In the Wild You’re Allowed to Eat Anything You Want, pt. 3

It was a shit day and it is in those times where my decisions can be made quickly and effectively. The inner monologue reads something like:

“Crap. There are too many people on this train. I bet Iowa doesn’t have a lot of people. I’m going to Iowa tomorrow.”

I went home to my roommate and asked her what she thought about it. As Emma cocked her head at the inflection of the question I thought better. “I’ll print off a map to show you…here, see?” She then farted the green light.

The fine fellows over at Enterprise are beginning to know me. “Where are you off to this weekend?”

“Amateur demolition derby in Iowa.”

<silence>

“Really I’m just camping. Again. The Iowa part was true.”

I then explained the lay of the Yellow River State Forest nestled in the northeast corner of the State That Everyone Forgets Exists. The Yellow River is a main northern tributary to the Mississippi River and thankfully the state has designated quite a large area as a state forest pushing out RV campers, shitty river trailers, and gawdy boat ramps.

The drive began on the Kennedy, a well-known nightmare interstate heading west out of Chicago. To add to the suicidal melee that is the clogged artery construction had closed all lanes BUT ONE. And with the pile of errands needed before my departure (previously covered freeze-dried yumminess, tobacco, and the like) I found myself in the heart of rush hour. My nonchalance at the whole gridlocked mindfuck was due to the fact that I knew that in a matter of hours I would be in the middle of nowhere away from these asses preventing and sort of efficient movement. I thumbed through my portable metal collection and joked with Emma about federal funds given to state for the improvement of the American infrastructure (which she’s really into) and how I actually helped pay for this. She summed it up perfectly with, “Life’s funny, huh, master?”

(I am not delusional nor does Emma speak English.)

Out of gridlock and on the open road. I always have an internal debate on the safe speed to drive. 10 mph over the limit? 9 mph seems safer as far as tickets go. Unfortunately the rental had no cruise control so in actuality I was lucky to merely maintain a constant speed. As I sped further and further away from the City of Rude Shoulders my smile grew wider and my legs became more antsy.

Only as clear as a cellphone travelling at 60mph will let it be.

Only as clear as a cellphone travelling at 60mph will let it be.

Passing through Wisconsin I found myself dumbfounded at a wind farm just off the highway. The sheer mass and movement of these monolithic turbines baffled me. So quiet and so useful they rested permanently facing the same direction, some fast and some slow. It is these differences that sets my mind to wonder, “…well, they are made of cells like us…is there an inkling of personality in each? I think so. #23 is just sitting there while #12 and #41 are really going for the gold. They should chop #23 down as a lesson to freeloaders.”

Now with sun setting and the Forest a few hours away still I retreated deeper into my noodle as if around the campfire already. Ideas mentally scribbled and goals adjusted to better the chance of attainability.

Why is it that I remain in a city that I have grown to only sort of like anymore?

Is it my friends? I couldn’t find those fuckers anywhere else, I know…but should I remain for them? Would they for me?

I want to see stars every night. Where could I make that happen?

Am I in a place where I am able to move?

What would I sell and what would I keep?

Where am I?

Like a beacon in the blue evening the Mississippi spread out in front of me as I descended into one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. The breadth of that behemoth is truly a wonder. Like a more scenic English Channel. What my grandfather’s creek looked like to an ant. The jugular of the lower 48. If it weren’t for the guardrails I may have just driven straight into it, not from a wish to die but to live. To feel the water around me that second. Of course if I had done that I would’ve cursed myself for both stranding myself and, most likely, killing my love and partner in adventure. Stay on the road!

A few turns and I was on a highway not unlike Highway 3 in Alaska through the Chugach Range with the railroad paralleling on the side. I stuck my head out of the window, mimicking Emma, and breathed in the clean air and dirty bugs.

The only stress in nature is survival. And only the strong survive. It is these tests that make the heart beat and the mind delve into ideas. This is living in the truest form in that it is the meaning of life. Go, go, go. Always forward.

