E02: The Graveyard of the Pacific

24 min read

(This is Momentum: Season 1, Episode 2. The content deals with mature subject matter, including sex, drugs, and physical/emotional violence. To get the whole story in your inbox—free—sign up here.)

Before We Begin, A Question for You:

Have you ever realized you were keeping a secret from yourself?

September 23. Naselle, WA.
Day 23.

Graceland

“wAHOOOOOOOOO!” Jordan screamed. From the highway viewpoint, he had a sweeping view over the miles-wide valley of the Columbia River. Across the river, heavenly rays burst through the cloudy sky, illuminating the fields and forests of Oregon. The distant landscape glowed with impossibly iridescent, nearly neon shades of green.

On his side, over Washington State, clouds hung low above the spiny, forested hills. It had been raining all day, and he could see more rain behind him. But Jordan didn’t want to look back. Instead, he sat on the guardrail and took a well-deserved swig from his water bottle.

From his perspective, Oregon looked like Graceland.

Portland was a hundred miles upriver—somewhere beyond the southeastern horizon. The largest town in sight was Astoria, the first American settlement in the Pacific Northwest, situated just in from the dangerous sand bar that protected the mouth of the Columbia. From across the river, Jordan could just barely make out the wooden homes in the one-time fur trading fort that, in recent years, had become more famous for its role in movies like Kindergarten Cop and The Goonies. But he wasn’t thinking about pop culture or history.

His gaze settled on what looked like a child’s construction toy rising out of the heart of downtown Astoria, with lime green beams shot off in every direction. It was the Astoria-Megler Bridge—the westernmost crossing of the most important river of the Pacific Northwest.

For Jordan, the four-mile-long bridge represented something more important. A threshold crossing.

“WAHOOOOOOO!” he screamed again. “I ACTUALLY WALKED ACROSS WASHINGTON STATE!”

Well, almost.

Jordan was in no mood to quibble over the details. “No matter what,” he said, out loud, licking his lips, “I am going to walk across that bridge.”

In the very next moment, a stiff wind trembled the trees by the roadside.


Naselle, Washington.

The harmonica

earlier that afternoon, Jordan was killing time at the lone supermarket in Naselle, Washington, trying to wait out the rain. It’d been coming down hard all night.

Now, he was flipping through the postcard rack, taking his time, soaking in every fact.

Opened in 1966, the Astoria-Megler Bridge is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. It was the final segment of US 101 to be completed, connecting Olympia, Washington to Los Angeles, California. 

The Columbia River is unusual for a big river in that it doesn’t have a delta at its mouth. Instead, sediment is transported down canyons to deep water, leaving the river mouth subject to waves, tidal flow and currents. The fast-flowing river creates one of the most treacherous rivermouths on Earth. Nearly two thousand ships have sunk nearby, giving the rivermouth the reputation as the Graveyard of the Pacific.

The Nasil were a Chinookan people obliterated by smallpox in the early 1800s; six surviving families made their home near the location of the modern village that bears their name. Finnish loggers and fishermen arrived in 1879. Naselle was an almost entirely Finnish community before Washington was a state.

He bought a couple of energy bars and carried them outside to where he left his backpack beneath the awning.

Steady rain rattled on the parking lot. Sitting on the bench, he tore open a bar and chewed slowly, trying to shake off the dregs of his sleepless night. He’d camped outside a farmhouse that belonged to a friend of a friend of a friend. In the middle of the night, he awoke in a hot sweat from some terrifying dream and in his liminal state became convinced that the bright light outside was actually the sun. Thinking he’d overslept, he panicked to unzip his tent and was flabbergasted to be greeted by darkness. He’d been awake ever since.

It had been three days since Kelly the Astrologer. Jordan was eager to get to Astoria for more reasons than he could count.

Near the organic farm outside Naselle.

When he finished the energy bar, Jordan fished out his harmonica from his breast pocket. He was new to the instrument. So far, he’d only learned to play a handful of nursery rhymes. He tried to wrap his lips around Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. A patron entering the grocery store winced as she walked by. He followed the song with a rendition of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Somewhere, a fairy lost its wings.

Finally, he prepared himself to head out into the rain.

