He’s seen the Ombabika cemetery, he’s slept in a Schefferville train station, he’s tried to bribe the Ferriday Police with maple syrup… and now our paths cross. My fellow Everywhereicans, meet Max.
Let’s go back in time a bit….
June 21, 2017, the summer solstice
A Nebraskan, just a few weeks into a wild adventure, woke up in a comfy bed in Fairbanks, wondering exactly how he’d ended up there. He had met a nice guy named Rick in a parking lot who had graciously invited him to sleep beneath the the lavish comfort of his roof. The Nebraskan thought that receiving this sort of hospitality would surely be a rare occurrence during his journey.
A Québécois (person from the Canadian province of Quebec) also woke up in Fairbanks on this day, though his accommodations were significantly less lavish. The reclined driver’s seat of a well traveled 2001 BMW was his makeshift bed. He often tries to park on an uphill slope as a means of reclining to a more level state. His quest is much more important than his comfort.
Though both of them were unfamiliar with the area, they had already learned the correct pronunciation of a minuscule settlement to the north. They were searching for “chat-uh-NEE-kuh,” sung by Johnny Cash as “chat-uh-NYE-kuh.” Both had long been fascinated by a song which mentioned this strange little place in its fourth verse. On this day, they would both be further north than they ever had been before.
The Nebraskan rode to Chatanika, stopping at the town sign for a picture, expertly managing to close his eyes right when the camera timer went off.
He continued to the Chatanika Lodge, basically the only building in the town. There, he met the owner, Ron, with whom he had a great conversation.
The Québécois also found the town sign and not much else.
Characteristically driven to reach the limits, his focus lied beyond this little town. He set his gaze upon the Arctic Ocean and continued travelling north. The road to Prudhoe Bay is rough enough to shake apart even the most hearty four wheel drive vehicles. He nursed along his scanty sedan, getting passed by vehicles equipped with “five spare tires.”
Thankfully, he has a cheerful travel companion. His plush penguin, Flapjack, a $3 purchase in a Cedar City thrift store, is always up for an adventure (…and is perpetually photogenic).
The Nebraska returned to meet his gracious hosts back in Fairbanks. He was treated to a tour of the downtown, a canoe ride down the river and a Caribou supper. Finally, he attended the “Midnight Sun Game” of the minor league Alaska Goldpanners. The game starts at 10pm and uses no artificial lighting.
Picture from about 11:30pm:
Though well beyond midnight, he closed the day by asking his host to be the first person to cross a place off of his sign.
The Québécois was able to reach his goal of the Arctic Ocean.
He was chilled by the freezing water, but warmed by knowing that he had truly reached the end of the road.
Though they were in the same city on the same day with the same quest, their paths would not yet cross. They would have countless other near misses as they both traveled every road in this here land.
Admiring this weird thing in Knoxville:
Meeting Paul Bunyan in Bangor:
Checking out the flood wall in Parkersburg:
Dotting the “I” in Kingston:
Both travelers had difficulties in visiting Schefferville, the one song place which is unreachable by road. The Nebraskan was awoken at 4:15am in the school bus which he had infiltrated. The Québécois, who arrived on a bitterly cold night, was graciously granted permission to spend the night in the old train station.
Both of them only had one morning to capture all of the iconic images of this remote mining village.
(that statue still makes me laugh)
(The photo above is from April 30th. Note the amount of snow.)
So what would be the key for these two travelers to cross paths?
As always, Ombabika is the answer.
…let’s fast forward to a couple of weeks ago…
Mom and I were strolling through the John Deere museum when I received the most peculiar email. I could almost feel his enthusiasm through my phone as I read his message.
We were on the same quest.
Furthermore, he informed me that he had just spent seven hours hiking around looking for Ombabika.
As I said, Ombabika was what brought us together. As strange as it sounds, this quality publication is actually the first thing that pops up when one Googles “Ombabika.” Hopefully by the end of my trip this will also be true for places like Chicago and Argentina. Get it done, Google!
