Our experience of the world changes radically at night, alone.
I had decided to go for a midnight stroll, and wanting to avoid the major highways, I went south-west. I had vague plans to roam some of the empty fields on OU's research campus.
The spartan cloud cover has rent open wounds far above me in the sky, wounds bleeding faint stars and unfamiliar constellations. Walking in the darkness, only an occasional intruding car sweeps by me, their headlights out of place like nervous laughter in the night.
I had spent the better part of a year working in this area, driving and riding along this very road, but I had never experienced it like this. Quieter, yes, but not quiet. Bugs, birds, and weird sounds floated from the vegetation that seemed at once barely held back by asphalt road. I ducked underneath a spiderweb. Perhaps this speaks to how scarcely I find myself outdoors at this time of night, but I felt alien here.
I come across a dark road off to my left. I peer down it, hoping to glean what might be the source of a lonely orange glow I see at the far end of it.
No dice- I must travel it to discover what's at the other end.
Crushing gravel underfoot, I'm acutely aware of every sound I make and every movement I take as I leave the strange familiarity of the main road behind. To either side, black trees leer at me. I can hear hisses off to my far left, in the distance. I continue walking towards the warm, orange light.
I stop and pause before the withered skeleton of a tree. Intellectually, I know it's a dead tree. But right now, sunk in the thick night, it looks like a claw reaching evilly for the faint stars overhead. I can't help myself: I pull out my flashlight and shine the light at it.
It is indeed a dead tree.
I redouble my efforts to reach the end of the road. I can see a building, the soft light I saw from so far away. A car. Questions bubble into my mind. What facility could this be? Why is it tucked away at the end of this road? Who might be there?
My line of sight clears the tree line. It is an apartment complex. I am bathed once more in the artificial day of a city, and the stars above have slipped away for the moment.
The spell is broken, but the weirdness of my nocturnal meander stays with me.
I continue on, making my way past the apartment buildings to circumvent the OUPD station off to the right on my way to the fields I was still contemplating.
Ah, but that building over there- so lonely, so tired looking. I must see what it is.
There is no way in, but on a hunch, I follow the chain link fence around.
If you guessed that this was a drainage ditch leading under the fence, you'd be right. Told you I was a little obsessed.
I'm afraid the pictures didn't come out terribly well in the darkness. I've been running into the limitations of my smartphone camera. It performs admirably when there's plenty of light around, but there is no way to adjust the shutter speed for low-light or nighttime pictures.
Anyway, I suddenly found myself in the middle of this large complex. Nearest I can tell, it was a combination recycling center, trash dump, heavy equipment storage, and Corix utilities facility.
After finding one of the large bay doors unlocked, I tried to slip inside. Unfortunately, the door must have been sealed shut somewhere I couldn't see- or perhaps old age had rusted it shut- but I couldn't find my way inside. Though I was able to peek inside some of the windows. My favorite- the tire hanging from the ceiling at the top of the photo below.
I'm afraid the weary worker hoping for a respite on their cigarette break won't have a very good view.
An unexpected but fun exploration. A quick hop of the fence and I was on my way back home.
Bonus: One of the only decent photos from another little exploration I did of an unfinished parking garage on Lindsey and Classen. The view is towards the OU campus.
Until the next time,
Dillon Dakota Carroll
This is my translation of yesterday's post. The lines that are bolded are the ones that I'm not too sure about. The letters at the end of each line are the original rhyme scheme.
Edit: I have updated my translation after working with a professor of medieval Italian poetry to correct the sections I was unsure of before. Though I would still love any and all feedback if you happen to be familiar with Cavalcanti!
My terrible new misfortune A
Has in my heart undone B
every sweet thought I had of love. B
Having already undone so much of my life, C
the noble, lovely lady of mine D
she has left my soul destroyed C
such that my eye no longer sees her. D
Such has this erased my will, D
That I no longer comprehend B
What in her I found of worth. B
A subtle thought kills me, E
That seems to say that I may never again see her: D
Like a desperate and fearsome storm, E
That destroys and pains and burns and embitters. D
I cannot find nor rescuer D
nor mercy from that lord B
who plays with my sad fortune. B
Full of anguish, in place of fear F
The hurtful spirit of the heart lies still G
unaided by an apathetic Fortune F
who has turned me over to Death G
And the Hope which has failed me, G
in the time it spent with me H
wonderful hours have wasted away. H
Fearful crazed words of mine, I
Go about there wherever you wish; J
But always calling out sighing I
and shamefully the name of my lady. J
I however remain in such a state J
That looking outside, H
I see Death beneath my door. H
As we've seen in Cavalcanti's other poem, Donna me prega, Cavalcanti sees love in a rather negative light. La Forte e Nova Mia Disaventura (My Terrible New Misfortune) continues with this line of thought, and tells us what happens, or rather what love does to us when our beloved leaves us. From the beginning, insinuating that love is a misfortune, this poem seems to warn us away from love. But beyond this warning, the poem disparages love. Cavalcanti disparages that which has disparaged him.
