The First Goodbye

by Victor David Sandiego | Published: Dec 28, 2022

How I started my wandering years through North America

About a forty nine years ago, on my way out of the military, the plane flew over the ocean and landed us at a military base in South Carolina. The brass asked me if I wanted another flight back to Los Angeles where my military stint had started three years before. If not, I’d get some extra money.

Easy choice. “Give me the money,” I said. I didn’t need, or want, a ride home.

Besides, I didn’t really have a home. My family was scattered and we were never that close. Plus, I wanted out. Now. Even a few more hours of flight to the west coast was too much.

I walked alone to the front gate of the base, which was a few miles outside of a small town. The guards glanced at my papers and waved me though. I walked about a hundred meters from the gate towards town and then turned around for one last look. Forty nine years later, I still remember the scene: A straight two lane country road with a broken yellow line as usual, empty fields, a few farm houses in the distance, the military gate I had turned around to see, the fence around the base, the sun just beginning its descent from noon. After three years of regimented life, there was nobody to tell me what to do.

In town, I bought a few things. A backpack, a small cooking stove, a sleeping bag. Before long I was on my way to the Appalachian Trail. I had a vague plan to hike north into Pennsylvania, visit some old friends, and then continue into New York state, and eventually into Canada.

Which is what I did. I didn’t hike 100% of the time – at times I slipped out of the mountains for supplies and hitchhiked a ways – but I continued north, saw my friends, walked across a bridge over the St. Lawrence river into Canada, stayed a day or two in a cheap hotel in Montreal, and then went into the wilderness of Algonquin Provincial Park. Among the thousand small lakes, solitude and lightning storms were my companions.

Those days, and the months and years that followed, were among the greatest times of my life. I met poor hill people who fed me lunch, shared bread with bears, finally got laid, and wished I hadn’t climbed into a car with a psycho killer. I slept in fields and under bridges. I walked across the Mississippi River at dawn. And when I eventually got back to Los Angeles, I wasn’t done. I rested a while, but soon felt the urge to keep going. I walked from the Mojave Desert through the Sierra Nevada mountains to Yosemite National Park where I finally reunited with my sister. And I still wasn’t done. I spent the next two years as a vagabond in California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, the Dakotas. Mostly I ran from the guilt of a friend who committed suicide when I didn’t help him one night (I swear I didn’t know), but I also roamed for a renewed sense of freedom.

There’s so many memories in between South Carolina and where I eventually settled in for a while that it’s hard to know – as Bob Seger later sang - what to leave in, what to leave out. This tale shall continue, if for no other reason than to get it straight in my own mind. Bob Seger wouldn’t sing it for me on the radio for several years, but I too knew what it was like to run against the wind.

= = =