collect call

Collecting, collector, collection.

Collect, connect,

Gather, amass.

Possessions, things, lying around

Wasted, wasting, rotting – away.

The personal personal, the people, the ones inside them.

The things, they hold, holding, hoping, howling; looking.

Crying, calling,

Wishing, wanting.

These piles of sorted things. Humanity organizing, organizer, organized.

Time will tell, surplus will waste.

Amalgamation, colors, vibrations – junk, cardboard boxes, springs and leafed bleach.

Space in stone, living alone.

What do you collect?

 

that familiar hay

I could hardly see the ground beneath my feet. The mud, sucking to soles of my sandals, the knee-high thistle keeping my skin on edge. We turned around faced the headlights that illuminated the slope of the hill before it. I was startled, I did not remember the moments that had occurred just before: how did I get to this field. Why did the night sky look so unfamiliar? His words struck a comforting fear within me. “Where the hell did I put the keys? Fuck. Alright good, lets go” The keys go into the ignition. 

I do my best to scout any piping we may run over. We nearly miss in a couple of spots. “Every 40 feet there is a spigot, we run nearly 400 feet of pipe,” his window still down as a spray of residual water enters the car. “Pressure will die soon.” We rock our way back to the pavement.

-

I am back at the ranch, everything is dark, lights are off. The dogs are barking unevenly. I enter the gate, head to the basement, collect their bowls and feed them in their pecking order. A wet nose meets my shin to remind me who is my favorite.

-

My eyes readjust to total darkness, the thought of fear enters possible, I stop thinking.

-

My legs move through the hay, that familiar hay, the stars have retaken their position, I feel warm. I begin to feel nostalgia; the thought of leaving the late night walks lit by the stars and the photovoltaic lights of the outhouse. Losing the chores of hauling water, groceries, trash; my perpetually dirty feet; Harper, a leash, a collar.

I miss it, its immediacy can only further, its intimacy only dilute. I lose track of time, of space, of direction.  I make notice of horizon lines, of deepness versus darkness, expansion and entrapment.

I still haven’t decided where I will go, the open space my eyes cannot decipher beckons to my other senses. I follow my route home, into comfort, familiarity, silence.

I wish to leave the door open, but I always close it behind me. 

Shifting Gears

It was a strange feeling, pulling out of the National Transmission onto Main Street. Slowly, the quirky creaks and vibrations crept out of the depths of my consciousness. An unexpected moment of regret, of fear, began to rise in the back of my throat. “What was I doing, spending the little money I had, the few dollars I had managed to save, repairing on old piece of shit? Was I making a huge mistake, chasing a dream I had put to rest just months ago? The nostalgia of my fallen ideals pushing me to make rash decisions, forbidding me to stop and think?” I felt my heart beat rising, the blood in my veins crawling and climbing to get out of my body. I became sad, sad that I had failed to stay my course and follow the plan; sad that the van I had built up to be perfect was, in fact, like me – flawed.

---

My mind jumped months earlier. Harper and I were stuffed in my van, in my zero-degree sleeping bag – a puffy wrapped around her and two on myself – snuggling to keep warm in the negative-10 degree night. I prayed that all of the insulation I had on the windows would keep us warm and help us to forget the fall of mercury levels that night. I knew the gig was up, partially because the Van would barely start up, but really because it had been three weeks of living like this, and it had to stop.

I took a job on a ranch as a relief-milker, two or three nights a week at first, on a work-trade deal for housing. I had always told myself I wanted to spend some good quality time on a ranch, some draw to the romance of the old-west I guess, and here I had my opportunity. The van helped me get to the internship and from the ranch for the first few weeks. Shortly thereafter it died, on the highway, around a blind corner, leaving me trapped in Aspen, trapped in the mountains; my belongings and dog were going to have to survive the winter.

---

The odometer hit 55, I felt like I was flying down Highway 82, the old clothe captain seat rocking to the rhythm of the pavement, and immediately I felt at home. The nuances of the van began to spark a smile on my face, thinking of all the places that I had been not too long ago. This is why I am still chasing that dream; this is where I belong.

The variety of improvements I had shelved months earlier began to descend their way back into my imagination. The places I wished to go, the people I wanted to see, the views I dreamt of beholding. So much time had seemingly passed, and yet the road was still open, still there for exploring.

Suddenly, I felt the urge to write, the urge to laugh, the urge to jump and yell into the wind. And yet, the temptation for self-pity felt all-too-strong. To loathe myself for the opportunities lost, to dread on the promises broken, to glance at the insurmountable hurdles that lined up before me.

And then, thump – I am at the ranch, the blending of time begins – the various goals I have made in the interim, and the future I have been holding out for, seamlessly collide.

I feel compelled to take everything out of the van, and into my house to begin consolidating and simplifying.

This is my life, and I am going to live it. The Van is back baby.

Dealing with Gravity

I used to think I had something unique to say, something original, something unthought-of of, something unspoken before, but what these past few months have taught me is that I don’t.

I don’t mean that in an existentialist, or even nihilistic, sort of way as if my thoughts specifically have no value, rather, I have just met so many people, with their stories, with their experiences, with their knowledge of life, with so much power and gravity behind them that I have begun to realize how little I have done in this span of time that is my life.

I could try and write about leaving the West Coast back in October, after having spent nearly half a year on the road out there. Or I could write about the troubles I have been having in the Van mechanically and the budding excitement that has begun to grow within me in learning simple fixes to my problems. Or I could try and write about the different regions of this country, how they compare, how they contrast, what sticks out and what you don’t normally hear about.

And yet, none of that would be authentic, none of that would be original – not because it wasn’t authentic at the time in which I experienced those realizations, rather, because it would no longer be my experience. It was my experience, but today as I write, it is not my experience. A lot has happened in the past two months in my life, not in dramatic spikes, but in sets of realizations that have gradually come about as the result of boredom and stagnancy.

I guess what I am realizing is not that I have nothing to write, but that it is through the experience of writing from which I derive knowledge of my world. As abstract as that may seem, it is quite simple: I feed off of my experiences and so long as my writing is an experience, working-through something, then I will continue to develop. Simple as it is, it is a struggle I am constantly engaged with – do I capture or do I create?

I feel as though I have been programmed to capture, be it through my writing, my storytelling, or my relationships. It is as though I feel compelled at any moment – to tell where I have been and what I was doing. It is though I have taught myself to categorize my actions through thought. It is though that I must have a conclusion to each action, an explanation for each decision. While in reality I function most of the day without this complex at play, it is when I try to reflect on my day that I feel it come out most.

All intellectual stammering aside, I am still writing and that must be worth something. And yet, it isn’t – at least in the sense that it is snowing outside, well below freezing, and my plan up until this point was to live through the winter in my van … in the mountains. Sure, I can come up with some thoughtful comment like “The number in my bank account continues to grow every day, because my expectations of what I need to live continue to shrink,” but at the end of the day I am pretty near broke and don’t have a fucking clue what to do.

