Australia, Japan, Korea, Random Rambles, Switzerland
Comments 21

Man & Stick: A Love Story for the Ages

..a queasy, disorienting feeling came over me.

Something was missing. I stood there on the roadside, checked for wallet, sunglasses, lens cap, glasses: all present. I clicked on the camera, reviewed the last shots from my Sineo-San walk, trying to spark a memory, saw this one of the cherry-bordered mountain road I’d just descended…

mmm

The road down…and up

..and something said, “Stick.”

Your stick, you idiot. How could I have come a mile without missing its reassuring, metronomic tap every two paces?

Man, I was tired alright, dog-tired, goat-tired, coffee-or-cry-tired. All I wanted was to slump into a seat and savour the motionlessness. Instead I was pacing, circling, starting back, pausing, cursing, circling again. That damned stick. I’d stopped at the men’s room before leaving the temple. The stick was a mile up that road, leaning against the wall outside.

Or was it? In the West it might have lasted five minutes, but Korea seems so safe I’ve often left a camera, phone or iPad sitting at a cafe table while ordering. But a mile uphill to find it gone? Maybe I was due for an upgrade…

Damn it, no. You don’t walk a thousand miles with a constant companion only to ditch him by the road. I started back up, pushing harder than I’d come down, zig-zagging across the road, cutting corners.

Let’s see how honest these people really are…

*  *  *  *  *

As I pounded up that road, a pang of deja vu. Truth is, this wasn’t the first time I’d lost a stick on a walk. In fact it wasn’t even the second.

I started out in serious walking in Japan in 2000, lugging ludicrous weights over increasing distances on creaky knees: without the single cork-handled Leki I used then…

mmm

Okutama mountains near Tokyo (film)

..I’d probably be walking with titanium knees nowadays.

I was mountain crazy. My walks got bigger, as did the ridiculous pack-loads. With escalating recklessness, I began disappearing for a couple of days or a week on alpine trails, far from Tokyo. Here I am on the infamous Daikiretto, Leki stashed. You need two hands for this unnerving/thrilling section:

My fave self-portrait: descending the Daikiretto Ridge, Nth Alps, Japan

My fave self-portrait: descending the Daikiretto Ridge, Nth Alps, Japan (film)

I never hiked without that stick. It was on a Japanese summit I made a vow to walk the Appalachian Trail when I got out of Japan. When I started in 2004 I moved to two sticks:

Georgia/N. Carolina border, A.T. (film)

Georgia/N. Carolina border, A.T. (film)

The loads stayed insanely big, though; I bailed in PA with a stress fracture in each leg. But it was in Georgia on about Day 3 that I had my first case of carelessness with the Lekis. Started walking into Hiawassee (stoked knowing my favourite film, Deliverance, had been shot nearby) for my first resupply.

A long walk, and I couldn’t score a hitch. At the town’s outskirts, an elderly couple came out to their car and offered a ride. I threw my stuff in the trunk and got in, they dropped me near a ratty motel, I retrieved my pack — and as they drove off I realised with a sickening lurch that my poles were driving off with them.

My room looked like people had died in it, perhaps that very day. But next morning the manager kindly drove me back to the Trail, stopping when I recognised the house. The old man seemed as amazed as I was grateful when he opened the trunk and there they were.

Here I am, many hundreds of miles north, not long before the legs gave out over a couple of agony-tainted weeks:

mmm

Shenandoah area, Appalachian Trail (film)

Cut to 2006. Back for the second half, pack much smaller, trail smarts much enhanced, so fit I elected, with my buddy Firefly, to do the whole Long Trail as well:

mmm

With Firefly where the L.T. splits from the A .T.

That was a rough, tough but beautiful couple of weeks:

mmm

Long Trail, wrecker of poles

2009. Another debacle, this time back in Japan, attempting to walk the whole thing from the north. Another massive load — this was April, still Winter in Hokkaido — meant a return to two sticks for the anticipated snow. But another weight-induced breakdown saw me limping into the interior for 11 awful (but highly scenic days)…

Limping through Hokkaido, 2009

Limping through Hokkaido, 2009

..before I bailed, recuperated, sent one stick and most of my heavy stuff home, and walked the island of Shikoku happily for a month:

mmm

Historic indigo town, northern Shikoku

In the humid interior, I lucked upon Chiiori, the famous restored farmhouse featured in Alex Kerr‘s Lost Japan. It was at least an hour’s fast walk up the mountainside:

mmm

Just walk up that hill for an hour…twice

I stayed the night there…

mmm

Chiiori

..and after walking all the way down that damned mountain, the sickening lurch.

You guessed it — must be all that hypnotic, solitary perambulating. I was lucky a young English guest drove me down the mountain in the farm truck. Only later did I realise I’d left my favourite beanie there as well.*

It was back to two sticks for the PCT…

Hundred-mile mark, PCT

Hundred-mile mark, PCT

..and then I got my most recently-lost stick for my Great Ocean Walk hike in 2011.

Getting more interested in photography, I found it easier to move with the single Black Diamond:

mmm

One of many splendid beaches, G.O.W.

A cheap Komperdell served me in Switzerland…

mmm

Above Zermatt, Switzerland & the Matterhorn

..but the trusty Black Diamond continued to accompany me abroad in all conditions in Korea:

mmm

Testing tarp limits, Jeju Island

Shock absorption, creek-fording, stability, rattlesnake-prompting, bad mutt-deterring, tarp-supporting, camera monopod: Ray Jardine may slam the walking stick as just another encumbrance in the wilds, but I can’t imagine walking without one. And I keep ’em when they’re retired — I have six or seven back home.

