Friday, November 18, 2016

Lusting for the American West

Last night at the local climbing gym, I was chatting with a friend about a recent sixteen day trip he took through Colorado and Utah. We got on the topic about Zion National Park and shared a mutual excitement for hiking the park’s infamous ‘The Narrows’, a cold river running through a narrow, slot canyon with towering walls on either side. It’s truly a magical experience wading through the stream as you meander your way deeper and deeper, farther in. Hiking ‘The Narrows’s is just one of those legendary hikes that you have to tell your kids and grandkids about years later, have to.  Ever since I’ve returned from Iceland, and it’s been about two-weeks now today, I’ve had zero-luck sleeping. Absolutely zero.  I’m blaming it on the recent daylight-savings-time switch, lingering jetlag and the fact that over in Iceland the days were very, very short (in terms of sunlight). Speaking of which, I tremendously miss Iceland. It’s all I’ve been thinking about since I landed back in the states two-weeks ago. Hands-down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. But bac k on the topic of sleepless nights… I’ve been waking up at weird, odd hours of the morning every night. 5am, 3:15am, 2am. 1:30am. It sucks, yes. And what’s the worst thing to do when you find yourself wide-awake in the middle of the night? Swipe through Pinterest and Instagram. But…but if you’re dreaming about and gawking over the ‘American West’ does it count as a healthy activity? Hell yes it does.

So I don’t get it. I just, don't, get the attraction. I don’t get what my draw to the ‘American West’ is and I'm lost trying to find the answer. It sucks me in fully and doesn’t spit me back out. My drive and desire to explore skyrockets when I see pictures of these mind-blowing landscapes in states like Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, the Dakotas, Utah, Nevada…oh this list continuously lengthens. I scroll through photos, watch videos, read stories in magazines and on blogs and hear accounts of friends who have set-foot in these places- and it all just fuels my wanderlust gene. Inspired, intrigued, hooked. That last adjective is the most appropriately matched to me. Back in 2014 I was in a rut, a hard rut and in need of fresh air and a new routine. So I applied for a full-time, seasonal job at a YMCA up in the Rocky Mountains and moved out to Colorado for six-months. I’ve preached it before and I’ll preach it again, if you want to start new and grow, head west. Nearly everyone I met while living the life of a glorified ski-bum in the Fraser Valley agreed. We were all out there to figure out who we are and what we want in life. It was excellent. That was my first time heading west. When my dad and I stopped at Badlands National Park (my favorite), I got out of the car and felt a wave of relief and just calmness flow over me. I knew this was the right decision to take this next-step.  For that half-year I lived in Colorado, I never once regretted moving out there. In fact, I even still think on almost a daily or weekly basis, because I miss the life I lived there that much.

Maybe it’s the land. The land out west plays games with your mind. It confuses you. You spend so much time trying to crack the disbelief over just how the terrain came to be and you shake your head because you’re just skeptical of the possibility that big, open places out there are that beautiful. From thick pine forests at the bases of snowy peaks and roaring mountain ranges to dry, waving deserts littered with abstract, abnormal and bizarre rock formations. Landscapes so desolate and quiet it feels like time completely halts to a stop.  Landscapes that seem unworldly, maybe even scary, but that good kind of scary. Landscapes that make your hairs stand up, forcing you to ‘Wow’ at every turn on the trail or on top of every overlook. Some of the very-best hikes I’ve ever done have been out west. In places like Canyonlands National Park, the Arapaho National Forest, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Devil’s Tower and Rocky Mountain National Park. I remember last fall, a hike I did through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument towards lower Calf Creek Falls, a waterfall diving down from the Utah blue sky into an oasis below. At one point on the trail, I walked into a small patch of white aspen forest and glowing green grass. I stopped dead in my tracks and my jaw dropped to the dusty canyon floor. It was like a dream, a fairy tale. The golden light shimmering down in between the flickering aspen leaves. I sighed out an ‘Oh my God…” to myself in sheer disbelief. You rarely get that amount of tranquility. Another place that really opened-up my eyes and exploded my mind was the Squaw Canyon area, in Canyonlands National Park’s ‘The Needles’ district. I spent three days backpacking here and it was breathtaking. By far, one of the most adrenaline-filled trips I’ve done.  Pure solitude and terrain that puzzled my mind. The land out there was wild. And I’ve just been aching, begging to get back out there.  It's an addiction, straight-up addiction. You just want to hike more, and more, and more and more because your curiosity is at an astronomically-high level.  The distance and detachment from everyday life and normal society seems far-off when you're in these surreal wilderness settings. You can completely remove yourself, from everything. And it's great. When you’re trekking around solo in unfamiliar places like these, you discover things about yourself and what you’re really capable of. You have time to actually think and clear your head. You can go at your own pace. Meet and talk with as many strangers or as few as you want.  You can interpret your surroundings and discoveries. I can page through my travel journal, a ragged notebook I keep and bring with me on every trip, reflecting. The writing about my adventures out west is like reading rich, romantic poetry. 

Maybe my hypothesis then is right. It's these dreamlike places out west and their magnetizing feels that cling-on to you and trigger that taste for high-quality outdoor adventure. These mysterious backdrops I want to chase and play detective in, trying to get the backstory on how they took shape.  Sure, there are places out on the east coast and down south I want to see at some point, but there are wants and there are needs. I need to get back out west and continue roaming its vast openness. Even re-reading this post and pondering more on the 'why', it's just so hard to explain through spoken and written words. You just have to get out there.