My grandpa collected aluminum cans. Sometimes he would go for walks by himself, sometimes he would drive around the local markets and shops and scrounge in the garbage cans for cans. Sometimes he would send us out. I wondered if he would send my brother and I out on these missions just to get us out of the house. We would wander the desert pavement between the creosotes for hours on end. The wind would howl incessantly, our clothes becoming dusty and crunchy with pale dirt. The sun would blister our necks and forearms, our legs protected from the dusty coat of the desert. We carried large 30 gallon garbage bags and just meandered in between the neighborhood and the highway, the field a vast expanse of a barren desert wasteland filled with blown trash from the Los Angeles travelers. We found such a variety of trash, such shit from society, the dandruff of the city -- cans, dolls, condoms, beer bottles, broken glass, toys of all sorts. Sometimes, we would catch a king snake and find a rattlesnake for it to tangle with. We captured horned lizards and fed them ants. We poked scorpions with long and brittle sticks teasing their pincers annoyingly. Once, I found a kennel with 3 dead puppies inside, abandoned by some asshole.
A few days later after the Malachi incident, I was sent on a can collecting mission alone, my brother some place else with new found friends. As late afternoon began to drift into dusk, I zig-zagged through the creosote until I got to the highway. I had found a can here, a can there, but nothing out of the ordinary. I scurried across the busy highway dodging the weekend Las Vegas goers and scuttled towards the supermarket. I headed straight toward the large garbage bins in the back of the grocery store. I was surprised to find Malachi and his flunkies hanging around the bins smoking cigarettes. He glared at me, grimacing with an evil smile. He pulled a switchblade, as his flunkies began to chime in and surrounding me. I turned and bolted, with the group chasing after me. I held onto the garbage bag, the cans clattering with each stride against my thigh. I raced across the parking lot, careening between parked cars trying to shake the chasers loose. They had spread out and some of the flunkies had begun to flank me and angle towards me, cutting off some distance. I aimed straight toward the highway, and from my point of sight, I anticipated the angle and moment to hit the highway at full speed without getting pummeled by a vehicle. Wham! My left foot hit the pavement and I catapulted across not breaking stride in a straight beeline towards the other side, the garbage bag of cans clanking like the cans off of a rear bumper of a 'Just Married' couple's car. I hit the gravel, jumped a berm, and darted between the creosote. I was in coverage, in sidelong shade from the angling and setting sun, and I knew the bullies would not catch me. My adrenaline kept pulsing through my veins, my drive pushing and digging with each stride. Gravel dusted up and I fell into the rhythm of my breath now calm with the frantic pace. I was in freefall aiming towards the giant metal wind turbine monsters with the blinking red eyes.
Suddenly, I heard huffing and puffing, like open-mouthed panting. A pitter-patter of clomping steps flanked from behind me on both sides. I twisted my neck to each side, not breaking stride. I spotted four coyotes at a full gallop, their tongues flapping off a corner of each of their mouths. Their bushy tails swishing in the air, bobbing with each elaborate stride. The coyotes gained ground and ran astride of me. They slowed a bit and pulled up alongside me, the whites of their eyes refulgent in the twilight and creased with the stationary movement of a crescent moon smothered by puffy clouds. The wild in their eyes scanned me, pulsing a primordial zap within my being. My stride lengthened. I tried to keep pace. I pumped my arms exhilarated at this sense of freedom. I lost track of time, of place; I just galloped instinctively feeling the magnetic pull of the coyotes. I blended in; I could hear the coyotes, feel them. Unsuspecting to me, the coyotes and I had angled towards the road leading into the neighborhood. The coyotes veered off to the north, slightly turning without breaking speed and into the darkness. I stopped at the road, the pavement as dark as night. I felt the warmth of the day that lingered on the pavement, the miasmic aura of bitumen. My feet absorbed that sun-beamed heat. I looked back to where the coyotes had broken off. I could see nothing, literally nothing. I scanned the darkness. Then, I saw headlights turning onto the lonely desert street from the highway about a mile east. I went back into the creosote feeling the cool of the air sinking onto the desert ground. My heart had calmed down and now I was smothered by a consciousness of emptiness, of a sensation of freedom that I had never experienced before, a sensation of an unending space. I sat on the ground and felt the darkness of night sink in. I had been cloaked by the void of freedom. I had entered the realm of the dreamscape. Oddly, I drifted to a soft voice that whispered in my head that asked the question: Do you know what the desert is? I jogged on to my grandparent's house, the garbage bag of cans shuffling against my hip. I knew my dreaming had begun within my waking life. I had to answer that question no matter where my life took me. Since then, I have had the recurring dream of running with coyotes.
