Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Chapter 12: The End of the Vagabond

Idaho Centennial Trail 2022

I threw my thumb out as I was collapsing and packing away my trekking poles. A sedan suddenly stopped and within 30 seconds of throwing my thumb out I was whisked away to the resort 26 miles down the road. Joyce immediately emitted a refreshing presence, just an immense kindness oozing from her person. We careened down the meandering and curvy highway and connected pretty quickly. We spoke of worldly travels and the pleasure of being in nature. I felt content, fulfilled in the fortunate happenstance of a weary traveler, and letting the wave of randomness take control. I was in my image I have had ever since I was a boy -- an explorer tramping the world with a slate of full experiences. She took me to the resort, as I was hoping to find a cafe and a room, besides a small market to padden my food supply. Since I had decided to go to town to re-up for the next big stretch, I felt the need to take advantage of the opportunistic shortage of food. I was happy to adapt to my food shortage, just to freshen up and replenish any weight I had lost during my Frank Church Complex romp. I wanted to take advantage of this brief overnighter, just to rest and eat. But, unfortunately, the cafe had been closed for two years. Joyce offered a lift down the road further to the town of Kooskia. We had lunch at a cafe and just laughed with an ease unlike most strangers. I inquired about a motel from the waitress and I was told the town did not have any. I couldn't go any further down the road, as I would spend too much time hitching back to Wilderness Gateway. Joyce, my perfect stranger, offered a lift back to Three Rivers Resort, 20 miles in the opposite direction. I couldn't believe her kindness. So, I ran across the street to the grocery store and piled up on a night's worth of food, as well as an extra full day of resupply for the next long stretch. Joyce drove me back and dropped me off back at the resort. I said goodbye, both us feeling our time spent together had been too short. A brief yet connected encounter, somehow helping each other out -- if that doesn't bring your faith back in humanity up, then nothing will. 

I got a room, showered, and laid on the bed for a couple hours with the AC blasting in my direction, my distended belly full from the massive lunch I had eaten earlier. With everything moving so fast and having to constantly adapt, all this rambling, I fell into a blissful nap and drifted into a happy dream of a wanderer. Later that afternoon, Coyote and Dre showed up. I had another chance to hang out with friends, friends with the common bond of Idaho and feeling like near death had hit us in the Selway-Bitterroot. Only now, we were safe and relaxed and compared our shredded shins. We laid around and watched a movie and sunk into relaxation. Early the next morning, Coyote and Dre were swooped away with a ride they had lined out all the way to Kamiah, the nearest town some 25 miles away where they would take two days off.  As much as I craved to linger, I made a point to get out of the resort early, as well. Hugs were shared as we said our goodbyes, for real this time. I thumbed a lift back to the trailhead with Jeremy and Lisa, a couple who had thru-hiked the ICT in '20 and were now putting together a guide book for the trail. Jeremy had reached out to me on Instagram and had used some of my '15 ICT blog post quotes to give some sort of a sense to this rugged trail. Serendipitously, they were driving along highway 12 the same time I was hitching, a random encounter I could have never drummed up. The scenario I had rambling in had this magic about it, like the meta-trails were all syncing up. This type of magic is similar to deja vous, except the deja vous is in the moment and you forget that anything may be a recurring memory or a glitch in the mind. Life, in these instances, is incredibly harmonious. And, to listen and acknowledge this harmony, one is rolling with the flow, floating along a groove where a constant connection is felt. One is alive, like really fucking alive. And, alive as I was, I clambered out Jeremy's truck with my fully loaded backpack in hand and started eagerly up the trail.

Let's not get too peachy here. I cannot purport an image of myself that may not always be myself. I am not saying none of this shit exists, but the story needs to stop right here if I do not address these manic notions of thriving. Here it is, this is where I come from; this story, a different conclusion than what I had scribbled down in the beginning, I thought I knew the last sentence of this story. And, the story changed. Not because I control the narrative. It's not to say I don't have thoughts about the story being any different either. I long for the love I had. But, because that love had vanished I am left alone to face this idea that has plagued me, that which has not made me unique. This love made me open, even more vulnerable than being in a storm on a bald knob in the Selway-Bitterroot. I probably have been too infatuated with the idea of a wanderer. From all the stories and books I have read from Greek mythology to Knut Hamsun, from the Beatniks to Ruess, from Abbey to adventure novels, I am drawn to the image of a wanderer adventuring around various parts of the globe. I have also been tortured by that same wanderer notion but in a skewed way. That image is mangled by a vagabond father who abandoned his family, his dereliction to his wife and two boys a tragedy, and, ultimately, the image of his fate of abject homelessness. I am constantly on a tightrope constantly balancing these two images. The sad reality is that none of these images are actually true. It is all fantasy and trauma melded together. It is a struggle I find in life as I find tranquility and therapy out in the wilds, while in the 'real world' I struggle to connect with what the pace of society is. I am destined to be like him. 

