Postcards From Cambodia

The title of this blog is the name of a song by Bruce Cockburn. If you’ve never heard it before, give it a listen. The song speaks aptly of the many sights and sounds, and life, Mara and I experienced while being in Cambodia this last November.

 The flight was long, seventeen hours, but the layover in Narita, at the United Club, was a worthwhile break from the grind and prepared you for the next leg to Bangkok. From there it was but a quick hop to Siem Reap, Cambodia, Gateway to Angkor Wat. Low season was just about over. In about a month, the hordes of tourists would descend on this little town, bursting it at the seams. Mara hooked us up at a little B&B, ‘La Fromager’, that was off the main drag and quiet. A perfect little spot to view the frenetic pace of traffic and commerce. Really, just crossing the street there is like playing Russian roulette. There are no real rules of the road, but somehow the seeming chaotic, accident about to happen traffic patterns, flow swiftly without interruption. It’s a totally different scene than here in the states. You gotta laugh as tourists rent scooters and attempt to navigate the streets of Anytown, Cambodia. Yeah, we did it, too. There’s nothing like taking your life in your own hands. I have to admit that driving here would take a few years to get the hang of, if you survived that long.

 To go distances longer than you’d care to walk, forget the scooter and take a tuk-tuk. It’s cheap transportation, they’ll wait for you, and the best part is they drive!

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

 With Angkor Wat a fair distance from Siem Reap town, Mara and I, taking the advice of our driver, would arrive before dawn. Because Angkor Wat is so well restored one can begin exploring before the sun is fully up.  Nearly every stone surface has been carved, with rarely a blank wall. Hindu imagery collides with Buddhist creating a mind–boggling menagerie from massive stone heads twenty feet high, to a tiny Buddha image carved into an otherwise unnoticeable niche. Then there is everything in between.

 We used up every bit of our four-day pass visiting half a dozen other temples surrounding Angkor. These other Wats are not as restored and have a mystery all their own. Giant trunks of fig trees have grown through the walls, ceilings, and, well, pretty much everything.

 These places are huge. The moats surrounding them enclosed anywhere from fifty to one hundred acres. The Khmer population at around 900A.D. had to have been in the millions to build and maintain these monstrous undertakings. Of course, the fertile plains surrounding Angkor stretch as far as the eyes can see. And everywhere is rice, the lifeblood of a nation that is still sown and reaped by hand.

 History Cambodia’s got. From the ancient and much revered distant past all the way to the more recent bloody swath Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge tore through Cambodia in the late 70’s, not so very long ago. The Cambodians do not hide that particularly dark time as remnants of the killing fields and caves have been maintained and preserved. Not so much as a solemn remembrance of the past, but as a tourist attraction.  For the young tuk–tuk drivers, who will take you to hell and back again, the sights are just another stop on the tourist trek, much like the bat cave, the bamboo train, and the winery.  It’s strange and I wonder if they really understand what went down during the days of the Khmer Rouge. Does anyone?

The older fold remember. You can see it in their eyes, behind the smile. Fear. But life goes on. Monsoons come and go, flooding the rice fields and continuing the cycle.

Bamboo Train , Battambang, Cambodia

Bamboo Train, Battambang, Cambodia

 After about a week in Siem Reap we headed, by bus, to Battambang. It’s an old town with enough of its own history to generate a thriving bit of tourism. There are Angkor era monuments and enough Wats to do some serious temple hounding. Battambang is a bit of a hub for western Cambodia so there is a lot going on and worthy of a few days exploring and eating our way across town. With tourism not being the main point of Battambang’s existence, you get a good cross section of Cambodian life.  It may not all be beautiful, but it is real and fascinating. The working class is armed with their smile and are probably lucky just to have a job. Those not working are busy starving. Landmine victims hustle the dining tables at the edge of the street where they vie for space with homeless kids and hungry eyes.

 Cambodia is not for the squeamish. There is just too much reality going on here. Just how long can you hang cow parts in an open–air market at 90 plus degrees? Plus there are more parts to a cow, or any other meat for food than you can imagine. Restaurants advertise that they don’t serve dog, rat, cat, or birds. Nice of them to let you know, but if you are a meat eater, there’s a good chance you’ve already had some.

Dried Fish at Market

Dried Fish at Market

 After four or five days of a comfortable bed and hot showers at the Lux, it was time to catch a bus for the half­­–day ride to Phnom Penh. The main road to the capitol is a little off the tourist route. Most of the towns and villages economy revolved around agriculture, not tourism. The most obvious sign of this was that the stores only sold things you needed. No shiny new plastic or impractical clothing or trinkets. Fresh fish, dried fish, fermented fish, unknown fish, trays of deep-fried bugs, veggies, flip–flops, rubber boots, and tools. What more does one need? It was only as you closed in on Phnom Penh that you began to see stuff that you didn’t need, for sale; ridiculous clothes, a lot of cell phones, plastic things, cheap booze and hookers. And once in the city, that was all you could get.