I can’t help but criticize myself at this point for majoring in Philosophy. I can’t help but see all of these faces that asked me, “And what are you going TO DO with that?” “Nothing,” I replied sheepishly, grinning because I had the moral high ground above their unknowingly utilitarian expectations of my college degree. Well, who is grinning now? The philosophy major with less common sense than a chicken with its head cut off, or the person sitting by a fire, keeping warm, having realized the bitter, cold truths about practical skills in this world while it was still summer.

It is not that I am helpless or hopeless, I will find a job and I will be okay (or so I tell myself), but it signals something deeper to me that has been going on in the recesses of my mind for some time now. I have been so concerned with abstractions about who I am going to become in my life, what I am going to do with the limited time we all have, where I will go and who I will meet, that I have forgotten perhaps the most important thing there is to do in life – to remember that my feet are still touching the ground.

I guess that is what I am trying to do, just learn how to focus on taking steps on my own. For so long I feel as though I have walked (run really) with the knowledge that there is something to support me should I loose balance or should I succumb to fear, but at this point of my life I no longer want to rely on these handrails of safety and security, the structures set up to keep me from falling to my knees, or my face (hopefully not).

So I think that is what I have begun to learn as I have been trucking all around this country, pretending seasons do not exist, that I want to learn how to stand on my own to feet – not out of indignation (maybe a little) or some masochistic desire to feel pain, but instead that if I am going to do the things in life that I think will make me happy, it is going to involve a lot of risk (calculated I hope). 

I find myself constantly repeating the saying “By age 50, you have the wrinkles you deserve.” I forget where I heard it first, and I am sure I have a friend out there that will remind me, but it is such a telling expression about life. At a certain point, you have a decision in life – the degree of the agency in any decision is very subjective – nonetheless, you can make a choice. Do I want to continue in this direction? Is this what I want for myself?

I can’t really answer those questions at this stage in my life. In fact, I don’t know if there is truly a right answer to questions like those. At the end of the day, everyone is just trying to stay warm and fed and it is important not to forget that.

So, I guess if there is one decision that I am looking to make for myself it is this: to learn how to deal with gravity. I think if I can just begin to tap into that, even just a little bit, I might be able to feel a bit more stable on my own two feet, maybe even learn to dance, who knows? At least I will know where I am and will be able to feel my own weight. 

 

 

Santa Cruz Crew

Harper had been mad at me since we left the city. A week or so with new friends, fawning over her, giving her all the attention a puppy deserved. It was hard to leave San Francisco, strengthening connections with old friends and creating connections with new ones, it is a city that I see myself coming back to in the near future. Regardless, Harper and I have a tight schedule, if such a thing is possible on a trip like this, a trip that has begun to blend into a lifestyle. We made our way down to Santa Cruz, back to the coast and Highway 1, a landscape we seemed to both forget while navigating the maze of the city. 

I could tell Harper was getting antsy, cooped up in the back of the stuffy, clothe coated van, so I took her to a dog-friendly beach where she could burn off the adolescent angst that a 5-month pup builds. She ran up to the first dog she saw, a checkered brown and white pit-bull mix.

A tall thin man in baggy clothing was holding her by a pink, braided rope. His cheeks were burnt, his hair long on top, short on the sides, his eyes and mouth smiling. We got to talking; he had an accent I mistook for French. “German” he says. Not his dog either, walking it for his friend Roberto, an Italian. Romo is the dog’s name. The two of them are rolling in the sand and trading nips on the neck.

Turns out this tall German has been traveling for three years. He has four days left before he heads home to Bavaria to decide on what to do with the next chapter in his life. He is turning 30 and he is looking forward to spending it with childhood friends.. We shake hands, and exchange names: Michael and Michael. The two Mikes. Formalities aside, he asks me to hold Romo’s leash so he can run and jump into the ocean. I agree, and away he goes.

When he returns, he grabs the leash and invites me to dinner. He knows his way around, but street names fail him. A couple of lefts, a right, and look out for a stove with a “for sale” sign on it. Enough for me to figure it out, I thought. We said goodbye, waiting to see each other when the pasta would be ready at 7:30 pm.

----

Fast forward, Harper and I are hungry after a nice sunset beach run; we find the stove.

We walk through the gate to the backyard and find Michael, Romo the pit-bull, Roberto the Italian, and a fourth friend, Aaron, a Santa Cruz local and as I would learn, a travel buddy of Michael’s from Baja, Mexico.

The four of us sat around a plywood table resting on cinderblocks, in lawn chairs, waiting for an electric stove to heat up some tomatoes. Within minutes, dinner is ready and then served, wine is poured, and the storytelling begins.

The three, Michael Roberto and Aaron seemed to know each other and their stories well. I was the guest and as such it seemed best to sit back and listen to their recollections.

It was clear pretty often that Michael was running the show; when he was not talking or laughing, he was preparing the dinner with Roberto, full of enthusiasm and wit. He spoke like a native English speaker, a developed knowledge of colloquialisms and ease in deciphering unfamiliar ones.

Though Michael ran the show, this was Roberto’s home, a work in progress from the growing olive tree to the unfinished deck and kitchen. Roberto must have been in his late 50’s. A native of Italy, he left Rome in ’83 when he landed in Santa Cruz and picked up work as a handy man. Some 30 years later Roberto is still employed doing odd jobs, of which he specifies very little.

Roberto seems at ease, happy to prepare a space for three young men to eat and talk in peace. I want to be a good houseguest and begin asking Roberto questions. He answers them in very short, few worded answers. I begin to think that I am not asking good enough questions, so when the opportunity presents itself I ask: Why did you leave?

He turns and looks at me, his eyes betray that the words are still digesting in his head. He looks away and shrugs a little, looks straight ahead and then back at me. “The people,” he says. I sense remorse in his voice, as if this question struck something deep inside he does not want touched. I realize my mistake and determine to be more careful with my questions. Either that or I am stuck projecting my own feelings onto this man. Regardless, I am done asking Roberto much of anything.

Michael has not missed a beat; he turns the attention onto himself and begins to tell the story about how he and Aaron met in Baja, and later, chance encounters in Costa Rica. I listen, and begin to turn my attention to Aaron.

Aaron is close to thirty, which side of thirty I am not sure. He is a big, muscled guy with tattoos all over his arms, and a long black ponytail. He is calm and quite, yet shows bursts of personality and vulgar humor. He is renting the basement of Roberto’s apartment, the two of them less landlord and tenant than most, as they share meals and guests often.

I can tell Aaron has stories he would like to share, though he doesn’t seem to feel comfortable telling them in my presence. Having learned my lesson, I keep quite, turning my attention to Harper, who is rolling around in a bush, chewing on one of Romo’s beef bones.

The stories begin to slow, the food and wine all gone. I want to retreat back to the van to sleep on my new futon, but hesitant to go back and deal with the mess I made reorganizing my clothes into a trunk I got off Craiglist. Michael asks both Aaron and Roberto to go surfing with him. Neither of them surfs, and he knows this. I say I will join him and so we make plans to meet at 9 am tomorrow.

