Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Reise nach Afrika

Reise nach Afrika - Journey to Africa. This song takes me back to my childhood days. Rolling around the Vienna of the 70s as a kid. My pops with flared pants, patched in whack places because we were broke and he always rode bike and mom always patched our pants. My mom with short hair and flowery hippy dresses. They would take my brother and I to these hippy commune houses. Big ol' central European apartment buildings, 4 stories high, lives living in the memory of thick brick walls. Walls that keep you warm when its cold out and cool when its hot. Summer concerts in square, jungle green court yards with hippy bands singing meaningful songs against nuclear power and for love. You'd have to be a monster to disagree with that sort of sentiment, no?

There are not many things that I bring along from my past. I have a beany my mom made me 25 years ago. I still have a belt I bought in 1992, because I like it. These childhood memories, these pasts, live in our minds. I pay as little attention to them as possible though so that I may be present. Maybe that is why I carry little. An attempt to match the mind to earthly possessions. Or vice versa.

But music stays with us. And few songs stay with me as the ones about traveling and freedom. Arik Brauer is a distinguished constant in Austrian post World War 2 art. I can only think of one thing more important than his work in painting, writing and music; his sweet, harsh tongue lashings for the fat cat in all of us. The envious, stingy and arrogant self. The one that we hopefully battle every day. Do you stick your head in the sand? I know I have to pull it out frequently.

Yet Reise nach Afrika is apolitical and sweetly politically incorrect. And when I find open road this past in a song rings out in joy. I want to sit my butt on a bike and start riding without turning around. I want to keep seeing what is beyond the next turn I want to drink from all the rivers of this earth. That's what the song is about. Riding a bicycle to Afrika, past the Bedouins, through that dark, mysterious continent, riding so far that only the dirt keeps us corporeal. An escapist dream.

The song went on autorepeat in my music players after I sent my application letter to Mestre. It stayed there. On the prettiest B2B downhill joyrides it bursts out of me. When I leave good new friends behind these words comfort me. Straight ahead is the road. It is today. It is now.

Friday, November 22, 2013

California Capoeira

Capoeira is not big in the USA. It has been steadily growing for 30 years. But anyone who is trying to run a Capoeira Akademia will tell you that it is difficult to survive in this business. We don't have the national and international organizations that help other martial arts and sports with promotion and visibility. Crossfit is a good example. Individual gyms profit enormously from the marketing and advertising output of national organizations. Everybody in the States knows what Crossfit is.

Ask someone what Capoeira is. Most people don't know and the ones that try, make us cringe with attempts to classify a martial art as a dance. But it's not them, its us. What it comes down to is that we have many Capoeira small schools fighting to survive in an ocean filled with international Karate, Crossfit and Zumba sharks, who are all out to claim the few fitness dollars a person is willing to spend.

But California is different. Here we have UCA and Batuque. Two of the first Capoeira groups in the USA. Founded by Mestre Acordeon and Mestre Amen. Open Rodas everywhere. 'nuff said. Of course there is also Capoeira Brasil, of Mestre Boneco. But although the group is huge and international it is not of California.

So when we travel down the California coast line, while its not Bahia, we still find a lot of Capoeira. And because we have this crazy group of really good Capoeiristas we play a lot of Capoeira. On the side of the road, in parking lots, on the beach, in akademias, in parks and at Batizados. Its totally amazing and I feel incredibly lucky to be here. And its also extremely frustrating. How can that be? Its Capoeira heaven.

Because I can't play. My hip flexor has been acting like a rusted jackknife, although the biking is fixing it. I injure my wrist and the biking is making it worse. But more importantly, I am a confused Capoeirista. Why? I train with Professor Fenix and Candeias in Seattle. We practice a different capoeira than UCA does. Our Jinga is different. Also with only three years in Capoeira I am, and will be for a long time to come, a big capoeira baby. At some point, rolling down the coast on my ridiculous recumbent, I realize that this is a 24/7 batizado environment. I'm a nerd, I over-function. Bebum tells me to STFU and just play.

You know how when you go to another group's batizado you feel like a beginner? In a workshop you learn a kick and rastera combo but it just doesn't compute for you? This happens to everyone and it is why its so important to travel in Capoeira. I have seen instructors looking like total noobs trying to figure out the timing of a rastera option because they have not practiced that particular one all their lives.

Of course this is great. It shows that we are all human and we are always learning. It shows the willingness of our instructors to be beginners over and over again. It teaches us versatility and improves our games. It enables us to go home to our own group and beat someone's ass with a move they haven't seen before. It keeps us real because we know there is always someone out there who is not necessarily better or faster, but who will still be able to put you on your ass. And finally, it continuously challenges us. An important ingredient for my own personal happiness.

