel.
Life on a bicycle is pretty hard to beat. I feel that I am almost always staying healthy and maintaining a balanced life. There's always something or someone exciting to engage with, and it is difficult to find something to get stressed about. However, life as an eternal traveler would have some significant challenges as well. Developing a sense of belonging would be difficult, as a lack of commitment to place would likely mean a lack of true friends. Loneliness would likely grow as relationships with other travelers prove to be unstable and superficial. In addition to instability comes the lack of security and the constant need to watch your back. We almost learned this the hard way on our night with Jared at the beach.
We awoke in the middle of the night to Jared announcing that "some (expletive) just tried to steal my bike!" Fortunately Jared had decided to sleep out in the open without a tent that night, and managed to chase the thief down the beach just before he turned the corner. With his camera, his computer, his vehicle, and all his belongings, the loss would have been devastating.
"I would have had to start all over again," he said softly, still bewildered from his closest call in six and a half years on the bike.
While Jared certainly had the most to lose of all of us, the end of the trip compared to all of one's possessions, we were nonetheless pretty shook up about the whole situation. Our bikes were parked right outside our tents, but we had gotten used to safe isolated campsites in Oregon. With the excitement of new friends in a new state, many in our group had forgotten to lock our wheels. If the thief had chosen a different bicycle to try taking, most of us would not have noticed until morning.
Relieved and thankful, we reflected on the important reminders we had just lucked out on. Safe habits save lives, but finding the initiative to build those habits sometimes arises out of unexpected and dangerous situations. Additionally, it is important to pay attention to factors that may compromise security, and to trend toward caution in making decisions. We were treated well by many good people on our first day in California, but our initial generalizations about the place allowed a few of us to draw naive (albeit subconscious) assumptions that no one would take advantage of us that night. Many impoverished people were willing to give and share, but the tough times inevitably produce a marginalized population of folks that will commit unexpected acts of desperation to try to improve their situation.
The simplified life of eternal travel certainly has many draws and inspiring benefits. Yet the security, familiarity, and grounding from having a place to call home is still a bit too attractive for any of the friends in our group to indefinitely embrace the drifter lifestyle. Home is still where our hearts live, but as we pedaled up the hill out of Crescent City and into the overwhelmingly stunning California Redwoods, the temptation to keep exploring grew strong once again.
Follow A Trip South in their journey from Juneau to Argentina at www.atripsouth.com.