My hands have grown soft and weak. As a dislocated mountain man who’s found himself in a wilderness of traffic jams and vinyl siding, I’m much more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than a blister on my hands. I’m on rented property here so I have little yard or outside work to keep my hands strong and tough. If I had a fireplace, I’d keep woodchopping as a staple of my upper body training. I’m much more suited to that type of life as opposed to watching a big tanker of propane pull into my driveway to fill my underground tank.
My “to do” list grows with every pass. I scratch a few items off only to add three times as many to my growing cluster of responsibility. My eyes ache from hours in front of a computer screen, television, and artificial light. My iPhone, iPod, and MacBook follow me everywhere I go. Is there any question of why we need time within the seemingly limitless boundaries of nature?
I’m longing for adventure, for solitude, for connection. And that’s what I’m going to get. In less than two weeks, my wife and children will drive me to a trail head where they’ll watch me load my backpack and slowly disappear down a mountainside along the Cranberry River. This Cranberry Adventure is a yearly occurrence for me and it highlights my time in the outdoors. Certainly there’s hunting and fishing near my home and I try to enjoy family trips of the sort. But this is something entirely different. The Cranberry is true backcountry wilderness. It’s a place where you are on your own. There’s no ambulance on its way. There’s no hospital. There are no electronic leashes. There’s only you, your friends (when they can make it) and your wits. How else should man live?
To my dismay, this year’s trip will be of considerably less magnitude as far as time and attendees. Last year’s trip was nine days and eight nights. This year’s trip has been reduced to a weekend, not a long weekend, just a weekend. The constraints of education, working from home, children and spouse have managed to consume more time than I had planned. With such a short amount of time available, it almost seems silly to waste enough gasoline and driving time to last us for two weeks. Regardless, this trip keeps me sane in an otherwise insane world. As the locals would say, “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise,” I’m spending time in the Cranberry.
I mentioned the magnitude of attendees. This should not be confused as I am referring only to the number of attendees, not the quality of the company I keep. After years of talks, it seems that one of my best friends and I are going to get some time under the stars. I can’t express in words how much I look forward to discussions about life, the outdoors and Edward Abbey. Abbey is a nature writer with a genuine writing voice and philosophy; I’m sure he’ll come up more than once. Aside from my fellow woodsman, I’ll be spending some time with the best company I’ve found in all of my travels, myself. It’s not vanity, self-interest or any sort of selfish feeling, it’s just that I’ve found that man needs time to himself to sort through his inner struggles, his dreams, his goals, and his life. In my experience, I’ve never went to the wild without returning a better man.
Because of its shorter duration, I intend to push myself fairly hard on this adventure. I have pre-planned tasks for SmoothingIt.com but more importantly, I have plans of hiking and fishing like there is little else available to mankind. One of my favorite activities when outdoors is “jumping” rocks along the river. I write jumping but realize that it entails climbing, sliding, stepping, pulling, pushing as well as jumping. I need the adventure and exercise. With luck I’ll fall in the river, get stuck on a rock, or have to deal with some other semi-emergency. Such emergencies are taken for granted by modern man but I am quite the opposite. As stale and stagnant as contemporary life has become in these lands, adventures and emergencies are all we have to remind us that we are alive.
For gear, I’m going light and simple for this adventure. For longer excursions, I often have an overburdened pack and overburdened back. I suppose that that is a benefit of short visits; Less gear makes for easier carrying. Of course, I’ll be bringing my staples of woodsmanship. The hatchet, hunting knife, headlamp, fire starter, and first aid kit will all find a home in a new backpack. New is a bit misleading as it was “pre-owned” by a United States Marine. It’s only new to me. I’ve yet to use it for anything other than a key component in a pile of outdoor gear in my garage. It’s a bit heavy but I’m anxious to pack it full of gear and see how it performs in the wild.
As the days progress, I may devote a post or two for detailing some of the gear I’ll be cursing after many miles backpacking in the wild. Until then, I’ll be hunched over a desk staring at this MacBook as if all of the answers to life were typed upon its flat surface. Between typing, researching, and the minutia of work and school, I’ll be longing for that first moment when I can no longer smell or hear a car’s exhaust as it is replaced by the sound of a river carving its way through the mountains and that sweet wood smoke smell that permeates my hair, my clothes and my skin.