Posted by: davepidgeon | July 24, 2009

Magellan cannot be contained

I know the poem’s been oft repeated, but when I was growing up in a place you probably never heard of (Holtwood), Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses” resonated with me. No explanation for why it would. The main character, after all, is a middle-age man facing his fatality, wondering if it isn’t better to sail again into the oblivion rather than wait for oblivion to come and take him. I was a mere teenager growing up in backwoods southern Pennsylvania. We virtually had nothing in common, except the sense of standing on the brink of something.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

The determination may have been what captured my imagination about that poem; determination to chase the extraordinary and not to settle for average. Backpacking has always served such a purpose, and when I endured injuries to that vital body part – your feet – and then health problems during the last three years, the kind of problems which kept me from following wilderness pathways in pursuit of the extraordinary, sadness filled that void.

Tomorrow, though, I’m heading to northern Lebanon County, Pa., to join other members of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Delaware Valley chapter to backpack St. Anthony’s Wilderness. Life’s different than it was when I was 26 years old, when I went backpacking at least once a month (the only time in my life when I backpacked with such consistency). I used to go off to the woods without thinking twice. Now I have a beautiful and supportive wife I leave behind this weekend. She knows, though, there’s something missing in my soul that can only be satisfied by searching for what’s beyond the horizon, and the next one, and the one after that and so on and so forth. One of these days, she’ll come with me, I hope.

Trip report next week. And hopefully after this I can return to that consistency I had five years ago as a 26-year-old backpacker with new partners and new experiences to write about.


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