Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Wet and breezy late last night, wet and positively windy right now. Great hiking weather. If I didn't have class soon, I'd be on my way up the mountain instead of writing this piece. Rain keeps the fair-weather friends away, which is all the better for me.

I'm ratcheting up the pain, even though I'm not really ready: as of yesterday, I'm now doing four-hour hikes up Namsan-- twice up and down. Not difficult if you're in shape: Namsan is more hill than mountain, after all. But it ain't easy for this fat boy. I need to train until I'm able to walk almost uninterrupted for ten hours (i.e., roughly thirty miles in a day). I'm sure I can already do this on level ground during pleasant weather conditions, which is all well and good, but quite beside the point: if I plan on adhering to any sort of schedule during my walk across the States, I need to be able to maintain a decent pace on almost any terrain, in almost any weather.

To that end, I'm taking advantage of my free Fridays this semester by hiking up Bukhansan (the intrepid Sperwer has been gracious enough to accompany me; his plans are scarier, as he's training for the Gobi March). Come fall, I hope I will have put together a temple walk that occupies my entire weekend: a 3-day trip that "connects the dots" between mountain temples, gives me a taste of the Korean backcountry, and allows me to feel what it might be like to stay on holy ground in the capacity of pilgrim. I hope to do the temple walk every weekend through the fall and early winter-- perhaps during midwinter as well.

The idea I'm moving toward for my America hike sounds a bit crazy, but might just be doable: to connect the dots between religious facilities, to talk pluralism and dialogue with the people hosting me, perhaps to fit in some talk about North Korea and human rights. The walk will go from ocean to ocean; I hope to hit churches, synagogues, temples, ashrams, Zen centers, mosques, and whatever else there might be along the way. I'm still trying to decide what general path to take across the country; to be frank, I fear the southerly route because heat just kills me. Cold, though, is something I can handle.

And because this is "connect the dots," with food and shelter at the endpoints of each segment of the walk, I see no reason to carry food. I'm seriously considering making mendicancy a part of this walk: surviving on the charity of-- dare I say it-- my fellow Americans. Or maybe that should be: my fellow sentient beings. The only hedge I'd make with this mendicancy thing would be to carry enough water to get me through an especially long leg of the journey.

I might change my mind about this, but I'm attracted to the idea of doing something truly punishing, because that's just not me. I live a life of relative ease. I've never really tried to take the measure of my own endurance. I do know, though, that I can be a stubborn bastard, and with the right purpose to drive me, I can do things I wouldn't normally do.

The best case in point is my walk to Williams Lake from Taos Ski Valley Resort a few years back. Our family was in Taos to see my brother Sean, who at the time was enrolled in a rather prestigious chamber music camp up in the mountains of Taos. The ski valley sits at 9,200 feet, which means the air is thin enough to make us sea-level dwellers huff and puff on the hotel stairs. The walk from our hotel's* first floor to its third floor was surprisingly difficult that first time around. We learned that there was one trail that led upward to a lake at around 11,000 feet-- Williams Lake. Dad, my brother David, and I did the hike a few times. By the third or fourth time, we were all showing slight improvement, but the reason for this was, I think, that we all have a stubborn streak in us. 11,000 feet is no joke. At some points on the hike, we were stopping every fifty yards because of the thin air (and because I was out of shape), but in the end, the hike was worth it-- not merely because of the view we had of the lake, but because we could actually feel the changes within us as we did the walk again and again.

My point, in case you missed it in my digression, is that I'm a doughy, sedentary guy, but I've had occasion to push myself now and again. I did so in Taos; I did it in Switzerland as well. When I get in the hiking groove after a long time spent just sitting on my ass, I always rediscover my love of walking. There's always been some pilgrim in my blood.

If sloth truly is a deadly sin, as the Catholic Church would have us believe, then given my current lifestyle, I'll be burning in hell for several eternities. So let's say there's a moral component to this walk: the eradication (or at least the reduction) of sloth. If I come out the other side of this walk thinner, healthier, more active and more mentally focused, then tant mieux. If I gain some friends from various religious traditions along the way, even better. And if I learn something new about my country and its religious landscape, fantastic.

More thoughts on the walk, and the training, and the various preparations, later. This is only the beginning.

*The Inn at Snakedance. Fantastic breakfasts there. I had little desire to eat anywhere else, but Sean showed us around Taos, and we found some great eateries in the area, including one memorable pizza joint (the pizza was memorable, but the resto's name now escapes me).


No comments: