Monday, July 29, 2002

So, yeah, I work at the Beloit Daily News and you can link to my stories there. I do the odd conservation story now and again. Speaking of, this weekend tree-hugging old Raru (that's me, or my trailname, my nickname) chopped down trees and picked brush in the name of the Ice Age Trail. Esther and I worked on a Mobile Skills Crew project on the trail in Taylor County, WI in the Chequamegon National Forest. We arrived late Friday and worked all day Saturday and half a day Sunday. It was hot work and the mosquitoes were murder. Desk jockey me is still pretty sore from shoveling and chopping and digging and scraping and... But we re-routed a 200-foot section of trail, cleared brush and established the trail better on a half-mile segment and built a boardwalk over a boggy section. The weather cooperated. It didn't rain Saturday until just when we finished.

We stayed at a campground, a first. I haven't done that in a coon's age. We much prefer stealth camping, which doesn't offer the amenities of a shower, privy and general store, but is less buggier, pestier and more quiet. We shared a tent site with Sharon from Racine, a fellow Appalachian Trail thru-hiker (1998) who has since thru-hiked the Continental Divide Trail and the Ice Age Trail earlier this year. I think she also said she thru-hiked the Long Trail. But very unpretentious about it. Still, I did the old Wayne's World I'm not worthy routine. I aspire to her level of experience. We had a cool moment Saturday night. Sharon and I were on kitchen detail, so had to get dinner going while everyone else went off to the lake for a much-needed swim (we stank to holy high heaven). I wanted to join them, but get to the car and realize it is all locked up and no keys, they are locked in the trunk. Sharon was parked in front of us, so she could not get out either. No problem. Very casual. I said I hope Esther's got her set and if not the county sheriff could get it. Sharon remarked that was a good trail attitude to have. One of the greater gifts of avid hiking. You have this sensibility that fortune always works in your favor, even if it isn't. Funny that I had that attitude in the woods, albeit a campground, but not in "real life." This morning the grand experiment, on deadline, as I tried to incorporate that attitude in my job, you know, water off the duck's back, it's all good and all that jazz. Slacker mentality. Zen peace. However you see it. It's good to have that edge too.

Sunday after another swim and saying goodbye to our fellow Mobile Skills Crew mates, Esther and I drove to the highest point in Wisconsin, Timm's Hill (1,951 feet). It is our 10th state that we've been to the highest point. The others are Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois and New Jersey. Only 40 more to go. On the way home we stopped at Rib Mountain outside of Wausau. A quartzite hill (I won't deign to call it a mountain, only one of extreme midwestern sensibilities would call it such), it rises more dramatically from the surrounding landscape than Timm's Hill. But both have good views from a lookout tower. And Rib Mountain, at 1,940, is 11 feet shorter than the state record holder. It's slight, so ever so slight inadequacy pointed out in the language of the sign at the top, ``ONE of the highest peaks in Wisconsin." In so many words, not the highest. Ahh, there we go again. This western sensibility, nay American fondness, for competition, for extremes for distinction. Does the fossilized quartzite care. the abiding erratics mossy on the hillside care about the satellite laser measured distances of man?
Fond memories of our two years in Antigo. Every trip to the northwoods is refreshing, but sad. Rockford, with a population of 150,000, and part of a 250,000 metro area, is almost too large. But I'm torn. The desolation of the northwoods would grate, but a simplified (i.e. boring?) life beckons. I sip on my Guinness and recall it was unavailable in Antigo. Amenities in the big town. Me caught between the antipodes: short hair v. long, beard v. clean-shaven, woods v. society, poetry v. journalism, darth vader v. Luke Skywalker, you get the gist of the struggle. I longed for the city when I lived in Show Low and long for small town now in the city. Arggghhh!

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