50 Days

50 days from today, at 7:45 in the morning, I will be flying out of the Tr-Cities Airport, bound for Dallas, then Seoul, then Cebu, and finally on to Iloilo.

50 Days.

I bought the tickets for my flights almost 3 months ago, so at the time it felt like I had forever to get ready. But now, all of a sudden, I find myself only 50 days out. That’s next month. Next month, I’m leaving the country.

I have got a lot done. I’ve been steadily busy selling things. I’ve sold the motorcycle. I’ve sold my beautiful Cannondale bicycle. That one hurt, but there is no practical and cost-effective way to ship an e-bike overseas. It can’t go by air because of the battery.

I sold the RV. That was a big one. The RV market has flipped since I bought it last year, and it is now a buyer’s market. But I sold it last week to a guy who drove down from Connecticut to get it. That’s a big source of anxiety off my plate, and a very big check mark on my to-do list.

And, of course, I’ve sold dozens of other, smaller things. I’m mostly down to things which, if I don’t find buyers and it’s close to time to leave, I can just give them away and feel fine about it.

The next logistical headache is how to empty out the apartment before I leave, but also have it livable until then. I’ve got some furniture, and all the kitchen stuff, which I’ll need until the end. I’ve got to cook and eat and sleep and sit down somewhere. I think I am going to try to find someone in need of setting up an apartment, and if they have a way to come get everything a couple of days before my flight out, I’ll just give it all to them.

And I’ve got to sell the truck, but I think I am going to sell it to the local Ford dealer, and arrange the date for the day before I leave.

That will leave me with a couple of nights in a hotel, and some Uber rides around town and finally to the airport.

BTW while I’m finishing up writing this, I’m listening to Peter, Paul and Mary sing Leaving On A Jet Plane. Fitting!

It’s All About The Pizza

Have I complained on this blog about the sorry state of pizza in most of the United States? Maybe not. But it is a sorry mess. Having grown up in Connecticut, halfway between New York and Boston, and 20 minutes from Wooster Street in New Haven, I thought everybody had access to great pizza.

Boy, was I wrong! After spending 5 years wandering all over the country, I can report that most Americans have absolutely no idea what good pizza is. And having lived here in Johnson City for over a year now, I can attest that that holds true here as well. There is a local place that claims they have “New York style pizza,” but judging by the product they turn out, nobody who works there has ever been to New York.

But… there is hope! I have found a place outside of the Northeast where there is genuinely good pizza. And you’ll never guess where it is. In Iloilo City, in the Province of Iloilo, on the island of Panay, in the Western Visayas Region of the Philippines, is Giuseppe Pizzeria and Sicilian Roast. And they have phenomenal pizza!

So I’m moving to Iloilo City.

Am I really moving? Yes. Am I really moving just for the pizza? No, of course not. But it’s a nice bonus!

Do you remember why I call this blog Monkeywrench Your Life? If not, you can read the reason why here. And I’m going to do it again. I’m selling the RV. I’m selling the motorcycle. I’m selling the bicycle, the truck, all the camping and hiking gear. I’m selling everything but what I can fit into my two suitcases, and I’m getting on an airplane and moving to the other side of the world. Because, why not?

Change is scary. It scares the bejeezus out of me. It makes me uncomfortable. And I mitigate that as best I can by researching and planning meticulously. But ultimately it makes life exciting. It keeps me engaged. I know there are going to be times when I will wish I had never done this. But Iloilo is a beautiful city, and the people are amazingly friendly. People talk to me when I walk down the street, and those who know me know that I don’t really have a warm and welcoming face by default. A Filipina told me “yes, they all look at you because to them you are an alien.” Well heck, I’ve felt like an alien my entire life! I’m made for this role.

So yeah, there will be lots to write about and share as this latest adventure unfolds. For now, I’ve got another 3 months to dispossess myself of all my things and get ready to fly out of here at the end of October.

This is where I will be living my first month in Iloilo City

What? I’m Different?!

Yeah, this is not news. I’ve always known I’m different. Sometimes to the point of feeling like an alien from another planet. And I suspect many of you have thought there’s something different, or odd, or whatever, about me.

He’s shy. Awkward. Quiet. Clumsy. He’s a loner. Doesn’t like people. He’s weird!

