Trail Daze: Part 2
Plans usually have a funny way of not going how you might expect. One day I was thinking I wouldn’t be going to Trail Days and the next day I’m back in Damascus, dancing shirtless in the woods. Friday morning rolled around and I found myself making my way into town and stumbling upon the local gym.
“How much does it cost to use the gym, just for a day?” I asked the attendant at the front desk.
“Oh don’t worry about it man, go right ahead!” He replied gesturing towards the barbells and squat racks behind him. He was built like an athlete, a lean and muscular frame, and seemed quite enthusiastic about someone coming in to use the gym. It was empty in there when I walked in, and remained so throughout the time I spent working out.
I hadn’t lifted weights in quite awhile, or done any type of workout that wasn’t hiking for that matter. I saw the barbell and thought of all the various movements I could do after loading it up with forty-five pound plates. I was also intrigued upon seeing a pull up bar, an object that appeared almost foreign after being away from a gym for so long. I was surprised to see that I hadn’t lost all the strength in my upper body. I stayed in there until I was drenched in sweat, and my hangover began to fade away under the endorphin rush.
I walked down the street leading back to the baseball fields on the far side of town. It was a beautiful, sunny, spring day and I was waving and smiling at everyone I walked by. Wristband still intact, I flashed it at the vendors under the tent leading into Tent City, my new residence. There was a mobile shower unit in the parking lot area leading into the woods. It was essentially a RV containing a bunch of showers, as well as laundry machines. This service of free showers and laundry was a form of Trail Magic provided by a local church, and I graciously partook in the magic. They even provided towels and coffee while you waited on your laundry. I also seemed to have gotten lucky with my timing, for soon after I arrived and handed them my sweaty clothes an enormous line of hikers formed requesting the same services. The church was so selflessly kind for doing this for the hikers, amongst other things like hiker feeds with cheeseburgers in the afternoon, and holding hotdog eating contests in the evening.
“Look at this guy. Just came back from pumping iron. Now he’s gonna start drinking beer. He’s crazy,” Muffin Man said, addressing me when I returned to camp. My friends all thought I was crazy for working out the morning after a night of heavy drinking.
Scarecrow was passed out in his tent, and I soon learned he had been up until sunrise doing who knows what. Q tip was still missing and we caught wind that he was in town somewhere. Between sipping beer we all thought it was high time we go into town and find a good place to eat a hardy meal. That’s when I saw it. Written in highlighter on a blackboard outside the local tavern, it was karaoke night.
Fuck yeah! I’m gonna get drunk and sing!
I immediately started thinking of good songs to sing karaoke to. I came back to this thought cyclically as if it were the most important thing in my existence for that day. My mission became finding the perfect song to sing. I found it amusing how seriously I was taking the prospect of karaoke. I also began conversing with everyone I ran into about karaoke night, as the idea of it was prevailing in my thoughts throughout the day.
I settled on the idea of singing Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin, and was disappointed to find that it wasn’t an available option when I drunkenly looked over the long selection in their songbook. There were in fact no Led Zeppelin songs to choose from, which also surprised me.
The tavern in Damascus was a fun place to hangout nonetheless, especially if one gets drunk before walking through the front door, as to avoid buying too many five dollar beers. There was a gaming lounge area perpendicular to the bar, and we all bought a beer and carried it over to the lounge and played pinball and Pac-Man. At one point I felt so drunk that all I could do was lay in one of the booths, unable to summon the strength or volition to stand any longer. And it was only 4 o’clock at this point. That day I discovered that Q tip was really good at pinball and Muffin Man was impressively sharp at Pac-Man. He broke the high score on the machine several times in less than an hour. I watched in awe as they focused diligently.
As I meticulously sifted through the tavern’s songbook for something to sing, the song Let Her Cry by Hootie And The Blowfish caught my eyes.
That’ll be a fun one to belt out.
I laughed out loud when I thought about how funny this would be. I have a way of finding my own absurdity amusing, especially when under the influence of alcohol. When it was my turn to get up and sing, I asked Q tip if I could borrow his sunglasses, as I found them to be unusually large, just enough to make myself appear that much more ridiculous as well as allowing me to avoid making uncomfortable eye contact with anyone watching me. I belted it out, even swaying side to side clumsily as I roared the lyrics. I felt like a little kid on the inside, and I completely immersed myself into the character of this song. The novelty of the experience had me soaring on cloud nine.
