What was I thinking? (page 3)
After decades of daytime hikes on my own, I decided I didn’t want to go home at night anymore. I wanted to feel the air slowly cooling while watching the sun set behind the stark peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Lie on the stone in the desert as the countless stars begin to appear in absolute darkness. Catch the sun on the granite peaks as the morning rays slowly warm my tent. And experience it all solo, with the only sounds being the rustling of the wind in the pine needles, the birds fluttering through the trees, and the soft crunch of my feet on the earth.
This is the story of what I discovered while going alone in the desert. I found moments of absolute joy and peace, but also heartbreaking loneliness. I had to deal with a continual battle between the forces in my brain that were crying out for company and the part of me that was thrilled by the power of nature’s grandeur to enlighten my lonely soul.
Loneliness is something we try not to talk about. Men mostly see it as a sign of weakness, something that just needs to be reinforced and get along. Yet, like many things we refuse to talk about, it is an important and universal commonality in life. A bit like death and masturbation. Everyone faces loneliness. To fight it, we surround ourselves with friends, conversations, screens, whatever kind of noise we can to keep us from facing our inner calm. We go to bars, restaurants, school, online, or anywhere we can talk, build relationships, and communicate with other humans. Some even find or stay in bad relationships, just to have someone to talk to, or not talk to, but at least be pissed off, which also helps keep the mind busy so it doesn’t have time. to think about being lonely.
Day 6 – (Pages 38 – 40)
When I started my day at 11,000 feet, the temperature was in the mid-twenties. When I reached Bishop at 4,000 feet in the Owens Valley, it was near noon and the baking was in the mid-eighties. Even though I’d spent days dreaming of burgers, the pull of home was even stronger, and maybe my stench was just as compelling, so I headed north to get home.
Life was good. My Subie rolled down the deserted highway through the open sage of the Eastern Sierra toward a hot shower and a soft bed. House: A place where you can touch a handle and water will come out, where you can sit, relax, drain, and not have to cover it with a shovel afterwards.
I had a tank of gas, a bottle of ice-cold orange juice, and Led Zeppelin was talking about “lonely, lonely, lonely times” on my CD player. Everything was fine until. . . five miles north of Bishop: that feeling of sinking and helplessness that life was about to suck and the air was about to disappear from my Zeppelin. A flat tire. As I stood caramelized on the blazing asphalt and tried to conjure air into the flattened piece of rubber, I struggled to comprehend that a few hours earlier I was freezing my ass next to a mountain lake. I was reminded once again that life is like hiking. It is a mixture of joy and pain. . . sometimes every few minutes.
Later, while driving through a Bishop tire shop in a AAA tow truck, I thought to myself that of course the reason I got a flat tire was that the dream of a burger, fries and a shake could not be denied. So, to avoid further disaster, I went to BBQ Bill’s and stocked up on essential ingredients that would keep me going on my journey home. Belly full, I headed north. All I needed to save my day was a nice body of water to jump in, something to dull the sour stench emanating from my body a bit and hopefully rejuvenate my tired brain. I knew Bishop is right on the edge of the desert and most of the glistening snowmelt coming down from the mountains was now in pools and washing cars in Los Angeles, but I was hoping to find an oasis .
Then there it was. A few miles north of Bishop, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a large information board. It boasted a county park with a series of these universal symbols for all the wonderful things available for recent mountain refugees to use. The only sign I really paid attention to was the universally recognized and glorious depiction of what looks like a one-armed swimmer shooting through the water. The swimmer’s face was not visible, but he or she was obviously smiling and enjoying a nice, long swim in incredibly clean, cool water. I drove into this green oasis in the brown of the Owens Valley and thought I had arrived at my Shangri-la. There were wet, immaculately manicured lawns and a large inviting pond with tall palm trees scattered along the shore. Not that the sighting would have stopped me, but later I realized no one else was swimming in the pond and there were swim at your own risk signs. A bathroom and changing room were right next to the pond, so that must have been OK.
I put on a costume and happily greeted the large family enjoying a picnic at a table. I tiptoed for a few steps on a small sandbar, the cool, refreshing water rinsing the pain from my toes. “Ah, that’s more like it,” I thought with a big smile. Then I took the next step, from yellow sand to dark brown dirt. Immediately I was two feet deep in thick quicksand of muddy mud. As I struggled to escape, I only sank deeper into the sticky brown slime, now reaching my hips. Amidst the sounds of my splashing and thumping, I could hear the faint sound of laughter from the picnicking family. They probably couldn’t believe someone was stupid enough to try to swim in that mud hole. I’m sure they were shaking their heads and quietly saying “turons”.
I struggled for a few more minutes, frantically trying to drag myself out of the mud, then I took a deep breath and decided I might as well relax and enjoy the comforting feeling of being locked in. in wet mud. People pay dearly for mud baths in Napa Valley, and I got one for free. Then I started laughing. There is no way around this. Things were going to happen to me. I looked at the still laughing family on the shore and felt proud. At least I had made their day.
On sale now at these local bookstores:
Word for Word Books in Truckee, CA
Alpenglow Sports in Tahoe City, CA
Sundance Books in Reno, NV
Publisher: University of Nevada Press
Tim Hauserman is a freelance writer and near-permanent resident of North Lake Tahoe. In addition to Going It Alone, he wrote the official guide to the Tahoe Rim Trail, the recently released 4th edition. He also wrote Monsters in the Woods: Backpacking with Children and has written hundreds of articles on a variety of topics: travel, outdoor recreation, housing, education, and wildfires. Check out Tim’s website here.
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