Thursday, July 23, 2009

A New Toy

One of the things I needed for my trip was a good, sturdy knife. I didn't want just any old fixed-blade cutting tool, but something with a little heft, a durable blade, and a lot of character. If I have to build a shelter in the woods, I wanted something capable of chopping through saplings without much trouble. I wanted a knife that could take the kind of abuse I'm going to dish out. I also wanted something I could defend myself with in case some lunatic decides to mug me.

Fortunately for me, I have a wicked-awesome girlfriend who also likes blades and thinks that custom birthday presents are the coolest things ever. Just before sitting down for breakfast this morning, she comes into the kitchen and places in my hand a gift, wrapped in what appeared to be butcher's paper with strange quotes printed on it, such as "Aayo Ghurkali" (the Ghurka's war cry 'The Ghurkas are upon you').

From this sinister bundle I pulled a custom made khukuri, a curved knife that's a cross between a skinning blade, a machete and a hatchet. It's designed to slice, chop, pry and the back of the blade even serves as a hammer. I've used a cheap one before, and though it was small and flimsy, it chopped like a machete. But this blade that I held at the breakfast table was no cheap, flimsy knife. This was a sturdy, menacing cutting tool.

The khukuri (at least the ones from khukuri house) are individually hand crafted, forged from the leaf springs from old trucks. The sheath, a green leather thing with a belt loop, is made from buffalo hide. Both the khukuri and the sheath are built to last, as is evident from their appearance and sturdiness.

The handle, a rosewood replacement for the unavailable buffalo horn, is thick and comfortable in my hand. It's been expertly shaped and feels like it belongs in my grasp. The tool looks primitive, and it is. It's a design that has been unchanged for hundreds of years. It's a farmer's tool and a hunter's tool. It's for expedition and defense. It has character and class, and in the hills of Nepal, some barefoot blacksmith is already at work on another one. It has a history already, and it has a future. Soon it will accompany me on an adventure.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Frequently Asked Questions

I've been getting tons of questions so I figured I'd post an FAQ blog to answer the most common and a few of the more bizarre.

Where are you going?
I don't know. When I leave my house in Sulphur, LA, I'm not sure yet if I'll turn left or right. I'm going to aim East, but would not be surprised if I end up in Oregon. The only destination that's set in stone is home. My trip will finish right where it started, but I'm not sure where I'll go while traveling. I guess it's wherever the road takes me.

Why are you doing this?
Simply because I want to. I feel the need to explore for a prolonged period of time and see what I can see. There's no deeper meaning, there's no religious significance, I'm not running from the law (I've been asked that one before), and I'm not terminally ill (I was asked that one also). I just want to do it and have wanted to for nearly a decade.

What will you do for food?
There are towns out there and in those towns are grocery stores. I've seen them. I've even been in a few. I'll purchase food as needed.

How long will you be gone?
If my math is correct (I'm terrible at math, so it's probably wrong), my trip should last roughly 1 year. That's what I've budgeted for. If I see what I need to see and feel the urge to come home earlier, then that's what will happen. If the trip runs long, it will run long. I don't have any reservations at hotels, so my plans can be quite fluid. I can go wherever I want, whenever I want.

How will you live?
Like a vagrant, I guess. I've found that sleeping under overpasses is quite comfortable (even during major hurricanes) and camping in the woods is fun and relaxing. I'll do a lot of that. I won't have a schedule except for the schedule my body sets. I'll eat when I'm hungry and sleep when I'm tired. I'll wake up when I'm rested and stop walking when I need a break.

Are you taking anyone with you?
No. This is a solo trip for me and me alone. Period. I'm leaving everyone and everything behind save for what can be carried comfortably on my back. Having someone walking with me would influence my decisions and alter my course.

You'll have your cell phone, right?
No I will not. I'm only taking three electronic devices: a cheap watch, a flashlight, and a small digital camera with a battery charger. The watch is solely for me to be able to check the date before writing in a journal. I probably won't even adjust it when crossing time zones. I don't want to be in constant communication and I'm not going to add an extra expense to the trip.

What about a GPS?
No GPS. No iPhone. No navigational gear. I'm going to explore the country by exploring it for myself. I'm not going to look up destinations in advance and chart a course a hundred miles in advance. I'm not even taking a map. If I hear about something interesting in an area, I'll get directions then.

What if you get lost?
In town, I'll ask for directions to the nearest grocery store so I can get food. Then I'll find train tracks and hike out. If I'm in the wilderness, I'm not lost. I don't get lost in the woods. Never have.

But what if you do?
You can't really be lost in the woods. Not in North America and especially not in the eastern half of the country. If you walk in one direction, you'll find a road and that will lead to something. Unfortunately there aren't many wild places anymore. I won't get lost in the woods.

Don't you have a girlfriend? How can you leave her?
Painfully. This trip is the most important thing in my life right now and if I didn't go, for any reason, it would be the worst betrayal of myself possible. I have to go and unfortunately that means that I have to leave certain people behind that I'd rather not, but that's the way life is sometimes. Each step I take will be one more step away from the people I care about and that will be the most difficult thing about this trip.

When are you coming back?
I should arrive back in Sulphur in the fall of 2010, but so much of the trip will be uncertain to even me until it happens, that I can't predict an exact arrival date. I guess I'll be back when I'm back.

Are you going to write about the trip?
I'm going to keep a journal of my travels and occasionally find a way to get online and post an update. Once I return, I will indeed write a book about my walkabout adventure.

What if you die?
Uh, I'll be dead. If I die, either by foolish accident or by malicious intent, it will be easy for the authorities to identify my body and contact my family. My Social Security Number is tattooed on my left hip below the waist line in big, bold print. I won't be a John Doe. If I die and find out about the light at the end of a tunnel or anything else pertaining to the afterlife, I'll be sure to post a blog about it and I'll include a spoiler warning.