So it was a touching scene indeed, with many tender vows of fidelity and — yes — love, when I rounded that last bend in the road to see this:

mmm

A faithful servant

Never doubted it for a second.

* My friend Chris retrieved it as he passed through later.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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21 Comments

  1. A man who lost his stick only to find it again outside a public toilet ….this is bound to get you some new traffic

  2. Crazy beautiful adventures! Your sticks have minds of their own. My husband and I plan for an Appalachian adventure in our future!

    • Thanks, Phil! That cheers me immensely as I begin another school day.

      I’ve thought about quitting this blog several times, but the truth is when I finish a post I’m happy with, it often feels like I’ve done something truly worthwhile with my working day.

  3. I was so happy to see your walking stick leaning against the bricks.

    In the past year, for the first time, I’ve been walking with a walking-stick umbrella when there is a chance of light rain and no wind. I like the rhythm of using one walking stick. I hope I never lose it. I like it using it so much that I wish for light rain. As you may recall, I have frequently lost gloves when I take them off to take photos. Sometimes they are there when I go back for them. Other times not.

    Great series of photos!

    • Cheers, Am! I like the umbrella/stick idea. I’d like a nice knife in the handle of mine as well!

      I had another awful experience with the Raynaud’s last weekend, walking for a few hours in cold rain. Taking off that right glove to take pictures took a heavy toll and I could barely move my fingers when I turned around and aborted the mission. So frustrating.

  4. Darius Russell says

    I read a couple of comments up that you’ve considered in times past quitting your blog—Quite honestly, you are truly one of the most unique voices (–and on hiking no less) out there that I follow. Such pleasure to read your tales of adventure, and the photos are simply outstanding!! Very encouraging to my world–I thank you, Goat!! Such a pleasure, each post!

  5. Lovely post, thank you. I found a stick at the start of my Pyrenees hike last year and walked with that, carved it a bit with my knife when I was having a rest. The stick is now somewhere in a wood, with its pals, retired.

    • Thanks, Martin. I have a photo somewhere of a trail junction in Shikoku where there was a bunch of bamboo walking sticks leaning against the sign for passing pilgrims to take from or add to.

      I’ve seldom used a wooden stick unless a casual ramble has turned into a mountain walk and I’ve needed to improvise. I remember two characters on the A.T. who wielded massive, heavy, Gandalf-esque staffs. Heavy, beautifully adorned, cumbersome, downright ridiculous. Neither of them made more than a hundred miles or two.

  6. What can I say? You’ve been to places we dream about. We dream it, whilst you’ve already done it.

    Nice stick work. It’s funny, but I started as a dedicated stick-man and now all I seem to carry them for is the tent! Not sure what happened there, but I’m finding them annoying more than anything. Might have to adopt your method of the one and maybe I’ll get my stick moijo back!

    • Mate, I feel positively untraveled when I read about some adventurers online, but I will say when I visit/live in a place, I get to see it in considerable up-close detail!

      I’m sticking (get it?) with the single trekking pole for now. Great for the tarp if I’m in stickless country, but useful for so many other things, and I’m sure my speed and mileages, especially on roads, are much improved with the rhythm of the stick!

  7. rivron says

    I’ve never used a stick consistently, although I have one or two. The odd occasions I’ve tried, I’ve found holding it quickly irritating. Friends who go abroad tell me that going stickless is very much a Brit thing and that other countries are big on trecking poles. Perhaps it does save the knees and I should give it another go…

    • They’re huge in Korea too, Dominic. I mean, just walking down the street you see them all the time. The Koreans go overboard with every item of their hiking kit, though! They definitely take a LOT of stress off your knees though. Yesterday one of my knees started to scream in agony as I was coming down a mountain. Without the stick I would have been in even worse shape.

  8. great post “Goat” 🙂 I’m a trek mountain fan too and have vowed on my two sticks for years – my knees wouldn’t have survived without them! Lately I have been training trekking without them when I do my weekly outing of 25-30kms and have gotten stronger legs and better balance.
    One does get attached to the equipment one uses though. My first 47 lt backpack is still faithfully in use for long hauls 🙂
    This Summer I’ll be trekking for two weeks the Spanish Pyrenees – hard work but worth while the wonderful views and loneliness one finds on mountains. Your trip to the Appalachian Trail is on my wish list – but must confess that the old American bear and weirdos that lurk on the path have stopped me of taking off in a rush. Will follow your blog from now on!

    • Thanks for the comment, and best of luck on your big walk. That part of the world is on my wish list. I had it in mind for next year and then met a woman. Oh well, it’ll keep…

      Weirdos on the AT? Yes, ma’am, on occasion, though most are harmless eccentrics and I never felt in any danger from humans. You’re much safer in the American backwoods than you are in just about any fair-sized city at night…or driving anywhere for that matter.

      Bears? I believe my count was 10. But they’re black ones, usually quite safe if handled properly. Grizzlies freak me out to the point I will probably never hike in Alaska, etc. But that’s just a phobia of mine, like sharks. I try to stay out of the ocean as well!

      • if I ever saw a bear…be it black or grizzly I think I would faint from over pumping my heart!! LOL…as for the weirdos…pepper spray could come on handy :). Here in Europe cross country trekking will be stressful only if you don’t like goats or if the weather turns on you. Take care 🙂

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