There comes a point in the hike when we all start feeling the lows, the rush, the push, the fear of winter weather, and the nagging voice to just quit. And it’s not just us, there has been so much talk of being behind schedule, flipping, skipping, quitting, winter, snow, and low budgets. It’s that time in the hike, though seriously all that talk starts the moment you set foot on the trail from the start. The difference is that now, we all feel the reality of it.
We’re tired, you have no idea how tired we are, the weather really is coming now. The monument is calling, it is so close it feels as though we can reach out and touch it, but we are not really that close. Our gear is wearing out, everything keeps breaking, we’re hungry deep down in our cells, the kind of hungry that town meals just can’t satisfy in such a short time. The bank accounts are getting that empty echo and we really can’t bear another freezing rain storm with cold, numb hands, wet clothes, setting up a wet tent, and waking up to wet everything.
And we ask, “Why are we doing this anyway?” We keep asking ourselves until that little voice says, “That’s It! I’m Done!” And there you have it–it just slips out. Done! Finished! Quit! I want to go home, I’m tired!
But then the sun comes out. We strategize over the schedule, the route, the budget, the weather. We pull out the duct tape and patch all the worn out gear. And after a good meal we tell ourselves once more that we’re almost there, we can do this.
It’s a play between the mental and the physical and this little voice deep down inside. And here we all are struggling our way towards the finish monument. For us, that’s north, a few miles into Canada, a concrete pillar sitting at the edge of a lake. I like to joke, “I can hear the monument calling, no wait, I think that was just thunder.”
The other day, for a brief moment and for the first time, I had the answer to “why am I doing this?” As a child I always examined things in nature, the petals on a flower, the pattern in a rock, the way the wind blew the little hairs around on my skin. I was immensely mesmerized by every little detail in nature. As I grew older I envied the idea of kids that grew up on multi-generation farms, understanding what all the details of “place” meant. The kind of details that are only known to people that have lived in a place for generations.
These long hikes let me touch that knowledge. I know I’m not staying in one place, but living in the wilderness for six months transecting a line is powerful. It’s a whole body experience of nature in a linear path. And when I say that my art is inspired by nature–this is what I mean. It’s not just in the “sitting on my porch or a walk in the park” kind of way. It is the whole body experience of the time I spend out here. I feel it in the sore ankle I’ve been walking on since the frozen waters of the Gila River, the dirt I can taste under my fingernails when I pick my teeth, the body memory of cold, numb, hands, from a hail storm in a white out in the Colorado Rockies. The way the white wings of the butterfly in the basin looked as it settled onto the sage. It’s the sound of a wolf howling as I gently traverse a steep snowfield trembling with fear. It’s the color of the snowbanks overhanging freezing, raging waters, as I step into them, breathing hard, taking a deep breath, and pulling myself out on the other side, yelling, “I’m good, I’m so good, I’m ok, let’s just go.” It’s that memory of seeing the elk footprints hug the same side of steep trail that I do. It’s the color of the sunset at twelve thousand feet. It’s the people we meet along the way. It’s the bee that was sleeping on the flower. It’s that free feeling of cowboy camping on a clear night. It’s the stars at three in the morning when I wake to pee. It’s the burn in my thighs when a climb another ridge. It’s the sun on my skin after a cold night. It’s the smell of the sage. The bird, the butterfly, it’s the vision I have when I’m way out there and I forget about everything else. It is…
I could go on and on… But my point is that it is a cumulative thing, it is a body thing, it is a visual thing, and it is something more than all of that. Maybe I will never really know what it is, but somewhere between the start and the finish, it is there. And so we walk, perhaps just to find the middle…