An Elegant Journey
by Chris de Serres
There are three parts to every journey. First is the preparation. I get stuck often here. I have abandoned many adventures because the preparation was too difficult. Too discouraging.
I have detailed notes for many unfulfilled adventures. I prepared a grand experience to Mt. Slesse. A special peak that sits on the U.S-Canadian border. These preparations were over 10 years ago, and I am still waiting. I prepare so thoroughly that other climbers come to me for advice on peaks I have never seen with my naked eyes.
Some preparations are only a thought and feeling inside. Long ago I started thinking about scrambling up to the fire watch tower on Desolation Peak. It is where Jack Kerouac stayed as a volunteer and is the source of many of his novels.
The second part of the journey is the “doing.” I always feel this opening up of my mind and heart. They contract like pores on my flesh. Early on, my body begins to protest. I have messy bowel movements or intense one-sided migraine headaches. It’s struggling to adapt to change, or the anticipation of it. I am a creature of routine. A new journey is a sudden shock to all my systems. Physical. Psychological.
Whether I sleep in a strange hotel or on the ground in a sleeping bag, I thrash back and forth searching for comfort.
Without fail the things I think will be highlights of the journey are mere footnotes to other strange and unexpected experiences.
A while back I was in Peru on an expedition to climb high altitude peaks. What haunts my memory about that trip was that random day we decided to trek through the countryside below the Cordilla Blanca. I passed through fields of gold. Went into a pre-Incan burial chamber. Tried on the most flamboyant jacket. We picked up a huge bag of Coca leaves and brewed a nice tea at 19,000 ft. I got drunk and made out with my tour guide in a trashy bar. My climbing partner, who happens to be gay, made out with a girl.
I talked about the hardships of life with a young Peruvian porter. He was adjusting to a new relationship same as I was. We are all the same. We are all overtaken by the experience of the moment. The one so many self-help books promise to help us find.
After the journey, we come home. We are sad because we say goodbye to our self who is open and free. The journey reminds us of what we lost in childhood. When we absorbed the world around us like a sponge. When we were supremely flexible and adaptable and incredibly happy. You see, in a journey, it’s okay not to have everything figured out. We are born into this singular experience as from the womb and we find our feet in the end. We experience different and glorious versions of ourselves and survive to tell the tale.
Maybe there is a fourth step to all journeys. Reflection. We write about it. The story does change somewhat at this point. It finds it’s elegance. The rough edges are smoothed over. the petty squabbles and inconveniences are forgotten. We mythologize the past. This excites us. Then we long for the next pilgrimage into the soul.