Tag Archives: hiking

Don’t Argue With Mother Nature

The Future’s Uncertain And The End Is Always Near

Once, a few years ago, I went on a hiking trip with a couple of friends of mine. We were hiking up this one mountain that supposedly had this great view from the top, at least that’s what the guidebook said. The top was an area that wasn’t a jagged peak, or surrounded by trees, but it was shaped like a large smooth dome, and was free from any obstructions. The way the book described it, it made it sound like you hiked through all these rough switchbacks, and through some fairly dense trees, and then when you got within half a kilometer of the top, the trees disappeared, and it was all flat, and open. Kind of like a giant, curved soccer field, only at about 13,000 feet.

We’d planned the trip for a couple months, as we had to choose a time when it was convenient for the three of us. It was quite a drive, and we had to leave right after work on Friday, drive for a few hours, sleep at the trailhead, and then start hiking Saturday morning. The plan was to find a place to camp about halfway up the mountain, then leave our heavy packs and continue on. If we were lucky, we’d get to the top, have about hour to spend up there, and then get back down to our campsite before dark. Then we’d huff it out and drive home Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate. Even though we’d planned weeks in advance, and checked the weather reports, we ran into some trouble. We left on Friday, as we’d planned, and got to the trailhead about 10 PM, laid out our sleeping bags on the ground, and started hiking. And as we’d planned, we got to the campsite around noon, giving us plenty of time to get to the top and back down to our campsite before dark. But about halfway to the top, a bunch of huge, black clouds started to roll in. So we figured we may have to cut our time short on top, but getting to the top was the whole reason we’d made the trip, so we pressed on. By the time we got to the top, the clouds were right on top of us. And it started raining pretty hard. Not only that but there was also plenty of lightning and thunder.

Now as a kid, (and even as an adult) I always thought thunder and lightening were pretty cool. But not this time. Every other time I’d seen lightening, and heard thunder, I was safe. Even before when I’d been backpacking and the weather changed, I was far enough away to enjoy it without worry. Not this time.

This time we were at the highest spot with a hundred miles. And the lighting was right on top of us. You know how when you see the flash of the lightning, and then you count to see how many seconds the thunder is behind it? Then it was instantaneous. And the lightning was so bright we knew that it was dangerously close.

They say that you can tell if you are going to get hit by lightning if your hair starts to stand on end. That lightning really isn’t a spontaneous discharge, there is a buildup of static electricity, and as it seeks a place to discharge, it “charges” the path slightly before. And if you happen to be in the vicinity, you will notice that charge as your body is covered in static electricity, much like when you walk around dragging your feet on the carpet before sneaking up on somebody and giving them a shock. With enough static electricity, your hair will stick up, like when somebody rubs a balloon to build up a charge and holds it to your hair.

Only it was pouring down rain by then, and I didn’t think that we’d notice our hair standing up on end, as we were soaked. And running as fast as we could off the top of the mountain.

I remember reading about how the South tried to finance it’s way through the civil war. The sold quite a bit of cotton futures to France. France stood to make quite a lot of money, and a lot of the Southern government, and hence their armies, had quite a bit of up front financing. The French were assured that they would profit, as the South seemed poised to win the war. But as it happened, the South lost, and France lost quite a bit of money on the deal. Despite all their planning and best estimates, things didn’t turn out quite as bad. Of course, the French only had a financial stake in the war. Those that had much more things in involved, like their property or their lives, lost even more. After the south capitulated, the burning of plantations by northern armies was quite common.

Even Hitler’s armies were no match for the unforeseeable. They marched across Europe without many problems, but when they ran into Stalingrad, they stopped dead in their tracks. In large part due to the worst storm in a hundred years.

Sometimes no matter how much you plan for something, no matter how well you use the information at your disposal, your plans can quickly and easily crumble, with horrible results by forces that are just out of your control. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try, that only means that success is never guaranteed, and certainly never inevitable. But life wouldn’t be much fun if there weren’t any risks.

Those that wait until chances are perfect, and success is guaranteed before they take action are going to be waiting long time. As Dale Carnegie said, the sure thing boat never gets very far from shore. There’s always the danger of storm, and the boat sinking.

Fortunately, we got down quick enough, and back under the cover of the trees without getting hit by lightning. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared out of my wits. It’s one thing to see and hear lighting and thunder off in the distance, it’s another to hear it, over and over again, with fifty yard or so from where you stand, or in our case, running away from it. It’s as if Mother Nature wants to remind you that she could kill you in an instant without a second thought. It’s not like humans are in short supply on her planet.

Once we got back down to our camp, the rain had stopped, or maybe it was just raining up on top. We enjoyed evening much more than other nights spent sitting around a campfire after a days hike. Making it through harrowing experiences tends to have that effect on people.


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Slumbering Thoughts on Self Reflexiveness

I wasn’t sure how we were going to manage. Or to be more specific, how I was going to manage. Because If I didn’t manage, we would likely die. We were on some windy road on the way up to some trailhead from which we were going to go on a multi day hike. Unless I fell asleep, which was fast becoming an inevitability, we would go a multi story crash to the earth. The only consolation was that we most likely not only not see it coming, as it was pitch black, but we would also die quickly and painlessly.  At least that’s what I’d hoped, or at least that’s what I probably had been planning on hoping had I fell asleep at the wrong moment. My friends of course were no help. All sleeping. The only company I had was the quickly lulling tones of In a Gadda Da Vida. It was way past the lyrics, and into the repetitive sleep inducing riff. No other stations came in. And I didn’t dare drive in silence.

