After lots of pining away and wishing that things were just a little bit different in my life, I started to make some of those “big changes” I’ve been alluding to. In the beginning of June, I quit my job at Verve and found a sublet for my room. I managed to get a pretty good amount of money to travel around with, and from June 16th up until about 3 days ago I was gone from my native scene of Santa Cruz.
I went back to my mom’s house to see family and old friends and amass camping gear, which was a struggle in its own right. I get very anxious about spending money as it is, and when something is important to me (like this trip) I tend to obsess about it, so deciding between different types of camping gear was like pulling teeth at times.
After getting everything set up, and watching countless youtube videos on backpacking (for the record, the youtube training regimen works for any subject), I was finally ready to go, and took the train out all the way up to Seattle.
Well, not quite. Make that the Olympia Amtrak station.
Wait, what’s that? The Olympia-Lacey station, rather? Oh, it’s not even close to downtown Lacey, is it? IT’S A 5-MILE WALK TO GET FROM THE TRAIN STATION TO DOWNTOWN LACEY, HUH??
So after 34 hours aboard the train, during which I’d fallen into something like a coma, I had to pull on my monstrous backpack, get out Google Maps, and walk myself 5 miles in the heat to get to my hotel. On the plus side, I got some encouragement from random people—two Jehovah’s witness guys and someone who yelled out “Go Traveller!” at me. The sun also didn’t set until 9:30; I was walking around until 10pm and still enjoying the light by the time I got into my hotel.
Breakfast with my Aunt and Uncle the next day. The afternoon spent slacklining in a park in Seattle. Some people who’d stopped by happened to be staying at the hostel I’d booked for the night. Success!
I spent several lovely days in Seattle. There’s nothing in the world that’s so exquisite as the feeling of exploring a new city, with like-minded people, and being in a completely new place, completely free. You can do whatever you want. You will find out new things about yourself. You will see beautiful things. You will be stoked out of your mind because every single thing you do is totally, 100% fresh and unexpected. I met with 2 people who were just as stoked as I was, the day before I left Seattle, and we had one of these crazy, amazing days of unbridled exploration and enthusiasm. “I didn’t want the day to end” actually happened to all three of us, as we just sat in Jake’s rental car playing cards until 3 in the morning.
I went to Canada after that. There’s a ferry that goes from Seattle to Victoria, B.C. I knew friends that I’d met at a music festival in May. (The wanderlust has been getting stronger and stronger. Sasquatch [the festival] was a preamble to this trip.)
I got to their house and spent many days biking around on a borrowed mountain bike many sizes too small for me, drinking beer in the evening and coffee in the morning, eating monstrous and delicious food portions and getting a dose of the local culture. We went on a hike, and went to a lake and jumped off a tree. I met friends-of-friends who took me rock climbing. Rocky beaches. Peacocks. Nights out. Dinner parties.
There are a few moments that, as you are experiencing them, you can almost feel the memory of the event being formed; when the significance of a moment starts to sink into you, the setting around you gets impressed into your mind, and you record the sense data, the particular friends you were with, and the purpose of your adventure, whatever you were doing. For me this was first biking around Victoria, with no clue where I was going at all, as the sun was setting with the clouds all around, with a huge train of my friends hollering and laughing at each other in one massive bike caravan. We got to the liquor store and everything was CHEAP—Canadian dollars! Here I was the traveller, the odd one out; all the beer was from breweries and places I’d never heard of, and I was the one with the weird money, the weird ID from another place that the clerk had to examine scrupulously. But it was great. We must have cycled a few kilometers back home to go and celebrate. (It must have been a good number of degrees celsius outside, too.)
More travel after that. I had come to a good understanding of my hosts; I got a ride back to the ferry station and had a respectful goodbye. The ferry sucked less than it did on the way there. Seattle was still hot. I walked from the pier to the train station. Canada had put a dent in my wallet.
The train was long, an overnighter, but not as long as the first one. And then, holy shit, I got off of it and I was in Montana. The sun shone and it was morning time.
I spent that first day kind of getting my legs under me. I was dropped off at the East Glacier Lodge, and got a shuttle into Two Medicine campground. Glacier National Park is mountainous, rugged. Everything is plus-sized. Mountain, lake, pass, mountain, lake, pass, plain, forest, mountain. Mountains going up every direction you look, blocking the horizon from view. You can only climb some of them.
