This was our first trip with the Jetboil
, taking place of the more traditional camp stove we used on Lost Coast trip. It worked wonderfully and we had water for our dehydrated food in just a couple of minutes. Eating not only fills your stomach, but replenishes your spirit. I was no longer exhausted and began to explore the area. We were shielded from everything by impossibly tall trees, creating a world apart. The creek ran quickly over smooth river rocks, creating small pools to dip your hands in and wash the dirt off of your face. I stayed crouched, and the deafening quiet again overwhelmed me. I had not once thought about work, deadlines, bills, or any typical matter. It was just me and the land. The crowds were gone and the trail was bare, leaving me free to wonder in this natural cathedral.
After some time of aimless wandering, I returned to camp to find Kate reading a book about black holes and drinking hot chocolate. She had kept the fire hearty and strong. We relaxed and talked as the shadows grew and the temperature cooled. Two points of light darted back and forth between the trees in the distance, the headlamps of other backpackers coming from Big Sur trail, the opposite direction from which we had entered. It became clear that they were leaving the trail and approaching our camp. I greeted them as they clamored over a fallen redwood.
“Hi, sorry to bother you. We saw your smoke and figured we’d stop by. We just set up probably a couple hundred yards downstream.” One of them said, his hair long and messy over his blue quilted jacket.
“No worries. Is our smoke going into your camp?” I asked.
“No no, nothing like that. We had a small fire going for a bit, but couldn’t keep it up for long.”
“Oh, yeah. We got a little lucky I guess. You guys want to sit down? Do you have food? Water?”
“Yeah, if you don’t mind. Warm up a bit.” He extended his hand. “Isaiah.”
“Tim, and this is Kate.” I shook his hand, as did Kate.
“Hey man. Mike,” the other said, wearing a light fleece and some cargo shorts. “We actually have plenty of food, but not water. Our filter broke, so we’ve been boiling it, but not on our shitty fire, and we can only do a little at a time anyway.” He sat on a log by the fire, rubbing the dirt off of his legs.
“That’s no problem, man. We’ve got plenty of water. Help yourself to it, it’s over there.” I pointed at the bag hanging from a branch.
“Are you sure?” said Isaiah, walking over to it with his canteen.
“Yeah. I mean, if you finish it, we just get more from the creek. So seriously, just go for it.”
He opened the spout and filled his water bottle and drank it all in one go. Mike did the same. They stood there, taking turns filling and drinking their bottles, drinking around 4 liters all at once. The apologized and Kate and I laughed. I took the bag off the branch and refilled it in the creek and hung it back up, filling my own cup before joining them again by the fire.
“So, where did you guys get on the trail at?” Kate asked.
“Oh, it was a little weird. We hitchhiked in. Some other hikers dropped us off at the Marble Peak trail off of the Coast Road or something. And then we took that to the Black Cone trail, and then followed the Pine Ridge trail to here. We’ve just been taking it slow. Been out here for 3 days.” Mike replied.
“Hitchhiked? That’s cool. Where from?” I asked.
“San Diego, originally.”
“Damn, that’s pretty far.”
“Yeah, we started about 3 weeks ago. It’s been pretty crazy.” Isaiah started. “It’s sort of a spiritual journey, you know?”
“I get that.” I didn’t want to probe too much into why they were doing what they were doing. They didn’t need to justify it, least of all to me. There are times when people just need to figure themselves out, and it’s nobody else’s business. “Are you guys documenting any of this? You know, chronicling your journey?”
“A little bit. Taking pictures, uploading them to Facebook when we can. Mainly so people know we’re safe. But yeah, writing too. What about you guys? Just a weekend trip?”
Those words lingered for a moment. Just a weekend trip. Had the times that we worked so hard for, these short stints into a world we loved, been reduced to just that? A brief flirtation with another lifestyle? As if we had to keep this life secret from our daily lives to make sure they never overlapped, so that one could not know of each other. It was fleeting and temporary. Soon, I’d be back on the grind, wishing I could divorce myself from it, hoping to elope back to the forest and the ocean. All at once, I was crushed.
“Yeah, I guess so. Just trying to clear our heads and stuff. From work and life and shit.” I replied.
They nodded their heads. They understood. It was exactly what they were running from.
We shared some chocolate, helped them cook their dinners, and shared some more conversation before they set off back to their camp for the evening. It was dark now and I grabbed the camera and wandered off into the night, my headlamp switched off in the pitch black. I had probably walked a quarter of a mile away from the fire, leaving Kate by herself. The dark was comforting. This is the way night should look, no green tinge of a flickering streetlight, no bass from a car speeding down the street. I laid down in the dirt and started snapping pictures of the sky, alone in this shadowy corner of the planet.
With each press of the shutter button, the intervalometer did its work and I had time to think, hearing the shutter close again after some time as it punctuated my thoughts. What had happened to all the dreams we had as kids? When did the world stop making sense? When did trading your soul for nearly nothing become the standard?
After letting the camera run through its cycles for a while, I reviewed the images, scrolling through them rather quickly. I could see the stars moving across the horizon and behind the trees. It was glaringly obvious that we were hurtling through space at incredible speeds, and as grandiose as that might be, it only highlighted our imagined self-importance. How anyone could think that the demands of our trivial jobs actually served any sort of greater meaning was beyond me. I had been gone for some time and didn’t want to think about it anymore, so I returned to camp. Kate was trying to read by the dying light of the fire. We extinguished the fire and headed into the tent.
The next morning, we were awoken by hikers who were gathering water from the creek. They likely hadn’t seen our camp. I exited and stretched in the cool air, stirring the ashes from the fire to double check that no coals were left. The other hikers stood in the creek for a while, talking loudly, oblivious to their surroundings.
“And my boss was pushing for an earlier deadline than what we’d already been given. I just don’t understand what he’s thinking,” one said. “He doesn’t listen to anyone.”
“Well, at least you don’t have to worry about that right now. That’s a Monday problem,” the other replied. They both laughed.
A Monday problem. This time in the woods, in nature, was only a fleeting fantasy. They were complacent about their return to reality. I was envious and disgusted at the same time.
Kate and I ate breakfast and started heading out, passing Isiah and Mike on the way out. We wished them luck, and they the same to us. The hike out wasn’t as strenuous but there were an incredible amount of people heading in. Most looked like it was their first trip, the regret and exhaustion etched in their faces. Hopefully, they would leave tomorrow with a yearning to be back out there, some spark inside now lit.
The parking lot was crowded with cars driving in circles, looking for spots to open up. We left as soon as possible and started our drive up the coast towards the bay, watching the ocean turn into hills, and the hill to concrete. Neither of us talked much. I knew we were both thinking about the next time we’d be able to leave again. The weight of returning to civilization bared down on us. The mill of work responsibilities, the social commitments of friends, and the constant search for mild entertainment was about to start churning again. And though I couldn’t leave it forever, at least I was facing it with the perspective of a clear head, with priorities reexamined. It’s too easy to get lost in the maze of asphalt and steel and forget that there is an existence outside of it. Somewhere, there is a balance, and finding that is as much an adventure as anything else.
Wise words from Futurama echoed in my head.
“Isn’t it time you gave up all hope of ever improving yourself in any way?”
“I know I should, but I just can’t.”
And so, we returned to the city and our jobs, desperately trying to find any sort of fulfillment within them. All the while naively chasing the dreams we had fostered for as long as we have been conscious.