 Phnom Penh rises from the rice paddies and surrounding country like a darkened parody of western life. Modern skyscrapers jut obscenely from the crumbling early twentieth century facades. The action is along the Mekong river waterfront. The quay teams with Cambodians and tourists wandering the well–lit concrete in search of something to do. One thing the evenings along the quay had to offer was a Cambodian version of public jazzercise set to hip–hop. A couple hundred locals with matching shirts squared off a section of concrete and did their thing. Smiling faces in various degrees of physical conditioning sweated it out. Why and how are good questions! Trying to put a happy face on a ghetto of crime? Then came the fireworks. The first salvo had about half the street ducking before they realized the explosions were for entertainment. A visible police presence keeps the black market discreet. The market for flesh not so much. Hookers abound with children in tow to satisfy one of the darkest tourist markets I have ever seen. Ex–pat Russians have taken a liking for Phnom Penh and seem to own the place. There is even a Russian market that is packed at night. Shoulder to shoulder insane shopping and eating. I think Mara and I spent more time trying not to lose each other than anything else.

 Daytime in Phnom Penh is hot and we would find ourselves working the shaded side of the streets. With a couple weeks of traveling under our belt, Mara thought a massage was in order. With massage parlors lining the waterfront we figured this to be a no brainer. After a few inquiries, we found that the place we were looking for was on the other side of town. You see, the parlors on the waterfront come with a ‘happy finish’. We found a place by the central post office where the massages were done by the blind. I must admit to being quite pleased at the end of the massage, if not happy too!

 The capitol city offers a plethora of attractions to occupy your time. Those of us who love old temples will not be disappointed. Many of the Wats have been restored or have restorations underway. The Royal Palace and grounds are being fixed at this time. The temples themselves are fantastic with a detail of construction that marvels the eye. Gold and the vibrant colors of the spectrum radiate from the repaired structures. The old ones like the Angkor era temples, 900 A.D. to around 1100A.D., are now bare rock when originally the were all painted and gem encrusted.

 Step ahead ten centuries and you have modern Cambodia. If the recent history is more your thing, any number of tours go to the many killing fields and bombed out rice paddies where the craters are still visible. You have the opportunity to view as many skulls recovered from the killing fields as one could possibly want.

Or, if you wish to wade in a little irony, you can take a half day ride to view some killing fields and then go feel what its like to create one. By that, I mean going to the shooting range and fire some extreme weaponry. Handguns, Ak-47’s, RPG’s, rocket launchers, sniper rifles, fifty caliber machines guns, and some ancient iron.

Where else could you get the chance to shoot this stuff! Cambodia! Something for everyone! Even our hotel room had a painting we had to cover with a sarong…

Modern Art - Phnom Penh

Modern Art in our Room – Phnom Penh.

 Is the country safe to visit? Absolutely! Travelling families were everywhere, from couples with toddlers to more mature family groups. Travelling in Cambodia is similar to other locations in Southeast Asia. As long as you don’t go out of your way to do anything stupid, you will be all right. A.K.A., if there are riots, stay near your hotel. Don’t poke the tiger. Health care, however, can be an issue. The rule of thumb is, anything beyond a minor cut should send you running to Bangkok for decent health services. Cambodia’s is sketchy and expensive. Best to get to Thailand, quick!

 Local food, café food, and street cart food was safe to eat and delicious. After a couple days eating lunch at one place, they will start to offer you more exciting local food to try. Take the chance and you will be delightfully surprised with your taste buds screaming for more.

 History, culture, food, agriculture, and natural beauty, yes I have to say again Cambodia has it all. In our two and a half weeks there, we had just scratched the surface of this marvelous place. There is little doubt that we will go there again and immerse ourselves ever deeper into Cambodia’s mystery and splendour.

 After a few days in the city, it was time to head out into the country again. This meant flying out of Phnom Penh to Krabi, Thailand. With more than a little reluctance, we headed by tuk–tuk to the airport, not knowing if life would bring us back again. We certainly hope so. Ahead, however, lay Thailand. It has been twenty years since being there. Change comes to everywhere and it should be interesting to see what the future has done with Krabi by the sea.

 Next: Thailand, culture shocked!

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POST TRAVELING BLUES

With four books and five hard years of writing and publishing them, a break was called for. My wife, Mara, and I have been traveling around the world since we first met. Every few years Mara gets that traveling jones for which there is only one fix. We juggled work and finances. Got a friend to sit the cat and chickens. Basically got our bases covered as best we could and mainlined it to Southeast Asia.
We had five weeks. Back in the day it would have been more like five months. Times change and so do responsibilities; still we had five weeks in which to get it on.

Honolulu to Bangkok in seventeen hours – that’s good time by any ones’ standards. We would be doing Bangkok towards the end of the journey so we booked a hotel in the old district, near Wat Pho – the reclining Buddha, as an extended layover to get our feet on the ground before flying to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Angkor Wat.
As a ‘wonder of the world’ Angkor Wat certainly lives up to its reputation. At around a thousand years old, the place is awe-inspiring. We heeded the advice of our driver and would arrive before dawn. At that time of day Angkor is virtually empty of people with just a few others, like us, nursing the last of our coffee before it is light enough to walk. By sunrise we would be deep within the ruins. Not a sound. The hefty scent of Nag Champa incense fills the air. There sits a monk shrouded in orange robe and smoke. Very old, wrinkled, eyes blank, hands curled, as he mumbles a prayer. For a few riels, he will tie a red braid around your wrist and bless you. Such a deal and of course we did. A temporary badge of honor.

Then again, when you are visiting one of the ‘killing caves’ and a monk, old enough to remember the Khmer Rouge, ties one on, it’s a totally different experience. You are surrounded by the skulls and bones of those thrown the fifty meters down to their death into the cave. In this particular instance, the Khmer Rouge chose not to waste bullets. There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds… And this was in 1977, not some ancient history.
Cambodia is a country on the edge. They are still recovering from the days of Pol Pot’s regime and despite overwhelming poverty; there is a surging bit of capitalism bolstered by the tourist industry. There is something for everyone in Cambodia and the salespeople aggressively vie for your American dollar. Meditate with a monk one day and go shoot a rocket launcher the next. That’s Cambodia for you.
After due consideration, I passed on the rocket launcher. The irony was just too much. Landmines and UXO’s still kill and maim after all these years. They lie in rice paddies or buried under the jungles growth, waiting, waiting for that errant footfall to remind the little machines what they were built for. Who was I to mock a bitter past and fearful reminders of the present as witnessed by small limbless music bands who play cheerful tunes for a buck? Better to visit the countryside, and enjoy a people whose smile wipes away any grim reminders its history.

That Cambodian smile. The real thing is something worth trying. When it finds you, magic happens. It is everywhere if you but open your eyes to see it. Wandering the streets of Battambang, and even Phnom Penh – with its grim Russians, tired hookers and burnt junkies – the smile is everywhere. Along with it, there’s the chance to return the smile and share it.

Serpent's Head

Serpent’s Head

You do a lot of wandering when you travel. I mean what else is there to do. Walking a town you do not know, gives you a chance to glimpse the real life at a pace slow enough to get up close and personal. We would walk everywhere. You could always catch a tuk–tuk back to your hotel if the meanderings took us too far. Our accommodations were always low end to mid range in price, 15$ to 25$ a night. Clean with a firm bed was all we asked and generally got more than we asked for. Traveling with an open mind and positive attitude opens up all kinds of doors for you. The karma is instant and generally way beyond satisfactory. You get out of it what you put into it. It’s that simple. Still you needed to be aware at all times. All the smiles and goodwill you can muster will not take care of being dumb.

Every once in while a scooter would pull over and offer you a variety of black market stuff. While the offers seemed inviting, it required you jump on the back of the scoot and go somewhere, with someone you don’t know, to acquire something you don’t really need. That somewhere is usually out in the country or in a part of town you wouldn’t be caught dead in. Either way you end up out of your environment, out of your comfort zone, and at the whim of some very unscrupulous characters. There is the chance you won’t ever come back. It happens. It’s best to just pass on such opportunities.

Which Wat is what?

Which Wat is what?

If however your tastes lean more towards a cross-cultural blend of Hinduism and Buddhism, then Cambodia is just the place for you. For more than a thousand years the dominance of one over the other has waxed and waned. You will find temples – Wats – that have morphed from Hindu to Buddhist and back again with images of the Buddha right alongside those of Shiva. Literally everywhere you look, one or the other, or both, will be in your line of sight.

The first time Mara and I went to Southeast Asia, Cambodia was off-limits with pockets of the Khmer Rouge still being eradicated from the country. Thirty years later we made it and are already planning on going back as soon as time allows. A few weeks is nowhere near enough time to really get into a country. Yet enough to allow the exotic flavors, smells, sights, and sounds of Southeast Asia to get deep under your skin. Once it is in your blood, you’re hooked.

Until that traveling jones calls once again, it is back to the books and blogs. My fifth book is well under way and I am deciphering my travel journal to blog the journey with pictures. Luckily I am one of those writers who gets to work full-time, too, so I have all the time the world to do this sort of thing.

Aloha j g rees
NEXT: Postcards from Cambodia

Horror for Horror’s sake: Not

Having just watched the original Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein I realized great horror is timeless. More importantly the tales of the undead shed light upon the human condition, our humanity or lack of it. Ironically enough, the Frankenstein monster turns out to be more human than its creator or any of us for that matter.

Great horror does more than just frighten and entertain the reader. It should also enlighten. I have written four extremely dark and gruesome novels, all with truckloads of gore and imagery that is hard to shake. But is that the story? No, far from it. All of my writing has a firm foundation in friendship, honor and the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do for you. Without it the story falls apart. My protagonists are not pillars of society, but rather part of the evil that writhes through the pages. They eat, burp, shit, doubt themselves and basically have all the frailties of everyman. The antagonist, my monster, is more the darker side of humanity than some slime dripping creature with insane teeth. Greed, ignorance, envy, power and hatred are far more haunting than what lurks beneath your bed.

The horror hits home when the reader sees himself reflected in evil. We all have a little of it in us and once you get a glimpse, a certain morbid curiosity compels you to keep reading. Like a zit in the morning mirror, you have to look close, taking in the disgusting details before the final squeeze. Splat! Yes, we are that freaky as people.