I left Stanley without deliberation from a hangover. The next stretch would be long -- some 450 miles or so in a vast wilderness with only one pavement highway crossing, no cell service, two resupplies at a backcountry ranch and a ranger station, alone and heartbroken with a lingering knee issue. But, since I had committed fully a couple days at the bar, I was willing to stake it all. I knew I had to succumb to the journey that I was on. In 2015, I attempted an Idaho Centennial Trail thru-hike as part of a bigger adventure that I had aimed to highlight some of the least traveled areas —the NoName Route. That year, I was going through a divorce, a situation way worse than the one I was in. I had escaped the volatility and violent clutches of that painful marriage at some point in early August. I found myself at Interstate 80 at the truck stop town of Wells. I hiked northward under ominous skies with the scratches, bruises, and scars of a cat fight. I got into the Bruneau Desert amid 108 degree heat. I hiked like I had never hiked before -- 40 miles a day with only 2000 calories to spare for each day. I was broke, my money gone and given away, and broke of any close relationships. I was hiking like I was going to die on the trail. I got to Stanley around mid August. Hazy skies hung heavily with thick smoke in and above the valley. My fear of wildfires shutting my walk off had come true. Really, the closures meant I had to face my painful reality. I had nowhere to go, no one to go to, so I planned a way through the Frank Church that skirted the closures and wildfires. Chamberlain Basin was burning, closed to any traveler. I hiked around and got to the Main Fork of the Salmon River only to encounter even heavier smoke in the canyon and flames on the other side of the river. I understood what was happening and as soon as I hit the road near Whitewater Ranch I walked the 35 miles to Elk City. I came to value my life at that point. Maybe extreme loss coupled with not being able to do the very thing that made me even keel forced me with that decision: go on and die or deal with it. I am not an inherently selfish person— self-centered, yes — but I couldn’t fathom risking someone else’s life to save my dumbass. So, I escaped, both a marriage and a wildfire.
Needless to say, I had been waiting for the Frank Church ever since. This time I had open and blue skies and a dark and stormy heart. I had planned a different way to connect through to Chamberlain Basin because of my walking into Stanley to rest a weary and injured knee. Chamberlain Basin felt like this place that had been so inaccessible to me then, even now, that I believed I would find a secret there, a secret that would cure my inner wails. I hiked on slowly from Stanley, slowly enough to just think about the day solely in front me, to ponder at the bright blue sky and the pointy and glaring peaks of the Sawtooths, my imminent and present vision. I don't know -- I left a part of me in Stanley. Or, something fell away, broke off. I fell into a walking trance and became lulled asleep by the serpentine trail along the roaring Loon Creek. The tremendous shaking high volume of the swollen river invaded my head, as if I couldn't think of a thing, not even a song. I lost my inner voice, my conscious thought had gone hoarse. I heard the river screaming, sometimes bombarding me with rude belches, or serenading me with the sweet lilt of a charming brook. I undertook my cadence to blend in with the rush of the river. I utilized the whole day, some 15 hours of daylight, to attain the mileage I needed without further injuring the knee, all in a flowing hypnotic state. My walking became the flow of the river and my thoughts became the roar. The roar was so deafening I could not hear myself think anymore. Probably the best thing for me. I stepped out of my skin and dove into the river. I stopped every chance I could to embrace the river. I splashed up handfuls of water as if throwing a comfortable blanket on my body on a nippy night. I yearned to be donned in the current of the river. I craved to have my skin crawling with the ripples of water. I was completely immersed.
