Something that’s taken a lot of getting used to on this journey of mine is the shear freedom of it all. I woke up in my Jeep after staying the night in a shady truck stop somewhere in South Carolina. I followed my typical morning routine of getting dressed, making my truck stop breakfasts (usually a PB & Nutella Sandwich), topping off my gas tank, and hitting the road. I’d planned a nice day of bouldering in Chattanooga, Tennessee. However, on my stretch to ‘Nooga, I made the last-minute decision to skip it entirely and shoot straight to Nashville: the land of Country. I’ve always been a country buff, so blasting Zac Brown Band as I maneuvered my way through the Appalachian Smoky Mountains was a blast. I couldn’t help but stare in wonder at the jagged beaks of the mountains as I tore across the valley; I studied geology in college, so mountains have always intrigued me. I began to think of how geology is a lot like jiu jitsu. In the word’s of Morgan Freeman,
“Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really: Pressure. And Time.”
When people as me about jiu jitsu, the word “Pressure” is the first thing that comes to mind. When I think of the difference between a white belt and a black belt: pressure. When a new student asks me what they should focus on to get better, I tell them to focus on their top pressure and to keep coming back. It takes time. So in a way, JIU JITSU is also the study of pressure and time. As we spend more time on our journey, we learn how to apply pressure more effectively and more efficiently.
I spent the night in Nashville taking in the sights and seeing some live music. My first stop in Nashville was something I’d completely forgot about until I drove past it: the Parthenon. I’ve never been to Greece, but greek mythology has always been an interest of mine (shout out to the Myths and Legends podcast for keeping my mind busy while driving!), so this scale model of the Parthenon offered some AMAZING scenery. The opportunity to string up my hammock and work on these blog posts at the base of the Parthenon was unforgettable.
After my night in Nashville, I crashed in a Walmart Parking Lot halfway between Nashville and Memphis. I rolled into Memphis around 12:45; just in time to catch open mat at Midtown Grappling Academy, a Marcelo Garcia affiliate smack dab in the middle of Memphis, the city of blues and Rock ’n’ Roll! I walked into the school, which is settled away in the more industrial area of the city. Open I-beams towered over us on the ceiling, and the mat space went on for miles. They share the space with an aerial acrobatics club; they were holding practice for a performance that night during the open mat, which was cool to watch while resting!
I first rolled with the instructor, Alexandre Meadows. Alexandre, a black belt under Marcelo, held little back on me. The roll was fast-paced, high intensity, and VERY entertaining. Much of the gym was training for an in-house tournament taking place the following weekend, so I was expecting a scramble-filled rolling session regardless. I then rolled with one of Alex’s brown belts, also named Mike. We exchanged single-leg-X to X-guard sequences for the duration of our six minutes. I was surprised to find that Mike was the only person I rolled with that day who used SLX and X-Guard. Being a Marcelo school, I’d expected to get my ass handed to me, to say the least. That wasn’t the case. Most of the white belts and blue belts I rolled with were very wrestling-heavy, a theme I’d been observing more and more as I journeyed through the midwest. In discussing this with them after open mat, they all mentioned that wrestling was a big part of the culture in the area; most guys either wrestled or played football to some extent between high school and college.
Overall, my experience at Midtown Grappling Academy was one I enjoyed. I just realized while writing this post that they share their MGA namesake with MGA in Manhattan. Funny. This was a crew of guys and girls who just wanted to train. They were very compelled to roll with me, the outsider, and were very impressed with my transitions.
I left the gym to find a place to shower, and ultimately ended up driving to the nearest Planet Fitness and signed up for their Black Card membership. This membership basically guaranteed me a shower for the remainder of my trip, giving me access to every Planet Fitness nationwide (and all for just 35 dollars!). I showered, got changed, and went exploring! After visiting the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid on the shore of the Mississippi, apparently the 10th largest pyramid in the world, I found a park on the river to make dinner! My diet has been consisting of more Ben’s Instant Rice packets (sodium galore) and Beans than I’d care to admit. I enjoyed my dinner, FaceTimed with my parents briefly, and took in the scenery. Again, after countless times at this point, the thought popped into my head:
“You’re doing this. Be Proud.”
