This spring’s double issue of Orion includes Journeys, a special section featuring travel tales from far and near. What was your most surprising journey? Tell us, and read stories of voyages undertaken by your fellow Orion readers, below.
One feature from the special section, “Rite of Passage,” in which author and father Mike Tidwell learns to see the landscape of the future through his son’s eyes, is available here; to read the full special section, six features in all, subscribe to Orion, and let the journey begin.
I really like the idea of “journeys” making it to the publication as well! And “Rite of Passage” is already a most captivating travel indeed… 🙂
I consider the term “journeys” to be a perfect match as well due to its ambiguity and “journey” in most cases being the one ahead and the one within… Looking forward to more of these!
My favorite surprising journey happened when my fiance and I were visiting Olympic National Park — we thought it’d be cool to see Wedding Rocks, the petroglyph site out on the Pacific coast where native people used to get hitched. We got to the trailhead and found there were two different ways to get there, a northern trail and a southern one, of equal distance. So we thought, why not each take one of the trails and meet in the middle, at the rocks? It’d be symbolic of our journeys to this point in life, of course, until we met and joined our lives…plus it would give us time for introspection/reflection. But halfway there the boardwalk/trail got to be so covered in bear scat that it seemed like they were constantly using it like a highway across the marshes. This delighted me but freaked out my partner, who rushed through to the beach, only to find an enormous dead elephant seal and an alien landscape of massive sea stacks floating offshore.
By the time I strolled into view near Wedding Rocks, all blissed out on nature and the insane landscape of old growth trees and marine geology all smashed together, she was in a bit of distress, and was I ever surprised. But not too surprised, it was a really wild place, would love to go back!
Between the ages of 17 and 20 I flirted with the idea of being a professional wastrel. Like many before me, I was fascinated by gypsies, deadheads, pioneers, pirates, tinkers, and other travelers, and I was filled with romantic notions about their lives. I was looking for a way to get out of going straight to college, because I lacked sufficient imagination to anticipate that college could be anything other than a continuation of the ninth circle of high school.
The life of a 1990â€™s wastrel, however, was not exactly the stuff of romantic legend. My journeys, usually thinly disguised taggings-along after some young man, were mostly just hot, smoky, mosquito-ey road trips punctuated by close calls, boredom, periods of intense hunger, and communicable disease.
The romance of those years, even as memories, has paled for me, but there is something that stands out as radiant and utterly irreplaceable. I met new people every day and I formed deep and nearly instantaneous bonds with them. Men, women, dogs, Vietnam vets, criminals, homeless kids, musicians, craftspeople. It didnâ€™t occur to me to be suspicious of fellow *travelers*â€”we were of the same tribe. I would grab my bag and switch vans at the drop of a hatâ€”exchanging loving goodbyes with my current companionsâ€”because it was so easy to feel close to new people, and because I felt so safe. Indeed, I felt very safe, and although in hindsight it is totally incredible, nothing bad ever happened to me on the road.
Maybe it is in fact the fellowship of youth that I experienced, and I just happened to be traveling when I experienced it. Whatever it was, I still remember not just names and faces, but personalities and souls. Arrow, Shiloh, Crow, Gabe, Junior, Amanda, Shana, Cat, Dylanâ€”they are not incidental characters, even though I knew some of them only for a couple of days. They are fully developed and formative friends, whose personhood became part of my own.
Two decades later, with the need to wake up ragged and hungry in a new place every morning more than fully satisfied, and replaced by the need to have a home to tend and garden to watch across long seasons, what I miss is the fellowship that formed so quickly in those days. I donâ€™t hop in a van with strangers anymoreâ€”nor would I dream of recommending that to anyoneâ€”but I would recommend nearly anything that creates the feeling of truly having had fellow travelers.
Several years ago, well 5 to be exact, I attended a dinner and silent auction for a non-profit organization. One of the items to be auctioned was a river raft trip. No one had signed yet, so I did, just to start things off. To my dismay/surprise no one else bid so I had to purchase the trip. I’d been on a couple of rafting trips before that were mildly exciting and this was to be on the Deschutes River-not very large where I’d seen it before in eastern Oregon near the town of Bend.
A couple of months later my husband and I drove from our home in western Oregon up along the Columbia River and then south through rugged desert to the little town of Maupin. The highway follows the winding river as it approaches the town and I suddenly realized “Oh, that’s a BIG river!” When I asked about taking my camera on the raft I was told that if I’d use it in a bathtub, sure, go ahead. Oooops.
We had a wonderful time, perched on the edge of the raft, everyone paddling, and were thoroughly soaked. As I survived each rapid I’d think, “well that was fun!” and start quaking as we went into the next. When we neared our final destination I even went over the side voluntarily to try floating downstream feet first as we had been told to do if we fell out. I was a lightweight and in one of the photos I saw that the guide’s hand was on my shoulder to keep me from bouncing out. We were the eldest on our raft at age 70.
My journey began two summers ago at Hawley Lake in Arizonaâ€™s gorgeous White Mountains. The White Mountain Apache had been the first tribe officially involved with the Mexican wolfâ€™s reintroduction in the eastern part of the state, and the reservation was home to three wolf packs. Hawley Lake fell within the range of at least one of them. But none of this was in my mind at the time. I had come to the lake for its native Apache trout.