There is weird energy in the air. After a night of stories, good food and drink, this new friendship feels like it should matriculate into something more than just an early bedtime.

And yet, all I want to do is get out of here.

...

A Day About Numbers

Harper and I had company.

Two new friends by the name of Seth and Dan. Seth is a 23-year-old bud trimmer fresh out of college, bent up on a hangover from a big bike trip he took from Connecticut to North Carolina. Dan is a 30-year-old carpenter, living in New Orleans, who took a flight to San Francisco to get outside and try out his new homemade backpack.

Dan got into the creek about an hour after Harper and me. Seth came about 2 hours after that. We had a good night chatting about hiking the Lost Coast, stories from our pasts, and dreams for the future. We went to bed with plans that I would wake them up at 6:00 AM and we would finish the hike, all of us together.

---

I woke up at 6:25, knowing that I had overslept. I quietly gathered my things, wrangled Harper down to the trail and left without saying goodbye. I wasn’t sure why I wanted to hike alone, but I was intent on doing it.

Two hours later, Harper and I are finally getting to Shelter Cove. We find our way through the residential streets to a café where I grab an espresso and give Harper a milk-bone.

The two of us need to hitch hike a ride 3 hours north back to the Mattole Trailhead where we left the van three days earlier. To make it easier for you, the reader, I will tell the story of our day in reference to the number of rides we got.

#1: Lee, from New York, on a week vacation with a couple of friends to do some hiking on the Lost Coast. A short ride from the coffee shop to an RV Campground. I crack my iPhone screen in the process. Fuck.

#2: Robyn. With a y she says. She is in her mid 50’s wearing a hiked up dress, her skin loose from many seasons of tanning. She is a local, on her way to Eureka to receive medical care after an accident. She won’t specify the accident. We stop to see a young man, her friend, first. She wants to make sure he has found work. He has. She starts driving us up the hill of Shelter cove and talks about how Harper is touching her breasts. I begin to notice the days-old green eyeliner and a missing tooth. I am uncomfortable. She thinks she knows where my destination is. I try to tell her she doesn’t. I get her to drop me off at the top of the hill at the local market. She does. We run into our New York friends I had caught a ride with earlier.

#3: A few minutes after being dropped at the local store, a snazzy X3 BMW rolls up. I give the thumb, and he pulls in. We will call this guy N, to protect this guy’s identity. As silly as it may sound. N is sporting a white designer wife beater, with many chains and necklaces. A ginger, N has a Mohawk that is styled nicely. Messy enough to seem unintentional. N asks where I am going, I tell him Honeydew/Petrolia area.

He lifts his auburn shaded aviators and looks at me. “That’s far man. I can get you as far as Ettersburg Junction. It is a lonely road out there man. You might not get a ride for hours.”

I nod and get in the car. We get to talking. He explains that he is in the “industry.” Self-employed. I start asking questions that I would be too nervous to ask in any other situation, but something about N makes me feel at ease. Perhaps it is his nice BMW. He begins explaining his story, raised in the mid-west, travelled for years before settling down here. Likes his life. Is making good money. Really good money. Like a couple million a grow season, type of money. I just try to ask good questions that will get him talking. My caffeine high is ending and I am hungry, I have only eaten a carrot in the 6 hours since I left camp, but I keep quiet. He just keeps telling me all about the scene here.

I ask about the Bulgarians (See previous post). He laughs, “The Bulgarians are a guest here.” Plus, they are a good distraction for the Feds, or so he says.

We get to Ettersburg, but he likes me and the conversation. He says he will take me to Honeydew. We drive and drive. He tells me about India. Gives me the name of a guy who owns a motorcycle shop. He tells me the name of the motorcycle to buy, the package to get, how much it will cost. He laughs and says, “You need to do this.” I agree and I am serious. I want to please him.

He tells me some teachings of the Buddha and offers wise words of personal growth. I listen intently, though the lack of food was beginning to do weird things to me.

We pull into Honeydew and he lets me out. Gives me a huge clasp of the hands and a hug. We both smile and he drives away. Hello, Honeydew.

From Honeydew, I need to travel roughly 17 miles to the Mattole Beach Trailhead, not far; a sure bet or so I think. For the next 5 hours I am stuck in Honeydew, which consists of a burger shop and a corner store on what is essentially a dirt road. During my time, I meet all the locals: from the woman who owns a Christian mission, rescues dogs, and pulls out a bigger marijuana nug than I have ever seen in person, to a man that used to be local and just complains about changes to the area. He gives me a Powerade.

#4: Two beautiful girls roll up in a white beaten-up Mazda. One is Spanish, the other Argentinian. We share a cigarette and they offer me a ride only a couple miles down the road. I need to get out of Honeydew so I agree. We get in the car and speak some Spanglish. They drop me off 5 minutes later on a deserted high mountain country road. Here we go again. It is about 4:30 PM.

Truck after truck passes me.  An hour goes by. Finally, a van that passed me on its way to Honeydew, comes back the other way and picks me up.

#5:Two Canadians named Colin and Doug. Both with beers in hand, many crushed all over the floor. "You boys are gonna party tonight?" I ask. "Nope, we are just Canadian," they say. "We like to drink."  They get me another couple miles down the road, to the Mattole Grange, a community center out in Humboldt County. Harper does not want to leave the Canadian's van. She is curled up on a sleeping bag and looks at me with disgust as I pull her out. It is almost 6 PM and we are 13 miles away.

An hour and half goes by. I get passed by 50some cars. Finally, a beefed up truck picks me up.

#6:He was born and raised here. No name. His family has been in the business for generations. He drives 75 miles in 35 mph zones, passing people without any signals. I am scared shitless, but happy to be getting closer.  He drops me off at the bridge to Petrolia, right at the turnoff to Mattole Beach. 4 miles away.

Harper and I get to walking.

We walk about a quarter of a mile when a van pulls up.

#7: "I can get you a half-mile down the road. Sorry." We hop in, and then hop out.

We continue walking. I have my headlamp on. Its 8:30. A truck zooms by, then hits the brakes, and throws it in reverse.

#8: “Hop in man! The engine is hot.” He isn’t kidding, the engine is smoking bad. I drop Harper in the bed of the truck, hop in and we get another half-mile down the road.

We keep walking. So close, and Harper can smell it.

#9: A white Toyota 4Runner. Very nice. A young couple.  These are the first people that picked me up today that were not felons of some sort. Or at least, not in the way most people in Humboldt County are. They are on their way to do the same hike. They drive Harper and me the remaining way. 9PM and back to Van. I start her up and she fires. We hang out for a couple hours. They give me some beers and a nice dehydrated lasagna meal for later. I hit the hay. Harper is fast asleep. It feels good to be home.

A long day; one of those days when a day doesn’t quite seem like a day. A day this full of new experiences seems to warp Time; so much can occur in one day and nothing can occur in the next. Yet they are the same unit of time; however, their importance or their influence may be drastically different. Days like today make me realize how much can happen in one day, all it takes is one day to change the way you view the world. That, and breathing the Humboldt air, are enough to get you stoned. 