First, his rain gear: he pulled on his Gore-Tex rain pants and matching anorak jacket. He tucked his harmonica into his breast pocket and selected music from the library on his phone. That day, he chose Belle and Sebastian: Sally’s favorite band. Next, he hitched up his backpack, cinching it once at his waist and a second time at his chest. He tucked the phone into the space between the pack and the back of his neck—close enough to his ears so he could hear the music over the traffic noise. (Rule Number Five was Don’t Walk with Headphones.) He slung his camera bag over his neck like the barrel on a Saint Bernard, touching the pocket that contained Sally’s napkin gently.

Finally, he touched his pants pocket to ensure he had his most valuable item: the marble-sized crystal that he’d be given by Paul.

Is it wicked not to care,” wondered the band’s lead singer, “when you say that you’re mistaken, thinking hopes and lots of dreams that aren’t there?

With one last glance over his shoulder, Jordan walked in step with the drumbeat, out into the rain.

Washington State Highway 401 passed through logging country. These rolling hills had already been logged twice and were well into the seventy-year interval before their third. The trees crowding the road were dense and coniferous, with a well-developed understory of ferns and shrubs. Vehicles zipped past: cars, pickups, RVs; each one a rush of growling engines and tires on the wet road. Occasionally, Jordan caught a snippet of music that overwhelmed the speaker on his phone. He exchanged smiles and waves with passing drivers.

A logging truck roared past, threatening to suck off Jordan’s ballcap in its cedar-scented wake.

Washington State Highway 401.

Jordan walked quickly, knowing that the bridge to Oregon was ahead. He was hardly bothered by the traffic noise, passing the time by studying the flotsam and jetsom of the road: pizza boxes and cans of Four Loco and crosses nailed to evergreen trees. His attitude had transformed monumentally since his encounter with Kelly the Astrologer and his fourteen-and-a-half-year-old son, Leo. He could still hear Kelly’s upbeat voice echoing in his mind: Turning the grief into joy. Slaying the dragon.

He knew that these were aphorisms—the kind of thing that he himself might have told a friend who was similarly suffering. But he clung to them like lifebuoys on the dark lonely ocean that had been his experience of Washington State. He hoped they were just enough to get him across the Columbia to Oregon.

An hour passed, and Jordan’s thighs called out for a rest. Ducking off the highway shoulder into the roadside trees, he traipsed over fallen logs and through thick understory until he finally found a seat upon a tree stump. Though he was just forty yards from passing traffic, the forest muffled the noise of passing engines. The rain had slowed, and Jordan stripped off his rain pants, sitting quietly, listening to the texture of the raindrops, smelling the rhythm of the water plummeting from the canopy. He ate a couple handfuls of trail mix. He played two verses of Baa Baa Black Sheep on his harmonica.

Finally, he unzipped the side pocket of his camera bag and read Sally’s napkin yet again:

Goal: Tell A Story About the Universal Similarities Between People

Step 1: Travel somewhere interesting
Step 2: Collect people’s stories.
Step 3: Translate these stories into many different languages.
Step 4: Travel to another place. Hold an exhibition to share the first people’s stories with these new people.
Step 5: Collect new stories.
Step 6: Repeat.

Closing his eyes, he remembered the night they had created this manifesto together. It was last December, in Vancouver, not long after they arrived. It was a few nights after they saw the film about the British guy on the tandem bicycle. They’d gone for sushi. (There was still a slight soy sauce stain on the napkin.) That night, Sally had been particularly happy. There seemed to be no doubt in her mind that they were going to walk to Mexico as soon as they powered through the winter rains.

That night, he’d been happy too. It felt like the first time since they moved to Vancouver when they could envision a hopeful future together. For weeks, for months, their relationship felt like it was teetering on the edge; Jordan thought it was a miracle that they were still together. He knew that Sally needed a vision for the future to keep her happy. It helped her feel in control. That evening, she was happier than he’d seen her since they were hiking in the Himalayas.

He remembered encouraging her. Sure, he’d thought. I could get behind walking to Mexico.

He picked up a stick and snapped it in two.

What would I have thought back then if I knew that I would end up here?

He didn’t dare to answer the question. The rain was making the ink on the napkin run. He hurried to replace it in its hiding place in the side pocket of his camera bag.

Then, with one last swig from his water bottle, he left the forest and hit the road.


