In the south we call them knick-nacks or what-nots. Regardless of the name, they are items that serve no functional purpose, and my shelves at work were laden with them. I’ve been on a roll getting rid of items from my life that don’t add value or serve a real purpose. Everything has been potential fodder for the chopping block lately. However, these particular tchotchkes proved somewhat problematic. I had an almost visceral response when contemplating removing these items from my life. Why? Well, because most of them had to do with Rush or Star Trek, two of my most favorite things in the whole world. The rest of the items were pictures of me and my family, items collected from events or special occasions, or art of some sort.
As an experiment, I decided first to box up all the Star Trek tchotchkes. I’ve been without them for two days, and do you know what? I don’t miss them. I’m probably going to sell them on ebay. This experiment paved the way for me to ditch a few more items from my credenza at work.
I scanned the covers of the magazines with Rush on them, I scanned the picture of Theresa and me at the Air Force Ball. I took photos of other sentimental items. After scanning or photographing the items, I got rid of them. Now the framed photos of my family are at the forefront. I have room to open my Rush and Depeche Mode tour books to pages with interesting photos on them. My old friend, Byron’s, sculpture is now in a position where it can be viewed and enjoyed.
Previously, I did the same thing to many of the items adorning the walls of my office. I decided to take it a bit further. I removed most of the framed certificates lauding my many accolades, leaving only the ones that are important to me – my bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, my Associate’s degree from the Community College of the Air Force, and my commissioning certificate from the Air Force. I scanned and discarded the rest.
While removing all these items, I came to a few realizations:
1. I’m still a huge Star Trek fan without the action figures and model ships.
2. Theresa and I still went to the Air Force ball in 2016, even if I got rid of the photo and commemorative glass.
3. The magazines with Rush and Neil Peart on them contained articles I can probably read online, and will like never read again anyway.
4. I still love Rush even without all the Rush stuff.
5. I’m still certified by CompTIA without the physical certificates. In fact, my company couldn’t give less of a crap that I am – they value my experience and contribution to their company.
6. I still ran the half marathon without the medal.
7. I still got ordained as a deacon without the certificate.
8. I still went to boot camp and tech school without the certificates – I’m no less a member of the Air National Guard without them.
In other words, those objects in no way, shape, or form define who I am, but rather, it is the experiences themselves that matter.
As I have stated before, the initial draw to minimalism for me was the aesthetic. Even long before that, as an art student, I enjoyed minimalist artists like Ad Reinhardt. In my current home, I have been able to minimize a few spaces – my kitchen, my dining room, my desk and my nightstand. These spaces are now beautiful/ Pretty much everywhere else in my home is a cluttery pigstye.
I’ve noticed I enjoy hanging out in those places more than ever now. Even though I hate laptops, I’d almost much rather hang out in the dining room on my laptop than the messy bedroom where my desktop is (its okay as long as I don’t look to the other side of the room). There is a certain serenity in a clutter-free space, a space that mirrors and serves almost as a metaphor for living a life with only what is essential.
I do catch myself hovering over these spaces, and being protective over them, catching any stray dishes before one of my family members carelessly leaves it lying about. I know I can’t hold a gun to their heads and force them to live more deliberately (well, I suppose I could… I do have a gun.. but that would be illegal). However, I do hope I can influence them with the way I am attempting to live. I hope they can see the beauty in a space that contains only what is needed.
Since I’ve gained my new-found good health, I’ve been scared to death of losing it, coddling it like a helpless infant. I really do not want to end up where I was last year. If one were to search the internet for health advice, one would find no shortage of advice both diverse and sometimes contradictory. There has been one saying that sticks out in mind that seems to go along with everything I’ve learned the last few months while I was getting healthy. I had to look up who said it before I cited it here. It was a guy named Michael Pollan who said, “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” That seems to be the most sound advice I’ve seen on nutrition.
As I transition off of Optavia’s pre-packaged “fuelings” (nutritionally well-balanced snacks that you eat throughout the day along with a “lean and green” meal of your own making), I try to keep this sound byte on eating at the forefront of my mind. So far, it seems to be working.
So what is “real” food?
