Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Tattoo of My Life

Ever since I arrived back in Canada from my trip, nearly two years to the day, I've wanted to etch it on my skin, a tattoo to commemorate an experience so rich it changed my life forever. At some point shortly after, I settled on the idea of a half sleeve, still undecided of how I wanted the layout to wrap around my arm. It definitely had to include the jungle, so many of my most memorable experiences were had there (PNG, Thailand, Philippines). I wanted something to do with Buddhism, as many of the countries I visited were Buddhist, and while I am not aligned to a religion, I have massive respect for the aformentioned religion and the peace and respect it teaches. I also wanted it to fade from black and white to colour, a representation of how much life that trip brought to me.

Last December I tracked down and booked a consultation with a very talented tattoo artist, Jen, who had done a band of maple leafs on my arm a few years back. We hashed out a format and booked my first appointment for April. Two days before the appointment we got in touch to discuss the design more, and went back and forth with new ideas. How about this? Would that look cool? Could a crocodile work? At first I had tossed the idea of having one of the Baining Fire Dancers tattoo'd on my arm, I didn't like the way the format worked. Then she sent me a picture of a mask from PNG, most likely from the Sepik region. I was a little skeptical, but told her to go ahead and draw it up. When she sent me this I was blown away:

Yes! That came together with some many memories I'd had of PNG: the artwork, having a baby crocodile around my neck, and the raw energy of that country I found so fascinating. I told her it looked amazing and in two days she was tattooing the outline on my arm. It was a three session tattoo, each session being around five hours. The photo below is from the first session:

The first to be filled in was the gecko. Almost everywhere I went had geckos roaming around my hotel rooms, a reptile that would become synonymous with my trip. They keep the bugs out of a room, and they make a really great sound when they call out. The design I chose was inspired from a photo taken by my friend Mitch, in Hawaii. Unfortunately due to Edmonton's dry winter climate that little fell'er didn't heal up so well and needed to be massively touched up on the second session, pictured below:

I'd thought the outline of the mask looked cool without colour, but it was a thousand times better when the colour was filled in! The third session would see the back and underside of my arm filled in:

And it hurt like a bitch. For some reason the underside of the arm is very tender thus painful to tattoo, but I got through it like a champ. The Mani Stone are painting of Buddhist peace prayers on rocks that line the trails in the Everest region of Nepal. This part of the tattoo checked three items off the list: the Buddhist element, something that represented hiking for me, and the black and white part of the tattoo I'd wanted. 

I'm not very proud to have something to profound in my life tattoo'd on my body. And with a lot of blank real estate left on it, I have plenty more travelling and experiences to rack up before I book the next appointment.

Your Own Time, Time to Shine!!

People ask me how I'm able to pick up and travel the way I do. Henry Rollins explains it best:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First Journey With My Trusty Steel Horse

Buying a motorcycle was something I've wanted to do for a long time, and I knew that when I did it, it would mark a new era for me. I can't explain what this new era is, for it hasn't quite presented itself fully yet, but all I can say is that the feeling of freedom riding a motorcycle gives me revives that travelling spirit in me, like that bike is synonymous with my life.

I'd been planning a trip to British Columbia ever since I'd picked that bike up from the Harley dealership back in June, deciding to do it during my five day set off in the middle of August, the best time of year for favourable weather. But as the date approached, the forecast changed to a higher chance that my trip might be highlighted by rain. I decided fuck it, there was no way I was going to miss out on the only chance I'll have this summer to take my bike on the road. I gathered my rain gear and packed.

Waking myself up at noon after working until 6:30 am that morning, I packed my bike and set off, bound for Jasper. The weather was beautiful and turned out to hold that tune for the next two days of riding. I enjoyed the wind on my face and the tunes in my ears. The song turned out to be quite noteworthy. Sometimes music can totally form to an occasion, sometimes seeming like a song of fate. I had waited to turn my IPod on until I hit the open highway, and the first two songs I heard on it struck me.

The first was the Pusher by Steppenwolf, which is the intro song for the greatest motorcycle movie ever filmed, Easy Rider. If that's not a sign I don't know what is.

The next one was Combination of the Two by Big Brother and the Holding Company, which is the intro song to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, which plays in the first scene of the drug fuelled road trip through the desert. I couldn't help but feel I was on my own crazy journey, while not drug fuelled or to Las Vegas, but on the road of life, which can be as surreal as any drug trip.

