Triumph. Laying on the beach; elated, satisfied. Watching the waves, and reflecting on the road to get there. The end a puncture; tearing through the sands of the desert, washed into the waves. Into the limitless water…beyond, beyond, into the horizon. Completed.
That didn’t happen.
The fantasy of conclusion remains an idealism in my head. The finish never rose to the heights of my escapist dreams, which I played, over and over again. I only used that as empowerment to continue.
When I lay down and shut my eyes, I’m still in the broad valleys of the Southwest.
Dust devils dance, and the wind blows head-on. I’m exhausted, pulling the weight of my belongings, and the stresses of the previous days.
I’m emotionally frail, yet determined.
I remember crying in the desert.
Overwhelmed by my incessant turmoil.
Confrontations with my ego, wrangling into a sustainable, supportive self.
Grated by the sand, to reveal my raw core.
My vulnerabilities at the forefront of my mind.
I keep pushing, further through the friction into the internal void.
I don’t remember the moments when it was too much, yet I recall I experienced it.
The swells of mental storm surged and retreated.
Surged, grew and collapsed.
Long before the beach, I swam in peaceful pools of tranquility.
My tribulations remained aside.
I simply existed.
A spiritual, a universally wholesome self.
I am human, and I am part of it all.
I belong to it all, to everything.
In the grit, in the grunt, I reaffirmed what makes life so beautiful.
And so, that’s why I felt I’ve never completed the bike trip.
I finished this leg of the journey, but there’s still much left to explore.
With my raw self, with my flesh, I can’t wait for more.
For the next ocean waves which beckon, for the next oasis which never arrives.
I’m radiated with the sun-rays. Beamed into the road, flattened, and exposed.
Pressing, pushing onto the asphalt. With all I got.
I’ve learned quickly I don’t enjoy cycling.
Grunting, and pounds of sweat. Bags of Haribo Candy, endless Gatorade, and tacos cued on GPS 50 miles away. A pillow is bliss. Standing is a respite.
My legs hurt, my back is aching, my hands start cramping. There’s no pinpointed pain, no open wound.
An accumulated anchor, dangling inside my mind.
I play the math mile game. 5 miles, covered 6 miles. Got 30 miles left. That’s 5 6 mile segments. That’s 3 10 mile segments. Oh, I did 7 miles already. Let’s round-up, I’ve made it a third… *Checks phone* 8 miles! I’m not even a third of the way to my halfway point!
The irritation escalates.
Not with the physical experience, I’m never angry at my body. Just my self.
Is a water break a necessity or an excuse? Should I check my pace again?
All the doubts compounding, expanding into my mental regulator. I’m working overtime to keep a grip. Keep sanity. There’s enjoyment, there’s exhilaration.
I yell. Multiple times an hour. A loud screech to expel the tension. Get up the incline, rest, not for too long. My legs relax, my thoughts do not.
I try, I try, but sometimes I realize, I just can’t try any harder. Fighting and peace are antonyms.
Tracking historical markers. Telephone poles. Staring at my feet. Bending, shifting, melting into the asphalt. Head down, and listen. Listen to your thoughts Nikita!
Treat yourself better than this!
Don’t count the miles.
Don’t be disappointed.
Just look back. I was there, and now I’ve gone. Every roll of the wheel, another increment. Closer, closer to what’s always far away.
The only burden on your bike is you.
Ben Irvine, from Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling
It’s a logical question, albeit one with a long-winded, complicated answer that quite realistically I won’t know even in San Diego.
The general gist: mindfulness. Pushing the miles is firstly a mental journey, secondly physical.
Whenever I yearn to escape the physical discomfort of intense cardio, I drift off. Focus on my breathing. Disconnect from my sensations.
Into a near meditative awareness of my mind.
What will result from such conscious exploration?
That’s why I created this space. As a journal, as my mental workspace, as a resource database. To share. To explore
And perhaps most excitedly: to connect.