Until this point, I had been, admittedly, struggling with the trip. The loneliness on the road began to take over. In fact, the only thing that could make this trip better is to have a best friend with me. Talking with my parents helped substantially; I’m finding that, although your leaves and branches are flowing in the wind while on the road, having roots and a support system back home are incredibly important.
I was given a task by my father, a lifelong blues fan and someone whose influence my own music for much of my life, before we parted: “Go see some real Memphis blues.” Gregg Allman, a pioneer in the Southern Rock genre who had a profound influence on my father’s music, had passed that day. Call it poetic that I was in Memphis at the time. “You got it, Pop.” I promised.
I made my way to historic Beale Street. I was shocked to see thousands of people crammed into this small midwestern street. I’ve never been bad in crowds, but the security clearance and ID check that was needed to get into the street instilled a small bit of claustrophobia. I explored the crowded streets, passing country bar after country bar. I stopped and listened to blues renditions of “Stacy’s Mom” and “Cold Hearted”. I grabbed a beer and just took it all in. Memories.
After an hour, I made my way back to my car. I started Karen up, and blasted Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” as I began my journey out of the city. As I approached the I40 on ramp to go over the Hernando de Soto bridge, the winds started picking up. As light hail pattered on my windshield, the thought of a tornado never crossed my mind. Roughly half way across the bridge, the winds began tearing at my Jeep. Hazard lights were the only thing that crossed my vision as the wind and rain roared. Suddenly, my rock climbing crash pad, which was strapped to my roof, came loose. Had I not tied a loose strap to the roof rack, it would’ve blown 150ft to the Mississippi below. I rolled my window down, grabbed at a strap, and held on. After closing the strap in my window to nullify the deluge that was pouring into my car, I sat an prayed. As the 75mph winds tore across the bridge, I honestly thought, “Whelp. This is it.”
I’ve never felt so close to death. I’ll admit it, some tears were shed in the heat of the moment. Traffic had stopped dead. I could imagine my car being lifted and thrown from the bridge. Now, rationally I knew that was incredibly unlikely. But when you’re anxious and stuck on a bridge in a tornado, your mind goes crazy places. As the wind subsided, people started emerging from their vehicles. A couple in the car next to me had gotten a friend to drive up the opposite side of the bridge to pick them up. They abandoned their Toyota on the bridge. I made friends with a family on the other side of my car; they’d been traveling back to Arkansas after spending the day in Memphis. They were unfazed, and I mentioned I’d been traveling form New York and had never experienced a tornado. We laughed, and the situation had deescalated…
…But we were still not moving. With rain still coming down, and gusts occasional, I walked a few dozen yards, weaving my way between the stopped cars, moving towards the emergency lights ahead. I found that a tractor trailer had been tipped on it’s side by the winds, blocking all three lanes. The panic began to set: being stuck on a bridge is bad enough as is. Being stuck on a bridge as severe weather systems move through an area is MUCH worse. After nodding off in my car for a power nap, I threw on some music and waited. And waited. And Waited. After three tumultuous hours, traffic began moving again. I passed by the truck and hoped the driver was okay.
It was 2am at this point, and I’d decided to get off the roads for the night. I took the nearest exit and parked at a truck stop. I called my girlfriend, who was freaking out that I’d been on the bridge, calmed the both of us down, told her I loved her, and hung up. I made a Facebook post, updating everyone that I was alive and well. I’d had a running SnapChat story of the ordeal, and felt the need to update everyone. I texted my parents that I loved them, and laid in my Jeep. As I fell asleep to the rain hitting my roof, I reflected.
Life is precious. Life is good and beautiful and all around amazing. Take risks. Go live your dreams. Thanks for reading everyone! I’ll have my next post about my trip to Dallas, TX up soon!