Everything is going wrong.
It’s true that life is great, even when it’s not.
It’s true that it’s better to look at the bright side of things.
But today I’m genuinely concerned. I’m concerned that I’m not being honest enough with myself. I’m concerned that I’m approaching the end of the road. The blaze of glory. And I’m concerned that the blaze isn’t going to be pretty. It’s going to be painful, embarrassing, awkward, full of profound hardship.
I’m not good at failure. And I’m not sure that I’m ready to admit that my entire life amounts to… nothing.
The game’s not over yet, but it’s getting close. Yesterday, I could taste the failure, the big one, and it didn’t taste good.
I’ve been peeing in a five-gallon water jug. To prevent splashing, I secured a rag over the top with a rubber band. Sputnik still doesn’t have plumbing. Before I departed, that seemed like a fun project for the road.
But now I’m two months in and still without plumbing. Without water. Without anything really. Sputnik is basically a giant hard tent.
And now he’s falling apart on me.
I got in a fender bender recently, with a tree. For a moment, it felt like the whole trip was over. Like I was just going to have to give it all up and start hitchhiking. Walk away from everything. It wasn’t a good feeling, at all. I haven’t accomplished my goal yet, not by a longshot. There’s still an internet to fix and I’m still the one to do it.
Sputnik survived. But the back door didn’t. It’s hanging on by a thread in the top left corner and the latch no longer latches the way it should, so the deadbolt holds everything in place. A few times, I’ve locked myself out, and every day it gets a little bit harder, and more precarious, to get in and out. It requires a screwdriver, so now I have to take mine everywhere I go. That’s one of those things that makes a person feel insane. I’m a guy who walks around with a screwdriver.
The heat is unbearable. But also bearable. All day every day I am covered in sweat. It’s well over a hundred degrees every day, I don’t have AC (on Sputnik or in the cab of the F-250) so I’m just always sweating like crazy. And sticky. The nights are especially tough. So too is working. My sweaty fingers might be ruining my laptop. I try to position my fingers in a particular way so that they don’t drip into the keys. It’s not easy. My trackpad often looks like slip and slide.
If my laptop bites the dust, that would be also be game over. So many things could be game over. I’m trying no to count them all.
On the radio yesterday, they were sounding urgent heat warnings. “Your local public library is a safe place with AC,” they said. But the library in Benton closed at noon. And the one in Hazel Green closed at six.
I’m like a zombie, chasing climate-control, until I remind myself: heat is just heat. It’s exceedingly survivable. Feeling it makes us human. I used to pay for Bikram classes. Now they’re free.
J seems to understand what I’m going through. He sent me this:
I clipped the tiny northeast corner of Illinois, just so I could say I went there. If I ever get one of those fill-in-the-state maps, you better believe that I’m going to fill in the entire state, even though I barely nicked the corner for less than an hour.
East Dubuque, Illinois was a nightmare. Nobody would talk to me, because I look like what I am: a man without a home who lives in a beat-up RV, trying to find a place where he can shower. Trying to find a way to survive. I tried to ask two people in the street about river access.
“I’m looking for a safe place to swim,” I said.
One turned away without even acknowledging me. The other just said “I live in Chicago,” before ducking into a bar.
After saying goodbye to Wisconsin, and hello and goodbye to Illinois, I drove over the Mississippi, and yes, it was glorious. It was spiritual and beautiful, but it was also a tease. In Dubuque, Iowa there was nowhere to swim. So, basically, after driving a few hundred feet above the Mississippi, I couldn’t find it again.
What is wrong with humans? Civilization should be built around rivers, without cutting off access to them! That seems so obvious. Especially on a stupid hot day.
Instead, in East Dubuque, IL and Dubuque, IA, humans industrialized the entire shoreline in a way that seemed downright demonic. I was so hot I was ready to pass out and everything everywhere was walls and fences.
This is the scene: guy, sweating like crazy, walking up and down Main Street with a screwdriver: “Where’s the Mississippi?! Where’s the river?!” In hindsight, that must have been a strange sight.