Max found my blog and saw that I was in Iowa. He just happened to be passing through Minnesota (for Chaska) and wondered if we could meet up. Eventually we decided that it would be easiest to host him in Norfolk the same day that we arrived home. Meeting him almost felt like meeting a long lost brother. We had SO much to talk about.
Shortly after he arrived we hopped into the car and drove back to Iowa. My Mom needed to return the riding gear that she had borrowed from her sister, Karen. It’s been a long time ago, but Dan and Karen were the ones to cross Spirit Lake off of my sign.
My Uncle Dan also talked me in to taking his camping stove, which is still traveling with me. (I’ll get it back to you sometime!) The time in the car gave plenty of time for Max and me to chat. It was great to see Dan and Karen, even if it was brief.
Welcome to the family!
The next morning, I made Swedish Pancakes for my guest. It felt a little strange to be on the other side of the hospitality spectrum. He gifted us a can of real maple syrup that he had brought from home. He uses these as gifts when he travels or to attempt to bribe the Ferriday police out of a speeding ticket. Good job perpetuating Canadian stereotypes, Max.
We sent him with the leftovers which ended up being a huge mistake. Max has now been sending me pancake selfies, showing me that my confections have beaten me to a number of the song places.
I think perhaps the best way to tell Max’s “Everywhere” story is to compare and contrast it with my own. There are ample amounts of similarities and differences, which I find interesting. Hopefully this will be an effective way to put both of our trips in context.
Difference: For me, going “Everywhere” was the reason to start traveling. For Max, traveling gave him the idea to start going “Everywhere.”
Max was already working on visiting every state and province before he thought about going Everywhere. In 2016, while driving to California, he thought it would be neat to listen to the song and have a memory of each place mentioned. As he was on his quest to visit all of the states, he would see what song places were mentioned there and try to visit as many as he could. It has always been a “side quest” for him, rather than the primary goal like it is for me. He thought, “Maybe in 80 years I will do it.”
Max has now completed all of the North American places. By the time I publish this post, he will be in Mexico, beginning his long drive to the south. Another one of Max’s goals is to traverse the entire extent of the Pan-American highway. His primary goal is to reach Tierra del Fuego, at the tip of the continent of South America. That is more important to him than getting all of the song places on this trip.
Similarity: We are both doing it the right way
As Max continued to research the song places, he noticed how many places share the same name. This made him think about what the “real” one is that he should visit. Because of this, he’s had to re-do a number of song places or go somewhere twice because he didn’t “officially” visit it. Sound familiar?
Honestly, I think I would have struggled a bit if Max was not as committed to doing it the “right way” as I am. We do have a few song places that we did differently, but he visited or will visit all of the ones which I consider vital to the Everywhere Experience. Places like: Chatanika, Ombabika, Schefferville, Panama, Barranquilla, Argentina, Diamantina, Salvador. All of these places add significant difficulty to the quest, but they serve to define the bounds of the trip. They are non-negotiable if you want to say you’ve been Everywhere.
Similarity: Neither of us are on vacation.
I believe most people are aware that maintaining the quality of this quality publication is a monumental task. The amount of writing and media editing that I have done over the last two years is staggering. Likewise, Max is also working hard, but in a different way. He is still in school.
Most of his North American travels were done while he was completing his master’s program. Canada provides masters seeking students with a stipend and he used this as his travel budget. He would do his coursework online as he went around the continent. However, he needed to return to Quebec City at the end of each semester, so he was only able to travel for a couple of months at a time. This added a significant number of kilometers to his quest.
He began medical school and took a bit of a break from traveling. He compressed his course load in order to get a semester free. He doesn’t return to classes until January so he is using this free time for his Latin American loop. You’ve gotta say, this is a really creative way to travel!
Similarity: We are both traveling on a shoe-string budget.
He has definitely valued his quest above his comfort. He’s spent most of his travels sleeping in the driver’s seat of his old BMW or using the Couch Surfing app. Like me, he’s had so many experiences that money can not buy.
