I’m leaving for the Tahoe Rim Trail. I’m taking my backpack, food, a map, and a unbroken sense of adventure. I’m driving up by myself, listening to a CD I’ve burned with bluegrass and classic rock, sitting in my driver’s seat with Old Crow Medicine Show and Fleetwood Mac in my ears. I’ll be hoping my beat-up two door Toyota coupe doesn’t break down, crossing my fingers that the oil leak I have doesn’t get worse, or that it doesn’t overheat somewhere between LA and San Fran.
There’s life out there. Somewhere between home and the end of summer, I’ll find it. Somewhere on the trail, between water points and lunch and dinner breaks, it’s there. In the crunch-crunch of my trail runners on the dirt, over the rocks and scree, past the fat marmots begging for a piece of a Clif bar, beyond the curious black bears sniffing at my bear can. I’m hiking alone, moving fast, light, without the amenities of civilization, without the cares of the day-to-day. There’s no rent to pay out there, no credit card bills, no student loans. The only payment to make is the one that the trail takes on your muscles and your knees. It’s one I pay gladly.
I’ll be alone. And I’ll be happy. It’s the way I do things. My friends ask me if I’m scared to be alone out there. Or if I get lonely. The answer is yes. The nights are dark and quiet and eerie. Behind every bush is a mountain lion looking for a meal. Every shadow is a big mama bear. And I am alone. But I’m ok in this. I’m ok being scared a little. Being lonely a little. Because I know the pay-off is greater.
The solitude and quiet are mine and mine alone. The distractions of life are gone. It’s just me and the trees and the mountains and the wild. And it’s life in the embrace of the wilderness and knowing your small place in it. There’s a truth there. Being alone and scared and lonely in the mountains, it’s like looking at a picture of the universe from the Hubble telescope. All the little swirls are galaxies with billions upon billions of stars. And you’re just one man in it. Only a picture doesn’t make you feel the visceral truth of things. Only the wilderness does that, make the truth live in your butterfly stomach and hungry heart.
I haven’t had this kind of trip in a few years. Not since I left for the Lost Coast Trail a few years ago, after my mom died. That trip was different. And I was different. I was exhausted of life and the too-much-in-your-face realness that an experience with death brings. I’m driving over many of the same roads, looking for many of the same things, but this is a different place I’m going, literally and figuratively. Like the proverbial river, the no man steps onto the same road twice.
I plan on moving quickly, doing about twenty miles a day. I’m hanging small boxes of food in the trees where the trail meets the road and stopping every day or two to retrieve my caches. With only a couple days of food on me at any time, I’ll be pushed by athleticism and hunger. Starting near Incline Village on the Northeast corner of Lake Tahoe, I’ll be moving clockwise. Spooner Summit, Kingsbury North, Barker Pass, Tahoe City, Brockway, and back to my starting point. Something in the neighborhood of 180 miles in ten days. I might take a day off halfway. We’ll see how I feel.
It almost feels like a series of day trips instead of a long backpack trip. The longest I plan on going without a resupply is a simple overnight. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. The food hangs might be raided by raccoons or marmots or bears or curious tourists. And I am carrying extra food for that contingency, but let’s hope my hangs are stealthy and high enough.
I haven’t done this distance before. But it doesn’t intimidate me. I’m happy and home in the mountains and the forests and the high up alpine air. I’m used to the day-to-day pounding of miles down the trail, the clack-clack of my trekking pole against the rocks, and the occasional lizard scurrying off the path. I’ll yell at the bears, shoo away the marmots, and whistle at the birds. I’ll walk and walk and walk and stop for a granola bar and walk some more. And at night, I’ll pitch my tent under the stars and the mountains and I will talk in long silent conversations. I’ll have the joy of outside and the beauty of the wide-open spaces to keep me company and the small heat of my camp stove to keep me warm.
So I’m leaving for the Tahoe Rim Trail. I’m taking my strength and my independence and all of the freedom I can find under the clear blue skies of the Sierra summer. I’ll be back in a couple weeks, a little tanner, a little leaner, maybe a little wiser. I’ll probably smell. I’m definitely going to need a beer. And maybe I’ll have some stories to tell.
The only way to find out is to hit the road.
I really hope my car doesn’t break down.