Thursday, July 28, 2022

Chapter 9: Dreams from Overland

Idaho Centennial Trail 2022

Chapter 9:

Dreams from Overland

Finally, I stood out in the grand open, the immense space of the Bruneau Desert. I stood there out of shape, still recovering from a right foot and a left shoulder issue, in utter heartbreak from a tough past 7 months, and a recent bout of Covid. All of this had me nervous. Despite all this, I didn’t want to sleep any more. I needed my nightmares to end. I wanted my dreams to become real. I needed those two words, dreams and nightmares, to not mean one and the same thing. I really just needed to walk.

For some months now, I have been so tired I could stop dreaming. I have been a fool who was lulled to sleep by a sunken trap. My backbone has been broken holding up the weight of two people. My dreams have been warped, too. It has been like I have been sleeping but not sleeping; not awake but awake. I twist and squirm reliving recent events in distortion, in heartbreak, despair. But, all I wanted to do was sleep, to rest deeply, so as to wake up renewing what is lost, what has vanished, what died, amidst the crushing absence, to just move forward.

Out in the vastness, vulnerable, the storm went through me, the brittle wind passing within me, and, in my core, a calm fear settled within me. I, once again, felt raw, vulnerable, yet pulsing with blood. As much as I ached, I felt the surge of excitement in the unknown. I didn’t care that I was all those things above. I had to be present. Words and expressions boiled up and softened the callous around my heart. Goddam, I felt so alive to love again. This is me; this is the devil I love more than anything in life. This is just the beginning, I thought hopefully. I hiked on mainly trying to subdue my tears, trying to hold it all in. This is the beginning, I kept silently mouthing with my lips. Deep down I trusted that each step would crush the pain of heartbreak and that I could then again weather the physical storm and the emotional brittle wind.

[Tonight, under a mammoth moon, I sleep with the coyotes, their wails and yips welcoming me back. My tortuous mange is drying out; take me out of this fucking skin. I feel the urge of the mask of the wolf. By the end of this metamorphosis, you will recognize me as I once was. I will be that ghoulish dog howling at the full strawberry moon, my snore of life growling at the wild sky.]

I woke up in my frosty cocoon. The cold air had sunk. The full red moon rose high in the sky illuminating the Jarbidge Range skyline. I could clearly see the serrated ridges and pointy peaks. The snow line and glinty pockets gleamed like spindrift off a frothy rapid. The refulgent moon blocked out the stars, almost like the sun would. The moon hung heavy, and I thought that I love the moon more than anything in this life, this world. A meadowlark sang in the bright night melting my heart, as I intertwined my legs and shrunk my body against the biting cold. I spun over every so often as the moon’s arc slowly yawned to the west. The stars in the east then made a sparkling appearance, almost audibly twinkling. Fuck me, I just needed to be embraced by the night, crushed in a hug by the brightness of the moon, blanketed by the cold, smothered safely by the blackness. I felt security in this void, alone. In order to love again I need to love the very thing again that does not give a shit about me whatsoever, that is incapable of such in utter nature, the impossible gift.

——An interjecting preface burped up—— 

I do not need you to understand what I am trying to say. These words are the medium for what is bubbling up. I won’t hide it. The words follow the wavelengths of dispersing trails with each stride on this trail. I am heartbroken. It’s that simple. While I am out on this adventure I am processing recent events and how I am relating to this place, to nature, is a direct correlation of that heartbreak. I am walking it off. And, I feel the spirit that is rising. Any moment I am immersed in something that pulls at me I detach from myself, immediately zooming into the moment while being 10,000ft above at the same time, everything piqued, and I no longer obsess over me. I am out here because I want to change. I want to forgive, to feel grateful, to be less hurt and angry. I am out here because I want to love again. I need to molt this old callous and matted hair, this mange I am afflicted with. I want a new direction, a new openness where I am not afraid.

——I have hiccuped out away from that interjecting belch. I am ready now to euphemistically let it rip——

I woke up coated in condensation. I tried not to feel the cold, to touch it, for I did not want to shiver. Instead, I didn’t think about it, just packed up, put my hands in my pockets and plodded ahead with a purpose, with intent movement. The early light glowed softly atop the sagebrush florets. The glorious moon sank low to the west in a lavender glow seemingly more robust than she had been throughout the night. Low bellows of grazing cows came from the draw, the frost on the grass in meadows showing the last spots to warm up. I could see for endless miles in any direction. I walked on slowly drowning in the expanse, breathing slowly, listening to the sounds of the empty plateau.