My characters are human thrust in to a super human situation. It is who we are, not what, that makes the leap of believability of my novels that much easier. Of course it doesn’t hurt that first few pages set a cruel hook and you won’t be released until the final pages are finished. The pace is wicked and action non-stop and gore, over the top. But it is not horror for horror’s sake. The violence and blood-drenched scenes serve a purpose. But remove them and you’ve torn the heart out of the work. It is the nature of the beast.

The readers of horror novels are probably the best judge of what works and what doesn’t. Thus far the ‘anoxic zone’ series and my new breakaway novel, ‘Out of Stone,’ have received the nod of approval from readers and reviewers around the world. I will admit to being criticized a few times for excessive violence and the use of disturbing imagery. I stand guilty on all accounts. Only the readers can sentence me for what I have done. At this point I can live with the verdict. They would like some more.

Tired of pablum horror? Sink your teeth in to something that might bite back!
Check out the links below.

www.promotehorror.com/2013/04/out-of-stone.html

 http://www.blackwaterbooks.com

Aloha john g

Cooking with Blood…

ImageWell, all right. We at Black Water Books are pretty stoked after receiving several reviews on my new novel, Out Of Stone. It seems I’ve done it again with phrases like, ’where does he get this stuff?’ and ‘Couldn’t put the book down…’. Plus my favorite, ‘You’re a sick f*ck john g.’ If you have read any of my previous works I’m sure you would agree.

Out Of Stone begins with a brief introduction of our main character, Sechra. A skeleton version of her backstory reacquaints with her twenty years later.

With the stage set and your mind already a bit twisted by her childhood experiences the tale plunges into the macabre tapestry of her destiny. Legends of ancient Romania and allegoricals far more recent are woven into the fabric. The threads of the lives of others, the why and how’s are sewn into the background of our understanding.

Of course, as happens in most of my work there is a shadowed history lesson too. The dark ages of Eastern Europe are about as bleak a time for mankind as it gets. Yes we get to go there and live for a while. This trip is strange yet familiar. Man’s in humanity to his fellow man are timeless. Be thankful it’s only a book.

As books go this one rips and you’ll be turning the pages as fast as you can eat it up. It has been brought to my attention that there are a few minor editing issues. Reading a raw manuscript it’s not. Out Of Stone is neither under done nor over cooked. I consider Out Of Stone seared. Burnt on the outside and bloody on the inside. Personally I’d bring a knife and fork. Enjoy the feast!!!

Available online at www.blackwaterbooks.com/Out_Of_Stone.html
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Out-Stone-john-g-rees/dp/0983192073
and other fine places!

THE FOURTH NOVEL: Into The Depths Of Hell

The initial edit completed as well as the follow-up rewrite for my new novel; working title –Tears of Stone –and is now being formatted to send to my editor and readers. Having sailed into uncharted waters with my first three books, anoxic zone, Halocline, and Black Tide, and setting new standards for gore and violence, the fourth could to be no less than a horrific ride into the gaping mouth of hell.

Tears of Stone(working title) revolves around a young character we meet in Halocline. Twenty years have passed since the revolution that created a free country. Freed from the yoke of Megacorp and a tyrannical, cruel and insane despot, the country grew and prospered. Slavery and slaughter during the revolution however left the country with nationwide epidemic of PTSD. Most dealt with it. A few unfortunately, did not. This opened the gates of hell once again. A metaphor, for they had actually never really been closed.

Our protagonist, against the odds, survived the barbarically horrendous revolution, at which she had a front row seat. What was witnessed in those early years hardened the tender areas of youth. The seeds of hatred fell upon the fertile soil of her mind, giving her strength to endure the madness.

In a twist of fate the girl is saved from the nightmare her young life had become, but not before her hatred had taken root. Her life on the run from the madness of the revolution was replaced with one of privilege, education and art. Through her art, the girl turned woman, and was able to relieve herself of some of the memories life had bequeathed her. Notoriety and fame would come from her ability to carve stone, touching her life, changing it forever.

As her talent blossomed so did the darkness that so early in life reached out for her. The hatred, anguish, and horror at seeing her family and community brutally tortured, slain, and placed in chains, wanted to live amongst men. This thing, this hatred, this evil would use the girl it bonded with so long ago to bring it to life.

The first few pages set the hook of the story. Then, until the end, we get deep into our characters’ heads to understand the nightmare their lives have become. More than one antagonist exerts pressure on the tale. Hatred, evil, greed, revenge, are my usual nemeses. Once again they rear their ugly heads to wreak havoc on mankind, being truly the sources of all that ails us. Our tale takes us on a ride into the macabre, literally. If you have read my previous works you know how wild things can get. And they do get a tad outré. Not to disappoint my readers, the action and intensity is up to par. My wife, Mara, after doing the initial read, aside from being grossed out, said that ‘this may be the best thing you’ve written.’ I’m good with that, because she is right. Though Tears Of Stone is a stand alone read, the story is related to anoxic zone, Halocline and Black Tide, therefore reading one of the previous will shed some light on a few of the inside jokes and characters. Hold on as I take you where few readers have gone before.