To my mind, real food is food that, when you look at it, is immediately recognizable. If it does come in a package, the ingredient list is short, and only contains natural things you’ve heard of – and sugar likely isn’t on the list. What do I mean by recognizable? This is broccoli, that is steak, these are beans, etc. I believe if I eat like that, applying the habits I learned on the program (eating 6 times a day every 2.5-3 hours, eating shortly after waking, sleeping enough), combined with exercise, I should be fine.
Here is an example of a typical day since I have begun my transition to real food:
Breakfast – 1 serving of oatmeal with blueberries, raisins, cinnamon, and raw nuts mixed in, sweetened with monkfruit sweetener.
Fueling 1 – Nonfat plain Greek yogurt with blueberries or strawberries cut up and mixed in
Lunch – Chili made with lean beef, tomatoes, beans
Fueling 2 – Peppers and hummus with small pieces of cheese on a triscuit. Celery and natural peanut butter.
Fueling 3 – Tomatoes with basil pesto and raw almonds.
Dinner – Lean steak with broccoli, zucchini, and asparagus.
The “Fuelings” in my list, are small snacks.
As it turns out, eating real food is satisfying and enjoyable. As long as I can keep in mind that food is fuel, not entertainment (a quote I got from The Minimalists), I should be able to maintain my new-found health indefinitely. My life depends on it!
In terms of my health, I have already been forced to define my “why”. What is my why for wanting to live a simple life? Below will be a rambling bulleted list:
– A long time ago, it was the minimalist aesthetic that attracted me. It loved the simplicity, but that isn’t enough.
– I want my house to be tidy. The perpetual mess we live in drives me crazy. It makes me want to leave.
– I have to realize that I contribute to the mess.
– The mess is often caused because we have so much shit. In our old house there was definitely a lack of places to put it.
– We wouldn’t need a place to put the stuff if we didn’t have it.
– The “why” has to be deeper than this. Something has been calling me in this direction for a long time. What is it?
– As I have learned to let go, I’m starting to get a slight intuitive sense of what is so attractive about it.
– I feel lighter, like there’s nothing in my way.
– I can take joy hanging out in spaces I used to avoid. I love sitting at the dining room table now.
– I have minimized in my home and my office. Both places are so much more inviting now.
– I can focus more easily. I can get things done for people right away.
– I’m tired of being broke.
– I’m always broke because of debt.
– I have debt because I use buying shit as a pacifier.
– I’ve caught myself on Amazon looking for a new thing to lust after just to kill time or quell boredom.
– I want to be healthy.
– I also used to pacify myself with bad food (especially candy, eaten an entire bag at a time), which costs money, which makes me broke.
– I’m healthier now than I ever have been, but I feel like I’m one bad snack away from total relapse.
– Simple living means simple eating. Simple eating = purposeful eating = health.
So, in summation, I want to be a minimalist so I can be free from the tyranny of physical and mental clutter, free from the slavery of being broke, and free from the disease and death of being unhealthy. Otherwise, I’m but a moment away from total ruin if I keep things the way they always have been.
I won the 30 day Minimalist game.
Granted, it was easy because I was playing it alone. In fact, the title of the document where I tracked the items I shed is “Minimalist Game Solitaire.” I had to play alone because the others in my life have a very different mentality than I do regarding stuff. As such, I decided to lead by example. While I’ve received a tiny bit of push back, my wife and kids have been mostly supportive, and I’ve even noticed that the resulting tidying I have been able to do has become perhaps a little infectious.
I have shed more than the prescribed 465 items playing this game. Ninety percent of the stuff was donated to a local charity thrift store called Wings, which supports shelters for women seeking to escape abusive situations.The other 10 percent was actual trash or junk that I’m certain no one would want, so it went in the trash (also I made sure to dispose of military accouterments in a way that someone couldn’t make ill use of them) .
Not once I have I needed any of it since it has been gone, which has served to illuminate the mindless stupidity with which I used to consume things. No more! I will no longer turn to shopping or junk food to quell boredom or anxiety.
Now the vast majority of my things are truly my favorite things. Do I still have some stuff that needs to go? Yes, and now my muscle for letting go is properly built and ready for more. Below is an unedited list of the things I let go of.
