A journal of my travels, both through the wilderness and the highways of my world.
Ricketts Glen in Ice
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Minutemen - "History Lesson Part 2"
For all of us that now walk the trails, we do so because
other feet were once there to blaze the trails that we now wander down. We travel
through the destinations that we do now because other voices have come back
from the moment where their guiding eyes saw those great sights, and they sat
down to speak about the inspiring and unique qualities of the magical lands
that they encountered along the way. By doing this, they have done the legwork
to ensure that there would be a second and more concentrated exploration that
would follow in their footsteps and bring back further proof of the things that
they had claimed to have seen along the way, and while doing so, they have also
ensured that the sum of their work would be magnified with the efforts of time
and understanding as their original deeds were repeated and furthered with more
meticulous and deeper explorations into the heart of an unknown world that was
as of yet unrealized.
This is how it has always been.
Having seen many parts of 43 of the 50 American states, it’s
easy to see how the royal monarchs of Europe could have been swayed by the
possibility of a journey across the ways to come to a magical place, but what
part of the discussion about unknown possibilities allowed the bankrollers to
free up the funds to make this journey a possibility? What could someone else’s
adventure trek offer to the coffers of Europe or the world as a whole?
In school, we learned that these initial treks to the great
unknowns of North and South America were done for glory, gold, and God, but was
there really enough of a return investment on this to justify months and years
of travel to a new world in the hope of stockpiling these things that weren’t
even guaranteed? Was a “short” route to Asia really worthy of three ships and
their crews? Did the riches of India really have enough wealth to justify the
invested work of Columbus’s initial journey? And what was to guarantee said
monarchs that these admirals of the high seas wouldn’t end up penniless and
carrying back only stories of impenetrable jungles, rocky coasts, enormous
mountains, raging rivers, savage inhabitants, wild beasts, and abandoned dwellings
where stories of a Fountain of Youth and gold temples should have been told?
And what insurance policy could be written out to ensure that the great
conquistadors wouldn’t be run through by the blade of a spear that would leave
their once strong bodies as carrion for the parasites of a distant land?
Nevertheless, the what-ifs didn’t happen, and the foundations
of two continents were born as based on the myth that Columbus got here first.
Sitting here now, I think about how there are so many questions that result in
answers of what could have been, but all of the potential was destined to be,
and so for the risks that were taken ages ago, we now have the formation of a
story. For all of the “what ifs” that could have been asked, the brave men of
centuries ago gave their version of “screw it,” and the doubts went anyway.
To Hell with the old maids, the nay-sayers, and all of those
people that get off on telling people what they can’t do. These men simply went,
and they did.
It was a different time then. History tells us that there
were many times like this. I can think of the building of Hoover Dam and the
long work weeks that grizzled and hearty men put in for $4 a day in a quest to
divert a river, stop a river, and harness a river for energy while finding the
money to feed their families.
Mike Rowe would be proud. I know I am.
In the years that followed, the boats vanished into the seas off
of the coasts of Europe, and as they drifted off the edge of sight with the
wonder of the crowds that had come to wish them good luck, all that existed was
potential. For these men, that was enough.
Years later, enough of them returned to the adoring crowds
brimming with the stories of adventure, treasure, and endless potential to say that
it definitely was a good risk / investment strategy to start finding even heartier
men to go off to other parts of this new world.
Nevertheless, the brave men of ages past pumped their chest
as they flexed for the loving masses. They did this simply because of their
ability to do great things that the crowds couldn’t and wouldn’t and didn’t do,
and so glory was alive and well in the streets of Europe as a hero was born and
hailed in a way that reflected a Renaissance Period ticker tape parade down the
Canyon of Heroes while back in the West, his handiwork began a 150-year
But for all of these adorations, there was also a need for
preparations for future sailors and soldiers. To this, there was still the need
for a full accounting and debriefing of what exactly existed on the shores of
this “great mistake.” It wasn’t the known quantity of India, so what exactly
was it? Thus, said powers that be would want their future adventuring proxies
to be more educated as to what would happen on the next trip to be financed.
