Brotherhood and the Journey.

Fifteen thousand kilometres, scouring the north, taking detours, backroads, getting lost. Over two months, at the bridge of fall, my brother and I drove through some of the most remote areas in North America. We’d travelled together before, shot around Iceland and the British isles, but never like this. Sleeping atop our Jeep, weeks crammed into a tent across the Yukon, you get to know each other. Sometimes thats a notion people overlook, amongst the bustle of everyday you only get to the surface, even of those you love most. Life has a way of setting a screen, blurring the troubles and burying the insecurities. 

It took us a week to get to Whitehorse— Yukons capital city— the gateway of the North, a last restock before a whole lot of empty. From there we headed up to one of the most remote highways in the world, the Dempster is all dirt, devoid of emergency services, filled with sporadic river crossings and not much company save a few Semis headed back from the arctic circle. It is also home to Tombstone Territorial Park, an expanse of distinct sub-arctic peaks— often referred to as ‘Patagonia of the North’. We arrived in late September, just as services were shutting down and this barren world readied for winter. On our three-day 60 mile trek to Grizzly lake and beyond, we saw five or six people- not groups, people- it was humbling, awe-inspiring and beautiful. The colours in tombstone are as unique as anywhere in the world. This far north fall is just a blink, a few weeks of change preparing for the long freeze. Rust hues from the shrubs paint the mountain floor, forming their own unique palette, trees are sparse and reserved for low lying valleys. Its a rugged place with strong wind, rapid weather shifts and unpredictable temperatures. 

The second night in our tent we cooked some simple grub as storm clouds poured over the ominous peaks. About an hour before sunset we bundled up, listening to hail pound down on our tent. The mercury fell to about -10 fahrenheit that evening— it was 40 or so as we hiked earlier that day. I had a book and my brother had cards, he furiously taught himself to shuffle as I flipped through East of Eden— a Steinbeck classic that had just about nothing to do with the world we found ourselves. After a while he got bored and I got distracted, we started talking about the kinds of things you do trapped in a couple square feet. Im five years older, a number that’s a lot growing up and fairly insignificant once you’ve grown. Despite our similarities, the mess of things in common, we are decidedly different. Where he’s kind and stubborn, I’m blunt and easy-going, its exactly the type of thing that makes us so close. Also the same thing that can make it tricky to relate. Sitting in the tent chatting I realized my brother wasn’t so little anymore, that it wasn’t fair for me to treat him as little anymore. His problems sounded similar, but unique, I realized we could learn a lot from each other- that just meant listening.

After time in the forgotten town of Dawson, some hundred miles from Tombstone— a unique spot caught and lost in the next to last century— we headed south. Thinking off and on about the people we met, talking about their world, listening to good music and better books. Its a testament to true friendship when you can stand some silence together. Headed to Kluane now, a park skirting southern Yukon and pouring over into Alaska (there known as Wrangell-St.Elias) it held all the North American giants not named Denali. An eight or so hour drive— context is important— almost everything up here is five plus hours away, its bigger, broader. We rumbled along until, somewhere in the dark, we pulled over at Kluane lake. After all the miles we had forgotten to fill up, skipping past a few stations, mesmerized by the yellow lines. Gas was really low, too low, but it was two or so in the morning— problems for tomorrow. Kai got a fire started as I set up camp, with the tent popped up I scooped a couple beer from the cooler and noticed the northern lights dancing behind the fire. About an hour later, as we treated ourselves to good food— wolves started to howl— probably to one another, but maybe at the lights. Either way I don’t remember feeling so present, so immersed; listening to the slow rhythm of the shore, watching bands of green dance across the sky, all while the wolves sang.

Early the next morning, not much more than a stones throw from camp, my foot sunk down on the accelerator as the jeep skipped and slowed. We looked at one another, trying to point fingers, as I limped onto the shoulder. A funny thing about the solitude of these long lonely roads is that everyone has been there, sticking a thumb up is more successful here with the few passing strangers than it is with a thousand busy neighbours further south. A guy named Mike, or Mark— I was never very good with names— scooped me up and said he had gas a dozen minutes away. After grabbing a full jerry can, ours was stolen a few nights prior— hopefully buddy needed it more than us— we headed back. Mike, or Mark, was working the roads and happy for a half hour distraction, Kai told him we would buy him a beer if he was heading through Haines Junction anytime soon, he wasn’t but it was the right offer. The can gave us just enough juice to limp into the nearest station. We were arguing about the heat, he was cold and I figured he could solve that with a jacket. After some yelling and swearing I smacked him with my free hand, he thought good and hard about clocking me back, but cooler heads prevailed as he eyed my left hand on the steering wheel. Fights about nothing are pretty common after a month in the same car, they signal some stuff you had buried, this one signalled some stuff that went back a bit further. I still figured he should’ve thrown on a jacket, but then it would’ve just been something else later.

