Stephen

In Europe

It’s been a little while since the last update before leaving the United States, and many things have happened since then! I am now in Beja, Portugal where I am writing this update from the local McDonald’s – one of two internet access points in town that I know of, the other being the library. I’m sure there are more – hotels, cafes, etc. but I seem to be having a hard time finding them, so here I am! The trip over here was really good, beginning with a great stay in Charleston, SC where I was met by my Mom, Susan, my Uncle, David, and good friends Lyndon and Stephanie who came down from York, SC to have lunch and drive me to the airport.

Charleston was surprisingly beautiful – my impression might be to say that it’s the way you might want New Orleans to look. Small, colorful, lots of great food, beautiful buildings, right on the river and close to the ocean. It was a perfect place to end the U.S. part of the tour, and I’m so happy to have been in the company of such great people. On the night before taking off, David, my Mom and I went to an interesting place for dinner – Tristan – with amazing food, and an interstellar atmosphere. Incredible lights, flying saucer plates, good times! The next day Lyndon and Stephanie took us to a place called Gulla for some really good buffet style southern eating – perhaps the best lunch I’ve had. I had 4 or 5 plates. Afterward, we tied my bike onto the roof of their sedan, and drove (carefully) to the airport as Lyndon and I held tightly onto the cords which ran through the inside of the car and held the bike to the roof. There were no incidents. The drive to the airport made me glad that I would be unable to see all of the trials that the bike box would endure on its journey to Lisbon – best that I don’t see what that box goes through.

 

Lyndon works on rigging my bike to the car. All worked out okay. For info on how to do this, there is an excellent Car Talk episode about how to tie a mattress down to the top of a car. Check it out.

The times it gets tossed to the ground, the times it almost bursts open, etc. In any event, it made it all the way there with no damage, no lost parts, no problems, so I was very happy! The only event was that the NWA agents wouldn’t accept my spiel that the box contained equipment for making a documentary – completely true – and they made me pay an $80 surcharge because it contained a bike. They actually came really close though – one of the agents said sure, and then they had a small conference, and another agent was about to let it go, but then she changed her mind and said that she had to charge me $80. Part of the problem was that tires and spokes were visible through hand holes in the sides of the box… Lesson learned for next time. Bastards. Thanks go out to my mom for footing the bill. I checked in without further event – that being my only checked bag – and passed through security. On to Europe…

 

I am back in Memphis. At night! I was that guy on the plane with a camera!

Europe has been a slightly hard shell to crack for me in a couple of senses, the first being that I had my first seizure of the trip almost immediately upon arrival in Lisbon – within an hour – and also in the sense that I’ve had a few other physical bumps in the road. Fortunately they are small things, mostly related to the seizure – my shoulder sub luxed (i.e. nearly dislocated) which is cumbersome, I bit my tongue really hard which has made eating difficult, and I seem to have gotten bitten by a spider while I was sleeping one night – on my hip and on my ankle…The ankle bite got a bit irritated, mostly from scratching, but is now, along with everything else, well on the road to recovery.

 

Irritated Ankle…I believe from a spider. Don´t worry it looks much better now! For the sake of dignity – my own, and that of this website – I have refrained from putting up a picture of what was going on with the bite on my hip. It just wasn´t right. Just…yeah. Not right.

Ace bandage over gauze over leg.

I have been putting gauze and ace bandages on it which seem to help. The only other new challenges I’ve faced here seem to be finding access to communication, and speaking Portuguese – which I don’t. Fortunately for me, however, nearly everyone here understands Spanish, which I can speak passably, and I can usually understand some Portuguese when it’s spoken by somebody who is committed to being understood. Also, there are many people who straight up speak English. Such as the people who take your order at McDonald’s. The first such people I met were the EMTs (or paramedics perhaps, I’m not sure which) who took care of me after my seizure.

