Day Five: What I Saved For The Journey Home

It's been almost two weeks since I returned home, and I still don't know what to think.

After a restless sleep (it takes a couple of nights to get used to sleeping on a foam pad) I was up and feeling relatively enthusiastic at 8. The five-Km hike sounds easier when you're going downhill, but the steep grade is still hard on your knees. I should probably invest in some trekking poles next time I go trekking...

Once more, into the mist...

I was getting worn out by the time I got back to the parking lot, so I changed my mind about the tourist attractions I wanted to see. Red Rock Canyon is something that's easy to find pictures of, and I didn't feel especially motivated to look at more rocks up-close. The Prince of Wales Hotel is certainly a splendid attraction, and worth seeing if you're staying in town, but in my sweaty and unshaven condition I didn't really feel like looking at railroad-era architecture, either. The Bear Hump Mountain (Why are you looking at me that way? That's what it's called!) has a really nice view of the town and lake, but it's another Km or so of stair-climbing, and that didn't interest me in the least.
So, I settled for a hot lunch in town.
Am I getting old or something?

Beware of fauns bearing umbrellas and gifts...

“The Lamp Post” is a quaint little restaurant on the main street through Waterton. There's a bit of an English pub atmosphere, but with linen on the tables and continental food. I couldn't get the waitress to tell me what the significance of the name/theme is... She had a nice smile, though, so I'll suppose she didn't actually know. Then again, if a guy in black motorcycle gear sat down in my restaurant and started asking me funny questions, I suppose I might not tell either.
I had a light lunch of salad and soup: the waitress-with-nice-smile suggested an unnamed garden salad special with candied walnuts, spring greens, pear bits, sesame-based dressing, and blue cheese. The salad was a perfect compliment to the baked French onion soup. Yummy.
I was feeling re-invigorated at this point, and more than ready to begin the return trip; still, going home is never easy.

After almost an entire week on the road, I started reflecting on my accomplishments. I still wasn't totally sure of what I hoped to find or do, but as I said in the beginning, it's not so much “what you find along the way” as “who you are at the beginning” that makes the difference. A man who is desperate to escape something will surely run until he is exhausted; a man who is desperate to find something will surely search until he is bewildered; but a man who is unsure about the condition of his soul and the desires of his heart, that man will only travel for a week or so before he realizes that he isn't going anywhere special. It's the worst of both the other scenarios: you can't escape from your own desires, and you can't find a simple answer to uncertainty of your heart.

Before the trip, I had been thinking about the various events and activities that have kept me busy this summer; probably thinking too much. Mostly, I was unsure of my intentions and motives—whether for school, for work, for romance, or just for play. The trip couldn't give me insight into my future, or insight into the feelings of another person, or even insight into interesting ideas for medieval-lit thesis topics, but it did help me to step back and see what was happening.

The ride home wasn't as pleasant as I had hoped. Rocks on the highway are bad (they hurt a lot when they hit your legs!) but peas are another story entirely. Somewhere West of Cardston, I encountered a truck overflowing with green cargo. I didn't realize what was happening until it was too late, but I was essentially riding into a storm of dried peas as I passed the truck: All of a sudden I was bombarded by small, hard green objects traveling at high velocity; like in a hailstorm, except without the bullet-like sting of dense ice pellets. Peas on the highway don't really hurt, but it was one of the most frightening things that's ever happened to me on the bike.
An overzealous attendant at the Gas Bar of the Ft. Macleod Extra Foods asked me to “please hurry it up” as I checked my oil and did my best to wash the bug goop off the windshield (and pick peas out of places I didn't know debris could collect at 130K...) Apparently, there were people waiting to use the pump I was at. Apparently, it was easier to hassle me, the guy on the motorcycle, than the two drivers with tent-trailers on either side of him, who had been sitting idle at their pumps for five to ten minutes. Apparently, this Gas-Bar attendant had nothing better to do than to stand and watch with his arms crossed as I checked my chain tension and tire pressure.
He was probably the manager.

Things got even worse. The ride became increasingly uncomfortable and hazardous as the wind picked up around Nanton; I can't be sure, but it felt like the wind was as strong as 80 or 90 Km per hour. Then it started raining.

The return from a quest is perhaps the most under-appreciated part of any adventure story. No matter how much treasure is acquired, you still have to lug it home. No matter how much you conquer in battle, ruling a kingdom still takes more than skill at arms. Some would say that an essential character trait in heroism is a courageous hopelessness, the understanding that there is no way to go home, and that you only accomplish great deeds by sacrificing everything you have ever hoped for. Save nothing for the journey home; if you only go half way, if you don't follow the path to the bitter end, you'll find that all the comforts of home are a constant reminder of failure.

Sometimes I wonder if it's possible to have it both ways, whether it's possible to give everything in the pursuit of a desire and to live a long and happy life at home. I used to think this was one of those questions you can't really find an answer to, but maybe I did find something on my trip—if not an answer, then at least a new perspective.

Once I had navigated my way through the gauntlet-that-is-Calgary- during-construction-season, the riding became less complicated. I was on familiar roads again, the rain had stopped, and I knew how many kilometers I was from home.

Stormy skies lie behind

I've started to wonder if, when you make that act of getting home into an adventure in and of itself, when you dedicate yourself whole-heartedly to getting back, there's something of both worlds to be had. The adventure isn't about what you do that's special anymore, it's about what you have to do in order to become normal again. Carving out an everyday routine of faithfulness and consistency. Adventure isn't something you can create or design for yourself, but that doesn't mean it always has to happen in unfamiliar places or outside of routine.
Maybe this is just a glib and superficial way for me to summarize a fruitless quest; maybe anyone who actually knows me will laugh at how ridiculous these words are in context of my lethargic and haphazard lifestyle. Maybe this whole episode was my attempt at finding an outlet for creative prose writing, and the words are ultimately an empty vanity.

Then again, there's only one way for me to find out. I'll just have to keep hoping, keep praying, and mostly keep living in the most faith-filled ways I can. Adventure isn't ever guaranteed, but it has an uncanny way of finding you just when you need it.


Blake said...

my friend, I don't get envious often, but I would love to experience just a taste of what you were able to that week... part of the journey is learning when to take a side trip just for the hell of it, too many times we turn it down as we are too busy trying to get to our destination... perhaps (just an opinion) that your real purpose of this trip was just simply to take a trip so that you can refocus on the road that lies ahead of you

Anonymous said...

perhaps there is no destination...perhaps the journey is the destination...or the destination is the journey...or the journey is the journey...or you can't step into the same river twice

i'm just glad you stopped by -- you are always an encouragement