Left of Center, Off the Grid

After a very busy winter and spring, in which we joined more organizations, participated in more events, and volunteered for more offices and committees, in the midst of combining an ambitious physical training plan for bicycle touring with our committee work, we crashed, putting everything, if not on hold, at least in perspective. While we haven’t yet ventured back out on the bike, we haven’t slowed down, and remain, as always, just outside the flow of “normal” life expected of old people.

A few weeks later, we went on vacation, during which we worked at gaining back some of our physical mobility, on foot rather than on the bike as we planned, but continued to work in the meantime: Judy on a weaving project, and me on a programming project, to the extent we had a computer network set up in our hotel room and the various fiber projects spread out on the extra bed intrigued the hotel staff no end. I think we still managed to visit a few local attractions, shops, and restaurants in the process.

We also, during the “season,” which runs roughly from April through October, open our home to members of Warm Showers, a bicycle touring lodging exchange. Last week, we were inundated with bicycle tourists, ten in three days, with five showing up on short notice on the first day. This week, we are at a weaving workshop—or, at least Judy is, while I attempt to catch up on technical reading and work, since there is no Internet connection at the workshop location (an old Navy prison, now part of a city park), but there is a place to set up a computer. The workshop is another “left turn off the grid,” covering techniques of turning the draft to swap warp and weft. We are in Seattle, exploring the neighborhoods between Sand Point, Wallingford, and Green Lake in search of good coffee and wholesome food, driving up and down impossibly steep hills on narrow streets lined with astounding landscaping in full spring bloom surrounding a mix of old shingled cottages and bungalows, stark “contemporary” boxes, and modern northwest cottages of cedar. Sunlight and rain sweep through in various densities, and we often sit in gridlock traffic watching bicyclists outpace us, even uphill.

Class sample on Judy's loom
Class sample on Judy’s loom

One of the side-effects of travel is television. We don’t have one at home, but motel rooms often lack radio sets, so we frequently spend a few moments channel surfing in bewilderment before finding an old movie or reruns of syndicated series we once watched (NCIS—the original–being the last holdout, and which seems to have its own channel). These links to an earlier era bereft of TV-land inside jokes and unreal reality are at least comprehensible. This time, we find ourselves in a room where the secondary audio program, a technology of which we were previously unaware, is permanently on, with a mismatched controller that, like our watching experience, predates this feature. So, we are treated to what seems to be an audio book of the screenplay, with actors reading the dialogue parts, which makes it unnecessary to actually fix our gaze on the unfamiliar device on the other side of the room.

Next week, if all goes well, we are spending a few days at our truly left-of-center, off-the-grid cabin on the lower slopes of the Mission Mountains in Montana. This is intended to provide more perspective on slower, unconnected living, though we do have a small solar panel to power reading lights and radio, our home phone is now a smart phone with limited Internet connectivity, and the neighbors might have Internet access we can borrow. And, there is the possibility of a day or two paid work on behalf of our Montana clients, since we will be close enough to pay a visit.

So it goes. We are supposedly in our retirement years, but have somehow managed to keep working, learn new skills, become involved in the leadership of several organizations, and become amateur innkeepers in our attempt to fill up what we anticipated would be idle time, while studiously avoiding sitcoms, reality TV, and Fox News. As usual, our “vacations” tend to be watching the scenery go by on the way to visit relatives or clients or work as usual but with different vistas out the window. Our “leisure” activities tend to be 40-60 Km bike rides at 20Km/h, preparing for longer “vacation” tours of 75-100Km per day, or the annual “birthday mile ride,” now approaching 120Km. At least the runners on our rocking chairs aren’t going to wear out soon.


…be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity. [Horace Mann]