Alone = Not one in 7 billion people knows where you are. I understand how that could be frightening. I find it exhilarating. It is a state of being that is entirely unfettered. This is one reason why running and trekking in the wilderness is the most purely authentic experience I know. Maybe it is like the sensation of an astronaut in the void of space, but with air. Or being in a bubble absent of any false distractions, except it's an everted bubble, where the non-sense is on the inside and I am out here. This type of alone-ness is beyond the physical. It seeps into your mind like a drug, and similarly can elevate your awareness or make you totally nuts. I highly recommend it.
It took me almost two days to find the word “inconclusive” and then I didn’t even use it. That was because by then my mind had lost the sentence I would be using it in, just as it had lost the word before. This is important because creative writing is an enormous part of my work. But it didn’t stop the writing; I found that I just wrote something completely different… without thinking about it.
Now… for all the 3.7 people that actually read this blog, let me say that if you feel that you have something beyond “chemobrain”, you probably do, and are: (1) Not alone, and (2) Not crazy. “Chemobrain” is too trite. “Cognitive impairment” is incomplete.
My changes are more fundamental than short-term memory loss. Let’s call it what it is: brain damage. That means either loss of function or rewiring, and the rewiring part has been the adventure. I know for a fact that neurophysiology has changed. For example, I regained my partially lost sense of smell, and I can now smell roses for the first time in ten years. Also, my preferences have changed. I’ve held hammers and screwdrivers as an extension of my hands since the age of four. My natural mechanical abilities and desires guided my life, created my homes, were integral to past adventures. But now, I have a true aversion to any mechanical task. Although it still seems a necessity for my lifestyle, I pray to never hold a wrench again. My tastes are different, as is my sense of humor, or what remains of it. But it’s the new vocabulary that is most interesting. It is diminished, but as I speak and write, new words come out of me like little surprises. And that has made me a novelty to myself, which is really just weird, but at least it’s entertaining.
Changes in personality are suggested in the scientific literature on this subject, but they don’t note how unnerving it is to live a perpetual out-of-body experience. I imagine it must be uncomfortable for friends and family. At least they wake up with themselves each day. And it is not about some divine gratitude that comes from survival against the odds. I didn’t need leukemia to have an unusually deep appreciation for life.
So here is the message. One can pine for the lost soul or just ride the crazy train and see what comes up next. Like Rod Stewart sang in 1971, you didn’t ask to come here anyway. What I don’t embrace I at least accept, because either a thing is or it is not. Whatever. Everything is out of character anyway.
Adapt or die. The basis of mindfulness teachings and Ecology 101. I should know this, given that I teach that second item for a living.
After successfully completing the Rota Vicentina through southern Portugal, the responsibilities of my particular life story meant a semi-emergency, sleepless 38-hour journey back to the United States. No onward travel to Spain or Morocco as planned. Instead, an absolutely anti-exotic turn of circumstances.
I am left with another satisfying physical accomplishment … with an aftertaste of failure. The fact is that my life is a collage of responsibilities and limitations that I cannot seem to negotiate away.
It is true that I have moved beyond Daily Epics (which are still essential), and now have the ability to take short hops into the outer world. Still, in a previous life I would be racked with despair at this seemingly “limited” situation. But now I have all that wisdom gained through the transformative power of soul-altering amounts of suffering, so I should know to just leverage any circumstance. Right.
So work and other deferred life stuff can now be handled before spring. With unusually decent weather in California, I am tackling more upgrades and maintenance on the Airstream. (It is 66 years old.) No doubt, it is a great time to take the old slug out to the desert, only a long day’s drive away, and search for wildlife and hot springs. Besides, Phoenix and Tucson have international airports that will take me to any landscape I want.
I have to remember that every day of my fractured and beautiful life is an adventure. This is my right now, and I am still knee deep in it. I just get over it and move on. Anything else is a waste of time.
With my marathon goal reached and countless miles traversed on difficult trails, it is time to break boundaries. In three days I begin a fastpack of the entire historic Rota Vicentina through southern Portugal. I will be entirely disconnected from my medical care. I have ongoing mild graft host disease affecting every system in my body. There is no medication that will improve my situation, so I don’t take any. I will be traveling solo, with all my possessions in a 20 liter, 12 pound ultralight running pack.
How and why?
How: Hard choices. Effort. Planning. Letting go. Embracing the grace and beauty of epic failure.
Why, from my earlier post:
I am doing it for myself, for the indescribable joy of experiencing the essence of humanness. I am doing it for those who can’t, and for those who think they can’t. I am doing it because I love dirt and hate pavement. I am attempting this in the name of love, truth, grace, and beauty, which is the reason why I do nearly anything in my spartan and highly distilled life.
I have called out to the universe to tell me that survival and physical accomplishments don’t put me in a tiny demographic. The response has been silence. So I might as well just continue creating my own demographic, my own universe, and see what happens. This then is my own social movement, even if it is a social movement of one. But I know this: There are people facing dire circumstances right now who need to know what I am doing. I have lived in their hell, a place where one cries each day with desperation and aches for some tether to the world of possibility. So if you are reading this, pass on my story to them. They, along with the rest of the world, need to know that everything coming from me is the truth, and not a staged version of the real thing. Apparently that reflects a tiny demographic as well.
There is no doubt. It is definitely time to go.
Beginning 22 January, I will be posting daily from the trail through my NEWS link and social media.
I believe that how I begin and end my day defines the rest of it. Consequently, how I begin my year will probably define my next few months of living.
I began my last day of 2017 waking up to a glorious open desert surrounded by my own personal detritus, the debris of two weeks camping in the Mojave desert. It was four wheel drive to Chiriaco Pass and the instant rush of Interstate 10, then hurtling through downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood, past iconic exits like Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon. I stopped at the ocean on an absolutely crystalline late morning and stuffed myself on organic crème brulee French toast and fruit. Then to San Luis Obispo to give myself Christmas at my favorite running store in the nation. I pulled into my brother’s driveway at 6 pm, in my two-week wrinkles and dirt, and walked into a crab feast and a full house of friends. I woke up with the coyotes and ended the day among good people sharing their wit and stories of travel
I am beginning my first day of 2018 right now, typing this. I woke up in my favorite bed in the world, in my beloved Airstream, and cranked up the Plimsouls from 1983. “A Million Miles Away", an extra strong press of my favorite coffee, a huge slice of pizza, and now I am off to burn calories and sweat my way into the new year. I am ready for whatever.