In astrological terms, Neptune square Neptune is the mid-life crisis. My midlife crisis did not come on quickly. it was a very slow and deliberate unraveling, until every bit of the fabric I was made of piled into a frayed mess. A phrase better than midlife crisis for me, might be midlife upheaval because everything I thought I knew about myself and my life was turned upside down, including me. I've been experiencing existential crises on a regular basis since I was about 18. The doctors diagnosed my "crazy talk" (along with accompanying symptoms ) as manic depression or bipolar 2
So, this time around, how was this existential crisis different than the rest? The significant difference is that this crisis lasted a helluva lot longer than any previous ones, and felt so much deeper; deep into my bones and on a cellular level. I also had the aid of my kickass astrologer, who informed me that was embarking on the planetary phase known as the midlife crisis. Everyone who makes it this far in life hits this milestone- but it affects each of us differently. The position of Saturn in my chart resulted in some 'weight of the world' heavy shit.
This crisis differed from the rest because I truly am at a midpoint in life and therefore at a vantage point to reflect on years gone by and look to the brightness ahead, in what years I have left to walk this planet.
Constant questions, the 'WHY's' of my existence, the 'WHAT IFs' and 'what is the goddamn purpose of any of it' harassed me violently for months. All my life choices paraded before my eyes for critique, condemnation and desperation. I questioned my choice not to have children, not to marry, to get clean and sober, even becoming a teacher. The thought, that a steady job ruined my life came to mind. The hopes of publishing novels, dreams of performing onstage and going on tour with my band all sat quietly in a box on the shelf while I achieved financial + job security, became accustomed to a standard of living (that was not poor), looked after my health and mental illness. I became a dependable worker, not flippant enough to quit my job every time I wanted to take a long trip, invested in this bullshit capitalist system that does not value it's workers. Maybe I've wasted the last 14 years of my life teaching high school kids who don't give a crap, and sadly I won't ever see the results of my labor.
Where am I now? Walking through it, though I am not even close to the other side. I have huge relapses of immobile days of depression or hours of anxiety, listlessness or lethargy. There are bright moments and a soft and silly 28 lb dog named Billie Holiday, and antidepressants + mood stabilizers, coffee, chocolate, salt baths, witchcraft, recovery program, lifting weights and my community of folx. For now, I am still here.
For me, it has been much easier to stay clean + sober than it was for me to stop boozing + using drugs. My recovery is important to me and I would like to hold onto it. I still want to explore the world, but. now it is with a clear head. Instead of staying out of bars and locking myself away from people who drink, I join the party. I know that I can travel anywhere and experience life, if I practice what I have learned from others in recovery programs. This includes bicycling adventures. Even in the "420" state, I didn't have a problem hanging on to my recovery.
Recovery meetings have been an important part of my recovery since I sobered up in 2004. Although I attend much fewer than I did in the beginning, I still attend at least one meeting a week. When I travel, I try to do the same thing and make at least one meeting a week, wherever I am. I don't always love going to meetings but they are good for me for many reasons including keeping me from becoming complacent. I hit up a few excellent meetings while cycling through the state of California.
I have published a few pieces on how I stay sober in places that seem to be living off the booze. On Traveling Sober was published in the Huffington Post. Your life is not over once you stop partying and put down the booze and drugs. I thought thats's what happened - I worried that I wouldn't "have a life" once I stopped drinking and using drugs. The complete opposite happened: after several years in recovery, I have a busy and full life and opportunities I would not have had before, plus relationships with family and friends that I did not previously have.
Aside from meetings, what can you do to keep sober? For me, it has been vital to have a network of folx that I trust and love- people I can be completely honest with when I am having a difficult day or month. Community and relationships are important for humans to thrive and going through difficult times should not be done alone. People need people.
Put down the social media and connect with a real live person, today.
Recovery programs get a lot of flack for various reasons, one being the "god thing". And I totally get that. But you do not have to believe in god to do recovery or to get recovery. I found this great pamphlet on Spirituality at a meeting in San Francisco. When I first attended certain recovery meetings, I was completely turned off by all the god talk. But I learned to take what I needed from the meeting and leave the rest. I don't have to have the same beliefs that others have.
Journaling daily or at least on the road helps to sort out thoughts and feelings. I try to employ this whilst traveling but sometimes I do not accomplish it. You can look back on your thoughts from two days ago when you were really upset about...? You don't even recall what got you so mad. Funny thing about feelings- they pass. Sadly, the highs pass as easily as the lows.
Mediation has been helpful for me when I travel. Even if it just means I spend a few minutes centering my mind and thoughts before I go galloping off into a stream of activities, it is something. At home I read two different inspirational type books, each with daily quotes and a message for the day. I bring at least one of these with me when I travel, so that I can keep up my routine and take time in my morning before life starts happening.