We both got out at the run down gas station, no one was around, probably because we were nowhere— or close to it. I told him to politely get back in the car, he told me to politely go satisfy myself. I was pumping the gas and he was laying into me, staring ahead I started saying some stuff that was pretty far outside the lines, he grabbed me and pinned me against the back window. He’s a big guy, shorter by a couple inches but built a lot like a brick, things escalated pretty quick, a couple swings and misses— before I told him to grab his bags. He did, even though we both knew he couldn’t go anywhere. I tossed the bags back in the trunk and after muttering some more garbage I should’ve kept to myself, we ended up covered in dirt wresting around like a couple angry kids. By now the tank was full, so I replaced the gas cap and we dusted off before climbing back in the front seats, it was his turn to drive. As we pulled out of the lonely station that just got its most action in years, he cranked the heat up to full. I just stared ahead as we drove toward Haines. Without saying much of anything, he pulled into the first place that looked like it might serve decent breakfast, it must have been an hour— or it felt like an hour— I was hungry too. We sauntered in and grabbed a table by the only TV, ordered what ended up being a more than decent breakfast, and started talking about sports. It wasn’t exactly like we were avoiding anything, it was just time to start talking again; wasn’t clear who spoke first, wasn’t tatkind of fight, wasn’t that kind of relationship. Sure we said some brutal stuff, but sometimes brutal stuff needs to be said— true or not— the point isn’t that fighting is good, or even that its necessary, point is that there are worse things than a couple bruises. Whatever came out that morning needed to come out, it did more good on the table than it did locked away. 

After breakfast we packed up our gear for an ascent later that afternoon, the Kings Throne, a peak just off the shore of Kathleen Lake. It was a 6 hour climb and we planned on camping at a ridge about halfway, make the summit for sunset and then scoot back to the tent under our headlamps. Most of the 3500 feet was unprotected ridge but none was very technical. After setting up camp we packed the essentials and pushed on, halfway or less we could see clouds moving in, the wind blew strong that afternoon and we figured the system was high enough to roll through. An hour later the snow became thick and it was tough to be optimistic about any view from the top, still we decided to trust our initial observation, knowing we had the requisite gear and that the forecast was in our favour. I got to the summit a little ahead and snow was still falling, almost sideways now, dancing and swirling in the wind. A funny thing happened then, just after Kai climbed up next to me, sun began to shine through gaps in the cloud. After waiting a few minutes the summit cleared entirely, we grabbed our cameras and watched as the lake became visible beneath us, rays of vibrant light shot across Kathleen and the mountains west of us. It was a rare scene, one we probably shouldn’t have seen, one that we probably wouldn’t be lucky enough to see again. Kai started howling, screaming like the wolves beneath us, he turned smiling and I howled along with him. It was great end to a better day. A day filled with some real low lows and some real high, literally high, highs. Those really were the best days though, the days that made you feel a little more, the days filled to the brim with emotions— a whole damn spectrum. I threw my arm around him as we turned our back on that priceless view, we just laughed, wasn’t anything else to do. 

Northbound Journal Day 5-8. On Long Miles, First Impressions and Perspective.

Day V/VI.

Pulling into Dawson Creek we realized however far we'd come, it still wasn't as far as we needed to go. A little town who’s claim to fame is ‘mile zero’ of the Alaska highway. We could've snuck around on a different road and gotten where we were going but Kai figured the extra speed wasn't worth missing the beginning. Even if it wasn't our beginning, starting always seemed a little arbitrary. The sign was cool. 

It felt like the gateway to something other than a road. Walking around town, Dawson Creek felt different, the worries different, type of people different, focus and values different. Sporting goods stores littered the main drag, fish and tackle, guns, outdoor gear, all-day breakfast. Much to the chagrin of my American friends, Canada does have guns, we do hunt. Dawson Creek was a lot like small town Montana, our regulations didn't stop the killing of anything but people. It was salt of the earth here, a mixture of born and raised, come by choice or looking for work. It felt a lot further from home than it was, it worried less, seemed to enjoy itself more. 

The road dragged out north, through two towns and not much else. Small compounds of portables dotted the landscape near the highway. A couple hundred men working to save for a new life or to pay for vices to numb the one they had. Eventually the mountains came back, followed by even less people. When we reached Summit Lake, the highest point on the Alaska highway, the campground was empty but for a guy riding his motorcycle south as far as the Americas could take him. The wind blew hard and it was cold, just September, this might be the lowest the mercury gets for him.

