Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Chapter One: I am scared

The Agua Fria Trail

Hiking 2733 Miles Looking for Water

 Chapter One: I am scared

When I was 22 years old, after a youth of anxious leisure that I was never invited to and never rewarded for, I decided I had better get out of my parents' house, even though I was terrified to do so. 

I had been living there for more than two decades, mainly getting incrementally larger and hairier, though I had probably topped out on that account with being not particularly large at all (though positively enormous compared to my starting point!), and only a modest amount hairier than the average. None of my life dreams were coming true at this point, though I had made a few short, uneven, but concerted stabs in their directions. This steady failure I responded to by watching television as often as possible. 

But the truth is that I did not feel welcome where I was, in my parent's home. 

Also, it was the 1980s, and so the television was much worse than it is now. Have you tried to watch Cheers lately?

Right, why would you?

Which left me with a conundrum: What was I to do instead?

Most "things to do" involved other people. There were sensible and insensible things to do; school, jobs, hanging out, drug abuse, ambition, and hobbies. But I found that when I interacted with other people one of two things happened during the time I was doing it. I was either charming and loquacious, or I was profoundly awkward, self-conscious, and uncomfortable. Sometimes, often, I was both. But one thing always happened in the aftermath of my interactions; I was full of regret, self-loathing, and discomfort. 

I evaluated myself relentlessly in the eyes of others and never came out well.

I should tell you now, in case you are either worried about it or hopeful about it: 

This epic account is not some deep, psychological self-examination. It is merely a simple telling of a long journey by foot, in the fashion of, say, "Go Dog Go", "Walden", or "Finnegan's Wake".

On the other hand, it is full of lies, so who knows?

You, for instance, may think you are getting away from yourself for a bit as you read here the account of the adventure of another person. But look at this: We've barely begun the first chapter and you have already found yourself right in the middle of things! This whole paragraph is all about you! This is no accident.

I'm just saying: 

Everything is suspicious.

In these first 22 years of my life, I had been backpacking many times. This endeavor worked with the negligible amount of money I had, (there is little to buy in the wild), and, more importantly, the wilderness never found me weird, even when I hid for days in my tent because I was scared of bears. I always got the sense that the wilderness even sort of liked me. 

In the eyes of the wilderness, I was...


Everywhere else I seemed, to myself, to be amazing or horrible. 

There was something of relief about fine.

Even if there were also bears.

In short, I decided I was going to hike all 2,722 miles of The Agua Fria Trail.

I would like to say that The Agua Fria Trail is a famous wilderness trail and then tell you scads of interesting things about it like I'm Bill Bryson, or, better yet, Edward Abbey. But all I have for you is this:

The Agua Fria Trail is a kind of sister trail to other more famous hiking trails, like the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail. The main difference is that The Agua Fria Trail never really caught on, or stayed protected. So it was around for a few years in the eighties, and then it simply faded away, developed over, cut off, or made into smaller stretches of protected parks. But at the time of my adventure, it was briefly flourishing. It was relatively nearby. But perhaps most importantly, in a pre-Internet time, someone had written a guide to it, with a full, mostly legible compendium of maps to the trail located in the appendix. And furthermore, my older brother had left behind a copy of this very book on a family bookshelf. 

And so it was good enough for me.

I would go hike 2,735 miles by myself! That would show them! 

And, best of all, they would never know it was showing them.


The Plan

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