The Humboldt Helper

The gunshots were still fresh in my head. Alone, save a puppy, in my van in the middle of nowhere.

J.R. Tolkien says, “Not all that wander are lost.”

Well, I sure as hell am.

---

Pulled over on a turnout off a crumbling country road, things were calm when I woke. The sound of the creek could be heard nicely, now that the sounds of engines on the winding, forested roads were no longer roaring; just a slow autumn morning in Humboldt County, California, if there is such a thing.

Ready to leave, I loaded Harper up into the van and turned the key. No start, no click, no power. I lifted the hood, grabbed my cables, walked out to the edge of the turnout and began the wait.

Trucks roll by; few take note of my presence. Most just rev their engines louder as they approach, blowing black smoke into the air of freedom. A suburban turns the corner and I flag him down. Love those cars.

Montana plates. Girlfriend in the passenger seat, with their pit-bull mix. Both are pretty over-weight. The guy and his girlfriend that is. Not the dog.

I hand the Good Samaritan one end of the jumper cables, old and withering that they are. They will work, he says. No problem

Red to red, black to black. I connect my ground cable to the frame of my car. Advice from a good friend that it protects the jump from shorting the battery. We let his engine run and get to talking.

“Colorado plates. That’s a long drive. How long you been travelin?”

“Since May. Montana, how long have you been out?”

“This’ll be my second season. Beginning to make a bit of a name for myself.”

My thoughts begin to wander off, anxious about my car not starting. I begin to tune him out, aside from the occasionally nugget of information about the area. I hear him talking about the grow season. Apparently I am a month to early to find work. “No worries,” he says, “Just grab some cardboard and draw yourself some shears. You will find work.” I don’t tell him that I am not looking.

He continued on talking. He seemed anxious too. I am not sure why. Then he says, “Never let anyone know too much about your life. A friend told me that. People will try to take advantage of you here.”

It was at about that moment when a guy in his late 90’s green Toyota Tacoma truck pulls in and does a half donut burn out to join the party. “Speaking of friends,” my Humboldt Helper says.

A man got out of the car. Young, maybe early 30’s and walked towards us. “Everything alright?” he said with a twangy smile.

Humboldt Helper responded, “Hell Dave, how’s it going? Just jumpin’ his car.” Dave looks at me. We shake hands.

The two of them begin chatting. “Hey Dave, what did you say you were using for compost in your garden?”

“One-third chicken shit, one-third oak trimmings, one third lawn trimmings. Only need three gallons of water a week, per plant. People out here watering with 100 gallons a week. Stupid!”

I decide to pipe in, “you might as well just buy your groceries elsewhere.” I was serious. I thought they were talking about food… I am an idiot.

Dave chuckled. My fat friend just looked at me, then turned to Dave and said, “So what you consider that strain?”

“Oh, we call it Redwood Kush. Not thick enough to be an OG.”

“Damn, I gotta get my hands on a clone of that.”

The two chatted some more. I realized the blunder I had made. My mind begins dozing off. Dave was leaving. I nodded his way and he pulled away.

The girlfriend had decided to get out of the suburban at some point. I don’t remember when.  She says, “I always ask what they are growing before I agree to trim. I ain’t gonna be caught trimming OG. You can’t make any money.”

I nodded, surprised at how much I was learning, and how quickly it was coming at me.

“And if anyone ever offers you a job near Bushwhack point, you tell ‘em you have other plans. Two weeks of work, then there is a gun to your head telling you to get the fuck out. Goddamn Bulgarians.”

Suddenly the gunshots I had heard the night before took on a new ring.

“Bulgarians?” I ask, “I had no idea.” I wanted my car to be done charging. I had plans to drive to the coast and try to find a vet for Harper so she could get her final booster shots before taking her on a backpacking trip.

I suggest I try the car. Good news is I have power. Bad is that it wont start.

The girlfriend that suggests she rev the engine. The Humboldt Helper nods. I see him change the location of some cables and then walk to his car.

I get of the car and see what he has done. My ground cable is no longer on my frame and now it is on my battery. She is reving the engine hard. I switch the cables back remembering my friend’s advice (remember that?). I walk over to where I saw the guy disappear and find him hunched over turned away from my car with his fingers in his ears.

“You switched the cables,” I shout over the engine roaring. He turns around and sees me standing there?

“What?” He stands up and runs over to my car. He looks at me and looks back at the battery. Things feel tense. “Oh! Hold on, try this!” He pushes the cable that connects my battery to the car up. I turn the key and the car starts.

He slams the hood down and gives me a strange look with his thumb up. Confused, I give him a thumb up in return. He gets into his car and they turn to drive off.

They double back and roll down the window. “Hey, by the way, go back towards Redway, go to the feed store and buy that pup a double-dose of Parvo Vaccine. Shit will kill her real quick around here.”

I nod and they drive away.  Both of my problems solved by the plump couple.

I drive to the store get the vaccine, give her the shot, and drive to the coast. On my way, it dawns on me that I caught this guy about to blow my battery.

I shake my head and get ready to walk the Lost Coast. 

Frank and Florence

There was Patti and Chuck. There was Colleen and Sarah. There was Eve. There was curious young boy and there was old and edgy handyman. And there was Frank. 

I spent a Sunday afternoon, hanging outside of a coffeeshop, refreshing my phone for Redskins scores (shamelessly), and holding onto Harper as she tried to smell and play with every person and dog that walked by. She was pretty successful.

This was a particularly eventful Sunday afternoon in Florence, Oregon - or so I was told - a car show on the main boulevard. Dozens of cars, from all sorts of decades, polished, shined, waxed, and wearing their dancing shoes as they lined up for a handful of prizes.

I liked to stare at the cars, walk by and smell their interior, imaging that maybe one day Van would be sitting here on this very street, 30 years from now.

As I sat and chatted with Harper's victims in front of this coffee shop, the car show in the background, I learned the many faces of Florence forgetting all of their names. However, the person that stuck to my mind like a fly on my windshield was Frank. 

Frank approached me as I was staring into a Blue 1949 Plymouth sedan, a collage of old State park stickers decorating its back passenger windows and a wooden longboard riding on its roof. 

"Pretty ain't she?" I turn to face a man at my waist. In a wheelchair, it was pretty clear that this man could not use his legs. I stared at his legs, then immediately made intense eye contact with him, in part to try to convince him my eyes were always in line with his and to try and forget that I was staring impolitely at an what obviously differenced him from myself. His eyes didn't seem to care of my indulgent rationalization. 

Instead, he continued on: "I remember the day when my parents took us kids down to the dealer and bought one of these. Remember it like yesterday. I reckon i will never forget it." His eyes fell to the deep blue shine of the relic of a simpler time, and I sensed a longing on his face. "Is that so?" I asked, partially curious of this memory and partially asking as an apology for my initial stare. 

"They took all the money that they had been saving, cash, in their dresser and went down to the dealership and bought it! Grey. I think. Most of them were back then. Anyhow. What a day. They took all of us kids with them and then after we went to get some fried chicken." He stopped, his arms crossed, still staring at the deep blue of the car in front of us. 

