By Kimberly Hall
March 28th, 2014
Somewhere in South Seattle
We n’de ya ho
We n’de ya ho
Win de yah
Win de yah ho ho ho ho
He ya ho he ya ho
Ya ya ya
This was my absolute favorite song to share with students as they prepared to head home after their experience at Mountain School. We n’de ya ho is a traditional Cherokee song used to greet the morning, a song about new beginnings. So why, you ask, would I choose to sing about commencement with Mountain School students as they wrap up their time in the North Cascades?
For me, the three-day Mountain School experience is not resigned to this one isolated event. Instead, it is the beginning of something bigger, the start of a new phase in life. I hope that, with this experience, many of our students can now see the world with fresh eyes, with a fresh start, one overflowing with hope and opportunity.
It is this song that has been running through my head all day. I stare out a plate glass window on an east-bound Greyhound bus heading from Seattle, Washington to Louisville, Kentucky, humming Win-de-ya-ho.
I just finished up my two-year graduate program at Western Washington University with a year-long residency at the North Cascades Institute and spent the past few days tearfully saying goodbye to this place that has become my home and the people who have become my family. Like the song says, while I close one chapter of my life and am departing from the North Cascades, I am embarking on a new adventure full of amazing people that I have yet to meet and amazing adventures that are sure to be had. Within a week, I will be starting a job as program coordinator for a non-profit in Ithaca, New York.
But before I can even consider accepting my new beginning and this next season of my life, I need time, time to say goodbye, to come to terms with what I am leaving behind in order to truly embrace the road ahead. And what better way to give myself ample time and plenty of opportunities to process and reflect than to undertake a 60-plus hour Greyhound bus ride across the country?
So here I find myself, preparing for the physical and mental journey ahead of me with a poster of the North Cascades mountain range in one hand and a bag full of peanut butter sandwiches in the other. My trip begins with my eyes glued to the window. I watch as the tireless rain permeates the entire city. I watch as Seattle disappears from view. I watch as my home is slowly enveloped by rain, fog and a pair of misty eyes. All I can do is sit here, staring out the Greyhound bus window, and watch as everything I love grows farther and farther away.
Greyhound-ing through the weather: The wet landscape through teary eyes and a bus window. Photo by author.
March 28th, 2014
We just whizzed past Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho. It’s amazing how many beautiful spots I have already seen along the road thus far. I am beginning to realize that I may have eyes for more than my North Cascades abode. As we round each bend along Interstate 90, white patches of snow grow steadily from my window frame and now the trees are blanketed in winter’s persistence. I feel myself slowly letting go of my sadness in departing from the Pacific Northwest with each southeastern rotation of the tire. The cloud that has been hanging over my head over the past week is beginning to break up, although the rain continues to pitter-patter down my window, lulling me to sleep…
March 29th, 2014
Near Oacoma, South Dakota
The mountains have long since disappeared from the bus’ rear-view mirror. Wyoming and Montana were breathtaking. We climbed up and over mountain ranges as I stared out as the snow, and rain, and occasional ray of sun light attempted to penetrate my bus window.
All morning, my heavy eyelids and the rocking of the bus have coaxed me to sleep more times than I can count. Every half hour or so, I awake to picturesque views of mountains, lakes and valleys. “I could live here,” I murmur as I drift off to sleep once again.
The majority of last night was spent tossing and turning in my seat as the bus rolled onward through Montana. A few random travelers behind me, who met on the bus in Idaho, fell madly in love across eastern Montana. Thus, I had the privilege of spending most of the night conducting an anthropological study of the social behavior of the pair of bus-riding human specimens.
Cupid coaxed them to drink heavily despite the constant reminder of Greyhound rules over the bus’ loudspeaker. I soon realized that I may have been a little too close to the lovebirds to safely conduct my observational study. By Butte, Montana, the extremely intoxicated female had attempted to give me a foot massage four times, and halfway to Billings, I awoke to her shadowy figure hunched over me. “Dude. Do you need something?” I barked, the words slurring out of my half-awake mouth. Apparently, the combination of new love and half of a bottle of whiskey left her speechless, and her partner had to pull her back to her seat. My study ended abruptly as I grabbed my pillow and resolved to find another spot to rest my head for a few hours, away from the star-crossed lovers.
