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.