Day 1 – Broken Unifi Security Gateway
Day 2 – 2 SNES games, and a bricked iPhone 7
Day 3 – Old video card, Cordless phone base, Old wireless mouse
Day 4 – Messed up DE hat, broken Xbox controller, Old wired mouse, ABU ABM wings
Day 5 – Gray pants, AF boots, Red Dobok, old Guild Wars 2 discs, Blue Patagonia jacket (too big)
Day 6 – Contents of shoe polish box, shoe polish kit, AF sand shirt, General hat, iMac Stand, mismatched bike pedal
Day7 – 7 DVDs and a whole bunch of empty DVD cases.
Day 8 – AF Boots, 3 ties, ribbon belt, crocs chukkas, LL Bean boat shoes, 5.11 Shorts
Day 9 – Gray Shorts, bean boots, brown belt, wal mart shoes, DE puma shirt, Airport express, old hard drive, light switch turner oner, broken xbox controller.
Day 10 – Snare mic clip, old costa case, flood light shroud, bag of old hinges, 4 laser discs, 5.11 shoes
Day 11 – Well more than 11 DVDs, Stars and Stripes Magazine, costa case, several Gideon testaments, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, Arab head dress, arlo camera,
Day 12 – 4 bags of wires, 1 bag of TV parts, blue suit, gray suit, black dobok, sand waffle shirt, blue underarmor sweater, broken light globe, old box of cigars
Day 13 – 3 Tesla Floor Mats, Old bike helmet, in wall tv cable thing, 2 bike tubes, old costa case, Wifi light switch, Three bags of old clothes and stuff totaling well over 13 items, old salsa bowl, Day 14 – Minions backpack, little dog kennel, 3 lunch bags, carbon filter for old microwave, box of old screws, piece to lock, alarm clock, neck pillow, old wore out measuring cup, clothes line wire, flashlight.
Day 15 – 2 Pr Levi’s Jeans, 1 Pr Levi’s Khakis, Charging block, Old iPad cord, Electric shaver, Gray Hoodie, Trivia game, Mic Cord, little cord case, Blue Ethernet Cable, Orange Ext. Cord, Mario Kart 64, Black Ethernet Cable, Right Angle HDMI adapter.
Day 16 – 16 Books from my office
Day 17 – Khaki Shorts, Old Video Card, 15 empty CD cases
Day 18 – New set of bike brakes, Giro d’ Italia bike bottle, orange hat, warm up bands, my black shoes, john’s black shoes, UE Boom Speaker, 4 wii Games, 1 empty Wii game box, Star Trek Game, Rubik’s cube, Magic cards, 2 T-shirts, VV Polo shirt.
Day 19 – Tan Suit, BB Suit, Blue Blazer, 2 Charging blocks, 1 USB C to lightning cord, AF Bear, DR. Who plushie, Puzzle, 2 DVDs, 2 DVD case, 3 CD cases, Airport Express, Dell keyboard (new), corroded flashlight, goblet, HDD caddy.
Day 20 – 2 Amazon Echo Dots, 1 Amazon Echo Spot, charging brick, power inverter, air inflator, green ethernet cable, old ipad cord, phone cord, pee monitor, little first aid kit, measuring cup set, old tub of random screws, cowbell, 10/100 switch, 4 bowls, tie strap, tie
Day 21 – 2 Cycling Jerseys, 2 Cycling Shorts, Khaki Shorts, 4 ABU tops, 3 ABU Pants, ABU belt, 4 Blues Shirts, 2 Blues Pants, Sand Shirt,
Day 22 – 2 Baskets, broken VR thing, broken binoculars, vacuum filter, attachment for a vacuum we don’t have, xbox game, DVD case, DVD, old tablet, vacuum belt, whole food book, 7 mismatched vacuum attachments, bag, fanny pack, baseball glove.
Day 23 – AMD Sunglasses, Kid tunnel, Bike Pump, 2 Gun bags, Gun cleaning kit, old book jacket, Bluetooth speaker, 15 books from my office.
Day 24 – Well more than enough wires – nearly all the wires and adapters from the basket in the closet, my stereo.
Day 25 – Most of my T-Shirts, a bunch of the kids’ old clothes. All totaling over 25 items.
Day 26 – Mostly junk from my truck.. let’s see: 2 charging blocks, a cell phone case, tums (don’t need them anymore), phone cupholder thing, hell.. I don’t remember. It was 26 things.