The woman is important, of course, but only insofar as her absence causes Cavalcanti anguish. More vivid as characters are the concepts of Fortune, which plays with the hearts of lovers like toys, and Death, that waits for Fortune to finish its cruel games. The language of the poem reinforces the idea that there really is a personified Fortune: "I cannot see who that lord [Fortune], takes pity upon, but who rather doles out pain on whim." Or rather that no one escapes from the caprices of luck.
Hope appears as a minor character, but as a traitorous character that has delivered Cavalcanti into the hands of Fortune. In the part of the poem that I view as central it speaks of "the hurt that Fortune refuses to cure". As though he is suffering from a lethal disease, he is brought to Death's door. At that point, he has lost all Hope, which has effectively betrayed him. It says that Hope "in the time it spent with me, wonderful hours have wasted away." Hope was effectively complicit in the deadly joke Fortune has played on Cavalcanti: it has caused him to waste away precious hours, hours wasted that could have been better spent avoiding the coming emotional storm.
After all, pleasurable or not, time is really all we have in life. We must disparage that which disparages our time, which is just another way of saying our essential life force, or our life in and of itself. Who disparages our time in the end disparages us as people. In the end, My Terrible New Misfortune is Cavalcanti's attack on love for what he sees as the ultimate disparagement of his life. Frank Herbert reflects this sentiment in his book Dune: "Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree. You have done violence to him, consumed his energy." Hope and Fortune, as Cavalcanti sees it, have conspired to rob his life and turn him over to Death.
The strong, particular language is critical here for constructing the sense of a lethal betrayal. Any good thought he may have, as it says in the first stanza, has been undone by his misfortune. His thoughts don't just hurt, they kill him. In one of the few metaphors in the poem, Cavalcanti compares love to a storm that "That destroys and pains and burns and embitters." These are the words of someone who feels beyond their capacity to understand, internalize, and continue with their life. To continue with the analysis, if Fortune has conspired to consign Cavalcanti to Death like a dangerous storm, then Cavalcanti's strong damning of love tells us that he still feels trapped at sea. He has survived the storm, but cannot see firm land in any direction and is unsure of how to continue his life, or in what direction to sail. This is why, "looking outside, I see Death beneath my door."
Who knows, but perhaps after having found a safe port to repose in for a while, Cavalcanti would have a different opinion on love. In the moment of our greatest victories, we feel what seems like unimaginable euforia; our nightmares always seem like the worst we've ever had, with no chance of escape. Cavalcanti surely captures in this poem a universal emotion: that of a man that feels misspent and discarded, who in the depth of their anguish must try to make sense of it all.
I am auditing a couple Italian classes at OU right now (Italian Conversation and Italian Literature). Our most recent assignment for the literature class I quite enjoyed writing. We had to choose, and analyze, a poem of either Dante, Cavalcanti, or Guinizelli. I chose La Forte e Nova Mia Disaventura because I really liked the name, and as it turns out, the poem was great too. I may get around to translating it one of these days, in particular the poem itself. In my (albeit brief) online search I could not find an English translation of it.
Edit September 15 2014: You can check out my translation here.
La forte e nova mia disaventura
m’ha desfatto nel core
ogni dolce penser, ch’i’ avea, d’amore.
Disfatta m’ha già tanto de la vita,
che la gentil, piacevol donna mia
dall’anima destrutta s’è partita,
sì ch’i’ non veggio là dov’ella sia.
Non è rimaso in me tanta balìa,
ch’io de lo su’ valore
possa comprender nella mente fiore.
Vèn, che m’uccide, un[o] sottil pensero,
che par che dica ch’i’ mai no la veggia:
questo [è] tormento disperato e fero,
che strugg’ e dole e ’ncende ed amareggia.
Trovar non posso a cui pietate cheggia,
mercé di quel signore
che gira la fortuna del dolore.
Pieno d’angoscia, in loco di paura,
lo spirito del cor dolente giace
per la Fortuna che di me non cura,
c’ha volta Morte dove assai mi spiace,
e da speranza, ch’è stata fallace,
nel tempo ch’e’ si more
m’ha fatto perder dilettevole ore.
