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Townspeople

I have taken some time away from this blog to pursue interests related to the blog (i.e. my long hike, etc.). Have also spent a great deal of time considering how I wish to approach the subject matter of my blog and whether writing in this venue is about me, my voice, some quest for public acknowledgement of my writing, a desperate plea for attention, not being hugged enough as a child, etc. You see the madness enveloping my mind on a daily basis. Unemployment will do that.

Peripatetic, while used to connote walking or moving about, also links back to the Greek usage for the word: the act of teaching while walking. Having spent time in front of a classroom, I will be the first to admit that teaching and learning are not fixed roles. Rather, a teacher is a learner and vice versa. In my travels afoot and seated as well, I look to be taught along with teaching others either during or after my travels. A multidirectional flow of information.

I’m afraid that information has taken on a type of one way travel in these modern times. Tom Waits replied to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?”: “We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge”.  Without synthesis, information accumulates but never converts. Like sun on soil, if there is no seed, where does sunlight go?

During the holidays, I read Postcards from Ed, a compilation of letters written by Edward Abbey throughout his life. He provides several plugs for works of various authors he finds worth reading. One of the authors, Thomas Wolfe, compared to Faulkner and Hemingway, but without the notoriety, wrote several autobiographical fiction pieces that contained characters based on townspeople from his own community. Unfortunately, Wolfe’s first piece of work was highly controversial and townspeople were upset at their portrayal in the novel. Later, these same people were upset at having not been included in another piece.

These events took place in the 1920’s and 1930’s before television had taken a stranglehold on the imaginations of humans. What is it with people’s inclination to seek public attention? Warhol coined the “15 minutes of fame” line and it seems that everyone is seeking it. Media outlets are full of these portrayals of “reality”. Unfortunately, some of these displays are a sad indictment on the state of the human species. A woman goes ballistic in a Kansas City McDonald’s restaurant and people gather around to watch the surveillance video at the newspaper article’s website. Is this a flow of information in one direction? Does a person parading in front of the news camera depend on an audience of voyeuristic viewers?

A cult of personality is classically defined by a leader using media to glorify his or her image and legacy. Are humans using the readily available sources of mass media to create their own cults of personality? Are we as a society at risk of idolizing the most derivative of behaviors? Does the Shepard Fairey picture of President Obama feed a cult of personality? While Obama, as far as we know, did not enlist Fairey to create the picture, the end result is a mass produced photo that certainly portrays the president in a favorable manner despite the complaints mounting against his administration.

The actions of human beings to be solutions for problems rather than the problem itself seem to be dwindling at times. However, I should note that Fairey is using the Obama image in a critical eye towards the president now and street artists like ABOVE are using their art to turn attention towards the increased homelessness inside our country during the recession. If there is some innate quest for our 15 minutes of fame, I urge everyone to capitalize on it by being a voice for real change, not a media contrived version of change nor the self gratifying quest to be the first dog on the pile.


7 Days on the Katy

I launched this blog with intentions of displaying thoughts and experiences on the trail. In November I hiked the entire length of the Katy Trail. My proposal for writing about this adventure was picked up by Backpacking Light, an online magazine that I frequently visit. There was no guarantee that my piece would get printed, but they had 1 year to publish it. I was afraid the piece wouldn’t see the light of day, but it appears that it will be published next week. The article(7 Days on the Katy) is available for purchase by itself, but I would advise picking up a 1 year membership to read the rest of Backpacking Light’s great content.

The image of athletes in America typically brings to mind an image of sculpted muscle or brut strength. Sports culture in America puts these athletes on pedestals for their super strength and talents.  There are libraries of books to discuss the merits of one physical ability over the next. I’ll leave that for the sports talk radio. The struggle of emotion and mental strength is seldom addressed outside of play-by-play cliches.

“Yeah, Dan, there hasn’t been a QB with that kind of mental toughness since Scooter Tubbs led the Tigers to their 25th bowl appearance!”

