Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

An Australian Interlude (non-trekking)

April 1st, 2023

An Australian Interlude

This spring brought no trekking (a disappointment), just some time teaching Moby-Dick in Australia. Here are some disjointed observations about that time.

My Trip to the Zoo

My pilgrimage to the Australian Zoo, shrine of Saint Steve Irwin, actually began the night before. In the Brisbane hotel riding the elevator up with a colleague discussing my upcoming trip, I noted that I wasn’t all that interested in crocodiles. A voice from the corner said “you will be.” The man— short, dark, wirey and profusely tattooed—smiled showing a set of broken teeth. He said he lived amongst them, and I would learn that same love. We both laughed as I exited at my floor. I took it as yet another life-lesson: love your crocodile neighbor as you would love yourself.

I was up early, as usual, spending my normal hour and half in the gym, then was off to Fortitude Valley Station to catch the train—recognizing I’d need fortitude to get through the day. The train system out of Brisbane is wonderful as long as you know exactly where you are going (not Australian Zoo but instead Beerwah station). On alighting the platform at Beerwah, I met the stationmaster who, though a bit of a mumbler, arranged to have the zoo shuttle come pick me up and handed over a complete train schedule to plan my return trip. Jackson, the shuttle driver—a good kid originally from Melbourne—moved to the Sunshine Coast because of Covid and never left. He was familiar with the US (and had even visited Savannah as he had worked at Disney during college). Like the stationmaster, he went out of his way to make sure I had my day’s transportation lined up.

The zoo is much like many zoos I have visited regarding habitat and animals, but the Irwin family casts a long shadow. Along with Steve, who is celebrated at every turn, the children— Robert, Bindi—and Terri, his wife, have clothing lines and a range of merchandise, as well as parts of the park in their names. The zoo itself is well-designed and well-run. Standing in line waiting for the gates to open, I wondered if I should have rented a baby and a stroller—it seems a requirement for admission. After a quick duck through the gift shop for the souvenirs I was under threat of sanctions to produce, I wandered past tortoises that would have been right at home on one of the Encantadas Melville described in such detail. Then in quick succession I saw American alligators, a Tasmanian Devil (it looked nothing like the Warner Brothers cartoon), and couple of Cassowarries (along with myriad smaller creatures). Soon the path opened to the center: the crocodile showcase—ponds, a stadium, even a fashion emporium. I stopped for coffee in a second-floor shop that overlooked the main crocodile pools. From where I sat, I could monitor the activities of Bosco, Agro, and Acco, each of whom showed an early morning sluggishness usually reserved for humans on the weekends. I’m pretty sure that after some judicious chewing, I would fit easily in their bellies.

A turn took me past the habitat of a few more crocs, several advertised as couples, and then led to the obligatory reptile house full of big snakes under glass. Then it was out to some wild bird habitats, a pet-the-kangaroo space, and of course a bunch of cute koalas in trees with stands for people to take selfies with them—the zoo does try to accommodate modern media desire. After passing some long-legged fishing birds and a couple big-ass Emus, I encountered the tiger, who really was arresting—such magnificence. The zoo prides itself on the elephants but are in process of rebuilding the habitat, so missing the pachyderms, I pressed on to “Africa” — giraffes, zebra, and three Rhinos (who, like the tiger, were equally arresting).

Finding myself at the end— the tip of “Africa”— I discovered I had to backtrack some distance to get back to the gate, but happily, as fate would have it, after re-passing the rhino/giraffe compound, I saw a shuttle bus stop, and who was just then pulling in but Jackson! I caught a ride back to the main gate; then he circled around for his trip to pickup folks from the train station, letting me hop on for my return.

I had an hour before the next train and so explored Beerwah, a small but lovely town, originally a center of lumber and pineapple production. The train line from the city was built out here in the 1890s, so the the area is not isolated, though it’s not close enough for commuters. Like so many rural towns in Australia (and New Zealand), Beerwah is primarily a long line of shops fronting the main road (just across from the railroad tracks). It’s a prosperous place, full of elderly (probably retired) folks with quick smiles and warm greetings (guess I fit right in!). Stopped at Vianta for coffee. It seems the notion of iced coffee has yet to arrive here, so in my overheated condition, I “enjoyed” a hot flat white (they advertised air conditioning on the door, but the thermostat must have been faulty). The manager asked if I was Canadian. When I replied American, he noted that is was safer to guess Canadian first—these commonwealth folks try to stick together.

