Here’s the second post in a continuing series on why I’ve decided to hop on a bike and learn to be a farmer.
Ever since I was young, I’ve had an urge to head out on a grand adventure. Many ideas have jumped around in my brain, but none have made the jump from imagination to reality until now. Here’s a look at how my ambitions have developed from the beginning up to this point.
When I was 12 years old, I decided I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. My mother’s friend planted the idea in my head, and I soon talked with her frequently about making the trek. The simplicity of carrying everything you need in a backpack struck a nerve in me. It brought life into a sharper focus and made human existence somehow more comprehensible.
Although we never did hike the Trail, my love for wandering only grew. In high school I would sometimes walk four miles to school with my friend (although, since I was his ride, he may have been obligated to join me). I also took day-long hikes around the agricultural areas of my county. Even now, I will frequently walk somewhere rather than take a bike or a train.
Kayaking to New Orleans
Another trip I’ve talked about for years stemmed from a canoe trip. My California grandfather bought a canoe when I was 15 or 16 years old. On our visits, we’d often take the canoe out on a lake or the Russian River.
On one particular visit, my grandpa suggested that my brother and I canoe down the Russian River from Monte Rio to Jenner, which sits right where the river meets the Pacific Ocean. I don’t know why he suggested this; maybe he’d noticed my fascination with the fact that all water eventually flows to the ocean.
Whatever the reason, my brother and I hopped in the canoe and headed down river. The water was usually less than three feet deep, and the wind seemed to be blowing up the river. Taken together, this meant that our canoe had much less help from the current than I’d expected. We ended up taking five hours to reach Jenner instead of the planned two or three.
Despite the challenge, I loved the experience (my brother, not so much). This led to me planning to paddle a kayak from the creek in my friend’s backyard in Greenwood, Indiana, down the various small creeks and tributaries, into the White River and the Wabash, then the Ohio River, then the Mississippi, all the way south until I reached New Orleans.
This trip, too, hasn’t happened yet. It’s still something I talk about regularly, and I still would like to do it.
Heading Into the Wild
Come junior year of high school, we were assigned Jon Krakauer’s book on Christopher McCandless, Into the Wild. Up to that point, I hadn’t enjoyed most of the books for that class (I didn’t have a good attitude that year), so I wasn’t expecting much from the book.
To my surprise, the tale of Alexander Supertramp (a.k.a. McCandless) completely blew open a new way of thinking about my life. Here was a young man just out of college who gave up everything in order to test himself against the world. He abandoned all contact with his family or friends, ditched his car and his money, and hitch-hiked across the country for a few years.
There are a number of literary touchstones that seem to impact generation after generation of vaguely disaffected young people. Thoreau’s Walden, Hesse’s Siddhartha, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and Kerouac’s On the Road have all influenced generation after generation of teenagers. It’s clear that Into the Wild has become a recent induction into this canon of individualist freedom.
At the time, I was 17 and frustrated with the direction of my life. I felt that school had nothing to offer me anymore, and the thought of leaving everything I knew to go exploring seemed like a perfect solution to my angst. That McCandless finally starved to death in an abandoned school bus in Alaska didn’t affect my thinking. What 17-year-old understands mortality?
To my mother’s relief, nothing came of this dream other than longer walks around the county and a new direction in my reading. Based on this reading, I soon drafted my personal vision of the ideal society: the system of laws and economics that would bring happiness to everyone. It wasn’t long before I discovered that my ideal society was essentially communism, which had already been attempted (disastrously).
Run the Camp Store
After graduating high school, my friends created traditions in order see each other throughout the year. One of the things we’ve continued to do is take a yearly camping trip at the end of the summer.
One of our early trips was a beautiful campground at Yellowwood State Forest, in Southern Indiana. There was sign posted seeking someone to serve as camp store manager. I loved the idea of spending the summer camping in the woods and running the little store, but it was not to be. A lack of nerve, coupled with commitments to various music groups, kept me from going through with the idea.
Once I moved to Chicago and started realizing the freedom that came with my new job, I began booking train trips all over the country. While these trips were a great opportunity to visit friends who lived elsewhere, I also enjoyed the exhilarating feeling of stepping off a train with no place I needed to be.
A year of this style of traveling culminated in a month-long train trip out west in February of 2013. It was easily the longest trip I’d ever taken, and it made me realize that everything I need fits into a duffel bag. Being able to carry all of my necessities meant that I had no reason not be traveling constantly.
Finally Making a Move
I’m a cautious person by nature. The idea of making an irreversible move usually leads me to inaction, whether it’s in relationships, careers, or adventures. After that month out west, it became much harder to remain inert in the face of what I had learned. I now knew for a fact that I could stay mobile and keep moving. I may have progressed through a number of different adventure ideas, but I ultimately found the perfect one for me.