I’m perfectly willing to admit that I’m crazy, but it also might be that the rest of the world is. Regardless, something is awry. Lots of idiots, including me, on the loose.
I pushed on, delirious.
That’s when things got really ugly.
Sputnik had an extraordinarily hard time getting up a long, slow hill outside of Dubuque, where the cornfields began again. It felt catastrophic, but we made it to the crest and I pulled off the road. I was basically topping off at 30mph and Sputnik sounded like shit. Like he was working way too hard. I feel you Sputnik, I feel you.
Cars were passing me at seventy, eighty miles per hour, wondering what the fuck I was doing on the road with such a beat up POS. I was wondering the same thing. I had to go another twenty miles and it was downright painful.
The heat is no big deal. The heat is killing us. The heat is no big deal. The heat is killing us. What is the correct answer?!
I ended up in Maquoketa, in a Theisen’s parking lot, which is where I still am now.
I can barely tolerate putting on a shirt, but I can’t not. I need to start looking more normal. I need to stop causing a ruckus everywhere I go.
Today is Saturday. The library will only be open for a few hours in a few hours. That will be good.
I need to get to a mechanic. There’s one in town who might be able to help me, who the guys at Theisen’s told me about.
I’ll need to seperate Sputnik from the truck before the sun comes up. Before it gets too hot to do anything. When it’s hot, Sputnik bakes. 100 degrees outside means 120 on Sputnik.
Late last night, the moon gave me life. It popped up over the horizon exactly when I needed a boost, looking more orange than Sputnik is yellow.
I had no water left, but I decided to go for a walk. I decided to walk towards the moon, just because. I kept running my hands across my sweaty face and through my greasy hair, and by the time I returned to Sputnik, sleep seemed out of the question. But I knew I had to try.
I could handle being covered in sweat, but for some reason I felt like I couldn’t get in bed with greasy hands.
But I had no water left to wash them.
Then I remembered that I have a few cucumber-scented baby wipes in the bathroom. Thank god, I thought. But when I opened the door, my pee bucket, which was apparently leaning against the door, fell over.
Then I yelled fuck louder than I’ve ever yelled it in my life.
Basically, about a half gallon of pee spilled onto the carpet floor of Sputnik.
And I had no water to clean it.
I blotted it with a dirty tee shirt and cursed my lot.
My truck might be dead and Sputnik smells like piss.
I’ve been joking a lot about how I love adventures - the tougher the better - but now I’m biting my tongue. I especially regret all of the times I compared my trip to The Grapes of Wrath. It’s starting to get more true. In fact, I feel like I’m on the fucking Oregon Trail. I keep thinking: Don’t lose the wagon. Take care of the wagon. Stay healthy. Stay optimistic. Keep moving.
What a surreal feeling to have no idea where I’m going or why. What an impossible thing to try to describe.
I hope you’re enjoying these posts, reader. They’re weirdly fun to write.
I’m happy to have the mindfuck that is social media behind me. Here, I can be confident or vulnerable. The truth is that I’m living a dream and a nightmare. So are you.
I still can’t believe just how thin the line is between #vanlife (“I’m living the dream!”) and rock bottom (“I’m lost and alone.”) But I know that social media is no place to work through it.
If you’re confident, people say, “stop bragging.” If you’re vulnerable, people say, “stop complaining; other people have it worse.”
In a world that’s getting increasingly robotic, it’s really hard to stay human. To stay true.
This whole Sputnik adventure is a lunatic diversion. And a blast!
But I live in constant fear.
Especially now that I’m having truck problems again.
One day at a time.
There is always light at the end of the tunnel.
When I’m reading, writing, working on Readup, sitting alone with nature, feeling the wind - that’s when I know I’m on the right path.
The next iteration of the web is going to be more awesome. Trust me. Trust the homeless guy who walks around with the screwdriver and lives on a sweatbox that smells like pee. He’s dead serious when he says he has a plan. Whether or not it works is besides the point.
Have a plan. Work on it. That’s all that matters.