The weekend started like this: me, stopping the car at an intersection in the middle of a 44,000-acre state forest, gray dust rolling past the windows. “Do you want to try it?” I backed up the car and eased the 1997 Nissan Maxima (manual, with spoiler) onto the brown dirt ski slope that is Kirk Road. A Coleman lantern, filled to the brim with kerosene, dangled from the rear view mirror. There was an hour of daylight left, and as battery acid leeched into my veins, I pushed the car harder and harder up and down the impossible rocky hills of the off-road trail.
About five minutes after I had yelled at the guys in the car to shut up, I pulled to a stop at the zenith of a rollercoaster-looking drop-off; I turned off the engine, jumped out and lit a cigarette. Brian and Scott – cooler heads than mine – set off running down the road while I tried to calm down. We were off to a bad start.
Over the next two days we would evade the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police twice, rescue a pair of lost dirt bikers, catch and release a rare wood turtle and a hognose snake, survive an insane 40-mph ride through the woods in the bed of a drunken redneck’s pickup truck, and hone our skills at axe tossing. But first, Brian would have to run off the hippie squatters at Campsite 100, and my poor old sedan would have to traverse the final grueling 400 yards of Kirk Road. Later that night, significantly, after we had laid hotdogs and beans on top of frayed nerves, we hiked out into the black woods, and gazed up at the Milky Way. “How can we see it if we’re in it?” I asked. Not 24 hours later, I was drunkenly calling out foreign moons like Karaoke requests around the fire, imploring the brains among us to retell the icy details: “Do Io again, man…Now do Europa!”
– Two brothers, one perpetually weilding a not-yet-dull-enough hatchet two feet too close to the heads and hands of his companions and the other, in whose name the adventure was called; a minimalist fueled by the prospect of reptilian conquest rather than food or water.
– A young Atlantean, mohawk-headed, guitar-playing and drunk with bourbon and the excitement of being alone in the woods a few scant miles from the youth incarceration facility in which he had previously been detained.
– A father, proud, patient, practical and perpetually on the brink of collapse – especially after being stuck for a half-hour in a canoe on a mid-river rock in the sweltering midday heat.
– The administrator, also known as the cook, chauffeur, topographer, financier and general voice of reason, who broke character only when struck by a stunning vision of the heavens or struck in the eye by an errant bug, blade of grass, dust particle or thumbnail of a companion.
– The hero, an artist and a dreamer who humbly saved the lives of two children, yet might be best remembered for being the most generous sleeping partner I’ve ever known.
It was a paradigm shift I can say I was proud to be a part of: Engineering success, philosophic breakthroughs, intergalactic converse. That trip is exactly what, Chief Seattle had in mind.