Back in a State...

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 Ignorance Might Just be Bliss...

Microdosing of psilocybin or LSD, if you haven't heard of it before now, is worth looking up when you have a moment. As you may have guessed, micro-dosing is something in which I am quite interested. In fact, I am so interested in it, that I have been micro-dosing for about three months, with small quantities of psychedelic mushrooms. Once every three days, I eat a very small amount of one of the many dried mushrooms in the little bag of Psilocybe Cubensis I was able to procure back in California. If you are wondering, I never feel “high”, and I never really notice that I have taken them.

So, what have I learned in the past 3 months? Well, I can safely report that I am just as dumb now as I was when I began eating these little bits of dried mushrooms. I don't feel any more or less creative. I don't feel any more or less driven or inspired. In all honesty, I feel pretty much the same as I've always felt; like a big dumb domesticated animal, wandering around without the instinct and intelligence afforded to most wild animals.

With that said, I decided to try something a little different on our first day back in the US, and on my first day in Alaska (my 49th state). I decided to remove one of the words in my protocol, and just go ahead with some regular old “dosing” of those dried mushrooms. To be sure, I didn't have many left, so the dose would be fairly small, but in no way would it be “micro”. 

I was left with probably about 1 dried ounce. That will not set you on the path of ego dissolution, but it will make your first day in a new place mighty interesting.

I've been thinking quite a bit about death, birth, and the time we spend in between the impulse and echo of those moments. In speaking with Joel Solomon, I asked him about his relationship with death, having won a temporary victory over death by receiving a kidney transplant given to him by a close friend. His take on death is one I have heard articulated before. However, hearing him share it was powerful to me for a number of reasons. I'll share his take on death in a moment, but first, I think I should explain why his telling of this hypothesis is so compelling to me.

Joel lives part of his week in the city of Vancouver, doing work which he finds uniquely fulfilling. As I've said previously, Vancouver is a fantastic place to be, particularly if you are not stressed out about money.  Joel clearly has a positive relationship to money.  He enjoys the food, culture and has access to folks in every area (politics, entertainment, etc...).  His life in the city, materially speaking, I would imagine is quite sumptuous.

Another portion of Joel's time is spent on the wild and beautiful island of Cortes. He lives in a beautiful home, in a loving relationship with his wife of many years, next door to an amazing retreat center called Hollyhock, and maintains a fantastic garden. Cortes is also occupied by other well-known figures, big thinkers, luminaries and kind and genuine folks of all stripes to whom Joel has direct access. To be sure, materially, spiritually, and culturally speaking, his life on the island also seems quite sumptuous.

In the lap of a life which, by my casual observations, is so replete with comfort, community, the pursuit of intrinsically enriching work, a healthy relationship, access to abundant natural beauty, and access to brilliant and interesting companions, having an outlook on death which does not include any sense of loss is something which I would imagine to be difficult if not impossible for a less evolved character. Joel's outlook on death, to sum it up rather crudely, is that his own ego will not survive his death intact, as his consciousness did not exactly “belong” to him in the first place. He welcomes death and is ready for its arrival. He does not worry about the loss of comfort. He does not wish to conflate his enjoyment of the deliciousness of life's pleasures or any of the things on this plane which he clearly holds dear with the loss of his own life. Instead, he sees his own consciousness returning to the greater field of Consciousness itself, where it will merge once again, likely to spring up again somewhere else entirely. In other words, he sees consciousness as an essential element in the universe, like carbon atoms, or like energy. As such, like atoms or energy, consciousness is not bound to any one form, and cannot be created or destroyed.  He also, rightly so, has put everything on the line, and lived a life one can be proud of; seeking to be a good ancestor.  

Having the opportunity to speak with a man like Joel about something as troubling to me as death, has prompted me to reconsider my attachment to my own ego and consciousness.

Why do I bring this up in a travel journal? Mostly because I can, but secondly to give some more texture and context as to why we are on this journey in the first place.

I'll come back to this in a bit. First, let me tell you about our last few days in Canada.

Whitehorse, Yukon...taken at 11PM.