Morning came, and we were off again. Only one stop before Whitehorse- Liard River Hot Springs is a perfect distance from the rest of the world to remain a gem- we hung out for an hour or so, alone but for a gaggle of elderly Germans. A country that seems to value the incredible desolation and diversity of the North that so many Canadians take for granted. On our way out we watched a young couple cooking lunch and feeding their baby boy, it made me long for a woman I could share this with. Someday. 

After finally breaking into the Yukon we found a gas station tucked off the road. Not a Shell or Esso or Chevron but a place called Contact Creek. It smelled like cigarette smoke inside, was dark but for the fireplace and had the feel of a place tucked just next to nowhere. An elderly woman pumped our gas, not because I asked, just because she felt like it. Kai and I bet what it would cost, she laughed, we weren’t close. Gas here was twenty-five cents cheaper than anywhere we’d seen since Prince George, a fact that went over our heads. Contact Creek has a customer for life, if I ever make it back.

The sun set slow on the drive into Whitehorse, like a pastel painting above an ever darkening landscape. Layers of textured clouds became more vividly violet and mauve until the sun finally sunk into the seemingly unending valleys. It was dark as we pulled into the surprisingly gentrified capital of the Yukon, not much different than the regional cities further south. We found a lake a few miles out of the way and camped on the shore, because well, up here nobody seemed to care enough to tell you any different. 

About seven, barking from a husky ranch acted as an alarm, we woke up- grabbed some essentials, not knowing what to expect up in Dawson- and set off. North again, five hundred more miles to the promised land, the place with the gold, carved from turn of the century folklore. A place we had heard about, but didn't appreciate yet. Headed up the Klondike with Jack London running through my mind and a nostalgia I couldn't quite put my finger on.

 

Day 7/8.

A sign told us there would be no emergency vehicles for the entirety of the highway. Welcome to the Dempster, one of the most remote roads in Canada, the world really. I'd been around, seen some pretty incredible places, but nothing compared to the vast expanse we found here. Driving to some classics and burning time, we were silent, wasn't much to say, for an hour or so we didn't see another car. None. 

We set up camp late, the sun was setting as Kai chopped wood. I cooked some typical road fare, we both ate greedily, sitting by the fire and watching twilight take over the landscape. Trading rust hues of fall for dark silhouettes and a cloudless hazy blue sky. The fire crackled and sparked, smelling distinctly like the pine it was burning, the river rushed past more quickly than you’d expect in late fall. It was everything we might've imagined about the Yukon, everything and more, pulled over at a random spot on the highway, no interruptions save the odd trucker. Headed up 750 kilometers of poorly maintained dirt to the Arctic ocean. It was peaceful. That night I dreamed more than I had in years, maybe it was the road, maybe sleeping outside, more likely it was the endless world I found myself in, a place good for perspective.

Rolled into Dawson early the next morning, a place linked to opportunity, former glory and the turn of the next to last century. Colorful heritage homes dotted the tiny ten road town, buildings erected with gold money and still standing as a mirage into the past. The sidewalks are wood and the roads dirt, the bars stay open till two and by this time of year you'll only find locals around. Prospectors washing out thoughts of another season without gold, hunters celebrating the first moose of fall, shopkeeps turning the page on another summer, brave seasonal workers readying for a first winter, geologists wondering what they got themselves into and tramps who hitchhiked and got stuck- stuck or had nowhere to go- playing music for beer money and talking loosely about past lives made up or long gone. It's a ragtag bunch brought together by a common desire to stay as far away from society, with all its strings attached, as possible. 

Started drinking at a tavern with a showroom and casino, it was Wednesday and for Dawson it was busy. Thought better of sitting in on blackjack and stuck to a few pints too many, at least one vice got me drunk as it stole my money. We watched the people, talked to a few, asked the same old questions and wished we hadn't. Trouble for someone in Dawson is that just about everyone passing through wonders why you stayed up five hundred miles from nothing. The show came on, hilarious and awesome, some shockingly beautiful dancers, and a short balding male lead- leveraging a damn good singing voice to bag the most impressionable of the young ladies working the stage. Some shady characters stumbled drunk near the back wasting money on slots, a couple native fellas leveraged a supply run from Inuvik to make some money playing hold'em. We talked to about all of them, because why not, they all had a story and most were happy to tell it. In general people enjoy when someone else is interested in their life, a little vanity escapes no one. 

The next morning we grabbed a bite at triple J, a little hotel diner with good pub food, our spot for the next week. Another addition to the club sandwich world tour, it was good, if not memorable. Was a laugh seeing all the folks from the night before, working and living. Dawson seemed about as small as it was right then, you feel for the poor kid who has too much to drink early on, tough place to escape and embarrassing night. We wandered through the best of town, saloons, museums, farmers market and finally the outfitters. Tomorrow we'd head out into the Yukon backcountry for the better part of a week and needed matches at least. It was everything, the exact nostalgia I tried so hard to replicate. Rare books and handmade knives, old military gear on for cheap, totems, fishing gear, rustic climbing essentials, pelts, racks, neat stack of guns, antiques. Run by an old trapper and his son, passed down from an older trapper, it had a story like everything else. We bought some mess we didn't need and headed off to the mountains, it was late afternoon but that evening was a harvest moon, so the dark wasn't so dark, and now seemed better than later.

