Monday, March 31, 2014

126. Learning that the Hardest Way Can Be the Easiest Way

I can see the back parking lot of the Burger King, clearly visible, about 150 feet away. I am standing at the edge of a grocery store parking lot somewhere in New Jersey, my pack  slung heavily over one shoulder, several plastic bags of recently purchased groceries hanging from my hands. I have 2 choices for my adventure:

1. Directly in front of me is a tangled mass of brambles. Behind the brambles is a steep 6 foot slope to a river, 10 feet in diameter. There are a few large rocks in the river, and on the other side of the burbling water, the slope is also very steep. There is no clear path, because this is not a place that people are meant to walk.

2. To my left, the parking lot stretches for about 300 feet before it comes to a short paved car bridge over the river. All of my hiking partners have already started walking across the parking lot, headed for the logical river crossing.

But my brain, so used to following one cardinal direction, cannot possibly go so far out of my way when my goal is directly in front of me. The Burger King gleams in the hot summer sun, light glinting off the several overflowing dumpsters in its neglected back lot. The only thing between me and a $1 ice cream cone is my own sense of dignity and some wet trash. Distantly, I hear someone call my name, confused as to why I was not following the group. 

It's far too late for that. I have tied the plastic bags of free-swinging groceries to the straps of my backpack, and I am already pushing aside brambles. I step over the low concrete threshold and immediately slide forward down the steep rocky slope. Why in the world would I walk all the way over there, when I could cross this potentially dangerous suburban cesspool and get to Burger King in half the time?!

I have entered into the strange, otherwordly dimension of "nature in the middle of suburbia." This creek has probably been here for centuries, and the rocks under the water have shifted only slightly as the world around it was paved. Small birds and discarded fast food cups live in begrudging harmony. Here, a little brown lizard scurries away from my clumsy monster foot steps, and hides inside a styrofoam container with the moldering remains of what could only be chinese food. There, a sparrow pulls threads out of the lining of a discarded shoe. 

This is the unsettling, strange marriage of my two worlds. On one hand, I have been living in the woods, traveling through pristine landscape, kept trash-free and beautiful by all the hikers that have come before me. People who will carry a small wrapper for 100 miles rather than drop it on the ground. And on the other hand, there are the towns I hitch-hike into for supply runs, places where there trash cans abound yet no one can seem to actually throw anything away properly. And here, in this little creek, is a little bit of both. Earth going on, striving to be Earthly, and humans going on, trying to crap all over it. And little ol' me, being ostensibly lazy while also taking the hardest route possible. This is the human condition.

Meanwhile, I am indelicately making my way to the creek's edge, and then hopping across several large rocks. Though the water laps around the rocks, the exposed surfaces are bone dry because of the stifling summer heat. The plastic bags of groceries swing wildly around, throwing my balance off and making me look like the drunkest tight rope walker in the world. I hop-scotch my way across the creek, and then scramble up the far side, grabbing onto the posts of the hot guard rail to hoist myself up. I throw a leg over the railing and then drop down into the back parking lot of the Burger King. I drop my backpack outside the door, and wait for everyone else to show up. 

They do, a few minutes later, confused as to how I got there before them.

I guess I could have also put this entry into the "Loss of Standards" category, because I am completely certain that if any non-hiker saw my Oregon-Trail-Eqsue ill-advised river forge, they would assume that I was insane. Or, at the very least, a bit of a moron. 

Anyway, my $1 ice cream was delicious. And for posterity, here is a photo of Whistle from that very same day, trying and failing to properly eat a hamburger:

Clever Girl

It's possible that Whistle also crossed the river with me (??) I honestly can't remember. IT WAS TOO HOT.

1 comment:

  1. Brings to mind a visual of the "Burger King" in his castle surrounded by a moat. Most people went to the drawbridge and requested to went thru the moat and directly at the castle walls. It's always better to sneak up on the Burger King... Love, Mom and Dad