After a whirlwind six weeks in Australia, I boarded a flight to the US while still not fully recovered from the brutal flu that has been crushing Australia.
The timing of my trip was to make sure I could arrive in the US for the wedding of my unclet Braden, and then catch my 30th high school reunion in Eagle River, Alaska.
Since those events were separated by more than two months, I had the time to spend time with family, and see friends who have known me for 20–30 years. And, yes, they even let me into their homes.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Sexual Chocolate
Nothing happened during my trip to the US that would fit under this heading, but we’re sticking with it.
In Virginia, along with the wedding, there were activities galore! Hiking, kayaking on every navigable lake within an hour, running, losing in straight sets in tennis, cycling, bouldering at a gym, and yelling at my niece as she sped around the track in Regional and State Track meets.
Of course, spending time with Mom was the most important part of the trip. A lot of us are dealing with ageing parents, and I’m so proud of my mom for living independently in a world that seems to constantly change around her. She continues to show strength and resilience in the face of her youngest son constantly suggesting changes to her diet and every other aspect of her life.
After Virginia, I spent three weeks in California, seeing friends in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Napa, Los Angeles, and San Diego, and visiting Goodyear’s Bar in the High Sierra mountains, where a cluster of my dad’s family has lived for eight generations.
While I enjoyed all of the places I visited, the point was to spend quality time with a small set of people rather than seeing everyone I knew in the area.
The Bay Area delivered it’s own reunion — John, Brian, and I reunited in the Reactivity founders first catch-up in at least a decade or two, in a weird takeover of a valley product talk. The time with Bri-Bri and Lilly and their families was really special. It reminded me of why I was lucky enough to work with them — they are exceptionally smart, and incredibly funny. After that, it was off to Napa to see my former summer intern of 20 years ago, who is all grown up, owns property, has a wife who breaks ankles (and who tolerates my sense of humour… right?), and can always put a smile on my face.
Heading further North, I spent time in the High Sierras of California where eight generations of my dad’s family have lived. It’s also where my cousin Diane, who gave me a kidney 14+ years ago, lives, along with my Uncle and a few other family members. It’s always an experience to get to share a meal or a hike with the person who saved your life, and even more amazing in the backdrop of mountain passes and ferocious rivers.
In Los Angeles, Vic and I had almost three straight days of ‘bro time’, where he accommodated my hankering for theatre (we saw Dana H, which was incredible), high-end vegan food (Araya’s place), and a Dodgers’ game.
La Jolla in San Diego is a small piece of paradise. Kiyon holds the title of my “closest female friend in undergrad” and was there beside my hospital bed when everything fell apart pre-transplant 10 years later. Somehow I convinced her on this trip that I should be a part of the Make-A-Wish foundation and she arranged a dinner with a former MLB all star. Damn, I still love baseball.
I bounced over to Austin, Texas, and with Neel and family, enjoyed a veggie burger and a beer at Ski Shores, spent a morning on Lake Travis, ate five meals at Tacodeli, caught a favourite band of mine, and remembered how good it is to be in Austin and that it’s even better to be there with good friends.
Finally, I headed up to Seward, Alaska, where I reconnected with my friend Sean, and met a cast of sketchy characters including a member of the Dutch secret police. On the 4th of July, it struck me that I really don’t think of myself as ‘American’ in terms of nationality, though of course it’s my upbringing and I still mourn the fact that a no-talent ass-clown sits in the Oval Office.
I Believe the Children Are Our Future
I finished the audiobook for Just Kids during my trip across California, and it has nothing to do with kids. And maybe that’s why I liked it.
As I toured the US, I bore witness to the special, unique neuroses contained in each family, whether it is the constant battle over screen time, a television centric existence, an obsession with Pony League baseball, or the thrill of watching me freak out during horror movies, or finding combat knives next to the bathroom sink.