We spent the weekend in a town called Whitehorse, Yukon. As it happens, the timing was perfect, and we were fortunate to have decided to stay in that town at that exact time. We met up with two other groups of folks from the road who also happened to arrive in town on the same day.

One couple is driving a VW van, and are on their way from Quebec to Alaska, to Argentina - their names are Catherine and David. Catherine is a nurse, and they left five days after we did. The similarities end there. David and Catherine are young, super adventurous, and incredibly industrious. Just check out their Instagram page @destinationadventure and you will see what I mean. The guy is a fantastic photographer, and has sponsorship deals with a variety of companies, including Fuji Film. Fuji gave him a small polaroid printer; he took our photo, and printed us a copy.

@destinationadventure - David & Catherine

The other group is a Brazilian couple with their two kids. Their story is incredible. They, Cristina, Marcos, Caetano and Teresa, have traveled from Brazil to Alaska in a cab-over truck camper over a four year period. The youngest, Teresa, was born on the road two years ago! You can follow along with their journey @onossoquintal

Cristina, Marcos, Caetano e Teresa!

We decided to all meet up outside of town at a free campsite near the incredibly named, Ear Lake. The campsite was the best. The parking spots were flat and sat on a rise above a lake. We were flanked on one side by a forrest, and had an open view of the lake below. There was a family of beaver living in the lake, several foxes, tons of birds and, amazingly, a small airport nearby. Normally, an airport that close would kill the buzz, but this one was different.

The airport is small, and only small planes and jets fly over. I forgot how cool it is to hear the sound of jet engines catching up several seconds after the plane itself has already passed.

We grilled food, played with the kids, and chatted. The kids loved Pelé, chasing him and tossing the ball for hours...he only growled a little bit. We had a fire, it rained on us as we cooked, and we still managed to have a great time. There is something magical about spending time with travelers, particularly when they have traveling children.

Cristina had a number of amazing stories to tell, so I invited her to be a guest on the show. She agreed, and we set a time for the following day.

The following day was Canada Day, and all Tiff and I really wanted three things; to see the parade in Whitehorse, eat some poutine, and record Cristina at some point. If the previous sentence has a few words of phrases you don't understand, that is O.K. Poutine is basically a basket of french fries with large cheese curds and brown gravy dumped on top. Canada Day is to Canada what the 4th of July is to the USA. 

We missed the parade, and the only place in town selling poutine was a fast food joint, so we passed. Fortunately, the recording of Cristina's episode did happen. We got a chance to share another meal with the Brazilian's. Cristina cooked an incredible stew for dinner and handmade whipped-cream with strawberries for dessert. We made a warm cabbage salad with goat cheese, garlic and red wine. Not too shabby for two couples living in vehicles.

The Brazilians decided to camp outside of a large grocery store in town so they could have wifi for the Brazil vs. Mexico game the next day (World Cup). So after dinner, Marcos agreed to watch the kids while Tiff, Cristina and I sat together in the van for a recorded conversation.

This will be Tiff's first solo podcast. I was there in my capacity as an audio engineer. I am looking forward to sharing this episode!

Teresa, at her best!

The following day, we left Whitehorse to go hiking. We took a beautiful hike outside of a town called Carcross. The trail, called the Sam McGee, was constructed on top of an old miner's foot path, and followed the remains of an abandoned tramway up the steep and varied terrain. The old steel cables, pulleys, several of the large wooden structures from which the tramway was suspended, and the little carts which must have dangled from it, are all still on the mountain. As the trail winds around, switching back, then driving straight uphill, you cross over and follow this seemingly ancient debris for a couple of miles until you reach the summit. It gives the trail a special feeling; like you are getting a manicured preview of life after the fall of man, when plants and trees will take back our cities and industry.

The hike up was difficult on my knee. The hike down just flat-out hurt. I'm still healing, evidently.

If you zoom in, you can see the van...or maybe not.  The view from the top of the Sam McGee hike.

When we got back to the van, we decided, after failing to find Poutine on Canada day (the one and only time either of us was keen to eat poutine), to drive up to Carcross and get some at a restaurant known only as, “The Bistro”.

