Saturday, December 31, 2016

Joe Omundson

Why I love the Moab community

It's the end of 2016! When I started this project in February I wasn't sure how long it would last, but 73 posts later I'm excited to keep writing. I have a long way to go to become a good writer; it's trickier than I thought. I'm glad I got started and stuck with it because now that this page is established it feels great to have an outlet for whatever I want to write. Special thanks go to my mom and my dearly departed step-mom for pushing me to keep writing.

I have a few halfway-written drafts in my queue and I decided to pick one of them to finish for my final post of 2016. I'd like to share this description of a day in the Moab life. I've written some posts recently outlining the difficulties I face with my lifestyle, but I also want to highlight the beautiful parts that make it worthwhile for me. This is the story of Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.


I woke up at about 9:30 in the morning. It was 40 degrees in my car, parked underneath the cottonwood trees. My friend Eric had been visiting from California for a week, and he was leaving this morning so I said goodbye and wished him a good return trip.

I skipped breakfast and drove six blocks to the donation-based gentle yoga class. Eleanor is a 73 year old woman who has lived in Moab for 40 years, and she leads the class twice a week with light and laughter. There were three other students this morning and as usual I was the only male, and the youngest person by 30 years. The class was peaceful and we left feeling refreshed and happy. I usually attend 3-4 times per month and am always grateful for that joyful group of people.

From there, I drove a couple blocks to the food bank. I was eligible for my monthly haul. I was planning to hitchhike that weekend and needed some food to take with me. I ran into Cameron and his dog Juno and I chatted with him while we waited. There were still several people in line ahead of me when a semi-truck arrived with some pallets of food to drop off. I helped unload the food. Jason, another guy who lives similarly to the way I do and helps out at the food bank, was coordinating the food distribution and instead of filling my cart with the "standard" items he gave me an empty cart and said to take whatever I wanted. So I chose all the healthiest options and left with a good pile of food. I went home and made lunch, spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and about a pound of ground turkey that needed to be consumed that day.

I went to the shop to work on painting some cabinet doors. Brooke came over to clean out an adjascent room and we talked sometimes. Then Mathieu showed up, my French-Canadian motorcycle-vagabond friend, and he taught me how to ride a motorcycle, which was something I'd always wanted to learn.

Adrian had invited me to the locals showcase, a free concert to kick off the folk music festival that weekend. I went there that evening with Dennis, my van-dwelling friend from New York, and we met up with Adrian and Ben and some of their friends. The last act was the Fiery Furnace marching band, which had people up and dancing, and everyone followed them as they marched outside to finish their performance in the street. I ran into a different Ben, a thru-hiker who I met in Stehekin this summer as I was finishing my PCT hike, and said hi to him.

When the marching band was done, a couple I didn't know approached me and asked which bar I thought would be a good one to walk to. I gave them a couple ideas, including the Rio, where I was heading next because it was karaoke night and my friends wanted to do that. So I walked to the bar, found Dennis, but sat at a table with this couple (Justin and Rebecca), who bought me a beer. They were living out of their trucks and staying in Moab for a few weeks. Adrian came and the four of us talked. Her roommate was also there for karaoke with some other friends, and I was excited to be invited to join their weekly writing club.

At the end of the night I walked back to the cottonwoods to show my new friends and invited them to camp there with me, which they ended up doing for a couple weeks.


What I love about small town community is how easy it is to see people you know, and to meet new people. Without creating any schedule these interactions flowed effortlessly. Without spending a dime, I was able to participate in yoga, get groceries, see a concert, go to a bar, and learn to ride a motorcycle in one day; all within a 3-block radius. Other days, I've participated in bike parties, met awesome people at Fresh Moab Coffee (where it's donation-only and you make it yourself), eaten at community dinners, shared the library as a communal living room, seen local parades and festivals, gone dancing in the desert, and enjoyed campfires on the edge of a huge canyon.

Portland might be a progressive place with a lot of cool people, but I never had days like this when I lived there. It's so busy and anonymous that if you want to see a familiar face it has to be carefully arranged. My personality seems to do a lot better in the more intimate setting of an interconnected little town. Here, community interaction is built in to daily life, and everything you need is just a few minutes away. Less chaos, more rest. As much as I miss my friends in the big city I can't forsee myself going back to live in a place like that anytime soon. Moab's community is too strong of a vortex.

