People tell me about this real world out there, this place I have to return to. What do you do in the real world? When are you going back to the real world? What about the real world? They say it so much that I almost believe in it myself. I catch the thoughts in my head, the words slipping out of my mouth.
Then I meet someone like One-Gallon.
He got his name on the Appalachian Trail back in ’82. He stopped for the half-gallon challenge, decided it was too easy, and ate a full gallon. They used to write the name of everyone who finished the challenge on a wall. His had a tin foil star around it.
“So did you eat a gallon again the second time?” I asked.
He laughed and shook his head no.
There’s a saying that divides long-distance hikers into two groups: “one trail or three.” It’s about the triple crown of hiking, the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest, and the Continental Divide. You either hike one of them or all three because if you love it enough to hike two, if one didn’t leave you in such a wreck that you never want to see a trail again, you’ll die inside every day until the last step of the triple crown.
There aren’t many triple crowners. No one knows the exact number. I’m one and I know a few dozen others. It’s not easy to finish three half-year hikes, to walk almost 8,000 miles. I’d guess fewer than five-hundred people have done it.
One-Gallon’s hiked it three times.
Northbound. Southbound. Just because. He started with an old external frame Kelty back in ’82. Now he’s got a homemade ultralight backpack that doesn’t have a frame at all. He didn’t stop there.
He showed me a map with lines drawn all over it in marker. Lewis and Clark’s Route from the Pacific. The Inside Passage. The Great Loop. Across Canada to the Arctic. It looked like some odd interstate system of everything he’s paddled.
“I have a thing about connecting lines,” he said.
I stared at the paper in awe.
Most of us come back to earth. We fly off into this magical space for a few months, for half-a-year, then re-enter the so-called real world even though it burns. But some never come back, never stop, they reach escape velocity and go.
67,200 miles and counting.
The real world is what you make of it.