Albeit groggy, I am on my 36th hour on the road and the flatness of South Dakota is beginning to make me truly feel the length of this trip. Why did I want to do this again? I sink further down into my seat. Yet, even as I say that, I know, without a doubt, I am doing the right thing. While exhausted, undoubtedly pungent and still missing my mountain home, I feel that this adventure has already been quite therapeutic for me. I am beginning to accept my new lot in life and am almost feeling a twinge of excitement for my new job in upstate New York and my life down the road. Who knows what lies ahead for me on the rest of this trip? I am sure plenty of adventures are yet to be had as we whiz through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana…
March 30th, 2014
Just outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin
It is now hour 51 of my journey, and I can officially say that I have mastered the art of riding the Greyhound. So far, I have transferred onto six different buses across seven states, and I have found that the single most important piece of advice to give fellow riders is to claim your territory. If you know me at all, you must be aware that I am not one to push my way to the front of the line. I am more often found in the back, content with a slow and steady pace. But Greyhound Kim has learned that bus life is a dog eat dog world (pardon the pun). In order to ensure your comfort and ability to catch a few winks of sleep, you must acquire a pair of seats. The way to do so is to think strategically and become a little ruthless.
The first step is to directly get in line to load the bus immediately after disembarking. It may be tempting to visit the luxurious bathrooms at the bus station where water flows freely and the toilet bowl does not slosh around beneath you, but this would be a rookie mistake. Doing so will cost you your spot in line, a comfortable seat and often a full night’s sleep. Instead, you must remain steadfast, standing your ground and place in line.
Once you are on the bus, you must scramble to find an open two-seater and set-up your area. This requires strewing your stuff all around the seat, like you have been living in that spot for about four months. I found that the crazier your area looks, the more likely you are to get to keep it to yourself. Fortunately for me, I brought along a wooden stick that I acquired during my time in Senegal, West Africa. I simply place the stick over the seat where it slightly pokes out into the aisle, deterring passerbys from attempting to sit next to the crazy stick lady.
The final and most crucial step is to play dead. As soon as you have successfully built your nest, you must sit in the seat closest to the aisle and lay across all of your stuff into the other seat. At this stage, you must remain motionless and appear fast asleep, dead or somewhere in between. Eyes must be closed at all times as any eye contact between other passengers is seen as invitation for a seat partner. Do not move until the bus is on the road once again.
Beware the crazy stick lady. Consecutive hours on the Greyhound bus may lead to rapid behavioral adaptations in mammals. Photo by author.
Now, these strategies may seem a little heartless, desperate and one move shy of “seat’s taken”, but this has literally been the key to maintaining my sanity on the road. And it works as a sort of self-selecting system, separating the men from the boys. It is the newbies on the bus who have yet to learn the tricks of the trade that end up with seat partners. They sit wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, smiling at passengers as they board the bus, quickly losing their open seat. I know, for I used to be one of them, but was hardened to the Greyhound way of life somewhere outside of Spokane. It is the veterans who have been on route for days, are desperate for space and sleep, and will go to great lengths to claim their spot. Thus, bus homeostasis is found and the natural order of the Greyhound hierarchy reigns supreme.
March 30th, 2014
So close to Louisville, Kentucky
I am more than ready to be off this bus. My back hurts. I smell like a giant foot. My hair is greasy to the point of embarrassment. My ankles are swollen. And I am steadily beginning to lose my mind.
But fortunately for my sanity and hygiene, I am almost home! Twenty more minutes, and I will be off this bus where my momma will scoop me up in a puddle and sweep me away in her personal vehicle equipped with ample leg room. We will head off into the sunset together and, in less than an hour, I will be in my hometown with a bowl of chili in my hands, watching the 2nd half of the UK vs. Michigan Elite Eight game. GO CATS!
As ready as I am to be home, I am so thankful to have had this time with nowhere to go and nothing to do, except to process these past two years.
I now feel ready to close this chapter in my life and say goodbye. Goodbye to North Cascades that I was just beginning to explore, to the Learning Center that always made me instantly feel at home, and most of all, to the people that have made the past two years so important, to the people who accepted me with all of my quirks and flaws, to the people who are now my family. As I prepare to disembark, I am ready to leave my tears and pangs of sadness behind on this Greyhound bus, but I will carry the memories of the Pacific Northwest in my heart forever.
Thank you to everyone who made it so incredibly hard to leave that I was forced to spend three days on a Greyhound bus to find a way to finally say goodbye.
Looking east into the sunrise from another Greyhound morning. What happens to time when one is traveling cross-country for three continuous days? Photo by author.
Leading photo: We ain’t in the Pacific Northwest no more….A window shot of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by author.
Kimberly Hall recently graduated from North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is ready to rock “We n’de ya ho” with a new flock of little students in the Northeast.
Ed. note: Kudos to Kim for taking the time to see an entire stretch of our nation, getting to know her neighbors (despite playing dead at times) and choosing the less comfortable but far more ecologically intelligent travel option. We will miss you a ton here at the Environmental Learning Center, but are excited for your next phase in life!