Three years ago, two artists walked into the woods.
I wake up sometime around 5 AM in Oakland, California, in a tiny bedroom stuffed with colorful paintings and arcane cultural bric-a-brac. I am in a small compartment in a labyrinthine beehive of a dwelling that houses not only an absent artist’s lifetime of work but also his professional grade woodshop, his printing press, his library, and his computer command center—the whole thing being hollowed out of an abandoned factory space. The sheer resourcefulness of its absent owner makes me feel inadequate, even though I can’t say the stylish abstract paintings appeal to me and, to boot, I find the notion of an artist decorating his house with his own work a bit risky. I believe in hiding from my art.
I’ve been here for about twenty-seven hours, preparing with my friend David Brody for our eight-day hike into the wilderness. Dave doesn’t belong here either, strictly speaking. He swapped places with the artist for a month to give his family a taste of the West Coast. I don’t like the word hike. It’s too recreational for the epic journey I would like to think we are about to embark on. I don’t much like the word epic either, but it will have to do as shorthand for the tangled feelings of exhilaration and dread I bring to this enterprise. I cannot contemplate walking in the wilderness for eight days without imagining an entire roster of possible fatal, varyingly absurd, and unlikely scenarios that might befall me. People do die all the time on hikes, but their deaths are unremarkable; laughable, really. Death by heatstroke, death by heart attack, death by bug bite, death by allergic reaction.