By the time the man asks for twenty dollars’ ramp tax to board the ferry, we’re negotiating not for the sake of money but to save the little bit of dignity Azerbaijan hasn’t yet taken. A convoy of four rally teams and a French motorcyclist are poised on the pier, mere feet from the cargo ship that will take us to Kazakhstan. The ramp is down, and a long line of lorries roll deep into the ship’s hull. Us foreigners are stuck, though, because a short man in sunglasses has appeared out of nowhere and demanded cash to let us cross. We’re not sure who he is, or what the tax is for. There’s some debate whether or not he’s even associated with our ship. Nobody’s really surprised, though, because Azeris from border to border have jumped on every opportunity to swindle us out of dough.
As I write, we’re bumping around the potholed roads of Bucharest, trying to trick the GPS out of routing us against traffic down a narrow one-way. The Tom-Tom is starting to misbehave. Somewhere near Klatovy, the voice asphyxiated; in Sarajevo, the map recognized a total of two roads; last night, our guide directed us to a trash-littered alley that was supposedly Bucharest’s city center. The map claims to cover all of Eastern Europe, but we’re not entirely sure how far that reaches. Soon we’ll rely on hard copies alone.
Converse, our sponsor, cut together an awesome video to introduce our adventure to their fans. You’ll be able to track our progress on their Facebook page, as well as suggest challenges for us to complete along the way. Some ideas in the running include: ride a yak; ghost ride the whip past a national monument; and get a tattoo in another language.
In the interest of time, and in lieu of a proper post, I’ve transcribed my notes from our launch in West Sussex, UK. Hopefully you’ll get the picture despite the lack of good writing…
On the evening of July 13th, we crossed the English Channel from Calais to Dover, and sidled onto the left side of the road for the drive to West Sussex. The UK was socked in a torrential downpour, and the confluence of darkness, rain, and unknown country left us hunched against the windshield, peering into the night with white knuckled terror.
Alex is slowly becoming Dutch again. On Wednesday, we were late getting out the door, assaulting his punctuality. When we arrived at the car shop to find the seat had already been welded, his brimming frustration came to a rare outburst.
For Adam and I, It hasn’t quite felt like we’re in a foreign country. Part of it is the fact that we’re living in a beach house, modeled off the Cape Cod coastline, with a host from Boston, Massachusetts. Part of it is that, on every outing, Alex is holding our hands through money exchanges and menus. Apart from the skinny streets, odd road signs, and abundance of farmhouses, the landscape and humanscape aren’t vastly different from, say, Armonk, New York.
When the wheels of our jet finally touched the tarmac in Keflavik, it was a quarter to midnight and the sun still hadn’t set. Though low in the sky, the golden globe was ambling across the horizon at an angle near parallel with the horizon. Long shadows littered the landscape. The airport stood on the western coast of this volcanic island, and as we landed we had passed over a scientifically flat stretch of grey-brown marsh dotted with roughly rendered rock. In our semi-addled state of slaphappy sleepiness, it felt as if we were landing on the moon.
Forty-eight hours ago I was sitting in the international terminal of JFK waiting to embark on the largest adventure of my lifetime to date. For over 7 weeks I would be driving over 10,000 miles through 22 countries I have never even dreamed of going to. Kazakhstan. Bosnia. Mongolia? However, while excitement ran rampant somewhere in my mind, I was also overcome with a larger sense of grief, as these would be my last remaining minutes as a ‘New Yorker,’ a title I’ve worked so hard to claim over the last five years.
Moving to New York City from suburban Ohio when I was eighteen was certainly a humbling experience. However, after circumnavigating Manhattan island by foot my sophomore year, riding the entire R-line back and forth and back again while passed out drunk (more recently), and being kicked out of nearly every bar in Manhattan (specifically Third Avenue), I’m proud to say the mayor called and gave me the badge of honor. However, as I’m attending USC Law School this fall I will soon leave the east coast to become a Los Angelino – or something. As such I’m forced to reflect upon the last five years and analyze just what the hell New York means.