Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ceci N'est Pas un Pipe

Boston, MA

Sitting at Starbucks last night, waiting (and hoping) to hear back from someone who could find a place for me to stay, it felt like I had failed. I hadn't been able to find a place to stay in Boston, and I was going to have to find a hostel, a hotel, or camp out. And I was so averse to doing any of those, that I sat at Starbucks until they closed, hoping someone would get back to me.

Two hours later, I was sitting in my tent at a state park outside Boston, wondering why it had seemed so bad.

I've posted a few times before about how things have changed as the trip has progressed. My daily plans, sleeping schedule, riding schedule, and a number of other things have evolved through different phases of the trip. Most notably recently, my expectations have changed.

When I was sitting in the tent last night, I was trying to figure out why I had been so opposed to just finding a place to camp. At the beginning of the trip, I had a similar feeling when I was in Fargo - though it was opposition to getting a hotel that was stopping me, not opposition to camping. I was fully ready to camp except for the fact that I had wet clothes and it was still raining, which would make setting up the tent a pain. I drove around for a few hours, went inside a restaurant until it closed, and basically did anything to delay finding a hotel room. All I wanted to do was camp, but with the rain stopping me, I was doing whatever I could to avoid a hotel.

I had a similar feeling last night, of trying to put off what I knew would probably happen anyway. I searched for hostels, but didn't call any of them because I figured they'd be booked up (or it would be too late to stay there even if they weren't). I didn't even search for campsites until I was sitting on the curb outside Starbucks, having been kicked out. I probably sat there for half an hour trying to figure out what I was going to do, even though I knew I'd either go to the hostels and try to stay, or find a campsite.

I have, for most of the trip, been trying to avoid camping when near big cities, because it's a hassle. It means riding outside the city to camp and then back into the city in the morning, but that's not that huge of a hassle. In fact, it's less of a damper on my schedule than my tendency to sleep in. (Today I woke up at 7, and then slept in until I finally packed up the tent around 11 before going to shower and then heading into town.) It was less than a 40 minute drive to get there, not a problem at all, so that wasn't what was stopping me.

I hadn't camped since I was in Oklahoma, so that was part of my aversion to it. It had rained overnight when I stayed there, and I wasn't sure that my tent was completely dry when I put it away. So I was slightly concerned that it would be covered in mold, and I was trying to put off dealing with that as long as possible (because that's obviously going to make it easier to deal with...), and that contributed somewhat to my aversion to camping. I didn't really want to get out to a campsite on a pitch black night and pull out my tent, only to find that I couldn't go right to sleep, but rather had to spend some time cleaning it before I could do anything.

But after I found a campsite, drove out there, and set up the tent, I pulled out my pipe and smoked it under the stars at the campsite. And that was when I realized what it was that had changed - what it was that had made me go from just wanting to camp more than anything, to trying to avoid camping. Sitting outside, smoking my pipe alone, I figured it out.

That was only the third time I've smoked my pipe alone on this trip. I bought it in San Diego and tried it out while sitting outside the store, and did it one other time while sitting on the side of the road in Arizona. Every other time I've used the pipe on this trip, it's been with someone else - either someone who had their own pipe, or someone who hadn't ever tried a pipe but wanted to, or someone who was a cigarette smoker so I joined them outside with my pipe. Las Cruces, Austin, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, Knoxville, Louisville, Arlington, New York - in every one of those places, I got my pipe out and enjoyed it with other people. And now, for one of the first times since I bought it, I didn't have someone to enjoy it with.

Water and pipe break in Arizona
It was people. That was the difference. When I started this trip, I was couchsurfing because I needed a place to sleep. Camping and couchsurfing served basically the same purpose for me, and I put them on about equal ground. Staying with friends was a little different, because I was usually seeing people I otherwise don't get to see very often. But as the trip has gone on, couchsurfing has changed for me - especially since the point where I bought the pipe.

Couchsurfing has become a way for me to meet people. To connect with someone. To share stories, to talk about things we both enjoy talking about, and to build what connection we can in the 12 hours or less that we have together. To connect with the city I'm in on a personal level, rather than just through the monuments and buildings and tourist activities.

And that's what the pipe has started to symbolize for me - I really don't do it for the smoking itself. On my own, I do it because I enjoy the ritual - packing the tobacco, lighting it, taking a few pulls to get it going, packing it back down since the heat causes it to expand, re-lighting it, puffing to get it started and then taking a drag. The whole process is enjoyable. I smoke hookah for the same reason - it has its own little rituals.

But just like with the hookah, I pretty much never smoke a pipe unless I'm with other people who are interested in smoking it. And the pipe has been just one of the ways I connect with people in cities. The guy in Austin who had his own pipe sitting on the table, the guy in Memphis who went with Mark and I to the tobacco store to try out their blends and pick one, the long-lost high school friend in Arlington who hadn't ever tried it and wanted to see what it was like, the girl in Knoxville who wanted to try it out because she liked the way the tobacco smelled - in each case, the pipe played a role in the connection I made with the person.

In smoking the pipe alone, I realized how much those connections have meant to me, and how disappointing it was to not be able to make a new one. The reason I didn't want to camp is because I don't meet anyone when I camp - even if I do, it's a 10 minute conversation with the people in the site next to me, not a lasting connection. And that, to me, is what this trip has become - it's about making lasting connections with people.

I may not see some of these people for months or even years, but if they ever come out to where I am, or if I travel again and stay with them, or if we both end up in the same place travelling, that connection will still be there. We will be able to pick up just like friends, and carry on with our conversations and talk about our travels. And maybe we'll even smoke a pipe together.

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