Aleksandr the Adventurer

Posted: August 22, 2012 in Life
Tags: , , , , , ,

What the hell have you done lately?

I was born in Russia. I have traveled around the world. Twice. I’ve lived in many different countries, traveled with the Peace Corps and worked with the US Army. That is not what this writing is about. This is about what came after that.

When I tell people “There is no better experience you can give yourself than the experience of travel,” I mean it. Life is all about experiences. And Life is finite. Which means there is never a ‘time like the present.’ You can plan and you can save up but eventually all that you are doing is holding yourself back. You just have to…Go.

After my time with the military was over, I looked back at my life and realized that for all my traveling world-wide, I experienced shamefully little of the country of whose military I was now a veteran. So I bought an old car and set out from the east coast heading west in a circular pattern, planning to visit every state in the USA.


Thats a terrible game, btw.

If you died today, would you be able to die without regrets? I can honestly say that; Yes, I very much could. You know why? Because before I ever got a grey hair on my head I had achieved what old couples with RVs plan to do their entire lives–and it wasn’t just the privilege of having traveled with organizations like the PeaceCorps or the Army (great balance of philosophies there, no?). It was just a kid with a hundred bucks in his hand who left everything behind and went on a year-long car trip.
How did I manage that? Wait and I’ll tell you all about it.

…okay, wait some more.

Okay here it is:

When I decided to leave, I packed up my survival gear and just drove away, tossing my phone in the process. You have to understand that like many soldiers after a life in the military, I was having trouble acclimating to the change. It was not so much that I wanted to run away, it was more like I wanted to be free of ALL anchors. Let me tell you; that is SCARY. I’ve been traveling all of my life, but never quite like this. Never alone. Never without a unit. Never before have I had to leave literally everything but the essentials (and video games). It was, for me, a spiritual quest.

You can think of a Christian pilgrim or a Buddhist monk. I was them. But not really searching for anything. Merely experiencing freedom.



It was not the kind of freedom that they write histories about, but the kind religions are made from. This was not freedom from some great tyrant but a liberation of the mind and the heart. It was a freedom from tedium. From uncertainty. From fear.

At first, there was a lot of fear. But once I physically took off, leaving all my crap behind, that fear turned to longing and then nostalgia and then it died all-together, giving way to a metaphysical breath of fresh air. All change is scary, but I learned to accept it and the fear melted away. Only in travel, at first, then other things–like the fear of no money, or ridicule for being without harbor, and even freedom from the fear of death. A burden that has been lifted. I was free from physical possessions. I knew who and what I was and I am still as of this writing happy with that. I still relied on my car and food of course, but after a few weeks on the road I was happy with who I was. I was floating, more or less directionless, and definitely goal-less, but I felt free. It was liberating. It helped me to realize that nothing lasts, so why stress about it? Every morning I would wake and be thankful for what I had and who I was and what I had experienced up to that point, and then I reminded myself that ‘nothing mattered’. In the sense that worry is a waste of time. There is always so much more to see.


According to Dogma, that would be Wisconsin.

I do not think this trip would have been possible in any other country that I have ever been before. Europe is tiny, the size of one of America’s states, and while cars are in constant use are much more inconvenient to live in (in my experience). Backpacking through Europe seemed like the better alternative (and was). Russia, while 3 times the size of the USA is mostly undeveloped. There are plenty of roads around the major cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg (close to Europe) but the only thing that connects those cities in the west to the small towns in the east are a transcontinental railroad–not legions of highways like the ones that span from city-to-city, coast-to-coast in North America. Furthermore, the USA, by and and large, has much more hospitable climates. In other words, this was the most perfect, largest country I could explore by car.


Its my blueish (purple) 99 Ford Taurus!

At first I traveled as far as I could, then I ran out of money. I stopped in different places, a new town every week. It turned out that websites like craigslist found my skills very marketable. There were also always quick, small temporary jobs that could be picked up if the need arose. And so I taught private self defense lessons and generally worked a job or two until I got a couple bucks for gas and then I would leave for the next town. The next state. Always on the move.


