Monday, December 5, 2016

Eric and the West Highland Way: The Bog Part I

Original date 5/24/12


                                                       Killarney to Black Valley

I often find myself torn between the part of me that enjoys being alone; torn between that need for complete and utter solitude, where I can be nothing more than exactly who I am and not what people expect me to be, and the other part of me, the gregarious part, the part that loves to be the center of attention and the part of me who loves people. Torn between that kind of solitude and that deep seated need in me that wants to know what makes them, or you, tick. I think I would honestly have to say that this trip has afforded me the opportunity to explore both of those very distinct, but different needs.
While hiking the trail thus far, I have had equal time to be alone and ample opportunity to connect with other people from all across the world. As I started out from Killarney I had no idea what to expect and I certainly got more than I bargained for. There were at first many people along the trail to Torc Waterfalls, like Derek and Ellen who were from South Africa and were so taken by what I was doing that Ellen wanted her picture taken with me and Derek wanted to return next year so they could hike the trail themselves. Side note: Somewhere in South Africa right now Derek and Ellen are showing that picture to their friends and I am forever immortalized in their photo album. Need to connect with others and be the center of attention satisfied.
 I eventually left Derek and Ellen behind me as I gained some height over the mountain pass and distanced myself from the aforementioned crowds. The climb was rough; grueling would be a good word for it. I at times found myself climbing on hands and knees thirty pounds strapped to my back over shale and gravel slopes. I hopped precariously from one rock to another up the rough hewed mountainside only to find myself sliding down the other side on slippery, loam covered slopes, usually on my backside, trying not to fall and break something. At times I prayed to God to give me the strength to endure the next obstacle or cursed the mist filled sky wondering WTF I was doing out there all alone. And then I would find myself over that hurdle, standing on a mountainside, in complete awe of the sheer beauty that surrounded me.  And in an instant it all became worth the effort, the sweat, the tears. That day, my first on the “Way” was also the day that I met my friend Eric.
I was taking a much needed rest sitting on a large flat rock, watching some deer on the distant hillside when around the corner came Eric. He was as startled to see me as I him, but we made an instantaneous connection. I smiled and put my finger to my lips and quietly motioned for him to look across to the far hills. As his eyes caught the movement of the deer he eased himself down on the rock beside me and in silence we watched the beauty of Mother Nature in motion. Eric took his eyes from the horizon, smiled up at me and in broken English asked me my name, and I his. We showed each other the maps we had and exchanged stories about the trail. Eric was on his 8th and final day, I on my first and most challenging. We decided to have lunch together and spread the contents of our packs on the rock between us. He pulled out some apples and chocolate and I some thick chunks of wheat bread, Irish cheese, and dried meat. We sat awhile sharing with the one another the food we had laid out, each other’s company, and the spectacular view. Sitting there silently with him I thought to myself; now this is part of what being alive is all about. About the connection we can make over something as simple as apples and cheese. About how similar we all are in our differences, and about the pureness one can find in the beauty of simple moments.
When Eric and I parted ways it was with warm smiles, handshakes, and memories of a bond and a friendship which happened by chance in a land filled with immense beauty and challenges. I moved back along the “Way” and glanced back over my shoulder to see Eric doing the same. We waved a last goodbye and turned to finish that day’s journey each in our own quiet solitude. At the end of that first day I hiked, climbed, walked, scurried, slid, and cussed my way for 15 incredible miles over mountains, through valleys, across rivers and prairies. I met amazing people and saw things I had only dreamed of seeing. By the time I found the hostel in Black Valley I was completely spent. My entire body was literally quivering with exhaustion. It took me 2 hours longer than expected and the feeling of triumph was a good night’s rest away.

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