I’ve heard these things said about me. I’ve thought these things about myself. And more. So much more.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. Of all the people in my life; two parents, two brothers, two ex-wives, several girlfriends, a daughter, a passel of in-laws and nieces and nephews, friends, co-workers, etc., etc. Out of all those people, I can’t tell you what color eyes any one of you has. I never look at people’s eyes. I pretend to look at people’s eyes. I look at that general area of your face, and I sort of un-focus my eyes so I don’t have to actually look at your eyes.

I’m 64 years old now (brief aside: holy crap! How did that happen so fast?), so I’ve had a pretty long time to try to figure myself out. I’ve thought I’m shy, I’m an introvert. But I knew it was more than that. Then I researched Social Anxiety, but that still didn’t fit right.

About 5 years ago my doctor asked me if I’d ever been assessed for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Actually, whether he said Autism Spectrum Disorder, or Autism, or ASD, is completely lost to memory. His question rather took me by surprise. I told him I hadn’t, and he said I might want to do so. I told him I didn’t see the point. Even if I were autistic, what would be the point of getting tested? I’m not in school and didn’t need any kind of special accommodation. What difference would having a diagnosis make? And, of course, it’s an expense I didn’t need.

But that did set me off on a course of research and self-education. I read a lot about Autism. Then I discovered that various screening tests are available on-line, and of course I took all of them. Then I went to the source, and read the DSM-5 criteria for ASD. And the more I read and thought, the more it all fit. It just made sense. It explained so much of my life experience.

But thinking I’m autistic and knowing I’m autistic aren’t the same thing. I know there are many people who have never been officially diagnosed and feel confident saying they are autistic, and considering the difficulty and expense of getting an assessment, especially as an adult, I would never question them. But for myself, I came to think that I needed that official affirmation, that what I had come to believe about myself is indeed the truth. So I limbered up my credit card and paid for an assessment with a psychologist who specializes in adult Autism. And to my great relief, but not surprise, he confirmed that I am Autistic.

Up to this point I’ve only told a few people. And I’ve gotten a surprising range of reactions. I remember one person replying, “Oh no, you’re not autistic!”

On the other hand, when I was first coming to this conclusion about myself I mentioned it to Aoife, and she said “Oh, I’ve always assumed you were autistic and just didn’t like to talk about it.”

Interestingly, Aoife is the person with whom I have masked the least. She once asked “You don’t mask with me, do you?” And all I could say was that I don’t think so, but masking is such a default state that I couldn’t really say.

Masking is all the myriad things Autistic people do to try to fit in to the world. Things like pretending to make eye contact, and very deliberately trying to have the appropriate expression on my face to indicate that I am listening and interested in what you are saying, rather than my default blank expression. Not rocking back and forth while we talk. And a million other things.

When I was first thinking about writing this blog post, I logged onto a Facebook group for older Autistic adults which I belong to, and asked whether I should. Not one person said yes. In fact, they made very good arguments for not doing so. And I agreed with many of those arguments. I even said I didn’t think I was going to write the blog post after all.

And yet here I am, writing it. I do seem to like to go all in! I’ve decided that I want to unmask as much as possible, and see what life is like when I’m more my genuine self. I probably can’t totally unmask. Human society demands certain conventions in the way we interact. And maybe, just maybe, if you know I’m autistic, you won’t think I’m dumb when I don’t understand your jokes, or when I have to ask what “level up” means, because I process language very literally.

So here it is. I’m all out there. I’m Autistic. I know it, and now you know it. Nothing has changed; I’m still the same person. Yet everything has changed, because now I know. Whatever you do, please don’t feel sorry for me. This is great news! Learning about this is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I am well aware that I haven’t tried to explain what Autism is. What I’ve written here is about me figuring it out and a bit of what that feels like. I spent several years learning about it, but I certainly don’t expect you to do that! But if you are willing to devote 15 minutes and 31 seconds of your life, here’s a YouTube video that gives a pretty good overview.

