Friday, November 24, 2006

thought i'd give an overview of the travelling section of my life, which occurred after one and a half years of college, when i was nineteen, and took about a year and a half. In fact, though I went back to school after that, I then dropped out for five more years, meaning that it was ten years altogether before I graduated from any university. nevertheless, as a sophomore, i was so tired of schooling that i couldn't take it anymore, and announced to my family, much to their dismay, that after a family trip to iowa, i would be setting off on my own. this was in january- 1974, i believe. why i chose to go south, toward atlanta, i'm not sure, since my dream destination was really california. maybe it was because i figured that january was the time to see the south, and i wanted to see the whole thing, really. so why not save california for later? i got a job in hartsfield international in atlanta, but didn't hang around long- i was in new orleans by mardi gras, and going west into texas. it was there that i got the idea to go south, and i took a quick look across the mexican border in brownsville/matamoros which then turned into a month-and-a-half trip to guatemala and back. i really hadn't planned on going that far, but i did- life, and connections, and pure luck, kept me going on to the next stops. in guatemala, though, i realized that my luck and money were running out, and there was nothing to do but head back. up on the caribbean coast of mexico, i encountered a man who was sailing to florida, and set off with him- at this point i had seven dollars in pesos left, and with no skill at sailing, i was lucky to arrive in florida alive- i kissed the pier at key west when they drydocked our boat. At this point i was quite used to eating sparingly, or not eating at all, so i set to going west to california as i'd originally intended. i remember feeling that florida's lively tourist scene and rowdy motels were something i had very carefully avoided at first, yet now landed right in the middle of it almost accidentally. at one point, in new orleans, a group of travellers who had given me a ride headed for a blood bank with the intention of coming out with some money, to be used for food. i felt, at that time, as if i didn't have much blood. didn't have any money either, though: it would take days before they would convert pesos, i figured, until i got into texas where they'd probably at least seen them. later i virtually sailed into la and headed up into the bay area where i spent my birthday, in april, and now began noticing that i was out of money.

here, i'd intended to at least see the city; it was my original destination, and got a job at a cardboard box factory on the south side of town, near candlestick park, and a place to live in a rooming house somewhere near the civic center. the rooming house was tolerant of people like me who would pay them on the next paycheck-day; overall i found the city a little tough on people who didn't have much money. i did my best with this job, but was overall disappointed at the city itself, and found that in general i wasn't much for actually living in cities at all, given the patterns i'd set in the last three or four months. a weekend would come and i'd go off to yosemite, or up to seattle, stopping along the way at rural places, just to get fresh air and a breath. i quit the cardboard-box warehouse within a month and headed east toward the rockies and around places in the west i hadn't seen: colorado, utah, grand canyon, montana.

somewhere around the grand canyon i heard about a rainbow gathering that was to be held in the caves of enterprise reservoir on the utah-nevada border; having never been to one of those, i decided to go, and arrived on a dam of that reservoir one evening just as a huge sun was setting and moon was rising on each side of this little road that crossed the dam. it was almost summer now, and the desert was very hot in the days, like mexico; one would be better off not travelling in the afternoon, but i arrived here with a kind of heat stroke from not following that advice, or not stopping for water often enough, and had to spend a day or two in a cave recovering. nevertheless it was somewhere around here, in the company of people who travelled much of their time, and who clearly weren't afraid of anything, that i decided to just fulfill all of my strong travelling urges, and go all the way to alaska, now while i was young, single and free. it was, after all, something i'd always wanted, and, as the west was unfolding in front of me, i now saw that the nation was awesome, even in its most unknown and hidden backroads. this cave territory, for example, was virtually unheard of outside of the immediate area, a stark and forbidding place, yet awesome in its color, its shapes, and the ways it made people adapt to it. but the same could already so easily have been said about the other places i'd seen: the folds of clinch mountain, new orleans, the texas-mexico border, the beaches of oaxaca, even san francisco. there was no reason to stop and still plenty of summer in front of me.