Day 27 – UAE playing cards, UAE postcards, UAE puzzle, flashlight, 6 DVDs/cases, 6 books, 3 cables, UAE hat, old mic, usaf abu nametape, abu comm badge, another flashlight, single uae postcard, little drone
Day 28 – little mesh bag, Disney pin backs, little chip puller, random black string in a bag, DE hand sanitizer, pile of AoM business cards, eroica journal, phone screen protector, boot blouse, wifi dongle, benedryl, blue ethernet cable, usb splitter thing, Gideon testament, 2 lamps, abu hat, sand shirt, frying pan, pillow case, 4 spatulas, 1 tongs, 1 kitchen shears, 1 cake batter thing, 1 can opener
Day 29 – 2 Knives, wooden spoon, vegetable peeler, Ironing Board Cover. GA blue cup, essential oil diffuser, ladle, big spoon decoration, big fork decoration, Little water fountain, jeep keychain, broken piece of swiss army knife, little tin tea box, another costa case, yet another costa case, arlo charging block, camera case, gravis controller, N64 game, Dell Dock, wii controller, life book, bird plushie, Shoe Shine Kit, Star Trek Book, Nirvana discs, Remote to stereo
Day 30 – 10 books, Asus router, 2 PoE adapters (donate to work), 2 mousepads, wore out belt, old compressor, old nail gun, 11 pieces of kid’s clothing, a bowl, my big metal cup.
I am so scared
5 months ago, I weighed 260 pounds. It hurt to sleep. It hurt to sit for a long time. It hurt to stand for a long time. My knees winced at the prospect of descending the stairs in my new home. Running hurt. Cycling hurt. Taekwondo was embarrassing (at 260 pounds, I was a bit of an immovable object to the bony young people in my class).
What’s worse is being 260 pounds basically took any chance I had of passing my Air Force PT test down to zero. I was about to rack up my fourth failure in two years – a kiss of death for my 17 year career in the Air National Guard. The real tragedy would not have been giving up a commission that I had gone way out of my comfort zone to earn. No, it would have been tragic because I would lose my very affordable medical benefits – benefits that allow me to affordably care for my type 1 diabetic son.
It would have been tragic, but then, a solution presented itself. A Facebook friend from a Rush fan page who posts about being some sort of “health coach” posted a an old picture in his Army greens wearing Captain’s bars on his shoulders. He had been a fat captain like me. I reached out to ask about his photo, hoping he would talk to me again about the program he was peddling. Of course, he did!
In five months, I have, quickly but gently, lost 70 pounds. At month 3, I took my PT test, and scored a 94 – an excellent! The only excellent I have ever gotten on my PT test.
My military career is safe for now, but I am scared. I look freaking awesome, but I am scared. I can fit clothes I’ve not been able to fit for 15 years, but I am scared.
While on this program, I learned what healthy eating looks like. The weight loss portion of the program uses some nutritionally very well-balanced pre-packaged foods to make it easy. The next step is a transition back to eating more regular food, then maintenance. The maintenance is what scares me.
My coach suggests that becoming a coach on the program helps people maintain their new healthy lifestyle by forcing to lead by example. I’m sure it works. I tried it briefly, but it’s not for me. I don’t have the time to be effective at it, and some of the cheerleader/salesman tactics don’t align with my values. I’ll have to find accountability elsewhere.
I don’t want to ever gain that weight back. I want to get even healthier. I must! I must never return to eating like I did before. I must eat real, natural foods by default. I must not ever, ever, ever, ever even take one bite of candy. That would be like a recovering heroin addict shooting up just once for old time’s sake.
One side-effect of my health journey is that some of the strategies they taught on the program have allowed me to be more effective at another journey I have embarked on – minimalism. The more I learn about minimalism, the more I am finding out that healthy eating and movement align perfectly with the message of simple living.
I know how to do this. I’m doing it now. Can I keep doing it? God, I hope so, because the alternative scares the shit out of me.
Our dishwasher sometimes won’t turn on. It’s not even that old. We actually moved it from our old house when we moved last year because we liked the way it looked compared to the perfectly functional one that came with our new place. Even in the old house, it sometimes wouldn’t turn on. We have turn off the breaker to it for an indeterminate amount of time, and hopefully, it will work when we flip the breaker back on. Hopefully.
