I met Smiley at Chet’s Place, in Lincoln, NH July of 2012. He was from Ireland and was hiking with his friend Party Animal and a lady named Day Hiker and they were pretty inseparable.
When Smiley opened his mouth, you got this blinding white flash from his teeth, and his face was always agrin. He had been in the US working as a carpenter, doing hand-worked furniture when (as the story goes) he was told by INS he could go play tourist for a few months, called his buddy from home and said “Hey, how do you feel about hiking this?”. So they did.
Today’s moment comes from Dana Hill, mile 464.3 (southbound), where we stopped early in the third week of August of 2012 to watch the stars.
The actual reason we stopped wasn’t to watch stars – it was to be the first people at the pie shop just down the road. On The Edge Farm sits about 200 feet from the trail and has fresh pies every morning when they open, but they go so quickly that we were told by nobos to get there as early as possible. So we decided to camp just a few miles short of the farm, get up and be there first thing in the morning. Little did we know that because of this plan, we’d get the best stargazing we’d ever seen.
We hiked up extra water to this hill and decided to have a campfire (there was already a ring, someone else had the same idea) and stay up a little later – since we only had to go a mile and a half the next morning. The sun started setting, but it wasn’t a sunset that was particularly amazing – amusing to say now that I’m back in suburbia, where I ache for EVERY sunset.
Then the stars appeared.
We were sitting with an unopposed horizon, and you could see the inky blackness creep across the sky. No clouds, no light pollution, no distant glow from a city or any other lights. Just a tiny sliver of moon that came up later.
All we had above were shattered diamonds flung into the heavens to reassure us that we weren’t alone.
There are moments you remember forever. This is one of those for me. Looking up and seeing the arms of the Milky Way, reaching out to envelope my body as I stood against the sky – feeling as if I was the most insignificant thing in the world, but also as if I could touch the lights that were shining onto me.
The air went from the oppressive humid heat to the chill crispness of the north, reminding us that very soon there would be cold, bringing us the smells of the far north, the mountains we had just left. You could taste the pines on the wind, feel the shivers of the trees as the wind coursed through them, bending them to it’s will.
We stood upon a hill in the night, in the blackness and stared at the sky. Smiley spoke in the darkness, something I will never forget.
“You can see to eternity here, it looks like a thing of beauty.”
There are moments you associate people with, memories you’ll never forget. For Smiley, anytime I see his picture or talk to him from a thousand miles away, I’ll have that moment of his voice in the dark – reminding me that there are beautiful things far greater than myself. All I have to do is look up.
I went from sleeping in a hammock or a shelter every night (the hammock was always preferable – so comfortable) to being in a bed.
I wasn’t happy with that.
The novelty of the bed lasted for a week or two. It really did. Hell the novelty of Everything lasted for a week or two. And then it didn’t.
So where does that leave you, if you’re not even comfortable in your own bed anymore? Obviously I can’t hang my hammock up in a basement (yet) but I can sleep on the floor and get some of that shelter feeling back.
So I did. I got better sleep on the floor then I did in the bed. My back felt better, I was more rested and I fell asleep faster. I’ve become accustomed to the “hardship” the average person avoids.
It’s odd how little space you need after hiking. You’ve lived your life out of a 60L pack, keeping it to a weight you are comfortable with because you’re carrying it on your back. You come home and you’ve got all this SPACE! Even something as “small” as a 9×9 room is gigantic to you.
How much space do we actually need as people? I’m currently living with my mother and step dad, in a suburban monstrosity. A 4 bedroom + separate downstairs apartment monstrosity. I had hosted a bunch of hikers here during late June, while my folks were out of town, so that the hikers could see DC, and never ran out of space. A dozen hikers.
Hell just the basement could fit a dozen people with room to spare. I’m living the life right now. And I am in no way happy with that.
I truly think we do better with less. What we lack in choice with less is made up for in ingenuity and happiness. Society it seems places a great value on “stuff” – all the things that show we are successful. For me, the most successful I’ve ever been was when I had everything I needed to survive on my back and under 40lbs. Being able at the end of the day to let it all explode into my tiny little space was the most rewarding thing.
Admire the ladies beachwear sandals there for a minute too. Because you love how awesome they look, and how comfortable they are.
As E.T. would say – do less with more.