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July 10, 2023 – In Gearing up … Stevenson Trail I noted that in September – a mere two months from now – I’ll fly back to Paris. From there I’ll join my two hiking companions and start the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail. (In Le Puy-en-Velay, 340 miles southeast of Paris.) Which brings up a post I did some time ago, on why an old guy like me would keep on doing things, like a multi-day 150-mile hike in a far-away foreign country. (Like Italy’s Way of St. Francis last year, and before that three separate hikes on the Camino de Santiago.)
John Steinbeck explained it pretty well. He began Part Two of Travels with Charley by noting the many men his age who – told to slow down – “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.” (They “trade their violence for a small increase in life span.”) But that wasn’t his way:
I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage… If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway. I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage. It’s bad theater as well as bad living.
In plain words he didn’t want to turn into just another old fart, and neither do I. (I.e., an older person, typically male, who holds “old-fashioned views.”) By the way, that Free Dictionary definition has a disclaimer, that the page “may contain content that is offensive or inappropriate for some readers.” To which I would say, “Get over it, Nancy!”
And speaking of old farts, Steinbeck was 60 years old when he wrote Travels, including that stuff about Old Age. To which I would say, “Punk! And young punk at that!” (Oh to be 60 again… Not!)
But we were talking about 150-mile hikes in foreign countries, and why an old guy would still do them. Partly because they are pilgrimages, giving us a break from “real life,” from the rat race. That last part doesn’t really apply to me; I’m retired and can enjoy life. But as we started to say on the Way of St. Francis last year, “It sure beats playing bingo at the Senior Center!” Aside from that, a pilgrimage can be “‘one of the most liberating of personal experiences.” And on a Camino hike that hot shower, warm bed and cold beer at the end of each day helps too.
Beyond that, I wouldn’t want to be guilty of Bad Theater. Then too, my brother Tom – one hiking companion next September – reacted to a past-pilgrimage blog-post and had this to say:
Read your blog on the trip and I think there is one point where you give [undue] credence to the view of the “pat-pat” people of the world. The issue is the idea that only people, “not in their right minds,” would go to places (or do things) that are unique experiences – ones that most others never have. In my mind, this is exactly what people in their right mind should be doing. I pity those who don’t.
Which mirrors what Stevenson said in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. (On his 12-day, 120-mile solo hike through sparsely populated, impoverished Cévennes in south-central France.) He described one night setting up camp in a place “black as a pit, but admirably sheltered.” He ate a crude dinner – a tin of bologna and some cake, washed down by brandy – then settled in, despite the tempest around him. As he put it, “The wind among the trees was my lullaby.” He woke in the morning “surprised to find how easy and pleasant it had been … even in this tempestuous weather.” He then waxed poetic, in part about seeking such adventure all his life:
Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?
On a Camino hike today you focus, you concentrate solely on getting up in the morning and reaching that day’s down-the-road destination. On how good the fresh-squeezed orange juice and Café Crème taste now, and how good that first cold beer at the end of the day’s hike will taste. You are mindful. You experience the eternal now. In plain words you don’t give a rat’s ass about the future and what problems it might bring. That in itself is liberating.
These days we have plenty of future to worry about. (Things that might happen but hopefully won’t.) So it’s rewarding to take a break from the nowaday sleepless nights and concentrate on reaching today’s destination, everything you own on your back, and looking forward to that hot shower, warm bed and cold beer. Or it could come down to this basic lesson in life: “To have a mountaintop experience, you have to climb the &^*@$# mountain!”
I dread the day when I have no more mountains to climb…
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The upper image is courtesy of Jeff Dunham Walter – Image Results. Jeff Dunham is a ventriloquist with puppet characters including “Walter.” See Walter | Jeff dunham Wiki | Fandom: “Walter is a retired, grumpy old man with arms always crossed in discontent… He has a brash, negative and often sarcastic view on today’s world.” For a live version see Some of the Best of Walter | JEFF DUNHAM – YouTube, about “your favorite opinionated, gray-haired grump in the trunk.”
Re: “Nancy.” I was thinking of “walk it off Nancy,” something like “rub some dirt on it” in a sport setting. Meaning to “be strong,” “be tough” or “stop complaining,” as when you suffer and injury. See also Urban Dictionary: Negative Nancy, referring to a killjoy, someone constantly negative about everything in life, and also referring to “Nancy boy” as an effete male. Or someone “uncomfortable in their own skin,” in the world around them or with social situations around them. Who knew?
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