Hike; ignore the static.

The tagline for this site is “Hike; ignore the static.” This is not a pithy statement from the bowels of my murky imagination (can an imagination have bowels?). There is a story. And telling that story seems a good place to begin to realize the purpose of this blog.

Camp Trails Cruiser frame, unknow packbag, Jackson Flats, 1969

Camp Trails Cruiser frame,unknown packbag,Jackson Flats, 1969

In 1969 I was offered the opportunity to backpack from Ferndale through Jackson Flats to Last Chance Camp. The primaries of this expedition were two tough trail veterans who had hiked together for years. I had hiked with them before, but never had I undertaken anything quite this ambitious. The Last Chance Trail even then, pre-1974 abandonment, was tough: a brushy and potentially hot climb. It was a challenge for a young, over-packed initiate. Truly, this was a prescription for suffering.

The leaders of the hike could not have been more different. One was tall and thin and was, shall we say, voluble, talkative; perhaps a windbag. I believe he had been somewhat of a beat generation street philosopher; he quoted Ginsburg and Watts, and used terms such as “categorical imperative.” To this man’s credit, one simply has to respect someone who can haul a load up a steep trail while sustaining a constant narrative and betraying no sign of fatigue. Also, no one ever came to harm under his tutelage, no one ever got lost off the back. He was, well, organic, in his approach: “Lets set up camp. Wait, look at that salamander in the creek” was a typical sequence. This is not a hackneyed rhetorical device; he really did this. I was there. The other trip leader was shorter but more physically imposing. He had the stoic, tireless bearing of a hard core infantryman, which I believe he had been. With his huge forearms and fists I always pictured him dismembering someone with a battle axe (I read a lot of Lord of the Rings in those days). He was taciturn and matter of fact when he did choose to speak. I recall him as a patient teacher and exacting taskmaster; neither approbation nor praise were overdone. “Do it this way,” he would say. “Good, that’s correct. Now do it again. Good, do it again” would be the inevitable pattern after successful completion of a task he had assigned. “Good” was high praise and it was as much as you were going to get. On the other hand, “do it again” was as bad as it got (I never saw anyone actually challenge / provoke him; my guess is he had stronger stuff in reserve). He was all about fundamentals and first things first.  No butterfly gazing until after camp was organized.

The hike to Last Chance that day was exceedingly difficult for the small group of pilgrims who were being led by the two old pros. As planned, the opportunity to drop off at Jackson Flats was offered and a number of the group chose to set up a camp there with a third responsible party who had only intended to go that far. The reduced group continued to Last Chance. I was the youngest. I marched along directly behind the beatnik, with the old soldier behind me. The others, three as I recall, lead the way. The beatnik talked incessantly as was his wont; I shuffled along behind trying to stay upright and breathe. I remember wanting to plug my ears. I wanted the stream of words to stop; the sentences were incomprehensible and they hurt my head. Then the old soldier spoke up suddenly; an unprecedented event. “Kid (he called us all kid),” he said, “Hike; ignore the static.”

“Hike; ignore the static” was something I could understand. It was a philosophy I could embrace, and I embrace it to this day. If I have a mantra, that is it. Many years after this event I was struggling through a reading concerning the “categorical imperative” and I thought to myself “hike; ignore the static.”

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