Sunday, August 30, 2015

You don’t have to be a millionaire to take off for six or eight months and ride around the world. In fact it has been my observation that wealthy people have way less free time than I do. Being rich is a full time job. Meeting with accountants, lawyers, financial planners, insurance agents, business associates and a plethora of other service professionals becomes increasingly a necessary and time consuming activity as your net worth increases. Not to mention the time required to store, heat, house and maintain the cars, boats, swimming pools, vacation homes, luxury furnishings, etc, etc. The people I worked for in my earlier years rarely took off more than a couple weeks at a time to fly to Europe. If I was building a stone wall and patio in their back yard for a few weeks, I generally spent much more time at their estate during the day enjoying the beautiful views while they were busy working and out shopping. As I get older it becomes increasingly clear that none of these material things that people amass over the years pass with them into the afterlife as the Egyptian pharaohs surmised.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against people who spend their lives amassing a lot of wealth and material possessions. And yes, Porsche Carreras are fun to drive. It’s just that I now choose freedom over material possessions. I happen to prefer taking off for several months traveling every year and avoid things that limit my freedom to camp in the Patagonian wilderness and view the southern hemisphere constellations at night. In order to aquire those memories I have had to ruthlessly eliminate recurring monthly expenses and just say no to excess material possessions that tend to weigh you down like a boat anchor and draw you home like a magnet.

This is much easier to do when you are young and single in those magic few years after school before you become entangled with family and career. Or in my case if you are older and single, with no family responsibilities or pets. Not that you can’t travel for months at a time with children and pets. It’s just that I have met very few people with kids and pets that leave the country for more than a couple weeks. Which is why I enjoy other people’s pets and children but have none of my own. Although in certain countries like India where it is socially unacceptable to have no children, I have been known to invent a son who is a doctor and a daughter who is an electrical engineer. I do dislike telling polite white lies for social expediency though.

On a separate note, now that I have successfully completed my 3 month stint at the PWTBFCFNA (Poor White Trash Betty Ford Clinic For Nicotine Addiction) also known as the Johnson County Texas Correctional Facility where smoking is verboten, I was able to cut nicotine out of my recurring monthly expenses. Holy Cow! That was HUGE. And since I quit drinking last year when I got arrested for drunk driving, I am now down to food, water, gas and lodging as my only daily expenses while on the road. My addictions have been reduced to motorcycles, travel and blogging. It turns out that the Texas Department of Corrections, through fear, intimidation and deprivation is directly responsible for saving me hundreds of dollars this travelling season in South America.

I can’t wait to get back to South America in a couple months and see if I can travel for under $1000/month this year and live mainly on Social Security. I just got my first check automatically deposited in my checking account. It’s like money from heaven. Imagine if a rich Uncle (Sam) was depositing money in your checking account every month. Wow! In my younger years I honestly didn’t think Social Security would be around when I got old enough to benefit from it. And with gas prices dropping like a rock, the prospects for budget travel are suddenly improving in my little world this year.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Headed up to Tulsa Oklahoma from Texas this weekend. Two words you don’t want to hear are “rider down.”

Alas, when I went into town to check the internet last week I found that Ralph, known as JumpJet on ADVrider had been killed up in Tulsa when a car turned left across the path of his motorcycle. Although I didn’t know Ralph as well as some, I had worked on his house when I spent the summer in Tulsa a couple years ago, and helped him move when he got divorced. He was a great guy and I am glad to have known him. Since I now have a flexible schedule, there was no reason not to head up to Tulsa and honor Ralph’s memory at the memorial in his hometown outside Tulsa.

Tomski invited me to stay with him in the North Tulsa Oasis A.K.A. his house. Actually it is he and his wife’s house as he got married since I visited him last summer. Here is Tomski and his lovely new wife Stephanie:

I left Texas on Friday afternoon and got to Tulsa in the evening. The next day lots of ADVriders showed up at the memorial:

Afterwords everyone gathered for lunch:

I was about to leave for Texas and got a call. The masterlink let go on Tomski’s bike and he needed me to drive his truck back out to pick him up:

So I’ll be heading back down to Texas tomorrow instead. And I will have a sticker to take down to South America and put on my bike:

Monday, August 17, 2015

I am eternally thankful for the stacks of mail that came my way during my 3 month sojourn in the Johnson County Jail deep in the heart of Texas. It made my stay much more enjoyable getting mail from around the world and writing back newsy jail letters in the evenings. People sent me dozens of books as well. It was such a kind gesture you have no idea.

