Birth, the living, the dying

Sometimes at the start of a trip I'm apprehensive because I haven't done enough preparation, assimilated much of the language, or have any clue where I'm going. Sometimes it's a chore just getting on and off the plane, figuring out the currency, arranging transport. The more I travel, the less I sweat these details. Getting through airports is no big deal (especially compared to the days of travelling with kayaks, paddles, and gear). Picking up a visa, going through passport control, immigration, customs. No worries. The wheels of bureaucracy grind at about the same pace everywhere. Now I try to settle in and get into the mindset of being in a new place as quickly as possible. So far, this has been very easy. I've already witnessed the famous hospitality of the Turks and I haven't even finished crossing the Atlantic. Numbers exchanged, invites extended. Amazing. On the plane an older gentleman told me how he likes to talk to people. He said we can't just sit there with our nose in the air, we miss life when we do that. There's the birth, then the living, and then the dying. That is it. The borning, the living, then dying." Fortuitous traffic accidents extended the minibus ride from the airport into a circuitous tour of Sultanahmet- Blue Mosque, Topkapi palace, the Spice Market, the Fish Market, views of Gallata Tower, the Bosphorous, and the Asian side. A prefect introduction.

Throwing myself back into the stream

Today I'm tossing myself back into the rapids. It's been far too long since I navigated the turbulent waters of unfamiliar language, customs, food, landscapes -- too long since I've been hopelessly lost, since my legs have ached from pounding miles and miles of pavement, since I've ordered things by pointing at the menu. It's been too long since I've waded in only to discover a bottomless drop-off or jumped in feet first to discover a shallow bottom. Safe and consistent has become completely expected and the unexpected, well, completely unexpected. Don't get me wrong. Some incredibly wonderful and unexpected things have happened in the last year and for those things I'm very grateful. And those unexpected things have turned my life in an entirely unexpected direction altogether. But travelling is a different itch I gotta scratch sometimes. I need to feel the fear of rippping through crowded streets in a cab wondering where the driver is taking me and how much I'm being taken for, and dammit I'm not wearing a seatbelt either. And it's been too long since I've walked with fellow travellers, each in their own way looking for a tiny piece of wonderment, discovery, perspective, trying to connect to their destination and disconnect from where they've come. 100 million bottles washed up on the shore. The only things we can truly own are our experiences.

The Middle Fork is ON (hopefully!)

After years with no luck, one year where I had to cancel, and one year where I was blacklisted for cancelling, I've finally gotten a Middle Fork of the Salmon permit! This is an early season trip, right when the river should be peaking and at its very best. The Middle Fork is by far and away my favortie river. At high water, the surfing can't be beat and the setting is pristine. I first did the Middle Fork about 10 years ago [photos]. That was an early season trip, too. The first few days were pretty miserable -- on shore that is. The river was awesome. Our group had decided to forego group meals in favor of individual autonomy. Being kayakers we had things like uncooked ramen, oatmeal cookies, coffee nips, and tequila. The rafters were having exquisite four course meals. The tequila was lost early on when somebody decided to put it in an eddy to "cool it down". I thought we had it bad until we reached Sunflower hotsprings. A group of self-support kayakers were in the Sunflower campsite and we were camped across the river. They looked miserable huddled under tarps eating uncooked ramen and oatmeal cookies. Hell, at least we had TENTS, the heathens!

The terrors of driver's ed

I was cruising around Salt Lake today after picking up a new set of headphones. Yet another pair of Shure E3cs have bit the dust. The Sunday drivers, undoubtedly groggy from a long sermon, were weaving all over the road. It reminded me of a rainy afternoon in driver's ed back in high school. I was a sophomore - maybe a junior tops. There were so many students in the class that you only got to drive a few days per quarter. I had been "selected" that day by the Driver's Ed teacher. His method of picking students made you feel like you were going to the gallows. He'd walk up and down the aisles of the classroom, "Ms. Jones, Ms. Hand, Mr. Harris. Yes Mr. Harris, you haven't driven in a while". Thus would begin an hour of torture behind the wheel. We'd be chosen for the slaughter in twos, which sometimes eased the agony, sometimes worsened it. On that particular day it was pouring rain, a good midwestern soaking where there isn't a break in the sky and you know there won't be one for days so you might as well just get used to it. During my turn at the wheel, a particularly heavy burst kicked in. I fumbled for the windshield wipers swerving all over the road. Those Dodge engineers back in the 80s really had no clue about usability. The switch for the wipers was nowhere to be found. I thought the instructor was going to lose a gasket. Did they hate their jobs as much as we feared them? Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with coaching high school athletics, but why must all the coaches become driver's ed instructors? Is it because they're dumb as rocks? Perhaps.