We gotta get out of this place

Travel — both past and present — has become a pandemic preoccupation

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

A decade or so ago, on the way home from a backcountry music festival in Montana, I stopped off with two friends at a bar in Clark Fork. We settled on some stools and ordered up some beers. After a few minutes, a fellow patron leaned over and asked us, “You aren’t from here, are you?”

Obviously it was more a statement than a question, but I am from here — born in Sandpoint and raised in Sagle — and I said so with some stridency. The guy narrowed his eyes and responded, “Yeah, not from here. That’s the big city.”

After a year of pandemic life, I have yet to travel farther than Clark Fork — well, the drift yard, to be precise, so not even as far as Clark Fork. Meanwhile, I haven’t been past Sagle Road to the south. A few weeks ago I found myself planning a family “road trip” to Priest River. My wife kiboshed it because she thought the kids wouldn’t want to “be in the car for that long.”

Truly, my world has become absurdly small.

Travelers seated in a dining car in 1934, when amenities like silver and linens were commonplace for train travel. Courtesy photo.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this — it’s fair to assume that millions of other people share with me this feeling of claustrophobia, which has spurred fantasies of travel and thoughts of past trips. There was the time I saw the sun rise over the Algeria coast from 30,000 feet, winging east over the Mediterranean to Greece, where I wandered the Acropolis and made my pilgrimage to Socrates’ hillside prison cell. 

Then there was the time I stumbled out of a Munich beer hall only to find myself being interviewed about the World Cup on local TV. The slick reporter rattled off a bunch of German, to which I responded, “Nein, ich spreche Deutsch” (“No, I speak German”). The man cocked his head and said simply, “American?” What followed was me rambling a bunch of nonsense I’d picked up in the pubs of south-central England. The resulting segment, which aired later that night, turned out to be a piece on how ignorant Americans are about futbol.

There was the time I failed to connect with a group of friends and acquaintances in Italy, and had to spend three days and two nights in the Ancona train station trying not to get mugged.

One time I visited Ben Olson during his L.A. days and we somehow ended up in a two-bit motel south of Tijuana, where we spent three days furiously editing and illustrating his first novel over endless bottles of Dos Equis at the Los Pelicanos bar. Another time, a few years earlier, Ben and I joined some friends on a non-stop road trek from Sandpoint to L.A., at one point traversing Death Valley on a quarter-tank of gas.

I remember long walks on the Isle of Wight and train rides through the English countryside, jazz clubs in Edinburgh and hiking the Royal Mile, a haunted castle on the Devon coast where my wife and I spent a couple of chilling nights on our honeymoon. On the same trip we explored Leipzig and Berlin and traveled by rail to Krakow, Poland, where we did what all love birds do and at one point took the bus south to Auschwitz.

I think about ferry rides in the Aegean, driving tours through Upstate New York, taking the train to Montreal and a tour bus ride to a bizarre casino in the jungle somewhere on the east side of the Caribbean island of St. Croix.

The other day I recalled that I’ve lost a shoe in both major oceans and three seas. I find myself even wool-gathering over old journalism conferences, like the one in Miami where we boozed it up at the most stereotypically South Beach nightclub you can imagine; or the one in San Francisco where we got to schmooze with Rolling Stone rockstar Matt Taibbi; and the one in Portland, Ore., where our host paper rented a sex club and handed out joints by the pound as protests against Donald Trump’s inauguration filled the streets with tear gas by night and the Women’s March by day. I even get wistful about the conference in Salt Lake City… we got to see some cool dinosaur bones, at least.

For as cloistered and stir crazy as I feel right now, I’m profoundly grateful for the travel I have been fortunate enough to enjoy — it really is true that these memories become ever-more priceless as the years go on.

Yet, at this point, that road trip to Priest River still sounds more appealing than it should. While I am most definitely from here, I can’t wait to go there, wherever it is.

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