I was released a few days ago and it was much the same as flying back to the U.S. from traveling in a third world country. It takes a while to adjust to the much different culture. In fact, I would say that the minimalist motorcycle vagabond lifestyle is great prep for spending time in a county jail. I would classify the Johnson County Jail as somewhat like visiting North Korea. i Volunteered for a work detail so was able to spend my days outside mowing cemeteries and clearing storm damage trees from the wind storms. In exchange for the free labor I got out a few days earlier than otherwise. But I would have done it anyway, since it was much nicer to spend the days in the fresh air and Texas sunshine as opposed to inside the dormitory cellblocks all day.

I am currently back working west of Cleburne Texas and have come into town where there is wifi here at the public library. I have to tile a couple more bathrooms and another kitchen and workroom plus a few other odd jobs before heading back to Nebraska to mow my lawn and pay my taxes. Then it is over to Oregon to paint my sister’s house and down to Arizona in late October to park my truck and catch a plane to Uruguay where I will be reunited with my motorcycle and continue reporting from the roads less traveled in South America.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It occurs to me that most people who read this haven’t ever gotten a letter from an actual inmate in prison. In an effort to cure that problem I am hereby dedicating the next three months to sending a letter to anyone who cares to get a genuine prison pen pal letter. It’s a creative way to keep this blog going and stay busy in jail.

I will be away from the internet for three months starting tomorrow, so you will have to mail an actual paper and ink letter and snail mail it to:

John Thomas Downs

C/O Johnson County Correctional Facility

1800 Ridgemar Drive

Cleburne, TX 76031

And I promise to send a newsy prison letter your way to the return address. And if you haven’t written a paper letter and mailed it in the last decade, don’t worry. You can just say Hi. It doesn’t have to be anything special. Postcards work as well.

Just something fun to do to while away the time I reckon. And I’ll report back how many letters I get. Tell your friends. I’ll send a letter to anyone who responds. It would be pretty funny if the prison guards have to dump a Santa sized bag of mail in my cell. Well okay, maybe that's a bit optimistic unless this concept goes viral somehow. It should be interesting. They are required to supply paper, pens, envelopes and stamps to inmates so I can send unlimited mail. And I have nothing but time. Jim and Ann PM'd me on ADVrider that they are sending some of her excellent fudge and cookies to bribe the guards with. So there is my first penpal. Plus, if you have any good books on adventure travel or life in general that you think are good that you mail down here, I promise to mail them back when I get out in August.

Your future pen pal,

Cool Hand John

"What we have here is a failure to communicate"--Paul Newman's last line in "Cool Hand Luke"

Veriest1’s Dad had to come to town for a doctors appointment and dropped me off at the public library so I have one last chance for an update before jail tomorrow.

Yesterday I was crawling around in 2 inches of water repairing the burst plumbing pipes under the vacant house being renovated where I am staying. The benefit was that I have yet another comparative experience under my belt. Was this worse than waking up while camping in the middle of the night in a driving thunderstorm at 2 AM and realizing that a river was running through my tent in the freezing cold? No. That was still worse.

Just so, I have a few life experiences to compare 3 months in jail to. It will be interesting to see how it measures up to the months of disorientation after the death of my father when I was in first grade, the mental anguish of divorce or starving for a month on a grueling Outward Bound survival course. I doubt if it can top those.

On a lighter note, my current thinking is that I will be able to travel again next winter. This is better than I could have expected. I talked to my sister yesterday and she has enough mileage points for a one way ticket to Buenos Aires that she will donate to the cause. That is great news. Plus Social Security will be depositing a check for 608.00 in my checking account on the fourth Wednesday of every month now that I am 62. I’ll believe that when I see it, but if true means that I only need 400 dollars a month to travel since I usually spend around 1000 dollars a month on food, gas, lodging, repairs, tires etc.

