Monday, June 23, 2008

Prelude to 'The Nitro'

Driving is a strange privilege afforded to many Americans. In many ways, driving has become a national obsession: commuters congest the highways for hours and hours of each workday, only to pile back in the car for weekend trips with the family. In fact, I remember when I was younger our family used to get in the van and take drives to neighboring towns to observe and appreciate the beautiful upstate New York landscapes. This activity carried over to my own driving life. While in high school one of my favorite nightly routines was getting in my 1984 Cavalier with my best friend and driving around the Capital District until very early in the morning. Admittedly, this stemmed from boredom and a lack of other stimulating events, however, we both grew to enjoy simply driving and swapping stories and ideas. Many of the trips I have taken were initially developed around two in the morning on Interstate 87.

After college, when I began working for HSBC, I joined the commuter world. For nearly and entire year, I commuted over 100 miles each day from my college town to the North Shore of Massachusetts. While this undoubtedly took a terrible toll on my car, it afforded me the opportunity to spend one last year together with my college friends; an opportunity which I knew would never present itself again. After moving into Boston, I continued to commute a sizable distance to my office, yet managed to seriously decrease the wear and tear on my car. After nearly three years of following the packs of cars down the interstates, I developed my first distaste for driving. I learned that road rage is very easy to fall into, and difficult to contain. I also learned that I was rushing to a job that I hated. Again, a traveling decision made within the confines of the car was about to take place. And what better decision than the ultimate extreme?

After our initial physical struggles on the Appalachian Trail, Blake and I developed an acute taste for the freedom from technology, and the slow pace of our new lives. We woke up before sunrise and purposefully took our time preparing our breakfasts, breaking down camp, and packing up for a new day of walking. We both lusted and worried over maps and guidebooks; each mile presented both a new challenge and a new adventure. We, like new parents, developed an enhanced sense of insecurity when crossing a road, taking special care to look both ways and cross directly instead of at an angle. I became fascinated when an overlook framed a distant highway, remembering the stress I used to feel. The more we became enmeshed in the woods, the more we developed a mind for the undoable, the unimaginable, the unconquerable. The possibilities are limitless in a world where your greatest fear is a mouse in your hair or a spider in your sleeping bag.

Making friends along the way enhanced this perspective on the ‘real’ world. We often engaged one another on ways in which we could further remove ourselves from the accustomed. We decided not to shower for 21 days; we decided not to wash our clothes until it was unbearable; we challenged one another to battles of distance, speed, and mimicry. We made plans for huge days: a 20, followed by a 24, followed by a 21, followed by a 27 and here we are in fill in the blank in time for fill in the blank! We made terrible decisions and we made wonderful decisions. We laid out under the stars shivering and laughing and scheming recklessly and singing until we could no longer take it and collapsed in our sleeping bags. We made friends with strangers and day hikers and weekend warriors, we laughed at the NOBO’s who made cell calls in the shelters; we considered ourselves an integral part of the landscape, not merely visitors. One young girl upon seeing me on the trail exclaimed, “this is the Appalachian Trail! Welcome!” I smiled and thought, “This is my home.” I don’t think I thought about driving for a month solid. And I was at peace with that anti-thought. Until I met the Nitro.

No comments: