Note: this has already been published (with pictures!) on the new site, but in case you missed it there:
Dear friends, family, and followers few,
I've decided to put an end to Mike in Daegu. It's been a nice six+ years (!), but I've now been out of Daegu for almost six months and have already embarked on the next phase of my life. From now on, you can find my writings and photos at http://www.threeruleride.com. The content will still mostly deal with my exploits in fauxboing around the world by bicycle, but will hopefully incorporate more of the environmental themes that occupy so much of my thinking and underlie just about all of my decisions.
Read below for an introduction to my new project. I'd be honored if you'd continue to follow me. Here are a few ways.
"Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures."
- Maobitou, Hengchun, Taiwan, 2012.11.31
Among many signs posted around Maobitou National Park at the southern tip of Taiwan, one in particular stood out to me. It urges visitors to be wary not of the damage that might be done to them by strong and capricious winds, jagged rocks, and relentless waves, but of the damage they themselves might do to the mighty land- and sea-scape. The park is one of only a handful of places in Taiwan where, without moving an inch, a patient observer could watch the sun rise from beneath one horizon and set behind another. No wonder the government has designated it a site worthy of preservation.
A noble goal, but in my eyes, not a particularly lofty one; for while it's hard to find fault with what the sign says, I can't help but feel a hint of dissatisfaction about what it leaves out. The sign's words imply two requests: 1) carry your trash to the nearby disposal bins, and 2) don't steal any rocks. Perhaps an effective recipe for keeping Maobitou's one square kilometer in decent shape, but what does it mean for the rest of the island?
After all, the story doesn't end when the trash makes it into the bin. Every ounce of it - including the hot dog wrappers, the water bottles, and all the rest of the refuse accompanying the concessions and souvenirs for sale down below - has to be taken away. To somewhere else. Somewhere, presumably, not as important, beautiful, or worthy of preservation as Maobitou. If there is one thing that the last eight thousand kilometers of bicycling has taught me, though, it's that beauty exists everywhere where nature is intact. Expansive plains, tangled forests, imposing mountains, twisting coastlines, humble villages: all of them can inspire draw-jopping awe, can bring a sufficiently sensitive soul to tears. To be honest, the hours I spent that day looking out from Maobitou's crowded viewpoints, mere meters from the hubbub of concession stands, were among the least satisfying of that day. I preferred coasting down the switchbacks from Dongyuan to the sea, watching monkeys flee into the thick jungle near Eluanbi, and soaking in the sun and humid ocean air over a dozen glorious kilometers of uninterrupted scrubland.
Sign or no sign, I would never dream of throwing my trash into one of these places, of ruining their pristine beauty. None of them qualify, in my mind, as an "else" into which I'd be willing to discard my candy wrappers or soda cans. Actually, I can't think of anywhere that would qualify as such an "else," except for areas that have already been despoiled. By us. Forests razed, holes dug, trash tossed. The protection of Maobitou - or rather, protection of the kind the sign requests - unquestionably leads to the destruction of other places. Places that were at one point no less beautiful; places which were, in all likelihood, more spiritually or materially significant to their original inhabitants (be they plant, animal, or human) than Maobitou is to the hundreds or thousands of tourists who pass through it daily.
This is exactly what I do not want my travels to amount to, this giving with one hand and taking with the other. After all, is it not a sort of love that impels one to travel? A love for new sights, sounds, tastes, encounters, experiences? And does love not entail a desire for the protection and even proliferation of the things loved? I feel that I cannot honestly say I love any one part of the Earth if I knowingly engage in behavior that ruins any other part.
For this reason, I have decided to do my best to adopt three rules while I travel:
o 1) No gas - In other words, do it all via bicycle.
o 2) No meat - or other animal products.
o 3) No trash - not even recyclables.
It's possible that these rules don't seem like anything special. I think just about everybody can sympathize with my aversion to trash, and I believe most people are at least somewhat aware of the environmental effects of consuming meat and using fossil fuels. Many people make an effort to follow similar rules even when they're not on the road. Indeed, I've been doing my best to live up to them for years. So, why should this change just because I'm on vacation? I don't want to destroy my hosts' homes any more than I would want to destroy my neighbors', or my own. And aren't guests supposed to be on their best behavior? While I hope my trip gives me an increased sense of freedom, I don't want to use it as an excuse to take liberties with the well-being of others.
The number of rules is aslo admittedly arbitrary, since there are plenty of other things I could (and do) do to make my life as Earth-friendly as possible, such as forego purchasing anything new, or attempt to eat local. Further, the rules are really more aspiration than absolute. I broke rule one on day "T minus 1" when I took the boat from Korea to China; I've broken rule two many a time, generally either by accident or after tiring of struggling against a hosts' indomitable generosity; rule three, too, often falls victim to necessity, such as when water runs short or when kind strangers load me down with tea, candy, and trinkets. What's important is keeping my environmental ideals in mind at all times and maintaining a spirit of resolution: to make an honest effort to learn from each failure, to anticipate and prevent the next one.
I also aim to contribute positively where possible. Visits to organic farms; volunteering of other sorts; constant preaching of the Green Gospel through words both spoken and written; and of course; by toting a ridiculous flag.
I'm aware that this may seem like a bit of a buzzkill. Isn't the point of traveling to have fun? Why place limits on the kinds of things you will see, buy, or do? Fortunately, I don't usually experience it that way. The more I attempt to live a life in line with the values I profess, the more respect and encouragement I get from others, and the more I feel connected to them. The longer I spend trying to find peanuts not sold in a plastic bag, the more I see of the local markets. The harder I try not to buy bottles of water from 7-11, the more I wind up stopping at police stations and getting offered not only a refill but also a cool place to sit, perhaps a chance to wash up, and most importantly, a whole 'nother chance to tell my story to a group of interested listeners. Difficult goals often necessitate taking one's time and asking for help, both of which are excellent ways of getting to know people and places.
And, of course, if I weren't up for a bit of a challenge, I wouldn't have decided to cycle around the world in the first place.
Please wish me luck.
More importantly, join me, however you can.