Parole mie disfatt’ e paurose,
là dove piace a voi di gire andate;
ma sempre sospirando e vergognose
lo nome de la mia donna chiamate.
Io pur rimagno in tant’ aversitate
che, qual mira de fòre,
vede la Morte sotto al meo colore.
Come abbiamo già visto nella altra poema di Cavalcanti, Donna Me Prega, lui vede l'amore come una cosa proprio male. La Forte e Nova Mia Disaventura segue con quel pensiero, e ci dice quello che succede, o migliore dire, cosa l'amore ci fa quando la donna se ne vada. Dal principio, insinuando che l'amore sia una disaventura, questa poema sembra avvertirci di starci lontano dal'amore. Ma al di là della avvertenze questa poema è anche un desprezzo del'amore. Cavalcanti disprezza quel che ha disprezzato a lui.
La donna c'entra, sì, ma soltanto come figura con cui Cavalcanti è innamorato e chi non può avere, perciò si sente l'angustia del'amore. Più forte e vivi come personaggii ci sono la Fortuna, chi gioca coi poveri innamorati, e la Morte, che aspetta lui dopo che la Fortuna avrà finita il suo gioco crudele. Il linguaggio di quesi concetti-divantati-personaggii raforza l'imagine: "Trovar non posso a cui pitate cheggia, mercè di quel signore" (la Fortuna). O sia, non c'è uomo che scappa dei capriccii della.
C'entra anche la Speranza come altro personaggio, un personaggio traditrice. E certo, nella stanza che vedo come cruciale nella poema, dice "la Fortuna che di me non cura". Diciamo che è come una malattia letale che lo porta alla Morte "dove assai mi spiace". Se vede che è rimasto senza Speranza, chi lo ha effetivamente tradito. Dice "ch'è stata fallace, nel tempo ch'e' si more, m'ha fatto perder dilettevole ore." Anzi la Speranza fu complice cola Fortuna nello scherzo mortale su di Cavalcanti: lo hanno fatto perder il suo tempo, tempo sprecato e senza azione chepotrebbe avere stato la di scappare la tempesta per arrivare.
Alla fine, dilettevole o no, il tempo è tutto che abbiamo nella vita. Abbiamo di disprezzare chi disprezza il nostro tempo, ch'è altra forma da dire la nostra essenzia di vita, o la vita in sì. Chi disprezza il nostro tempo disprezza in fondo noi stessi. La forte e mia nova disaventura è, in fondo, il disprezzio di Cavalcanti contra l'amore per disprezziare a lui. Frank Herbet lo dice bene nella sua opera Dune: "Tra rubare un uomo di una ora della sua vita e rubarle la vita intera, c'è soltanto la differenza di un grado. Le hai fatto violenza, distrutto la sua energia." La Speranza e La Fortuna, come lo vede Cavalcanti, hanno conspirato per rubarli la vita e consegnarla alla Morte.
Cosa criticale per contruire il senso del tradimento letale qui è il linguaggio fortissimo. Qualsiasi pensieri buoni, dice nella prima stanza, sono disfatti per la sua disaventura. Un pensiero non soltanto lo colpa ma l'uccide. Nel uno dei pochi metafori della poema, confronta la sua experienza col'amore a una tempesta "disperato e fero, che strugg’ e dole e ’ncende ed amareggia." Sono le parole di qualcuno che si sente più al-di-là della sua capacità di capire, internalizzare, e seguire avanti. Per seguire il concetto della poema, se la Fortuna fa scherzo della sua amore per portarlo alla Morte come una tempesta, il suo linguaggio fortissimo ci dice che Cavalcanti ancora si vede a mare aperta, tra sopravivere il peggio della tempesta, ma senza potere vedere la terra firme, senza sapere dove dirigere la sua vita. Per questo ancora "vede la Morte sotto al meo colore".
Chissà, ma magari dopo trovare terra firme dove posare un poco, Cavalcanti avrebbe altre opinione sul'amore. Le nostre vittorie, nei momenti delle, sempre provocanno la euforia più elevata; i nostri incubi sembranno i più oscuri che avremmo avuto mai e senza uscita. Sicuramente, Cavalcanti cattura qui una emozione universale: quella di un uomo sprecato nella profondità della angostia, cercando di fare i conti e trovare un senso nella.
Yesterday, I talked about my adventure replacing the drive chain on my bike, and how that ended with a mysteriously locked ignition cylinder. The adventure didn't end, oh no, it was just beginning!
Looking online, the most common cause of a stuck cylinder is corrosion. It seemed plausible- I keep my bike outdoors, exposed to the elements- but gratuitous amounts of various lubes did nothing to budge the stuck lock. WD-40, Dupont Teflon Dry Lube, even trusty and versatile olive oil had no effect.
