Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons Learned (3): Inspiration vs. Someone Wants to Kill Me


The following is an email I received a couple of weeks ago. It is similar to dozens of other emails I get every month from people from all over the world and from every walk of life. I treasure these emails because they demonstrate the strength and depth of the simple living movement. They are heartfelt, insightful, emotional, and, for me, inspirational. I am a different person today because of these emails. Seriously.

date: Mon, May 11, 2009 at 1:22 AM
subject: your blog... and life

I have spent the last hour pouring over your blog, reading about the amazing changes you have made in your life, and found myself in tears for most of it. I’m not a lawyer so I have never experienced that type of lifestyle, but I do understand the desire to change your life, make things different. A couple of years ago I was laid off from my job, the best thing to ever happen to me. I spent the next 6 months free of any commitments and spent the time hiking and running and just about anything I wanted to try. It was heaven.

Now things are back to the way they were before- have a job I like but don’t love; debt that is crippling me; and it seems my passion for life has diminished. The past month I have been going over everything in my head, wishing I could get back to that life, and overwhelmed with regret. I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do to change things, but reading your blog has given me hope for the first time in a long time. Thank you.

I see that you are on the road – relish that freedom and think often of how far you have come. You have done something that not many have the guts to do. Best wishes to you your life travels.


The following is a string of messages sent to my Twitter account towards the beginning of my bike trip, most likely in response to my “On Sexism: Women Should Know Their Place” blog post. They were sent in conjunction with blog comments stating that (1) they now knew what my bike looked like; (2) they knew exactly where I was because they could access my Twitter and Facebook status and photo updates; and (3) they would actively do their best to kill me. I sent this person a very polite message telling them that I would be very much willing to chat with them to try and understand their point of view. Twice. They have yet to respond.

I debated whether to do a follow-up blog post focused on freedom of speech. I envisioned a string of links to all sorts of raunchy mainstream video clips but then I realized that just wasn't necessary. I think that when you resort to threats of violence you have already lost the argument. I also genuinely feel bad for this person. It is likely someone who has personal experience with domestic violence and has a great deal of misplaced anger.

That being said, if anything happens to me on this trip you all know where any investigation should start.

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack I hope you get mowed down by a semi. in the rain.2:57 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack then you won't be able to promote violence against women any longer, and the world will be a safer place.2:58 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack do the people that have been so helpful to you on your journey know that you promote and encourage domestic violence?3:00 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack Here's a joke for you- "once this wealthy lawyer went on a bike tour of the US after selling his townhouse."3:01 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack "This young man was a fan of violence against women and getting lots of attention on the internet."3:02 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack "the he was hit by a semi and the world was a much better place."3:03 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack you're fucking disgusting.3:04 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack I hope you're laughing your ass of at all the great "jokes" I just made. If not, you must have no sense of humor!3:26 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack I'm so funny, just like Chris Rock! Ha ha ha!3:28 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack- here's another great "joke", just like those great "jokes" you posted about beating women- I know what your bike looks like!3:30 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack And I know where you are! Hilarious, right?3:30 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack I'm so funny I can't even stand it! excuse me while I go email the password to this twitter account to all my friends3:32 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack so they can harrass your dumb ass too! and we can keep you laughing all the way across the country!3:33 PM May 7th from web

ihopeyougethit@radicaljack just don't laugh so hard you fall off your bike and get hit! That would be such a shame- NOT! LOL! God I'm "funny"!3:34 PM May 7th from web

Monday, May 25, 2009

Beaver Dam, KY to St. Mary, MO: Appreciating What's Right in Front of You

Miles Per Day: Day 20=REST; Day 21=44.11; Day 22=54.72; Day 23=33.32; Day 24=59.45; Day 26=52.95

Total So Far: 1,165.53

Inspiration: the silence of empty roads; Rescue Me; the owl right outside my tent in Eddyville, Il; Sepultura; sending myself Netflix DVDs to post offices via General Delivery; Counting Crows; hushpuppies;

Spirits: HOT; exalted; happy; determined; friendly.

Things Seen On the Road: gorgeous marshes on the banks of the Mississippi; a baby deer; curious road crews; 4 to 5 miles of road in the distance in a particularly flat area of Illinois.

