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Mazu—Goddess of the Empty Sea

Reno, NV

I've been conspicuously absent from the Internet since my glorious return to the west coast. July's been busy. As soon as my bike trip ended, I hit the ground running on this project and it's consumed most of my life. No rest for the wicked. 

First things first...gotta pitch:

Our current Kickstarter runs till August 7th. Please, please, please consider:

1. Donating for cool swag
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3. Liking our Facebook page

Now, elaboration, plus an update on what I'm doing...

On July 4th a group of us went out to reservation land to pull an all-nighter testing out some of our prospective fireworks effects...and wound up being blasted in the faces with fire extinguishers by a random belligerent drunk who ran up trying to join the "party". Oof.

I've squeezed in a couple small adventures. I moseyed down to Las Vegas for the night to see the hilarious and wonderful Nymph, who gifted me with a ticket to my first ever Cirque du Soleil show [Love].

Anyway, a bit more on Mazu...

I've been working tirelessly on this project, doing everything from painting and staining wood, to rigging up the pyrotechnics for our eight beautiful welded dragons [each one distinctly different and in correspondence with the I Ching], to kerfing wood and shaping it into petals for the giant lotus that will sit atop the temple. I've also been brushing up on my Mandarin [my first language, which I spoke until age six] in preparation for the droves of Taiwanese artists, performers, and diplomats who will be arriving from the Dream Community, the international arts collective in Taipei who's been backing this project.

We've got a multitalented bunch. In addition to primary tasks like carpentry, welding, painting, and so on, most members of our crew have taken on additional tasks like running errands, cooking crew meals so everyone else can keep working, and writing poetry for the divination elements of the project.

And did I mention this is all volunteer labor, from a small and dedicated crew with members from all over the States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan [not to mention my homegirls Theresa Manchester and Enoli]? We're not an independently wealthy bunch and are all scraping along on savings this summer, out of conviction for what we're doing.

Feeling generally showered with love, as I've been the recipient of more visits this summer than I can handle, almost. As far as models go, I'll imminently be seeing Nathalia Rhodes [whom I've never met before] and Leah Velocity [who lived with me last summer]. And possibly Jessamyne [fingers crossed, I fucking adore that girl].

As for the bike trip...it's been three and a half weeks now since it ended, and I'm still processing it. In a way, it feels like a dream, like it never actually happened at all. The one thing I know for sure is that I feel markedly different; this spring's changed me in ways I think I'll become increasingly aware of as more time passes, and as I'm confronted with more familiar situations and recurrent lessons and can see how differently I now navigate the world, my interpersonal relations, and myself. Vague, much? 8]

Home stretch [ME]

Brewer, ME

Maine's been an immoderate overkill of sensory delights [i.e., some of the prettiest riding of this whole trip, and way too much of the best food]. I've kind of been treating it as a a celebration of all that's come before. Go big or go home...and I can't go home.

I've stumbled along a greasy trail of pornographically indulgent gastronomical recklessness [such as duckfat-fried donut holes, distilled carrot spirits...I'll stop there].

This included a visit to La Orilla in Ogunquit [my first destination in Maine, and a town whose name took me longer to figure out how to pronounce than I spent in it], an adorable upscale tapas place that my friend from NorCal and her brother just opened. I got trigger-happy with ordering small plates, wine and oysters while getting 100 pages into a new book that made me laugh out loud with obnoxious frequency [Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, which was given to me in Baltimore]. A very sweet, very intoxicated woman came up and asked me a lot of personal questions, almost cried on me, and declared that my next wine was on her, throwing a $10 onto my table with a flourish before being summoned away by her friend. 

I also swam in the ocean [for the record, Maine's Atlantic in June is SO much warmer than California's Pacific] and rolled around in sun-warmed sand, spent a night [getting completely lost] in a thirteen-room mansion before riding onto Portland, where I went to a drive-in for the first time ever for a double feature of one movie I'd already seen, and another movie that I didn't care about at all, which is exactly what I want in a movie that I'm watching as a raucous social activity. 

Whatever your opinion of Jurassic World...if you see it in an open-top Jeep underneath the stars armed with beer, blankets, [natural-but-magically-effective] bug spray, and a lot of people who are brashly committed to not taking the movie seriously, it's probably impossible not to enjoy the experience. 

Eventually, my body punished me for the digestively ambitious eating. I foresee an impending auto-apologetic juice fast once I get to Reno. Necessarily there was been a period of convalescence afterwards [digestive bitters and naps, mostly], during which I made the delightful discovery that steeping lemon ginger tea in homemade miso soup yields delectable gut-cosseting results.

From there, I stayed in a house in Chebeague Island that belonged to someone four social degrees of separation from me [I'd been given a business card shortly before the trip, which turned into my host in Melrose and, then, into the house on Chebeague]; at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound base camp [on my very first day of riding, a girl who works with Outward Bound walked up to me in the Keys and told me to take down her number in case I needed a host in Maine], then in a random patch of lupines [right after watching the Monty Python sketch about the lupine-robber] that I'd been directed to by a bartender in Belfast, where I rolled into town as some local festival was going on [there was a brigade of ukuleles, a concert, and a woman in a photojournalism workshop stopped me to take photos of me and my bike]. There's been a distinctly bookended feeling to my entire trip...a lot of things have kind of come full-circle.

Oh. And, and, and. I rode 80 miles with 3,600 feet of climbing. That's a personal "most" for me [I've done a couple higher-mileage days, but not hilly ones]. Boom!

Also had company for most of my time in Maine since I've run into another guy who's also on a bike tour. First time of the trip I've actually really ridden anywhere with anybody [in terms of actually traveling; I'm not counting day-trip jaunts around town or to the river, or recurrently seeing people in different cities who are also traveling].

From there, carried on to Bar Harbor [Baa Haabaa!] and collapsed in this weird sort of disbelieving euphoria when I got there. Wound up at Coffee Hound, which I am bothering to mention now because I don't think I've ever met friendlier baristas in my life. I ordered clam chowder and a lobster roll, and immediately dropped the lobster roll [they were wonderful and replaced it even though I was about to just pick it up and eat it off the floor]. After I'd already been basically unintelligible, and deliriously fickle enough to ask to change my order to something else [which happened to be cheaper] once I'd already been rung up.

And then spent the last couple days hanging out in a cabin in the woods in Ellsworth, right on a lake, with a couple of rad dudes. Canoed out across the lake to check out an osprey nest. Played lots and lots and lots of guitar, for the first time in months. Played chess, and actually finished a game [it was a great game, too—lasted a couple hours, at least] for the first time in...maybe years? [I'm not good at following through to the end of a game.] Perfect little place to hide out before returning to...Everything Else, I suppose.

Finished A Walk in the Woods today, my very last day of riding. Started The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, which was a gift from a friend I made back in North Carolina but didn't quite feel ready to read until today.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 4.42.17 PM.png

Today, rode the last sixteen little miles to Brewer, where I am now. Went into a bike shop to figure out how to ship my bike, which was not only way cheaper than flying it, but was pretty much the easiest, most painless thing ever. I didn't have to do anything. I don't know why I hadn't just gotten my bike shipped out to Key West in the beginning, but so it goes. 

Treated myself to a cheap motel. I'm fasting for today, which is something I've never done [or felt compelled to do] before. But, for many reasons that I won't go into, it feels like a really good decision today. It's almost 9pm and I'm managing just fine. Kind of crazy...usually I can't even function if I don't have breakfast within an hour of waking up [sometimes half an hour].

And, also, free continental breakfast tomorrow. Boom.

I don't know, man. I didn't model in Maine, nor did I hang out with models or photographers [though I get to see the incomparable Keira Grant tomorrow, which is already a fucking treat in itself because Keira's the shit...with the added bonus that she's game to take me to the airport, even though she's already driving quite a ways to come see me]. And this is, primarily—well, at least right now—a modeling-ish blog [or maybe that's just an excuse, I'm really not sure what this blog is anymore].

In any case, I don't feel inclined to divulge too many of the really confronting and beautiful inner whatevering that I've had going on. Some shit's sacred, yo. At least, it is when it's still being digested. I think I'll be digesting this trip for months to come, if not longer. It kind of hasn't even hit me yet that I don't currently have my bike with me, and that I'm about to be in Reno in two days, and so on. I don't know. Suffice it to say that in the last 12 hours or so, I've been a well of synthesis [not merely antithesis, which is usually where I get stuck]. A lot's happened. Internal, external. And so on.

Oh, wait, I do have one awesome modeling-related thing to mention. In Belfast, I mentioned to a bartender that I'd just biked from Key West [no mention of being a model] and he said, "...This might be weird, but do you know Theresa Manchester? She was here last winter talking about how she had a friend who was about to bike from Key West to Maine."

BAM, synchronicity-machine go!

Speaking of Theresa [who I last saw in Miami, on this trip], she and I will both be in Reno this summer working on Mazu Goddess of the Empty Sea for this year's Burning Man [d'oh...every year I tell myself I'm going to do something else for the summer, but I got sucked into a project again...couldn't resist the crew who'll be working on this, though, which consists of several of my favorite people on the planet].

More on that later, I'm sure.

The program for the next two days: breakfast, Keira [more specifically: Bangor, shenanigans, food, booze, Augusta, airport], two layovers during which I'll probably be fighting down anticipatory giddy-anxiety, arrival in Reno [and into the clutches of a lot of people I love].

Machinery's starting to wear out [NY, MA, NH]

Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Melrose, MA

Today and yesterday have been devoted to resting up my knee, which have caused me increasing aggravation over the last week. No idea why. So it goes.

I feel like the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper. I'm staying in a suburban neighborhood with pretty wooden houses. It'd be nice if I were more mobile—for the sake of my knee, I've been keeping off the bike and only cursorily wandering around the neighborhood on foot [I'm a bit of a ways from the nearest T station on foot]. The greater Boston area's got a special place in my heart; in 2009 it was the backdrop for a paradigm shift that started me on the world-wandering, helter-skelter beginners-mind m.o. I've since committed ceaselessly to for going on six years. But in this particular instance I'm trapped by the needs of my damn meat-suit. 

On this trip I've gotten an empirical, concrete look at degrees of separation. You know how sometimes you'll have an acquaintance or friend who introduces you to another friend of theirs, and then you and this new person hit it off and eschew the middleman? 

Right now I'm staying with a partner's ex-girlfriend's stepdad and we're having fascinating ideological conversations over dinner. And I only met my partner in the first place because of the vehement referral of a woman I briefly worked with when she found out he and I were both in Thailand at the same time. 

There've been a lot of those, as far as my hosts go. I'll meet someone on this trip [by happenstance, or via Couchsurfing or Warmshowers, or because they're a client, or because they're staying at the same house I'm staying at], they'll set me up with a sibling or a friend or a coworker or a neice-of-former-coworker-of-a-friend-of-a-friend a couple states down the line if they think we'd like each other.

It's pretty cool. The matchmaking abilities of people I've randomly met on the road have been pretty on point.

So, backpedaling.

I left Brooklyn, hung over and sleep deprived, and biked seventy miles to Mastic Beach on Long Island. That's when my knee started to complain, and consequently the seventy miles on flat were a lot more grueling than I expected. Once in Mastic Beach, I camped in the backyard of a couple's beach house and was treated to fully-from-scratch homemade pizza with truffle spread. I was so tired that my tent caused me insurmountable difficulty to erect for the first time ever.

The next day I was rained on throughout the fifty miles to the Orient Point, NY ferry on the tip of Long Island that would take me to New London, NH. My compounded exhaustion was beginning to get to me—fifty miles had recently become so attainable, but when I got to the ferry I slumped into a bench and could barely move. 

My host had taken pity on me because of the weather and offered to come scoop me up from New London. The weather wasn't actually a problem—other than all the water in my eyes, I've kind of enjoyed my days riding through the rain, provided it's not too cold or windy—but my knee was beginning to feel a bit swollen and a lot worse. So, he came and got me, equipped with arnica cream.

In the meantime, I had a brief look at New London, a place that had never been on my radar. I thought it was very cute, and had a good feeling about it [within seconds, I knew I liked it more than everything else I've seen of Connecticut]; I made a mental note that if I ever passed through again, I'd stop by for a bit.

Tom, my host, had gone out in the morning and gathered clams and oysters and caught a bluefish for tonight's seafood feast in Westerly, RI. After quitting his job two days ago, another cyclist, Josh, was also spending the night; we decided to ride out to Providence, RI together the following day.