Calling around to various motorcycle mechanics, it seemed I had two options:
1) Wait a week for a new lock to come in, and pay about $250 to replace the entire ignition cylinder, or
2) Get a locksmith to come out and try to repair the lock.
I have not enjoyed walking everywhere and bumming rides from friends, so yesterday I scheduled an appointment for a locksmith to come out and take a look at my motorcycle.
This morning, I get a call from the receptionist: she is very sorry, but as it turns out, the locksmith doesn't work on motorcycles. Hmm. Wish I had known that when I first set up the appointment!
I call pretty much every locksmith in the OKC area, and they all say the same thing: they won't break open a motorcycle's lock. One of the mechanics I talk to comments that this is because they're afraid of accidentally helping someone steal a bike. Doesn't exactly help my situation here.
Well, I said I wanted to learn how to work on my own bike. Be careful what you wish for, and all that.
Step 1: Figure out how to remove the console covering up the ignition cylinder. Youtube, and even the faithful Clymer KLR 650 manual, are uncharacteristically silent on this mysterious process, perhaps taking it for granted that a neophyte like myself knows how to do this. It takes quite a bit of finesse and finagling of wrenches and rachets, but I finally get the cylinder out.
Step 2: This is where it gets interesting: I need to figure out how to get the actual cylinder out of the housing. There aren't any guides out there specifically for a KlR 650 lock cylinder, so hopefully these pictures will help someone out who finds themselves in a similar situation as I was.
With the cylinder off, you'll notice that on the mount for the cylinder on the bike are a series of metal bumps. On the cylinder itself, a rotating piece with more metal bumps should come off easily along with a spring. When you turn the key, you're aligning the metal bumps on both pieces and completing the circuit, allowing the battery to turn on the bike. Set these loose pieces off to the side.
With the casing and cylinder detached from the bike, it should look like this on the inside:
Take out the screws, and pull out the plate they hold in place.
The center piece with the nub can now be removed, allowing you a tantalizing view into the actual locking mechanism. These are the actual guts of the lock, and what we'll need to remove in order to troubleshoot the problem.
This is where it got a little tricky for me. Take a look at the tiny brass nob sticking out, highlighted below in red (though still hard to see in the photo). That knob is preventing the lock cylinder from sliding out of the front of the casing, where you stick the key in at. We need to get a small object down in there to push the knob out of the way.
I used a small screwdriver. You'll notice that one side of the knob is beveled or rounded; start on that side and slide the screwdriver around the circumference of the cylinder to force the knob inside it. It helped to use the fingers of my left hand (or whatever hand is holding the casing) to push the cylinder "up" so that the knob is closer to the lip and easier to reach.
Note: Having the key pushed all the way into the cylinder keeps the knob from retracting fully and clearing the shear line, impeding the removal of the cylinder from the casing. Keep the key out, or at the least only push it in part of the way.
Also Note: Once the cylinder is out, the tiny springs and wafers that allow the lock to function properly will be exposed. Take care not to lose these pieces or let them go flying off into oblivion!
With the knob pushed in, angle the screwdriver to keep it trapped securely inside the cylinder. Then, with whatever spare appendages you have available, push the cylinder down and straight out the front of the casing. Ta-da! Easy as a-b-c.
Now to find out what's wrong with the lock. When the key is out of the cylinder, the "wafers" stick out of the cylinder, and into the housing, thus keeping the key from turning the cylinder and making the electrical connection that turns the bike on.
When the cylinder is functioning correctly, inserting the correct key causes the wafers to line up exactly so that the shear line, or space between the housing and the cylinder, is clear and can thus rotate freely.
The way to see if your lock is functioning properly is to stick the key in the cylinder and see if any wafers stick up, thus impeding the rotation of the cylinder.
What do you know- the wafer on the far right side of the picture is sticking up, as is one at the middle of the bottom row. No wonder my cylinder wouldn't turn when I stuck the key in.
There are two fixes to this. First, you can file down the wafers while the key is inside so that they are flush with the outside diameter of the cylinder.
The second option- and this is the one I chose to do- is to simply remove the offending wafers. The lock will still function perfectly well with 4 or 5 wafers. In fact it would work fine with just 1 wafer, though that would also make it very easy to pick or force. In other words, the more wafers, the more secure the lock is. A pair of pliers will do fine. Here we see what the problem is: the far-end wafer is bent, which prevented it from re-entering the cylinder properly.
I try the key to see if that fixed the problem. Lo, the remaining wafers now line up perfectly! Success.
