Wondering and Wandering

I’m lying in my car, I’m wide awake, I just awoke and it’s pitch black, I step outside to pee, feel the cool gravel pebbles on my feet and look up at the stars. I say asher yatzar with my hand covering my head, I heard that’s not allowed, but I figure it’s better to thank God for my peeing function than worry about little absurdities like a piece of cloth being better than my arm, my arm is made in the image of God – wait does God have arms?

I’m gazing up at this see of stars, I can’t believe I live here. I’m seriously awe struck by the notion, I feel like I’m living in a dream, I left work earlier that afternoon and here I was standing outside my portable hotel, camped out at a National forest scenic view point perched along some ridge at 7500 feet above see level gazing up a star filled sky, the half moon is illuminating the ridge slightly, I am at the point where the trees are thinning.

I get back in my car, I can’t sleep, I wonder what time it is, you can never tell. I had decided to drive up route 88, one of the many routes over the Sierra Nevada range, all scenic, all littered with trail heads and all causing me to look at the map and imagine hiking, climbing and wandering around every nook and cranny they contain. I’ve only been over the road to Yosemite and Highway 50 going to Tahoe, route 88 was new and I had basked in its glory.

Bluegrass seems to be the only type of music that my new cars sound system can handle, maybe that’s because you don’t need bass and there’s usually no electric instruments. Amazing, God rocks, he/she/it knows that bluegrass is the only music I listen to while winding through the back roads of northern California. It’s part of my redneck/mountain man romantic ways. I love the California gold country, imagine myself a newly arrived greenhorn making my way to the west, the gold rush is on, we are crowding Placer County and painfully panning the creeks for placer gold, finding nothing yet hungered by the fever. I still kind of have gold fever, but I have abandoned gold mine and mining town fever.

I found an old mine near Jackson right off the highway, I like to imagine that I found it, yet thousands of cars drive by it all the time, probably paying it much less thought than I did. I get out of my car and snoop around, wishing it were early morning so I can explore more without having someone yell at me that it’s dangerous to be snooping around old mines. I know it’s dangerous, but I’m a daring romantic, remember?

I remember this old mining town, I wish to call it a ghost town outside of Socoro New Mexico that my buddy Danny and I found after learning of it at some random live music joint we had went to the previous night before we proceeded to camp in some random pull off under a blanket of comforting stars and random military plane flyovers that some people like to call UFO’s, of course they are UFO’s, how the hell can anyone know if it’s a F14 Tomcat or a F16 that’s flying above the desert sky at 3 in the morning at mach 3.

Then there was this other random mine situation I discovered in Nevada, again with my friends Danny, same road trip by the way. We drove on some four wheel drive road and found a shaft, an almost straight down shaft, the sort that kids fall down and families hold vigils until they are miraculously saved by the local fire department, I recall a MacGuyver episode of the sort once. So Danny and I decide to climb down the mine shaft to a depth I am not sure of, but it was cold, damp and freakishly scary. We had one headlamp, no climbing gear and we were miles from the nearest person, but we found some sticks of DuPont dynamite which was worth the risk, it was damp, though I’m sure we could have lit it and blown ourselves to smithereens – it would have been featured in your internet news homepage under “oddly enough” or in a readers digest article of some sort about the dangers of insatiable wanderlust and our inabilities to be content with our own lives that we must reinvent ourselves on foolish road trips where we do things we wouldn’t do at home. I would have explored mines in New York, but all of them are filled with water, so I had to at least go to Pennsylvania, but gold mines are way cooler than coal mines, much more romantic.

I’m lying in my car, my new thermarest pad is good, really good, I like the yellowness of it and the cushiness of it, I’m surprisingly hot even though it’s quite cold out and my rear door is slightly ajar to make those nightly urine release moon gaze parties an ease. I whip out my head lamp and start to read The Gift of Asher Lev, I had just finished My Name is Asher Lev that morning while sitting on the toilet at work, it was like watching two episodes of a TV show in a row, it made sense and I was glad my roommate, seeing I was reading the first, had placed the sequel on my bed – I like constructive snooping – fact is the only thing I like looking at in people’s houses is their book collections and their spice rack – you can really tell a lot about people from the two. If someone has tumeric, cumin, curry and so on they may have the Indian flare, but maybe they are of the dried rosemary and oregano type. Books are the same, I was recently in someone’s house that contained no books, it was very hard for me to deal with. Books are one of the only things I own lots of, I cannot pass a goodwill or library sale without stopping and buying books, some of which I only pick up read years later. I used to be the same way with tapes and CD’s, but then I bought into the man and dropped my money on an Ipod, oy the terrible sin of compressed easy to find music, I hate it and will go back to my high fidelity esque life soon.

