Saturday, April 11, 2015

I'll Know There when I Get There

I've gotten into the habit of hiking early on Saturday morning with a group of people from work.  I couldn't make it this Saturday.  I stayed up late watching a documentary about washoku, Japanese cuisine, and didn't get to bed until 2 AM.  By the time I got out of bed, around 7 AM, they would be halfway done with the hike.  
Habits are strong things, especially when tied to something you want to do, like getting and staying in better shape.  So, I told myself I would take a "little walk" before breakfast to do something along those lines.  
It ended up taking me about four hours.  
I went to Eaton Canyon.  This is a nature center just north of Pasadena.  About a 10 minute drive from my apartment.  I had picked it because I wanted...  Something of a destination, I guess you could say.  
I thought I'd had one from something that came to my attention online.  It was a posting about Dead Drops.  Some German artist had travelled around the world leaving USB drives in various places.  He would cement the drives into walls or fuse them to massive, tamper proof locks, to ensure they stayed where he put them.  The only thing he uploaded to the drives were "Read Me" text files.  I checked a map and discovered two of these "dead drops" are in Pasadena.  I thought about using the map, going to where they were supposed to be, and seeing if they were still there.  
I passed on that idea.  I'm still intrigued by it and I want to check it out, but...  It wasn't...  Enough.  I didn't want to replace a hike with a sleuthing sort of ambulation.  That's when Eaton Canyon came to mind.  I knew they had a number of trails that went in and out of the canyon, some leading into the neighboring Angeles National Forest.  I'd go to the Canyon, pick a trail, and head there. 
That's pretty much how I was thinking about it as I grabbed my back pack and put my thermos of water, along with an apple and a banana, inside.  I'll drive to the Canyon, pick a trail, and head there.  
Do you notice it?  Huh?  
The parking at the nature center was packed.  To get a parking space, one probably has to get there at sunrise, when the gates first open.  I parked on the street about three blocks from the gate and walked back inside.  I spotted a woman cutting across the long, winding service road, to what looked like a walking path on the other side.  
I initiated the Zen Directions technique.  This is something I got from the book, Dick Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by the late Douglas Adams.  If you're lost and don't know how to get where you're going, pick the first person you see who looks like They know Where they're going and follow them.  
So, I did.  I cut across the service road and followed her on to the trail.  
The one problem with the Zen Directions technique, which also happened in the book, is that it can sometimes bother the person you choose to follow.  I noticed the woman glancing over her shoulder back at me after a while.  At the next fork, when she went right, I went left.  
But she had gotten me started.  I kept walking, looking forward to getting there. 
I did it again.  Did you see it this time?  "There."  I was looking forward to getting "there" but in actuality, I had no clear idea of where "there" was.  
"Up here, it splits."  I heard a guy saying this to who I presume was his girlfriend.  "Everyone goes left.  Almost no one goes right."  
When we got to the split, I went right.  I know that...  There wasn't where "everyone" would be.  It was here, after this decision, that I confronted myself with my ignorance.  
"Where are you going?"
"Where's 'there'?"  I can be very impertinent with myself.  
"I'll know it when I see it."  
I trudged on.  Through cool, shadowed stands of trees.  Up steep inclines that switched back and forth up the mountain as the sun started me sweating under my windbreaker.  At every corner that I rounded, I'd look to see if I was "there."  
Nope.  Not here.  And I'd keep walking. 
I don't think much when I hike.  Not coherent, philosophical stuff.  I notice my body.  The legs and calves getting tired and sore.  My heart, thump-thump-thumping as I push myself up a steep incline.  I hear my groan and fell it hum in my chest as I reach the top of the section I was on only to see another, steeper section beyond it.  
I'll see things and make stuff up.  Like..
A fallen tree, with branches arching over, is the ruins of a woodland gnomes homestead.  

A stand of trees is a place where druids dance at night.  

I spotted a pile of rocks off to one side of the trail, near the trees over the edge, that look like they were piled there on purpose. 
"That's the Cairn of the Squirrel King."  A story-teller's voice whispered to me.  "Put there by his mournful subjects.  Once the time of mourning is done, it will be time to choose a new king."  And a perilous time that would be, I knew. 
I told myself I'd take a picture of the Squirrel King's cairn on the way back down.  But I didn't see it again.  
But all these places weren't there.  I was getting hot.  I had other things to do today.  My stomach growled at me for not giving it a proper feeding before setting out on this quest.  Where were we going anyway?  
"There," I replied.  
"You don't even know where 'there' is."  My stomach curled up like an angry dog and gnawed on some body fat.  
I kept going.  Why?  Because I hadn't gotten "there."  My "little walk" had turned into an odyssey.  Just because I'd thought that I would head "there" without knowing clearly where "there" was, or what I was heading for.  
But that didn't seem important.  Not then.  How well do I know "where I'm going" now?  I look around where I'm at in my life.  I don't see anything like where I thought I was headed.  Does that mean I stop?  
I lowered my head.  I put one foot in front of the other.  I listened to the sound of gravel crunching beneath my feet.  "Not.  Here.  Not.  Here."  That what it sounded like with each step.  
So, I kept walking.  
At some point, I found myself negotiating with myself.  If "there" is close, I'll keep going.  Five, ten minutes.  Even twenty.  I'll keep going.  Ask someone how long to the top.  Someone coming down.  Ask them how long to get to the top of this section of trail.  Twenty minutes, I'll keep going.  Longer than that...
Then I remembered the last time I asked someone exactly that.    
すみません。上までどのぐらい掛かりますか。Sumimasen.  Ue made dono gurai kakarimasu ka?
It was at the Inari Shrine.  It has a series of red torii gates, one after the other, climbing to the top of the hill overlooking the shrine itself.  After trudging up the steps for over an hour, I asked a man with his son that I passed along the way.  
三十分ぐらいね。Sanjyuppun gurai ne.
Thirty more minutes!  I had to get back to the tour bus.  I could make it if I pushed.  But...
I turned back.  I told myself I would come back to Japan and visit Kyoto and the shrine again.  I'd take a day and get to the top of the hill then.  
That was eight years ago.  I still want to go back.  I don't know when, or if, I'll be able to again.  It bothers me that I never made it to the top of the shrine.  
So...  I kept hiking.  I kept climbing each switch-back.  I kept my feet moving.  I was like a father from the era I was raised in on a cross-country family vacation.  
"We'll get there when we get there!"  
It didn't keep me from hoping for a sign.  Some indication of where "There" was.  
Then...  I saw this. 

The trail dropped sharply after this sign.  It curved past a shaded, woody area with picnic benches scattered about.  I could see the trail slanting off to one side, starting another climb.  But for me.  For this day.  I had made it.  
I was There.  
I reached into my backpack and took out my thermos.  I drank half of it all at once.  I took my phone and took another shot, this one of the view from There, overlooking Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles.  
I nodded to myself.  Yeah...  I'd made it.  
Then, I started back down.  


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