Source to Sea

Transitional Roller Coaster
by Mark Downey -- July 7th, 2014

Well, my bags are packed.  A well-used backpack and a dingy surplus duffle with the cryptic name ‘Chester’ painted on the bottom. It’s all superficial perception management, though; I like to keep a low profile as I slide through the airports and bus stations of the world. Especially when acting as a gear mule. Stuffed inside my unassuming luggage are boxes of binoculars, nightvision scopes, camera equipment, GPS units, radios, solar panels, and whatever else the Anne K. Taylor Fund and affiliated researchers need transported past customs.


Acquiring and tetris-ing all that stuff into bags has been one challenge among many as I prepare to move my existence to the Kenyan savannah. At least that aspect involves elements that I can see and touch, contrasted with the inter-dimensional sorcery involved in pushing a work visa through Kenya’s esoteric bureaucracy. (Which, I imagine, is the way Kenyans probably feel about getting into America. So.) There’s been scrambling for official transcripts. There’s been rifling through boxes at my parents’ house for actual, physical diplomas because letters from the schools don’t suffice. There have been passport photos taken, retaken, is the background white enough yet?


In the quiet times between hectic faxing – why do we still fax? – and outrageous shopping sprees in which I clean out racks of batteries, I’ve been practicing my Swahili. I’m not sure how helpful that will be, though, since AKTF works predominantly with the Maasai; I just couldn’t find any good Maasai textbooks on Amazon.


The language barrier is always the most difficult and also most thrilling part of traveling and living abroad. A consistent isolation even when surrounded by others. It lends itself to intense meditation on the foundational elements of human nature and relationships. A strange and beautiful landscape of simple, repeating fractals.


I’m sure I’ll learn Maasai fine when immersed.


Anyway, before all of that, I still need to get from San Diego to Northern Michigan via New Orleans to leave the Mark’s Rover in loving hands. (In case you were wondering, I originally made that itinerary thinking that New Orleans would be on the way, which — it would be hard to emphasize this enough — is not the case.) This will by my 11th road trip across the continent in the last 6 years. I love traveling, and I love these American roads, but let’s just say that the infatuated romance has matured into something else. This one will just be me barreling along. Point A to B. Goodbye, America.


And everyone and everything else here. For now.


To commemorate my leaving, a friend and I visited the San Diego fair yesterday. We petted the goats, ate funnel cake, rode the rides. I especially loved the roller coasters, terrified though I always am at the outset. The slow climb to the top consistently gets me: I start thinking this was a bad idea, this isn’t safe, the bolts are rusted and I think my harness is loose. The stomach-swallowing pause at the top, the contemplation of my life and how this is how everything ends, and for what?


But as soon as we plummet, I yell and clutch that loose harness to my chest and feel the wind whipping my hair. My stomach jumps up to my throat, and I can’t tell if I’m screaming or laughing. It’s the best time of my life, and always over too soon.


An appropriate commemoration. I’m already strapped in and praying this ride is as good as the rest have been.

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