by Karen Sullivan

“Today things might be better,” I say to myself each morning as I saddle up the wild rhinoceros for another ride. At least that’s how it feels to reach for what’s waiting online to plunge me into the day’s news cycle whirlwind. In this third pandemic year with a new war, it’s like endless repeats of the Dorothy Parker line, “What Fresh Hell is this?”  

We’ve been cooped up all winter under cement skies and atmospheric rivers, better known as “biscuit weather,” because baking comfort food and gaining weight are easy when sheets of cold rain make one’s desire to stay fit wilt like a salted snail. After so much unrelenting dreariness, spring comes just in time to bring us the tonic of the outdoors. The first tentative risings of the year’s garden glories never fail to enthrall. There’s satisfaction in that first hike into the woods, to go, as the Japanese put it, “forest bathing.” And on the water, there’s something almost revolutionary in seeing the world at five knots instead of fifty, or five hundred. Slowing down, especially in nature, gives you the chance to observe and think. In these complex times, outdoor activities are as much a survival strategy as they are mere recreation.

Adventuring with a pack on your back, or by sea, bicycle, or however you do it, even if for just an afternoon, is to be healthier, more self-reliant, and beholden to no one but yourself and your companions. Even if it’s difficult it’s still an accomplishment that can make good memories for the months of biscuit weather. I’ve found that an active life makes me less vulnerable to the despair that can be brought on by incessant political circus.

Ten years ago, my husband and I were two weeks into our crossing of the Pacific Ocean aboard our Dana 24 sailboat, Sockdolager. We didn’t know that the crossing from Mexico to French Polynesia would take us 37 days, or that part of our 58-gallon water supply would go bad (who knew water could spoil?) and that a backpacking filter and a drop of bleach would remove the harmful algae we’d picked up from a water delivery truck in Los Cabos. We didn’t know that the region of calm around the Equator colloquially known as the doldrums but correctly called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) would balloon out to cover 900 miles of ocean, or that for three weeks inside it our speed would average two knots, punctuated by squalls I stopped counting after 48 of them hit us in three days. Definitely Type-2 fun. I never expected to sail backwards for 17 miles one night while crossing the Equatorial Counter-Current. But meeting whales, birds, turtles, and even goose barnacles on our hull thousands of miles from land delighted me. We didn’t know that the fellow sailors we met on single sideband radio net meetups each afternoon to cheer each other on, or commiserate, would become lifelong friends. Or that Ham radio enthusiasts in Port Townsend could hear us all the way to the Equator.

Photo by Karen Sullivan

What we did know was how good it feels to live a dream, and how well the memories and the accomplishment would serve us later in life. While we were in mid-ocean, a friend emailed us: “If you had a Chris Craft and a million bucks for the gas, you’d be there by now.”

I replied, “Au contraire! While nothing goes to windward like a 747, the whole point of sailing by the wind means the voyage itself is the “there.”

He responded, “I’m trying to think of an amen great enough to affirm that. The quality of being there is the quality of getting there.”

And that’s the point. The times we’re living through feel overwhelming. The pandemic has shrunk and cut short millions of lives, politics are worse than ever, scandal, intrigue and outrage aren’t going away, and the competition for our attention via intrusive ads and sensational headlines isn’t going to let up. As Dorothy Parker once said, “You might as well live.” When you’ve been outside in the real, nondigital world, it’s amazing how fresh air is an antidote to despair. And we really don’t have to wait for fair weather to enjoy it. Hearing the plop of raindrops on your umbrella while walking when nobody else is around is a simple, contemplative pleasure. Outdoor activity can keep you in the moment. In our third pandemic year, that’s not a bad way of coping.

Photo by Karen Sullivan

6 COMMENTS

  1. Oh, so nice to read this Karen. Thank you so much! I LOVE your photo of the water, trees and sky. It’s just so beautiful!!! I had just been on the verge of crying because I’d just gotten some upsetting news in my mail, when I was scrolling through what I had posted today and realized that I wanted to read your post now. So glad I did! I love those Dorothy Parker quips you included. Especially the one about might as well live! 😉 (just so perfect where you shared it) Thanks again!

  2. Words of wisdom, Karen. Thank you.
    Going fast just means you get away from somewhere that you spend money, spend more money doing it. and, spend more money sooner when you get there. Go slow and live. Savor your life. Be here now. You will never have another chance.

  3. Glad to have you back. Yes, Covid has affected our lives in ways we never thought of. Being a procrastinator, I put off finishing my family history books, but the last two years I have almost completed both sides of my family history, created a database for over 3,000 JC businesses (what a story), and kept up my indexing of the Jefferson County Port Townsend, Leader. Yes it’s nice to have memories of great adventures, keeps us sane, and I am so glad I live where I do. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Karen
    Wonderful piece! Thanks for your great word pics! As a former Dana 24 owner, I dreamed of doing your trip, however never did! So thank you

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