Embracing Uncertainty

Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering, for there is no other way of discovering surprises and marvels, which, as I see it, is the only good reason for not staying at home. -Alan Watts

The most difficult part about hitchhiking is accepting uncertainty: I never know what time I will arrive, where I will be dropped off along the way, or who will take me there.  It happens as it happens.  Hypothetical worst-case scenarios run through my mind, but really, what are these other than manifestations of Fear of The Unknown? I embrace the unpredictability of my situation even though it feels slightly uncomfortable, and just play!

Antwerp is a laid-back Amsterdam, filled with friendly locals and narrow, cobblestone streets criss-crossed by trams.
Antwerp is a laid-back Amsterdam, filled with friendly locals and narrow, cobblestone streets criss-crossed by trams.
Antwerp
Antwerp

Someone eventually stops, and together we share a brief moment before continuing our separate journeys.  In Antwerp, I hopped on board with Muriel and her children Viktor and Alice minutes after lifting my thumb (the cars at 1:15 and 2:45 were stopping short of Brussels).  They brought me along for lunch at Muriel’s parents’ home in a suburb of Brussels before dropping me off in the city center.

I put on a clean shirt for lunch.
I put on a clean shirt for lunch.
After a couple days in Antwerp, I left the Dutch-speaking north and wandered south to French-speaking Brussels to get a feel for Belgian city life. The European capital reminds me of D.C. in all the good ways, featuring a stately and historic downtown surrounded by cool neighborhoods teeming with young people.
After a couple days in Antwerp, I left the Dutch-speaking north and wandered south to French-speaking Brussels to get a feel for Belgian city life. The European capital reminds me of D.C. in all the good ways, featuring a stately and historic downtown surrounded by cool neighborhoods teeming with young people.
Brussels
Brussels
I left Belgium and found myself in the Old City of Luxembourg, which sits beneath notoriously impenetrable fortress walls.
I left Belgium and found myself in the Old City of Luxembourg, which sits beneath notoriously impenetrable fortress walls.
Gardens abound in Luxembourg.
Gardens abound in Luxembourg.

Energy moves even when no one is looking, which helps inspire me to remain the best version of myself at all times, to consistently reflect the beauty I see in the world.  As I encounter new faces and situations, I learn to not underestimate the goodness of people, who make this adventure so rewarding.  It is one thing to say that we are all the same, but it is quite another to feel it while chilling with a stranger in a foreign land.

With this in mind, I set off hitchhiking towards the French countryside, moving away from major thoroughfares, pushing deeper into the expanse before me.

East Amsterdam

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The goal was reasonable: reach Amsterdam by Saturday.  At 11 AM Friday morning, I stepped out of the Nordfriedhof subway station in Munich, walked 100 meters down the sidewalk, took a left through some trees, and hopped a guardrail, finding myself on an on-ramp to the A9 heading north out of the city.  “Watch out for the ants” read all the reviews on hitchwiki.org.  I set my bag down in the shade but decided I was too inconspicuous there, so I walked a few meters ahead until I encountered a street light covered in signatures and a homemade sticker stating: Official Hitchhiking Spot.  This must be the place; even the ants were there.  I faced the oncoming traffic, raised my thumb, and smiled.

People (subconsciously or otherwise) view the world through ingrained filters that help define what they see.  A hitchhiker becomes witness to this phenomenon as he confronts drivers with his presence and eye contact, drawing out split-second reactions that speak volumes.  Many ignored me; some smiled; a few frowned.  But everyone noticed, shooting energetic waves towards me like I was sitting in an Alex Grey painting.  Rather than reflect or differentiate between the waves, I extended my own energy in the direction of the issuers with joy and unconditional love.  This was an exercise in positive energy cultivation.

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10.5 hours later, I found myself in a bus being lectured by the driver for: a) entering the vehicle through the back door, and b) not having a bill larger than a 50, which he couldn’t change.  But I had come too far for him to stop me now.  Just a few minutes earlier, I had said farewell to the last of my five rides as I stepped down in Amsterdam city center before sundown.  With an innocent smile, I explained to the driver that I had just arrived.  He asked for my destination–a park I scouted the day before on google maps–and allowed me to remain on the bus until then.

The smile joined me as I walked to my seat.  I had just covered 500 miles in less than a day, never waiting more than 15 minutes for a ride. People are just that cool.  My drivers included:

1. The owner of an elevator company making the daily commute home to a town that was too small for elevators;
2. A teenage apprentice mechanic;
3. A service member heading off-base to see his family for the weekend;
4.  A renewable energy consultant driving a sleek BMW X6 (who revealed that Father Damien is revered in his home country of Belgium for his work in Hawaii); and
5. A 20-something marketing employee who counted me as her first hitchhiker.

I camped in a public park my first night in Amsterdam because my couchsurfing host wasn’t expecting me for another day, and why not?
I camped in a public park my first night in Amsterdam because my couchsurfing host wasn’t expecting me for another day, and why not?