It all went down like this – I arrived in Lisbon at about noon on the 9th after 16 hours or so of travel, and not a whole lot of sleep or food or seizure medication. There came a moment when I was flying from Memphis to Amsterdam (my flights went from Charleston to Memphis to Amsterdam to Lisbon), a few minutes after I had closed my eyes in an effort to fall asleep, when I considered getting out of my seat to search through the overhead compartments to find seizure medication pills so that I could take them. I decided against this plan. In hindsight this was not the best course of action. After my flights, I arrived in Lisbon, all had gone very, customs there was easier than security at a Greyhound station, and I felt pretty psyched about the entire process – so far my trip to Europe was right on track. I found a secluded corner outside the terminal of the airport and took 20 minutes to unpack and assemble my bike – for the first time packed without a stuff sack on top of the rear rack, it now has just two rear panniers, and a handlebar bag – and then rode off feeling tired and a bit out of it – strong warning signs for me.

I pulled into the first gas station I saw, drank a coke, ate some ice cream, had a donut or something, and collected my thoughts before heading out in the direction of downtown. The riding was all sort of bumpy riding on white cobblestone sidewalks. I remember thinking, “wow, I’m totally going to have a seizure!” Then I remember sitting on the sidewalk with a couple of people who I felt like old friends (they weren’t of course, they were just random pedestrians who had called 121 – European for 911 – when they saw my seizure) who would ask an occasional question like, “Do you feel okay?”

First shot of the bike in Europe at the airport in Lisbon! Exciting! Notice that the bike is now sans stuff sack over the rear wheel...just the two panniers - also exciting!

First shot of the bike in Europe at the airport in Lisbon! Exciting! Notice that the bike is now sans stuff sack over the rear wheel…just the two panniers – also exciting!

After long minutes, an ambulance arrived with two EMTs, Hugo and Silverio, who both spoke to me easily in English, and shortly thereafter about four or five police officers, male and female, arrived to take my bike to the police station while I got a ride to the hospital. I grabbed my passport from the panniers, thanked the officers, and hopped on board the ambulance. Or more accurately, stumbled on board with the help of the EMTs.

 

This is how I looked in the ambulance shortly after arriving in Lisbon.

They tested my blood sugar level and then gave me shots of sugar water to drink, which was a new experience in my ambulance riding career. The shots were tasty, but oh so sweet. After a couple of minutes we were at a very large hospital in Lisbon. I will put up the name in this post as soon as I find it – it slipped my mind. I stayed for about an hour while two doctors spoke with me for about 90 seconds about what had happened, and while orderlies wheeled me back and forth to different parts of the hospital so that I could be X-Rayed. Once I had spoken with two doctors, I asked a technician if I could just take off – I told her that I felt pretty good, that I knew my body, and that I was ready to go. She said that she recommended that I stay but that if I wanted to go that I could. I said I wanted to go. So she got my release, took me to the receptionist and explained my situation. I was charged 9 Euros, and released. I only had Visa cards and U.S. Dollars, so the receptionist wound up waiving the 9 Euro fee. It turns out that seizures in Portugal are comped, whereas seizures in the United States, at least in my case, typically devolve into months-long insurance battles in which about $2000 get spent to cover the 90 second conversations with doctors, the 60-second x-rays (which I skipped in this case in Lisbon) and the few minutes of riding around in an ambulance which are involved to get to the hospital. I’ll take a Portuguese seizure over an American seizure any day of the week! Except Sunday perhaps…I haven’t checked to make sure that the hospitals are open on Sunday here, but as far as I know everything else is closed, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that hospitals are closed too! Well, that’s enough on seizures for the time being, but I thought that it would be interesting for a couple of you to be brought into what goes down when I have a seizure in the company of strangers, and to learn what happens. That is what the experience is like from my point of view. Lessons were certainly learned too – always take medicine, be extremely vigilant about getting rest (although in this case it may not have been possible), and sometimes it might be necessary to take a taxi to a hostel or something – can’t always ride the bike.