Near sunrise, a white mist boiled off of the lakeâ€™s iron skillet. A light rain began to fall, but a banked fire spread its heat into the cabin. I stood on the porch, sipping coffee. Beyond the line of ponderosa pine, an osprey rode a trout swimming high over the flat water.
Then, for the first time in my life, I heard them. After millions of years of evolution, of nature sculpting organs, muscles, bones, and the orderly electronics of instinct to create a perfect animal, I heard my first wolves. When it began, in the seconds it took for my brain to resister â€œwolves,â€ the blood pooled in my chest. I felt no warm surge of pulse. Light slid over my skin as their calling moved through the forest like an unexpected hush. A single throat joined by a harmony of throats. It was the sound of angels mourning their immortality. The furious desire of wolves howling. For the next moment, I stood half in and half out of the world. Then it ended just as suddenly as it started, my foot still lifted, poised, mid-step over the threshold of a connection.
Last summer, I traveled to Peru with parts of my family ranging in age from 7 to 81. Onboard the train to Machu Picchu, I settled into its rhythm, looked out the window and had time to reflect. This is a snippet from my journal.
We just boarded the Vistadome train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. It is 7:02 am and we should be departing soon. This morning we had another 5:00 am wake up call. I feel pretty good, though. Instead of an adventurous dinner last night (tuk tuks to a Urabamba restaurant) or a long, leisurely, meal in the hotel, we ordered room service (the all too American and familiar pasta, burger, salad, and club sandwich). We stayed in, packed and organized for this next leg of our adventure. Everyone got to bed early, too, which was nice.
Weâ€™re moving now, past plowed fields, revealed and hidden Inca Terraces, animals, the Urubamba River, mountain canyons, steep slopes, people walking in single file toward the river, rocky mountain faces of near vertical rock, tooth-like jagged summits. The river rushes around boulders and rolls more uniformly in other places. Occasionally it meanders and sometimes the riverbed shows itself.
The weather is transitional, it is a little overcast with some recent light rain, but blue sky pokes through in places. The temperature is in the 50â€™s. My feet are cold, barefoot in my Keens. Music is playing. It is the instrumental, guitar, panpipes and flute with an occasional brass accent that feels like the theme music of the Sacred Valley of Peru.
The past few days have been packed with travel (air, bus) and visits to Inca sites (Ollantaytambo, Moray), to a village (Misminay) and the salt terraces in Maras. There have been a lot of bus rides on curving mountain roads. We have had to adjust to the elevation here (sometimes close to 12,000 feet), experiencing headaches, thirst, and some shortness of breath while ascending stairs. Weâ€™ve also been pretty tired, quick to fall asleep.
We are further into the mountains now. They are no longer off in the distance. We ride past water falling in steep mountain canyons. The rocks are incredible. We pass along the Inca Trail before it cuts away from the riverbank. Lots of white water with huge sculpted boulders, strewn through the river. There is little flat land now for farming, but occasionally I see people, a horse, a fence, a house. Mostly it is mountains and river. I think the train is cutting through a v-shaped valley. It has been fifty minutes since we left the station.
The journeys I remember best seem not to begin as â€œjourneysâ€ at allâ€”usually they involve a plan to leave my house for just a few hours, after which I am lost, or surprised, or somehow pulled off course.
This happened once when I was maybe thirteen or fourteen years old, living in Chicago, a place that at the time felt physically firm and knowable, not a place where a person does much journeying. But the local chapter of the YMCA offered an opportunity to leave solid ground for a whileâ€”to take a day trip out on Lake Michigan in a mid-size sailboatâ€”and I signed up.
I’d been on boats before, but not much, and though I thought I knew Lake Michigan well, I’d never really been *out* in it. Which meant that I was not prepared for what I was getting myself into: When our boat left Monroe Harbor, I was dressed for a summer day and maybe a pleasant breeze or two; I had on a thin t-shirt, the kind that comes in plastic-wrapped packs of three, a pair of jeans, and thatâ€™s about it. The day appeared to be nice.
But within 30 minutes, the city skyline drawing thin behind us, it was not nice, not nice at all: a storm was moving in, and what had been a breeze was building itself into a mighty wind, whipping up big watery swells and tossing our boat around like a bath toy. Within 40 minutes, my shirt and jeans were soaked, and I was cold, and nauseous, and clinging pathetically to a thin metal railing, thinking about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and hating the lake, hating the YMCA, and definitely hating the guy steering the boat, who didnâ€™t seem to be turning around, and who hadâ€”how did he know!?â€”a waterproof jacket.
Eventually, finally, mercifully, I made it home. I remember sitting on my doorstep, listening to the storm move on and bother the poor people in Indiana. And though my stomach still felt a little queasy, I remember my momentary hatred for the lake morph into a kind of love, an odd kind all mixed up with respect and mystery and a healthy dose of fear. I suppose I’d returned from an unintended journey, wet, shook, and schooled in one of the truths about Chicago, which is that it’s a big city perched on the edge of something far, far bigger.
