I have this condition. Something within compels me to wander with mournful tread. Everything once strange in life becomes familiar, ritual becomes routine, and life the antithesis of zen marks the time when you are but a bell toll away from the walking dead. Beyond these dust clouds kicked up by the masses of men there lies man’s greatest pleasure galloping ahead beneath azure skies.
So when another gap year loomed ahead I plotted my escape. Playing the waiting game in a stately Victorian on West Main Street in Smethport, Pennsylvania—the home of the ghost of Ralph Crossmire, America’s First Christmas Store, and Wooly Willy–would be like being strapped down on a stone table beneath a scythe swinging from the ceiling like a pendulum. So I researched my options. A Facebook advert said I could earn my Counterterrorism Degree. And twenty miles away McDonald’s was hiring all shifts. But in the end, the most appealing choice was biking and hitchhiking from Calais to Cathay.
I map-googled Marco Polo’s route to the court of the Yuan Dynasty. Excitement spurred me on as I saw the all the people, places and things I would meet, see and do. All my life led up to this. In the Marines I learned how to dig a latrine. At the College of William and Mary I learned how to hold my liquor. And at Yale University School of Medicine I learned how to sew. It seemed that the only major decision I had to make would be about half way through: Would I take the road north or south of the Caspian Sea? The answer would be evident by the time I got to Istanbul. The rest would just happen. How was a mystery.
The Atlantic would be the only real obstacle in my odyssey. Should I stowaway on a ship? Or would I have to get a plane ticket? And yet kayaking along the Canadian coast to Greenland weaving through an archipelago of blue icebergs, and then along the fjords of Scandinavia presented an intriguing solution.
Stowing away seemed the most feasible solution. Of course, I would be discovered by the ship’s crew. There is always a complication. I would have to bargain for my life as the scallywags, harpooners, and old sea dogs debated throwing me overboard for shark bait. It would not matter that there were less than 20 crew members on a ship carrying enough home electronics to feed a nation for a day, and enough deck space to relocate my hometown. It was a matter of principle, you see, albeit a principle encrusted in rime and barnacle.
In the end I would somehow win the mariners over. But this would not happen until they finally voted, “All in favor of making him walk the plank, say arr!” In their haste to seize me, my trusty journal would fall out of my knapsack onto the deck, and some old scoundrel in a black watchcap would hobble over on a crutch, snatch it up in glee and read it aloud to add insult to injury. The first entry that caught his eye would just happen to be a recipe for my famous gourmet coleslaw–and the captain, the avatar of Poseidon, perhaps even Earnest Hemingway himself if he had faked his own death and assumed an alternate identity–would promote me on the spot to chief cook. And that is how I would earn my keep sailing to Europa.
And when I finally pedaled and peddled my path through Araby, I would probably—as the media would have me believe–be captured by grisly-bearded madmen in turbans and kept in a cave. As they sit around the campfire fieldstripping their AK-47s, I would ask them a time honored question and icebreaker the world round, “How’s the weather outside? You know, all this darkness and dankness reminds me of home. Have you ever read Beowulf?” No, every age has its Grendal I would sigh. Of course nobody there speaks English, so I would make myself plain with body language, facial expressions, and show them how to play charades. And surely they would not kill off their sole source of entertainment. Otherwise going to China would have to wait for my next life.
Luckily, the decision tree bore more fruit.
A piece of which fell into my lap as I lay with my back against its trunk daydreaming about a sunless sea in a measureless cavern echoing with the wails of a woman for her demon lover.
All this was not just a pipe dream;
I would end up in China afterall.