My headlight bounces in the dark and I suddenly notice some glowing eyes on the concrete path in front of me. The deer seem as shocked as I am to see someone running down the path in the chill October night. My breath puffs a steamy cloud in front of my face and I trundle down the path.
I’m not sure what propelled me out of my warm bed with Sprocket curled up against me. I felt required to put down my excellent book, don shorts and headlamp and run. The relatable prose had somehow pulled me in so far it has pushed me out and demanded I live, right now at this minute. Life has impeded these moments of clarity and running—or rather, I’ve let my excuses get in the way of exercising. No one blames you for not working up a sweat when you lack shower facilities. No one gives it a second thought when you say, “But I work seven days a week.” No one, that is but the yourself as you feel continually less fit, less confident, less whole.
I reach the old railroad bridge and hear rustling in the bushes near the river. It could be a bear or a skunk, it is likely more deer, and in a worst case, could be a mountain lion. There is nothing to be done about the creature minding their own business out of sight and I run on. The bridge looks like the set of a Halloween movie and I attempt to capture it in a photo because I find it so ridiculous. I fail, as I knew I would.
A mile from my house, I force myself to turn around. I haven’t been running and I didn’t warm up and it’s cold. There is no need to risk injury more than I already have and I really should get to sleep. As I cross the bridge again on the return trip, I can feel my mood rise a little bit like the mist off the Uncompahgre. “I need to do this everyday,” I tell myself.
The impossibility of that looms before me; even just this week I have evening work commitments and I question how realistic it is that I’ll sort out how not to smell at work. Part of me, a big part of me, doesn’t care though. I want to feel strong again. I’ve started rediscovering social parts of myself but this, the part of me that can agree to any hike and is ready for new challenges has been in hiding. Perhaps I’ll try to reclaim that part in the dark where no one can see a bit longer; I know that’s better than not reclaiming it at all.
Running past my appliances in my yard, I glance at the house before I go into the shed. That’s mine. That’s why I’ve sacrificed the feeling of the chill on my legs and the hours for words to enter my eyes and also to exit my fingers onto the screen.
I’ve been feeling like there’s some moral to my story, the larger story, not just this run or the house or processing of lots of old feelings I’ve ignored but I can’t put my finger on it. I need to write about it more, both publicly and privately. I need to move my feet to ruminate on it more. Back in the shed, I pulled off my clothes before I could really start sweating in the warmth of my tiny home. Baby wipe basics done, I crawled in bed, pulled my pup to my chest, finished the page I’d been reading and wondered if this is what it feels like to have the pieces come together.
Craig Childs’ The Way Out: A True Story of Ruin and Survival wants to be a deeply introspective book. Childs details the story of a trip through canyons of Northern Arizona (specific location unspecified) with his friend Dierk Vaughn. The two have traveled extensively though the deserts of Utah but this trip into unknown territory challenges them both physically and mentally.
Although Childs and Vaughn are traveling together, most of the true narrative takes place in Childs’ mind. Much of the book is devoted to recollections of his alcoholic late-father. One gets the sense that Childs has never really decided how to come to terms with his father’s legacy: was his alcoholism a tragic end to a good man? or was he a father who just did not know how to love? Besides Childs own recollections, he remembers stories that Vaughn has told him about his life as a policeman. To me, these recollections were as much about how Childs saw the world as they were about why Vaughn was who he was.
My introduction to Childs as a writer was his article Heart Shaped River (subscription required) in High Country News this September. That article was entirely more upbeat than The Way Out and I enjoyed it a lot more. In the more condensed article length, Childs was more lyrical and concise. I’m a huge fan of this genre and The Way Out by all indications should have been a huge favorite of mine: reflection, fantastic canyon setting, adventure. Somehow, instead of being a favorite it left me cold, I was always waiting to delve deeper into Childs’ psyche or experience to really understand but I never got the chance.
When I met F almost four years ago, he was sitting in a coffee shop in Corvallis reading Desert Solitaire. While I liked to read about the outdoors and traveling, I’d never had the good fortune to discover the writings of Ed Abbey. I’m sure this was in no small part thanks to the fact the closest I’d ever come to the “desert” was the area just east of the Columbia River in Washington (mostly the Vantage area).
I hadn’t ever really delved into the ways that being in the desert could complement and enhance the being in the mountains. F left his beat up copy of ol’ Cactus Ed’s book with me when he decamped for Mexico just after meeting me. I devoured it. I loved it. But, as sometimes is the problem when I plow through a book I love, I didn’t savor it.
Last fall, when we were in the early stages of planning our Moab wedding, I promised myself that I would reread it over the winter. Winter pretty much came and went and I didn’t. This spring, however, I decided I’d pay a few dollars to download it on my Kindle and one evening at the cabin, I dipped back into it. I’d read parts aloud to F and really settle in to the landscape that I always itch to go back and visit.
(If you haven’t ever read Abbey, Desert Solitaireis the place to start. After that, you have to give his fiction a try with The Monkey Wrench Gang and its sequel, Hayduke Lives! I recently read Beyond the Wall: Essays from the Outsideand enjoyed it very much. Some people sort of frown on Abbey’s attempts at poetry that are collected and published in Earth Apples but really enjoyed the collection. Confessions of a Barbarianwill also give you some pretty good insight into Abbey’s tongue in cheek way of viewing the world. I’ve also read Brave Cowboy and Fire on the Mountainbut I generally don’t enjoy his fiction as much as the essays.)