I could almost imagine Frank imagining back to the taste of that fried chicken, a taste from some 60 years ago. I have never tasted chicken like that. 

"They just don't make them like they used to anymore. Can barely even get under the hood of 'em these days. Back then you couldn't even afford a mechanic. I still remember working on my first Oldsmobile, walking to the local library, pen and paper in hand, finding all the books that I could, making notes. Sure, you could go to the local mechanic with questions, and I sure as hell did, but that's all you could do"

I stared intently, nodding at the correct intervals, smiling when we turned, and shifting my arms as I tried to get comfortable. 

"Nowadays you have the phones to take photos of and know where everything goes. Back then, i made damn sure that I would align every single part in the configuration that it was supposed to be. I mean EVERY part. All it takes is for one thing to be out of line. Today, you have Google!"

The nodding picked up its pace, but my stare had begun to drift, towards other cars, to questions I might ask as though the whole thing were done out of my humble charity. A thought I write here, with some disgust. 

"But man," Frank was still going amidst my internal processing, "when you got everything together, and you turned that switch and you heard a roar, there are few feelings like that in the world. You are God, for that moment."

I stare back at Frank, and realize the profundity of this man's statement. My eyes drifted to his hands, wearing gloves, these hands were this man's life. His life depended on these hands, to wheel him around and take him from place to place. Those beautiful, aged hands.

"I try to tell my son, buy 'em used. I have my whole life. Get 'em used and fix 'em up, it is they only way you can afford it. He doesn't listen." He gestures with his left hand away in the air and makes a sigh. "It is a whole other world fixing cars," he looked around, "fact, I have owned about a dozen of these cars at one point or another."

I take this as a good point to ask about a different car on the street, but he carries on. "In fact, that one right there" He points, more with his hand than a specific finger, but I can tell which one he means. "I fixed one of those up and gave it to this old couple. They couldn't afford a car so I just gave it to them. Bought it for $70. Of course, it didn't look quite like that one. A few dings here and there, but it worked. They thanked me, but I got the real joy. Anything I could do to work on a car." 

He heaved a deeper sigh this time. "Well, what a day. Look at all of these cars! It was good talking to you. What did you say your name was again?" His hand reached out. 

"Mike." I extended my hand.

"Frank. It was good to meet you Mike. Enjoy your day." He pumped forward with his arms, backing himself up the street and toward some other cars. I continued staring at the 1949 Plymouth, looking for a window into my own memories, that might have half as much power.

Feature in Aption Aesthetics Menswear

My friends over at Aption Aesthetics Menswear were kind enough to feature a spread of my photos, from the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund Expedition in British Columbia, on their website. The photos are accompanied with some words I have written up to tell the story behind each image.


Spread here: http://aptiondc.com/mstevens/


And while you are at it, make sure to check out their products. They are super sleek and made from the finest materials. My favorite are the sweatpants!

Enjoy.

Sandy on Sand

Today, I met a very interesting man who introduced himself to me by the name of Sandy. Now, I do not mean to suggest that this man's name was not actually Sandy, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there was more to this man's story than he seemed interested in sharing. 

Sandy and I met on the beach, over two cars pulled up on the beach (his truck and my van). Sandy spends his time sitting in his truck, looking at the entrance to the beach, waiting and watching as vehicle after vehicle gets stuck coming onto or leaving the beach. Sandy waits as these people than become stressed and worried as the thought that they may never get their vehicle off the beach begins to settle in. 

Sandy, and a few other local folks, then does his best to help these people get out of their predicaments by towing them onto firmer parts of sand. If these people cannot get out, Sandy gives them the number for a local towing company to come and get them out. Sandy gets tips for helping the tow truckers get business. Sandy sits and waits for people to get into sandy situations, whereby he makes a buck or two for helping everyone out. 

Sandy likes to help people, or so he tells me. He even helps me with a piece of advice, once it becomes apparent that I may be stuck. "Let air out of your tires. I tell people that all of the time, but nobody listens. People are afraid, but there is no reason to be. Let air out of your tires before it is too late." Sandy's demeanor in expressing this valuable piece of insight gives off a tone of a hidden metaphor, buried somewhere in there. 

Sandy was right, I did not want to listen. I was not so sure of trusting advice from this random guy I had just met, who had just admitted to me that he makes money off of people in my situation. I had a feeling he may try to con me - he was too nice, if there is such a thing. He constantly talked about life, and didn't ask many questions. No complaining. Not normal. 

Finally, I gave in and listened to his advice. I got down on all fours, grabbed a pen, opened it up and let air out. The fear of this method not working was now outweighed by the fear that I may be stuck on this beach with this guy lecturing to me all day, if I did not trying something soon. Plus, I began to realize that he was kinda funny, cracking jokes left and right. I was not so sure why I had been suspicious of him. 

As I was on my knees letting out air, I shared a few things about myself, that I had a degree in Philosophy and that I was traveling. He listened, excitedly and began to share some of his favorite philosophers. A Russian named George Gurdjieff and an Indian named Osho, 

"Don't read these people, man. They will ruin you. Well, maybe not ruin you but you will no longer fit into society. Let's just say they will not make you a productive American"

I felt as though he were saying this to entice me more, knowing that I want to do the opposite of what others tell me. 

Sandy had had a career at a printing press at one point. A native of New York, he felt a camaraderie with me that we were both from the East and had come out West. After the printing industry "died" (along with the newspaper, apparently) Sandy spent some time as a carpenter going from state to state, getting work where he could. Sandy said he had built a life up back east, in Georgetown as a matter of fact, but he no longer wanted it. Had an old girlfriend back there. Should have married her he said. 

He had been living on the road for some time now, he said it wore on him hard. Living on the money until it was all gone, then going back to work. 

I got the odd feeling that Sandy was not telling me something at this point. I had noticed the blank index cards in neat bundles that sat on the center console in his truck. I have heard that it is a common technique for writers, write on the little card as thoughts come and then compile them later. Maybe I could try it. I asked Sandy if he wrote much. "Oh yeah, well, you know." The subject change rather quickly. 

Who knows what this man does. My mind certainly created a story that this guy was some famous novelist or poet, writing about all of the types of Americans he sees throughout the day getting stuck in the sand. 

Sandy told me that he helps people and they can take it or leave it, but regardless the advice is there. He said the first thing they teach you about rescuing people in the water is to get a firm grip around their neck with your arms so that you are in control. If you don't, Sandy says, "they will drown you with them. Be careful who you try to help. They might just take you down." Ominous words from the man on the beach. I was beginning to think I made the wrong decision, letting all of that air out.  

After I had let enough air out of my tires to satisfy Sandy, I put the car in reverse as Sandy instructed me to, and made a pathway for the tires to travel. Sandy told me to floor it, and to not stop if I made forward movement. 

With the gas pedal down to the floor, I began spitting sand backwards and took off, hell bent to get of that beach. The old van bounced, showing off her sexy suspension and off we went bak onto the road we came from. 