Hours later, the sun began to bake the land. Spouts of dust sprung up from the toiling wind. My skin reddened, salt squeezed in my furrowed wrinkles by the side of my eyes, burning and stinging. I went into desert mode continuing to breathe slowly and controlled, keeping my mouth shut. I donned my buff on my head and visor to diminish the glare. I put on the mask, my usual uniform. The first 48 miles of the Idaho Centennial Trail, there is no water source, no shade, just barrenness and exposure. Yet as drab and dry the surrounding expanse was, the landscape changed. What was seemingly flat was actually rolling plains. The plants and brush changed from large field to large field, some of the more grassy barren areas fire scarred. The colors flowed in a blend of Spring’s brightness; what was normally brown was green and vibrant. Flowers bloomed brightly and showy, none other than the Indian paintbrush. My mood constantly changed, not the normal ‘steady as she goes’ ship. Seeing the subtle changes in such a flat landscape made me recall the philosophy of impermanence, of constant change, of time and matter, of moods and emotion, of nature and wilderness. I would glance back occasionally, or turn my head to the left, and see the Jarbidge Range changing shape under light and perspective over distance. How things can feel and seem familiar yet appear differently minutes later. I found this thought introspective and moving, and continued walking under a scorched earth slowly recalling the past few months.

At times I wasn’t sure what to do this past Spring. I drank excessively, feeling to reach a precipice after each pull. I went down darker paths within. Drowning, life seemed hopeless. Someone I thought had loved me didn’t anymore. Just that notion crushed me. Then, she disappeared without communicating anything. I was left with my dreams and love of her. I couldn’t see past the next day. I was willing to end it and run away to far flung places to hide. Yet, I still sank deeper than that. I swirled around within the eddy careening around each curve to a darker level. I felt hopeless, alone. Clearly, as I hiked on, I was still affected by this madness. I could only look back at it now in reflection rather than despise the moment that I had been sunk in when I was living it. I merely did not have the energy anymore to hate myself.

One hundred degree heat smothered the next 2 days. The nights were big and empty and cool, though. I prayed to the moon. I would rather be out here struggling and living in the moment than to be sitting in my own shit. I think if I had not had any of these long distance wanderings in my life, I would still be in my own wallow. I needed to look outside of myself. This was absolutely necessary that I instinctively believed in. Deep down I knew the act of walking would be my savior. I needed real and tangible pain other than some vanished love pain, something that felt fake and unreal, let alone something that felt personal.

In Hammett, at the PO, my package was not there. In some strange way, I was thrilled. I felt ecstatically the need to adapt. The curve ball pumped my blood, like in a survival situation. Granted it was not a survival situation. But, this adaptation provided me with purpose. I walked to the next town 8m away in 100 degree heat. I found a market, an RV park, and a restaurant in Glenns Ferry. I laid up in the shade, relaxed, my person full of kinks, damaged, and then let settle in my head the present concern —my IT band.

After some lounging and stretching filled my time at the RV park, I left early the next morning to beat the heat. My buddy, Handy, was to meet me at Highway 20, hike with me for 3 days over the highest point and snowiest pass of the ICT, then he would bikepack back to his car 140m. Needless to say, even with my gloom, I was looking forward to his company. Easy road miles ensued, yet still my IT band flared up even more. The flat roads, my being out of shape, starting out the gate too fast even though the quick pace was necessary, my body tightness, a recent cruddy bout with Covid—all of these factors contributed to this new-flared injury. I passed a rattlesnake on the road, dead. Someone ran it over, crushed its triangle head square, then clipped off the rattle. Yea, fuck it, I was emotional. I stopped to sit by the dead rattler. I petted its scales, softly caressing and tracing the scute patterns, the keratin spiky when nudged and flapped back. I stayed away from the head, but I felt its girth of the body, not rotten, just cool to the touch. I became transfixed in the squashed serpent’s eyes, its scaly pattern took me spiraling into a reptilian kaleidoscope. Deep down, I needed animal strength. 

