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February 2001

Just Go

Sometimes, despite all the commitments and obligations, you know what you have to do.

I need to go hiking. The thought emerges from somewhere below my elbow, works its way into my shoulders, feels urgent. I announce to the world that I’m going backpacking. I pick Mt. Graham, on the eastern edge of Arizona. It’s country I don’t know.

For 5 days, I think about going, the thought bouncing around in my mind like a Ping-Pong ball. One minute, I tingle, anticipating the cool air, the smell of pine. The next, I look at the map and spot Deadman Ridge.

I don’t like the name. I picture sleeping in a tent alone, imagine what I will hear, what I’ll listen for. I decide to buy pepper spray.

There are only extremes on my emotional map, and I exhaust myself. One friend, a couch-potato poet, suggests I go with a friend. That seems obvious. But everyone who might want to go is working, as I should be. I’m on vacation, the second in my life as a graduate student and teacher, and all this free time I’d planned to spend hiking, biking, and climbing is starting to feel chaotic, fractured by split desires. I’ve spent so many months with no choices—at the office by 9, home at 5—that this luxury of time confuses me.

Last effort. I call a few people, and no one can go. I could just wait, but I want to go now. I’ll take the dog for protection. My partner reminds me that the dog’s hips aren’t too good, so I can’t hike her to the top of Mt. Graham. The thought of half a mountain makes my muscles wilt. I’ll leave the dog home.

A day or two before I’m to leave, I buy a new water filter and another hiking guide that tells me precisely what I’m in for. The trail is up and down and up and down, more strenuous than I’d imagined. On the map, there’s a section 2 inches long where it looks like someone slipped, or was drunk—too many tight squiggles.

I tell more people I’m going, thinking that talking about it will make it real. It will be beautiful. I need to get away, I explain. Away from what? I ask myself. Am I running away from my writing that’s going so slowly, so painfully? Am I trying to escape the dirty dishes? Or the laundry?

I wonder if I’m losing my edge, getting soft around the middle, where there used to be determination and resolve. When I was younger, I made a plan and I went. I stuck out my thumb and rode it to Yosemite or Colorado. But that was 18 years ago. I was foolish then; I’m wiser now. And the dishes need to be done.

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