And then there was Providence, where I found the extrapolation of Peter Pan's Lost Boys hanging out on Pinocchio's Pleasure Island.

Got mad fancy in the funky jungle: where the roads are paved in glass, where the cops parallel park like they're on acid, where small children cart around Peewee Herman mannequins on snowboards in June, where all ideological conversations crumble into deconstructing a movie where the protagonist is a rogue car tire, where everything begs to be clobbered with drumsticks, where lort is a $3.50 mystery, where kids in rehab are cheered up with morning renditions of "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park".

Stayed in a punk house for a couple nights, graffitied into oblivion, juggling pins and beer bottles and dumpstered furniture and peeling ceilings and walls. Hung out on the porch [into which the words "No Parents No Rules" were inscribed], was offered many beers. Laid back in the bed of a truck and was carted to an underground show in an unmarked loft by a convenience store, whiling away the ride with a discussion of 90's cartoons.

I don't think I've met nicer kids in my entire life. Absolutely no pretense, no judgment. It was a rare situation where I was the only girl amongst a group of guys in their twenties...and felt neither dismissed nor idolized by anyone in any way. Just a homie with a stash of purse beers, a good spitting range, and a loud laugh.

Actually, that's not even a matter of being in an all-boy group. Being in a group, in general, of any kind, with other humans, makes one vulnerable to being compartmentalized based on their gender. These kids didn't, in the way that little kids don't [until they're soon set straight and taught to...].

Of course, no photos from this time exist. A lot of things in life are best left undocumented.

From Providence I rode to Hull, MA, an adorable beach community I'd never heard of, because a friend I'd met earlier on this trip was there and offered to spring for dinner. I was given an impractically large bottle of wine that I resolved to carry to my hosts in Melrose the next day, with the hopes that they'd consume it [no such luck, they don't like white wine]. Stopped in Boston to bask in introspective nostalgia and sunshine, sit in the grass, and eat an entirely bacon-themed meal from a food truck [I'm not even into bacon, but damn, that was a decadent oreo cheesecake bacon truffle].

And here I am, with my grumpy knee, using this time to make good on the weeks of sleep debt.

My host and I drove lazily around, admiring the diversity of architecture in a few beach communities, stopping to examine lobster traps and figure out how they worked, and wandering along a squeaking beach as the sunset painted everything lilac.

Portsmouth, NH

The overcast ride up along the coast of New Hampshire was a contender for the prettiest stretch of bike riding I've seen on this trip. I passed several amazing sand artists...somewhat hilariously/tragically, though, all their badass sculptures were defiled with the logos of the huge corporations they were endorsed by [Geico, McDonalds, etc]. So it goes. 

My body's begun to mutiny against me in general for this last leg of the trip [joints, stomach, you name it...]. Fortunately I opted not to book any work in Maine, preferring the idea of relaxing for the last leg of my trip, so I've been able to squeeze in some recovery time while still continuing to move along on schedule. So, eh. It was bound to catch up to me sooner or later.

In Portsmouth was treated to dinner by a friend-of-a-friend with whom I had quite a bit of overlapping interests/experience [he's gone to Burning Man for fifteen years, has hiked both the PCT and AT in their entirety—twice for the AT, and has begun photographing models for glamour and art nudes]. So many of the connections I've made on this trip have been referred by friends...social media's good for something, after all.

We then went to Smuttynose Brewing Company so I could get dropped off with my host [also a friend-of-a-friend connected to me via social media], a brewer there who was wrapping up for the day, and wound up getting a full after-hours private tour of the brewery. Boom, boom. Over the next couple days I made some new friends, rode around town on the back of a monstrous '87 scooter, and watched urassic World, during which I had a great time [but may have inadvertently precluded others' enjoyment] by continuously laughing at debatably inappropriate moments because...well...was I supposed to take any part of that movie seriously? 

On to Maine: The final frontier.

Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

New Jersey & New York

Photo: daniel Anton NYC, Brooklyn, NY

Photo: daniel Anton NYC, Brooklyn, NY

Brooklyn, NY

Rode from Philly to North Brunswick [under crusty seafood green overpasses, past Princeton, on, on, on—getting so much faster than I used to be], where I hung out at the Photocoop, a studio that hosts shootouts and instructional workshops, and scampered around an incredible swimming hole with photographer Niel Galen and model Nadine Theresa.

Much fun was had. A contender for my best outdoor shooting experience, even. I jumped off rock into a very narrow 22-foot chute of geothermally water at the base of a mossy horsetail fall. Photographic evidence exists. I will post it when I receive it.

My time in NYC was a blurry sleepless whirlwind from which I am still recovering.

I rode into Brooklyn to crash with an old climbing buddy from Colorado whom I hadn't seen in four years; went to the Museum of Sex and found myself drowning in a cave of giant bouncehouse titties and getting lost in a dark mirror maze [oh, and super full-circle moment: the ludicrous bicycle-fuck-machine-contraption I'd seen in a film at Bike Smut, which I'd attended in Jacksonville during this trip, was on display there]; wandered Highline [one of my favorite little chunks of NYC] under a surreal gray sky; was [serendipitously, almost immediately, and without consequence] reunited with the ID and credit cards she'd left behind in New Jersey [I'd left it at Niel's, and he had a job in the city that day so I was able to track him down in Manhattan—once again...with this kind of luck, I'm never going to learn] over BBQ; went to a comped yoga class that thoroughly wrung out my tight legs and hips; rode my bike around the city in the rain at night; have actualized various degrees of reunions with phenomenal company [a lot of people I'd met during this trip just happened to be in NYC at the same time]; and even managed to catch up on Game of Thrones

...And that was all just the first day, against a backdrop of chilly drizzle and lightning. 

Other than that, I spent a lot of time in a hot tub full of nude models [specifically Rebecca LawrenceJessamyne, and Erica Jay, who are all an utter fucking riot of loveliness and absurdity] surrounded by a flock of plastic flamingos; guinea-pigged some vagina steam tea witchcraft while watching Broad City [seemed fitting]; got a little trigger-happy with craft cocktails invented by eye-bleedingly beautiful bartenders who were varying degrees of dapper and posh [luckily, a couple of those cocktails wound up being free when I closed my tab, heh...apparently I can sometimes still be charming after breaking glass in a bar].

I also enjoyed a multitude of little moments: randomly being given a balloon animal and then finding a small boy to give it to on the metro; sticking a larger bill in an elderly street performer's case and seeing his reaction; flipping off a particularly lewd catcaller and smugly enjoying his brash indignation.

...And I still somehow managed to squeeze in a bunch of work with great people [honorable mention goes to Daniel Anton NYC, Jamie Hankin, and Harlem Photo], be in a yoga video, get a free bike tune-up [thank you Tony <3], and see Sleep No More again [exactly two years after I first saw it, according to Timehop].

Every single time I come to New York City, I think, "Dammit, why did I wait this long to come back? I ought to come back more often. I ought to make it a twice-a-year thing, or something..." 

But then aeons pass before my next return, and I'm left thinking, "Dammit, why did I wait this long to come back?..."

Once all my shoots were accounted for, I spent my last night in town being a responsible adult and staying out with friends till 4 am, knowing I had to ride 70 miles the next day. The cops beat us to an alleged "some kind of naked warehouse party" I'd been told about [and none of us knew what "some kind of naked warehouse party" was supposed to mean and so, of course, we had to go find out], but at least in the frenetic aftermath, throngs of drunk people kept trickling up to us on the street asking, "Can I join you guys?" and inevitably getting separated minutes later, and we had a good little wander, miasmically forming short-lived posses with new groups of strangers around Williamsburg.

I may not have felt incredible the next day, but I knew there was a tent-friendly plot of lawn behind a vacation home on Long Island with my name on it. So there I went.

Photo: Niel Galen, North Brunswick, NJ. With model Nadine Theresa Stevens.

Photo: Niel Galen, North Brunswick, NJ. With model Nadine Theresa Stevens.

Pennsylvania

Polaroid: Funktionhaus, Baltimore, MD

Polaroid: Funktionhaus, Baltimore, MD

Philadelphia, PA

Started off my time in Pennsylvania hanging out with Ivy Lee and Greg Gardner.

In addition to being a high-profile glamour nude model [Penthouse, etc.] and talented fine art photographer, Ivy's exceptionally organized and runs awesome glamour and art photography meetups for which she recruits traveling models such as yours truly.

We ate, drank, watched Interstellar, laughed at her cat's shenanigans, and I went on a late-night Cinnabon eating spree [gross]. The next day was an exhausting one; I clambered all over the ruins of a house from the late 1700's, including getting up a ladder into a small crawlspace towards the top of the chimney. Lots of fun, but I was definitely sore the next day.

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In Philadelphia proper, I spent a couple days riding all over the city with a couple of awesome ragamuffins who I crashed with in south Philly. We found a hidden hippie haven renegade campsite overlooking a park, pulled over for craft beer pit stops by the water, swam in the Wissahickon, asphyxiated in the dense crowd of people hanging out by the river's Harbor Park [stuffed with vendors, hammocks, a roller rink], meandered amidst the Mütter Museum's morbid medical oddities, sat on the ground in focus-mode as a gourmet ice cream tasting flight melted all over my leg [flavors included Everything Bagel and Buttered Popcorn]. No photos exist from this period of running amok, as my phone was dead and I was too busy tooling around to bother with taking photos, anyhow.

Then I was transferred over to my next hosts, in west Philly. Different vibe, still awesome people. The last couple days have been mellow and have largely revolved around conversation and food. Ate a squillion grilled veggies upon my arrival, then sat atop a roof shooting the shit with my new hosts and their neighbors as the sun set and unexpected fireworks popped up over the treetops. Went with a friend of a friend to Charlie Was a Sinner, a craft cocktail bar where the bartender obliged me by inventing new cocktails according to my preferences of the moment, and topped off with basil gelato. 

Figure model and artist Katie Marie came by and we hung out on the little "porch" ledge underneath the 4th story window of the Spruce Goose [the group house where I'm currently staying] as the soggy air crescendoed to what felt like a rolling boil [thankfully the heat burst into a small thunderstorm in the evening which has made the heat slightly more tolerable].

It's kind of blowing my mind that this trip is 3/4 of the way done...now that the end is kind of in sight, I'm trying my best to remain present and not think in countdown terms, but exciting summer prospects in Reno are calling my name [i.e., as much as I told myself I wouldn't be part of a Burning Man project this year, or even go to the Burn at all...I'm going to be on crew for the Mazu project that's come from Taiwan via the Dream Community...it's an amazing project being run by an amazing crew, which includes many of the people I love most in this world...along my travels I've met many people whom I adore, but very few whom I miss and whose absence I really feel].

Photo: Robert Moran, Brookhaven, PA

Photo: Robert Moran, Brookhaven, PA

DMV

Photo: Grissom Photography, Fredericksburg, VA

Photo: Grissom Photography, Fredericksburg, VA

Baltimore, MD

"I suppose if there's anything you've learned on this trip, it's to have no expectations, or that if you do have expectations, don't attach to them."

Ain't it the fucking truth.

Whew. It's been a socially and photographically dense week-or-so.

Reston, VA: Hung out with photographer Kollin Bliss and art model Blueriverdream. Indulged in some decadent TV-watching vegetation and chocolate-eating, had some good long talks accompanied by aimless wandering, seafood, and beer. 

College Park, MD: Spent a couple nights at the Whytestone Creative Outcrop, an intentional burner community. Such a delightfully eclectic revolving-open-door stream of people...artists, activists, performers...and also government contractors and corporate 9-to-5-ers with secret deviant lives. Good conversations ensued.

I slept in a curtained nook in the magically-light-proof basement that successfully nullified my [sometimes pesky] biological clock, where a bunch of us watched Ex Machina projected on the wall [supplemented with delicious beer and pizza intermission], atop a magic-carpet double-decker-couch-mattress. I spent my last day there testing out a transcendentally exciting hypothesis about protein bars, crawling around in the grass during a thunderstorm, and being part of the cackling peanut gallery for what could be described as a spontaneous and unintentional 90's Calvin Klien ad. To make a long story short.

Baltimore, MD: Went to a charity art auction with photographers Funktionhaus [below] and PK Brazil and I won a T-shirt, just as I was passing out from compounded exhaustion! 

Several days of back-to-back photo shoots.

