• Facebook
    • Google+
    • Instagram
    • Twitter
    • Get new posts sent to your inbox!
      Enter your email address below:

  • Friday, November 16, 2012

    Sixteen Months of Wandering

    It has been less than a year and a half, but every day it gets a little harder to picture how my day-to-day life used to look. It’s like trying to recall a face I haven’t seen in years that I used to see every day. I close my eyes, but can’t quite get a clear image.

    Used to be, a year and a half would pass by frighteningly fast, but life doesn't seem as short anymore. I credit that to doing more in 16 months than all my previous years combined.

    I backpacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and the occasional small mountain town. That's over six million footsteps with nothing but the bare essentials on my back. These trails had a cumulative elevation gain of more than 675,000 feet or 130 miles, twice the distance to outer space, or more than the height of 23 Mount Everests.

    I'm not sure which has received more wear-and-tear though, me or my worn-out Honda Civic. It racked up 26,000 miles on American highways since March of this year. The car is one of the few things in my life that hasn't changed, although we are much more acquainted now.

    If you haven't read every post on my blog, here's what I've been up to. On June 10, 2011, I quit my job, packed a backpack, left everything else behind, and then....

    • Hopped on a train to Washington D.C.
    • Saw the Smithsonian, the Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, the White House, the Library of Congress, the Capitol building, The Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and every other D.C. monument, artifact, and museum on my life list
    • Stayed in the first of many hostels and met people from all walks of life
    • Took a bus to New York City
    • Roamed aimlessly around Time Square and Broadway
    • Heard a never publicly performed piece of music played by a symphony in Central Park
    • Got lost in Central Park at night. It took a few hours to find my way, but after thinking about my upcoming hike from Maine to Georgia, you can rest assured, I fully appreciated the dramatic irony.
    • Then, at two in the morning, I went to the top of the Empire State Building to see the lights and bustle of the city that never sleeps
    • The next day, I took the subway to Ground Zero
    • Saw the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry
    • Unexpectedly witnessed Will Smith filming Men in Black 3 in Battery Park
    • Strolled down the "pre-occupied" Wall Street
    • Walked to Brooklyn on the Brooklyn Bridge
    • Watched a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman, with Eddie Vedder and Cameron Diaz
    • Took a train to Boston
    • Walked the Freedom Trail and saw every historical site I know of in Boston, and some I didn't know of
    • Bought tickets from a scalper in Fenway Park and watched a Red Sox Game
    • From my stadium seat, sang Sweet Caroline and yelled YOUUKK!, without understanding why
    • Helped a schizophrenic homeless man update his blog (I always knew I would someday)
    • Took a bus to Maine
    • Met my new friend Erik (a.k.a Red)
    • Hiked the 2,181-mile Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia, through 14 states. On the trail I...
    • Met Sam and Liv (a.k.a. Bambi and Thumper), who became my favorite people in the world
    • Backpacked through the Hundred Mile Wilderness in Maine
    • Hitchhiked for the first time
    • Spent the night behind an abandoned bank, a city park dugout, and many other random places like a hobo
    • Backpacked through the White Mountains in New Hampshire
    • And the Green Mountains in Vermont
    • Hiked through Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee
    • Had lots of fun in random mountain towns drinking with trail friends
    • Hiked along the Housatonic River through Massachusetts and Connecticut
    • Then through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland
    • Slept under Jefferson Rock National Historic Landmark in West Virginia
    • Met my new friend Gregg (a.k.a Lightfoot)
    • Backpacked the length of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park during the peak of fall colors
    • And in the snow in Tenneesee and North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains
    • Encountered several black bears, a wild boar, and interesting mountain people
    • Fell in love with a new and exciting way of life
    • And a girl
    • Reached the AT's southern terminus in Georgia 183 days after leaving the northern terminus
    • I went back home for the holidays and recovered from injuries
    • Then I went to Kentucky to visit Sam and Liv on their family farm
    • I was lucky enough to convince Liv to quit her job and go on an 8,200-mile road trip on old Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. After an early morning start on March 3rd we...
    • Toured Chicago, Illinois
    • Visited Lincoln’s Tomb and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site
    • Accidentally went into a gay bar in Springfield, Illinois
    • Saw numerous aging roadside statues, attractions, and museums
    • Played legendary games of pool in the bars of Tulsa, Oklahoma with a level of skill that we have never been able to repeat
    • Trespassed on private property, so we could sleep in an 80-foot concrete blue whale in Catoosa, Oklahoma
    • Hiked into Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States, near Amarillo, Texas
    • Found Billy the Kid's Grave
    • But found no aliens while in Roswell, New Mexico
    • Sled down bright white gypsum sand dunes in Southern New Mexico's White Sands National Monument
    • Tossed a football on a vacant desert road in Southern New Mexico, and car camped under a dark starry sky
    • Explored the caves of Carlsbad Caverns National Park
    • Had to deal with the exhaust pipe falling off the car in a New Mexico ghost town in the middle of the night
    • Found a saloon next to a mechanic's shop in Magdelina, New Mexico who we hoped could fix it, so we played pool, drank beer all night, and then slept in the car. 
    • Drove with a loud muffler-less car to the Very Large Array Radio Telescopes near Socorro, New Mexico
    • Stared out into Arizona’s Painted Desert National Park
    • Hiked in Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park
    • Climbed a volcanic crater in Arizona’s Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
    • Saw ancient ruins at the Wupatki Monument in Arizona
    • Watched the sunset while driving through the Mojave Desert in Southern California
    • Peered into the deep and magnificent Grand Canyon
    • Listened to Grand Canyon tourists mutter about "that crazy girl" (Liv) boulder scrambling so I could get a better picture of her
    • Lived in our car for a couple days in Southern California’s Slab City
    • Drove many miles in silence while Liv concentrated on writing an epic poem about the trip
    • Hiked around Joshua Tree National Park and climbed a mountain named Ryan
    • Arrived at the end of Route 66 on the Santa Monica Pier
    • Drove up the Pacific Coast Highway
    • Walked along the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur State Park
    • Had dinner with Liv’s sister in Monterrey, California who she hadn't seen in two years
    • Hiked on 3 feet of snow to see the world’s largest tree in California’s Sequoia National Park
    • And more giant trees in Kings Canyon National Park
    • Sat on the ground at the lowest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level, in California’s Death Valley National Park
    • Backpacked in Utah’s Zion National Park and woke up with snow on our tents
    • Nervously watched Liv climb up rocks in Southern Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park without a rope, and had to have her rescue me when I got stuck in a “pothole”
    • Saw the rock formations in Utah’s Arches National Park
    • Then watched the sun set in Canyonlands National Park
    • Toured ancient cliff dwellings in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park
    • Climbed sand dunes in Colorado’s Great Sands National Park
    • Then, after regretfully taking Liv back home in Kentucky, I picked up my AT friend Red to hike Vermont’s 273-mile Long Trail, from Massachusetts to Canada. 
    • But first I spent a few days in New York City to meet Red's friends and family 
    • Took a tour of Long Island's wine country
    • Then headed to the southern terminus of the Long Trail
    • Slept in stranger's homes and a college "social house" during pledge week, to get out of bad weather
    • Got a free night's stay and a steak dinner at a fancy lodge
    • Spent the night on a Big Lots department store loading dock
    • Arrived at the northern terminus of the Long Trail and stepped into Canada
    • Took Red home and went to visit Sam and Liv in Kentucky again, the closest thing to home these days
    • Backpacked in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge
    • Then my second westward road trip began
    • I camped at Badlands National Park in South Dakota
    • Hiked around Devil’s Tower in Wyoming
    • Backpacked for five days along the Teton Crest Trail in Wyoming’s Great Teton National Park
    • Saw Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, and many other amazing natural wonders in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park
    • Backpacked a 75-mile loop in Montana’s Glacier National Park
    • Circumnavigated Washington’s Mount Rainier on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail
    • Climbed Garfield Peak for a bird’s eye view of Oregon’s Crater Lake
    • Drove down the northern half of the Pacific Coast Highway that Liv and I didn't get to see
    • Hiked while staring up at the towering trees in California’s Redwood National Park
    • Cruised down the “Avenue of Giants” in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
    • Watched Pacific Ocean waves crash on several beaches along the highway
    • Drove over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California
    • Visited Port Reyes National Seashore in California
    • Thru-hiked the 219-mile John Muir Trail. On that Trail, I....
    • Backpacked through Yosemite National Park
    • Sat by a campfire with a backdrop of a moonlit Half Dome
    • Then backpacked through Tuolumne Meadows
    • Then the Ansel Adams Wilderness
    • The John Muir Wilderness
    • And alongside Devil's Postpile National Monument
    • Got to hike with my AT friend, Lightfoot, again
    • Took a 30-mile side trip over Italy Pass to resupply in Bishop, California
    • Then backpacked through Kings Canyon National Park
    • And Sequoia National Park
    • Climbed above treelines and over mountain passes
    • Sometimes while the sun was setting
    • Once while lightning streaked through a dark anvil shaped storm cloud
    • Was brought nearly to tears from another mountain view
    • Never got tired of the miles or sleeping on the dirt
    • Summited Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the Contiguous United States
    • Hitchhiked, for the couple-hundredth time, back to my car
    • On my drive back I stopped to see friends I wish I could see more often, then went back to see the girls in Kentucky, and family in Indiana
    • And finally… spent many nights wondering how I could ever go back to that old day-to-day life ever again
    I experienced a lot in these sixteen months, but also learned a lot. About myself and about the country I call home. I didn't always like what I learned about myself, but the country never disappointed. People have asked me if I plan on venturing outside of the United States on my future trips. And I do, but I'm glad I took the time to see America first. Knowing what I know now, I'm relieved that I didn't let my life go by without seeing it up close, slowly and on foot. The only way to really see anything. 

