ADZPCTKO: The Other Days

Clearly, I need more practice in posting from the trail. My first attempt was pretty paltry. As I’m perusing the blogs of others, I’m finding much work out there more lyrical and philosophical than my own, and I am filled with jealousy. I’d love for the blog not only to be a record, but a kind of long-form poem, winding its way through my life and around my journeys like a thread of incense twining about my days. I’ll work on that.

To report on the rest of the Kick-off: it was a strange and surreal experience for me. I volunteered at the registration tent for two mornings, and that was probably my favorite part of the event. I doubt I was of much help, but I did put a lot of wristbands on visiting hikers and tried to soak in as much wisdom as I could from the veterans around me. It was kind of thrilling and odd to run into so many people whose names had existed only as hiker legend and as voices from books and mailing lists I’ve been poring over for months.

Part of me was looking for more connection there; that’s some of the impetus for the whole journey, really. Yet I still find that while I’m endlessly personable singularly, I’m not good at fitting into groups. I don’t know how to talk to you other humans. Conversations around me did not offer openings for newcomers to chime in. The hikers who were walking in were mostly already on the trail, and had either come with their companions or were making them as they journeyed. I was of an age that didn’t fit in with the young and powerful college kids, yet I hadn’t formed the bonds that the later generations clearly already had. As usual, I assumed everyone in a Patagonia down sweater and toting a battered Z-Lite pad was wiser and more skilled than I and didn’t particularly need some green trekker nosing into their conversation. My comments tended to be fawning compliments on the one hand or jokes that others either didn’t get or by which they felt slightly insulted on the other.

It probably didn’t help me fit in that I wore my frock coat and carried around Idris* for most of the weekend. I got a few compliments and a lot of very odd looks, with the occasional snide remark thrown in for good measure. I realized that it was too much a part of what I am and who I am to leave behind during the event, and, of course, I wanted to be special. It turned out that in a crowd which included folks wearing tutus, purple hair, and full-body tattoos, a vest and tails didn’t stand out that much. It was still fun, though.

Everyone should imagine me this way all the time.

Everyone should imagine me this way all the time.

I suppose it’s a lesson in just being who I am and not worrying much about what others think (a lesson, one would imagine, I would have learned many years ago—yet here I am). This is what attracts us to others, and what gives the experienced their confidence, and, I suspect, their joy in whatever they’re doing.

Much as I want to be something else, it’s time to come to terms with the fact that I am a goofy college professor, epic fantasy enthusiast, linguistic geek, self-important showman, and not-so-secretly neurotic follower of Christ. My skills lie in literature and theater. I have a schtick, and it’s one that makes me happy. I’m always a bit let down when others don’t enjoy me as much as I’d like them to, but there it is. I may be something else—something changed, something added to—by the end of the trail, and I certainly believe that’s all for the better, but working for it will only make the journey a false one.

I was talking about the Kick-off at one point, wasn’t I? On that subject, the presentations were excellent across the board. I attended talks on hiking the Camino del Santiago (which I’d love to do with the wife and possibly children one day), hiking in the desert, avoiding repetitive use injuries (in which my decision and training to walk in barefoot style was roundly confirmed—huzzah!), and a few others. I didn’t attend the discussion on the water report; I suspect that in three weeks, the situation will have moved on. My colleague had perhaps the best advice on planning: pretend I’m on Arrakis and carry a stillsuit.

And look like Patrick Stewart, if possible.

And look like Patrick Stewart, if possible.

So a useful and interesting weekend. I’m hoping to return next year, where I’ll meet up with the throngs of trail companions I will have made, share jokes about not dying, and feel as though I can contribute usefully to the conversation.

*Yes, Idris is the name of my pack now. Yes, I will be naming other pieces of gear. They will be my friends. My very good friends. They will help me hike. Yes. I will also most likely have to take the frock coat now, as so many asked if I’d be wearing it and expressed disappointment or disdain at the suggestion I might not. One of my fellow volunteers started calling me Coattails. And it will also need a name. Yes.

Categories: Pacific Crest Trail, Preparation | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “ADZPCTKO: The Other Days

  1. I suspect you are going to be just fine! Be yourself, don’t try too hard, HYOH, and everything else will happen naturally. Lots of unique individuals in the trail.

    • I think you’re probably right. I’m hoping to meet many of those individuals along the way. As I sit preparing to go, I spend my time worrying about little details I’m fairly certain will sort themselves out well on the trail. Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. Karyn

    I’m behind you all the way….can hardly wait until you get started! I thoroughly enjoy your posts and your great sense of humor!

    • Many thanks for the vote of confidence. It’s really delightful to know there are people walking along with me in spirit and rooting for my success. I hope to do you all proud.

  3. Anthony Slusser

    Make thyself merry and muse with the likes of the like minded. Those who are shortsighted will fall short in finding the benefit of your company, much to their loss. Forward and hardily at that.

    • And I shall! As mentioned, I think I do pretty well on an interpersonal level; it’s just in new groups in which I don’t feel as skilled as those around me that I feel isolated. Since most of the trail will be made up of small meetings, I think I will be fine.

  4. Without condescension, I am VERY proud of you for attending and participating in this event. It’s a big deal, the feelings of risk and vulnerability are real, and even for the most extroverted among us, finding a fit in established groups and settings, especially among those we admire, is a practice in soul peace and reminders to ourselves of who we are and what we are worth.

    What follows is NOT a lecture; it’s your passionate sister who shares some of your brain and loves you off the charts and sees into some of your thinking the way you see into mine:

    I love this: “I suppose it’s a lesson in just being who I am and not worrying much about what others think (a lesson, one would imagine, I would have learned many years ago—yet here I am).”

    There’s no reason this is a “lesson” that you should have learned by now. It’s an ongoing lifewalk as we pursue new passions, form new opinions, experience new moments, and live fully.

    I have maimed my soul more by thinking “I should be done with *this* by now”, more than any other practice in my life, including cookie-stuffing and seasons of utter self-loathing. It turns out I am both firm in Christ’s love and pleasure, and also undergoing rewriting all the time. My peace and delight in his company, and my confidence and experience of his peace and delight in mine, is something I get to immerse myself into anew so very, very often. And I get different settings in which to practice it all the time. I could chase this with a mini-novella about how this used to work in my brain/heart and how it works now, and what tripping up used to mean and what it means now, but I think you know and I think I need to get back to work. But, please, my darling brother, be patient with you. I love your pursuit of new ways to grow, new adventures to face, and new things to see in light of a step into a season full of things you treasure and things you dread. I can’t wait to wander with you via your sharing through all that you will see, muse, and ponder.

    Your list of what you have “come to terms with” about you is what I adore. And I agree … something added or changed can be wonderful. But seeking a shift as though something in that list is inherently broken … no bueno. Because the core of you is a unique treasure, one to be shared and one to be shined and shifted at God’s good pleasure. And you bring him great pleasure. 🙂

    In your words to me, “… try to treat [Michael] nicely, because we love [him].” 🙂

    • Thank you, kind sister. As you mentioned on your post, some of this is sharpened for humorous effect, though that humor does often reflect a real perspective. There is a part of me that still really wants to be solemn and wise: a kind of amalgam of C.S. Lewis, John Muir, and Oswald Chambers, with perhaps a bit of Jonathan Swift thrown in. I know that’s not me–not really–and that is okay. The real lesson here is that the harder I try to “be” someone, the less likely I am to achieve either real growth or my desired ends. The investigation and reflection are part of what this trip is all about!

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