Saturday, October 15, 2011
I'm sitting here in my newly painted dining room. The sun is creeping up and light seeps in and around the transoms at the front of the house and through the interior window between the dining room and living room. This light makes little sparkly displays on glass, varnish, and plastic surfaces. The rug under my feet is warm and dry and quite lovely in the early gloom. My wife is at her laptop across from me and I take time to just look at her and feel grateful. I'm quite grateful and appreciative right now.
My coffee today is particularly tasty. Like it's just magnificent, robust, warm, and I can taste every gradation and subtlety. I take my time with it.
Why? Because I've not had coffee since Sunday. I've not, in fact, had walls or doors or windows since Monday. I've been out on the Appalachian Trail in PA, carrying a 60 pound pack up treacherous hills, eating handfuls of rice and unsauced pasta and flavorless couscous and drinking iodine-infused water gathered from muddy creeks. I've been "sleeping" under a tarp as heavy rains crashed down around me, deluges and wind gusts sending rivulets and splashes under my tarp to soak my clothes and sleeping bag. The temperature on most nights hovered around 40 degrees. I've been pooping into a trowel-dug hole in the woods and using wet leaves to clean up before burying the mess. I've gone without showering, shaving, or even seeing soap.
And all of this happened in the company of 10 young Baltimore City school kids, most of whom have never been in the woods. I heard their complaints, saw them break down, saw them endure, saw them dig deep and find ways to carry their burdens. I saw them tell each other to fuck off, saw them reluctantly re-group, saw them act like selfish babies, and saw them offering to help one another. I saw quiet kids who stepped up to take leadership roles, I saw tough bullies become thoughtful sages who supported the un-fit, I saw geeks and nerds who became admired for their map-reading and navigation skills.
I had a miserable, exhausting, embarrassing time. I've hiked mountain trails on 4 continents and never encountered trails so challenging as a few we did, with miles uphill that got steeper as we went. I was wiped out each night as I climbed into my sodden sleeping bag and prepared to half-sleep til dawn, break down camp, and slog miles only to set up camp and do it again. But the foliage was spectacular, I found a few minutes to do Tai Chi on a nice outcropping at Chimney Rocks, and I sat under a tree in a deluge after getting lost going to pee at 3am and waited for dawn. I slept better propped up there in my rain gear then I had under the tarp. When the sun came up I was only 20 meters from camp.
I'm proud of my boys. I hope they appreciate what they have a little more than before. I hope they remember what they learned about themselves and each other. I hope they share their skills and memories with others. There were times this week when I was thinking "fuck this bullshit, I want to go home." The kids vocalized this sentiment and I had to hide my own while coaching them on and keeping them on task. They did it, and graduated from a 5-day Outward Bound adventure.