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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.

January 18, 2010

Thirty Years A Broad, Now Attempting Manhood

Homey, home-boy, homeland security, homepage, homing device: these are East Coast/foreign terms, newly recycled into the national lingo. Out west we say, “Give me a home where the buffalo roam...” You laugh. But have you been there and seen those brutes up close? Home on the Range being the great ecological song, as Odetta taught me, and the West being about place, the land, roots in dirt. Did you know the rock you’re sitting on was under the sea only a hundred million years back?

That’s Aldo Leopold’s shack in the photo, by the way. Whatever you do don’t look him up, don’t read A Sand County Almanac. No, no, heaven forbid. You might start reading Thoreau and Muir, Stegner and Maclean, Abbey and Dillard. Watch out. I warned you! Anyway, that is Leopold’s home. Nice, huh?

When friends from Italy come over, I take them to Ocean Beach, to Yosemite, to Tahoe, to Muir Woods, to Big Sur, maybe over to Death Valley and the Grand Canyon. They think they want to see the cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas (Europe is about cities, the countryside is mostly vegetable gardens for the city-folk, or wood farms, pastures and ski resorts), but when they see Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, the Everglades, Alaska, the Colorado Plateau and Mojave Desert, the Hawaiian isles, the Alleganys, Rockies, Sierras, the Mississippi River, Great Lakes, Niagara Falls, British Columbia, and all the little corners, plants, animals, birds, seashells, well, I hope they forget the cities a minute and stand in awe. Look at a sky bigger than your whole country and say, “Ahhhh.” Some are momentarily and appropriately awestruck; then it’s, 'okay, when do we get to see New York?'

What is this entry about? I just bought a house back in my home state of California, something I never thought I could do (sorry if the crisis is rough on you). And we spent the holiday/winter break personalizing, home-making, turning a bland crackerbox into a rat’s nest by living there, looking at the corners, breathing in the stale air, our human vibrations infusing the plasterboard.

"Homeless, homeless, moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake …?" Yes, I have been; haven’t you? Did you see Into the Wild? My ending is different. Have lived in old trailers, on people’s couches and in shacks and garages and tents, a backpack and a car with curtains. And been on food stamps and Medicaid (my grandfather was outraged that a new college grad had to go on welfare!). But poverty lends perspective (when temporary), it doesn’t scare you into living stupidly once you know how little it all matters. Like traveling to a third world country in your own life.

So I bought my first house at 50, and my second at 55. Never really thought of myself as the two-mortgage type. Maybe a hobo riding the rails, you know, with a guitar and a bedroll. Mid-Atlantic, in this case, using the guitar as a paddle. For most folks the fear is not having enough; for a few of us it’s having too much. Travel light is our mantra. Yet, here I am with two mortgages, happy as a squirrel in a nut tree.

Home is a good place for love. Making, creating, fabricating, fashioning love from the essence of a place that is yours, your own place in the cosmic scheme. Not that a couple cannot become intimate in rented digs, on someone else’s furniture. Or rather, yes, I guess that’s what I mean. Buy it or build it or paint it pink or glue your own newspaper to the walls, but if there’s no place that mirrors and echoes your love, it’s a blind, deaf, roaming homeless love. You ought to fall in love in space like Disney birds, circle around a while, then come to earth and make a nest together. A silly idea, but worth trying. I’m not guaranteeing anything, just saying.

And homesick? Have I been homesick these three decades of my adult life? Come on, Doc, what are the symptoms? What’s the cure? Is “best of both worlds” a cruel myth? Is “going native”? Straddling the border? Is the ex-pat a cry-baby? Or has it been effectively hard here where not a single person can pronounce my name? Crank up the self-pity machine and put “goin’ home” in a song for a sure hit. As for the ‘going home’ part of baseball, I’ll tackle that in an upcoming episode. Stay tuned.

What else? The Bible, no less, says: Man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets. Oh, I didn’t want to talk about that. We all know that old joke. I’m talking about the next-to-final resting place now, the one where you sleep and then wake up refreshed, yawn and stretch in your own soft bed. Where the books aren’t holy, and the tragedy of death is measured in burnt toast.

Or burnt down houses. Oakland Hills, Malibu, Santa Cruz County, Santa Barbara County, San Diego County, San Bernardino Mountains, Los Angeles County: thousands lost. “YOU’VE GOT THIRTY SECONDS TO GET OUT; GRAB ONE THING AND RUN!” My soul? My charming good looks? My insight into the secret workings of the universe? I’d probably just grab a scrapbook of photos and poems about my house, already lost in the fires of self-doubt.

If being a man (or woman) is an act of courage, and courage is facing up to what scares you, maybe that’s ownership, roots, permanancy, the rut, the stagnation risk, prodigal boy returning like Thomas Woolf, knowing what he knew ... well, maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s finally time.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Well ...
Jeff: Yeah. What?
Mutt: The short fortune teller escaped from prison.
Jeff: So?
Mutt: She was a small medium at large.
Jeff: Ow. How about the thief who stole a calender and got twelve months?
Mutt: How about the thief who fell and broke his leg in wet cement?
Jeff: Can I guess? He became a hardened criminal.
Mutt: Okay, how about the thief who stole corn from a garden and was charged with stalking?
Jeff: I’ve got one.
Mutt: Go for it.
Jeff: The police were called to a day care center where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.
Mutt: Oh no, officer. I do not wish to give up my right to remain silent!
Jeff: You said it, man.

(Mutt and Jeff salute Paul Pedersen retiring from T.P.D. after thirty years fighting crime.)

January 17, 2010

Zen Saying

There is nothing you really have to do
Nothing you have to say
There is nothing you really have to have
Nothing you have to know
There is nothing you really have to become ...
However, it helps if you remember
That fire burns, and when it rains, the earth gets wet.

Quoted by “No Way” Ray Echols in A Thru-Hiker’s Heart.