Mike Avagianos was bored, dissatisfied and ultimately unhappy. However, unlike many in his shoes, he decided to do something to change all that.
He embarked on sort of a cross-country excursion, from Boston to Austin.
On a kick scooter.
That's right. A kick scooter. Precisely the type you might see a second-grader putting around on behind the parents on a trip to the mall or grocery store.
"At first, I considered walking across the country, but there are many people already doing that," Avagianos said."
The 29-year-old who grew up in Newburyport wanted to do something unique. The scooter sprung to mind.
"I sprained my ankle the first week I owned it," he said. "Riding in wet weather is dangerous. But despite that, I liked the balance between increased speed and the ability to stop easily for pictures. On top of that, I've found no evidence of anyone attempting any sort of lengthy journey on one before. Despite the insistence of friends that I should ride a pogo stick, I settled on the scooter."
A 1999 graduate of Newburyport High School, Avagianos served in the U.S. Air Force and then enrolled at the University of Cincinnati until he ran out of money. So, unable to finish his degree, he worked a number of jobs until he wound up at the Apple retail store in Providence, R.I.
He said working at the store for 21/2 years allowed him to regroup. He liked his co-workers and had even started writing the store's newsletter. There was one nagging problem, though.
"I wasn't happy. Things were going well, but I wasn't happy with where they were going," he said. "I've always been a creative person ... acting, drawing and even writing on occasion. Working 40 hours a week serving customers wasn't fulfilling my need to create. The newsletter was becoming the highlight of my work week.''
Instead of wallowing in his discontent, Avagianos took stock and realized in this past spring that for the first time he had enough savings to take some time off and figure out where he wanted to take his life. It was at the same time that the house he was living in was put up for sale.
"The impending combination of homelessness and unemployment inspired a more dramatic use of my free time than sitting around in my underwear doodling on scrap paper," he said.
Avagianos decided to take on America. Armed with just his black Xootr MG, his iPhone and a 20-pound pack full of essential gear, he left Boston on July 10 and set off on the 1,600-mile trip to Austin.
Getting back to his creative roots was in large part a catalyst for Avagiano's journey, and the blog he's been keeping has been the perfect vehicle for that.
"The journey is a great way of recharging my creative batteries, with the blog being a way for me to create daily," he said. "I would like to write a book when I'm done, but even if that doesn't work out, I will have already created something worth sharing with the blog."
The open road can be a scary, lonely place, particularly when you're on it by yourself. Avagianos said he often has had to rely on the kindness of perfect strangers for a place to rest his head at night or for a hot meal. He's found places to stay through a website called couchsurfing.org, and on nights he's been unable to secure lodging, he's just pitched his tent on the side of the road.
While some might question his motives, the response he's gotten from people has been mostly positive.
"I've been offered free and discounted food and lodging, and even the occasional ride," he said. "This is a refreshing way to see the country and meet its people."
As far as hygiene goes, Avagianos joked that though he's in fact a bit of a transient, it's still essential to stay as clean as possible.
"I manage to shower every two to three days on average. I'm not sure of the right descriptor for my aroma, but whatever you call it, the flies seem to love it," he said. "Strangely, it never seems to bother people that much. It probably helps that I still brush my teeth twice daily."
So, what's his family think about it all?
"It's pretty wild,' said Avagianos' brother, Jay. "Mike has always had a 'do what you want and do what you love' attitude, so this certainly fits his personality. It's maybe the most extreme things he's done, but it definitely makes sense."
He added that his brother has always had a gift to be able to "push responsibility away."
"Mike likes to switch it up and bounce around," Jay Avagianos said. "Ninety-five percent of people have to worry about a girlfriend or a dog or paying rent. Mike just gets up and goes."
While he didn't set out to support any cause or charity, Mike Avagianos said he's picked up an "incidental cause" along the way.
"Every roadway I traverse, with extremely rare exceptions, is legal for pedestrians, bikes and scooters," he said. "Plenty of drivers seem to forget this. I do my best to be courteous. I simply ask that drivers return the favor and be careful when passing, not only for me, but also for the drivers coming from the other way."
Some roads are easier and safer than others, he said. But while he's traveled roads with nice, broad shoulders, he's also encountered some that require riding in traffic.
"I think it's sad that our country is so difficult to traverse without a car," he said. "Some places have made great strides to improve on this, and I hope more can follow suit."
On Aug. 19, almost one month after he left Boston, Avagianos made it the more than 1,400 miles to Memphis, Tenn. There, he surreptitiously boarded a freight train bound for Dallas, only he took an unexpected detour to Missouri first.
