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.
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.
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.