During a beach shoot, I befriended a pretty young woman who'd been sunbathing nearby, and she told me I'd shattered her preconception of what models were like [i.e., ditzy and catty]. Score! 

Moments later, I got slashed up on a rusty fishhook on the beach. Can't win 'em all. Hoping my tetanus booster is up to date...

Spent a day riding around Baltimore [which seems to be mostly dilapidated row houses] with a badass cyclist and kindred spirit [he's on a short tour around DC/Philly/NYC...on a fixed gear bike, with nothing but the messenger bag on his back]. Then we were treated to Ethiopian food by Jim, the friend I made in Beaufort, NC, who is almost at the end of his year-long post-retirement journey traveling in a catamaran, and who surprised me yesterday with two books he'd gotten me as gifts: Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods and Gary Paulsen's Winterdance.

Polaroid: Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Polaroid: Nick Nemphos, Baltimore, MD

Virginia

Photo: Mer Soleil, Amelia Island, FL

Photo: Mer Soleil, Amelia Island, FL

Fredericksburg, VA

Stayed with a Warmshowers host in Norfolk, an awesome girl who works as a civil engineer and had her last cross-country bicycle tour from San Diego to Virginia cut short when she was hit by a car in Arizona.

Norfolk is gnarly to ride through. Not in a good way. There were no good bicycle routes, so I wound up riding past landfills and porn shops, getting lost, and eventually winding up on the correct ferry despite having been mis-directed by several locals.

Made it to my next Warmshowers hosts in Williamsburg, which lent itself to much more pleasant scenery as I rode trails through the Jamestown Settlement. My hosts had a beautiful, giant house right on the river—the entire back side of their home was glass, lending itself to incredible panoramic views of the sunset, and my room had its own private deck over the water.

Set out for Richmond the next day, where I stayed and rested for a couple days at the Bainbridge Collective, an awesome house full of like-minded freelancers/artists/weirdos.

I'd ridden my most grueling five days in a row: about 320 miles in total, with some gnarly headwinds and hills. In the middle of those five days I felt my body shut down entirely; my ass was sprouting painful saddle sores [over bruises, no less] and my brain was barely functioning, especially after a few terrifying jaunts over shoulder-less highways and bridges with fast traffic [as much as I've tried to avoid dangerous roads, I've found myself having to take them on occasion]. Oftentimes I'd have to re-stock on food in gas stations, with no other nearby alternatives. 

My body hates me a little bit, but it'll thank me once I learn to crush wine barrels with my legs.

In any case, that last fifty-mile day over rolling hills felt like a breeze...I've become so much stronger. At the beginning of this trip, fifty miles was the ceiling for how much I'd ride in a day, and it would take me all day, on flat ground. 

Anyway, I fell in love with Richmond at first sight [my hosts in Williamsburg had given me a great bike route for getting to it—riding through unpopulated countryside and small local farms, and then dropping around and down a hill, suddenly, to see the skyscrapers of RVA barely popping up ahead over a dense foreground of green].

I rode into the city, on a trail along the river, through grimy chunks of industrialization, past run-down warehouses and winding alleyways, under overpasses thick with seafoam-green-stained metal brackets and woven together so densely it felt like a fantastical subtropolis.

If ever a city has beckoned me to pursue some urban-spelunking...this one's got to be a goldmine. It brought the video game Fallout to mind; a juxtaposition between anachronism and post-apocalyptic gloom. I absolutely loved it.

The house instantly felt like home. In a span of a couple days, I wound up at a free vegan cooking class, getting a beer flight at a local brewery, enthralling the resident alley cat with my feet at night, wandering Carytown and eating gourmet cupcakes, naked lizard-rock basking and swimming in the warm river, watching Red Dwarf projected onto the huge blank white wall of the tall-ceilinged house, watching cage dancers at a local goth/fetish club, decompressing in my skivvies with a new book [The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho, a gift from a friend I'd made in Charlotte] on the incredible back porch, eating amazing cheese steaks from the place next door. 

The residents of the house all seem to be pretty busy and active people; I had the house to myself for good chunks of time despite there being six-or-so residents, and didn't even manage to meet all of them in the couple days that I was in town. The ones I did meet were supremely easy to fall into and out of socializing with, and I hung out with in a revolving-door fashion...I'd be sitting on the back porch and one of them would come home, grab some chocolate milk or a beer or a cigarette, and sit on the back porch and talk to me for a while until it was time for either them or me to head off to whatever other plans we had next. When someone was free, they'd take me on a short adventure [i.e., most of the above paragraph], and drop me back off at the house when it was time for them to go to work or whatever else they had going on. Awesome people; before I even left town I already wanted to come back and visit again.

Also hung out a couple times with fellow traveling model Rachel Dashae, who is a total sweetheart and fucking adorable.

From Richmond, rode on to Fredericksburg. Sixty miles on a hot day with a couple thousand feet of climbing, which I managed to do [on very little sleep] in the same amount of time that it had taken me to ride 35 miles on flat ground at the beginning of this trip, a couple months ago. 

Everything's changed on this trip. My aptitude at coping with fear, fatigue, frustration, pain, discomfort, monotony. I feel infinitely more humble, and infinitely more confident. I'm not at a point where I feel I can even come close to doing any of my inner processes justice via blog entry [nor do I feel inclined to publicly share them, at least any time soon], but this trip has changed my life in a pretty huge, unprecedented way.

And I'm still only just over halfway done. No idea what else is in store.

Fredericksburg is rounding out to a pretty balanced couple of days:

Stayed with another Warmshowers host in an enormous house full of snakes [one of which may be getting named after me—quite an honor], with a six-story-tall yard made up of backyard terraces and a complicated system of wooden decks, shrouded in thirty species of tree...there's a bocce ball court waaaay down at the bottom of the terraces but you can't really see it from the house. 

Got a couple shoots lined up—knocked one out today with Transient Photography, who was absolutely lovely to work with and talk to, and am shooting tomorrow with Touched by Gray Photos, who's been very well vouched for. 

Tomorrow I'm visiting my great-aunt; she's eighty-five and has broken her foot and could probably use some help around the house. It's been years since I saw her. 8]

And! Triumph! I finally succeeded in sleeping in, after weeks of failed attempts, which was probably facilitated by visiting a buffet after riding over from Richmond and, for the first time in my life, being able to make the most out of the all-you-can-eat factor...i.e., I had five full plates of food.

Good stuff. And I've got plenty of shoots and shenanigans lined up for once I get to the DMV!

Photo: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Photo: Noisenest, Durham, NC

North Carolina [Durham through Outer Banks]

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Norfolk, VA

Many people, shoots, soul-searching-solo-stints, and harrowing holy-shit-I'm-going-to-die-today experiences later...and I'm behind on the whole blogging-updates-thing, still. [Also, still have a few cards I haven't mailed out. However, if you DID receive one, please let me know...trying to keep a head count to make sure mail's getting where it's supposed to].

This is going to be another compensatory here-I-don't-have-time-to-write-about-all-that's-happened-but-have-some-photos-instead posts, for the most part.

Everyone I meet keeps joking that I should just write a retrospective book. Wild on a bicycle. Ha. [Incidentally, I just finished reading Wild this morning.] 

Which sounds ridiculous to me, because the most essential, formative, hilarious, beautiful, exciting, monumental parts of this trip are the ones that I don't feel remotely inclined to publicize—certainly not for a long, long time. I think that's just how life is, at least if you're living a good one. 

But I'll give you a little something, context-wise, before passing out from exhaustion now that I've made it to Virginia. Which, over the last couple days, I kind of thought would never happen.

Headed from Charlotte to Durham, where I worked with Noisenest, Aureole, Bman, J Clarke. All awesome folks. I spent a lot of time running around with a flashlight in a creepy warehouse basement full of broken dolls and stuffed animals.

Photo: Aureole, Durham, NC

Photo: Aureole, Durham, NC

Photo: BmanPhotos, Clemmons, NC

Photo: BmanPhotos, Clemmons, NC

From there, went to Beaufort, NC, and stayed with Kevin at her new adorable little beachy-1800's-house-with-dolphins-for-neighbors there. We originally met at the Everglades Hostel in southern Florida for a night...then randomly bumped into on the street in St. Augustine a couple weeks later. Serendipity, boom boom.

Kevin and I went out in the morning on my rest day in town, though the pouring rain sent her back home. I spent a day wandering around aimlessly in the rain on foot, singing and enjoying how ghostly the town appeared, off-season and on an off-weather day. I wound up on a dock, doing yoga, and then after assuring myself that Kevin's house [i.e., a warm shower and a bed] were within quick-sprinting distance of the dock, I impulsively jumping into the cold water, fully-clothed. 

ut instead of running to Kevin's house once I climbed back out, I laid out on the dock and enjoyed a brief period of the numb chill, knowing it wasn't too cold. A bit of rain, a bit of a breeze, some muted sunshine peeking through for reprieve. 

On what's been such a socially dense trip, I'd almost forgotten how high I get off slow chunks of solitude [granted, those come on a bike, too—but since I've started pushing myself to do longer days, I'm often just distracted by how much my ass hurts].

Went out on my own at night for some food, and [after I elbowed off some rather aggressively chauvinistic drunk military bros] wound up befriending Jim, the only other non-local at the one open diner [we picked one another out instantly as fellow aliens in what was otherwise a rather homogenized social scene]. Jim's been steering his boat along the Great Loop for a year, and we hung out and swapped travel stories for hours on his thirty-foot catamaran. 

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From there I rode the ferry to Ocracoke on the Outer Banks, and for the next couple nights I mostly kept to myself, wanting to continue the trend of solitude I'd recently felt inclined towards. People often tried to stop me as I pedaled past, beseeching me with offers of hospitality or meals or drinks or rides, usually with open-hearted generosity [though with obnoxious and condescending persistence in one or two cases] but I'd smile and decline and continue. It felt important to put myself in a bubble for a couple days, for some reason, and the Outer Banks felt like the perfect place to do it. Besides the single-serving friends I made for a few minutes at a time while on the ferries between islands, or when stopping to eat, I kept to myself.

I ninja-camped along the way in hidden spots. I read on the beach. I found a seven-foot dead mama shark, her baby still in amniotic fluid. Beautiful and incredible and sad.

In other news, I've been pushing myself harder than ever. Riding longer miles [at one point I my map lied to me and directed me to a road that doesn't actually exist...which turned into a 45-mile mistake when I had to backtrack], through the worst headwinds of the trip, for consecutive days. Rode over a bridge during sunset rush hour that wound up having no shoulder and rather aggressive traffic, and thought I was going to die. Heh. Whoops. Won't get any rest till Richmond. Oy.

And I'm going to have to take a couple days to recalibrate my appearance before commencing with Virginia or DMV shoots. These last days have inevitably left me with saddle sores [owww] and dark tan lines, despite sunscreen and so on. Which I'm sure most clients would not be very excited about. So that'll delay things by a bit.

But on the bright side, I've got some awesome Warm Showers hosts lined up for Virginia that I'm really excited to stay with [good change-up from the ninja camping, as nice as it is]. Whoo!

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Art: Noisenest, Durham, NC

Charlotte!

Charlotte, NC

Goodbye to my hosts from Conway, SC, with a celebratory flight:

Been falling in love with North Carolina. Knew I would, but damn. Charlotte, in particular, has one of my favorite places from this trip [I'd like to spend more time in Asheville, too, but, alas, I only had a couple days there...one good shoot, and one pretty hardcore miscommunication that I am trying not to be too disgruntled about].

Aaaand spent a good amount of time hanging out with [and modeling alongside] fellow model Brennan, who is an utter fucking riot and magical human. Definitely want to see more of her. 8]

Haven't had much leftover time or energy to write proper blog posts, but take that as a testament that I'm having a good fucking time.

PS: Anyone who sees this who donated before my trip began [meaning before March]...I've sent most of you cards [still got a few left to send out, been staggering], but please let me know whether or not you've gotten mail from me! Slightly paranoid that not all of it has made it where it needs to go; don't want to gyp anyone!

Good Luck to the Power of Ludicrous

Conway, SC

Left my partying in Savannah and made a short jaunt to Ridgeland, SC, where I forked out for a hotel room for the first time on this trip. After the last month's overload of amazing people and hyper stimulation, I wanted a night to just sit. Get on the Internet. Be sober. Take a long shower. Order delivery pizza.  

I didn't leave my room once. It was glorious.