Favorite Quotes: (1) Dwight talking about his 12 year-old son at a Murphysboro bar: “[paraphrasing] he wrote in his class essay that if he ever had to deal with Nazis he would use his AK-47. And suddenly they call me and tell me to that I had to go and talk to the principal...can you believe that!?...I mean, all he owns is a shotgun;” (2) someone at a breakfast joint in Beaver Dam, KY: “I wish I was young enough to get on a bike and head out there with you...sounds like a grand adventure.”

For the first time since I started this trip I have allowed myself to fully comprehend how far I've come. In just 26 days I have biked over 1,000 miles and have crossed three states. I am now on Central time. That really blows me away.

But I can't let myself think beyond that. The way I have approached this trip is to break up the mileage into smaller, more manageable segments. Not knowing where I will be more than 3 days out forces me to focus on what's right in front of me and to live in the moment.

This is probably the most valuable lesson so far: forget about what's over the next hill...have the patience and the courage to realize that the most valuable things in life might actually be right in front of you.

The stories keep on piling up:

*Mud Play: After riding out of the ferry at Cave in Rock, Il, I got busy looking for a campsite. Taking a wrong turn, I found myself stuck in the mud right on the banks of the Ohio River. I got off my bike and started walking it out of the area but within minutes I could barely move it. The mud was starting to harden in the hot sun and I had no choice but to dig the stuff out with my bare hands. I then had to walk the bike up to the Cave-in-Rock state park for 45 minutes. Not fun.

*iphone GPS Can Suck: So, I'm still relying quite a bit on the iphone GPS application. I would say that 85% of the time it is golden. However, three days out of Beaver Dam, I was heading down a pretty steep hill when I spotted a beautiful pond towards the bottom. I counted myself lucky because I was totally off the established trail and my iphone had found something beautiful and unexpected. And then I realized that the pond was actually water that had completely flooded the road. I immediately hit the breaks and missed a dunk in the water by a couple of feet.

*Solitude is Awesome: Stopping to take a sip of water and partake in yet another Trail Mix bar I looked around and realized that I was completely alone. The road I was on was particularly deserted and I hadn't seen a car or a house in over half an hour. I put my bike near a tree and took my sunglasses off. With a smile on my face I yelled at the top of my lungs for a good 10 seconds. Solitude can sometimes be the most amazing thing in the world.


Crossing the Ohio River into Illinois:



Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lessons Learned (2): Blogging Helps

Here's a bit of a confession: I've never really seen myself as a blogger. Not really.

When I first started Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity (AVS) I saw this whole endeavor as a way to organize my thoughts and challenge myself to embrace a path that was, ultimately, inevitable. The process was solitary by design. The back and forth interaction between author and commenter and that strange, yet infectious camaraderie that thrives between fellow bloggers were always secondary to the main event: learning to live a more simple, purpose-driven life.

A year later I can't help but see things a little differently. In all the ways that matter, the collective experience of literally hundreds of people has actually guided some of the most important decisions highlighted on this blog. More importantly, I have been genuinely inspired by other bloggers, some of whom I have met personally and now call friends.

And isn't that the whole point? I've always been uncomfortable seeing myself as a blogger precisely because the term has always felt sterile and antiseptic to me. I scoff at others who seem to live their lives through online interactions, always looking to increase their blog hit count, press for more and more comments and otherwise derive a great deal of their self-worth from their life online. I have come to value blogging because I've been able to transform my online interactions into real-world relationships and because I have been flexible enough to be challenged by others who might actually know more about life than I think I do.

If this blog has been successful it is because it operates as the “anti-blog.” I don't really give a shit how many hits I get. I don't really care how many people comment on it. I continue to avoid the press and have no desire to market the blog beyond the four corners of Blogger. And through it all, I have followed two cardinal rules: (1) blog ONLY when there is something meaningful to say (hence my 7-8 posts per month), and (2) be brutally honest.

