(Post from April 28, 2017)
I woke up to frost on my windshield. On the inside of my windshield, that is. Outside, a short cargo train scraped slowly along a set of tracks I failed to notice when I parked on an empty dirt road last night, the passing locomotive’s chattering wheels pulling me out of sleep every forty-five minutes.
I sat up, wrenched my arms quickly through the sleeves of my puffy coat and fished around my sleeping bag for the beanie I’d worn to bed. Though I’ve been living out of Luna for a while now, I still don’t quite have my system dialed in. I can never find my pocket knife, phone charger, or toothbrush, and I somehow lost the first aid kit I meticulously assembled after my WFR course in January.
It’s cold, but there’s coffee to be made and elk wandering the field across the road.
I didn’t intend to get as far south as Flagstaff, but after a few long days hiking at the Grand Canyon, I needed a shower and a meal with vegetables in it.
I pulled up to the Backcountry Office at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon fifteen minutes before they closed, and despite the acute dissuasion from the ranger on duty, snagged an elusive overnight permit for the North Rim the next night. I planned to hike the Rim to Rim (to Rim) trail–24 miles and about 5,000′ of elevation change each way.
As one of the busier parks in the nation, I’m sure its well intended, but there’s a fair amount of fear-mongering perpetuated by the Park Service. I had to sign a waiver acknowledging that I was completing this hike against expert advice, and that I understood what I was getting into.
I knew it was gonna kick my ass, but I also knew that I could do it.
Life on the road can be mercurial, and I often wonder what it is, exactly, that I’m doing. Sometimes I have to spell it out for myself: seeing friends, hiking new trails, skidding down rocky forest service roads, meeting new people, experiencing new things. That adventure lifestyle, or so it’s billed.
Sometimes I pull off down an unkempt BLM roads and follow it, sometimes dozens of miles, till it stops. I pull out the broken lawn chair I found in Tahoe and set it in the dirt and open a novel or my sketchbook or just watch the breeze tickling the long dry grass.
I think about that grass in the breeze, or where all the bighorn sheep are and why I haven’t seen one yet, or whether I brought enough water, or where the hell I put my pocketknife this time, and I try to be present. I try, sometimes, not to think of other things. But they tug, as they always do, in my weakest moments, and I wonder why I’m really here. In this hundreds-of-thousands of acres of open land, sitting alone in a rusty broken lawn chair with a stuffy nose and sunburnt shoulders and a hiking shirt crinkly with salt.
And I’m not sure. The beauty of these spaces, the simplicity of this lifestyle, the intrigue of novelty, the people surrounding me–all these things, certainly.
And I wonder how much is motivated by a desire for atonement. A way to make amends for decisions I’ve made and roads I’ve turned away from in the name of “doing my own thing”; a way to try to escape my own shame for the things I’ve said or done–or didn’t say, or didn’t do; to make peace with the things I’ve messed up out of naïveté or anger or selfishness.
As eminent travel scholar Kerouac writes, “I have nothing to offer anybody but my own confusion.”