The Wheel Turns: A Matter of Safety

 

The windblast coming over the fairing would push your head back. White lines down the center of the road become a blur as you roll the throttle, pushing the rpm’s towards redline. A right hand sweeper is ahead. You tuck in, starting the bank for a high-speed corner.

A half hour before, at this same spot, a beater truck had a blow out sending it onto the graveled shoulder, the tires spitting a couple shovels full of crud onto the road. After affecting repairs, he returned to the road the same way he left it – spinning gravel.

After setting the line for the curve you hold tight. The world is coming past you at an insane rate. Gravel ahead, the front tire shifts to the left while the rear jumps to the right. SLAM! You’re down and sliding along with the machine. Rocks gouging your flesh before the asphalt rips your skin off. The bike flips and you’re flung to the side cracking your skull against a rock. Broken, bleeding, and your brain drips into the black surface of the road. You die, staring the bike wondering if she’ll start.

Road Ready!

 

 

It’s just a beautiful day, sun shining on that sparkly new scooter Amy just got to commute with. The little machine will save tons in gas money, easy to park and kind of fun and perky to ride. Flip flops, shorts, sunglasses, bikini top and sunscreen to protect her skin from the harmful rays. She was going to the beach to meet up with Janey and the girls then do some scootering along the waterfront. ‘It’ll be so much fun’ Amy was thinking just before being hit by a car that was exiting a fast food joint. The driver had a burger stuffed in his mouth and was trying to get the big gulp into the beverage holder that was too small for the cup. He looked away from the road to get the cola into the hole. When he looked up, it was to see Amy bouncing off the hood of his car. Amy won’t be going to the beach any more. The head trauma has left her a little slow and she drools now.

Here are two prime examples of how an accident happens. Sure, there are a million variations. But mostly, it was folk just out to have a good time. In both cases, neither rider had done anything really wrong, besides being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So what happened?

Kimo, our first rider, had been laughed at by his friends the first time he wore his new helmet and Day-Glo jacket with his new bike. Since then, he disregarded the advice given by the salespeople concerning protective gear and let his pals call the shots. None of his buds wore anything beyond a pair of cool shades.

Amy, though concerned about the side effects from too much sun, didn’t buy any safety equipment. The helmets were so big and the clothes so bulky. Not a very sexy, carefree look.

What is it about safety equipment that intelligent people shun? Amy would still be going to the beach if she just spent some of that gas money she saved on a helmet, any kind! There are enough brands with colors and styles to meet anyone’s expectations of cool and budget. Of course, the gear doesn’t work worth a damn if you don’t wear it, as Kimo unfortunately found out.

The phrase, ‘you don’t appreciate protective gear until you need it,’ comes to mind about now. That helmet and jacket don’t do anything if they are still hung in the closet. I, too, have been guilty of not wearing gear on short runs. To the store or post office, it’s just a few miles. The warm breeze blowing through your hair, ruffling your tee shirt and toes naked, catching a few rays. It felt good, fun. But the fun can stop pretty damn quick. It’s one thing to dump your bike, it happens. Scratched paint, bent stuff, basically customized by crash. A few grand into the bike and it’s now lying on the ground and you feel like shit. Your helmet has big gouge and fingertips of your gloves are ground through. The jacket kept your skin intact. Sure you’ll get a few nasty bruises in the next few hours and tomorrow you will really feel it. Right now you’ve got to shake it off and get the bike upright to access the damage. A new turn signal and handlebars are needed and you’ll learn to ignore to the damaged paint. The second most important thing is you learned is never to touch the front brake when on a loose surface such as gravel. The most important is that the safety gear lets you walk away from the crash, which beats an ambulance ride any day. And if there is a need for emergency care, you will have less damage than no gear at all.

 

Versatile motorcycle apparel also protects on levels you don’t think of. The elements, e.g. Yesterday my wife and I went for a cross-island ride to visit some friends. At home it was 85 degrees, sun shining with a light breeze. I think we both growled a little when we were putting on the riding suits. I mean it was soo nice out. Thirty miles into an eighty-mile run, the sky opened up and the rain started coming down. We pulled over, zipped up and pushed on, certain it would end soon. It didn’t. Coming over the volcano, the temperature dropped thirty degrees and it was getting downright cool. We knew it wouldn’t last. The temp that is. Dropping down the eastern face brought the mercury back up. There was nothing we could do about the rain but laugh.

Had we left that morning dressed for the sunny day we thought we had coming, the ride would have been aborted at thirty miles or been one miserable soaking wet and cold ride. I have seen it happen hundreds of times. You stop at the nearest convenience store and buy some garbage bags. Now we’re looking good.

The same goes for the reverse of weather conditions. It’s a blistering 100 degrees, not a cloud in the sky with the black road too hot to touch; you are riding in an oven. Your jacket and pants serve as a layer of protection against the sun’s rays. They’re also keeping the wind from sucking every drop of water out of your body.

It’s a win-win type of deal. From leather to textiles, there is safety motorcycle apparel for every budget and style, from one-piece jumpsuits to pants/jacket set. Mix and match, create your own look and let it be seen on the road.

