The Interweb Travelling Journ-log

Biking Down the Coast of an Overly Sensitive Soul

New Blog!

Posted by atparish on July 3, 2011

This is what I'll be living out of for the next three months in China, San Diego, and Italy.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m about to embark on another ridiculous adventure. This time, I’m travelling to China to work as a planning intern for two months. I’ll be in Shenzhen, right on the border with Hong Kong.
A number of my classmates will be there as well, and we’ve set up a blog to chronicle our experiences. Check it out!

After that, I’ll be doing a two-week sustainability and agriculture tour in the hill towns of Tuscany. I’ll put up some pictures from that later, to be sure.

Alright, wish me luck!


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Doing Less With Less (Part Two of Many) a.k.a. Suggested Reading

Posted by atparish on August 22, 2010

People have predicted the end of the world since the beginning of the world, they say. What I don’t think people realize is how many times the world has indeed ended.

Thomas Robert Malthus was a British scholar who wrote about economics, politics, and demography best known for his observation that the problems of population growth would make the then-popular idea of an endlessly-improvable Utopian society impossible. Population grows exponentially because each new organism capable of increasing the overall rate of growth, while increasing arable land is a linear function. Eventually, Malthus said, we will run out of land. The “Malthusian Catastrophe” is a scenario in which human population has vastly overshot the carrying capacity of the Earth, causing massive worldwide famine and die off.

Despite his broader influence, today Malthus is often thought of as a doomsayer and a hack. Thanks to industrialized agriculture and cheap worldwide transportation we have enough food production capacity to feed today’s large and growing human population. The fact that so many are still starving is a political issue. But, as I’m sure you know, these processes require cheap petroleum in the form of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and of course fuel. All but the best-managed agriculture deteriorates the land it uses, causing topsoil loss and nitrogen pollution in runoff and requiring even more inputs to maintain production. Human food production has left its mark all over the planet, notably the barren wastes of the “Fertile” Crescent. Furthermore, when you apply Malthusian logic to other resources that are absolutely vital to our way of life, particularly nonrenewable ones that we have no choice but to use at ever-increasing rates, it becomes clear that we have only managed to stave off catastrophe, all the while populating every inhabitable crevasse on the planet with more and more human beings.

Anyway, I was talking about the end of the world. Maybe people don’t understand what I mean by this. The world is always ending. Peter Ward has recently challenged the paradigm of life-as-nurturing-mother in his book, “The Medea Hypothesis,” suggesting instead that life contains the seeds of its destruction. There have been a thousand times in the Earth’s rich history where one form of life has flourished to such an extent as to jeopardize its own existence, or that of other species. The first forms of life on the planet metabolized anaerobically and produced oxygen as a waste byproduct, eventually filling the atmosphere with it and choking themselves on the stuff. Four of the five great extinctions since the rise of animals have been caused, not by volcanoes or meteorites, but by life itself.

Jared Diamond, famous for his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, wrote another fascinating text called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. In it, he examines the causes of societal collapse using numerous historical case studies. He cites habitat destruction, water management, soil erosion, over-hunting of animals and fish, invasive species, and overpopulation as factors contributing to past societal collapse in cases like the Norse in Greenland, Easter Island, and the Maya. The interesting thing is that in most of his examples, it should have been clear that the chosen course of action would eventually lead to collapse. What could the Easter Islanders have been thinking as they cut down the last tree on their once lush island?

Finally, it should be obvious to everyone that the time we live in is really exceptional. Human population has exploded along with the rate at which we are using up the world’s resources. If you look at functions of human population, economic growth, energy use, new home construction, and nearly every other indicator there is, you’ll see a low boring line for almost all of the last hundred thousand years, with a little bump marking the argrarianization of humanity, and finally a near-vertical spike starting about a hundred years ago. While it may seem normal, natural, expected for us to live this way, I don’t think many people appreciate how extremely new this all is.

When I say the world is ending, I mean that the future will not look like the present or recent past. We’re not going to invent a way to continue using as much energy as we currently do, and we’re not going to be able to do more with less. We’ll be doing less with less. James Howard Kunstler sets the mood well in his post-apocalyptic novel, “World Made By Hand.” Life will still be fulfilling and maybe more full of wonder than it is today, for those of us who don’t feel too bitter about what we’ve lost.

