Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Traveling Craftsman

Most of this blog has been travels and what I have seen along the way but quite frankly I am a craftsman and that is my life.  While on the road I managed to make a few things to either help or weigh me down as a travel the world.  I was stupid enough to bring with me some wrought iron along with all my portable tools.  The extra weight is just enough to be too much but I value the metal too much to dispose of it with bad intention.  I should have left it in California. 

While in California I managed to make and almost finish a few projects.  I attempted to forge a small axe head and a seax for traveling with but now I have two unfinished and heavy blanks.  The axe I could really use for chopping wood to make charcoal so I can actually forge my iron into something useful.

Anyway, the one thing I did manage to finish was a pair of new leather boots.  While walking the streets of San Francisco one night I happened upon a dumpster full of quality thick veg tanned leather!  I had so much I was forced to ship it home and took a few pieces with me to make stuff as I traveled.  Now my boots were falling apart and I wanted new ones which I searched endlessly online for cheap ones in my style.  I basically broke down and said I would make them myself in my own style, with my own leather, for free. 

And I did, they were not perfect but the best shoes I have made thus far (pair number three I think).  I didn't get to sole them till I got to Australia but they fit me well even though they are a bit stiff.  Hopefully they will soften up as a walk and not fall apart which I am slightly concerned with.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Down, down, to Australia Towne

Sydney the land of the Aussies.  Up until a few days before leaving I had no idea where I would be staying.  Luckily at the last minute I got a couchsurfing offer in downtown Sydney right where I needed to be.  His name was Kevin Chen and he would prove to be one of the best guides Sydney would have to offer.  He was very friendly and gracious with his home and spent many days trying to help me find a boat and make a bit of side cash busking for money.  He is a frequenter on couchsurfing and almost always has people staying at his apartment, even if there is not enough room!  He says he is running the coolest and cheapest hostel in all of Australia and its quite true.  With his help I've gotten to see most of the important parts of Sydney and even get a great look at the night life and other fun things to do. 

He knows I am on a super tight budget and is trying his best to help me get the cheapest options I can on things.  I won't give the number but I certainly could not rent any flat in Sydney for more than two weeks!  That does not necessarily mean I have no money... but it does mean that Australia is expensive.  Which mean its tough to find cheap food in particular.  However it does mean people have a lot of money and to work here would bring in a great amount of cash.  So far I have been busking three days for a few hours and made AU $75.  Not bad in my opinion.  As someone who I consider to be a master-in-training when it comes to living cheap and reusing what others consider waste, I might be able to make Australia work out for a little while.  One thing that has occurred to me is that a work visa might be a good idea.  I can get one in a week and then work wherever I want for a minimum of about AU $20.  That is a kings wage to most Americans I know.  Its even better that the Aussie dollar is stronger than the American.

Sydney after a while got very dull since there is not too much to do other then drink and go to the beach.  Drinking costs money and the beach gets old as my light skin burns fast.  I did see most of what Sydney had to offer including some beautiful nature walks and ocean cliff adventures.  Probably the most exciting was sleeping in Bondi after I missed the last train (again) and stayed in a small cliffside cave 20 meters above the ocean!  The waves crashed below me and five steps forward was certain death, very peacful though and the stars were beautiful that night.  I finally had plans to leave Sydney as an old friend and ex girlfriend came to visit me from Perth to road trip up north to Cairns. 

We left Sydney in a car she rented and drove north hitting as many cool spots along the way as possible.  Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise, Brisbane, Fraser Island and the Whitsundays!  We did tours, bush walks, water adventures and slept in the car almost the whole way up.  The Cairns plan is to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.  Certainly the most amazing road trip of my life and the most adventurous as we didn't have any real plan other than go to Cairns and see as much as we can along the way. 

Now all this is super fun and beautiful but she is flying back to Perth out of Cairns and I am stuck there.  With no place to stay, go, or do.  Not a big problem to me but I am really getting restless to get to NZ before winter...its coming.  I lined up a sailing job once in NZ but that does not get me there.  I have considered flying and breaking my rule but the captain of the boat I am going to sail with inspired me not to give up.  He told me I would find my ship.  Now I just have to find it.

Cal-if-ornia girls

So I think a brief summary of the month I spent in California is required.  I was treated with the greatest hospitality in LA by both my aunt Debbie and my cousin Eve and her fiance Dave, an up and coming actor.  They were very genuine and giving, especially with food, and I was very appreciative.  After a few days a took a bus up to San Francisco where, allegedly, it was easy to find work on a freight ship. 

