On the thru-hiker bench next to the gas station at Castella, California with Sheepdog and El Jefe, joined by people nicknamed Peter Pan, a woman, Mr. Green, Starfox, Chikchuk, Birdhouse, Tapper and so on, we watched the RVs and Motorhomes, 5th Wheels and Bus-sized contraptions pulling jeeps and SUVs behind, and someone commented (me), “Work hard and be rewarded,” since it takes a life of work to afford those monstrous toys. Then we, in the name of all our PCT comrades, said one by one, “I’d rather walk,” “I’d rather walk,” “I’d rather walk.”
When we’d had our fill of milk and cookies (I had only one box of Lorna Doones), or beer and smokes, we slowly got up, one by one, shouldered our friendly packs and made for the 5000 ft climb back up to the alpineland, high-altitudeland, the cloudland, rocky peakland, timberland, motherland, wonderland, where you can only go on foot, Castle Crags and the Trinity Alps, in this case.
“I’d rather walk,” to me stands for the wisdom of human beings to choose. Don’t hike [insert whatever] unless you like it. Do things that last. Can happiness be bought? Is bigger better? Newer better? A promotion, a lottery win, a new lover the answer to your yearning? When your phone is also a geiger counter or your car parks itself, is that progress? We can opt out of the phony world presented by the ad-powered popular PR-ess and go back (or forward rather) to pastimes that touch both the earth and us. Learn to swim and sell the jetski. Pull the plug on that maxi-screen and play the dulcimer or read a book in a foreign language. Garden. Knit. Sing in harmony. You want to relax, sit, lay around doing nothing? It’s a lot sweeter when you earn it, like we did, after a twenty-miler. And look, you do not need another garage full of stuff, it'll just make you feel guilty. As Greg Brown said, “We have no knowledge and so we have stuff, and stuff with no knowledge is never enough … to get you there.” But I digress.
I had a good walk this summer, cut a bit short by fires, a trick knee and giardia, more testing of my physical/mental limits and perhaps less ecstasy than other years, still important, fundamental. John Muir, the Sierra Saint, in his journal from his first summer in the mountains said,
Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessing of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.
A record-breakingly fast kid named Broken Toe told me, “If you come to the mountains to find yourself, meet people, or for an inspirational experience, you’re doomed. The only reason to hike is if you love hiking. You gotta love hiking.” True I’m sure, very true, but I met people, got inspiration and a bit of self-knowledge in the bargain. With, I might add, no carbon imprint, no electronic circuitry, no celebrity news, no deodorant, no politics, just good old walking – the best preventative and curative medicine, especially against the dis-ease called angst.
See you next year, mountains, don’t burn everything please. I need the green. We all need the green. To walk in.
Happy trials on happy trails, Martin
Mutt and Jeff are on vacation in Atlantic City; they'll be back soon.