October 18th, 2013 - Adam Sawyer
October 18th, 2013, was a restful day and the innocuous filling in a substantial life events sandwich. Just two days prior, I had submitted the final manuscript of my first hiking guidebook. What I didn’t know at the time, was that many more would follow. Two days after the 18th, I would try heroin for the first time. Unfortunately for me, that would not be an isolated occurrence either.
I became addicted to opiates the first time when I was in the military and prescribed opiate painkillers for my headaches. GI Aspirin, they were called at the time, and I had a hell of a time with them. They eventually resulted in a felony conviction, the loss of my military career, and a one-year prison sentence. Fast forward to Portland, Oregon, almost a decade later.
I was hanging out with some friends and celebrating the completion of my book when I was offered heroin. I initially scoffed and was actually kind of offended since the person doing the offering was well aware of my past. I emphatically declined. But about thirty minutes later and after ten years clean, I tracked them down and was soon huddled in a bathroom corner smoking black tar heroin off a sheet of tin foil.
It was around this same time that I began dating a wonderful woman who was a single mother of two boys. As love was blossoming, my usage was entering full bloom as well. Living on love and delightfully smitten, I was simultaneously and quite nonchalantly entering into a steady two-year downward spiral.
My girlfriend caught me or found questionable paraphernalia in my possession a few times over the course of our relationship, and was needless to say, unimpressed. I would tell her that I only did it occasionally, but if it made her uncomfortable I would stop. Which it did, and which I did not. Then she caught me smoking H in the bathroom of her two-bedroom apartment one morning while the kids were eating breakfast. That did it for her and she quite justifiably had to let me go. Additionally, the career I had worked so hard to manifest, was being actively flushed down the toilet. Shortly thereafter, I entered a detox facility.
After getting clean, I moved into a friend’s house and began what I knew from experience would be a painfully slow process. The endorphin receptors that heroin destroys can eventually be repaired. Luckily, one of the things that helps the process along is fresh air and exercise. The outdoors of Oregon is what inspired me to become a writer in the first place. Before losing my way two years prior, hiking had been my drug of choice. It would become a critical component in returning to health. But I did eventually make it to the other side of that battle. However, this time it was facilitated by the outdoors and not the inside of a prison cell.
While I was nursing my career and myself back to health, I would find love again. Actually, the love of my life. I met Kara through a mutual friend the year prior but we were both on different paths at the time. We all met for dinner and drinks one night, and not long after that Kara asked if I would be interested in a “semi-platonic hang out.” Four days later, I would go back to my own home for the evening to prove to myself that I could. That was the last time I would go to a “home” that wasn’t where she was.
Our chemistry was insane across the board. We didn’t just fall in love, we were shot into it out of a cannon. After living together for a few years in Portland, for a variety of reasons we made our move out to the country. An off-the-grid-home on five acres in the woods of Washington.
By our third year we had settled into our groove. Having discovered the hows and whys of off-grid living, we were kind of killing it. I try not to say this very often and never in mixed company, but the pandemic brought out the full shine on us and our chosen situation.
It was the happiest that either one of us had ever been. Ever. I had only hoped for a life as fulfilling and roundly gratifying as this. All needs perfectly met. All wants exquisitely satiated. What else could a sentient being ever desire from existence? Other than its continuance. Unfortunately, it did not continue.
In the early morning hours of February 25th, 2022, what is believed to have been an electrical malfunction triggered a fire at our home in the woods. I was safely away for work, but the fire escalated so quickly and with such intensity, that both Kara and our cat Lela were unable to escape, and perished in the blaze. By the time it was extinguished later that morning, most of the home and its belongings were gone as well.
For the entirety of my adult life, I have been a purposeful nomad. “Home” was both a technicality and an abstract. Until I met a person who was, for me, the manifestation of the concept. As much as I loved our place in the woods, as much as it was my all-time favorite mailing address, the home I lost that day was Kara.
Shortly thereafter, a travel industry friend and owner of the Old Wheeler Hotel on the Oregon coast allowed me to move in and stay until I could find a place to land. Over the course of the next year and a half, I spent as much time in nature as possible to grieve, heal, and find much-needed perspectives.
Beyond those things, I have found great inspiration here as well. The Oregon coast is regularly battered by wind, rain, and surf. It absorbs some of the most brutal onslaughts that the elements have to offer with reliable, historic consistency. And as long as there have been human memories to detail such things, it has exuded an uncommon beauty and resilience in the face of it all. This place is home to some of the most wondrous and life-affirming landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes on. Perhaps not despite what it goes through, but because of it.
I would wind up calling the small town of Wheeler home for eight months before finally moving into a more permanent residence. Still on the coast, about a half-hour down the road near the town of Tillamook. At this juncture in my life, it feels somewhere between compelling and critical to be near the elk and the salmon. Where the rivers, mountains, and ocean converge. Where my favorite trees of fragrant needles and flat leaves connect the sand to the soil. Here there is life and abundance that is impossible not to be touched or influenced by. I find beauty, inspiration, meaning, and purpose every day here. It’s where I belong, for now, anyway.
Among the many things that Mother Nature has taught me, it’s that things take time - their own time. Additionally, not all of her cycles are equal, easily understood, or by human empathetic assessment, remotely fair. I’ve learned to be okay with that. I kind of have to be. It’s been a somewhat recent development, but I can honestly say that I am ready to continue the journey forward with a heart that is wide open to whatever lies ahead in this life.
We kind of have to be.
Adam Sawyer is an outdoor and travel writer, photographer, published author, guide, and public speaker based in the Northwest. In addition to a number of local outlets, his work has appeared in AAA Via and Journey, Backpacker, and British Columbia Magazines. He is the author of numerous guidebooks, including Hiking Waterfalls in Oregon, Urban Hikes Oregon, and 25 Hikes on Oregon’s Tillamook Coast. His weekly Substack newsletter, Collecting Sunsets, covers a broad set of topics including grief, addiction and recovery, travel, and the healing powers of nature.