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Stealth-Dancing on the Mountain’s Edge

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I’ve been fortunate since I got into walking 12 years ago to have had a few memorable “trail birthdays”.

One that stands out was nearly my last: Japan, 2001, and my first climb up Yari-ga-Take. Losing the trail and the looming peak in bad weather, like the newbie numbskull I was/am, I elected to escape my predicament by climbing up the rocky, vertical side of the valley.

I spent an awful birthday night huddled in a steeply sloping tent waiting for dawn, trying not to slide off the mountain. Finally I opened my mother’s present, Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang. I didn’t do much reading that adjectival night, but dawn was glorious, revealing how close I was to that invisible “Japanese Matterhorn”.

All was well.

Yari & tent carnage (very dusty scan!)

2004: my 40th, one of the weirdest and best birthdays ever, in a converted garage/hostel on the Appalachian Trail in rural Virginia, drinking with trail buddies while two hillbilly punks terrorised the guests with nocturnal ATV laps of the property.

Catawba, VA, 2004 (scanned film)

In 2006 I was back on the A.T., and hitched into Bennington, Vermont for my 42nd. I got trail magic everywhere, and let me tell you, the thrill of being naked in a sauna while an unclothed stranger hands you money, saying “God’s been good to me,” is not soon forgotten.

I spent my 46th on the Pacific Crest Trail but I don’t remember it, so presumably it rocked. All my iPhone calendar notes tell me is:

Day 60. South Fork Kings River to Middle Fork Kings River, 15.2 miles. Tarp.

Quite the party.

And now Korea, and my 48th — and against all odds, with no friends here and no booze in almost 18 months, this was one of my best.

I started late, 3:00pm, after the last blog post and a nap. I walked to Yulha Creek…

..and my date with a big latte and a small slice of cheesecake:

Not-as-Good-as-Mum’s Cheesecake

Then I crossed the creek, seeking a new way up Pointyhead, which I’d hiked the previous weekend. I’d decided I needed a night on the ground to truly bond with this place. I would stealth-camp on the top of a mountain with a view. Any decent one would do.

Pointyhead & (to the left) my night’s camp

Up I went. I was having a blast already and only saw one other walker — two if you count this insect at a spring in the woods:

Sorry about the self-portrait — it was my birthday. Smiling at a timer is weird. That’s what made me smile.

Have I mentioned how much I adore the Korean forest in Summer?

It was a grey day and the sun had pretty much succumbed to apathy.

It was still my birthday, so another self-portrait — this one a tad riskier — was in order. My apartment lies between those two green golf-practice nets to my right:

There’s no getting away from power lines in Korea. I think I’ll actually miss them when I go.

I topped Pointyhead and soon reached the 550m summit of Gulam-San (“Cave Stone Mountain”). Not long after that I found the perfect campsite, dumped the pack and went back to explore the ridge.

Early autumn leaves?

Bark with bite:

And these lovely pea-like flowers:

The sun almost gone, I set up my cowboy camp on a rocky ledge with a sweet aspect.

It was still my birthday, so…

I’ve hiked every mountain you can see more than once. This was walk # 63 in Korea.

Darkness, cool and perfect. I had bakery stuff for dinner — no cooking — and as I watched the city throb into illumination beneath me, I longed only sporadically for a nice flask of something perfect alcoholic.

I stood there on the rock a half-hour and felt this almost transcendental — not happiness, but peace, a feeling of ease and right-ness. I’ve felt it many times before, and almost always in places like this at times like this doing things like this.

The feeling said, All is well. You are doing the right thing. Don’t doubt yourself, don’t give up. Not long ago I copped the old “What are you running away from?” cliche from a recent -ex. I’ve had it so many times before.

(And a good friend commented, “Running from? Shouldn’t it be running to?”)

Now, this next part might alarm you: what I did there on the rock, while all this one-ness with everything washed through me, what happened next.