Those meta-trails that seemingly felt connected were, in fact, actual encounters. Rather than shelve the idea of reality and slink back into the story I have always told myself, I decided right then and there on Liz Butte to commit to the act of living as the outward version of myself rather than the inward version of myself. Ooooh, I craved isolation at that instant, absolutely needing to go further into that palace of pain and shatter all the windows and walls I had created. I stomped atop the soil, I jumped and sprang over downed trees, and bashed my way through the overgrown paths. I had intention, a vitality of intention with boiling blood. I wasn't angry either, however, I was zeroed in. This image of a lonely wanderer I wanted dead. I knew I had to embark on this mission alone. I knew it would take a vaulted courage from deep within. I had to face the false reflection I had convinced myself was real. I needed to see the real me in the mirror and not the dogged and lonely wanderer that ultimately stemmed from the guilt of my father. I hiked on with wide shoulders as the trail weaved above a large meadow filled with beaver dams. The sun sunk and the air became redolent with the dampness of a dank and putrid beaver pond. The sun sank so much I became enveloped in darkness, all my lightness within matching the outer darkness. I knew this would get dark. I knew that externally I would be more afraid than internally, my body being a fleshy pod acting as the barrier between the war inside and my outer reality. 

Bear shit, huge piles, became omnipresent. I side-stepped and dodged steamy piles and old crusty heaps. I hollered out in the pitch black forest trying to signify my presence to any bear. I whistled and sang a repeated tune of 'finding a camp.' I bellowed and rang out in a cacophonous voice that surely would deter any monstrous bear. I got a little nervous as I went along into a black tunnel. I forgot about myself and navigated with my mind, the puppeteer of the body. I kept my headlamp off until I truly needed it, as my eyes still held the absorption of light and I could make out shapes and shadows. The canyon narrowed, too, and the roaring creek muffled my clangy voice. I elevated my tune and shifted to a stern warning that tried to outcompete the raucous creek. An hour went by at least, and I finally put on my headlamp. I was looking for the glow of yellow eyes besides the contouring trail corridor. I kept my yelling up, as the black and moist air swallowed me up. I saw a pair of yellow eyes staring at me from the hillside but I could tell by the narrowness and the height that a deer was figuring me out. My heart jumped a bit and I tried to scan the darkness with my piercing light beam for a decent camp spot. I found another pair of yellow eyes staring at me, transfixed by the glare of my light. I kept moving and moving and every 5 minutes or so, another set of yellow eyes popped up, all deer. I came to a creek crossing and waded in. I used my trekking poles to jab the bottom and rocks to read the current and a path across. The coolness of the water felt refreshing, as if I had finally relinquished the overcoat of moisture in the air and donned water as my outfit. I scurried up the other side of the creekway and immediately smelled the cedar grove I was now walking under. Cedar incense filled the air and I shook off the water as I shined my light above into the tall canopy. My light now became potent and shined a wide archway against the massive trunks of the cedar trees, no longer my light getting swallowed up by the black space of night. I could see a red mound beneath a tall cedar about 30ft up the hillside. The mound had soft red dirt, a spot where a tree at some point had fallen over and had backfilled with that soft dirt. The roots and tree had long since rotted, so I was left with a bed of some sort and scratched the surface with my shoes to make a flatter and wider camp spot to lay in. I pitched my tarp low to the ground because the slope angled steeply into my mound pit. I used my silk liner to dry off my legs and climbed into my quilt exhausted. I crashed hard, hard to sleep. No dreams but of an open backdropped darkness, the cedars absorbing the swoosh of the creek, my dreamscape surrounded with the roar whitewater, I sunk into the torpor of a hibernating bear. 

I rose early the next morning, the dusk barely penetrable into the tall cedar grove. I slowly moved along a damp trail with brush dripping in condensation. My skin and clothes sopped up all the moisture hanging from the brush and air. I entered a meadow with the brush reaching up to my chest. I saw a rust colored hump bobbing up and down in the brush ahead. I took out a yell from deep within in hopes of scaring away the black bear. The bear had his nose in the ground rooting and clawing at edible roots. He could not hear me, so I yelled louder, even let out a piercing whistle. That did the trick. He stopped bobbing and stood up on his hind legs and spun in a circle slowly, as if waltzing to the melody of the meadow. He then saw me waving my arms up high in the air and turned back up the trail and rumped onward. He sidled along slowly, almost hulking along, and I could tell he did not like my presence there. I could not go around so easily with all the thickets of brush and the rapid-filled creek nearby. I had to believe in his behavior as a black bear. He wanted nothing to do with me, I was not on his predatory list, and he was not protecting a territory, although I didn't quite feel that way. He looked grumpy and agitated probably because I was disrupting his breakfast of scrumptious roots. I stood my ground, however, and persistently kept yelling at him and waving my arms and looking big. He stood up again and rolled his neck in agitation almost exhaling a sigh of annoyance. After about 30 seconds he turned back around and leapt with his haunches, a sturdy burst of speed. I continued on up the pathway loudly. I exited the meadow and entered a tunnel within the forest. I saw the black bear about a hundred feet away through the pines and he jogged off reluctantly. I motored on ensuring a growing distance away from the bear. Soon enough, I felt safe enough away to get back to my usual morning gait. 