Carcross, and “the Bistro” could really each be their own post. I don't even know where to begin. For one, my view of the place will forever be skewed, as we showed up the day after Canada Day (also a Monday) when most businesses were closed for the holiday. That made it hard to meet any locals who would be happy to see us, and it gave the place something of a ghost town vibe...but only if a hip neighborhood in Portland were condensed into little tiny-house vendor spaces, and then deserted...that type of ghost town vibe.

Carcross, like many of the towns in this area, had once been involved heavily in the trafficking of “precious” metals mined from the surrounding hills and mountains, and all of the other atrocious shit that comes along with doing so. Indigenous peoples, who had been there for quite some time before all of this, were pushed to the edges of their own territories as crazy whites came by the thousands to mine for gold, sell things to the miners, or to distribute diseases with their genitals. A wild time, to be sure.

For a time, the town had been a trading hub for fish, fur, and other goods. Once everyone took off for fortune elsewhere, the town languished under the weight of the crazy infrastructure built to handle the now elsewhere people of the past. Recently, a solution was proposed...tourism.

I don't blame the town at all. In fact, I would like to make clear that I really liked the town of Carcross, and the Bistro should definitely not be missed if you find yourself there. The owner of the Bistro is clearly a creative type who isn't afraid to make a pizza out of Naan bread or throw curry into anything on the menu, which includes burgers, fries, decadent desserts, and plenty of typically American or Canadian fair...and no, the owner is not Indian.

I suppose what I am trying to get across here, is that the place has, in-spite of the presence of loads of totem poles, beautifully painted figures of Raven, Wolf, Beaver, Bear, etc...on the buildings in town, the distinct influence of hipster sensibilities. The town center is comprised of an enormous wooden deck, which connects “The Bistro”, to almost a dozen small buildings and about half a dozen tiny-house storefronts. When I say tiny-house, I mean it. These little structures are built on trailers and are meant to be moved. Perhaps when the weather is terrible, or the mine dries up again, the little businesses can move down the trail to more hospitable climes?

At any rate, the place is incredibly clean, beautiful, and is working hard to make a sustainable future for itself; desperate to apply the mean lessons learned over centuries of crazy whites doing impulsive business on the shores of their lovely town. I sincerely hope it works. Perhaps you should visit, drop a little bit of your own currency into the pockets of the local vendors, and report back to me on your findings.

Carcross.

From Carcross, we headed south to camp below the mountain we climbed earlier. The spot we chose was perfect...in fact, it was the parking lot at the trail-head to the Sam McGee hike we had just done. We found a level patch of tightly packed gravel overlooking a stream which fed into the wild lake system which feeds the Yukon River. The lake at our feet is called, Windy Arm. The creek that was feeding this lake was as close to freezing as water can be without becoming ice. As has been our custom on our journey, we bathed in this water.

I'd like to say a word or two about freezing cold water. If you have never plunged yourself into water that is painfully cold, I suggest you do it as soon as you can. Like the moments before ingesting psychedelic drugs, there is a moment of fear and anticipation before jumping in the water. It can be bracing, unpleasant, and scary, but after it is done, and you are dry or sober, you never regret having jumped in (provided the environment was safe). We do our best to find secluded spots where we can strip naked, we only use soap with safe ingredients to wash ourselves, and only a small amount of that. Sometimes we just get in without soap, and just get good and cold. Sometimes we just dip Pelé in, to knock the dust off of his crazy hair and little body. Other times, we just get in for the sake of getting in. In every case, it has been worth it. We look forward to the next one.

After our cold plunge, we sat to watch the sunset behind the mountain we had summited earlier in the day. The sun dropped behind the mountain around 10 PM, and did not fully “set” until sometime closer to 11 PM. It never did get dark.

Pelé was in the mood to run and play, but Tiff and I were in the mood to smoke the last of a little joint we had been given in Whitehorse. We tossed sticks with him for a bit, then Tiffany tried to pick him up and cuddle him, just to get him to relax. He squirmed his way out of her grasp, and continued to run around, bringing us various things to throw for him. After letting him go, Tiffany got up to refill her water. As soon as she got up to walk over to the van, Pelé jumped into her empty chair, spun around three times (like he always does), and settled into her warm chair. He is like a little child; full of energy, obstinate, and on his own little schedule. I have to remind myself that he has only been in our lives, full-time, for about four months; we are still getting to know this little creature.