Just as I turned the corner, it occurred to me that I had not said goodbye, nor had I gotten this man's name. I parked the car on the side of the road and ran back to where I had left him, with his hand up gesturing a peace sign from behind the van. 

He smiled and said a few things about the van. We laughed. He then proceeded to tell me some parting words: "Cut your trip short. Go home. Get a job. Start a career. Get a pretty girl, one of those beautiful Maryland ones, and start a family. Go home. This is not for you. You had your fun, go be with your family."

Confused, I shook his hand, finally exchanged names and I headed back to the van worried that I was truly lost. 

A Planet Named Felix

About a week ago, I met a man named Felix. Now Felix is an astronomer. He looks at the stars, looks at the moons in the sky, likes to check out the rings around Jupiter, likes to collect telescopes. Felix even builds telescopes every now and again. 

I found Felix, or I should say Felix found me, at a coffee shop in Bellingham sitting alone reading about the total solar eclipse that is to occur on August 21 2017. The "path of totality" they call it. While reading about the path of totality, Felix peered over my shoulder. "Pretty ironic that you are reading about a total solar eclipse and you can barely read it because of the sun's reflection," he said. I chuckled, mumbled, and bumbled. He asked to sit, and I motioned to the chair in front of me. 

Felix the astronomer was also Felix the physicist. He taught for sometime at a couple of local colleges, Western Washington University (WWU) for the longest stint. Felix was tall, thin, had delicate handwriting, and wore big wiry glasses. I guess he was probably in his late 70's, but his mind was still sharp as a tack. He liked to share stories. 

He told me all about different equations to measure the probability of life in the universe. He shared how he became interested in the stars and sky. He shared how his different theories about our perception of time and causality. He told me about the discovery and etymology of Pluto. He told me about his definitions of life. He shared, and I did my best to listen, often misreading his silence for an invitation to share my own ideas. 

Felix is a widower. His wife has passed, but he still keeps himself busy. Going through thrift stores and antique shops looking for telescopes to collect or parts he might buy and build with. I got the sense in talking with Felix that he liked to stay busy; he didn't dwell on things. Rather than aimlessly plug away at solving problems without immediate answers, Felix seemed set on continuing his exploration. Felix seemed to have a good sense on what is worth investing his energy into. 

Just as soon as he had come into my life, he got up, shook my hand and left. I sat wondering about the eyes behind those wiry framed glasses, curious to know how they have changed composition over the years. 

Climbing Mt. Shuksan

August 15, 2015 and I get another text message from my buddy Zach "Shuskan on the 19th?" I stare for a couple of seconds, confused because I have no idea what that initially means. 30 seconds later and I have a couple of trip reports pulled up on my phone. I read a couple, view the most common routes, and can feel the excitement immediately in my body. I am down. 

Fast forward and it is Wednesday. I am in Bellingham, reunited with my van, taking care of a few errands. Zach Keskinen and I planned to drive to the Lake Ann Trailhead on Wednesday night, the 19th, and make a one day summit run on the 20th. We planned to meet up near Bellingham and go from there. The little patience I have for running errands left pretty quickly and I frantically jumped from coffee shop to coffee shop, anxiously awaiting Zach Keskinen's arrival so that we could skip town and head to the Lake Ann Trailhead. 

After what seems like forever, Zach has gotten out of the traffic and is close to Bellingham. We meet in Deming, exchange hugs, hop in our independent vans, and go. 

We plan to climb via the classic Fischer Chimneys route up the West side of Shuksan. We set our alarms for 3 AM and pass out. 

At one moment I am dreaming, the next I am wolfing down a chicken and cheddar sandwich, shoving things in my pack, trying to stop my mind from continuing my dreams. We set on the trail at 3:30 AM and begin to cruise.  

Two hours later the sun is rising and we are ascending switchbacks just below the lower Curtis Glacier. With each turn to the west we get a magnificent view of Baker lighting up with the morning.

 Zach and I looking up at the clouds rolling over Shuksan just before sunrise. 

Zach and I looking up at the clouds rolling over Shuksan just before sunrise. 

An hour later, its 6:30 AM at this point, and we are at the feet of some chimneys trying to decide which one is the right one. We check our map and decide we may be a little bit off trail. We correct, or try to at least, and begin ascending a chimney.

45 minutes go by and I am climbing the most exposed thing I have ever been on in my life with a backpack with an obnoxious frame, in my bulky hiking boots, and wearing my ski helmet that looks like a kayaking helmet. It is safe to say that I am beginning to freak out. I stay calm, remember to trust my feet, and continue up the chossy 5.4 chimney.

We top out the chimney and immediately realize that we had actually left trail, having corrected in error. We shrug our shoulders and pick up our pace to catch up on lost time. We reach Winnie's Slide at about 8:30 AM, a 50 degree snowfield about 100m tall. Having never been on anything this steep aside from skiing, I am a little freaked out. However, before I can even become conscious of my fear, I notice Zach booking it up the slope and beginning to set gear. He motions me forward and I begin to climb, kicking my crampons into the ice and hammering my axe into the ice. I keep going up, knowing that I could freak out if I really let myself think about what I am doing. One thing that is awesome about climbing with Zach is that the pace is always just faster than your thoughts so that you have no time to begin second guessing your actions. 

Its 10:00 AM and we are crossing the upper Curtis Glacier, enjoying some shade as the rock above us blocks the sun. 

 Love the patterns that form in these glaciers. 

Love the patterns that form in these glaciers. 

 Looking back on some huge crevasses on the Upper Curtis and a huge waterfall coming down on the right. 

Looking back on some huge crevasses on the Upper Curtis and a huge waterfall coming down on the right. 

We take a quick break and go full steam ahead, charging up a steep section of snow before I can think about it again.

By 11:30 we are standing just below the summit pyramid looking up at four different groups of guided clients descending in zoo like fashion.

Zach and I cruise on by, not without a solid glance or two at Mt. Baker. 

 Mount Baker in all her glory

Mount Baker in all her glory

By 12:30 we summit and Zach lets out this beastly face.

We enjoy the summit and begin in what we know will be a lengthy descent. It takes us about 6.5 hours to get down, a bit shorter than the 9 it took us to get up. At one point Zach and I get into a lengthy debate about drug policy and the definitions of addiction. The conversation, just barely faster than our walking pace, is the only thing keeping us from stopping. We both want to get back and the conversation helps us forget we are walking. 

This being my second big mountain experience, it was interesting to begin to learn a little bit of what to expect when certain parts of my body fatigue. Zach is a pro at these things, fatigue doesn't even seem to show on this guy. 

We get back to the vans, enjoy a victory beer and set sails for Bellingham where we have visions of a pizza (it never happens).

Wow, what a day. 15.5 hours, 22 miles and nearly 8,000 feet of vert. 

I now understand what Fred Becky means when he called Mount Shuksan the "crown jewel of the Northern Cascades."