Atop Windy Ridge, I settled my thoughts on this wanderer, away and comfortable from the fear and uneasiness of the morning, this lonely and gloomy image of a vagabond I have been obsessed with for years upon years. I walk alone because I like to think. Walking and thinking are my nature. I like walking and thinking in nature. That is my zone. I know deep down inside this is something that is so inherently deep within me that I understand multiple lifespans of walking, of being nomadic, and of the primordial act in itself means just simply being. Time passes as an act more than just the passing of time. I feel it in my bones. This is why I must understand what has plagued me has also helped me flourish. I fell into a memory, a memory that is an amalgamation of old photos, of brief stories I had heard from my granny or my uncle, or of my own blurry childhood memory. Where did my image of a vagabond come from?

As much as I have been infatuated with a wanderer, I have been living an obsession based on my father. For most of the time in my life, that fatherly obsession has been beneath the surface and stored away in some faraway place inside of me. I am aware of it but I constantly ignore it. Although I have subliminally lived my life to atone for his action, I have tried to be just me. I have acted with him in heart. Of course, my first memory is of him. My first ever memory is me sitting in a bathtub full of water, dingy water, with lily pads of vomit floating atop the surface. I was alone in the bathroom, unsupervised. I am unsure if I wailed out. I just recall everything being so inward, so inward from the inner vision of my eyes, like looking out from a fishbowl rather than into a fishbowl. I clapped a hand on the surface of the water splashing little pellets of vomit. I do not recall feeling sick but clearly I was. I felt the tepid water cling around my belly. I was glancing around looking for something to do, looking at my surroundings. A man came in and spoke to me in a muffled voice. I was young enough to not understand words, only tone and feeling I could interpret. I was a baby. He was a familiar man with long brown hair that fell beneath his shoulders. He had a thick brown mustache that hung beneath his upper lip. He appeared calm and had friendly eyes. He reached down for me and picked me up out of the dirty tub and I felt the water dripping off of my pudgy little body, his warmth comforting me. The memory ends there. I never saw that man again until I was 28 years old.

Yet, I had no idea who this man even was for another 8 years. I understood that man to be my father when my first stepfather came charging at me, my mother blocking and impeding his path, him charging like a madman yelling at her, ‘TELL HIM, TELL HIM.’ I continued to scrub my teeth, continued to look at myself in the mirror, my mother yelling, ‘YOU CAN'T, STOP.’ Frothing at the mouth he yelled, ‘I AM NOT YOUR REAL DAD.’ I swallowed some spit, but didn’t break my stare or my manner. I couldn’t, in that moment, let anyone know that that statement had affected me. From that point in time, I had begun to relive the tragedy of my real father’s actions at 10 years old. 

Even with that yelled statement, I never knew who that man was in my first memory. I couldn’t connect with it. I just knew that I must have known him and that everyone around me had known him too. My mother and my first stepfather soon divorced. This is the event that spawned the questions of that first memory. My mother fell on tough times directly after the divorce. So, my granny and my grandpa took me and my brother to provide us a safe haven. The questions began from me and my granny never held back. Eventually, my granny showed me a picture of my real father. There he finally was, there was the connection to my memory. The mustache and long hair. Me as a baby. That man in the bathroom in my memory was my father. Only then, did he feel real. Then, the image came up, the image of a wanderer borne from a choice so long ago. Even if it wasn’t his choice and he succumbed to mental illness or a drug addiction, either way, the event happened. He left us, my mother, my brother, and me. He left us pushing a shopping cart, homeless, outside of a restaurant in Burbank, CA, right after begging for money from my uncle. He had fallen off the face of the earth. Who knows how long that ten bucks lasted that my uncle gave him. My uncle once told me that he did not recognize the man pushing that shopping cart as my father, let alone as the man he had known. He looked off to my uncle, afflicted. He just disappeared.

