What It Means To Be The Modern Day Explorer
I've always considered myself to be an explorer, and my love for exploring new places to be my full time-life time gig. It's a hunger that lives in not just myself, but in everyone that just needs to be unlocked.
I discovered this hunger when I transferred to the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2011 after despising a small school near NYC that I attended my freshmen year. When I moved to Boulder, knowing nobody yet entering my second year of college, I quickly realized that I had broken a wall of dependency. This wall was built-in the small bubble of East Greenwich, Rhode Island where I grew up, but ended when I attached a U-Hual on I-80 West.
This wall, formed by the small New England bubble town, kept me dependent on others like my friends and family. But it was that moment when the rubber hit asphalt, that I became a new person, that couldn't settle, and didn't need a controlling father or overly strict and religious mother to dominate my decisions. I was reborn into what ever I wanted to be and I was emerging in one of the greatest possible places to do so... Boulder, Colorado.
The college town, like most, can be very bubble like in nature. You have the comfort of your apartment, the new friends you make everyday, the bars down the street, your professors etc. But outside of campus walls, the mountains of the front range invited me to venture, and try to find myself in what I considered unexplored territory.
Now I know what you're thinking, another person that says they found themselves in nature. Why do I want to hear about another one of those?
Well, I haven't exactly found myself yet. I don't think I ever will, or anybody does for that matter. Maybe it's not until that last warm breath that exits our chest cavity that we truly are able to relish in who we are. Just in the single moment, unmeasurable by time, that we come to terms with who we are, and what life is about.
So why are you continuously going out, adventuring new places, seeing new things, driving through the night just to see another sunrise on some peak in the middle of nowhere? Well, probably because I'm scared shitless of not having these experiences to look back at when I'm getting my diaper changed by someone 50 years younger than I, while totally immobile outside a (hopefully) well lubricated wheelchair. I know I need these memories. I need these exhilarating experiences. I know I need the struggles that the "wild" can present to anyone at anytime.
I have been waking up at 2am practically every Thursday for the past couple of months, to drive to all ends of California to try to understand the West for the first time. On Wednesday night, I finish the class of undergraduates I teach, race home to pack and hopefully get to bed on time. I wake up and leave by 2am. I drive tirelessly through the Central Valley in hopes of wherever I end up at sunrise, is worth the struggle.
It always is.
It always is so unbelievably mind-blowing that it takes a good long while to remember what I was escaping in the first place. Usually after dinner time when I set up a sleeping bag and tent, do I remember that I am not at home as it says on my driver's license next to my Organ Donor sticker. I am at a different home though. It's a home that exists everywhere the light pollution ends, and the population drops off. Not necessarily solitude, as friends of the trail are always welcomed. It's simply a home that exists wherever the mind is at peace from the weekday hustle.
Now this wall I mentioned isn't the only wall around. There are so many up in our minds that we can't even begin to imagine how many there are, because the one in front of us acts like a false peak. It's that tall, and sure is stronger than whatever the hell Trump wants to build. It is stronger than that wall of separation, because the areas of the unexplored can both separate and unify.
They can remove us from all that is wrong, by such distance that we can see ourselves as if we were someone else. But they can unify us not just to others, but to the shadow of the true self we are chasing. Just the shadow, just our own eclipse.
It's all quiet queer to think that's what it is. Both separation and unification. But the idea of exploration is quite queer in nature isn't it? Removing oneself from what they know on a semi-permanent basis, to experience somewhere they have never known. But it can't be that queer if that hunger lives in everyone.
It's that hunger that makes us want to strip from our cotton/nylon-blend shells and just dive once we see the vast oceans of our green and blue rock. It is that hunger that drives us up peaks no matter the weather, or what status of the ground beneath us, or the temperature around us may be. It is insatiable.
When out, it's hard not to think of a nomadic lifestyle before our supposedly incumbent "evolution" to pastoral existence. Just one day and night of hiking in will hash up innate and raw feelings. But, admittedly, there is a wall that is always set on every trip that never leaves us. It can not be broken down. And it never goes away.
This wall builds itself back every single second you climb over it. When the trip begins, it lies out of sight. As time passes it gets closer, maybe popping up just long enough for it to remind you its coming back soon. It's the third or fourth day camping, even with your dog, that this wall pops up faster and faster. Sometimes all it takes is paranoia in the woods, signs of bears or day dreams of horror stories. Sometimes it is the increasing burn in your calves with each step farther away to your vehicle, or the dead battery on your phone. Sometimes its all of these but much, much more.
Eventually, you will need to climb over it every second until you return to the comfort of a mattress, wi-fi and a microwave. And we tell ourselves that it was the need to return to civilization on our way back, but the journey was so epic, and that you really just wanted to stay longer. It's a wall of separation and unification. It's not a wall of dependency like the bubble I grew up in. It's a wall that simply reminds you at all times, you are on the other side of something else.
Maybe that is what it means to be the modern-day explorer.