Lost Dutchman Trail, Superstition Wilderness, AZ (2/25)
The van swings down the dirt road. Its headlights flash through the darkness lighting up Saguaros. They stand there with their arms held toward the sky.
“So what makes you want to hike 700 miles from Phoenix to Albuquerque?” the driver asks.
“I’m not sure,” I lie.
Earlier, the flight out of Tampa rose up over the bay and I pressed my face against the window to stare down at the water. I thought of the day I crossed the bay’s mouth in a kayak and the giant waves that almost caught me. Three miles from land and they had me just an inch short of flipped.
There was a reason the only other boat out that day was a thousand foot freighter.
But I didn’t flip. I held on. I slid up and down those giants until they let me escape. Then I laughed and cried and felt alive.
“You do it for health?” the driver asks.
“Na,” I say.
Though maybe he’s right. A doctor offered me Prozac seven months after the kayak trip ended. I’d come in worried that I felt tired all the time, that I couldn’t sleep, that I was anxious and could barely face the days.
I turned it down. I knew I didn’t need Prozac. I needed another trail.
“I like the challenge, I suppose,” I say.
The van stops in a dirt parking lot. Swirls of dust rise through the headlights around a sign that reads, “Superstition Wilderness.”
“This is it,” I say.
I drag my pack out of the back and lay it in the dirt against the sign. I thank the driver and watch the van’s taillights retreat back into the night. The sound of gravel grinds under the tires fades into the still desert air.
Last year disappeared on me. I lost hold of it piece by piece, one “I’ll do it tomorrow” at a time. When New Year’s Eve came, I wondered where the year went, how days of excuses turned into weeks, how weeks turned into months, how months turned into a year.
I should have known better. Piece by piece, that’s how seven thousand mile kayak trips get done and how a year slips by.
I started writing three different books, but never finished one of them. I thought of hiking the Sierra High Route or the Te Araroa or the Pyrenees and Camino, but they always seemed too far, like unreal concepts that didn’t exist. I felt paralyzed and lost and defeated day after wasted day. The guilt of each stacked on top of the last, heavier and heavier.
“How did I let this happen?” I wondered as New Year’s fireworks burst in the sky.
The van’s lights disappear and all that’s left of civilization is the glow of Phoenix against the night sky. I think of the driver’s question again.
Why am I doing this?
“To burn away that wasted year and every heavy day with it,” I answer. “To burn it all away over the next 700 miles.”