I spent that afternoon atop Windy Ridge prying into my own soul. I was determined to get to the root of it all. The battle of jumping over downed logs, deciding which trail to take, navigating, eluding a mama bear and two cubs, none of these obstacles steered me from my inner direction. I navigated outwardly innately while I walked down dark hallways in my head. I could see the world in front of me as I was reliving a life inside of me. I descended to Kelly Creek that evening. The days just last forever up here in the Idaho north, my aching memories as long as those summer days. I had since left from the trance and coasted to camp. An easy night’s rest after a long day and I was greeted with a soft pink glow in the foggy morning. The air felt pleasant and new. I just felt purged. I don’t understand how walking ties everything together even though it is the connection with everything around me through walking that I seek. My dreams had been fine the past week or so. I wasn’t ailing or conflicted. I just 'was' just with a different hue over my lens. Yet this... I started off the ICT dying on the inside from heartbreak, something that was the realest thing that had ever happened to me. With all that crap dying inside, however, I walked on because I wanted to live, I wanted to pursue a real life with a different version that the one I had been living in. I went through clear visions in the Frank Church that helped me see how grateful I was for that experience I went through. The visions in the Frank, as well, put me on a direct path where my wherewithal to live headbutted my wherewithal to die. I had to choose, but choosing what I chose meant I had to live a life differently than the one I have always lived. At the end of those visions I chose to live with love. The Selway-Bitterroot showed me the value of life. And now? What's left? I keep asking myself this. What the fuck is left? Me. Me? Yes, I am getting in my own way and if I choose to live with love and I choose to live this life with intention whether alone or with someone, I must face the issue that is plugging me up, the torture that is severing my pursuit of that love. The next couple days up on the Bitterroot Divide, I waged a battle against a self-fulfilling prophecy that only stemmed from me feeling so bad about what had happened.

I marched into the forest up Bear Creek drainage with the vigor of Dean Moriarty, I must start living with the nerve I so started with on this ICT. That is clearly true. I believe that because I wouldn't be here if I hadn't. I got to go from here on out with this death, the death of the vagabond. There will be absolutely no way for me to move forward if I do not kill off the vagabond. I cannot any longer be just a character in my own story. That is a character I do not love, or rather that is a character that stems from some distorted belief that comes from a dark place. I finally feel ready to love myself. I am ready to stop feeling guilty and just love myself. I am just sick and tired of feeling guilty for shit that was never my fault. I’m ready to act naturally. So, I fall back into my vision, into my rambles and wanderings. I fall back into a place I feel free from any emotional ails, free from hurting anyone around me, free from fucking guilt. I fall back into a life that tries to absolve the life my hobo father had lived. This cycle is the palace of pain I want so desperately to escape from. And, never has the moment felt so critical to change and grow from that palace of pain as now with a new found outlook on life. Plodding and trudging up the overgrown and indiscernible path, I felt real, that in that moment I was a real man, like tying a memory to a picture. I felt ready to kill off a part of myself. I felt ready to kill off these images, dreams, and fantasies. I felt ready to live wholly. I felt ready to rid the trauma and void left behind from my father some 40 years ago. It is not that these thoughts came out of nowhere. It all felt like a natural conclusion to an actuality of a gloomy life that had been acted out, a recreated scene to sum up the rest of everyone's life involved where I took the pain of everyone around me. I realized my freedom lies within my guilt, a guilt that is unfounded yet something that heavily weighs on me. Because of this guilt, my freedom has always lied within someone else. Therein lies the trap that circles me back to the palace of pain. What I mean by that is even though everything that happened was not my fault, I have always had an onus for everyone's well-being. Shit actually happened but I didn't cause it. I feel guilty for thriving, exploring, and wandering, even if my intention is not the same as my father's intention. This realization has engaged me to act alone with who I am, to answer those deep rooted questions within me without getting an answer or reaction from anyone else.

I had to trust the way of the trail, the direction of the trail, the pull of the trail, for I couldn't always find it at all times up Bear Creek. The dotted line on the map did not match where I was at on the high slopes. Grass slunk over the trail and I had to blindly trust where I put my feet. I could sense the horse prints through my shoes, the ball of my foot fitting into each horseshoed rib and centering on the frog of the hoof. I clopped along drenched in seat giving my navigation away to my instincts and trust. I had to trust in the pathway, I had to give in completely to the trail, to be led by the dirt wavelength. I must live life with an unknown beacon that moves forward away from the gravity of darkness and memories of events of the past. I grunted, digging my arms into my poles and into the ground. I wanted the crest. I wanted to stare into a wide vista and feel that hope we get as wanderers of that wide vista. I just had to believe and trust in everything. I could feel the meta-trail I was on connected and crossing other wavelengths, I could feel the journey I have been on. The time was now.