Manila Airport

I recently returned from a trip to Iloilo City in the Philippines. I know there are people in the world who get to choose their travel itinerary based on convenience while ignoring cost. I’m not one of those people. I chose my travel itinerary based on which tickets were cheapest. That being so, our itinerary consisted of a 10 hour flight from Boston to Istanbul (Boston because a girlfriend from Boston traveled with me), a 10 1/2 hour layover in Istanbul, a 12 hour flight from there to Manila, an 18 hour layover in Manila, then a 1 hour flight to Iloilo City. If you add that all up, that’s 50-something hours.

I had heard horror stories of Manila Airport. Basically, it’s an old, not well organized airport that is operating far above its designed capacity. There are 4 terminals, none of which are connected to any of the others. International flights operate into and out of Terminal 3. Philippine Airlines operates flights between Manila and Iloilo from Terminal 2.

On the way out we had that 18-hour overnight layover. Since we arrived in Terminal 3, it was super easy to collect our bags, head up to level 3 of the terminal, and follow the signs to Runway Manila, which is an enclosed pedestrian walkway over the highway that deposits you in the Newport area, which is a district of hotels, restaurants, and shopping. And right as you exit the elevator on the city side of the pedestrian bridge is the Belmont Hotel, where we had a reservation for the night.

The next day, however, we had to fly out of Terminal 2. That being so, I asked the concierge whether taking a taxi was the best way to get there. He said “Yes, but they will rip you off. I can order a Grab for you.”

Grab is the Philippine version of Uber. You can get rides, have food delivered, etc. If I remember correctly, the 20-minute Grab ride to Terminal 2 cost something like 270 PHP, or less than $5 USD.

The route from Belmont Hotel to Terminal 2

We were at the airport plenty early. The lines were long, and the gates were pretty chaotic, including a last-minute gate change, but we had plenty of time to deal with it all. Our flight to Iloilo was delayed, but that was our final destination so we had no connection issues to worry about.

On the way back, it was quite a different story.

We had booked an early afternoon flight from Iloilo to Manila, then a 5+ hour layover in Manila before our flight to Istanbul. That 5 hours should have been plenty of time to get from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3, check in, go through Immigration, go through security, and get to our gate.

Iloilo Airport was so quiet and peaceful

Unfortunately, Philippine Airlines being Philippine Airlines, at the time we were supposed to be taking off from Iloilo, our plane was still in Manila. The end result is that we were over 2 hours late arriving in Manila. Then we had to wait an insanely long time for our checked bags to come out. By now, we knew we were in trouble.

My plan had been to order a Grab to take us to Terminal 3, but now our priority had become finding the fastest possible way to get there. That being so, we asked one of the airport personnel where we could get a taxi. He pointed to the door and said “Bay 11”.

As you approach a taxi stand, you’ll be approached by people offering you rides. We told the woman who approached us that we needed to get to Terminal 3, and we were very late. When asked how much, she answered “1150”. Now, we knew this ride should be about 400 pesos. Her explanation was that it was 700 for the ride, and 450 for the toll for the flyway to Terminal 3.

Okay, we knew we were being taken advantage of. But at the end of the day, 1150PHP is about $20USD. Let’s just get going. And our driver did get us there fast. He used the tollway. As we approached the departure area there was a long line of taxis and people trying to enter the terminal, and he said he would drop us at Arrivals and tell us how to get up to Departures. Sure enough, he pulled up to the curb, pointed out which door we should enter through, and pointed out the escalator inside that would take us up to Departures. Off we went.

Because of the way we entered, we came into the check-in area on the opposite side from most traffic. We spotted the Turkish Airways desks, saw the long check-in line, sighed, and got in line. Ha! Naive us. We were immediately approached by a man from Turkish Airways who pointed to his colleague down the way and told us to go see her to get in line. We did that, and the woman proceeded to point to a long line snaking half the length of the terminal, and told us we had to go to the back of this line. So, basically, there was a line to get to the actual check-in line. Sigh…

The line to get to the check-in line
Finally, the actual check-in line!

We did as we were told, and after an interminable length of time we were finally checked in. Then we had to find the Immigration line, which wasn’t all that easy. Things are not signed well in the Manila Airport. Once you get there, there is a big sign, but there aren’t many signs pointing out the way there. But we got there, and thank goodness we were flying on foreign passports. The line for Philippine passport holders was incredible. We probably only waited 10 or 15 minutes, but it felt like forever, as our plane had started boarding while we were still back checking in.