There might have been a paternal instinct in this, but there
was also something to be said for not sending your men out to their death when
they needed to be hauling gold back to the ports of Spain, England, France,
Italy, and Portugal. For this, the experiences of those great sailors of the
first wave would create the handbooks for all of those sailors who would come
But there were also tales of daring to be told.
And so in the adventure stories that were told in the gilded
palaces of the motherland, we sit and wonder about the things that these early
adventurers would say in private consultation with the leaders, the investors,
and the wannabe explorers to inspire them to join in the original cause and to
have them sail with their own boats and crews to explore and accumulate the vast
riches of the new world? The tales that they spoke to the public are
well-documented, but what did they say to those who made the future adventures
possible? What words did they express to make them want to repeat someone
else’s adventure? How did the cathedrals of the natural world inspire these
listeners / readers to daydream about a journey that was already taken and
expressed in a way that was ultimately powerful enough to fill a lecture hall /
book? Was the promise of the reward gained by visiting the destination enough
to get some sailor from Nowheresville, Spain, Italy, France, England, or
Portugal filled with the urge to risk life and limb to strike it rich by marching
into the tree lines that sit beyond the distant and unknown coasts that stretch
out thousands of miles from everything that these Europeans knew and found
familiar? Were they promised the romantic love of every fair maiden and the
undying admiration of every needy child struggling to find heroes, two things
that could be filled with the unfiltered tales and manly exploits of a great
sailing explorer? Was it really gold and God, or was the true make it or break
it concept of setting out the fact that the explorer’s name would be hoisted up
in fame for every single generation that would follow?
And yes, we must ask this of some, but did they have another
more sinister lust for power and conquest through genocidal extermination,
which filled their glory-seeking instincts as they killed all of the
dark-skinned heathen for the Holy Trinity?
And it is obvious that this is true, but this wasn’t all of
the great explorers. The violent impulse only goes so far before it needs to
enact more violence on others, and this is never looked upon favorably. In
addition, it creates a fierce resentment and resistance in the areas that it
travels, and eventually, it is destroyed in much the same way that it has
As a result, the aforementioned impulse to quest for
achievement is how it should be. This is good because it allowed many of those
who came to set forth, and when then they came back and saw these lands for a
second time, they established themselves in perpetuity, for better or worse of
the actions and instincts of a completely different generation that took over
all too many of these noble journeys.
But that’s a whole other story that needs a whole other work
to explain it, attack it, or stand in historical defense of it.
A lot changed over the last six hundred years of the great written
journeys of our country’s forefathers as their adventure instincts brought a
myriad of documented voyages to this hemisphere’s shores. For many reasons, we,
the discerning public, have looked for tougher and more extreme adventures that
came before our “original” fathers as we dismissed our early feelings of
excitement to the aforementioned historical revision that got annoyed with the
feeling of a marching army coming to establish their will on a place and the
need for more intense, dangerous adventures into the heart of a more
unforgiving unknown quantity. Instead of soldiers in uniform, we looked for a
manly and rugged form of individual conquest that involved more risk to those
who set out to see what they could find. And in searching through the early
histories of our country’s adventurous forefathers, we found historical gold.
These new stories ended up being as diverse as the landscape
that these men had penetrated. Through the annals of this hemisphere’s history,
we found that long before these celebrated journeys of marauding bands of
soldiers for the King and Queen, anonymous men once sailed across the South
Pacific in long rowboats to build mysterious statues on an island off the coast
of South America. Hearty sword-wielding Vikings pillaged the northern world of
America with a sense of this was how it was going to be as they left their
runes on stones for Scott Wolter to fawn over. Even the Chinese were in on the
action as Zheng took his massive naval fleet eastward with the desire to arrive
at the shores of this new world. Nevertheless, they were all Johnny-come-latelies
to the adventure experience because in their expeditions, they came across confused
and astounded people staring back at them as if to say, “What the heck?”
