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...