Chapter Five: A Full Day's Hike
The previous night, which was the first of my trip, I stayed up reading as late as I could. I was scared to blow out my candles and lie there in the dark, alone. I knew that there would be a point of instant reckoning, and I would think, in a quite terror and agony:
"What have I done?”
"How can I quit this trip and when?”
These thoughts did happen. They occurred to me several hundred times over the months to come. But when I first blew out my candles I was too busy for that. I had to climb out of my cozy sleeping bag and crawl out of my tent to pee.
And outside everything was perfect.
The small stream made a quiet noise. The scruff of plants held their breath. The jackrabbit didn't let me see him. The darkness was bright with a thousand stars. The cold of a high desert made the night easy to see and everything was immaculate and distant and pure. I was bitterly cold. I hugged myself, looking up. A brilliant shooting star came scudding across the sky. It was so bright I nearly had to look away. It turned green, peeling back the night and pulsing with intensity. It almost appeared to be headed for me.
It was headed for me!
The brightness of the falling star exhausted itself into a streaky trail of orange afterburn and a high, keening whistle. A meteorite the size of the top of my fourth toe slammed into the earth not 20 feet to my left.
“You missed.” I said.
It is said that in going to the wilderness one should take only pictures and leave only footprints. I kept to that pretty well on my long journey, but I did take one small meteorite with me as well. I had it in my pocket as I set out walking on my second day, and I have it on my desk next to where I am writing this very day.
The next day was clear and cool, but warming steadily. My pack hurt me almost everywhere, bruised as I was by yesterday, but not yet toughened. The walking was boring and felt meaningless in its strange monotony. I was headed into some stony hills that did not seem to be getting any closer no matter how much I walked. I walked so much that a blister began developing on my fourth toe. I threw my pack off almost angrily. I sat on a rock and removed my shoe. Yes, the toe looked rough, red and white. I put a donut of moleskin on it and packed it all back up in my sock and boot. I ate some handfuls of gorp, less excited than when I had it for breakfast. I liked the gorp but looked at it in a new light, wondering if it would become my enemy.
Things were going pretty well so far. Only 2,718 miles to go!
That night I made camp at a spring called The Pickle Fountain. Nothing I can find tells me why it had that name. Perhaps it was a reference to the greenness rimming the pool? I doubt I had gone ten miles that day and so I was already behind schedule. I told myself I would make up ground when I was in better shape. I'm not sure I ever got in much better shape, I just increased my capacity for pain.
It felt wonderful to have my pack off and to float about my camp. I fussed over the taking of my one close-up photo of the spring. I wrote in my journal about the meteorite. I looked at the meteorite a lot. I ate salami wrapped in seaweed. I read chapter after chapter of Pride and Prejudice, trying to get comfortable on the hard, rocky ground. I looked out at the empty land all around me. I thought uncomfortably: This is a lot of time!
Now I think everyone should have that much time. If they dare.