 

Lisbon has a Golden Gate Bridge! Seriously though – built by the same company. Although it´s called Ponte 25 de Abril after the 1974 Revolution against Marcello Caetano…

Moving along, I spent two days in Lisbon – “Lisboa” in Portuguese – resting after the seizure. I really didn’t feel good after it, and felt light headed, tired, and sore all over my body. So I laid over recovering. I did not really do any sight seeing or any work on STW, but rather I just tried to rest. I sort of feel like that’s what I’ve been doing all the way from Lisbon to Beja which is where I am now. I moved on day 3 from Lisbon to Almada where I stayed for a night in a strange spot next to the road – kind of these weird willow trees, wet camping. The next day was a ride to a place called Setubal, pronounced “ShtOObal,” where I stayed in a residencial, a kind of a cheap but decent hotel which seems to be common here. It was 29 Euros for a night, and pretty cool – the room was just big enough to hold a bed, and was . . . modern looking, although downstairs looked old. The next day I rode to Torrao, Portugal which is probably the most beautiful place I’ve been in a long time. Narrow cobblestone streets, it’s high up in the hills, none of the town is level – in other words every street is on a steep hill, and the atmosphere there seems to always be making cool effects – morning mist, beautiful orange sunsets, etc.

 

The streets of Torrao. My friend Marcelo lives behind a door like one of these.

Another view of Torrao.

There is nothing new there. It seems to have gotten to a certain size in the year 1200 or so, and then been maintained in good order. I was in a small café here – of which there seem to be about 20 – having a cup of espresso when I started talking to a friend, Marcelo. He is a regular at the Café which is also a small bar by night – Café by day, Tavern by night. It seems to bring in the harder, older crowd. It was fun to hang out there. Marcelo asked what I was doing, where I was going. I told him that I planned to camp outside of Torrao that night – I had arrived at 1 or 2 p.m., continued, then turned around, headed out on another street, turned around again to look at the town again – it’s kind of a magical place.

 

Just outside the Tavern.

He responded by saying that on this night I would have a place to stay. So after a couple more cups of coffee, we headed a couple of blocks down the cobbles to his house, a door into the wall of the city essentially distinguished from the other houses only by differences in the color of paint. Remarkable. Marcelo’s house was blue. He has a daughter, Eva (16 perhaps?), who I do not believe was terribly thrilled to have me there that night, but who hopefully was okay with things in the end! Eva cooked a delicious dinner, the three of us watched some TV, and then Marcelo asked, “Tomamos un Café?” Before I quite realized what was going on, he was on his feet, and heading out the door to go back to the bars. By the time we got back home at midnight or so, we had made stops at several of the local taverns, and Marcelo had given them all business. It was an interesting view into that aspect of life in Torrao…I followed him around, and he would push open a random door in the wall on one of the narrow streets of the city, and behind it would be a smoky room with music, arched ceilings, tv, and people drinking espresso, wine, and beer. Behind another door were bright lights, teenagers (classmates of Eva’s?? I hope not, but most likely…), pool tables, ping pong tables, and a small bar that would serve beer if you were old enough. Marcelo kept trying to get me to have more and more beer. Not wanting to be rude, I had a couple of cups of Espresso, but I was in no shape to be drinking still feeling the effects of my seizure, feeling *cold-* the nights are chili in Torrao – and feeling like putting in some miles on the bike the following morning. So, the night went on, I would see what was behind the next door, and be continually surprised by what Torrao had to offer. On tv in one of the bars was the Volvo Ocean race – a ‘round the world sailing race with millions of dollars invested in every facet of the event, from sails, to hulls, to crew, to clothing, to electronics, to media, etc. It looked like the America’s cup going around the world. This was interesting to me because my initial concept of going around the world, which I thought about a lot in college, was to do it in a sail boat. Now I found myself now in a tiny, smoky bar in Torrao, Portugal, with a cup of Espresso, watching other people do it in sailboats – all of whom look like they were suffering – while I did it on a bicycle. I’ll take what I can get I suppose!

I took off the following morning well-rested, and was happy to see another cyclist climbing the hills away from Torrao as I rode out of town. There are many more cyclists in Portugal than there were in the U.S. So far I’ve seen four or five each day, and on some stretches I would see a cyclist every quarter mile or so.

Moving along, I made my way from Torrao to Beja which is where I am currently. The ride was good, not too much traffic, but not too much shoulder either – the kind of riding where you can ride along on the pavement so long as there isn’t oncoming and overtaking traffic passing you simultaneously. Otherwise you get pushed off the pavement for short stretches.