Back in Bellingham

Well, I landed at SeaTac at 7:00pm this past Tuesday and everything was quiet. The shuttle I booked anxiously as I sat in Chicago O’Hare earlier that day was broken down. The next one was coming at 9:00pm so I took the chance to wander around SeaTac a bit. Finally, the shuttle came. All the passengers hopped aboard, took their seats, the bus started moving, and I passed out.

 Two and half hours later, I awoke at the bus terminal in Bellingham, grabbed my backpack and started walking as those with people waiting for them piled into their cars drove off. I walked for about 2 miles, turned a corner, walked a few more blocks and than laid my eyes on van. I searched all around the van for any signs of wear or tear, but luckily there was none (aside from the Seagull shit). I grabbed my keys from where my buddy Zach had left them waiting for me, went back to van, unlocked her, and then hopped in.

It was a weird feeling sitting in my van for the first time in about three weeks. I had been doing so much, moving all about, seeing people and spending time with family. Van, on the other hand, had not moved at all. If I spent enough time, I realized I could convince myself that the past three weeks had been nothing but a dream and that I had in reality just spent an hour sitting behind the wheel waiting to get on my redeye or not. Knowing this not to be true, I saved myself the internal argument.

I held the key, the rest subtly dangling, and placed in the ignition. Little sputters and hums ensued, but that right on cue my baby breathed life. It was nice to feel the power of that engine. We drove off, the dust of three weeks whisking away in the air as we left, and headed to a little bay overview Zach had shown me awhile back. I found a spot where no signs indicated that it were illegal for me to park there, a routine that I had lost practice of, killed the engine and crawled into the back to lay on my bed.

It was a weird night of sleep – lots of tossing and turning, overheating, and weird noises, but it was exactly what I wanted. It is a weird feeling, knowing that I am the originator of much of my own discomfort; however, it is something I am learning to live with. Rather than falsely chase some ridiculous ideal of total comfort, I am merely trying to learn to live with less and less, with the hope of building some sort of tolerance for discomfort in my life. 

Flying High and the Living ain't always easy.

It seems that everytime I ride a plane, I find these spurts of creativity. Perhaps it is all the movement and motion, of people from all over the world, each with unique stories, of every age, wearing their various outfits, traveling at different gaits, the signs of travel creeping around the corners of their face; all caught in a purgatory in which they await cramming themselves into overpriced cabinets that mind-numbingly burn off excess fuel before they can refill their tanks. It seems that no matter how far we are going or how far we have come, we all come together for a variable amount of hours and sit, facing forward in a slouch, intimately sharing our elbows and knees with strangers we find it difficult to hold eye contact with.

This is true for all, except for all of those fuckers in the business or first class or the Airline lounges. I envy those fuckers; they have it figured out.

Business class aside, it is the proximity in which all of these people that inhabit this plane occupy that truly sparks a fire for me – the thoughts that I conjure up about the random people I encounter. The stories that I imagine about people I know nothing about, the assumptions I make about these people from the little conversations I overhear.

And yet, there is lurking in the distance of my sub consciousness, a general apathy towards many people that I encounter. Stale suits, stale breathe, stale laughs, stale bellies. It his hard for me to not allow apathy to turn in negativity and pessimism. When my thinking turns to these channels, I often have to stop and breathe. As a good friend’s mother told me, “Never finish bad thoughts.” Unfortunately it means that I have to stop writing a bit earlier than I would like.

To Seattle I go.

 

Time, and time again.

It has been only five days since I was sitting on a shuttle on I-5 south headed from Bellingham to the SeaTac Airport, in a rush hour traffic jam, among disgruntled fellow passengers. From the NOLS group just finishing a trip in the Northern Cascades, to the young man nursing his buzz as he boards at a Reservation casino, answering phone calls to let his boys know he is flying back to L.A. from a short family vacation to “fucking kick it for a bit” before he gets back to studying for grad school, to the mom and her child vocally animating a distant world, the subtle vocalizations only discernible in this fundamental bond.

It seems strange that so little time has past, perhaps because I have felt so conscious in the moment of every moment that has passed since then. Travel is a strange phenomenon – especially travel via plane. Thousands of miles put behind you in just hours of time. Surely, the meaning of time changes when moving at this speed.

We pull into the Airport – I am the last to leave the bus. I thank the driver whose cool demeanor and witty jokes kept multiple tense bus riders at bay. The temporary assemblage of people on this vehicle vanishes as we join the converging crowd as it twists and turns into lines that soon evaporate as each individual embarks on their journey.

I follow the herd to the security checkpoint – magnetism has brought us here, and yet any encounter with the TSA results in a feeling of repulsion, as the butt-ends of magnets expose themselves to each other and attempt to pulse away. I fret over the potential encounters I may have regarding my oversized backpack. I am just planning my list of responses to the person that takes it upon themselves to uphold protocol. I pass through security unscathed, aside from an encounter with a TSA agent that calls me Eddie Vedder.

I continue to my gate and sit down to my laptop to begin sifting through photos from the Canadian Paddle trip. The next couple of hours go by quietly – I have arrived for my redeye early. Fridays are seemingly quiet at this time of day.

I am called up to the counter to be asked if I would consider taking a different flight for a travel voucher as this flight was overbooked. Interested, I explained my travel needs, the customer service agent took my name down, and I returned to my seat.

Boarding time has come I am asked to wait until all customers board the plane so that they can recount their numbers to see if my seat will be needed. At this time, they realize that eight people have not shown up for the flight. Bewildered they make a final boarding call to see who will show up. A couple of Ethiopians show up hurried, bidding goodbye to friends, and board the plane. The attendants begin to tell me to board the plane when a man appears at the gate, out of breathe, explaining that his family of six is around the corner and if they could be given a couple of minutes they will be able to board.

A couple of minutes go by, the flight attendants ask me to board the plane as they are locking the gate. The man begins to stand up straight from his hunched over position and tells the attendants that they have to wait. The attendants continue their instructions to me to board the plane. Then the oldest son arrives at the gate. The man continues his plea, his son’s arrival as testimony to his claims. The staff looks frazzled; they look at each other, ignore the man and tell me to board the plane. The tired man grows very angry, shouting about his loyalty to the airline, the miles he has traveled in the passed day, the thousands of dollars he has spent on this booking. Stunned, I stare.

One agent closed the door to a crack; another agent sternly motioned me forward, I slowly walked towards the door, my eyes fixed on the father of this family. A security officer had come to mitigate this argument, at this point it seemed that the officer would have to more restraining than mitigating, as he shouted at the heated man to step down. I walked through the door and heard it slam shut and lock behind me. I could not stop my forward movement, my eyes were fixed ahead, and my ears could no longer hear the shouts from just moments before.

I had difficulty sleeping on the plane, my mind continued to wander to that moment. The determined man, due to some combination of a confused instinctual drive and lack of sleep brought him to a display of anger that other believed would manifest itself physically. Veins showed in his temples, his clenched jaw exposed the muscles of its grip; his eyes were keenly focused on the object of his passion. It seemed strange to see such an expression of raw animalism in the sterile, fabricated environment of SeaTac airport, but here it was.