The train back was uneventful and, after my obligatory swim, I’m now going to bed early— exhausted but pleased.

Heron Island

Heron is a spot of sand out on the Great Barrier Reef reached by ferry. The trip out takes you past Erskine and Masthead islands, both sources of peace in the lee when the crossing is on a choppy day. That phenomenon sets you to thinking about cycles of peace and disruption that being on Heron entails. Home to a resort, a marine research station, and innumerable birds, visitors of the island are never out of the sound of squawks or the smell of birdshit. The resort, trying to cater to an upscale clientele, contends with rails, walls, and footpaths glistening white with guano. The research station is much the same, but given the spartan accommodations, expectations of well-scrubbed conditions are lower. Indeed, the birds are among its reason for being, so there is something of a celebration of shit and squawk there.

The ferry approaches the pier, passing within yards of a rusting wreck which now serves as channel marker, reef-life support, and a memento mori guarding the entrance to the island and announcing that you have just passed out of human linear time and stepped into a celebration of cycles—life, death, decay. The most insistent celebrants are the Black Noddies who are currently nesting and brooding. They dominate certain trees, leering at passersby daring any slackening of pace, threatening some general but unclear retribution for any interruption of their reproductive cycle.

The arrogance of the Noddies is balanced by the timidity of the sea turtles— emblem of Heron Island and heartwarming underdogs to every extinction minded eco-warrior. From the half-track flipper print trails of the mothers crawling from the water to the vegetation’s edge, laying the eggs she hopes won’t be disturbed by rapacious mammals or curious humans, to the baby turtles who, feeling a slight temperature shift signaling dawn or dusk, scramble across on impossibly wide beach, dodging those same curious humans, but more important, the mob of seagulls descending for dinner— those yearly cycles cycle.

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The island’s more or less circular nature invites human cycling as well, wandering tempered by tide and temperature. Starting from the pier, would-be circumambulators must first negotiate the resort paths, popping out on the beach just past the swimming pool, then to wander down usually broad sand to the eastern tip, circling to the south where the rocks proliferate, the sand heaps, and the water presses, slowing progress to a trudge. Soon the wreck comes into view, the way stabilizes and the circle completes.

As island life is lived by sun, moon, and tides, the daily cycle demands presence at first and last light. From the research station, a short path crosses the island to the north side where morning devotees join the beach’s parade to the east, pacing usually in pairs and gathering at the point, near each other but respecting the reverence of the moment. The ambient light fills the sky while each awaits the sun, or as Hölderlin put it:

Now come, fire!

Eager are we

To see the day.

Cameras click, coffee is sipped, and silently people arise to wander into the new day, one that after any and many obeisances to the sun, turns late. Now, on the western point in the lengthening shadow of the wreck, comes the end of that diurnal cycle


A day without adventure

Townsville— people always grin, sneer, or frown when you tell them it’s your destination.  A harbor linked to some mines (they seem to be hauling all of Australia to China by the shipload). Arrived at the Quest on Eyre long-stay hotel late (missed the sunset, broke my streak), slept late, discovered a less-than-optimal exercise room (good weight machine, inoperable cardio devices). Even though I’d had a massive Greek salad last night at airport (actually not Greek salad, just a couple of pounds of cucumber with the occasional black olive), I was ravenous. First stop, the local chemist to replenish sunscreen, took me into the back of the Cole’s grocery where— true confession #1—at 9:00 am I bought roasted half-chicken which I then destroyed while sitting on a park bench at the water’s edge, an act witnessed by morning runners, strolling retirees, and wandering homeless folks. 

The rest of morning/early afternoon included lots of instant coffee, a lecture on the Great Barrier Reef Conservancy, a brief FaceTime conversation with the woman I love, teaching class, conducting office hours, posting a new test, and then: good boy, outside! I broke out of the Georgia Tech kennel and wandered, sniffing out those places I’d marked in 2020, the last time my wandering brought me here. Also, I wanted to get to the bottom of all the sneers directed toward this town. The reef is a ways offshore but the tourist/environmentalist industries are clearly big as is the mining. The town lines the edge of the bay and its estuary, pushing up against some steep red-rock mountains. My memory was a long boulevard running along the shore lined with restaurants and hotels, fancy and shabby, with a wide greenway park on water’s side. To get to the main part of the town I would walk up over a ridge (along a highway) dropping down to a few square blocks of typical stores— Woolworths, op-shops, law offices and a brewery in the old post office. 