Memories of Sally in the Himalayan Mountains.

A time for reflection

back on the road, Jordan switched on The Beatles and continued his steady pace. He knew that it was just a few miles before he reached a viewpoint over the Columbia River. Knowing that he was nearing the end of his time in Washington put him in a reflective mood. That night at the sushi restaurant—and in the many months that followed—he’d always thought about walking to Mexico in the abstract. He’d never really thought about Mexico. He’d never even thought about walking. He definitely didn’t envision how he would feel to reach the end of Washington State.

There was a strange feeling happening on the outside of his cheeks. It felt foreign.

He’d traveled by foot before—last year, he and Sally had spent two months hiking in India and Nepal—but over there, he could rely on guesthouses, inexpensive food and friendly, welcoming strangers who would often invite them in. He had expected no such courtesies in America. Matter-of-fact, he half-expected that someone would shoot him. He figured there was a fifty-fifty chance he would come home alive—and given how he was feeling about Sally and his breakup, he wasn’t sure which side of that bet he preferred. All summer long, he felt like walking was a death sentence.

Naturally, Jordan turned to the Internet. He spent hours Googling like crazy, searching for someone—anyone—who had experience walking across America. He found two people who were walking in real-time: one man was walking from New York to San Francisco to raise money for a charity; a second man was walking from Rockaway Beach, New York to Rockaway Beach, Oregon simply because he liked walking. Of the two, Jordan felt aligned with the second man more. On his website, the second man had quoted Steinbeck in Cannery Row, describing one of the characters, Doc:

Once when Doc was at the University of Chicago he had love trouble and he had worked too hard. He thought it would be nice to take a very long walk. He put on a little knapsack and he walked through Indiana and Kentucky and North Carolina and Georgia clear to Florida. He walked around farmers and mountain people, among the swamp people and fishermen. And everywhere people asked him why he was walking through the country.

Because he loved true things he tried to explain.  He said he was nervous and besides he wanted to see the country, smell the ground and look at grass and birds and trees, to savor the country, and there was no other way to do it save on foot.  And people didn’t like him for telling the truth.  They scowled, or shook and tapped their heads, they laughed as though they knew it was a lie and they appreciated a liar.  And some, afraid for their daughters or their pigs, told him to move on, to get going, just not to stop near their place if he knew what was good for him.

And so he stopped trying to tell the truth.  He said he was doing it on a bet—that he stood to win a hundred dollars.  Everyone liked him then and believed him  They asked him in to dinner and gave him a bed and they put lunches up for him and wished him good luck and thought he was a hell of a fine fellow.  Doc still loved true things but he knew it was not a general love and it could be a very dangerous mistress.

Jordan thought that Sally would have appreciated this perspective. “I don’t want to make this a performance,” she’d argued once. “I want to walk for real.”

Jordan was careful to make the walk appear for real, as he clung to the fading hope that Sally might change her mind and join him.

Finally, just weeks before his departure, Jordan found a website that belonged to a man who called himself the Peacewalker. According to his bio, Peacewalker—given name: Derek Youngs—had been walking around the world since 1986. He’d covered 25,000 kilometers in 25 countries as a protest against nuclear weapons, among other high-minded and—to Jordan—hippyish things.

Jordan clicked on the Contact page. Peacewalker lived in Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia—a short ferry ride from Vancouver. This felt like a miracle. Jordan quickly wrote an earnest message asking for wisdom. He received an invitation to stay with the Peacewalker on the very first night of his trip.

In itself, this invitation was a blessing. There’s a good chance that Jordan would never have started walking if Peacewalker wasn’t his destination on that first day.

Peacewalker offered what Jordan needed most: mentorship. Being with the man, sitting in his sitting room, flipping through his binder of press clippings—there he was, dressed in tie-dye, crossing the Iron Curtain into Czechoslovakia; there he was on the Great Peace March across America—helped give Jordan the confidence that walking was actually possible. And seeing him in love with his pretty, younger wife gave Jordan just the tiniest flicker of hope that he might emerge from America okay.

When it came time to dispense wisdom, Peacewalker’s message was simple: “sing for your supper.”

“Sing for my supper?” They were sipping tea around a handsome dining table. Jordan didn’t get the reference.