History has unearthed many stories about these pre-Columbian
people’s origins. For a long time, America was said to be founded by tribes of
people who walked across the Bering Strait while chasing wooly mammoths when
their stomachs felt empty. For those of us looking to imagine and document
adventure treks, that definitely seems rather manly and fun to picture
happening for the silver screen than some Spaniard planting his foot in the
water as he claims someone else’s home for Queen Isabella. No, in this
alternate image to the throne’s lackeys, men in gnarly furs made from the skins
of past hunting trophies went out with axes and spears and fire, and they did
what they had to do in order to kill an animal that weighed in at six tons
while standing almost twice as high as the people who were out there to do it
permanent damage. To put all of this in perspective, a mammoth would eat almost
as much in one day as two of his hunters would weigh! Nevertheless, for the
fact that this beast was a vegetarian, it was still armed with tusks that averaged
in length to be about a foot taller than the men who attacked him. As a result,
the peaceful herbivore of the north became an enraged, stomping cyclone of
power that would wipe out anyone that dared to try to find two months of food
on his bones.
But even for those tribesmen who were lucky enough to launch
their weapons, there was a natural resistance on the bones of this great beast
since between the fat, wool, and fur that these creatures lugged around on
their frames, there could be up to two feet of insulation to keep them
comfortable in the permanently chilled weather of the great North. This means
that it takes some serious oomph and time and multiple efforts to penetrate
Nature’s armor to drop a 12,000 pound animal. And after the long and
concentrated efforts, enough of these men were successful that their kind
survived. All it took was having the primitive version of Randy Johnson’s
pitching arm to hurl that spear into destiny / lunch.
Thinking about that now, it’s clear to see that this is some
Other nameless groups who came from a time before recorded
history also penetrated the heartland of America to live and to be. Many of
them were killed or died out as a people somewhere along the way. Still, other anonymous
adventuring people came to the unspoiled forests of this country, and along the
way, they left their records in the form of tools, trash, and occasional bones.
Archaeologists are only just beginning to find evidence of these quests below
the dirt, rock, and dust of 20,000 years of history. In a time before roads and
sidewalks, it was definitely a perilous endeavor to live in the wilds of the
American outback since these places were filled with animals that were bigger
and more dangerous and the men and women of the time didn’t have Emtek locks to
reinforce the doors on their homes. Hell, many of these people didn’t even have
domiciles that would be looked at as impenetrable.
Thus, it wasn’t a good time to feel safe and secure.
Other groups of Native Americans tell their stories of the
history of this world through oral histories that speak of times that go back
into the deepest recesses of what we have come to know as American history.
Some tribes claim to have just walked out of the Earth to begin their existence,
and others tell of how they were created by Gods that fashioned the world and
placed them here to live and to be. However they got here, whether crafted in
some alien spaceship or in some religious God particle, they came out of the
womb with an instinct to make sense of their place in that harsh and
unforgiving mountain and desert world. This meant living tough and spreading
their seeds out by seeing and understanding what was around them while
conquering the danger that would seek to wipe out their existence in the name
of lunch or the name of destruction by some evil marauder. Thus, some of this figuring
out and conflict was to obtain their own food. Other parts of it were to
protect them from the great unknowns of their largely unexplored worlds. Be
these the dangers of the two-legged or four-legged varieties doesn’t matter.
Neither does the number of toes on each foot (be it 5 or 6). There were bad
things out there, and adventure didn’t mean going to Tough Mudder or getting to
use outdoor equipment from REI or Cabela’s in a whole new state or country. While
it is true that other parts of their existences were for the sheer joy of
curiosity of what awaits them around that next bend, that was secondary to
feeding bellies and protecting the tribe. Nevertheless, with that curiosity came
a sense of accomplishment for which each member of the tribe could tell the
greatest adventure story.
And if the pictures of Newspaper Rock State Park and the
Grand Gallery are any sign of what they saw, there was quite an adventure to be
We can only wonder if the winning storyteller got a prize, or
perhaps, if he was awarded with some extra snuggling from a female member of
the tribe who wanted her baby to be filled with the ancient DNA that was associated
with the brave and manly adventurer that survived the lions, tigers, and bears
(oh, my!) of it all. Whatever the prize or the motivating factor of it all, the
adventure went on and on, and eventually, it descended into us.
Thus we can clearly say that no matter how it began or why, in
the beginning, one thing is clear; every journey begins with a single step for
a defined purpose.
