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Rocky Balboa on Stratton Mountain
Walking in the rain had become a normal part of life. It didn’t even slow us down unless it was a severe rain. The real problem with precipitation was what sometimes came along with it. As we started hiking up Stratton Mountain in Vermont, we knew it was in our best interest to lay low for a little while. This was a four thousand foot mountain and a thunderstorm was raging pretty heavily above us.
It wasn’t my idea and I hated to do it. Besides Mudmouth, none of us had a healthy enough fear of Mother Nature. We would walk ourselves right into a terrifying, life bargaining situation with every storm if she weren’t around to talk sense into us. So we stopped hiking before we gained too much altitude and took refuge among the trees, hoping to lessen our chances of being in the exact spot of a lightening strike. To sit there and just let the cold rain seep into your bones, not moving forward towards shelter, is an act that requires much patience and acceptance.
Every time we played it safe, I would sit curled in the tightest ball I could manage and wish we were risking it instead, even if only to stay warm by moving. But the threat was real. Lucky Strike had once had a different trail name with a less menacing story behind it before a bolt of lightening struck him down. Just a couple days of rest and he was back hiking, a very luck strike he had received indeed.
Eventually, the storm petered out enough to lessen up on the dangers of climbing a huge mountain and we proceeded on but it was still raining heavily. Maineiac pulled ahead, as he is apt to do in undesirable hiking conditions, just to simply make it to a shelter as soon as possible and end the bad experience. Mudmouth and Yard Sale fell behind as they shed a layer of clothing, which left Gonzo and I trekking on at our typical steady pace.
The rain wasn’t letting up as we ascended and my spirits were plummeting. It wasn’t just the bad weather or even steeping ourselves in the bad weather. It was the sixteen hundred miles of bad weather that we had already suffered through. It was the six hundred more miles of bad weather to come. My mind was beginning to loose sight of what I was doing and why I was doing it.
There comes a time for every thru hiker where you realize you have been doing this forever and you are not yet nearly done. If this occurs on a bright sunny day on which you are enjoying yourself, it may lead to feelings of wonder and appreciation towards the trail. If this occurs on a day there you are sitting in the rain waiting out a thunderstorm before you hike up the steep face of a very tall mountain in even more rain, it may lead to a breakdown.
I don’t rightly remember how it began or what set me off. All I remember is that I was angry and Gonzo was hearing about it. I went off on a diatribe slandering the legacy of every thru hiker. All the hard work, all the dreams built, sustained and brought to fruition within this tight community we had been living in over the last four and a half months. These were my own dreams and this was my own legacy. I questioned these things and my motives behind chasing them. How selfish of me! How stupid of me! All this way and suddenly, in this moment, I didn’t understand what it was for anymore!
Between my tears and outbursts, while I was gasping for more air to start another round, Gonzo would throw in reminders when he could of what brought me to this place, what had carried me along the way. “You’re just tired. This isn’t that bad.” “We’ve done so much worse. We’re in no danger here.” “You’re just worn out. We will get to town and you’ll feel better.” “Remember the laundry mat in Damascus? Remember the night we walked into Hot Springs? That’s why we’re here.”
I eventually ran out of steam and had nothing more to say. Gonzo had patiently walked behind me adding in encouraging touches I wasn’t receiving until I had worn myself out too much to fight back. At this point he kicked off into his own speech.
“Have you ever heard the story Sylvester Stallone starting out in his career?!” A rhetorical question he asks as I sigh and roll my eyes, not knowing or caring anything about this subject. “Well, he lived in the City, right, and was trying to be an actor but, you know, he’s got that face thing going on and cant talk right. He was born with that shit, you know! It’s a legitimate thing he had to over come as a kid.” I’m shaking my head wondering where he could possibly be going with this. “So he was trying to get work but he was homeless and had to even sell his dog at one point to make money! His dog, man! That’s sucks! It’s terrible. But he kept on going.” I’m laughing because I am sure he’s making this up, as he is prone to do in his story telling. “And one day after he watched a boxing match he got the idea for Rocky. He was up for three days straight writing the screen play for the movie. You know that thing was super famous, right?! Like a huge deal!” “Yes, I know about the Rocky movies,” I assured him. “Well, he did it in three days. But then came the part where he had to get someone to pick it up. No one wanted it but finally someone said they would take it for a hundred grand.” He paused, maybe to catch his breath because he was really going at it now. “Okay?” I said. “Well he was broke as shit but he wanted to be an actor and they said he couldn’t act in it. So he said no! To a hundred grand! That’s a lot of money even if you aren’t homeless.” I was actually becoming interested in this story and egged him on. “Well, what happened?” “The producer guys came back a while later and tried to get it off him for three grand.” “So then he took it,” I weighed in. “No! He was serious! He wanted to be an actor! He said no again. And finally the guys were just like ‘The hell with it!’ and let him be Rocky in the movie. But they only gave him like, less and fifty thousand I think.” “Wow,” I said slowly as I mulled over it all. “But he had a dream, you know, and dreams are important. Sometimes it’s a tough road along the way and you just gotta be like Rocky and keep going even when it’s sucking really bad.”
I was crying again but not out of frustration and sadness this time. This time it was because even though I had spent all my effort to viscously discount the hard work Gonzo and I had spent months doing together, here he was spending all his effort to tell me a parable of a hard fought dream that was executed to its maximum potential despite all the hardships along the way. It was drenched in the passion of an Ivy League valedictorian speech and did the proper work to reinvigorate me and remind me of the future ahead of me. It lead me back to my composure and identity as a thru hiker.
It could have been anyone and it could have been any story. Any arrangement of inspiring words would probably have done the trick to settle me down and get me back on the right path. But to hear them from Gonzo and for the story to be such an example of our oil and water existence made it so much more meaningful and uplifting after the hundreds upon hundreds of miles we had walked together.