After weeks of photo editing, writing text, demo books and publisher-hunting, the final product has hit the presses – my coffee table book, A Young Man Goes West, is finally out!
For a few years now, my life had been committed and planned, every weekday subject to a schedule, every trail previously blazed. Nurturing resumes and meeting expectations doesn’t leave much room for really losing yourself and finding your way back. When the opportunity came to take a big fat break from all that, I took it.
It was beautiful – tall, at least 20 stories I thought but it looked taller because there was nothing around it, but also big and regal – it looked like the Venetian Casino tower in Las Vegas, except this was Detroit. It was broad, at least a couple hundred feet wide and a good bit deep too. A double-floor appeared at the top, a hallmark of the original skyscrapers built in Chicago and St. Louis, housing their pumps and elevator machinery and such. I had no idea what it was, but I was drawn in and I drove closer to it.
We stood in the hot Chicago sun on a muggy Saturday in mid-August, scanning the horizon for any of the six F/A-18s lighting up the sky that afternoon. The Blue Angels were in town, the stars of the Chicago Air and Water Show.
Here was Omaha growing up, turning hip and cosmopolitan and urban, maintaining its underappreciated ethnic diversity, turning away from its endless sprawl to the west and finding its youthful pulse.
What possesses a sculptor to turn a mountain into a Presidential memorial, I wondered. But this sentiment occurred often to me in South Dakota: why this, why here, why? I took the short stroll along the boardwalk leading to the foot of the mountain and stared up at the four of them: they seemed equally puzzled at their situation. Was Teddy the only one who had actually been anywhere close to here?
Here in roughly the north-central part of the state, some ways east of the cowboy-touristy town of Cody and Greybull where I’d stopped for lunch, the plains dropping down from the Yellowstone plateau had climbed back up into the sky.
I pulled off the highway beside a wooden fence that seemed to head right at Grand Teton. A fading layer of fog obscured the lower end of the mountain but the peak glowed in the rising sun. Clouds above cast ribbons of shadows across the range. The moon was still visible high above.
This is Yellowstone at its finest: the first and in many ways only place where you can see nature as it is, and understand how it should be. Appreciate its spectacle, but don’t leave until you feel its character.
Iceberg Lake stood at the end of this trail, an emerald and blue pool at the foot of a curved granite wall with shelves draped in snow. The snow blended into the end of the lake, forming sheets of ice that even now, in the middle of July, covered an end of the lake. Icebergs had broken off and floated peacefully through the lake.
I flew down to Edmonton after a few days in Fort Mac surveying the oil sands, and found my car baking at the airport. It was a welcome dose of familiarity, and I headed into town for a night. The next morning, I walked around Whyte Ave on the south end of town, catching a music street festival getting set up. The World Cup Final was just about to start, and I caught a seat at a bar across from a guy who couldn’t wait to move to California.
Meeting a glacier for the first time is a transformative experience. This was the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park, and there I was, a few feet from the beginning of it. It was like staring at the very bottom of the foot of a sleeping giant, where scale and meaning challenges even the most tested of imaginations. Looking up and seeing it continue and continue, turning a bright white in the distance before fading into the thick, monochrome cloud cover, left me with little air in my lungs.
By Lillooet, the landscape becomes drier, the Coastal Range having blocked moisture and rainfall from reaching this area. Here the lakes aren’t as common, the stunning blue at the foot of a pine-covered mountain missing. But the highway winds along a steep canyon cut by a river, mountains on both sides. But they’re bare and dusty, brown rock exposed in many places.
Vancouver is chill. People hang out along a vibrant waterfront by the entrance to Stanley Park, dogs swim, a soccer game goes on. Vancouver is in many ways the Canadian San Francisco, both in scenery and in attitude.
Not long from the top, we turned into an open view of the mountains and pulled over. We walked around, took in the air, traced a trail. The range in the distance was snow-covered at the top, smaller pine-forested mountains in the foreground. Banks of clouds sat tightly over some of them, others exposed to a bright blue sky. My mom couldn’t stop grinning. It was cold up here but neither of us seemed to care; discomfort doesn’t register when the senses are so overtaken.
The waterfront stood still at 6:10 am that Sunday morning. The sun peeked over the mountains to the east, a warm orange lighting up parts of Puget Sound to the east. I’d walked up a quiet waterfront a few minutes earlier, the parking lots empty, the stalls closed. The original Starbucks, a small, simple looking storefront was empty, not opening until later that morning. The original Seattle’s Best was around the corner and I walked up there. It was empty too, stools sitting upside down on tables.
Much of this part of Oregon is like this. Hilly but not mountainous, exceptionally green and lush. This was my first real introduction to the northwest and I started to believe all I’d heard. This is what you get from all that rain, apparently.
This is what the coastline looks like for the next several miles. In Oregon, 101 doesn’t hug the coastline like PCH does in most of California. Here, every mile or two, there are pull-offs where you can drive and park and get out of your car and admire the cliffs and waves crashing below. The experience becomes less immersive, stretches of road interrupted by dramatic glimpses of ocean and coast rather than a non-stop ride along it.
I walked by the little boy and his dad, the former standing on the shoulders of the latter inside the partially hollowed out trunk of a giant redwood as mom took a picture. How many such awestruck visitors had stopped by that tree, I wondered. From native peoples to early settlers, from those out to make a fortune in the gold rush to hungry loggers, from geologist to wanderer to father to child, many must have similarly looked up and futilely contemplated where exactly that coarse, wet, stringy deep red trunk tapered off to a point, or exactly how long it had actually been around.
In many ways, an ideal return to the road this day had become, a clean break from stolen bikes and locked keys and difficult parking and familiarity. I was back on the road, every mile a new one once again.
I wanted to visit all the same great restaurants and coffeeshops and bars and bookstores and parks and scenic spots. And then I wanted to do much more. I had plenty of neighborhoods to explore, new people to meet, more day trips to take, food and drink to try. And I’d budgeted three full weeks – how could I not do all there was to do here in three full weeks, I thought.