I stood up and walked away. After about a hundred yards I finally looked back. A turkey vulture pecked at the long body of the snake and pulled stringy flesh from under the scales. So it goes, I thought. My pain became worse. I tried not to dwell or find a reason why this was happening. I just dealt with the pain straight up. I wanted to see what I could take in preparation for the foreseeable struggle. I did not medicate with anti-inflammatories. I just went on. I stopped often, trying to rest. I limited my strides, my pace slowed, I breathed deeply, yet my knee still would almost couple over. Finally, I got to the highway in the evening. Sitting on that side of the highway, I tried to hold it all in. I was hurting really bad, more or less writhing while leaning against the jersey barrier. I felt as dead as that snake on the road. My heart and head flattened, my imposing stanchions, my greatest gift, my legs, my rattler severed. I pensively contemplated hitching to the nearest town. I lamented the notion that I would have to bail, that I would be faced with a daunting decision that I would have no idea what I would do. Handy arrived about 45 minutes later. 

‘How ya doin?’

‘I’m…ok,’ I muttered, trying to conceal my grimace. 

Sometimes we need a friend to remind us of who we truly are. You can get so stuck in your own demise, your own head, that any type of feedback is rejected or any type of helpful introspection is lost. You are inevitably never alone. At least, that seems to be the case. Maybe you are alone in the physical, but, somewhere you are in someone's thoughts. Maybe not profoundly on someone's mind. Nevertheless, you are there somewhere. A friend who knows you can provide a mirror into yourself, to see how you may appear at the moment, or how someone sees you as. Handy immediately picked up on my insecure ambiguity. We got to a camp and perched the vehicle on a saddle adorned with granite spires resembling spires and skulls.

'Lower your mileage. You started out the gate too fast. Are you taking Advil?'

'Yea, I know you're right. I haven't taken anything.'

'Take some, dude. It's the blood flow that matters. Let's eat, have a couple beers, and get stoned. You'll be alright. You got time.'

I knew he was right. And, I knew all was right and going to be alright. The next morning, we started off slow. We took our time crossing the Camas prairie and rested every couple hours so I could stretch. The morning went by quickly and, soon enough, we hit a bonafide trail. Almost instantaneously, my knee began to feel better. No longer any flat roads and terrain. No longer any huge water carries, as well, that had forced me to hike at a quicker pace and for longer periods of time. The trail undulated and meandered through a soggy canyon, weaved and contoured up onto a ridgeline that overlooked into the Sawtooths. The biting wind caused us to take our mid-morning break on a tree covered saddle that obstructed our views. However, we had seen enough of the mountains to the north that the snow levels were not as inundated as we had expected. Snow, nonetheless, was present up in the deepest parts. Still quite a bit of it, too, just less than we had thought would be there. My knee felt tolerable, that I could endure the pain. We broke a tab of acid in half and popped each half into our mouths. We both knew that we had some long miles and a couple hours before anything too hairy. The temptation of letting myself slip out my skin pulled at me. To dive into the sounds of nature and to be consumed with my senses within that nature, the moment felt right. We spiraled and plunged down Virgina Gulch, the sudden drop in elevation shifting the pressure in my head. halfway down the gulch, the effects of the acid began. My ears popped and I delved into the pressure in my head feeling the stranglehold of the recent bout of Covid escaping. As if I was breathing it all out of me, I could see the air directly in front of me twinkle with pixelation. My head tingled. I forgot about my knee. I forgot about my heartbreak. I just tumbled down the gulch absorbing and soaking in the new air ballooning up from the river canyon below. At the Boise River, a large pack bridge spanned the mighty river. The bridge heaved and swayed with each step, the roar of the river cascading down the canyon pulsated within my body, the water drumming straight through me. I found a sandy spot by some boulders under a canopy of ponderosas. I plopped down and leaned against a large boulder. I emptied my backpack displaying my gear in a disorderly fashion. I gazed straight up into the tall canopy and followed the jigsaw puzzle pieces of bark all the way up a ponderosa trunk until the branches sprawled out into the sky. Silhouetted by the blue of the sky, I traced each stained fragment of the ponderosa and pondered the water traveling in the xylem and up the length of the tree from the roots to the needles. I could hear the light wind soughing through the trees. I could hear the ponderosas speaking to me. I inhaled the redolent air of vanilla, the odor evanescent of a bending tree in the wind and the pendulum arc of the sun above that exudes the aroma. I took in the aroma and traced, with my eyes, the aroma in the swaying canopy. inward from the needles and branches, down the thick red bark and navigated my way through the ventricles of the phloem all the way down to the roots. My trance stumbled at the sand in front of me. Suddenly, the roar of the river echoed again. I looked over at Handy and saw him talking to, or rather being spoken to, by a couple with an infant. I did not envy him, at that moment. I wasn't sure I could fumble any coherent words out of my mouth.