There is an interesting story behind that song. I heard from an old roomate that one of the band members came home drunk one night, with a great idea for a song. And he said that because he was drunk, he slurred his words, and the song came out with the the words slurred. Funny how that works. If somebody does something, and they made a mistake while they were doing it, but they keep the mistake to themselves, nobody knows it’s a mistake, and they just keep repeating it over and over and over.

Like that one scene in Fight Club, where one of the characters was trying to get across the point that some dead guy was a real person, and they misunderstood and repeated his name over and over again. Now there was a movie based on a misunderstanding.  It was like a misunderstanding inside of a misunderstanding. 

It’s wierd when you have thoughts like that. Like you’re sitting there, now, reading all these letters put together to make words. And you can feel the feeling of yourself sitting in your chair. And you can see all the things on the outside of this particular column of words with your peripheral vision. And that, of course, leads you to think those thoughts. And thinking those thoughts, naturally, means that you have more thoughts about those thoughts, and even maybe about the thought before that. Until you can forget, now, the original thought that led to this one. Which is strange because just by choosing to point your thoughts in a direction that can lead you to realize that, most people, like you, can understand that thoughts produce results. And when you just take a breath, and feel the air going in and out of your lungs, you can choose good results that you want to be able to achieve easily, and by breathing that certain way, you can realize it’s not so hard after all. It actually can make it natural to live life easily.

But, yea, I was totally surprised when Ed Norton’s character and Brad Pitts’ were the same guy. When they were fighting after that part of the movie, I wasn’t really sure who to root for. I guessed it all worked out in the end, though.

And the views on the way back after our hike were incredible.  The cliffs were really high. Had I actually fallen asleep and crashed off the side, I might have woken up from fear for a little bit, and then probably fallen back asleep on the way down. My friends probably never would have noticed until after we were all dead. Then they would’ve probably been really mad at me.  All that planning, and we wouldn’t have been able to go hiking.


The Puzzling Sudoku Babe

So I was hanging out at my friends house the other day, and it was raining, and their wasn’t much on TV, and my friend busts out this jigsaw puzzle. Like the one you used to do when you were kids. Maybe not. Maybe you still do them.  Like when you try to find an easy way to put the puzzle together, you start to line up the edges, so you can see what fits where, right? How easily can you imagine that, now?  The only problem was, my friend, who has a bunch of old jigsaw puzzles, something about her sister teaching some kids before or something, didn’t have any of the boxes. She just had bags and bags of puzzle pieces. And none of the bags even had any markings on them whatsoever, they were just old crumpled bags when pieces in them. We weren’t even sure if all the pieces were there. So as we continued to put things together, we started arguing over what was what. A castle! No, a gang of horses! No, no, an aquarium with tropical fish. And on an on. We were so pathetic, that we had about twenty different ideas of what it might be when we only had completed the outer edges.

It’s like when I was in third grade. We had to do some kind of math puzzle, and I had always thought I was good at math, even in the fourth grade. Maybe it had something to do with my pyramid project.  Anyways something I was even better at in 3rd grade was I was able to generate good feelings for my teacher, since I pretty much had decided that I was going to to marry her.  But we had this puzzle, and it was like one of those Sudoku puzzles, where you have to put everything in the right order. But unfortunately, the only order I was thinking about was our pizza order for our wedding night.  Boy did my mistake hit me when somebody else was able to get the puzzle right before I did. When the other kid jumped up with the answer, she beamed at him with a look that must’ve made him feel really proud. And I was still contemplating where the 9 should go.

Like when I was hiking with my friend one summer in the mountains. This huge tree had fallen in front of the trail, and when my buddy and I got there, there was this group of hikers that looked pretty inexperienced. They were looking at their map, apparantly trying to find their way around the tree. Now normally, you just climb over the tree, but this was a really really big tree. And they were looking up the hill and trying to find a way to go up and around it. And about every five minutes or so they would stop, and moan and complain about how much time they were losing. I guess they were on a tight schedule. Maybe they had an appointment with a bear who was supposed to steal their food at a certain time, I don’t know. Anyways, while they were looking up the hill, and back to their maps (which were in these really expensive looking waterproof map cases) my buddy and I decided to try something different. We made a decision, the kind of decision that you make when you are not sure how it is going to work out, but you make it anyways, just like the one’s I’m sure you’ve been able to make alot, right? So anyways, we backtracked about a hundred meters, and then traverse lower, going under the tree, and then easily come up on the other side of tree. It’s funny what happens when you focus on solutions instead of stressing over some appointment with some bear that I’m sure will be happy to steal your food even if you were a little bit late. It’s not like bears wear watches or anything.

So we finished the hike safe and sound, got a few pictures (but not of any bears), and later I decided that Sudoku just isn’t for me. I certainly don’t want to keep chasing something that I missed out on a long time ago, right?  It’s not like if I develop super skills on some obscure math problem my second grade teacher will pop back into my life and sweep me off my feet with a pizza. Besides, she’s probably like 80 years old by now.

And the funny thing is, by the time my buddy and I finished the jigsaw puzzle (which actually turned out to be a bunch of swans standing around in some park somewhere, posing for the picture no less), it had stopped raining and we were able to go out and really focus our energies on being able to enjoy the day.