All of this is great at a Batizado, but when it is for a month straight... not so much. I let it make me into a confused Capoeirista. Should I do this jinga all bouncy now, so that I can accelerate off my backfoot better? Should I try that esquiva at a martelo even though I feel like its going to get my head taken off? And how the hell am I supposed to do anything without my wrist? The one and good constant that remained was "Arms up Pirata"! I ended up watching a lot of games. And listening. Which is entirely appropriate and not because I got to watch Mestre Beiramar and Mestre Mago go at it every day. Although that's pretty badass. I learn the first of many things about Capeoira on this journey.

"Learn by watching other people play" - not something we like to do. Not something we are often told to do. We are told to play, play, play, because the Roda is where your game really develops. But there is a lot of value in watching other people play. Good players, bad players, everyone. Watch them with your capoeira eyes and learn. No pride, no envy, no stinginess. Capoeira is one of the most complex things anyone can attempt. It behooves us to learn by watching because that's what babies do. I won't really learn anything by playing Mestre Beiramar, other than that I am able to easily bore the shit out of him. Nothing that he wouldn't rather have someone else teach me. But I sure as hell learn a lot by watching him.

I was still confused until I talked to Mestre about it a couple of weeks ago. He said "Well... you can't be confused". Weirdly, probably more to me than to him, that's all I needed. I'll just STFU and play.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

wisdom wheels

Horizons take two hours
Mountains are better than hills
Always get your lift from a passing truck
The next one coming at you will take it back
The gods of the winds deserve our sacrifice
The white line is your best friend
until she is not
Better him than me
Another day another flat

flower power

No really. No, I know. Yes, it is Mestre Acordeon. World renown Capoeira Mestre. Martial Artist par excellence and his troupe of, well, only a bunch of Mestres, Contra Mestres, Professors, Instructors and random capoeira nomads. And sequestradas. Basically a bunch of guys who will take your kneecaps out while you smell the flowers. Still, his B2B thing - its one giant fucking love train.

While riding the PCH from San Francisco to Los Angeles stories from Mestre Bimba's jovial nature abound. Strange, considering that the classic picture we all know is rather serious in nature.

The ocean's waves sing lullabies to our dreams of Central America. You can't find an iota of discontent in this ridiculously happy bunch. Its downright disgusting. You'd think after 4 weeks in each other's bikeshorts (yum?) we'd get a little pricklish.

What is going on here? Mestre says California is the Disney World part of the trip. We hug each other a lot. We exchange stories of life. One Capoeira school after another welcomes all 20 of us, takes us into their home, feeds and showers (lets us clog their toilets). The love on this train embraces us. California is the stage of B2B during which many riders join for a limited period. From Santa Cruz, to Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego we experience the best that Capoeira has to offer.

Community, openness and engagement.

We love the welcome we receive. But each time we spend 3 to 4 days in a town we get antsy. There is a quiet feeling of disquiet among us. And when we finally get to ride, we are unaccountably happy. My room mate, from my exlife, tells me this is the effect of meditation. What, meditation?

"The continuous motion, the repetitive breathing, natural beauty and good vibes all around you put you in a state of dopamine overload and every day stress underload"

Ah, that kind of meditation. No wonder we are on a high without knowing why. But its not the real B2B. The real B2B starts in Tijuana. We think.

Monday, November 11, 2013

leaving town - part 2

While we camped out happily on the beach the more important main group experienced flat tires, broken chains and didn't call it a day until 2am. They wondered briefly about our absence and probably decided that Pirates on funky modes of transportation can be keeled and Bebums can run into poles all day long. We  tend to agree.

A typical San Francisco morning greets us with fog so thick you can wrap it like a cozy blanket. The wood is still wet, but we also still have pounds of crickets to keep our spirits hopping happily. We think we need to make 50 miles today, because the plan puts us to Pigeon Point on the second day of our journey. We move quickly, pack our overnight gear and head back to our bikes. It's a quick hike and we look forward to getting our gear ready, but not the hike up the sand path.

Everything was gone. Bebum's bike and trailer with everything he owned. The saddle bag I left behind, with my tools, clothes and my wallet (yes, I kept it there. Keel me) was gone. At least Bebum had his cash on him. Because the last time he slept in Golden Gate Park he had 1500 stolen out of his bag. That small nagging voice in my head last night was not loud enough when it whispered that it may be a good idea to sleep next to your bike in a bum infested city.