If I am feeling shaky and I am alone, I avoid bars if there isn't any other reason for me to be there, (food, music, bands, show). To add to that- if I am feeling weird or off-kilter, I avoid places that might trigger me. I had to watch my thoughts in California, because it is 420 legal, Maryjane's lovely aroma seemed to waft though the air every single place I visited.
If I am staying at a hostel or I make new friends on the road, it is important for me to let them know I do not drink. It is almost like "outting" myself, so that I will be less likely to even think about ordering a drink.
As I already mentioned, human connection is important, and for me, my sister or friends at home are a lifeline that keeps me cognizant of who I am. It is easier to be complacent on the road and forget all that you do at home, so staying in touch with folx via email, text or "whats app" keeps me on the up and up.
Getting clean and sober does not mean life is over. On the contrary, life is just beginning, we can go anywhere and do anything.
In real life, I try to keep my diet clean eating as little processed goods as possible. However, I do have a heckuva sweet tooth. In the summer, I tend to overindulge in ice cream, so that basically I am working out just to eat ice cream. My workouts are usually 45 minutes of strength-training, three times a week. This means I hit the gym and lift weights but I eschew cardio specific exercise- just because I hate it. Getting on bike or walking or the only ways I work cardio into my life. (I have been trying to refigure this, but I simply hate cardio exercise.) Well, on this bike tour, I rewarded myself plenty and just ate a lot of calories each day because I knew I was burning them. My bike weighed in at 35.6 lbs and my gear weighed somewhere in the ballpark of 30-50 lbs at different times. Daily sweets helped motivate me when I lacked enthusiasm, but after my return I needed a sugar detox to get myself off the addicting white stuff. This by the way lets me know I am an addict through and through- I could be addicted to anything that makes me feel good, including sugar. I have a real problem with portion control when it comes to sweetened foods.
Ain't All Guts and Glory
If we are being honest here, I wanted to cry the first three days of my cycling trip. I'd glance at my cycling computer, the remaining miles taunting me with impossibility. My quads burned, the space between my shoulders blades pinched, every part of me ached and I sure as hell did not feel I was capable of forging on the next 10, 15 or 20 miles. At times I caffeine sweet treats literally kept me motivated. (See the many pictures of ice cream + donuts.) Pushing passed the mental blocks proved more difficult than physical pains. But slow and steady I kept on, until we rolled into the day's planned destination.
Travel = Freedom
True freedom is found outside of our comfort zones. Traveling in general usually puts a person outside their comfort zone because of unpredictability. Even if you are one to travel extravagantly, you cannot predict an airline losing your baggage, canceling your flight, hotels making mistakes, becoming ill, missing connections, or misunderstandings. Travel has always been a way for me to shake things up, change my perspective, and a way to realize all the small and big comforts I have at home. It's okay to be uncomfortable sometimes. In fact, sitting in discomfort it is freeing. I try to ask myself why I am uncomfortable, what's making me anxious. Many times it is because the current situation is not how I perceived things would go.
Surprised by the kindness of strangers, or acquaintances.
When planning this trip, I had used social media to contact a few old acquaintances to ask for advice as to renting a place in SF, bike shops, and bookstores. I say acquaintances, because they aren't people I see or talk to regularly but stay in touch with on social media. Shannon and I had both volunteered at Bluestockings Bookstore, a radical feminist space in Manhattan but hadn't seen each other in a decade. She had moved back to San Francisco after she finished school. An amazing and really chill person, Shannon suggested my partner and I stay on her couch rather than support the Airbnb industry. Airbnb may be convenient, but it is adding to the housing market crisis in cities and exacerbating homelessness in places like San Francisco. Shannon kindly put us up for four days in her place. We lucked out because she had a job the entire time we were there, which meant she housesat elsewhere and we stayed in her room with her sweet cat, Dolly. San Francisco had a more laid back vibe than NYC, and I loved getting around on my bike there. (Although carrying my bike up and down Shannon's apartment stairs made for unwanted cyclocross training.) I made it to my first California AA meeting in the Mission District. My zines are now bicoastal: Alley Cat Bookstore bought zines from me!
No, I did not think this bike ride would be easy peezy, but damn it was downright grueling in the beginning. I did not really train for the ride due to various reasons, but I would definitely recommend it. Just getting out of San Francisco proved a nightmare for us. Our touring bikes are Surly Disc Truckers, solid steel frames-heavy mothers. Add to that all of our gear packed neatly into panniers, weighing in at about 40 or 50lbs, and throw in good 'ol California topography... Dang. We faced many an uphill battle just to get out of the city and travel to our first stop for the night, the Montara Lighthouse Hostel. The road leading up to the Devil's Slide area just about killed us both. When my partner, Cristina, turned to me and informed me that she "wasn't having fun yet," I worried a bit because she is a way better cyclist than I am. One issue is that there is barely any shoulder on the road for cyclists, and the road switches back and forth like a snake whilst going up, up, up. This makes even walking your bike (and crap-ton of gear) difficult. The reward was a gorgeous view from Devil's Slide, with almost nobody else around. It was one of our shorter ride days, only about 21 miles or so, but our very first day on our bikes with all of our gear in action. We did it though, and enjoyed our stay at Montara.