If you have any podcasts, audiobooks, albums. Please send them my way! I would incredibly appreciate it :). Most pertinently to mindfulness, but I’ll take anything (better than the nagging drone of my self-doubting thoughts).
Mental Health Awareness
I’m conducting this trip as a coda to a tough year.
Many have faced stress, anxiety, and depression from such unusual, and tumultuous times.
I wanted to confront the negative emotions, in a very long, very strenuous purge.
To untap the strengths inside, re-discovering what became obfuscated in the day-day drains of my fears, stressors, and anxieties.
And to urge others to do the same. I’m starting the conversation, hoping others will continue it. Reach out to your friends, reach out to your family. Smile at strangers. A hello, a phone call, an acknowledgment can change someone’s life.
The world is weaved into a knitted-ball of empathy. It’s easy to neglect the threads of joy tying us together, when so much of our attention is diverted on the un-scissorable zip ties. It’s easy to remain bound.
On all my trips, including this one, the kindness of strangers has emanated from the streets. The gentle waves of elderly couples from the countryside porches. The children chasing my bike “I want a ride.”
I dropped my earbud while crossing a road. While I searched for it, 3 cars stopped and asked if I needed any help.
Past the barriers of our confined quotidian existences, exists a beautiful eco-system of individuals willing to extend a hand.
Whether or not we take it, that starts in the mind.
Sometimes when I drift into excessive introspection, cycling reminds me of where I belong
Ben Irvine, from Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling
Cycling breaks barriers we establish subconsciously. Limits of movement, limits of freedom. Riding a bicycle inside of the city seems perfectly normal. Escape to the countryside? Drivers stare at you like a pedaled mutant.
And cycling 7-8 hours a day, everyday? Why?
I enjoy breaking the barriers of my body. The grunted screams while pedaling uphill, the heaving breaths when I notice I haven’t even reached the halfway point.
I think I should stop and rest, but I can’t. The tick of time, my greatest fear, tackles me on a long ride. 5 hours until sundown. 60 miles to my destination. Go! 10-minute break, and I must start moving.
The duration of the time slows down on a bike. but it presses. I stare at my legs, rhythm loops, up and down up and down. The praries roll, the seemingly flat landscape presents a new uphill battle. “Dont think about the distance! Don’t think about the distance!” I check my phone….I’ve gone 6 miles.
The pain of my muscles- my hands, torso, butt, legs, all degenerating becoming stronger. Many of us love going to the gym, going on a run. Imagine pushing that limit the entire day.
I know I’m growing.
Having said that, I truly don’t consider my journey to be remarkably unique.
America has managed to turn bicycle-touring into a business (with waitlists)
And there are people who cycle travel as their full-time job.
Furthermore, the trips that people have taken are astounding.
Most Impressive? Mark Beaumont cycling around the world in 79 days
I’m not trying to diminish the efforts of my experience.
Rather, I’m reaffirming this blog exists not for the bike journey, but for the mind journey. It’s not about what my trip means to the world. It’s about what it means to myself.
My Moroccan Friend: 2 years ago, I was walking down the sidewalk in New Zealand, when a man in a van pulled up. “Want a ride?”. Contrary to popular guidance, I agreed. Gratefully so. He invited me to camp in his beautiful seaside house, cooked dinner and told me of his journeys. He cycled from Italy to Singapore, caught a boat to Australia, picking up random jobs to sustain his trip. He then arrived in New Zealand, and became so enamoured by the beauty, he found a more permanant occupation. He told me “Nikita, promise me one day you’ll take a long-distance cycling trip. You’ll enjoy it.
Ash Dykes: The adventurer walked the length of the Yangtze River, pulled a cart across Mongolia, and walked across Madagascar. Despite all world firsts, it’s his advocacy that appeals to me the most. He conducts the trips that garner media coverage and redirects the attention to a cause, such as environmentalism, education, and community-driven projects.