Still better than an MRE

I had MREs (military rations, or Meals Ready to Eat) but soon I ran out and had to humble myself by asking VA centers for help. They gave me a sort of Food Stamps card and I would use it to stock up on non-perishables on a monthly basis as I traveled. It was not charity in my eyes, but a temporary accommodation for my desire to travel after service to this nation.

Occasionally I would splurge and buy myself some hot food or coal to grill with.


I brush after every meal because I want to set a good example for my adoring fans!

I would further humble myself by showering at shelters, though I never spent a night there. Mostly, I cleaned myself with wetnaps. Sometimes I payed the fees at truck stop shower areas. You have to understand, I did not think of myself as homeless. I thought of myself as Adventuring on the most spartan means possible (with videogames).


I would often sleep with my car windows open…and a machete tucked safely within reach

I would sleep somewhat comfortably in my 1999 Ford Taurus, (I found all the ways to pile my cloths and sleeping bags up to make it as comfortable for my six foot four frame as possible.

I would park in Walmart parkinglots or at campgrounds. Walmart was especially helpful as they generally had a policy of being OK with travelers staying in their cars at night so long as you payed their grocery isles homage in the morning. Sometimes the car would need maintenance, and sometimes I had to stay in some places longer than normal in order to accommodate my stalwart metal steed. But it never failed me.


Wakey wakey! Eggs and bakey.

I would, on occasion be woken by police (or as I called them, “Town Guards”) and I, as ever, would be polite and professional citing my experience with Military Police and if ever confronted with hostility would fall back on charm and common-ground. Evidently, most police officers have a sense of kinship with military (or ex military in my case) personnel. I would only ever have to move my car or sometimes (when caught speeding) get a ticket. Never any more trouble than that. They were, in fact, very supportive and kind.


Also helium

I would wake every morning with an exercise routine (PT) and with my private training classes get combat training (while teaching). I stayed in good shape, and kept my diet reasonable. I once even struck up a deal with a karate dojo (martial gym) owner to allow me to train prospective students in more militarized combat at his establishment (I other ways usually trained at a local park) and he would get 30% of my profits in fees. It was good for a while before I once again decided to move on.


Others were worse than most.

As in the popular movie Fight Club, I had many single-serving friends. People I would meet for a day or know for a week or even two. Others would become friends for a lifetime. Like I said I had cut off nearly all contact with family and friends elsewhere (as per my flight of fancy exploration and freedom quest). But between my students, some hitchhikers and the many interesting people that I met (and sometimes helped and was often helped by) in my travels, I was perfectly comfortable with my level of human interaction. I had met many wonderful people. I was a passing enigma to every person that I met. It felt GOOD.


Its Go Go not Cry Cry

I would sleep during the night and be out around town during business hours. Public libraries would most often allow me to use their computers or read books on site or I would visit bookstores and occasionally pay homage there while using their wifi (I had a laptop). I also had handheld video games that were easy to charge in such environments. Depending on the city, I would sometimes be able to go to dance clubs (I brought with me my best dress attire) and within a few days of spending time around the scene, I would almost invariably be invited in free of charge. Nobody knew I had no home, I would simply tell people I was traveling (which was true). I would meet the club owners and strike conversations with strangers and people would come to know me. Usually by something like “The dancing Russian”. A handful of those clubs would offer me free drinks or even monetary compensation for my attendance because I was one of those people that was on the dance floor whether I was alone or not, and this, according to them “Motivated others to dance too” which meant more drinks sold and more people having a good time at their establishments. I was truly enjoying myself.

Each week it was a different place. A new world. Each state the same (American) but yet different ever so slightly in its customs.

Today’s adventure includes braving new roads, meeting people and surviving

I realize that for all my supposedly ‘spares’ amenities, I was heavily relied on the standards of first-world society in order to maintain my travels. But I felt invincible. I felt above the social caste. I went a new place every day while most of the people I met had never set foot outside their home state. I conquered mountains (there was plenty of out-doorsy kind of exploration too) where most people just wistfully dreamed of one day “maybe doing something”. I stood on the shoulders of society, yes. But I was apart from it at the same time. An outside observer. A tourist.

I was Aleksandr The GREAT!

