What Was I Thinking? (Page 3)
After decades of day hiking by myself, I decided I no longer wanted to go home at night. I wanted to feel the air slowly chill while watching the sun drop behind the stark peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Lie on stone in the wilderness as the countless stars begin to appear in the absolute darkness. Catch the sun fire up the granite peaks as the morning rays slowly warm my tent. And experience it all solo, with the only sounds being wind rustling through pine needles, birds flitting through trees, and the soft crunch of my feet on dirt.
This is the story of what I discovered by setting out on my own into the wilderness. I found moments of utter joy and peace, but also sheer gut-wrenching loneliness. I faced a continual battle between the forces in my brain that cried out for companionship and the part of me that was elated by the power of nature’s grandeur to light up my solo soul.
Loneliness is something we try not to talk about. Men especially consider it a sign of weakness, something that just needs to be bucked up and got on with. Yet, like many of the things that we refuse to talk about, it’s an important and universal commonality of life. Sorta like death and masturbation. Everyone faces loneliness. To fight it off, we surround ourselves with friends, conversations, screens, whatever kinds of noise we can to keep us from facing our inner quiet. We go to bars, restaurants, school, online, or anywhere we might be able to talk and relate and communicate with other humans. Some even find or stay in bad relationships, just so they have a person to talk to, or not talk to, but at least be pissed off at, which also helps keep the mind occupied so it doesn’t have time to think about being lonely.
Day 6 – (Pages 38 – 40)
When I began my day at 11,000 feet, the temperature was in the low twenties. When I reached Bishop at 4,000 feet in Owens Valley, it was close to noon, and baking in the mid-eighties. Even though I had spent days dreaming of burgers, the draw of home was even more powerful, and perhaps my stench was equally compelling, so I headed north for home.
Life was good. My Subie was rolling down the empty highway through the open sage of the Eastern Sierra toward a warm shower and a soft bed. Home: a place where you can touch a handle and water comes out, where you can sit down, relax, take a dump, and not have to then cover it up with a shovel.
I had a full tank of gas, a bottle of ice-cold orange juice, and Led Zeppelin was rockin about “lonely, lonely, lonely times” on my CD player. All was well until . . . five miles north of Bishop: that sinking, helpless feeling that life was about to suck, and the air was about to disappear from my Zeppelin. A flat tire. As I stood carmelizing on the blazing asphalt and tried to conjure air into the flattened piece of rubber, I was finding it hard to fathom that a few hours earlier I was freezing my ass off next to a mountain lake. I was once again reminded that life is just like backpacking. It’s a mixture of joy and pain . . . sometimes within just a few minutes of each other.
Later, as I was rolling into a Bishop tire store in a AAA tow truck, I told myself that of course the reason I got a flat tire was that the dream of a burger, fries, and a shake cannot be denied. So, to prevent an additional catastrophe, I went to BBQ Bill’s and loaded up on the essential ingredients that would allow me to continue my journey home. With a full belly, I headed north again. All I needed to rescue my day was a nice patch of water to jump into, something to take a bit of an edge off the sour reek emanating from my body and hopefully rejuvenate my flat-tired brain. I was aware that Bishop is right on the edge of the desert and that most of the sparkling snowmelt that comes down from the mountains was now sitting in swimming pools and washing cars in Los Angeles, but I had hope that I would find an oasis.
Then, there it was. Just a few miles north of Bishop, out of the corner of my eye I caught a large informational sign. It touted a county park with a series of those universal symbols for all of the wonderful things available for recent mountain refugees to use. The only sign I really paid attention to was the universally recognized and glorious depiction of what looks like a one-armed swimmer pulling through the water. The swimmer’s face was not visible, but he or she was obviously smiling and enjoying a nice, long dip in an awesomely clean and cool body of water. I drove into this oasis of green in the brown of Owens Valley and thought I had arrived at my Shangri-la. There were moist, impeccably manicured lawns and a large, inviting pond with tall, scattered palm trees along the shoreline. Not that the observation would have stopped me, but later I realized that no one else was swimming in the pond and there were swim-at-your-risk signs. A bathroom and changing room stood right next to the pond, so it had to be OK.
I donned a suit and waved happily at the large family who were enjoying a picnic at a table. I tiptoed a few steps onto a little sandbar, the refreshingly cool water rinsing the pain from my toes. “Ah, this is more like it,” I thought with a big grin. Then I took the next step, from yellow sand into dark-brown dirt. Immediately, I was two-feet deep into a thick quicksand of muddy goop. As I struggled to escape, I only dug myself deeper into the sticky brown ooze, now reaching up to my hips. Amid the sounds of my splashing and flailing, I could hear the faint sound of laughter from the picnicking family. They probably couldn’t believe someone was stupid enough to try to swim in this mudhole. I’m sure they were shaking their heads and quietly saying, “tourons.”
I struggled for a few more minutes, frantically trying to extricate myself from the slop, then took a deep breath and decided I might as well relax and enjoy the comforting feeling of being encased in wet mud. People pay good money for mud baths in Napa Valley, and I’m getting one for free. Then I started to laugh. There is no way around it. Stuff was just going to happen to me. I looked at the still-laughing family on the shoreline and felt proud. At least I had made their day.
Publisher: University of Nevada Press
Tim Hauserman is a freelance writer and nearly a life-long resident of North Lake Tahoe. In Addition to Going It Alone, he wrote the official guide to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the recently published 4th edition. He also wrote Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children and has written hundreds of articles on a variety of topics: travel, outdoor recreation, housing, education, and wildfires. Check out Tim’s website here.
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