One afternoon in Yellowstone National Park I wanted to hike, but I was on my own and the Park Service strongly recommends that people hike in groups of three or more for safety in grizzly bear country. So I settled for a solitary stroll on the boardwalk at LeHardy Rapids on the Yellowstone River.
The boardwalk was too short to soothe my wanderlust, but it provided an excellent view of the rapids. So I settled onto the grizzly-free deck to watch the river noisily regain its tumbling nature after leaving Yellowstone Lake. Out of a curtain of splashing bubbles, a bright orange bill appeared above a lowrider back. It was a common merganser. Another merganser appeared also charting an upstream course. The pair took turns surfing standing waves and diving into churning pools. One would disappear underwater, then pop up on the other side of a rapid, and spin around briefly to check on the progress of its partner before charging into the next whitewater.
The surfing mergansers successfully made their way through the rapids and out of my view. Then I noticed on the far side of the river was a steady parade of mergansers floating downstream. The water was slow-moving and calm on that shallow shoreline, and the mergansers were poking into tiny bays, dipping their heads and backing out like tugboats. At a crop of exposed rocks, the raft of mergansers pulled out to preen in the sun. Each duck sat on its own round-topped rock flashing a pair of bright webbed feet which matched the color of their sharp bills. “I know that color,” I thought.
We went to Yellowstone that summer to see wolves and were astonished to find them almost every day. Still, itâ€™s that merganser afternoon I think of most often when the wilderness shared the intimate color of surfing ducks’ feet.
I’ve really been enjoying my time reading and reflecting on the stories in the “journeys” section of the summer 2014 edition of Orion. I especially like how a number of the stories have made me think about the places in my life that are both places “worth traveling too” and “a flight to somewhere else”. The town where I currently reside (Tofino, BC) comes to mind, as as do my experiences living out of my car while looking into graduate school up and down the west coast. A friend, who is aware of my “car-life adventures”, recently sent me an article entitled: “US court upholds the right to call a parked car home”. I couldn’t help but think about how perfectly the issues described in the article fit with the themes in what I’ve been reading. Below is a link to the article. Thoughts?
Thanks, Natalie, that’s interesting about the court ruling. Orion has featured variations on the topic of living in one’s car over the years, with this feature by Brian Doyle being perhaps the least literal:
…though maybe living in one of these houses causes one to dream at night of road trips.
My journey resonates as an experience I had at a yoga teacher training I attended in Jaco, Costa Rica, March 2014. I was staying at a hotel resort that was lit up at night by the boisterous and sometimes intolerable noise of cicadas. One night, one of the blind insects hit my hotel window and was on its back near my room. It couldnâ€™t turn over to fly again, but it could still make its ticking, ambulance-sounding alarm over and over again for hours. I had to be up at 4:30 a.m. to take a yoga class at sunrise. I was hoping to buy six hours of sleep, only to find I only got two hours, as the cicada, despite its impending death, refused to give up the noise. I had no ear plugs, pillows were no use, and I didnâ€™t have the gumption to move the bug, wondering if its fellow cicadas would be waiting for me outside.
Eventually, I had to give up myself and give in to the sound that couldâ€™ve literally made my ears bleed. This creature, despite being blind, on its back and unable to fly was going to continue what it was supposed to do. I could only respect what it was and find peace within the sound that lent no mercy. As I listened to it more, the sound almost became likable to me. It made me realize that everything, every aspect of nature has a purpose, no matter how small or deafening it may be. We can complain and argue when we think natureâ€™s intent has become an inconvenience for us or we can realize that inconvenience is actually a beautiful significance of this great world in which we are a part.
I had vacationed as a family many times and even lived in Tokyo,Japan for almost 3 years with my ex husband and children. But my first solo trip was as a single artist attending an exhibition with my selected painting,Turqndot, at The Jewish Museum of London. I stayed at a Howard Hohnsons near Camden Lock, had my tarot cards read by a part time designer who hooked me up with more artists who became new friends, was invited home by Michael Nyman,sculptor,artist and his wife, and met Kanye in the lobby across from MTV Studios pre Kim. I think he always liked swarthy girls with boogie but he was very well mannered and respectful. I bought a mandolin at Strawberry Fields and visited the Tate Modern for motivation. People warned me to be careful but six months after 9/11 I could feel reckless and strong away from Manhattan. I proceeded to paint a series of water colors and had a lovely week on my own for the first time in 45 or so years.
Around 2007 I hopped a plane and stopped in Colorado and then met a buddy in Alaska. He was a sweet man and did not mind that I am 15 years older than his years. He taught me how to sit in a canoe with a luggage and an old portable 25 pound television and a bottle of whiskey as we paddled to his private island. The sunset was exquisite even thogh the world never was dark there in June. We camped in a cabin where I climbed up a wooden ladder to the loft and went out with a flash light to the outhouse avoiding bears and Mosquitos. I swam in the lake defunct when I tipped the boat and hung out at a lodge. Fancy camping with a refreshing change. Lovely memories. I made a few paintings of the experience in 2008.