As close as I got to adventure today was starting out at the shoreline boulevard walking in the direction of the river and discovering that by following a bend, the old town is accessible (no ridge climb, no highway walk). That route passes through a very interesting old government area, including a war memorial park, the Tobruck Memorial Baths (which memorializes a WWII battle),

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 a classic brick customs house (comparable to the ones at Wellington or Hobart)

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and some great late 19th century hotels.

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The road was also lined with restaurants and nightclubs, many advertising Friday and Saturday night late, loud music. Clearly it’s Townsville’s social center. 

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Returning to the shoreline road, I passed a fish and chips stand that offers most of their seafood (different kinds of fish and calamari) grilled and substitutes salad for chips. In other words, it’s not a fish and chips joint, but one I will return to next week. At the water’s edge, signs warn away all swimmers— saltwater crocodiles (shades of Val Plumwood)—but the sidewalks swell with citizens. The town promenades late afternoon, something that brings a smile. Following along, I watched as people hopped out of the parade, turning into the bars and bistros, settling into seats by sidewalk tables ordering up big mugs of beer— prompting yet another smile. 

A long loop to the end of the strip brought me back to the road that leads past the grocery store to the hotel. On the corner is the 1929 Hotel Sea-View—site of my other sin.

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In my week on Heron I ate a lot of salad, but most of the main courses were dominated by rice or pasta which I was not eating at the time. Today I realized (and this is just a rationalization) that I was really hungry for protein. A seemingly unrelated but crucial component to my sinful life is that, on landing in Brisbane the day I first arrived, I got 100$ Australian out of the ATM. Those two 50s have been in my wallet ever since, long enough to not actually count as real money any more. So at the Sea-View, I dropped part of one of them on this:

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And it sure was good.

A minor outing

Every morning for my walk I find the strand lined with runners, new-mothers pushing strollers, and sun-withered impossibly thin old Aussie women (I mean old) striding rapidly past all us youngsters. Reluctant to abandon my new-found carb-less hardness, I nevertheless relented after afternoon class and sought out beer— real ale, the anti-keto elixir. Townsville is peculiar in that a number of establishments follow old colonial hours, opening briefly during lunch, closing, then reopening in the “after work” hours. The brewery was closed today, so I found myself wandering out of class, visiting an art gallery, then hitting the Hotel Sea-View, a strand bar frequented by both tourists and a sweaty working class (the latter apparently get off work around 3:00). As the downtown pubs would not be open until 5, I settled into a place in the beer garden where I could check the scores of the rugby league games, read a book, watch an old couple play pool, and monitor a crew whose captain wore a Stranger Things T-shirt and bought a new pitcher about every 5 minutes. 

I’d been hesitant to hit the Australian pubs as in my memory the beer as I remembered it was the equivalent of Natty Light, but I . I was surprised by the Sea-View taps, so much so that, at 4:30 I had to force myself to walk away (only had some eggs for lunch so the beer hit hard). Following the loop toward downtown, I still hit pub row too early for admission. Wandering on, I found a central business district emptying out fast except for an alley with a nice but expensive pub lightly populated by folks who seemed desperate to seal that last deal before sundown. An amazing beer but a bit too corporate for comfort. The way back home— high-traffic streets, sidewalk beside a four-lane— was necessary but disheartening, so, even though only a block from corporate beer heaven, I stopped at the Hotel Herbert. Not promising, the large beer garden was empty, but the bar!  An extended U projecting into a room full of people with that refrigerator repairman pants sag sitting on the arc drinking Great Northern (think Budweiser). The bathroom had the classic urine trough full of lemonade hockey pucks and the bartender was a real tough old broad who knew everybody. She made me feel right at home and made the whole cycle worthwhile.

On Adventure

July 19th, 2022

On Adventure

On a rest day in Ullapool, when hiking the Scottish National Trail, I found myself talking with a man clearly familiar with outdoor life in the Highlands. He had been in the same hostel bunk room as me the night before but had gotten up very early, I presumed because he was off on some adventure. Turned out the combination of being a light sleeper, some heavy snoring, and a mass of midges making their way through an open window had driven him from bed. He was up making coffee in the hostel kitchen, preparing to continue a mountain bike tour of the area.

