Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Different World

There is no doubt that I will remember the past week as a unique time on the trip.
The Achilles strain resulting from fleeing the gunshots at Calhoun got more and more aggravated as I continued walking. Strain culminated the morning of April 13 in Ed Levin Park. Luckily for me, that day and the next day had been scheduled as very low mileage rest days, because that morning I awoke feeling nearly unable to walk. My friend Peter Wright had joined me the night before, fortunately, so his car was only a mile from the park. We walked there slowly, Peter generously taking my pack, and me leaning heavily on a walking stick I found (I should pause for a moment to note that this was serendipitously the best walking stick I have ever found. A perfect height, just up to the neck, light but very strong with little spring, and beautiful patterns of bark and worm carvings. It had two joints, one perfectly where the hand naturally fell, the other lower, correcting for the upper kink and allowing the stick to plant vertically in the ground. The diameter was just right for my hands, with middle finger just barely able to reach thumb while holding the stick. As a generally non-walking stick person, I must admit it was a really fine piece of equipment, one I was sad to leave behind. If you are interested, I left it in a grassy patch between street and sidewalk less than a block south of Calaveras Rd on Piedmont Rd in Milpitas. Let a new hand find its fortune...)
Originally I hoped to return to the walk in a day or two. But a visit to a physician and a lot of reading about severe tendinitis suggested a nagging injury. I opted then, for a few extra days off my feet to avoid a few extra weeks off my feet down the road.
A real disappointment. It's remarkable how quickly we can adjust to our surroundings. Supplanting the chill night breeze was the hum of electric lights. Replacing stale bread was fresh pasta. Despite my efforts to stay out of the way and keep my headspace intact, I felt the pull of modern apartment living once again, the gravity of the couch, the greedy eye-strain of the television, the sinking release of a warm bed. It's been hard to remain fully engaged in the questions behind the project.
This contrast revealed a personal side of the trip up to this point. The trip has been a break in the fattening, overupdated, climate-controlled convenience of the world I am accustomed to. Fast talking, fast moving, fast living, have all given way to a different kind of pace and a different kind of thinking. I have often tried to explain this trip to friends and others not as an event, but as a different way of living for a few weeks. Moving so drastically from one world to the other has shown me the ways in which this was true.
I don't mean to speak didactically here, only personally. Certainly it is hard to complain about convenience, company, and kindness that come with the world most of us live in. But for me these qualities can become cloying, leaving little room for any kind of physical or mental exhalation. For me, the first leg of the trip was just such a breath, followed quickly by a sharp gasp.
All this being said, I stand by my belief that every experience is worthwhile. What is the saying, Sun Tzu or some such, about while not fighting we are sharpening swords? This has certainly been one benefit of the trip - time off has allowed a chance to reconfigure my backpack, which now has a much slimmer and more effective combination of belongings. I've been able to plan more carefully and find more contacts for the latter half of the trip as well, and am now excited to have added an organic farm to my list of meetings along the way. Tomorrow I'll get a much needed shave and haircut. I'd hate to frighten the tourists in the valley (they say the average visit to Yosemite is 4 hrs, with the average visitor weighing considerably more than the average bay area resident. While I don't doubt these statistics, I certainly wonder how they could be collected - a secret subterranean scale beneath the entry kiosk?). More abstractly, the experience of living at home in the middle of the context of walking has been informative, with the shadow of each experience on the other adding to what light alone can tell. It has affirmed my conviction in the importance of walking as well, both as an experience and as a designated time to work distraction-free on the project. Taking a step back never hurts.
Now, with all this being said, I can't wait to get back on my feet. Monday. The anticipation is mounting again, just as it did before I left originally. The experience thus far has been absolutely unique, rewarding both physically and intellectually. I look forward again to plunging fully into the questions driving the project. And now I have come to understand more carefully the personal side of the trip, and what it offers and has already provided for me outside of athletic or academic context. It's only been possible to parse these components from afar - on the walk the physical, intellectual, and personal fit connect and overlap, making for a unique and encompassing experience.


  1. I am enjoying your writings. I am at a camp near Nelder Grove called Calvin Crest. If you follow John Muir's footsteps to visit John Nelder you would be welcomed sit a while and tell some stories. No shotguns here.

  2. Alex - I am glad you are taking care of the injury. This is a wonderful adventure and maybe if you take it easy for a little bit now you will make it the whole way!
    please let us know if you need anything...Sue Purdy Pelosi

  3. Great coverage in the L.A. Times this morning. Many of us are taking esoteric delight in reading about your adventure. Keep up the good work - be safe! B. G. Berg Lake Arrowhead, CA.