June 8th, 1783, an Icelandic fissure named “Laki” changed the world with one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. Two hundred thirty two years and one day later, I find myself on a plane named in its honor. The first thing I notice leaving Seattle is that the routine announcements in the plane cabin are not in English — I ought to get used to that. I have never flown out of Washington going North, and the mountain ranges over Canada are the second of countless new encounters, the third being the vast ice tundra over Greenland where I begin to realize just how far away from home I am. Flying out of Seattle at 4:00pm, I land in Zurich at 11:00am and the sun outside the plane window never set.
After I change some of my money for Swiss francs I have the first of many awkward language encounters while buying food in the airport. As I spend my first foreign bill I must have visibly froze when the clerk spoke to me, my blank stare met shortly thereafter with an understanding tone as she spoke again, this time in English. “Would you like a bag? And your receipt?”. This is going to take some adjusting. I buy a train ticket to the hostel and sit down in the busy station watching the bustling traffic. The independence I am so often proud of, I am now painfully aware of. My first time out of America, on my own five thousand miles from home, I feel more isolated than I ever have before. I manage to keep the distant sense of panic small by burying my face in my notebook, the scribbles giving me something familiar to hold on to.
The train has two stories and is the nicest I’ve ever seen. The woman beside me must be asking if they may sit down, so I move my bag as her child takes a seat next to me. I look out the window and listen to the little boy speak, slowly and stuttering the way children do. I think to myself listening to children must be a wonderful way to learn a new language. The city and its gallery-worthy street art gives way to rolling hills of vineyards as the train makes its way around Lake Zurich.
The hostel is located in the countryside a half hour out of the city, right on Lake Zurich, an old farm house built in the sixteen hundreds rich with character. I am met outside by a buoyant and jovial Italian named Dorian. He quickly shows me around the house, introduces me to a few of the others staying there (none of whom speak much English), and then returns to his work. I store my things away and spend the rest of the day sending out messages asking for advice, researching where to go next, and worrying about whether or not I was going to last more than a month. It has been over a year since the last motorcycle tour, since the last time I woke up with no idea where I would sleep next. The excitement of living in such a way is incomparable, once the fear subsides, but at this point it has not. Yet.
Though I still know nothing of what my future holds, after surviving the night I feel better, though the difference is nearly undetectable. From the motorcycle adventures across the U.S. I have learned that often the fear of the unknown is much worse than what eventually comes to be. Though I don’t know what will happen next, something always happens. After checking my messages I feel a wave of relief — a fellow magician has recommended to me a friend of his in a nearby town. I message him and am invited to stay for the weekend in the town of Konstanz, Germany, just across the border from Switzerland. I feel a wave of relief now that I know where I’ll be for the next four nights.
I run into Dorian again later in the morning, and in the fifteen minutes he spends showing me around the rest of the property I have more fun than I had in the fifteen hours before. He is the first person I’ve actually spoken more than a few sentences to, and this is when I realize that it will be interactions that make the trip. I pack up, say farewell to Dorian, and walk back up to the train station to begin the commute out to Konstanz. On the train back to Zurich station I am met by one of the train officials who, upon checking my ticket, informs me I’ve bought a ticket that is only good for one region, and I’ve now traveled through several. He points to the sign above me that states the minimal penalty is one hundred francs. I show him my passport and explain that I’d only arrived the day before and I’d made a mistake. He offers to only charge me seventy francs, which is still almost ten percent of the total funds I have available. I open my wallet and he sees I have a twenty franc bill and all the rest is still in American dollars. He lets out a heavy sigh, takes my lonely twenty francs and writes me a pass for the rest of the trip to Zurich. I escape my first encounter with the law embarrassed but fairly unscathed.
Back in Zurich I have a few hours to wait until the bus arrives to take me to Germany, so I find a Starbucks to wait in and continue planning my next moves beyond the weekend. The mocha I normally purchase in the states for $4.60 costs me 7.80 francs, close to $9 US. I mistake the coins the barista hands me and accidentally tip him a two franc coin, bumping up the cost of my shitty mocha to nearly $11 US dollars. New high score, and the last time I’ll ever go to Starbucks. Win some, learn some.
Beginning at the hostel and amplified by the train mistake and my Starbucks folly, I begin to feel the heavy weight of doubt. I have no idea if I can make money out here, no idea where I’ll stay beyond the weekend, and all the tickets I look up for return flights to the US cost $150 more than the $500 I’d put aside for them. Though this is all such a totally new experience to me, I remain grateful for the adventure experiences I already have under my belt. All of the jams I’ve gotten into and out of fortify my belief in myself, and I know from first hand experience that even if it all goes to shit I’ll still make it out alright, and if nothing else I’ll have a great story to tell. I’ve never taken this large of a risk, never felt so much doubt, but I do my best to not let the pressure of the moment get to me as I jump on the bus and cross the border into Germany. Staring out the window and missing home, I have no idea that there in Konstanz I will soon meet extraordinary characters that will completely change the tone of the trip. Four days after leaving Seattle the European adventures truly begin.