I’ve heard the cliches, mostly from coaches, but I never got it until I started running. There’s no way to explain how a physical challenge moves to the back of one’s mind, erasing the throbbing pain in your legs, restoring your breathing pattern to the precision of a mechanical piston, or watching a seemingly endless hill evaporate and yield a smooth stretch of uninterrupted downhill. Each time I share that I run marathons, someone rarely fails to ask “How do you run that far?”. I can’t answer this with a concrete response. Nor, can I explain the transcendent experience that takes place as one conquers a physical challenge laid before him/her.

Following the race on Saturday, Mrs. Hobo and myself were comparing our results. We are not coaches. However, every race finds us refueling at a cafe or diner and discussing the things we did and didn’t do out on the course. Each of us finished in respectable territory. Hobo in the top 10% of his age group and Mrs. Hobo in the top 3% of her age group. Both of us lamented that we had some fuel in the tank crossing the finish line. Regardless, we both had great races, physically and mentally. Every autumn marathon reminds me why I train through the brutal heat of summer. A cool fall morning accentuated by the tones of reds, yellows, and oranges in the trees provides the perfect backdrop for long distance running. If there is a way to verbally convey the tide of emotions that nature’s splendor inspires, I have yet to find it.

“Oh, you’re a Zen runner.”

Maybe, I’m not sure. I believe that Buddha consciousness is elusive, but the struggle for nirvana makes life worthwhile. I think that running 26.2 miles is as much a physical feat of strength as it is a mental feat of strength. Completing this race, 5 times now, I never tire of the tranquil moment that occurs as I cross the finish mats and stop my watch. Reflecting on this emotion, I wonder if this is like the moment just before death; no struggle, no worry.

Last night found Mrs. Hobo and I, as well as a good friend, enjoying a concert and celebrating a bit to commemorate our runs. The ride home was peppered with comments on the complacency in our nation, the three of us housing some very doubtful feelings. Moving along at highway speed, a silver streak appeared in the left lane and disappeared as the car closed the gap. The following moments need no explanation. However, a coyote crossing the freeway, perhaps chasing its prey, left this world and moved on to the next station in the cycle of life. Coyotes are a savvy predator and rarely do you see them on the roadways. Why did our paths merge last night? Whatever he was running for, its value commanded the ultimate sacrifice.

Running

Long distance running in the city poses some challenges. Cars and pedestrians don’t mix. Well, they do, but the results are less than ideal. Solution: hit the streets when the cars are the least. I run in the early morning. When I had to be at work early, that meant getting up at 3 a.m. for a long run some mornings. For those of you that have been out at this hour pounding the pavement, I need not explain. However, for the uninitiated, there are some strange sights to be seen at this hour. Like a grown man in short running shorts running down your street. I have seen a shoeless man walking with a floor lamp in his hand. I have jousted with the newspaper delivery vans. I have stumbled across photographers shooting the progression of a lunar eclipse. Surreal. There’s just no telling who or what you’ll see while running the streets. Last evening I went to pick up my racer’s packet for the marathon. I was walking along and looked up to find a couple of former colleagues looking at me. I can’t put my finger on it. But, there is an awkward feeling of running in to old acquaintances. Looking at the situation objectively, one realizes that a shared reason has brought your paths together once again. Perhaps the awkwardness is shared. Greetings were exchanged and the question of Where are you Now? presented itself. I could lie, but I’m too stubborn to make something up to look good. Feelings of self-deprecation allow me to answer candidly to my unemployed status. What are you doing? Nothing… and running. Good to see you’s and See ya’ later’s exchanged; I’m glad that’s over. Back to running. In my early morning runs I often see police cars and wonder if they will stop me and question my credentials. During the cold of winter, dressed in black, I resemble a cat burglar. Without a trace of criminal intent, I still feel as though I’m running from the law. Like the two views of the drinking vessel, is the runner focused on what’s ahead or what’s in the rearview mirror?