And while we never stop to comprehend just how many journeys
it took to make America the safe and anemic experience that it is for all too
many of us today, we still know that it is one adventure short of how many
courageous pursuits need to be made into her inner sanctums in search of
And that missing adventure is the next one that the person
dreaming about it needs to take to accomplish that one missing thing that has
to be learned.
So let us find our way to the Call to Adventure. Let us find
our Mos Eisley of sorts. Let us find old Ben and head to the stars in search of
the princess who needs our help with the aid of the rogue hero and his faithful
companion. Let us learn the ancient wisdoms and skills, and let us be great. It
is the meaning and the answer to who we need to be.
To the average person who doesn’t possess this trait, there
is always one question that seems to get phrased many ways: why do we still choose
to walk these paths that were already tread upon years and years ago by the
feet of man? Is there anything left that still has to be mapped out because
somehow, not even one pale-faced primogenitor, whether it be a transport from
the East or the West, has walked these forests, fields, mountains, riversides,
or deserts before we set foot here? And if there isn’t, would we really rather
relive the journeys of men and women who we have designated as greater than us
than to spend our time doing something more (Heaven forbid) “worthwhile” with
our lives, something that can benefit humanity in some way that it cures cancer
or advances technology to expedite the work process?
What these people who try to make sense of our journeys outward
(or even those that go outward to go inward) don’t get is that there is something
else to this wilderness trekking that we are so eager to do. It’s something in
us that makes us who we are. It’s a part of the instinct of being an American,
even if our birthplace was in some other country. To this end, there is no
difference between the immigrants who came to this country from Europe to land
at Ellis Island in search of a dream and the faceless ancestors that Thor
Heyerdahl emulated in Kon Tiki.
While not all of our ancestors came here by choice, be they
enslaved or indentured, these men and women were forced to journey through
America in search of a proper place in America as well, and their adventures
still resonate as powerfully (if not more so) than one that was bought and paid
for. And while not everyone follows the words that this book will talk about in
order to go into the woods in search of adventure, there is also the Kerouac
vision of a life on the road, riding shotgun to a more interesting someone else
(And yes, there is the Alice B. Toklases of the world, those who ride backseat
to the shotgun riders and who offer nothing at all, so we won’t count them or
offer their life as a point of interest), which presents an adventure to arrive
at the door of the legends of a better America than the one we live in where we
And when we get there, there will be amazing people who will
transcend us into something more vibrant and alive than the mundane world we
were forced to exist in before we set out for where that “there” is.
As was mentioned in passing, adventure is not always outward
since it can be directed inward into the soul of a person or the beating heart
of what makes a country, too. And when we choose to go within ourselves and our
understanding of cultures to make sense of the previously held limits of our
worlds, we inevitably find ourselves journeying outward through the settings of
the defined world to find something more in ourselves, which in turn will make
a greater sense of reality than the people and ideas that we were so firm in
our knowledge of when we began this pursuit.
And it is really for that reward of becoming Jospeh
Campbell’s Master of Two Worlds that we adventure.
In between are many steps. We have much to learn to be able
to understand and to utilize “the Force” for its intended purpose, but if we
don’t begin to learn in the Padawan process, then we will always be average in
our sedate, apathetic, and philosophically empty ways.
And that just will not do when I need to be guided to my
Nevertheless, other than the places in our hearts and minds
that we have yet to understand and acknowledge, it is true that there isn’t
much left that is unexplored, but there are still some things and some journeys
that haven’t been created for the writers of the past to speak to us about. For
this, we sometimes have to throw away comforts and expectations in order to be
Christopher McCandless going back to a more primitive state without map or
equipment in our need to risk it all to live big or die horrifically. I’m not
saying that this is how every journey has to be for everyone, but it is a known
truth that sometimes, the greatest adventures come with the most risk, but to
not take risk means that there will never be a reward.
In many other cases, our adventures are solitary, but
sometimes, they are with companions, if only briefly. We need to journey with
the people who walk onto our paths. We need to teach them, and we need to be
taught by them. That is how it has to be.
And while we are on these paths with these people, we have to
listen to the voice of the universe when it is pointing us in a direction.
