The On-ramp is Long and Fraught with Peril

Update: Sick and Sleepless in Seattle
[ill and reflective, told by backpacker battling stomach flu at airport]

If the universe were your friend, (s)he’d drop advice on you without warning and without your consent, and (s)he’d introduce it to you with a solid slap in the face. Maybe dump a bucket of cold water on you for the grins.

I’m writing this on January 14, 2014—two days after I was supposed to leave. Flight reschedulings and stomach flu brought the exodus train to a shivering, aching halt three days ago. Now, I sit weak but comfortable in one of Sea-Tac airport’s massage chairs; I didn’t put money into the thing, but the chair has leather cushions and glancing at the cruelly minimal black vinyl benches fascistly lined up across the hall, well, I made the better choice. Oof. Smirking makes my stomach churn.

So, a typical inauspicious start to a highly anticipated trip. Backlogging like a physician, I’d say the sickness started the day before departure, on the train ride up to Seattle from Portland. My backpack felt a bit too heavy, and not in a metaphorical way. I slept uneasily that night. The next day at the airport, I found out that EVA Air had switched my flight, routing me through two extra stops with potential for frantically sprinted layovers. I opted to wait a few days for the safe flight. By the time I got back to the place I was staying, I had a fever over 100 degrees and I was shivering like a polar plunge participant. Things were looking grim.

Fortunately, I had some incredible luck going for me. Mostly, I was lucky enough to meet Maddy, perhaps one of the nicest and most enjoyable Seattlans I should ever hope to meet. I met Maddy through my friend Ruby; they met while studying abroad in Tanzania. What was supposed to be one brief night on Maddy’s Africa-themed couch turned into three nights and two days of fighting demons—I’ll spare you the details. Maddy was a complete sweetheart throughout; hell, she had the grace to mention that I was improving her day with my conversation and company. She even chauffeured me to the urgent care clinic in some very accentuating yoga pants. OK, maybe the pants weren’t for me.

Of course, nothing to do but appreciate the good fortune of meeting a friendly girl and accept the obvious: plans change, roll with the changes.

Fitting Beginnings: “Oh the Dashboard Melted But We Still Had the Radio”
[nostalgically recounting, told by an ex-resident of Eugene]

Even with the sickness, my pre-trip in the Pacific Northwest was pretty special. My plan (yeah yeah plans change) was to fly back to Oregon on New Year’s Eve 2013 and bum around Eugene as a backpacker, staying with friends and acquaintances and tying up some loose ends. In my mind, it was going to be pretty chill, a low key—and low budget—affair.

The first day back in Eugene betrayed that image. Upon arrival I learned that my neighbors were having a black tie champagne and oysters party. Nothing else to do but make an already dirty backpacker’s t-shirt look like a tuxedo and head to the party with my debonair ex-roommate and now-host Brandon and his mountaineering outdoor ruffian friend Dorian.

The party was a joyous affair; I think there was much schmoozing, but I’m not entirely sure what schmoozing means. I enjoyed my outlook–a college grad starting the New Year as a backpacker, spending his transience at a party with close friends celebrating another spin around the wheel. I felt close to them, but also distinct; against their backdrop, I could focus the excited travel spirit. I found that spirit to be highly contagious, and I threw myself into spreading it effusively—those that were there can testify that the electronica bass hit a bit harder that night.

The pre-trip adventures continued to escalate in earnest. I bounced around between my old house, coffee shops, and the HARD house–an eclectic, fun-loving group of Eugene Whiteakerites who beat the Winter grey basking in the warm light of their friendly wood stove and friendlier faces. HARD—members Hallie, Alex, Ruby, and Dan (gone on a bike tour across the US)—and some friends and I took a climbing trip to Smith Rock State Park for the first weekend of January, basking in the Central Oregon sun and scaling the auburn tuft like deluded monkeys.

smith
[Smith Rockin’–Hallie takes good photos]

[Brief heartwarming eulogy to a glorious past]
Ah, to be climbing at Smith with good friends! It is blissful. I draw power from the rocks, then take it prowling around the base and hailing the entire colorful range of climbers like we were old friends. When we leave the place, I glance back and remember my first trip to Smith two years prior. Back then I was a kid—my long hair was still too short to tie back, I wore tie dye shirts, and my high energy blurted out of me uncontrollably to exhaustion. I matured at Smith—met incredible friends and learned to channel my energy into a smooth, confident flow (well, much of the time). As I stare across the Crooked River gorge at the iconic Smith Rock Group radiating tungsten light into the darkening sky, with the snow-peaked Cascades steadily engulfing the red sun behind, I feel whole and raw and confident. [End eulogy]

Takeoff: “And Everything Starts Today”
[summarily thoughtful, told by backpacker about to board a plane]

Pre-trip continued to ramp up—I’m sure that has something to do with getting sick. The human body can only take so much abuse, and I sent it through a tailspin in my final days in the US. The night I left Eugene, friends and I went on a birthday party-esque bar crawl through the Whiteaker neighborhood. The following day, I took the train up to Portland and poured libations with Getty and Joe, close friends from graduate school. The next evening, an album release party to a late night affair atop the hills in SW Portland, drinks on an outdoor balcony overlooking the cityscape. The following morning, a hungover climb at Portland’s Circuit Bouldering Gym, to a train ride up to Seattle. It probably would have been weirder if I didn’t get sick.

Lesson learned, yada yada. Also learned: close friends are irreplaceable, and worth their weight in platinum. And, the wanderer’s spirit is a contagion, sweeping up the comfortable bystanders and carrying them into the maelstrom for as long as they care to hold on. Some will not let go—they will join me on my travels this year. Others will loose their grasp reluctantly, yet hopefully carry the spirit onward to vicarious living at home.

*BEEP* “EVA Airlines flight 0075 now boarding all passenger from zone 1, zone 1 all passenger.” *BEEP*

Time to board, and leave the States for the indeterminable future. I would be a buzzing mass of joy and excitement at this point, if that same buzzing didn’t also send my stomach into a whirlpool of cramps. But hey, whatever. I’m leaving..no, I’m going! So as my stomach echoes the cadence of my footfalls to a crescendo of grimaces, I step through the gate and enter a new world….

[Thanks again, Maddy—you’re wonderful]
[Stay tuned for adventures from Bangkok, aka “..Stays On Khaosan Road”!]

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About wheresthecrux


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