Grouse Mountain, Vancouver, BC.
Grouse Mountain, Vancouver, BC.
“No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.”
-Jack Kerouac, “Lonesome Traveler”
It was my father who first got me into camping, hiking, and general backwoods awesomeness. I spent part of my childhood making tents, huts, and clubhouses out of whatever I could find. Sometimes they would inflate to full-blown villages, and all my siblings and cousins would help me pave the roads, cook the mud-food, collect the weed-grains and the sand-salt.
Much later in life I came upon an amazing show called “Survivorman”. I immediately became addicted to the adventures of Les Stroud as he trekked for weeks in foreign back country, a modern Indiana Jones as far as I was concerned. I was hungry for a backpacking experience of my own, and yet I didn’t even have experience in camping alone.
It wasn’t until last night that I finally decided, “Jack was right. This is something I have to do.”
Now that I’ve done it, I suppose I should sum up what it’s like:
When you’re out there alone, something changes in you. You accept everything as it is, and in the quiet dark of the night, your camp fire crackling as the coals dim to nothing, the sound of distant interstates intertwined with the call of the wild and the sighs of the trees dancing in the wind…that’s when you start finding yourself.
You come back with the assurance that you can survive.
Derek glides his hands across the backs of the books. “I was taking a look at your book shelf here earlier and I have to admit, I was tempted to steal a couple.” I look up from the shelf. “Oh?” “Lots of great writers here, some fine stories. I’ve been meaning to write down some of my own, eh.” He gulps the last half of his wine glass. “You write?” I ask curiously while looking out the corner of my eye at his stained mouth. After licking his lips, he rubs the corners of his mouth with his sleeve, looks up and says, “Sure, I got stories. Man, you wouldn’t believe the shit I been through. I’ve had knives pulled on me, transvestites fucking jumping me… yeah, man-oh, I got stories.”
Walking back to the kitchen to refill his glass, he continues, “Ever since I was 16, I wanted to travel to South America. I started learning the Espanola in high school. Got pretty good at it. Saved up a pile of dough waitering here and there, then caught a plane down south with nothing but a backpack, a little map book and a camera. Spent 8 months travelling from country to country, province to province, living in hostels - some real shit holes.” He walks back into the living room with a full glass in hand. “Got by pretty well - ya know, considering I was just a kid, only had ‘bout $3000 in US on me. Went all the way from Mexico City down through Venezuela and Chile to…” He pauses and looks at his wine glass. “…and Panama. Once I got back to Toronto, I knew I had to get back down as soon as possible. I tell ya I been working in the hospitality industry for years, eh? I got lots of experience. So I spent the next few years saving up. Moved over here to Vancouver 10 years ago. Had some problems back home I had to get away from.” He takes a mouthful of wine and briefly looks at the floor. “But I saved up a lot of dough over the years. I’m real good at saving money. I just always had the big picture in my head. Gotta save up. Gotta get back down to Panama City. Gotta hit the road. I’m just not built for this concrete jungle, ya know? Man, I walk around this city and all I see is people running around flustered and pissed off with their jobs, their girlfriends, just their life. I can’t live like that. I gotta get the hell outta Dodge, you know what I’m saying?” He raises his shoulders and laughs unabashedly. When he smiles he uncovers his grisly brown-stained teeth, a sight that had made me uneasy since I met him. “So I saved up about $15,000 in US — my life savings. Went down to Mexico, got a job in the hospitality industry. Actually, I plan to start my own business down there.” He looks down at his empty glass and heads back to the kitchen.
Spanish Sahara is exquisite.