Not your average travel blog
I hooked back up with the holidaying Swiss chaps to experience one, last, natural American beauty. A long, flat drive, through pine forest and not much else, is the approach to a volcano in south of Oregon. Crater Lake is the deepest, and bluest lake in the United States, and as with most things I hear on film reels, advertisement boards or from the majority of American lips, when information is regurgitate from cabaret-style propaganda news or signposts, I am reluctantly sceptical. It’s a shame that I often feel like I’m being slipped a few bent truths when I visit some of America’s wonders, but I’ve learnt that when anyone in the US says “the world”, or even when it appears on the front of magazines or an advertisement outside a shop front, it often doesn’t apply to anywhere beyond its borders, and the same goes for when people, or even signs that say, the biggest, the best…the deepest, or the bluest.
Crater Lake is nothing short of spectacular. From on top of Mount Garfield (not exactly a mountain – it’s a rocky peak on the south rim of the volcano), the views are completely breathtaking. The few miles to hike straight up the side of the old lava-spitter are steep and intense, but us European striders have nailed our pace by now and we are up to the top in less than thirty minutes. Crater Lake truly is the bluest lake in the United States (that I have seen), it’s also the deepest, and intensely mesmerising. Without attempting to sound morbid (it’s nothing new to swim in volcano-heated water, and much like Mount Etna in Sicily) it really would be an impressive transformation if the spectacle was to come back to life, and I can’t help but imagine some explosive magnificence, or at least the water being warmer!
It was so enjoyable to be able to share my last national park with Urs and Dani, and I insisted they toast the end of my trip in Portland. As they were heading north, they didn’t take much convincing – I even convinced them to do most of the celebratory cooking…I just had to buy the Swiss cheese and onions!
After experiencing one of the most influential countries on earth in the ways that I have, I do have a few “take-away items”. I have been asked to write a skit for World Land Trust and I have put aside a few tit bits with that in mind. There will be one more “serious” post.. It is impossible to summarise my journey in a few sentences, and genuinely, words (at least mine) just won’t cut the mustard to inform you of the epic adventure I have had, and what the USA now means to me. After leaving Crater Lake to reach Portland in the same day, there were a few experiences which helped solidify the reluctant end to my challenge.
“Welcome to Portland”, Dani said. So I took my pants off in a small burger restaurant. Arriving in the suburbs was an odd feeling of joy and anticlimax (don’t assume it’s always like that when I take my pants off), but only because I didn’t have a landmark or definite trigger to signal the end of my journey. I walked into a local branch of Burgerville in my ripped pants (I don’t make a habit of making language distinctions, but the pants vs trousers issue has meant that many of my underwear-related jokes in the US have gone over people’s heads, and I have looked like quite a weirdo talking about people’s trouser problems, or being a complete sex-pest by accidentally making references to peoples underwear, then repeatedly getting the “oh he’s British” look.
Explaining anyone’s canary smugglers in a cue of people with children is rarely funny, especially when you’re actually attempting to completely avoid making any trouser jokes altogether!) anyway, I walked into Burgerville in my ripped TROUSERS, my tortured, gleaming-white spandex crotch on show for the lunchtime locals. I proceeded to swiftly remove them and ask a startled waitress if she would kindly dispose of my pants. Please don’t misinterpret, or imagine that I flashed my man-tackle while ordering a strawberry milkshake. What I’m trying to say, is that I couldn’t wait to mark the end of my trip by throwing away my damaged and worn out hiking clothes. It just so happened to result in me removing my damaged pants in front of many people eating their lunch, which after some of my experiences, wasn’t all that embarrassing. I covered my “situation”, after spending a weeks budget on some new shorts, and just as much as my finished journey, I think the end of my exposure was appreciated by everyone present.
Another notable moment to commemorate the end, was realising I had switched dramatically from constantly having my “game face” on (except when I left my electric devices in Katie’s car in Ithaca – not hilarious) to unknowingly dropping my guard and suffering from “baby-brain” when it was time to celebrate, and leap into the Colombia River. My focus had been so intense long before my trip began; I took the nine months of preparation and sacrifice just as seriously as the journey itself, and as soon as it was time to fully submerse myself into the cooling waters of the Colombia, I truly relaxed. I didn’t need to worry about what my next meal would be on virtually no money, wonder about how I was going to avoid trying to camp in a city after dark, whether there was going to be a flood, landslide, weather or animal-related issue, or if any welcoming note or ride offer was going to flake out at the last minute, putting me in any compromising or delaying situation.
I forgot all my worries, and I stopped being concerned with the details of grinding through each day. Life really is much easier when you know where you’re going to safely sleep at night. I jumped into the Colombia with my sunglasses on my head, and now they reside as a grateful offering, somewhere at the bottom of Oregon’s most famous river. It is a small and irrelevant mistake, but I feel like it could have been so much worse if I had misplaced my knife on my hike in Glacier, my hat in the desert, damaged my tarp before a rain storm, or lost my cooking stove while stealth-camping behind a billboard in winter, or at anytime during my journey. In hindsight, it’s an irrelevant detail, but anywhere else on my trip, or something else due to a lack of focus, not only would have been completely inconvenient, but it would have ultimately been an unaffordable expense. My journey put stupidity, neglect, focus, and taking things for granted into context, and finishing by losing something that now, is so trivial, made me realise that I had drawn a line under my list of daily concerns. There’s a deeper meaning to how society has progressed to be able to alter its priorities and shift its concerns, but I think that is fairly straightforward to understand. Personally, after disregarding such simple survival concerns, I felt uncomfortable, and reluctantly saddened that those basic life-checks didn’t exist anymore.