The next day, started to push myself a bit harder. Decided in the morning I'd make it all the way to Charleston, 85 miles away, or run myself into the ground trying. My longest day till then had been about 47 miles. 

Rode through miles of unmarked dirt road—got held up and lost a few times when those roads would suddenly end. Finally came upon a Wendy's, the one food option [or settlement of any kind] I'd seen in at least an hour of pedaling. Rode on through shoulder-less interstate. 

My state of being alternated between being too physically tired or sore [it may be time, soon, to fork out for a better saddle than my $30 score...] to notice my psychological state, and being overtaken, suddenly, by a creeping sense of mortal terror, suddenly too afraid and cracked out on adrenaline to notice my physical state. I thought about venomous snakes in the tall grass, and about aggressive guard dogs, and about being stranded out in the boonies [I hadn't really thought ahead about just how remote some of the stretches I was riding along really were...I'd often be faced with the choice between extremely dangerous interstate and safer, quieter, but completely off-the-beaten-track dirt roads], about running out of water, about being hit by a car, yadda yadda.

My mood would spike in a moment of euphoria as I'd pass some beautiful swamp reminiscent of Princess Mononoke and think, Man, you're gorgeous, but I'm a bit too worried about not dying to take a picture of you, which would inevitably have me laughing out loud. A couple times I was overtaken by mysterious nausea and, unable to justify the source of it, began to feel a bit panic-attack-y, as semi-trucks shoved their way aggressively through the wind to get in front of me.

I hit a long stretch with no water, no signs of other people except maybe an odd hunting stand [which I initially thought were kids' playhouses], and I'd get tired, so tired my legs would kind of just stop working on their own without my conscious insistence at each pedal stroke to follow-up accordingly. But I knew if I stopped for another break, here, I'd never get back up. If I took a power nap here, I wouldn't make it to Charleston—I'd started the day without a plan for Charleston at all, but by noon a girl on WarmShowers had texted me saying she could host me, which gave me new motivation to get there, and not have to find some random hidden spot to sleep.

At one point I had a long stretch—several hours—where I didn't see another soul, another building, nothing. I began to ration my water, kicking myself for not having brought even more. I was running out of food, too, since I hadn't really needed to bring much with me at any given time until now.

Finally I saw the sign of a BP's gas station, and in my profound relief, I ran inside and spent $50 on snacks and drinks and protein bars, tripping over myself and dropping things the whole time. At a fucking BP's.

A man outside offered to watch my bike for me and chatted me up. Nice guy. Kept asking a lot of the same questions. I nodded emphatically as a substitute for conversation, as I shoved a ham and cheese sandwich in my mouth and glugged down a canned doubleshot. Every time I've just gotten off my bike, I'm not really ready to be human yet, but invariably people want to ask questions. I try to accommodate as best I can...but "as best I can" is not a whole lot, sometimes. Especially when someone starts in on a religious tirade, as my new acquaintance soon did.

During that last leg of the day, when I was once again switched into "too physically tired to be scared anymore" mode, all my hypothetical fears that I'd been trying to push to the back of my mind came to a head. I was chased by a humongous dog and just barely managed to outpace it until it finally gave up. Shortly afterwards, I nearly ran over a huge rattlesnake as it was abruptly crossing the road. 

And, fifteen miles from my host's house, I got hit by a car on the I-17.

For the record, at least through South Carolina, the I-17 is a tightly-stretched, shoulder-less road. Every time [and there really weren't many times] an eighteen-inch-wide strip of asphalt jutted past the white line into the grass, an infatuated-schoolgirl-giddiness overtook me. I spent much of my time on it looking over my shoulder and bailing out into the dirt, just to be on the safe side. I have learned not to extend the slightest trust to drivers.

The car smashed into my front pannier and sent me over into the patchy, rumpled grass. I picked myself up and brushed myself off, too stunned to have any sort of an emotional reaction. I looked at my bike, and at myself. Not a scratch or a dent. Not even a small one. I wondered if I was in shock, and if maybe I was actually in mortal peril but my conscious mind was refusing to acknowledge it.

...Nope. I was fine. 

The car, on the other hand, skidded over the lanes to its left, and then over the grassy median, landing there pointed one-eighty degrees from its former position. Not sure how I managed to send a car flipping around backwards, but hey.

Anyway. Charleston could be a contender for my favorite US city. I don't typically like downtown bar scenes, but I liked the one there because people on the street were friendly. I don't mean crass or invasive. Just straight-up, open-smile, "high five, homegirl," passing-by friendly. Re: my housing situation, I was in the company of a bunch of badass independent ladies all around my age, including one couchsurfer from Germany on a four-month solo excursion of the States. A bunch of us ran around Botany Bay on Edisto Island where we smeared clay all over ourselves. I reunited briefly with Kai, a cyclist I met back in Key West who, upon graduating high school in Oregon, decided to bike the entire perimeter of the Lower Forty-Eight. Which makes my own trip look kind of wimpy in comparison.

After Charleston came another long stretch. I rode seventy miles on the first day, which was only slightly less exhausting than my last long day had been—each time I push myself a bit further, the next time I do that same distance it feels so much easier. Nonetheless, at some point, my sunglasses bounced off me and I didn't even notice until maybe half an hour had gone by. Gnats began to get stuck in my eyes as I rode. 

I'd planned to get as far as I could [I wouldn't make it all the way to Conway in one day] and then stealth camp behind some trees. I thought I'd be riding through a good stretch of State Park. Instead, I traversed endless miles of plantation land, riddled with some pretty aggressive "Keep Out"-esque signs [like, "Whatever the camera doesn't get, the gun will," and so on] which had me a bit uneasy. Plus, half the land around me was submerged swampland.

Eventually I got to an actual town and found a spot between two old brick buildings in a church, where I could just wedge my bike and my tent and pretty much be hidden from the road on all sides. I'd resigned myself to a thrilling night of trying to catch sleep in a sort of shifty place when my Conway host for the following night [Anzhelika Lewis, a fellow model] called and insisted upon coming the rest of the way to pick me up, since I wasn't too far from her house by then and she said the town I was in was a bit on the sketchy side.

I deliberated a little bit, because I'd sort of just resigned myself to the night and was looking forward to being in a new situation that scared me. But I was also coming down with a pretty bad cough that I couldn't figure out.

So she and her husband Rick came and got me, fed me well, and I passed out on the most luxuriously wide and rigidly bed-like couch I have ever slept on. Wound up being a good call, because all that night and the next day I had a persistent, painful cough-sneeze thing going on and could barely function [not a cold or flu, guessing it's a combination of allergies—particularly given that I've ridden long stretches through traffic—aggravating residual/chronic bronchitis, but what the hell do I know].

Fortunately, I've gotten to recover over the last couple days by basking on the deck of a seventh-generation plot of family land by the woods in my birthday suit, with a good book, with horses grazing in my periphery, drinking gallons of water and eating loads of Savannah Bee Company honey. Sadly, lots of allergy meds and cough medicine, too [both things I try to avoid taking except in dire situations]. Such a well-placed extra bit of downtime.

And once I was feeling like a human being again, I did a last-minute shoot in Myrtle Beach involving hard hats and muscle cars and broken metal grinders and a four-foot tall pipe wrench. 

With a certain perspective I could probably claim this was a tough week...but my luck's been through the fucking roof. In retrospect...really can't complain.

Georgia

Photo: Theresa Manchester, Miami, FL

Photo: Theresa Manchester, Miami, FL

Spent most of Georgia hiding out with no power and no Internet. Hence being far behind [realtime update: I'm in South Carolina now].

Stayed at the Hostel in the Forest. Easily one of the most magical places I've ever been. Was taken to a glass room on my first night, where I was treated to a magnificent panoramic light show by the local fireflies. Spent a lot of time naked-canoeing around a pond to a floating dock in the center [with little floating gardens of lemongrass and other herbs along its corners] where people would lounge around in the sun, drinking wine and jumping into a net hanging in the middle of the dock in order to cool off. Spent a couple nights sleeping in the floor of the geodesic library [below] that smelled of tree sap and had perfect acoustics; each morning I'd wake up to a couple hippies playing beautiful music in the center of the room as others sat around the edges and drank their coffee in reverence of the quiet mornings. Took hot baths outdoors, surrounded on all sides by trees. Tough life, I know.

At one point, we found a three-foot rattlesnake which was a safety concern [particularly since children stay at the hostel], so one of the guys bashed its head in and a bunch of us had to help hold it down as it was being skinned—even half an hour after being decapitated, it was writing reactively to each cut. Not wanting to waste, we then ate the meat, fried. I suppose my inner Lord of the Flies-ness came out, but I was so giddy and entranced by the whole process that I couldn't stop giggling, in complete awe, for hours.

After that, found myself in Savannah. Admittedly I didn't explore the town too much because I was too busy being enamored with the hilarious people I met there. Got dressed up arbitrarily while sitting around at home, played music, went to Tybee Island, got a stick-and-poke in my palm [my first] from one of the girls I stayed with, and it's already begun to fade. Fittingly, it says This too shall pass in Farsi.

I easily could have stayed there for a week, or a month...but I've got places to be. So I rolled onward, into South Carolina, where I am currently. More on that in my next post.

Didn't do any modeling in Georgia [was too busy being captivated by the woods and by the sparkly people I'd become so enamored with]. So you get more Miami-Beach-during-a-storm photos by the lovely Theresa Manchester. C'est la vie.

Photo: Theresa Manchester, Miami, FL

Photo: Theresa Manchester, Miami, FL

Jax to Amelia Island

Levitating. Photo: Mer soleil, Big talbot island, fl

Levitating. Photo: Mer soleil, Big talbot island, fl

Got way behind due to a combination of having-no-Internet-or-power and being-swept-up-by-the-Everything. So I've chunked up my missing time into a few time-release posts, to keep each post relatively digestible.

Blitzkrieg recap. So, North Florida was mainly characterized by modeling work.

1. Unexpectedly got hired for a gig writing copy for a start-up website preparing for launch, specifically because of my pertinent modeling and traveling experience. Wrote out project details on the back of a greasy paper place mat in a pizzeria, where I kept getting the stink eye from old couples because I was still tarted up to the nines in a skimpy black not-really-quite-a-dress dress from my morning's shoot. 

2. Shot with Norseman Photographic, who is exceptionally generous and delightfully irreverent, and gave me a parting gift of "two glass bottles of water from my home country of Norway...granted, I got them down the street". He also indulged me by pulling over and letting me clamber around the silly giant vehicle pictured below on our way to the actual shoot location.

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3. Attended BikeSmut at ZenCog bike shop in Jax. A bike-related pornographic film screening. Not only was it exactly what it probably sounds like, but far more. Hilarious. Awesome. Rode with a bunch of hooligans to Shantytown afterwards, a crusty sort of crusty dive bar where I felt right at home.

Photo: Nothing Butt Naked, Jacksonville Beach, FL

Photo: Nothing Butt Naked, Jacksonville Beach, FL

4. Spent two days shooting with Kyle, Nothing Butt Naked, and had an absolute blast. Popping water balloons, lying in caskets, drowning in Jaeger shot[glasse]s, playing with a snow machine and eight-foot-long spider-finger-things [knew that rock climber grip strength would come in handy someday], admiring the wild owl living in the backyard who was just slightly too far to get a photo of, going to the most excitable restaurant in the world [I did mean to use "excitable", yes]. 

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. Spent a couple days with Mer Soleil on Amelia Island. Received a fancypants fairy gift in the mail from my buddy Rachel in California [pictured at the bottom of this post]. Wore hotel slippers all over town. Ate at Gilbert's, a new restaurant on Amelia Island opened by a celebrity chef that's sort of a cutesy pseudo-fancy spin on soul food. Drank IPAs and danced around to the guttural thrum of a superlative sound system.

6. Received a momentous compliment when Jay, a photographer from Naples, contacted me asking if I had any short-notice availability...and wound up driving from Naples to Fernandina Beach and back in one day, just to shoot with me for two hours. That's about twelve hours or so of driving. As an additional honor, I was the first model he's ever hired [so far he's made part-time income shooting senior portraits, family portraits, a couple weddings, etc]. Pretty damn flattering, especially given the abundance of models in the Miami area. 

Photos: Jaydouble, Amelia Island, FL

Photos: Jaydouble, Amelia Island, FL

7. Last Florida shoot was with Krystal Rose, a badass photographer-and-sometimes-model who felt like a real kindred spirit. We wandered around Amelia Island afterwards and then hung out in a saltwater hot tub. Rough life.

