A Full Circle Re-Treat

30 years ago, July 1989, I bought a Greyhound bus ticket and a backpack and rode 50 hours Chicago to Seattle. I was going to be starting medical school at the end of the summer. I felt a need to make some kind of quest, some kind of initiation into becoming a healer. I needed to get myself into a certain state of mind and a certain state of being in order to start medical school.

The trip was formative in many ways. Looking back it does feel like where I became an adult, a man, and a medical student. I met people from all across the United States and from all over the world as they traveled. I stayed with friends and family for a bit in Seattle and Port Townsend, then I set off for a 2 week solo backpacking trip in the Olympic National Park. I spent days without encountering another human being, but I had many companions along – my portable library.

David Kopacz after backpacking up ridge, south of Mink Lake, in Olympic National Park, 1989

I faced my racing thoughts, which for the first few days went berserk without having anything more to focus on than when to walk and when to rest. I faced my fears of death sleeping alone in the woods with no one around for miles. I put in at Sol Duc Falls, hiked up to Mink Lake and then up to the ridge that led to Hyak and the North Fork of the Bogachiel River. I remember waking up one morning and hearing what sounded like a Native American funeral procession by the Bogachiel River, when I was staying at the Flapjack campsite. I left the national park and hiked to Undie Road. After the beauty of the National Park, I then walked through the World War I trench war aftermath landscape of newly clear cut National Forest. I then hot-footed it up 101 while logging trucks raced alongside me. I reached Forks, but had blisters from walking quickly on the roadside. I limped along 110 as best I could toward the coast, where I was planning to spend a few days. The agony was too much with each step, so I reluctantly stuck out my thumb to hitchhike, because I knew I was not going to make it. The second or third car pulled over and I got in with an old fellow who said, “I’m not really doing anything, if I can help someone else out, I consider it a good day.” He told me how he had lived there his whole life and had helped to build the bridge over the river as he drove me to Rialto Beach. I then spent a few nights on the coast after limping up through the sand to a camp site.

My wife and I almost moved back from Seattle to the Midwest this past year. We where pretty far along in the process when we hit some snags and it fell through. We re-oriented and decided that we’ll stay in Seattle for the foreseeable future. I had blocked out a week of my clinic schedule which was going to be my last week at work and then I was going to drive our second car across the country. I kept the time off and wasn’t sure what I was going to do, until I realized it was the 30 year anniversary of my trip in the Olympics. Then I realized it was 30 years to the month and I knew I had to go and retrace my steps and go on a bit of a retreat, a re-treat, covering again some of the same ground. So I loaded up the car, brought along Henry Corbin, our fun-loving papillon and we set off to retrace our steps.

Dave & Corbin at the ferry

I rented a cabin and it turned out to be on the Sol Duc River, just as I had started 30 years ago at Sol Duc.

Camp at Sol Duc River

Since I had Corbin along, we couldn’t go into the National Park, except for some of the coastal beaches. We went to Bogachiel State Park, so that we could put our feet in both the Sol Duc at our cabin and in the Bogachiel River.

Tree near Sol Duc River

We spent some time out on the coast at Rialto Beach, Ruby Beach and Beach #3.

Then we took a hike up toward Mt Muller in the Olympic National Forest.

Then we drove up north, through the Makah Reservation, up to Cape Flattery, the Northwesternmost point of the continental United States.

I feel I should share some sort of insight or conclusion from this trip – I felt some pressure initially to do so, but once I realized that I was ending up at Sol Duc and Bogachiel, and that there seemed to be a hidden coherence in the trip, I decided to just see what happened. At one point I remember what I told my friends after the first trip, 30 years ago: I had reached a deeper and more meaningful level of confusion!

I did write something that seemed to summarize the trip:

Looking back, I realize now that I live in the place that was the place of my adventure 30 years ago – in other words, I am living my adventure. Who I am now and the amazing things and fascinating things I am doing in my life and work are just what I would have dreamed of for my future life, even more so!