State Forest Road happened upon me almost before I was ready. I turned and winded back further from the exposed horizon line and into the shoulder to shoulder trees. The air grew cooler and thickened with the flying insects. Miles go by until a small wooden sign simply reading “Trailheads” slowed its approach to my right. (A brief, bad idea: matching T-shirts for Emma and I that simply says Trailheadz.) We pulled into the lot and stretched legs/relieved bladders. While Emma waited chained to a stake I partook in my favorite pre-hike traditions:

  • Check all supplies/needs and leave unneeds in glove compartment.
  • Rest the pack on the back bumper at a height that makes the initial lift much easier.
  • Arms through straps and a final reflection upon the modern world. Deep, I know.
  • Turning on the headlamp. It is at this point I feel completely surrendered.

I invested in a pack for Emma with small side bags not unlike a mule’s. It was the perfect size for her food and my whiskey and with her muscular make up not at all impeding on her ability to move. Then I forgot it was Emma, Emmy Award winner for Best Dramatic Dog. At first it was only growls. Then a refusal to walk straight ahead. Then wimpering. Finally, before even making it to the trailhead, I turned and she had lie down on her side. It was like trying to walk a cat after a stroke; the creature didn’t even give it a shot. What a quitter. I am not one to force my will so I had no choice but to remove my already heavy pack (60-70lbs) so as to squeeze her pack inside of mine. (I wish it was as sexy as what is going through your head at that statement.) With no car bumper to rest the pack on I submitted to a full squat and continued onto the trail.

A beacon in the dead of night. Only 6 miles to sleep.

A beacon in the dead of night. Only 6 miles to sleep.

The sign read “MOST DIFFICULT” so I knew I was in the right place. I knew I didn’t want to come across anyone, especially novice campers, children, yippy dogs, or even another campfire for that matter. It turned out to basically be a moist creek bed complete with boulders, fell trees, and a grade steep enough to wind me every half mile or so. A few forks, a few breaks to take in the night, and a few, “Where in the hell are you, Emma?”‘s and we happened upon the first campsite. Two fire rings and cleared areas seemed fine enough but the visibility from the trail turned me off enough to keep searching. Luckily I discovered a small trail leading from one of the clearings into the woods where I found my favorite campsite to this day.

Greatest campsite ever. Hands down.

Greatest campsite ever. Hands down.

A perfect, natural circle skirted by old pines and underbrush galore. The sexiness and contrast of brown needles to green evergreen saplings dropped my jaw and shattered my psyche. I removed my pack and stood in wonder for what seems like hours. It gave real meaning to the term ‘getting wood.’ The inhuman sounds got my feet and hands to working for kindling. Axe in hand and fell trees aplenty, I stacked a healthy pile next to my self-made pit (at least three inches deep with dirt piled in a crown due to the absence of safety rocks) and began with my favorite fire starter, a boom box blasting Prodigy’s “Firestarter”. But really…cotton balls and Jewel brand petroleum jelly (only due to its thrifty price…any will do). Crackling, bright needles gave way to large, smelly-sappy pine hunks in no time and within 15 minutes I was seated with crossed feet and Maker’s Mark in hand.

It was here that I nearly decided to move from Chicago before the end of the year. Destination and purpose to be explained later.

Now fresh in the head with a whole new plan I retired into the tent. Emma’s love for sleeping with me, honestly, doubles my pleasure in camping. Sure, she does it at home (well, most of the time. She’s grown to love the floor of my closet quite a bit) but it is the protection and warmth that she offers that cannot be found with anything else. Guns are only warm after you shoot them. And you have to be awake to do so. This is why dogs are better. And the fact that  guns have no loyalty. I can’t get behind that.

Wet, new day. Dew glistening and it looks like an advertisement for something that in actuality has nothing to do with the woods…like soap or menthol cigarettes. After realizing that all of our water is gone I quickly packed and headed south to Big Paint Creek, a mere mile and a half.

The morning hike brought new noises and new smells, nature changing every second. The sound of running water set my mouth to follow. A few steps down the banks of a dried tributary and we found ourselves at the quaint life-giver. Water filter now in full effect, I quickly filled the bottle and set about firing up the stove and coffee and a breakfast of Pasta Primavera (The only disgusting freeze-dried meal I’ve come across is bacon and eggs…therefore

Breakfast for dinner is awesome. Dinner for breakfast is awesomely iffy.

Breakfast for dinner is awesome. Dinner for breakfast is awesomely iffy.

breakfasts usually consist of dinners.). With nothing but wind, a wandering dog (waiting her turn for the remnants of my pot o’ pasta), and a running creek I dined on the greatest meal one could ask for. (In the woods each meal replenishes the famished body, therefore always the best meal in the world.)