Up Willow Creek we went, my knee not up to snuff, as the sensation along the IT band came back. I could feel the pulse of the blood seething through the flared up area. I rubbed my upper hip, my side butt, and felt the mulched up area of the side, tight and mangled. The acid put me inside the hip and I was transported to the past Winter, to events of affliction, to depression. Then, the resounded creek boomed within a gorge. I snapped out of it. I wasn't as high as I was by the river, as the fuzzy sensation began to subside, like I was putting on a shirt over my head. I had lost track of time, but now I was 'here.' 

-- Snap!, like the fingers from a hypnotist --

This pass, Ross Peak Pass, would prove to be the crux. Could I make it with the IT band blaring? I decided to indulge in my surroundings, to focus on the present. The creek shook the canyon, cascading with such a ferocity the ground seemed to quake. I trembled with a slight adrenaline fix, mainly the tremors of nerves. The trail meandered snow free for a few miles. So, we trudged on swiftly, my knee starting to feel good on the ascent. Early evening shifted the shadows in the canyon, the temps still staying warm. Rays of sunlight angled in from the western ridges. At times, my vision would fast forward ahead in a montage of foot travel. I found myself careening up the trail while looking down at the top of my head, a coyote head. I saw my legs and paws digging into the dirt at a swift pace. I was still elevated, the drug still taking hold of me in waves. I would sink in and out of myself. Some moments, I would feel nervous, while other times I would be back in my uniform, the head of a coyote. I teetered between the wild within and the meekly person I had been. I did not trust the shape of my meekness, for the higher up we went, the less I forgot about it, squashing the memory of the indulgence of self. I entered the primordial and attached the coyote head with clips on my shoulders.

Handy hollered at me as I had just splashed cold water on my face. I looked at him vacantly and adjusted my vision. Handy looked over at me at the snow line around 8,000ft and said, ‘let’s go for the pass.’ I nodded back, growling from within. I held my teeth from showing. We busted through the snow crust on top of the mounds and fields of old snow. We ambled along rather efficiently. The conditions were primo for hiking up the endless snow. Once in motion, I was not as reluctant as the initial thought of achieving the pass had seemed. I relied on my instincts, for I was not seeing anything I have not seen before. Really, the situation felt minorly stressful other than my flared up knee and hip. Flashes of my fragility would cross my stance in front of me with each blink, my lack of strength and confidence colored each flash with a white and glaring light. Then, another blink. I had the coyote head on. Everything went black. Back and forth, with each plodding step upward, I started to gear more and more towards the blackness. I committed more and more to the void. I had to. Then, we hit it—the flow, the trudge, the toil, the work and play, the focus, the heat and the pulse.

[Just when you think it won’t, it will. Just when you think you can’t, you’ll deal.]

I need to do hard shit. I crave it, yearn for it. I simply need to keep pushing myself. I absolutely must live strenuously. I may be broken, but I will give it my fucking all; my body will give what I ask of it.

[You still think I’m here to save?]

Whatever hole I am in I will dig myself out of that fucking hole. I must believe I will get my strength back. I must believe I will attain balance again.

[You’re jaded.]

My heart races. My thighs pump, my eyes squint. My knee is screaming. My blood is sand.

[You are nothing.
Did she…]

I refuse to be in this space of mind I have been in. I must believe I will love again. I must believe I will thrill in living in this moment again. I refuse to give in to whatever obstacle is in front of me. My IT band is crushing me, burning me up from the inside. 

[Embrace the process; some assembly required.]

The obstacle is the way. I refuse to give in, to just drift away. I will wander with intent. I believe movement and momentum will guide me.

[I am a rock beast.]

[I am waking up.]