Difference: I am telling my story in meticulous detail. Max is hardly telling anyone.
He told me “about ten people” know about the quest that he is on. He’s not opposed to telling his story, but his coursework has used up any sliver of free time he has had while traveling. He does take notes and has thought about writing a book in both French and English when his journey ends.
Though Max doesn’t have time for social media, his penguin, Flapjack has created an Instagram account. I don’t know how a plush penguin can use a phone, but somehow he takes better pictures than I do.
Please do this penguin a favor and follow his instagram page, @flapjackpenguin. LINK HERE
Similarity: We both have special vehicles.
Not much more needs to be said about Annie. She’s a true champion. Max traveled most of North America with the BMW car pictured towards the top of this post. The drive to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska ended up being the swan song for that trusty vehicle.
Max now feels like he is traveling in style in his well-customized Toyota 4-runner. He’s built a bed, storage, has a refrigerator, solar panel, backup battery and security measures. Having traveled with so little comfort for most of his trip, he can now really appreciate this vehicle. The name for the Toyota is still a work in progress, so I will update when that is chosen. 🙂
Similarity: We’ve both been around a bit….
I think my mileage total, 54,000, is fairly impressive. However, Max is currently sitting around 75,000 and he still has all of Central and South America to do. I’ve said many times how advantageous the centralized location of Nebraska is. It’s right in the middle of Everywhere. Quebec City is much further out of the way, which has added lots of distance to his travel.
Similarity: No one else in the world cares more about Ombabika than we do.
One of the highlights of our time together was hearing his saga of visiting Ombabika. He didn’t spoil the ending ahead of time and he had me on the edge of my seat as he told me about the events of that day. The story is so good and I would love to have him tell it. Maybe he would write a guest post for me? It features seven hours of hiking, hiding in the bushes from the railroad police, being told that there is no such thing as Ombabika and culminates with this video:
In case you don’t speak French, here is a translation of what Max was saying: “That silly Nebraska guy never found the cemetery, but I did! Quebec will always reign supreme and we will never put any English on our road signs! Long live Ombabika!”
I think that’s pretty close, my French isn’t great. 🙂
Max ended up receiving one vital piece of information which I did not have on my attempt. I was less than 50 yards from the cemetery at one point, but did not find it. However, it was truly Max’s perseverance that allowed him to locate the cemetery. Though tired and dehydrated after his long hike, he decided to re-trace his steps down a trail he had tried once before. A small path through the trees which he had missed the first time, led him to the cemetery.
A few weeks ago, I received some more Ombabika information which already had me thinking about revisiting it. Now I know exactly where to go. Expect more news on this further down the road.
During our time together, we also spent a lot of time talking about Latin America. He’s a little bit nervous about traveling down there, which is a good thing. We talked through some of the borders and I tried to be as helpful as I could. His Spanish is way beyond the level I was at when I crossed the border, so I think he will manage just fine.
I can’t put into words how special this connection is. Max and I can understand each other like no one else can. I’m really excited to see hear about his travels through Latin America.
If someone was to critique our choice of song places, I think there is only one which could be second guessed: Kingston. Both Max and I visited the one in Ontario, whereas the city in Jamaica is definitely the most “notable” in the Western Hemisphere. We’re talking about punctuating our adventures by visiting there together. I think we both need to save some money first. 🙂
As far as we both know, there still has yet to be a person to conquer the 92 locations in this song. The fact that two travelers would be completing the journey simultaneously, 56 years after the song was composed, marks perhaps the most appropriate time for this gif:
Godspeed, Max. Everywhere is in sight for both of us. Let’s finish strong!
Realtime update: Kansas City is in the books! As soon as this post goes out, I will be heading down to Joplin, MO. From there I will be checking off Wichita, Springfield, Tulsa, Oklahoma and maybe some others. Song places will be coming thick and fast for the next few weeks. I hope my fingers can keep up!