Circles

Recently, I’ve spent some time watching the Ken Burns’ National Parks documentary. Throughout the first 4 episodes, a theme unfolds. The fathers of the National Parks: Muir, Mather, Roosevelt, Albright, Kephart, etc. all shared a part in passing these lands on to the next generation of Americans. Someone recognized something special and fought for its preservation. I count myself lucky to have visited many of the National Park sites. History is plotted linearly, yet the scale which we measure history by, time, is counted by the Earth’s rotation on its axis and its revolutions around the sun. The Hobo Hiker is no stranger to counting minutes and hours as he runs and hikes. In the coming weeks he will embark on an eight rotation, Earth rotations that is, hike across Missouri. Each day’s sunlight will be utilized to its fullest as he marks off the miles between Clinton and St. Charles. Meanwhile, there’s a tarp and bivy to be sewn and food to be packed. There’s also this little 26.2 mile lap around town to be completed on Saturday. Yes, the Hobo Hiker is running a marathon on Saturday. Just trying to get the legs warmed up for that 225 mile hike.

A long day riding the rails leaves a hobo looking for a way to fill his tummy. I doubt hobos had a JetBoil stove or Vargo Ti canister stove wrapped inside their bindle. I’m sure a campfire or the generous hand of a farm maiden were the likely source of nourishment for the itinerant laborers. The Hobo Hiker has tried the above mentioned technologies in his previous pursuits. However, both of these contraptions require toting an aluminum canister of butane along for the ride. These stoves are a joy to cook with. They provide a quick and convenient means of boiling water to rehydrate the freeze dried meals we hobos rely on. Unfortunately, the leftover canister often finds its way into the landfill. Equally worse, in the event one’s canister goes dead far removed from an outfitter, you are left with a pretty little paper weight and granola for dinner. Sometimes that warm, savory meal at the end of the day is the only thing pulling your legs up the trail. Fearing the demise of their fuel cartridge, many hobos tote along an extra canister. The large canisters weigh more than 9 ounces full. Ounce counters wake up in a cold sweat just thinking about this. The Hobo Hiker has decided to go the way many weight-conscious hikers have gone: alcohol stoves. Alcohol is readily available in the form of Heet gas additive at most gas stations or one can buy denatured alcohol from a home supply warehouse or hardware store. One-third of an ounce of Alcohol will boil 2 cups of water in about 9 minutes, give or take. Windy, cold conditions and water temperatures will drastically change the results. Alcohol stoves are varied in their design and setup. Enthusiasts have tweaked the designs to allow simmering and improve efficiency. The Hobo Hiker will be using a Cat Food Can stove, an idea borrowed from Andrew Skurka, long-distance backpacker extraordinaire. The design of this stove is so simplistic that its catastrophic failure would test the patience of the most ardent fatalists. How does one achieve such flawlessness? Would you believe me if I answered: a $1.99 hole punch, a Sharpie, and a $.50 can of cat food. Yeah, take a can of cat food, preferably the Fancy Feast brand(nothing but the finest for my feline friends), and mark 16 graduated lines on its rim. Take hole punch and put holes just below reinforced rim of can at each of these marks. Repeat last step below first row of holes, this time offsetting the holes beneath the first row of holes. Add alcohol and light with match. Place small cook pot (Evernew Titanium .9L) with water atop the blaze and wait patiently. The Hobo Hiker lacks the patience to watch water boil. While pot of water is heating, The Hobo Hiker will set up his camp for the night, including the tarp that he made at home as well. Throw another stick in the barrel or add some alcohol to the can and get ready for a warm bowl of hobo stew. Bon appetit!

Sparks

Autumn left  its card. A rainy chill has set in and shows no signs of abating. Getting a fire started proves to be a challenge, but once those first embers form, the dampness stands no chance. Keep it fueled and its rewards multiply. Starve it and the chill returns. Hobos gather around the barrel. Toss in a stick if you get the chance.