I stepped out of the Loon Creek portal and into the furnace of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The canyon was very wide, the river too. The river lumbered with the heavy weight of all the creeks that had drained into it. That lumbering went over massive river boulders that bulged up from underneath. In swift marrow sections, I would hear the clanking and booming of boulders being pushed by the undercurrent. An occasional rafting party would float on by, not noticing me high above the trail that cut into hillsides and rock above the river. In one massive gorge, I watched rafters tumble over the huge rapids wedged within the gorge. I could only see the rafters mouth out yells at each other as the rapids bounced off the jagged walls. Sweating profusely, I stopped and leaned against a rock wall in the shade to watch the rafters tackle the rapids. After a minute or so, I continued on on the undulating seam of the trail above the river. The reverberation shook the walls and my head. I hadn't known any other sound in seemingly forever; I was drowning in the roar. Sweat beaded up on my forehead and dripped and streamed down my face. The water I had left to drink had become very warm, almost gagging to drink. I muscled the hot water down and ran out. The heat became oppressive, as the rafters went floating by in the middle of the river down a spindrift chute.
Finally, the long casting shadows cooled the scorching canyon down. Up a tight ravine the trail switchbacked up until the meandering path topped out at a hogback 1,000ft above the river. A strong breeze cooled me off, the noise of the river noticeably gone. My ears rang out as I took a resting spell nestled under a small ponderosa. The shadows continued to cast, getting longer and longer, as the sun kept lowering on the western serrated horizon. With the roar of the river gone, I finally took a moment to assess my physical body and mental state -- any ticks, how's my water intake, are you eating enough with the blasted heat, how is your knee, is there anything swirling around in that head of yours? I felt remarkably calm, seriously, like the calmest in months upon months. My body almost felt sore from the lack of reverb from the river, my head slightly tingling without the deafening roar. I just felt clear-headed. After 30 minutes or so, I almost leapt up from my nestled position and shot down the trail. The rafting groups began to settle on the beaches along the river. I hung above the groups and silently avoided any potential interactions. I felt gloriously isolated. I had chosen a portal that put me in the big wide world where I was present in the present moment, my whole being simply being. From afar I would watch the activity of the rafting camps as I drifted by. I even strode by a backcountry ranch with tourists playing dude. Rifle shots rang out, the American flag waved up high on a wooden pole, and the tired horses grazed in a verdant field after a long day of carrying those tourists. I traveled onward hoping to find a beach camp so as to take a dip into the cooling waters, as the air still clung with the day's heat.
I found a quiet and vacant beach. I felt the silence sink and I went down a few steps to the river. I crouched down and splashed my face, neck, and arms. The river slowly crept by hugging the contours of sunken boulders, the width of the river stemming on some ledged limestone cliffs. Dusk approached from above and pushed onto the surface of the water a shadowy hand, the river losing its sparkle. I traced a path with my eyes of the moving water and I took an unplanned tiny nap in my crouched position. A boulder clanged into another boulder, a clapping sound echoing from the cliffs across the river. I opened my eyes quickly and fell back on my rear end in the sand. I took off my shoes, socks, and shirt and slithered a couple feet to the shore and sat there in the cool waters of the river. Again, I fell asleep. I must have been exhausted. The Steely Dan song drifted into the front of my head from a deep recess in the back of my head. The song faded in and repeated two times and slowly drifted away and faded back in my mind from where it came from.
Are you reelin' in the years?
Stowin' away the time
Are you gatherin' up the tears?
Have you had enough of mine
Are you reelin' in the years?
Stowin' away the time
Are you gatherin' up the tears?
