At the risk of dating myself–not that I’m in the least concerned about that mind you–way back… way, way back in 1974, I threw a backpack over my shoulder, stuck out my thumb, and with a friend of mine hitchhiked from California, through Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming up into Canada. As nature lovers we were in pursuit of doing some backpacking, and we did. We hiked around the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, then Glacier in Montana, followed by another hike in Banff, Canada. From there it was back to California, at least for me. I don’t remember where Kenny headed. I retreated to my parents’ home in Los Angeles as I’d contracted a mild case of pneumonia. Although my relationship with them was shaky at times back in those days–I don’t remember how things were when in this case I called seeking refuge–the refuge they could provide was welcomed, and sorely needed. Now as pneumonia goes it was a mild case. I don’t recall if I felt super-awful-miserable, so I probably didn’t, but I do recall sleeping for the better part of a week.
That part of 1974, the part where I was ill, was certainly the low point of the year whereas the hitchhiking and backpacking I’m sure was the high point. The Tetons are spectacular when driving by but even more so in the back country. It was the place I had my first sighting of a bear in the wild back country, and despite the fact that I have been on a great many wilderness trips over a great many years it remains to this day the only place where I’ve come across a bear away from popular campgrounds or garbage dumpsters.
Glacier is awesome–I remember the turquoise, glacier-silt laden waters of the lakes there, catching dolly varden, a species of trout, and picking über tiny but ultra sweet wild strawberries. I also remember finding some wild blueberries and facing down a brown bear that was attracted by the aromas as Kenny and I sat beneath the pines eating the berries in bowls with milk and sugar. I mean, like c’mon, what bear could resist that? I was able to keep him at bay by talking loudly to him telling him “No sir, you cannot have these blueberries! They are ours. We found ’em ourselves. Now scat!” This was a brown bear, not a grizzly, clearly wary of us, and somewhat used to people as it frequented this popular campground, the one we were visiting. You don’t discuss anything with grizzlies and if you did the conversation would be something more akin to “Why yes Mr. Grizzly, we picked these berries just for you. I’m going to leave them right here for you to eat while we scurry up the nearest tree. Hope you like them. Please don’t eat us!”
Besides our back country trip there I have two recollections of our time in Banff, other than my bout with pneumonia. We were staying in a campground prior to heading out into the wilds when a big Winnebego Class A rolled in. At the time I didn’t know a Class A from a Class C, and didn’t much care. To us, RVs were a pathetic excuse for camping, a sorry substitute for a sleeping bag a groundcloth, and sleeping under the stars. They should be outlawed! That’s what we thought back then. Who knows, I might still feel that way if my body didn’t develop the propensity toward making violent and painful objections to carrying a 50 pound backpack more than a few miles. I recall that this Winnebego rolled in, a power antenna rolled up from the roof, and the next morning the antenna rolled down, the RV drove away, and nobody ever came out of the darned thing! What do you think of that?
The other recollection of Banff is that of hooking up with a couple of girls. Can you say that again? “Girls”? There was a period of time, back then, where if you referred to a female of sexual maturity as a girl as opposed to a woman it was grounds for immediate castration. At least it was in Berkeley, the then headquarters not only of the sensible feminist but the radical, kill-all-men feminazi. Anyway, we met a couple individuals of the opposite sex and both couples did what couples often do, side by side, in the same small 2-man tent, at the same time. I recall some anger coming my way when something tickled my funny-bone and I began to laugh–my sense of humor seems to be present pretty much all the time, sometimes to the displeasure of others.
All that I’ve written so far is background color for this post which is really about finding a sense of rhythm and of ease. I have some faint recollection of some trepidation before and upon setting out on that adventure back in ’74: Where would we sleep? What would happen if we were stuck roadside and couldn’t get a ride? What if it poured cats and dogs for hours on end–would we get wet and cold and be utterly miserable? We were long-haired hippies traveling through the hostile territories of Wyoming and the like were cowboys and hunters reigned supreme and hippies were disliked by many and fare game–shades of Easy Rider. Would we get beat up? If there is one thing I was very good at it was worrying, and that hasn’t changed all that much.
What I soon found on our trip back in the 70s is that things would usually work out. We’d get a ride, eventually. We’d find someplace to sleep, workable if not ideal, and if we got wet and cold we’d get dry and warm again soon enough. The only cowboy with whom I recall interacting was a Texan passing through who gave us a ride and complained of it taking far too long for him to get out of Texas because of it’s size and proclaiming that the best part of tomatoes were the seeds inside. The things we remember…
What I’m saying is that while on this trip back in 1974 a sense of ease gradually replaced the concerns, at least to a good measure. We also developed routines: how to work as a team when rolling up the tent, in which order things were best done when setting up and breaking down camp, and we found the best place for each item in our backpacks which made packing them as quick and easy as possible.
Now, in my eighth month of my See-the-USA-in-an-RV trip, much as it was back in the 70s, some of the nervousness I had before and upon departure has been lost, replaced by a degree of comfort. In particular, driving Charlene, my 30′ Class C RV, was rather intimidating at first. I’ve become more comfortable with that. Finding a place to camp: while that’s still something one needs of necessity to be concerned with I’ve yet to find myself in a situation where I had no place to camp for the night.
I’m still searching for routines to do things and for a comfortable rhythm to this life on the road. I’m still looking for the best way and place in the RV to store things, the best way to plan my next move, and I’ve made virtually no progress on learning how to cook. There are many things about which I still feel unsettled. I think I need to do some thinking about all this, and some experimenting as well. As I did so many years ago when hitchhiking around I’m hoping to find a rhythm, a comfort zone, and that’s what I mean when I write I’m waiting for 1974.