All Suited Up!

 

 

 

I wear an Aerostitch One-piece Roadcrafter. They are made in America and considered the finest gear around. Cost is relative as the suits last for twenty years or more. For a long time I wore mis-matched gear, mostly knee-pads over jeans, sweatshirt, jean jacket, work gloves and ratty helmets. It was something and something is better than nothing. Times change and I saved to get the best I could buy.

Think about it! Wear it! What have you got to lose, a little pride, a few bucks? “It is better to lose a little face than leave it smeared along the road.” A couple hundred bucks on a helmet beats a couple hundred thousand dollars in medical bills.

Ride safely. Protect yourself.
Aloha!

The Wheel Turns : Decompressed

Before leaving on what turned out to be an epic journey, of both an outer and inner nature, I finished my fourth novel. The working title is ‘Tears of Stone.’ That title however has been overworked to death. I had hoped to complete it so my wife, Mara, could read the manuscript while I was motorcycle riding.

It always comes as a surprise to finish an idea in written form. You can tell when the end is near, 100 pages, 50 pages, but when it comes – WOW!!! Suddenly the writing is over and the rush of a ‘high’ is on; a somewhat sublime rush that is. Sure there are details that need attention, there always are, but they do not spoil the moment. Having the novel completed emptied the mind of worry, allowing the call of the road to come in loud and clear. That and the excitement of what Mara would say about the story when I returned. A month later I got the green light. After a rough edit the manuscript is ready for a rewrite, which I am doing now.

The tale revolves around a character you meet in Halocline, my second novel. Her story takes place twenty years after the revolution. She is now a grown woman with her own savage history and dark destiny to contend with. In dealing with horrific memories of childhood, that assault her constantly, an artist was born. Her art was a cathartic to relieve the conscious mind of the cruel and hideous visions.

As therapy the art worked in a psychiatric kind of way, creating what appeared to be a normal, though somewhat driven, personality. The unconscious mind, however, has a way of undoing the neat little knots we tie things up with. Life began to unravel when she finished the last piece for an exhibition.

Hell was just about to be unborn through her art.

It is a rather twisted little story about hate, revenge, ignorance, greed and the little things you never see that go on right behind the eyes. You just never know what someone is actually thinking. Trust me, most of the time you don’t want to know either.

You have to dig deep to come up with a tale like this. Although related to the previous novels, it is also a stand alone read. Of course, reading the first three novels is recommended as they are as ‘rip your throat out’ as it gets and… you’ll get a few more of the inside jokes. Like the others – anoxic zone, Halocline and Black Tide, you are grabbed on page one and ripped through a ride of terror and the macabre that will leave you gasping at the end… and wanting more. From the coast of Romania on the Black Sea, to Istanbul and the Transylvanian and Carpathian mountains, a journey into the darker parts of our minds and souls is about to be published.

Actually it will be a few more months until we print. Worth the wait to be sure and a chance to catch up on your reading. It’s back to work for me. When you call yourself a writer you better be doing just that. A little concentration, a little discipline and a lot of being able to sit there for hours at a time, waiting for blood to flood the page as you try to contain it, turning the crimson flow to words. And tuning out the unimportant distractions, aka, the cell is off. That’s what voice mail is for. Running with the ball for as long as you can each time you get it. But mostly it’s just doing your best that makes all the difference. It’s that ‘your best’ part of the equation that makes anything possible.

When you are doing your best there is always time to help others do it, too, but that’s another blog.

Aloha!

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride:; Thoughts, Observations and a Retrospective

 

Okay, what do you want first, the good or the bad? Well then I guess we’ll just toss it up a bit. I guess what amazed me most was the people across this great country of ours. What a mix up we have. Yet no matter where you were or the color of your riding apparel, there were smiling faces always willing to take a moment and show human kindness in whatever form it took. When you’re lost, a long way from where you are supposed to be and not a clue as to how to get there, it comes as a great relief when some good Samaritan gives you directions. The roles would change from time to time as well. I always travel with a pretty well stocked tool kit and it’s surprising how something like a Phillips head can make someone’s day. What goes around comes around, as they say.

Camping in the Badlands

We saw extremes of wealth and poverty. What community spirit can do and what happens when there is none. The towns that industry built and what remained after its departure. Enclaves of gentrification surrounded by slums. The unsurpassed character of older architecture next to stucco, glass, polished aluminum and plastic.

Then one leaves the urban surroundings and heads out into the countryside. From the farms to the forests, mountains to the deserts of the southwest, beauty runs rampant across the land. Yes, we saw fracking, strip mining, digging coal straight from the ground along the roadside, oil rigs – it happens. The vast tracts of green forest however had me mesmerized. So many acres, so many trees. It was good for the soul to ride amongst them. But there is something happening to the trees from the west coast to the east coast. They are dying by the millions. At first glance you don’t notice. Then you begin to look closer. The nation-wide drought has weakened the forests along with an infestation of wood-boring insects, taking advantage of the crippling effects of drought. The campgrounds we stayed at, all of them, were very strict about not transferring wood from one location to another, in an effort to slow the migration of bugs. At more than a few camps there was no burning at all due to the drought.

