Some down-to-earth facts for you today about how the next few days will go for me.
Step One: Catch a bus to Portland tonight. Hope that the bus driver won’t mind if I double the number of allowable ‘bags’ when I put both my fully packed backpack and my bounce bucket (the bucket with all my resupply maps and other non-food resupply items (batteries, sunblock, blister care stuff, etc) that I mail ahead to myself at resupply towns every couple weeks along the trail) underneath the bus. I will be wearing my hiking clothes. They will be at their cleanliness apex. It’s all dirty downhill from here.
Step Two: Stay the night in Portland with Erin (or Wired). The next day, we will drive in her car for fifteen long car hours to Moab Ut, heading east across the Oregon desert and then cutting southeast through Idaho’s big butt, through Salt Lake City, and on to Red Rock Country (as the Colorado Plateau is known). We will get to know each other better in those fifteen hours, a single day in which we will travel farther than the next two months on the trail.
Step Three: Stay the night in Moab with some friends of Erin’s. Wake up Monday morning. The hiking fun begins.
Step Four: Shop for food for the first section of the trip, the start of the trail in Arches National Park until the route returns to Moab again two or three days later. Two or three days ain’t so bad. Make some last minute decisions about whether to mail food to some of the other resupply stops within the first couple weeks. The logistical apparatus clanks to life, wheezing out calculations that will absorb a substantial portion of my attention for the next two months. How many days between stops? Miles between water? Ounces of fuel, bags of nuts, squares of toilet paper?
Step Five: Trust myself. Get a ride to the trailhead. Erin and I will start hiking together Monday the 23rd in the afternoon sometime. And thus it will be done. The start I mean.
There is an idea in improvisation of bricolage, from French, which means to tinker, to make do with the materials at hand. It implies the grit and creativity of a DIY ethic. MacGuyver was a bricoluer, solving the most outlandish of problems with the motley assortment of junk within his reach. Bricolage solutions are elegant: powerful, efficient, concise, graceful. Bricolage means using precisely what you need to and not more. It means even more than that: it means turning what you have into precisely what you need. From Stephen Nachmanovitch, author of the improvisation book Free Play, this:
The bricoluer is an artist of limits.
May we all be so inclined towards the constraints of our lives. To be an artist of limits is to both work with the limits you discover around you, and also to be willing to create limits for yourself to explore. It’s like fertilizing your creativity garden. I’m struck by the severity of the constraints of long distance hiking sometimes, that as hikers we deprive ourselves of most contemporary comforts, we strain our bodies and our wills, and many of us bring just barely the minimum we consider suitable for the task at hand. These limits combine with the limits of the environment to give us our medium. It is the ground on which we fashion a kind of experiential art (an art of living, of doing, an art we both produce and consume). These limits are severe but they are also a springboard into deeper creativity. Within the limits of time, of weather, environment, the reality of the body and the ability of the mind, we explore what is possible.
So here’s to the bricolage spirit of all of us getting out on the trail this season, and to the potential bricolage spirit in the rest of you. Freedom is playing within that limits that be. Or, to Orson Welles: “The enemy of art is the absence of limitation.”