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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.
As the day of my departure nears, the racket in my mind becomes so loud I can’t concentrate. I clean the water bottles, get money out of the bank to buy food en route, put powdered lemonade in a zipper-lock bag. I’m going through the motions of leaving and it feels endless, the details, the things I have to remember. If I’m going for 1 night, why not 2?
It’s finally the day I’d planned to leave and it still isn’t clear what I should do. I take a nap. My partner checks the weather report online: severe thunderstorms. Another reason not to go.
I wander around the house, noticing that the floors need mopping, the rug needs vacuuming. I step into the backyard and realize how many weeds have emerged. Then I go back inside and see a huge stack of paper: a manuscript that needs to be read, bills that haven’t been filed in 2 months. There’s no reason it all needs to be done today, but it’s today that the pile and weeds are getting to me, trying to get me to stay home.
I need this trip, to take care of myself, to take a risk, to feel connected. I need to go. I need to feel isolated. I want to see no one, hear no one.
But I’m still one foot in the door, one foot out. I walk back out into the backyard to check the humidity level. High. The heat, also high.
I make a cup of tea, which will soothe and motivate me to pack. And then I sit down at my desk and think: I’ll write about this first, and at the end of writing, I’ll know what to do.
Susan Fox Rogers is editor of Solo: On Her Own Adventure and Another Wilderness: Notes from the New Outdoorswoman (both from Seal Press). She lives in Tucson, Arizona.