Week 16: Jackson to Santa Barbara

Sometime, while kicking up plumes of dust on the empty dirt roads of southeast Oregon, my Jeep rattled through its 200,000th mile. I glanced down below the rim of the steering wheel five minutes too late, missing the grand alignment of the dashboard cosmos, when the odometer teeters under the weight of all its nines, tips over and is reborn with a long array of unburdened zeroes. A new era has begun, though it comes weighted with worries about how much longer my Jeep can lastÖ or my own body, for that matter. So this week I thought about the cost of my adventuring lifestyle, in terms of the physical, the social, and the financial.

In Idaho, I was forced to confront the financial implications of my travels when I began to replace all the camping gear stolen by Wyoming hoodlums the week before. All the money Iíd saved over two months by not camping in official campgrounds had been wiped out in a single, unlucky afternoon. I was loathe to burden my credit card unmercifully, so I bought just the essentials, such as a new tent, and tried to stay warm beneath a cheap $20 comforter, which failed to live up to its potential on nights when the skies were cold and clear and a layer of frost coated the rainfly.

Still, despite the cumulative expenses of food, $3.50-a-gallon gasoline and other cross-country necessities, I managed to utilize enough tools and tricks to mitigate my monetary setbacks. I cooked my own meals, spent rainy days in the shelter of libraries, and used metal parts from hardware stores to repair a troublesome pair of sneakers. Sometimes frugality was made possible by the generosity of others, as when I received a gift of blankets in Wyoming from a sympathetic motel manager, or this week when an auto shop patched a flat tire free of charge.The mended wheel allowed me to continue into the northern Sierras and reach a campsite by the claustrophobic, hill-enclosed shores of Cave Lake. The maw of the cave looked spookier from the opposite side of the lake than it did at close examination with a flashlight. It never hurts to check your surroundings for evil spirits.

Again, the kindness of strangers was demonstrated when a fisherman on the lake gave me some brook trout for my dinner. Since I hadnít cleaned a fish in almost twenty years, preparing the brookies for the frying pan was quite an educational process. Somehow I managed to keep from slicing a finger off.

I was lucky, but I do worry from time to time about the impact my adventures are having upon the physical integrity of my body. My joints have been rattled almost beyond endurance over the course of several ill-conceived epic-length hikes this summer. Currently Iím feeling resilient and healthy, but after bounding downhill countless miles in the Rockies, Iím well aware that the strength of leg muscles can only compensate for damaged tendons so far. Iím wearing out my knees much too quickly, and Iím worried that Iíll have to confine myself to the lowlands and the easy paths during my declining years.

Thankfully, the presence of hot springs in the West aids in the healing process. Two nights in a row I slept beside remote hot springs in the Oregon desert, setting up camp in the daylight and lounging in the steaming oases after nightfall. Hot air bubbles would emerge from the sand between my toes and tickle my skin on their way to the surface, giving the suggestion of a gentle massage and helping to soothe my shoulder muscles after a long day behind the wheel. The pools also served to temporarily heat my blood before I retired to the insufficiently warm tent for the evening.

But for all the pros and cons of summer travel, the impact of these journeys upon my social life concerns me the most. Itís hard to be a prospective musician in a band or to nurture newfound friendships in Santa Barbara when I periodically vanish from the community for four months at a time. That limitation frustrates me, and yet my writings help maintain a bond of communication between myself and far-flung friends across the globe. This week I visited friends that I hadnít seen in 3, 5 and 15 years, respectively. I was able to reconnect with one family because the father passed through Norwich on a brief visit, picked up the Evening Sun on the one day of the week when he could see my picture, and managed to recognize me, even though I had aged fifteen years since last I had paid his family a visit. Receiving an email from that family over the summer made me realize how valuable publicity can be in helping me connect my past with the present.

I havenít come to any unifying conclusions about these costs and burdens; I accept what I can and try not to obsess about the rest. For now, these journeys continue to sustain and inspire me, and serendipitous events always seem to occur whenever I need help keeping my spiritual and financial ledgers in the black. Case in point: in San Jose, my long-lost friend Paul offered me an unneeded king-sized down comforter, and it felt even warmer than the one that had been stolen. So what if a cat vomited on it once? Itís been dry-cleaned since, and it will save me a fortune. Every little bit helps, for despite all the sacrifices Iíve mentioned, I donít think Iím through with the traveling lifestyle quite yet.

Bryan is a 1991 Norwich High School graduate and works as a naturalist at the Rancho Alegre Outdoor School in Santa Barbara, Calif. You may reach him mid-journey at foolsby@hotmail.com.

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