8. Saw the mysterious billboard [no fine print to indicate a sponsor/organization/business] pictured above immediately upon crossing the border to Georgia. Laughed uncontrollably for about ten minutes. 

Photos: Mer Soleil, Big Talbot Island, FL

Photos: Mer Soleil, Big Talbot Island, FL

Shenaniganery Leave

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Jacksonville, FL

Been a bit remote from the modeling/photography aspect of my trip for this last week, admittedly. I've had the week off from shoots [and from hanging out with industry people...not that you guys aren't awesome, but I try my hardest not to balkanize too singularly in any sort of group, no matter what it is, and to traverse as much of the spectrum of personalities and lifestyles as I can handle], and spent a while in Facebook jail. Not that I don't stress out about finances like the next model, but when life gives me a cluster of cancellations all together...I tend to take it as a sign to go on shenaniganery leave and play. Especially if I'm traveling through beautiful places full of beautiful people. Yadda yadda.

So, I've been living and laughing and getting up to shenanigans and have generally felt very lovey-dovey and blissed-out and almost uncomfortably lucky, like the karmic Daddy's Girl trustafarian of a benevolent universe. Admittedly I've got a bit of cosmic-privilege guilt.

Now I'm back in bumptious-Internet-diplomat-slash-froofroo-camera-tart mode, though, with renewed gumption! Granted, that gumption's being counteracted by lots of fatigue. Just arrived in the endless sprawl that is Jacksonville [the largest contiguous city, by area, in the US]. Now I'm back on the shoots-all-the-time train for a little bit; I've got makeup on for the first time this year. Excited to be working for the first time with a lot of clients who, at the very least, seem like they're going to be awesome. So my next post is probably going to be just as directly-related-to-modeling as this post is decidedly-not-related-to-modeling-whatsoever.

As with all life's best times, there's only so deeply I'm inclined to disclose the details of what nonsense I've been getting up to.

So here's a disjointed-scrapbook-version.

Plantation yielded unexpected but really precious solitary days full complete lack of obligations, which were spent reading and fraternizing with weird feline creatures and hanging out idly in a pool. The hours of lazy solitude were punctuated with the company and banter of eloquent, snarky people who tied me up [but not before feeding me tacos]. 

Leaving there, I had my first taste of biking in real rain en route to West Palm Beach. Along the crumbling shoulders of interstates that really aren't suited for biking, crossing over exit lanes not meant to be crossed, all while being doffed around by the wind and barely able to see. Mildly terrifying.

But it's those moments when I feel alive, to be honest. Getting pounded by Mama Nature, incapable of a wandering thought, slightly scared for my life but bolstered by the hysterical absurdity of existence.

...Uh, don't mind me. It's possible that I tend to romanticize the crap out of things.

I think there might've been a lot of laughing and "whoo"-ing and leaning-my-head-back-to-gulp-down-rainwater-because-I'd-lost-all-my-water-bottles-and-needed-to-get-new-ones. No matter how much I've tried to preempt my own absent-mindedness, I've still managed to lose one thing at every stop. But for every one thing I've lost, I've also been given at least one way-cooler-than-the-thing-I-lost gift along the way.

Anyway. Then I got to West Palm Beach. And that was when my residually-ingrained-american-workaholic-sensibilities ran completely dry for a while. Got twitterpated over some really amazing people; Saint Patricks Day happened; went scuba diving while extremely sleep-deprived and hungover [a judgment call that, in retrospect, I absolutely do not recommend...well, if you've barely dived and are a subpar swimmer, like I am, at least].

Generally I try to err on the side of leaving a place prematurely: I like to walk out the door with people already excited for my return, as opposed to relieved that I'm finally out of their hair. Especially when it comes to places and people I'd truly like to see again [after so many years of wandering around, I've become incrementally better at predicting which experiences are doomed never to progress from their pilot episodes and which might proffer further material...it's a tough thing to really know, I am capricious and so seems to be life, but I'm starting to not suck at guessing]. 

But I stayed kind of quite a bit longer than I originally expected and hope I didn't manage to overstay.

In St. Augustine, while deliberating over where I'd stay [since I had no idea], I bumped into a woman I'd met weeks earlier at the Everglades Hostel in Homestead, who happened to be camping at a state park a mile or two away and told me I could joink a bit of her campsite for my newly-gifted tent, and she'd even make me coffee and breakfast in the morning. [Incidentally, her name is Kevin—which I mention because I think that Kevin is such an awesome name for a lady, and should become a thing.]

Here, have some more photos-without-context!

It's become an ongoing motivation of mine to figure out how I can live up to the amount of good luck I've had, and to the extent to which people spoil me for no ostensible reason. I guess I'm kind of trying to reverse-engineer karma. Though I can't really afford to believe in karma, because if I believed my surplus of luck was a result of deservingness it'd give me a big head.

I mean. I spent a week fucking around and being a goon and having a great time of it. And now I'm in Jacksonville, and everything's going better than right, and people are being all exceedingly awesome and kind at me all over again, except this time they're cyclists and clients instead of divers or shibari enthusiasts.

Life's being really nice to me, and it almost makes me nervous. There are people out there "saving the world" or trying to in myriad ways.

...Then there's this scruffy kid on a bicycle with bad table manners, reclusive tendencies, a potty mouth, and a proclivity for nudity, stumbling around trying to figure out what it is I value and, meanwhile, falling into opportunities I've had neither the creativity to synthesize nor the qualifications to warrant, and managing to ward off what should've been dire or fatal consequences with trivial bribes: new scars, lost money, some heartache here and there. In other words, pretty low dues.

Trying to figure out whether there's a greater virtue buried in there, somewhere, that I'm overlooking. Or a catalyst to direct me thusly.

Photos: Theresa Manchester, Miami Beach, FL, just as the sky began boiling over with the delicious tempest that'd ravage us as we trudged the long walk home, cackling maniacally the whole way. Or, well, I was cackling...

Anthropological Upshot of Being a Ham

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL 

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL 

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Plantation, FL

My mornings at Henry and David's house in Miami were relaxing and lazily fluctuated between easy conversation and solitarily sitting in the sun, drinking too much coffee, watching the dogs stare dolefully at me, watching the cat almost choke on a live lizard, and working on a bit of tan line reduction for the sake of my upcoming shoots.

On Day 9, Rumi came to pick me up for my first modeling job of the trip [not to mention my first ever shoot in Florida] at a Weston condo for a laid-back half day of portraits, figure work, glamour shots, and painting references [I even got to read his new Alan Watts book for a few minutes of more candid/unrehearsed portraiture—nothing like getting to read a good book on the job]. We'd previously worked together twice in the DMV area and I hadn't seen him for a couple years. We discussed our mutual inability to understand golf, Madagascar, prohibiting oneself from aspiring to one's dreams out of fear or guilt, and in between changing locations and lighting set-ups I flipped through a couple books containing photos he'd taken in Cuba.

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

Photo: David Arran, Miami, FL

One of my favorite aspects of this job isn't the modeling itself—it's the spectrum of people I get to meet and briefly connect with in a one-on-one setting. A photographer can be anyone from a straight-up professional photographer [and, even then, they might make a living as a fashion photographer, a stock photographer, a wedding photographer, a glamour nude photographer, or shooting senior portraits...] to an art student [and then, that might be a young precocious art student, or it might be someone who's recently immigrated or left a more conventional career with dreams of being an artist], and retired hobbyists from all manner of professions and backgrounds. 

The interaction is ephemeral, and sort of "outside" of society [particularly during a nude shoot, which is an rather unconventional way to first meet someone], so oftentimes conversation quickly transcends stifled small talk. On drives to shoot locations, or while changing lights, or while taking breaks to re-up on coffee or Calories or change outfits, talk gets real, quickly, between people who might never cross paths otherwise. 

Modeling ensures me a life richly furnished with other people's stories: hilarious, tragic, intimate, extraordinary, and taboo. Survival stories, existential woes, forgotten dreams, marriage gripes. I've left shoots with new books on everything from quantum physics to the history of skepticism. I've left them with beadwork from Panama and cigars from the Dominican Republic and homemade wine and contacts for seasonal jobs in Antarctica. And my shoots often involve being privy to the unique perks of different people's lives and jobs: I've gotten to drive heavy machinery, smash a car, and wield oxyacetylene torches; I've gotten to hang out in eye-bogglingly fancy high-security establishments, pretending to be similarly pristine and decadent...but keenly aware of how long ago I last washed my hair in reality; I've gotten to crawl through secret tunnels and storage vaults in giant museums and take a bird's-eye peek down at dinosaur skeletons from above; I've been immersed in an intentional living community in the mountains, where I was dressed up as Disney princesses. All because of modeling.

It's an aspect to being a freelance traveling model that's rarely discussed but, for me, randomness and anthropological interest are key highlights of this job. Learning about different lives.

On my last day in Miami, Henry took me J. Wakefield Brewing, which just opened up in Wynwood. Fanfuckingtastic beer! Went home for my shoot with David [and we let Henry photograph me, too; he scuba dives and does awesome underwater photography but this was his first time photographing a nude model], who then took me out to dinner, gave me a parting gift of a few small bottles of scotch, and passed me off to his awesome partner Sarah who is now hosting me in Plantation. Today Sarah's been at work and I've had a mellow solitary day in of reading [Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino], catching up on emails, and hanging out in her pool.

Photo: HenZen, Miami, FL

Photo: HenZen, Miami, FL

I've been so well cared for by good people on this entire trip, and these last few days in particular have been so easygoing...I'm quite spoiled. Where'd all the brutal, validating struggle and turmoil I'm supposed to be undergoing disappear to? 8P

Anyway, these few days of modeling and relaxing have been a good little holiday from sweating and pedaling and sleeping-behind-random-buildings, but the riding will be resuming pretty soon and my next cluster of gigs aren't till Jacksonville!

WEEK 1: Key West to Miami

Miami, FL

At this moment, I'm sitting home alone in Miami Springs. A big roly-poly dog is scootched up to me, vigorously licking the ear of the other dog currently keeping me company. A few feet away, the cat supervises the proceedings with a sage air. It's the eighth day of my trip. I've logged about 205 miles so far.

Things have been full and fast, so I haven't had time to update. My only moments of stillness and slowness have been while I'm on my bike, going ever ever ever forward [and, obviously, I'm not writing while I'm riding].

The first several days of this trip saw me following the Highway 1. Just one long road, for days. I began to feel like the earth was my treadmill...like I was still, and it was the world that I was churning beneath me with my legs. That, with enough patience, I could draw any place to me that I wanted to go. 

Granted, I was also delirious from long days spent exerting myself underneath ceaseless south Florida sunshine.

Here's the CliffsNotes version of my time since we left off, then. Oh. Quickly:

  • Rebelle Society published a ditty of mine from shortly before my trip: Open Letter from an Allegedly Doomed Woman
  • I've visited and donated to a couple awesome non-profits this week: Key West Wildlife Rescue in Key West and the Turtle Hospital in Marathon [listed below in this post, and also added to my list of suggested causes—and take note that I am open to suggestions of non-profits to visit along my route via my contact form].
  • I've been on a quest for the perfect key lime pie, and for other local treats [like craft beer from Florida]. This seems to be the place to look, no? Anticlimactically, after trying four different highly-hyped pie places in the Keys [Key Lime Pie Company in Key West, Kermit's Key Lime Shoppe in Key West, Ma's Fish Camp in Islamorada, and Mrs. Mac's in Key Largo]...I have to admit that my favorite pie came from Kush in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami.

Day 3: Last day in Key West

Donated to Key West Wildlife Rescue [awesome place; you can visit for free though it's really not geared towards tourists...it's just a very transparent non-profit devoted to rehabilitating and releasing injured wildlife, particularly local birds; I have added it to my list of recommended causes]; underwent serendipitous stranger-recognition while gawking at a kitesurfer [I am hereby adding that of my list of things to learn] when a one of the kids I'd been observing recognized me from my WarmShowers profile; first time on a bar trivia team [where I could finally apply my high school fascination with the ShamWow commercials]; went with Will and Kerry Better than Sex: a dessert-only bar [so dark they give you flashlights] where we had grilled chocolate-and-brie sandwiches with caramel dipping sauce and strawberry champagne “soup” and homemade Irish Creme and so on. Many drinks were imbibed, many laughs were had, and I fell asleep before quite making it to bed at Will and Kerry's.

