“All these years the people said he’s acting like a kid. He did not know he could not fly, so he did.”
I’m not a country music fan by today’s definition. I don’t go in for Nashville or Music Row or pre-fab, ready-made radio hits from the Tennessee state capital. But I do go in for Guy Clark. I go in for John Prine and Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings—real country music from artists who would not recognize the new Music City.
As wet firewood crackles over cold stone tonight, high in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains, Guy Clark’s decades-old lyrics sink into my mind.
“He wasn’t scared of nothing. He was pretty sure he could fly.”
Here in the mountains, there’s just enough 3G signal to hear Clark’s words come bounding out of my phone. And I’ve suddenly realized that flying is exactly what I did.
Afternoon rains soaked the stand of pines that I’ve called home for the night—drenching all of the wood for miles in the process. But with temperatures dipping into the 30’s tonight, I knew I had to try for a flame. It took me an hour—slowly drying out larger pieces of wood with a tiny flame—but eventually I did it. I made fire. With nothing but wet pine and a rolled up newspaper, I did. And, for now, I am warm.
The fire flickers and glows in the full moon light, an improbable, warm beacon in the chilly mountain valley.
In a way, the fire is a metaphor for this entire trip. 47 days have passed since I set off from Memphis, leaving behind the world I knew for the world I wanted to know. And from the start, it’s been a leap of faith.
Before July 31, 2016, I’d camped a grand total of two nights in the past decade. I’d never slept in the back of a car, or on the side of the road. I’d never hiked anything taller than 9,000 feet. I’d been to maybe five national parks. And I could barely make a fire with a pile of dry wood and a bottle of lighter fluid.
In short: I’m not a professional at this. I never have been. My photos are imperfect, my routes meandering, my meal plan nonexistant. But I’ve always had one thing at my side. Throughout the entire journey, I’ve had faith.
I knew I could do this. I know I can do this.
The major victories so far: Sentinel Dome, Mount Whitney, Druid Arch…they’re validation, but they were never a necessity. The small wins add up to much more than the sum of the big ones. The national park count is going on 20. The number of nights spent sleeping in a tent or a car are way higher than that. And I manage to eat something every day.
People ask me sometimes if I get lonely. The answer is no. Nearly 50 days in, I’m still a man on a mission. I’m still purposefully headed in a vague direction, and that’s okay.
I know I’ll get home eventually.
It’s like Guy Clark says:
“Spread your arms and hold your breathe and always trust your cape.”