Monday, May 3, 2010

my dear watson

I'm back in Queenstown after taking the southern loop through Milford Sound, Invercargill, and Dunedin. Traveling by bus has allowed me to see most all of NZ, but without much of a stopover at any one spot. In the past three weeks I've toured the North island from Auckland to Wellington, and have seen the western side of the South island. On Thursday I leave Queenstown for Christchurch and the return to Auckland.

Highlights so far have been a 20k hike over volcanoes, taking a cruise through Milford Sound in squall-like conditions, a 5hr mountain bike trip around Queenstown, hiking up Franz-Josef Glacier, surfing at the world's prominent left-breaking beach in Raglan, and having the best burger of my life at Fergburger in Queenstown.

I fly out of Auckland on May 17th. I'll spend a couple days in L.A. before heading back for the East Coast on the 19th. That gives me about two weeks of traveling left. Hard to believe it's come to an end. It's almost time for the day-after-Christmas hangover.

For the past seven months I've been mostly out of touch with the rest of the world. I couldn't tell you how the economy is doing, which teams are in the NBA playoffs, or who's doing the Late Show now. I guess that's to be expected when you live on an island.

There was one news story that caught my eye in Melbourne one morning while I was enjoying a bowl of soggy corn flakes. It was the story of Jessica Watson. Maybe you've heard of her. She's a sixteen-year-old Australian who is about to become the youngest person to complete a solo sailing trip around the world. She set out from Sydney Harbour in mid-October and is set to return in early May.

Her journey was met with a good deal of controversy. Many Australians were outraged that her parents let her set out on her own at such a young age with nothing to protect her from the cruel sea but a bit of fibreglass and a set of canvas sails. They think the ocean is too vast and dangerous for a girl who's not even old enough to see an R rated movie by herself. They think her parents are irresponsible for encouraging her. They think they know what's best for her after watching the news from an armchair with a warm cup of coffee. Of course it didn't help when she T-boned a 63 ton freighter shortly after setting out. So maybe they're right. But I doubt she even cares.

Somethings I think of her when I settle down under a think blanket in a bed that doesn't sway through the night. I think of her curled up in her little pink sailboat, riding out a storm while the black swells and salty gusts carry her further into the deep. I think of her waking up every morning, sometimes thousands of kilometers from another human being, and planning how she will use the elements to bring her closer to her dream.

I heard a fifteen-year-old recently embarked on a trip that would set a new record. If Jessica does make it home, her record would only stand for a few months. Australians feel a sense of disappointment for her. They must assume she set out for bragging rights and a TV spot. The real disappointment is the majority of people think she's just chasing a record.

I think I've been caught up in her story because despite never having met her, I feel like I understand her better than most of an entire continent. Not that the circumstances of our travels are similar. They don't compare at all. But I know what drives her. The pull of the unknown is a powerful force, and the feeling of success over it is a drug.

But while I think I understand her, I can only imagine what it feels like to live truly alone for seven months, at the mercy of all the elements, under a map of stars with nothing but your own thoughts and the constant rhythm of waves lapping against your home to keep you company. I imagine it's more exhilarating than watching TV from an armchair, or digging into soggy corn flakes.

She's due to arrive home any day now. She'll sail into Sydney to a warm welcoming party and the family and friends she's had to live without since October. Pretty impressive when you figure the average sixteen-year-old can't survive a full day without unlimited texting, YouTube, and The Bachelor.

I hope she found whatever she was after out there across a whole planet of ocean. I hope Sydney Harbour is calm when she ties up her pink sailboat and steps onto solid ground for the first time in over half a year. When she does, I'll be smiling. Most likely from a comfortable living room couch.