It was 80 degrees in Sacramento as I stepped onto the platform. The warmth replenished me like water filling a coffee-maker.
This journey took me from grey, crumbling northeastern cities through frigid cornfields, jutting mountains, sun-soaked canyons, and meandering rivers. Yet what I remember most is sweltering heat on an ugly platform in Sacramento. It felt like home, but just as I began to enjoy it they called “All aboard!”.
The train continued through California’s interior, a pastoral land dotted with orange trees and green fields showering in the sunlight beneath watchful hills. This land, just miles from unthinkable affluence, represents a hard way of life. Migrant workers rise early each morning to toil in pursuit of a better life.
We kept moving until we crossed the massive bridge network connecting the wide swath of Bay communities. The skyline was a mere silhouette, obscured by a thick, smoggy mist. The realities of getting from place to place began to wash over me as I furiously checked my phone to map my route into my brother’s Mountain View apartment. The luxuries of the train ride were suddenly apparent. Time, movement, and direction are all decided for you. All you have to do is sit and exist.
The trip was an opportunity for reflection. I read and wrote furiously. Most importantly, and all successful trips do this, I’ve renewed my commitment to adventure. I’ve reaffirmed my belief that time spent searching for truth and knowledge amidst the backdrop of a beautiful, shifting sense of place is worthwhile.
Despite an ambitious plan to leave at five am, we stumbled out of my Aunt’s house in Boerne around eight am. The drive to Big Bend is a seven hour drive west into the desolate confines of the Chihuahua Desert. The park runs across the U.S.-Mexican border for over one hundred miles. Soaring peaks abruptly jut from a lonesome bed of dirt, cactus, and scrubby grass.
Driving through this vast expanse of nothingness made the world seem so big. One stoplight towns, abandoned taquerias, and the rubble of once elegant Spanish style brick homes reminded me that some, just hundreds of miles away, endure in a very different reality.
Little things on a road trip stand out. I pressed scan on the radio dial and the numbers kept moving until they stopped on the only station in range, an abhorrent frequency wave of battered country troubadours who nearly drove us all to insanity. We settled for my little brother’s iPhone spitting out Bob Dylan tracks in soft whispers because my Mom’s 200,000 mile warrior of a Sequoia did not have the right inputs.
I saw nothing but open road, desert, and a couple of sleeping brothers. This was the solitude I needed after surviving the cacophony of a middle school science room for months. We all tried on my Mom’s sunglasses and we looked equally asinine. A road trip with just the brothers is as close to childhood as I can get.
Look at those clouds
We woke up to the howl of the wind and cackle of the rain on the tin roof of the hut. We knew we had an especially brutal 9 km ahead until we reached the legendary hot pools of the Welcome Flat Hut. We began our trek through the steep and stony forest on the now soaked path that served more as a stream. We were already soaked but determined to make it to the welcome confines of the next hut. We marched along until we reached a raging waterfall that rivaled anything we’ve seen on our numerous white-water rafting trips.
A vigorous debate began about whether we should traverse the treacherous waterfall or turn back and walk the 10 km back to safety. Eventually we reached the consensus that we would head back and try to beat the rising river that now resembled something you’d find in the rain forests of Brazil (or at least I think). Little did we know that the adventure was just beginning…
There appears to be rain in the forecast
The hike back was one of the most physically and mentally draining stretches I have endured. We encountered several impassable streams and waterfalls that we either had to cross together in partner groups with arms linked or go over and around the river, fighting through endless underbrush without a trail. All of this occurred under some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever experienced. (Being from the Texas Gulf Coast, this is a strong statement).
The end of the journey back to the safety of the car served as a culmination of everything we had made it through to that point. We faced a raging, over-flowing river filled with countless rapids and drop offs. We could see our car but had no choice but to cross this fortress of fast-moving, icy, glacier water. After a multitude of alternatives were discussed, we decided that the four of us would link together and cross. We linked up, not without plenty of fear and doubt, and plunged into the icy water. The four of us were able to withstand the force of the rapid and make it safely to shore. I had never been more relieved. We sat by the car in our soaking wet clothes and recounted our incredible escape.
We made it back alive..and smiling
Alarm clocks went off early Friday morning and somehow we were able to stumble out the door. We met our friendly Kiwi friend Paul and headed for the rainy West Coast of New Zealand. The drive was beautiful and included a jaunt through snowy, beautiful Arthur’s Pass. We also passed rain forests and fields full of grazing sheep. Quite the ecological buffet.
After a roughly six hour drive, we finally arrived at Copland Track with reasonably clear skies. We all counted our blessings and headed for the hut, where we would be staying for the night. Huts are man-made shacks placed at intervals along well-established tracks. Most of the major “tracks” or hiking trails are equipped with these lodgings. Fitting convenience for such an active country.
Self-incriminating, I know
Not all those who wander are lost…yet.
The trek was beautiful but was not without wrong turns and tough choices. At one point, we thought that the first hut had been removed and that we would have to trek 20 km that night to get to the second hut. We eventually found the first hut while under the threat of enveloping darkness and heavy rain. We cooked a very basic meal over an open flame and played some cards that night.
Not exactly encouraging weather