I borrowed my title from a book which was probably the main inspiration for the trip I’m about to relate to you. It was called “Walk West”, written by a Christian called Peter Jenkins, who along with his wife walked from the east coast of the United States to the West. Our journey wasn’t quite so ambitious, but to us it certainly was epic.
Early on in our marriage, when we had no commitments such as mortgage or kids or even a dog, my wife and I left our jobs to go travelling in our little Volkswagen Beetle (the car nick-named “bug” in the U.S.) on a nine-week long trip around the most westerly states: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and California.
(Below is another tune of my own, copyrighted)
Most people would (and did) say it’s unwise, foolish and stupid to give up a job to “just wander around the countryside”: such things should be left until retirement. The truth as I see it is that it in some situations it may be a better idea to embark on such an adventure while young, healthy and unfettered. What transpired has retrospectively proved to be one of the greatest things I’ve ever enjoyed, and I’m glad I did it when I did. I may never have the chance to retire, and the world is becoming less safe all the time for such adventures.
A few years after our trip I planned to write a book about it, centered on how our faith related to the natural beauty of what we had seen and done. It was to be called “The Travelling Bug”. No Christian publishers were interested, so they said. But curiously, not long after that, I heard a couple being interviewed on Christian radio about their new book, titled “The Travelling Bug”. You can guess what the subject was. It’s always a good idea to get an official copyright, even if you don’t think you’ll ever need it.
How could all that gear for weeks of travelling be contained by a bug, you may be asking? Well, we did intentionally travel light, and the Beetle consumes little fuel, it’s mostly reliable, and when it turns out to not be-it’s easy to push! We slept in a tent big enough for two, we cooked on a small back-packing stove, and we didn’t take the kitchen sink with us.
How could we afford it? The car was economical, we knew how to eat very cheaply, and we camped-almost always in the wilds-so that there were no motel or camping fees.
Notice in the picture above there’s a flame-like apparition above the tent. Officially there was a hole in the camera which let light in to the film, but I couldn’t help recalling the “tongues of fire” from Acts chapter 2 when I saw a few of the photos such as this one.
Among the many who said that we couldn’t and we shouldn’t were those who said that by setting off in September we were going to freeze in the coming wintery blast. But our intention was to travel south, and in October and November we were dealing with temperatures in the 80s, 90s and low 100s Fahrenheit. The Oregon coast was rather cooler and damper, but still very pleasant, since winter really doesn’t arrive in the far West until late November or December.
We both agree, looking back, that we’ve never been fitter than we were at that time. We ate healthy food, we hiked up to fifteen miles every day, we slept ten hours a night, we had no stresses, and we breathed God’s good fresh air day and night. Below-I found a wild tortoise on a couple of our hikes.
Beginning in Washington, and always avoiding populated areas and major routes, we headed first for 14410 foot-high Mt Rainier. After a few days in that area we made our way to the coast, spent a few weeks going all the way down the Oregon coast, then moved inland for the much drier and warmer north of Nevada. Wandering through Nevada, along all those incredible mountain valleys, we moved into southern California, then Arizona. Finally, arriving at Tucson we decided to head home, since we were almost out of money.
How did our faith come into it? Most obviously, the things we saw and experienced were confirmation that the earth is an incredible place, designed, built and furnished by the Artist. Secondly, our journey was one of those rare “mountain top” experiences, in which God allows you to fully drink in the beauty of life, and to enjoy the best of what He has made. It was one of those times when He allows you to get a bigger view of his glory, and to sense His presence.
On a day-to-day basis, and more pertinently, on a night-to-night basis, we found ourselves having to trust God for many things, not least our physical safety. I’ll give you two examples of how the Lord factored into our experience.
One night we were somewhere in Arizona, camped many miles from any town. Camping in the wild was always exciting, but the onset of night always carried a sense of fear which was hard to ignore. Just a few feet from our camp fire and tent we could see nothing but stars and blackness. At times we slept next to the fire and kept it burning, so we could at least feel safer, even if we weren’t.
On that particular night I was woken by a loud, wild howling, not far from our tent, which descended to some pretty low notes, just like what you might hear in an old horror movie. I knew that the two or more-animals were not coyotes: they were most definitely bigger. A minute or two later, I heard footsteps padding towards us on the sand. I could see nothing-there was no light whatsoever outside the tent (or inside), and now all I could hear was something sniffing at me just inches away from my shoulder. I had no gun-just a metal rod. The hair on the back of my head stood up. We were afraid to breathe for fear of being heard and stirring a response. We prayed silently, and as we had done many times before, entrusted ourselves to the Lord. Whatever they were-probably wolves or at least wild dogs-left, and didn’t come back.
Earlier in our trip we had spent a day on a beach in Oregon. There were huge outcrops of rock in the sea, and the surf was pounding against them then retreating with a whoosh and a hiss, making ready for the next crashing wave. That night as we lay in our tent in a quiet, solitary little lane surrounded with trees and moss, we “opened up the Bible” as you do when you don’t have anything in particular in mind to read. It opened at Psalm 93:
“The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;
The Lord is robed in majesty
And is armed with strength
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.
Your throne was established long ago;
You are from all eternity.
The seas have lifted up, O LORD,
The seas have lifted up their voice;
The seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
Mightier than the thundering of the great waters,
Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
Mightier than the breakers of the sea-
The LORD on high is mighty.
Your statues stand firm;
Holiness adorns your house
For endless days, O LORD.
Thank-you, oh Lord God almighty, for that incredible time, and for giving us a little taste of your glory.