That's really all there is to it. After that, you have to merely put everything back together.
The hard part for me here was figuring out how to force the brass knob- the same one as before- inside the cylinder so that it will slide into the housing. The mistake I made was to keep the key fully inside the cylinder, which makes it impossible for the knob to clear the shear line and stay flush with the cylinder's outer diameter.
Instead, I pushed the key in but not all the way in. Then, you can line key up with the "off" position on the housing, and use the handle of the key to rotate the cylinder in such a way that the beveled edge of the brass knob "catches" the inside of the housing and pushes it inside the cylinder.
With the cylinder inside the housing, you can reassemble all the bits and pieces and reinstall it on your bike. Before bolting everything back in, test to make sure that you've solved the problem and put the pieces back together right by holding the cylinder onto the mount on the bike and turning the key. You know it's working when your lights come on! Congratulations on successfully repairing your KLR 650's ignition lock and saving yourself a good $100-$300!
Let me know if you have any questions, or take a peek at some of the resources I used:
Bonus: How to hotwire a motorcycle. Tried it on my KLR and I at least got the lights to come on and the engine to turn over a couple times before the wires got too hot to hold.
Stay thirsty, my friend!
Dillon Dakota Carroll
I've never been a mechanically inclined person, but always wished I was. I am envious of those that have a way with machines, engines, and mechanical components. Perhaps one of the reasons why I studied engineering was because I (mistakenly) thought it would make me a more proficient tinkerer.
When I bought my motorcycle last year, one of my goals was to learn how to work on it. It has been wonderfully interesting so far. Sometimes I wonder, though, if my old 2001 KLR 650 has been inoperable more than not. An important question, given that it's been my only motorized transportation since April.
So far, I've changed the oil (laugh if you must, it was a big win at the time), replaced the rear brake line and bled it, changed the fuses, had the cooling fan rewired, replaced the solenoid and the battery, and probably done a few other miscellaneous things to it.
Like most things, this has been a blessing and a curse: I've learned through that most effective of teachers (experience), and I have experienced quite the emotional roller coaster ride. I have the perfect example of this from this past week.
The drive chain started slipping, and upon investigation the rear sprocket was missing about half its teeth. I decided to replace the drive chain myself. It seemed like a smart move. New front and rear sprockets, plus a new chain and lube, cost about $110. I figured it would be double that, with labor, to have it replaced at the shop.
What I wasn't expecting: A 14 hour job requiring 7 helpers and 1 tow truck. But by the end of it, I had replaced the rear sprocket and the chain. The front sprocket was in good enough shape that it didn't need replacing- and thank the heavens, because the nut holding it in place wouldn't budge. After a motorcycle mechanic hit it with his impact tool, and it didn't move a bit, the mechanic told me that the only way to get the nut out would be to "burn it out". Not sure what that meant exactly, but it sounded invasive to say the least. I decided to hold off on that operation.
What took so long, you ask? Everything.
First, I had to assemble my motorcycle lift. It took me a shameful amount of time to figure out how it worked and went together, which I'll shamelessly blame on the terrible instructions that came with the lift.
There was probably an hour or so after that of trying, and failing, to get the front sprocket off.
We could, however, replace the rear sprocket- success here!
Until we tried to move the bike.
The motorcycle won't budge. And the bike is literally stuck 3 feet in front of the front door of autozone, right on the sidewalk. The wheels are stuck like a tick. At this point, it is 11pm, so we call it a night. I show up the next morning at 7:30am when autozone opens to explain myself. Turns out, we left out a spacer on the axle when we put the rear wheel back on.
I reinstall the spacer, but the brake pads now scrub on the brake disc. I decide not to worry about it until I get the rest of the drive chain replaced. The bike shop about 3 miles away offered to zap the nut on the front sprocket off with an impact tool if I can get the bike up there. We know how that turns out.
There is of course a complication in getting to the bike shop: the old chain is worn out enough that it slips off when the motorcycle rolls. I mistakenly think that I can't replace the drive chain with the new one I bought without removing the front sprocket. It's actually really easy to change with the front sprocket still on- embarrassingly easy. Live and learn. But after another 30 minutes of trying to remove the sprocket myself, and hitching a ride with my roommate to the bike shop to talk to them in person (thanks, Matt!) I give up and call a tow truck. Thankfully, tows are covered by my insurance policy! Along the way, I get some colorful commentary from Larry, the tow-truck driver. Let me tell you, I've never had a dull ride in a tow truck. I lost count of how many red lights we ran en-route to the mechanic.