In conversation it emerged that both he and his wife had long worked as guides in various adventure sports—hiking, canoeing, mountain biking—but now, having settled to raise a family, he had taken a job with a company that does corporate leadership training. While they use many traditional techniques— psychological testing, a range of exercises that can be conducted in a conference space—they try to frame their practice around the concept of adventure, taking their clients into the wild. As I described to him the many exploits I’ve had trekking on most of the continents, we fell into a discussion of adventure, particularly as it relates to risk and planning. That conversation has stayed in the back of my mind since. If I think over my last decade trekking, the moments I felt most adventurous (some detailed below) were those where risk—real risk to body—played a significant role. But clearly the dyad—risk/control—works on multiple levels. It is dialectical, but also situational and perspectival. One person’s risk is another’s control.

A folk etymology of adventure could be something as simple as “to go out, then arrive,” but according to a number dictionaries, it has almost always been associated with chance or risk:  “1200, aventure, auenture “that which happens by chance, fortune, luck,” from Old French aventure (11c.) “chance, accident, occurrence, event, happening”.” Buried in that list is “event,” the one word that anchors the others in a specific moment and place. Adventures, for all their chancey, accidental, ephemeral qualities, do take place as event— in a place/time—which materializes the experience. So provisionally, one characteristic of adventures is material, they take place, seizing it.

The etymology of adventure includes chance and uncertainty, but also danger: “Meaning developed through “risk; danger” (a trial of one’s chances), c. 1300, and “perilous undertaking” (late 14c.) to “novel or exciting incident, remarkable occurrence in one’s life” (1560s).” What is interesting in these formulae is that a specific body is being put in danger—“one’s chances” and “one’s life.” “One” is a nebulous pronoun, but it designates yet again a material substance— an actual body now not just at risk but also in danger. In a sense adventure is a way to assert and articulate the presence of a body by endangering it. The body—the one—is known to be itself, a body, wholly body, by being in danger. In other words, an adventure is a way to guarantee Being and perhaps to incarnate it.

It’s a strange world we currently occupy that so fervently celebrates adventure, even though, for them to be meaningful, many must at minimum produce mishap and some, disaster. But to try to think adventure, to make it a question of philosophy and not psychology, demands patient uncovering, feeling through the constant wavering between control and risk and a host of other oppositions.

The purest notion of risk I can imagine demands a body—one capable of fear and of being hurt— but we also often speak of “intellectual risk,” where the adventure does not necessarily bring physical pain. Alfred North Whitehead wrote a book with a title that seems to celebrate non-embodied risk—The Adventure of Ideas. In the preface, he opens with a dual notion of adventure: “One meaning the effect of certain ideas in promoting the slow drift of mankind toward civilization.” This makes problematic my earlier sense that an adventure requires a body as, in this sense it’s not clear it even needs a mind. These ideas seem to float above any individualization, manifesting in a cloud of history. The adventures that are ideas are not so much danger as they are chance, marking moments when the virtual possibilities of a human history—the formation of a form of civilization—are framed and at least partly directed by ideas. Civilization in this formulation participates in the adventure, perhaps is the adventure, left open to the chance that some ideas will be taken up and others ignored by history’s actors.

He goes on “The other meaning is the author’s adventure in framing a speculative scheme of ideas which shall be explanatory of the historical adventure.” This version brings us back to the adventurous individual, in this case Whitehead’s own adventures with his own ideas in relation to a received philosophical tradition. His second meaning indicates the usage where people are taking what might be considered intellectual risks— a frame that seems to perpetuate the bifurcation of mind and body and confound any sense of what adventure might be. But perhaps Whitehead who probably inadvertently re-introduced such a bifurcation might also point to a way to think adventure philosophically, on its own terms rather than through an impoverished received tradition.

Whitehead is a thinker dedicated to refusing simplistic binarisms and his work can be seen as a toolbox for such efforts. An exceptionally handy tool is his notion of “prehension.” One formulation is in Science and the Modern World where he notes: “The word ‘perceive’ is, in our common usage, shot through and through with the notion of cognitive apprehension. So is the word ‘apprehension’ even with the adjective cognitive omitted. I will use the word ‘prehension’ for uncognitive apprehension: by this I mean apprehension which may or may not be cognitive.” Prehension then is a form of experience that does not begin with or require cognitive processing—via a mind—in order to be an experience. It is fully embodied and perhaps is a basis for thinking adventure as a process that requires a body in a risky dangerous world. Experiencing adventure does not depend on a disembodied mind or historically cloudy ideas, but instead is always a series of decisions (apprehensive and prehensive) unfolding through encounters with a dimly understood but non-bifurcated nature. Whitehead offers various formulae for the “bifurcation of nature.” In The Concept of Nature, “Another way of phrasing this theory which I am arguing against is to bifurcate nature into two divisions, namely into the nature apprehended in awareness and the nature which is the cause of awareness.” Though more nuanced than this, one can read this as a rejection of the Cartesian mind/body distinction.