The next morning we packed up and left for Pigeon Point Lighthouse, 29 miles, more hills and beautiful coastal scenery away.
I will be honest, I wasn't jazzed about checking out the touristy Alcatraz, but it turned out to be informative and interesting, (I am glad we purchased tickets months in advance, by the way). You are given a headset and move around at your own pace, the narrated audio is phenomenal- with clips from former prisoners and guards. I had not realized that Alcatraz was first a US Military prison before the place famous for housing the most infamous US criminals. I also learned about the Native American takeover which lasted about 18 months and succeeded in keeping the US Government from taking away all land grants from the Native American Indians.
Staying at Shannon's in the Mission District, it was an easy BART ride to the Oakland Amtrack Station to greet our bicycles. All in all, it went well, although we were a bit taken aback by the torn-up appearances of our bike boxes. It looked as if Amtrack rough handled our bikes, but all parts were in tact. All we had to do to get on the road, was put our pedals back on and turn our handlebars.
Asheville, NC has been on my radar for some years now, as a place I wanted to visit and possibly move to. The timing of the Asheville Zinefest ended up being perfect for a road trip. I convinced my sissy, Chris, to go on an adventure with me. We loaded up my Suburu and the two of us and my pooch, Billie headed to Virginia for the first leg of the trip.
We stayed at dog-friendly Orv's place in Linville, VA the first night. Orv is a really chill dude and he has a small shiitake farm on his property. He is growing shiitake on logs. We headed out early-ish for the 6-hour drive to Asheville. The sun wasn't beating down either of these days and made for a pleasant drive. Billie did find in the car and at the rest stops.
We happily unloaded at Cheryl and Corey's place around 4 in the afternoon. Billie trotted around the fenced in yard and we settled into the Cheryl and Corey's cozy Airbnb suite.
We got to sample just a little bit of Asheville-hiking, downtown, eateries, bookstores... Highlights were hiking Mount Pisgah, dipping into Catawba Falls and Skinny Dip Falls, bluegrass clogging at The Feed and Seed and the incredible amount of fireflies out everywhere. Lots of delicious farm to table food, the freshest baked goods and of course ice cream. The Asheville Zinefest was pretty cool and I met some rad zinesters.
Although I have only gotten into bicycling the last two years, I have traveled solo for over two decades. Before I dated my partner, I would ride my bike to the grocery or the library or to work occasionally. But with her, I started taking longer rides. Since traveling solo has been my thing for awhile, I thought why not add the bike to the mix? I started reading about bike adventures on blogs, in magazines and talking to people about the idea. I love the zero emissions factor that goes along with traveling via bicycle and the idea of being self-contained and transporting myself. Thus, a seed was planted about traveling with my partner on our bikes.
I joined some bike packing forums and really paid attention in the women's ones, and I started asking questions. Staying in the US was a no-brainer for several reasons: much easier to communicate and get help if anything goes wrong, less travel hassles, no language barriers. I found a book by Bill Thorness in which he not only gives cues for traveling down the Pacific Coast Highway 1, but he makes suggestions on daily mileage, where to spend the night and possible side trips. The route actually starts in Vancouver and ends in Tijuana, but we knew we had to break it up due to time constraints. I hope to travel the northern section next, from Vancouver down to SF.
We researched as much as possible: gear options, gear carrying options, bikes, accommodations, what people do for food... I read blogs on how much stuff to bring... (For example many people say, three sets of cycling clothes- one to wear, a clean/dry set, and one that has been washed and is lashed to the bike, drying as you ride). Food? Do people carry all their food? Buy as they go? In California, the options were many, farmsteads, groceries and plenty of restaurants. Though you could go hours in some areas without seeing a thing, not even a toilet. Hydration is vital. We each had two bike bottles of water, I think 24oz each, which is not enough to sustain the entire day. We depended on being able to refill our bottles at rest stops, restaurants, gas stations, etc.
One of my favorite events of the year is the NYC Dyke March. Now in its 26th, the March began as protest, in contest to the Pride parade which traditionally centered around gay white men.
Last year, my pal Elvis and I decided to step it and get trained to marshal the March. We had a blast and decided to do it again this year.
Dykes everywhere showed their solidarity against fascism, racism, deportation, nazis, prisons... it was incredible. It’s overwhelming to see all these radical people come together, be political and have a helluva time while doing it. Yup, queer as in Abolish ICE.
Hi, I'm Reverend J, a queer+ sober wanderer, activist, writer and ordained minister.