[I pulled into a convenience store parking space adjacent to the gas station. I had gotten there early to scope out my surroundings, to play it safe and see the person I was to be meeting first. I put a quarter in the pay phone against the wall and told the man on the other line I was here. The white wall spackled with stucco over cinder blocks was stained with a yellow grime and the exhaust of vehicles. A small red sedan, rusted and sun-bleached, pulled nose first into a spot right next to my pick-up. I looked over, looked back forward, and immediately looked back over. It was him, I mean it was me, I mean it was him. He had that same dimple on the chin, the high forehead, the long nose, just older, haggard even. We nodded silently at each other, rolled a window down, and he said follow him to a restaurant. We walked into the family diner, burgundy red plush booths and tacky blood red walls with old ranching photos, the vibe almost more of a dingy dive bar than a family diner. We sat away from the other patrons in a dimly lit corner. It must've been late morning because he still ordered a coffee as I ordered an iced tea. We were not there to eat. We were there to have our first meeting in a neutral place. He laid into the story, his story. I didn't know what to start with, so I let him ramble. His arms gestured similar to the way I tell a story. His brow furrowed with those same three lines I have on my brow right between my eyes. I could tell it was me, a reflection, a relation.]

Finally, after blindly rolling along the path, I attained the ridge. From my vantage point now I could read the contours of the terrain and get a scope of where the trail was headed, even though the route on my maps didn't line up. Regardless, I moved swiftly along. I found rivulets with tumbling cascades. I stopped at each one and splashed my face to wash the stickiness of the sweat I had accumulated. As my brow furrowed with thought and memory, I walked harder, harder into a state of rhythm, pure flow. I traveled back in time in memory on the meta-trails. And, finally, I was on the Stateline Trail, a beautiful singletrack running along the crest of the Bitterroot Divide. My senses piqued with the spectacular surroundings and the dreamweavy trail. I flowed in unison with my inner and the outer until I heard a grunt, a low grumble, even though the wind was blowing hard. I had just crossed a snowfield, descending the long field with a giddy trot as the purple twilight illuminated the rock faces above the Siamese Lakes, that perfect time of day. The low grumble came from about 30 feet away from me in the tall bear grass and the wind-sharpened pines. A young bull moose jumped up and sprang away from me and circled back once he felt far away enough to roll that lugubrious heavy head back at me. He clumsily galloped off and I climbed to the pinnacle of the crest that overlooked the lakes from an escarpment. I stood there and felt the warm rays of the sun on my back and fell into the shimmering and waning light on the wind ripples of the lakes. I scanned the direction I had come from and saw the gangly young bull moose trotting up the snowfield I had descended. I found a sheltered camp from the wind and sat on the leeward side of my shelter to observe the encroaching blackness of night. I peered into the hardened alpine dusk and into the darkening forest trying to pick out that moose. Like a resoluted memory that brings knowledge and understanding, I knew the moose was gone.

[The vestiges of his past did not remain clear. The remnants of his past felt distorted, almost present even as if reliving a current situation. I could envision from his wrinkles and manic mannerisms that he had lived a really hard life. The memory of us must have felt to him as real as in any way we tell our own selves whatever story we want to hear. He had to care at some point, nonetheless. He laid into his story wildly, barely even taking a breath. He had lived a rough life, a life that I am not sure he had wanted to choose. He told the stories in a bar-story fashion, a little bit of truth there, sprinkled in some exaggeration here -- this way you can trick your memory into being one grand adventure. From my perspective, he told his story without any excuses and any responsibility, just no accountability. It was what it was. He told his story as if it was in real time and there was nothing he should feel sorry for, let alone change anything. But there was a tick, something off, something even delirious, some crazed ego that was trapped in the mind, even though his demeanor was calm. I mean these stories were nothing to brag about. I almost didn't buy it.]

'I loved you two boys, I really did...but, I had to do what I needed to do. I had no choice. I always loved you boys though, always. I left Burbank pushing that cart north. I ended up in Reno and lived under a church there for 10 years. The churchgoing folks there used to call me Floating Jesus... I just hovered in and around the stairs, looked like Jesus with my long hair and beard. Then, a new mayor cme in and cleaned up the city...got kicked out of the church, so, I hitched out of Reno. I thought fuck it, I'll get outta town...I was hitching to Orem Utah because I heard they had a good soup kitchen...but, met this Indian on the on-ramp...he was hitching too...he convinced me to hitch the other direction and get to Chico where his mom lived...he said she would give me a pack of smokes, a six pack of beer, and a shower, get cleaned up. Anyways, when I got there (his arms flailing wildly, his eyes aflame), when I got there and knocked on the door I just said his name and that he sent me and sure enough she gave me a pack of smokes, a six pack, a place to stay for the night. I cut off my dreads there... I had these dreads hanging down my back to my knees...I cut 'em off with an electric razor almost electrocuting myself because I got the plug wet...there was hair everywhere, knots, dreads. I left the next day to Oroville and met some stranger who put me in charge of a pot farm...I lived in a corrugated pipe, what do you call 'em, a culvert, a huge culvert, for the next 20 years. For 20 years I got paid a little bit here and there, I would go to town and buy what food I could. Then, one day I came to town and passed out on the sidewalk, boom, just fell down...woke up in the hospital a ward of the state...somebody found me just lying there on the sidewalk, just passed out, and called the medics. That's why I am here...I have an apartment in a halfway complex...it is small but better than that damn pipe.]

