In October of 2013 I went to Tanzania for 23 days to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, go on Safari, and wander away the itch that is Africa. After the trek and the Safari I took a bus to the small mountain village of Lushoto in the Usambara Mountains. This is how I got there. Thanks for reading and enjoy!
In the summer of of 2012 I loved this girl Alex from Sherman Oaks who I met at a party at my house in Los Angeles. I’d been boxing with a friend in my living room but when Alex and I began to talk I put down the gloves and moved to the porch where we smoked cigarettes and finished the last few beers in the house. An hour later we moved to the hill behind my house. When we finished talking the sun had begun to creep above the trees and the last residents of the party had gone. We had a romance for a month and it was beautiful and warm and the best thing I’d experienced since my last relationship ended a few years back.
But she was moving to France in the Fall.
We talked near the end about me coming to visit. I had a free ticket by way of a miles credit card I hadn’t cashed in since college. A trip to France where we could meet and make love and travel–all for less than a dime–intrigued us both.
I had a lucky upbringing. When I was a kid my family would travel through the deserts and local mountains. At some point in High School we scoped out the Bahamas and another time after High School we took a trip to Europe: one week in England, another in Germany. Beyond that there was a week in Denmark to visit my college girlfriend, another 3 weeks backpacking through Italy when we graduated. We broke up a day after we got back, me and that girlfriend. And though I explored a few places here and there, I didn’t leave the state once in the six years that followed.
I didn’t leave the state once. It’s weird to consider that.
At 18 I was in college–Junior college, 13th grade–and for the first time in my life I felt a sense of freedom; that the world out there wasn’t so far off, that it was in fact here. I circled spring break. My group of friends was planning a trip to Mexico to drink and party and fuck away their virginity as though it were some passport to adulthood. I said sure, it sounded fun, but never laid down firm plans. Meanwhile, I printed maps. Maps of California and Oregon and Canada and Alaska, maps of the whole fucking United States. I didn’t have money. I didn’t have a job. All I had was some privilege, two parents who didn’t think I was as crazy as they should have, and a desire to…hell, I still don’t know what the fuck I wanted to do. Gas was 99 cents a gallon. That probably mattered more than anything else.
The original plan was to drive to Alaska. There weren’t any grander ideas than that. Drive up there, check things out, drive back in time for my first class on Tuesday. I could sleep in the car, I could sleep on the road, I could sleep anyplace it came to. I had dreams of a vagabond lifestyle. Not a jetsetter but a train hopper. Some dude who packed his shit and just fucking went. I’d had that idea for sometime, probably since I first stepped back on California soil after two years in Utah when I was 11.
I’d tried to run away once. I unloosed my pillowcase, packed it with some food from the cupboard, maybe a spare set of clothes–I really don’t remember–and set out the door.
I didn’t make it past the driveway. Took ten steps and all I felt was this big fat well of homesickness. I wasn’t even off the legal property and I was homesick to be back inside where I could peer out into the darkness but not be down in it myself.
I first curtailed my Alaska plans by making Seattle–or Vancouver if I felt like really pushing it–my primary destination. Alaska could wait. I drove north along PCH and the 101 and didn’t stop, didn’t say a word to anyone. I think my mom left me her cell phone but it was just for emergencies.
My grandma was out of town and so I stayed at her place in Richmond. I imagined that’d be my only stay in a home. Each and every night of that trip, though, when the sun began to set, when the golden hour chimed away, when traffic picked up and the shadows grew smiles–whenever this happened–I got scared. I don’t even know if scared was the right word. But I felt this thing, this deep down gut check that I shouldn’t be driving, shouldn’t be doing what I was doing. I spent the last hour hunting for the cheapest hotel I could find where I would hunker down, climb beneath the covers, and lose myself in television and a private room to jerk myself and fantasize of a mind that wasn’t my own. What else could I do? Who else could I be? Who will love me? Who will I love?
It ended on an afternoon drive up a road to Mt. St. Helens. There wasn’t a storm, but the clouds had come in and the snow was falling and all I could really see was the road and the clouds and continuous snowfall. I can remember even now my feeling that the mountain was no mountain at all, but some personified Oz–a malevolent wizard–and by driving that snow covered road I was tempting…something. I don’t know what. It felt wrong. The way picking up a penny when it’s tails feels wrong.
That’s how I felt then. I don’t know how far up I went. I don’t even know if there’s a trail you take or if I was 8 thousand feet from the summit–this wasn’t information I tried to find out. I left and drove. Drove straight out of Washington, straight down out of Oregon, all the way south through Northern California, only stopping somewhere up North at two in the morning when I came to a rest stop unable to keep my eyes open. I slept in the car with a knife in my lap and woke up at dawn and drove the rest of the way until I pulled up at my house at two in the afternoon.
I could tell this story again.
I could tell it the next year when I had a similar fantasy of driving and headed out into the American Southwest–first with ideas of bringing a girl I liked and had slept with–later with ideas of hiking the Grand Canyon, camping every place and anyplace I could, seeing it all and staying until I tapped the keg dry. It didn’t quite happen then either. The girl never came. The trip lasted four days. The first or second night I tried to camp in the Valley of Fire–this red rock canyon area outside Las Vegas. I put up the tent wrong and near midnight the wind and the rain came and my tent didn’t hold up and so I backed out and ran inside my car and slept there the same way I’d slept inside my car a year earlier at that rest stop in NorCal. I threw a snowball as far as I could into the Grand Canyon. I stood above Bryce Canyon. I drove through Zion and Escalante–the Grand Staircase–and saw those big pillars that make up the backdrop of every western made before 1965–Monument Valley. I did it all in a car that never got colder than 65 and a hotel room that had cable.
This was my adventure.
to be continued…
© 2014 Christopher Dart