Anyway, we know how this story ends: I get to the bike shop, and they can't do anything to help. So I walk my bike 30 feet away under the shade of an oak tree to try and replace the chain through trial and error, with the front sprocket still on.
Sometimes, you just have to trust yourself to figure it out. I get the new chain on, and I disassemble the rear brake caliper. Both work great. I roll away, and am amazed at how smooth my ride feels.
Looking back, it seems like the part in The Alchemist when the Englishman travels all the way to the Sahara desert to meet (go figure) the Alchemist. He wants the Alchemist to teach him how to make the Philosopher's Stone. The Alchemist asks him if he's tried, even once, to make it himself. He hasn't. Guess what the Alchemist tells him to go do?
There's something fantastically empowering about knowing you can take at least part of your bike apart, troubleshoot it, repair it, put it back together, and have it work better than it did before. You feel like you know your bike, like you've developed a special rapport with it. Like she's your accomplice, in on a secret that only the two of you know. All the rest of that day, I was riding on cloud nine.
The next morning, I went out to ride my motorcycle to the gym. I strap my gym bag down to the back, toss my leg over, stick the key in and... nothing. The key physically won't turn the cylinder.
This one, I'm outsourcing. The locksmith is coming today at 2pm.
I haven't been totally scared away though- my next project? Changing the tires! My current pair are street tires, and are almost bald. I will be replacing them with new 50/50 tires so that I can enjoy my bike more off-road! We'll see how it goes. Until then,
Dillon Dakota Carroll
I have been thinking about the idea of a Quest over the past few days. I think it's probably because Chris Guillebeau's new book, The Happiness of Pursuit, which I plan to read, is about to come out.
There are many kinds of quests to take. I won't pretend to enumerate them all. However, the idea of a pilgrimage is one I like, perhaps for its romance or because I was once obsessed with the history and lore of the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. While we don't think in terms of pilgrimages anymore, they were once common. The original meaning of the word simply meant "to travel to foreign lands". You can see this reflected in the name of the Peregrine Falcon. To go on a pilgrimage in Spanish is Peregrinar. Peregrine falcons are renown for inhabiting nearly every corner of the globe, not so much for pious journeys to holy lands.
In this respect, we make pilgrimages more often than we think. I read this many years ago, too long ago to know who to attribute it to, but it has stuck with me. It was in a book about the Camino de Santiago. The author wrote,
Consider that the pilgrimage is a practice that even the least religious of us practice when we render homage to the memory of a person... The modern pilgrim seeks the birthplace of Shakespeare, the tomb of Napoleon, or the Parthenon... perhaps considering that the glory of the past will illuminate their own life?
When we travel to learn from the works and lives of some of history's most exalted (or our own personal heroes, not necessarily but perhaps different), we are engaging in a form of hero worship similar to that of a Christian before the Pope, the Dome on the Rock, or the tomb of St. James the Greater.
The book went on to describe how travel was once seen. Note- these notes are two years old, and translated from Spanish by yours truly, so I claim responsibility for any errors in the following!
...To travel the world when there weren't paths, when any type of voyage was more or less unknown and dangerous... pilgrims usually made their will before they left... Travel was what gave skill and experience, and vice versa, only by putting oneself on the move or putting hands to work could one find experience. Empiricism or experience is effectively a "wander and see" method, a type of thinking with the feet.
[latin root "per", meaning to go through or travel
peligro (from latin periculum) or danger
perito or expert
experto or expert
experiencia or experience
peregrinar or to make a pilgrimage, though originally meant travel in a foreign land]
Furthermore, common words we use today in English have root in old travel metaphors. Take a look at my notes from the book on the words "obvious", and "trivial":
[obvio- latin root ob viam, aludes to that which one finds on the path
trivial- trivio, where three routes intersect (and therefore an important road)- less value because its a known path (in terms of what one discovers there)]
To travel the paths that everyone travels gives existence to obviousness and trivialities, to abandon the well worn paths and explore paths lesser known to most is usually considered to give valuable knowledge and experience... It was a means of acquiring experience, knowledge, and prestige, and while it was dangerous it was also an adventure, and a daring challenge for the audacious.
While modern travel is somewhat less dangerous- we don't typically make our wills before leaving home nowadays- those who travel still gain a unique prestige. And depending on the trip, travel can still be the source of insights, inspirations, and growth opportunities beyond that which is available to us in our normal circumstances at home.
This brings us back to the idea of a Quest. What is a Quest?
A Spring Break trip to Cabos probably isn't one. I don't mean to knock pleasure trips, or pretend like they're not important or fun. Everyone needs recreation. Recreation is to re-create oneself. As the saying goes, it's not the weight-lifting that makes you stronger. It's the rest in-between the weight lifting.