But, as much as I might see this as the “anti-blog,” it is the interaction with my readers that has often made all the difference.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Birchleaf, VA to Beaver Dam, KY: Biking Meditation and Expecting the Unexpected

Miles Per Day: Day 13=21.87; Day 14=REST; Day 15=56.99; Day 16=43.95; Day 17=76.47; Day 18=39.42; Day 19=67.12; Day 20=74.93

Total So Far
: 920.98

Inspiration: Taking my headphones off and listening to the sounds of the road; Rescue Me; Chopin (various); John Coltraine (mostly A Love Supreme); The Wire; The Howard Stern Show; Led Zeppelin

Spirits: Exalted; inspired; strong; strategic; spiritual; joyful

Things Seen On the Road: Hundreds of caterpillars crossing the road; tons more roadkill; several Amish horse and buggy caravans; a goat staring at my bike; dozens more dogs wanting to tear me to shreds.

Favorite Quotes: (1) heading to Beaver Dam, KY, sign on R 62: “Beaver Dam: 42 miles;” similar sign just 5 miles later: “Beaver Dam: 51 miles”; (2) heading to Berea, KY, a sign pointing to “Knob Lick Baptist Church.”

There are things happening inside of me. Strange, lovely, unexpected things. I don't think I've developed an adequate way to articulate what this all means. Maybe I need some distance from the road and all it's allures before I can connect the dots completely. What I do know is that things are changing inside in a very fundamental way.

This is actually rather surprising to me. I never wanted to personify that awful stereotype of the earnest traveler in search of inner meaning. And yet, meaning is precisely what I'm finding on the road. I found meaning in the coal that literally protruded from the ground by the side of the road in Eastern Kentucky. I found meaning in the laundromat I used at a low-income housing project in Elkhorn City, KY. I even found meaning floating inside a bottle of beer an elderly farmer bought me in Western Virginia.

If there is one thing I've learned from just three weeks of riding it is that there is meaning everywhere.

I've been meditating while riding. Seriously. While I am almost certain I am not the first one to have done so, the experience is definitely unique. I usually find a stretch of road with little to no traffic. I put my head down low and angle the bike along the white line demarcating the shoulder. I then focus my eyes on the moving road in front of me. Suddenly, everything recedes and it is just me, the road and the sound of my breath. I enter such a state of mindfulness that I automatically react to the sounds of traffic behind me without breaking my concentration. I'm convinced I conserve more energy and have a more enjoyable ride every time I do this. Has anyone done/felt something similar when they ride?

I don't think it's possible to capture the essence of this trip in a blog post. It's just not possible. Every day is different. There is no such thing as a routine day. The one constant is that anything can happen, at any time, at any place, for any reason. That is what I've come to love about this trip. I expect the unexpected on a daily basis.

Here is a pretty short snapshot of what's been going on:

*Music in Berea: After getting to Berea, KY, my hosts, Rose and Eagle, invited me to a Jazz-Latin music concert at the local college. It's a strange feeling to find yourself enjoying some pretty cool music in an audience of people when you have just biked 70 miles earlier that afternoon.

*Shortcut Gone Wrong: A couple of days from Berea, I decided to take a shortcut my iphone GPS suggested. Big mistake. Half-way through, I ended up staring at a couple of trees that had cut off the road. The alternative wasn't much better. I had to go through a pretty steep side road full of gravel that had been built for coal trucks. I didn't have to deal with too many trucks but the road grade was so awful that I had to stop every 50 feet just to catch my breath.

*Meeting the Goat: I was trying desperately to catch my breath after taking a good 25 minutes to climb a particularly difficult hill. I looked to my right and saw the door to a modest one-level house open very slowly. And a goat came out. That's right, a goat. He just stared at me while I caught I breath for about two minutes. I'm pretty sure there wasn't a soul around for miles. Methinks there is a vibrant community of goats somewhere in the hills of Western Kentucky that has so far gone unnoticed.

*First Mechanical Disaster: I was heading out from Birchleaf, VA to Breaks, VA one Saturday morning and was in a real hurry. I had arranged to have some mail delivered to the Breaks post office and since it was a Saturday, I needed to be there between 9:30 am and 11:00 am. Leaving Breaks state park I entered a pretty sweet downhill. Within 5 minutes I saw a sign for Breaks and waited to see the town itself. About 2 minutes later and going about 30-35 mph I realized that I had overshot my destination somehow and had to stop. I was pretty pissed with myself because now I had to bike uphill for a mile and a half. I turned my bike around and just as I got on it, I heard a loud clang...I looked down and realized my chain had fallen off the bike. It was about 9:45 am at this point. Let me tell you, there is nothing like walking a heavy bike up a hill for almost 40 minutes, under time constraints, in the middle of a thunderstorm. But hey, I did eventually find the town, picked up my mail and fixed the chain.

