CDT 24: Knowing the Goodness of the Human Soul

‘Darby to Lincoln’

I turned off the news when I was seventeen years old, too much badness killing my soul—and at forty-one years old I’m still learning that the core of human nature is good. In a large impersonal world, bad shit swirls about like a hurricane of frustration, envy, and straight out hate. But people, individuals, even with all our differences, face to face, we are good. One on one, people’s boundaries soften a bit and return to just being human.

Yes, I know, there is meanness in the world, but I truly believe that people are good. In masses, the product of circumstances, differences, and labels gives rise to “us and them”, “you and me”, “good and bad”, but removed from that madness, we see the reflection of our self and our shared humanness. I am a relativist. I don’t believe that “bad” behavior equals a bad person or people. I believe that we are products of our stories, and our stories are complicated; but people, people are good, and there is so much beauty in the world and in the human soul.

That was a bit of a rant, I know, but on these long hikes I am reminded over and over again about what is beautiful about putting yourself out there, shedding the protective layers, and trusting our human connection. I can’t say it enough, one of my favorite parts of thru-hiking is hitchhiking into town between sections of trail. I swear I remember every single hitch I have ever gotten. And people are beautiful.

The hitches in Montana have taken a long time, at least an hour for each hitch, and not for lack of traffic, but they have all been amazing. Leaving Darby was no exception, but our ride was great. We shared stories of our hike and talked about bears and climbing. Our ride took us to Sula. The rain was really coming down now. We stuck out our thumbs, dressed in full on rain gear like wet puppy dogs standing on the side of the highway. This next ride was obviously going to take longer. After an hour of freezing in the rain we walked over to the store, bought some hot cocoa, and warmed up. We contemplated staying in their cabins for the night, but decided to step back into the rain and give it another try. After thirty minutes a pickup truck pulled over. This was no average pickup truck. It was an old truck with as many layers of paint as one of my abstracts. Each layer was peeling back a little revealing its history and the guy inside seemed to reveal just as many peeling layers of history. He smiled and said, “man, it’s cold out and I’ve been in your shoes. Where you going?” We replied, “Chief Joseph Pass, the Continental Divide.” “I’m going right by there,” he said. We got in and he had even more stories and tales of the countryside than we did.

People like to share. It’s true. We do. So many people offer us food, water, beer, and of course the good old-fashioned peace pipe. There is always a bit of disappointed in the person’s eyes when I say, “oh, I don’t smoke.” They graciously say, “oh, that’s cool,” but it’s times like these when I wish I did. To share is human and there doesn’t seem to be anything much more human than sharing a peace pipe.

We stepped out of the truck into the pouring rain, said thank-you and waved good-bye. I think Neon and I both were thinking, “What the hell are we doing out here. This is crazy. It’s cold and raining. Why did we leave town?” But there we were, and so we walked. We walked through the rain, the cold, did not hang our food that night, ate inside our tent, and had a great night.

It was still drizzling the next morning, and COLD! It definitely felt like one of those cold fall mornings warning that winter was coming soon. It took a couple of days, but the sun did shine. We spread out all our gear, dried our bones, and basked in the warm, bright, light. We started hanging our food again, the rain came and went, and the miles slowly passed by.

By this time we realized that we had completely screwed up the miles for this stretch, in turn, underestimating our food by more than a day’s worth. We rolled into Storm Lake on fumes, even with the granola bars a weekender had given us. Neon was ahead of me. By the time I reached the lake he said, “Hey, these guys said they’d give us a ride into town on their quads.” “Awesome,” I replied. The guy offered us a beer. I took off my pack, sat down, and drank it like it was liquid sunshine. The woman said, “you can stay at our place.” We said, “oh, thank you, but we’re out of food, we need to go to the store. We’ll just stay at a motel.” “Oh no, you can eat with us. And we have a spare room you can stay in. Do you need to do laundry? We can take you to the store in the morning.” We were both hesitant and said, “Can we give you some cash?” “Oh no, you give back. That’s just what you do. Keep your money” she said.

We rode into town on the back of two quads. It was a lot longer into Anaconda than I realized. They invited us into their home. We showered, did our laundry, and all ate dinner together. We slept in their spare bedroom and they drove us to the store in the morning. Neon offered to take them out to breakfast and the woman said again, “Oh no, you give back, that’s just what you do.”

We went on our way, my mind clouded with “You give back, that’s just what you do.” These words haunted my mind for days. That, and her saying how we were living her dream. She had always wanted to move way out into the wilderness and just be there. And here I was whimpering about the rain and the bears. Bears that I’ve never even seen, but they sure do have me nervous.

I have found a solution to nervous sleeping in grizzly country. Neon and I almost always disagree about where to setup the tent. Tent site feng shui is a big deal. He says, “it’s too slopey” and I say, “I don’t know, I don’t like it, it feels all wrong.” Which for me translates into “scary woods, boogy man, feels unsafe.” But those aren’t the words I say and those aren’t the words he hears.

I’ve always been afraid of the dark and things I can’t see in the dark so the site needs to “feel” right. I sleep on the side of the tent with no door. I consider this the blind side of the tent and I need it to “feel” protected. Otherwise every single little noise, wind, anything keeps me so wide awake with fear. On the nights when I feel my side of the tent is “unprotected” I spend some time collecting dead branches and logs and stack them around the foot, head, and backside of the tent. It’s rather silly, of course I know it wouldn’t keep a bear out, but if I hear those branches snap or logs move then I know I should be scared, but if not then I sleep peacefully.

Hitching into Lincoln we got another great ride. My first ever hitch in a semi-truck. The guy stopped, pointed in the opposite direction, and said, “Hey, Burning Man is that way.” We laughed and chatted about Burning Man, the trail, and his truck. We arrived in Lincoln feeling blessed, perhaps not for all the rain, but for knowing the goodness of the human soul.

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