Creative Winter Challenge

Last year, my dear friend and brilliant artist Fuji Hoffmann [website, vimeo] proposed we challenged each other throughout the month of October to experiment with different habits and create something new every week. We made videos describing our process and results, and shared our dialog on this blog and my newsletter.

Here are a couple of highlights from that exercise:

Fuji and i agreed that working on those challenges taught us a fair lot about our respective processes, and that we enjoyed creating something together. So, we’re doing it again this Winter 😀 We also learned that the weekly schedule we had committed to last year is unsustainable, so we’ll pace it differently this time — it will be a monthly quest until around when it starts getting warm again.

As before, there are no a priori bounds on what we may request from each other, except that the assignments this season will revolve around the topic of photography — i’m increasingly interested in shooting, Fuji in editing, and i can only expect good things to come out of this cross-pollination! I’ve been fascinated by what Fuji does with images for a while, and it will be an honor to have him make a mess with my photos.

Indeed, feedback was the spirit of our first quest — we gave each other a theme or stimulus, shot a few photos in reaction to that, then sent our images to the other to edit. This October round of the Challenge wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, and i’ll be back soon with our results 😉

Work on the November round is underway, and i plan to post an entry or two every month outlining what we did for the challenge the month before — if you’d like to be notified when that happens, sign up for my newsletter 🙂

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It Begins Again!

One of the questions i got after my Ossobuco presentation last year was, “how do you begin preparing for such long journeys!?”

With a map on the wall!

That’s where preparations for all my months-long cycle touring or hitchhiking journeys so far have started — a map on the wall.

It’s no different this time around — my partner Nastia and i are planning a tour de Ukraine for this coming Spring/Summer, and we started by pasting a map of the country on our living room wall. Now every time one of us hears about or remembers a place we’d like to see, we pin it on the map, then take a few moments to stare and point at it, fantasizing — we have made no commitments whatsoever yet — just gradually installing a qualitative map of Ukraine and its immediate surroundings in our imagination!

There’s this saying that goes something like, “if you want to make your dreams come true, then you must first wake up.” Subsumed in this saying is the fact that the zeroth thing you have to do is to dream — what would you wake up to otherwise!? And “maps are fail-proof fuel for wanderlust,” as self-unemployed creative explorer Tom Allen notes in #4 of his 15 Unorthodox Ways to Train for Cycle Touring & Bikepacking (Bicycle Optional) — if my memory serves me well, that’s where i got the inspiration for this practice.

I don’t mean to neglect or oversimplify other aspects of the preparation — although the same Tom has another great piece on why you should probably disregard most of it. There’s a lot more we need to do until we’re ready for our departure, including the crucial (even by Tom’s standards) bit of getting a bicycle for Nastia! I just see the rest of the preparation as quite circumstantial, and it would be pointless for me to tell you what else to do other than ask yourself some questions and factor in your own constrains.

For instance, i want to be able to have deeper conversations with locals than i’ve had in my travels before, so i’ve been studying Ukrainian for a couple of hours every day — you might not have to do that — i’ve traveled myself in places where i didn’t even know how to say hi in their language upon my arrival, and that constituted at the time its own, duly contextualized and valuable experience.

There’s one other thing i would personally like to try this time around — what would you ask somebody who just came back from a few months traveling by bicycle around Ukraine? Where would you go? What would you pay attention to?

Comment below or send me a message. I promise to pin all your cues on our map — learning what may have value to you will be of great value to me 🙂

Featured photo: map of Ukraine on our living room wall (February ’19)

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Creative October Challenge

UPDATED April 30th, 2019 — half-the-way through the challenge last October, i was invited to give a presentation at the I TEDxDrobetaTurnuSeverin in Romania, and Fuji was invited to teach movement and choreography at Wiks Folkhögskola (outside Uppsala, Sweden). With other priorities in mind, we put the experiment on hold until recently, when we decided it would be psychologically beneficial to give it some closure before moving on — if you want to go straight to the results you may check out fiction_Extract_test1.0, The Stubborn Face of Matter, Haikus from Borzhava, Infinity + 1, “Failure” Is just a Story or Collagenge.

To be in the know about further creative experiments with Fuji, as well as other people, and tones of long-term travel inspiration and advice) sign up for my weekly newsletter!

My friend, artist, and supporter Fuji Hoffmann proposed we challenge each other throughout the month of October to create and share something every week — there are no editorial bounds to what we may request from each other, and i’m looking forward to what his creative mind will send my way!

The video below explains the experiment and describes our first challenge to each other. The progress, results and further challenges will be posted on vimeo as they develop throughout the month, and you’re invited to head over there and follow me to stay in the loop 😉

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Experiments: Creative October Challenge; Fuji & Mika

All Roads Lead to Rom…ania!

When i rode my bicycle from Copenhagen to Istanbul in Autumn last year, people along my way kept asking me, “isn’t this a bad time of the year to be doing this?” They might have been right — so, this Autumn i decided i’ll try hitchhiking instead 😀

What? Why!? Where!!?