“You might not realize this now, but pretty soon, you’re going to get used to your Story. After a few weeks, walking will simply become your life. But the people you meet are going to want to know about you. For some, you may be the only walker they meet all year. For others, you might be the only one they meet in their whole life. So no matter where you go, you have a responsibility to sing for your supper. To tell them what you’ve seen and find a way to include them in your trip.

It sounded like Peacewalker was telling him to Tell A Story About the Universal Similarities Between People.

Peacewalker and his wife, Carolyn, at their apartment in Victoria, preparing for a photoshoot.

The next day, Jordan boarded a ferry bound for Port Angeles, Washington—a small fishing town in the extreme northwest corner of the US, about midway between Starbucks’ headquarters in Downtown Seattle and the Twilight vampires who lived in Forks. There, he met up with Anxo, a Spanish friend of Sally’s, who had come to spend a few days walking with him through the thick forest of the Olympic Mountains.

Jordan and Anxo didn’t have much of a relationship. They’d only met once before, when Anxo came to visit Vancouver in the spring, back when Jordan and Sally’s planning was in full swing. But Jordan had heard plenty about the Spaniard. Last summer—after Sally and Jordan traveled in India but before they moved to Vancouver—Sally and Anxo had both been teachers at an English language school in the British countryside not far from the Cliffs of Dover.

They’d become close. Really close. So close that, at the end of the summer, Anxo pleaded with Sally to live with him in the Caribbean, rather than moving to Vancouver with Jordan. Jordan won that standoff, barely, by the skin of his teeth.

When Anxo came to visit, he made a point of ruffling his wings and displaying his superiority over the quiet, gentle Spaniard.

So did Sally. That week, with Anxo sleeping on their couch, Sally was louder in bed than ever.

When Jordan invited Anxo to join him in the Olympics, his motivations had been more than a little manipulative. He hoped that her best friend’s presence might lure Sally along. And maybe, once they started walking together, Sally might have a change of heart. The moment Jordan met Anxo, alone, he immediately regretted the invitation.

That first evening together, Anxo recounted, in detail, a recent conversation he’d had with Sally about Jordan. It was worse than Jordan thought, but the worst part of all was Anxo’s attitude. He was so compassionate, so kind, so sweet and loving that Jordan wanted to jab him in the eye with a hiking pole. Jordan wanted to hate the cad, but Anxo was his only friend.

The next night, deep in the woods, as they sat next to a flickering campfire, Anxo admitted that he was the one who was heartbroken; he loved Sally, just as Jordan had suspected, and he’d been waiting patiently for their break up so he could have his chance.

Jordan suddenly found himself in the bizarre but not wholly unfamiliar position of consoling the cuckold of the woman who’d cuckolded him.

The rain was slowing. An RV honked with encouragement. Fog hung in the forest canopy on the side of the hill. Jordan picked up the pace, urged on by the music emanating from the space behind his neck. Now, he was listening to Graceland by Paul Simon:

There is a girl in New York City
Who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I’m falling, flying
Or tumbling in turmoil I say
“Whoa, so this is what she means”
She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Well, everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow
Ooh, ooh, ooh
In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
Graceland

He climbed higher, higher and higher still. Until finally, “WAHOOOOOOOOO!”

From the highway viewpoint, he had a sweeping view over the miles-wide valley of the Columbia River. Across the river, heavenly rays burst through the cloudy sky, illuminating the fields and forests of Oregon. The distant landscape glowed with impossibly iridescent, nearly neon shades of green.

On his side, over Washington State, clouds hung low above the spiny, forested hills. It had been raining all day, and he could see more rain behind him. But Jordan didn’t want to look back. Instead, he sat on the guardrail and took a well-deserved swig from his water bottle.

From his perspective, Oregon looked like Graceland.



Swallowed

the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The westernmost crossing of the Columbia River. 4.2 miles long, 196 feet clearance over high tide. Opened in 1966, the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. Jordan ogled its dramatic span, its lime green trusses shooting off in every direction.

From the northern shore, the Bridge began as a low causeway that sped low across the windswept surface of the Columbia. From up high, Jordan could see the whitecaps on the dark water. He could hear the distant sound of the waves. About midway across the river, the roadway began to climb steeply, reaching its apex just shy of the Oregon shore.

