I studied in Madrid in the spring of 2010, and while there, I planned to walk the Camino de Santiago, an old pilgrimage route ending in northwest Spain and beginning, depending on how much free time you had, as far east as the border with France (a route known as the camino francés. July came around, and I had saved enough money for trips to Liverpool and Marrakech, Morocco, but I didn't plan well enough for a week-long trip on the Camino. That trip would have to wait.
How long would it wait? Well, it's still waiting. It's much more expensive to do the trip when you aren't already living in Spain, so it might have to wait until I'm 30 or 35, when I can find some time (and some money not spent paying off loans) to potentially do the whole France-to-Atlantic route. Until then, I'll have to satisfy myself with the still-persistent daydreams about the end of the walk, heading out to an outcropping on the coast of the Spanish province of Galicia, with a lighthouse behind me and the Atlantic Ocean on all other sides. Every once in a while, I pull out my phone or open Google Maps on my laptop, zoom in to that place, and wish I were there.
Because this thing I really want to do is still quite far off into the future, I had to find a suitable replacement. Medical school classes start this week, so before all that madness, I took a smaller, but still adventurous and slightly myopic, trip. On July 17, I set out for Chicago on a road trip through Omaha and Casper, Wyoming, to take a hike in Shoshone National Forest.
Part of me looks back and thinks, "I didn't need to go all the way to Wyoming." I could have spent more time camping and hiking, and much less time driving, if I had instead traveled to Hoosier National Forest, or even to Appalachia. I chose the adventure I did for a few reasons:
1) Ryan Dorgan lives in Wyoming. He's a very, very, very good photojournalist for the Casper Star-Tribune, and way back in my IU-Bloomington days, he was one of my photo editors at the Indiana Daily Student. He's a wonderful person, and his Facebook and Instagram posts from all across the state had me talking like Liz Lemon. I wanted to go to there. Also, I hadn't seen him since early 2012, and I've missed him.
2) This decision was slightly illogical. It would have been more reasonable to travel to somewhere closer; even the north shore of Lake Superior, in another country and a 12-hour drive away, would have made more sense. My thinking was that I will be using sane reasoning pretty much all the time in medical school, in residency, and in the rest of my life. I still had some time to be slightly insane, so why not take advantage of that? I can visit a part of the country I've never been to before, check out for myself how beautiful it really is, tire myself out on a trail up a mountain, and be back in time for the rigors of school.
3) This was going to be a real challenge. I might have been able to hike a long swath of the Camino as a 21-year-old, but after my adolescent metabolism hit the rocks and I didn't stay in shape, that sort of trip is now well-nigh impossible without something to build up to it. This trip, along with the benefits of beautiful scenery, would provide a baseline for future training, a measure of how much, if any, athleticism I hadn't lost in the past five years of relative physical inactivity.
With all that and all my bags, I was off. I spent the 17th with my girlfriend in Chicago, drove to Omaha on the 18th and ate dinner with a friend from high school, slept at an Airbnb listing, then drove to Casper on the 19th, checking out Chimney Rock on the way. Dorgan started the camping early with a night on Capser Mountain, and the casual way in which he suggested it ("We've got a mountain just outside of town.") drove home how far I was from Indiana.
Hah, "drove home." ba-DUM, tish.
From there, I drove through the middle of the state, stopping into the bookstore of Mad Dog and the Pilgrim. I bought two books there, but I could have spent weeks in their store, which occupied a two-story house filled from floor to ceiling with books. I got lost more than once in the maze of bookshelves and book piles.
I reached Lander, near the forest, in good enough time to buy licenses to pass through the Wind River Reservation north of town. I had to drive through the reservation to reach Dickinson Park (elevation 9,200 feet) in Shoshone National Forest, so the licenses were necessary (had there been anyone to check them at the reservation; nobody did). The path included Moccasin Lake Road, a gravelly set of switchbacks around Bald Mountain on which the Pilgrim advised I not drive any faster than 30 mph, lest I pop my tires on an arrowhead-shaped rock. I was driving a 2003 Buick Century on normal street tires, passing shards of torn tires and one abandoned SUV, so out of an abundance of caution and a lack of experience, I revised my speed limit to 15 mph, doubling the length of the drive to more than two hours. I listened to traditional Arapahoe and Shoshone music on the reservation radio station (having finished an audiobook memoir by Dr. Oliver Sacks between Indianapolis and Casper), and that made the harrowing experience of driving with a mountain to one side, a steep cliff to the other side, and lacerating rocks underneath and ahead a little spiritual, like a rigorous vision quest.