I suppose you can imply the answer to the last one from the title — for the other two, read on 😉

The premise

An earlier draft of this post contained a lot more words and i could certainly make this sound a lot more complicated — but the process this time was actually quite straightforward.

I’m currently stationed in L’viv, Ukraine — that’s where i decided to take a break after The North Cape Hypothesis, my attempt to ride my bicycle from Niš, Serbia to Nordkapp, Norway via Eastern Europe and Russia.

I plan to stay in L’viv at least until leaving on my next big cycle touring project next Spring/Summer — potentially indefinitely. While i don’t sort out my residence permit, i can’t legally stay in the country for more than a total of 90 days out of every 180 running days though — i had to look for a place nearby where to be for the remaining 90 days.

Sounds like the perfect excuse to return to Romania!

The plan

Once again, quite simple — though perhaps intention is a better term than plan to describe my mindset — plans may change, while i expect the intention laid out below to remain somewhat stable.

As in previous projects, i intend to reconnect with old friends as well as make new ones. I will also once again travel solo and rely largely on the hospitality and creativity of the locals for a safe place to sleep, although self-supported in just about every other regard.

On the other hand, there are many ways in which i expect this to be quite different from previous projects. This time i will be hitchhiking, thus largely relying on the locals for my transportation also — at least for much of it. Interacting with people will remain my focus, but i hope to take that to the next level. I want to stay longer at fewer places this time. The bulk of this project will take place in the Romanian speaking world, and one of my goals is to acquire a conversational level of Romanian. I’m not only seeking to document my encounters better than i have but also to go further out of my comfort zone and ask some of the questions i might not have had the courage or resources to ask before!

But as far as planning is concerned, that’s about all i have to say right now 🙂 — i’m leaving on Friday (November 3rd, 2017) towards the village of Runcu (Dambovita), where i’ll meet my homestay host, and we’ll take it from there 😀

As i expressed in my previous article, i loved Romania the first time i was there earlier this year, and i’m super excited about this prospect!!

The plea

I’m slowly phasing out of social media. I want to focus more and more of my time and energy on creating relevant content for this website and the organic growth of a genuinely interested and engaged audience. If you find what i’ve been doing valuable, or interesting, or inspiring, or promising, or entertaining, or whatever it may be that you like about it, there are two quick actions you may take to help me with that 😉

#1. Sign up for my mailing list!

I am hard at work on a budget long-term traveling tutorial consolidating what i’ve learned over the past couple of years from my personal experience on the road and interacting with other travelers — indeed, a significant component of the present project will be doing some research for that! Those of you who are signed up for the mailing list before the tutorial is released will be the first to see it!

Meanwhile, being on the mailing list also gives you early access to my weekly Trelograms series, which will be delivered straight to your inbox a couple of days before they’re published on the blog, as well as manageable monthly summaries of what i’ve been up to for you to stay in the loop without going insane 😉

#2. Forward this to someone who might care!

I’d rather have you send it as a direct, personal message to one person or a few people you feel might be especially interested — if it’s that much easier for you to mindlessly share it on your social media i’m also fine with that though :p

Thank you so much for your attention, and see you on the road!!

The (rather uneventful) first 100 hours of complete solitude

Spending the next 100 hours in complete solitude was not quite the idea when i hugged my friends Fuji and Grete goodbye. From where they dropped me off, i still had another couple of kilometers of walking along a dirt road to Fuji’s family’s Summer cottage on the Swedish countryside. The idea came up as i walked past the last house before the cottage, and gradually settled along the rest of the way — what if i went not only offline, but completely without interacting with other human beings for a while!?

The premise

The longest i’d been in complete solitude like that before, as far as i can remember, was about 24 hours. It happened last Summer, in the Faroe Islands, where the only mammals i interacted with in between the gentleman who gave me a ride to the trailhead and the girl starting that same trail as i walked out of it the day after were sheep — tones of sheep — and their poop — absurd amounts of it.

I’d been longing for an extended period of solitude ever since. It doesn’t seem very easy to find space and time to be alone in this world. There are people pretty much everywhere you go — even in the Faroe Islands! Plus, i keep finding out that we actually need them more often than i’d like to admit — and they probably need us also.

But i could not let this opportunity pass — i had access to clean water and enough provisions for more than a week, my closest neighbor was almost one kilometer down the road, and i couldn’t anticipate anything that might happen in the world that might require my attention in the immediate future.

And so the experiment began . . .

So, how was it?

Before i share with you some of my raw impressions from this experience, a quick disclaimer though. You might find most of what you’ll read below rather unimpressive — at least i did to a large extent.