Jordan tried to imagine how it would feel to stand there, looking down on Astoria. His heart was thumping. His cheeks were aching.

“I’ve done it,” he said again. “I’ve walked across Washington State.”

Well. Not to quibble, but almost.

Jordan cinched up his backpack and returned to the roadway. The road swooped down the flank of the hill, heading toward the water’s edge. On the far side of the river, green Oregon was as fetching as ever. He was busy calculating—okay, four and a half miles to the bridge, then another four-point-two miles across. That’s eight, nearly nine miles, and it’s nearly four o’clock, so with luck, I’ll…

Suddenly, he looked back to the southwest. The long Bridge was gone.

Jordan did a double-take.

What happened? Did some mad renegade necromancer somehow…

No, it wasn’t a magic trick. A thick cloud had blown in off the Pacific, hiding the long Bridge behind a curtain of white. A moment later, Astoria was gone too. Then, all of Oregon. Jordan picked up the pace. The air pressure was dropping, and the howling wind was shaking the boughs of the roadside trees. Down below, big waves smashed against the riprap. A scattering of rotten pier pilings protruded just above the surface of the water, and a pair of black cormorants stood atop them, hurrying to drip-dry their wings in advance of the coming storm.

Finally, the roadway reached the riverbank. The highway turned to the west, and in that instant, the fog swallowed him whole. The cloud was as white and thick as cotton balls. Jordan could hardly see ten feet in any direction.

At that very moment, traffic on the highway completely disappeared. The landscape was sublimely, eerily quiet. Jordan stopped still, listening to the wind and the waves.

Suddenly, a strange question popped into his mind:

Am I the one who’s walking? Or is the world doing the moving and I’m the one who’s standing still?

In the very next moment, the rainstorm began.

What a downpour! It was as if the sky had cranked the volume to eleven and hit Jordan with a power chord. Rain attacked from all angles; rain fell so hard that it bounced off the asphalt and struck Jordan underneath the chin. He needed shelter, but where? To his left was the open Columbia. No shelter there. There were no buildings along the highway, no homes, nothing. He needed to move quickly. Already, he was drenched.

There! The trees!

Jordan’s only option was to dart into the roadside woods for shelter.

He ran into the woods, took a seat on a downed log, pulled on his raingear.

Then he reached for his harmonica. There was nothing he could do but wait.


When the storm hit, Jordan hid for shelter in those woods.

When skies are grey

jordan put the cold harmonica on his lips. He played through Frère Jacques two times. The melody floated through the forest grove. It splashed in the puddles. It clung to the moss. It slithered down the sword ferns, beaded on the cedar fans, soaked into the deadwood and nurtured the mushrooms. He could smell the mulch. He could smell the death.

The fast-flowing Columbia creates one of the most treacherous rivermouths on Earth. Nearly two thousand ships have sunk nearby, giving the rivermouth the reputation as the Graveyard of the Pacific.

He brought the harmonica back to his mouth and played You Are My Sunshine. When he reached the end of the song, he looked up to the rain pouring through the canopy.

“Hey! Haven’t I suffered enough? Can’t you cut me a break?”

A raindrop splashed directly into his eye.

Jordan shook his head. What an absurd situation! He could hardly believe what his life had become. Peacewalkers. Cuckolded Spaniards. Traveling astrologers on Journeys of Locational Independence with their fourteen-and-a-half-year-old sons.

Slaying the dragon. Turning the grief into joy, day-by-day, step-by-step.

He lay the harmonica on the wet log and toyed with Paul’s crystal in his fingertips.

Rain fell steadily in the muck.

He knew he should feel sorry for himself. He knew that he was destined for much, much better things. He knew that he was a disappointment to his parents, his friends, his fourteen-and-a-half version of himself. But even though he knew all of this, he couldn’t control the feeling in his cheeks.

Strangely, despite everything, he was happy.

Fingering the crystal, Jordan thought about the night he’d heard the phrase “Walking to Mexico” for the first time. It was last December, not long after Sally and Jordan had arrived in Vancouver in the midst of twenty-six days of rain. On that evening, they’d left the boarding house with a mossy roof that overlooked the busy street where tractor-trailers trundled by on their way to the port, heading for the comparably upscale west side of the city. Sally rode the used bicycle with the yellow milk crate. Jordan glided down the wet roads on his skateboard. Neither of them had been in Vancouver long enough to buy rain pants.

