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January 29, 2010

Home Stretch



“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain-passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action. Even the sick should try these so-called dangerous passes, because for every unfortunate they kill, they cure a thousand.” John Muir

35,000 of a total 40,075 kilometers. That’s where I am. The home stretch, I call it. 5,000 to go. Then what?

I’m doing something crazy. Have been, off and on, for about fifteen years. I’m cycling (on the stationary bike in my study) around the globe at the equator. The equator intrigues me, like a rubber band around the ball we live on. Finally I can see my own tire marks up ahead.

I’m not getting anywhere though. What sense does this stunt make? Almost none. I mean, why do we humans do these things (especially men), these phony accomplishments? Will some hot blond be waiting when I cross the finish line next year with bubbly and a kiss on the cheek? Nope.

It’s not like I’m curing cancer; I’m spinning my wheels. It’s not even the best type of exercise. Certainly doesn’t help lose weight. Yet here I am—20 k per day. At about 20 km/h, as we earthlings all spin about 1,675 km/h at the equator.

What is up on top of Everest anyway, that is so worth risking one’s life and limb? Not a fountain of youth or all wisdom and peace. Litter and footprints in the snow. Are these people who do these foolish exploits merely out of their minds or lost among the lost searching for life’s meaning in the hardest places to get to? You know, more people who attempt to climb Mt. Everest (excuse a digression, but does anyone ever climb any of the other mountains around the big E or are they all ignored in favor of the celebrity climb?), uh, more people who attempt to climb Everest succeed than those who try thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail goes along the peaks of the mountains from Campo on the Mexican border to Manning Park in British Columbia: 2,650 miles away (4,260 km). There are two ways to hike this trail: thru-hiking means you do the whole thing in one go, which takes roughly five months. Section-hiking means you do it in pieces (41 official sections, or 5 larger chunks-—Southern CA, Central CA, Northern CA, Oregon & Washington). You walk maybe 20 miles a day through deserts, mountains, rainforests, high plains from April or May to September or October with everything you need on your back. You carry your home. Takes about five pairs of shoes. Those few times you land in a town to stuff yourself with diner food, get mail, buy groceries to keep going, sleep in a motel (some folks sleep on the floor as the beds are too soft after months of sleeping on the ground), those breaks are like entering the twilight zone. Reality is back up on the mountains. Where you’d rather be.

The two other great trails in North America are the Continental Divide Trail and the famous Appalachian Trail. If you want to go for a nice walk just go anywhere, around the block, over to the park. If you want to experience the beauty and spirit of the mountains, go car camping, sit and stare. You thru-hike one of the triple crown trails for other reasons. There’s something inside you that drives you like a walking machine all that way, day in and day out. (What does that mean: day in and day out?)

So I’m gearing up, revving up, pumping up the funk for another two sections of the PCT to check off this August (Tuolumne Meadows to Echo Lake). Checking off seems so silly, unless you’re up there doing it, payin’ your dues, senses wide open, body fully functional. And aching. Every day you question. The answers you bring from home don’t work anymore. You have to find a new answer to the big WHY every day. It won’t be what you expect.

And when you tell the people at home what you did, what great feat you accomplished, they generally don’t give a shit. You’re stuck with it. I learned to shut up about it. It’s mine anyway.

And of those few nut cases that succeed in thru-hiking the PCT, many go back and do it again. What is there in those woods? Elves and fairies? Some Steven King spooky force? It’s not the trees or animals or stones or pain or adrenaline or solitude, but it is something. A feeling you can’t get at home. A feeling you earn.

So, wise guy, what’s the feeling of circling the globe in your own room?

5,000 to go. Then what?

Happy trials and trails, Martin


Jeff: Oh man, not another blog about “home”!
Mutt: “Home, home on the brain.”
Jeff: What brain?
Mutt: Well, he had a photographic memory but it never developed.
Jeff: Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?
Mutt: Did you hear about the Tibetian housewife who, upon entering her smoke-filled kitchen, said: "Oh, my baking yak!"
Jeff: Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused his dentist's novocain during root canal work?
Mutt: Yeah I did. He wanted to transcend dental medication.
Jeff: So did you hear about the UC Berkeley parapsychology professor that had really bad breath?
Mutt: Nope. Enlighten me.
Jeff: It was a case of supercalifornianmysticexperthalitosis.
Mutt: I have only one thing to say after that.
Jeff: Hit me.
Mutt: It is better to have loved a short person and lost …
Jeff: Yeah?
Mutt: Than never to have loved a tall.

1 comment:

Graham Moody said...

A very colorful musing on the beauties and dangers of hiking. I really want to go now.