One does not simply walk into Mordor. That’s how the start of this year felt - massive challenges ahead, and a wasteland to navigate, both emotional and social.
And then, thanks to Hugh MacLeod’s Evil Plans, my inheritance (and the debt-free consequences of it coming through), I decided to do something else. Something that let me not just leave behind the relics of 2010’s losses and shifts, but that would break down the walls I’d built up, and no longer wanted to cower behind.
So I quit my job, bought some camera gear, did some photography courses, started my own business, went to Thailand to get a feel for travel and found that I wanted more. I made my plans and left, prepared to fall in love with new places and redefine the ones I knew so well as the contrast came through.
I went to a gay pride festival and walked the famous boulevards of LA, thundered through Death Valley, and prowled the strip of Las Vegas. I took a helicopter across the Grand Canyon and toured Monument Valley. I conquered an old fear crossing Colorado’s mountains, met a digeridoo player and bought a cowboy hat in Santa Fe, and saw every possible alien-related marketing strategy in Roswell. I talked fishing with a cop who pulled me over in the turbine fields of West Texas and read Palahnuik in the park in Abilene. I drank many whiskies in the Fort Worth sun, saved a friend in need, became an uncle to dogs, made friends with Crown Royal, met some amazing people and photographed Dallas in the dawn. I had dinner with strangers, walked through a thunderstorm and drank cocktails in New Orleans. I saw Broadway shows in NYC and had incredible dinners uptown and downtown. I bought suits on Madison Avenue, wandered the halls of art galleries in NYC, LA, SF, Chicago and more. I wandered the deserted, heat-hammered streets of Detroit drinking in the post-apocalyptic view. I stood at the bow of the Maid of the Mist without my rain jacket on, soaked by the spray of Niagara Falls. I photographed deserted factories and buildings in Erie, fell in love with Chicago and its food, did shots with a bachelorette party and changed an online acquaintance into an actual friend. I ate deep dish pizza and drank beers on a rooftop in St Louis with an expatriate hotel manager.
I drove Route 66, surprised a friend with an unexpected appearance, sliced from Kansas City to Rapid City in a single day’s drive, saw the Sturgis packs in Deadwood and strolled around Mt Rushmore. I saw a fake gunfight in Cody, Wyoming and rolled the roads of Yellowstone. I saw bears and elk and bison. I learned to love country music and hate talkback radio. I watched a thunderstorm burst over a sunset in Blackfoot, Idaho and saw base-jumpers in Twin Falls while I ate breakfast. I had a beer in Bend, Oregon with a Swedish cyclist and a Shakespearean actor while eating elk burgers, and hiked the mountains to find a crystal lake amid the melting snow.
I was mugged by a seagull in San Francisco, drank indescribable cocktails in a detective agency and talked wine with vignerons from Sonoma while riding their flights of wines. I saw the giant trees and majestic mountains of Yosemite, wound my way along the oceanside highway through Santa Monica, drank cocktails with a friend in West Hollywood and made terrible decisions left, right and centre.
I walked Zurich in the rain and had the best hot chocolate of my life. I rode buses around London and ate incredible food in Burlington Gardens. I photographed an Eye, drank cocktails I couldn’t pronounce in Mayfair, fell in love with an Art Deco bar and looked at a Picasso in a department store. I caught a train to Paris and ate lots of duck. I walked the Louvre’s halls and looked at everything I could. I went up the Eiffel Tower, caught up with family in Paris, rode the Bateux Mouches and wandered St Germain at night. I saw cathedrals in Orleans and the sprawling sunsets over Angouleme, ate tapas in San Sebastian and trekked around Zaragosa to the sound of jackhammers and guitars. I drove mountain roads and dodged cattle, saw the faithful in motion in Lourdes and walked the ancient streets of Carcassonne. I drank wine in the sun in Nice and bought beautiful shoes, drank Bellinis and saw glass foundries in Venice, and watched tourists argue with the waiters while the sun set on St Mark’s Square.
I drove through snow in Austria and ate a supremely delicious sacher torte (my favourite cake of all time) in Salzburg, where the rain made the river race like a lover’s pulse. I traipsed through the rain in Vienna and drank in a cellar with a waiter that looked like Dolph Lundgren. I had one of the best meals of my life in Prague, walked the Charles bridge and swanned around the cobbled streets of Czech alleyways. I saw the Dancing House and the giant metronome and the castle on the hill. I walked to the Brandenburg gate, ate in tiny restaurants and saw the Holocaust memorial in Berlin.
It’s been a year of adventures, of leaving things behind and replacing them with the new and different. I’ve met some amazing people, been swept off my feet by unexpected beauty and have drunk deeply from the cup of cultures. I’ve made cuts where they were needed and done my best to get rid of the judging, the fear and the old rules I played by for so long.
Tomorrow I’ll have quit smoking, and will be looking at a year where I am, more than ever before, in control of my own path. I cannot wait.
I am constantly drunk on the amazing fact of the world, on the cascade of people and the shifting mosaic of their lives. I’ve lost friends to time and distance this year, have explored loneliness and taken its teeth away, and taken some amazing photos. And I’ve never been more excited to get up in the morning as I am now, when there is so much more left to see and taste and hear and do and feel.
Life is amazing. The world is amazing. And you, dear reader, are amazing. Have a wonderful 2012, and remember in your dark or dull moments that we are here, now, and we will never have more promise than we do right this second.