I never knew how I’d react if a stranger were to pull a knife on me. Sure, I’d thought about it. We all have. Most guys—we’ve fantasized about it. We’ve all rehearsed that round-house kick to the mugger’s head. We’ve replayed the scene where we save the girl from the crooks in the alley a thousand times.   

We all love to think that when danger arises we’ll stand our ground and fight. However, it’s our evolutionary “fight or flight” response that gets the final word.  And here’s the thing about fight or flight: it’s designed to take thinking out of the equation. Thinking gets in the way of reacting. And for tens of thousands of years, quick and thoughtless reaction has been what’s helped keep mankind alive.

When the time came for me—when push did finally come to shove—I was reminded of how little thinking I had time for.

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“Balance is important,” he said as we piled into the riverboat. It sounded like it might be the only English phrase he knew. He motioned with his hands from port to starboard and the packs of turismos split and filled the seats evenly on each side. “Balance,” he said again. “¿Entiendo?”

We were shuttled down the mountain from Monteverde, Costa Rica to get the river. One top heavy bus and a dozen travelers on a thin dirt road, speeding through green farmland and three-casita villages. Some passengers closed their eyes when the tires kissed the edges of the cliffs. I stared out the window, deciding if I was electrified or petrified.

I watched our driver brace himself before the bumps in the road came and relax his body into the blind turns that followed. He knew the roads well. He knew the balance.

How do you find balance while traveling?

I’m not talking about balancing all that extra stuff in your backpack you don’t actually need. How do you balance your priorities? How do balance your mind?

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“Where and when would you want to time-travel?” I asked her. This wasn’t just a long drive hypothetical. Considering that we were twenty miles away from a human cell rejuvenation and potential time machine designed by aliens, it was a fair question.

It’s hard not to speed on the road to Landers, CA. Dust covered and desolate, the roads get smaller and emptier the farther out of Joshua Tree you drive. Littered with open space and abandoned homesteads, the highway curves around sun-scorched boulders and the namesake trees that reach for the heavens.

Where we were headed, however, had much more to do with what was underneath the miles of dust and yucca root. We were speeding towards an intersection of geomagnetic forces that amplifies the Earth’s magnetic field.

In 1954, George Van Tassel, retired aeronautical engineer for Lockheed and Hughes Aircraft, began building The Integratron. Where did he get the idea? He claims he was visited one night by an extraterrestrial named Solganda from Venus.

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After two hours, the rhythm of my foot releasing the brake to inch forward has become automatic. We roll past a line of children waving bags of candy and old women carrying pottery, but the US Border crossing remains a blurry mirage up the road. The children parade up and down the aisles of idle cars, shouting, “Tamarindo! Chamoy! En Venta!” They throw toys high into the air that spin and float while their mothers follow behind pushing carts of churros. The smell of hot dust and cinnamon seep into the driver side window and I glance into the cup holder to see how many pesos are left.

Our tires lurch in time with the cars ahead and we can hear the sound of men whistling and signaling to the children from the shade of pop-up tiendas. They garnish signs for last-minute souvenirs, each with a lower price than the one before, proving that, here in Mexico, there’s always a better deal down the road.

The border comes into the focus and we hand our passports to the agent. He looks into our sunburned eyes, glowing with exhaustion and relief, and asks, “What were you two doing in Mexico?”

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I’ve never been able to make my girlfriend smile at me the way she smiles at pigs.

Yes, pigs.

Her desk at work has a single picture of us together from a trip to Mexico that sits surrounded by plethora of pigs. Mouse pads, calendars, and, for all I know, desktop wallpaper dedicated to the creatures while my picture gathers dust and stares enviously into a swine covered abyss.

I didn’t get it. I still don’t. But after taking a trip to Grazin’ Pig Acres, I know that she’s not alone.

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