TLT: For Relaxing Times…

For a month before I left to take on a small chunk of the Tokai Nature Trail, the 1700km collection of trail systems ranging from Tokyo’s Mt.Takao to Osaka, I couldn’t stop thinking of how badly I wanted to be out of this city. I was tired of the way I had to stop and wait for the train to pass before I could go home after work; I hated that everybody seemed to know who I was and where I worked; I couldn’t stand another trip to my local supermarket to stock up on a week’s worth of vittles.  Nothing against Sabae, Japan’s eyeglass capital and my current home; I just needed to get away.

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time. #Japan #lostintranslation #travel #whiskey #鯖江市

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When my hiking partner, Travis, and I made it to Shizuoka City and had our tickets to return to our regularly scheduled programming in hand, I felt no real excitement. I wouldn’t have to pay 6,000 yen to sleep on an actual bed for a night, and not walking 25 kilometers a day also had its appeal, but excitement?

The night I got home I was sure I’d flip to where I’d left off in my most recent read-through of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and let the darkness take me at its leisure. Dropping my pack in my apartment with a loud thunk, I realized that I needed to be moving, needed to be out doing something. Continue reading →

Sometimes, You Need to Be Knocked Squarely on Your Ass

Well, it’s May 7, and unless the landscape is interchangeable with that of the good ol’ United States, I haven’t quite left for the Iberian peninsula just yet. Without belaboring the point, a crafty financial fraudster wormed his or her way directly into my Granny Smith of a travel nest egg, quite literally eating up everything I had saved in a way that other nightcrawler spendthrifts could only dream of. Admittedly, I’m taking the metaphor a little far — you no doubt get the point.

So, What’s a Fellow with a Full Backpack and a Plane Ticket to Do?

Obviously, heading out of the country without even a tuppence with which to buy a bocadillo or two wasn’t really my best option. Cancelling the plane ticket and pledging  that I would be on the road before I knew it, I next had to deal with some expenses I could only put off so long as I was spending my days hoofing across open terrain, most notably those for my car repairs. In a series of unfortunate events that would make fine entries in Lemony Snicket’s latest work, I let myself get to a point where I thought I didn’t care anymore.

After spending a week explaining to friends, family, and supporters just why I was postponing my trip — and, I should mention, making far too good a friend out of a bottle of scotch — I woke up feeling more invigorated than I had ever been when the trip looked to be full steam ahead, all systems go, and other idioms that fit this situation.

Seeing the Good in the Bad

Sometimes, you need to be knocked squarely on your ass. Yeah, it hurts, and yeah, you might bruise your tailbone, but the salient point is this: whether you get back up or not, it says a lot about whether you were ever on the right trail to begin with. I’m going to get all of the money for my trip back — in fact, that’s already started happening — but it’s sort of beside the point, isn’t it? I want to take this adventure to Spain, to Japan, to wherever it leads me now more than ever. It’s not like there’s going to be a bigger barrier in my way than a cutpurse or two reaching into my coffers, now is it?

Needless to say, I wish this situation wouldn’t have happened, but there is real opportunity here. I’ve been able to forge better friendships with people I thought I was saying goodbye to, and I’ve really been able to put a lot more thought into the logistics of the trip. With a few added expenses,  the adventure has undoubtedly been delayed for a few months, but with the extra time to build a stronger foundation for this crazy Words from the Road project, it’s really hard for me to say it’s all been bad.

Thanks, as always for the support of my readers, friends, and family. Between now and whenever I get on the plane, I’m going to start featuring some local hikes in state and national parks. Stay tuned.

The Days Before Madrid: Backyard Gear Check

I haven’t had much time to talk about it, but I am so pleased and grateful to announce that my Indiegogo campaign was a complete success — more than a success, really. At its closing at the beginning of the month, the campaign raised 101%, or $1,820. I struggle to sufficiently express my gratitude to all of my donors, to all the friends, family members, and strangers who believed enough in this crazy sojourn to support it. The funds have all gone toward my plane tickets, my gear, and my lodging in Barcelona and Madrid, as promised. So, what now?

The Backyard Gear Check

Luckily, winter has finally loosened its grasp on my little blip in Western New York. Admittedly, the 45 to 50-degree temps aren’t quite paradisaical, but they aren’t exactly something you’d see in “Frozen,” either. The last week has provided ample opportunity to feel the weight of a full pack on the road — well, as close to full weight as I can get before the travelers’ curse pops up to add a few extra pounds — and there have also been nights where the stars twinkle just brightly enough and the wind settles itself temporarily to make putting up my tiny tent and sleeping out possible.

tent le roy words from the road

 

Admittedly, the results of my backyard gear tests have been mixed. On the one hand, my sleeping bag keeps me toasty, even with the wind trying its damnedest to insert a drawer’s worth of ice blades through any and all bits of exposed skin. The tent, while snug for my…girth, allows me to keep all of my gear inside, and the rain cover seems like it could keep Noah’s mythical flood waters from sinking this particular ship. 

In truth, the only problem I have is comfort, and that’s such a first world, pampered, middle-class white kid type of complaint. I guess my problem is that my ultralight tent, sleeping bag, mat, and tarp do not a hotel room make. What did I really expect? Did I truly believe that backpacking meant the air mattress-lined, barbecue smoke-filled high life that I had grown so accustomed to on my limited camping trips as a child? You bet.