Have you had enough of mine
I had a full morning left of the Middle Fork before turning up-canyon at Big Creek. I had slept soundly because the river had soothed me. No dreams, just flashes of visions of the landscape of the Frank. My nightmares had ceased since I had left Stanley. Since Stanley, I had felt free of anything, even myself. To boot, my knee had not hurt since Stanley either. I almost felt normal again. The morning felt refreshingly cool and the long shadows came from the eastern reaches high above. Long ridgelines extended from a mountain divide thousands of feet higher. One could only see a glimpse of the depth of the canyon, it just seems like the land goes on forever here. I find it hard to imagine these swollen rivers and creeks at their headwaters. The river wiggled its way through narrows and gorges, wide valleys and beaches, and meadows and basins. Creeks of all sizes dumped into the Middle Fork, none bigger than Big Creek. Up the gorge, the roar of rushing water came back. The mountains sprouted straight up precipitously from the canyon floor. This only made the huge creek deafening. The side canyons rose dramatically craggy and almost everywhere I looked above the land had been burnt. Totems of gnarled, burnt, and petrified trees hung from the cliff sides. The bends of the creek had me in a maze, a labyrinth of land within the canyons and tributaries. Some canyons were hidden and the same with the ridge points overlooking the steppes of the canyon. I got lost within the landscape, tiny and insignificant as an ant on a random hillside within Big Creek Canyon. I was a traveler on a footpath as a bear or an elk walking from one canyon to the next. I sensed a theme out there: just rivers and dirt of wilderness—tierra madre.
A rattlesnake frighteningly signaled a warning as I was walking within a canopy of greenery near the roaring creek. The bandit-faced rattler hung up in the ivy and shook his rattle fiercely. I got the picture and felt pretty damn thankful the rattler gave me the loud and scary warning. I snapped out of my trance of the creek. Out in an open basin, cottonwoods swayed in the wind shooting down the canyon. I could finally see the tops of mountains all around me. The creek, large and wide, swayed away from me as the trail arced to the north to avoid the meadows and bogs. My legs pumped and I began to move swiftly. The temps had lowered a lot since beginning the gradual ascent up Big Creek. In this basin, I could see the sun to the west in full view yet the air just felt calm and warm and not heavy and hot. Once again, I fell into a trance. Conditions were perfect and I began to thrive. I immersed myself into my physical being doing the simplest act: walking. I also immersed myself within the immense landscape doing the simplest act: walking. I began to get that 'flow' endurance athletes seek. I floated along the trail, above it, around it, and in it. My vision zeroed in around the bends of the creek and the contours of the hillsides, a montage of movement. Then...
[…the dogs are back in my dreams. I’m running with the coyotes again. I turn my head to each side and see the rabid eyes of the coyotes. I am Coyote Head, now. My tongue is lashed out, dry. I am thirsty in the worst way. I feel the pull of them. I feel the connection. I feel the urge to go forward. I pull forward and continually lunge towards the freedom I feel ahead. I am tied with them. I turn my head and see the glow of the city that I recognize as Los Angeles. We are on the fringe of darkness and the city glow. I turn with the coyotes and leap into the empty night.]
Walking is a waking dream. There’s a subliminal intent of direction in the simplest meditation. We travel inward to faraway places while outwardly we travel at the pace of nature. Walking is hypnotic, transforming, soothing, yet present, the senses piqued as you are a part of the world around you as much as you are in your own head. Walking is astral-blasting, reaching through two different spectrums of reality within light and vision and imagination. Walking will take you to the deepest corners of your inner space, the deepest recesses of our spiritual plane. Walking takes you to the backcountry of the mind. Walking is a ritual, transporting the outer reality to the inner primordial. Walking is a primordial need. We travel down wavelengths of our lineage through the simple act of walking. Walking is immersion into a place -- the river and the land -- and self -- the landscape of self. Walking is the pathway to my vision quest.
I shook myself off of the vision and stared flatly at another rattlesnake. I walked on like a bear being stung by a bee -- aware, but not concerned. I melded back into my rhythm, yet my stride became shorter as I slow-rolled into camp. I found a camp on an isthmus above a bend in Big Creek, just below a rocky outcrop. I paid one last visit to the creek and washed off. The coolness lathered over me like the length of time of that day. I flashbacked to the vision of the coyotes, to the thirst I sensed, to my transfixed pace. In a flash second I spanned 12 hours. I filled my water bottles up with the water of the creek that held the vision. I wanted this day ritualized. I needed the Coyote Head to stay on forever.
