Sadly, there's a little spur in Paradise. The joint just below the big toe on my left foot is swollen. At first--after consulting Dr. Google--I thought I had gout. With me, disease is much like traveling: I never know anything about it before I actually have it. The possibility of having gout scared me, but then my (real human) doctor told me I didn't. He prescribed insoles--very expensive insoles, which I hope my insurance will pay for. Are they working? Who knows. The maker of said golden insoles said it was too late to correct my problem. Yay. So why the expensive insoles? As I'm writing this, there's a report on German TV telling how useless insoles are. Spooky, right?
The best trail marker yet. Like a cowpat. In the last few days, we've hiked up four mountains. We're not climbers, just walkers. We walk fast and rhythmically. We don't take many breaks. We don't talk much unless Robert the Unemployed Mountain Goat Groomer has an exciting new business idea to nag me with, at which point I simply walk faster and more rhythmically. He usually shuts up--except for the panting.
The silence of the forest clears the head and makes room for new thoughts, new story ideas, imagined conversations. The heat clears the pores.
"I have forgotten my towel again," says Robert the Unemployed Mountain Goat Groomer. The sweat is streaming down his face; his clothes are drenched in sweat. Think panic attack or one of those antiperspirant commercials where sweat is gushing, spewing, spraying from the guy's armpits.
I speed up, hit an unattainable pace.
"Chris!" I hear behind me but don't turn. "Help . . . me."
The rhythm of hiking helps the mind to order its thoughts. It's like zen or chewing gum, or both. One of the stories I've been working on in the last few weeks deals with delicate themes that I haven't quite worked out yet, but hiking allows the characters to interact with one another while I push myself up this steep path, my pace as measured as a squeaky new metronome set to Presto!
"Help . . . me."
It's steeper than it looks. Really. It's almost as if my characters are trotting along with me. And suddenly something clicks and I know how the story will end. Of course I won't know if this works until I get home and put metaphorical pen to paper. Often, the brilliant idea my characters give me while hiking turns out to be crap by the time I get home. What can you do?
"Heh . . . heh . . . help me."
Hiking is also my time to think about relationships. Yes, I know this is sort of icky, but we all need to think about our relationships more because--"
"--the people we love, the ones closest to us, the ones who stick by us through thick and thin and everything in between, the ones who climb every--"
"--mountain with us need us. They need us to listen, to be good listeners." I reach the top of the steep path and take in the scenery. I take a long, satisfying breath and glance back down the hill. Robert the Unemployed Mountain Goat Groomer has apparently decided to take a nap about halfway up. Bless his heart. I let him sleep and continue up the path. And as I do, enjoy these views of the various mountains we hiked up in the last few days. They're all in Bavaria and Austria.
At the top, we always enjoy a bit of balance in the way of wine or beer and some high caloric food, calories usually based on the altitude difference we've hiked (in the latest case 1200 meters). Life is all about balance. Keep this in mind as you're gazing at the last photo above.
I must be off,
Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.