The van, complete with air dried undies and crazy dog...

When we woke up the next morning, we didn't even take the time to make coffee, instead we packed up and drove to the border; Alaska; the first stated destination of our journey. It only took two months to do it.

The border crossing was uneventful. We felt the customs agent must have either been Canadian or spent so much time around them that his friendliness was somehow amplified to Canadian levels of expression through osmosis by proximity. We also noticed a sharp increase in the number of poorly driven RV's, giant truck campers, giant truck campers, and tour buses and vans packed to the tits with people.

We have been asking ourselves as we have driven up the coast and around the two Canadian provinces we've been privileged to experience; “how much prettier could Alaska really be?”

On the drive from Carcross to Skagway, we got our answer. Holy shit, Alaska is pretty!

The terrain changes as you drive along the lake system and strange moss-covered rock formations begin to appear around you. They stretch out into the distance and resolve into enormous mountains; snow capped and rocky. Emerald water pools up around the bottoms of these mountains, and many are directly fed by dramatic waterfalls. To be fair, the weather was absolutely perfect on the drive.

The town of Skagway, however, was somewhat less cool than what I had in mind for Alaska. There is a real Disneyland vibe going on in Skagway, thanks largely to the arrival of 3 huge cruise ships full of people. They were everywhere when we reached the town.

The crowds seemed mostly American, and we couldn't help but notice that a rather large number of them were eating ice cream at 10 AM.

To be fair, it was almost 82 degrees when we arrived, so maybe the boat folks thought the ice cream would help. At any rate, the throngs of people were something of a turn-off, so Tiff, Pelé and I made our way to the Library to do some research on where to camp. There is no data service in the town of Skagway, and only three places have public wifi. This is not a complaint, I like it, but now that we have a show to manage and a journal to update, and we depend on an app to tell us where the good, free campgrounds are to be found, data and wifi are fairly important tools to us. I never thought I would use wifi more than an ax on an adventure, but sadly that is the case.

Fortunately, the Library came through, and we found an amazing spot to camp.

100 yards from our campsite in Dyea, AK (outside of Skagway)

Tidal Flats, Dyea, AK

It was here that I knew I wanted to experience an altered state in my first new state in over a decade. In my twenties, I managed to get to my 48th state, leaving only Alaska and Hawaii unvisited until now. 

 

With our campsite set up, the hammock delicately strung between two pines, firewood piled next to the fire ring, and an amazing amount of privacy, I decided to eat the rest of my dried mushrooms. We are also carrying several little mushroom chocolates we were given as a gift on our journey, so Tiff ate one of those.

We both had our own agendas for the better part of the day. Tiff's was to lay in the sun, topless. Mine was to lounge around in the hammock, reading, playing guitar, and tossing the tennis ball with Pelé. Pelé's interests intersected perfectly with mine. Somehow, he seems to like it when I play music, and he tends to completely relax when I do; making him an even more rare creature than I thought possible.

If you have never taken psychedelic mushrooms or any other psychedelic, it will be difficult to have a frame of reference for the feeling you get as the high starts to kick in. The buzz you get from alcohol as it sets in is vaguely similar but falls short in a few aspects.  A mushroom high is warm, with little rushes of energy and feelings of completely relaxed sleepiness mixed in.  You don't feel necessarily like doing or saying foolish things, and if you let your mind relax, it will float down streams and find eddies which an alcohol buzz could not even stay afloat.

If you eat lots and lots of mushrooms, unlike drinking lots and lots of alcohol, you are not at risk of ingesting a lethal dose.  The "High" at some point, gives way to something else entirely.  Whereas, with an alcohol buzz, the high gives way to drunkenness, unconsciousness, and potentially lifelessness.  This will not be a story of that sort of mushroom trip.  The amount we ate will take you to the shore of a sea of questions, but will not set you adrift alone.  Instead, this is a story about having one's hand held-gently on a long walk along that shoreline. 

Having my hand held gently...

