It’s amazing how hard it is for me to not work.
With three days to kill before our Portland sublet begins, we elect to return to the Oregon coast (the place where this whole couple business really found its legs) and let Bryan do what he does best.
Bryan snaps into action as soon as we drive up, setting up our site. It’s not a lot of work–his tiny little tent practically puts itself together, and the only thing more minimal than our sleeping setup is our kitchen setup.
Our site is ringed by old-growth moss-fringed trees (wish I knew what kind) and patrolled by opportunistic squirrels, a few mist-shrouded steps away from a beach empty of people but rich in sand dollars.
We hike and cuddle and eat food fresh from the campfire, and I feel wonderfully happy in our secluded woodland sabbatical…
…and also happy that it’s only going to last a few days.
Bryan knows everything about camping, from how to arrange kindling on the fire (in layers) to piling up bedding in the center of the tent so it doesn’t get damp. It’s the rare occasion where he permits himself to be snobby–we pass people in certain sites and he mutters “Rookies” for no reason I can see.
But he just knows.
In a few days, I’ll spend hours creating a Buzzfeed quiz that delineates the difference between the tall Irishman and me, in terms of our travel style. By the metric of my quiz, he’s an Intrepid, while I’m an Adventurer.
These may sound the same but they’re not, yo. This camping trip makes it clear.
The Intrepid, as I understand it, is all about tackling the problems that present themselves and making short work of them.
The Adventurer is much more of a problem seeker.
The Intrepid will spend days climbing a mountain in order to reach the top, and be content when he gets there.
The Adventurer will spend months scrambling up the same mountain, and immediately start scanning the horizon for more peaks.
Last week, I saw Joanna in Seattle. It was one of those happy coincidences that travel offers. Her friends had brought her to the same bar where Bryan’s friends had brought us; she spotted me across the room and came over, and for the next hour we caught up on the past…Lordy, five years, it must be…as if it had just been a summer between college terms.
She was thinking about migrating from New York to Seattle–a career move but also a quarter-life upheaval, which sounds more reductionist than I mean it to. She’s about the same age I was when I got on the road, and I heard in her voice the heady emotions that I’ve grown so accustomed to: visionary anticipation, obligatory self-doubt, confidence on the verge of realizing its full wingspan.
It was nice to be that person for someone else–the one who’s gone before and can tell the other that it’s going to be all right.
Better than all right. I heard in my own voice a steadiness that surprised me, and comforted me, too.
While Bryan makes cheese sandwiches over the fire, I experiment with being in the moment: I look at a tree five feet away from me and try to really see it in all its loamy detail. My eyes have trouble focusing; I feel them crossing.
Whether we stand beside the fire at night or drive along the coast during the day, my fingers twitch every thirty seconds for my phone. I know cell service doesn’t reach out here but I seek the comfort of being reminded.
The hours pass by with what should be delicious slowness, until we visit the Tillamook library so that I can get some midweek work done–then six hours flash by like newspaper consumed in flames.
When you’re hanging on for dear life, every moment is a bittersweet symphony in Dolby Atmos. I melted in exuberant gratitude whenever I’d get to a new place or sleep in a different bed, and every new destination was the most beautiful and inspiring I’d ever been to…because I wasn’t ruined yet.
The fear that I could be ruined tomorrow made me savor every moment of safety.
Now I feel safe through my own agency; with that, however, comes the feeling of responsibility. I keep scanning the horizon for mountains I still have to scale. The flip side, of course, is the confidence in my voice when I talked to Joanna.
I’m calm now, but clearly still not at rest.
On our final night, we stand on the dune with chins pointed at the star-freckled sky, passing a bottle of wine between us. Bryan is flowing with joie de vivre, casting lines of poetry out at the black horizon, his voice a pulse below the white roar of the ocean.
“Completely in the dark,” he says, “and we know damn well what’s over there. This is life. This is life, coming atcha. From the Pacific. From Japan.”
I’m fumbling in the wine-dark night to write down his words, wondering meanwhile if I even should, or whether it would be better to let them diffuse into the haze of memory that tonight will become.
Every moment matters to me more than it should, and this is why I hustle so hard: to secure the safety of a moment like this, so that it can’t ever get away from me.
“This is a hell of a gift,” Bryan says to the sky. “Thank you, God. Undeserving are we.”