In early summer heat, I walked past a field of chicory, a field of blue summer flowers, overlooked by the rush of a highway. Orange day lilies edging a golden wheat field near the deep green woods tried to cheer me up from the depressive thoughts of what I had left behind. I plodded up the shady trail to Loudoun Heights where, I’d read, Strider had tested this very place, a thin dry forest of white birch, to see where the trail was going – south. Now I was sweating from schlepping a full pack and forty extra pounds of fat. Remembering Strider loping out to Buzzard Rocks, I smiled ruefully as I tried to match the pace of that younger man. Yeah, right, Strider was lighter then, not even a pack, buoyed up by determination – the stupid shit. Strider had read Thoreau and hoped to meet with success unexpected in common hours if he advanced confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavored to live the good life – or something like that. He was confident, all right: thought he’d found the answer for the “good life.” Thought the answer would be good enough. Meanwhile, equally determined, but achingly so, I pushed myself to be in shelter before dark.
Frustrated, I went back to the room and looked out the window and up the trail I’d walked yesterday. What could I say? Sure, she was angry. And it wasn’t just the fees. The damn fees. More fees. First hers, then mine, then mine again, now theirs, my whole life working for damn fees for damn lectures no one could ever remember a damn word of. If the girls had been more diligent than boy-crazy, they’d have scholarships. I paced the tiny room. That was the argument. Money. It never ended. A nurse and a teacher. Boston’s underpaid social service. Overtime for her; airport limousines and summer construction for me. Treading water. Nothing I did was ever good enough for them – just enough yes, really… Treading water, it was a losing fight. We each had a job. I had two. But wages were stagnant and prices were rampant. We had no money for luxuries, dinners out, date-nights. What could I do?
Yes, Katahdin, I remembered the first day of my first hundred days of my first thousand miles. A ranger had pointed out Cathedral Trail as the shortest way up Baxter Peak and a tough one. Though it towered 5,267 feet above the jumble of granite boulders and loose shale, the peak was not visible beyond the ridge of the volcano-like rim of the Great Basin, where I had spent the night in a bunkhouse. I had started out whistling, happy to be walking. Which quickly turned to wheezing. Though I had developed stamina from running up and down bleachers as a sort of training, no amount of conditioning prepared me for the shock of the first hours of schlepping a pack up against gravity.