It was all quite manageable though, and I made my way to Beja with no problems. I have now moved my operation of writing this post to the local library, because it seems that my initial assessment about McDonald’s was incorrect – it costs 3Euros for an hour of internet access there, which is too expensive for my tastes… Of interest about McDonald’s here (and to those of you Pulp Fiction fans out there) is that you can buy beer there. What they don’t mention in Pulp Fiction is that you *can’t* buy coffee at McDonald’s in Europe. Or at least not at McDonald’s in Portugal. Such a bummer. And it is true that a quarter pounder is called a Royal… Hehe. I would be surprised to find out about a more-crowded place than McDonald’s Beja at 1p.m. today…it was packed. I still have much to learn about the European free internet network. Just as I learned a lot about the American floor pump network, I hope to quickly tap the secrets of the European WiFi network, and be able to easily connect to the internet on a regular basis. Never fear, I’m motivated and this shell can’t be terribly hard to crack…or can it? I hope not.

Something else that I accomplished last night in Beja was the construction, at long last, of an alcohol stove. I went to Continente, which is the local box store just south of town – Breja is a circular city with a beltway inside which you find old buildings, cobbles, and tight streets, and outside which you find industry, hotels, box stores, McDonalds, etc. – and purchased groceries. Among my purchases was an 8 pack of Coca Cola and some Rubbing Alcohol. After two attempts, I succeeded in making a stove which burns hot for several minutes and does not require the input of a large amount of fuel to get going. The first stove worked alright, but I had to put in a lot of fuel to get it to ignite, and it’s tough to reuse the fuel, so it seemed a wasteful, overly large setup. So I remade the stove, and now it seems pretty good.

 

Seems to be working…

It should be adequate for heating up cans of beans, stew, soup, etc. at night and making coffee in the morning – although the espresso here is delicious, it costs 1 Euro for a cup the size of a shot glass, and I can’t seem to find Shell stations with huge styrafoam cups of coffee for 70cents which had become my life force in the United States – I had not realized that they were my life force until my arrival in Europe where they are no longer available. Now I’ll just make them MYSELF! WITH A TITANIUM CUP! Bitch!

So, with my cooking situation sorted out (I’m going to give my MSR Pocket Rocket Stove to some worthy soul…or if I don’t encounter someone pronto, I’ll leave it somewhere), with my bike working well, and with my health returning to normal, I feel as though I am back on my feet. The next question is, “What direction will Seize The World be taking in Europe?” The answer is, we’re not quite sure yet. Or another answer is, “east.” As you have all no doubt gathered from this post, I have just gotten myself sorted here, and am taking things easy for the next few days through Portugal to allow my body to recover before I begin to work hard again on publicity, riding, and returning to the constant, creative brainstorm that is this project. Also, I purchased a cell phone yesterday for 29Euros (please email me for the #). By the time I get into the larger cities of Spain, I would like to have a European plan in place, whatever that is going to look like. For those of you new to Seize The World our basic model as we moved through the United States (2364 miles from Telluride, CO to Charleston, SC) was to do as much promotion and publicity of the idea that people with epilepsy can lead active lifestyles as possible through slideshow presentations. We had eleven presentations between Telluride and Chareleston, and we received publicity through newspaper, radio, and internet sources along the way. It is probable that we will keep our publicity focus in the United States even as I move through Europe and Asia simply because all of our volunteers are in the U.S.A. This will maintain the highest level of efficiency. We will establish our new plan very soon, and I will post an outline here as soon as that happens. As I wrote above, by the time I ride into the larger cities of Spain, I hope to have a new model. Spain is a country where I speak the language (mostly) and where it will be possible to begin once again to promote the ideas that are so important to Seize The World. Things are looking up – I’m feeling healthy once again, gear is continually improving, the bike is rolling, and we are on the verge of creating a new plan for how to take on this new continent. It’s an exciting time to be working on this project, and thanks so much to all of you for your continued interest, support, and help with making Seize The World the success that it has been so far!

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