Finally through Immigration, now we were off to security. Another line. More watching time whizz by at lightning speed. Through security, and off on a dash to our gate. Duck under the rope with the sign saying Final Boarding, present our passports and boarding passes, and finally, we are on the plane!

I hope I never get to repeat that experience.

Adventurous Plans

I’ve been here at Big Bend for a bit over two months now, and have been enjoying my time. I’ve really gotten into some of the human history, and have moseyed around finding some of the sites. I’ve explored Robber’s Roost, some of the ruins and the cemetery at Glenn Springs, the same at La Noria, and I’ve revisited old San Vicente, TX. I’ve also trekked out to the ruins of Camp Neville Spring, which was manned by Black Seminole Buffalo Soldiers back in the 1890’s.

I’ve got a few weeks left here, but my mental attention has turned to what’s next. My last day working is scheduled to be April 29. I’ve got to turn in the park equipment and uniforms I have on the 30th, then I’ll be off on the trip back to Tennessee on May 1, hopefully arriving back in Johnson City on the 4th.

I won’t be there long, though. I have an appointment with my doctor on the 8th, then on the 10th I’ll fly up to Boston and stay at Jihad’s apartment in the Back Bay for a few days. It’ll be fun being back in Boston, and I’m looking forward to some good big city restaurants, which I’ve missed terribly since I left there back in 2017. We’ll also get to see some other folks I know in Boston, so I’m expecting a fun few days. Then come the 13th, we’ll be off to the Philippines via Istanbul, for two weeks exploring Iloilo City and the surrounding area.

And finally, once we’re back in Boston and I’ve flown back down to Tennessee, I’ll have a couple of weeks to get myself, the motorcycle, and my gear all ready to tackle the Mid-Atlantic BDR with my brother Dana in June.

Phew! I’m excited about it all. Stay tuned!

It’s 2023 Already?

Okay, this’ll be a short one. It’s 2023 already, what the heck happened to 2022? A lot happened in 2022. At the same time, not much happened in 2022.

I tried to settle down here in northeast Tennessee. I rented an apartment. I bought some furniture. I traded in the AdventureMobile on a travel trailer. I tried to hike with the local hiking club, but didn’t really click with them. I took some short trips with the new trailer.

And it doesn’t work for me. Settling down; ugh.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be hooking up the trailer and making my way to West Texas, where I’ll be doing volunteer backcountry patrol at Big Bend National Park again, from February through April. That will put me back in Tennessee in early May. Come June, my brother Dana and I will be taking a motorcycle trip on the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route.

I have some nascent plans for after that, and if they work out the way I hope they will, I’ll be throwing a monkey wrench into my life once again, and starting over. Starting over is exciting. And scary. Stay tuned.

Beauty Spot & Unaka Mountain

Now that I am finally here in the mountains of northeast Tennessee, I’ve been dying to get out on the trail. Not just a trail, the trail, the Appalachian Trail. So today I drove up to Beauty Spot and hiked the AT up to the summit of Unaka Mountain and back.

The last time I was here was on my thru-hike back in 2009. I was 13 years younger then, about 25 pounds lighter, and I had hiked 350 miles from Springer Mountain to get here. All that is my long-winded way to say, holy hell, these hills are getting steeper! To top it off, last week I kicked a piece of furniture in my bare feet and smashed one of my toes really well. In fact, I’m pretty sure I broke it. This is the first time since that I’ve walked more than a mile or so, and tonight it’s really throbbing, but I don’t care, it was worth it.

It was lovely being out on the trail. To my surprise, I saw very few other people. I met one woman coming down Unaka Mtn while I was going up, and not another soul until the last mile of so hiking back to Beauty Spot, when I passed a pretty steady stream of day hikers and weekend backpackers, all heading the other way.

The view from Beauty Spot
That’s Unaka Mountain in the background, where I’m headed
Rhododendron Tunnel
The top of Unaka Mountain is a dark, heavily shaded place
The last bit of snow

Coming Home

A quick update. I finally got a move-in date for my apartment in Johnson City. I was hoping for early April, but it won’t be available until May 11. That’s disappointing, but nothing to be done about it.

