Paul Fussell wrote that the speed of modern travel resulted in the mind being left behind. Without even knowing about what he wrote I somehow already realized that fact. But it is not practical to revert back to forms of primitive travel in order to get the mind right for an upcoming adventure. I have heard people really love cruise vacations where they are on ship and then arrive at ports of call and tour them. Perhaps the subliminal reason for the additional enjoyment is this very thing.
I have compensated for this by reading about my destinations for a long time leading up to departure. Everest was easy. I had read almost everything known to mankind regarding Everest over decades preceding my trip. Watched every movie and documentary too. Even poorly made ones like EVEREST, staring William Shatner and that Beverly Hills 90210 guy Jason Priestly. I think the only reason Shatner was in it was because it was about Canadian climbers and was so low budget that nobody would watch it without a name like his attached. Likewise for Priestley’s participation.
For my upcoming trip, I had only a cursory knowledge of Peru and its ancient Inca civilization. I had a class in undergrad that made me a little more aware of the Aztecs and Incas in the Americas. I had seen a documentary or two but I was a passive participant. When I had announced to the family that I would do the Inca Trail I had no idea what I did not know. My brother gave me the gift of the book “Turn Right at Machu Picchu”. It was a difficult read because the author simply sucked. In between the information about Hiram Bingham, his own story about him and his son retracing Bingham’s steps to discovery was flat, boring, corny and dull. Yes. All of those. Then one of my online friends at Trailspace who had been to Machu Picchu suggested I read “The White Rock” by Hugh Thomson. So I did. And I also read “A Sacred Landscape”, also by Thomson. I was thrown into the world that I soon would be visiting with full force. Both books were packed with history, geography, angst and adventure. I have started to be able to see the environs and the people in my minds eye. I hear their music. No, I do. Because I have several cds on my iPod with traditional pan flute music. FACTOID: Simon and Garfunkle’s song “If I Could” is actually an old Peruvian traditional song called El Condor Pasa“. Oh. You knew that already? I didn’t. That is how little I know of anything Peruvian.
Another pop culture fact a out Machu Picchu has to do with the persona of Hiram Bingham. The lead character in Raiders of the Lost Ark played by Harrison Ford is fashioned after him. Right down to the hat. I have one of those hats to bring with me for the trip! I am silly like that.
So with a little more than two months before Maggie and I get on the plane and make our way south, through Miami, to Lima and then on to Cusco, I am reading books, watching documentaries and listening to music. There will be no danger of me leaving my mind behind!
While most of my blog entries are about hikes and paddles and treks, every now and then it is about something else. Today I write about the fact I love to read and write. That my father instilled in me a love for, and pride for my ability, to read. He always did the children’s crossword puzzle in the Sacramento Bee with me as a small child and then monthly word power quizzes from The Reader’s Digest. Seems silly to say out loud. Doesn’t it. That a person would be proud of being able to read well and talk about that pride in their 50s. And I loved to read so much I wanted to write stories like I read.
We were a very verbal and expressive household. Dad told epic tales of growing up in Bellingham in the countryside. Imagination stimulants like how he helped an old guy with frozen up hips with his honey bees. Dad loved honey bees all his life and always swore bee venom helped alleviate arthritis pain. Mom told of growing up in a logging camp and being shy and not liking to read out loud at school because she lisped and got teased. But man when she sat down at the piano and banged out the chords for a good old rendition of Cool Water there was no shyness and no lisp! Kathlene always wanted to do roll playing games when we were tiny tots. But she made up her dialog and mine. I was happy enough to just go along with it.
Brother Joe wrote on the school paper and was a great story teller, even if he did laugh so hard half the time that you had to wait impatiently with baited breath to really find out what he was saying.
I went to Sunny Terrace Elementary School in Seattle. What stands out is fourth grade. First was a fun time, but second and third were sort of hard. I didn’t quite feel connected with the teachers. Mrs. Hergert had been my first grade teacher and I suppose I got used to her and wanted it to remain the same. I am not good at change. But second grade dished up Mrs. Wilcox. She was tall and stern and seemed removed. Mrs. Mansburger from third grade was mean and didn’t like my hand writing so she put it up on the bulletin board as an example…of bad work. The only good thing about that was it caused a legendary appearance by my mother, who walked into the room unannounced during a lesson. She walked right over to the bulletin board. The class was by then completely quiet aside from Mrs. Mansburger having offered “Can I help you?” Mom reached up and removed my scarlet letter….and Mark Lawrence’s too just for good measure. She turned, looked across the tiny heads of riveted third graders and proclaimed “And I never want to see Karen’s work on the board again unless it is because it is the best.” With that, she turned on the heel of her shiny pump with her back combed hair and perfectly coordinated outfit and was gone. After that it was instant celebrity! When she came on to the school property, all the kids were in awe.
After the long summer between 3rd and 4th grade, we all piled into our new status as a member of the “upper grades”. My class was to be in the far end building right next to Mrs. Cole’s class. My sister was in Mrs. Cole’s class so I had the comfort of help being in proximity in case I needed it. I had a new teacher. Her name was Mrs. Reeder. Linda Reeder. She was young and tall and pretty and had this yellow dress that I will never forget. But she also had all this really “cool stuff” for us to do with reading. We had a reading comprehension module called SRA and were challenged to read as many books as we could and do projects after each one; dioramas, reports….more that I cannot remember. I can still smell the class room on a rainy day holed up with my book, dreaming of my post book project and wondering what book to read next. I was president of the Matt Christopher fan club as well as the Beverly Cleary fan club. I read all the “Trick” books (The Limerick Trick, The Home Run Trick etc.) I even got a letter back from the author Scott Corbett when I wrote after reading one of those books. Yes, that was a choice too, write to the author.
Mrs. Reeder remains famous around the Whelan house. Back in 1970 teachers hand wrote their report cards. There was a place on each one for comments, which I was always most interested in reading. Upon receiving my card I burst into the house filled with excitement, smile from ear to ear for inside was THIS little gem: “Karen has the gift of gab.” A higher compliment I could not receive. More proud I could not be. In a family as expressive as mine I had come into my own. With a father now known as The Watch Maker because when you asked him what time it was he told you how to build the watch, I had the GIFT of gab. GIFT! My parents were kind enough not to burst my bubble and let me in on the truth, which was that I talked to much and as a result was a bit of an interruption for the teacher. And here I am over 40 years later working in a profession that requires me to gab and write and express. Thank you Mrs. Reeder, for letting me be me and find all the expression I needed!