let the journey unfold

I recently learned that Iohan Gueorguiev is dead. He died months ago–August of 2021. I had no idea.

You know how it is. There are things you wish you’d done. There are things you wish you could do. But there are also things you wish you’d wanted to do, even though you know you wouldn’t actually do them even if you had the opportunity.

I wish I would have wanted to do what Iohan did. I know, if given the chance to do what he did, I’d have turned it down. What he did was just too hard. I mean, it was absolutely wonderful and amazing and quixotic. I admire him for what he did and how he did it. But even though I’d have enjoyed doing some small parts of what Iohan did, I don’t have it in me to really want to do it.

What did Iohan Gueorguiev do?

He rode a bicycle. He rode it a lot. He rode it very far. Incredibly far, in fact. Insanely far.

Iohan was born in Bulgaria in 1988. When he was 15 years old, his parents sent him to live with an uncle in Mississauga, Ontario. At some point he bought a bicycle–a touring bike–and went for a ride. To Vancouver. About 2700 miles.

That started his weird fascination and love for long-distance bike-camping. In 2014, he decided to ride his bike from the Arctic Sea in Alaska to the town of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost town in Argentina, generally called the ‘end of the world’. He thought it might take him a year. He was wrong. Wildly wrong.

It was, to be frank, an absurd and ridiculous idea. The distance from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia is about 9500 miles as the crow flies. On a bicycle, it’s…well, who knows how far it would be? Farther than any rational person would consider riding.

Iohan’s touring bike–with its narrow road tires–was entirely inadequate for the project. Eventually he was able to acquire a fat tire bike that was significantly more suited for the trip, and over time he obtained a better camera (and a GoPro and some sort of drone), but his gear was always a secondary–or tertiary–consideration. The adventure was what mattered–the things he saw, the people he met. He maintained a blog describing the trek (which is how I learned about him) and he produced a number of YouTube videos.

“I want to see the world. Follow a map to its edges and keep going. Forgo the plans. Trust my instincts. Let curiosity be my guide. I want to change hemispheres. Sleep with unfamiliar stars. And let the journey unfold before me.”

That’s mostly what he did–let the journey unfold. Iohan rarely took the easy route. He rode anywhere he could, anywhere he wanted: ice highways, lumber roads, hiking paths, wilderness trails. Hell, sometimes he didn’t take a route at all–he just set off in the general direction. On at least one occasion he broke down his bike to cross a lake using a collapsible kayak. He refused to let common sense dictate the trip.

He encountered every obstacle you could predict: bad weather, wildlife, gear failures, terrible terrain, mechanical issues. And yet he always seemed to find something positive about his situation. Cycling in a blizzard? He didn’t have to worry about his food supply spoiling. Traveling up a hazardous mountain trail so steep he has to carry his bike and all his supplies? The air is cool, he says, and fresh and invigorating.

“Ruta de Los Seis Miles is a 1,310km, month-long, high altitude desert traverse across the Central Andean Dry Puna in Chile and Argentina. This route promises the most physically and mentally demanding high altitude touring in the Andes. Thankfully, it’s balanced with dream-like mountain scenery with salt fields, lava flows, flamingo-filled lakes, and some of the highest volcanos in the world, far away from the civilization.”

Everywhere he went, Iohan met good people. They’d offer him a safe place to sleep, a warm meal, maybe a bit of money, stories. He seemed to take as much joy from the people he met as he did from the sights he saw. He was certainly comfortable being alone–and there were times on the trip when he was terribly alone–but he clearly delighted in meeting new people in unusual circumstances.

“My motivation: the kindness of strangers and the beauty of the wild.”

Without a private fortune (which Iohan didn’t have) or some sort of corporate sponsorship (which he occasionally received), he was forced to interrupt his journey periodically and return to Canada and earn enough money to continue. Then he’d resume the adventure where he’d left off.

The trip he originally thought might take a year stretched out to more than six. Then Covid arrived; the pandemic disrupted everything. Iohan returned to Canada. He still took what he’d describe as ‘short trips’ in Canada. But the trips weren’t very rewarding; the pandemic made it impossible for him to meet new people. Depression set in; he developed insomnia, made worse by sleep apnea.

Last August, Iohan killed himself.

He still had about 1500 miles to go to reach Ushuaia.

Earlier I said I wish I would have wanted to do what Iohan did. I try to do what he did on a much much much more modest scale. I ride my bike. I talk to strangers. But if it’s too cold or too hot or too windy or too wet, I stay home. Still, there’s a part of me that wishes I had the sort of irrational will that could inspire me to actually undertake an adventure like his.