At the risk of being contradicted by someone with a dictionary, I'll make my own definition. Quite simply, I think it is a trip with a specific, personally meaningful goal. To reach a certain place, to experience a particular event, to learn a specific skill or language, or to recover a unique artifact. It just has to be a concrete, specific, attainable goal tied to some physical travel.
Ultimately, the more our goal means to us on a deep, personal, maybe even spiritual level- the more we are personally invested in the trip- the more it comes to resemble what we might have once called a Pilgrimage. Personally, I think Quest sounds better. The word Pilgrimage has probably been ruined for Americans because of its connotations with the Puritan Pilgrims who settled in New England before this great country was born. Plus, I'm a sucker for stories of Knight Errantry. At any rate, I will consider Quest/Pilgrimage somewhat interchangeable, perhaps using Pilgrimage to denote something more intensely spiritual or meaningful than a Quest.
So anyway, the more a Quest means to us on a deep, personal level, the more it becomes a journey of self-discovery. After all, the particular travel wouldn't mean so much if it didn't represent some deeper question, issue, or struggle or search going on within us. The changing landscape as we fly, drive, walk, or ride towards our destination becomes a metaphor for our internal turmoil as we struggle with the big questions life is asking us at that moment.
I think this is one of the reasons that many people put off taking the trip of their dreams. Because it signifies so much to them, it also entails an equally meaningful look at personal questions and issues they've been putting off facing. Perhaps a woman dreams of traveling to and living in Paris for a season, enchanted by the romance and mystery and allure of the city. She never takes the trip. Why not? Airline tickets can be had at reasonable prices. A plane fare and a passport, in the end, are the only real impediments to modern day travel.
Perhaps she's afraid to face the question such a trip would require her to face: What is missing in my life now that I don't feel the romance, the mystery, the joy of life that I think I would find elsewhere?
Many of us are afraid of beginning such a deep journey into the hidden longings, fears, and insufficiencies of our being. I know I am.
Of course, to start a Quest means to overcome these fears! Ah, courageous traveler, valiant flaneur, the first step is always the hardest.
Let me give a personal example. When I was 19, during the summer before I began my Junior year (which I was to spend in Spain) I became fascinated by the idea of going on a bicycle tour. It seemed to me a superb way to travel. I would get to exercise myself physically, travel cheaply and at my own pace, and I would camp and sleep wherever I could find a bare patch of ground. I loved how challenging it would be.
It also scared the bejeebus out of me, more so than I'd like to admit. I had never done anything remotely similar before. I had hardly ever been camping, and the few times I had been I had gone with experienced friends. Now I was proposing to go on my own, without even a tent, and with inadequate gear. I was taking my race bike, which while light, couldn't hold any luggage. So I was limited to what I could carry in a small backpack. The ambiguity of the whole thing was intimidating, as well. I was used to knowing where I would sleep each night, what I would eat, how I would get there, etc.
When the appointed day came, I tarried and delayed leaving. I packed and repacked my few possessions I was taking at least three times. I paced back and forth, mustering the courage. Finally, I said Fuck It, said goodbye to my sister, mounted my bicycle, and took my first few pedals. I was heading north on Highway 9 from Prague, Oklahoma, to Stroud, Oklahoma, and a very strong headwind pushed me at breakneck speeds away from home, from comfort, from familiarity.
It felt fantastic, as though the winds of destiny itself were pushing me out the door.
It turned out to be a wonderful trip! It instilled in me a sense of adventure and initiative that I still draw upon today. From our perspective of a journey of self-discovery, I had to confront the issues I had been struggling with for some time: my lack of self-reliance and independence, my fear of the unknown and my paralysis before big decisions. And I have so many fond memories from that trip, from meeting a friend in Tulsa, to sleeping in a rural school playground, to meeting a pastor that invited me to stay the night with him so I wouldn't have to sleep outside that night.
Ah, you say, but then isn't any difficult or challenging task one of self-discovery?
Perhaps. But what makes an actual travel unique is the displacement from our physical comfort zone. By isolating ourselves from our familiar surroundings, we must turn inward and examine ourselves. Faced with unfamiliar customs, a foreign language, and new people, we must view the mundane and normal in a new way. We can take little for granted, just as I couldn't take the kindness of strangers for granted after being invited into the pastor's home.