Coal trucks passing me on the road:

The beauty of Western Kentucky:

Dealing with the constant thunderstorms:


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Vesuvius, VA to Birchleaf, VA: Conflicting Emotions and Coming Home

Miles Per Day: Day 7=23.39; Day 8= REST; Day 9= 81.75; Day 10= 52.75; Day 11= 51:54; Day 12=52.69.

Total So Far: 540.23

Inspiration: This American Life (NPR); The Howard Stern Show; The Beatles; The Wire; Wilco; Eminem; Billy Holiday.

Spirits: Exasperated; tired; calculated; exhausted; comfortable.

Things Seen On the Road: A huge mountain waterfall; two majestic valleys on the Appalachians; half a dozen dogs ready to eat me.

Favorite Quotes: (1) written on the inside of a bathroom door somewhere on Route 11: “Kill all rednecks;” response right below: “fuck you nigger.” Charming; (2) owner of a diner in southeastern Virginia as I came in from the rain: “you look like a wet rat! Do you need a place to stay?”

This week has been a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. There have been times when the thought of getting on that bike has made me dizzy. More than once, I muttered a couple of “fucks” under my breath as yet another hill emerged from right around the bend. I have stunk. I have gone to bed without showering. I have been caught in massive downpours, thunderstorms, and threats of tornadoes. I have been chased by ravenous dogs hoping to tear me to shreds. I have found myself in the pitch black of the night trying to figure out where to sleep for the night.

And yet...I have never been more alive in my life! There have been moments when the clouds have parted and the sun has illuminated some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. There have been nights when the sounds of crickets right outside my tent has lulled me to sleep. More often than not, the kindness of strangers has been on display throughout. And the stars...let's just say that you had to be there.

The terrain is changing and so are the people I am meeting. During those early days back in Eastern Virginia, both sides of the road were filled with spacious farms with meticulously manicured lawns as far as the eye could see. For the most part, the people I encountered were clearly middle to upper-middle class folk. I am now seeing a lot more trailers, more abandoned farm equipment and a whole lot more “Bankruptcy,” “Auction Sale,” and “Abandoned” signs right off the road. It is clear that this international recession/depression is hitting these areas hard. Or maybe what I am seeing is long-standing economic dislocation. That is, indeed, a depressing thought.

And yet...I feel more at home here than back East. It's not just that people are friendlier. There is a lack of pretension that is absolutely contagious. Many people here live simplicity every day. Some because they have no choice. Others because that is all they know. What binds them all together is that, come what may, they will always strive to work hard, raise strong families, go to church and love their country. And they are not ashamed about any of it.

Is it wrong to wish you had been born in Southwest Virginia?


This Pitt Bull chased me across oncoming traffic on Route 11 just to try to eat me:

Huddling under a tarp in the middle of a thunderstorm at about 2,400 feet:

Just a little taste of what I've been seeing as I bike every day:

Dancing at a diner somewhere on Route 80. This bluegrass band was fantastic. I will spare you photos of me dancing some Texas two-step with some wonderful dames.


Colin and Becca with one of their kids. These guys opened up their home to me in Christianburg and were wonderful. Thanks guys.

With Kayla and Christy. They arranged for me to stay in a trailer behind a diner to ride out some pretty intense thunderstorms and a couple of unconfirmed tornadoes. I just feel bad because I repaid them by trying to dance to bluegrass music. Excuse the developing farmer tan.


Speaking of thunderstorms, flash floods and tornadoes:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lessons Learned (1): Giving Away Money is Complicated

[Seeing as next month is the one-year anniversary of Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity I thought I would share with you certain “lessons” I have learned regarding this peculiar, yet rewarding endeavor called blogging. I want to distinguish this exercise from something else that is in the works: an attempt to articulate what I have learned since I decided to embrace voluntary simplicity/simple living. I'll work on the latter as I continue my trip across America.]

While I am still blown away by the response this blog continues to generate, nothing quite prepared me for the response to my Let's Start a Revolution!!!!!!!! post. To recap, at some point last year I finalized a pretty conservative budget going forward, taking into account all the obvious contingencies. I then realized that I had some cash left over. I didn't feel right keeping it. I also didn't feel right expanding my budget. Ultimately, I decided that the thing to do was to give it away. And so I did. That's when the fun/insanity/surprises started.