Iohan Gueorguiev went as far as he could. So much farther than common sense would carry you. He experienced so much more than the rest of us. It would be wrong to think he fell 1500 miles short of his destination. The distance Iohan Gueorguiev traveled can’t be measure in miles. He kept going until he couldn’t. Then he stopped.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You can still access Iohan Gueorguiev’s blog and his videos at BikeWanderer. It’s nice to watch the videos and think maybe he’s still on his way.

use your words

You’ve probably seen the video. If not, I’ve included it below. A young man dressed in black, wearing a helmet, is seized by a pair of anonymous armed men dressed in camouflaged tactical gear, loaded into a civilian rental van, and driven away. On the surface, it looks like some sort of paramilitary abduction.

According to the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security (and here’s another thing (with Comrade Trump in office, there’s always another thing) we’ve had an ‘acting’ DHS secretary since April 10, 2019; in his three and a half years as POTUS, Trump has had two confirmed DHS secretaries and three ‘acting’ secretaries) those uniformed men were federal officers employed by US Border Patrol. The official explanation for the events in the video is that the young man “was in a crowd in an area in which an individual was aiming a laser at the eyes of officers.”

Got that? They admit this kid wasn’t actually pointing a laser at anybody; he was just in the area in which somebody was pointing a laser at officers. That’s NOT probable cause to detain somebody. The law is pretty clear about this; you can’t arrest/detain somebody without probable cause.

The official explanation for putting this kid in a van and driving him away is that it was done for safety reasons. “[A]s they approached him they noticed that coming in their direction were other demonstrators who were coming to see what was going on and they wanted to go help so they asked the individual to please get in the van.” That’s a lie. Watch the video again. You’ll notice there are no other ‘demonstrators’ in the vicinity. And as far as I can tell, the officers don’t speak to the kid at all, let alone politely ask him to get in the van.

Wall of Moms. What are you doing? Use your words. “Hands up, please don’t shoot me.”

We do, though, hear the person making the video ask the officers who they are and what they’re doing. And she tells them, “Use your words. What are you doing? Use your words.” That’s a phrase made popular by parenting magazines a few years ago. It’s used to get children who are acting out to clearly express what they’re trying to do. It’s used to make them explain their behavior, and to see if they understand whether or not that behavior will be effective in achieving their goal.

What are you doing? Use your words. What are these federal officers really trying to do? Do they understand if their actions are effective in achieving their goal? The goal of detaining this kid, clearly, wasn’t to protect federal buildings. The goal appears to be intimidation. The goal appears to be to allow Trump, to use his phrase, “to dominate the streets.” The goal appears to be to produce content for Trump 2020 presidential adverts. Is the behavior effective in achieving Trump’s goal? Maybe. Just last month, he stated:

“If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

This isn’t the US military, but they look like it. And the appearance of toughness is what Trump wants for his presidential campaign.

What are you doing? Use your words. The amazing Wall of Moms sing, “Hands up, please don’t shoot me.” What are these moms really trying to do? Do they understand if their behavior is effective to achieving their goal? The goal appears to be discouraging police violence. Is their behavior effective? Yes, I think so. Even if they fail in the short run, they’re showing the sincerity of their resistance.

Sometimes all we’ve got to resist with is our words and our bodies. One sign carried by a woman in the Wall of Moms read, “I am so disappointed in you.” The maternal tone is perfect. We are so very disappointed.

I’m going to go all literary for a moment, so I’ll apologize in advance. Sorry. But as I was looking at photos and videos of the Wall of Moms, I kept think of some lines T.S. Eliot wrote in an unfinished verse drama.

I gotta use words when I talk to you
But if you understand or if you dont
That’s nothing to me and nothing to you
We all gotta do what we gotta do
We’re gona sit here and drink this booze
We’re gona sit here and have a tune
We’re gona stay and we’re gona go
And somebody’s gotta pay the rent.

What are you doing? Use your words. I gotta use words when I talk to you. Somebody’s always got to pay the rent. Right now, that rent is being paid by the young folks in Portland, with makeshift shields and umbrellas. It’s being paid by young dads, using leaf blowers to disperse tear gas. It’s being paid by the women wearing bicycle helmets, standing bravely in the Wall of Moms.

just kill it already

Okay, first thing — stop predicting the Death of the Democratic Party because the Iowa DNC shit the bed. What happened is still happening in Iowa isn’t because of a flaw in the national party; it’s a problem with the Iowa DNC. But the Iowa caucus system should die.