David Choe: Choe is an artist, writer, and adventurer. His work doesn’t have a unifying thread- he paints murals, wrote a graphic novel, and hosted a vice show hitchhiking from Alaska to Mexico. More recently, he spent several months living with the Hadza people of Tanzania, one of the last hunter-gatherer societies. I remember laying on my bed on a Thursday morning in August watching him describe his experience. I had already created the vision of the bike trip, and told people I would do it. But I was doubting myself, and I was afraid. What if something went wrong? Do I even know how to change a flat tire? Why am I doing this? During the podcast, something clicked.
The creative visions, they come from the full flesh of human experience. They arrive with the experiencing of the spiritual, of the physical simultaneously. I’m cycling so hard, I try to forget that I have a body. That I have fears. I drift off into the clouds, into the winds, into the curves of the road. The liberation arrives when I float away. I’m a tiny transporting speck. Powered by my legs. Fueled by my heart. Traveling inside my mind, searching, searching for one more ounce to keep going.
The neon sign cast a fragmented glow that emanated from surrounding puddles. Droplets fell from the roof and further shattered the light, spreading swirls and rhythms upwards from the sidewalk through the dark alleyway. I tugged on my rain jacket redirecting the rain off of my clothes.
I examined my companions, their ecstatic, upbeat expressions distracted from the surrounding downpour. They all stared at Minh, who was completely unbothered by his soaked hair. It clung to his forehead, snaked down his nose. I tried my best to show intrigue in his speech, an elaborate, optimism soaked monologue on the community outreach of his art gallery.I found it idealistic; my captivation diverted to swift grey currents disappearing into the gutter. My companions were absorbed, nodding, grinning, but most notably demonstrating their interest through punctured stares. Their eyes didn’t even blink when droplets hit their faces.
Minh concluded his speech with “Art brings us together. For any period of time. For an evening, for a lifetime. We are friends”
The sentiment appealed to me. I respected inclusive embraces.
We continued through the streets, dodging waterfalls pouring from rooftops. Cantonese characters, deep maroon, shone softly through the fog. Only passing taxis created noise in the street. The sputtering of a splashing puddle and the accompanying whoosh echoed between the high rises.
One of our crowd- a Frenchman named Rene – offered me a cigarette. A cocksure painter in his 30s, his eyes glared with a hormonal hunger through his fogged-over glasses. Flames, crosses, and blackwork style tattoos snaked up his arms. He spoke with a thick accent and puffed the cigarette animatedly, purposefully exaggerating each exhalation. Sex fantasies spit from his mouth relentlessly. They mostly involved Angela, an older woman accompanying Minh.
“She’s old but I’d love an Asian Dragon”, he said.
Up ahead, we heard a clamor of shouting, and sirens; the engulfing tone of a mob. Serpents of smoke slithered from Rene’s mouth, and I watched as the wind blew them back and forth. Thankfully, his words started to dissipate within the noises of the crowd.
Minh approached me, raising his voice in my ear.
“Thank you for joining me Nikita! When I talked to you in the gallery, I knew you would enjoy the evening with us. Let’s get a beer.”
We entered a 711 on the corner, a familiar respite in an evening of otherwise uncanny settings.
“I seek to meet anyone with a common sentiment.” said Minh. “I saw you walking by the gallery, the small backpack draped on your back, I figured you’d fit with our people.”
My conversations in the gallery had kept me engaged and interested. There was the duo of Russian filmmakers, an Italian photographer, a friendly traveler named Pierre, who now stood right behind us.
We exited the 711 and proceeded down the street, closer to the crowd. Conversations dissolved in the commotion. A robotic, inhuman slogan expelled from megaphones stationed around the block. The repeated Cantonese mantra, while unintelligible, instilled subservient fear. Unwieldy steel barricades forced us densely into the crowded avenue. Police in full riot gear; shields, batons, and visors stood unflinchingly at the end. Their black armor, steadfast stance, and concise formation projected oppression. Around us, people ducked into bars, ordering shots, throwing empty cans into the street. Rain drained unconsumed alcohol into the gutters. I couldn’t make out any words. The megaphones pounded into my head. I felt violence. The mob stirred uneasily, right on the edge of rupture. A young man next to me expelled a guttural roar. I looked at my companions, their hands and feet moved, but expressions froze in passivity. A passerby clunked my beer can, spilling some on my shoes. The mob acted as a pressurized chamber. Some collapsed inwards. Others exploded into the street. A young woman twisted her body, spraying sweat, rain all around.