Tiff and I both took just enough to not have any crazy visuals or highly charged freakouts, but we both felt incredibly high. The feeling was largely in our bodies, but as I sat in the hammock, looking over the scenery, glancing at my beautiful, topless wife bathing in the sun, my playful and sweet dog rolling around below me, I was overwhelmed with a sense of deep joy and gratitude for the having access to conscious experience.

I was also struck by a thought that accompanies many of my waking moments - “what am I here to learn?” Although it is something of an existential question, it is also a question surrounding, specifically, the selfish journey I currently find myself drifting through. It is also the type of question, when your mind is bathing in the muddy waters of a psychedelic experience, which can get particularly difficult to hold in place. Fortunately, not being able to hold onto a question gives you an opportunity to look at it from new angles as you struggle to maintain your grip.

We keep meeting all of these strange and beautiful people on this journey; essentially what I want to know from them is how they deal with life, in order to do a better job of being a person myself. But why? What is the point of being good at being human? I don't fear eternal punishment if I fail at being a person, and I don't have faith in an eternal reward if I do it well...so why get better at this?  Do you ever feel like you don't know how anything really works? I do, and it leaves me feeling not particularly “useful” in any meaningful way.  I seem to only learn that I don't really understand anything.

As I sat in that hammock, struggling with that question, I had an insight.  I decided that, instead of focusing on learning for the sake of greater wisdom or intelligence, my new goal would be to focus on increasing my ignorance, and not my understanding of the world. That may be the best an ape like me can hope for, but seeking ignorance is less mad than it sounds.

The more you learn, the more you realize there is to know, so no matter how much you learn, there will always be an increase in your ignorance, as every answered question gives birth to many more which will go unanswered. So, I have decided that I will just seek the ignorance directly. Each question I ask of a new person will be a direct approach, not to intelligence, but to the wisdom of ignorance. My search for new things to not completely understand began in that hammock and continues in front of this screen.  I am seeking to populate my mind with a truly diverse flora of ignorance.

The following day, we took a few small hikes, and on the 4th of July ended up having some really terrible fish and chips at a place in town called, without any sense of irony at all, Woadie's Fish and Chips. The upshot was that the terrible restaurant in-question had exclusively outdoor seating from which we could watch an unusual spectacle. 

Locals and tourists were lined up on the sidewalk along a temporary stretch of railroad (about 40 feet long), which had been set up in the road for the occasion. The wide city street was closed to vehicle traffic, so the whole scene was nothing but sugar-crazed children and adults sporting various degrees of American flag attire and drunkenness.

Tiff and I had no idea what was about to happen, but from our vantage point on the porch of the worst fish and chips in Alaska, we could see everything. A guy with a clipboard, a stopwatch, and a microphone was standing next to one end of the temporary railroad track. Next to him was another guy with several railroad spikes in one hand, and a large handled maul (big-ass hammer) in the other.

The guy with the spikes and the maul took his time setting the spikes. When each of them was set into the wood, the guy with the clipboard checked the depth, counted down to zero, and the guy with the hammer started swinging at the little spikes.

The crowd cheered as a guy with a big hammer drove big nails into a big piece of wood that was taking up a big space on a small road, which would all have to be disassembled when it was all said and done. They did this over and over again...roughly 25 people competed for the fastest time. To be fair, it is not easy work, and some were better than others. The fastest time was somewhere around 12 seconds to fully drive home all four spikes.

At one point we heard a guy at the other end of the street, who was on a stage, playing guitar and singing to less than three people. He called out to the spectators, “live music here folks, it might just be more interesting than driving a spike?” He might have been right. Tiff and I decided to leave that question unanswered and hiked back to the van.

Smuggler's Cove - Skagway, AK

The following day, we took our leave of Skagway via the ferry system. It was a far cry from the incredibly efficient and well maintained BC ferry system, but it was a short trip to Haines, and the scenery is second to none. 

Haines is completely different from Skagway...completely. It has a character, altogether more genuine and less desperately nostalgic than Skagway. No one is wearing old-timey clothing or giving street tours, and none of the buildings are set up to look like the old gold mining days. We drove into town, found a place on the street to parallel park the van right away, and saw mostly local foot and bicycle traffic on the streets around us.