In Process and Reality, he evokes the prehensive experience of just such a non-bifurcated nature: “in the vagueness of the low hum of insects in an August woodland, the inflow into ourselves of feelings from enveloping nature overwhelms us; in the dim consciousness of half-sleep, the presentations of sense fade away, and we are left with the vague feeling of influences from vague things around us.”  Given the precision of most of Whitehead’s concepts, I find it refreshing to read this celebration of vagueness, particularly as that vagueness is of risk, of danger, a celebration of that which is beyond control: a celebration of adventure as pure experience.

So how does adventure figure in an unfolding of being— what contours can it take, and how or why do we seek it out? I want to argue that while adventure can invoke a sense of community—Whitehead’s book, The Adventure of Ideas was pitched to a community of scholars who lined up to either support or critique it, but regardless, jostled intellectually in relation to each other—but instead adventure as event. It takes place in a specific place and time and is a form of individualization while, at the same time, multiplication. The pleasures and anxieties of Whitehead’s vague hum of the August woodland are felt by an individual body with affective responses to those specific circumstances. Adventure is both a seeking and seizure of being in the field of danger.

A way to flesh out such an assertion is to draw from walking experiences.  As my conversation with the leadership adventure person took place in the Scottish Highlands, one place to turn is Nan Shepherd’s classic book on the Cairngorms, The Living Mountain. Most of that text is devoted to her personal relationship to the massif and her intense scrutiny of its many forms in relation to her own senses. But she does bring in anecdotes about other people’s experiences on the mountain, including some who died when the weather changed abruptly. She has a curious response to those events and their relationship to control and risk: “They committed, I suppose, an error of judgment, but I cannot judge them. For it is the risk we must all take when we accept individual responsibility for ourselves on the mountain, and until we have done that, we do not begin to know it.” This comment is in the context of two adventurers who put themselves as risk and died, but they also put a number of mountain rescuers lives at risk. Shepherd says she cannot judge, but the judgement is implied— the adventurers did not take proper precautions and their adventure spun out of control, putting others (Shepherd’s friends and acquaintances) at risk as well.

Shepherd seems to be placing self-knowledge above personal responsibility, though for her that knowledge is not psychological (know thyself) but rather is knowing the mountain and the complicated world it contains. Her goal is to try to know the mountain (something she regularly acknowledges as impossible) through some form of pure experience—embodied prehension if you will. Perhaps a key to her risky onto-epistemology is that knowing is emergent— not a body placed in a space, but a body always already in situ. Adventure is co-produced by intense interaction.

Risk and Control: Three Adventures

In 2015 I attempted the Tongariro Crossing from the north:

https://walkinghome.lmc.gatech.edu/te-araroa-walking-south-with-the-spring/day-43/

“All advice is not to attempt [the crossing] in bad weather, and my morning started out cold (down at low elevation) and wet, though there were glimpses of sun, and the cloud cover did not look significantly different from a typical New Zealand morning, so off I set. My plan was to get up to the Ketatahi Hut which was about 18 km from the campground and a little over six from the car park. I figured to get there mid morning and would then have a sense of how the weather would play out. If it stayed bad, I’d sleep in hut and wait for morning. The hike went well, long road walk followed by well-designed and maintained paths. As I emerged from the bush and started hiking the alpine tundra the temperature started to drop as I expected, and the wind picked up. I could smell the sulfur from the hot springs nearby. Still, I was well dressed in wind/rain gear, ready for what I thought would come. The trail has been rerouted a bit since I last hiked this track (I’ve already done this stretch twice before, but in summer weather), so I was not sure how close the hut was. The rain intensified and the wind soon got to gale force. It at times actually pushed me off the trail. The last kilometer or two were otherworldly– horizontal rain, freight train wind, and no clear end in sight. Then it appeared (not a moment too soon). The first thing I saw when I got to the door was the hut’s redesignation as a temporary shelter, not an overnight site any longer (because of a recent eruption– after all, this is a volcano hike). I went inside, stripped off wet clothes, and with shivering hands made an early lunch. As I did not get appreciably warmer–the wind by now was bashing the sides of the cabin– I spread out my sleeping bag on the table and crawled in which soon got my body temperature to a better range. Soon the door opened and a French couple came in, also shivering in the cold. They just wanted to see the first blue lake which is a couple kilometers further. Eventually the man did go up, but his smarter partner stayed behind in shelter. Then some Department of Conservation people showed up to work on the hut, surprised to find anyone there in this weather and relieved that we had decided to return down the way we had come. I packed up, headed back into the maelstrom, and could feel the temperature creep up as the altitude decreased. In little over an hour, I was off the mountain and in the carpark.”

