You’ll Outlive The Bastards

Recharge your batteries with an adventure close to home  (published August 2014)

Fact: Americans need more time off. We take notoriously few paid vacation days each year: 12, compared to 25 in Japan, 28 in Australia and a whopping 42 in Italy. It’s not because we’re chained to our desks; in 2010, the average American worker earned 15 paid vacation days but left three unused. We’re less productive than our European counterparts, but they’re healthier, more creative and less stressed. So what gives? Why aren’t we taking the time we need to get out of the office and recharge?

Geoff Gamsby, owner of Seattle-based Lake Union Charters, thinks that most people don’t recognize the opportunities for adventure close to home. So he’s expanding his business—which has, until now, focused on charters and lessons—to include one- to four-day multisport adventures, all affordably priced and within easy striking distance of the city. When he asked if I was up for helping him test the logistics of a new trip, I didn’t ask questions. The last time I counted, I was working 80 hours a week.

We set a four-day itinerary. Four of us would meet in Seattle on Thursday morning, spend 36 hours climbing Mount Baker (10,781 feet), then drive to Anacortes, Washington to board Journey, a 1996 Catalina 42 MKII. We’d sail to the San Juan Islands, soak in the hot pools at Doe Bay Village, and be back in Seattle by Sunday night. The concept was elegant: watch the sunrise at the summit; watch the sunset on the sea. The weather on that particular Thursday morning (33 degrees and raining) was not.

There was a moment of silence as the car lurched to a halt on the rough Forest Service road. It was 6:45 a.m. and I’d been awake since 4:15. Heavy snow forced us to park four miles below the parking lot, and I huddled in the back seat staring morosely at sheets of rain on the windshield. The question of retreat lingered silently for one long moment: after a discussion of avalanche conditions the day before we had agreed that a summit bid was unwise, and skiing just because we had said we would ski meant that we would not be dry again for a long, long time. But in some unspoken agreement not to be weenies, we tossed back the dregs of our coffee, pulled on our ski boots and stepped out into the world.

s2s1    The rain came and went as we headed up the road, cut switchbacks into the mountain and skied a tight line through the trees. At first I kept my head down, focused on finding a rhythm, but somewhere around the fourth hour my shoulders came down from around my ears. My hair dripped icy slush down the back of my neck, but I was sweating and alive and moving my body and laughing with friends. “I almost bailed,” I admitted. They understood. By late afternoon we were eating hamburgers at the local brewery, and before the sun went down we were motoring out of the marina in Anacortes.

The sailboat lightened our mood, as most sailboats do. We explored the islands. We soaked our aching legs in painfully hot pools, laughing as we scalded lobster-red. We listened to earnest music and made eye contact as we talked. “Why do we travel?” I asked, with pen poised over my journal to take notes. “To get out of our heads,” said Geoff, spraying me with cracker crumbs. “To remember to breathe.” I nodded and scribbled their answers, then wondered about my own.

s2s8     By the time we returned to the Anacortes marina, the boat was covered in muddy footprints. Her boom was draped with ski parkas that we’d hung up to dry. Truc, the photographer, reported that he slept spooning his camera so it would dry out enough that he could keep shooting. I was perched on the boat’s swimming platform with my pants rolled to my knees. My ski boots left blisters the size of egg yolks on the arch of each foot, and I hoped that the bone numbing saltwater would be healing. I ccouldn’t stop poking at them, grimacing at the raw meat under my torn skin. Is this why I travel? To rip off the dross and see what’s underneath?

At the dock we unloaded duffels into a heap, then hobbled toward the parking lot. Nobody showered; instead we crammed wet gear and sweaty bodies into the Subaru for the drive back to Seattle. Phones were turned on, and plans for the week discussed. We stopped at a gas station for bad pastries and too-strong coffee, and I felt my shoulders start to creep toward my ears.

But I could see the mountain from the back seat of the car, and every time I bumped an open blister I remembered the feeling of being rocked to sleep by the tide lapping against Journey’s hull. I put my phone down to smile at Geoff, and reminded myself that email could wait. He looked more relaxed, too, and we mumbled to each other about the importance of local travel. Why do we postpone our epic voyages? Why do we let vacation days go unused?

He offered me a handful of salt-and-vinegar potato chips, and I munched them as I flipped through my journal to review notes from the weekend. On the inside flap of the front cover, I had written my favorite quote from Edward Abbey, and as we drove toward our city lives I read the lines: “Get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.” s2s5

photos courtesy Truc Allen Media

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Author: Charlotte Austin