To those who have been following me, I apologize for vanishing without notice. I was hiding in the remote (relatively) mountains of the High Sierra. But as my friend Ben pointed out, we take culture with us wherever we go. On our first full day in the mountains,we stopped at Tyndall Creek, on the Pacific Crest Trail. There was a guy who called himself Tom, if I remember, who was hiking the whole thing by himself. He’d started it last year but didn’t finish for some reason (we didn’t ask, he didn’t volunteer). Along the course of our discussion it came out that he was divorced, and by his own report spent a lot of his time on the trail thinking bitter thoughts about his ex. So as they say, “wherever you go, there you are.” Here is a guy walking along in the midst of a beautiful wilderness, thinking bitter thoughts about his ex rather than happy thoughts about being in the middle of a beautiful wilderness. Go figure. It’s a cautionary tale for us all.
So here’s a question for any and all of us: how do we mentally get our time away? For me, going up to the mountains has always worked pretty well. The guys I go with have been doing this for more than 20 years. Each year we wonder if it’s the last, now that the youngest of us is pushing 60. But so far, so good. In my case, I came up with a new way to describe what we do– high stakes walking. Though we went on a “name brand” trail– the Shepherd Pass trail, with several other parties on it that we encountered each day, there are places where the trail is literally a line of footprints in the sandy hillside, with the result of a missed step being the chance to tumble down a steep hillside (with a full backpack on) for a thousand feet. Although usually big rocks or small trees can be counted on to stop you if the human-backpack configuration doesn’t bring you to a halt. Ouch the thought. At other times we were walking over irregular rocks that ranged in size from smaller than a deck of cards to bigger than a hatbox. None of this is difficult. And really, now, how often do you stumble and fall down while just walking, or step wrong and twist your ankle? But in this case, if you do, you’re up to twenty miles from the nearest road. To steal from another source, “it concentrates the mind wonderfully.” I’ll get a photo for y’all soon.