Many weeks later on that same trek:

https://walkinghome.lmc.gatech.edu/te-araroa-walking-south-with-the-spring/day-78/


“The trail took me past Lake Constance which rivals Blue in color and beauty though getting around it required some hard climbing and narrow ledge hiking. The last bit was on a gravel beach at the water’s edge which was magical. The waters coming into it came across a wide flat plain that the trail followed. It gradually narrowed to a canyon surrounded by high snow-capped mountains with not anything that looked like a pass in evidence. The trail markers then made a sharp turn and went straight up the side of one of the mountains which might have had a little bit of a dip in altitude compared to the others, but hardly something to name “pass.” The initial climb was on loose gravel so each step slid back almost as much as it went forward. After an hour or so, I got the the first leveling off, though there was much more altitude to gain. In mid-winter this is a high avalanche risk area, and I’m not sure what conditions reduce that risk in the spring, but soon I was crossing snowfields on the way up, and once on the top, it was all snow for about a third of the very long descent. Fortunately some people had been through in the last day or so, and I was able to follow their footsteps down. I’m not sure how deep the snow was, but I would sink to about mid calf on each step. With cold feet I finally got below snow line, followed the western branch of the Waiau River to where it met the eastern half, and (after 11 hours of hard hiking) I pitched my tent in a beech forest beside the river, built a small fire to dry out my shoes, and gratefully crawled into my tent and sleeping bag, ready for a hard night’s sleep.”

And recently (after my Ullapool hostel conversation) this happened on the Scottish National Trail in the days after the remnants of a hurricane hit the Highlands:

https://walkinghome.lmc.gatech.edu/walking-to-cape-wrath-the-scottish-national-trail/walking-to-cape-wrath-day-32-june-12-2022/

“This leg was supposed to end in Inchnadamph, with tomorrow’s  heading back up the same path for a bit. As there were no accommodations or facilities there, I opted to hike a bit into tomorrow’s leg— a mistake. I still felt strong and was comfortable with a couple more miles, but the alarms should have gone off when the path climbed quickly toward a bealach. Unlike most other places I’ve trekked, in Scotland once you are at any elevation there is almost no cover— no trees or steep stones to tent behind. The landscape is scoured by the winds with plenty of growth ankle high, but nothing that will break the weather. Foolishly I decided to press on, hoping that in the evening the weather might calm down, or that a sheltered wild camping spot would miraculously appear, or the “small shelter” mentioned in the guide would be open and sufficient. All those hopes were dashed. The shelter was indeed open, but was a mere sod-covered roof over a 5’ narrow bench with some rocks chinked in the sides to form a sort-of wall. Disappointed in myself (and feeling the intense cold), it was there I decided I had to camp. Trekking is supposed to be an adventure, which in some of its etymological history includes embracing chance and taking risk. My adventure today was tempting chance and was an unnecessary risk. Still we must make the best of bad decisions, so after shucking off dripping clothes and finding dry ones in my pack, I made a bed more or less on the narrow bench (I fell off once, hitting a rock and spraining my wrist). Crawling into my sleeping bag, wearing most of my warm clothes, I felt the warmth slowly return. The day’s exertions erased any appetite, so I choked down a few dry crackers, curled up in a knot (unable to stretch all the way out) and tried to sleep, all the while feeling my gear getting wetter and worrying that I might roll off onto a rock again. Still, I could not help but smile at all the day had thrown at me.”