the road to alaska proved long and interesting, and took me through parts of canada that i had never imagined existed. peace river valley was one of these- where i talked to some people who lived there and who weren't so used to travellers passing through- and who considered their home to be the center of the known world. To me it seemed so remote, so far away, so clearly dominated by a huge and overwhelming winter- such were many of my conversations. a huge gap was crossed between me, who was used to travelling now, having seen much of the continent, and people who were clearly not used to getting out much, but nevertheless curious enough about it, and not afraid to stop and talk about it, and willing to share what they knew of their home and culture. i was stunned at hospitality virtually everywhere i turned, and even more so when i was in another country, and even more yet when i realized that canadians had many reasons to not necessarily welcome every american who poured across their border. my trip was delayed by the washing out of the alcan highway near fort nelson, b.c. - this experience provided some food and travelling money, actually- , but i arrived in alaska nevertheless healthy and happy, and worked on a fishing boat temporarily, considered other more substantial work, but turned back in fairbanks, deciding finally to come home and do something different for a change.

this last decision was somewhat reluctant- i was in the habit of travelling- and i decided to hit vancouver island on the way home, as vancouver and its island were places that every canadian seemed to think were at the top of the list for any traveller. on vancouver island i walked a seven-day trail where i actually set eyes on washington state after going around one bend, and felt like i had walked the last seashore that remained on the trip home, myself. but once again i was out of money and tired of it, and this time i set out from vancouver, not even wanting to stop and look around, possibly the most fantastic city on the continent; i was so down on cities in general, by this time, that i didn't even bother finding the city center, just turned my collar up and headed east on the trans-canada highway 1. in the okanagan i stopped and picked peaches for a while; again, this gave me a dinner or two and enough peaches to eat, that i didn't notice any other kind of nagging hunger. in general, now, i was thinking of what would be the best place to settle, and start a life somewhere, but at this point i couldn't imagine going back to school in boston, nor could i imagine, really, just stopping in any other place in particular. the trip home was long and at one point i slept not too far from lake huron, where the tide came in and i kind of sank into a fetid area before it woke me up and i moved away from the bog i had chosen to bed down in; this gave my bags quite a stink by tthe time i rolled into toronto and called a friend to get a ride home (buffalo, at that point). i seem to remember my sleeping bag getting thrown straight into the wash, and taking a shower, before i even began to tell my parents where i had been and what i'd been doing. at this point i'd already missed the fall semester and could possibly have missed the january term if i were to choose going back to school- which is what i'd been expected to do, and what i almost couldn't avoid, given a complete lack of alternatives. a desk job or factory job might have been nice, but i was almost as alienated from that kind of life as i was from school, given what people had been telling me out there in the world, and what i thought i could do, given the life i was coming from. i knew from experience now, that the mundane elements of getting up and going in to a routine job would be tolerable for about a month- and that was barely worth settling for- actually finding a place to live, etc.- in most places, unless i felt that it had a possibility as a kind of place i could live for a bit longer than that. as i considered the whole wide country that i'd seen, my favorite places were montana and washington state, but i also had a soft spot for the center of the country, especially iowa, which had been a place my familly had gone for many years when i was growing up.

so it happened that, after checking in to boston and saying goodbye, i came back through buffalo, picked up my skis, and landed in iowa another january, more or less similar to the one i'd left. i guess it was a year later- though i often say it was a year and a half, it wasn't, i guess- because i stopped in iowa, right there, and though i travelled a lot after that, i basically stayed in the iowa city area for the next eleven years. i enrolled in school too- the university of iowa- which i thought would be much different and possibly better than boston university. certainly much cheaper. but it was a mixed and rough landing- rough especially on my cousin, who i stayed with until he and his housemates threw me out. i'd decided at this point that travelling was over- i'd try something new, whatever it led to, in order to stay in one place for a change, and give up this crazy moving lifestyle. once again my habits overtook me, and it wasn't easy to settle, but i did, eventually, and though the university life didn't quite take either, it was for the better, and i was on to a new chapter - life in iowa.


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