can’t think of a title for whatever it is that i am about to write.
That was meant to be my first sentence but I had inadvertently written it on the subject line–thus we have a title.
I have some ideas about what I want to write, mainly about some of timely trail magic I have received along the way. I suspect, though, given my current mood this missive is likely to meander.
I flew into new Zealand with my hiking partner K2. We had met briefly on the Appalachian trail and hiked bits of it intermittently.
When I started the AT I had little in the way of experience or even expectations. I suppose I made up in enthusiasm for what I actually lacked any real knowledge about trail life.
I didn’t really didn’t think anyone that I knew at the time would be crazy enough to consider spending six months in the the American bush and hill country. Even if I had I doubt that I would have been able to convince them that a thru hike is a good idea. I scarcely knew what it meant to thru hike.
Sure, I knew I could read trail journals, bill Bryson’s walk in the woods, scour the internet forums and blogs to get a sense of the gear that I’d need, the experiences I’m likely to encounter, the sweat, bugs and long days spent in the comfort of a single set of clothes worn threadbare by constant, heavy use.
I thought at the time I had a decent handle on things. I had set up an excel spreadsheet and worked out my gear list. A list that was part wish and part financial reality. I tracked down the only Canadian retailer who sold granite gear backpacks that seemed to be one of the choice packs on the trail, scoured eBay for a used big Agnes fly Creek 1 tent, spent countless hours cutting, fitting and drilling holes into differently sized aluminum cans to get that perfect alcohol stove. I spent a solid week eating half warmed soup cans and baked beans I had scored when Cambel’s sponsored a Christmas party at work. Meanwhile my sister and mother openly wondered why I opted to eat out of half heated when there was always something cooking in out kitchen upstairs.
I was obsessed. Appalachian trail was all I could think about after having returned my self imposed exile in the mountains of british Columbia.
Steph and I had broken up, finally, after five years of trying to negotiate each other. There were some good years, don’t get me wrong, but somewhere between moving in with someone into a space that instantly seemed and felt as if I was treading into someone else’s life and the triumphs and trauma of grad school, the veneer had just peeled off. I can speak for myself: I hadn’t really paid much attention just how much the trajectory of our private lives in a share space had gone askew.
I’ve always been serious, imaginative, even as a boy. And sometimes loathed and cherished my sensitivity, introversion, what I perceive as selfishness and the resulting crippling guilt. I had forgot that in my cerebral space crammed with literary theory and numerous other forms of existential and intellectual agnst there was little to for anyone else let alone someone who had a completely different vision for life.
It wasn’t all her fault.
The subsequent summers spent in small town farms in southwestern Ontario doing hard farm labour were also a form of self exile, I think, in retrospect. It wasnt just my resisting the nine-to-five but a rejection things that had me tethered like a sheep in a manicured shack that was otherwise surrounded sweet wild grass.
I wanted to be free but even then I hadn’t any real ideas what this freedom could be. Some of my friends thought and perhaps still think that I had simply run, turned my back on my family, friends, academia and even myself. I couldn’t really articulate to anyone that I couldn’t really breathe.
I had to go, anywhere. The farms, the mountains in BC and finally, a long walk in the woods.
Now I am walking in new Zealand, a place that sometimes feel like a long forgotten natural experiment.
The ferns here are so huge that the unfurling fronds seem positively Jurassic. Sometimes I’ll catch one of those fern bush turned palm trees in my sight and marvel at the potential of the simple fiddlehead had it the necessary conditions to maximize its capacity for growth. An acorn that holds an oak never made more sense to me than when I walk by these fully actualized palm fronds.
And there is the variety of nocturnal birds, their nightly symphony is cacaphonous at first but which swiftly aligns with the rythm of your sleep cycles. Occasionally when a Morpork owl or even a rare Kiwi’s screetch at night their shrill language pierce even though deepest dreams. You startle awake from a half remebered dream and draw your sleeping bag just a little tighter to keep the warmth in. You stare up at the SIL nylon walls of your tent as if you can trace the billions of starts beyond that protective membrane. A sheet of furious rain passes over your tent and you are grateful that you had spent the extra money on a good tent. The birds grow silent and you close your eyes, hoping the pitter patter of the rain drops on ur tent fly would lull you back into the blissful oblivion far away from the guilty pleasures of long remebered places you had called home in your itinerant life…