Northbound Journal Day 1-4: On the Long Way Round and a Past Remembered.

Day 1

So today, today we went south. Not the direction we needed, but with some things waiting to be brought along. Grabbed it at a warehouse in Blaine Washington, and by some things, a lot of things. 

It took a cool eight hours to get the roof rack together and sort out the equipment. A lot of cursing and sweat poured into making our severe lack of tools do the job. Stuck in a parking lot wasn't exactly ideal, neither was the rain, just the way of the road. By five we realized our house wouldn't arrive until tomorrow, so we drove a little further south looking for a burrito, Chipotle wasn't ever a bad choice. Got sucked into buying a couple things I'm not sure we needed, but hey- when in Burlington- or however the saying goes. 

It got dark quick, a sign of things to come. Summer really had passed, colours weren't changing here, but you could bet they were up north. As we drove to Mt.Baker- might as well wake up to a view- Kai and I chatted about what was to come. About the sights, sounds, places, pubs, about whatever. I had never been further than halfway up BC and neither had he, now we were about to embark on a trip to the Arctic Ocean, weather permitting the northernmost town in continental Canada. Romanticizing about the unknown, about carving through new territories, about the people and experiences that would follow. 

Adventure might be an overused slogan, but it was addicting, the nervous feeling of something new, I missed it, and it was back. We don't have a ton of money and that might be better, Jeb is filled to the teeth with everything we'll need to climb the mountains, endure the cold, fix the tires and stay fuel'd for tomorrow. Just a couple brothers looking for stories to share, things to see, looking to feel a little bit more alive. Tomorrow we'll wake up with some more errands to run, but we'll be back on our way north and north is good. Only a couple, few, more thousand miles to go.

 

Day 2/3.

Northbound, with a westward detour. Friday afternoon we finally had Jeb all packed up, ready to go. Instead of heading straight north up the 99 we snuck over to the Sunshine Coast. Neither Kai nor I had seen our grandparents new house, they thought we were leaving without saying goodbye, we figured family was more important. The six o'clock ferry was the perfect place to watch the evening light drift behind the tantalus and coast mountains, painting the trees with a golden glow, and the alpine with a soft shimmer. We rode on the top deck as the autumn wind rushed through our hair. 

On the other side, the coast was how I remembered, slow, quaint and politely unconcerned. The highway near Seachelt carved around the waterfront while the sun was lost over the horizon. We drove passed my grandparents honking, the look on grams face made the detour all worth it. Drinking wine and talking about life with some of the most important people in our lives beat rushing by a wide margin.

The next day we left around noon, caught the twelve thirty boat and took off for Pemberton. We had a long way to go that day, without many stops. The Duffy, a highway between Pemberton and Lilloett is one of the most beautiful in BC, and houses a park that is a must stop on any journey north. Joffre Lakes used to be a hidden gem, five years ago I had the trail to myself, not anymore. Now it was one of the more popular sights around Vancouver, and for good reason, the alarmingly blue water, runoff from a receding glacier, contrasted with the alpine green trees in a way closer to a painting than real life. The short hike was a good rest from the road and the rope swing at the second lake an ideal shower. 

Running down the trail under the light of headlamps, we reorganized the Jeep and set out with Prince George in mind. Halfway or so the coffee had worn out, we found a rest stop around one. Setting up the roof-top tent for the first time in harsh wind and beating rain on the outskirts of BC’s Cariboo region, it was uncomfortable, that was good. We fell asleep quickly, though mine was filled with tossing and turning. Anxious to cross into territory I had never seen, more so to face a town I had lived for three years in a past life, when hockey ruled, when I was a different person, a younger man, yet the same guy. Nervous to face the memories I had locked away. Filled with some of the best times, deepest regrets, numerous learning experiences and the friends I had long left behind. We woke up to the sound of semi trucks roaring by, incoherent dreams had somehow calmed me. We packed up quickly, now, again, back on the road.

 

Day 4.

Sitting outside the house I had lived in for almost three years, inside was a family that had become like my own, I hadn't seen or spoken to them in seven years. I wasn't scared, really I was excited. The hesitation was guilt, a feeling today should've come much much sooner. 

