Escape to Oblivion

Ever want to chuck it all and sail away, like these two?

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Merry Christmas campers! This holiday post comes in the form of a shout-out to two of my in-laws, Jeff and Nancy Kirstein. And why, you may rightly ask, is this relevant to Backpacker types?

Well, because wilderness travel is, at heart, all about escaping the drudgery of feedlot civilization and immersing yourself in the real world. You don’t necessarily need a backpack to do that. Let us consider for a moment that most time-honored form of escape: sailing off into uncharted waters, ultima thule, ‘here be dragons’ country.

Throughout history, thousands of adventurers have weighed anchor and literally tried to sail off the edge of the earth. Erik the Red did it in 982 AD, when he discovered Greenland. Leif Erikson (Red’s son), probably made it to the American northeast a few decades later. St. Brendan the Irish monk might have reached America in the 6th century. Chinese junks apparently landed in Brazil in 1421. Seventy one years later Christobal Columbo definitely washed up in the Caribbean, and Italian Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot to the English who employed him) tagged Nova Scotia on the North American mainland in 1487. And then there’s Vasco de Gamma, Ferdinand Magellan, Francis Drake, Captain Cook, George Vancouver, Jack Sparrow…you get the idea.

Yes, they were all global explorers, but the exploration was really a convenient excuse to escape ‘syphillisation’ and find something more exciting or rewarding – just like modern backpackers.

Well, Jeff and Nancy are following that proud nautical tradition. They quit their jobs, yard-saled their possessions, and then fought through a vicious recession as they spent a year of weekends refurbishing the 38-foot sailboat they re-christened Oblivion. Two weeks ago Jeff (in the blue life vest 4:30 into the video) launched from San Francisco with several buddies. After a slow start and some minor repairs, he and Nancy are now sailing past Bahia La Tortugas on the Baja California coast, enroute to ports south.

Their plan, if the word ‘plan’ applies to such wanderings, is to continue down the coast of Central and South America, gaining experience and good tans, then eventually strike out for the crossing to Polynesia.

There is a noble and serious side to this exploration as well. Captain Jeff is driven by a deep desire to explore rich and authentic world cultures, then bring them back to American palates by opening a gourmet restaurant highlighting nachos from around the world. We all know Mexican nachos, but what about Mayan nachos, Incan nachos, the nachos of Galapagos and Tahiti and Indonesia? Surely – as with beer – any ancient or advanced civilization has somehow discovered and nurtured this most awesome of food products. We all share a common humanity.

The fun part? You can follow along on this voyage of discovery via their modest but informative website. You’ll find plans and video tours of the Oblivion (a very cool boat), get periodic blog updates, and track their present position on Google Maps. You can even see the ocean-bottom features they’re sailing over.

It’s enough to make you want to sell it all, stock up with rum, and hoist anchor for far horizons beyond the reach of cubicle overlords….especially on an office Monday. So hoist the mainsail and procrastinate away, me hardies. And when you finally log onto your e-mail, don’t forget to send one to Oblivion. Just translate it into pirate-speak first. Yaar! –Steve Howe