You see, I took out my phone and stuck in the earbuds. I found my second-favourite Stones song ever, the most darkly beautiful song they ever did, a song about the road, and solitude, and weariness and commitment to your cause. And with the breeze caressing the face of that little mountain, I let Jagger’s haunting vocals and acoustic guitar (Keith’s riff, though he doesn’t play on it), Mick Taylor’s gorgeous electric notes and Charlie Watts’ majestic and soulful drumming soar together through my head.

And I danced.

Then I climbed into my bag and my bivy and lay there watching the pretty lights…

Moonlight Mile (Jagger/Richards, 1971)

When the wind blows and the rain feels cold
With a head full of snow
In the window there’s a face you know

Don’t the nights pass slow

The sound of strangers sending nothing to my mind
Just another mad mad day on the road
I am just living to be lying by your side
But I’m just about a moonlight mile on down the road

Made a rag pile of my shiny clothes
Gonna warm my bones

I got silence on my radio
Let the air waves flow

Oh I’m sleeping under strange strange skies
Just another mad mad day on the road
My dreams is fading down the railway line
I’m just about a moonlight mile down the road…

PLAY LOUD, WITH THE LIGHTS OFF & IDEALLY STANDING ON A CLIFF:

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow! What a great post and amazing way to spend your birthday! Best Wishes for many more such adventures. And, yes, you are still young compared to some of us. :)

    June 26, 2012
    • Ha, thanks very much, glad you enjoyed it. I hope I’ve got a few more years of adventures in me. I usually feel more rundown after a day of work than I do after a solid hike!

      June 27, 2012
  2. Happy birthday, Goat. We are almost the same age but while I look it, you most definitely do not! Mustbe all that clean living and Rolling Stones. ;). Great post.

    June 27, 2012
    • Thanks as always, Rachael. The clean living is a relatively recent phenomenon, but I think passions and pursuits keep you youthful — so I can’t imagine with your own that you’ve aged too much. Also, I can heartily recommend shaving one’s head for taking years of anyone’s appearance!

      June 27, 2012
  3. Good God, Goat, I did enjoy reading this post! First of all, do you realise I predicted that you did a birthday dance in a previous comment before I actually knew it for a fact? How weird is that!!!

    Secondly, well done on the booze. I’m actually trying to cut down/give up myself.

    Thirdly, I must say it, you don’t look your age.

    And finally, those peaceful, transcendental moments of right-ness are magic, aren’t they? I’ve had a few myself. You can’t order them — they descend unexpectedly, like gifts from the gods.

    June 27, 2012
    • Glad you enjoyed it, SW — and yes, your prediction was uncanny. Sometimes I write these things and just think, “What have I done?” and want to crawl away and hide…

      The booze: I have to say if someone had handed me something that evening I would’ve grabbed it with both hands, probably danced myself off the mountain. But what I like about myself at the moment is that I don’t dwell on what I haven’t got, I make do with what I do have — which that night was music (and a helluva view).

      The “youthfulness”? I cannot explain it. I feel about 200 years old some days.

      I hear you about those “moments”. As necessary as rain and sunshine.

      June 27, 2012
  4. This is definitely in the ‘top Goat posts’ of all time. Just behind the ‘I hated the Boy Scouts’ post! Great song and you really snagged that view as the city lights brightened. Even during the ongoing bizarre Korean experience you’ve ticked off another year. Best wishes for more birthdays spent on a trail somewhere in the future…

    June 27, 2012
    • Awww, that’s great, Greg. The walking life has its (often literal) ups and downs, but I’m always excited about future adventures — and I have a GREAT locale in mind for my 49th…

      June 27, 2012
  5. Carl #

    Wow, a really uplifting read, man, and I know what you mean about the Moonlight Mile….you look like you have been preserved since that A.T. photo in 2004! Makes me think this hiking might be good for you, or something…

    June 27, 2012
    • Glad you enjoyed it, Carl, As I mentioned below, sometimes I write stuff that’s a bit more personal than on most blogs and kinda cringe afterwards like I’ve said too much, or said it wrong… But it’s there, it’s been said, and now the blogging world knows I like to dance to the Stones on mountaintops. There are more shameful secrets, I suppose.