After a few long minutes of indecision I rang the doorbell. A barking wiener dog scrambled to the door- Hank was still kicking- following was a woman who was really like another grandmother; doting, supportive, eager to listen. The door opened and I gave her a big hug. For a few hours we all chatted, she was still billeting hockey players after all this time. The kids hanging out in the kitchens wouldn't appreciate how good they had it until long after they walked out Sharon and Elmer's door. Our families came up, their grandkids had grown up to a point that made me feel older than I was, one granddaughter in particular, who had been one of my closest friends was almost married and finished university. I realized then how much I had missed her. Sitting downstairs alone I laughed about how far things had come, how much different I was than the kid staring at me from a frame on the wall. Thought of the good times and the messy ones, for a while I regretted things about my hockey career, tonight I felt totally at peace. As if I may have learned the lessons I needed to, built lifelong friendships, left an impact on the community, most of all- proud I knew when to walk away.

Driving out of town Kai and I talked about the past, he asked some question he maybe never thought of until tonight. Drank coffees a little too tall for eight PM and finally took off down a new road, the trip really started then. I had closed some doors that needed to be shut, felt a bit like opening up to another chapter, felt good.

Away Down Slocan Lake.

 

After a five thousand kilometer odyssey through the Rockies I was back in Nelson. A town that was really starting to feel like home, located at the heart of the West Kootenays it is close to the mountains, next to a lake and has just about everything you could ask for in amenities. Quaint architecture, interesting people, real sense of community. Nelson is an easy place to fall in love with.

My Cherokee, Jeb, was tired from the journey. Whining upon starting and groaning as we drove, I took him to the shop and it turned out he needed to stay a while, get his legs back under him. That was OK, gave me a week to hang out in town and get some work done. By the second day though, I was getting anxious. It was hot out, maybe thirty-three, sun was beaming, and the thought of sitting in the office for the rest of the week didn’t sit well. An old friend had been talking about Kayaking down Slocan Lake, about forty-five minutes away and at this point I didn’t need much convincing. We grabbed beers at Mike’s Place, a pub downtown, tried to figure out how to get to Slocan and grab kayaks once we got there. They didn’t have a car and for the time being neither did I, we called some friends but they were busy, thought about hitchhiking but that might get tricky along highway __ where the traffic sputters out. Then Tommy suggested the bus, or at least to check if it went out that way. I figured it was too far, to obscure, but checked anyway. Sure enough you could do it, and with only a single transfer, by the looks it took about an hour which really wasn’t much longer than driving. I didn’t think it was possible to take transit through the winding highways of the West Kootenays, I was wrong.

Climbing on the bus the three of us took a seat somewhere around the middle. It wasn’t full, but it was busy; two women holding groceries and chatting hurriedly across the aisle, a man with headphones listening to something that sounded very seventies, louder than seemed comfortable and two old fellas near the front chatting with the driver as if he was an old friend. Looking back he probably was, they had probably rode that route toward Castlegar a few too many times and I’d bet for most of those trips he’d been driving. Tom, Helen and I talked amongst each other for a bit, my attention wandered as I continued eavesdropping. Inside that bus was a lot of what I loved about small towns; greeting one another by name, asking how the family is, and chatting with someone you only know through a friend of a friend (which if you stick around long enough leaves pretty much nobody unturned). It was a neat sort a friendliness, an earnest curiosity, a sense of community thats tough to find in the city.

We had swapped buses by now and were headed up toward Slocan City, a few hours early to pick up the Kayaks, so still some time to kill. As we wound around a corner I noticed an old bridge up to the left, wasn’t sure if the bus stopped here or not so I asked. The driver said ‘no’ but that it didn’t matter much because he pulled over anyway. As we climbed off he let us know the stop was about five hundred yards ahead if we needed to get back on. I was ecstatic, my friends confused- told them they’d find out in a minute. After a few months in the Kootenays I knew these bridges were just high enough, and the water just deep enough to jump off. So we did, after some hesitation, and it couldn’t have worked out better. The river was flowing slow and the water was nice and warm. After building up the courage to dive off of the three or so story high railing, we took off, hoping to catch the bus that was to come in around fifteen minutes. It wasn’t four or five before it came lumbering over the horizon. 

An hour or so later the three of us were sitting at the south end of Slocan Lake packing our Kayaks and getting ready to face the angry southbound wind that would add something to the eight kilometer paddle. Once off the shore it was tough to talk to one another through the waves and wind. We pushed towards the west side of the lake which was also the boundary to Valhalla Provincial Park. As the sun set slowly and the light poured above the mountains grasping for the land, we slipped into the shade. Still an hour away from Evans beach, the wind died with the daylight and made the final push a smooth one. 