Since I didn’t have to pay a fine I still have 800 bucks to my name. I have 0 savings since I spend all my money on motorcycles and travel. Financial security is over-rated. I can live on 600 dollars a month if I have to. Heck, since I quit smoking and drinking and lost my drivers license and am stranded in rural Texas the only thing I CAN spend money on is food which is a couple hundred dollars a month. And at home my only expenses other than food are 80 dollars in utilities on average, 100 dollars on gas and car insurance and 100 dollars on miscellaneous. I don’t insure my house since I can fix hail damage for the cost of a year’s house insurance. And if it burns down I’ll look at it as a remodeling opportunity while I live in the detached garage.

So my current plan is to get out of jail in August, work in Texas for a while, drive to Nebraska to mow my lawn and pay my property taxes, drive to Oregon to hopefully work on my sister’s house, head to Arizona in the late fall, park my truck at my sister’s winter house in Apache Junction and fly to South America.

As with all plans, it will be interesting to see how it all actually works out. It will also be interesting to see how I get my bike out of Uruguay after it has been sitting for a year and a half and overstayed it’s temporary import permit.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it is that everything works out in the end one way or another so there’s no use worrying about it. Half the fun is watching life unfold in unexpected ways.

Friday, May 8, 2015

I traveled to Texas and went to court yesterday for my DWI arrest last October. The only other time I have been in court is as a juror. It was quite interesting being on the receiving end of justice this time. I was offered two years probation, no jail time, 1000 dollar fine, two years of having an interlock device and 80 hours of community service. Hmmmm. I can't leave the country while on probation. So I asked my lawyer to see what I would get if I went to jail instead. Wow. What a difference. No fine, no interlock device, no community service, no probation if I serve 3 months in the county jail. Hmmmm. Now mind you, three months is a fair amount of time to spend in jail I reckon. However, my drivers license was suspended for three months as well.

These negotiations all happen really fast. I did a quick calculation in my head. Interlock device costs 85 dollars a month, so roughly 2000 dollars plus probably another 1000 for probation fees plus the 1000 dollar fine comes to 4000 dollars I would avoid by going to jail instead. Not to mention avoiding 2 years of probation that would keep me from leaving the country until 2017. No question. I took the three months jail time if it means I can get back to South America sooner rather than later. My drivers license will be valid by the time I get out. I report to jail next week on May 14th at 1 P.M.

So this blog will be on hiatus until mid August. There may be some interesting stories of life in a Texas county jail to tell when I get out. I will report back what I find so you don't have to learn from first hand experience. Sort of an Orange is the New Black, Texas style. For all you folks reading these stories from Asia, Australia, Europe, South America and Africa, I apologize for Netflix inside jokes.

As luck would have it, a tornado came through Veriest1's ranch last week so I have been able to help out installing a new electric meter and panel as they were ripped off his house. His dad took me to town to go to court and bought me a thank you breakfast before court. Really nice family. So I am in good hands with more hospitable Texan ADVriders.

Of course I'll be broke by the time I get out of jail. So a few months work before I head back to South America for more travel tales from the roads less traveled next winter. But time flies when you're having fun. And obsessions die hard.

Adios amigos.
Long rides can take a person into a type of dreamworld. As the real world of day to day life recedes in the rear view mirror, one is slowly immersed in unfamiliar territory. The senses are heightened. New worlds arise and float by. Days blend together. Being a stranger in a strange land is the norm. Riding far away from one's normal life can give a person perspective. Life's day to day responsibilities, material concerns and personal relationships change. What once seemed important recedes far in the distance and tends to lose it's immediate grasp on your attention. The benefit of this is that it allows a person to gain insight and appreciation for what is truly important in their life. The media portray the world as a dangerous place. It is only by travel that one discovers the truth of how friendly the world is in most places. Newspapers and television are desperately trying to grab your attention so you'll view their advertisements. It's how they make money. No one tells us this growing up. People with no experience of foreign lands assume the world is a dangerous place because of all the sensationalist stories they see in the news. It is as if newspapers had gathered all the worlds rattlesnakes into one place. Of course that hissing mass of media attention looks frightening. The truth is, rattlesnakes are sparsely scattered around the globe and are easily avoided by paying attention to the warning signs. Just like volcanic eruptions, drug wars, riots, lions and unsavory people. There is no greater therapy in the world than riding long and far as the thoughts drifting through your mind sort themselves out and you gain an appreciation for humanity and the things you hold dear in life.