“The presence of a jostling crowd. . .a familiar irritation to be borne with resignation.”
—Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
It’s not that he hated people. He just didn’t like people.
Pulling up to the trailhead his mouth cracked open in disbelief and his grasp on the wheel tightened. Cars lined the road overflowing the small pullout. An audible groan escaped his lips, a slow grumble from deep inside somewhere. He drove on, caught off guard, flustered, and unable to bring himself to park amidst the mob of vehicles and the few chattering people.
It was Sunday. He had expected people to be out on the trails, but was stunned by the lineup. He drove up the road, spun a u-turn, and drove back and finally parked.
He fumbled around in a drawn out act, readied his gear, and tied tight boot laces. Irked by the crowd he tried to think up a plan to escape it.
Sometime later down the well-beaten trail not many seconds after leaving his vehicle he was passing people as if on a downtown sidewalk. Head down, chin pinned to chest and thumbs tucked snugly under shoulder straps, he said hello to exactly nobody, looked at nobody. Through peripheral vision he noted the cocked heads and curious stares of people he passed wondering about this strange fellow storming by as if nobody else existed.
They kept coming, nine, eleven, fifteen. Like ants, they were scurrying up and down the trail everywhere. Voices echoed through the canyon. What the hell is this, some kind of public hiking trail on a spring weekend?!
“I’ve always valued solitude and anonymity . . . Silence is like music to me, and I need some time to myself.”
—Kira Salak, The Cruelest Journey: Six Hundred Miles To Timbuktu
Eventually another hiker said hello, which consequently forced from his mouth a gruff “howdy.” It was the sort of mutter to which Mr. Stathakis, his tenth grade English teacher at Santa Barbara High, would’ve asked of him before the class, “Can you mumble a little louder, please?”
Onward he stomped. Growing increasingly agitated. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen in one fell swoop. Bam! Bam!! Bam!!! At nineteen he had stands all he could stands and he couldn’t stands no more.
At that point, hardly down the trail but a few minutes yet having passed a score of people, he opted to veer onto a different footpath. A contingency made up on the fly to salvage pleasure from the maw of the detestable closing over him. The alternative path would be far less busy, might even be empty, abandoned if he was really lucky. Totally forgotten and completely ignored. What better place to roam?
Let ’em have the oak shrouded cool canyon trail that wound gently along the creek through forest and meadow. He took the exposed and hot south slope and upward huff through the chaparral, as bristly as his own nature, a good match.
It was there amidst the “stillness, solitude and space” that he found “a sense of time enough to let thought and feeling range from here to the end of the world and back; the discovery of something intimate—though impossible to name—in the remote.”
It’s not that he hated people. It’s just that what he sought when in the forest was solely the forest.