The CN Tower that stands, forever mesmerising and altitudinous in the heart of Downtown Toronto, concludes this scholarship in an admirable fashion, and I've been considering these thoughts all day. I have re-lived my first day in America; the bag of mixed feelings that I carried on my back through the drizzle, as I approached what would become my first hostel experience. The unforgettable consciousness of feeling far from the comforts of home and yet a simultaneous excitement about being so. My mind replays the scene in that very first cafe; I sat, absorbing the American culture for the very first time, in between bite-sized chunks of Halibut and Chips. Like standing at the base of the CN Tower and gazing up to it's conceivably ceaseless number of floors in awe, I wandered through Anchorage on that very first night, contemplating what then seemed an endless exploratory chronicle through such a diverse country. I consummated the scholarship would bring about some of the highlights of my life thus far, but like the CN Tower, I knew that a journey would have to be made to reach them. A journey that would inspire in ways only imaginable and a tale that would mould my perspective of the western world, in the 21st Century. And yet, one which would undoubtedly stumble upon challenge and trial.
As I entered the CN Tower, the security personnel that serves in the interest of safety, rather than intimidation, casted my mind back to entering the US customs for the first time. In retrospect, the officials with which I was thoroughly interviewed by upon my arrival into Alaska, were similarly exercising routine in the most commendable regards to state-wide invulnerability. Having passed the security, the CN ticketing staff were called into action to print me a valid ticket for the two available viewing areas; a small rectangular shaped piece of card with a few numbers and letters printed underneath a bar code and a couple other logos with very little significance and yet here presented to me with an attached receipt was a ticket worth about $50. I pondered for some time how one trip up and one trip down could with any justice consume $50 of my precious Canadian Dollars, and it was throughout this consideration, that I started to remember how very often on this scholarship, the principal of 'money' and that of 'experience' so often are separated from each other. I stood in a virtual muse over the Brooks Range trips I made with the Fairbanks University. Each one, for me, completely complimentary on behalf of the geological engineering department, but despite the fact that not one cent left my pocket, I had one of the best experiences of my entire life. And yet, I have so very often paid large expenses for buses and attractions which have failed, miserably, to even ignite a spark of excitement. So I executed today's $50 spending, cautiously, although I'm pleased, from retrospect, to report that the experience made it a fantastic expenditure.
Having shuttled up a speedy elevator to the first series of all encompassing urban vistas, I discovered the CN Tower's outside viewing facility was closed because of the wind. Oh, how many times have I been confronted with moments like this; times when the weather stood firmly in the way of adventure and did combat with comfort. From the austere menace of the Alaskan winter to the deluges that prevailed over Seattle, my scholarship has confronted the perils of minacious meteorology. How unsettling a walk in minus 20 degrees can be, and yet, how simultaneously invigorating; perhaps even more revitalizing than the Californian sultriness I experienced. So I couldn't obtain photos of Toronto from outside, so I settled for shooting through the glass instead, and achieved some half-decent shots.
And that's been my philosophy across the entire scholarship. Don't regret the things you are unable to do; a doctrine I adopted from Sarah and Bill Redhead during my stay with them at Billies Hostel. I can remember wanting so desperately to travel to Deadhorse with Ronald, so to remark later that I had travelled the entire length of Alaska. The morning we set out, our journey was fleeced with snow and Ronald made a dutiful decision to negotiate a re-think. Do I regret, now in hindsight, that we turned round? No, of course not. Otherwise we wouldn't have seen those wild caribou, and I wouldn't have engaged in the experience of wading through waist deep snow. We wouldn't have spotted an orographic cloud formation, and neither would we have enjoyed a bewitching sunset.
The CN Tower has two floors; the first being more popular than the second, which charges an extra $10 for admittance. Nevertheless, I paid the extra sum to adventure up another 100m and to gaze upon an augmented sense of ecstatic wonderment. I have learnt as a result of travelling so far and wide on this scholarship that if you go that one step further- if you exert a small amount of extra effort- the rewards are even greater. Walking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was a life-fulfilling experience that has left a positive imprint upon my mind, which will forever remain, I'm sure. But had I not gone that extra mile, clambering up the side of an extremely steep densely vegetated hillside, I would never have been treated to what I still believe was the best vista in the entire trip. Similarly, by committing to a 10 mile walk in Portland and not settling for one more convenient on the feet, I made it to an extinct Volcano cinder cone and the Hoyt Arboretum. And with the same view, I relieved another $10 of my money to fix my ascending journey.
It turned out to be a very good decision. The views from what was now over 400 meters above the ground, were spellbinding. If my eyes were buckets, they would have been filled to the brim, instantly, with beatitude. I was blessed with 360 degrees of the most exceptional views, and cherished in a state of guiltless self indulgence the overwhelming euphoria. I may have been staring at Toronto, but I was recollecting the countless moments on this scholarship that I have been offered such felicity. Whether it was standing on top of a Frozen Debris Lobe in Alaska, or relishing a hot chocolate at the Seattle Space Needle, or standing in altitude at Yosemite National Park, the feeling of being amongst the clouds, far from the hurly burly of the world below, never ceases to inspire. For a gentleman who has spent the best part of nearly 20 years travelling across the Yorkshire Dales, the Devon Moorlands and even the gorges of the Greek Isles and the deserts of Africa, I have become naturally passionate about surveying a fine view; absorbing not just the pristine wilderness, but sometimes a city-scape, and the CN Tower today offered that very chance.
The CN Tower has also installed patches of glass flooring, allowing those with a willingness for a rising pulse, to know what it feels like to be so terrifically high in the sky. I have to admit that this is something I wouldn't have dreamt about doing ten years ago, during a period where my fear of heights was more than just an emotion. This scholarship, however, has taught, if nothing else, how much a hindrance to adventure a fear of heights can be, and early on I realised the only way to explore a great deal of Alaska was to overcome my fears. I recall, in my very first week back in September, treading cautiously along narrow aretes in Girdwood, and over-powering a fear of possibly slipping to meet my death. But not only has this scholarship aided what once was my short-comings, many other fears have been likewise phased out. A fear of getting lost in a foreign country I conquered by becoming adept at orienteering and map reading. My trepidation of missing scheduled buses and flights was vanquished by ensuring I had planned everything through. Even my anxieties over bears in Alaska soon subdued, as I progressively adventured into the wilderness on my own, each day being successful in my journeying.
I realised, after a time, that this was the end. Finality on a journey that once upon a time was just a dream. Here, at the highest viewing platform in America, I had not only reached the apex of the CN Tower, but the conclusion of what has been the summit of my life so far. The crest of my very existence on this planet. Four unforgettably historic months; 132 monumental days. Though this maybe the closure of one journey, I am sure that my zeal for exploration will inspire another one day. For along Toronto's horizon today was a thick mist obscuring the view of beyond, and I rest tonight knowing that like that mist, my future is likewise unpredictable. One can only dream of what lies ahead, beyond that mist of uncertainty. But now I know that dreams can come true, with dedication and perseverance, I travel home tomorrow to begin another segment of my life which I'm sure will be just as great.
Having just returned from one amazing adventure, I have never felt more privileged to be living on such a wonderful planet. Memories of my American experience will remain with me forever, and just in case you want to visit some of my favourite days, below on the right hand side is a list of my 'best bits'. This year sees another very busy year for me as I start a motivational speaking programme around the country, film for a brand new series, and work on writing my first book. In September, I leave Norfolk to study Physical Geography at the Royal Holloway, University of London. I'm really looking forward to it all, and you can follow my every move on this site. Since it's launch, Geography with Dan has received over 40,000 views. Please do come back and see what I'm getting up to.