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Doing Less With Less (Part One of Many)

Posted by atparish on January 17, 2010

Peak Oil will inevitably change the way humanity inhabits the planet. The last two centuries have been defined by a massive per-capita increase in energy consumption fueled by eons of solar energy stored underground in complex hydrocarbons. There’s lots of talk about finding or inventing a new magic bullet that will replace fossil fuels and allow unfettered human expansion to the stars and beyond, but for reasons I’ll go into some other time I really doubt it will work out that way.

We’re at the point where we’ve extracted about half of the available oil on the planet to power our ever-expanding need for motor fuel, electricity, synthetic fibers, and vaseline. This means that the oil that is left is going to be increasingly hard to get at and turn into a form useful¬† for industry. Rather than sticking a pipe in the ground and moving to Beverly Hills, oil extraction these days involves hugely expensive and vulnerable deep-sea drilling platforms and enormous mining operations where tons of ore must be processed to obtain the low concentration of black gold within. We are quickly approaching the line where the energy we invest in obtaining, transporting, and refining a barrel of oil exceeds the energy contained therein.

In a global economy predicated on growth, with an emerging American-style middle class in the most populous areas of the world, it’s not hard to see that something is going to give. I get called a defeatist and a downer, but I personally take the stance that reality is going to do it’s thing regardless of the entitlement people feel about this (incredibly short lived and catastrophically damaging) way of life.

So, for me it’s not a question of whether we’ll make the transition to a smaller-scale, much more local, and probably much less exciting society. It’s also not really a question of when. If a hundred years of oil are discovered underneath that moose-infested tundra that those ivory tower liberals love so much, it would only postpone the issue and allow humanity to become even more deeply entrenched in an unsustainable system.

It’s the how that interests me. Will it be a gradual shift, or a hectic fall? Will there be panic, looting, and revolutions, or will society slowly collapse like a flan in a cupboard? Despite its apparent inevitability, will it take us by surprise? Or will it be planned for, somehow, by someone in charge of something?

There’s some chance we can learn from what has happened to others. You see, Peak Oil has already happened to Cuba (and to my knowledge, only Cuba). They had highly-mechanized industrial agriculture, an automobile-centric society, and they relied on the Soviet Union for fuel and 80 percent of their food. The documentary, “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”, available here via Google Videos, describes the country’s transition from industrial food production to small-scale organic farming following the sudden collapse of the USSR. Summary: The citizens of Cuba banned together and planted their rooftop gardens and came out on top. It is supposed to be an inspiring story about a community’s response to a basic existential crisis, all sunshine and smiles and jazz.

But I doubt things would go so well if the US was faced with a similar threat, because we’re not communists. We’ve done such a good job of shutting ourselves off from real community, opting instead for knockoffs like brand loyalty and corporate culture. Everybody you see on your daily commute is an enemy, clogging up your freeway and driving even more recklessly than you do.¬† Civic involvement at the local level only happens among bitter old NIMBYs. As much as I hate the religious right, I have to agree that the institution of the family is fairing poorly in the states these days. So where is this community supposed to come from? I feel that racial tensions, rugged individualism, and the aforementioned sense of entitlement would create a pretty ugly situation if we were suddenly faced with unreliable power and water in our homes, if Wal-Mart’s mobile warehouse fleet stopped rolling, if runaway inflation destroyed life savings and value of the dollar itself.

Okay, that’s enough for now. More later.

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Oh Ten

Posted by atparish on January 15, 2010

Well, I’ve just finished applying to graduate schools for the fall term, and I really do expect to be accepted to at least one program. And since I’m so bad at lying to potential employers (and dealing with the incessant guilt from living that lie), I’ve basically stopped looking for work for the duration of my time in San Diego. I think I have enough money to make my credit card payments and maintain a reasonably enjoyable quality of life until I’m back on student loans. Hopefully I’ll know where I’ll be moving by March or April, and I expect my moving expenses to be generously subsidized by certain parties interested in my well-being.