I walked to a densely covered area in the park and quickly assembled my tent in the waning minutes of light, then went for a walk through the neighborhood.  My last driver had remarked that it was curious I asked to be left in the east side of town, and I could see why.  The area was devoid of tourists, racially diverse, and beautiful in the quiet night.  I returned to the park around 1:30 AM and walked to the middle of a large field, where I practiced yoga for half an hour before retiring to my tent.

Exploring the neighborhood shortly after my arrival.
Exploring the neighborhood shortly after my arrival.
I awoke the next morning to discover that I slept besides an overgrown Jewish cemetery.
I awoke the next morning to discover that I slept besides an overgrown Jewish cemetery.

Throughout the day, the lines from a movie quoted by a fellow couchsurfer I met in Innsbruck replayed through my mind like a mantra:

Use your imagination and your skills.
Everything is subjective.
Whatever that means.

And you start to see that reality is completely self-defining, that there really are no rules except for the ones you create for yourself.  You realize that no one really knows what he is doing, so it is pointless to look outside yourself for the answers.  There is no guru holding the secrets of the universe.  The answer is to do what feels right, because nobody’s conception of reality is compatible with yours. The only voice you hear belongs to your intuition, while all others fade into your general awareness of the surrounding environment.

You see that you are defined in relationship to everything else, which also makes you inseparable from it.  There is nowhere to hide, nothing wrong or shameful about the things that make us our unique selves.  We are no longer people with issues, but simply energetic beings cultivated by our pasts.  It is all relative.

My couchsurfing hosts (Behdjoe, Bert, and Heidi) and I wandered around a very Dutch park situated on an island behind their home.
My couchsurfing hosts (Behdjoe, Bert, and Heidi) and I wandered around a very Dutch park situated on an island behind their home.

Just Because You Don’t Doesn’t Mean You Shouldn’t

The clouds followed me from Vienna, but parted on occasional, beautiful moments where the sun flooded the Danube with warmth and light.
The clouds followed me from Vienna, but parted on occasional, beautiful moments where the sun flooded the Danube with warmth and light.

I left the states with a relatively undefined route, reflecting an openness to the flow of the universe, and an understanding that as my mind evolves, so too will the travel. Guided by instinct and a general intention to test my limits, I moved spontaneously from city to city. I surfed on couches. I traveled via ridesharing. I pushed, became, recalibrated, pushed harder. It was invigorating.

I generally dislike legislative buildings, which in my opinion reflect the oversized egos of the politicians they house.  But there is no denying that many of these structures, including the Hungarian Parliament Building, are quite impressive from an architectural standpoint.
I generally dislike legislative buildings, which in my opinion reflect the oversized egos of the politicians they house. But there is no denying that many of these structures, including the Hungarian Parliament Building, are quite impressive from an architectural standpoint.

And then I hit a wall. My movements and thoughts began to lose meaning, accompanied by a stomach virus that depleted my energy and resolve. I had slipped into the hordes of tourists moving like lemmings around Europe’s go-to destinations, escaping only to find myself robotically shuffling alongside locals carrying out their daily lives.

Prague from above.  Not pictured: all the tourists below.
Prague from above. Not pictured: all the tourists below.

I needed to rest and reset. So I returned to Munich, in which a beautiful summer was underway.

A local Bavarian law requires that every able-bodied resident hang out at the English Garden when the sun is out.
A local Bavarian law requires that every able-bodied resident hang out at the English Garden when the sun is out.

Rebuilding my plans required that my focus turn inward, which is no easy task. “It is the same mind which creates bondage for us and which liberates us,” a truth illustrated by the paradox of our ability to discern the world around us while simultaneously struggling with our own self-awareness. From this disconnect grows uncertainty and passivity, which weigh me down as I climb the ladder of my potential. It is a weight that I must shed, for though I have learned to embrace the world, self-actualization mandates that I also assert myself within it.

Back in Munich, I joined a yoga studio, ate healthy, and just chilled, all part of a concerted effort to tune back into my body and mind. As I regained my centeredness, clarity slowly returned, and with it the realization that what I need most right now is the same priceless gift I have given myself time and time again: discomfort. I am inquisitive by nature, but not in a way that leads me to a classroom. Rather, I am constantly drawn to novel experiences requiring me to step outside my comfort zone and adapt to the environment. These experiences have accumulated over time, each one serving a different purpose and leaving a permanent mark on my personality. Through them, I develop perspective; gain strength; learn what matters. Without them, my growth stagnates.

So starting tomorrow, I step forth into the world of hitchhiking, inspired by fellow couchsurfers (women among them) who place tremendous faith in themselves and the world around them to get where they need to go. I can no longer be a passive spectator to the life unfolding before my eyes. I must proactively engage, connect, ask, and share, or else I literally go nowhere. It is a daunting challenge littered with cultural, linguistic, and practical obstacles. But is also an incredible opportunity to meet interesting people, cultivate positive energy, and stimulate my creativity. For the first time in awhile, I feel like I am actually going somewhere.