Being back on home ground for a short while has given me the chance to mull over the last four months. These last few words are my reflections on the "grand adventure".
The efforts taken researching the trip paid off handsomely. The plan worked out like a dream, and I met almost all of the objectives on my itinerary. Teething problems with the van canceled my trip around the Olympic Peninsula, and late spring snow storms curtailed my drive over the Glacier National Park and some hikes in the Grand Tetons, but otherwise my expectations were met. Indeed, many were exceeded. All the material I had read during my researches did not prepare me for the beauty and splendour of the sights I had seen, or the rich history that was to unfold. Nor had I anticipated the friendliness of the people I met; so different from the image portrayed by the media.
The trip could be broadly split into two contrasting adventures. On one hand there was the exploration of the National Parks, the wilderness areas and high altitude hiking. That represented over 75% of the trip. On the other hand were the towns and cities that I visited. For me, the enjoyment of the latter was proportional to the history and stories they had to tell; museums, galleries, people and musical scene also played their part. Las Vegas did not impress me, though I was fascinated by the powerful illusions it could create. However, my heart lay in the big wide open spaces, that was where I felt most at home. There I found the majesty of nature and like-minded people who were easy to fall into conversation with. People will always ask, "Which was your favourite place?" They all were in their way, and each had its own attraction, be it sheer beauty, scale, remoteness, geologic makeup, history, culture, or people. Yosemite will always hold a special place in my heart. Its human history was not as deep as other areas, but it had an interesting geologic history, and the beauty of the place was absolutely stunning. It was big and yet compact, crowded in its heart but remote overall; in essence it was very varied. I would love to observe it in all seasons. In terms of hiking in Yosemite, there were enough hikes over varied terrains to keep me going for years. I was glad my son had seen its splendour too.
I never felt alone in the wilderness areas, and only rarely did I feel alone in the cities. Even in the remotest of areas I would cross paths with another hiker. I don't think I would enjoy losing contact with mankind over a long period of time, I would always need some interaction with the human race, either through direct dialogue or at times just people watching. Sadly I never did find the answer to that vexing question, would I want to spend the rest of my days living alone in my own space?
There were not many lows during the trek. Obviously the van problems niggled me, but that wasn't the end of the world. A couple of bouts of feeling under the weather slowed me down a bit, nothing to grumble about, and my run-ins with the police in Butte and Las Vegas just added spice to the journey. The freezing conditions up in the Jasper and Banff National Parks were surmountable, though I did find trying to sleep in the van in the high 90s unbearable.
The highs were numerous. Hiking at high altitude was exhilarating, as was swimming in rivers and lakes. Seeing the splendour, beauty, geologic marvels and scale was memorable. Discovering the history; the Indian tribes all the way up from the Anasazi, the exploration and opening up of the west, the various gold rushes, up to the present times, was a truly fascinating learning exercise. The memory of all the people I had met and passed the time of day with will always remain with me. Those were friendly, genuine and interesting folk, all with their stories to tell, and with a wide spectrum of viewpoints. But my most memorable times were those spent with my son Dan: skydiving out of a plane at 15,000', riding a helicopter into the Grand Canyon for a Champagne supper, attending American football and baseball games, enjoying a blues cruise in Los Angeles and a cruise on Lake Mead, a show in Las Vegas, exploring some of the cities together, and retracing some of my earlier steps. He was good company and I enjoyed our time together, and we'll be able to reminisce about it for years to come.
Summing up, I feel privileged to have been able to undertake such a trip. It was a dream I had been harbouring for decades, and to actually make it come true has brought an element of happiness to my life, and I will treasure the memories for the rest of my days. My life has been enriched by the experience, and in turn I hope the written story has enlightened and instilled ideas in others to go out and fulfill their own dreams; if it doesn't, then perhaps I have failed. Would I do it again? Of course I would.
So what are you waiting for, take your dream by the horns and just go for it. Be safe and good luck!