What was still there was my recumbent bike. Remembering the embarrassment of falling over in front of all the cute Berkeley Brazilian girls, twice, at least, I feel conflicting emotions of empathy and anger. TAKE MY FUCKING BIKE, I may scream inside my head. I guess the thief was smarter and didn't bother with it. Or tried and fell on his ass.

Bebum and I go into beast mode. But following bike tracks, calling the police, canceling credit cards leads to no trace of our stuff. The police is out of its jurisdiction, tells us to call Park Services and proceeds to get his pig cruiser stuck in the sand. We offer to call Park Services. One aims to please. The bike, the gear, the wallet, the green card, the tools remain gone. What is left is an 80 year old hippy on his morning walk who offers to take us poor saps to his house to regroup.

David and his peace shirted hippy wife Sherry let us take showers, feed us, commiserate about the evils of the world and lend us their interwebs.

We can a carton of pears with them. Their 92 year old mom comes over, full of chutzpah and admiration for the two crazies riding to Brazil on their bikes. She brings us home-made bread and tells her daughter to offer us pickles made with ancient Austrian kosher recipe. We don't feel at home at all.

I remember Craigslist Joe and ask for a little love in the General Community section. Nada. Not until a few days later when it was too late. But we do find a cheap whip (Bebum speak for rig, or bike). In this global megalopolis-sized city we buy it around the corner from David's place. He takes us in his pickup to pick the bike up.

Mission accomplished he drops us back to the beach and... finally, we get to ride. We link up with Mestre and group at Halfmoon Bay campground and thank the supreme being of your choice for a journey well started.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

leaving town

This is the biggest day of our lives. We are Masters of Capoeira, Mestre Acordeon's discipulos and followers, nomads and vagabonds. We are about to begin a journey of a life time. Riding our bicycles from San Francisco to Brazil. Our eyes are bright and our purpose is clear. We may be a little bushytailed, too.

More importantly, most of us are Brazilian, born or by choice, so we start the day late. And since this is a huge occasion we had to have a party. And kiss our 300 best friends byebye. Bebum and I don't have this problem/luxury. We don't know a soul here. A few Seattle and Salt Lake City Capoeiristas are there for the event. It sure is nice to see familiar faces in a crowd that usually has a polite WTF expression on their face once they realize I mean to ride to Brazil. Friendly, helpful, understanding, Gallant even. And WTF?!

I get it, most of them have never heard of me before. What, you also think its strange to go on a year long bicycle journey with a bunch of people that have never heard of you before? I told you this is the craziest thing I eeever done! And I ate live, shivering, gooey, slippery shrimp once.

At 4pm Mestre had enough and put his foot to the pedal. Every body fell in line as fast as they could. Raced down the street! It was beautiful to behold. A whole bunch of riders taking over the streets of Berkeley, bikes loaded down like ancient war horses, muscles pumping, sweating profusely with the unaccustomed weight. People hollering and kids screaming at the top of their lungs. Dudes high-fiving each other. Mestres shaking their heads at the apparent insanity of a 70 year old trying to undertake this journey. Girls waving and blowing kisses to the brave riders. It was one of those occasions you want to burn into your memory forever. It was an amazing feeling to be a part of it.

I fell over. Twice (SOME people claim it was four to six times). Yes, while everyone took off, I fell off. Once this side, and once, for good measure, the other. Laurel and Hardy style, you ken? I believe it is pretty much burned into everyone's mind. If not, you can be sure that the documentary film crew has my introduction to the UCA universe pretty well... documented. What can I say? Riding a recumbent bike is a bitch. But there was still Bebum to hold up the honor of the none-UCA B2B crew. Bebum, master of the road more and less traveled, equipped with magical procurement skills and knowledge of life like a tree.

Yeah, that guy. Ran into a pole. With his already torn up knee. You could hear the DING all up and down the street. You try riding while making eyes at pretty girls with cameras.

But at least he made it with the group to the train station. Though that's as far as he got, missing the train because his trailer and bike were too long and unwieldy. A kingdom for a picture of his face taken from the inside of the train as it pulls away. And me? Continuing my wayward ways I went to the wrong train station.

So the B2B Riders are off without Pirata and Bebum. We decide to meet them in Daly City. The train station closest to Highway 1, famous road of fables and fantastic views. The station our apparently outdated excel sheet of a route plan tells us to go to. Nobody else is there. What? This is not how we imagined this amazing journey to start.

We decide to ride to the beach and camp out and end up carrying our bikes and gear down a sand path.

Daly beach from above
There is an amazing hiding spot that we throw most of our stuff into. And hike a mile down to the beach proper, carrying only our tents and sleeping bags.