The IGA grocery store was the most expensive we've seen, by far. We got some staple supplies, then wandered off. Oddly, we found a natural foods grocer around the corner with better variety and cheaper prices...I've never seen that before. We meandered, took a small hike with about 1,000 mosquitoes and visited the visitor center, to get some info on better hikes.

 

Before driving a little bit out of town to park for the night, we stopped by an RV park to fill our water tank. The camp host of this place was the coolest lady we've met in a while. Her name was Fiona, and she was hilarious. She let us give Pelé a much-needed bath, and made us feel completely welcome, even though it was clear we were too cheap to stay there. We ended up going back there every day during our time in Haines for showers and laundry. She invited us to a crab dinner on Sunday, but we politely declined, as we wanted to hit the road before then.

We ended up staying at three entirely different places over three nights in Haines. Once, near a trailhead for the hike to Battery Point. A beautiful spot on the water, looking at the town of Hines, and the surrounding mountains and large inlet. One night was spent in between the town and Chilkoot Lake. We found a pull-out on the road and parked with amazing views of mountains, the inlet, and a river. The third night, we stayed in the Chilkat State Park (not to be confused with Chilkoot Lake), and for the second time on this journey, we actually paid for a campsite - $15! The view from the campsite was nil, but the view we had at breakfast, a 2-minute drive down to the boat launch and picnic area was one of the best we have seen so far. I'll tell you about that one in a moment.

Looking into the town of Haines, AK.

Rainbow Glacier, Haines, AK.

My knee has recently begun doing this extremely inconvenient and highly uncomfortable thing when I walk on rocks; it has been hyperextending in the wrong direction. When it happens, it is incredibly painful and leaves my knee feeling weak and vulnerable for a day or two. Of course, this happened to me on the first 12 steps of a planned hike in Skagway, so our hiking in Haines was a bit limited. We made it to Battery Point, which is a lovely hike through a rainforest along a rocky coastline. We took the coastline out, and the rainforest back. It was beautiful, but not really much of a workout.

The town of Haines has an event in the summers called, First Friday, in which local businesses open their doors with free wine and snacks, and create a bit of a town-party vibe for locals and tourists. There are tourists around, for sure, but much fewer than there were in Skagway. The town of Haines only has one or two cruise ships per week, and never on First Friday. We check out a few shops and found plenty of postcards for friends of the show, and family.

The following day, we visited the farmer's market. The market has a permanent outdoor structure wherein there are tables and booth space for locals to shop for fresh produce, a variety of cookies, pies, cakes, jams, jars full of pickled items and various crafts. One of them was manned by a young boy who was selling zipper pulls and jewelry made from fishing lures as well as lemonade and keychains. He was hilariously disinterested in whether or not you made a purchase, and was just enjoying the feeling one can only get from being a merchant of one's own work. He was my favorite character there.

We thoroughly enjoyed the town of Haines, but it was the area around the Chilkat State Park which won our hearts. From the shores of that side of town, you can see across the river inlet to several mountains, upon which are resting some impressive glaciers. You are surrounded by Eagles as well. The boat launch/picnic area I mentioned earlier has the best view of these glaciers. Flowing from them are massive waterfalls which cascade and crash from a great height. Sadly, you can see just how large the glaciers once were, and the finish line looks to be much too close...especially when you consider how much water is rushing out of the bottoms of these things. I'm glad we were able to get an eye full of them.

Rainbow Glacier, Haines, AK

Before leaving Haines, we stopped at a fish cannery, got a few food items (smoked salmon, and canned salmon), refilled water, got more groceries and did some finishing touches on the next episode of the podcast, then hit the road. The next destination is Valdez, Alaska. In order to get there, we have to go back North through Canada (BC and Yukon), then through parts of the interior and then south again. As the crow flies, Valdez is not far from Haines. However, getting there by road is about 700 miles.

 On the way to Tok, AK.

On the way to Tok, AK.

Fortunately, the scenery between the two destinations is our true destination. Our first night of camping on that leg of the journey was along a creek, after a freezing cold bath in Lake Kathleen. We count ourselves fortunate to be on the road. Blessed are those who seek ignorance, for they shall not be disappointed.

Not dissapointed...

Andrew CouchComment