Wednesday, December 16, 2015

another adventure rant

Many years ago, I got the idea of hiking to a piece of property I had in the next county.  I asked Freida, Linda, and Smitty if they wanted to go and they all jumped on the idea without hesitation.  They had first hand knowledge of what my adventures could morph into.  Like crashing parties of strangers dressed in hazmat suits to celebrate Three Mile Island or cramming the van with people and wine and head to the drive-in to see Pink Flamingoes for $2 a carload.  I gave them a rough plan and suggested getting together a sleeping bag and a light pack with a change of clothes and we'll meet up the next day at 9am.   I arranged to have some friends meet us at our destination in two days to party and take us back to our cars.

The plan was to hike through mountains and forests, miles from the nearest dirt road or house, so I went to the Fish and Game office and got a copy of a topography map for the area.  This was our only guide.

We all assembled the next day and only Smitty had an idea where we were going.  Freida and Linda were going along for the ride but were very much up to it.  We parked our cars in this small villiage and hiked across town to the derelict train trestle, took the washed out dirt road up the hill for about a mile, and came to the last house we'll see for the next two days.  It was an old hunting cabin that looked abandoned.  No time to explore. We have walking to do.

Smitty knew his way around the wilderness.  He was the last of a dyeing breed... a travelling salesman who peddled his wares door to door, specializing in hunting boots, fishing tackle, dry goods, prep gear, pots and pans, coffee, tobacco, and damn near anything else you could imagine.  His spare time was spent hunting, fishing, and partying with us.  He was also the only one with a compass.

Our goal was to reach the top of the ridge before dark.  We hiked single file up deer trails, keeping a steady pace and stop periodically to get our bearings and catch our breaths.  We'd pull out the topo map and compass and look around and figure where we were by looking at the terrain.  On one such stop, we were so beat we just fell back against our chosen trees and slid down on our asses.  I looked where Linda was sitting and saw a snake winding it's way toward her.  She was too tired to do anything but the snake jumped straight up and sped off in the other direction when he saw her.  "We're almost half way there", I said.  "Best we get moving.  I don't want to spend the night in this swamp."  The feeling was most definitely unanimous.

The plan was to get to the summit where the walking would be easier.  Staying at the top of this range would take us right to our destination, making the rest of the hike a nature walk in the park.  But we weren't there yet.  Smitty and I figured we had more than enough daylight to make it and we were all in good spirits.

Along the way we found a watering hole.  We identified most of the tracks and figured all the critters worked out a time schedule so they won't get in each others way.  Sorta temporary animal turf.  We could see animal tracks that stepped on the tracks of the previous set of animal tracks.  Predators and prey all used the same watering hole and scheduling kept the natural order.  Animals have rules and they play by them.

Before we reached the summit we found something very interesting.  An area about 20' by 20' covered with a thick mat of deer hair.  All the trees in the immediate area had no bark or limbs within reach.  Under the deer fur the soil was black as coal.  The area was surrounded by large boulders with a bunch of smaller rocks on one side.  Clearly, a house used to be here and by the looks of it, that black earth was generations of ash from the fireplace.  Smitty pointed out the large rocks were foundation stone and this place went back to it's natural state a long, long time ago.  The deer seem to love it.  The place was covered with hoof prints and fur but we couldn't find a trace of metal.  Consulting the map, the nearest road was five miles away.  Even at this elevation, we couldn't see a sign of humanity.  Not a building, car, or powerline in sight.  No wonder the deer claim this place as their own.  No human would walk all this way to shoot a deer and drag it miles back to the car.

We thought about spending the night there.  We knew we would wake up surrounded by deer just a nibblin the grass around our sleeping bags.  We decided we had just enough light to make it to the top so we got our shit together and moved on.

The summit was excellent.  Sparse, dwarf pines and rocks covered with a thick pad of deep green moss.  A 360 degree view with a picture perfect, clear sky with the sun just over the horizon.
We strolled along single file on the deer trail, talking about how beautiful this place was and then the sun set.  I mean, one second it was bright as day, the next it was pitch black, like someone turned off the lights.  We got out our flashlights, looked for a good spot, and began gathering firewood.  We built a small fire and laid on the mossy ground, relieved to just kick back and relax in such a great place.  Smitty had enough sense to bring some granola bars and jerkey.  I brought along a bottle of Windsor Canadian whisky that went surprisingly well with the granola and we shared our thoughts as we passed the bottle.  The struggle to get to where we were didn't allow us the luxury of introspection, but in this place on top of the mountain, with no where to go until daybreak, we could relax and talk about how this trip changed us all for the better.  I felt it when we found the mouth of the stream we followed.  Linda, who was always scared shitless of crawly things, like snakes, found it when she communed with the snake in the swamp.  Freida said she felt a real connection to the family who lived in the house hundreds of years ago.  I think Smitty always had it but he admitted the vibe from the absence of humans put his head in a place that he's never felt before.  We were all in synch with our surroundings, in a profound way.
As we laid in our sleeping bags, drifting off to the smells of fresh air and pines, Smitty gave us something to think about before nodding off.  "Don't be alarmed if you hear animals rustling around.  They're just curious."

