From my years when I used to live in Utah, I came across the writings of a man by the name of Everett Ruess. Everett was the author of some fascinating letters and poems about his experiences in the Escalante region of Southern Utah.
It seems almost unforgivable to try to summarize his life in just a few words, but for the purposes of this blog I will touch on a few key facts. Everett was a young man who traveled around the 4-corners region of the US on horseback (and I use that term loosely, because sometimes they were mules, and not horses) in the 1930s. He was an artist, and a writer. Ansel Adams was a good friend and was able to take a few photos of him at one point. He set out on one trip from which he never returned at the age of 20.
I'll be honest, for the first few years after having heard of his journeys, I was under the impression that he was a bit of an old hermit, and it wasn't until just a few years ago that I discovered he was only 20 when he was suspected to have passed away and he wasn't really a hermit - but in my opinion, an explorer.
His life has sometimes been compared to that of Christopher McCandless (the central character in the book Into The Wild, which was also made into a successful movie), but I take issue with that comparison because I find there to be major differences in what actually motivated the two men to take their solo sobaticals.
One of my favorite quotes by Everett is "...I have seen almost more beauty than I can bear..." Now, to properly place this quote into context - Everett was speaking of the Escalante region where he spent much of his time. At first glance, this is a barren and desolate region...offering barely enough to sustain life, at least by our standards. There is little vegetation, and most of God's creatures in this area are usually small and seclusive, and many if not most are harmful if not deadly.
So how can someone gaze upon this forbidding land and utter those words? You have to see it for yourself. The beauty is there. He was telling the truth. It is all around. As the sun rises and falls on this part of the world, almost every color of the rainbow can be seen all around. What little life does exist there, does so deliberately...purposefully...defiantly. The hard sun is relentless in bathing everything in sight with it's fierce radiation - and yet, life persists. Perhaps the desert is not for everyone, it is a wilderness of sorts set aside for a special few who dare to make the necessary sacrifices in order to subsist there. And so Everett takes stock of these facts and beholds the beauty before him that hits so many a blind eye if they fail to look deep enough.
I share all of this because I am planning a trip on Memorial Day weekend to do a solo hike in the Northwestern region of South Carolina. A region vastly different than the one Everett used to pine for. Few would argue against the beauty of this part of the country; wildlife is abundant, and flora and fauna abound. Above all, though, South Carolina is my home and so it is particularly beautiful to me.
I get a few odd looks when I talk about making this a solo hike. Some people tell me of the dangers of being alone, and others wonder why I seek isolation. I have to laugh at the first piece of advice - danger is everywhere. I have a concealed weapons permit and I don't carry my 9mm because I like the feel of a pound of steel and high impact plastic digging into my back. I know there's danger - and I plan to be careful. As for the isolation - I don't seek isolation, but I do look forward to a period of quiet meditation. With each day I play out the events of the hike over and over in my mind. I imagine the sights and sounds that I will experience. I contemplate making camp, eating a modest meal and then sitting quietly as night falls on the forest. With each replay in my head, I'm fully aware that the experience will be different - it always is, and so my mind wanders even further to account for every variation and permutation trying to predict what will happen; and yet, the experience will still be different.
My mind can't fully calculate or appreciate the fatigue I will feel at the end of each day, or how that fatigue will play into my ability to make camp, and prepare food. Don't get me wrong - it's going to be great, but I'm preparing myself for some hard work. There will be considerable climbs and uneven ground...not to mention 30 lbs or more of gear strapped to my back. Many years ago when I was much younger, I used to love cycling. I would ride dozens and dozens of miles a week on my bike and it was a great experience. At the time, I couldn't really appreciate hiking or running because it was too slow. I felt that you could see so much more while cycling, and covering so many more miles would offer a richer experience.
I've now learned that I was wrong - there is plenty to see while running and hiking. On the few hikes I have taken, I have enjoyed seeing deer, turkey, rabbits, birds of all kinds, and plants of all kinds. I guess slowing down comes with age, and a smidge of wisdom. I'm looking forward to the hike because I don't have to complete each day's hike within any specific timeframe. I can stop for as long as I want - or continue hiking until I get tired. The pace is for me to set - and nobody else. There's a certain high that comes with that kind of freedom. I think all of us have been slaves to the clock for so long that it's hard to imagine anything else. Well, I've rattled on long enough - I'm sure I will cover this topic more as the days progress.