I woke up to a chilly morning with a rosy sun rising through a ruby haze. I packed up slowly, then began an even slower walk along the divide. I wanted to soak up slowly the morning glow softly rising in the east. The ribbon of trail was perfect, just perfect, perfectly groomed not-enough so I could walk with my hands in my pocket. I crested a small rise, a small enough rise to not see the tiny meadow below me, the meadow lined white pine that buffeted the western side of the ridge, wind-torn and small. Long shadows infiltrated the deep canyon to the east and I could feel the changing morning, a soft orange light that began to pierce the darkness deep within the canyon. I pulled out my phone to snap a shot, barely turning my head for a split second as I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I quickly looked back down into the meadow. A large mountain lion held a frozen crouch. We must have seen each other around the same time. The lion raised its haunches and sprang over one of the shorter pines. The lion vanished instantaneously from when our eyes connected with each other. With a snap of two fingers the lion was out of sight. Alertly, I trundled on with my shoulders upright and broad. I figured the lion had scattered way off because the cat's cover had been blown, however, I continued yelling some grunts and hoots. I shoved every waking thought aside and hiked briskly with my eyes wide and my ears open. I had a rush of adrenaline pumping through my body and I moved swiftly along the meandering trail until I hit Grouse Lake. I was certain I was far enough away from that encounter that I could slow the roll down a bit. Suddenly, a white flash darted in front of me uphill and on trail. I wended a corner and saw the abstract face of a mountain goat staring right at me, a kid tucked right in the rear haunches protected. They both stood there a couple seconds as I neared the duo before they turned and sprinted on the trail uphill and out of sight. I pumped onward again, my blood rising to the surface on this busy and adventurously slow morning.

Eventually, things cooled off and I calmly lulled along the divide for the rest of the day. My mind wandered again to this puzzle I needed to solve. I knew I was different from an early age, all along just slightly off kilter. I felt inside of me a great need to roam and explore. I abhorred the notion of living like everyone else. I believed I was destined to leave everything behind like he did, just in a more dramatic and adventurous fashion. I thought that age would be 28. I thought by that point in time I would have everything in order to just go walk the world. Needless to say, life ain't that easy. At 28 I did, in fact, leave, however. I had flown to Mexico City to wander around Mexico. I recall my mom hugging me as if she was afraid I would never come back, the memory of her first love and the father of her boys pushing a shopping cart out of town too painful. My trip ended within a month...

I hiked the slopes of Volcano Iztaccihuatl. I reached a 3-sided hut at some 15,000ft, a shelter from the elements up on this voluptuous mountain. I hallucinated a dream, or maybe I was asphyxiated from the thinnest air. Everything felt so lucid and real, but on repeat. I was reliving situation. I woke up, or I came too, each time with a mouse running up my sleeping bag. The moon was cold and clear. I could see the thatched and spackled walls of the hut. Sometimes I ended up on the floor, sometimes I was on top of the table I was sleeping on. A bull with one long horn stood staring at me from the other side of a beam on the open side of the hut. At least the hallucinations started out that way. I fell into this loop, the one-horned bull flopping from one side of the beam to the other. Never, though, did the one-horned bull change its expression. Each time, no matter the placement, the one-horned bull faced towards the mountain, a stone face the bull held. Whenever I truly woke up, the bull had been at my side, table height and at a level that when I truly came to I dipped into the deep, dark eyes of the one-horned bull. The bull pointed the direction. I was awake and the fucking one-horned bull was still there, the beam still held its staunch reach from wall to wall. I shook my head, the frozen and thinnest air pierced with a frigid cold. I rolled off the table to the other side of the bull and I went to un-beam the beam. I lifted one side and the bull slowly lumbered out of the hut. He went down the direction from whence I came. I stayed up for the next couple hours waiting for dawn, waiting for light under a clear and cold moon. I mulled over my reality. This is where the guilt sunk to its deepest depths. I knew if I continued on at that point, the reality of that decision coupled with what my father did, I knew that if I just kept walking I would never see my family again, that I would fall into the same trap my father did, that I would be forever guilty. I decided, then, under an icy dawn, to go back to my family. To do so, though, I would need to find my origin of thought, the seed of my wandering visions. I would track down my real father to learn where I had come from. I landed in LAX and walked the 42 miles home, I swear my head down in shame the whole way. I was so dejected that I couldn't be my true self because of some ancient painful history. I was ashamed that I cared too much. I was ashamed because I thought in that moment I was reliving his abandoned deed. Yet, within a month I tracked him down to find out where I had come from. I needed to. I was unlike anyone in my family, shit, unlike anyone around me. And I had these thoughts, almost a fantasy, a vision of a wanderer, thoughts and visions that just put me in some weird and strange place amongst people around me in Los Angeles. Sure, my visions and dreams were of some fictitious explorer tramping the world on countless adventures, innocent and youthful, akin to 'what I want to be when I grow up' type stuff. Nonetheless, with him leaving and disrupting our whole family, my dreams and visions became toxic. She was so young when he left, just left alone with two baby boys when she was just barely an adult herself. Of course, I knew she saw him in me. So, when I wanted to venture out wandering the globe, the action was too similar and sore to his abandonment. 

