It was summer break. I was 20 and full of bright ideas and romanticized notions. Really it was not that long ago, but if you can imagine, it was a time before IPhones, American Idol, and Twitter.
My boyfriend Chris, was both my fondest companion and love of my life, but also a master of stoking the imagination. We were going to live in Alaska, we were going to follow the Appalachian Trail, we were going to bike from New England to Nova Scotia, we were going to get lost in Europe. He compelled me to dream and I thirsted for adventure. I once wrote of him:
" He loved me naturally, the way he loved the earth between his fingers... His touch was always tender, as though he were tending to a delicate sapling, in need off the first signs of love to flourish."
So, young and restless, Chris convinced me to embark on a grand road trip across the country. We were coming to the end of our sophomore year and spontaneity was not hard to come by, for a couple whose only serious commitment was to each other. Abbey and Kerouac were becoming a bore and we were ready to see for ourselves, "the paper mache Rockies" and the raw beauty of our homeland.
Chris had always talked about this lovely, quaint town in California, that he had visited with his cousin. It was called Bishop and little did I know, I had been there before (will elaborate more on this later)... We decided that this would be our ultimate destination and our pilgrimage would be to learn more about ourselves and each other as we camped, hiked, climbed, and drove our way there. Everyone we knew, claimed that "You really don't know who you have for a partner, until you travel with them." And to this day, it is one of the greatest pieces of wisdom I have received.
The '98 Dodge Caravan couldn't have been more befitting. We had lined the ceiling with a dyed tapestry that we had picked up in some "head shop". The blue, green, and orange floral designs were unique, probably native to India, and they reminded me of far-off lands that I would one day travel to. We pulled the seats out and built a box framed bed. Our climbing mats served as
matresses. We had thought of everything: cookware, clothing, camping supplies, climbing equipment, books, a game of chess, cameras, binoculars... The finishing touch, a yellow sign made of construction paper reading: "California or Bust".
We left on a hot day in early July, before the birds could catch their breath. We hadn't been on the road for 5 hours, when in upstate New York a black sports car, with a pretty woman, pulled up beside us on the highway. She motioned for us to roll down our windows. I rolled down mine and she yelled over to me, "I am going to California too! I will race you there!" She smiled big and took off. And so it began; our great pilgrimage.
We didn't have an itinerary, just a map, our dreams, and free-will. We were headed west, just as the transcendentalists, the pioneers, the beat generation, and the hippies had done before us. We were naive to what lay before us; a tabula rosa mind-set. But we had so much to look forward to and we drove through the night just to get beyond our beloved Northeast.
I could recount for days the many details of our trip across country, but I have a point to this little tale (It Comes in All Forms), so I will share but two quick anecdotes with you, that happened on this journey.
The first begins in Colorado. We had cut through Colorado diagonally, off our usual migrant Rt. 70. We had arranged to stay with a professor of Chris', who owned a house in Durango. The day we arrived in the south-western corner, a hike had been planned for us and we were anxious to get out and stretch our legs.
The pollen was thick in the air, as we traversed the mountain roads, with no guard rails and non-surviving drop-offs (after my stay in Colorado, I began to think these roads contributed to the "balls-to-the-wall" mentality of Colorado natives). My senses were completely overwhelmed between the elevation and the air-quality, as though someone had blown a dusty vacuum cleaner in my face for hours on end. We were headed to an off-the-map kind of place; a old mining town call Silverton and one of the junctions of the Colorado Trail.
During the hike, I struggled to keep up with the guys, who didn't seem to be phased by the largest pollen particles known to man, flying above our heads. At an elevation just over 15,000 feet, there were few trees, just cascading green slopes littered with their sun-bleached, skeletal remains. A patchwork of wild flowers, hummed with activity as we passed by. The real ascent, was rocky and difficult to navigate, and we found that we were no longer in the upright walking position, but were actually crawling up the face of a summit. After 2 1/2 hours, we reached the ridge and stepped into two feet of snow (it was mid-July).
I was weak in the knees, out of breath, with blood-shot eyes, and on the verge of vertigo. But when I looked out at the distant gray peaks, sharp and cathedral-like, I was humbled. And I knew in that moment, there would always be something larger than myself.
It was that day, I found a new place of worship. It wasn't confined by four walls, stained glass, or hard wood pews. It was an internal devotion, to the outside world. It was a feeling of connectedness, to all that was natural and pure. And I felt that same energy running through my bones, as it did along the spine of the Rocky Mountains.
(As promised I will pick up, with my second anecdote tomorrow) So, for now :
TO BE CONTINUED ...