The Dry Descent or: the 2,000 Mile Walk and the Obloquy of a King, a Demigod, and the Author Himself
I hear a cry – the lamentation of a dying man. I turn, strain to see. Nothing. I stagger half-blind on scree, collapse heavy on my backpack, my hiking poles bent useless after two thousand miles. The cry of a loon, disparate and distant, rises from a pond far below. I affix on a turkey vulture above, gliding lazy, on a convection of air. The sky is a moribund blue. My tongue cramps. My eyes rack out of focus. Every dehydrated move I make freezes into a painful paralysis. I delayed, basking at the summit, and was last to start the descent. It’s unlikely anyone is heading back up the massif this late. And who would possibly be hiking down now? No one will be out on the trail doing the last three miles, and three thousand foot descent, this late. I wait unblinking. Strangely unmoved. It ends like this?
Sisyphus: Bah, overstated. Overdone. So baroque. Please.
Heracles: Well, you can say he made a Herculean effort to become Sisyphean.
Sisyphus: Ha! He wishes. I’m still rolling this rock, aren’t I? Look at him — a cramped-up, frozen heap.
Heracles: Is this how it ends?
Sisyphus: Of course not. He’s writing this tripe, isn’t he? It’s merely the beginning in what will obviously be more than 250 words. He’s inserted us! Just shut up and watch…
And so I collapsed under the weight of absurd expectations — and the distinctly unpleasant sensation of acute renal failure from severe dehydration. Every major muscle system in my body locked up during the preceding few hours. The doctor in emergency told me I was an hour or two away from permanently needing dialysis, and a couple more hours from sloughing it all off… probable death.
That Mount Katahdin became this absurdly Sisyphean goal at last attained, at the tail end of six months of hiking from Georgia to Maine, was now immaterial as I was on the precipice of permanent organ failure. Gliding on the knife’s edge of death because I wanted to — no, NEEDED to — hike the Appalachian Trail, despite never having spent, in my life, a single overnight in the backcountry before I’d started this hike. And the absurdity of keeling over fifty feet away from Katahdin stream while trying to fill my water bottle is not lost on me… one must imagine the imbecile happy…
“Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes all is well… The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
— Albert Camus / “The Myth of Sisyphus”