Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Nimblewill Nomad: Gandalf of the paths

My freelance colleague Neil Armstrong (you read that right) sends me a link to this article about the man they call Nimblewill Nomad, whose real name is Meredith J. Eberhart. You can call him "Eb." From his 60s to his mid 70s, Eb has walked nearly 40,000 miles, i.e., more than 1.5 times the circumference of the earth, most of that in North America. His backpack has barely ten pounds of gear (4.5 kg), and he often relies on the charity of drive-by strangers to get him over a barren patch of Texan land alive.

In the abstract, at least, I'd love to spend my life doing what Eb is doing, but as you read further in the article, you realize that Eb is chasing, or being chased by, his own demons, and this is what drives him to remain on the road even after declaring that he's done walking. I'm not plagued by such demons (I'd say that my demons go by the names Sloth and Gluttony), and while I have a romantic attraction to life on the trail, I'm not at a point where I'm willing to shed everything to become an eternal nomad.

Go read the article and find out all about Eb. Incredible man.

At one point on our final day together, Eberhart paused at the intersection of a gravel road to show me the contents of his pack. He spread out his things in the dust. There was a tarp tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, the small bag of electronics, a hint of a medical kit, a plastic poncho, his maps, a pair of ultralight wind pants, and the pile of metal junk. All of the fabrics had the wispiness of gossamer; a strong wind could had taken most of his earthly possessions away.

Besides his truck and a few mementos he kept at his sister’s house, he didn’t own much more than this.

“I tell my friends: every year I’ve got less and less, and every year I’m a happier man. I just wonder what it’s going to be like when I don’t have anything. That’s the way we come, and that’s the way we go. I’m just preparing for that a little in advance, I guess.”

Instead of a toothbrush, he carried a wooden toothpick. He did not carry a stove. He did not carry a spare change of socks, a spare set of shoes, nor any other spare clothes. He did not carry reading material, nor even a notebook. He did not carry toilet paper. His med-kit contained little more than a few bandaids, a pile of aspirin, and a sliver of a surgical blade.

Shaving down one’s pack weight, he said, was a process of sloughing off one’s fears.

Each object a person carries represents a particular fear: of injury, of discomfort, of boredom, of attack. The “last vestige” of fear that even the most minimalist hikers have trouble shedding, he said, was starvation. As a result, most people ended up carrying “way the hell too much food”. He did not even carry so much as an emergency candy bar.

Yeah, I can relate to "way the hell too much food." Goddamn MREs.

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