It is late before my eyes begin to droop and I fall asleep, it is a good enough sleep that when my alarm rings at 6am and it is pitch black out I go back to sleep until 8am, then I open my eyes to world of rock and green. I grab my almost crumpled Arrowhead water bottle and cleanse the devil from my hands, the dybuk, the tumah, whatever evil contaminated me through evening hours. I grab my teffilin and walk briskly towards the sun drenched ridge over looking a valley of granite and evergreen, I cannot recall, are they Ponderosa, Jeffery or Lodgepole Pine, a professor from UC Berkeley explained it all to me over a coffee from a French press hauled 15 miles into the back country to study the uncontrolled burns of the Red Peak Pass area – I love northern Californians and their need for good coffee, wine and fresh produce, such a pleasure those creatures are.

I daven, I haven’t davened with kavannah all week, it’s been rushed every time, I was bothered by my lack of devotion, it had something to do with the goodness of my life. Life was flying by and I couldn’t apply the brakes, I loved work, absolutely love my job and couldn’t wait to work. I couldn’t believe what I had become, what I was doing and on my spare time I was riding through beautiful forests with views of the cliffs leading into the blue pacific amidst the rolling fog of the north, I loved myself and life and naturally God took the back seat, I tried sincerely to think of him constantly, though I couldn’t figure out what God was. Maybe God was the Q in LGBTQ, who knew, who really cared? I did for sure, part of the endless struggle to understand my purpose, was it to piss people off, make people laugh, make people love or simply to daven and raise the kedusha of places that had never had an orthodox Jews make brachos there before. I wondered if any orthodox folk had ever camped where I had last night and praised the lord over the granite valley I looked at.

I davened and drove while eating my severely lacking breakfast, in order to skip rush hour which I entered anyway, I didn’t pick up any fuel for my stove and forgot my oatmeal, I was eating balance bars and nuts for the day and I was about to test out my new boots on a moderate day hike in the central Sierra, in the Mokulumne Wilderness. You know I had spent about 3 hours of solitude in my tent trying to figure out how Toulumne was pronounced, it’s Too-wolomee by the way and apparently this wilderness was pronounced the same way – which I wouldn’t learn until I was in shul this shabbos in Sacramento.

I found my trailhead, free parking courtesy of my national park pass and I was off, wearing my brand new Solomon Boots from REI, do you know how long it took me to find boots? Seems like months, I tried new soles and I tried 3 different pairs of boots all of which I returned after one hike, you can do that at REI, it’s kind of encouraged. I stressed over my purchases and was told to come back if they didn’t work out, I was a member wasn’t I? Why wouldn’t anyone be a member? I don’t like being psychologically forced to buy something I don’t need when those 20% coupons get sent around. Do I really need this? No I never really need anything besides a superlight tent, superlight bag and titanium pot, jeez a titanium pot – I sound like a gear head – wait I am a gear head, although I use all of my gear, my dream is really to have framed Topo maps all around my one room loft cabin off the grid in Montana.

These boots rock, seriously man, I’m thinking back to the best boot of the year award they got from backpacker mag, I totally agree. I’m hiking fast, too fast considering I was at sea level the day before and now I’m high up there in the mountains. I still can’t believe I live here, the coast is beautiful and then I can come here every two weeks on my off Friday, wow! I hike to a magnificent lake surrounded by snow capped peaks, jagged rock and in the distance there are endless peaks, a vista, an amazing view and some self portraits. I’m off again to the next lake and view, looking around in wonderment, I can’t believe I live here, wow!

I’m standing at this green lake, there are piled of rock on one side leading up to snow and then cliff, lots of cliff, I want to climb the cliffs. I recall eating at this guy in high school named Cliff, I remember really good food, but really formal, like they used proper English and napkins and shit like that, stuff yeshiva people didn’t do, I thin they were right wing modern orthodox, strange the thoughts you think. I meet some people up there and ask for recommendations, the woman has the entire kitchen sink with her and she’s wearing gators, there is no mud or snow along the trail I wonder aloud, “it’s a mountaineering thing” she tells me. I look at her compass, pocket knife and headlamp on her bag, it’s strange to see, I begin to think back to my days as backpacker packrat, I would rather be safe than light I thought.