Crashing into shore, we climbed out of the boats and dragged them up to land. I could smell a campfire not far away, it smelled how I imagine perfection might. Unpacking we set up camp above some driftwood maybe fifteen feet from the waterfront, they pitched a tent as I hung my hammock. The sky, once cloudy was now completely clear, it was going to be a new moon. We sat around our own fire talking about life, cooking smokies and sipping on cider. It was dark now, quiet but for the fire crackling, I watched the sparks fly up dancing into the sky, a sky now littered with stars. The milky way cut across the darkness, almost tracing the lake. All I could do was smile, smile about today, a good. No. A great day.

American Beauty Pt.III The Forever Day.

 I tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position, but it was the back seat of the car and comfortable is few and far between. I glanced at my phone, 2:05, it was black out, I knew I was feet away from greater salt lake but my eyes couldn't tell me as much. I stretched and reached into the cooler, one red bull left. Why not. I crawled out from my sleeping back and snuck into the drivers seat, I knew it was four hours to Arches national park, maybe I could catch the sunrise. I didn't know it at the time but I would hardly speak a word today, most of the dialogue would be confined to the chatter of my mind. As I drove through Provo and snuck off across the mountain pass towards Colorado, I ignored the waning gas gauge, the weather was miserable, rain pounded relentless as a drum, the water pooled on the pavement and distorted the view. It took me another twenty five miles to realize I was running out of gas, the light was on which meant I had about twenty five miles to go, I could turn around and drive downhill through the chaos I had just pushed through or hope that my twenty five miles remaining could somehow carry me the forty miles to the next town.

 I babysat the car in neutral down the mountain, back through the storm that poured from the sky like a shower cleansing the mountain side, I should've been angry yet I was strangely calm standing pumping gas in the pouring rain sometime after four in the morning, smiling to myself wondering what today would bring. After back-tracking the drive seemed to accelerate, I found myself passing through small town Utah as the sun slowly illuminated the dry, mountainous red plains. As the cliffs and peaks revealed periodic coal mines, remnants of American yesterday, I contemplated the abandoned buildings and fenced petrol stations. The windshield began to seem more and more like the screen of an old theatre, playing westerns starring a grimacing Eastwood or bemused Newman, the drive passed quickly and before I had time to be truly present I was wandering the flats of Arches searching for its most Delicate, I wished I had a horse, I wished someone was chasing me. I daydreamed my way around this foreign clay wonderland, for how long who knows, I remember now more of what I thought than what I saw, with a quick goodbye I drove south to a road I wanted to see more than perhaps any place on my itinerary, Monument Valley was more American to me than any place on either side, the long impossibly straight road, was more about opportunity than the journey, something about the pillars stood as a symbol of possibility, driving towards monument valley in some odd fantastic way reminded me of the american dream. A kid in tattered jeans stood with a thumb up as car after car flashed by in varying degrees of blur, I pulled over and asked if I could take his photo, he obliged. Smiling he climbed into the car -do you have food?- I did. As we started driving he asked if I was going to stay for sunset, it must've been around five, I told him I was going to drive to horseshoe bend instead, he said it would be worth it. The kid was headed to Texas so our journey was a short one, I gave him some food and dropped him at a junction pointed south to phoenix and east, in a round about way, to Albuquerque. For a quiet, unassuming kid he spoke loudly with his eyes, he was truly grateful for the meal, and perhaps more for the company. Although we spoke little the generosity of a fellow traveller, and the sound of good music did more than enough to rejuvenate his spirit, I just appreciated hearing a story without so many words. A college dropout he had hitchhiked from Austin to the pacific ocean because he wanted to taste the salt water, I hope he found what he was looking for. 

 My car wound its way towards Page as the sun began to slowly dip in the sky, I don't remember seeing another car along that lonely drive, I played a Bob Dylan album over and over as my foot grew ever more heavy on the accelerator. Soon only 'Blowing in the Wind' played through the speakers, I must've heard the song sing forty or so times until the light pollution of Page was visible on the horizon, probably half-hour until the sunset. I blew up dirt behind me pulling into the parking lot at horseshoe bend, grabbing my camera I stammered out of the car and ran clumsily up the steep sand dune that precluded the lookout. Reaching the top I saw an incredible gathering of people looking out at one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen, the sun was in the midst of setting, perfectly aligned with the centre of the bend, as if its rays were the wings of a plane on its way to land. I found a spot near the edge of the cliff and sat in awe, I just sat as the congregation of people slowly packed to leave, I sat and sat until all light had disappeared beneath the horizon. Walking back to my car under the guidance of the stars I wondered how I could be so lucky, thinking that the world really tried its hardest to work in mysterious ways. I drove into town at first looking for a hotel and then later settling on a case of beer, Blue Moon. I found my way to the shore of Lake Powell, listening to a fittingly titled Beck song, sipping on my beer. A couple sat down beside me, I said hello, they introduced themselves in German, I handed him two beers and we just stared up the stars. Soon the beers were gone and with them my two German friends, I just smiled as they left, laying back down. Above the milky way was clearer than I had ever seen it, probably clearer than I ever would again. I thought about life in the same way one does in a moment of such insignificance, everything in that moment seemed so far away I felt like a third person narrator of my own life, I saw myself in the infinity and I was truly excited with what I saw.