I rotated my head back and forth, only registering the actions of others around me, no longer considering their absurdity. The overstimulation imploded me and I became one of the transfixed onlookers. Lost in the crowd. Lost inside the mind. Only watching.
I wish I could recall more memories from that street.
I don’t even remember its name or location.
Perhaps if I were to revisit it now, I’d find a boisterous, dirty, yet boring avenue.
My sensations plucked me from the crowd, off of Hong Kong island, and into where I become lost the most easily.
I didn’t shout because I didn’t have anything to say.
I still wouldn’t know the words.
Cambodian soil is a deep orange, rusted color burnt by the sun and condensed by humidity. The jungle vegetation, while lush in volume, droops with exhaustion onto the sides of the road. I sat in a minivan speeding through the thicket. The vehicle teetered persistently, the driver would spot a ditch and jerk the van into the other direction, pressing me into my neighbor. I was on the third row, an elderly woman and her son to my right, and a middle-aged man on the left. The van, a crude, plastic-coated Chinese model, would normally hold a maximum occupancy of 7 people, but on this journey held 10. It was the only transport departing towards the remote mountainous villages I hoped to explore – there were no seat selections.
Durians reeked from behind, two cases full of foul green spikes deposited in the trunk. The strength of the aroma wafted into my nose rhythmically. When the car moved slowly, it grew with intensity.
I was fighting a stomach ailment, without a doubt, food poisoning. The refreshing mango smoothie served by the scruffed, trembling hands of an elderly lady the previous night was the culprit. The discomfort lodged into my large intestine mid-morning and its grasp never relaxed, instead slowly crawling through my torso. Every bump in the dirt road meant another waft of the durian. I strained hard to distract myself, but each inhalation surged a wave of discomfort. A cloud of large orange dust trailed behind the van, dispersing my remaining grains of composure. We entered a village, a cacophonous burst of activity outside of the car. Chickens pecked, squawked, and leaped out of the way. Small children poked sticks into roadside streams, turned and looked at our car with twinkling, beautiful stares. Stilted houses, while simple, were all uniquely colored, with ornate wood engravings on their facades.
The car circled the village repeatedly, twice, three times, always plunging into the same unavoidable potholes. The driver held a phone up to his ear, singing the rhythmic, gentle tune of the Khmer language. I naively hoped he was searching for the buyer of the durian, depositing the shipment, dropping off one of my neighbors, and speeding to my destination.
After 10 minutes, the anxiety in his tone intensified. His intonations sounded tenser, choppier, and the clicks of syllables more definite. His free hand nervously wiped sweat drops off of his forehead.
Finally, the car stopped. An elderly woman with a large bag appeared right outside my window. The driver ran outside, opened the trunk, threw her bag in, and opened the passenger door. The second row already contained 4 people sitting on 3 seats. I assumed there would be a trade of places. Instead, a wife climbed onto the lap of her husband, and the elderly lady entered inside.