But whatever; what is there to complain about? In 11 days time my feet will carry me to the point of exhaustion day after day, such that I could fall asleep atop a bed of coals. Comfort was never the point — living as I have for 27-years was never the point. So long as my feet work, I stay dry, and I keep moving, that’s good enough.

Driven to Travel

Gearing up and studying for the upcoming trip to Spain has been equal parts exciting, stressful, and terrifying. The excitement is all too easy to describe, so I won’t bore you with the details. The fear is a mixture of irrational childhood phobia’s and fanged animals; the loss of new friends made in what I’m assured is supposed to be a lonely writer’s life; and, most sensibly, the fear of failure.  I have little doubt that as soon as I step foot in Madrid’s airport that the fears will dissipate, making them little more than temporary nuisances.

The stress comes from something else entirely: expectation. By and large, travelling remains this enjoyable thing you do when you want a vacation. Much as writing is perceived as a hobby more than a profession, to travel is to waste one’s life on frivolity. Life, we’re told, is meant for a 9 to 5 slow march towards retirement — a wife/husband, children. Yet every morning the Dremel carves my eyes open to view the same world, filled with the same problems, and the same disappointments. Where’s the exuberant bang, the fanfare playing me into the Ruins of Petra, the stifling dust kicked down my throat on a road through the dried heart of antiquity? Without a doubt, it’s somewhere beyond the keywords, the dungeon, and pauper’s paycheck.

Yes, even knowing that the rules of 1950’s America aren’t for me, I’m saddled with expectation. How do you look a parent in the eye who thinks you’re wasting your life, money, and opportunities to start a family? As far as I can tell, you do it with a smile. Just as they cannot understand a life undefined by salaried structure and outdated rules, I will never understand the need to fulfill the roles others have thrust upon me.

And so, I stuff my sleeping bag into my pack and hope I have enough water, food, and coin as I pull the straps tight around me. Only a fool would say with any certainty that the smell of the same “Bubbling Brook” laundry detergent, the acerbic feel of the same unrequited love, and the stress of the same work done ad nauseam won’t be missed, but they must certainly be left behind with the rest of the preordained. From now until Barcelona and beyond, the expectations I strive to reach are my own. 

So, Wolves Are Back in the Sierra de Guadarrama?

Allow me to tell you a tale of childhood, a tale of conservation. When I was growing up in the 90’s — old as dirt, I know — I remember distinctly being offered the opportunity to adopt a wide range of things. We could adopt highways, or we could adopt wolves and whales. Strangely, the ability to adopt human children was never offered.

Now, if memory serves, we ended up adopting a few humpback whales and a few gray wolves. At the time, I was flummoxed to find that we had paid good, hard American dollars — or at least my mom had — for the adoption of these creatures, yet they never once made an appearance at my house. Imagine!

Of course, now I understand that we were meant to be more like beneficiaries from afar, helping to rescue increasingly endangered species from their fate. Interestingly enough, as gray wolves were being painted as scapegoats in the American mid-west, the same thing was happening throughout the Iberian Peninsula. For the last half of the 20th century, Spain’s Iberian wolf was marked as a pest, a creature that only lived to destroy livestock and ruin human financial potential. Subsequently, the population in the peninsula dropped to no more than 500 individuals.

Luckily, They’re on the Rebound

Fortunately for these incredible creatures, the Spanish government granted them protected status. Despite the continuation of poaching and the vilification of the animals, a strange sort of parallel to their cousins across the pond, the Iberian wolf now numbers in the thousands, at least according to most estimates.

For my upcoming trip to Spain, the return of the species from the brink of extinction has interesting implications. Some 50 miles into the trek north from Madrid, I’ll be heading into the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, a prospect that has been extremely exciting to me since I started this mad dream — something about peeks and crags and dwarves. With at least one full pack of wolves living in the Guadarrama foothills, and with as many as six packs thought to be roaming in a 60-mile radius around Madrid, the stakes are considerably different.

I Won’t Say I’m Scared, but…

No, I lied; I’m terrified. See, I used to have these dreams as a kid — remember, this is a tale of childhood and conservation — whereby packs of wolves would chase me through the woods behind my house. My dog would eventually save me with her fierce yip, but there’s a problem: my dog is dead, and even if she weren’t, she wouldn’t be coming with me to Spain. (Woah, that got morbid fast.)

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t expect to have to go all Liam Neeson in “The Grey,” but I have definite concerns. I’m a chubby Western New Yorker with a propensity for petting animals that I know I shouldn’t. The chances of me at least losing a finger after getting a little too curious are pretty grand.

As is often the case, I’m a bundle of contradiction. Having seen way too many documentaries on wolves, I’m well aware that they could pick me off and eat me like a chunky rotisserie chicken. Likewise, those same documentaries drive me to find them and see them up close. I guess I should mention that the Iberian wolf isn’t known for eating humans, even if they are especially plump and juicy.

One thing is certain: if the numbers are to be believed, my chances of running into los lobos are pretty good. I only hope to savor the image before they get too curious about what McDonald’s tastes like.

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