September 3, 2010
Today’s Miles: 17.2
Total Miles: 479.7
Breakfast Elevation: 12,490 ft
Dinner Elevation: 11,500 ft
High Point: 12,490 ft
I sleep relatively late, but wake in time to see off Ole and Meadow Bruiser, as expected. Last night they said that they would probably get an early start today, but I had more realistic expectations of myself – I knew I’d be feeling lazy after a late night.
And so I’m left again to break camp in solitude, to ease into the day at my own leisurely pace.
This is a good thing. Funny how “solitude” and “loneliness” mean essentially the same thing, yet have very different connotations.
I begin the day’s walk with a steady descent near the occasionally cascading White Creek. The sky is clear, and the world is bright and silent and peaceful. The day is uneventful as I simply move ahead on the scenic path.
Days on the the trail can just be smooth and empty like this, another facet of a long hike. There’s a lack of notable hardship, and maybe I’m somewhat numb to the natural beauty today. After a while I sometimes come to take the beauty for granted, as a given state of the world.
Fifty miles from Durango and I’m on cruise control.
This hike has been different than my other trips… as it should be. But I mean it has a different atmosphere than all the previous ones – as if I was an eager adventurous kid before, but now an adult simply taking a nice way to spend a month at the end of the summer.
Bicycling across the States, or even following the turning foliage of Vermont carried a world-conquering elation. This trip’s world-conquering moments have seemed equal on the surface, but strangely subdued underneath.
Maybe it’s because there’s been no new emotions. I’ve known the feeling of the self-contained euphoria of powering over the hills in a wide wonderful setting, when everything is perfect… the deepness of the woods, the frail unique wildflower among thousands, a beam of light shining through the clouds, being soaked in pure natural rains without a care, and looking down upon the little towns below – with their everyday stresses.
I’ve known encounters and kinship with random large mammals and effortless wildlife, the undiscriminating power of a thunderburst – laughing alone in the midst of it – simple kindnesses, the fate of unlikely coincidence, the natural rhythms of living under the sun and sky, the bliss of a private motel room with a hot shower and pizza and beer – a room where I do not have to put on my shoes to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I’ve met the most unique, interesting, inspiring people in the world, and shared with them these experiences that only compare to the joys of childhood…
All of this I had experienced before, and like a snob I fully expected it of a thru-hike.
I knew when I began that I would finish – or rather I smugly expected to finish. There’s been my injured foot – so overcoming that is something, a worthwhile development of this trip. The notion of accomplishing something is never quite the same without hardship. Going into this hike it was never about the challenge or accomplishment, but my injured foot made it that way.
I have nothing to prove through walking – I’m healthy… it’s just walking.
But I suppose that changed along the way, proving to myself that I could finish after all. Up until now, no trip had been as difficult to complete as the first, the Appalachian Trail.
Now I think I’ve carried a shade of responsibility. In less than a month I’ll be thirty. Again, on all the other trips I was more of an eager adventurous kid… in his twenties. I guess that’s something. In my early twenties I once told a girlfriend that I’d be rich by the time I’m thirty. I do consider myself rich in a symbolic way, with life and experience, but I was talking about money at the time.
I think we have all kinds of prior expectations of ourselves upon reaching the age of thirty, if only vague. Some we meet and exceed, some we don’t. A day comes for every boy when he’s in front the television watching professional sports, and he realizes that all of the athletes are younger than him – not only the college players, but even the ones in the major leagues.
Twelve years out of high school… degrees, certifications, internships, retirement accounts, PTA meetings, Beverly Hills Mansions, private jet airplanes… none of these apply to my life.
But I’ve had a damn good time, and life is time, so time should be good. Life is good.
Take those times when you’re young and drunk with no cares, at a party or riding shotgun in a car, doing this or that or going here or there or nowhere and nothing in particular except the notion that strikes you at the time. The right song comes on and the world is swaying and pulsing and every little action is fun and everyone is fun and the colors radiate and and somehow all your senses are sharp and you step outside and the air is crisp.
When I’m consistently stepping in and out of residential life to go on this trail or that, I achieve that sort of perpetual fun even when sober. To always be setting a day or vaguely immediate time to leave someplace makes things always tangibly finite, focused and less taken for granted.
So I like to hike and travel and experience my minutes in this way. Maybe the dulling of these sensations on this trip is telling me something, that I’ve had enough… but I don’t think so. Friends are raising families or pursuing elaborate meaningful careers, but I still don’t see myself racing off in that direction any time soon. Maybe these feelings are just a result of my being less financially prepared for this trip than the others, at a time when my peers are more financially secure than any other time in my past.
In a way it’s silly to be so dedicated to essentially seeking out vacation photos and solitary anecdotes of no consequence – I’m not oblivious to that. Especially sharing some of it with undue melodrama on the web for anyone to judge. I imagine it would be easy to look at all this and quickly form an opinion, but everyone should feel dramatic about their own lives at times. When I hike alone I’m naturally going to have a whole lot of self-involved moments, and I try to share some of it.
My decade of occasional pilgrimages and avoidance of meaningful relationships and vocations seemingly should signify something. There’s the compulsive distance hiker’s “What’s that guy running away from,” or the joking accusation of being on a proverbial search for something.
I’ve just enjoyed the lifestyle, the exploration and discovery. It brings my days meaning to have an ultimate concrete physical destination, and to look forward to the next trip ahead.
I come to another breezy empty meadow, and another insignificant dirt track with a forgettable name like Bolam Pass Road.
A man unpacks gear from the back of a silent motionless pickup, setting up for a Labor Day of camping. I say hello and nod and don’t even break stride.
The mountains are pretty, and fresh air is nice.
Thoughts are mundane and trivial… and the very best, truest, in-the-moment things I can express would only stain and detract right now.
This place is called Blackhawk Pass.
I find a campsite, about a half-mile below the pass.
There’s a singing current of water called Straight Creek, and an inviting stand of trees that whisper home.
A hot, steaming meal in ample yet fading daylight, seated among roots and underneath boughs.
Relaxed, long-underweared strides to the clear cold water that I do not treat or “purify.”
Rubbing of the stainless steel pot with my thumb.
Staring mindlessly into trees and ridges as I brush my teeth.
The cold chill of a clear night.