On a true voyage of self-discovery, the excursion from our physical comfort zone matches and amplifies the frequency of our personal, internal struggles. They become archetypal, tapping into the vast societal subconscious of similar journeys. Huckleberry Finn down the Mississippi. Don Quijote across La Mancha. Jesus into the wilderness. Rich stories of travelers braving dangerous, unknown roads to reap the rewards of experience, wisdom, and more. Exemplars that provide our own travels with a sense of narrative, of meaning, of poetry, all things too often missing from quotidian life.
I think back on the bike tour I described above, and on a few other true Pilgrimages I have been on in my life, and they stand out as some of the most formative and memorable experiences of my life. I wish the same richness for you!
Dillon Dakota Carroll
PS: Here's a picture of me after I finished my first week long bike tour across Oklahoma and Arkansas- a bonus for finishing a long article!
PPS: A second bonus photo from my second (and last) big bicycle tour down the eastern coast of Florida.
Maybe it's beginners luck, but I'm amazed at how easy it is to get into somewhere you shouldn't.
Take the golf course behind my apartment complex, for example. It's surrounded by a typical 7ft tall chain link fence. Walking home one day, however, I noticed that you could literally step over the fence as it passed under a bridge. This bridge passes over a drainage ditch leading out of the golf course.
And ever since the GoRuck challenge I did on July 4th, I'm starting to be a little obsessed with drainage ditches.
I intended just to see where the drainage ditch went, and if it linked up with any streams or stormwater drains. But I went with the flow, which led me across the course and into the facility's in-construction "Turf Care and Research Facility". Because we still haven't mastered watering grass.
I find it amazing that on the one hand, you have this amazingly manicured golf course. I'm no golf course expert, but this seems like a fairly typical golf course. And right in the midst of this expensive facade, right underneath it, the landscape reveals the depths of its personality and history. It is a little hidden, as the golf course designers probably intended. But as I mentioned in my last post about Urban Exploration, part of the fun for me is seeing a little deeper into our surroundings than most ever think, or want, to look. And hey, to be fair, if I were a golfer (as I'm not) then slogging through trashy, murky drainage ditches certainly wouldn't be on my to-do list.
If you follow the drainage ditch in the above picture back a little, in between the rows of wild-looking brush and off to the right, here's some of what you'll find:
I doubt golfers dragged all this flotsam here, so I have to wonder what exactly this golf course is built on top of, or in place of. An old grocery store, perhaps? The busted concrete (perhaps from the parking lot) and half-buried shopping carts, among the rest of the rubbish, hint at that.
At a certain point, the drainage ditch turns into a fairly deep, stagnant pool with no room along the banks to continue on foot. I decided that made it a pretty good time to leave. To look for an out-of-the-way spot to jump the fence, I followed the golf cart path towards the end of the course, which was closed for the evening.
That's when I saw the Turf Research Facility and figured I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take a look and figure out what, exactly, it was. While such a facility seems to me to be.. superfluous, to say the least, I will hold my judgment. In many cases buildings such as these are built with funds specifically earmarked for them by donors enamored with a particular project. Or maybe it's funded completely from extra golf course profits. Either one of those could be the case here.
Or maybe they'll use the "research" facility to do really important things, like develop drought resistant crops that can help prevent subsequent famines in poverty-stricken parts of the globe. Doubtful, but who knows?
At any rate, I enjoyed the opportunity to explore what is literally my back yard. The facility seemed nearly ready. The structure itself was nearly done, and it looked like they had just begun moving in all the fittings, accoutrements and trappings of such a facility.
Until my next trespassing (kidding),
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Why have I come to the top of this unfinished building in the middle of the night?
This building is what I will consider my first Urban Exploration. The view is fantastic, with the lights of the city of Norman and the University of Oklahoma campus twinkling like fireflies across the horizon. I'm shielded from the howling wind by modern equivalent of a castle's parapets.
Ah, to sit on the roof, lie back, and gaze at the stars with an unobstructed view! The tile is rough and uncompromising, but still I feel my mind sliding softly towards sleep. Can I not see my life as a never-ending quest to find ever more novel and beautiful places to gaze and wonder, dream and ponder?
On top of this roof, I ask myself how much I really need to be happy. To quote Zan Perrion quoting Thoreau in The Alabaster Girl,
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Or as they say in the aeronautics industry, “Simplify and add lightness.” Or as Thoreau so wonderfully put it, “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”
Why have I come to the top of this unfinished building in the middle of the night?
For the view, and for the act of summiting, of course.
Then there's the nice adrenaline rush of getting to the summit. That is, the act of exploring the unknown, and of pushing through fear or hesitation to interact with our environs on our own terms.
Finally, there's the act of exploration itself. I could feel, see, and experience a place in a way almost no one else can or will. And that's pretty cool.
...sees much and knows much