Sometimes, it will tell us to abandon our attachments or maladies to go in this
direction. When we don’t know where to begin, sometimes, the universe tells us
how. In these divine moments of revelation and reprieve and the grand satoris
that we come to have, sometimes, there is a moment of clarity. Other times, we
need to be inspired by the learned voices, and for this, we need our guiding
works to be clear and filled with details that will take us where we need to
For all that is discovered and ensnared in roads or visible
by Google Earth, I would state it emphatically that even though there are no
new worlds under this sun to journey to and there are very few roads that will
take us to them, there are still places with long distances between
civilizations (Utah’s 105 mile stretch of Route 70 between Green River and
Salinas comes to mind as the most empty place I’ve ever been). However,
nowadays, these places are just worlds without cellphone or Wifi connectivity
as opposed to true blue places without people.
Nevertheless, any place that I’ve never been before in the
great outdoors is still new to me. A million cars may have made that journey,
but I still need to understand what I’m about to get into before I go there. A
sign warning of no services between these points may alert me to potential
dangers, but I need to be able to comprehend this risk fully before I enter
onto the path that could leave me stranded without ability to be rescued.
In a midmorning journey, we are in one of these places. Yes, it
is roped in by a highway collar around its middle, but on the outside are still
mountains and places to be discovered. In one of these divisions, the path
leads back between the walls and journeys into a canyon. It all seems so easy
until the brown sign with white lettering pokes out of the earth to explain
that this place is “wilderness.”
That means it’s wild and unforgiving.
If I were to turn around from this point, I could see the
road and parking area where our rental car is located. We really haven’t
journeyed far. The woman at the desk has told us that it’s a 2.5 mile roundtrip
back to the waterfall, which may or may not be wet. Nevertheless, we are
anxious for what there is to see, and so we walk into the nooks and crannies of
this world to face what we must see for ourselves in our journey of discovery.
And there are ways to be prepared for this. The guidebooks
and websites will tell us these important facts. Those who set out along the
way will share their tales, and it will all be OK as we adventure into the new.
They may not be the exact same places, but the similarity of stories will guide
us to our destiny. And so, when we do walk these trails for the first time,
perhaps we can feel like the great Europeans of the past: Ferdinand Magellan,
John Cabot, Juan Ponce de Leon, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Hernando de
Soto, Christopher Columbus, Hernando Cortes, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Samuel de
Champlain, and Marco Polo. Perhaps, we can be informed enough that we won’t be
gambling with the investments that were placed into the successful completion
of our trip without major incident that can’t be recovered from.
The need to
abandon recklessness and chance is the path to success. All true adventurers
will tell you that. The words of Ed Viesturs ring true here as they always do,
but understanding and expressing them is sometimes easier said than done.
“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.”
The mission seems so simple, but as Laurence Gonzales
explains when it comes to our actions, sometimes the programs by which our
brains operate on respond in faulty ways and we do things that get us into more
trouble than we can personally handle.
This brings us back to that repeated mantra: if we accept this
adventuring lifestyle and head into the unknown worlds as a destiny for our
lives, then we still need to know the essentials so that we can make the
journey our own. For this, we will need to hear these men’s stories and guidance
and directions. We still need to have these wise adventurers from the past help
us to decide what adventures we will take and how we will take them. We will
need to see their maps. If they have pictures, then we need to see them as
well. If they don’t have pictures, we will need drawings or studies that
include similar pictures to what we can expect to see. Whatever it takes
regarding equipment, training, and understanding, let us have it so that we can
be prepared for whatever will come our way in some process that will help us
generate a “script” without going through an adventure to understand how to act
out the movements.
For me, I am more than prepared to learn. I am more than
prepared to do what it takes to succeed. This is also true of those who are
like me in their desire for adventure. Nevertheless, it’s important to say that
while I am open and receptive, I am only so trained for these moments.
And now that I am here on this adventure, I know what the “it”
that I am undergoing has to be. I have made up my mind to where I shall go, and
that place is to the places that are spoken of in hushed words. All I need is
the time and the understanding to make it all happen.
Can you, the explorers of all that is known, give this to me
in the way that I need it to be, or must I return from the journey to rewrite what
you didn’t know and express correctly?