At sundown we all walked back into Tent City together and drank the night away. Another drumming circle began at the enormous fire pit, and we all danced and socialized until we laughed ourselves to sleep. The next day I awoke with a nauseating feeling. A migraine accompanied by stomach aches. There was a hiker parade in town, but I was too hungover to attend. The church held a hiker feed in one of the baseball fields at noon and I ambled over to it to stuff my face with burgers and hotdogs, then ambled back over to my tent to sleep some more. I didn’t want to drink anymore. I felt disgusted with myself. In the late afternoon I moseyed through town with Sundance to observe the post parade festivities. There was a man standing atop a yellow school bus giving a fervent speech about the pride we should feel as thru hikers, and how we should honor our role and be respectful to the tradition of hiking the Appalachian Trail. While I understood the compassion and agreed with his sentiments, I couldn’t help but listen to the facetious thoughts rolling around in my brain.
He’s doing everything perfectly. Galvanizing the crowd into listening with their full attention, waving his arms about as he shouts every word. He’s like a politician and we’re at a rally. Well, it’s almost the same thing really. Who cares about any of this stuff. It’s a spectacle. He’s rousing us into an emotional response.
The crowd cheered and I snobbishly giggled. I felt condescending in my feelings of nihilism. This outward feeling of nihilism was diametrically opposed to how I was feeling Thursday night, when I fully embraced the cult like gesturing and posturing of cheering and chanting. Now it all seemed so silly. I felt removed from the scene emotionally. Like some outsider who just wanted to get back to the hiking part of this adventure. I didn’t drink much that night, even after I felt reinvigorated by the presence of my friends all drinking and smoking around the campfire. They all wanted to do something crazy, as this would be our last night before returning to the trail. I just wanted to lay in my tent.
I felt reclusive. I love my friends but I just wanted to be alone. My head was in a daze all day and I wanted to sit alone and collect myself. A sort of lonely self awareness came over me at some point that I felt strongly about addressing. I wanted the alone time to think.
No matter what kind of relationships I establish, throughout my entire life, I’ll eventually die and I’ll have to face death alone. Where did that come from? Am I alone even though I have interpersonal experiences with the people I love? How well do they even know me? How well do I know them?
“Romeo, have a beer,” Muffin Man said as he held out a can of beer for me.
I waved him off, “Nah I’m good man.”
I felt sort of terrible. Maybe it was all the drinking, but this existential feeling of meaninglessness and emptiness was demanding my attention. I laid in my tent and ruminated on the meaning of life until I found the question itself to be a rather annoying one to ask.
We create our own meaning. Whatever ideology speaks to us. Whatever philosophies or religions we subject ourselves to, whatever we find to be alluring or worth fighting for, whatever makes us feel something. That’s what gives it meaning. I don’t care about any of that. It’s all the same. The woman preaching in a Methodist church is the same as the woman praying in a Mosque. The physicist may find just as much spiritual enlightenment in his work as the novelist finds in his. Adolf Hitler felt his message to mankind was just as important as Mahatma Gandhi felt his message was.
Removing myself emotionally from searching for meaning was sort of enlightening, ironically. Though I do genuinely believe there are things worth fighting for and perhaps worth dying for. But the nihilistic lens gripped me as I felt content with not worrying about a damn thing.
When I care about finding a purpose, I’ll create one myself.
The next morning we hastily packed up and Q tip’s friend, P Diddy, graciously gave us a ride back into Bland, where we all rested more at the first campsite we came to, which was about ten yards from the road. We ordered a couple pizzas and reflected on the weekend, our Trail Days experience. We all roundly agreed we were exhausted from all the partying, and ready to get back to the whole hiking part of this journey again first thing in the morning. It took me all of Sunday to pull myself out of my existential slump, which I suspected had something to do with also recovering from a powerful hangover. The sun would rise tomorrow, and as I drifted back into the world of dreams that night I felt enthusiastic about the possibilities of what may happen when I awoke.
It’s funny how I shift back and forth in how I feel about things, and how feelings provide the character for what we find to be meaningful. Something a person may dedicate their entire livelihood to may be the same thing another person may find to be totally devoid of meaning, and that it’d be useless to devote themselves to it. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, I guess. To each his own. Damn it, I hate platitudes.
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