Recently, the dishwasher was dying mid-cycle. This started me thinking about having to replace it. Of course any old dishwasher won’t do. If we replace it, we need the expensive one that matches our new stove. Or do we?
Maybe we don’t need a dishwasher at all.
When I was reading about Ryan Nicodemus’ 21 day minimalism journey, he mentioned only unpacking the dishes he needed. He noted the dishwasher takes an hour to wash a load, or if he washes his own dishes right away, it takes about five minutes. That got me thinking.
As it turns out I have four dishwashers, and my dishwashers have names – Marcus, Theresa, John, and Jesse.
My dishwasher (the mechanical one) actually takes 3 hours to wash a load. Many times there will be a load washing, and a sink full of dishes waiting to be washed. It will be time to eat and we will have no dishes. Worse, we often live out of the dishwasher rather than put our dishes away. This causes our kitchen to be extremely untidy.
As such, I decided to do an experiment. I implored my family to discontinue use of the dishwasher for the forseeable future, and instead we will wash our vessels and utensils immediately after we use them.
While I was at it, I put away everything except what gets used regularly – microwave, coffee maker, toaster. Everything else had a home in a cabinet somewhere. I also organized the dishes and cookware. Since while were moving, we were also renovating, all the kitchen items that are in the kitchen are ones we actually use. I made sure everything has a place, and I made sure I showed everyone where everything goes.
Thus far, our new method for dealing with dishes has improved things drastically. Granted, I’m not as “busy” as my wife or kids, so I often end up dealing with the dishes. However, dealing with them in small chunks is a hell of a lot easier than dealing with loading and unloading a gigantic load from the dishwasher. Plus, it is supremely gratifying to have a space in my home that is minimal and beautiful!
Recently, I went further into debt buying an iPhone 12 mini. I had an iPhone XR. My justification was so my son could have my XR to replace his iPhone 7, and so I could have something smaller. Some questions:
1. Why the hell did my 13 year old kid need a newer phone?
2. Why the hell did I need a new phone. The one I had was far from being obsolete.
Okay, so really only two questions… This isn’t the first time I’ve done this sort of thing.
I’m going to have to tread a very fine line with technology if I am to be a minimalist. You see, my life-long hobby, my passion, and my profession is implementing and caring for computers and their associated paraphinalia. As such, I have a very difficult time reigning in my inclination toward accumulation of technology. Likewise, I find myself assigning value to things like cables, adapters, and defunct computer parts where there actually exists none.
Considering my passion/profession along with my new-found desire to live a more simple life, I feel like it might be necessary to implement some rules by which to live, specifically regarding technology. Here are some I’ve been pondering:
1. At work, I make my users keep computers for at least 7 years. I must do the same in my personal life. Likewise;
2. I must keep and use my computer until it falls off the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) for the latest operating system (OS).
3. I must not upgrade my phone until it falls off the HCL for the latest OS.
4. I must not keep cables and adapters for things I do not have anymore.
5. I must not keep mounts and screws for hardware if they don’t apply to my situation.
6. I must minimize obsolete hardware (like old video cards and such).
7. I must only keep enough cables/adapters/chargers for the things I actually have and use.
8. I must not own two of anything (like two PCs, etc.).
9. Any adapter or cable can be replaced at nearly a moment’s notice.
10. I don’t need stereos or speakers because I use Homepods.
11. I don’t need a tablet. I have a PC and a phone.
Lastly, I need to treat technology as it was intended to be – a tool. A thing to be used, and not a thing which uses me.
For more than 10 years now, I have felt a strong desire to become a minimalist, a desire I have revisited again and again to little or no avail. However, I hailed from the false presumption that Minimalism was simply about getting rid of a bunch of stuff in an effort to be less cluttered. Recently, I decided to indoctrinate myself to minimalism by consuming vast amounts of material from the guys over at theminimalists.com. In doing so, I have discovered what minimalism is actually about, and it is so much more desirable than just a tidy living space.
