This year, I’m going to be featuring some guest writers on my blog, other travel writers whose work has inspired me. Each person will be writing a post about the following question:
What’s an experience you’ve had on the road which has changed your life?”
The goal is to gather some intriguing tales involving the power travel has to affect our lives — for better or worse!
The next blogger in this series is Brandon Fralic, my brother from another mother and an accomplished hiking and beer blogger for a number of publications. He’s been my partner in crime on too many adventures to count. Here’s the mic-drop of a post he wrote about travel experiences which changed his life:
Living on the Edge
Livin’ on the edge
You can’t help yourself from falling” – Aerosmith
I don’t live my life on the edge anymore.
To be fair, “daredevil” never was my middle name. I’ve always been a calculated risk-taker. As a child, I didn’t break any bones, didn’t push the limits too far. Caution was instilled in me at a young age. But we all go through periods of recklessness in life, often in our youth. My wild streak began — and ends — with travel.
2008: Siena, Italy, my first international trip. Nathan and I set off with a group of eight college girls to study abroad for summer quarter. It was either a dream come true or the perfect storm, depending on who you ask. Me? I’d say a bit of both.
Italy was a joy. The food and wine, the culture and spirit of the Italian people – all irresistable. And so, we indulged. From 2-euro Italian vino, I learned the precise definition of a hangover. Many, many times. I half-slept through classes (thank God for S/U grading) and lived for the nights and weekends. As it turns out, Italians know how to party, and we learned from the best. Thus began my years of recklessness.
My wanderlust was also born that Tuscan summer. The travel bug had bitten, and I must admit it was quite satisfying. I realized there was a whole world out there waiting to be discovered, and I had spent 19 years of my life in a tiny corner of the Pacific Northwest. There was so much time to make up for, with the remainder of my youth seemingly slipping away.
Back home, I dipped my toes in the college party scene. I broke up with a long-term girlfriend and pursued a minor in International Studies. It was a time of change spurred by international experience, a bad case of senioritis, and downright restlessness. I wanted something different, something more.
Graduation led to a corporate job in IT, and the life of “quiet desperation” we so often hear of. Honestly, it wasn’t that bad. I was surrounded by an excellent team of coworkers. 40 hours a week in an office, though, damn near killed me. I craved new experiences, and began plotting my escape.
One day, Nathan asked if I wanted to go skydiving. Truth be told I did not want to go skydiving but apprehensively, I agreed. It fit — just barely — into my policy of calculated risk. We signed our lives away and jumped out of a plane. It was the best thing I’d done since Siena.
After two years I quit the corporate job to travel. It was a moment of cliche in action, of restlessness endured no longer. A moment of giving in to wanderlust.
My first solo trip spanned two months, and was perhaps riskier than I care to admit. I lived in a cave hotel, hitch-hiked over 1,000km along Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline, and partied in Istanbul. To this day, Turkish hospitality is among the the finest I’ve experienced.
Two years later, after saving just enough money to quit another job and go, I went to Thailand. Alone. I find solo travel to be the most challenging and rewarding, as you have only yourself to rely on. It can be refreshingly peaceful and desperately lonely.
My thirst for adventure not yet quenched, I cruised around the country on rented scooters with Sergio (the Mexican knife fighter with whom I shared a bunk in my Bangkok hostel) and girls we met in bars. During Songkran, I partied past 4am in the streets of Bangkok till my clothes were saturated in super-soaker spray, beer, and sweat.
In 2015 Nathan and I joined forces again for a two-month National Parks road trip. The planning came together so well, we must have thought ourselves invincible. We’d work remotely during the days and drive in the evenings, saving weekends for exploration. We tempted fate in Utah: overcoming our fear of heights at Angel’s Landing and feeling the buzz of electricity in the air during a thunderstorm at Canyonlands.
But nothing prepared us for what we’d experience at Waterfall Canyon.
It’s been nearly a year, and it still haunts me. Facing death — whether your own or someone else’s — is arguably the most life-changing experience one can have. We were there by chance, having no set plan for the day other than to go hiking. Advice from friendly locals led us to Waterfall Canyon, a strenuous 3-mile roundtrip hike with 1,500 feet of elevation gain. Upon reaching the falls, Nathan and I were the only ones there. Or so we thought.
The sound of crashing rocks alerted us to the fall. A young woman, climbing a sheer rocky cliff without any gear, tumbled 40 feet to the cold, hard earth. She lay motionless, almost certainly lifeless. My fingers trembled as I dialed 911, as Nathan checked for a pulse. He found it: a faint whisper of life beneath his crimson fingers.
Blood and fear. Search and rescue. Helicopter airlift. The time it took S&R to reach us, climbing 1,000 feet per mile carrying medical supplies, seemed eternal. Hours of shivering, waiting in a t-shirt as snow fell lightly – my jacket covering the victim. Did my body shake from frigid temps alone, or was it the fear, the panic, the gravity of the situation? Whatever it was, I couldn’t stand it, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t function much beyond answering the 911 operator’s questions. The young woman barely survived, and — many months and surgeries later — is able to walk again.
I never expected to help save a life. But in doing so, my life changed. I approach the edge more cautiously now — like I used to, before my years of foolhardy adventure. Travel has granted me the typical badges of honor: open-mindedness, a greater appreciation for and understanding of the world’s people and places. Today, I do my best to live in moderation, more or less. No more 4am nights followed by hangovers from hell. I’ve travelled a fair amount. More than enough to be thankful for; hardly enough to brag about. I’ve learned to appreciate home and family more than ever. I still get out and adventure often, sometimes climbing to high clifftops, always keeping my distance from the edge, and usually enjoying a beer or two at the bottom. I’ll leave you with a favorite quote, oft-attributed to Oscar Wilde:
Moderation in all things, even in moderation”.
Thanks all for reading! What did you think of Brandon’s journey over the past 8 years? Have you undergone a similar transition in your travels? Let us know in the comments below!
Now, he hikes and drinks beer, blogging about it on the site he helped found: Beers at the Bottom.