Sunday, June 28, 2009

Helena Thank Yous and Apologies

At the end of last year’s trip to Guinea, West Africa, a couple of men said something to me that I hadn’t heard at a parting before. Independently of one another, each said to me, “Thank you for everything. If I have ever done anything to offend you, please forgive me.”

. . .

The thing was, neither had done even the smallest thing to offend me. I was confused when I heard it the first time, going out of my way to assure the fellow that we were fine. When the second man told me more or less the same thing, it dawned on me that it was a traditional way of clearing the air prior to a departure.

. . .

I would like to leave Helena in the same fashion. Below is a list of thank yous and apologies, distinguished by the place, part of town, or a person’s home state. I have had a great time, met some amazing people, bungled some friendships, and down right offended some people. My Guinean counterparts would likely look down upon the latter two, but perhaps some good can still come of this exercise.

. . .

The Bakery – Thank yous abound. You have been a wonderful crowd to work with.

. . .

The General Store – What a great place. Thanks for taking a chance on my products.

. . .

The CafĂ© – As far as I’m concerned, this is Helena’s first family. Need more be said?

. . .

The Neighbors Next Door – I’ve had a lot of fun moments, and I’ll miss seeing you all. You have something really good going on over there.

. . .

The Neighbors Across the Street – What a fun pair you two are. Honest, loud, full of laughter. Who could ask for better hang-out companions?

. . .

Connecticut – Thanks for the conversations. More than that, I take what you have helped create with your family as something to aspire to.

. . .

Helena Valley – Thank you for the work and conversation. I wish there were more time to catch up and shoot the bull.

. . .

Florida/Massachusetts – It’s been like a seesaw broken in the middle. I’m sorry for my half of things.

. . .

Missouri – You told the truth, yet I believed what I wanted to believe. I’m profoundly sorry for everything I did as a result.

. . .

My hope is that these remarks get to the right people, but if not, the spirit of the post will remain the same: Thank you for everything. If I have ever done anything to offend you, please forgive me.

. . .

Until next time, folks…

Monday, June 22, 2009

The PO List and Route

Here is my debut list of Post Office boxes that I will be checking along the way. There are only eighteen which means I won't be hearing from anyone too often at 1.5 times a month.

As of today, I am still hiking counterclockwise. That means I'd be doing some insane cold weather hiking through the Panhandle of Texas.

In general, people have advised against this. "It gets cold," they say. Well, yes. Snow is cold. Wind and snow together are especially cold. Having lived in Montana for four years, I know a little something about this kind of weather. I'm no expert, but I would like to try it out. Plus, I would like to see snow in Texas, even just once, silly as it sounds. It snowed in Corpus Christi a few years back on Christmas day, but I wasn't there to see it.

That said, I could still be talked out of it. All it would take is a survival specialist to tell me, "Antarctica, no problem. Piece of cake. Texas Panhandle, don't think so, buddy. Couldn't pay me enough to do that." Were I to be swayed for any reason, the following PO list would only be accurate in reverse. Until announced, however, just go with the list as is.

To send something, just follow these instructions, plucked from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's website:

The "TO" Portion:
1) Write "S.Matt Read"
3) Write the Post Office address of choice.
4) Skip a line.
5) Write "Please hold for Texas Perimeter Hiker."
6) Write the date you expect me to pick it up. And give me LOTS of time.

The "FROM" Portion:
1) This is important. While unlikely that any mail would get returned, you need to print the return address clearly just in case.

Remember that I'll be reaching each of these post offices about every 20 days. If you want to be extra sure I receive something, go to the next post office down the list. And the asterisk means it's directly on the perimeter or very very close.


1) 924 N Avenue F

*Freeport, TX 77541-9998

2) 345 Lakeshore Dr.

