Monday, November 15, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 12: The Last Load

Jack emerged from the trees on the trail and crossed the small trailhead parking lot to the highway. He heard them coming before he saw them due to the heavy rain so he waited before crossing. A string of cars went flying by followed by a jacked up pickup truck with KC lights and two Dixie flags on the rear window pulling an empty trailer. The knobby tires really whined against the blacktop giving the allusion of extreme speed. It was still going way to fast for the conditions Jack thought as he crossed the road after the traffic had passed by.

He walked back to the cabin for his last load of gear, which would be one of the heaviest loads but worth the most to him. He opened the rear trunk of his car and started stuffing his backpack with books. Most of the books were ones that had been given to him over the years or ones that he had bought, all of which he hadn’t had time to read. Now that he would have the time, he meant to correct this problem. He also had a dozen bound journals filled with his writing that he meticulously filled up over the last ten years along with a dozen more that were filled with blank pages. He hoped to remedy that problem as well.

He had saved these until last hoping that the rain would let up but it had only gotten worse instead. Jack had briefly thought about just spending the night in the cabin and making the trip tomorrow but felt that this was probably a test to see if he was really serious about this whole endeavor. He was stripping himself from civilization and wanted to pass this test, needed to pass this test. There were some empty plastic garbage bags in the cabin and after he got the load arranged, he would cover it with one of those. His pack was water resistant but with this load, he wanted it to be waterproof.

Jack had grown up without a television, which by the standards of society was quite odd. He hadn’t felt odd about it because living on a farm meant there was always something to do. When he was younger, Jack and his brother would always play in the acres of land or in one of the dozen or so buildings after school until his parents got in from the fields. Bedtime was always at eight o’clock so there was never much idle time to fill. When he was older, he helped his parents in the fields until evening and even though he didn’t have a bedtime, he was often in bed by 9:30 to rest up for another day of school and farming. He and his brother had also owned their own pumpkin growing business from which they put their proceeds into a bank account to pay for college some day. While his peers where raving about Dallas and MacGuyver, he was working and paying for his future education.

When they weren’t in the field or otherwise doing something to occupy their time, Jack’s parents read books and as a result, Jack grew up to be a voracious reader. Before his teenage years, he had completely read through all the books at the local public library. The library had given him a special pass free of charge to a larger library in a neighboring county thirty miles away to accommodate his appetite for reading, and once a week, his mother would bring back a paper grocery sack of books for him and his brother to read. By the time he graduated high school, he had made a huge dent in their inventory of books and they even had set up a sharing program with yet another library in the state capital to rotate new reading material through the library.

When Jack went to college, this all changed. His roommate had brought a television set with him and it didn’t take long for Jack to become addicted. While books gathered dust, he watched games shows and sitcoms that for years everyone had been talking about and he had never seen. When there was free time and nothing was on television except infomercials, Jack felt like he should read his college textbooks instead of reading for pleasure.

After college, Jack bought a cable ready television of his own with his first paycheck and then soon realized how addicted he had become. One day he had finally made a vow to stop watching any show of which he couldn’t remember what had happened in a week’s time. His television time went from four hours a night down to probably five hours a week and once again he had rediscovered his passion of reading. Despite this, he seemed to collect books faster than he could read through them and now he thought he might be able to catch up.

Jack tucked the plastic over and around the books, cinched the top of the pack and tied down the cover. He shouldered the load, which he estimated must weigh close to one hundred pounds and adjusted the straps. It was twice as heavy as his previous loads but he wanted to be done for tonight and besides, it was all downhill from here. He walked to the road, which the locals called Fire Tower Road for the fire tower about a mile further up the mountain, and began walking down the shoulder to the trailhead one hundred yards away.

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