By the time they reached the other side of the city, their jeans were soaked.

Their destination that night was an old, Art Deco movie theatre that was hosting a special event. Once a year, just on the cusp of the ski season, Vancouver hosted a themed film festival that featured short movies about adventures from around the world. Adrenaline porn. Brushing past good-looking people in hundred-dollar yoga pants, feeling wildly out of place, they found their seats and waited uncomfortably, trying to get warm.

Sally was nervous. She hated being in crowds. Jordan was nervous because he knew that when Sally was nervous, there was a good chance that things were about to fall apart. But then the lights went down, and excitement filled the packed theatre as the show began.

There were movies about rock climbers clinging to rocky pinnacles besieged by Mediterranean waves. Skiers bursting through Japanese powder as light as icing sugar. BASE jumpers in squirrel suits flinging themselves off Norwegian fjords and piercing the eye of narrow rock forms.

When Jordan glanced at Sally, he was glad to see that she was smiling.

A new movie appeared on the screen. This one featured a young British man on a big adventure. He’d traveled to northernmost Alaska with the wild plan of cycling the length of the Americas until he reached the southernmost tip of Argentina. And though he was alone, he was traveling on a tandem bicycle. Why a tandem? So he could invite the people he met along the way onto the second seat of his bike!

Here, definitively, was a Story About The Universal Similarities Between People.

We should do something like that,” Sally said, after the show. She was unlocking her bike beneath the neon marquee. The lights shimmered in the puddles on the wet asphalt.

“Like what?” Jordan said, spinning the wheels of his skateboard. “You think we should ride our bikes to Argentina?”

“No. I want to do something that’s ours. And we’re walkers, after all. Not cyclists.” Suddenly, her eyes flashed with inspiration. “I’ve got it! We’re going to walk to Mexico.”

Jordan laughed out loud. “Walk to Mexico? Why?

Sally looked at him and scowled. “Because it’s far enough to be hard but close enough to be achievable.”

Jordan nodded his head, digesting Sally’s logic.

Fucking Sally. Tell her she can’t do something and she only wants it more.

He had loved this quality about his partner. Though Sally was five years younger, it seemed to him that she was by far the braver of the two. Earlier that year, in India, they’d gone further, they’d taken grander risks, they’d had wilder adventures because neither of them wanted to be the ones to say no. He’d never been with a woman who was so brazen; who could act with such complete disregard for herself.

Sally was wild. He had loved that quality also, even though it had often haunted her.

Standing outside the theatre, a memory popped into his mind. It was right after they returned home to their separate countries for the summer. Jordan was back in his mother’s basement in Toronto. Sally was heading to the language school in England. They’d promised to remain faithful, to reunite in Vancouver in the fall. A few days after their tearful goodbye in a New Delhi train station, Sally called Jordan one morning. The tone of her voice immediately gave him chills.

Sally was crying. The previous night, she explained, she’d gone for dinner with a school friend who lived across London from where she was staying in her brother’s flat. After the meal, she realized that she didn’t have cash to pay for the taxi. The friend magnanimously invited her to spend the night.

“He didn’t have a couch,” Sally said, through her tears. “And you know how bad I am at this stuff…”

That was true. Had she been clearer about her boundaries, Jordan wouldn’t have been with her in the first place. When they met, Sally already had a boyfriend.

His voice was shaking. “Did you have sex?”

“Yes,” Sally peeped.

Outside the theatre, he had spun his skateboard wheels as Sally buckled up her helmet.

“Sally,” he said, in a voice that sounded Prickish to him, even in the moment. “Do you remember what you told me last year in the Himalayas? You said that if you ever suggested a walking trip again, I should remind you how much you hate walking.” He watched her smile collapse, but he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—stop what he had started. “You hate walking.”

“Fuck you.” She threw her leg over her bicycle and cycled off into the rain.

Still playing with the crystal, he thought about all the consequences that moment had set in motion. The planning. The arguments. Bickering over things like tents and hiking shoes the way other couples fought over the toilet seat. It had all just seemed to happen. Walking to Mexico had suddenly become his life. Then she was gone so suddenly. Now he was here. Sitting in the forest in the middle of a rainstorm. Next to the highway. Walking to Mexico, without her.