By this point, my nausea was approaching high tide, clasping towards my throat, receding back into my stomach, pausing, and approaching again. I fixated my attention towards guitar riffs in my earbuds. My whole body writhed with discomfort. I no longer felt my knees pressured into the seat in front, or the thick, unbreathable air. Ultimately, the wave broke through. I lunged over my neighbor, cranked the window down, and expelled the poison overboard. My head was blasted by cool air, a momentary rush of clarity. The long-forgotten sensation of normalcy lasted a blissful few seconds. I convulsed again, accompanied by laughter from inside of the vehicle. My neighbor compassionately tapped my back. The driver wasn’t happy with the whole ordeal and accelerated the car. We were passing a wide, fast-moving river. Through the dust, I caught sight of the rapids. The swift mass of moving liquid invigorated me for a few seconds. I ducked back inside of the car. I receded into a dreary state of painful delirium. Jungle landscapes blurred behind windows, dust accumulated on my forehead, and the tick of a second doubled in duration. I envisioned a crisp shower back home, my large bed. Repeatedly, I blamed myself. My insatiable restlessness dragged me into villages with unintelligible names, down uncomfortable roads. I forgot where I was sitting, and about my mental tally of kilometers until the destination. Geographical coordinates meant nothing in the countless orbits within my lucid state. I revolved in dreams of comfort, fantasizing on a domestic place unfathomably far away. For an indeterminate amount of time, I was rocked into a rhythm of insatiably glimpsing at pleasure.
The car screeched to a halt, across from a row of large hotels. The driver looked at me, gave me a gentle push, and nodded. I collected my bag, shut the trunk, and heard another laugh coming from within the van. I didn’t know if this was my destination.
I stumbled across the street, unsure of where I was at all.
The project ‘Images in the Singularity’ addresses the rapid, unnoticed integration of technology into our mental structure. Through a series of principles in the accompanying manifesto, the work speculates on the state of the visual image in the future and its coexistence in expanded states of consciousness. The project draws on the unitary visions of Buckminster Fuller and Ray Kurzweil and synthesizes a new theory based on specifically a visual perspective. By utilizing analog technology, and presenting the work in the digital space, there is a demonstration of the fusion in physical and virtual, drawing attention to the increasingly disappearing lines of which aspects of our lives rest in which realm.
Note: Part of this series is exhibited for Loosenart
An Autoportrait of Sensory Experience Deconstructed in Virtual Space depicts the hybridization of flesh into digital spaces. By compiling textures from the artist’s body, then projecting them onto sculptural textiles, there occurs a potent transfiguration of the human form. The bodily components are not selected by choice; they represent the points of intrusion into the human brain. They are the voids through which external input becomes processed internally. The work reimagines how such forms would exist in a varying state of parameters. What is the fleshiness of a lip without a body attached to it? How does an eye gaze when floating inside of a black vacuum? How will the body modify when contained inside of digital space?
Digitized Horticulture explores the confluence of analog and electronic textural processes. Originally photographed on analog film, the photos were experimentally processed through an experimental chemical process. The results were collaged through computer-guided textural tools. The final result melds dual sources of creative processing; analog material resting purely in the digital realm.
With this photographic work, I seek to question the veracity of memory recollection. Presented below is my outline of how memory is overwritten, skewed, and perpetuated in a state of neurological flux. Our minds inhabit a state of constant flexibility, never neurologically linked in the same fashion as the previous moments. Distant recollections become rearranged, and tangled in the knotty linkage of neurological networks. Combined with a visually potent photo object, childhood mementos can resurface absurdist realities.
A portion of this project is published in the Neuroscience issue of Seisma Magazine
Mementos of my childhood bask in a distant, fuzzy glow.
I pick up a photo, replaying the context.
I place it at a further distance away.
Memories are malleable.
Each time I reimagine a moment, I overwrite it.
It’s only slightly altered, my current perspective skewing the vision.
With every iteration, it deviates further.
Our minds are not dependable.
Photo objects serve as monuments.
They appear steadfast in their meaning.
With time, their context becomes skewed.
Photos alter our memories.
The more I recollect a moment, the more I disconnect from it.
I forget my past self, only comprehending my current one.
The elderly man rolls down the window and squints. His eyes are concealed behind the refraction of his lenses. All his teeth are missing, and rugged crevices appear on his face as he grimaces and shouts,
“You aren’t gonna kill me right.”
I gently reply I’m not looking for trouble.
“Well then get in mate, I need some company”
Upon entering the car, a pungency of musty
sweaters is exacerbated by an overactive heater. The space feels of an
amplified retirement home.
