Sailing Around North America: Leaving

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Sailing Around North America: Leaving

by Douglas Herman

"A voice said to him'Why do you stay here and live this mean and moiling life, when a glorious existence is possible for you?" ~ Henry David Thoreau An antique man in an antique van, traveling around a wondrous land. Before I left on this mid-life road trip, I decided, if given a choice, I wouldn't stop in cities and I would prefer not to stay in towns. Instead I was seeking wide open spaces and water. A freshwater paradise, a saltwater playground, a sparkling river or creek or even a glacial pond, all these I sought. A glimmer in God's eyes, as seen from five miles up, or from the roadway. The holy places, the blue inkspots and blue snake trails we see on roadmaps. Too often we snaked past them in a speeding car with scarcely a glance. Now I intended to make their acquaintance. I wanted to spend some time in places we had all heard of, glorious places most of us longed to be, those lakes and tree-shaded rivers we saw in geography books or from our car windows. I wanted to get first hand experience rather than second glance glimpses. I wanted to float, swim, drink, sail, splash and frolic in sparkling water. I wanted to spend more than a few stolen moments besides these cool waters, appreciate them, know their histories, their "life stories," instead of rushing past them, on my way to some dry, indoor pursuit. Fifty years young when I began my voyage in April of 2001 (now half complete), traveling fifty miles per hour in my antiquated time machine, I sought timeless sources of water and time to enjoy them. An inland voyager, that's what I hoped to become. Dumb? Maybe, maybe not. No dumber than spending years spinning my wheels in some sweltering concrete city' Los Angeles , Phoenix , Vegas--in pursuit of that domesticated servitude called success. And no closer to accomplishing that vague, self-flagellation than a sparrow has of becoming the space shuttle. This was to be a voyage around North America , on a wind and a prayer, inspecting lakes, rivers and bays. Floating in some, fishing in others, swimming and sailing over most of them, camping besides them, metaphorically making love to them, hiking around them, and enjoying them, thanking the rain gods and human angels for sustaining and protecting them. It wouldn't cost much money. I could work along the way. Behind the wheel of a thirty-year old Volkswagen van named Tinkerbelle, with a sailboard (another antique) strapped to the roofracks, I planned to cover some ten thousand miles at a leisurely pace, whether it took one year or five or forever. A great, clockwise, circle-sailing of the North American continent. To look at ephemeral bodies of water that had been around for thousands of years. To idle away hours with others who, in James Thurber's words, had returned, like Canada geese, "once more to the lake." I began my trip in Tempe, Arizona, upon Town Lake, where I practiced my sailing skills. Even before I left, I received a warning citation on Tempe Town Lake, for windsurfing across that stagnant impoundment. I smiled when I received the citation, perceiving it as a good sign, an auspicious event. It wouldn't be the last warning I'd receive on my trip. "Wherever a man goes," wrote Thoreau, "men will pursue him and paw him with their dirty institutions . . . ." The best solution seemed to flee those dirty institutions. Throughout the trip, I would be warned, written up, lectured, scolded, and cautioned along the way by scads of government minions--but envied too, I imagined, by more than a few folks along the shore. I intended to drive west across the Mojave desert to California in late April, then head north to Washington state. Then east to New England during the high summer, where I would wander south during the late fall, skirting most of the coastal cities. From there I would winter in Florida and then one day head west again, where I would finish the journey. And begin another adventure. A person should never be without plans for at least one future adventure, even if only building a wonderful, backyard treehouse or rafting down the Mississippi. Before I left, I penned an itinerary that included famous western lakes I wanted to visit'Mono, Tahoe and Crater'and infamous inland seas like the Salton Sea, as well as historical eastern icons like the Mississippi River, Walden Pond, Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson River . Along the way I planned to visit as many local lakes and notable rivers as I could, seldom passing a single day without slipping into water somewhere. I went to all these water with a forgotten joy I hadn't felt in thirty or forty years. Like the joy felt by young lovers when discovering each other for the first time (No exaggeration!). Every summer, as children, sometimes two or three times a week, the Herman brood bounced down the tree-shaded road to Thompson Lake in Howell, Michigan, (where I grew up) with all the exuberance Thurber once felt as he went to the lake of his youth . "Howell Lake," more a recreational pond than any holy Ganges to the nine of us, the lake symbolized an immersion and cleansing of our childish cares. We drove past the cemetery on the hillside'Carpe Diem!'and emerged from the forest to see the lake glimmering before us, heaving a great, collective shout of anticipation. What foolishness convinces us that concrete and steel equates to great centers of civilization, when the wild water within our selves'we're about 70% water'wants nothing more than to hasten to a lake, any lake, and immerse our bodies? I imagine Jesus in his boat, enjoying a breeze on Lake Galilee, felt more peace of mind than he ever did on shore, squabbling with those Pharisees and high priests. Man made the places and charged us all a fee; God made the spaces and gave them all for free. Thank God for the lakes, rivers and streams. Thank God for the waterfalls and mountain freshets. Thank God for the nameless ponds and bogs and tidal bays, all of them amusement parks of nature, all of them a greater part of inner selves than any concrete city ever could be. By God I wanted to see them all!
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Columns on STR: 136

Award winning artist, photographer and freelance journalist, Douglas Herman enjoys exploring the occasional ghost town or spooky conspiracy and can be found wandering the back roads of America. Recently Doug finished writing, directing and producing an independent feature film, naturally a "road movie," and credits STR for giving him the impetus to write well, both provocatively and entertainingly. A longtime gypsy, Doug completed a 10,000 mile circumnavigation of North America, by bicycle, at the age of 35, and still wanders between Bullhead City, Arizona and Kodiak, Alaska with forays frequently into the so-called civilized world of Greater LA.