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The lights of the North shine down upon my shame.

Under the pretense of excusing myself to walk off lingering jet lag, I quickly slipped out of our hosts house into the chilling Icelandic night and rushed to defecate shamefully in the corner of an unfinished construction project.  It was the red bull.  The potent mix of chemical agents and scene kid hubris made horror of my intestinal tract, and in quick order the rapidness with which I had consumed not one but two of the vile beasts caught up with me.  Truth be told I don't mind using the bathroom out of doors.  I rather enjoy it.  The calming sense of wide open areas and fresh air lulls you into a state of comfort from which it's easy to forget the worries of this world, and the filthy but necessary task which you're performing.  It wasn't until a few minutes later, rising sweaty and labored from behind plywood-shuttered windows that I noticed it.  Far to the distant North a strange light floated and twisted into existence inches above the mountainous horizon.  For a brief moment I considered that perhaps this light, weak but growing stronger, might be a precursor to a stroke event brought on by my earlier strain.  This consideration quickly left me as I remembered our host excitedly briefing us on a potential Aurora Borealis bloom projected to occur over the next few nights.  I stood tacitly wrapped in the Arctic airflow pondering the greatness of the moment.  Having arrived 3 days prior Noelle and I had driven most of the length of the southern coast of Iceland, from Reykjavik to Vik, multiple times.  We had conversed with earthy smelling speckled ponies, ambled hand-and-knee through ancient cave dwellings, climbed high into the mountains in our sturdy, underpowered rental car blasting Ásgeir, stood mist-covered at the feet of multiple giant waterfalls, and soaked our bodies pruney in the thermal-fed waters of the Blue Lagoon.  But of all the experiences I wished to have this close to the north pole, a glimpse of the northern lights dominated the list.  I ran back to the house to collect Noelle and shoving on warm things haphazardly, we made our way back out into the night, walking silently down the road peering into the northern sky.

I'll remember 3 things very strongly from Iceland.  The first is the sheer enormity of the Island and how quickly ancient volcanic mountains rise from the sea, sometimes leaving leagues and leagues of fertile volcanic ash-laced fields growing grass for the ponies between them and the sea, and other times allowing for just a slim finger of land on which to place a road.  While driving across the island one gains a sense of appreciation for the immensity and grandness of the place.  Breath-taking landscape followed by breath-taking landscape enflames in the adventure-hungry traveler a sense that theirs is a life of deep meaning, that there's a journey to be had, a way of doing things, and that they are doing it.

The second thing from Iceland that will never leave me is the strength and uniqueness of its people.  When I first considered Iceland, it was in my mind a small and austere landscape, mostly glacier, and its people cracked their living into the ice with stark viking fortitude.  It takes only a few hours to see that this is in no way the case.  Yes, theirs is a population with strong genetically Scandinavian ties, but they are no less modern or comfortable on their northern island than I am in my home near Seattle.  In many ways, the Icelandic people have achieved a greater level of competency in their renewable energy infrastructure, sustainable and efficient architecture, and progressive social policies than the United States could hope for in the next 30 years.  I think maybe these are values that develop quickly when faced with the Austerity of the North Atlantic Ocean.  At just over 320,000,  values and beliefs trend homogeneously and change can happen overnight.  They've had one death by police shooting.  It happened last year, and in the aftermath, police joined citizens in the streets of the capital weeping over their collective loss of innocence.

The third and most memorable of my experiences here is of course the slow freezing burn of the Northern Lights moving by some unseen force along the expanse of the dark night sky.  Noelle and I stood staring at the display and, growing tired in the frigid night air, made our way slowly back to our warm beds.  As we passed the neatly piled boards and plywood banding of the construction site, I silently thanked God for life, and even more silently I asked the tall, blonde, grim-faced man who would surely find a pile of my frozen shit behind his project for forgiveness. But I rest assured.  His is already a hard pitch, and if he can survive the volcanos, i'm sure my little gift is just a drop in the bucket.

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Not "en-tire-ly" sure what happened...

A-hyuck hyuck....Yesterday our tire flew off on the way to the airport.  As a testament to our resilience, I'm writing this from a well lit organic cafe in the town of Hafnarfjorder, Iceland, so we prevailed and made our flight, but not until the next day.  Because we got to the airport a day early.  Because We were exhausted and busy completely re-defining our lives the weeks prior to our trip.  One of the main purposes of this trip is to redefine my career.  I didn't realize, however, how much work it would be to pack up everything I own into to the back of my truck for storage and assemble 80 pounds of gear and clothing into the 2 bags that would be my home for the winter.  So, after a very harrowing 2 weeks of planning, moving, packing, and finishing up all of my video edits from this summer, my mind was completely blown and unable to process the difference between a wednesday and a thursday, or between the numbers 8 and 9...Nor was I fully able to process what the bump-THUD-THUD-THUD-THUD-etc meant as we made our way to the airport along Washington State highway 16 at 65 miles an hour.  Then, as our friend and driver Christian pulled his car over to the shoulder and came to a harrowing and abrupt halt, sending my head into the ceiling of the car, my brain had a very hard time contemplating the meaning of the tire that bumped and rattled it's way along the shoulder into the ditch no more than 5 meters from me.  The result:

 

My mom is rad, and she came to the rescue, picking us up, taking us out to dinner, and dropping us off at our "safe house" in Seattle, a moderate old 2 story shared by 3 Sequim alums we grew up with.  A few delicious pizza's and a good night's sleep later found us back on the road to the airport.  This time, we took the light rail and boarded our plane on time, and on the right day.  There's not enough to be said for having a good network, a good tribe, and family of people you can rely on.  Something we're sorely going to miss in Europe.  Something I hope and pray we find everywhere we go.  If I've learned anything from traveling, it's that tires fall off in every language.

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Wintering in Europe

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Wintering in Europe

I remember my great grandmother's house, on a plain, restful street in the heart of the Carmel Valley on the northern coast of California.  I remember her gentle Scottish brogue, her musky mid-century 2 bedroom house filled with kind words and pleasant-mannered gestures, old fine plates, table clothes, moth balls, and clocks.  I remember the respect and reverence with which her son, my grandfather, treated her.  It was a reverence she had earned in her 102 years of life, through constant love and endearing patience.  These memories would be the only I developed of my great grandmother, a turn of the century immigrant from Scotland, the only sibling of a large family given the privilege of a new life in America.  She would pass away a few years later, but the impression this one summer evening made on my young mind was strong enough to foster a hunger in me for a sense of heritage, of tribal legitimacy, of cultural belonging.  

This winter I journey to find my tribe.  

Not my new tribe, the chosen band of families and friends I'll live and die with, but my old tribe.  My old old tribe, of long brown hair and stark red beards, of fierce-eyed warrior poets, determined to rip their independence from the hands of imposing tyrants.  My tribe of farmers, of singers, players, hunters, and sheep herders, of druids, and practicers of earth knowledge and of the magic of the old way.  My proud tribe of Scotsmen, Grants and Whitesides both, who's genetics I most closely resemble,  who's heritage I choose and claim as my own. Like so many of us, American crossbreeds awash in a sea of cultural conformity, identifying more with a sense of class than of place, I have an itch in my skin for the old country.  And so I go to answer the call, a pilgrimage of plaid, of pipes and strong whiskies.

 

I don't journey alone.  I'll be traveling with my beautiful and talented girlfriend Noelle.  She's a brilliant photographer and together we'll be visiting and working all over Northern Europe, creating videos, making websites, capturing wild and immersive images, and playing music.  All the while we'll be blogging our adventures, posting pictures and video, telling our stories and bringing our friends and family with us.  We go for the adventure, but we also go to build our portfolios, to gain experience, perspective, and a slew of destination projects.  Stay with us and experience with us what it means when a "trip takes us".  Honestly, I hope our trip takes you too.

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A trip to Lake Angeles

A light drizzle met us as we began our 2200ft ascent from the foothills of Port Angeles Washington to the clear glacial waters of Lake Angeles.  As the afternoon progressed, cooler temperatures from atop the peaks won out over the moist, warm pacific air, and a frigid wind floating hair and coats from their resting places upon our bodies.

The  energetic late evening breezes always put my mind at odds with itself.  Rushing down off mountainous rock-crags, over fast swollen rivers, through sparse strands of sub-alpine spruce and cedar, the gusts both signal a time to come in, to make fast a camp, and yet to press on, in hungry pursuit of some great magic thing, some secret still untold, that one more bend in the trail must surely reveal.  We pressed on.  

A little more than an hour later, the scene pictured above would be our reward.   Massive stone walls encased a natural cathedral of evergreens and a deep azure blue mountain-spring fed lake. A sparsely covered rock-island raised itself defiantly from the waters of the lake, and at the closest end of its rippling surface, a cluster of weathered logs, knocked loose by avalanche and washout of decades past, aligned themselves to the current of the lake's single out-flow , vying for position in a journey down-stream that they'd never be given chance to finish.  We traversed them with flair, and pomp, and child-like soft stepping, as if to say "You belong. You have a purpose here.  You may be stuck fast and naked, but you float and you're fun to walk on, so you're part of my story now, and  I'll carry you downstream with me."

The comfort and the stillness of Lake Angeles is breathtaking.  It stays a long time with you as you descend to the valley's floor, met, once again by the deep rumbling of logging trucks, that pivotal Northwest symbol, that marching ruckus of human progress so eagerly disguised and apologized for in the dense evergreens of the basalt cathedral surrounding the lake above.

 

 

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