 

American Beauty Pt. II Nostalgia

 The first place I visited in Spokane was the Arena, it was an interesting feeling walking inside, even if it had only been for a short time that building held some great memories. I found some old restaurants, walked the river, and let the memories flow. For a few hours I walked with my eighteen year old self. I admired some things about that kid, but it was amazing to me then, walking through a place I had once called home, just how different I had become. Not better, not worse, just different. 

 Driving south through the Palouse hills I was struck by how incredible the journey of life truly is. That time, on the surface, seemed to pass so quickly, yet underneath upon closer inspection moved so slow. I could clearly remember my time in Spokane, yet it often felt like my hockey career passed by in a flash. It was a confusing dichotomy, I was truly a changed person, changed through the abundance of experience between then and now. When we count years they might seem to have slipped away, yet when we are forced to remember; details, successes, mistakes, emotions, places, connections, the time seems to stretch, that the person in your memory seems further away than the time it took to get where you are now.

 My next stop was Palouse Falls, in southeastern Washington. It is a destination I will recommend to anyone who is travelling in that direction or is willing to drive off of the beaten path. The beauty for me, was in just how different it was to the waterfalls I was used to. An incredibly powerful waterfall in a predominantly flat, dry, land. It was its own beautiful sort of contradiction. Like many destinations on my journey, I wish I had stayed longer, the biggest mistake is to rush, to try and taste everything without truly enjoying anything. From there I moved into the Wallowas; a beautiful, dense forested and mountainous region in northeastern Oregon. Travelling through on thin winding roads, I made my way into the flat, desolate landscapes of Idaho. I slept at a rest stop outside of Boise and after maybe three hours awoke for the sunrise and a cup of coffee. Quickly on my way I moved towards Twin Falls with its bridges and waterfalls littering the intimidating gorge that carved its way through town. Southbound I headed into one of the most terrific and intimidating storms I had ever witnessed, the clouds, which lingered menacingly on the horizon, seemed to extend forever into the sky, as if they were going to swallow the road and everything else in their wake. It was incredible to see the contrast of a sunny day in Idaho with the chaotic skies of northern Nevada. Once I entered the cloud cover, the rain began to beat down, lightning struck and thunder bellowed.

 Within an hour I found a ranch off the highway with a beautiful, desolate landscape behind it, the rain had let up slightly so I decided to go explore. Walking off of the road I saw a sign, knocked over, saying horseback tours 2 miles ahead, intrigued I walked back to my car. I hadn't seen much traffic and the weather was nothing better than horrible, so perhaps the ranch wouldn't be busy. I turned onto a beautiful dirt road and drove for a few minutes before I came to a nice, typical american, post-depression home. White shutters, and a white picket fence, without neighbours for miles, aside from two barns around a hundred yards in either direction. On the front door a sign read 'closed', I figured it was worth a shot. Walking up, I knocked three times and waited. A woman perhaps in her early fifties answered the door. I asked about the tours. She turned and called inside for a man named James. He walked to the door, I could hear him mutter 'really. today..' As he got to the door I introduced myself, shook his hand and told him that I had seen the sign a few miles back about horseback tours, that I had never ridden a horse, and figured, considering the area looked like a scene from Butch Cassidy, It might be a good place to learn.

 The man chuckled in silent approval, "I always liked Paul Newman," he said. I laughed, I had come to the right place. Within minutes his wife had given me the various supplies, and I was in the barn setting up my horse. Sorry, watching her set up the horse. In the end all I needed to do was mount it. This was much easier than I had expected, it wasn't this horse's first rodeo, so to speak. Riding a horse was both empowering and intimidating, the animal made me feel both in control and insignificant, it was a truly unique and necessary experience. The man, James... Jim as he told me shortly into the ride, asked me to leave all my electronics in my car. He never said why, probably to keep the experience authentic, to keep focused on the moment, I appreciated it either way. I had and have an intense respect for a man who can live off the grid, perhaps even more for the woman who can stand such a man. Either way I admired Jim, as he lead me down a beaten trail in the pouring rain, shouting stories and spitting dip. The man was well read, he grew up in the city, he was a military man post-Vietnam, pre gulf war. When he was discharged he met a girl from rural Utah, she moved to California to live with him. Eventually they had enough of the city, and met their families halfway, equally far from either, equally far from everyone else for that matter. In nowhere Nevada. We talked Hemingway for what seemed like an hour. I battled the horse to follow beside him. When we got back to the ranch, I thanked Jim and his wife, she handed me a packed lunch as he told me I wasn't Butch Cassidy, but that he had sure seen worse. I backed out of the driveway, the rain had stopped, and they stood watching me go. I reached into the bag and pulled out a club sandwich, my favourite. 