If, however, I am not accepted to any graduate programs this time around due to the dismal economy and glut of hairy twenty-somethings with nothing to do but go back to school, then I will have no choice but to default on my obligations and travel the world as an organic farmer.

In the meantime I thought I’d try to get my writing, cleaning, and healthier-living chops in order. So I’ll be using this site as a venue for honing my razor-like apocalyptic reasoning and trying to talk myself into the usefulness of my chosen profession. Reading Harper’s Magazine has really gotten me in the mood to write some essays again. I almost can’t believe that interesting, intelligent discourse exists in print anymore. Mainly it has been conversations at parties and church events that have got me in the mood to outline my general philosophy for the benefit of others.

I also need to practice using fewer commas.

So cheers, kids. Happy new decade. Hopefully this will be the one.

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Back in the saddle again

Posted by atparish on November 23, 2009

Just a small update, to let folks know what I’m up to these days, and to loosen the brain juices a little. I’ve had what I suspect is the dreaded swine flu, so said juices may still run a little thick through these cranial canals.

I moved to San Diego proper almost two months ago (a little more, if you count the time spent on Heather’s couch, which I do), and it’s a vast improvement on the whole living-with-the-parents-in-the-suburban-wastelands thing. I’m about two miles away from the historic North Park neighborhood, where all of my favorite bars and coffee shops are, and only a couple miles more from the rest of San Diego in general. I’ve been helping a friend renovate a house he bought (in cash) so I get quite a good deal on rent there.

I work as a bike messenger for Manivela Delivery ( carting food and cigarettes all around the city. One time I made $40 for delivering a cake. But mainly I make just enough money to pay for the beer I need after a hard delivery to Downtown and back.

I also have a data-entry-from-home-type temp job that I found on Craigslist. Before you ask, yes I have actually been paid, it’s a real job. Between the two, I have plenty of money to pay my almost-nonexistent bills and even start paying down some of the credit card debt I racked up on the tour.

I’ll be applying to grad school in January, and I’m hoping my sweet business connections with planners and admissions board members will get me in somewhere. Yes, things are looking up. Yes, I have a plan. Just relax, guys. And stop praying for me already. I’m sure others need it more.

So why, when things are looking so up, do I sometimes feel so down?
Well, that’s a long story. I’ll let you know when it resolves itself. Let’s say, by Christmas or so.

Anyway, here’s some recent pictures of the house and things.

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Posted by atparish on August 19, 2009

Sorry about the lack of posts in the later part of our trip. With the repetitious nature of camp life, the innumerable coastal climbs up to rocky vistas, the nearly infinite pedal revolutions, it felt like there wasn’t a lot worth saying. There were certainly some exciting tidbits, though, which I’ll post soon. First, some statistics:

Final mileage: 2459.5 ( 3958 km) *

Average Daily Mileage: 65 miles (104 km)

Time Elapsed: 78 days

Total Pedal Revolutions: Easily a million.

Mechanical Failures (Lance): 0 broken spoke(s), 0 flat tire(s), 0 ruptured frame(s), 0 funky derailleur(s).

Mechanical Failures (Andy): 3 broken spoke(s), 1 flat tire(s), 0 ruptured frame(s), 1 funky derailleur(s).

Total Items Lost/Stolen (Lance): 1 wool t-shirt, 1 wool long sleeved shirt, 1 ortlieb pannier, 1 pedal wrench, 1 book, 1 moleskine journal, 1 camping towel, 1 pair wool underwear.

Value Of Said Items: $400 (plus the obviously priceless journal)

Total Items Lost/Stolen (Andy): 1 pair gloves, 2 individual socks

Value Of Said Items: $20

Items Lost to Fucking Raccoons: 3 packets ramen, 1 can potted meat, 2 bars cliff, 1 loaf fancy bread, 1/2 loaf enriched wheat bread, 1 jar organic peanut butter with flax-seed, 1 jar skippy super chunk peanut butter, 1 waterproof stuff sack, 1 bag oats.

Items Lost to Fucking Skunks: 1 packet ramen.

Items Lost to Fucking Birds: 1 cloth backpack, 1 jar honey, 5 eggs.

Items Lost to Fucking Cops: 1/2 bottle beer, dignity.