One of the things I love so much about good travel literature (like Travels With Charlie, Blue Highways, or the like) is that they can transport you to a place. Before I traveled through the south I was able to absorb William Least Heat Moon’s description of his travels there. The desert, and specifically, the red rock desert of Utah, was a little different. While I loved Desert Solitare on the first read, I wasn’t able to fully process and absorb Abbey’s words. I was completely unequipped to understand and feel for the landscape as he was describing it.
While you’re reading this, I’m down playing in the beautiful red rock canyons of Utah with my soon-to-be-husband. (SATURDAY people…that’s like TOMORROW.) If you’ve been there, you’ll read this and think, “September in Moab? AWESOME.” If you haven’t you might be a little more “Meh.” But in any case, this afternoon, I’m sending some of my favorite Abbey quotes your way…try to feel the desert however you can.
When I heard that Sunday was supposed to be pretty (as in 70 degrees up at 6,000′) I decided that it should clearly be spent at the cabin. Unfortunately Forrest had to work so it was just Sprocket and I off for adventure. We did use F as a ride up to the substation at Burke though.
We started up the road at about 7:00 and by the time I reached the slide (about a mile) I was quite warm. The snow was also showing signs of warming up and I was sinking too far into the slush for my taste so we paused for me to put on snowshoes. Sprocket took this opportunity to play in the creek and the mud. I was pleasantly surprised to find that once I cut off the road to head up the ridgeline (it’s not much shorter but it seems sooo much faster!) that there was only patchy snow in the trees and most of the way up the ridge was clear. (Until of course I hit the snow that was 3′ deep.) I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of the road was starting to melt out although there is a lot of melting to do before we can drive in.
I arrived at the cabin at about 8:20, promptly grabbed a Gatorade and a chair and headed outside. I basically sat there basking, reading, and napping until 12:30. I got a horrible sunburn. Not very responsible. The sunshine felt sooo wonderful though. Finally, I roused myself, made some lunch and cleaned up the food storage area. Sprocket was quite happy when I shouldered my pack and started heading uphill. Apparently the puppy got bored.
We arrived at the top of East Grouse Peak about a half hour later and then began our long descent into Mullan. I really dislike walking downhill without a trail. I guess I need different shoes since I hate it mostly because my feet feel like they’re constantly smashed against either the toe box or one side of the shoe. It’s pretty uncomfortable… I only had to walk on snow for a really short chunk at the top, most of the way down was clear. However, the “pretty woods” F had promised me on top of the M hill was FULL of downed timber. It made for some unfun walking.
In the end though, it was a beautiful day outside. I can’t wait for more.
Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman showed up in my mailbox today after a long trip from England.
So far, I’m really liking it. It’s a mind stretch in places, in the best of ways. I spent the evening on the porch basking in the evening sun with a glass (or two) or wine and making notes in the margin of the book. (I haven’t made notes in the margin of a book since I was at Bates.)
Although Sprocket was good company to discuss feminist ideas:
he’s just not much of a match for wonderfully smart women. I’m really looking forward to book club next month. (P.S. Missoula girls! You better be up for something or I’m going to Seattle!)
Now, back to my book.
Things are still progressing here in Philomath. Forrest spent most of yesterday working on the Cherokee and checked a few more items from the list. (I must say, my jeep has been getting five star restorative services in preparation for the trip.)
For my part, I’m trying to clear out the house. I’m working on selling various small things we don’t really need on Craigslist but more importantly trying to sell off some of the items Forrest carted home from the HP auction so we don’t have to cart them around. The house is well on the way to being packed up–the maps came down yesterday and the walls look sooo empty!
I also finished Blue Highways last night. I was continually struck by how many places I’ve already overlapped with Least-Heat Moon’s travels. His route in the Sierra’s almost exactly followed where Forrest and I were last August, traveling through Quincy up to Lassen National Park then following California Route 89 along Hat Creek (he was brave enough to jump into it’s gorgeous but frigid waters…I chickened out). He also visited Crater Lake, where we visited just last fall. His next stop was actually Corvallis where he used US 20 to travel out to the coast, mentioning Philomath and Burnt Woods before arriving in Newport and traveling 101 north to Depot Bay and Seaside.
His travels continued on US 30 passing through Astoria on the way to St. Helens which reminded me of my trip to Long Beach with Maryanne and Katie ages ago–the trip where the drunken Asian trophy wife worried about us, where we were all horrendously sunburned by the unexpected June sun, where we told the park ranger we were all 17 to get a discount a museum, where the Blazer seat broke, where we were completely soaked but decided to go home via Astoria anyway. He headed out WA 14 along the Columbia sparking memories of Forrest and I getting a private tour of Bonneville Dam and searching out a hot springs (which turned out to be flooded). Finally, his discussions of New England, particularly Woodstock, Vermont and Kennebunkport, Maine also delighted me. I’d been to both towns and cannot wait to return to my old stomping grounds for a bit.
It was the places he mentioned that I haven’t been to yet but will be arriving in soon that delighted me most though–hearing about Cajun Country: Breaux Bridge, St. Martinville, Opelousas, New Iberia, Abbeville; reading about his drives through Appalachia; and generally savoring the excitement of starting out on a new adventure to new places!
Just 11 more days!!!