Monday, January 11, 2021

Walkabout



When my best friend sent an invite a couple of months ago to their 25th anniversary just outside of Fort Worth, it seemed obvious the first thing to do was to book a flight from Tallahassee to Salt Lake City and drive back weaving my way through parts of this country that show up in those gray areas on cell coverage maps. With my wife’s blessing because the itinerary involved a good deal of hikes and sites that she and my daughters do not find that passes for a good time, out of the bubble I flew with a mask, hand sanitizer, and a stop to load up on snacks and PB&J.

Not sure of what I would find, whom I would talk to, or what the open road would hold, it was liberating. Delays on the front end sending me through open prairie en route to Ely, NV past the “loneliest road in the country” sans radio signal save for NPR, arrived at dark, left at dark to get to the trailhead of Wheeler Peak at Great Basin National Park. Planning on solo hiking, quickly made friends with a fellow on a walkabout named Steve. Pushing each other to over thirteen thousand feet talking about his two-month journey, faith, family, what he would do for work when he got back to San Diego. The type of talk that it usually takes guys years to get into, we dove right in. He needed an ear, I needed someone to kick me up that last thousand feet on a few hours of sleep. Both of us needed to know that we weren’t on this journey alone.

Aggressive travel planning had me on the 7 am shuttle at Zion National Park the next morning and huffing my way up to the top of Angel’s Landing with an afternoon of walking waist-deep in water through The Narrows. Angel’s Landing's chain section had been closed up until a couple of weeks earlier as it is one way up and down holding on to them. The early crowd held the mountain as the sun revealed shades of color pallets down the valley. Happy to be there, happy to be anywhere other than the four walls from which they came. A veritable party like it was 2019 and the world hadn’t gone crazy that made everyone sort of linger there. Making way down as the log jam along the chains making way up.

Peakbaggers, thru-hikers, day-trippers, the earthy set, folks visiting from outside a metroplex, I wore them out zippity-do-da-ing my way down that trail greeting everyone with some variation of good morning. Most returning the greeting in kind, craving some sort of connection looking forward to the day, once taken for granted, where we could get on a packed elevator and talk about the weather or third trip our way through an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Everyone needs something to get through this. Hiking is getting somewhere. Fatigue and exhaustion, support from a stranger in a turn back moment. Mentally one foot in front of another until you get to where you want to go. Eye contact, check-ins, shared fuel along the way. We have too much time and not enough, but all that there is.

How much further is it? Just around the corner. Over that hill. You are close. Not that much. You are doing good at your pace. Hang in there. It’s worth it.

We all need that connection to someone for those answers. We are all fatigued and exhausted, but on the trail, it is really tough to stay down when you find your people on a journey.

When a snowstorm pushed me to Plan B en route to West Texas, traded alpine peaks for places like Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and Alpine, Texas. A few months ago Big Bend National Park had closed a day before we were to go as a family. If you have never been to this part of the world, I am convinced, like with Great Basin that some of the best national parks, and I have been to 45 of them, are the ones that take some getting to.

On your way, support these small towns. If you have ever driven through a town where you believe that at some point something was happening there, that is what a great deal of these towns are becoming with Covid shutdowns. Who is going to open a hardware store downtown anywhere anymore? Lunch spot, when all of the chains are around. Stuff stores when dollar stores are on the city limits. A lot is spoken about big city and big business disruption and it is tragic, but people live and chose to live in towns for generations handing some of these businesses down that they will watch close and never come back.

With a last day of hiking at Big Bend National Park, witnessing a West Texas sunrise en route the two hours from the closest town, down a gravel road to the Santa Elena Canyon trail. Two people had just come off the trail leaving me alone on it for the better part of an hour. A mile and a half up the Rio Grande with thousand-foot cliffs on either side. Listening to the breeze blow through the canyon over the river mixed with the desert scrub. The Paleo-Indians walked these paths, looked at the tops of those cliffs, heard the same river going back to 15,000 BC. All alone, feet in the water, the end of a journey near, overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. To God, family, friends, health. To life.

That last hike trying to hold on to the journey up Lost Mine Trail 4.2 miles it had been a long week. Legs were tired, views had been seen that tend to stick in your wayback machine a while. Encouraged to do this last hike by a couple of guys in from Houston with their families, looking at what I thought was the destination I happened upon a few folks on their way down.

“How much further is it?” Just around the corner. Over that hill. You are close. Not that much. You are doing good at your pace. Hang in there. It’s worth it.

We’ll get there.

Andrew Wilcox, Owner of Wilcox and Hackett, LLC and Author of Compass, now available on Amazon, 850-274-7849, Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com

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