Why I Travel

June 10, 2009

    I am only 21,547 days old. I can remember many of them, starting with swatting mosquitoes on the screen that covered the top of my baby crib.  I can recall slithering out from under it and grasping the white crib’s round rails as I slid to the floor landing atop the shag rug on which I loved to play.  It was my first solo adventure and I didn’t even know how to talk.  
dive1966b.jpg    Of those thousands of days, the ones that are etched in my memory most, are days that I was traveling, changing my environment, making forays into areas beyond my comfort zone.  By the time I was 30 years old I realized that a true adventure was one from which I might not return, but just that remote possibility excited neurons to forever sparkle in my memory.  As a younger man my youthful eye was blind to many dangers in trips to places that now I give more thought before proceeding.  Sometimes I escaped tragedy just by sheer luck, wandering into places and environments that I was not prepared to see and experience; I was fair game for the seemingly predatory nature of a sometimes harsh planet and her lurking inhabitants.  But go I did, and I still want more.
    With time however, the “comfort zone” changed too.  I am tall, so I no longer am keenly excited to get in a sardine can of an airline for hours on end to get some place.  A few years ago one such flight caused a DVT in my leg that brought all travel to a stop for four months.  It is the terrible trick of nature that I still think more/less like I did when I had just 25 years behind me, but the body fails to keep up occasionally.  So a little more caution was added to my travel potion but it generally the results in experiences continue to be just as exciting.  I no longer SCUBA dive in 44 degree F. water as I did as a teenager, in fact many years later I came up with the lame formula of one’s age plus 25 or 30 should be the minimum water temperature one should plunge.  It does seem to work.  I still go, but not on moonless nights in waters that Great White sharks are known to inhabit (it’s too cold for me now! 😉
    My first parentally-sponsored solo travels came as a preteen, learning to sail in South San Francisco Bay.  I had an eight foot El Toro with 45 sq. ft. of magnificent sail.  It was my ticket to freedom within my small world.  At 12 years of age, I commandeered this vessel across the full width of San Francisco Bay, probably about 6 miles further than I was allowed to go by my parents.  So I found out that if I didn’t tell them, and I made it back, then it was probably OK.  So I didn’t tell them for at least a dozen years.  But in defense of my voyage of discovery, I was in my mind, fully prepared.  Every bit as prepared as I have been on every trip since, it’s just that my level of awareness of what preparations DO need to be done has changed.  In retrospect as an adult I know I was woefully unprepared for that trip across the bay… I had not done a weather check, only told one friend, he was 11 years old, and really was just as clueless as me, I had no back up plan should something have gone awry (like the boat flipping and not being able to right it), many things left out.  Fast forward many decades and a million miles.
R_20070217060550_0192.jpg    My latest long solo journey was to Antarctica.  I decided to go on the trip after I heard of a cancellation that freed a berth on a tired Russian ship that would be full of other like-minded photographers.  I had nine days to prepare.  Most on this trip had been preparing for well over a year!  I had to move very quickly.  I had gear arriving hours before my departure, and I would be gone over a month.  Baggage checked, boarding pass in hand, I cleared security, only to see CANCELLED above my flight’s gate.  An ice storm in a connecting airport had brought down the whole house of cards.  A day later I was back at the same gate, but this time I made it.  I had prepared a cushion of several days in Buenos Aires for just such an emergency, and it paid off.  I was booked in a cabin for two, but I had replaced a couple, so there was an extra bunk.  I tried to get several friends to join me, but no luck.  However one friend it turned out had a ranch in South America which I ended up visiting at the end of my voyage, a sublime experience that I will not elaborate on here as it is well documented already (search my web site for Estancia Alicura).
    My point is, be persistent in your quest for new places and experiences.  At first you might be alone, but soon enough you’ll be with new friends enjoying a whole other world from their viewpoint.  These events will alter the course of your life.  My lost night before the start of my journey south cemented my relationship with my girl friend.  We’ll be married in two weeks.  Hello world, here I come.