I think I wrapped up the trip with a “Uncle Bryan” grade of B-. I endured a spontaneous junior high dance recital (which was better — okay, shorter — than the ‘professional’ dance recital at a local shopping gallery later on that arvo), several board games (oh, the trauma!), watching movies, creating video games, getting sushi, herding caterpillars, defending a soccer goal from an under-10 onslaught, watching episodes of The Office, and treating at Denny’s just before midnight.
I live in constant awe of parents, because I could not do what they do. The patience, the constant care and attention, the responsibility…
While I realise that parenting skills are a direct result of the necessary evolution to keep our species alive, I feel like our species could fall into extinction just from a few kids asking if they can just watch one more youtube video before bedtime.
While my trip definitely validated my decision not to have kids, I have to admit, they are better than spending time in a Turkish prison.
Teach Them Well and Let Them Lead the Way
My 30th high school reunion was the reason that I extended my travels into July. I’ve returned to Alaska at least every five years, and the Chugiak Class of 1989 high school reunion has been a good excuse to go back to my home state.
Our 10th year reunion was a stark reminder that I didn’t “fit in” during high school, but that was largely my own issues and not the fault of anyone else.
Our 30th year reunion was tranquil. The rock tumbler of life had largely smoothed out the rough edges on many of us over time. The insecurity and ego had been roughed away. People were authentic and comfortable with who they were. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t that I didn’t ‘fit in’ — it was simply that in high school and even ten years later, I wasn’t comfortable with who I was. Now, maybe I’m too comfortable…
While time in my home state revealed the ridiculous number of people who carry guns, it also reconnected me my high school friends and caught me up on their journey. I have stayed off facebook for the last two years, and I was behind on all the ‘goss’ of the life and times of my classmates.
Suffice to say, we’ve all been through a lot in the last three decades, and are all trying to figure out the future. See you in ten years (if not earlier), class of 1989.
Show Them All the Beauty They Possess Inside
The time in Alaska was stunning, and it reminded me of my time in the Andes in South America. It also triggered the same sadness that we aren’t taking care of the planet. The contrast between the beauty of the landscapes and the lack of care for our natural world is appalling.
The Aussie election had already been difficult to handle when I was in Virginia. Attitudes in America were often much worse. A woman I met tried to tell me that she didn’t think the US was a large polluter because she had seen other countries with lots of trash in their streets. The ignorance was deafening.
In the Galapagos, I had danced in the ocean with sea lionesses. In California, invasive red algae from warming oceans had caused sea lions to bite people.
Alaska had a record heat wave, and the rivers roared as the snow and ice melt pushed down the mountains at record rates. I visited Portage Glacier, which in my childhood went right up to the visitor’s center, but now is a 30 minute boat ride. Exit Glacier as well used to be visible from the parking lot, but now you need to strap on your hiking boots and hit the trail to get a glimpse. While the glaciers are in a period of time when they would normally be contracting, the accelerating rate at which they are shrinking is a mammoth warning sign.
It will be a difficult time for many of my friends, who love Alaska because of the natural world and their ability to enjoy it, because so much of the state’s revenue comes from oil production, the major cause of our planet’s climate emergency.
I hope the visible evidence in their daily lives will give people a chance to get away from the rhetoric, the politics, and the stubborn opinions, and start to read, to listen, to consider, and to change. It’s too late to stop what we’ve started, but we can minimise the damage if we act now.
Give Them a Sense… of Pride!
I have no ‘pride’ in the fact that I could travel for thirteen months, but I am filled with overwhelming gratitude for how fortunate I was to fulfil a childhood dream, to travel for this long and to so many incredible places, and to spend quality time with so many people who mean so much to me.
My thirteen months of travel has come to an end.
I have referred to my return to Australia as my “return to adulting” or “re-entry into adulthood,” though there are many skeptics that I will ever act like an adult.
I return to Australia, without a home, and with all my worldly possessions in a 2m x 2m x 2m box. A true fresh start.
As I mentioned in What’s Next, my goal is to figure out how I can help out with climate change and have the most impact possible, while living in Australia.
I’m fired up.