After all that, I cannot express how happy I was to reach my campsite and see this. It was a view I will never forget. I took the opportunity to do some time-lapse photography, condensing the movement of clouds and stars over about three hours into a few seconds.
After a fitful night's sleep in my tent worried that every sound from the meadow was a bear (turns out, I never saw one in my entire time in the forest), I started my hike at 8am. I walked two miles to the Bears Ears trailhead, not thinking that I could have driven to the trailhead, adding those miles to the summit of the hike instead of the start of it. The walk there was beautiful, nonetheless, and it provided more interesting views than the first three miles of the trail proper. The Bears Ears Trail begins with heavily wooded switchbacks carrying a hiker 2000 feet up the Wind River mountain range, so there weren't many scenic rewards for at least two hours. All of that work, of course, made the first panoramas seem that much more precious, and damn it if I didn't nearly cry when I could first see multiple mountains below me.
I made it to here before I decided it was a good idea to turn back. I spent half an hour resting here, soaking in this vista. Before heading back down, I found a small stream of glacier water, filtered it with a small $20 water treatment system, and filled my Nalgene bottle. It was the coldest, most refreshing water I had ever tasted, probably because I was a little oxygen deprived, very much exhausted, and dehydrated. I felt a bit like Stanley Yelnats and Zero near the end of Holes, walking for a very long time before they found water and the jars of peaches.
I hiked back the way I came and returned to my campsite. A brother and sister from Utah had just finished the trail when I returned to the trailhead, and they mercifully drove me from the trailhead back to camp. And then... I don't know whether it was not wanting to sleep fitfully another night, or the extreme fatigue, or the satisfaction of having reached my primary goal at 11,500 feet, but I didn't want to spend another night at Dickinson Park. So, after a small nap, I loaded the car and drove back down Moccasin Lake Road, listening this time to music on my iPhone. I reached the bottom of the mountain, quite appropriately, at the end of Led Zeppelin's "Over the Hills and Far Away."
I returned to Lander and had a civilized dinner of smothered fries and a beer. I asked the waiter if the cheap hotel down the road was still checking people in at 11pm, and she suggested I spend the night in City Park. A section of the park was set aside specifically for overnight campers, and she said she had spent all of the previous summer camped in the park. And it was free! So, that's how I spent the night of the 21st.
The next day, after sending some postcards, I drove to Cheyenne, where I stayed with some other friends on their sofa bed. By this point, I was so happy that I had met so many friends who had spread themselves across the country. Not only could I see them again on this trip, but they often provided free lodging!
I had breakfast at a local diner that morning, and then I spent an hour at the Wyoming State Archives. A theatre friend in Portland had expressed interest in writing something about the early women's rights movement, and she had written to me that she was insterested in Wyoming as the Equality State, the first U.S. state to allow women to vote. Of course, much of the reasoning the state granted women suffrage before the rest of the country was because Wyoming needed women voters for their sheer numbers; otherwise, there wouldn't be enough voting people to form a state. But history happens in its own meandering way. I copied a few documents to send to my friend, and I was soon on my way back home.
This time, in keeping with reason #2 listed above, I drove from Cheyenne to Indianapolis without stopping. Pretty much. I had to buy gas, and I took naps at pretty much every rest stop on I-80 in Iowa and I-74 Illinois, but I drove through the night and made it home by 1pm on the 24th, carried along by yet another audiobook, this time a novel by Haruki Murakami. And then I slept some more.
The astute eye will notice that I haven't posted anything to this blog since April, so I might post a catch-up catch-all entry this weekend before school completely dominates my life. Once medical school begins, I don't see myself posting much if anything to here, photo-wise. It might be reincarnated as a school-specific blog. I dunno. We'll see.
Speaking of school, I received my white coat on Friday. I don't know if it was the sudden realization of the responsibilities and ideals I will now have to uphold, or Gustav Holst's The Planets playing majestically in the background, or the sudden relief I felt after years of being not at all sure what my life was going to be, or a combination of all that and more. Whatever it was, I'd never before cried so much out of happiness. The next four years should be quite an adventure.
Is that enough words? I think that's enough words.