Second thing — stop with the conspiracy theories, already. This didn’t happen isn’t happening because the Russians or Chinese (and certainly not the Ukrainians) hacked the system. It’s not because of the coronavirus, or aliens from outer space, or some barbarian invasion (although, Jason Momoa WAS raised in Iowa, so…never mind). It was apparently some sort of an app fuck-up, which shouldn’t surprise anybody who’s ever downloaded an app. I’m confident we did it to ourselves. We’re Democrats; we don’t need help fucking things up. Even so, the Iowa caucus should die.

Third thing — if we’re lucky, this will be the very last Iowa caucus. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Iowa caucus system as performance art. It’s messy, it’s archaic, it’s often frustrating, but sporadically entertaining. Participating in the Iowa caucus is like being in an old movie where Mickey Rooney says, “C’mon gang, let’s put on a show!” And every four years, we do. But this should end, and the caucus should be put out of its misery.

Actual scene from the 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus

It’s politics by amateurs. Dedicated amateurs. Seriously. Everybody I’ve met who runs, helps, or participates in the Iowa caucus is willing to put in a LOT of effort to make it work. At least in their own precinct. Last night, I help set up tables for signing in voters. I was one of eight or so volunteers who signed in the voters, making sure they were registered as Democrats, showing them where/how to register that night if they weren’t. After the doors were closed, I joined the rest of the caucus-goers and participated in the actual voting. When it was over, a lot of folks stayed behind to help clean up, put away the chairs, and fold up the tables before going home. Nobody got paid to do any of that.

And that’s one of the reasons this eccentric practice should die out. It should be run by professionals, not enthusiastic amateurs. Professionals can also fuck things up, of course. I mean, it looks like the problem this year is because of the app used to improve things, which was designed by professionals. But professionals fuck things up in a professional way. Putting a professional fuck-up in the hands of amateurs only compounds the fucked-upedness. The current caucus system should be smothered in its sleep.

Actual scene from the 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus

You may be asking, “Greg, old sock, how does this caucus thing actually work?” Good question. Also, stop calling me ‘old sock’. It works like this:

  1. Everybody gathers in the middle of the room. Our precinct had about 240 people sitting in folding chairs.
  2. We count off. “One! Two! Three!” and so on. The total number is compared to the number of folks who signed in. If the numbers agree, we move on.
  3. We split into candidate groups. Warren supporters here, Bernie supporters there, Amy supporters over there, and so on.
  4. We count off again, this time within the group. The group totals are added together and compared to the number of folks who signed in. If the numbers agree, we move on.
  5. If a candidate doesn’t get at least 15% of the number of voters who signed in, that candidate is non-viable. Supporters of non-viable candidates can either choose to stay uncommitted or join a viable group.
  6. After this realignment, we count off one more time. The new group totals are again compared to the number of voters signed in. If the numbers agree, that’s it. We can all go home.

I’ve left out a few minor procedural steps, but that’s basically the process. It never goes entirely smoothly. Never. It’s remarkable how people can screw up the simple process of counting off, but it happens every time. Somehow, in some group, somebody will call out the wrong number and we have to count off all over again. Without fail, every time. It’s hilarious. It’s maddening. It’s an effective 19th century process that was quaint by the 1970s. It should have died with Elvis.

Actual scene from the 2020 Iowa Democratic Caucus

Actual results? In our precinct, the first preference alignment was almost evenly split between five viable candidates — Warren, Biden, Sanders, Pete, and Klobuchar each had about 40 supporters, which left about 40 supporters of non-viable candidates. After the realignment Pete took a big lead, followed by a tie between Biden and Amy, closely followed by Warren, with Bernie in last place.

That’s one out of nearly 1700 precincts. It took us about an hour and a half to do that. Considering most of the folks arrived a bit early, and several of them stayed late, the average caucus-goer in my precinct probably spent 2-2.5 hours out of their evening. Not every voter can — or is willing to — piss away that much time. Another reason the caucus system should be strangled with piano wire.

The current caucus system should be relegated to historic re-enactments, like Civil War enthusiasts engage in. It should be nothing more than an eccentric form of political cosplay. I can see it being gamed out in high school civics classes for extra credit. There should be a movie made in which a caucus goer is murdered and everybody who attended the event is a suspect. Jason Momoa could star in it. But the actual living system should be held underwater until it gives up and dies.