[I was originally supposed to leave this day…but got sucked into spending another. Little did I know that I’d be tempted to do the same almost every other night since, either due to the places I’ve been or the people I’ve met. Being a rolling stone—at such a quick pace, and on a schedule, moreover—has been bittersweet that way]. 

Day 4: Key West to Knight's Key

First day of riding. Knees sore. Right side burning [my arm protector—white little-girl stockings with the feet cut off—kept sliding down off my shoulder; as a result I now have a Disney-Pocahontas-esque armband]. Iguanas, iguanas everywhere, by the hundreds, some the size of dogs [invasive, I've been told].

Made my way, needle-and-thread-style, from island to island, along narrow bridges and roads overtaken on either side by turquoise ocean. I looked at other islands drifting solo in the ocean as I cranked my creaking legs to get me past them, unconnected by roads or bridges, and experienced a feeling that they were looking back at me, and offering their silent regard, like a stranger you lock eyes with momentarily from across a train platform, with a fleeting moment of mutuality.

Stopped for lunch and was swooped in on by strangers from all angles wanting to know what I was doing on my bike...wanting to know what my cause was [wanting to lecture me about how I needed a cause, and about what my cause should be], wanting to know why I was going alone, wanting to know how old I was and who my parents were and so on. Wanting to know if I was aware that "little girls" get raped and run over by cars. Wanting to know if I was aware of the bike accident statistics in Florida [I was painfully aware, because there was another "Drive Safely" memorial commemorating fallen cyclists about once every tenth of a mile]. Wanting to know if I had a gun; wanting to convince me that I needed to get one if I had any brains. 

Some wonderful, merciful people were also intrigued, but more understanding of my exhaustion, and made the nice gesture of simply offering their business cards and telling me to get in touch if I needed a host in their home state. Made it rather hard to decompress and eat after thirty sunny miles.

Ended the day with a harrowing, never-ending push across the seven-mile bridge as it began to grow dark. I imagined being run into by a drunk kid in a truck, pitched over the edge [it was Spring Break, after all], floating in the ocean, in the dark, unnoticed, miles from shore. And so on. In short, it was pretty fucking scary, and I almost peed myself in relief when I finally saw the twinkling lights of another island up ahead.

Wound up spending the night at an RV park in Knight's Key [the staff were really sweet and inquisitive, and threw some perks my way], sitting in a lawn chair and shooting the shit with Tom, a retired elementary school music teacher from the midwest, and Dale, a kooky ex-army truck driver who showed me some neat tricks for lighting matches. Slept on the ground, out in the open air, not even in need of a sleeping bag in the heat.

Day 5: Knight's Key to...flea-bitten hammock outside Tavernier?

Visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, which is doing amazing things; the offer paid tours in order to help fund their operations. They rescue sea turtles [ravaged primarily by litter, of all things, but also by general ocean pollution and boat accidents] and rehabilitate/release as many as they can back into the wild; a few turtles are injured to the point of being unable to survive in the wild and stay on as permanent residents. What an adorable, awesome place [got to peek in on a turtle surgery—removing tumors from a green sea turtle due to a virus that has been spreading in their species which attacks their eye—during which an assistant was manning a ventilator, because turtles are conscious breathers, unlike us...they have to think about breathing in order to keep doing it, so they never "sleep" quite the way we do; their sleep consists of holding their breath for an extended period]. I learned so damn much about turtles [random fun fact: a turtle egg's position in its nest determines its sex...eggs laid first, in the cooler bottom part of the nest, develop as males, whereas eggs laid last, in the warmer top part of the nest, develop as female; the interesting thing is that most reptiles' sexes are determined with their eggs in the opposite way]. Anyway. I could go on and on. [Did you know leatherbacks can dive several thousand feet, deeper than whales, and that their shells are completely soft?...God, I need to stop].

Took a lunch break in Islamorada, which is where the stress [compounded by the fatigue from a long ride in the sun] came in.

It began when I walked into a bathroom and saw my face for the first time in two days. Oh, boy.

Now, if I were traveling purely for pleasure, I wouldn't give a damn how I looked. For realskies. The last time I went backpacking by myself, my entire face peeled off in what was nearly a face-wide second-degree pus-tastic sunburn [I was at 10,000 feet above sea level, see...], and I hadn't been fussed about that.

But the fact is, this is not just a cycling trip, but also a modeling trip. A trip I couldn't afford to do in the first place unless I were modeling along the way, anyhow [even with the savings I'd scrounged up for it for a year...since I spent six months last year volunteering full-time, my annual earnings had been laughably close to zilch]. My reflection stared back at me: red, blotchy, burnt, swollen, and with severely sunburnt eyes. Like a Darth Maul shade of red...

Would definitely have to nullify all that before arriving in Miami [where shooting would begin]. Didn't know if that was possible. Began to think that this whole trip, this idea of combining these two disparate things, had been some wildly conceited, ignorant mistake on my part. Hubris.

...And also realized my prospects for lodging that night were slim. I didn't know any models or photographers around Key Largo or Islamorada. Couchsurfing and Warmshowers had yielded nothing. Campsites were all booked full [and I could've showed up and asked some campers to share their space, except the main campsites were all either south—the wrong direction—or too far north to make it before nighttime]. Hotels were all not only exorbitantly expensive, but booked full. Spring Break, you know.

Whoops. Well.

I wound up getting a lead to call Florida Bay Outfitters, an outdoor store, since their staff might be in the know about last-ditch stealth-camping options. A really nice guy on the phone gave me directions to a quarry where I could post up.

Of course, I get to the quarry, and am immediately ravaged by biting fleas and biting ants. Well...not the worst thing. It grows dark. My imagination goes berserk. I become a bit paranoid about the dark standing body of water I'd have to camp right by [since I've been told there are crocodiles and alligators in freshwater bodies in the Keys...granted, attacks are *aaaaalmost* unheard of, I'd been assured]. I have no tent. I think, a chilly iguana might cozy up to me at night to get warm—and while they're generally docile, I wouldn't want to be at the receiving end of the claws or tail-whip of a startled iguana that I might awaken in the morning. Etc. Etc. Every noise sounds like someone, or something, coming at me. If only I had a tent, I wouldn't feel so exposed [but I so rarely camp with a tent, honestly...then again, I've never camped before standing buggy water in Florida before].

I try to settle in, fleas notwithstanding. I flipped a coin, and it told me to get moving. I resolved to go on a walk, under the full moon, to explore the place and quell my nerves, and ran into a man leaned against a rock. I call out to him and shine my light at him. No response. I walk right up to him and he's cool, cool, cool. Placid as the black water. He tells me he was on Lance Armstrong's team for seven years. He tells me he's ridden all over the country on a WalMart bike. He tells me I can put my food in his tent to keep it safe from raccoons.

...He was probably fine, honestly, a nice, maybe slightly eccentric old man. But it was too dark to even see his face, and in my frazzled state I erred on the side of paranoia...and I shuffled off. I tried to flip a coin again and, I shit you not, the coin disappeared when it fell to the ground. I searched for five minutes with my headlamp before I realized how absurd it was to be devoting five minutes to finding a penny when I hadn't established camp somewhere.

So I left the quarry. I came upon a church and a children's center, complete with creepy moonlit playground [the slide was a giant yellow fish that swallowed children up as they slid down it]...with a hammock concealed in the backyard. Perfect.

I posted up there, woke myself back up at 4:30am the next morning after a couple restless hours of sleep [a wind chime by the children's center sounded suspiciously like the whipping of a heavy chain...] and continued on in the dark, stopping to rest only once the sun had come back up and my primal imagination could retire for the time being.

Day 6: Key Largo to Everglades Hostel in Florida City

Woke up, scuttled through the dark to the one Starbucks I'd seen or heard of on the Keys [the only place in Key Largo open at 6am, as far as I could tell]. Charged my electronics. Felt delirious, off almost no sleep and a couple days of heavy sun-blasted riding against headwinds. Was probed at by curious fellow patrons [one of whom bordered on invasive] whom I didn't have the heart to inform I was far too tired to make small talk with just then. More refrains of, "You should have a man with you, you should have a gun, why don't you go do something more sensible, don't tell me you were biking just now in the dark, that's so stupid, now see here young lady, I am a stranger but I know what's best for you, etc., etc., etc."

[Don't get me wrong, most of the strangers I met have been exceedingly kind, encouraging, and even wildly generous...but that morning, and it was barely morning, still dark, after such a frazzled and anxious preceding night, the criticisms I was receiving from strangers were winding me up in a much more prominent way, and I was too exhausted to engage them, or to disagree].

I continued on when the sun was up and passed out under a tree for an hour [photo at top of post].

Headed to the outdoor store that had tipped me off about the quarry the night before. I owed them one, and I needed some supplies anyway [least of all sunglasses...needed my eyes to not be sunburnt anymore]. The girl at the register wound up giving me a discount out of pure goodwill, and the guy on the floor had an extra cheap tent in his car that he just gave me for free.

Then, ten miles out from Homestead, an SUV pulled over in front of me, and Maru, a woman who'd been working at Ma's Fish Camp yesterday [where I'd been hemming and hawing and trying-not-to-freak-out over having no clue where I could stay, or even where I could sneaky-stay], jumped out of the car and yelled my name.

"...Whoa, hi!"
"I was thinking of you this morning. See, I was tired. And then I thought, well, why am I tired when you're biking to Maine. And then I thought about you biking to Maine...and that made me more tired."

She wound up giving me her number and making a tentative offer of dinner-or-something.

I carried on, in considerably better spirits, feeling like the Universe was giving me kudos after having tested all my anxieties the previous night [though, of course, I'm somewhat inclined to believe that we live in an absurd Universe rather than an organized one, but hey, what the hell do I know...].

The Everglades Hostel is the shit. It's like a little Rivendell in the middle of urban sprawl. I showered off and was pleased to see that my eyeballs and face had made a miraculous recovery in the past 24 hours from their rotten-tomato-ness [as evidenced below; photo taken thirty feet off the ground in a net hammock high up a tree]. I didn't make it to Everglades National Park [on the bucket list for later], but rode around and took some pretty sunset photos.

In the evening, I socialized with some awesome people from all over the world [including some French kids who let me practice on them and who told me I had a great French accent, which felt validating whether or not they were being sincere] and somehow managed to splash beer into my eye...ghost pepper beer, that is.

Day 7: Florida City to Miami Beach

It rained in the morning, which gifted me with a day of cloud cover [for which I was decidedly thankful]. 

I must admit that when I rolled into Miami, my first impression was that it looked exactly as I expected it to. The soggy-lush vegetation, abrupt colors and nouveau riche architecture, the tile shingles. I don't know. It was hard to put my finger on, but Miami looked very Miami, as I had envisioned it. Neither a good nor a bad thing, just a thing. 

Managed to meet up with my buddy, fellow traveling model Theresa Manchester, at an intersection, whom I last saw when we were both on our debut tours in Australia; she'd invited me to stay with her in a swank seventh-story beach condo for the night that she'd been given the green light to invite me to. We ran down to the beach for a brief shoot, only to be decimated by pounding, torrential rain within minutes.

Theresa called out, "I told you, a year ago, it rains everywhere I go! Even Miami! If we ever go to Hawaii together, it'll rain there too. Watch. I'm leaving tomorrow, and the sun'll come out once I'm out of town."

I'd had a couple beers by that point and couldn't stop cackling. I jumped into the ocean and just sat in it for ages, up to my neck in turquoise water, it was so warm! 

[Stay tuned for resultant photos in a future post; there were some good ones; Theresa's damn competent with maneuvering a camera, not just with being in front of one.]

Anyway, the night continued with Cuban food, hot tubbing, and understated conversational tomfoolery. I broke out in giggles about once every few minutes at the absurdity of being in a city again—the valet guy who may or may not actually have been a valet guy who may or may not have scammed us, the way the staff at the beachfront condo don't allow you to handle your own luggage because, apparently, rich people aren't capable of such things, the weird little dogs we kept seeing. We chatted late into the night; I scrounged up some sugar and olive oil and attempted to scrub the saddle sores off my ass as best I could since they'll be no-no's come photo shoot time [man, sitting on a bike all day, for days...it can fucking hurt].

