Note: This post breaks the mold from the first two, both because it’s written in the second person and because it’s not written reflectively (I spent an hour or so transcribing it from a water stained notebook). Hope you enjoy it.
The alarm wakes you up, gently at least, at 5 am. You can feel the cold air in your room, and you can hear what is no doubt an even colder rain pattering on the roof. It must be miserable out there, and it’s damn warm in your bed.
The rain however does not sound quite strong enough, nor is there any wind rattling the clapboard walls of the hostel. So you get up. Your bare feet hit the cold wood. You peel off your cozy thermals and put on rain-pants, and they’re cold on your skin. Add a fleece and walk down to the kitchen. You check the little pot bellied stove, lingering by the residual heat of its embers, and add a new log. It’s not for you but for the others; you’ll be gone before its heat takes effect.
Start boiling some water and then walk back to your room, again across the cold wooden floor. The thermals get shoved in the top of your pack, and you check around and under the bed. Nothing’s left behind. The pack goes back down the hall to wait by the front door, and the water is ready so you fix a mug of tea and grab a stale roll of bread from a bag on the table. The bread tastes better if you wash it down with the tea you don’t let cool; only ten minutes have passed since you woke up, but you’re in a hurry to get out the door.
It’s not your body that’s hurrying, your body is waking up slowly and wants to stay in with the heat. So too does that one voice in your head, and it’s trying to reason with you. Why leave now? It’s warm here, and there’s food in the cupboard and you’re even leaving beer in the fridge. And look outside; it’s not a hard rain true, but it is a steady one. Looks socked in, might last for days. Why walk through four days of rain?
You pause, the bread is gone and you’re halfway through lacing up your second boot. It’s true, you can see it through the window; a solid mass of gray, with no breaks in the clouds. Why not stay in, make some coffee, scramble some eggs, and finish that book you started. You can wait for a sign that this is breaking, then head out. Walking all day, for multiple days, through the cold and damp is a miserable, demoralizing experience. That you know. Here on this rain slashed island your gear may never dry, your boots and socks get wet and stay wet, your gloves turn to refrigerators for your fingers after the first few hours, and worse, water from the saturated ground seeps through your tent bottom when you lay down to sleep at night, dampening your one refuge, the sleeping bag.
Your hands remain hovering in mid air over your shoelace, your gaze fixed on the unsympathetic looking gray on the other side of the window pane.
Then you remember the day last week – the long one. You’d been lost twice, and spent hours tramping through the bottom of a wet valley. You’d practically screamed your frustration at the deaf cliffs as time after time you scrambled up scree to where the pass should be and found nothing but mocking stone walls. Hours of wet and aimless walking in circles through that damned valley, and all you’d thought about was being back here in this friendly little hostel.
Then you found the way, and by evening you’d stood at the top of some mountain, you’re legs like jello and your feet raw inside your boots, but beside you a waterfall pounded past on it’s way down into the sparkling lakes of that same valley, not damned now but blessed and verdant. And to the right stretched the Beagle channel, and beyond it were rows of white topped mountains whose peaks you don’t and never will know.
So fuck it.
You tie up the rest of your boot, dig your raincoat out and zip it on, then hoist the heavy pack onto your shoulders. You feel it’s weight settle as you secure the waist belt and the straps across your chest. The backpack feels right, and so too does the goretex you’re swathed in, which crinkles as your turn to open the door. Your trusty armor.
You pause once with the door open and take a quick look around the kitchen. It’s been a good stay here, warmed by the pot bellied stove, and you had excellent company. Here you found true travelers: intelligent, vigorous adventurers whose sense of life, inherent good health and firm grasp of the world around them had seized and inspired you. It is becoming a rarer thing to find people you can look up to, and here you had.
But you close the door and walk out alone into the rain. One hand flips up your hood as a few drops strike your face, and they are as cold as you’d imagined from the warmth of your bed. You stroll down the street towards where the grey houses fade into green. Somewhere down there is a trailhead, where you will pick up the path that takes you out into the woods and away from town.
You walk out like this in search of the sublime, because for whatever reason you went out there once long ago and you touched it and it has seemed worth pursuing ever since. You’re going out in search of a moment, and you know that it is far from guaranteed, when you will stop and look around or maybe just know; I am alive. I am alive and I am out here pursuing my joy because I alone have chosen to and because I alone know where to look for it and that the search is worth the cost. And you know that it is something fleeting, and that maybe you won’t even get it this time. Maybe you’ll just trudge around in the rain and still have a good time and reteach yourself those old lessons about the value of hardship and the simple joy of a warm meal and a dry tent, but not hit that moment, not this time. You know that but you walk out anyway, and if you miss it you’ll walk out again, at some other time in some other place where there’s still some wilderness left. And if you do get it; then you’ll go out again too, because life is long but without this stale.
Go out in search of this intangible, this indescribable something, and do it by leaving behind all the tangibles we build our lives around. Do that, and do it again and again, and then try to tell yourself you are just another animal, governed solely by physical wants.