What was Las Vegas?

I come to you from high above the earth, en route to Guatemala City via George Bush Airport in Houston. Tomorrow we'll bus several hours to Lake Atitlan and Sunday take a boat across the lake from Panachel to San Pedro, where we'll begin our Spanish immersion courses - a spot chosen on recommendation from our good PCT buddy Nipps.

When we started travelling last April Fools Day, this Spanish immersion was the only part of the trip we were pretty sure we were comitted to other than the PCT, so it's been a long time coming, but it still seems totes cray. I have no idea what to expect when we touch down in a couple of hours in the middle of some sprawling Central American metropolis. We have no return ticket, and only a rough outline of plans past our first week on the ground.

I'm sure I will post more on that later, but for now I want to reflect a little bit on this last leg of our journey in Las Vegas. We didn't at all predict we would go to there last year when we were planning, but my Dad got sick, and we ended up spending more time in Vegas in 2015 than any other location - 4.5 months in total, long enough to get to know a place a little, and approximately the same amount of time as we spent on the trail.

I don't have a lot more to say about Dad's death specifically, but the holidays were certainly haunted by the spectre of that experience. Two days ago I was sitting in the apartment, in the exact spot he passed away, packing things up for the final time before the lease there expired and Mathises moved out permanently of what was essentially his hospice room. Painful in a way, but those little moments remind you that life isn't the same, but it is still moving.

Spending time with Mom through this period was inspiring. She has been understandably emotional, but has also shown herself to be a real fighter - a side of her I hadn't recognized before this.

In the months since Dad's death she has trained herself into shape from basically sedentary condition, gone on her first overnight backpacking trip to meet us at the end of the PCT (and camped with a bunch of partying dirtbags who just finished their trip), travelled around the Pacific Northwest with my aunt and uncle, visited family in Texas, gone on a bunch of day hikes around LV, including a couple days of car camping in Death Valley and a genuinely difficult off-trail scramble up Black Mesa near Lake Mead, and entirely remodelled a home she purchased, mostly by herself. I have to admit that it was almost entirely unpredictable to me that we would be planning a multi-day backpacking trip with her for later in the year, but we are, on the Lost Coast in California in June, and there might be even bigger things in store.
Death sucks, but these little bits of redemption coming through remind you that it isn't exactly meaningless. And in a similar vein living in Vegas was weird for a million reasons but I think will stand out as an unexpectedly significant part of the ongoing trip.

Living in the southwest during the winter was great for less traumatic reasons as well, and a quintessential US travel experience. I don't usually like long drives but I do like imagining I'm living out some 70s road trip fantasy and the American West is the place to do it. Open road and Johnny Cash at dusk is a beautiful thing. And National Parks and dusty little towns and sunsets over canyon country are the things that a particular type of American Dream is made of - the type that was maybe most appropriate for our year of wandering. The West, capitalized. We spent a lot of time there, touring Utah, Nevada, and Arizona alongside our time in the debaucherous city.

Las Vegas wasn't a place we felt like we made many connections outside of family, but we did meet enough people to feel like we got an introduction to a different part of the outdoor community. We are used to mountain men and dirtbag runners, hikers and climbers, but I don't know that we'd come across any proper desert rats before this. Outdoors in the desert is a different deal than anywhere else, and it was cool to meet a few people who'd mastered life with a lack of water and hundred degree temperatures with no shade available - adventure racers and ultra runners.      
And working while we are travelling has been a good experience too. Not necessarily because our jobs were amazing or we "advanced our careers". The jobs were fine, and the pay was decent, but the reason it was good was that working while travelling helped to put work in its proper place - as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. I'm lucky to work in a field where it isn't hard to find a job that feels worthwhile, because nursing is a hands on, directly helping kind of role. But I think for some of us life feels a little bit empty when the majority of our time is owned by someone else. Working while travelling, it's much easier to remember that we're working to live, rather than living to work.

Part of the reflection that's happened already in this travel experience is that I think both Angel and I have realized that to a large degree we are happier opting out of the working full time for 45 years then retiring paradigm. Having stability and stuff is a good thing, and comfortable, but when you travel you realize that it is also a big sacrifice. We've chosen a good field in that work is available most places at most times, and we have amenable tastes in that we're just as happy sleeping in our car as in a nice hotel. So as far as careers go, it doesn't make a lot of sense to work more than we need to if the money we make won't go towards anything that will actually improve our lives.

So now, after an instructive and meaningful time in a wealthy sinner's city in the desert, we are excited to be somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico heading off to a poor Catholic town in the jungle. We'll be in Spanish classes in a couple days, so the learning will be much more intentional, and I'm going to guess entirely different from the last stage in our journey. For the first time in 12 years we're off to a place where we don't know anyone, and for the first time it'll be a place where we don't speak the language. Kind of terrifying, but all the best things in life are at first.


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