I get to know the most interesting people on my commuter train. All I have to ask is “Where ya headed?” and then listen. This morning I sat next to an older, rugged-looking dude named Brad. He was kind of thin, and had a long, greyish beard and receding hairline. He wore a forest green hooded sweatshirt and down vest that could have been purchased in the 70’s. He was on his way back home to New Mexico, and I had no idea how much I would learn from him in just 30 minutes.
I learned about the peace you can achieve by walking the Pacific Crest Trail, a backpacker’s highway that literally runs along the top of the mountain ridge, or spine, of the state of California. He described in detail how beautiful and satisfying it is to walk 15 miles per day through the Ansel Adams wilderness. We talked about Yosemite, and some of the best trails that the tourists usually don’t find.
He told me stories about his animal encounters; bears will amble on down the trail when you scare them, but mountain lions will run 20 yards ahead and then stop… and watch… you go by. He once missed stepping on a large rattlesnake (thanks to the rattle) but then had to stop and admire the magnificent creature before moving on.
Still more good advice – don’t cook where you sleep, which prevents you from meeting any bears face to face. And don’t sleep inside the official campgrounds; that’s where the bears KNOW to go for food. Don’t carry a lot of water weight in your backpack; find water when you need it and filter it.
When I asked if he had considered becoming a wilderness guide, he said the only money he ever made was when he carried some dehydrated guy’s 50 pound pack out of the Grand Canyon for him. No, Brad was not in it for the money. He just loved hiking the great outdoors.
As the train came around the bend, the sun streamed in through the water-spotted window behind him, forcing me to squint. It also created a hazy halo around Brad’s silhouetted face as he shared his final bit of philosophy with me.
“When you’re walkin’ the trail, you meet people from all over the world. All willing to help each other, and all willing to accept you as you are. That’s really the way people should be, you know…”
I saw this reverent smile come over his face as he said it, and I thought to myself “Here’s a guy who actually knows where to find peace on earth.”
I mustered a hurried goodbye when he had to get off the train at Pleasanton station. As I turned my focus back to my laptop, I figured I’d never bump into Brad the Hiker again.
Then again, maybe I’ll start walkin’.
Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness
Your stories are great. I too love to talk to people wherever I go. It’s so much more interesting to talk to people and learn about the world… then to tune out with an iPod.
Love his philosophy! Indeed that’s how God intended it to be. LOVE!!!
The serenity of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is best experienced. Go for it Dave! Take a walk on the wild side, you wont be disappointed I promise.
That sounds like a nice train ride / commute talking to an interesting
guy. I don’t meet people like that on my commute to Manhattan!
You’ve got it so right David: keep your heart open, approach others with a friendly comment, and suddenly your world is opened up to some of the most amazing people (often in disguise) with great life experiences to share.
What you describe is exactly what Ramona and I have experienced when we encounter “trekkers” in our backcountry trips. I think the common ground of understanding, that all backcountry folks have is that you rely exclusively on what you carry on your back and what you know in your head. No 911 to fall back on! There is a delicate balance that has little room for error in many environments, and hence the willingness to help or offer assistance comes so freely. A couple of waterproof matches, a spare piece of duct tape, or a tidbit of trail data about some bear activity down the trail can be the difference. Stripped of the silly daily burdens of parking, traffic, work, or the neighbors barking dog; you come face to face with ultimate self reliance, and that is a very powerful, scary, and yet liberating experience.
It sure changes your perspective when you come back to civilization and realize how trivial the perceived angst really is!