As it turns out, The Minimalists’ teachings have a few things in common with a health program I’ve been on called “The Habits of Health.” On this program I have lost 70 pounds in less than 5 months. In both cases, I’ve learned that in order to be successful in any endeavor, I need to define my “why.” Why am I doing this? Why am I here? What brought me to this point? Where my health is concerned, my weight was getting dangerously close to ending a 17 year military career in the Air National Guard – a career that I have worked very hard for, and which provides my family with benefits we absolutely need. That was my “why” for improving my health.
Through listening to The Minimalists podcast, I got to hear what led these two guys, Josh and Ryan, to their current simple, intentional life. I got to hear their “why.” Doing so led me to ponder why I might want to live life with less and what path might lead me there.
As a catalyst to spark my transition to this new way of life, and to help me define why I want to live more simply, I decided to play the 30 Day Minimalism Game.
The game is simple, you get rid of one thing on day one, two things on day two, three things on day three, and so on. By the end of the game you will have gotten rid of 465 items. You’re supposed to play with someone, but I don’t know anyone who would be willing. I’m on day 24, which means I’ve gotten rid of 300 items (actually more because there have been a few times I got rid of a ton of literal junk while looking for items to donate). As an exercise in highlighting the superfluous nature of the items I was clinging to, I have been keeping a list, which I’ll post here when I’m finished with the game.
One thing I’ve noticed while playing the #minsgame is how much stupid, pointless shit I’ve bought. I remember being excited to get all of it, but that excitement was fleeting. Soon the stuff became a burden, taking up space in my home and in my mind. I’d find myself lamenting not getting around to using all of it. What I lament even more is now looking at the massive amount of debt I’ve accumulated buying some of this stuff.
Another thing that has been illuminating during this process is how I’ve started to develop a keen sense for what really adds value to my life. As I approach axing 300 items from my life, the things that remain are all my favorite things. They’re the things I use all the time. They’re the things which allow me to pursue my passions.
As I remove the excess items from my life, I’ve also developed a strong facility for letting go. Just a moment ago, a co-worker mentioned needing to return a Macbook I let her borrow (one of my personal ones) when she was out with COVID. I said, “do you want it? What do I need with a fourth computer? If you like it, it’s yours.” She seemed pretty stoked. This muscle for letting go which I have been developing has caused me to effortlessly let go of tons of unneeded stuff I’ve been hanging onto for years.
By far, the biggest lesson I am learning is that minimalism is about living more intentionally, which as it turns out, is so much better than simply tidying up! It is my hope to use my blog to lay bare my thoughts during this journey in hopes that they may aid someone else on theirs.
Longing to put more than 8-10 miles on one of my Bicycles, I set my alarm to wake me at 5:00 AM on this particular Saturday, as I often do. My intent was to ride to our Gideons prayer breakfast that we hold every Saturday. Yet, as I stumbled about the house for a few moments attempting to get my wits about me, I succumbed to siren call of my bed, still warm from where I too recently had lain. If I had to describe my life, I’d use an expression I heard my boss use once to describe the work of debris crews on a natural disaster job – I go from can to can’t, as does my entire family (wife and kids). These days, especially since returning from deployment, this way of living has nearly destroyed my capacity to get up, especially if I’m not obligated to do so. I digress. A few hours later, as I set about my normal Saturday morning tasks – coffee, breakfast, laundry, etc., I found the desire to ride still hadn’t left me. After all, I want to do a big cycling event soon, so I’ll need to get in some miles. First things first though: I brought in my bass drum pedal and throne which had been sitting in my truck for over a week so I could work up drum parts for two songs that my band mates in Axiom of Maria had asked me to learn, “Grey” and “REM”. After a decent familiarization with the songs, it was time to ride.
I walked into my son, John’s room, and asked if he wanted to go for a bike ride. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to tear him from his latest task of creating a functioning Star Trek ship in Minecraft. To my surprise, he said yes! I loaded his bike on the bike rack that seems to be, these days, permanently attached to the back of my truck. Next came the question of which of my four road bikes I was going to bring along. There was my 2016 Bianchi, which would put me on par or better with John’s 2013 Specialized Allez, but I also wanted to ride one of my vintage bikes. I had not long ago finished building, from the ground up, my 1982 Peugeot P8, which I wouldn’t have minded riding. However, what I really wanted to ride was my recently purchased, new-old-stock, new-in box, 1986 Bianchi Squadra. I was torn. I asked John his opinion. He wanted to see me on that 1986 pink Bianchi. I left it in my office so I would have to go get it. After a shower, and again to my surprise, I found John in his cycling kit, ready to go. Though, in his small, yet still adult bib shorts and jersey, given to him by a friend at work, he looked like a caricature of a kid wearing his daddy’s clothes. I helped him find his cycling shorts (the ones that actually fit him), and off we went.
