|The first thing I noticed was that it was still dark out. I looked at my watch, 7:37 p.m. Shit, it was gonna be a really long night. I had only fallen asleep about twenty minutes earlier and already I was up. The bag I had borrowed was guaranteed to forty below, and it certainly wasn’t that cold, but my feet were frozen to the liner. Outside the tent I could hear the moans and shrieks of a lake in the throes of freezing solid. Alien sounds, like ecstatic water spirits being released from a long summer torpor. Earlier I had walked the shoreline and saw the evidence of many cold nights; ice stacked on ice, pushed out of the lake by expansion after expansion. I settled deeper into the bag hoping the night would pass into morning with all my body parts intact. I tried to concentrate on warmth but found only the creeping numbness that accompanies the idiocy of camping on a clear night in the dead of winter. |
In the darkness next to me, Tom shifted and snorted. That bastard is gonna sleep clear through the
night while I lay here and greet the dawn with a frozen dick. Life is always an adventure. Besides, it was my idea. The only thing I could do was lay there and hope I didn’t have to piss anytime soon. My mind began to drift and wander through itself, down into the realm of memory. Sleep was gonna be scarce, that was a certainty, so I began to meander back to the summer before, when I discovered the American West. The summer I realized that life wasn’t what I had thought.
I started thinking about how everyone seems to go through a period when they realize that almost everything they believed in was a product of outside sources, that life up to that point had been spent preparing for the day when their soul bends and twists in the winds of self-discovery; the day the eyes in their head finally open. The day when pop songs lose their meaningful message and become items of nostalgia. A million riffs came to my mind, but I was far too cold to start pining over Journey licks and the wisdom of Cyndi Lauper or Phil Collins. As if in agreement, Tom snored and made several other unearthly noises before slipping again into the bowels of a deeply envied slumber. But I wasn’t about to let him ruin my night; besides, this damn sleeping bag had already beat him to the punch.
Change. Maybe it was the look in girl’s eye or a deception by a friend. Maybe it was a line in a poem or a freak event that catches one completely unaware. Maybe it came from boredom or excitement or a porn movie. Wherever it comes from, it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that it happens. At least as far as I was concerned.
My emergence into the world of the neo-wise came in Montana, about fifteen steps into the wilderness of Glacier National Park. It was late August and Bill, Keith and I had turned into our own beasts of burden, braving the mountains and lakes and forests and magic of Big Sky country. It had taken us only three glorious days to get to this point. Quitting our jobs and financing our trip with rent money, we set out one fine morning from Bloomington, Indiana in Blue Sky, Bill’s blue Ford Ranger. Total time spent planning: about twenty minutes. We had outfitted ourselves with what we had, which wasn’t much, but I tell you, at that moment, on my back it felt like quite a bit. But anyway, like I was saying, fifteen steps. I was busy adjusting the straps on my pack, worrying myself over this detail and that detail when for the first time I looked up and saw what surrounded me, saw the mountains, saw the gnarled trees, saw the deep azure sky. That vista slammed into my eyes and the truth of existence crept through my brain.
We don’t need too much really. People spend their best years obtaining wealth and objects that make life more comfortable and easy. They work like dogs all year to get a week of clean air and fantastic sights, spending a good portion of the years earnings. Life isn’t about commuting or upholstery or status. Life isn’t a 30-year mortgage in the suburbs with your nuclear family, each with their own room. It isn’t talking on the phone in your car or diet pills or what car your neighbor drives. Success shouldn’t be measured in terms of paychecks or college diplomas or how much you saved at the Wal-Mart down the street. All this stuff, all these things, all that work, to what end? For a week of vacation a year? For comfort? Security? Security from what? No. Living isn’t that complicated. It is rather easy. We don’t need too much at all. Here I was living for days on end with only what I had on my back. I wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, I slept better out there than anywhere else. Existence stripped to the bare bones: food, clothing, and shelter. Romantic? Yes. Extreme? Maybe. True? Absolutely.
Laughing, smiling and walking, the three of us carried our stuff on our backs for many miles. Everything as it should be. Simple. Challenging. Difficult at times. But never, ever a struggle. How could it be? I think alot of us fear simplicity because it conjures up images of loneliness and heartache, worrying and never-ending struggle. Ha! When you are your own beast of burden, life’s pleasures take on some validity. Warm food, sleeping bags, fireside talks and harmonicas. Each moment of the day is your own, not borrowed or stolen time from your employer, though this little line is “borrowed” from Thoreau. You carry what you need, you see what you want to see, and you think about what you want to think about.
Perfect example. Here I was, alone, more or less, in the frigid darkness of an Indiana winter. The tent was solidifying underneath me, and my toes were following suit, a bit too fast for my taste. It was 8:47 p.m. I was smiling, well at least the best that I could, since my cheeks were freezing to my teeth! “Great triumph is birthed from great sacrifice.” I don’t know who said it and I don’t even know if it is true, but it occupied me for a time. Is sacrifice a necessity to success? What is sacrifice? Why are we here? What does it all mean? I wasn’t out there to wax philosophically about such mundane things as defining this and that. But the truth came to me like a warm blanket for my brain. Like Einstein said, “Everything is Relative.” Life is difficult only if you think that what you do is a sacrifice. Schmack!!! Another bout of clarity! A thought that resounded through the hollows of Hoosier National Forest... I have to piss. I think that was the last rational thought of the night...
I proceeded through the night in this manner, cognitively impaired but understanding things better than usual. What I learned that night may be considered pointless in some circles and on some levels I may agree. I never did get out to piss though. The morning passed in a blur of nausea. Tom, being well rested, though no envy here (?) helped me get up and moving, something which I will always be grateful to him for. The point of camping on that particular night wasn’t to discover the truths of existence nor to define the minutiae of days and night of our lives. The point was to have a good time. That is what we did. And that is what we have managed to do in the years since.