My body is soggy with tiredness. It’s warm in the blankets, and cold outside. I was up late packing, then I couldn’t sleep when I needed it most. I drifted off an hour and a half ago, finally relaxed from the week of stress. And now I’m leaving my bliss to spend a day and a half on planes. After that, it’s months running across Patagonia.
It occurs to me that I don’t have to go. I could melt back into the covers, miss my plane, stay in Vancouver. But the alarm is jarring, vicious. I’d strategically placed it far enough I’d have to leave my blankets to turn it off. And then I’d be motivated again. My body curses my foresight. Fuck You, Sam from four hours ago. Devious bastard.
The alarm blares again. It’s working; I’m getting more savage than tired. I sit up and crawl into the cold. I kill the alarm with primal joy. There’s nothing like stopping existential threats to my sanity. Then clothes on, shoes on, pack on. I’m on autopilot, functional despite my cold and lack of sleep. I get to the airport, through security, on the plane. I can finally rest. But as we take off, sleep fades like a tide.
It’s finally happening. For years I’ve wanted to cross a continent on foot. It was a fantasy, then a dream, then a plan. But it wasn’t supposed to happen now. I was going to be more trained, with more time and better gear. I would have started in September, and tried for the whole continent. Then life gave me three months of free time, and a body that couldn’t rock-climb.
I could have prepared more, and done it next fall. But the idea seeped through my logic, like water breaching a shitty raincoat. I’d smile thinking about it, feel thrills of adrenaline. I knew I can be too analytical for my own good. I can strategize too hard, until I’m planning more than living. So I trusted my instincts and bought the tickets.
Since then I’ve thought of travel in human terms. How far I could run in a day, on how much food. It makes me see flight for the miracle it is. I’m 3,000 meters above Everest, going 100 times my jogging pace. That’s faster than the strongest hurricanes, but somehow the air is calm around my face. I’m in a metal tube heavier than air, driven by controlled fire burning in cylinders. Somehow this contraption doesn’t explode. Outside it’s cold as Antarctic winters, with much less air. I’d freeze to death in minutes, if I didn’t suffocate first.
Instead I’m crossing a continent. A continent! It’s so routine we find it boring. We sleep through it. We play games on our phones. We read crap in magazines. I’ve done my share of this on other flights. I’ll probably do it this flight, when the spell fades. But now I’m in awe.
Dawn comes faster than it ever has at this latitude. Of course! We’re flying east, into the rising sun. I knew planes were fast…but compared to the Earth’s orbit? Are we really in another time zone now? Hym. Time zones are the wrong way to think about it. They’re human fictions, averages of where the sun is over a swath of the earth.
But really, there’s infinitely many time zones. Move a millimeter west, and the sun will rise later. How much later? I think of day and night in terms of the solar system’s geometry. I do a bunch of mental math, and I’m startled—the world is smaller than I thought. At the equator, I could add two or three minutes of light by running west all day. I’d shorten the day this amount by running east.
The math finally breaks my insomnia. Sleep comes fast, like a settling weight. Moment by moment, a little less alive. It’s a rare treat, losing consciousness fast enough to sense it. I let myself sink into the seat and feel my senses go. I barely have a body now, just fracturing thoughts. Then I’m gone.