The man’s initial comment was his strong stance
on avoiding hitchhikers. Today was the singular exception- he was feeling
He was a few hours into a long journey north, a
visit to his dying friend. Somberly, he remarked he possessed no knowledge on
his condition, nor his chance of survival.
Upon leaving the town he accelerated slightly,
never escaping a drearily monotonous speed.
He glanced at me occasionally and asked germane
questions. I spoke about myself a bit, he remained constantly uninterested.
The stubborn, bitter nature of the men rendered
conversation incredibly difficult.
At every pause in conversation, he
muttered “I’m tired, it’s been a long day”.
Through every repetition, the words sounded
“I woke up at 5.30. Was gonna take the bus.
Wife wouldn’t let me”
Excuse after excuse accumulated, every negative
sentiment acting as a justification.
His unrelenting despondency caused me to believe
his pessimism is ingrained deeply in his personality.
The man worked in a warehouse for most of his
life. A staunchly proud Canterburian, his family inhabited the region since the
1800s. A direct descendant of the first English colonists, his great
grandfather arrived on a fishing boat and never left.
A few years later, there was a marriage with a
“Got some Gypsy blood in me” the man cackled;
some spit flying at the dashboard and some sticking to his chin.
The comment resonated uncomfortably.
He used to travel to the North Island regularly
yet stopped a few years ago due to his fear of flying.
“I hate going out far, mate”
We gained elevation as we approached the summit
pass of the immense Southern Alps. Colossal peaks surrounded in all directions,
the car itself on a ledge overlooking a brisk, cold river.
The mountains dwarfed the road, telephone lines,
and all human imprints on the land.
The cocoon the man and I occupied felt entirely
insignificant in this grand landscape.
“It’s beautiful out there” I remarked.
The man paid no attention.
I asked about the most memorable experience of
“I biked from my small town to Christchurch
once, it was a tiring ride. Took me a good half day.”
The man’s narrow-minded nature grew increasingly
apparent. Not only due to his rigid conversation, but also unease of matters
beyond his perception.
His routines kept accruing, binding him to the
narrow impressions of conservative Canterbury life.
The man struggled to recollect details about his
family, especially his grandchildren. Their ages varied wildly, from 6 to late
20s. Even recalling their names strained him. Perhaps he already reached a
detachment with the world around him. He no longer possessed a need to delve
into the details of living. Once the particulars drift away, nothing remains
but the physical processes of existence.
The man, on his journey to his dying friend, was
grasping at kernels through his fingertips. Each grain a bearer of life,
disappeared into the wind, howling through the peaks around us.
I strongly attempted to understand the man’s
outlook on life.
His mindset on existence was just as respectable
as mine. He was three times older than I was and shaped by years of experience.
Perhaps decades of hard life enveloped him,
concocting such a reality.
Regardless, I couldn’t help but feel
disappointed. Any effort of compassion I put forward would not be reciprocated.
I’d become accustomed to such disconnect. The
array of personalities I met on the road all presented entirely unique mental
conditions. No matter how greatly someone varied from me, there persisted a
universal sharing of experience.
Most drivers didn’t halt their cars for
They stop due to curiosity.
I gaze into the eyes of individuals and seek an
understanding for my view of the world. Reflections of snow-covered peaks,
monumental valleys and wheat-tinted grass color recede behind me. Vistas lack
the tenderness of human touch, a connection between mentalities. Loneliness,
surrounded by nature, seems an inescapable trait of hitching the road.
From the laughter of girls, to the old
conservatism of the man, I feel like a transient drifter.
Transferring between lives, glimpsing at a path,
a continuum of someone’s actions; I’m a stranger welcomed inside.
Gently peering around, inquisitive of the
particulars. What secrets, achievements, and wealth of the soul are kept
obscured. Our counterparts produce a beauty unmatched in nature. New Zealand
did not push me to explore the outdoors or my physical limits.
It caused me to stare deep inside. Standing on
the side of the road, thumb sticking out, my eyes are peeled for what comes
next. For whom stops by and peers inside my life as well.
Once we reached his destination, the man dropped
me off with little fanfare.