Update: Still Walking.
It’s been 900 miles since I punched at the digital keyboard on my phone to write a blog post. I’ve hiked more of the Appalachian Trail flying under the social media radar than exposed to it. It seems to me that there is little purpose in trying to recapture the past month and a half for a half-real readership. Why try to bring back what I have walked, from the edges of my mind, to the daylight pouring into this hotel room?
I am watching trailer videos of the soon to be released movie, The Dark Tower, on YouTube. I feel a stirring at the lines, “I do not aim with my hand. He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.” I don’t know if it’s because of the wine, because it appeals to the Hollywood machoism I sometimes subscribe to, or because I’m planning on summiting Katahdin (579 miles from here) with my brother on September 9th, the second anniversary of my father’s death.
The line has some sort of inevitable ring to it. Not quite a curse, but a declaration that is so sure of itself that it’s difficult to not go along with it–to ride out its flow. The Gunslinger follows with: “I do not kill with my gun. I kill with my heart.” I imagine the spokesmen for the NRA applauding themselves, happy that in pop culture the gun (and consequently gun companies and an armed civil society) is exonerated. After all, it is the heart that kills another heart. One heart that wills itself, or fears its extinguishing, over another. One heart that believes itself to be the victor and the other the slain. I think it is the 2015 California Rosé speaking through me.
Sometimes the AT is known as the Green Tunnel. Compared to the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail, the AT has few picturesque points and little exposure. While the PCT and CDT boast elevations of over 13000 feet, the AT tops out at 6643. In general it’s not glorious. It doesn’t look good on Instagram. It’s a lot of sweat, dirt, rain, and deli sandwiches (in New York at least).
After Harpers Ferry, WV, essentially the halfway mark, I felt like I put my head down, tried to blast out as many miles as I could, stay low, stay focused, survive through Pennsylvania and the middle section of the trail. It worked it a way. I am still here. Still plodding, or at times nearly running, in a northeasterly direction.
On the grand scale of things, I am close. What is 500 miles in 2200? I’m excited too, I’ve been waiting to get to Vermont and New Hampshire, to the White Mountains, where the trail rises above tree line, where tundra remains (for now) on the Eastern Coast.
I am still enjoying the trail, and I want to see its completion, though my previous experience of dating and living abroad confirm for me that I am no longer in the honeymoon phase.
I feel the trail coming to a close. A grand close to be sure, but a close nonetheless, and I am happy. I would not want it to be longer, but I would not wish it shorter either, though the trail and land exist outside of me and regardless are casually indifferent. Stereotypically, as much a physical journey, I think walking this far by myself had also been an introspective journey, or at least had allowed me to run out a thousand life scenarios in my head. Contrary to the literary m bow on the end of Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild”, which I love, hiking does not heal. It does not alleviate. It does not mollify.
In fact I am tired of this vocabulary. I am tired of young people in need of experience, healing, or finding themselves. The world of physical matter: of dirt, of water, of wind, of fire, is a simple back drop and perhaps makes it easier, simpler, to address and sort through cultural crisis, as the words and feelings have no digital fortress behind which to seek refuge. As hikers these are the things we know: heat, cold, hunger, satiation, blisters, and gauze. I do not want it to sound romantic when I say that the world is reduced to empty fuel canisters and clean socks, though I know it will.
I have no way to end this post. No take away or lesson or practiced parting. Walking has been incorporated into tradition now, a part of the ceremony. 1600 miles will do that. I recommend it to anyone and don’t believe myself to be jaded though my declarative sentences may sound it so.
No, what I am going to do now is pull out the pint of Ben and Jerry’s from the freezer, put stamps on the postcards I wrote today, calculate again how many miles I need to walk on average to make it to Katahdin by September 9th, look at pictures of road bikes and Budapest, and get ready for tomorrow.
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