Rivers are streams, streams are creeks and creeks are dry. Man, it’s been a rough summer. Still the sights, sounds and smells of the country never cease to amaze you. Even the smells of a refinery caught on the morning breeze in some town in Wyoming had a certain something. One passerby took a deep breath and quipped, ‘Smells like independence!’ Oh the irony!

Perhaps that is what I had been inhaling the whole ride; independence and the very foundation on which our country stands. We take these things for granted, but think about it. You have the freedom to do what you want to do. Even jump on a motorcycle and ride across the country any time you feel like it.

Speaking of freedom, there is one thing. Sturgis. We were lucky to be passing through that area of South Dakota a few days before the opening. It was easy to see why the Sioux held this land area as sacred. Sometimes in your face, at other times, more sublime, the beauty of the land was truly remarkable. I was blown at so many Harley Davidson’s on the road. (Remember I live on an island in the middle of the ocean.) From ancient iron to brand new just off the assembly line, the variations and styles staggered the imagination. It’s quite a cool, noisy sight to see a hundred bikers riding in a pack down the road. Rolling thunder indeed! In a way it’s kind of a freedom rally.

This year though I was shocked by numbers after the rally was over. Nine dead and forty three injured in motorcycle accidents. Those are pretty rough numbers by anyone’s standards. I would hope some of the Sturgis organizers and Harley Davidson kind of step up to plate on this one and do some promotion and education on biker safety. It’s just a party. Nobody should be dying.

 

A motorcycle ride like this one is a once in a lifetime kind of deal. Oh sure, I have made a few in the past, and hope for a couple more before the ‘big ride’ is through. But there will never be another quite like the 2012 X-Country Ride: Wheels on Fire. The journey became epic as it progressed, tapping all the requirements necessary for a real adventure.

We pushed ourselves to the limit of endurance and beyond. It wasn’t the machines that were of concern. They could certainly withstand far more than we were asking of them. Nevertheless they were part of the equation requiring due diligence and attention. It was the human factor that was the X amongst the numbers, unknown yet pivotal in the outcome. Physical hardship became a tool for human growth. Digging deep and finding out just how much you’ve got, comes at a cost. Cheap it is, compared to what you get out of it. Learning your limits, not by staying within them, but by stretching them to the limit. If one snaps, you will have learned your limit by going beyond them and surviving. Having goals, meeting them and sometimes surpassing them. There are always obstacles, physical, mental, heat, cold, distance, light and dark, that will try to get in the way of the goal. Only by meeting each handicap and coming to terms with them do you succeed. As long as you do your best the real goal is always met.

Badlands Sunrise

 

 

7843 miles of

ALOHA

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: California Bound; 620 miles of Hell and Irony.

Morning in Wendover was hot, even before the sun rose. All that concrete couldn’t dump its heat during the night, so the place just gets hotter and hotter. A camp breakfast and cup of hotel coffee and we were on the road. This is perhaps the earliest start of the trip. It would also be the most miles covered in one day, thus the carpe diem. The throttle was rolled and once we hit 80 mph you settled in the seat and assumed the position. Our stops were limited to gas and go. As the day came on in earnest, they would become more frequent.

Road Shot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevada has a unique beauty to it. Sure the land is desolate and bleak, but if you can see past the veneer it rivals any of the sights we have seen on this trip with mountains and high deserts, windswept expanses of nothing in all directions. The vistas were used as a distraction as the heat of the day poured it on. Before noon we had broken the ride’s temperature record at 107 degrees while moving. You had to laugh; I mean this was getting ridiculous. Nevada stretched on, horizon after horizon waving in the heat. Long hours later the Sierras loomed before us. Visions of riding in the cool mountain air gave a jolt to keep the wheels turning.

After an unending brown, the tree line greeted us with green. Dry but still lush to these eyes. The rivers and lakes were low yet sparkling clear blue, and cold. The temp didn’t drop so much as we would have liked. Kale reminded me to ice up as we were headed down the mountain into the Central Valley. He didn’t mention the current temperature in Davis, Ca. He didn’t have to.

Surely at some point the tires of the bike have to melt and end this madness. Especially now. We crawled through Sacramento, Ca. at rush hour. Eight lanes of solid cars supposedly heading east greeted us. ‘What the hell is that?’ I thought when tail lights started going on ahead of us. For ten miles we clutched the unforgiving stretch of asphalt surrounded by talking heads on cell phones. At least we were moving. The eastbound lanes had turned into a parking lot.

Then suddenly free. The lanes ahead opened and RPM’s came up. The wind, even though hot, was still refreshing after sucking exhaust fumes for a half an hour. The sun beat down on us, but somehow it wasn’t a killing blow. Putting together all the things learned over the course of the ride came into play, keeping you alert and responsive.

Davis, Ca. was gasping for a breath of cool air when we pulled off for our final fuel stop. I needed re-icing and a good douse of cold water. In paying attention to the ambient heat, I missed something Kale was saying about weather just ahead. The joke would be on me. Another half hour of the blistering heat and we crossed the San Gabriel Mountains into the Bay Area. The temperature plummeted with the altitude as fog rolled in across the Berkley Hills.