I was thinking about leaving on a journey to South America this spring, but I think I'm going to stay in town through the summer, sink my roots in a little deeper, earn some money, enjoy the nice weather, and be more prepared to leave town when it starts getting cold here around October. 2016 was pretty good to me but I'm excited to see what changes 2017 will bring.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Joe Omundson

My extraordinary friend Alex Wall

There are difficulties and perks that come with writing a personal blog. It can be intimidating to publish intimate details of my life for all the world to see; vulnerability has the risk of attracting judgment or making me less employable. At the same time, it's freeing to talk about the things that matter most to me and to know that I have nothing to hide.

But my favorite thing is when someone reads my blog, relates on a deep level, and reaches out to make a connection. It doesn't happen often, but it's really exciting when it does.

I was hiking the PCT in Northern California in May of 2015 when I got to a town and checked my email. Waiting in my inbox was a message from Alex titled "Philosophical brothers?". I was instantly elated. He introduced himself, explaining that he'd previously undertaken a walking trip across the country, and was planning to do another big one. He'd read some of my PCT blog and was on the same page philosophically. He was interested in meeting me and possibly doing some joint writing about the paradigm we are both passionate about moving toward.

He's no typical blogging thru-hiker, though. Alex wanders between rural spaces, small towns, and urban centers, inventing his own route. He sets out with no money, camps rough most of the time, and relies entirely on donations from his readers. When he runs out of money he goes hungry, sometimes for days at a time. He assumes the societal risks of a homeless person and explores all the implications of how that dynamic affects his interaction with the world.

Alex often includes a map of his improvised campsites

Shortly after our initial contact, Alex embarked on a 367-day tour of the country, starting in California, working north through Oregon and Washingon, then traveling east and south across the country to Georgia, and eventually back north to Maine. Sometimes he rode a bus or a train, but he walked many of the miles on foot.

From the very first email he's been supportive of my life path and encouraged me to keep going. We've never met, but we stayed in touch, sharing many thoughts, struggles, and goals. He's about 20 years my senior and he got a later start at his ambitiously free-formed lifestyle. The age difference is an interesting complement because in a sense he can play a mentor role to me, and in return he is excited that I am starting his kind of work at a younger age, with potentially more time to develop it than he has. Interestingly, he has medical concerns with his heart, like I do. Alex is one of the few people who can fully empathize with my journey, and if you look at the comment section beneath my posts you'll often see his love and support pouring out.

Alex is one of the most prolific and vivid writers I've ever encountered. Throughout his year long journey, rain or shine, hot or cold, food or not, he maintained the insane workload of writing a photo-infused account of every day's experiences -- a "Living Magazine". A lot of people blog daily, but Alex doesn't hold back on anything, and he has a perspective that few people would ever voluntarily assume. The story of his daily experiences is interesting, but what strikes me is the clarity with which he presents the internal struggle of life in the bottom class. It's a special thing because it requires a huge amount of dedication. It's exceedingly difficult to write under the circumstances in which he places himself. He does this grueling work with no promise of financial return.

Keeping dry is a constant struggle in rainy weather.

He is deeply sensitive, highly empathetic, and cares passionately about the welfare of all human beings. And it's not an abstract concern, it's something that plays out practically in his life. His ability to communicate both the realities of daily life and his theoretical conceptions is something I aspire to emulate. He has the kind of wide-open mindset that is able to perceive the systemic whole of our reality and foresee various ways that society could evolve to provide a better future for all life on earth.

In addition to the candid descriptions of personal experience, and illustrations of his dreams and visions, Alex often gives walking tours of the places he explores, sharing dozens of photos of the most interesting things he finds. Those interested in history and geography will find his accounts of people and places fascinating.

Union Station in Portland, Oregon

Alex has written so much content that I have only read a small percentage of his work. I am horrible at following blogs and he knows that I have not kept up with his journey as closely as many of his readers. But the work I have read is always illuminating, and stunningly raw. I don't know of anyone else who has undertaken a similar life venture and laid it out so plainly for people to understand. I am writing this blog post because I really want more people to be exposed to his writing. It deserves more attention than it gets, more attention than I can give it. Please take some time to check out his story, and send some money his way if you can!

This is this start of his most recent journey, a good place to start reading, as he left San Francisco on June 21, 2015.
Follow his Facebook page for regular updates.

