I’m standing on the top of a mountain in Sinks Canyon, Wyoming. It’s late, the summer sun is drifting downwards and I am floored.
Out in front of me is a plateau of phenomenal proportions. On the eastern horizon I can see the Big Horn Mountains and all I want to do is cry.
There are few times in life where the beauty is so gut-wrenching that the bottom drops out of your stomach and you want to kneel before it.
This is one of those times.
I inhale the smell of the pine forest. The fallen needles prick the bare soles of my feet as the wood pigeons coo above. I can sense it all, from the sandy earth to the hot morning sun pricking sweat on my skin.
The pine forests of South West France are one of the most nostalgic places on Earth for me. The lizards scattering, the pine cones littering the ground around the tent and the crash of the sea just over the dune.
I am as at home here as I am in the New Forest.
10 metres deep and my diaphragm starts cramping.
Breathe, you need to breathe, it says.
But I can’t, because I have no scuba tank. I fin to increasing depth in the warm Indonesian waters. I’m afraid but I know, I know I can get deeper. I look down and see the glimmer of coral below. The motion ruins the line of my spine and the increase in resistance gives me the fear.
I roll and fin back up to the surface, it looks so far away from down here even though I’m not very deep. The higher I go the faster I rise and as the relief of the surface begins, I know.
I could’ve gone deeper.
They leap and dive and spin. They’re downright mad. They’re the single most excitable creatures I have ever been in the company of. They make puppies look dour.
The dolphins have been swimming alongside the boat for the best part of an hour and are showing no signs of boredom. In fact, they’re having a blast.
I could watch them forever as they race in front of the bow, playing in the waves. They huddle at the back too, nose to wind vane, following its motion as if hypnotised. They bump each other, tuck in to create little formation flying teams and shoot out of the water with all the gusto of an Olympic gymnast.
We are in their world, and they provide a welcoming committee.
I could sit here forever. This place, this view. I run sand through my fingers and dig my hands in as deep as I can. There is no lack of sand here at the northern reaches of the Atacama Desert.
The sun is almost gone, the temperature is falling so fast I can feel it like mercury on my skin. The epic sand dunes are dotted with people watching the sunset under Peruvian skies. The colours are magnificent, everything a shade of red and orange.
I can see for miles. The dunes simply never end. Each its own gradient of colour and haze. It burns in my memory.
The Caribbean sun is eating its way into my bones. People talk about the cold getting stuck in and not letting go, but it’s the same with this sun. It’s all pervasive, there is no escape.
The wind has gone again and Cuba looms green in the distance. The boom slams in the waves and I want to scream. Just a breath of wind. Please, just a breath of wind.
The days tick into nights and the boat’s progress is slow. I sleep little, always waiting for the wind to die again and the motion to become unbearable.
One night, the westerly wind returns to push us past Guantanamo. I sit in the cockpit in the dead of night and watch its bright lights twinkle in the distance. A shiver runs through me.
I get up early and get on the first lift of the day. I race across piste systems to the farthest point. I slip my gloved-hands into my pole loops and stand on the brink of one of my favourite ski slopes. It goes forever. There is no one else here.
I know every turn, every camber, every dip. I know the icy patch and the bump that threw me off two months ago. I wait a little for the song to end and for the next to kick in, it has a great opening.
An opening deserving of sudden, snow-bound acceleration.
The sun is bright today, the mountain air fresh. There’s a perfect Austrian hut below, at the first turn. It’s almost obscene in its perfection.
The music kicks in. I launch myself forward.
‘Go on a vaporetto at night,’ said my friend.
So I do.
We’re churning gently along Venice’s Grand Canal in the January darkness. Every light from the old buildings is reflected again and again in the wake of many boats. Venice is a living, breathing entity. A floating city as much water as it is brick.
I look around at my friends sat in a semi-circle on the vaporetto’s stern. They all carry the same expression. Quiet contemplation. Or perhaps the absence of thought at all. Because there’s nothing to think about here, right now.
There’s just the water, the lights and the motion of the boat as it moves steadily into the night.
To be written….