Today definitely wasn’t the relaxing and carefree day I had intended it to be. But in spite of (and in fact, owing to) my aggravation, I believe today may have marked a turning point for me. For the first time since this trip began, I am less certain that this lifestyle will merely be a temporary thing. What I am certain of is this: I have never hated polo shirts & khakis more than I do now.
Although the Grand Canyon and Coyote Gulch rank a close 2nd and 3rd place, there was no place on my itinerary that I’ve been looking forward to more than Jasper. I’ve been here twice before and have genuine affection for this area. If I could figure out how to live here legally and earn a living, I’d move here in a heartbeat.
I left Calgary yesterday morning (Friday, the 14th / aka Day 11). We drove to Banff National Park, then took the Icefields Parkway past Lake Louise and into Jasper National Park. We spent most of the day at Pyramid Lake. If you ever find yourself in Alberta – plant your butt at the following coordinates: 52°55’28”N, 118°5’44”W. I defy anyone to find a more perfect spot than that in all of Jasper.
This morning, we left Pyramid Lake and spent a little time in the city of Jasper. Then we headed down the Maligne Route (past Maligne Canyon, Medicine Lake, and to Maligne Lake). Then we doubled back and found a campsite about halfway between the two lakes, right by the river that connects the two, and we’ve been here almost the entire day.
Apology & Partial Retraction
I owe Rocky Mountain National Park a big apology. When comparing it to the Canadian Rockies, I failed to take into account that both times I’ve been to Jasper before were in October. October is a low-point in Jasper’s tourism calendar, and it’s also rut season for elk (and probably other large mammals). I was comparing apples to oranges.
Only a partial retraction because now that I’ve been to Jasper in July, I realize that traffic here is pretty bad this time of year. It’s still not quite as bad as the Colorado Rockies, and I still assert that the Canadian Rockies are superior to the American Rockies. But the disparity between the two is not as great as I originally thought.
Polo Shirts & Khakis
This day (Saturday, July 15, Day #12) has not gone as planned. As I stated before, I found this neat campsite by a river connecting Medicine and Maligne Lakes. It was totally vacant both times I passed it in the morning. I did not expect that I would be completely alone today, but nor did I expect the level of traffic we had from 11am to 4:30pm.
When we first arrived, just one or two other cars joined us at a time. I was able to let Remy roam without a leash with little to worry about. She played in the river, chased animals in the rocks, and for the most part had a good time. It was sunny, so I found a spot in the forest that was almost completely shaded where I figured it would be wise to camp out for most of the day.
When 11am rolled around, suddenly people came flooding in, car after car. Many of the people were foreigners who didn’t speak English, so I couldn’t give them a heads up about Remy. Plus the increased vehicle traffic made it less safe to let Remy roam. At first, I kept her close, but when it became apparent that the traffic would not be relenting anytime soon, I had to tie her up. 5½ hours we waited for the place to clear out again. A few others have come and gone since then, but not the nutty volume we had earlier.
This world is stupid over-populated. It shouldn’t be this difficult to find a quiet spot in the woods. 7.5 billion people on the planet – I don’t think we’re in any danger of going extinct as a species. Maybe people could start using condoms once in a while?
At first, the flow of tourists didn’t bother me. They had as much a right to be here as I did. But over time, they began to wear on my nerves. They all looked the same – pale skin, polo shirts, khakis, designer sunglasses, cameras hung around their necks, plus some absurd trinket brought from home to ensure they wouldn’t have to get dirty or uncomfortable.
All the while, they marched in to the maddening and unyielding cadence of car doors popping open and slamming shut.
I didn’t like them. They reminded me of my old life – the life I just broke free from.
They taunted the whistling marmots to get them to sing for their entertainment. Their picnic trash blew into the river whenever a gust of wind blew by their inattentive table. Their prepubescent larva running around and screaming like little idiots. The tourists pose for absurd numbers of selfies – one from this angle, one from that angle, one with their arms stretched out like so, one with the kids, one with the spouse, another one from this other angle.
