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.

So.

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.

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