stages of shock. danger.

20 December 2013 § Leave a comment

I have done everything possible since arriving to Kathmandu to avoid writing. I have done everything possible to avoid writing. It hurts to travel. Hurts to feel new and ignorant. Like a familiar brick lodged in the throat. We’re friends.

Friends. Let’s not start with friends. Let’s start with projectors instead – kind of like those in cinemas, but with facebook profiles and fingers. I’m being watched. We’re being watched, and projected upon by those dozens of loved ones who came to the wedding and may have thought, this is the kind of love that I want.

No, no, it’s likely not. Unless you’re comfortable in interrogation rooms nightly. Confessionals by day. We do our best to find cabins nestled amongst the great mountains, so neither of us has to feel like too much when we ask the other for what we need or want. Music and lights distract the ears from our voices, which in good time we’ve learned to love. Full-length mirrors hang loose behind the doors, so we can detect our flaws to vanquish them, and inspect smiles for sincerity.

We do not rest well, except after fishing. But then there’s so much to complicate that I do not sleep for long. Morningly she’s up before me, often to take care of me in some way I don’t know.

I don’t know how to say ‘we’ except in attempt to connect.

Oh my god I’m tired of writing about myself.

Nepal. The tire man in Podunk Oregon asked me where it was. Dig a hole to China, and look toward Antarctica. I don’t know anything. Forgot to print the tickets that morning. The unkind passport control woman in Vancouver did not like us, or herself. Bulletproof vest, empty corridor.

We crash-landed into Shangri-la. The walls were lime green and pink, watercolor paintings of Everest, Annapurna, porters and prayer flags, tilted. Since two days after landing, I’ve wanted to go home. My minority status determines the form most relationships with locals take. To hell with the begging. With the anger at my refusal to hand over a few rupees which will not serve well.

I’ve gotten too used to getting what I want.

I know that readers depend on detail. Try this: A couple of years ago I told a girl in Alaska an analogy about a river. How the headwaters, rapids, and deltas were that river simultaneously. Which basically disproves linear time. That if she stepped into the water, came out, and went in again, it would not be the same river. Kind of like life. Keep your memories, I said, but the water flowing when they formed is long since the sea.

She called that ‘deep,’ which said she didn’t get it.

Today, I read ‘Siddhartha’ for the first time, and found that he, Siddhartha, at least according to Hesse, had a similar revelation.

It’s easy to know these things; all you have to do is sit by a river and listen. Application is a different story.

The book distracted enveloped me on the bus from Nagarkot that I forgot my fire staves tucked in the overhead bin. Hours later, in a taxi in a different city, remembrance came with tears. They were gone, and with them, sanity.

I don’t remember the last time Heather and I were happy and thriving for more than a few consecutive days. Since wedding, we’ve embarked on four distinct chapters of honeymoon, a couple of days sweet.

“This doesn’t feel like a honeymoon,” she said. “This feels like…traveling.”

We’re buddies right now. I’m ignoring the world, wishing for a simpler trip, where visas weren’t a hassle, and what the fuck is my problem, my grandmother died yesterday. Or today. The time difference isn’t all that keeps my family apart. I’ve joined that unfortunate club of travelers who were accidentally international in times of family tragedy. This is not something I’m happy about, and it felt inevitable.

Heather called the hotel in Nagarkot, talked to Newa. He biked down to the bus, and found the staves. Sent them down the mountain to Kathmandu, straight to the hotel.

There’s reason to hope.


travel, out loud.

10 December 2013 § 4 Comments

In 33 hours, we depart for Nepal.

Strewn across our candlelit basement: backpacks, toothbrushes, wool thermals, sandals (’cause we’re going to India, too, right?), cash, fire staves, lighters, cameras, knives, tea cups, and you-paid-what-for-that? tags tossed unceremoniously into the recycling bin.

I’m embarrassed by how many Apple products, Bluetooth and USB devices are laying around. More by how many have a place in my bag. Am I really going to bring the computer, I wonder. “Well, if I’m going to write a book…”

Two days ago, on a ninja drivehike to Hood River, the man who pulled up my zipper at my wedding asked, “if you added the cost of everything in your backpack, what would it be?” Jordan’s a 100% friend and climbing partner. A voice of reason, and challenge. Like, “Are you going to rappel this, or not?” and, “No, those aren’t the mushrooms you think they are.”

I’m counting the months until I’ll climb with him again. The number’s two hands high. When he asked about my backpack, I reconsidered the reasons I wanted to go to Nepal, Varanasi, Bangladesh, Burma. What a privilege to think, I can visit the Himalaya and the Ganges Delta, and the countless stories in between. To think, I have the freedom and money to visit some of the poorest regions on Earth, and what am I bringing to them?

The influence and love of my friends is a new type of fuel for me. So is a GoPro camera and a desire to connect. I still have my feet and feelings and eyes, but I’m having trouble justifying my existence. Should I stay in Portland and live my white western privilege out in the land of the less-free-by-the-day, should I dream, discover, and explore because Twain’s suggestion sat well with me?

How exactly do you travel, again?

I’m trying to remember; picturing my backpack full of used books and granola bars, Boris the eyeless spider hanging from a zipper handle, and how many times I slammed his stuffed cherry red spiderbody into the back seat of an old van in Alaska, a Cadillac in Ireland, the Mercedes of a professional bodyguard who took me from an icy highway exit to a train station in Luxembourg. How many people said they picked me up just for the fedora, or gave me a place to sleep for the night because… why? Because I was there, and they were there, and could we connect at our respective velocities, even for a few moments?

These memorial travel narratives make sense only to those who were part of the stories – that’s why they’re not popular with travel magazines. Those guys are looking for texture – the flickering candlelight on the wet wall next to the bed, or the sandy crunch of a sweet found on a pier in Zadar. How the bob-haired girl in the next bus seat took so many pictures along the Croatian coast, I thought the camera’s beep would break my brain. I imagined how the slideshow back in Saskatchewan would sound: “And then, we turned left!

Here’s some texture: tears that refuse to be absorbed by arm hair, ones that fall like fists from the edge of a broken man’s lower eyelid when he hasn’t been hugged in two years. When he’s not been told recently that he’s definitely a good man. When two of his attempts at Positive Role Model have wound up on the coroner’s table without reason.

For years, You, reader, have borne witness to my ramblings, off-beat rhythms and ill-placed anger, seen the development of a skill to intertwine suicide with just about any other topic, and may or may not have understood opaque descriptions of how broken I’ve thought my heart was. I’m not sorry. I’ve got a lot to off-load, and I tend to do that here – into a root system I named on the backside of a notebook eleven years ago.

I was looking for the surface tension of a magnifying glass, and accidentally burned a hole through the sun. Been trying to see clearly since, and in blurry waves, only feeling comes.


The backpack’s on the floor. It cost more than a rural Nepali earns in a year. Loading up my luxuries and trekking across the world – because it is my shellfish portal to enlightenment, to stories I’ll collect and share with the diminishing Western World.

That’s my intention: collect stories. To find the poetry in Nepal. As if Peter Matthiessen, Milarepa, or a thousand generations besides have somehow failed.

No, it’s not that I’ve forgotten how to travel – quite the opposite. I’ve learned to focus aimless wandering into purposeful movement. Despite the evidence. There will be time for child’s play, I assure myself, and the story-collecting continues regardless of where my feet tramp. Right now, I’m taking inventory, and finding the contents of a backpack matter less than the reasons I fill it.

Where Am I?

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