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|Seeking the Silence - Page 2|
Somehow at 56, I still sensed that the mountains, lakes, rivers, and valleys might hold the answer to some yearning—some ageless longing that stirred me to my depths. That yearning had never really left me. It had been there all these years—like an unnoticed passenger in the back seat of my mind.
So a dozen years ago, I began making an annual two- to three-week pilgrimage into the wilderness, leaving my city life completely behind to strike out for the unknown, to reacquaint myself with the rivers, mountains, and lands that we share with fellow creatures, and—in this vast expanse of silence—to do something I don't normally do in my busy life: just stop and listen.
Discovering My Old/New Self
In August of 1998, I set out on my first extended-wilderness trip to Minnesota's Boundary Waters. Despite my regimen of distance bike riding and occasional visits to the gym, I soon learned that I wasn't quite ready for the rigors of the journey. It took only two portages to realize the physical price I'd paid for spending decades of my work life staring into a computer screen. Hauling two 50-pound packs and a 65-pound canoe—plus paddles and miscellaneous gear—over trails sometimes as long as half a mile—was a formidable undertaking for a glorified desk jockey. I had to make three separate round-trips, trekking over root-stubbled, rock-strewn trails, which were frequently overgrown with low-hanging branches—first taking one pack plus the paddles, then the other pack, and finally the canoe.
However, as I dragged myself over these portage paths, I rediscovered just how dogged I could be—which is something I'd first learned as a 17-year-old gandy dancer, earning my college tuition by swinging a 16-pound hammer and a pickax, digging out creosote-soaked railroad ties for the C B & Q Railroad in those sweltering Iowa summers. Our crew had a saying back then: "Take it one tie at a time." In other words, keep your head down, keep your ass up, and just keep slogging. Now, as a much older man, this doggedness really came in handy. Although exhausted after my first portage, I felt pleased with my accomplishment. It was as if my younger self had given my older self the gift of persistence.