It took every ounce of strength not to come running out of the woods and yelling at these people to get the fuck out. I knew they had a legal right to be there, and the park police could easily have kicked me out if I wasn’t careful.
The tourists probably fancied themselves “outdoorsmen” because they went out and had a picnic in the mountains that one time.
“Posers!” I muttered under my breath over and over again.
Pot Calling the Kettles Black
It’s ironic that I would call these people posers, since I spent much of the day yesterday introspectively condemning myself as a poser because I dared referred to myself as a “gutter punk” the other day. It’s a title that does not rightly belong to me, though I covet it.
As a rubber tramp, I enjoy conveniences and comforts that actual gutter punks do not enjoy. Plus, projected at six weeks, living this lifestyle is decidedly a temporary condition akin to an extended vacation. I have no business calling myself a gutter punk.
But I covet the label. I’d be honored to earn it. I admire real gutter punks. They possess skills that I don’t.
I call it the Apocalypse Quotient. In the event of an apocalypse, I believe that I would not be among the first to die (unless I was at ground zero of a nuclear blast, for instance). I have skills and other traits that would serve me well in an apocalypse. In contrast, there are many people in the world who wouldn’t last a day without modern conveniences. I know this because I know several of them personally. They would be killed off almost instantly. I’d survive the initial shock, but for how long after? In a contest for survival, I know I would never be the last man standing – and I’m okay with that. But I’d like to last a while.
Of course, my motivation to be a true gutter punk is not to survive the apocalypse (unless one happens). My motivation is genuine admiration for the skills and toughness. If I could rightly call myself a gutter punk, then I would wear that label as a badge of honor. For all the negative connotations such a label has – I recognize the positive things it would say about my person and my character.
The Standards by Which We Measure Ourselves
I know that in the grand scheme of things, I’ve done something most people would consider courageous and gutsy. Few people would willingly go jobless and homeless for as long as I have in order to travel (especially not without having a backup in place). This trip has already brought about some pretty big improvements in my life, and I’ve got nothing to hang my head in shame about.
But these improvements have also thrown into stark relief just how much further I could go. How much more can I improve myself if I truly commit to this lifestyle? If I were a leather tramp, how much tougher could I become? How much more skilled could I become if I didn’t stop living this way when my 15,000+ mile trip is over?
I am still timid, introverted, and sheltered. Part of me is looking forward to the end of the trip. I’m not sure I could continue on like this indefinitely. Finding electricity, data signals, drinkable water, comfortable temperatures, and safe places to sleep – these daily chores take a toll on you after a while. I wish I could overcome these weaknesses.
Thanks to the parade of plastic people today, I finally feel motivated to make the effort. Not just to earn the coveted title of “gutter punk” but to avoid turning into a person who wears polo shirts and khakis. I want to protect this lifestyle I’ve discovered – not just for myself, but for all others who choose to live it. I want to push back against the modern market forces that have pushed this lifestyle to the brink of extinction.
Some people would say that by becoming jobless and homeless, my life has taken several steps in a negative direction. I know better. On the contrary – my life has improved dramatically because of these decisions. And I feel that my life is now on a trajectory to continue making improvements. The only way in which this trip has adversely affected my life is that it is a diversion from my haunt craft. Other than that, this experience has been nothing but upsides. Even the setbacks have had positive contributions to my life. It is worthwhile for me to stand up for, defend, and preserve this lifestyle.
If defending this lifestyle means continuing to live it after the formal trip is over, well… That’s not something I’m willing to rule out anymore.
Speaking of Labels
I just want to take a minute to talk briefly about labels. I’ve been throwing around a lot of words on this blog – often without much forethought. Some of these terms are synonyms and are interchangeable. Others have significant overlaps and similarities. Others are not interchangeable at all, despite being related. And as I mentioned in my previous post, there is some overlap between the nomadic, hippie, and punk cultures – hence the diversity of terms. This is a short list of every nomad and nomad-related term I’ve come across. It is by no means an exhaustive list.
