Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park, California -- Kayaking in the open sea is far more hazardous than paddling in a mountain lake. I flipped here, too, but at the launching point, where I could get back into my craft and bail out the water with a hand pump. (photo by Charles Weng)

Sequoia National Park, California -- Mark and I have shared one other adventure recently: Last May he, his girlfriend Aichee and I hiked to the snow-capped Watchtower overlook along the famous Lake Trail. (photo by Mark Huang)

    

The Journey Continues

Fresh from the smoldering ruins of Kandahar and Baghdad, terror has renewed its presence in Riyadh, Jerusalem and Casablanca. Since SARS made its deadly debut in Asia, the surgical mask-wearing residents of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei and (belatedly) Beijing have been living under siege. Amongst them are my elderly parents, who did not fly to San Diego as planned to attend the wedding of a nephew. 

My father, an avid traveler himself, resignedly admonished me against my annual transoceanic flights. I did not tell him immediately of a more recent brush with danger.

During the sunny afternoon of May 4th, cousin Mark and I were paddling in Silverwood Lake, a large, scenic reservoir nestled in the San Bernadino Mountains of southern California, the westernmost link in a chain of natural and dammed tarns that includes Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake. 

Our daylong idyll ended abruptly when we succumbed to the strong, ocean-like waves at the deepest section of the lake. With just our heads above the cool, undulating water, we hung onto our capsized kayaks until a family of three in their motorboat and the local park ranger came to our rescue.

I really do not wish to catalogue this experience as yet another one of my near-disasters (see a final word here in this site). Aside from the initial panic of randomly executing an underwater backward somersault, I felt no fear for myself, but only worry -- for Mark, my immediate family, and my kayaking gear. (Besides pulling us from the lake, our rescuers also retrieved our paddles.)

Even when we were trying to swim in the middle of the lake, I felt an eerie calm akin to, but not quite exactly as, a submission to a higher power. As comfortable as I am with my unsophisticated faith, I do not presume to interpret every intrigue in my life as a direct manifestation of divine will. God does work in mysterious ways, and surely one of them is to let things sort themselves out in the end, however they turn out to be.

  

Towards the end of our ordeal, I detected a facetious tone in Mark as he asked me how I felt about having almost died. "Alive" was my immediate answer in a breath of exhaustion. Upon reflection, it would not have been any different. 

The question echoed one asked by another cousin, Wendy, as she saw me off to the airport last November.

  

Lofoten Isles, Norway -- Here are views from Hamn°ya (above) and Stamsund. It would be nearly impossible to take these pictures without the following: two days at the islands, a car, and a lot of luck with respect to weather.

   

"You're going to New Zealand! Are you excited?"

"As excited as breathing," I replied, sounding unintentionally facetious. "It's just what I do."

For her, it might sound like the petulance of a well-traveled princeling, taking his privilege of global mobility completely for granted. For me, it was an existential statement. World travel may not be my true career, but it is my life, be it thirty or so days of glory out of an entire year.

I imagine Sisyphus enjoying his thirty or so days of respite at the summit, before the boulder rolls back down the mountain yet again. Imagine his happiness in the certainty of that repeated pleasure.

   

Well, I'm off again. British Airways had just posted their best summer fares yet for flights between Los Angeles and Heathrow, while throwing in a free night at a four-star hotel in Kensington. Ryanair, touting its fleeting supremacy over arch-rival Easyjet in terms of profitability, gave away 60,000 free return flights in a day -- I caught one between London Stansted and Sandefjord, Norway, paying only about $40 for the taxes and airport fees. The deal from Scandinavian Airlines for flights between Oslo and Bod° was quite reasonable, too. 

Thus circumstances were favorable towards fulfilling a promise I made to myself two years ago: to sleep in a rorbu, or fisherman's cabin, perched along the magnificently surreal shores of the Lofoten islands.

My father needs not worry. So long as I return safe and sound, he is sure to expect me to go on living my life as I see fit.

Charles Weng, 17 May 2003

  
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