The first thing I noticed was the incredible response from many readers who absolutely “got” the post. Many suggested that I send donations to particular charities and causes and though I had distributed most of the cash by the time I blogged about it, I did take certain suggestions to heart. Many others commented or emailed me directly about similar efforts here in the U.S., and as far away as the U.K. and Australia.

Then came a small flood of emails asking for financial assistance. This was the most difficult, unintended consequence of this post. Telling absolute strangers that I couldn't send them any money, even though they clearly NEEDED assistance for their very survival, was the hardest thing I ever did in connection with this blog.

And when the media got wind of the post things got a little weird. A couple of hundred emails, comments, and press mentions later the message underlying the post became superfluous. Suddenly, and depending on the audience, Jack became the asshole hippy; the savior of the legal profession; the life-coach guru; the confused rich lawyer in need of assuaging some deep-seeded guilt; the guy know had figured “it” out, and on and on and on...


What this post taught me is that most people, most of the time, see only what they want to see. It is hard (or inconvenient?) to dig deeper to uncover the essence of a person, let alone a blog post.

All I can tell you is that I am a person who now has enough money to live on for the rest of his life. It might not be much to a lot of people. It is probably a small fortune to many others. But it is enough for me. And that is what is important.

I will leave you with an excerpt of an email I got from an immigrant bus driver who tracked me down after he found one of my envelopes in his bus:

“...I thank you from the bottom of [sic] heart. The day I saw you I was so sad about my job, my family and my life. When I saw the money I smiled and knew that there was [sic] good people in the world. I will always remember it...”

I always intended to put together a video capturing this renegade money giveaway, much as I did when I burned my law degree, but I never really had the time. Plus, with youtube silencing any videos set to music it felt a little pointless to bother with any real editing. It's not the same, but here's some raw footage of me traveling to NYC, Boston and Philly as I dropped off some envelopes.

Take care everyone,


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Charles City, VA to Vesuvius, VA: Instinct Has Taken Over

Miles Per Day: Day 2=55.07; Day 3=40.64; Day 4=39.27; Day 5=30.54; Day 6=33.01

Total So Far: 238.32

Inspiration: Lynard Skynard; Oasis; Guns n' Roses; Bach (Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould); The Howard Stern Show; Rescue Me; Life of Pi;

Spirits: Excited; exhausted; adventurous; determined.

Things Seen On the Road: The inside of a fire station; tons of roadkill (including a Golden Retriever); Blue Ridge Mountains; a snake crossing the road;

Favorite Quotes: (1) on a scenic overlook right on the Blue Ridge Parkway, guy in a parked car talking to his buddy: “[inaudible] I always thought I could trust him; I just never though he would go and fuck my girlfriend...” (2) manager of Vesuvius general store, after I asked about church services the following day, Sunday: “They usually start at 9:00am. Now, are you Baptist or Methodist?”

I've just finished what was probably the best BBQ pork sandwich I've ever had in my life, courtesy of Gertie's Store in Vesuvius, VA. My mind is still spinning from all the crazy curves on the road, the intense climbing I did today over the Blue Ridge Mountains, the roller coaster 4 mile downhill drop from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Vesuvius (ever done 45 miles on a bike down a windy, curvy country road?), and some of the most beautiful views this side of the Mississippi.

I'm not sure any of this has sunk in yet. It's like my mind has receded inside itself and is working furiously to process everything. Instinct has taken over. It's the 5 year-old Jack that gets up every morning and straddles that bicycle with a child-like fury. He's also the one that relishes not knowing where we will be sleeping every night. And he's the one that's always certain everything, somehow, will turn out alright.

Here's a little taste of what was seen on the road recently:


Caressing horses on my way to Charlottesville, VA

Cooking up some lunch behind an abandoned post office in Afton, VA

Crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains

On my way to Charlottesville

Administrator of First Baptist Church in Charlottesville. He was nice enough to let me camp on church grounds. Ultimately, though, chose a hostel so that I could clean some clothes and shower.

On my way to Afton

Crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains

This trip is just getting started. That's the most amazing thing of all.

Take care everyone.