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Monday, April 2, 2018

Too Fast at Car Speed

swamp at sunrise swamp at sunrise in East Fork State Park, Ohio
(photo by jhy)

I'm sitting here surrounded by maps, files and a box of photos. Yes, I'm working on North Country Quest again. There have been several false starts, over the past seven (yes 7) years, but I'm hopeful this won't be yet another of those misfortunes. That said, I'm leaving town for three weeks on April 23, and this is not a good project to work on while away from home base. But at least I'll get a few chapters done before then.

I figured out what was wrong with my previous opening chapter. I was trying to force it to be something it was not. Of course one can tweak a chapter to give it a certain flavor, but above all, my account in North Country Cache was honest, and I want to continue that plan.

So the previous first chapter will now be the second chapter, and the new first chapter is "Too Fast at Car Speed."

And, except for tweaks, I think it's done. Here's how it starts:

“The world moves too fast at car speed,” I grumble into the tape recorder, the annoyance clear in my voice.

North Country Cache ended with an eagle “seeing” the whole trail. North County Quest begins with a grasshopper who can’t see where it’s going.

Two heavy green thighs push out, then thrust backward in unison, propelling the slim body of the grasshopper through the water with a frog kick. I laugh out loud at the absurdity of its cross-species motions. Who knew that grasshoppers can swim? He has taken on a daunting task, this little summer insect, to swim across a creek hundreds of times the length of his body. I wonder if he is even aware of the far bank, or is he just responding in desperation to an unintended watery landing after a careless jump?

I feel a bit like a grasshopper myself. Here I am again, sitting in the damp vegetation on the bank of some unnamed creek, soaking my hot feet and eating a crackers-and-cheese lunch in the middle of a hiking day, in the middle of a hiking life, in the middle of a hiking trail.

The trail is, of course, the North Country National Scenic Trail, and I’m beginning a theoretical second half of my quest to hike the whole thing. It’s theoretical because this trail will be under construction for many more years. The exact length changes every year as new sections are built and taken off road, or previous routes changed for various reasons. Just two weeks ago my distance hiked-to-date totaled 2300 miles, half of the 4600 estimated miles of trail which stretch from New York to North Dakota. Thus, I’m now, like the grasshopper, past the point of no return. Every step and every day on the trail from this point forward will be a countdown to completion. It looks as if the grasshopper will make it across the stream before I finish eating. My journey will take longer.

In fact, I’ve already been working on hiking this trail for thirteen years. Mine is not a race to the finish line. Rather, I choose to sample the seven states of the NCT in smaller bites, savoring the local flavor of each piece. However long it takes is not the issue for me. Instead, I want to know this trail: its moods, its secret places, its windings through history and the local cultures. If it takes another thirteen years, so be it.

I'm trying to act more like a serious writer... writing nearly every day, not just when the muse is hot. I've managed that amazingly well for the past three months, actually getting the first three Dubois Files books out on my planned schedule. Now it's time to keep that going.

And, yes, I'm glad you noticed, this picture is the one used for the cover of News from Dead Mule Swamp. I took it at sunrise after a night in the car at East Fork State Park, in SW Ohio.

See Picking Up the Quest

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