After settling up my debt for a two nights stay, I gathered my backpack and blanket from my car parked on the street out in front of the hostel. The hostel was located on West Olive Street, a small side street two blocks off of Main Street and downtown Bozeman. West Olive was lined on both sides with charming, 19th century wooden homes presiding over manicured lawns, oak trees, and flower beds. The area exuded a genuine quaintness without crossing the line of pretentiousness. Indeed, it could have been a Hollywood movie set for Leave It To Beaver, except it did not feel forced; I got the feeling this was not a façade.
I stood on the steps of the hostel and admired my surroundings. Young mothers pushed strollers, coeds jogged by, and hipsters in skinny jeans with arms covered in tatooes rode by on immaculate Schwinn 10-speeds. A neighborhood. I wondered if I had stumbled upon some modern day Norman Rockwell painting. My wonder was joined by appreciation. I appreciated the moment. The scenery. The everything of it all. How I got there; why I was there; the unknown of what I would do while there; where I would head next. The continuous novelty of each moment, unfolding into the next moment, brought about by travel to unknown lands. A perpetual feeling of arrival. Though the physical destination I arrived to was Bozeman, there was a deeper, psychological feeling of “getting there” in my mind. It was the “getting there” to a special place mentally. It was a continuation of the feeling of accomplishing a long desired goal: pure and ubiquitous freedom. The freedom I got from the road; from the travel. Bozeman was here now. It’s streets opened up to me new paths for which I did not know what I would find if I traveled down them…they all opened up possibility. Holy possibilities. With that and no expectations to guide me to a specific road, and no destination in mind, any road would do, and I knew I would welcome the experiences that awaited me.
I carried my belongings inside my new home away from home, up the narrow stairway, serenaded by the sound of the old boards as they creaked with every step. I was reminded of a dream, a time spent at someone’s grandmother’s house. Was I dreaming?
Once I arrived at the landing, I peeked into each room; private rooms straight ahead and to the right, each with one small twin bed graced with a handmade afghan, the windows framed by faded white curtains covered in daisies. I hung a left into a slightly larger room, filled with 6 wooden bunk beds. I noticed the belongings of fellow travelers on two of the beds and was thankful the room was not packed with others. I took the bunk that Scott had previously recommended to me (“Yeah, I’d take the one closest t’door. I’ve slept on most’em and I think that’uns the best. And if you come in here piss drunk tonight or t’morrow, ya won’t hafta worry ‘bout wakin’ anyone up.”). Sound advice. Quite possible circumstances, indeed.
I grabbed fresh clothes from my bag and toiletries with one urgent goal in mind: shower. My last shower had taken place on Tuesday morning in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was early Friday evening. Now, I enjoy showers; they are not irksome obligations, but refreshing, cleansing (both literally and figuratively speaking) times of solitude. So going four days without showering was obviously unprecedented. However, it was also liberating. It was another comfort I had surrendered, learned to go without, and found that I could survive. But, when given the opportunity, I sprung for it as soon as I possibly could. I ignored the “Please Respect Fellow Hostelers & Keep Showers Under 10 Min. Thnx, Mngmt.” sign on the door. I reveled in the steaming hot water. As I stood beneath the blasting water, I alternated between leaning my right shoulder against the cool, blue tile and hunching over, pressing the crown of my head against the tile in front of me. I listened seriously to the sounds of the water groaning its way up the pipes, hissing out of the nozzle, spraying on my head and body, trickling down to the tiled bottom, and gurgling as it circled down the drain. An event I took part in daily with little notice now garnered my complete attention. I became aware of how immersed I was in a typically banal experience, which consequently produced a smile, ear to ear, and a laugh. I leaned back, continued to laugh, and clapped my hands, which sent drops of water kamikazeing into all surrounding objects.
How deeply gratifying this standard convenience was in that moment revealed one of those old life lessons I had heard often as a kid and throughout my life: you don’t fully appreciate something ‘til it’s gone. While old adages such as this may seem hokey and trite when given to you out of context, it is undeniably understood when experienced firsthand. I thought about this. But, what makes this saying so often true? Why must we go without to appreciate something? Must we? Is it some yin and yang to the universe?
As I lathered soap and washed off the dirt that had accrued through four days of travel, hiking, and camping, I continued to ponder this. I ended up back at a conjecture I have arrived at before: We are all afflicted by a disturbing disorder: Western culture’s obsession with the ends and using time to accomplish tasks. Get things done and move onto the next task. The present-mindedness problem again. I realized how this event that I experience every day of my life had been done so with so little awareness, that I had essentially been sleepwalking through it. This extended to any habitual activity! My travels and the accompanying awareness it helped produce, had awakened me to my own life, or rather, my living; my existence, my Being. The unfurling actions of existing. My vagabonding had helped me awaken out of my slumbered state and opened my eyes to the reality I was living in, not creating in fantasy in my mind. I scrubbed the soap into my red clay tinted skin, watched the water flow down my legs into a muddied puddle below me. I thought of its origins: South Dakota. I smiled. The aroma of the soap filled the air, a noticeable change, excited my olfactory senses. I grabbed the bottle and squirted more soap and rewashed, to ensure the dirt was removed, as well as to linger in this simple act that was so enjoyable. As I scrubbed again, I reminded myself to continue to cultivate this awareness beyond this experience in order to live presently, and to cease my dormant ambulating in day to day activities.