I was liberated from the norm. I was free from fear. And the cost had not been so high as people feared. My car was my lifeline–the difference between an adventurer and a bum. And when, finally, a little over a year and every state except for Maine, Alaska (which I had been to previously) and Hawaii had been traveled in, I would be forced to settle. Except I didn’t. I stayed in one place for a bit, got an apartment and than just bought another used car and kept on moving. People complained about jobs and money everywhere I went. In some places it was truly worse than others. But it never, ever stopped me. I kept traveling. Sometimes with adventurous lovers or friends, sometimes alone.

Ultimately, the day came when I decided to return to one of my favorite states and there I sprung roots, reestablished contact with past relations and cashed in on more recent friendships. I started a business I can feel makes the world a little safer for other people. I built a place for myself in a society. And I am better experienced and feel more enlightened because of my sojourns.

Change is the only constant in this world, as my dearest friend often says. We must embrace every moment in order to not cheat ourselves of our existence. We all die eventually, the only question is how satisfied will you be when that happens? Fear only holds us back. Societal norms are made to support a static living, but inevitably lead to stagnation of the mind and spirit. I will, I am certain, continue my travels sooner or later (sooner). It will be good to have a home to come back to, but there is still so much more to see. So many other states and other countries to more thoroughly explore. I will never stop. I will continue to grow.

Want my advice?

Go out there and make some memories worth dying for.

  1. arttoa says:

    while i think that’s great advice and worthy story..but i’m unsure to whom you believe you are speaking to. there are some folks not in the position (ethically, morally, emotionally, or most importantly financially) to abandon their ties to communities and responsibilities. i believe you were very fortunate in your experiences, but what works for you will not always work for others. but i am curious, do you think that folks that have not traveled as far are lacking, somehow less experienced or lacking knowledge because they found their adventures closer to home?

    • I think I come across as a very arrogant person. I am OK with that. I am also okay with people being offended by my kind of arrogance IF it prompts them to seek more out of their existences.

      What is ‘good’ or ‘better’ is always subjective. I do not believe myself better than people that are less fortunate than myself. I DO believe I am more experienced than they are (in travel) and that is a ‘good’ thing to strive for. As I mentioned several times, I stood on the shoulders of those kind of people in order to be able to experience what I experienced. For most people living in the first world in uncompromised levels of health, the only thing that is holding them back is their own fear.

      I myself grew up in a castle-city. There are two castles that faced each other across a river. If one were to cross that river one would literally be entering another country. Had I stayed in that one castle-city forever, exploring interpersonal relationships and participating in the community as a whole, I would have no doubt had plenty of opportunity to do good things. But I would have also been depriving myself of invaluable experience and to someone (myself) who always strives to advance on a personal level, that is unacceptable.

      I am not saying that everyone can drop all connections like I did.
      I am saying that everyone can benefit from adventuring outside their respective comfort zones.

  2. arttoa says:

    let’s be clear..apparently you have been accused of being arrogant a lot! so you read that accusation into everything even if i stated..why do you like chocolate pudding? it has to be cause you arrogantly think it’s better then habenero flavored pudding! but anyways…

    i’ve heard a lot of folks talk about how you should travel more! explore cultures and the world! first time i heard it..i was one among many many kids from inner city slums that were unable to see past the concrete jungle we barely survived in. for some kids it was hard to imagine stuff beyond the next day, you didn’t know if you were going to make it home alive that day when the school bell rang.

    don’t get me wrong! i believe everyone should do something that is outside of their routine at least once a month. i don’t think your advice comes off as arrogant, but depending on who is in your audience, it may be least as far as back packing across europe. something simple as starting a conversation with someone you don’t know, or seeing a place you’ve never been to even if it’s in the same town you’ve lived your whole life can still be an adventure and an eye opening experience.

    you don’t have to travel around the globe anymore to get an insight into different cultures, sometimes it’s only as far as your next door neighbor or a co-worker.

    i, personally, make it a point at least once a year to go somewhere i’ve not been to before. i’ve done this now for going on 9 years. it’s not always far..sometimes the destination is only a few hours from home or just across town. it’s the best i can do and i’m satisfied with it.

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