Ten days later, Avagianos completed his personal odyssey when he rolled into the state capital of Texas just before noon this past Sunday. He'll likely stay in Austin for a while. He knows he eventually wants to visit his sister in Seattle. But whether he travels there by scooter or takes a cheaper, faster route by train remains to be seen.
Eventually, he said his bank account will dwindle, and he'll have to secure work again and return to the daily grind. It's a concession Avagianos seems comfortable making.
Ultimately, he hopes to convince someone that he's a good enough writer to be paid to do it, or, at the very least, look for employment that better allows for creative expression.
"I'll be pretty poor once I'm done," he said. "That's when things get interesting. Being a vagabond, I don't really have anything determining where I'll end up in the end. I have the freedom to settle anywhere.
Mike Avagianos documented his scooter ride from Boston to Austin on his blog, mikeversus.net. Here are some excerpts from his travels:
July 17; Greenwich, Conn.
Miles travelled: about 40
Lesson of the day: Check the map more often!
Sadly that was supposed to be yesterday's lesson of the day, today would have been a shorter day had I heeded it. That's why my mileage is more of an estimate than normal. Missed a few turns and I got to see even more of Connecticut than planned. Beautiful state — such pretty hills (ouch).
I'm now holed up in Greenwich, Conn., at The House of Love. As I first approached the house by the tree-lined dirt driveway, it occurred to me how similar it felt to the beginning of many horror movies. The house didn't disappoint, looming impressively over the water, with more windows than one would expect staring down at any visitors. Once you meet any of the residents, though, any fear dissipates. Almost all are artists of some ilk. I'm typing this from the back porch after having just lost a game of Scrabble and a guitar is being passed around with everyone contributing from their own oeuvre.
It's amazing to sit surrounded by seven new people, and yet to feel as comfortable as I might with a group of well-worn friends.
JULY 23; SCRANTON, PENN.
Scranton is not what I expected. Now, I'll grant you much of what I thought the city would be like is based on how it's portrayed in the California sets of "The Office." Still, having grown up in an industrial city on the decline, I projected my personal experience onto my expectations. Bad plan.
My first impression of the city was 'Wow, large.' The city is surrounded by hills and mountains, giving you an impressive view of the urban expanse trimmed with a green rim. As I scooted my way toward the factory, I noticed lots of signs indicating that Scranton was a very neighborhood-oriented town, with lots of greenery interspersed. Even where Interstate 81 cut through the city, it soared over an expanse of greenery. I took a moment to seek a good vantage point to snap a picture of this green underbelly, and ended up interrupting a falcon as he fed beneath the overpass on some unfortunate slower bird. That should count as wildlife encounter number three.
AUG. 12; BOWLING GREEN, KAN.
Wow, what a day! 63 miles, 108 degree weather, thunder, lightning and hail!
I knew the day would be hot, so I didn't want to waste any of the morning. I set out as soon as I brushed my teeth (priorities). I tried to race the sun westward, but he's a fast one — it didn't take long for the heat to find me. I was sweating by 10 a.m. By noon, it was hot enough that my sweat evaporated instantly; I had to pause in the shade just to sweat properly. I did so frequently, stopping in cafes, under trees in strangers' yards, and at the Munfordville Visitor's Center — I might end up in their local paper, thanks Debi.
The roads were cooperative, at least, even if the sun was trying to murder me. The shoulders provided no room, but the pavement was a long, softly undulating smooth ribbon. I pushed myself up the hills fighting the heat more than gravity, and pushed myself to great speeds on every downhill. The cars passing by me did so close enough to pull me along faster in their wakes. Even with my frequent breaks, I had covered 50 miles by five o'clock. OK, so I got an extra hour from the time zone change — still, a very fast day!
Then things turned gray ahead. Very gray.
AUG. 29; AUSTIN, TEXAS
This morning I finished scooting. My path took me from the almost rural apartment complexes of northern Austin, through some of her industrial parks, and down by UT (the University of Texas). Guadalupe, the street that marks the western boundary of UT, is studded with little restaurants, and is one of the best-smelling streets I've ridden down this whole trip!
Fifteen minutes ago, at 11:30, I made it to the state capitol - my final destination. I'm sitting on the steps, facing downtown and smiling. I did it!
I'm not really done, though. Adventure will always help define my life, and I'll continue to share it with everyone here. I have some big plans for the next few weeks, but first I'm going to go find something horribly unhealthy to eat, and then sleep for 16 hours.