(All photos courtesy of Alex Wall)
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Joe Omundson

I get anxious too

Some days my life feels good. I feel supported by my community, content with my life choices, hopeful for today and the future. I'm looking forward to a life of adventure. It looks something like this.

It feels good to be in that state. I prefer it. My energy is pure and I get to offer you something positive. That's the image of myself I try to use publicly. I want to contribute happiness and warmth. I want you to feel supported by me.

But other days my life feels painful and it looks more like this.

I won't let you see me like this. I don't want you to pity me, I don't want to bring you down. So I take time alone until it passes. If I have to interact with you, I won't pretend like I'm feeling great, but I won't tell you what's really going on; of course, I can't hide my body language so it's probably obvious that I'm struggling.

I'm feeling like I don't fit in anywhere. I'm feeling violated and forgotten. I'm feeling useless. It's nothing you did wrong, which is why I don't want to burden you with it, because I respect your right to feel good and not have to deal with my baggage. I'll deal with it myself, like a cat who searches out a secret place to die.

At the same time I wish there was someone to hold me, and listen and understand. I'm strong enough to get through it on my own but my life can be a lonely experience sometimes. I don't know what to do about that.

My heart is wounded. Literally, my chest was sawed open and my heart was cut up. I was anesthetized for that experience but I don't think my body is unaware of what happened; I think it still remembers subconsciously the jigsaw splitting my sternum. Really though, that's just a symbol for the deeper emotional violations I have endured in my heart. Internal trauma invisible from the outside. Performed in the name of righteousness and love. Because there was "no other option".

My life has been like this for a long time and maybe that's why I feel so much empathy for people who struggle with life in ways that other people don't understand. That's why the music that resonates with me is often so intense and anguished. People who are truly healthy and happy are enigmas to me, fascinating magical creatures who I want to surround myself with and learn from. But I don't feel like I can play on their level and it bums me out. Something about me is broken, or maybe I just don't know how to gloss over the ugly parts of life like some people can. I feel everything freely.

If life is the same way for you, you're not alone. If you think I have my shit together, I don't. I hurt every day. If you think I'm confidently strong, I'm actually anxious and doubtful all the time. Sometimes I feel totally hopeless and depressed. It sucks, right? But it's common... the world we grew up in inflicts these kinds of wounds (and worse) all the time. Society doesn't make it easy to talk about it or get help. That's why I write about it. I want you to know your experience is valid and I'm here if you need to talk to someone about it.
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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Joe Omundson

Hitchhiking from Moab to Durango and back

I had been planning to hitchhike to Durango on Friday all week. I was going there to visit my friend Dan, and it just so happened that there was going to be a big party at the place where he'd been staying. When Friday came, I wasn't entirely sure if I wanted to hitchhike after all; I thought maybe I'd do something around Moab during the day and drive there in the evening instead of hitching. But driving would require me to spend my last $20 on diesel, and my car insurance had expired a couple days before, so it made more sense to leave my car at home. Late morning came and I halfheartedly put things into my backpack and decided to at least give hitching a try.

I walked to Main St. & 300 S and noticed a wide shoulder. I decided to hitch from there instead of walking to the edge of town. It was just after noon so I had maybe 6 hours of daylight to work with (I don't hitch at night). In theory, covering a 3-hour drive in 6 hours of hitchhiking is reasonable to expect, but it's always more stressful when there's pressure to get somewhere in a limited time.

I felt silly standing on the curb downtown, like I was being judged for soliciting a free ride. Even though nobody at all was obligated to help me, I felt like I was being a burden on anyone who saw me. In my mind, everyone was thinking "who is this guy to stand there and ask me for a ride? Why should I trust him? Entitled asshole!" This discouraged me, and after waiting 45 minutes I started to think maybe it made more sense to take my car after all. I didn't particularly feel like making it halfway there, missing the party, and camping in a cow pasture in 20 degree weather for no reason.

I thought: I'll give it another half hour, until 1:30. If I don't have a ride by then I'll walk back home.

With maybe 10 minutes to spare, an RV drove to the curb and stopped. I wasn't entirely sure if they were stopping for me or if they were just pulling over to let their dog out for a minute, but the middle aged woman who got out asked me where I was going, and when I told her Durango she said "Us too! You can hop in." So I did.