I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Iowa doesn’t actually represent the nation in terms of demography. Or that its coveted ‘first in the nation’ status should be shifted to some other more representative state. I haven’t mentioned those things because they’re not specific reasons to kill off the caucus system. But as long as we’re plotting to murder the caucus system, we might as well hide the body by dumping it in the middle of the primary season and hope it’ll go unnoticed.

Again, I really enjoy the Iowa caucus. I really do. But the fact is it’s just too stupid to let live. Democracy is too important for this to be the showcase. The Iowa caucus system needs to die. We need to kill it.

civic duty

This is one of the first things Dr. Christine Basey Ford said on Thursday:

“I am here today not because I want to be. I am terrified. I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me while Brett Kavanaugh and I were in high school.”

Civic duty. I’m a big believer in civic duty, though it’s pretty much an outmoded concept these days. Civic duty is the notion that citizens owe some fidelity to the government, and in return that government helps and protects its citizens.

The government really asks very little of us. Pay our fair share of taxes. Vote. Obey the law. On rare occasion, serve on a jury to sit in judgment of a legal matter involving our community or a fellow citizen. That’s about it. Some of us accept more civic duty than is required. We serve in the military, we work for the fire department, we help out in natural disasters, we volunteer to feed the homeless and help the poor. We alert the authorities to information they need. Sometimes we oppose the authorities when they overstep their power.

“[I]n early July 2018. I saw press reports stating that Brett Kavanaugh was on the shortlist of a list of very well-qualified Supreme Court nominees. I thought it was my civic duty to relay the information I had about Mr. Kavanaugh’s conduct so that those considering his nomination would know about this assault.”

Civic duty requires an element of sacrifice. That sacrifice is why so many people try to avoid their civic duty. People try to avoid paying taxes, find ways to shirk jury duty, can’t be bothered to vote. They praise the military, but shun actual service because it can be dangerous, and doesn’t pay well, and disrupts their career plans. They blame the poor for their poverty and ignore the homeless. They turn away from the victims of crime or condemn them for being victims.

“My motivation in coming forward was to be helpful and to provide facts about how Mr. Kavanaugh’s actions have damaged my life, so that you could take into a serious consideration as you make your decision about how to proceed.”

Civic duty requires a sort of quiet heroism. It normally doesn’t call attention to itself. It usually doesn’t promote itself. In general, it simply involves the acceptance of the responsibility necessary to be a good citizen, and whatever sacrifice that entails.

But sometimes civic duty requires actual courage, actual sacrifice, actual heroism. Sometimes it demands more than a person wants to pay, more than it’s reasonable to pay. Those are times when we discover how sincere and genuine a person’s dedication to civic duty is.

Dr. Ford did not want to expose herself and her family to what she knew would come if she made her allegation against Judge Kavanaugh public.

“This was an extremely hard thing for me to do, but I felt that I couldn’t not do it. My hope was that providing the information confidentially would be sufficient to allow the Senate to consider Mr. Kavanaugh’s serious misconduct without having to make myself, my family or anyone’s family vulnerable to the personal attacks and invasions of privacy that we have faced since my name became public….

In August 2018, the press reported that Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation was virtually certain. Persons painted him as a champion of women’s rights and empowerment. And I believed that if I came forward, my single voice would be drowned out by a chorus of powerful supporters. By the time of the confirmation hearings, I had resigned myself to remaining quiet and letting the committee and the Senate make their decision without knowing what Mr. Kavanaugh had done to me.”

Here’s the thing about civic duty and civic engagement. You don’t do it for yourself. You do it for others. You don’t do it to improve your social status — most civic duty is pretty low status stuff. You don’t do it for money — civic duty doesn’t pay well at all. You don’t do it for attention — most civic duty is ignored except in times of crisis, and if you get any attention at all, it’s almost always negative attention.

“[M]y greatest fears have been realized and the reality has been far worse than what I expected. My family and I have been the target of constant harassment and death threats, and I have been called the most vile and hateful names imaginable. These messages, while far fewer than the expressions of support, have been terrifying and have rocked me to my core.”

You accept your civic duty because you care about things. You care about your community, your neighborhood, your town, your county, your state, your nation, your entire world. You accept your civic duty because it’s the right thing to do. You engage in civic duty to protect public values, sometimes to make a change, sometimes to prevent a change, but you always do it because it’s your responsibility as a good citizen.

“It is not my responsibility to determine whether Mr. Kavanaugh deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. My responsibility is to tell you the truth.”

Dr. Christine Basey Ford is a good citizen. She’s a hero. She’s told her truth, whether you believe her or not. She’s been willing to accept the sacrifice of her decision. No matter what happens from this point on, she deserves our respect.