So, a few years back I decided that I wanted to bag all of the fire towers in the Catskills. I had already hiked Overlook a few times, and the next tower I set my sights on was Hunter Mountain. I tried it. Really rough terrain, lots of elevation. I didn't quite make it to the top. Tried again. Another failure. Again. Again. I gave up. So it goes sometimes.
Well, yesterday I finally did it. Unfortunately, my sense of accomplishment is tempered by the fact that I beat the shit out of my knees on the way down. They're a lot better now, but I'm still concerned. I was treating this hike as step one in a training regimen to prepare me for a NOLS trip to the high Arctic that I've been thinking about taking next summer. That's not going to happen if my body isn't in decent shape. In addition to my knee issues, I also have a shoulder injury from years ago that never really healed, and which makes it difficult to carry a pack. Plus wrist issues that have been plaguing me for the past few months. Plus... the courses I'm interested in have an average participant age of ~20, more than ten years my junior. How much would I enjoy a month in the company of the summer-break-from-university crowd (even if it's in the Arctic, the place I want to see more than anywhere else)?
I applied for (and was accepted to) a NOLS course once before - sea kayaking in Prince William Sound in 2000. I didn't go. The weird thing is that I can't for the life of me remember why I didn't. I was in pretty lousy mental space at the time, and that must have had a lot to do with my decision to back out, but I remember none of the specifics. This was when I was living in Beltsville, MD. Three days after I would have left for the month long course, I came home after work to discover all of the utilities turned off and a note of foreclosure on the front door of the house where I was renting a room. The landlord (who much to my surprise was not the owner listed on the foreclosure notice) was nowhere to be found. That was one of the worst weekends of my life. I had no one to turn to, so I called my father, who I hadn't spoken to in six months. He put me in contact with some relatives who were living locally and who kindly put me up for a few weeks. I was humbled by their generosity.
Sometimes, still, I lie awake at night and wonder if it wouldn't have been better for me to have gone on the NOLS trip. I would have returned to MD to discover that my apartment was no longer mine (according to the foreclosure notice, the house was to be sold at auction in two week's time, and I had no lease). What would I have done? Panic was my usual response to stress back then. Would NOLS have changed my outlook on life? Is it possible that I would have just shrugged my shoulders and calmly worked through the situation? Hard to say. Revisiting the past is always tricky business. I wonder, though.
Well... I'm in a different place now, geographically and emotionally. All these memories do come up for me, though, when I think about NOLS. Most of the draw of next summer's program is my fascination with the far North and my desire to see it before it all melts, but I know that some of the appeal is the possibility of salving memories from this sore spot in my past; proving to myself that I can, indeed, do this.
I have plans to do some more hiking later this week, assuming my knees are on the mend by then. I guess I'm going to go ahead with my training regimen, unless/until it becomes apparent that physical limitations are going to make a NOLS trip infeasible for me. In which case... I don't know what I'll do. That would be quite disappointing.
Oh, and regarding the title of this post - I'm neither cold nor drunk now, but I've wanted to use that Gordon Lightfoot line as a post title for quite a while, and I figured I'd better use it now or else I'd waste it on some horribly maudlin diatribe, when I am actually drunk.