My wife believes that I have a problem. Dave Barry used to write a humor column for the Washington Post – a few years ago he had this one liner: “Why did Moses wander in the desert for 40 years”. Answer: “He didn’t like asking for directions”. My wife thinks this applies to me. More to the point, she believes that I am “directionally challenged”. This is a polite way of saying that she doesn’t think I can find my way out of a paper bag. As with many things that she has said (or thought) over the years, there is an element of truth to this. When we are driving around town, she generally adopts one of two basic tactics. The first is to subtly observe, aloud, the need for a particular turn, as we are getting close to an important intersection. The other, perhaps when she is feeling a bit more annoyed with me, is to allow me to wander off route, so to speak, and then to ask, with just a touch of triumph in her voice, “umm, honey, where are you going?”
But, I ultimately have the best rejoinder – I can turn to her and say, “you know, I go off into the wilderness (without you) and so far have always managed to find my way back”. More to the point, she always let me take our first (and second) born with me on some of these hikes and I’ve (to this point at least) always brought our children back to her (alive). I’m also not aware of her ever implanting a tracking device in me.
I’ve observed this conflict within my wife’s psyche with a mixture of wonder, awe and gratitude. When I suggested that I take both daughters to Africa with me to hike up Kilimanjaro, all she said was “sure”. Of course, she knew that was a guided trip. When our younger daughter did a semester abroad in Melbourne, I, of course, had to go visit her. I mentioned to my wife that while visiting, I planned to take Katie and pop over to Tasmania so we could hike the iconic Overland Track in the wilds of western Tasmania, including a hike up Tazzie’s high point – Mt. Osso. She showed no outwards signs of panic. Truth in advertising: while my daughter and I did the Overland track as a 5 day unsupported backpacking trip, calling it “unsupported” is a bit disingenuous. It is true that we had to carry everything on our backs but the Overland Track, in terms of trail camping, maintenance and markings is truly a Cadillac trail compared to the AT. It is also true that the Overland Track is fabulous, and well worth taking the time to travel 10,000 miles from Maryland in order to hike its 40 mile length. Factoid alert for the interested reader: Tasmania has a hammerlock on the global (legal) production of poppy seeds and the resulting products (OxyContin, morphine, codeine, you get the idea). Just thought you’d want to know.
But, I digress. Getting back to the main point – I’ve used my wife’s concern to my advantage. I need only say that if I bought a particular item, it might help keep me on track in the woods. The next minute, I am almost being shoved out the door with the mandate to go shopping. This worked beautifully when I decided to take the plunge and buy a GPS device geared for the outdoors. I was “forced” to go to REI and buy a Garmin 62S. I almost felt guilty, but I love the 62S. I also admit, a bit sheepishly, that I did mention “GPS device” and the “wilds of western Tasmania” in sentences that were very close together prior to being ordered out of the house to buy it.
I can’t explain this disconnect between my urban and backcountry navigation skills. When I am out in the woods, I pay attention to my surroundings and have learned to distinguish a hiking trail from what might be nothing more than a game trail. I’ve also taking courses in use of the GPS as well as basic map and compass courses. As I contemplate the AT, I’m comforted by the fact that it is liberally and well-marked. But I also know from experience that small chunks of the AT are rerouted from year to year and occasionally one might be faced with choices that are not unambiguous. As I end this blog, I admit, that I am wondering how I can work this fact to my advantage in my next casual conversation with my wife, prior to my next shopping trip… The start of my thru hike is only about 358 days away.