I arrived in Jasper around 7:30, quickly secured a campsite in the Whistlers campground, pitched my tent and headed back into town. While I could pack most things I need on the back of my motorcycle, the limited amount of space precludes bringing food or the means to cook it, so I had to settle for some quick A&W. I grabbed two cans of beer from the local liquor store and headed back to have a fire before crashing for some much needed sleep. 

I woke up at 6:30 am, grabbed a quick shower, watched the Japanese neighbours get dangerously close to a herd of caribou, then woke up the rest of the loop with my motorcycle. The ride to Kamloops was another beautiful day, very scenic and very windy. Perfect road for a motorcycle. I pulled in to the Dunrite Auto detailing shop at 3 pm to hug my good friend Dustin and immediately begin berating each other. That night we hung out at his place with another one of his nomadic buddies (who happened to show up that evening) and caught up on our lives, especially Dustin's stories of being head butted and bear sprayed (all happened within the year he's lived there haha). I could make a reality show out of that guy. 

The next morning the left me with a departing gift, another ostrich rider decal that we pasted on my fuel tank (I'll post a pic soon). My bike now has my persona stamped on it. After saying the goodbye's I took off to Scotch Creek to visit my cousins Mark and Vanessa and their two kids. We hung around the trailer community, laying by the pool and having a great BBQ. Later on Mark and I met his friend for a couple beers at a local pub and ended the night by downing two giant plates of nachos. I knew all along that trip would be horribly unhealthy, and it was great.

The next day I awoke to rain and gloomy skies. And sure enough, on my departure from Scotch Creek, it rained. Thankfully my ride to Salmon Arm was short and didn't quite soak me through. I had a couple hours to dry out while visiting my uncle Ralph and ogling at the beauty of a Chevelle he just finished restoring this year. I would have liked to stay longer, but I needed to make it to Banff that night to split my long journey back home, which promised to be cold and wet. It wasn't so much wet (I was rained on a little in Rogers Pass) as it was cold, but I layered up and pushed on. After fuelling up at Lake Louise, I decided to call ahead to check availability in hostels in Banff. The chance of rain was still high and I didn't really feel like spending a cold, damp night in a tent only to have to break it down in the rain come morning. There was no availability in Banff, so I opted to stay in Lake Louise that night.

The morning was cold, but surprisingly felt less so than the previous day once I got on the highway. I skipped the insane weekend traffic of the Trans-Canada and QEII highways and instead chose the route that took me through Cochrane and Olds, then through Wetaskiwin, sticking to the secondary highways as best I could. There was a good headwind when I turned north that shook my head around as I rode and kept that sensation in my head all that night, like the feeling of floating in water long after a swim. I will not complain about that, however, it was the feeling that I'd rode hard and had had a great trip. And now I cannot wait until the next one.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Progress of Summer

So far my summer has been stupidly busy, yet awesomely...awesome. For the July long weekend I took off to my favorite camp spot, Rock Lake. It is off the beaten track, the campsites are well treed in and private, and there's free firewood. All of this for only sixteen dollars a night! Good times were had, culminating in a last night bender that kept us up until 6am. I felt sorry for our neighbors. A couple weekends later I did another camping trip with my sister and her boyfriend, this time to Gregg Lake, not far from the site of the previous camping trip, but a much more developed campground. It was supposed to be most of his softball team as the attendees but there ended up only being five of us, which made for a feast due to the abundant amount of food everyone had packed for the intended large crowd. Cue mango pork skewers for breakfast and a belly full of gigantic cheese filled burgers later that night. Mmmmm.

And as you can see above, I've checked one more thing off my bucket list. I am now the proud owner of a Harley Davidson 1200 Custom, aka my new girlfriend. I love this bike, and thanks to the amazing summer we've been having, I've been riding it a lot. I've went on a couple rides with my dad and uncle, and last week did a trip with a couple friends to Rocky Mountain House and back. It's been a dream of mine for quite some time to own a motorcycle. The time I knew I was absolutely sure I would buy one was in Phonsavan, Laos, when I was cruising around the Laotian countryside on scooters with some friends I had met in Thailand. Riding a motorcycle is one of the greatest feelings of freedom a person can enjoy, but only to a certain type of person. Anyone else cannot properly interpret or understand this feeling, which is why motorcyclists have a heavy mutual respect for one another. I'm very glad I've entered that culture.