Back home – mission accomplished. Park City to New Canaan – 2,200 miles over four days (a bit more on my final leg in a minute). Wow – this sojourn lasted twelve weeks and included some of the most amazing sights and experiences of my life. It was truly a spirit quest adventure. Having said that, it really is fantastic to be back home and see my family again. There’s no place like home and nothing that compares with family, notwithstanding the allure and seductiveness of being out there, off the grid and just exploring the planet.
So – what did I learn / gain during my trip? An awful lot, with some of its lessons still being absorbed as I reflect each day. I estimated on a back of the napkin basis in July that Burning Girl and I would cover 10,000 miles all in. Turned out that I traveled 15,000 miles by road (13,500 with Burning Girl and 1,500 in rental cars while she was in the shop in AK and CA) and almost 3,000 miles by ferry between BC, AK and WA. Pretty amazing looking back.
More important than the quantity of miles and distance were the quality of my experiences and the almost complete suspension of the normal rules of time and physics while I was gone. It felt at times like the trip would go on forever because of the time frame I chose relative to most all past vacations. At other times, I stopped in my tracks only to say “Whoa – it’s truckin’ by pretty fast indeed.” Time became a piece of taffy, stretched and pulled, but always returning fairly close to its original shape given the perspective of looking back and reflecting.
Here are the raw numbers, for what they’re worth –
States visited – Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and Louisiana (these exclude the states seen in a blur on I-80 during the Park City to CT final return leg).
Provinces seen – just BC and Yukon Territory this time out, but they’re both friggin’ huge. BC is more than 1,600 miles north to south and over 600 miles east to west. BC ain’t small, and its coastline zigs and zags over five times its total N/S length. It’s 15% larger than CA, WA and OR combined. At times, it felt as though we’d be in its embrace forever. Great place, BC. YT – similar in size and expansiveness – is another world. We didn’t see a huge amount of it, but nonetheless it intimidates and makes you feel very small and vulnerable because of its scale, climate and grandeur. Peering up at Mt. Logan, Canada’s highest peak at 19,951′, was epic. I’ll be back to scratch more of YT’s surface, for sure.
National Parks visited – Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, Mt. Ranier, Denali, Kenai Fjords, Wrangell – St. Elias (oh, man is that place a trip), Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton and Yellowstone (so good being back in my old stomping’ grounds in WY).
State Parks in AK – countless. More than half of Alaska is forever preserved as state or national park land.
Provincial Parks seen – too many to list, as they’re everywhere in BC and YT. Tremendous amount of preserved land. Hats off to the Canucks for that bit of foresight and wisdom.
A word or two on Alaska – if you haven’t been, get up there. You absolutely must go. AK is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been in the world. It is in fact a world unto itself, with huge mountains and glaciers tumbling forth everywhere, coastlines that are off the charts, rivers and lakes that make those in the lower 48 look like tiny creeks and puddles, wildlife that boggles the mind and people at once both amazingly warm and welcoming yet fiercely independent. Great combination, for sure. God bless Alaska. What was Russia smoking when they sold it to us for a song – $7 million – in 1867?
I’ve done two trips of similar length to this one in the past, but both were many moons ago – four months in western and central Europe in ’78 and four months in South America in ’79. These getabouts truly expand one’s mind, and I recommend them heartily because life is indeed short. Get out there – you’ll be so glad you did.
Anyway, I’m rambling. On the final leg home – of course – Burning Girl had a surprise up her skirt for me. Wouldn’t have been the adventure it was without yet another mechanical test / challenge to overcome. I sailed through the first 1,800 miles seamlessly, arriving in western PA Thursday night. Burning Girl was rocking, but I guess I got a bit too cocky with her. Soon after entering PA, the alternator light came on and things got a bit interesting. Burning Girl died 100 yards from the hotel parking lot, and I spent an uneasy night coordinating the next morning’s fun with AAA. So close yet so far from home. After starting without a jump, I had the battery and alternator checked out. Both appeared fine, so I took off eastbound in a hurry, conscious of limited daylight, only to have BG die again 4 miles later on the highway. A 15 mile tow to a garage literally in the middle of nowhere by Dale and Bonnie, a genuinely delightful husband and wife wrecker team, resulted in meeting Guy and Sam at their shop, who promptly dropped everything they were doing to diagnose and fix the alternator bracket, which had loosened and prevented the system from charging properly. Ninety minutes later, I was back on I-80, and cruised without incident for the next seven hours until I was within spitting distance of the Tappan Zee bridge, only to get caught in a welcome to New York moment – total gridlock for an hour, then after traffic cleared, the last hour without incident into my driveway. Safe and sound, not a scratch on Burning Girl or me after our extended journey. I felt truly blessed for that.
I was going to post some of my favorite trip photos here, but I’ve kind of done that here and there already (and it’s hard to put a limit on the number, since so much of the landscape I photographed was off the charts). Instead, I’m posting only one shot, the memories of which have stayed with me and encapsulated the trip, to the extent that is possible, over the past twelve weeks. The shot is in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park in Alaska, taken after driving 60 miles by dirt road within the Park to the absurdly minute outpost of McCarthy, where just 20 year rounders hang their hats, then hiking 6 miles the next day to the Kennicott Copper Mine, plundered in the 1910’s – 1930’s and long ago abandoned to nature’s relentless grip. I felt more alone and in the throes of nature in Wrangell – St. Elias than anywhere I’ve ever been. An absolutely stunning place and feeling in all respects. So, here it is – man’s (that would be my brother John peering into infinity) feeble attempt to impose his will on a place so much bigger and more powerful than he could ever hope to be:
That’s all for now. It has been a complete blast documenting the past three months of travel and adventure. I hope that it provided a fraction of the entertainment value to everyone who checked in and caught up on the blog from time to time as it did for me. Thank you all for doing so – it made my trip infinitely more fun and enjoyable.
If you’d like to receive a heads up on future adventures / trips and blogs, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll make sure it happens.
Stay well and get out there, everyone.