    I thought I knew the country before leaving home last year, but I really didn't. I know now that it is beautiful beyond imagination. And even though bad things occasionally happen, its citizens are overwhelmingly good and caring. The number of people who went out of their way to lend a hand, a ride, a home, or home-cooked meal, were too numerous to count. They were people that knew nothing of me other than I was dirty, smelly, unshaven, and probably hungry or tired. And it seemed that the less they had, the more they wanted to help.

    Ignore the news. Ignore the partisan politicians that get us worked up over nothing like they’re starving pit bulls just to win a dogfight. Ignore people that want us to believe we are divided. I learned that my favorite people and places align with me the least politically, scientifically, or religiously.

    Ignore overzealous preachers and doomsayers. Our country is far from evil. I have to believe that anyone who believes it is has not made much of an effort to really see it. Other than on a television screen, which is a lot like listening to a symphony on blown-out cellphone speakers then believing music is a dreadful thing.

    I've learned a few other things in these sixteen months. I know that I don't need much to be happy. I could lose all my possessions and be alright, and possibly happier because of it. And I learned that no matter how many unknowns my future holds, or how daunting something can be, I know I can get through it and come out just fine on the other side.

    Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned in these sixteen months, is that you have to follow your bliss, whatever it may be. Life isn't permanent. I will continue to follow mine and continue to write about it.

    I guess a better title for this post might be, "Sixteen Months of Wandering... and counting."