The Nomad and the Settler, Part 1: The Background of the Nomad

A war has been brewing inside me for years now, and I become increasingly aware of it as the days tick by. The nature of the conflict is holistic; that is, it’s spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional. It fights with all of my senses and feelings, and it’s sometimes painful. Although it subsides at times into a pseudo-cold war, it never fully goes away as there is always some kind of sub-conscious violence being conducted.

This battle is of lifestyle, and it precludes a choice that needs to be made — a choice between the life of a nomad, and the life of a settler.

There’s potential for a compromise to be struck, but if that’s the case, then the question arises “What does that compromise look like?”. It’s a difficult question to ask, and I believe that’s one reason why many people who face this dilemma decide to pick one or the other instead of working out a balance. But let’s first explore the conflict within so you get a better idea of its nature.

If you’ve read my About the Author page, you’d know that my wanderlust bloomed late. My childhood excursions were largely reserved for family vacations with my mom over the summer, usually to places along the Atlantic Ocean for a week. When I was 10, my grandparents moved to southwest Pennsylvania to take on a parish in a small town. Wanting to continue to have a relationship with their oldest grandchild, they invited me to their house for a week or two at a time during summer break, and I obliged. To say I respected and appreciated the time with my grandparents is dishonest; I loved getting away from my normal life, but I never really liked hanging out with “old people”. They made it a point to take me around the region, first starting local like traveling to see Fort Necessity, or Mount Davis, or the locks on the upper Ohio River. Year after year, they took time off to take me to places I wouldn’t have otherwise been:  Louisville, Kentucky; Chattanooga, Tennessee; the Smoky Mountains. When I was in high school and wanting to be an architect, they made arrangements to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous homes Falling Water and Kentuck Knob. And one of the last trips I took with them was to St Louis, Missouri, the gateway to the west.

This last one was, in hindsight, immensely symbolic of what was to come. And the entirety of these experiences were, despite my lack of appreciation for them or the people that made them possible at the time, hugely influential of my attitude about travel in the near future.

My next monumental adventure was with two high school friends to Washington State; south Washington State, to be exact. More precisely, Cougar, Washington, home of Mt St Helens. Traveling the summer before my senior year, we stayed with my friend’s grandmother in Cougar, and made a trek up to Seattle and along the coast to Ocean Shores for a couple days. The pivotal moment in this trip was a night in the back country at the base of Mt St Helens. We decided to venture up the ashy slopes of St Helens, and so set across a Martian landscape en route to the trail. After clearing the extent of forest covering about two thirds up the mountain, we found snow… in July. This was a marvel to me, as it was my first experience at high elevations. Climbing near-vertical and on all fours for about 30 minutes in ash that came up to our ankles and forearms, we decided to turn back to camp. It wasn’t until we returned the next day and explained our adventures that we were told it was illegal to climb the mountain without a permit.

After this, I took a brief hiatus from adventure. My best friend, Alex (who was along for the Washington trip), and I used to dream of doing cross-country road trips once he got out of the Marine Corps. But life is uncertain, and he eventually married and settled down… and is still in the Corps. The only travel to speak of during this time was a week long vacation to the Outer Banks that functioned as a high school graduate retreat for the church I was involved with. But this wasn’t the same type of adventure. It was more luxurious, what with the 12 bedroom beach house and lazy days on the sand.

The fire inside me was refueled when I met my wife. We started our life together with many a trip to her home state of Wisconsin. Dreams of intercontinental travel were now present. Talks of living in Tanzania or Kenya for a year or two entered the picture and the imagination. But these were quickly turned into memories with news that we were expecting our first child, not long after we were married. Regardless of the soon-to-be third person in our family, our honeymoon was taken almost four months after we were wed, and this is what set the nomad in me alight. Over 5,000 miles of journey from Penn’s Wood, through the upper Midwest, into the heart of the American Rockies, and back again. Over two weeks’ time, we saw Mt Rushmore, Devils Tower, the Big Horn Mountains, Yellowstone Lake, Lewis Lake, the Tetons, Geyser Park, rolling prairies, lush valleys, craggy peaks, untouched woodland, Glacier Park, the Badlands, and countless other wildlife and scenery. The return trip paid witness to outrunning monstrous storm clouds chasing us through central North Dakota, the Apostle Islands, Houghton in Upper Michigan, Fort Michilimackinac, a brief and boring spell through southern Ontario, Niagara Falls, and lots of asphalt.

Almost the entirety of this trip was spent in tent. Three days in Yellowstone at Lewis Lake’s primitive camp site was the most enchanting time of the whole endeavor. Whenever I’m asked where I would most rather be at any given moment, or what place conjures up the happiest of memories, I say Lewis Lake.

Two years later, we were on our way to Colorado. This trip arose because of the desire of the inner nomad that was restless in Pennsylvania. Talk between the Partner and I was consistently focused on moving West. In search of this Golden City, we set our sights on the Centennial State to see if it fit. The only hitch was my wife’s friend accompanying us, which was not well-received by the Author. Sites on this trip included a brief stay in Ft Collins (Loveland), Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park, a very long drive over Trail Ridge Road the whole way to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a night at the Great Sand Dunes, Colorado Springs (our initial target of interest), a day in downtown Denver, and the long trek back on I-70.

While Colorado (all but the Fort Collins area) did not necessarily appeal to the settler in me, I undoubtedly had a increase in my desire to get the hell out of Penn. The more I’ve spent in the woods while hiking and adventuring, the more I wish to relocate myself to a place that is foreign and alien; a place that’s full of explorational potential. And every so often, the travel bug bites again, and wanderlust sets in. The fever is always accompanied by the inner fire, the burning to lash out and find something that’s new and pristine. Days that the fever sets in are always spent envisioning what could be; what’d it’d be like in new territory.

This August, the wanderlust will get quenched. For similar reasons to the Colorado venture, a trip to the Wasatch Range is planned. The Great Basin awaits to receive the fire and time will tell if it’s able to accept it.

But at the conclusion of this adventure is where the battle takes place; where the bigger question is asked — what happens if Salt Lake (or Fort Collins or Helena, etc) is the place we’re called to go? Does the fire become satisfied? Or does it spread? Because, as we all know, nomads don’t settle.

And with that, the inner settler prepares to take the reigns of the passion and drive it for its own agenda…

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