I had a refreshingly cold night. I slept deeply, not rocked by my dreams. I slept with the creek wrapped in the comfort of the cold and the soft sound of rapids, the lullaby of isolation. In the morning, a new and different morning, I began the gradual climb up Coxey Creek. Dampness hung in the air in the small side canyon of Big Creek, the entirety of the canyon scarred by wildfire. Dew clung to the shrubs, bushes, and grasses lining the drainage, the trail overgrown and narrow. Because of the dampness of the brush my legs, feet and shoes became soaked. The spiky rose bushes thrashed the mosquito bites and scratches on my legs, roughly yet so soothingly and cool like new and frenzied love. Without the roar of any major creek, I kind of normalized and could hear myself think again. I hadn't polluted myself with any podcast or music since I left Stanley and I wasn't going to begin now. I wanted to reintroduce myself to myself.
The ICT took me atop ridge lines and drainages high up in the mountains in the really deep wilderness in the Frank Church Complex. The trail's main aim today would lead me to Chamberlain Basin, the place that held a secret from me back in '15. The whole length of the day I encountered burnt forests, the what-was of lodgepole, conifer, and ponderosa pine forests. The mountains felt barren although green with grass and shrubs. The absence of trees could almost feel eerie, but I have always looked at burnt forests differently. I have compared them to a person being naked. Not just unclothed, but exposed to the inside thought of morals, honesty, and trauma: one cannot hide from oneself in a forest any longer. A deep and dark forest is where mythology, tales, and nightmares reside by the construct of cultures and tribes. Metaphorically, looking at a fire ravaged landscaped I can see the bare contours of the mountain's sinew of dirt, the connective tissue of soil and the arterial torment of water. With erosion the mountains become bare, like one looks at oneself in the mirror, naked. Totems of timber, petrified or burnt, bend stiffly in the wind that whistles and haunts through the standing flutes. You can hear voices, tortured and oddly reflective, creaking and booming. You can see the wind as a wrinkle on one's face. I found myself midday leaning up against a silvery petrified totem nodding off under a small canopy of lodgepoles. The sun arced slowly in the sky away from the shady canopy and glared into my closed eyes, my eyelids pixelated in a flourish of purple. I shook my head to detach from my momentary blindness. I gathered my sight and, across the small valley on a barren landscape, a coyote trotted away from me with an occasional look-back. He wound around a thick and burnt trunk and vanished but not before glancing back at me. I scooched over against the log and found more shade. I leaned my head back and wondered how close had that coyote gotten. Fifteen minutes lapsed as I woke up probably every three minutes or so. Flashes of blurred memories would startle me to a drowsy wakening, the coyotes sprinting along side me with an insatiable thirst in their eyes, But, as a couple carpenter ants crawled on my leg, I woke up from a vision of fingers tickling my legs. I snapped to, stood up, moseyed on, and I sent a message to the deeper self to remove the Coyote Head for a bit. I merely wanted to be outside of my head.
Atop a low pass, Chamberlain Basin came into view. This very large basin extended a wide panorama that included seemingly endless forests. I stood there on the low pass expecting to find something in that gaze, expecting for the secret to be located from the overlook. Nothing is that easy, however. The wind picked up behind me and chimed through a couple dead standing ponderosas. I looked back and the hillside was adorned in petrified gravestones of the remnants of the ponderosas that once dwelled here. I ambled down the low pass and skirted the large meadow adorning Chamberlain Creek. Twilight settled in the amphitheater of Chamberlain Basin and the sky morphed slowly from day to night, from sky blue to pink and orange to midnight blue and dusky purple. The song came back into my head again, the last time the song would reel in my head on this long hike. I whispered the lyrics and chorus under my breath. I could now pick up the song anytime I wanted.
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
Are you reelin' in the years?
Stowin' away the time
Are you gatherin' up the tears?
Have you had enough of mine
I slept in an airfield that night, the forest adjacent to the airfield, actually. The cold drooped into the meadows and the humid air fell onto my tarp. I slept soundly amidst the solitude, even though a couple deer wandered into camp and hoofed at the ground looking for salt. I startled awake and broke the silence when I yelled at the deer. I blurted out, 'Hey git!' In the morning, the sky blazed in a soft orange glow amid the mackerel clouds tiled low just above the airfield. I assessed my food and realized I had run low on my supply and still had a very long day ahead of me until I could reach Yellowpine Bar where an historic ranch had held a package of food for me.
