Sunday, May 29, 2016

Joe Omundson

Nostalgia & connection

A few hours ago I was on Facebook and I saw someone's video tour of Casa de Luna (the Andersons' trail angel house on the PCT) and the manzanita forest behind it. Dozens of tents pitched in nooks and crannies, hikers milling about, sitting on chairs and talking or playing horseshoes. Those were the days, being in that community where there were no pretenses (fewer, anyway) and nothing special you had to do in order to participate.

Just before I wrote this, I was listening to the latest episode of Sounds of the Trail, a thru-hiking podcast which one of my friends created, and she was interviewing several hikers as they were getting ready to start their thru-hikes. One of them mentioned the first 20 miles of the PCT, Hauser Creek and the climb up toward Lake Morena, and it was like a kick in the gut. I can still remember exactly how that place felt on the first day, looking across the valley and seeing the trail rising on the other side, sun glinting off of hikers' tiny Chrome Dome umbrellas, taking a break with Dayglo and Testament, Testament's simple excitement when he said "We get to poop outside again!". I still remember the first time I saw Testament, how he peered down at me over the edge of a balcony at the trail angel's house in San Diego, saying nothing, his wild hair and huge unkempt beard making him look insane. Little did I know of the journey we would take together, or that we would pledge to hike the PCT together in 2064 if we are both still alive.

Nostalgia hits me hard sometimes and it makes me feel lonely. It makes me wonder if I'm doing the right thing now. Those times hiking in the desert, finally living my dream of backpacking across the country, in the company of new friends... I feel so sad that those times are gone. Of course, that is a good thing, because it also means I am glad they happened. I know I could easily prevent having that kind of nostalgic longing by simply never doing anything amazing. But what kind of life would that be? In the very best case scenario, I will have a lifetime full of amazing times that I can look back on longingly when I die. But still, it always comes to an end. How can that ever feel OK? Other people seem so unconcerned about death. They choose not to think about it too much because they know they can't control it and that it's a totally natural part of life. Am I missing some secret that makes impermanence feel OK for everyone else? Or do I simply grasp it in a tangible way that most other people have yet to understand?

Overall I am happy to be here in Moab. It feels right, and I trust that it is. I have written many words to my friends about all the reasons I am excited for this change. I've only been here about 10 days (14 by the time this goes live), and the fact that it feels much longer indicates to me that I have accomplished quite a bit in making this place my home. It's been a full time.

Of course, nothing ever feels perfect. Those times I'm nostalgic for, they never felt perfect either when I was living them. I knew that I would be deceiving myself if I thought that all my old pains in Portland would vanish when I moved here. So it is no surprise to me that I still feel lonely and have a longing for connection. I know someday I will look back on these weeks fondly. It doesn't make it feel much easier right now though.

I think it was during the 2nd summer of my PCT hike when I finally realized just how important it is to be in the company of people I love. All those weeks of hiking solo, hundreds of miles ahead of the herd, showed me very plainly the limits of how much meaning I could find on my own. One hiker on the podcast summed it up perfectly; he's done a lot of solo hiking and is looking for more company this time, because it's so much more fun to remember these experiences with people. Otherwise, it's "remember that one time, when... I was all alone and you weren't there?" I was cracking up. Now I see that it is worth working hard to learn how to be a good friend and to make certain compromises for the sake of friendships. I'm not talking about compromising anything that is essential for my happiness, just little things like logistics and expectations. Love, wherever you can find it, is such a sacred thing and I am working to overcome the things that block me from experiencing it fully.

I am trying to find friends and connection here, in the ways that I know how. I don't doubt that eventually it will happen. I haven't been here even two weeks. But from where I am now, that future feels so far away. I find that I turn to the internet in times like this for comfort. I email my friends; I blog; I post photos; I read Facebook; I interact on Reddit; I even started using Tinder and Whisper again in hopes of finding nearby people to hang out with. The stupid thing is that I'm probably sitting there checking my damn phone while all of my potential friends are walking by right in front of me. Is it that hard to say "hi" and start a conversation?

Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on myself. As I think through all of the closest friends I have right now, it seems like I met most of them through the internet, whether it was a forum, Craigslist, Facebook, or a blog. Even if I met them in person, the friendship probably developed significantly through digital interaction. My PCT friends are the exception, but interestingly enough I don't have consistent conversations with many of them online, which makes it hard to feel like they are present in my life, even though I know that when I see them again it will be just like old times. I'm not sure if my dependence on the internet for the development of friendships is natural because I am a writer and an independent person, or if it indicates some kind of neurosis.

It's not like I don't meet people, I already found a yoga class I enjoy and have had some cool talks with the teacher. I go for walks through the park most days and 2/3 of the people exchange a smile and a greeting. Still, I can tell that I'm missing some part of the equation. I don't know how to move past that superficial greeting, slow down, and actively connect. Or maybe I do and I just haven't had the right opportunity yet. I don't really know, that's why it's confusing. A couple days ago I went on a hike and then I parked my car and walked by a bunch of groups of rock climbers and said hi to some of them. But I didn't stop to chat even when they seemed friendly.

In any case it's not productive to be afraid of meeting people when that is exactly what I want and need. Today I found out that two of my friends who I met on the PCT, who I admire greatly for their ability to connect with new people, are probably coming through Moab in a week and I am stoked to see them. I want to pay attention to how they interact and see if I can't learn something.

Well, at this point I am only writing because I'm having trouble falling asleep and it is comforting. I'm wishing I had some weed. Maybe tomorrow I will visit the climbers again, because I know they can help me out in that department, and it could be an ice breaker for a slightly longer interaction.

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