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The Trip

Close to a decade ago, the New York Public Library curated an exhibit on utopia.  I’d never thought much about the subject, but by the time I left the library (the one with the two large stone lions out front), I was a little bedazzled by the whole thing—by the hubris and imagination of those who had questioned the structure of their society and tried to create a new one; by the myriad forms these societies had taken in America (primarily in the nineteenth century); and by the fact that almost all of them had failed, sometimes spectacularly, despite the good intentions, money, and hard work put into them. Over the years, I’ve learned more about some of America’s hundreds of utopian colonies (both religious and secular), but all the pieces don’t yet fit together in my mind. There are a lot of obscure names, as well as tiny towns in states I’ve never visited. When I decided last year to go on a bike tour (something I’d been thinking about since I was a teenager) it made perfect sense to use the excursion as a way to get a clearer picture of these places and the people who lived there. I’m also interested in discovering what’s been left behind—the towns they planned, the buildings they built, the objects they made, the industries they founded. What ideologically has survived? What can all of this teach us about finding happiness and personal fulfillment in a world that can seem alienating and chaotic? This was exactly what they were trying to do back then.


I’ve always been an ardent bicyclist and never much of a driver, although when I finally did learn to drive (in my late 20s), it was from a black-belt former truck driver who took me out into the high Arizona desert in her late ’70s Cadillac on Sunday mornings before she went to church. But that’s another story. The past ten years have been spent in NYC (mostly), although I grew up in California (the Bay Area) and Idaho (Boise) and have lived in (or traveled to) a good number of places on all the continents except South America (and Antarctica, but that’s not quite the same thing). I’ve worked for two different (non-animal) circuses, been involved in theater and public radio, and taught second grade in Brooklyn. I have a strange way of running into people I know in places far from where I met them. Only recently have I learned how to use a portable cook stove.

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