While staying with an old friend, I met another traveling girl on the street playing fiddle.  She was from Florida and we got a long pretty well bonding over beers and punk rock.  I showed her SFTD and she is still very interested in participating, which I hope she does.  Her name was Kylee and she was really interested in alternative living and traveling.  We had great fun especially in the redwood forest just outside of Oakland where I stood in what felt like a place where time had stopped.  It was ancient and full of memory.  Every moment seemed like you might take one step and see Haldir or Galadriel.  As magical as it was, I hope for more stunning works of nature in more distant lands. 

Kylee left after a few days to handle business in Colorado and we have yet to see each other again although I am sure that day will come.  By now I had moved my business to Oakland were I was offered a living room to occupy by the master of all American bladesmiths, Jeff Pringle!  Perhaps one of the tallest and largest folks I have met he was certainly an ent, as Dave once put it.  His most impressive feature was however his mind, which was filled with more information on bladesmithing I could ever hope to obtain.  I asked as many questions as I thought he would answer.  Mostly about creating steel and smelts of all kinds. 

One of his niches in the market was that he smelted his own wootz or crucible steel and forged stunning blades of great integrity.  Lately his projects have been three swords for auction and commission for the release of a sword themed video game.  He even hosted a great crucible melt in the back yard where a gathering of friends arrived to have sausages and watch the furnace burn.  During this of course I watched intently and took notes of the entire process asking questions as needed.  My intention is to try and translate an ore smelt (which is what Jeff did) to an Aristotle smelt where iron is recycled into steel for use in tools. 

I spent the majority of my time staying at Jeff's place, where he even loaned me a bike, but I also made some good friends.  By this time I had met up with Serena and she had finally gotten the car shipped to her address in Oakland where she was moving with her partner Austin.  I had only met Austin once before and a few months ago actually did a knife commission for the two of them.  I helped them out in both moving from San Francisco to Oakland and building out part of their live/work studio apartment.  In return they let me stay at their place for a few nights and fed me often enough to keep me happy.  I also got the chance to work on a pair of boots I was really into making after finding a HUGE stash of leather scraps in a waste bin. 

The greatest opportunity of all in California was working in Jim Austins blacksmith shop.  As one of the leading smiths in California and certainly the Bay Area it was a pleasure to work with him a bit and use his facility for some of my own projects.  He held open forges every Wednesday which I eagerly awaited and spent as much time as he would allow there.  During these times I forged a few billets of wrought and high carbon steel folding them multiple times to increase the pattern and refine the old iron.  Hopefully in the end these will become pieces to a sword project I have in mind.  Hopefully I will be forging swords in full in New Zealand. 

Jim's shop was based in an old warehouse building (similar to The Shop in Worcester)  but was exclusively dedicated to metalwork.  He also lived there in a sweet little house space built inside the front of the building.  Jim was middle aged but wise and often young at heart.  He brewed great beer, was an incredible craftsman and one of the most precise people I have ever met.  The only project I managed to finish in complete was a Roman Utility belt.  It was really a legionary belt with all the decorated brass fittings that I used as sturdy belt to hold my packs and such.

Probably the most important person I met for the first time, (other than Jim) was a girl I met at a discount fabric store named Alina.  She was a dark frizzy haired herbalist girl who very much understood fun alternative lifestyles which I admired.  We got along famously and quickly developed a great friendship.  I spent  lot of time with her and it felt really nice again to have a close friend who I could share things that I don't normally talk about.  Namely my concerns with how I was going to get to New Zealand.  In the end it was support from her that really got me through some frustrating times in Oakland; not to mention all the delicious food we made almost every day!

The Results:
In the end I soon realized planning a trip across the Pacific was one hell of a mess.  It either required money, good connections, or time.  I had none, so I finally broke down and bought a one way ticket.  However I was not flying to New Zealand, I still have some dignity to my plan, I was flying to the land down under where I would be only 1,500 miles in Sydney Australia.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A most expected adventure

After going on tour with a band, traversing the country, and waking up not knowing where I'll end up the following day I am finally starting to keep up with this internet blog.  I have been traveling for almost four weeks; not including two and a half weeks of touring with Speaker for the Dead only a week beforehand.  I have carefully kept a journal of the happenings since then but most of it has been uneventful up until recently.  Here is a brief account that puts anyone up to speed:

 I am on whats turned into a "World Bladesmith Tour"  which means that, as I travel to New Zealand, I stop and visit every professional bladesmith that I can to learn their secrets, share stories and drink good beers.  Why am I going to New Zealand?  Over the summer I was debating what to do next with me life when I dawned on me; I know a talented blacksmith in New Zealand who has been doing some great research in smelting blade steel, something I am very interested in, and perhaps I'll go work with him.  After minimal persuasion, he accepted to take me on as a research helper and laborer, mostly for doing grunt work, gaining some incredible first hand knowledge on the ancient craft of forging a sword from hand smelted steel.  Anton Andreich of the Ukraine has been awaiting my arrival to NZ for about two months now as I plan and travel there in a slow but exciting and adventurous fashion.  With the goals of learning to smelt and create homemade blade steel, seeing the world, enjoying every minute of travel and having a true adventure like the world of old I set off into the wild...