      Off for a date with an 18-year-old now…I wish…

      June 27, 2012
  6. am #

    “… I don’t dwell on what I haven’t got, I make do with what I do have …”

    Reading your post and seeing your splendid photos has started my day in the best of spirits.

    Many of my birthdays since 1987 have been spent away from home, alone, in wild places that felt more like home than home, in a transcendent state of mind. The best one in memory was in Yosemite Valley in October 2008. Now you’ve got me wondering where I will be this coming October when I turn 63. Funny how my best walking years have been the years without alcohol — these last 25 years. The man I loved died of complications of many years of alcoholism in April 2008. He was only 58 years old. My wish would be to have him walking by my side into old age.

    Who knows? Maybe you will be like Alfred Stieglitz. Georgia O’Keeffe, an artist and long distance walker, was 23 years younger than he was when they met. Kindred spirits to the end.

    June 27, 2012
    • Thanks for the lovely comment, Am. It was a special weekend for me and the buzz hasn’t worn off yet, which is very odd.

      I used to love alcohol and it’s quite possible I’ll go back to it one day. I didn’t have a serious problem with it or anything (to my eyes), and rarely drank to the point of utter intoxication, but I was very susceptible to post-drink depression and I didn’t like the habit I’d established of drinking something almost every night.

      I hope you get to enjoy your birthday in a really memorable locale this year — you should start planning something now!

      June 28, 2012
      • am #

        We appear to have something besides walking and Raynaud’s syndrome in common. I stopped drinking because of severe post-drink depression. Never did drink daily or drink to utter intoxication (except once), but I began to notice that each time I did drink, the post-drink depression deepened incrementally until the last time I drank and subsequently felt suicidal for three miserable weeks. And then an old friend of mine committed suicide in 1997 on his 50th birthday after having resumed drinking when he was 49. He had completely stopped drinking during the years when his daughters were children. They were teenagers when he died.

        I’d LOVE to drink again but so far have not chosen to.

        You’ve got me thinking about walking in northern New Mexico for my birthday this year. Glad to hear of the energetic feeling that has stayed with you after your birthday on the mountain!

        June 29, 2012
      • Ah yes, the morning-after blues, I know them very well. Unfortunately I am highly susceptible to both highs and lows — one of the reasons I love walking as it seems to even me out emotionally. I do love a good beer or glass of red though — so it’s an enormous sacrifice!

        New Mexico sounds great. I drove through the state and camped out a few times on my road trip in 1993. Wonderful.

        June 29, 2012
  7. Phil the Phreak #

    Dancing? Holy crap. I would have been less surprised if you had’ve told me you were getting into Cyndi Lauper.

    I vaguely remember you swaying in front of the stereo while “Rosevel” by the Triffids was playing but as far as getting your groove on goes, that’s about it.

    I’ll teach you to moonwalk when you get home…

    June 28, 2012
    • Well, as you know, Phil, boys just want to have fun. I try to keep my dancing confined to private epiphanies. It’s better for all concerned.

      June 28, 2012
  8. Thanks, Goat, for sharing your birthdays. Love the idea of you dancing above Korea. I get it. Perfect.
    Yellowstone

    June 28, 2012
    • Thanks, Yellowstone. I’m sure you’ve had some perfect birthdays in the outdoors as well. Currently thinking about just where my 2013 one should be — I have the general area sorted, and it’s sure to be great!

      June 28, 2012
  9. Wonderful post! I will turn 37 in a couple of weeks and have not been looking forward to it at all. You have given me a new outlook on the subject, and like Yellowstone I think it is wonderful that you danced to the Stones on a mountain overlooking Korea. Moments like that put things into perspective.

    I also loved your bark pictures- very striking.

    July 2, 2012
    • Thanks as ever. Since that night I’ve actually been thinking about where my next one should/might take place, and find myself actually looking forward to it!

      July 3, 2012
  10. wow, your Mum gives you books for your birthday. I still get underwear.

    July 3, 2012
    • It was a good book too! I think a book can be a risky proposition unless the giver really nails it. With underwear you can’t really go wrong — in theory.

      July 3, 2012

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