This is where we hide our bikes.

We get down to the beach and make camp. Wondering at our amazing luck on the first day of our new lives. We can't cook because the wood is too wet. We are alone because we have no idea where everyone else went. We eat crickets. We are happy. If we had hairy feet and were half as tall you'd think us on a quest.

two weeks before B2B starts

I wrote that application letter to Mestre Acordeon about joining his B2B journey to Brazil two weeks ago. Got a quick, not very encouraging (completely on purpose, thx Mestre) yet very nice response. Since I don't have a go or no-go, my plans for purchasing my bike, gear and settling my affairs in Seattle are suspended. Only two weeks to go! How much longer can I wait? How short can the time really be for a person to shut down their life?

The few people that I talk to about this start retelling all the old "Peter's a rolling stone, and gathers no moss" and " You can't keep Pistol tied down" jokes. They thought that guy was buried in the catacombs of a multinational corporation. This makes me happy.

On Monday I mention to Professor Fenix that I have not heard back from Mestre Acordeon since I wrote the letter. We think its weird, but not much we can do about it. The next day Bebum  calls me and says this:"Pirata, pack your bike. Pack your gear. Show up at the B2B starting event in Berkeley. Line up with all the other bikes and then just ride. Unless Mestre says no, you go."

W. T. F.

White people don't do that kinda shit. We don't just show up for a one and a half year long BYCICLE journey unannounced or without knowing that we are welcome to join. We plan. We examine our plan. We change the plan. We make new plans. We have endless conversations about the risks and rewards, about who will be a pain in the ass and why the sky is blue and water wet. We will have every visa lined up years in advance. Check, Austrians don't need visas to any of the B2B countries. We will literally organize the shit out of a completely nutso project like riding your bike from San Francisco to Salvador, Brazil.

But life is like Capoeira. And once Capoeira is your life, paths and opportunities that were previously unavailable light up. It works something like this "Oh, OK, I'll start packing".

The ability to make life changing decisions in split seconds has always been a problem for me and those around me. Going to Japan on a one way ticket with 50 bucks in my pocket? Sounds like a great idea. Moving to the USA with a girl and getting married to her? Excellent, just what I was never looking for. Riding my bike around the world for years? Jackpot!!!

Oh good, I only have 10 days to:
  • Quit job gracefully right before shipping the next version of Windows Phone.
  • Tell parents that you won't be around for the 4 week vacation that they had planned for a year 
  • Get rid of apartment Sell Bronco 
  • Manage Finances for none presence 
  • Shut down a bunch of services
  • Extend my Greencard for extended none presence
  • Triage possessions, dump most of them, keep two bags. What you arrived with 12 years ago.
  • Pack a 200 item deep list for living on a bike for 2 years
Right away things start falling into place. You can call it Celestine, you can call it a coincidence or selective recognition. In any case I start follow ingthe path and find that recumbent bike I wanted to use for the journey on craigslist.com right away. These bikes are not manufactured in the USA. You can usually only find them in Europe. No idea how this one showed up in Seattle to be sold on the day that I needed it. Check.


I tell one friend about my plan and he says "Can I buy your Bronco, I love that ride". Check. My roomie wants to take over my apartment. Check. I decide to ignore my finances, my greencard and close down everything that I can think of. Check.

I have a number of difficult conversations with my parents. In one of them I sing "Reise nach Afrika" - a song about riding away on your bike - to my pops. He chuckles, my mom fumes. I know this will be temporary. It is after all my parents fault that I am who I am, right! Check.

I pack two bags of stuff that I want to keep. That is so much easier than I thought. Still not attached to things - Check LIFE! I ask some of my most supportive friends for help with disposing of the rest. Thank you and Check. I start buying a bunch of gear. REI makes sure you are well equipped. And broke. Still Check.

I start practicing on my recumbent bike. Sorry, no Check! I keep falling on my ass. Honestly, sometimes my idiocy amazes even... me. How will I be able to ride this thing with 40 pounds of stuff strapped to it. Where am I even going to attach that much to it? Its not like there is room for a front rack.

First things first, find a spot for your Berimbao.

10 days later, on a Wednesday like any others, I pack my bitchy recumbent bike and my gear into a rental mini van, wave a wet and lonely good-bye at Seattle and drive to Berkeley. Not knowing where I was going to stay that evening. Not knowing if I was going to be allowed to go on the journey. Not knowing anything but that I wanted to ride bike. I was about to find out if rewards are equal to risk.

Really Peter, Haserl, Pistol, Pirata? This time you actually shot the Pooch.