And, when I met him I saw me in him. I understood, finally, what my mom had felt and why she acted that way towards me. She couldn't lose something she loved again. I stood there in his tiny smoke-stained apartment, his bed barely bigger than a cot. His life felt out of order, everything felt so temporary as if his whole life had been temporary. The scene scared me. I refused to end up like him, I thought. I couldn't be troubled the way he was. So, when I left him after meeting him for the first time in my life I had this intense, just a fucking immense pain of lonlieness. Yet, I made a decision to do things the right way and not how he had done things. I left him after hanging with him for some 3 hours or so. I thought I had gotten what I needed out of it. So, I left. I left with good intentions, with the intent of not living my life the way he had lived. I just had to deal with my family first.

And, I did. From '05 when I met my father for the first time to now, on the ICT in the Bitterroot Divide, I have lived my life with intention, lived my life the right way with my family and others, especially the love I lost recently. I had thought when I was younger that I would leave everything behind when I was 28, then I met my real father. I then concluded I would leave when I was 36, but I found thru-hiking and the Vagabond Loop. I finally set my target at the age of 44 to leave the whole world behind and just wander it. But, I found love and how to love. Now, with that love gone, I do not want to leave everything behind and detach myself from everyone and everything. During this whole time I had tried to do everything the right way. I couldn't shake the guilt of what my father did. It's like I was trying to live my life the right way and right side up while trying to atone for his actions, right side down. Fuck, we are all just little tiny chickadees flying and flittering within the tree of life -- fragile and vulnerable yet resilient and sweet, precious. This is hard for me to write about, incredibly so. I feel like I am essentially killing off something deep inside that I have embodied since I was a teenager, the notion of a lone vagabond navigating the world. While I have had an adventurous ting tied to that notion, I always fell into a gloomy bog, the sadness of my vagabond father. This is why I am out here. The ICT hike wasn't just to process a mega-heartbreak. This hike was to find love and rid myself of this general sadness and gloomy theme, the description of a lonely wanderer. I guess walking has provided me with those feelings and expressions most likely deep rooted from a lonely and lost soul that was my father. Maybe this is my own way of living up to my father, just better. Maybe this is why I don’t have a family of my own. Maybe this has bothered me more than I have realized, and all under the guise of a lonesome wanderer. Maybe this is why I have never known love until now, just afraid I would lose it or it would abandon me. None of this was my fault. He fucked up; I didn't. 