I saw the silhouette of Handy at the pass. I was near, just a few more grunts. At the pass, I embraced Handy. This is the simple thing I live for. I welled up, trying to keep my cool, but I was overwhelmed. 

[I am awake…]

The fuzzy feeling had worn off. The surrounding peaks of the Sawtooths gleamed in the evening dayglow. An ecstatic feeling warmed over me and I felt exhilarated. Tucked up in this formidable pocket of granite deep snow hunkered in the surrounding bowls and forests. Snow held our vision as far as our eyes could see. Handy dove off the pass and plunge-stepped his way down to the flat spot of the cirque. I followed shortly and would stop occasionally to soak in the views more. Puffy clouds appeared gray as the sun began to set in the western sky, the clouds capping off the day with a sleepy glow. Next, we caromed side to side through slushy snow through the forests. We skated along swiftly in between the hanging valleys until we hit the final steep cliff that terminated as a headwall of the valley. We picked our way down, as shadows became longer in the dark forest. We needed at least 15 minutes of dusk to hold strongly for us the remaining soft light. Handy scooted down a snow bank and crossed the creek along the slick log. I, not as brave as Handy, found a snow bridge and made my way into a soggy meadow. Cold air sunk into the forests and clung to the tufts of grass in the meadows. We sped along a soggy trail trying to beat the night. Luckily, the days are long this time of year.

'When the trail's a river, there's snow up high...,' I bellowed in a low and rather amusingly yet non-melancholic voice. 

'What song is that?'

'I made it up, ' I giggled.

'It's good; I like it.'

We found the driest meadow we could find in the closing hour of dusk and tucked our tarps closest to the trees for whatever little warmth we would get from the pines. Handy started a quick fire to warm our soggy feet and nippy hands up. We breathed in the smoke and I put a tired smile on my face. Soon enough, we stamped out the fire and headed to our bed rolls. After a very long and adventurous day -- head-tripping and stunning scenery and all that -- needless to say, my spirit was peeling up.

We slept in. Rather, I wasn’t going to get up until I needed to. I was warm and didn’t want to fight the bite of the morning air. I was exhausted from the previous day. But, I felt great, like that good type of exhaustion, the feeling one gets from a tremendous effort from a job well done. I found myself lowering my buff on my brow to provide my tired bones with darkness. I rolled over and sunk my head into my quilt. I floated in and out of dreams, good dreams unlike the nightmares from this past Winter. I had never slept in like this on trail. Suddenly, I felt an incredible warmth on my back. The sun had peeked over the craggy ridge line 3,000ft above and the first rays zoomed into the meadow we were camped in. Ah fuck me, I had never felt warmth like that. The warmth went right through my quilt, then my fleece, and finally through my rib cage to toast my heart. I now wanted to jump up and tackle the day! I felt loved with the sunshiny embrace. We skipped down the trail, really, I skipped down the trail. I found a spring pumping up from the ground. 

I yelled at Handy, ‘Hey! A cold spring!’

Handy more or less shrugged as I raised my voice again. ‘Never pass up a good spring, I always say!’ We sauntered on. I sang to myself the dirge I had come up with, but cheerfully .

‘When the trail is a river, 
There’s snow up high…’

I came up with goofy lyrics that made me laugh. In the end, I settled up thinking about my aphorisms. ‘Never pass up a good spring, I always say. I also always say, never pass up a good shitter. Even if you got water, drink up from the earth; even if you don’t have to shit, just try and grunt one out, just sit on the throne for 5 minutes.’ Time just splintered away as we galloped down trail. 

I said goodbye to Handy where he had stashed his bike. We had a beer each and parted ways. Handy sped off cranking the pedals on his bike. I took a less snowier alternate into Stanley. I knew I needed rest and time for the knee and hip. I needed to play it safe, to be a little conservative with my overworked body. I couldn’t risk the whole hike for a prideful decision. Besides, I had hiked the first half of the ICT in ‘15. I had seen that section before and I was stoked to see other parts of the Sawtooths. Content with my decision, I walked on alone. I was very grateful for my time with Handy, a dear friend. The pain in the knee and spending time with a friend reminded me of what I am good at, of what I can excel at, and, most importantly, that I can deal with physical pain. I am good at it. I can endure it. I just had not been familiar with a profound heartbreak like I had just experienced. 