- (Train) Hopper
- Long Term Budget Traveler
- Minimalist Traveler
- (Crust-, Gutter-) Punk
I apologize for any term I have used or will use incorrectly. Usually, I just pick whichever term sounds most appropriate in the context without regard to textbook definitions.
Since I’m spending so much time talking about labels today, I’m sure that someday, someone will write a furious e-mail to me about how labels are evil. I’ve witnessed plenty of knee-jerk resistance to the use of labels within the LGBT community, so let me pre-emptively address that protest.
If you think that a particular label is inappropriately applied to you, that’s fine. I have no problem with that, and I respect your right not to be categorized in a way that you feel is inaccurate. But to say that all labels are inappropriate? That’s just fucking absurd.
Labels are linguistic tools – like any noun, really. (Pronouns, too, but don’t get me started on that fucking topic.) They are words that express a pre-defined set of information without the need to regurgitate the information each and every time you want to describe an object.
For example, if I say “I’m a hippie”, most people would assume that means I smoke pot, listen to Jerry Garcia, carry a guitar with me everywhere I go, never bathe, and wear tie-dye shirts. And it’s so much easier for me to say “I’m a hippie” than to itemize all of those things each time I want to describe myself. If I do bathe and I’m offended that people might assume that I don’t, then I can simply say “I’m a hippie, except I bathe.” See how much easier the label makes things to describe?
In short – labels are shorthand. Just like every other fucking noun ever invented.
Remy Learns to Swim and Hunt
At Pyramid Lake yesterday, I finally had an opportunity to bring Remy into still, but deep waters. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to teach her how to swim. (All she does now is wade.)
At first, I literally dragged her out into the water, supporting her under her belly so she wouldn’t freak out (as much) of drowning. Once I knew she was paddling, I let her swim back to the pier. We did that twice. She knows how to swim, she just doesn’t like it.
Later, when she approached the lake again to get a drink, I tried some positive reinforcement. By applauding her as a “good girl” every time she went deeper into the water, I helped boost her confidence that it was something she could and should do.
We’re still a ways off from her becoming a real swimmer, but she has made significant progress in the past two days.
Without any help from me, Remy has learned to hunt and kill her own breakfast. The first was a field mouse that she caught by the railroad tracks a few days ago. I was proud of her, of course. But field mice are relatively easy. The tall grass they hide in also retards their speed.
But today, she caught a chipmunk – one that even saw her coming a mile away. That was truly impressive!
Just one thing – she doesn’t eat her kill. I dunno if she’s just not hungry enough to think about eating them. Or maybe she doesn’t know they’re edible. But all she does is chase them, catch them, play with them until they die of internal injuries, and then she rolls around over their carcasses to get their scent all over herself.
Dog Days of Summer
The over-crowded parks are yet another oversight on my part – what I failed to consider in beginning this trip in July.
In my defense, starting in July made a lot more sense when this was a six month trip. I was going to start out up here in cooler Canada and chase mild weather all the way down to the desert southwest in winter.
I could not have anticipated the severity of this heat wave. Though I planned for the loss of the van, I could not have anticipated it to happen so early in my trip. (Despite lacking A/C, it had several other features designed to combat the heat and sun that the truck does not have.) I did not anticipate how difficult it would be to remain cool when at a standstill. I did not anticipate that I would have to shorten the trip if I lost the van.
Even though I’m okay with doing a shorter trip (time-wise), if I could do it all over again, I would’ve started this trip in the fall. After the temperatures had already begun to cool, the kids were back in school, and summer tourism had ended. This trip would have been a lot more enjoyable (and lasted longer) under those circumstances.
But delaying a two month trip to the fall would have meant missing out on haunt season. Although the original six month trip meant missing haunt season, too – shortening it to two months and having started it in July means I will get to be involved this year. So… silver linings.