Day 6: Leave it behind, go beyond, do, act, commit fully to the present act; forget why you want to be here, just be here. The mindset of an ultra, getting stronger as you go further, be the last one standing, dive into the cave but forget the pain. Be one of no more pain. Hands in my pocket on a cold morning. Breath low and slow... I decided to be determined that day to be objective. I needed to walk. This put whatever romantic notion of Chamberlain Basin behind me. I took off the Coyote Head. I focused on the forward -- get my ass to food. The surrounding forests held a moist air most of the morning and I just zipped along. I drank more water than usual to alleviate any hunger pangs. I probably had about 1500 calories for the duration of the day and 31 miles in total to get to the ranch. I performed greatly, however, just moving swiftly along a well-traveled trail, and the miles just flew on by. I found large wolf prints in the remaining small piles of snow in the shadows of a dark forest. My head went to the coyote briefly and I could feel the essence of a silent roamer in the faraway mountains. I shook the primordial trip. For a few miles or so the wolf prints would show up, either in the mud or snow, until I hit the burn area of '15. I came across a moose skull at the camp bordering the ravaged area, the evidence of a cold and wet meadow defeating the progress of the fire. I slid on through, pushing up a gradual climb through the scarred area. I had hardly taken a break that day until I had found a lunch spot in the trees, on a prominently long ridge above the Main Fork of the Salmon River. I had a gulping view of the crazy deep canyon, the river some 7000ft below me. I ate little and rested even littler. I got up with a sense of urgency to get to my food drop. Then, everything hit me all at once. I drifted into a zone that just took control over my mind. This zone dialed straight into my heart as I sobbed with each stride. I think I had been thinking of things without knowing I had been thinking of things. The depth of the canyon drew me in. Maybe it was the heat becoming oppressive again. Or, maybe it was my hunger making me a little hallucinatory. Maybe it was bottled up emotion that welled up all at once. But, I ended up with visions in front of my face, all the good memories -- leading the way in the Winds with her, saying 'I love you' in San Luis Valley, cooking for her in the backcountry; recognizing her at mile 60 of the High 5 while I was completely and utterly out of sorts; rooting for and supporting her while she was on the PCT, just seeing her living her best life then -- just moments of happiness. I stomped on in the sticky heat on a trail that plummeted down the enormously deep canyon. I spiraled down a staircase to the heart of it all. I came to terms that I’ll be forever heartbroken. But, I loved her more than anything, unconditionally, which I had never done before. I will forever be stricken by her actions, yet I can accept that my love for her will never die. I can forgive. I am thankful. I vividly thought: I've enjoyed my heartbreak long enough. I teared up with the memories of her and the love I had for her. I understood finally in my long damn life what love is. It wasn't something that I just felt. It is a way of living, a belief. Love was not a reaction. I had no clue where these coherent thoughts and visions were coming from. And, I decided to let all the anger go and leave the hurt behind. Spiraling down the trail and into the depths of the canyon, I began to believe in a bottomless love that would steer my life. I honestly can say I have never had that awareness of love in my entire life. This was different than a fleeting feeling. I felt so grateful in that moment, so fucking grateful. I also felt 'the now.' I felt love for what I was doing, and I felt love for myself. I embraced the positive emotions and I knew everything from that point would be ok. Everything from that point would be ok because I had chosen love to guide me from that point forth. I continued to tumble down the steep descent in the heat. Love swirled in my head, like a religion, and like a philosophy I dove into the newfound knowledge and understanding of love. I felt like my whole life flashed in front of me. Salty tears streamed down my face and I couldn't stop smiling. Love is enduring, love is eternal, and love has proved to be the biggest learning point. I had to lose myself to understand love. I had to give myself to someone to find the love I had never known. I neared the point where I had to end my ICT '15 thru hike due to wildfire. Oh, the time that has elapsed since then. From where I dug myself out of then to where I have dug myself out of now, when the love that someone had given me had completely disappeared without explanation. My heart pumped with the blood of purpose; I had found love within myself. I went into this quest not knowing what I was going to find. I went into this healing knowing I was going to hurt more. I did not know that I was going to find love. I had no clue. I am walking to fill up this enormous canyon in this enormous wilderness. That is why I am here. In that moment of descent into the deep and enormous canyon, I decided to choose love.
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