I like to hike alone. I enjoy traipsing through the wilderness far from the nearest human heartbeat, other than my own. I’m misanthropic, I guess. But nothing seems to crowd the wilderness more than another human bean. If a human stands in the woods and no one sees him, will the woods be crowded? No. They won’t be crowded until the moment I become aware of the human’s presence.
Hiking clears my head. It opens my environment from the confines of my zoo cage I call a home, to the wide-open space of nature. My adaptable mind expands to accommodate this newly-found space. I become more reflective. My attitude waxes magnanimous. And I can feel wisdom growing within, faster than farm crops respond to a load of manure. Yes I really become full of it.
A December morning, 6:21 am. I embark upon a challenging journey. Burro Loop Trail. It’s six miles of moderately strenuous hiking, covering rocky hills and pediplains cut by arroyos, beneath a blazing, shadeless sun.
But the sun is not out yet. It’s 44 degrees, and I’m bundled in layers. I have a bad leg and two bum shoulders, and I’m not sure if it’s smart to be doing this. Search and Rescue may find my bones in a couple of months, but I must get out of the damn house.
6:50 am. I’m thinking about the old burro. Back in the 90’s, a wild burro found its way to our desert. Sightings were like Big-Foot anecdotes. People had stories, but no definitive proof. Except the tracks. The burro left all kinds of tracks and trails in an area about 25 square miles, in Joshua Tree National Park.
The main trail that the burro traveled followed a loop. And this main trail was eventually converted into an official trail by the park service. But without the signs, you’d hardly know it was there. It’s barely a trace in spots, with many faint side-trails that can get you lost for hours, if you accept their invitations. It’s very deceptive. That crafty burro sure knew how to confuse people.
Which goes to show, you must always be careful when dealing with a jackass.
7:20 am. The sun’s been up for a half-hour and I’ve already shed three of my layers. I stuff the last layer into my backpack, then remove a water bottle and take a drink. It goes down the wrong pipe. I cough and choke and hack until I fear I’m going to black out. There’s nobody near to whack my back or do the Heimlich, because I love so much to hike alone. So leave it to me to drown myself while hiking in the desert.
7:45 am. My near-death experience with the water has led my mind down a philosophical path. Or maybe it’s the play of silence and Joshua trees and jumbled rocky hills all around that affect my mind. Or perhaps it’s the aches and pains that are growing in my legs and back and shoulders, inducing delirium in my brain.
For some reason I feel happy on this hike, in spite of nearly drowning. Deliriously happy. My philosophical mind ponders happiness. It occurs to me that hikes don’t always make me this happy. Nor does drowning. Sometimes I’d much rather be napping at home, than struggling for survival afoot in these rugged lands.
I try to come up with a formula that will guarantee this level of happiness all of the time. It must be the delirium making me do this. But then I give up and conclude that no such formula can exist. We are at the mercy of happiness. We’re always seeking it, but we can never guarantee what kind we’ll find. Finding this kind of happiness can be as elusive as spotting that old burro. You never know which turn in the trail will bring you face-to-face with the braying bastard.
8:10 am. I give up philosophizing. People can exhaust themselves trying to know all about life. Life is too big to understand completely. I decide to just try to absorb the sights, sounds, smell and feel of this old desert.
8:22 am. Where is that turnoff? I know the trail turns up canyon somewhere around here. My last time on this journey was many moons ago. I think I remember that I have to go past an old desert plum tree, before the trail curves upslope.
Did you know that you can prune a plum tree, but you can’t plumb a prune tree?
8:51 am. Ah finally, the fork in the trail I’ve been looking for. Now I can eat my breakfast.
9:17 am. Plop, plop, plop. I limp my tired feet across the dusty ground. This is my contribution to the world. My footprints. They contribute to the maintenance of the trail by making it easier for those who follow me, to find their way. I hope they appreciate all my hard efforts.
10:18 am. I spot my car way off in the distance. Sure wish I could teleport over there. But no, I must keep footslogging. I haven’t looked left or right for the past hour, nor thought about much of anything. This is dangerous. Wild Indians could have attacked me. But I’m too fucking tired to look anywhere except straight down at the trail. Except for occasional, wistful glances into the distance for my beloved automobile.
10:37 am. My god, why did it take so long to reach my car?! It seemed like it was only five minutes away, 15 minutes ago. But now I’m here. At last my journey is complete. Burro Loop has once again been conquered by this intrepid old man.