Memories. Daydreams. Tall tales, old ghost stories, even mathematical equations and answerless philosophies.
That's the true beauty of long hikes alone - the solitude of strolling that country road to nowhere, the liberating simplicity of conquering that overgrown deer trail or bike path.
Put twenty miles beneath your feet, and your mind will create for itself a mosaic of thought, painted to the beat of crunching footsteps and to the songs of summertime insects.
As I hit the state line I stopped. I laughed and mumbled something unimportant, put my hands on my hips, with one foot in Ohio and the other in Indiana.
My legs ached, my shoulders and back sunburnt, sweat dripping from every pore.
* * * *
A whiff of honeysuckle blows past my nostrils, and, suddenly, I'm thinking about the farm where I grew up, about skinny-dipping with my sister and cousins in ponds and those long afternoons napping beneath my grandmother's pecan trees...
... And those chirping noonday crickets in the fields full of soybeans and field corn! Alfalfa! Yes! There it is, in that field right over there!...
And Jesus H. Buddha! What about that idiotic summer adventure back in Virginia, when a buddy of mine and I decided to hop a moving Norfolk-Southern boxcar.
We'd planned on riding that train all the way to wherever its rails took us. We made it to Meherrin, one town over, before it stopped and we ran like scared puppies as the brakeman hollered at us...
We wanted to be ten-year-old hobos. And we rode the rails a whopping ten minutes as liberated men.
* * * *
And a hint of pine, intertwined with the fragrance of a thousand and one wildflowers, reminds me of sharing a night (and an abandoned barn) in Big Sur, California, in 1999, with that First Nations backpacker from just north of Vancouver, the first woman I was with after my second engagement failed...
...How I wish, some days, that she'd at least waited until I awoke to say goodbye. I can't even remember her name, but I still remember her scent, like that of the sweetest earth turned into brown flesh...
I really have gone through quite a few women in my time on this planet. As someone recently put it, I go through flings like some fashion-savvy women go through shoes. 'Tis true. And I make no apologies for it, really. It's my nature to just drift about, from pine forests and wildflower fields, and I generally treat the idea of relationships much the same.
But there are still many forests and many flowers in this world...
* * * *
"HEY! ARE-YOU-SURE you don't wanna a ride, son?"
An old farmer pulled up beside me in an equally old pickup, ten minutes after I'd turned off Contreras Pike onto Brookville Road. I hadn't even heard him creeping along behind me in that old, noisy tank of a farm truck. So lost in thought, so embraced by the tranquil solitude of my mind's own mosaic of memory.
I smiled and thanked him for the offer, explained that I was hiking away a Saturday afternoon.
"Well, it's a hot one. S'posed to be in the upper nineties. Sure ya don't wanna ride? Take ya back to Oxford..."
"Nah. It's all good. But thanks for the offer."
And it was just that. All good.
The groin tear didn't bother me, for the first time in almost a year. Even the remaining gristle that comprises my left knee's ACL and MCL held up as if it were still as whole as it was before 2002.
That tiny fleck of stainless steel knife embedded in my hip? Neurological silence. Even the last throes of Mononucleosis-fueled lethargy seemed to have been finally beaten into normal dormancy.
No pain. And nary a cloud in the sky, to my skin's dismay.
All good. As in Holy fucking shit! it's great to be alive!
* * * *
I strolled into West College Corner, Indiana, a mere nine miles, by foot, from my apartment building's stoop, about 45 minutes later. As I crossed the railroad tracks, again I thought of that aborted attempt at being a teenage hobo and laughed to myself.
Too bad I missed the train. Indianapolis is wonderful this time of year... a lot further than Meherrin...
Nine miles. Roughly halfway through my journey. I'd end up hiking more than 2o miles before the sun set on another Saturday.
Life's just good sometimes. And solitude is a divine gift.
* * * *
Country roads and long strides through my nation!
How I've missed you, great Old American Solitude!
A year since I've sought your peaceful counsel,
Since you've caressed my thoughts as wildly
As that burning sun across my naked chest.
A year too long, for men of the road,
Injury and illness be a damnable curse.- Poetic Fragment, Yours Truly