Another important thing to mention is my gear.  My pack itself is an old Italian military bag; much like other WWII era European rucksacks.  An important aspect of this trip and any trip I would like to be on is that I use only handmade, or historical pieces, with the latter being the preference.  My tent is a two piece US military dog tent that is olive drab canvas and is useful for many different types of shelter.  It is unfortunately quite heavy along with my sleeping gear which is a 1942 Australian (of all places) wool blanket and thick felted wool bed pad.  The rest is things like boots (handmade and one resoled with hobnails), knives, clothes and other small packs.

Now the vehicle I drove across country was a '92 Volkswagen diesel Jetta. Pretty reliable but old car. I had done some fabrication work in the back to make it almost a hatchback as well. It belongs to my friend Serena who moved to California and wanted her car with her. Basically she pays gas and I drive 3000 miles; everybody wins.

I can essentially claim to have started in New Hampshire saying goodbye to friends and family in my hometown of Hopkinton NH and leaving for Worcester Massachusetts, where I live now, for one last show with my band.  Speaker for the Dead was playing a show at whats known as "The Shop" in Worcester which is a place for work and creativity where I also live.  Speaker for the Dead is a 15-20 brass folk punk cabaret band headed by the famous Greg Mckilop.  I play guitar, mandolin, and once in a while trumpet.  It is a loud, rousey band that really gets people dancing and having fun.  On this night Greg could not make it and we played the show without which was insane to have everyone singing at once with no real central figure for us to follow.  If you've never heard of the band you should definitely check it out... SFTD bandcamp.

I left the following morning after some heartfelt goodbyes to my close friends.  One of them, a fellow bladesmith Elias Sideris, had traveled from Boston for only an hour to see my one last time before I left, unsure of when I would return.  After that it was lots of driving and staying with family before I reached my next checkpoint in Muncie Indiana to spend some time with the infamous Dave DelaGardelle of Mad Dwarf and Cedarlore Forge.

He met me late in the evening after two days of driving and sleeping in a car immediately offering a place to sleep in his house.  I can honestly say that Dave was one of the most gracious and welcoming hosts to me, whom hes never met in person.  We had a blast doing little bits of sword crafting in his garage studio where the majority of his work gets done.  I also got a great peak at his forge and equipment while we discussed techniques and methods of our craft.  I can honestly say I learned so much from such a wise and young human being.

The knife on top is what I worked on and the bottom sword is one of Dave's works-in-progress.

After two days I finally convinced myself to leave his welcoming home and head south west. Dave was so giving till the moment I was out the door, offering me a book and some hand Warmers as a parting gift. I trudged into the car and flew off down the road. I drove all the way through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and half way through Oklahoma before stopping for the night.

The next day was Terrible. I drove into the panhandle of Texas, which is the backwoods country side of Texas, and after taking a few nice pics I blew a water hose outside Amarillo Texas. Unable to fix it myself there I had it towed and was forced to stay the night. Best advice thus far, don't go to Amarillo... You can smell the racism in the air and there ain't much to do for fun anyway. I made the best of it with a stop at a bar and drunkenly trying to cross a highway and then a dozen trains in the train yard to get back to where I was staying. The end result, the car's head gasket is warped so it got shipped to Serena and I grabbed a bus to LA.

The bus ride was fine but long, around twenty hours. Luckily it was full of colorful folks who joked around with the old bus driver. I mostly sat alone and tried to read, wright, or sleep.

Bus driver: "We can sleep the whole way there."
Passenger: "...Not you!"
Bus driver: "Well if we're driving for more than three hours come wake me up, it means I drove past it."

A very important influence on my journey is Forest Gump. The scene where he talks about the sunset or sunrise in the desert being the most beautiful thing he's ever seen really made me want to see it as well. I got my chance but was not as ideal as cracking open a beer on the roof of the car to watch it come up. Still the bus window showed what I wanted.

After finally getting to LA, my aunt and cousin who live there had no idea I was busing in and since they were busy my friend from high school named Preeya picked me up. She showed me around the city and I saw the sunset for the first time over the Pacific Ocean.  So I had finally reached my first huge goal of driving (most of the way) across the country and reaching California.  Wow This felt great but it was still thousands of miles from my destination.  I would spend the next month or so in California hanging around, meeting people, making stuff and planning the next stage of travel...