Times Struck By Automobiles (Lance): 1

Times Struck By Large Men (Lance): 1

Times Struck by Objects Thrown From Automobiles (Lance): 1

Times Pulled Over: 1

Times Fallen (Andy): 1

Total Times Blown It (Andy): 5 and counting

Times Had to Get Off And Walk It: 1

Total Sunscreen Used: 10 oz

Times Exhaled Into Inflatable Mattresses: 2000

Gorgeous Sunsets: 53

Amazingly Starry Nights: Only 2

Epic Views from Atop Huge Hills: Dozens

Gnarly Roadkill Avoided: 3 deer, 8 coyotes, 1 eagle, 5 raccoons (fuckers), 3 dogs, 4 skunks, 10 squirrels, 7 quails, 11 unidentifiable.

RVs that Passed Us Way Too Fucking Close: 7

Beer Consumed: Bucket upon bucket full.

Bourbon Consumed: Bottle upon bottle full.

Money Spent: Much too much.

*An approximation, given that my odometer runs a little low and wasn’t on the full time. This route is really only about 1900 miles long, but we took lots of side trips and spent lots of time riding around cities.

So, dear friends, we’ve done it. And you know what? It was easy. Sure there were a couple of days when we knew we had to ride far (75+ miles), but there were usually convenient campsites at regular intervals that allowed us to go on for as long as we felt like. The hills, while occasionally huge and long, were rarely all that steep. And it’s not like we climbed the Rockies or anything. My lowest gear was somewhat too high, but that just meant that I had to go faster uphill. One or two rest days every week are a good idea, but those usually coincide with city visits. We were never far enough from civilization to require us to carry much food or water.

What I’m saying is: You should go on a bike trip. If you want to do a short one, ride down the Oregon coast in the summer. It’ll take about a week, there will be strong tailwinds helping you out, and there are $4 campsites every ten miles with free showers that you never need to reserve. Do it with someone you’re sleeping with, too. That’d probably be a lot of fun.

Other recommendations: Don’t bother with additional front panniers, unless you’re really going to be leaving civilization. If you have a suitable bike, it’s no big deal having an extra 50-60 lbs in the rear. Buy gloves that give you funny tan lines, like the ones from Rivendell. I’m such a fan of the cross-hatch pattern burned into the back of my hand. It looks like I have a disease.

I can’t help but wonder if I’m in the best shape I’ll ever be in. I sure look good today. I’d better go hit the town and flaunt it while I can. Cheers.

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Alright alright alright

Posted by atparish on August 6, 2009

Hey guys. So we’ve been in San Francisco for a few days, farting around and spending lots of money. We’re heading out today for the home stretch. Should be about ten days to LA, another one or two to San Diego.
See you there!

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Posted by atparish on July 23, 2009

After being stuck for like 3 weeks, we’re heading out today. Wish us luck.

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The Books make good music.

Posted by atparish on July 19, 2009

Hey, sorry I haven’t been saying too much lately (like you care). It’s been a lot of the same stuff here in Humboldt, with minor victories and tragedies here and there. I’ve seen two baseball games (Go Crabs!), made some money, and pissed many nights away.
I’d like to see big plastic buckets full of the beer I’ve had on this trip, labeled by cities. I’m many buckets deep in this town. People seem to buy me shots as well. I don’t complain.
I’m not the man I wish I was, but I’d say I’ve come admirably close on a couple of occasions. Of course, mainly the manly man I wish I was is a less admirable one. Admiral A. says it’s a trap.
I just finished Middlesex, and I think it’s a pretty decent book. My one-time sister Amanda is now a boy named Ayden, dontcha know.
The plan is to leave Tuesday.
We’ll see.

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Posted by atparish on July 15, 2009

This is what I look like now.

This is what I look like now.

I put some photos up on Picasa. I’ve been having trouble with the fancy scripts in WordPress and Facebook, but photos will be there pretty soon too.

We might be getting a ride to San Francisco tomorrow for a weekend trip. Then we’ll get a ride back to Humboldt and (finally) begin riding south.

And I’m going to see if I can play a mean trick on a lady.

I haven’t had any coffee today. It’s naptime.

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