When it’s quiet. Like Blair Witch Project quiet. You have walked and walked out into the middle of nowhere and finally found nowhere. Silence. Pure silence. I am in the desert. I am surrounded by dead trees, burnt weeds, and red rock piles. It’s quiet out here in the desert. I piss on the side of a tree and realize that is the only noise.
Really alone. Where you’d probably have to run back through the paths to get anywhere quick, if you had to. I am out here in the middle of nowhere. I have walked for two hours. To be truly disconnected. There is no one here. There is no one to help. You realize this only when it is that quiet. To know that no one is near, anywhere, to help you if something happened.
True silence. And then you feel your vulnerability. That is the loudest thing there. Your own momentary paranoia. But you keep walking. Then it begins to get dark. You think you may come to the other side of the trail, the other side of the forest, the desert, the whatever. Surely it will be soon, but the sun is setting.
That’s when you realize the sun sets fast. It never seems to want to go down when you want it to, but at this moment in total disconnect you begin to miss it. Because you realize that darkness is dark. The only thing to light your way is a starry sky, if it isn’t cloudy. But it’s cloudy. And you didn’t bring a flashlight. This moment into the empty paths was spontaneous. No food, no water, no flashlight, no backpack with provisions. You’d feel better right now if you had provisions. Suddenly you aren’t sure how far away the other side of this space is. You begin to think of night creatures. You start to hear night creatures.
For the first time you realize what all those dumb people back at the trailhead feared. The thing that kept them in the parking lot was that nobody was out here in the middle of nothing. Out where you now are. They were scared. If they were not scared then they were lazy. They didn’t want to hike several miles into oblivion at this time of day. They wanted to go home and eat dinner while watching Wheel of Fortune. In fact that’s where they are right now. The people have folded in their Selfie Sticks and returned to their homes. While I’m out here with the snakes and wild bores. There are desert pigs out here just waiting to trample in snorting packs, I’m sure of it.
I get to the corner of a very large mountain and realize how much farther there is to go. I know this mountain. I’ve seen it before on a map. I know where I am and I’m nowhere near the other end of this thing! It would take at least another hour and the sun has almost completely gone down already. It’s past the peaks of the mountains on the horizon and is sinking faster with every excited hoofing sound my sneakers make. Then I begin thinking about the trail ahead for the next hour. The trail which is getting harder to see. The trail which seems to be more overgrown here than ever before. Is it darkness making it worse or am I really losing my way? I’ve never lost my way. I have an uncanny ability when it comes to finding my way back from whence I came. But I don’t know if that uncanny ability works in the opposite direction. Because I just realized at this juncture that I’ve never done this trail before and I have no idea where it leads. How am I supposed to get to where I’m going if I have no idea where any of it is actually going?
The trail seems covered and the trees seem taller now. The darkness is creeping. The animals are all around me. I need to go back. I have to get back quickly. I begin to run. I turn and run realizing that I had just hiked for two hours. Would it have been smarter to go forward for an hour or back for two? I take the way I know. I run back. I jump over puddles and leap back up rock formations. I run across the ridges and back, back, farther back closer to the setting sun. I am literally chasing the sunset that was just behind me. It’s still slipping away but at least I’m running towards it instead of away from it.
I have no idea how quiet it is anymore. I hear nothing but my breathing and clomping, my rushing through two hours worth of what was once a calm adventure. If I could just see someone else out there hiking and having a grand ol’ time. If I could just run into some people. I’ve never wanted to run into people before, but this time it would just be so nice to see that I’m not the only one. I look around and listen carefully for people to prove that I am not alone. I hear no one. I am alone.
My heart is racing. I just want to get back. I failed in going the full trail. I chickened out for fear of spending the evening lost in darkness without a flashlight and a granola bar. My blood pressure must be through the roof. I feel funny. I don’t like this. Everything hurts. I leap and I run until I find a very familiar space. I come over a ridge to a flatly familiar mountainside rock. I’m a few miles away from where I started, but I’m back to where I know and the rest of the way will be just fine. My pace slows while my heart cools. Darkness sets in as I near civilization again. In the distance some idiot is flying a drone that looks like a UFO. I’m happy to see signs of people again. Signs of idiocy. Warm comforting stupid people doing stupid things, again.
The parking lot is completely empty by the time I reach the trailhead and the night is pitch black. There were many clouds. There were no stars. I stand at my car looking out into zero visibility and think about being out there in this. For a moment I wish I had stayed out there to find out. I chase off the regret that I’m getting back in my car when I could have been out there adventuring through the darkness. I could have still been hoofing it, surviving it, overcoming the unknown conclusions. But adventures like that always look good in theory. It’s another thing when in practice.