*Port Arthur, TX 77640-9998

3) 7132 US Highway 79

De Berry, TX 75639-9998

4) 312 W Front St

De Kalb, TX 75559-9998

5) 400 Clay St

Nocona, TX 76255-9998

6) 219 W 3rd St

Quanah, TX 79252-9998

7) 116 N Main St

*Higgins, TX 79046-9803

8) 201 N Main St

Stratford, TX 79084-9803

9) 201 Historic Route 66

Adrian, TX 79001-9998

10) 504 11th St

Plains, TX 79355-9802

11) 3737 N Highway 285

Orla, TX 79770-9800

12) 7050 Doniphan Dr

*Canutillo, TX 79835-5407

13) 311 W California Ave

Valentine, TX 79854-5400

14) 53600 TX Highway 118

Terlingua, TX 79852-9998

15) 208 W Downie St

Sanderson, TX 79848-9800

16) 20001 N Highway 277

*Quemado, TX 78877-9998

17) 4327 N US Highway

*San Ygnacio, TX 78067-9998

18) 7955 N Expressway 77

Olmito, TX 78575-5126


Until next time, postal users...

The Travel Writers

I recently finished Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck's automotive trek across America. While it provided some interesting observations and a wide slice of life in America, it wasn't as compelling as I had hoped, being the writer that he is. There are some great quotable lines, though, a few of which are listed below:

On the passing of time and the visitation of old haunts: "'Let us not fool ourselves. What we knew is dead, and maybe the greatest part of what we were is dead. What's out there is new and perhaps good, but it's nothing we know.'"

On Montana: "The next passage in my journey is a love affair. I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love..."

On journeys: "A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike."

Steinbeck eventually grows weary of his journey and his choice of subject matter deteriorates alongside his waning enthusiasm. Entire passages are dedicated to conversations with his dog Charley in which Charley actually responds to Steinbeck's inquiries in English. I suppose it's meant to be funny, but it ends up being a grand letdown. I don't think I'm unreasonable to have wanted more.

The transformative powers of a trip are difficult, in some cases impossible, to describe, but it pays to try. Best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert does a fine job in Eat, Pray, Love. She allows her readers some insight into her personal journey to be a better person while simultaneously dragging them around the world. Sarah Erdman does a nice job as well describing her Peace Corps experience as a health worker in Nine Hills to Nambonkaha. I would reread these works any day.

I will probably not reread Travels with Charley, though I might as above quote the occasional stirring sentence. Contrasting Steinbeck's trip to both Gilbert's and Erdman's, you can't help but feel sorry for him. His prose might lead one to believe that he made no meaningful friendships or acquaintances, just interesting encounters. He goes so far as to quote people when he's asking for directions, his trip so lacking in human interactions. Maybe that wasn't the case, but you'd never know it reading his book.

I have since read a few pages from three other travel narratives: 1) A Vagabond Journey Around the World by Harry A. Franck, 2) The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux, and 3) Solitude by Robert Kull.

Harry Franck wrote his narrative about a century ago on the premise that he could travel around the world on close to no money at all. I am only in the first few pages of this book, but at over 500 pages, it seems he succeeded. I am curious about attempting the same in Texas.

Paul Theroux decided to travel across North and South America by train. I read Dark Star Safari in which he traverses Africa, and it was immensely entertaining (no doubt in part because of my own time on the continent). After the first few pages, Theroux restored my confidence lost to Steinbeck in male travel writers.

Robert Kull is an iffy bet. The book, a gift to me from Annie's aunt Satschu, is mainly a bunch of journal entries. Kull traveled to an isolated island in South America and camped a year. I'll give it a good shot, but I'm already skeptical of my ability to trudge through this.

I don't know what kind of travel writer I will become, but my goals are simple: to walk and learn. I want to reacquaint myself with the place of my birth and upbringing. I have spent much of ten years outside of its influence, traveling and seeing the world. I am returning now to see this old place with new eyes. If I start writing about my conversations with rattlesnakes, feel free to shoot me.

Until next time, wanderers...