I really need a laycation.
I’ve never even been one to crave convenience. Needlessly doing things the hard way is a weird obsessive-compulsive means of control for me. I like to work for it, to feel like my life isn’t meaningless, you know? The idea of paying all that money to go somewhere new and have the chance to live this new reality...and totally waste it by lying around at the beach pretty much appalls me. I like adventure; what the hell else is vacation for? Well, the last real vacation I had was three years ago, and it wasn’t exactly restful.
In early June 2009, me and my two equally clueless college besties went backpacking on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail on Vancouver Island in Vancouver, Canada. The trail is 47 kilometers (a little over 29 miles to us mere mortals) of dinosaur-times-like vegetation. We did it backwards; I can’t remember why exactly but it had something to do with where we could park the car and it resulted in us having to hitchhike back to where we’d parked after we were done, after the five days it took us to do the trail. It was by far the most pivotal experience of my life to date, which is to say nothing of what other friends have done since...Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Appalachian Trail (in fact I know a guy out there on it right now, he essentially does a Juan de Fuca a week, Godspeed). Still, it was difficult for me to get through.
Amongst other travesties, I shredded my knees the first day we were there, because we futzed around too long on that first magical beach, oohing and ahhing at tiny snails and sea anemone, which meant we had to haul ass to Hyzant Creek with our fresh full-up 60+ lb. packs by dusk so we could set up camp while we there was still enough light to see. It was all uphill and it was too fast and hard for my at the time unathletic body. I spent the next 4 days in excruciating pain, constantly popping ibuprofen and taping my knees right over the bare skin, just to be able to walk. Twas my first experience with joint pain! Hooray, I was old! I picked up a walking stick somewhere during the second day that I called Spanky. It didn’t just need Spanky to hike, but to ground me and get my through my dying youth. Spanky was my Wilson, my Wilson for the 300 ft. up suspension bridges, the washouts, the boulder climbing, the hiking, the hiking, the hiking.
Juan de Fuca (born Ioánnis Fokás, in 1536), namesake of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. Fuca you, buddy!
To make matters worse, there was a group of high school German kids who smoked us every day. We’d pass wearily through their camp at 8 or 9 am, bitching already and dreading the day ahead, and they’d all still be asleep, rosy-cheeked and adorable. Hours later, we’d be trudging along after our lunch break of trail mix and leftover quinoa from the night before, and the little rascals would overtake us, waving “Ja, Hallo!” and sprinting past us in spite of their own heavy packs, leaving an evergreen scent in their wake. Still hours after that, we’d make it to whatever trailhead was on the schedule for that day, and they’d be there, had clearly already been there for quite some time, playing guitars around the fire. “Jah, we’ve been here for hours! Where you girls have been?” they’d tease, offering us some fresh filet that one or two of them had spear-fished out of the sea with their bare hands and a stick they’d whittled themselves.
We, on the other hand, constantly broke our water purifier, panicking and incorrectly praying to Poseidon to grant us clean creek water that would be safe to drink. And we never saw any black bears, despite Vancouver Island supposedly having the highest concentration of them in the world. We did see their fresh scat though! Woohoo! We sang “A Whole New World” to let them know without startling them that we were near, picking our way around their poop.
There was this one particularly rough pass where we had to go up interminable switchbacks forever and ever (nothing like taking twice as much distance to get something over with) at high noon, hungry but utterly sick of flavorless rice and beans. I remember distinctly getting to the top and peering over where the cliff dropped off, at the crashing water, seeing a gray, white-spotted seal basking in the sun on a little flat rock that was covered in mussels. He flipped his tail lazily, glancing at us but not caring. My friends were stoked “Ohmygod look at the seal! He’s so cuuuuute!” I stared down angrily, unblinking, and all I could think was, “Wow. All that for a f*#@ing seal. Yeah. Wow.” I kept waiting for some epiphany to strike me and none came.
Out here it was the order of things, the primal order of things, just me and the water and the land being swallowed by the water and I didn’t fear it.
That’s because there was never meant to be a lightning-struck revelation, but a slow understanding. It was in fact so, so very amazing. The nights when we were on speaking terms with one another, I’d read Whitman’s “Song of Myself” by flashlight to Erica and Emily. They’d fall asleep immediately but then I’d just go on alone, my voice hardly louder than the ocean, waiting until I almost had to pee my pants, dragging myself up screaming knees and all, stepping out of the tent into the total darkness. The tide had come up so far in just a couple of hours, it was practically right up at our tent. This would’ve terrified me in a different context, all that uncontrollable force. If I was at home and it was Lake Michigan, I’d be more cautious in the parameters of my everyday life, shy away from the encroaching water, turn back toward the electricity and skyscrapers, distrusting this nature bumping up against civilization. But out here it was the order of things, the primal order of things, just me and the water and the land being swallowed by the water and I didn’t fear it. This is how the world was made.
To sum it all up, I wrote this in my travelogue on June 4th, 2009, the second day.
“Extreme misery and extreme euphoria. I oscillate between them. Is it worth it? Too early to tell. When it’s over, will I have changed? Or will I go back to my old ways, old comforts, and take nothing from this? Already I have been more of a baby bear and grumble bus then I can stand of myself. I am either not cut out for this or I’m a bad person. Either way, I’m hoping to drain the poison. I hope the sludge I accumulated over a lifetime will be burned out noxiously into this world. Universe knows, this landscape can take it into itself. It can handle it.”
But you see, what I only understood later was that the landscape was actually me, because I was there. I handled it.
All this being said, after three years of recovery, I’m totally going to Jamaica for a Cool Runnings Christmas this year. Laycation indeed, but not without some cliff-diving. I hear there’s a mountain there to climb too.