Satiated, Emma and I decide to follow the creek to a trail that finishes atop a short peak for a, hopefully, stunning overlook. As the brush grew heavy I made a mental note to either buy a machete or stick to the trails. Sure, I didn’t know how much further this nearly impassable wall of weeds would go but forward is always better than backward. Right? On and on and finally…a road? I consulted the map and realized my folly…this was Little Paint Creek. I was only slightly off course but now that I had my bearings the trail should just be up here. Little further. No, just up here.

Whew. Here it is.

Just off the trail I saw a kitten lying down in the brush. Being so close to the road I thought that it may have been hit by a car so I concocted my Hero Plan of Action:

  • Chain Emma to a tree so as to not eat the kitten.
  • Approach slowly and let the beast smell my hand and pet it for a few seconds to calm it.
  • Pick it up, being careful not to move it too much in case of broken bones.
  • Loosely tie it to the top of my pack and find a building or a passing car to get it help ASAP.
  • Pat myself on the back for being such a good person.

With Emma chained and wondering why, I slowly approached. The black and white tissue box darted its eyes towards me and I slowed. A few high pitched meows and it immediately bolted away from me and to…the saw mill that rested 50 yards away that I had somehow not seen. Huh. Okay. Kitten’s fine. Lives at a sawmill, I suppose. I retrieved the confused dog and ventured to the sawmill to do a little investigation.

A sign greeted me explaining the presence of the mill. It was owned and operated by the DNR. Because of the forest fire prevention set in place, lighting

Serial killer's sleeping quarters.

Serial killer's sleeping quarters.

rarely ignites a forest fire. As you know fires are needed to refresh a forest. Wash it so to speak.

We continued down a horse trail that eventually opened up to a fork. Without a sign in place I consulted my long term friend Guts and chose the high road. Up and up we climbed until finally we came to a clearing with a stunning tree complete with scratches of lovers and fellow hikers that had made it this far. After a misstep and a

They are either dead or pregnant now.

They are either dead or pregnant now.

near topple over the ravine (the near-death of the situation occurred to me only a few minutes after the event…WHOA) I retrieved a cigarette and a dram of whiskey so as to enjoy the overlook properly. Distant trees never move in the wind and seem as insignificant as lint. A road could be seen a few miles away and shared with the trees an insignificance to distant eyes. Cars were marbles slowly following the path somewhere far, far away from me. Good riddance. Standing up and hoisting the pack again we turned and started the descent. More people on horseback and smiles and greetings were exchanged. Folks that descend into the woods are the best kind: solitary, smart, and helpful only if needed. I can only imagine the white settlers of this land bugging the shit out of the natives. Like a entire race of little brothers.

As we again reached the fork a “new” trail opened up that I hadn’t noticed before. This one was through a much denser woods and on the side of a steep incline. After traveling for what should’ve been the mileage to the next campsite I again realized my folly in getting lost. I knelt down and looked closely at the trail and my stomach sank at the discovery: deer prints. This is a deer trail. Not wanting to turn back I decided to venture on, all the while pushing my new boots to the utmost with the combination of the 65 added lbs to my already 170lb body and an incline that stretched the uppers to keep my ankles from snapping. As I continued I stepped on a fairly large rock and slipped slightly which, in turn, sent the rock toppling down the hill and into an unseen valley. Emma took off for the moss-less roller while I shouted for her to remain next to me. Suddenly there was nothing. No noise. No bark. No running. Just me screaming her name over and over. With her lack of foresight I was convinced she had run off the edge and into a rocky creek possibly a hundred feet below. I sat and waited, swearing to myself that if she returns a punishment will be handed down in the worst way. What that is, I do not know. I don’t hit her at all, seeing as how dogs do not understand that form of punishment, so possibly a yelling at and a chaining to a tree will suffice. Everything left my mind, though, as soon as she came trotting up with that big, stupid grin of hers happy as a bumblebee.

I remained seated with her and we just took in the scenery and collected our thoughts. I decided upon following the distant creek noise as it will surely head back to the creek where we were earlier and then bearings will be had and all will be well. Right?

Six miles later and finally a familiar sight…the black and white kitten. Sure enough the sawmill rested silent in the near distance and both anger and relief

The kitten, named Goddamnit by yours truly, wondering why I've returned.

