Less pollo more gringo: a man and his van

A small cool bead drew quickly together at the base of my hairline. A bit thinner than it used to be, the bead slid easily through my hair across the curve of my head to my temple. Slowly, I came to with a sweaty roll into cold damp sheets. Why was it so hot and where was I? With a startle I sat straight up. Was it a work day? Was I in a hotel room? At my parent’s house in Chicago? In New York? In South America? The story of the previous three years could be written from that fleeting moment. Rapidly exploding thoughts reached the rolling green mountain tops surrounding the Hudson Valley before settling back to the river at the valley floor. All that remained was a consistent droning of the ceiling fan. I was safe in my van and it was Saturday. A few hours remained until sunrise and the day’s adventure. I slowly drifted back to sleep.

It has been two years since I last posted. From the corners of the US, to Europe to the islands of Indonesia I have not stopped traveling (except for a few months quarantined during the Corona Virus); but, not all travel is the same. It has been two years since I felt the adrenaline rush that accompanies a real adventure. Two years of missing the feeling that’s carried in the wind that makes the hair on my arms stand up with goosebumps. The feeling that everyday is a blank page ready to be written with endless possiblities. The feeling of the unknown. It’s back, and it has taken shape in a new form: an adventure mobile that has yet to be named. She, the van, is still finding her personality along the East Coast and will be appropriately named when the time comes. In the meantime, the adventure has started and it is two months young. 

Heat radiated through the valley near Beacon, NY, an artsy town with great food and nearby trails. Within two hours from the fastest city in the world life was noticeably different. I continued North up route 9 and cut onto smaller side roads whenever I felt there was something around the corner. New Paltz and Mohonk preserve, historic Kingston, and the hippy roots of Woodstock among the Catskills. Every stop upstate had its own personality. As the miles ticked, the energy and streets of the concrete jungle were replaced with small town living, mountains and waterfalls. 

Being back on the road with a job has brought a whole new perspective. Instead of solely planning destinations around hikes, finding internet has entered as a top priority. That said, I won’t be writing much about finding internet. The Devils Path on the other hand, said to be one of the most challenging east coast hikes, is more in tune with my interests. Being my first multi-day hike in some time I was a bit rusty in planning and in capabilities. What the hike lacked in sheer peaks, it made up for in scrambling, rolling elevation changes and new friends: it was beautiful. Hiking partners and new friends in a COVID world are few and far between (literally and figuratively). Today, even saying hello to fellow hikers brings out a rush for masks regardless of the distance separating people. However, I was happy to be invited to join a group from Pennsylvania on this one. Each mile seemed to take longer than I ever remember hiking a mile taking. Back to back 17 mile days left me exhausted.

The original “plan” of the van adventure was to head East, see what life brought me, and then head West. It was a simple plan that seemed to confuse most. Unfortunately, the world is not itself. Cities and culture are hard to come by, and when the opportunity presents to interact with people I am very cautious. People have enhanced or detracted from every travel experience I have ever had. The intentional solo hikes, which used to be once in a while, are now my standard. Following the “plan”, I decided to continue North from the Hudson Valley to the Adirondacks. With the Canadian border closed this would be my last stop North. The remoteness, cool temperatures and forever scent of fresh pine ignited internal dreams of a trip to Alaska, but that’s one place this trip isn’t headed. To use one of my favorite quotes “Soon, but not yet.” Pulling off of HWY 9 and heading West to Lake Placid was the most beautiful drive I had in NY. Large mountains covered in trees abutted lakes with trailheads everywhere. 67 degrees, finally, it was a perfect temperature for sleeping. With the weeks seeming to pass quicker than ever, another week in New York came to a close, and the draw of navigating the wild of the Appalachians South swelled.

A barrage of banjos being plucked blared through her speakers. The bolted down bar and shower squealed when the music softened and the road turned. Up and down, left and right. The van is not a sports car, but she hugged the Appalachians without irk as we headed South, back into the heat. “Either of the T brothers interested in some outdoor activities this week? Seneca rocks and some hiking?” A message to the dynamic West Virginian brothers, Zach and Adam, who I have grown close with over the years, is a great indicator for what happened next. West Virgina, a place that I have never thought about visiting, is magnificent countryside. Luckily, I was able to spend time with two good friends there climbing a Via Ferrata (Italian for by way of iron or a climbing route made of steel cables), visiting lakes, hiking and of course trying to blend in with the culture.

Places and names out of US history books came to life: the Appalachian Trail, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Shenandoah, Pisgah, Smokey Mountains, Cape Hatteras, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive and Mt. Mitchell. Okay, Mt. Mitchell I hadn’t read much about in books and it isn’t a National Park/Forest or scenic highway, but the highest mountain East of the Mississippi and the abundant State Parks not mentioned have offered such a beautiful adventure of their own. After a month in North Carolina and Virginia, my eyes have been opened to a new world with many secrets yet to be uncovered. 

While I write inside my tent beside the Appalachian Trail, the long trail, I can only think that there is a long trail ahead of us all. With more stories to share, people to meet and mountains to greet it feels good to be back in the wild. Before sharing more adventures, there is one question I keep asking: is it time to head West? As a man with a van, heading to a new trail is always just a turn of the key away.


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