I’m the opposite now, I want to carry 25 pounds and that’s it, screw the fleece, leave that extra 1.8 oz energy bar out, am I going to need these batteries. “Hiker killed because he left the energy bar at home” I imagine the news stories, the people saying I was strange and a loner type, oy, you should get into all the scenarios when I think of how I will die – apparently it’s my subconscious search for true love – thinking no one loves me – my subconscious I say because that’s not exactly how I feel, but the mind is nutso anyway, I sincerely believe that everyone is insane, it just manifests itself in different ways.

I’m hiking and I come across a car, an old car, from the days of yore, I have no idea how it got here, there are some other mining relics, but a car – come on – how on earth did it get here? Some Asian hikers gaze at me in wonderment, why is he so into that mine shaft and in car they think as they hike in decked out in gore tex clothing – there is not a cloud in the sky.

I hike out and make my why up the road, down to Woodfords, I need ice cream, I actually need calories I can feel it, I know my body. I just hiked 8 miles in high elevations and I was double the speed of the average hiker, I’ve been known to trail run up hill, my friend Yoel calls me the most in shape out of shape looking guy he knows. He’s referring to my perpetual pot belly, there for life, ebbing ands flowing but always there – yet I can hike 20 miles a day full pack and wake up again and do it over and then go on a bike ride, strange indeed, thank God for my vigor.

I drive to Tahoe, I come close to the lake and there are cars and tourists and RV’s and I am disgusted, I need to get some gas, some ice cream and get out of here. My Ben and Jerry’s bar is cracked in the middle, but it holds itself together. I’m shifting with my ice cream hand, from third to fourth I feel the bar slipping and ride in fourth for a while up this steep hill, the lake is in my rear view, I can’t stand Lake Tahoe. People at work love it, but not for its beauty, for its casinos and bars – why on earth you need to place a casino in a beautiful spot is beyond me.

I’m on my way to Sac, that’s what Californians call Sacramento, when I told my co-workers I was going to Sac for the weekend I was met with “why the F would you go there?” amongst the other exclamations of wonder. I said it had a small Jewish community and seemed like a perfect place to spend shabbos on the way back from the mountains, they couldn’t understand. But it’s true, Californians are particular about their cities and they seem militantly against the cities they don’t like, Fresno for instance is called Fres-No, and I agree Fresno is not really a place you want to spend time in unless you are on the way to or from Yosemite and even then…Stockton is full of gangs, Santa Cruz is full of weirdoes, I can go on, but that’s a separate essay, maybe even a rant, it’s much worse than the average Brooklyn vs. Manhattan argument, also people in California actually know their states geography.

I need to ride, I feel the need to ride beckoning me down Highway 50 – if you get a chance to drive cross country I recommend taking Highway 50 across Nevada. What’s there you may ask and all I will say is nothing, nothing but empty desolate vastness that is hard to surpass in the lower 48. Mountain range and range filled with nothingness, just the way God meant it to look like.

I’m on a freeway suddenly, only 3000 feet above sea level, how did that happen, California is so strange, I think 3000 feet is the lowest spot in Colorado, here it’s sea level to 8000 feet in a manner of a few miles, from greenery to snow in the middle of the winter, so strange indeed – I need to ride but I have no idea where. Suddenly I see a sign for Sly Park rd, I recall seeing that name somewhere and suddenly I am rolling up to a gate of the park and wondering where I can ride “where are the technical trails?” just down the road in flemming meadow, “I think” he adds.

I cross a damn look at a half drained lake and park by a green gate, the light is slanting and I have an hour before I need to make my way to Sacramento. The earth is red and I mount my bike, it’s a dirt road and I doubt I will find these mythical narrow technical trails this fellow said he thinks exist, but all of a sudden I see a trail, a marked trail at that. Trail #8 and there is a kiosk after a few minutes of riding with a trail map – I am in the praise the lord mode, I can’t believe how lucky I am to have found some amazing riding.

I ride the trails hard and I’m sweating and I have a headache, but they flow well through this pine forest with huge pinecones scattered about – you seriously need to see these pinecones, they are amazing, amazingly huge. I begin to think of the meraglim finding these huge pinecones and reporting back to the Jewish folk that California is run buy giants and we will never defeat them – little do they know that Californians are a bunch of puny liberals afraid of spears and guns, but they retreat back into the desert and die a lonely death of thirst, it would never happen nowadays because there is a Starbucks on every corner and every other corner has a Pete’s so it’s even harder to die of thirst in California.