Day 8: Miami Beach to Miami Springs [i.e., wandering aimlessly around Miami]

Biked to Haulover Beach so I could do some tan line damage control, except it was chilly and overcast and rainy. Biked to Wynwood, stuffed full with stunning street art—would definitely like to spend a bit more time exploring there. Ate and drank at Kush, which was amazing [and the purveyor of my favorite key lime pie since arriving in Florida...ha]. Came home, got to know the roly-poly dogs and cat with whom I'd share my new hosts' living room for the next couple nights. I had [another] dinner with one of them, Henry, as well as one of my favorite conversations I've had since beginning this journey [I've been eating a lot].

I'm ceaselessly amazed, when traveling and living so ephemerally, at how many great people I manage to connect with in such a short time...some people feel like strangers after years; some feel like old friends after minutes.

Tomorrow marks my first rest day from cycling since I was in Key West. Also! Tomorrow, the photo shoots begin! Working with Rumi, who hired me when I was last in the DC area, and then with David, my other host here in Miami Springs. Whoop whoop whoop.

Silver Lining Syndrome

Key West, FL

Fourteen story cruise ships loom over the tiny island like high rises. Everything here is a palm tree.

Geckos, pelicans, squillions of turtles, roosters, ibises, a macaw, six-toed cats, flamboyantly-attired bugs.

I am delirious.

I arrived at SFO with three hours to spare before departure. One cut-open and re-taped 68-pound bike box, one unpacked duffel bag, $150 in fees, several reviews of print-out policies and diplomatic discussions with supervisors later, and I managed to elicit enough sympathy of a deadpan bureaucrat for him to conjure up a creative solution to the fact that their computer system wouldn't let me check my bag. At several points I was pretty much convinced it wasn’t going to happen. 

Against a backdrop of rain and lightning uncharacteristic in the Bay, I said my goodbyes to Alex and Nathan who were both there to see me off.

Then there were other trifling incidents on my way to the gate: I must have grabbed my expired license instead of my current one on my way out the door [d'oh] and the TSA guys were convinced that there was something in my left pocket [there wasn't—nor was I happy to see them]. Two hours after arriving, I got through security checkpoint, somewhat frazzled.

My flight was delayed, which was fine by me. I dragged myself into the nearest airport bar and wound up ruthlessly bantering with an exceptionally handsome lawyer [he looked strikingly like a young Hemingway] who was sporting a black eye.

About three hours of sleep later [couldn’t get back to sleep after my layover in Atlanta] and I was spat out of Key West airport, blinking wearily at the sun.

Since then I've repeatedly been punk'd by serendipity and boggled at others' generosity. Must be Silver Lining Syndrome or something. Or the Universe is trying to teach me that I shouldn't bother trying to plan anything, ever.

Exhibit A: Every single one of my several hosting options had fallen through or gone MIA at the last minute. My arrival coincided with spring break, so finding a hotel or even campsite at such a late stage would not only be expensive, but possibly quite difficult. And I had a giant box with a disassembled bike, and all my gear, and nowhere to put them or reassemble them. I didn't really know what I was going to do [hide myself and all my crap behind a bush for the night?], but shit felt dire.

Silver lining: A friend I made during my brief stop in Shanghai last year got in touch out of the blue, and it came up that he had US hotel points that he couldn't use and that were about to expire. So I wound up with a free night at a deluxe king suite at the Hyatt, with a balcony drooping right over the shoreline; below me were beached humans flopping on the sand in front of a musician with comically poor taste in covers. I looked at them and thought: If I knew anyone here, I could easily host a fifteen-or-so people shindig and still have wiggle room. What a crazy amount of space and luxury to waste on one person.

I got on with it. Little toy cars and fake choochoo trains and pedicabs rolled by as I quaffed black coffee in a cafe patio done up in bamboo and rope, digesting a lobster and shrimp omelette, and I felt compelled by the weather—76 and all undiluted sunshine—to change into something froofroo and skimpy for a change. I wandered to the Hemingway house [which was lovely and frothing with cats, many of which were polydactyls].

Then I holed up in my room to try and figure out my bike situation, so I would be mobile and unencumbered the following day. I planned to get that out of the way, then maybe nap, then reemerge a bit before sunset and get up to shenanigans.

Exhibit B: What actually happened is that I spent six delirious sleep-deprived hours in that room trying to reassemble my bike and going bonkers, realizing I was missing essential bolts, realizing just how poorly designed my front rack was...not to mention pretty much incompatible with my frame. I attempted to jerry-rig solutions with hair ties, with limited success. The horror.

Around 8 or 9 pm I gave up. I didn't know what I was going to do...ask the guys up front if they could hold onto my giant box and see if I could bribe a bike mechanic to help me bring it to a shop? If there was a shop. Everything I looked up was geared towards cruiser rentals for tourists. But I knew I was done making decisions for a while. I resigned myself to exploring the alleged Key West party scene, though I wasn't feeling very chipper by that point. I wandered Duval Street aimlessly [it struck me as a beachy cousin of Bourbon Street]. I failed to locate oysters before succumbing to hunger and eating conch.

Silver lining: wound up hanging out all damn night with wonderful, fun people. Chilly and Kerry, a local couple who work for a cycle touring company and have gone on a few tours, and Kai, freshly-graduated from high school and four months into his first tour circling around the country from Oregon...

...Moreover, Chilly just opened up a shop in Key West and came by my room the next morning on a promise of coffee to use his mechanical sorcery to get my bike completely set up, and teach me a few things [and conjure up a better front rack]. So, basically, he's a life saver. And quite innovative. Will update with a link when I have one. 

Plus, in a few short hours, I miraculously found people to stick in my gifted-super-fancy-room-for-one-night so I could make better use of the space before giving it up. And to cover in the miles of bubble wrap strewn all over the floor from my bike box, so I could make better use of it before disposing of it.

The one negative takeaway from last night was that, at 4 or 5am, quite drunk, I thought ordering myself room service breakfast for the next morning would be a brilliant idea. I'd never ordered room service before, it had occurred to me. First time for everything! Breakfast in bed!

Mediocre gravlox, mediocre coffee, good-but-very-very-very-small portion of grapefruit juice.

I learned a valuable lesson this morning...and that lesson cost me $40.

Exhibit C: Rode to prospective host's house today. Door had accidentally been locked by a roommate, I could not reach anyone by phone and the house was empty [and my would-be host was working until late, but I didn't know where she worked]. There was Kerry and Chilly's house where I'd just come from, but I'd locked it on my way out and they'd be gone for several hours. I really, really wanted a nap. With nowhere to go, a loaded bike, and no energy, I went and got a key lime pie [well...duh] and Internet for the time being, thinking perhaps I could just slump, unconscious, onto a table in a cafe, and maybe no one would mind.

Silver lining: Wound up being treated to dinner by David, an exceedingly candid, hilarious, fantastic man whom Nathan calls his "fairy godfather" [ahah] whom I'd been advised to meet but hadn't heard from and had given up on meeting. He called, and I was neither asleep on a couch [the original plan], nor with other people, so with what may perhaps have been a bit of initial trepidation on his end, he offered to come get me and feed me. And it was a fit of fantastic conversation and, on my end, copious chuckling.

And now I am set up with with an air mattress thanks to Chilly and Kerry, so all is well!

See what I mean? Some cosmic force disapproves of my attempts to make plans, apparently. 8P

had been planning to leave Key West tomorrow...but I can afford one more day. It deserves another day. Plus, I still haven't given myself a proper opportunity to sleep since getting to Florida [speaking of which...I should get on that right about now]. 8]

Extrapolating on the last few days, but people can be so damn kind, and so immediately authentic. Sure, being smart and funny and charming are also virtues I admire. But really, kindness and candor are so underrated and, in the long run, probably matter a lot more.

Blast off!

On our last night together for the next four-or-so months, Alex and I were noodling around and decided to make a little rough recording of us playing/singing as something of a souvenir, you know, in case the world ends this spring. Tralala:

Bike is ready to go in a box big enough to supply not only a cardboard fort, but likely an entire cardboard gated community.

Bike is ready to go in a box big enough to supply not only a cardboard fort, but likely an entire cardboard gated community.

Tonight will soon see me deposited unceremoniously at SFO. 

Fingers crossed that my bike survives its cardboard box armor. The cheapest bike bags I could find were several hundred dollars a pop [closer to a thousand for a hard case]...and then I'd either have a big bike bag with me for my whole trip, or would have to deal with shipping it somewhere or giving it away. And, as it stands, I'm already going to have to pay a minimum of $150 to fly with it. I'm hoping TLC and bubble wrap will be serviceable substitutes for waterproof casing, bang-proof casing.

My other baggage [i.e., everything I'll be lugging around on my bike every day] clocks in at about 40 pounds. Hm.

This is the part where I wax sentimental and thank everyone. You know, in case my plane crashes on its way to Key West and this whole year of planning turns out to be some ludicrous anticlimax.

...Or something.

So get your barf bags ready!

Firstly, thanks go to everyone whom I could probably call "fans" [those who've been following my progress and supporting my journey whom I know neither personally nor professionally] even though using that word feels horribly pretentious and dismissive. 

Thank you to those who've helped sponsor this trip. I wasn't sure how to feel when I first put up that sidebar: a few people had emailed me, asking me for an easy way to contribute to my trip, which surprised me. So I offered the option, but with a sort of uneasy, ambivalent trepidation and what I like to call "first world guilt" [guilt is rarely, if ever, a productive feeling...but can be a tempting one nonetheless]. I mean, yes, I'm financially independent [and generally financially responsible]—but I'm also someone who has the privilege to customize my life according to my values, my whims, my passions. And yes, I do realize that some of that "privilege" has actually been created by my actions and choices [I have plenty of friends who are perfectly capable, with relative freedom in their lives, most of whom have considerably more in their bank accounts than I do in mine, telling me that they wish they could do what I do...and really, the only thing stopping them is themselves]—but it's undeniable that the other chunk of that privilege really is due to the circumstances and opportunity of my birth and immediate surroundings. I am of able body and sound mind [well, more or less], my genetics allow me to make a career out of my image, and I grew up in a first-world country without insurmountable obstacles between me and my dreams. None of that was a result of my choices or virtue...that part was just luck. Yes, I've worked hard to build the life I have—but for some, it doesn't matter how hard they work, external circumstances will still block their path.

Anyway! As a thank you, I've got plenty of handmade cards protected in their own little waterproof freezer bag fortress stashed in my panniers that I will fill out and send intermittently on my trip. I've also got some extras, in case anyone else wants to jump aboard and contribute while my trip is in progress! Should be fun! You won't know when yours is coming [hint: sometime between March and July]! I've spent a lot of time on them, so I hope you'll all be stoked! Exclamation points! Whoo!

Also, thank you, thank you to those of you who've sent encouraging emails [not the dick pics, though—you guys can keep those to yourselves, eck]. A few months ago I was wondering whether this was even a trip worth documenting online, this trip that is ultimately about my own journey. Me: cycling, pushing myself, getting in shape. Me: trying something new and hopefully having fun and being challenged and learning shit and, you know, "finding myself" in the middle of nowhere and all that jazz. Me: modeling in big cities. Regardless of what I choose to do afterwards with my time or money, this trip in and of itself is an individualist pursuit.

I didn't know if my trip would feel relevant to anyone else...so receiving encouraging words and contributions from people who've found me inspiring or relatable [or totally alien], or from people who've wanted to share things with me that they think I'd benefit from [cycling resources, inspirational videos, photographer suggestions, places to visit on my way, book recommendations...] has meant a lot. In the context of this one-woman adventure, it almost gives me this sense of anonymous solidarity. Anyway, while I'm a capricious correspondent [especially on the road], I'd like to keep this trip as interactive as possible by taking people up on those recommendations as much as I can, and reporting back here, so don't be shy!

Also, while many of you found me through my modeling work, which is what I would've expected, some of you found me through my articles from back in 2013, which I find especially flattering in this age of throwaway click-bait web articles that you share on Facebook and then promptly forget. I've admittedly put writing on the back burner [I don't count keeping this blog as "writing"] and hadn't submitted anything for publication since 2013...and am starting to think that I am really out of excuses for not having done so ["Wah, I don't have time right now to write something good, so why bother at all?"] so as an exercise in telling perfectionism and procrastination to shove off, I submitted a little ditty today. Fingers crossed!

TLDR: Really, I'm damn tickled that people have been inspired enough by my stumblings through life to freely invest even a modicum of their attention, good vibes, and money, towards supporting it. 

Enough on that. That brings me to the second "thank you": to those photographers who've hired me on this trip.