115 degrees to 54 degrees in a matter of minutes. Moments later I was shivering. The iced bandana, wet shirt, and salted body from sweat soaked up the cold moist air. At seventy miles an hour, it was not time to fiddle with the knot on my bandana. Turn on the heated handgrips instead and start laughing was about the only appropriate response I could think of. Having dreamt of a moment like this for thousands of miles I certainly wasn’t going to bitch when the dream came true.

A stop at a grocery store for fresh salad and ice cream. Then through the streets of Oakland to Kale’s house. Kickstands went down, a pause. Engines shut off, another pause. We both just sat there for a moment, in mindful thanks before swinging down off the saddle. A high five. A robust hug. I think at that moment, all we wanted to do was get back on the motorcycles and keep going.

As Kale put it, “It was a blast, I tell ya, a blast!”

John’s Bike

Next: 2012 X-Country Ride; Thoughts and Observations, a Retrospective

Kale’s Bike

The Wheel Turns – 2012 X-Country Ride: Frying our Way across the West at a Blistering Pace.

Never one to make Kale wait unduly, we broke camp. Unfortunately my one cup of coffee was finished. I would have to deal on my own. With an altered plan of attack, we hit the road with a mission; get me back in one piece. Backtracking thirty miles got us to US25 south. We booked it, eating up the cool of the hot morning. At 85 mph, the pace was still slow. Huge pickups blasted passed us. You could only guess at the speed. The high plains began to roll more and the surface of the road, excellent. A few herds of cows and bison went by in a blur of speed. The bikes held tight. After a leisurely pace across the country, they finally had a chance to run. High speed, well not high speed, but really fast, sweepers, rights, lefts, rises and dips. I think we all enjoyed the experience.

We spent the night in Casper. A short day for us that allowed for some time to watch the Olympics and hydrate in the cool of a hotel room. Ahead was a big stop. Independence Rock. The outcropping of stone got its name from the early pioneers who arrived at this point in their journey on July Fourth. A portion of the original trail is has been saved. A bridge crosses it for viewing and imagination. The rock itself is a massive blunt of stone rising from the floor of the plains with nothing around except the sage, gophers and distant mountain range that was appropriately out of place.

As the pioneers must have been thankful for making it this far, so was I. Even more thankful to have such a good friend and riding partner as Kale. There are only a few who enjoy long hours of riding everyday. Six to eight is tops for most folk and more than enough for anyone. We are the exception. Considering the next few days ahead…

Through the Green Mountains, Whiskey Peak and down to our old friend Interstate 80. After a lunch that was best left forgotten, we did on 80 what 80 was made for, making time. The heat pressed down on you like one of those weights they put on bacon to keep it flat. There was just no escaping it. Water, lots of it, and don’t let it get to you.

If you want to think, the road gives you plenty of time to do it. You have to remain alert enough to ride and keep the mind active, somehow. For one stretch of road I sang ‘ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall’ until reaching the next fuel stop.  A little crazy I will admit, but whatever it takes to stay on the ball is what it takes. The day rolled on relentlessly, waves of heat warping the road, melting reality. Everything you saw had that Dali look to it, like wax sagging in the heat. Kale looked like a lava light, his helmet that big glob that’s just about to break free. A turn signal, a rest area, shade and cold water. Whoo, that was close!

From here on out it would be one’s ability to endure that would make the difference. It’s just heat. Stay hydrated, iced down, and don’t lose your cool. You can endure longer if you keep your head. Lose it and it’s over.

Mountain ranges loomed ahead. The thought of cool alpine air gave you something to look forward to. We pulled off for gas and supplies in Park City, Utah. The drop in temperature was a mere five degrees. There would be no relief as we dropped down into the Salt Lake valley. The pancake flat land stretched far beyond the horizon. The famous salt flats are but a small, brilliant stretch of this level plain.

We gassed again at the beginning of Bonneville Salt Flats, watered up and iced down. This last push of the day was going to be brutal. At least the sun was still high in the sky and not burning holes through your eyes. The bright glare of reflected sun off the salt crystal however made up for what would have been a small relief. Thoughts of being out on the flats without water or shade were not happy ones. Having mentioned the flats in one of my books it was nice to see memory served well when describing them. The white hot flash of an arc welder would give you an idea of the brilliance of the land. There were no plumes of salt grit rising from the raceway at the western end of the flat. The rooster tails of racing cars or motorcycles would shoot high off the rear tires describing its path across the flats. There were no tails today. It must be the heat I thought. They would race in the early day before everything melts or in the evening after it solidifies again.

The mountains on the western edge seemed to be dripping into the valley. There was no respite from the heat but there was Wendover, Utah. A border town half in Utah, half in Nevada. We spent the night in a hotel on the Utah side for the quiet. Step over the state line and its casinoville. Tonight was the last night of the trip. The moon was full as it was the day we left. Though not home yet we were coming full circle. Unbeknownst to me at the time tomorrow would be the final exam, testing all the skills we gained over the course of the last month and push us to the limit.

Next: California bound. 620 miles of Hell and Irony.