As I begin writing this blog I am prone and seasick suffering by myself in our economy cabin. Nausea only allows me to sit up temporarily before I need to close my eyes to prevent another trip to the bathroom. My cloudy thoughts drift to memories created over the last 12 months of our hiatus and I am motivated to write again for the 1st time in weeks. Where has the time gone?
I remember in pictures, like scenes from a movie. Each scene extracts feelings, tastes, and smells from the event. I still feel the cruel thirst from poor planning on a simple desert hike that turned into a 16-mile march under the unforgiving desert sun in 105-degree heat. I remember the sting of sunburn on my neck and the rasp of dry air through my nostrils. Finally stumbling back into the parking lot beaten by heat exhaustion, a fellow suffering hiker invited us to his hatchback to share a quart of life-saving strawberries. I have never tasted a berry so sweet and juicy.
This is only one of hundreds of memories. Our year has been filled with memories. We visited mountains, valleys, beaches, lakes, and deserts. We have traveled over 35,000 highway miles across 41 states to see festivals, concerts, family, and friends. We have ventured on more than 100 hikes in 34 national parks. We have celebrated emotional highs and endured painful lows.
We have met many new and interesting people. During initial conversations, they always ask the same two questions, where are you from and what do you do? Our answer to the 1st question, Minnesota, is not unique, uncommon or particularly interesting. It elicits responses like, “Isn’t it cold there?” or “I was there once in 2004” or “My neighbor grew up there”, etc. The answer to the 2nd always initiates a conversation. “We quit our jobs and are taking a year off to explore the country”.
The next questions invariably boil down to these: What are the “Top 3” places you have visited? What is your favorite area of the country? How do you get along in such a cramped space?
My “Top 3” generally depends on when you ask me. How long since I’ve hiked the flanks of a snow capped mountain? How long since my bare feet touched green grass? How long since my skin was kissed by a warm desert breeze? How long since I tasted the rain? How long since I conversed with trees older than democracy? Each place we visit has its own unique character and beauty, but I will break it down to my most commonly answer; Yosemite, Zion, and Mount Rainier. When the same question is posed to Vickie she usually answers Crater Lake, Zion, Yosemite, but lately she has added the Channel Islands (I know…she breaks the rule of only 3 places for the “Top 3”).
For the question about my favorite area of the country I usually lie and answer ‘anywhere with mountains’. The real truth is my favorite place is where I am from. (I know….boring right?) It is where I have family, friends, and 50 years of history. There is something comforting about having people you care about and who care about you close by. Even though you don’t see them enough you know they are still there. It’s also nice to have a common bond with the people around you, a shared set of experiences to draw from. “Do you think the Vikings will finally win the Super Bowl?” “Cold enough for ya?” “Where ya goin’ fishin’ for the opener?”
How do we get along? My wife and I live in a 6 x21 foot living space and have spent more hours together in the last year than most couples usually spend in 10. We have grown closer. We know each other. We know how to make the other smile, or push each other’s buttons. We recognize each other’s moods. We are intimate with each other’s smell and touch. We appreciate the unique strengths of the other and accept their faults. We get along well enough to extend our hiatus another 4 months
We plan to spend those months exploring Alaska as well as Canada along the way planning to leave enough time to visit Granite Peak and Gannett Peak again before we settle back down in Minnesota. Maybe, just maybe, we will have the opportunity to stand at the highest points in Montana & Wyoming. So truthfully, my favorite thing about the hiatus is the time we get to spend together.
My nausea from seasickness is subsiding as we approach our 1st port of call on our current adventure in Ketchikan, Alaska. From the windows facing shore in the ship’s library, I see rugged snow capped mountains blanketed by a coniferous forest. A snowmelt stream is slicing through the valley and spilling into the ocean. When this trip is over I may need to update my “Top 3”.