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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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
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