In each, the dialectic of risk/control, responsiblity/recklessness pervades, as does the embodied nature of adventure—its eventfulness. How to reconcile such actions with a sense of responsibility in the manner Shepherd suggests? In each I was irresponsible as I could have needed some rescue, particularly because of possible hypothermia. In the past 4 years, I’ve begun carrying a Garmin InReach device which uses satellites to signal for rescue, but on Waiau Pass I was quite possibly not followed by anyone for several days and had no way of signaling distress. On the SNT, hypothermia would have done its work long before a rescue crew would have arrived. In other words, I trusted my own skills and ability, without counting on assistance from others, but I also trusted the mountain, entering into a relationship with it in all its particularities.

So how does adventure figure in this essay? Clearly it remains a going out and arriving, one accompanied by chance, risk and occasional danger. Following Shepherd’s lead, I must ask what knowledge is formed, and what form does it take? In a leadership training framework, one must assume that the knowledge and understanding— the skills—are somehow transferable, that learning on a mountain will help one act well in an organization. But Shepherd’s onto-epistemology is always situational. To know the mountain is to be part of it—in it—and the knowing only exists while being part of the event of adventure. Responsibility is perhaps part of what Whitehead would call the cognitive apprehension of nature, but adventure more than likely takes place on the ground, in the immersive risky place of prehending (in a vague woodland) and living out something like a pure experience, outside clear or obvious forms of control or planning.

T. Hugh Crawford

The Ridgeway, July 17 Day 5, 16 miles

July 18th, 2022

The Ridgeway, July 17 Day 5, 16 miles

Last days on a path tend to be less about accomplishment and more about just getting there. This one was no exception. Apart the last couple of miles, it was just like the day before, a beautiful wander through a shady forest with occasional field crossings. The experience was marred by a mountain bike event— 100 mile ride being undertaken by hundreds of riders.  Often the path is narrow which requires I step off when they approach, which after a while becomes tedious. Still everyone was happy and courteous, always saying cheers or some other greeting.

 

The final approach to Ivinghoe Beacon is across open ground and was very hot. I ran out of water with about a mile to go and was spitting dust in the top. Still not sure what Ivinghoe Beacon is a beacon to, as the commemorative plaque next to the trig point was blank. Still, a satisfying end to an excellent walk.

The buses in the local village don’t run on sundays, so I made my way off the beacon and trekked the mile into Ivinghoe where I had a pint of Ridgeway Ale at the Rose and Crown. A man in the crowd at the bar (it was a busy Sunday afternoon) asked if I had just finished— I’m guessing I had that bedraggled hiker-trash look on. No bus, so I got a cab to the Tring train station where, instead of heading toward Oxford (which is not all that far away), I had to go into London Euston, tube to Paddington and train back out to Oxford. So I exchanged England’s oldest path for a fast Great Western Rail line— seemed somehow fitting.

T. Hugh Crawford

The Ridgeway, July 16 Day 4, 21 miles

July 18th, 2022

The Ridgeway, July 16 Day 4, 21 miles

The early morning walk out of Wallingford was one of the best I’ve ever taken. No longer on the ridge, the path simply winds its way between wheat fields and pastures, but it is shaded by huge old beech trees. In places it drops down into old holloways (like those described so beautifully by Robert MacFarlane in his book of the same name). As  the heat wave continues and temperatures were rising across the day, I worried a bit that the path would break out of the woods and cross fields or even get back up on the ridge, but apart from a few scattered exposed sections, it largely remained in the shade.

Crossing a farm not that far from Chequers (the Prime Minister’s country residence— supposedly Boris was there), I heard yelling, barking, and bleating. Before long I got to a gate where a man with a pickup truck and a border collie was moving a flock from one field to the next. We stopped and talked for a moment while I helped him secure the gates and then watched his dog turn the flock, round up some stragglers, and send them down a lane, with the man only saying a few words of direction. Proud of his dog, he noted she had been working for 10 years and was showing no sign of slowing down.

The distances and my too soft feet were starting to take a toll, and I had booked accommodations at the 21st mile marker. On arriving at Princes Risborough, I took the opportunity to get some refreshment and prop my feet at the Bird in Hand pub. Then I pressed on to The Plough at Cadsden which had very fine (and reasonable) accommodation as well as a fascinating regular clientele who obviously spent much time together arguing amicably. Today’s distance puts the end point at Ivinghoe Beacon within 16 miles, so tomorrow should be less intense (if even hotter).

T. Hugh Crawford