Back in the summer of 2003, I spent the better part of three months living in a motel in the high desert of Oregon. The Dalles sits in the shadow of Mount Hood, along the Columbia River, about 90 miles east of Portland on I-84. It was like this east coast native, at the ripe old age of 25 had been dumped not just in a foreign country, but on a different planet. Everyone spoke English, but my brain refused to comprehend the mountains, the big river, and the gorge itself. Looking at those landscapes was a lot like how it feels looking at the graphics generated by a virtual reality headset for the first time – simultaneously real and surreal.
I recalled enough from my American history classes to know driving back and forth to the dam that I was following along a small portion of the route covered by Lewis and Clark. That was about as far as my academic curiosity reached on that point. Even when I was studying, I wasn’t much of a student of the American west. What I, at the time, considered my temporary exile to Oregon, was an utterly wasted opportunity to follow the steps of what I know now to be one of the greatest overland explorations in recorded history.
I spent four days a week working at a mind-bendingly enormous hydro-electric dam that our rich uncle had thrown across the Columbia in the 1950s. The other three days, I spent mostly just dicking around – driving up to Seattle, over to Mount Saint Helens, or sampling as many of the micro- breweries between Hood River and Portland as my paltry GS-7 pay checks would support.
In those three months, I could have been all over the western end of the trail Lewis and Clark blazed through the wilderness. It’s an opportunity I pissed away because at the time, being “out west” was just the thing standing between me and starting my real job back in DC… where my life as a cube-dweller really began.
If you’ve ever wondered what I regret most from the last twenty years, I just told you about it.
Silly boy …. but weren’t we all young once? It took me a few years to understand the sight seeing opps I had with that rich Uncle. Once I figured that out, I started stopping at water falls in the Columbia Gorge, taking ferries over the Puget Sound to state parks, engaging in a snow ball fight on Mt. Ranier in July, riding the cable cars in Frisco, shopping the Miracle Mile in Chicago, seeing the Blue Man Group in Vegas, snorkeling with sharks off Johnston Atoll, walking the lava tubes at Kilauea, and Warwick and Sterling Castles in England and Scotland. Seen me some things over time.
I learned my lesson a bit later, fortunately.