So I set up camp once I got in, and planned my trip for the next day. Before I knew it, the next morning, I was actually out there, “back-packing,” whatever that meant, doing it on my own. (“We’re really doing it, you guys!”) Singing for bears. Copying the safety video they showed me in the ranger station. Freaking out a little bit mentally, but also feeling in control of myself. I was ready for this, after all. Nothing will happen to me that’s outside of my control.
Backpacking is one of the harshest things I’ve ever done. The isolation from other people brings you to strange mental places. You are totally, utterly self-dependent. This means that, in a worst-case scenario, you can fall and die, and depending on the isolation of the trail you might not be found. But by that same token, every single step you take is empowering, because YOU put yourself there, and each additional step you take is one step closer to a goal, something that you thought was impossible, that you might never have attempted before, and something that is unquestionably one of the toughest things you can ever do. It hurts pretty bad sometimes. It’s exhausting. But fuck it, just keep trudging along, because it all adds up. And eventually, you’ll arrive, like I did, and you’ll sit down on a bench and look up at the clouds and cry and call your mother because you simply can’t believe it.
I saw a runner coming down from a pass during my hardest day-hike with my backpack on. He was rail thin and bronze as a statue, wearing only shorts and shoes. I heard him say to himself, “You’ve made it this far,” and I wanted to shout at the top of my lungs “DAMN RIGHT YOU HAVE! KEEP GOING!”, because it was exactly the kind of thing I’d been telling myself.
There was a lot of self-talk for me, which served to both alert the (potential) bears of my presence and work through the despair, whenever I felt it. I started speaking about the difference between your own goals, which work in the direction of yourself —> outwards, and things you receive from other people, which come from the world —> back in to you. And I realized there has to be a balance. Being out in the park alone was a totally individualistic goal I set for myself, which had come from an idea inside and manifested outwardly. And as such, I felt myself imbalanced, and missing other people dearly. And by other people, I mean everybody. It must have been literally everybody in my life that ran through my head on the last day of my three-day trip. And I love you guys. Seriously.
Thinking back on the happiest parts of my life, I believe there was a balance between the goals I had set for myself, and their execution, vs. the companionship that I felt with others. Through them I became more of my own person, and started achieving some of my dearest personal goals, but I also received their energy and learned from it. I was nourished and inspired by them. I also realized that my input, in these magical sorts of situations, does the same to the other people around me, that they achieve the same balance. That’s when the best paths start to open up. That, in a nutshell, is “what I learned.”
I spent lots more time in the park, actually, going on day-hikes and scurrying to and from various campgrounds. I read a lot, and wrote a lot, and I got ferociously rained on during a thunderstorm and had to go and huddle up in my tent. Then I found out that I was 100% broke. Eventually I flew back home.
Enter culture shock! Right back into the concrete jungle of downtown Los Angeles. My mom and her boyfriend, whose faces I knew so well, seemed to be so uncanny to me. Being back in a house was weird. What do you mean I don’t have to “do anything?” Everything was familiar but changed, and initially this was deeply strange.
It has all continued to be, actually. The awareness I’ve gained of “who I am,” or who I’ve been in the past in any given setting, tends to weird me out—the knowledge is jarring. Oh, I went about and did this? It feels that way? Have I always put up with this? Did I feel this way when I was younger? . . . .Weird.
I’ve felt each change of place totally and completely since coming back from Montana, and I’ve noticed myself change my patterns and behavior based on where I was, fitting into old molds, so to speak. Having familiar hangout sessions back in the 805, reminiscing about old times with my longest-running friends. Feeling depressed and unhealthy around my dad, as I am prone to doing. After a fairly miserable car ride back up here, I set foot in my house in Santa Cruz again and felt my energy change instantly. The effect of the setting: “Here is where my work lies.” Here, everything is how I’ve set it up to be. Nothing will happen unless I get out there and make it happen, as opposed to sitting around on my parents’ dime and being towed around. This is “my life” I’m living now, and it’s time to resume building it. There are habits and personas I’ve adopted from living here, sure, but it seems to fit better than any other place I’ve tried. . . for now. 😉
Travelling around provided the peaks of my experience. These memories are things I’ll take around with me and use as a rubric to judge the regular, daily experience. They show you what is possible. They’ve reaffirmed in me my belief that there ARE wonderful, insane things out there, magical experiences that are possible to have. My goals are actually the same as they’ve been; my wants are at the same place I left ’em. Be a healthy guy, have lots of fun, write for a living, and spread a message of self-empowerment to others. But now, I suppose, from getting out of the bubble, I know that these things are totally alive and well, and in fact I know that there is nothing else worth pursuing.
How do we get there? By doing these juicy things every day. Every day, every day, every day.