Stanley, Stanley sucked me in. I walked in in time for breakfast. I was pleased with myself for getting this far. Shit, I didn’t think I was moving past Highway 20 when my knee got so bad. But, here I was looking for food, scanning the town for my needs, and looking forward to resting and recuperating the flared knee. After breakfast, I found my hotel. The room wasn’t ready, so I went seeking lunch, but not before asking about my package. The box wasn’t there. Another mishap, and I gulped in frustration. I didn’t let this get me down, and immediately went into planning a course of action. I called my buddy from home who had checked my PO Box and recovered my Stanley resupply box. Most importantly, in that box were the Frank Church Wilderness maps. I conversed with my buddy about what to do. I couldn’t wait out the whole weekend as I had limited time to be on the ICT to begin with. Automatically, staying in Stanley for the three rest days would put me two days behind schedule and I would be late to return to work. I went all in. This is a crucial moment. I pushed my chips all in and forked over a pretty expensive overnight shipment of the box. We reasoned out I would spend that much on groceries in Stanley for the long haul ahead of me and, since I couldn’t find maps in Stanley, shipping the box overnight made sense. I needed to have those maps. The maps were a safety measure, a back up in case my electronics failed, provided escape options in case of wildfire or flooded trail, and gave me a sense of security. The maps were critical for going into the massive wilderness complex with no cell reception for 17 days. 

I sat at the bar the next day around lunch time waiting for the box. I got a notification that it had been delivered. I retrieved it and sorted my food and maps. I went back to the bar, maps in hand. I unfolded the maps and dove into the maps and the endless land of the Frank. I followed the thick blue wavy lines, the branches of the mighty Salmon interlinked deep, deep canyons. I fell in love all over again with the process of exploration. Map reading and dreaming is, to me, one of the first steps of fulfilling a walking curiosity. At this point, I recognized the journey I was on. I had fully committed, all the way in. A beautiful woman sat down next to me at the bar. She struck up a pleasant conversation. I was nervous, as I hadn't spoken to a woman in a long time. I had been so isolated in recent months, so damaged, the mere thought of conversing with a woman scared the shit out of me. I couldn't fathom communicating with my trauma so on the surface of my heart. I ordered another beer, drinking this one even faster than the one before. We began asking questions of each other. She was a yoga instructor, a breath coach, and a well traveled and sophisticated woman, a fellow traveler. She was curious about me and I could hardly believe it. I hadn't been asked a question about 'me' in so long. I excitedly spoke of the hike, energy oozing from my gesticulations and mannerisms. I had engaged after my nerves creased and folded to a place I could not remember. My emotions began to swirl with each swill. 

[She taught me to breathe again. I cannot make the same mistake again. My heart was broken.]
[Forget the past. I fell into a marriage I shouldn't have been in. I chose the adventure of the notion of love rather than love itself.]
You know how to breathe
[I chose emotional excitement over the purpose of love.]
I must breathe
[She showed me the depth of breath, the practice.]
Again. Slowly
[Yes, this is not the first time my heart has been broken. I just thought there was nothing left.]
[And, then I found her, found the one I would spend the rest of my life with. I’m still severed; she quit us.]
Breathe forever

The afternoon progressed in a sloshing and clinking manner. My head twirled. I felt my cheeks redden, my spirit swelled in feeling a sense of freedom of adventure. I breathed and laughed from the belly deep within. That night, we danced to a rock cover band. About all I can recall was the carousel of dancing that ensued, the swaying with the music, the Steely Dan cover. Then, I woke up alone, an empty beer can had toppled over in my armpit area, my chest hair matted. Infomercials rang out from the television. Was it all just a dream. I sought darkness and smushed a pillow over my head. I tried to forget that place where my nerves had slunk to. I thought how can I manage so well in the wilds, yet be so goofy in the world. I wanted my mask back on and I needed to rove again. Nevertheless, I fought the hangover and tried to focus on breathing. I zeroed in on my instincts. My mind cleared as I tried to swallow away the pain, a low lilt rang in my head, the cadence of a trilling whisper...  

'Your everlasting summer and you can see it fading fast
So you grab a piece of something that you think is gonna last
Well, you wouldn't even know a diamond if you held it in your hand
The things you think are precious I can't understand'

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