Where did I go wrong? Would this be different had I…

The answer to the question was yes. But Jordan didn’t yet know how to complete the sentence.

Three days before Jordan met Sally in India.

He grabbed for his harmonica. Once again, he played through You Are My Sunshine. Slowly. Carefully. Trying not to make a mistake, and failing.

When he finished the song, he looked up at the trees again. The rain had somehow become even more intense. He shook his head and smirked. There was a dark thought bubbling inside of him, and he wanted to control it.

He knew exactly what to do. “Let’s just get this straight, Jordan,” he said, addressing himself out loud. He loved to punish himself. “You’re single and you’re almost thirty. You just begged for thousands of dollars from your friends and family. You have no career. No plans for the future. Your life is a mess. And rather than taking this seriously and doing something to fix it, you’re sitting here playing fucking nursery rhymes on your harmonica.” He shook his head slowly, judgmentally, embarrassed at his own pathos. “If you’re wondering what rock bottom looks like, guess what? You just found it.”

The dark thought was just a whisper. He could barely hear it over the sound of the rain:

I’m glad she’s not here.

This thought was so subversive and delicious that just thinking it made him giggle.

It’s true. I’m glad she’s not here. I’m going to be better off without her.

The giggle became a chuckle. The chuckle became a laugh. The laughter became uproarious. Jordan was bent over laughing so hard that he was crying. He was single and almost thirty. He had just begged for money from friends and family. He was sitting in the forest next to the highway while walking to Mexico alone, and against all odds, he was actually feeling happy.

I’ve just walked across Washington. I’m about to leave the worst behind. I’m about to slay the dragon, get over Sally and find the woman I’m going to be with for the rest of my life.

Woah, woah, woah. Slow down for a second. We’re still at the beginning. But you have to respect the power of Jordan’s delusion.

He brought the harmonica to his lips again. Once again, You Are My Sunshine. By the end of the verse, he was up on his feet. He launched immediately into a third rendition. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. Each time through the song, he exchanged perfection for passion.

By the sixth time through, he was hardly playing music. He was just blowing into the harmonica as hard as he could. The mushrooms and the ferns plugged their ears, but there was no denying his enthusiasm. He was dancing around the forest grove, playing You Are My Sunshine to the rain. He deserved all the participation ribbons.

No more infidelities. No more fighting for her love. No more panic attacks. Sally’s gone! I’m better off without her!

Then, the twelfth time through, something changed.

Jordan could feel the butterflies as he darted out of the forest, returning to the clearing next to the road. He looked up. The sky had cleared. The fog was gone. It had gusted inland along the surface of the Columbia.

There was Oregon across the river again. There were the sunspots in the fields, the impossibly iridescent, nearly neon shades of green. There was Astoria! And there, in the distance, was the long Bridge.

“WAHOOOOOOOOOOO!” Jordan screamed. “I HAVE A MAGIC HARMONICA! I’M GOING TO DO IT! I’M GOING TO MAKE IT ALL THE WAY TO MEXICO!”

He ran back into the forest, grabbed his backpack and took off along the highway shoulder as fast as his legs could carry him.

“NOTHING CAN STOP ME!” he hollered out toward the Columbia.

Well. Almost nothing.


The northern entrance to the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

The Graveyard of the Pacific

there was no choice, really. The highway sign told Jordan everything he needed to know: PEDESTRIANS PROHIBITED. Game over. Case closed. There was no sidewalk. Jordan’s only alternative was to stick out his thumb and hitch across. And before he could consider otherwise, he spotted a police cruiser rolling off the bridge.

He stood up straight. The officer rolled by, barely glancing at him.

Jordan read the sign again: NO PEDESTRIANS BEYOND THIS POINT.

Before he could talk himself out of it, he walked off the Washington shore and directly onto the long Bridge that crossed the Columbia.

It took him about five minutes to realize he was doing something really, really stupid. There were so many things that could go wrong. It was nearly dusk, he was dressed in dark clothing, and the highway shoulder was barely a foot and a half wide. The vehicles heading in his direction were wide and piloted by elderly drivers with fading eyesight.