It was a Texas couple returning home from a summer trip across the western states. Their RV was modern and tidy, and it pulled an SUV. I sat down on the couch and we rolled south out of Moab, watching the snow-capped La Sal mountain range pass by. Within minutes I was served a plate of cold cuts, cheese, veggies, and crackers. A friendly poodle dog curled up against me. This was my first time getting picked up by an RV. Not bad!

It was amazing luck that they were going straight to my destination. We turned east at Monticello and drove into Colorado. Sometimes I chatted with the couple, sometimes they did their own thing and I relaxed on the couch. More snowy mountains passed by the windows of the RV. We drove through the self-proclaimed pinto bean capital of the world. After a few hours we got to Durango, and they went out of their way to take me straight to where my friend was staying. Door-to-door service.

I walked up the driveway and found Dan doing some chores outside. The property is on a hillside in a valley lined with cliffs. Various buildings were scattered around the property, and I got a quick tour of a verdant greenhouse. A woodburning contraption provided the greenhouse with warmth. I was shown a small shack with a bed where I was welcome to spend the night -- a pleasant surprise, as I had been planning to pitch a tent. On one side of the property was a big old house which was slated for destruction. This was the motivation for the party: one last get together to celebrate the old house being torn down and a new one being built in its place.

I spent some time catching up with Dan and helping get the house ready for the party. People didn't start arriving until after dark, but eventually there were about 100 guests on the property. Dan told me I should meet a friend of his named Chuck who was really into hitchhiking. In the back of the house a bonfire warmed some of the crowd, and inside a bluegrass/jam band set up their gear in a corner of the living room. Throughout the night, the band played a tight and seamless musical journey; people danced and painted on the walls, leaving sobriety and inhibition behind.

I'm eternally awkward in party situations, and I only knew one person in the entire crowd, so I didn't stay up late. The shack was warmer overnight than I expected. Another friend of Dan's slept on the floor.

In the morning I went back up to the house and hung out with some of the people who were around. The owner of the property cooked breakfast. I checked out the results of the demolition party; the walls were covered in paint, and some were smashed in. Finally at around noon, the guy who had slept on the floor next to me was heading back into Durango and I rode with him. Before I left, though -- this being Colorado -- I scored a couple handfuls of some grade B buds to take home.

I was dropped off on the highway just west of Durango. I got a ride in 10 minutes. I hadn't had a chance to meet Dan's friend Chuck at the party, but he was in the car that stopped to pick me up! He and his friend drove me about half an hour west to the town where they live. It was cool to have a chance to talk to another hitchhiker because there don't seem to be many of us.

From here I got two more rides back to Moab. The first guy who picked me up, after maybe an hour wait, was a middle aged mountain climbing guide who lives in Durango. When I got in his car and said "thanks so much for stopping to pick me up", he replied "thanks for hitchhiking! One less engine on the road." I'd say maybe 10% of the people who pick me up are on a similar wavelength in terms of personality, social views, and life interests. He was one of them. He took me to Cortez. Something funny we saw was a dispensary on top of a hill with an enormous green-cross flag, one of the biggest flags I've seen anywhere.

For my last ride on this trip I got picked up by a truck driver, another first. Just like with the RV, I wasn't entirely sure if he was stopping for me or not, so I was a bit nervous about climbing up and opening the door. Generally, drivers who are working for a bigger company aren't allowed to pick up hitchhikers, so the only ones who will give you a ride are people who own their own trucks. This guy was driving through Moab on his way to SLC. He was silent for the first 15 minutes or so and I started to think it would stay that way the whole time, but then he started talking: about his dysfunctional third marriage; his belief in aliens and UFOs; his story of getting the truck. It was so interesting because here is this guy whose interactions with his kids and wife (and women in general) were deeply saddening, and his logic about aliens raised my eyebrows quite a few times, and yet he's the one who was generous enough to stop and give me a ride and be vulnerable about his life. We humans are such a crazy mix of strengths and weaknesses, ugly and beautiful!

I said goodbye and jumped out of the truck when he was stopped at a light in Moab. Just 4 blocks to walk to get home. I laughed to myself, as I always do, about the magic of what had just happened. Without spending a single dime I got a fancy ride straight to my friend's house 3 hours away, was provided food, beer, weed, and a bed, saw a cool live music performance, and made it back home the next day. I wondered: how much would most people expect to pay for those experiences? How amazing is it that they can be found for free, if you're willing to be flexible and take a chance? Why don't more people try this?
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