Monday, May 14, 2012

Chapter 139: Losing the Thread

One of the great things about hiking the Appalachian Trail is that, each day, one is working towards a concrete goal, e.g., the next 15.3 miles to the shelter, the next town to resupply, Katahdin. Every day has its purpose. Each step one takes is one fewer towards one's final destination. Which, when it comes, is both a horrible and wonderful realization all at once.

No wandering is aimless, no meal less than a feast, no vista anything less than dazzling, unforgettable, or utterly unique. While certain aspects of one's daily routine—the packing and unpacking, the making of meals; the sobbing quietly in the bushes, etc.—could devolve into monotony, one can always be cheered by the thought that, one day soon, this would all end.


Years later, I'm sitting in my (comfortable) apartment above the city, gazing at the grey clouds outside, feeling a cool breeze roll in through an open window, and wondering where I'd be if I were anywhere but here. Virginia, rollicking alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway? New Hampshire, looking South across snow-capped peaks? Colorado, waking up each day to the spectacular unknown? Somewhere in California or Montana, where, um... Nah, probably not those latter two.

I hear your angry groaning from the other room, yanking me from my reverie. I could ask you what's wrong, offer you comfort, or support. But you would push me away, claiming I don't understand. But I do. It's like that time I had shin splints. Or, as Bandito and I used to joke on the trail, whatever's ailing you, there's a simple solution: stop.

"Hungry? Stop hiking. Starving to death? Stop hiking. Shin bones sticking up out of where your kneecaps used to be, blood spurting everywhere? Stop hiking. And, uh, maybe call an ambulance."

That sort of thing.

But I know you would dismiss my hard-won wisdom as hokey, or overly simplistic. The frustrations and pitfalls of the real world cannot be so simply ignored, or avoided. And there is no end in sight, no ultimate goal as clearly identifiable as a plaque on top of a faraway mountain. And so my mind, if not my spirit, drifts away from these dreary thoughts, dons my (by-now tattered) Dragon Scale parka, and floats out the window into the rain. Across the rooftops, over the trees, beyond the endless strips of car-strapped blacktop. Towards the mountains. Towards peace. Towards home.


Oh, and, by the way, on August 15th, 2010, Fredo, Hot Sauce and I left Buckeye in Stratton—he was waiting for Veggie, and his beloved Ohio State bandana—and hiked 15.3 miles to the Little Bigelow Lean-to, a.k.a. "The Tubs," where we got some trail magic from some overnight hikers. Thanks, overnighters.