Tuesday, December 6, 2016


PIKEY is a term that is oft used pejoratively to describe "gypsies" in the UK. Typically, it refers to Irish Travellers or pavees that lead an itinerant lifestyle, often moving about in caravans. You may have heard this term in the film Snatch where Brad Pitt plays an Irish "gypsy" and speaks with an almost indecipherable accent. I love this movie, but I prefer the BBC/Netflix series Peaky Blinders, which is in my Top 10 favorite television programs of all time. In Peaky, the gang's enemies use "pikey" as a dismissive ethnic slur not because they are of Irish origin, but because they have Romani heritage. "Tinker" and "gypsy" are equally pejorative synonyms. The Romanis, a traditionally nomadic ethnic group from the Indian subcontinent, entered Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. Fans of Peaky will note that the language the "Blinders" occasionally use to speak to each other is Romani (or Romany).

I have found my greatest happiness as a nomad of sorts. I was entrenched in my suburban Chicago life for some time and then moved about the country, occasionally with some haste. I moved to the Washington/Idaho border to live in Pullman. Fourteen months later my journey continued and I ended up in Nashville. As much as I loved living in Tennessee, my road trips to exhibit at reptile shows from Kentucky to Florida, and occasional trips to visit my family in northern Illinois, were the highlights of that period. Next I moved to Seattle for less than a year, then moved back to Chicagoland, up to Milwaukee, back for a short stay with my mother and stepfather in Chicagoland and then, finally, back to Seattle for a longer stay. During the aforementioned moves, I once lived in four states in one year.

I now travel the world as often as possible and have made numerous visits to the UK (a dozen as of this writing) since 2006, plus field trips and holidays to Costa Rica, Suriname, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Tokyo. I've visited Amsterdam. I've passed through Dubai, Guyana, Hong Kong and other exotic locales. In October I visited Budapest and February will see my return to Langkawi Island, Malaysia after a week in Kuching, Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo. However, this world travel has only occurred over the past ten years. I didn't own a passport until 2006. I got it for my first trip to England, which preceded my field trip to Costa Rica later that same year. I believe my wanderlust is the result of my youth.

My father worked hard when I was a kid, often working two or three jobs as his career in law enforcement evolved. A municipal job meant vacation time that is rare in the United States. Eventually he got to the point where he could save all of his time off so that we could go on three or four week long vacations. These weren't resort holidays. They were road trips. We mostly camped and cooked outdoors as we covered the United States and Canada visiting one national or state park after another. My parents were frugal and we became immersed in the natural world. In our basement my dad had a map of the United States, and he would use colored tape to mark our annual routes. By the time I was in high school, these colorful lines crisscrossed the states and provinces with very little area left unexplored.

My passion for road trips continued as an adult as did my passion for wildlife and nature, especially reptiles, amphibians and arachnids. When I was 21 or 22 a friend I met through a mutual love for tarantulas and other creepy crawlies and I took a road trip to Texas and explored the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. Ever since I have loved driving the open road myself and have continued to take in the majesty of the U.S. terrain. I am happiest when I am moving about and seeing new things.

Three and a half years ago I left Seattle to return to the Chicago area after a tragic accident took my mother's life. I bought a house. I settled. And I have been unhappy. Part of that is losing my mom and then losing my dear dog two years ago today. Those were the two most important relationships of my life, and those losses have exacerbated my feelings of depression, anxiety and unrest. I never intended to live in Chicagoland again, but I don't know that I would have stayed anywhere for long. The truth is that I was ready to leave Seattle.

During January 2016 I spent 24 nights on the road between Chicago and Los Angeles. I had events to attend, but I took as much time as I could to divert to national parks to take pictures. Photography is one of my passions, but it is truly just a natural accompaniment to my love of nature, wildlife and scenery. It is interesting to visit new places and interact with strangers you'll never see again. That January was amazing and I thought about living for an extended period on the road, often with destination unknown.

Nothing made me appreciate impermanence and the fact that tomorrow has no guarantee than the loss of my mother. I yearn to make the most of life. I wish to enjoy my life on the trails now; to explore the back roads and even the superhighways with some relative youth. I seek the happiness of transience and variety. As a life-long loner, I have the selfish fortune of doing only as I choose. Why return to Nashville or Seattle, or seek some other place I'd enjoy, if I can move about and enjoy them all?

This is the start of a new blog and now you know why its title includes the terms "pikey" and "gypsy". I've spent a lifetime traveling and have transversed many of the highways of the U.S. and Canada. Now I want to do it again on my own. The other two title terms may still require some explanation. "Shunpiking" is a term used to describe driving the back roads and avoiding highways and superhighways as much as possible. One of my favorite books is by Neil Peart. He is the drummer of Rush, one of my all-time favorite bands. After two great losses of his own, first his daughter and then his first wife shortly thereafter, he rode 40,000 miles on his motorcycle and documented the stories of his back road travels with Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Neil enjoys his alone time as I do, and also enjoys the interactions of chance encounters with strangers along the road. I read it for the first time 10 years ago and, perhaps, I am finally getting around to chasing the same healing. "Boondocking" is a term used to describe traveling by RV or motorhome, but shunning the RV parks and developed campsites with power, water and waste hook-ups for free and temporary remote locations on public lands that allow overnight parking (often up to 14 days). This dispersed camping (outside developed campgrounds) without "hook-ups" is also known as "dry camping". In the American west, 43% of the land is public, and there are books and websites with GPS coordinates for great free camping spots.

But I've gotten ahead of myself. I haven't even left town yet. This past weekend I ordered a 2017 Ford F-150 XLT 4x4 with the brand new second-generation twin-turbo 3.5L EcoBoost V6 with 10 speed automatic transmission. It has the maximum trailer towing package and is rated for pulling 12,200 pounds. I'll be pulling 7600 pounds in the form of a 31 1/2 foot 2017 Coachmen Freedom Express Liberty Edition 276RKDSLE travel trailer. This blog is so I can document my entire journey, but I skipped the researching RV and truck, buying them and selling my house. That's not as much fun as tales from the road. I have wanted out of my house for quite some time, especially since the loss of my sweet pooch Taylor. I have wanted out of Chicagoland since I've returned. I am not one for a sedentary lifestyle. I've spent some quality time with family over the past three and a half years, but I am increasingly restless and wishing to be chasing critters and capturing images full-time. With camera, books, laptop and guitar, I can live a life on the road.

And so the journey begins ... I am hoping to be in Key West for New Year's Eve. That might be a bit ambitious. I close on my house December 20, but the RV dealer has promised a delivery by Christmas and the Ford dealer can only guess "by the end of the year". I have a reservation in a Florida state park for January 3, but I might have to abandon it. Regardless, in early January I will be in southern Florida, combing the Keys and the Everglades for snakes, spiders, birds and other wildlife.

Keep up with me here for frequent, almost daily, stories from the road and please follow me @jacobipix on Instagram (same for Twitter) to see my daily images.

Cheers, Michael

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