Right now I am in Louisiana, literally on the banks of the Mississippi with Natchez just across the river. I’ve decided that apartment or not, I’m moving to northeast Tennessee, so I spent several days contacting campgrounds and RV parks in the area, and finally found a place with a vacancy and a reasonable rate, so I’ll be in Erwin, Tennessee come April 1. Erwin is only about a half hour drive from Johnson City.

New Year, New Life?

In my last post, back in September, I talked about my yearning to settle down. As it turns out, that wasn’t just idle talk.  I’ve slowly come to realize my discontent with nomadic life comes from a pretty deep-seated loneliness. As a deeply introverted person, it takes me a very long time to make friends. The constant moving doesn’t allow for that. I think if I had a partner to travel with I would feel very differently about the nomad life, and would probably not give it up until I couldn’t see to drive anymore.

I’ve spent a lot of time since that last post researching options in my chosen area. I was really attracted to western North Carolina, but when push came to shove, rents there just proved too expensive for my modest income.

So I moved my search across the mountains to eastern Tennessee. As of a couple of days ago, I’ve committed to a small apartment, with a big garage for my motorcycle and my bicycle and all my outdoor gear, in Johnson City. It should be available for me to move in around April. There is tons of hiking in the area, and I’ll only be a half hour drive from the Appalachian Trail.

As always, big changes are both scary and exciting. My biggest fear is that my years of wandering have ruined me for being stationary, and it will turn out that I can’t be content with either life. I do plan to sell the AdventureMobile, but I also plan to buy a smaller RV, something I can tow with the pickup, so I can still travel when the urge strikes.

Now that I’ve settled on a course of action, I’m really anxious to execute it. I’ve never been good at patiently waiting. I’ve got another month here at Big Bend, then in February I’ll head back to East Texas to get the cracked windshield on the AdventureMobile replaced. I’ve got reservations to spend my birthday on the beach in far southeast Texas. Then I’ll slowly start moving east.

Happy New Year everybody!

Is It Time?

The basic theme of Monkeywrench Your Life is not being afraid to make big changes when you recognize the time has come to do so. That time may have come.

The AdventureMobile has been my only home for more than four years now. I’ve been all over the US, all over Mexico, and have explored a bit in Canada. And all the time, people have asked me questions like “What’s your favorite place” or “If you were to settle down, where would it be?” And I’ve always said that those questions miss the point entirely. I didn’t want to have one favorite place. I didn’t want to settle down. In fact, the whole idea used to make me shudder. Movement was the point.

But suddenly, I find myself yearning for exactly that. The idea of having a fixed address seems so simple and comforting. My mail wouldn’t have to chase me around the country. I could subscribe to a magazine or two. I wouldn’t have to plan doctor appointments a year in advance, for the next time I manage to be in the state. I could go backpacking for a week or a month, or load up some gear on the motorcycle and take off for a trip, and just lock the door and come back afterwards and everything would be just as I left it. The simplicity of it is very appealing.

Of course, the change didn’t actually happen suddenly. I’ve been struggling with discontent on several fronts for a good while. It’s the realization that this is what I want that was sudden.

But where? Where do I want to live, and perhaps more importantly, where can I afford to live? There are lots of affordable places all across the country, but I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life in most of them. I miss trees and green grass. I miss the mountains, easy access to lots of hiking, and hiking culture.

The obvious choice might be New England, as it has all of those things, and it’s where I spent most of my life. But I can’t afford to live in New England, and I can’t deal with the long, cold, dark winters there. The last decade or so that I lived there, I suffered terribly with SAD in the winter. I can’t do that again!

My first thought is the southern Appalachians. Eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina. Yes, they have winter there, but it’s relatively mild and short. But that’s just my first instinct. Someplace else might bring itself to my attention. In fact, if you have a suggestion I’d love to hear it.

Nothing is going to happen right away. I’ve got commitments for the next four months. I’ll be in Livingston tomorrow, and I’ve got doctor and ophthalmologist appointments lined up. I’ve got to get the truck inspected. The usual stuff I take care of every year while I’m there. Then in three weeks I’ll head west to Big Bend National Park, where I’ll be volunteering patrolling backcountry campsites for three months. When I leave there at the beginning of February, maybe I’ll head east and start checking out possible places to settle down. Or maybe I’ll change my mind entirely. Who knows? Only time will tell.

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