Perhaps 100 hours is not that long — perhaps being alone in a Summer cottage i was already familiar with and with lots of entertainment is very different from being alone in a remote trail in the Faroe Islands — i did not have any remarkable insights. I didn’t meet any inner demons i wasn’t already expecting, and i didn’t face any problems that didn’t turn out to either have a trivial solution, or be something that didn’t really bother me after all.

You’ve been warned 🙂

I’m also interested in hearing about what may have been your own experience doing something like that, or what might be your expectations about it — please feel invited to answer to some of the questions below in the comments, or by email.

  • It was surprisingly easy to spend all that time alone. In fact, i feel like the real effort was to snap out of it — do i really have to!?

    For instance, on my second day, i was looking for a tree to climb in the area, and caught myself turning back as soon as i could see the neighbor’s house, so as not to risk interacting with them. If i didn’t have to touch base with my friend and his mom about arrangements for the following week, i’d likely have continued until i ran out of supplies or someone came to me.

    Have you done something like this before? How was it? If not, do you think it would be challenging?

  • I listened to obscene amounts of music — album after album — from cover to cover — doing nothing else but intently listening to it.

    Oh, gosh, i was so glad there was a good stereo set in the house! I dearly miss my headset.

    In case you’re curious about what i brought to my retreat: Dream Theater: Images & Words, Falling into Infinity and Octavarium; Haken: The Mountain and Affinity; Metallica: Black Album; Mumford & Sons: Babel; Periphery: Periphery III: Select Difficulty; Porcupine Tree: Deadwing and In Absentia; Skyharbor: Guiding Lights; and TesseracT: Altered State, Polaris and Smile.

    What album(s) would you bring to a solo retreat?

  • I noticed a lot of things i’d have likely not noticed otherwise — the birds, the butterflies, the scratches and patterns in the ceiling, the bees and wasps, some of the sounds from the nature preserve surrounding the cottage, the fire, and so on. I found the simplest events incredibly interesting at a much larger rate than usual.

    Look away from the screen. What’s the first thing around you that catches your attention? Had you noticed that before?

  • I spent a disproportionate amount of that time alone just on my underwear, and that felt so great!

    Do you also like to walk around naked, or semi-naked?

  • It was refreshing to be remembered that one can do reasonably well without continuous access to the Internet. I’d already made this decision before, and will likely stick to it — whenever and wherever i settle down, i won’t have Internet at home!

    I’ve met a few people without Internet at home during my travels over the years. They’ve all seemed perfectly functional, and their not having Internet may have well enriched our encounter.

    During this project, Boris (a roadside invitation in the Chernivtsi Region) and Nastia (my host in L’viv) didn’t have Internet at home. Whether or not that’s a coincidence, they have also been the only hosts so far with whom i’ve had a call with afterward. (UPDATED August ’19: Nastia and i moved in together a few months later and eventually got married — we didn’t have Internet at home for a year; i remain in touch with Boris, and visited him on my 2019 tour of Ukraine and surroundings with Nastia.)

    Have you tried going without Internet at home? How was it? What do you think about this idea?
  • I’ll probably want to do a retreat like that once a year or so. Perhaps a longer one though, and perhaps a bit more remote and/or constrained.

    Have you heard about darkroom retreats? Have you done one? How was it?
  • I’ll probably want to do a mini-retreat like that very often. Perhaps choosing a night every week or so in which i’ll go completely offline and out of reach.

    What kind of time and space do you regularly create for yourself? What do you gain from it?

  • Just like the week i spent offline in Moldova (but not in isolation), these few days in solitude were some of my most productive during this project so far.

    I wrote a lot, including at least two blog posts essentially from scratch! I took lots of pictures, and probably prepared more posts for my Instagram than i do on average. I sat down to read a book for the first time in a couple of months, and realized how much i actually miss it and want to prioritize that also when i’m on the move. I made tones of sketches, also a lot more than i do on average. I caught up with my bicycle’s state of disrepair. I caught up with drafting my pending Couchsurfing/Warmshowers references. I kept up with all essential household tasks such as doing the dishes and cutting the grass.

    What would you work on if you could create such time and space for that?

  • I really enjoyed the countryside tempo — having to fetch water from the well, having to walk all the way to the outhouse for number 2, having to heat up the water for my shower, and also to do the dishes or wash my clothes, having to make a fire to keep the house warm — everything takes time — every task needs to be started before it’s an emergency — but nothing is really an emergency.

    Do you live or have you lived in the countryside? Am i romanticizing it a bit too much? What kind of amenities of “civilization” do you miss the most?

And i think that’s really about it

Like i said, there wasn’t anything terribly deep, particularly intense or remarkably insightful. Oh, well — it is what it is.

I’ll let you know if i do a longer solo retreat though, or at least in a different context — and if anything else comes up — You please do the same 😉

Featured photo: my friend Fuji’s family’s Summer cottage, where they and their friends come throughout the season to enjoy the light, the slow and the quiet — and which i was kindly allowed to use for my retreat and other experiments (Sweden, Summer ’17)

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Experiments: retreats