I know hiring me on a trip like this requires an extra leap of faith, particularly since many of you have not worked with me before. This is not a normal modeling tour. This trip has been very polarizing to photographers: they either think it's the coolest thing ever and feel even more inclined to hire me than they otherwise would...or they think my going on a bike trip is a frivolous and unprofessional impediment to my performing aptly as a model. 

To those in the former group, thank you for respecting both my profession and my spirit, and trusting in my reputation.

It's taken most of my life to grow into those cheeks

It's taken most of my life to grow into those cheeks

And, finally, getting a bit more personal.

Thanks go to my dad, for helping to push me during this last training period, sharing his knowledge and taking me on weekend training rides that kicked my ass. He was, and as of now probably still is, a better cyclist than I am. Rewinding: I've always been a difficult kid, and it took a while for my parents to realize I ultimately functioned better with a laissez-faire approach. That I will figure things out, even if I insist upon doing so the hard way. My parents did not spoil me, even when they could have, and I was working my first job [shoveling horse shit in Utah] by fourteen. Of course, I hated that at the time, but looking at how helpless a lot of my former classmates now seem to feel, adrift in their lives and bogged down in school loans [and, in some cases, incapable of doing things as simple as booking their own flight itineraries or buying groceries]...I'm very grateful to have been raised a bit differently. 

A friend of mine discovered this photo on Lightning in a Bottle 2013's promotional page. some random stranger had taken it without our knowledge, which makes me like it all the more.

A friend of mine discovered this photo on Lightning in a Bottle 2013's promotional page. some random stranger had taken it without our knowledge, which makes me like it all the more.

 

Lastly, thanks go to my primary partner/accomplice/inamorato, Alex, who provides endless constructive support, but is never coddling. He is a rare breed for many reasons, but for starters, he has never demonstrated entitlement or possessiveness towards me, gives me ample space when I need it [whether I want it or not], and is never afraid to be completely accessible and vulnerable. Not a common set of virtues to find in the same person. Plus, he sets a good example: he loves everyone with an open hand; he sets his own standards for himself and doesn't dwell on judging the virtue [or lack thereof] in others and is an eternal child: infinitely goofy and infinitely wise, and very good at laughing at himself. My life has been infinitely better since we haphazardly collided out in the desert in 2012.

...Oh, yeah. And also, he knows a shit ton about bikes, makes good food, and makes me laugh.

And, as fate would have it, my other favorite man [not one of the aforementioned two] is flying to Taiwan out of the same airport, around the same time, so we'll be able to get up to some shenanigans before my red-eye. So I've got lots of lovey-dovey in my day, hence the nausea.

All right. Time's a-wasting. Airport, ho!

 

 

Calm before the storm...

Photo: Anastasia Kole

Photo: Anastasia Kole

Photo: Anastasia Kole

Photo: Anastasia Kole

After a week of scattered panic and dithery excitement, I'm in that sort of zen-mind-resignation phase. My flight's in twenty-four hours. Today I've gotten all the essential things done [the non-essential/non-urgent things can wait]. Now...there's really not a whole lot else I can do, except relax, enjoy my last nibble of California, and wait for things to fall into place.

Other than the fact that I have no accommodation/hosting/reservations/anything sorted upon my arrival [my original host fell through], everything should be solid. And that's a minor bump, really. If I didn't pride myself on being resourceful, I wouldn't have ever put myself up to this crazy pipe dream of an adventure, anyway.

I haven't done much modeling in the last month, but wanted to make a couple honorable mentions anyhow:

A. Shot with the incomparable Anastasia Kole [who flips onto the other side of the lens as Anastasia Arteyeva...such amazing work on both sides of the lens; I'm sure you're as twitterpated as I am]. She swung by the house in which I get to squat for a month, painted my face, and set me loose in the backyard while Alex conjured up some incredible homemade sushi [Bay Area restaurants, eat your heart out—none of you know how to make sushi rice properly, first of all] and poured us glasses of Argentinian malbec.

freya-gallows
freyagallows-portrait
freyagallowsanastasiakole

...then we threw Alex in front of the camera, for good measure.

freya-gallows-alex

B. Was visited by my very, very close friend and relatively new aspiring nude model, Enoli! And am pleased that I was able to score both her and Alex spots sitting for Cuong Nguyen's charcoal portrait workshop, resulting in the awesome works-in-progress below. I've modeled for Cuong for years and he is such a skilled artist; a few years ago he honored me by opening a museum exhibition in the Bay Area that featured ten paintings each of me and of Michael [his go-to male model].

model-portrait
alex-portrait

Left: oil painting, first portrait Cuong ever made of me [years ago]; middle: seven-foot-fall oil painting; right: pastel portrait.

freyagallows-portrait
freyagallows-cuongnguyen
freyagallows-pastel

Cycling-wise, I've logged some good miles this month. Last week I clocked in around 8,800 feet of climbing in six days...and ended those six days with a voucher for one of those awesome $20 Chinese foot massage spas [so underrated: they can be much fun, and there's something surreal about being seated in rows, it's like being on an airplane...with fish tanks]. Ahhhh. 

Though as my trip's gotten closer, I've had to forgo riding in order to figure out plans and bookings and emails and packing and last-minute shopping and research and online drudgery [plus, I've admittedly taken a bit of time out to say proper goodbyes to my closest friends and family in the area: a private beach where I had a solitary morning picnic accompanied by a baby sea lion, a few ludicrous wine-fueled nights in with friends, a couple dinners and some yoga].

Currently a bit nervous about my newfound lack of an attack plan for my first hours in Florida with a boxed-up bike I'll need to put together and pack upon arrival...but I'll figure it out. My whole life's one big stumble, anyway, which is what keeps things interesting.

 

Beta Testing Along the SF Peninsula

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

There's a lovey-dovey photo for you.

That's the closest I'm going to get to acknowledging this wacky tradition of expressing our individualistic love by way of cliched, obligatory corporatism and collective bad taste. [In other words, Happy Valentine's Day.]

Hey guys! So I finally went on my first overnight trip, as a way of dipping my toes a bit further into what the "real" trip is actually going to be like.

Day 1
San Jose, CA

As usual, Chaos/Serendipity/The Universe/The Force/what-have-you did a better job planning out my adventures than I ever could have.

Originally I was going to do a big loop up starting in the South Bay, up through the city, over to Sacramento, down through the East Bay. Largely the appeal of this particular route was to visit some good friends. 

Then there was weather, which displaced my trip by two days...which was enough to foster schedule conflicts with all of the friends I intended to visit such that they'd be unable to hang out or in many cases even offer crash space. Mwop, mwop.

But I needed to get at least one practice trip in this month.

So, without much of a plan, Alex and I rode up to Pacifica to stay with Elena Zhukova, a conceptual advertising photographer who's been photographing me since I was a modeling greenhorn and she was an art student in San Francisco [i.e., for a while], and her husband Aleksey.

Barely six miles into the ride, Alex's old tire was shredded, and so I ferociously guarded our bikes while he ran off to get a new tire and tube—a delay that bit an hour or two into our day. There was one stretch so unrelentingly steep that I wound up walking my bike for about a tenth of a mile [cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater]

When we got to the Pacifica, we decompressed for a while, poking at bugs [we found a cluster of maggots outside] and battle droids before being treated to an awesome home-cooked dinner of fish and vegetables, and liberally supplied with beer, wine, and bourbon.

Conversation that evening was punctuated by the hum of the ocean and the crackling of the outdoor heater. I leaned on a pillow stuffed with $15,000 in shredded dollar bills. Eddy the dog leaned on me. It seemed like a first taste of what my trip might turn out to be like on its best days: long mornings of cycling through beautiful country, rewarded in the evenings good food and company and a delicious feeling of satisfaction that was a paradoxical hybrid of "having discovered somewhere new" and "having made it back home"

Day 2
Pacifica, CA

Originally we'd planned to move along the next morning, but it turns out that Aleksey is an avid cyclist, so he offered to take us on a ride the following day around Pacifica and Half Moon Bay!

In one stunning loop, I rode behind Alex and Alex [there are so many Alexes] as we climbed through steep eucalyptus forests, down along Devil's Slide [stopping to explore old military bunkers en route], past surfers on the beach, past helicopters taking off and landing on an airstrip in fields of wildflowers, past the smells of fish and chips and waffles and seaweed, past upscale marinas, through a surreal mountain tunnel, and I had a harrowing first off-road excursion along the edges of sea cliffs. At first I was going kind of picture-crazy, but eventually had to give up on taking photos in favor of just enjoying the view and the present moment [the best moments in life are typically ones when no one has the time or inclination to take photos, anyway].

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 5.32.27 PM.png

That night, we modeled for Elena, resulting in the topmost and bottommost photos in this blog entry. 

...and enjoyed a warm February night and a couple bottles of cold IPA out in the yard.

Day 3
Pacifica, CA

The trek back down to the South Bay, to tend to my neglected inbox and finish planning my much larger trip that's looming ever closer [eep!], was quite educational. 

We'd decided to do a winding, hilly detour along trails in the mountains, which lent themselves both to giving me more practice off paved roads and to stunning panoramic views that I largely didn't bother photographing [was too busy looking]. 

It was in the mountains that I wound up on the phone with an old friend from high school who, it turned out, had scored $10 tickets to the opera Carmen in a small house in San Francisco, and would be heading there from Redwood City [which was more-or-less where we were headed that day]. 

So we bombed down bumpy switchbacks, past equestrians, stopped to grab some fish and chips, coasted along the 92, no problem...and then rush hour hit.

And we were on a steep two-lane highway, with no shoulder, with sheer drop-offs, with blind turns, and we'd gone too far to easily turn back. Hills are one thing, rattlesnakes are one thing, weather is one thing...but cars. Drivers. Those freak me the fuck out. Because, no matter how defensively I ride, no matter how many bright yellow or blinky or reflective things I stick onto myself or my bike, I have no ultimate say in whether the drivers coming up on me are paying attention, or of sound mind, or sober, or whatever. Aggressive, reactive, impatient drivers are all too common. So are absent-minded, text-messaging, daydreaming drivers. And drunk drivers, or sleepy drivers. And drivers zipping around tight corners at 90 MPH. You get the picture. Besides avoiding situations where I'm likely to be hit in the first place, there's really only so much I can do once I'm on the road.

Existentially jarred after almost getting booty-bumped by two semi-trucks in a row, Alex and I pulled off and sat in a patch of grass next to a kitschy old sign that said Santa's Tree Farm, the only distinguishable landmark in sight, debating whether we ought to chug on through and hope for the best, or wait for traffic to die down or, I don't know, hitchhike. After our heart rates settled down we decided to mosey on through, walking our bikes through a few particularly bad stretches.

Lesson learned: be more attentive to traffic patterns and look at my entire route before proceeding, particularly if it's going to be on a highway [before setting off, we'd scanned Google Earth very briefly, seen that a chunk of the 92 had a nice shoulder and four lanes, and called it good]. Hurp dap.

By the time we got to Redwood City, we were a bit exhausted for the opera [even at $10 a pop, it's not all that worthwhile going to a show if you sleep through the whole thing]. Fortunately our buddy Carlos was in town, and facilitated our recalibration to life with Mexican food, card games, and a gift of rum he'd infused with vanilla beans, before we headed off to visit my parents in order to spend the weekend going on bike rides with my dad [whom I'm just now beginning to keep up with].

Final tally for this trip?

104 miles ridden
6,167 feet climbed

Not too shabby for someone who got her ass kicked by a few-hundred-feet climb on a twelve-mile loop just over a month ago!

My improvements have been noticeable on a day-to-day basis, and as time goes on it becomes easier [more exciting, less daunting] for me to motivate myself to push that little bit harder. Thankfully, the beginning of my trip won't involve so much climbing [since my whole route through Florida and Georgia will be pretty much flat].

Two weeks left until my flight, and I've still got so much to figure out!

Tomorrow? Morning yoga, going on a ride [of course] with my dad [he's promised to subject me to some more hills], catching up on emails [I know, I know, I'm really behind—forgive me], studying maintenance/repair/my pack list/my route yet again while not panicking.

Fortunately, I've also got a voucher for one of those wildly underrated $10 cheap foot massage places [and, as a trained massage therapist myself, while I think there's no substitute for deep, specialized, specific body work done by a qualified and intuitive therapist...these cheap line-the-clients-up-in-rows-like-we're-in-an-airplane places can be a whole different kind of awesome to non-snobs, and really are underrated].

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

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