I woke up at dawn feeling better than I could remember.  Sore as hell, but great.  Black coffee for breakfast.  We would all be happier with bacon and eggs but we were Spartans and only had a days walk to reach our destination.

A word about our provisions.  The only technology we had were a couple flashlights.  No phones, radios, GPS, or watches.  Aside from a few granola bars and some coffee, we had one tent, four sleeping bags, some construction plastic sheeting, two packs of smokes, four tabs of mescaline, a knife, water, and rope.  We were cut off from civilization completely and on our own.  From our vantage point we couldn't see a sign of human life anywhere and the nearest phone was at least five miles away.  This was an endurance adventure and we wouldn't have it any other way.

Yeah, you read that right.  We each took a tab just before starting out.  All I can say is, it made the second day's hike real interesting. ;)

We reached our final destination late in the afternoon, just before it started to rain.  We were prepared and immediately set up a shelter and got a fire going.  Nothing to do but wait for the others to arrive so we climbed into our shelters and got cozy.  Linda and Smitty had the tent while Freida and I had the clear construction shelter held together with rope and branches.  After two days in the bush the last thing we needed was to get soaking wet so we stayed dry as a bone and dozed off watching the rain run off the clear plastic in rivulets.      

The rain finally stopped, just before the others showed up.  They got the fire going, broke out the food, booze, tunes, and cannabis, and commenced to party proper with yells and screams and dancing around the fire like berserk cavemen.

This was all well and good but this night something was different.  Maybe it was the drunken arguing, or the large, uneven, smoky fire, or the loud music, or a combination of all this stuff that seemed to clash with my calm.  I was on a different frequency and saw it in the faces of the three people I was with for the last two days.  No need to talk about it.  We just knew and that was enough.

Years later...

A bunch of us were at a friends house discussing how a cell phone is now considered a human necessity.  I was the only one who didn't agree with that on the basis of individual freedom.  "What if there was an emergency and you couldn't be reached?  What if someone close to you died?  What if your car broke down?"  My answer was in the event someone died the day I left for a three day excursion in the woods, I'd still get home in time for the funeral.  As far as my car breaking down... My whole driving life is filled with cars breaking down in good weather and bad and I always got them home.  If I break down on a major highway there are hundreds of other drivers with phones who are more than eager to call 911 as they pass by.  What if I don't want to be found?  I stood up to expand my diaphragm to make myself a little clearer.

Whatever happened to that pioneering spirit?  Why do you people feel the need to spend money on a device to tether you to every human on the planet just so they can reach out and touch you whenever they want?  Why do you have this sickening need to demand help to solve your stupid, petty problems that any self-respecting human being can easily fix themselves?  Ya wanna call me?  Call my house phone.  Got an emergency you can't handle while I'm off the grid?  Pick a number on your speed dial. 

I'm on a roll now...

Why do you feel the need to wear a leash?  Dogs have more sense.  If you really need to contact me I'll give you the general area where I might be.  Come and find me or call a game warden if you don't have the stones to get off your sofa.  I can guarantee the game warden will listen to your "emergency" and hang up.  Just so ya know, I do have a cell phone.  It's in my gun cabinet next to my sks stock that I use just about as much.  And even if you did contact me, what makes you think I would dutifully high-tail it back?  You want to wear your leash and stay on the porch, that's your thing.  I'd rather run loose.  And in the off chance I manage to get myself in a jam, you'll be the last people I'd call.  You can't help yourselves, let alone help anyone else.  Face it.  When all the pioneers headed west to find a new land and fix the broken wagon wheels on their Conestoga wagons while fighting off Indians, your ancestors stayed on the east coast because moving out west was hard.  Really, really hard.  And there's no one out west to fix their problems.

I could feel everyone pulling back so I offered an olive branch.

"Can you order pizza with that thing?  I'll buy." 



Thursday, December 10, 2015

I just found out an old friend of mine is dying.  He's utilizing hospice where he lives and that means he's going to die.  No ifs ands or buts, he's going to die, cease to exist, expire, kick the bucket, go where no man has gone before.

It seems all my friends are ceasing to exist and it kinda bums me out.  I mean, why am I forced to be the survivor of everyone I know?  They're dropping like flies and I swore to all of them that I'll never go to their funeral because they have to go to mine first.  It seems fate cheated me out of dying before all my friends.  Ya know, those guys you told to bring the beer and the clowns to the funeral as a last gag before you get planted?  If all my friends die before I do I'll be left with an ordinary funeral full of ordinary mourners weeping to ordinary funeral music as they take me to an ordinary plot to be buried and forgotten in an unknown cemetery plot in an equally ordinary cemetery.

I want it known, right here and now, when I die I want my body cremated and the ashes dumped in the Susquehanna river.  No burial plot for me.  I want my essence in a planetary tributary whose waters touch all shores.  My estate will be converted to beer and clams to anyone who cares to show up and join the procession to the bridge where my ashes will be cast to the winds and water.  Clowns will be employed to remind everyone that life is just a big joke and plenty of beer on tap will neutralize any anxiety.  Drink and eat your fill and remember me fondly as you dump my ashes in the river. 

But I swear, on everything holy, if I find myself buried in a grave, I'll come back to haunt every one of you mother fuckers to insanity with every fibre of my spiritual being until you pray for death.  

Any questions?

Sunday, December 06, 2015