First, it was to be a quick stop off at the office to get the Electric-Rose Bianchi, then to Epley Station on the Long Leaf Trace. We would then ride from Epley (near Sumrall) to Hattiesburg, eat in Hattiesburg, then ride back. Those plans quickly began to change upon discovering that John had left his water bottles at the house while digging for cycling socks in my clothes basket. I decided that since John mentioned wanting to get Specialized branded bottles to go with his bike, much in the same way that I have Bianchi bottles, we would go to the Specialized dealer in Hattiesburg. Jed’s Perfect Endurace Bikes happens to be closer to our destination than Moore’s, with whom I usually do business, so that worked out. While we were there, I decided to let John pick out a new jersey that would fit better. As he was perusing the jerseys, the conversation between the lady working at the store (presumably the owner’s wife) and myself turned to involving John in bike racing. I remarked that John would probably rather play Minecraft. She seemed genuinely stoked to see a kid into cycling. We also learned the correct pronunciation of John’s bike model – Allez (pronounced “Allay”, all Frenchy like). I paid for our purchases then we stopped by the gas station and grabbed water and Gatorade. Next, it was off to the trace.
Somewhere either before the Bike shop or after the gas station, the sky started making ugly noises, and intermittently began dropping clear liquid. I was hoping the atmospheric calamity was moving toward the west, and away from us. It was still hot and sunny when we reached the trace. I unloaded the bikes and aired up Johns tires while he filled his bottles. After getting our gear situated, we started our journey. Right out of the gate, John surpassed me as I struggled to slip my ultra-modern Bontrager cycling shoes into the shiny chrome toe clips, held down with their red leather straps. I finally got clipped in, and was off! The heat of the day quickly subsided as the cool wind generated my our speed rushed past us (or as we rushed past it). So far, so good. The only real issue I had to deal with was coaxing John into riding a little faster – a fairly consistent issue when road-riding with kids. At first, there were many reasons to stop along the way – I need to raise my seatpost. John needed to drink or scratch. I needed to adjust my toe clip straps. As a result, the first few miles were slow-going, something which I find to be somewhat unbearable. After all, while cycling is fun, and it is my hobby, it is also my primary means of exercise. I needed a workout. I was finally able to make some headway by asking John to stay slightly ahead of me.
The tires on our two-wheelers whirred as we ran through the freshly deposited water on the trace. I was glad, for it seems we had just missed the rain. We attempted to stop at the restrooms that are situated along the trace, but to our chagrin, they are all apparently closed for construction. I was relived to see that they all have new doors. You see, one of those bathroom doors nearly took my finger off right before an event in Sumrall last year. Perhaps these new doors will be less dangerous. We passed Jackson Road, then, as we neared Hattiesburg, the sky began to grow forbodingly dark, and once again came the aforementioned ugly noises. We could no longer avoid it. It was as though someone in the heavens decided to un-plug the drain on an unimaginably large bath tub. We were drenched. The only reason I was still able to see was because I was wearing my sunglasses. I had to change my breathing so as to not get water up my nose. Occasionally a build-up of water, presumably from behind the bill of my vintage-styled Bianchi cycling cap would trickle down my face and behind my sunglasses. I’d try to remove my sunglasses, briefly, but the rain was too heavy. I pressed my sunglasses tight against my face, which did nothing to stop the salt deposits from where I had previously sweated being washed down my face and into my eyes, stinging them. Up ahead in the distance, I could still see John, despite the very heavy rain. He was performing admirably. I half expected him to stop and seek shelter. We were wet now, no use trying to fix it. We soldiered on.