What if that RV driver loses control? What if that pickup gets a text message at the wrong moment? And if another storm blows in? Or a police cruiser rolls by? I’m dead if I get thrown into the Columbia. I’m dead if I get pinned against this railing.

But then Jordan realized that he was dead if he stopped walking also.

He couldn’t go back. Not after what had just happened in the forest.

So he put his head down and walked one step at a time.

Cars zipped past. A few drivers honked. A few waved. With one hand on the railing, eyes focused only on the concrete curb at his feet, Jordan hurried across the river, trying not to think about all the things that might go wrong. He had a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It was just his luck to get to the verge of success only to descend into failure.

But I’m leaving that behind. I’m turning the grief into joy. I’m slaying the dragon.

Before he knew it, Jordan was already halfway across the Columbia River.

The roadway began to climb steeply. To the west, Jordan could see the open Pacific for the very first time, just beyond the mouth of the Columbia—the Graveyard of the Pacific. Astoria loomed ahead of him. He could see pedestrians walking along the riverbank. He could see the old-time trolley that prowled past the canneries. He could see the Victorian homes tucked into the steep hills. If he looked in the right direction, he could have seen the house where they filmed The Goonies.

Higher and higher and higher, until Jordan was passing inside the longest continuous truss in North America. Finally, he was at the apex of the bridge—one hundred and ninety-six feet above the Columbia River. He could smell the sea salt. He could hear the sea lions barking down at the piers. He could see the descending roadway curling tightly, progressing through a three-hundred-and-sixty degree spiral as it made its way down to the Oregonian shore.

He was so close.

He knew that so much could still go wrong.

Still, at the very top of the Bridge, he paused to snap a photograph. Then, he put his hand in his pocket and fished out Paul’s marble-sized crystal. It was a garnet. It was the color of deep red wine. (Not that Jordan was drinking; Rule Number One was Stay Sober Until You Get to Mexico.) Paul had told him that garnet was a grounding stone.

Following his mentor’s instructions, Jordan held the crystal in his hand and took three long, slow breaths. Then he did something that felt absurd. He closed his eyes and he made a wish:

Help me. Whoever you are, whatever you are, wherever you are. Even though I don’t believe in you. Keep me safe. Keep me motivated. Keep me headed towards my deepest destination. Help me repair the parts of me that have been broken. Help me understand what went wrong. Help me close this chapter and leave it far, far in the past. Help me heal. Help me grow.

He paused. He had to bite his lip to fight back the tears. He was anxious to keep moving, to get down to the Oregon shore. But there was one more thing that he really, really wanted:

Help me become the kind of man who is always in control of his emotions, so I never, ever, ever have to experience hurt, humiliation or anger ever again.

From its apex, the roadway corkscrewed tightly against the hillside. Jordan was nearly at the bottom when he suddenly spotted a police cruiser climbing up towards him.

Shit! He hurdled over the concrete barrier and tumbled in a heap into the blackberry bramble. As he lay there, frozen, certain that he was about to be discovered, he could see his whole journey evaporating in smoke. He knew that his destiny was to die at the Graveyard of the Pacific.

But the police cruiser rolled right past.

Jordan waited another moment before rising to his feet. He was incredulous.

I don’t believe it. I did it.

Well… yes. He did.

As he hurried down the final stretch of roadway, a sneaky smile spread its wings across his face.

Looking north to Washington from the apex of the Bridge.

The light had just about faded. Jordan was ready to head into Astoria. He didn’t yet know where he was going to sleep. But there was something he needed to do first.

Heading over to the foot of the tall support of the long Bridge, he unzipped the side pocket of his camera bag. Carefully, he unfolded Sally’s napkin and read it over one final time.

GOAL: Tell A Story About the Universal Similarities Between People.

He brushed the napkin against his lips. Then he placed it on the ground. He dug into his pocket and found a lighter.

The moment he lit the corner, the napkin burst into flames, then quickly disintegrated into ash.

Jordan took a long, deep breath. For the first time in weeks—no, months—no, years—no, forever—he felt just a little proud of himself.

He turned away from the Bridge and walked toward the big road sign that read, WELCOME TO OREGON.

Graceland, he thought.


The remains of Sally’s napkin.

Now, A Question for You:

Have you ever realized you were keeping a secret from yourself?