Perhaps I was so stuck and unable to leave my place in this moment because of my recent personal realizations of my own animal nature, my chemical dependencies on certain foods, the swings of my moods throughout the day, the self-realization of my biological clock, all animal in nature and all rapidly developing in my consciousness. It often takes the actions of others for me to develop realizations about myself.

So as I sit here, on the porch of a house in Stone Harbor that my parents have rented, I cannot help but wonder about the biological underpinnings of the interactions occurring daily in my family. Of course I do not mean to be reductionist in my perspective on these interactions, merely as all seven of us grow older I cannot help but wander what biological forces are at play. As time wears itself on us, the differences in our biology become all the more revealing. 

Climbing Mount Baker

I had been waiting three days for a delayed ferry out of Petersburg, Alaska. I had spent the past 10 days visiting extended family on my father’s side, after completing a month long sea kayaking trip through British Columbia’s coastal waters.

When the ferry (the Columbia) finally made its way south from Juneau and into the Wrangell Narrows, after what seemed to be an eternity of delays, I was chomping at the bit to head back down to the lower 48, as they call it in Alaska, and reunite with my home on wheels (more about that later).

As I walked aboard the ferry – the first in line – I passed about five faces before I saw one that struck me instantly. It was a strange face to see a week or so ago, a face I was familiar with, but knew very little of.  The face was that of Zach Keskinen –a fellow 2015 Colorado College graduate, and one of the many friends that you had in college that you never met.  Zach had been spending his time away from Colorado Springs as a mountain guide on the formidable Denali Mountain (Mt McKinley)– one of the World’s Seven Summits – leading two separate groups up to 20,237 feet in a span of 2-3 weeks.

Zach and I exchanged glances, than stopped each other and almost simultaneously said “Hey! You went to CC!” of which we nodded, shared a couple other words and then made vague commitments to see each other on the three day long ferry.

And so, three days later, when the ferry pulled into Bellingham, with each other’s numbers stored away in our pockets, we made the same vague commitments to run into each other again sometime in the next moon. 

About a week later, when I was lying alone in my van parked onside a forest road on the Olympic Peninsula, my phone pinged that high pitch that now controls my thoughts. Suddenly, I felt my mood shift, as I read a text message from my new-old friend Zach saying “You still in Washington? Wanna climb Baker on Monday?” Having little idea as to what that entailed, of course I was down.

Zach and I met up in Bellingham, and drove our matching beds-on-wheels (he whips a 2008 Honda Odyssey, I sail a 1985 GMC Vandura) to the Mt. Baker Trailhead. We took a jog up to the moraines at the toe of the Easton Glacier when heard from a few passerbys that the route doesn’t go due to high temperatures and collapsed snow bridges.

We finished our run and turned back to the vans to talk a little shop, assessing all the info we had received. Our plans would change little, we would still attempt to summit in one day from the trailhead (most groups split it into two or three days) and go until we the glacier said no – an easy line to draw when looking down crevasses hundreds of feet deep and tens of feet wide. We felt that by squeezing our travel into one day we would effectively save ourselves the energy of lugging the weight of camping gear to higher elevations.

Zach then gave me an hour crash course of crevasse rescue, of which the biggest thing I learned just don’t fuck up or else you will have to tie so many knots you had no idea existed 10 minutes ago. I felt ready for a beer.

After two or three or six beers, it was nine o’clock and way passed our bedtime. We both crashed hoping to get a few hours of rest before our 2 AM alarms.

I blink, and I am awake turning off the alarm on my calculator watch, as I see Zach has beaten me out of bed in mountain guide fashion. I throw on my puffy, grab some tortillas to hold our bacon and eggs (note: Zach is a hell of a Coleman stove cook; also, it is never to early for bacon and eggs), and sip on some coffee trying to replay the crevasse rescue skills I learned only eight hours earlier.

With our bags packed and our bellies full, we set off at 3AM ready to cover some eight miles and 7500 feet of vertical before the sun gets to high and the ice conditions worsen. We set off at a good pace, covering the trail familiar from our little recon jog the day before.

By 4:30, we are high atop the moraine, and we take a break to watch the sun begin to rise in the far distance, painting the horizon a magical spectrum of colors only known to those early risers of the west.

It is safe to say that my body is on autopilot at this point; just trusting the trail so that I can soak up everything my senses bring to me. I treasure these times when the pressing, impertinent anxieties that plague my day-to-day life drop off and I can just be where I physically am in the moment. My mind may be racing, my body may be sore, and my pack may feel heavy, but the sight of the sun rising over the distant Cascades, the names of mountains that I have yet to learn, allows this brief, and fleeting, state of mind to form.

It is 8:00 and we are at about 8300 feet. We have come to the crevasse the parties that passed us going down mountain yesterday had said was impassable. After 30 minutes of hopping around glacial islands, Zach showcases his savvy glacier route-finding skills, circumventing the hole in the ground, with little mileage or elevation added.

By 9:00, the sulfur smells that led us up the mountain intensify as we approach the fumerals of the Mount Baker volcano, a mind-bending paradox as the coldest and warmest substances coexist in such close space. The new sensations, sights and smells, mean that we are close, a realization that helps push us the final thousand feet as we crest the summit ridge and gain the summit at 10:30. A pleasant late morning surprise.

We enjoy a couple of apples and the last of our water as we turn our backs on the summit view for our descent.

Five hours later (a small detour and swollen knees slowed our descent) and we are back at our vans hiding our sunburned faces from the blistering sun.

It was a good day. A long day.

We high five over the absence of any serious accidents (I tripped over my crampons face first for a nice five foot slide, providing quite the laugh early in the descent) and begin to make our way to the town of Concrete to eat our rewards, personal pizzas (and a sundae for me).

The whole hike took 13 hours of which we did roughly 20 miles for a net change of 14,000 feet of elevation. We traveled through mountain forests of cedar, pine, and alder, we boulder hopped along the ridge of a glacial moraine, we danced around giant slits in our freshwater reserves, and we post-holed through late morning slush. All in all, I learned much from the trip, and from Zach, but perhaps the biggest thing I learned was the truth to the words I heard just weeks earlier in Alaska, spoken by whom I now consider my Uncle, George, “Always have an adventure in your future. It gives you something to focus your energy onto.”

This adventure seemed to be a long one in the making. While it was chance that brought that Zach and together on the Alaskan ferry, going forward it will be adventure (the guy doesn’t stop moving). Tomorrow we go rock climbing, the first time for me in more than ten years. 

And on Friday the adventure I have been most looking forward to: flying home to the East Coast to surprise my whole family!

Until next time.

Mike


Slow Movement

I have been traveling since graduating college. I am living out of my van, moving as I please, in search of adventures and staying for stories. The decision to live out of my van may seem like a privileged one: as a college graduate I am expected to join the workforce as a capable worker, I am healthy and able after all. However, I believe that in order to understand how I would like to apply myself in this world, I must first travel at my own pace, living on what little money I have saved, and taking my time to adjust my senses and sit with my prejudices. I write here to share my process and to process my experiences. I hope it is enjoyable. And as always, please share your thoughts.