The kitten, named Goddamnit by yours truly, wondering why I've returned.

overtook me. I looked at the map and chose an easy trail that lead to a different campsite a mere two miles into the woods. The same woods that has already mixed me up and nearly claimed both of our lives. It will not defeat me, though.

A few miles and a stop for fresh water and finally a sign for the upcoming campground rested my still-walking-weary legs. A short trip up a slight incline and the campsite appeared, full of graciousness and kind silence. I chose the second site in, deep enough to be away from the trail but close enough to the water source for my morning coffee. With camp quickly set up dinner was at hand. A fellow backpacker appeared from around some foliage to offer up some wood from a gigantic pile at his site a few steps away. I followed him and found a three-sided woodpile fortress, three times the size of the popular couch cushion variety built as a child. I loaded up and thanked him for the info and we never spoke again. Perfect.

Now with a gigantic fire I sat and daydreamed about upcoming choices. Choices that once were fantastic ideas. Unrealistic. Until the reality set in and here I was actually weighing the pros and cons. As the cons slowly drifted away with their fear-driven notions the pros simply sat next to me and shared this wonderfully warming fire. And it was with an orange, toasty face and clear, whiskied head that the choice was made: I am moving to Austin, Texas.

There are many wonderful things about Chicago, yes, and I have enjoyed them all. It is, after all, the longest I’ve remained in one place my entire adult life for good reason. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people, many of whom have become my closest friends, the kind one seeks out as soon as language begins vibrating the tongue. I have my regular places that know me as well as I know them and, of course, my job that has given me opportunities that I would never have had anywhere else. It is important, though, to realize that change needs to happen and that sometimes it isn’t your own choices that brings these changes about; simply it is the ebb and flow of everything that forces these things into existence.

Fact: My job has not provided me with the satisfaction it once did. There is not one thing responsible for these but many. Both myself and the direction of the company have changed immensely since I first began there six and a half years ago. While they continue on their path I shall, too. Where once my interest in coffee and the entire culture surrounding it piqued my interest it is now my first loves that have taken over that section of my brain: music and writing. I know that I cannot do both, coffee and writing that is, to the utmost so that decision had to be made. And it was easy. Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember (making radio shows in my room at the age of seven, a family friend showing up out of the blue in his RV and entertaining us with his songs even before that). Writing has been a more recent thing, though it is now ten years that I’ve been doing it on a regular basis. (I should really put up some of the early stuff written on an old typewriter in a terribly unsafe apartment.) The realization that I really don’t care that much about coffee was relieving in so many ways.

Fact: I am burned out on Chicago. The sheer size is daunting enough. I don’t go to many of my friends’ happenings for the sole reason of travel time. To allot two hours of public transportation travel to go to an art opening or someone’s birthday seems ludicrous to me. Another factor is the overwhelming anger and frustration and violence of this gigantic monster of segregation. People getting shot by police in the middle of the afternoon on downtown streets. Homeless people attempting to punch me for no reason forcing me to then punch them out of protection and instinct. Random people yelling obscenities at each other almost daily. It sours the soul and makes it nearly impossible to have a good day when this barrage of negativity is shoved down your throat only to be shit out in your toilet the next morning forcing one to be constantly reminded of what mankind has really become. A competition and a cesspool of muck and mire only those that roll in it understand. I will never therefore I must not pretend to. Eat my shorts, “humanity.”

These are two simple reasons I’m giving but there are many more, possibly outlined at a later time.

With a clear head and a tired dog I retreated to the tent for my last night in the blessed woods. Sleep crept in quickly and quietly closed my eyes and rested my overworked brain. The sun woke me with the gentlest hug and color and within minutes the coffee was on as well as breakfast. I realized a smile that couldn’t be removed with gasoline planted itself on my face and I probably resembled Emma after a nice walk. After gathering everything and packing up I said goodbye to the campsite in a near-teary state with thanks for the guidance it has shown me.

And it is this relationship that has been my strongest ever. It is these woods, splattered across this immense ball in space, that offer us so much, whether it be advice, solace, shelter, or mere beauty. It doesn’t even take a strong mind or body to enjoy…just patience and a realization that one is nothing without the other. In return for giving nature its due respect it will give you the things most truly needed: honesty and guidance.

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2 Responses to “In the Wild You’re Allowed to Eat Anything You Want, pt. 3”
  1. dominic1979 says:

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