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That Old North Trail is a Real Place

July 7, 2015


uly 5, 2015

We will walk and run along the old north trail, figuring out where it has become overgrown despite its use by people for hundreds of generations.
We have to start in the middle of the trail, of course, because the trail has no beginning. I mean, yes, it has two ends, and they are the beginnings, but they are so remote that they were known by our great-grandparents only in vague terms as the “olden days.” In fact the northern terminus is almost the same for all peoples everywhere; in Norway, in Montana, in Oregon, in Canada, in Russia. Or perhaps it just looks the same. Tundra is a strong feature, but, as E.L. Doctorow wrote in “Arctic Dreams,” one finds unexpected mountains, rivers, gorges, habitations, even hot springs.
Even the I Ching describes death as a being mysterious place in the far north. We can see on the globe how all trails squeeze together there.
We will travel as people most often used to, on foot, and it is a real place. One can find the old north trail most easily northwest of Great Falls, Montana. A highway sign tells of the trail. Then, once on the trail, we encounter the inevitable surprise after surprise until we reach the limit of the far north. I don’t know how we will manage to find food, but people live all along the way. The way people aways have. We will not be the same again, once we have traveled the trail. My sons Todd and Bob traveled north on the old trail from the Sun River for dozens of miles, finding, then losing, then reminding their way. I hope to hear their story in great detail from them both, probably across a campfire.
Traveling south we find many other equally surprising features. In places the trail is well-worn and plain, other places we have to find remote clues of obstacles avoided or moved. We are lucky to travel 10 miles in a day, although after a week or two we are getting stronger. We are constantly hungry, thirsty, and tired. We find that light clothing and sandals are better than hiking boots. Witness the Taramujara, indigenous people, who can run hundreds of miles in sandals made of pieces of tires and cloth strips. I saw the sandals of one one such person myself in Creel, Mexico, in 1996. The cloth strips were short and the man spent several minutes tying them, but think. The wear is on the foot-shaped piece of tire, not the cloth. His sandals did not fail him.
I want to travel with you because I feel lost and alone otherwise. With you I have strength and reserve and I feel resourceful. We will always look out for each other, even if temporarily separated by circumstances. We have traveled together, although we sometimes snip at each other when we get tired or confused. Suddenly I feel like Walt Whitman. We will need to stick together at night. Once, Todd and I slept together on a rock high in the Beartooth Mountains. He kept my back warm by cuddling. My front stayed warm because of a fire we built on the rocky ledge. It was still dark when we arose to bushwhack our way to Mystic Lake. I remember that Todd wore the hat when we went to sleep, but I was wearing it in the morning. Interestingly, he didn’t complain. But I suppose a guy like Todd who can run 26 miles after peddling 100 and swimming I don’t know how far in Hawaii has become inured to physical hardship.

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