I don’t have children, but since college, I feel I have moderately succeeded most things in very early adult; interviews, substantial time in employment, generally being qualified to work, owning a property, being able to drive, not killing anyone.
Sadly, those qualifications mean absolutely diddly squat when you’re surviving in the middle of a frozen forest, trying to stay warm in the dark, with questionable winter gear, no phone signal, and no one within a ten mile radius as you listen to bears ripping the bark off trees a few feet away. Nor do they come in handy when trying to catch a ride by the side of a sun-scorched highway, wearing a pair of pants with your crotch torn out. I feel I have accomplished so much more as an adult than just commuting to work and paying the bills. We forget what small accomplishments are and what so many in the world don’t have the privilege of experiencing.
It feels like my biggest accomplishment of adult life, and even though I know there is so much more on the invisible table to achieve and strive for, I also know that accomplishing things in the ways that many expect me to, is not something I am interested in – and ultimately incapable of without some serious psychological consequences. Realising other people’s expectations would not contribute to a healthy or progressive society. I would be a mushroom, a sheep, or a tree – fertiliser, herded or stationary – and even though we need sheep, I would rather choose to be a wolf (note to self, I am not actually a wolf, that’s just crazy talk).
To be focused on a goal for well over a year, which has personally taken every ounce of effort and sacrifice, influencing every decision I made for sixteen months, which went against every action suggested by the norms of society, and to succeed, says a lot for how we look at, and how we might live our lives – especially if you have the time to read this, what you do with life is a choice.
To end my journey, reaching no symbolic landmark, or with no specific line to cross, I had only one important act to complete to fully understand how far I had come, what I had achieved, and what was the most important thing to me on reaching “The End”.
I made a promise to a friend, that I would visit her in Portland within three years of saying goodbye in the UK. I remember calling her, almost two years after waving her off at the Eurostar in London, and I let her know that I would be visiting the following year (keeping my promise), and I added “but I’m going to start in Boston, and it’ll probably take me six months on $5 a day”. Whether she realised it or not at the time, I wasn’t joking. You should take note if I ever say something like this to you in passing…I think my parents now realise that their daydreaming boy, isn’t dreaming – he’s making plans.
I made it to Portland within my three year deadline, and the most significant moment on my journey, was the hug I shared with my friend. It was not only a promise fulfilled, it was confirmation that I can achieve something fairly substantial, as I had promised to travel around the world when I had no expendable income and rather a lot of debt. As hugs go, it was most epic. I have seen hugging bears this year, and I have taken note. Nothing begins, or ends more poignantly than with the support, the understanding and the commitment of true friendship, and a proper hug.
Immediately after our hug, Lauren handed me a glass of bubbles, and a knife. Three years of not seeing each other, and I was immediately cooking in her kitchen for twenty people to celebrate my own welcome. I know my place…
More importantly in adult life, I’ve learnt that human resourcing is an important skill, as is delegation… whilst pouring myself another large gin and tonic into an oversized mason jar, I put the Swiss chefs to work and my challenge was over.
I decided to do something fairly extreme with my time this year, and in the beginning, responding to people when they asked “why?” or “for what future?” was probably the hardest question to answer. WHY NOT!?
I know what kills my spirit, drains my energy, and sucks the life from how I want to work to live, and not live to work. Eventually, after hearing about other peoples adventures, its about time to actually have some yourself!
Feeling perfectly happy tied to a bank loan or bills, employment, a cell phone contract, a rental agreement or lease, a dependent person who refuses to make you feel good about you living your own life (I realise this one isn’t so simple), a TV schedule, a commute, a relationship which doesn’t entertain either happy time apart or not having a geographical base is, for most of us, not pleasant. Remaining still, attempting to live life in one bubble, failing to have the option to be instantly manoeuvrable is the worst feeling my soul experiences. Contributing to society is relative, and even though I may not throw thousands of pounds every month into a government pot, or repeatedly put what money I do spend back into a specific local community, if you’re seeing what contributes to society in solely monetary terms, you’re living your life in the wrong way. I wasn’t born to pay bills and then die, and I’m saddened by anyone feeling that they have chosen that situation, but frustrated when people say they have no choice.
Living like this seems commitment free, it appears liberating, it sounds romantic, maybe even rebellious, but being the kind of character who desires to only dip their monetary-toe into society when it’s needed is not always an easy option: It is viewed sometimes as anti-society or non contributing. Mainly, it’s often lonely, unplanned, with regular moments of pressure to move house, change social circles, and make hard decisions. It’s isolating, difficult to strike up lasting romantic connections, and the effects on my bank balance are barely noticeable.
I realise the negative aspects of this lifestyle are often unsettling – not just for me – and it is extremely difficult (socially, psychologically, romantically and financially) to maintain, but the alternative doesn’t allow for opportunities to be grasped with both hands – which devastates me – many of which can be life changing for anyone concerned. I believe we make our own opportunities in life – luck doesn’t exist – but we desperately need to be able to take them more often. I know what kind of life I need to avoid, to be able to make and take opportunities, and for now that is enough to understand “why”.
The next adventure is already on the invisible table, and that might change on any day, in any moment – but at least in my heart I know I am living and experiencing the world from a point of view that is never stagnant or without possibility.
So much I can relate to Ben – Thank you!
Winston, thank you so much for sharing your trip with us. You have shown me parts of our nation that I will never see. I have enjoyed seeing it through your eyes. You write beautifully. Good luck in your future endeavors. Will you be going back to UK soon?……or maybe continuing on around the world. Our brief meeting has led to great pleasure for me. Thank you again, Dick Withington, Round Island, Clayton.