I don’t know what day it is. Only that it’s the first day I’ve ever started my own campfire. I’m alone, in La Push, Washington. I stood on the beach today at sunset. Watching people balance cameras while wearing knit hats and flannel shirts – teetering out onto massive logs, silhouetted together against a crimson sky. I saw the same scene I had seen five years before. The same rock formations in the distance, the same haystacks and mossy green trails. I was frustrated; for some reason I wasn’t able to tap into the same elation, wonder or adrenaline I have carried in my memory for the last five years. It was strange. In some ways, I have felt that way this whole trip.
I came to the Pacific Northwest hoping to revel in gloom, green and fog, and I’ve had nothing but blue skies and sunshine. But then again, camping in the rain would not be the epic, effortless experience it is now. I am warm, dry, and content by this campfire I somehow built by myself. I haven’t felt any marked highs, any notable lows. Everything is fluid, easy enough. Beautiful enough. Everything here has stayed the same, it seems I’m the one who has changed.
Five years ago, I made this same trip. One of my two weeks’ coveted vacation as a retail manager – I needed as much nature as I could cram into seven day’s time. I booked a flight to Seattle and drove a rental car to the Columbia River Gorge. It was pouring rain, it was the beginning of November, and it was perfect.
During that trip, I blew through Portland. I didn’t even stop for coffee. I wanted trees. Mountains. Rivers. Waterfalls. Falling leaves. I found what I was looking for, in both Washington and Oregon. But the trip was bittersweet. I experienced such a rush of life in that far too short, abbreviated time that I flew home and put in my two weeks. I just couldn’t stay another day in Kentucky. Nothing was wrong with Kentucky; it was just that everything was right with Washington. The fog, the green, the beach, the mountains, the remote forested towns and outdoor air. After agreeing to stay on board with Abercrombie and assist through the Christmas season, I finally told my manager in January that it was time to leave. I interviewed with a major retailer in Seattle and was offered a contract set to begin in two weeks.
And then Abercrombie countered with an offer in Italy.
I wonder what life might have been like if I had moved to Washington instead of Italy. If I had amassed a collection of hipster clothing and English speaking friends instead of a closet crammed with Abercrombie and a Facebook newsfeed that is becoming harder to read as I forget my Italian. I guess I will never know.
But it doesn’t really matter; I am here now. Happy. Not broke. Traveling. Camping on my own. Scrawling incoherently onto this piece of moleskin paper. It’s practically impossible to read. I just think too fast. Or write too slow. I don’t know. Maybe one day I will type it up so that it actually survives my chaotic, scribbled life, and can be looked back upon someday, sometime. I just didn’t think whipping out the laptop around my epic campfire would be kosher. I’m having a real, raw camper moment. And everyone around me is going to sleep.
Lights out, fires out. Stars out.
Photos by Christian Schaffer