With each road crossing, I’d offer John words of encouragement, “just a bit farther, and there’s a tunnel that we can get under”. Eventually, we sought refuge for a few moments in the tunnel under the junction of 4th and 7th streets. A couple of pedestrians walked under the tunnel, apparently for the same reason. There were a surprising number of runners and cyclists on the trace considering the weather. John and I took the opportunity to take photos and selfies. He seemed to be enjoying himself! The weather showed no signs of dissipating, so we both decided to continue onward for the USM gateway to the trace, which was only a mile or so ahead. Through the driving rain, we finally made it to the gateway, and thus the pavilions there. We stopped for another break. My idea from the beginning was to eat at Glory Bound – a Gyro place in Hattiesburg. Were it not for the buildings in the way, the restaurant would have been in sight at this point, but now that we were soaked to the bone, I wasn’t sure how we would fare in an eatery. We took yet another opportunity to take some photos together, and after the rain slowed a bit, we proceeded down the new extension on the trace, then to the side streets that would lead us to where we were going to dine.
As we approached Glory Bound, we found the front of the building woefully lacking in places to chain up a bike. In front of the doors was a small covered area, only large enough to accommodate a few people, held up by two columns that were far too large to wrap locking cables around. However, I recalled seeing around back a ramp and a wooden patio with railings and supports which would be adequate to secure our bikes. I was worried about leaving them in the rain, but then I realized how silly that was considering we’d just been rained on for nearly an hour. Plus, we probably weren’t finished being rained on if we planned on riding back to Sumrall. We turned off our bike lights, chained up our bikes, then proceeded around to the front to enter the restaurant. When we entered, I inquired of the hostess as to whether being completely soaked was going to be a problem. She assured us it wasn’t, then showed us to our table.
It was cool in the restaurant, as one would expect it to be in the middle of the summer in South Mississippi. What self respecting establishment wouldn’t have ice cold A/C blasting? My fat kept me from getting too cold. John, on the other hand, complained of being freezing. I suggested that perhaps he shouldn’t have sucked down his cold lemonade so fast, then told him that he might be able to dry his jersey in the bathroom if they had a hand dryer. He tried to no avail as they didn’t have one. We both ordered regular Gyros, and an appetizer of Mediterranean olive hummus. The first bite of hummus was awful – something I would have never noticed had I not just spent six months on the Middle East. Over there, hummus is smooth, creamy, and rich. Here, it is gritty and bland. I shall have to remember not to order hummus at American restaurants again. The Gyros were quite good though! The food brought back some of our warmth. Typical of restaurants in Mississippi (and probably the US as a whole), every TV in the house was showing a sport of some kind. John seemed intrigued by the fighting taking place on the TV behind me. He said that the women fighters were hitting each other like cats. I texted Theresa to let her know what was going on. I ran through my list of people that I know in Hattiesburg who might be willing to come get us. Ultimately, we decided to just ride back. After all, this was our heroic ride. We finished our food, then set about once again on our task of riding against the water falling from the sky.
The way back needed none of the coaxing that the initial part of our trip did. John seemed almost invigorated by the rain, as did I. As we conversed along the way, John remarked that despite being completely soaked, this was the best bike ride we’d ever been on. Since all the riders, walkers, and runners had gotten mother nature’s hint and gone home like sensible people, John and I had the trace to ourselves. We each took a lane, I, staying slightly behind John. He was riding in his big ring, and I in the small one. Gearing on those old bikes was significantly different than that of today’s bicycles – I swear my small ring is the size of the big ring on some modern bikes. We kept pace with one another nicely, though occasionally, I had to loudly warn John that his bike was in serious danger of veering into mine. At one point, I looked at John, plowing through the rain in the moments he was able to keep his bike steady, and I thought to myself, “man, John looks freakin’ pro up there.” I managed to pull my phone out and take a picture of him riding.
24 miles and a couple of gyros later, we found ourselves back at Epley station – glad of the epic ride we just had, but ready to be done. We took turns photographing each other doing victory poses with our bike. John gave his attempt to lift his bike over his head, but only made it half way. As I dealt with the logistics of strapping both bikes to the rack without them touching each other, John remarked once again about this being the best bike ride ever. We got into the truck, then drove to the nearest Wendy’s for a frosty, which I had promised earlier. For that is what motivated John to keep riding 🙂