I left it all behind there at Graves Peak as I negotiated some remaining sketchy snow banks. I had processed enough, spent too much time mulling over this puzzle. Although it was necessary, I just wanted to move forward with everything. In between Graves and Illinois Peaks I found a rock bench and thought about our connection to time. Not just in a variable and numerical way to justify our human existence within our societal constructs. I thought of time as a deep connection with a place. I yearned to get better at telling time by the sun. This felt more necessary to me than any inner-reflections. I was just done with it and I wasn't going to feel bad about shit anymore. I studied my pace and the angle of the sun. I wanted to be in sync, to flow with the pace of our world turning. And, I had it. I was just hungover from all this processing and from all this wilderness. I could feel the pull of town coming soon. After the Frank Complex experience of stomping down the ego, seeking harmony with nature, seeking rhythm, abstaining from social conventions, finding a deeper self through exhaustion and movement, breaking the ego down to find the joy and love I have for myself, I tried to begin normalizing. I found a camp at a pass crisscrossed with dirt roads under some power lines. Down below, the interstate moaned boringly. Above me, the power lines sizzled. The monotonous noise of both the interstate and the power lines irked at me right as I laid down, just a couple sounds so unfamiliar after 16 days across some of the most remote wildernesses, where roaring and rushing water reverberated throughout the canyons, where gusty wind shook my inner being and shaped ridge lines, and where an impenetrable silence remained omnipresent. The next morning, I farted like a big rig blaring by on the highway that jolted me awake. You know the sound, a semi careening by -- Wait…was the horn fart coming from the highway below? I forgot where I was, startled. I packed up quickly knowing the town was close. Clearly, I was so excited for town I confused a semi’s horn for a fart. A few hours later, I shyly walked into town, feeling socially meek and rusty yet physically bestial. A creek rushed through a large culvert under the main drag. I scrambled down some rocks to wash up, to at least look somewhat respectable. Now, I could strut a little bit, like I have been to a town before. Suddenly, with my ego chipper, a black sprinkler popped up from the corner of a large lawn just as I was walking by on the sidewalk. Prrrrsssshhhh!!!! I leapt up and fell away into the street, my heart jumping out of my chest, almost twisting an ankle. It took me a couple of seconds to understand that the sprinkler was not a rattlesnake. I needed to turn down my instincts. I had been cloaked with the wild and dipped in the beyond. Hours later, laying on a nice hotel bed, the television on, my clothes hanging to dry, I realized I had left my ATM card at a restaurant. So unlike me. Then, a movie trailer came on, my eyes glued to the animation and the color. I marveled at my shiny new toy. Then, reality sunk in and I shook off my wild gaze for a more civilized one. My mouth fell to the floor as Beavis and Butthead 2 was coming to a theater near me. I wondered aloud, ‘What happened to the world while I was gone for two and a half weeks?’ I should be asking, however, 'What in the world happened to me while I was gone for two and a half weeks?'

A few days later, just laying it all out there and crushing easy miles, I found myself sitting at the general store in Naples. I leaned up against the building and an ice freezer in the shade near the gas pumps. I felt exhausted, not just physically but emotionally, drained. I wasn't completely dead though. I understood what was going to happen next. I have been here before, like in retrospect I had been at that same point when I started the ICT. The beginning of this hike was my Iztaccihuatl, the beginning of this hike was my terrible '15 year when I left Wells, Nevada and hiked into the desert scratched from a tiger; just the beginning of this hike was in an advanced stage. I soaked up the shade and relief from the blazing sun. I observed some crosscountry motorcyclists all dolled up in glamping gear. I felt proud to be where I was after having been through where I have been. I understood I was not like them. I understood I was not like anybody. I knew more than ever I was not like my father. I chuckled a bit when I thought of the irony of someone leaving me unexpectedly rather than me leaving everyone. I was amused by that now.  I left the tiny little town and walked along the shoulder of the road. I felt a well of emotions begin to erupt. I refrained from writing or jotting notes and just let the swell of emotion swoon over me. From the depths of some shitty latrine I stared up from to this point just on the brim of the shitter about to prop myself out of the muck, my arms and elbows on the rim and pushing myself up out of the paincave -- I smiled and I chuckled and muttered to myself, 'When the world takes a giant turd in your mouth, go on a thru hike…'

Two days later I followed the Priest River along a soft and spongy trail in a rainforest with giant cedars stemming into the blue sky above. I was geared to get to the end point. I was excited to live this newfound way of life with love. I had travel plans on my mind. I knew I was going to do what I had been destined to do. I felt it in my bones. In the end, and at the end at Upper Priest Falls, I could feel the change within me, constantly morphing like the tumbling waters of the ferocious waterfall. I was molting, shedding away these painful memories. The air hung heavy with mist, my skin cooling with beads of water. I washed up and splashed off my head, face, and arms. I gave this trail everything I had, everything. I clutched my knees and legs and thanked them for carrying me. At one point, sitting on the shoulder of Highway 20 a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure if I was going to finish because my knee had flared up so bad. I wasn't sure I was going to finish either because I felt so severed, so heartbroken. I knew, then, though, that I had to commit and dive fully into the paincave. I had to walk through it, walk into it, to seek the depths and find the roots of the pain. Feeling the rush of the falls, even soothed by the harmonious roar, it felt symbolic to sleep near the falls. Submerged in the depth and roar of sound, I know I am a different person than when I started. Surrounded by the beautiful sound of roaring water, immersed with the clamor of pounding water, I understood I went into the paincave and found love. 

The next morning, I woke up early and for the first time in months I dreamt of nothing, as if dreaming of nothing for the first time ever. I packed up and began walking down the trail, the clamor of the falls exiting my head. My body felt relaxed as if the barrage of sound had massaged my body, my head rang free of that same barrage as if the sun was rising unto a quiet dawn. I felt awake. Onward I hiked. I felt the hollowness that had been inside of me, that paincave, had been filled up. For the first time in my life I believed I had finally begun to love myself.