 

American Beauty.

  This summer I took a somewhat accidental trip through the western USA. As far east as Monument Valley, as far south as the Mohave Desert and the coast from Big Sur back up to Vancouver. Originally I was supposed to spend the two weeks before fall semester in Greece. Got to YVR, checked the board for my New York flight…Nothing, check the itinerary, my flight was due to depart on September 26 at 1030 PM it was August 26 at 830. So I found my way home, frantically canceling flights, trying to clear my head and figure out my next move. I had quit my summer job two weeks early so I couldn't just take my stupidity in stride, I needed a big idea.

  Within 36 hours I had packed up my Highlander, equipped with sleeping arrangements and probably twenty five percent of the equipment I needed (you live and learn) and was off. I remember being slightly bummed to be traveling alone, within the next two weeks that sentiment would completely change. 

DAY 1 'If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company' -Sarte

  I had always been very comfortable by myself, never needed people around. I genuinely enjoyed going off with nature, music, a book or a road as my sole companion(s). Some times, however, were better spent in good company and I had always found it difficult to approach total strangers, particularly when I was alone to begin with. 

  I left Vancouver around 6AM, crossed the border into Washington and drove south to Everett before heading into the Cascades towards Leavenworth. Despite photography being a big motivating factor I told myself that I would be selective about where I would stop and what I would save for myself, camera free. About an hour outside Everett I found a swimming hole with beautiful cliffs on either side. It was empty save for a group of 6, couples, somewhere in their twenties. Normally I would've taken my pictures and moved along, this wasn't normally. I introduced myself and quickly they had convinced me to test my courage on a particularly high cliff, jumping into the icy mountain water was exhilarating. Afterward they invited me to have lunch, it was a simple meal; meat, cheese and wine. We sat by the river for a couple hours and talked about life, all six of them grew up in Seattle and met at university, one couple still lived in Seattle, one in Philadelphia and anther had bounced around the globe for the last 4 years. They promised each other that once a year they would meet back up and see where life had taken them, they didn't talk everyday, not even every month, but once a year judging by the laughter and old stories nothing much changed. After enjoying some food and a glass of particularly sour red wine, I left, I didn't get everyones name, the only one I remember is Stella, probably because it is my favorite beer. I didn't add any of them on Facebook, no phone numbers, just a great couple of hours in good company. 

  Two hours later I had passed Wenatchee and entered a beautiful, foreign, golden part of Washington. As I drove I pulled into what appeared like an abandoned barn off of the highway. I got out to explore, camera in hand I climbed onto some hay bales and stared out over the flat expansive country. Minutes later, I couldn't be sure how many, I heard a grizzly voice "What are you doing up there" I turned slowly to find a man, probably in his seventies staring up at me. His truck was feet away, I had been so oblivious I didn't even hear It coming. "just enjoying the view" I replied, he grumpily informed me I was trespassing. I climbed down and introduced myself, apologizing, I told him I would be on my way. Then the man surprised me "have you eaten?" he asked. I laughed and said I hadn't. Ten minutes later I was sitting on the mans porch, he had a roast in the oven. This turned into one of the most memorable few hours, not just of the trip, but of my life. The man and I ate and then talked and talked and talked. His wife had passed away two years earlier, he hadn't seen either of his children in years. Yet if the man was lonely he hid it well. I remember speaking but I don't remember much of what I said, his words were much more interesting than my own. We watched together as the sun began to set, I thanked him for dinner and told him I needed to get to Spokane that night, reluctantly he said goodbye, I think he could've stayed on that porch all night sharing stories, in hindsight Spokane could've waited. Yet something he said before I left stuck with me, and leaving was worth hearing him say it, "You know Brian (the man couldn't be convinced my name was actually Bruin) the best advice anyone ever gave me was to love what you do and to do it with those you love" I remember looking in the rearview as I drove away, watching him wave through the dust, and I remember thunder storm I watched as I drove the long painfully straight road into spokane. I smiled thinking about what he had said, painfully straight forward his advice was, it was something we all knew, yet like the storm we complicated it. Love what you do and do it with those you love.

  I slept in the trunk of my car that night, in the parking lot of a Hilton. I was alone, but I was finally figuring out what I loved and that was progress. That day seemed like a chapter from a book, the people I met, carefully constructed characters, It didn't seem real. It was one of the most authentic days of my life. I remember texting my girlfriend and my brother before I went to sleep telling them I loved them, because it was clear then how important love was. I wasn't going to forget what that man had told me, not then, hopefully not ever.