By Ryan Novak



4:30 AM: The alarm goes off. Kokoroko’s “Abusey Junction” begins to stir me from sleep… not from bed. The plan was to spring forth from bed, to rise! In a spartan-esque manor, I’d leap forth and take off to Jay range, to catch the sunset, but I like this song… I’ll let it play for a second.

4:38 AM: Abusey Junction again, still lying in bed… I need to get up. Maybe I could just stay in bed and go another day, it’s probably pretty cold out, the mountain isn’t going anywhere; I’ve got a good feeling the sun won’t explode soon. I’m healthy enough that I shouldn’t die too soon…

4:40 AM: “Damnit!” I aggressively thought to myself as I got out of bed. “I said I was going to do this damn hike, I’m going to do this damn hike,” I told myself as I went to the sink to brush my teeth. Looking in the mirror at my disheveled reflection, “why do I do this to myself?” I hurry up and pack my bag- what I should have done last night. Instead I was a good for nothing bum, and as a result I forgot to charge my headlamp. I made sure to load my bag heavier than necessary, ya know, to keep in shape for fire season.

5:12 AM: I walk out to the truck, bag slung over the shoulder. The morning is still, the air is crisp, but not as chill as I had expected. I toss the bag on the passenger seat, the only company I’m taking on this hike. Something catches my eye. Just Campus Safety, zipping about on their rounds. I hop in “Ol’ Girl Matilda” and start her up. I put her into first gear and get rolling… pull the paracord running from clutch to the E-handle to get the clutch to return from the disengaged position. Second gear and gaining… I’m off.

5:38 AM: The road serpentines through the woods in darkness. So far, I have only seen two other vehicles on the road. Cruising along, listening to NPR- RACCOON! A most rotund raccoon chose to widdle-waddle his way across the street in front of the truck, a tasty morsel clasped in his jaw. We met eyes in immediate panic. Quick evasive maneuvers, tall truck, short racoon, too close to swerve round, over… I didn’t hear anything. I think he made it, but it’s too dark to tell.

6:03 AM: I pull up at the Jay Mountain trail-head, not another soul to be seen. I wrestle my pack out of the passenger seat and sling it on my back. I rummage around in the glove compartment for the flashlight I keep there. Upon finding it, I get to steppin’ on the trail and I am moving at a 3-mile-an-hour pace, give or take. I am 30 minutes behind schedule, so I assume the “forced march” military pace and keep on.

6:20 AM: It is still quite dark, but I can make out the dawn’s early light through the canopy…Oh, say can you see? The darkness still enshrouds within. I am often attested to being fearless… I am not fearless, just calculated. I know the risks and ways to mitigate them, and ways to respond in a pinch. The fear is still present, it’s a very human thing, it’s how you react to your fear that makes a difference. I hear a large stick break and crashing for three seconds, 25 meters at ten-o’clock. I stop dead in my tracks, stomp my feet and face directly to the sound. Worst case scenario, it is a serial killer, in that case it really doesn’t matter, just a bad roll of the dice. Most likely case: a deer or maybe a bear. I made my presence known as a hard target and keep moving on.

6:28 AM: Sweating, down to just a T-shirt and the trusty old EMS Fencemender pants. Flashlight hangs low in the right hand as I press forward. Ahead of the beam of light, a bird begins to chirp, but quickly quiets… alarm call? Perhaps; I am more inclined to believe I fooled him with the flashlight. Seeing the light, the lil’ one blinked the sleep from his eyes and began to sing the morning in. That is until he looked at his clock and realized that he was awoken by some jagaloon with a flashlight. I imagine the bird just staring blankly at the canopy cover, trying to go back to sleep as hints of sun light titillate ever so slightly; contemplating life and immersed in self-reflection. What else does one do when waking up before the alarm, get out of bed a few minutes early? Right.

6:46 AM: I see the sky lightening quite recognizably now. The whimsical autumn lands from within the trees start to taste the radiant brilliance, very dully at present. The fear of the unknown subsides as the flashlight becomes unnecessary. The solitary nature of the hike now takes on the more fruitful portion of the pervading mindsets. The capricious nature of the natural world takes hold of me once more, in this particular moment, as I am ensnared by this fantastic realm. A realm of cloud-forest. This, the short window of the world in this place and time, when the inversion begins to lift from the earth. The moisture carried with it into the sky, resulting in a fantastic ensemble of fleeting mythical lands.

7:01 AM: My fleet-footedness was not enough to compensate for my lack of drive to peel from bed this morning. I am on the final set of switchbacks rounding the Jay mountain top. I can make out the pristine display of sunrise from the clouds peeking through. I have missed my sunrise.

7:12 AM: I make the peak of Jay and start off on the Jay range herd path. The sunrise is gone, there is rain to the North and the East. My mind sends alarm signals and tells me not to risk the exposure. I go on anyways. The view, though potentially daunting, is breathtaking. Whiteface at my Southwest, Champlain to my North-Northwest, the high peaks silhouetting my South. There was a clear path along the ridge line with some exciting looking rock formations ahead.

7:20-7:50 AM, or somewhere between: My pace has slowed and my desires have become dilettantish, aloof. Distractions present themselves in a wide variety of mountaintop vegetation, rock formations, sweeping views strafed by rays of sunlight piercing through the clouds. A quilted patchwork of light slowly glides across the earth as I lose myself that much more. All the while I gallivant about the trail, sauntering to the sounds of the wind as it courses up the mountainside in an inverted effervescent cascade. As my traverse becomes ever greater, an obambulation over rocks; hopping, leaping, climbing, cragging, creeping and crimping my way over tumultuous terrain. Even though the herd path offers far less resistance, I chose this route. For no particular purpose other than the experiential, kinetic satisfaction. No one to impress but one’s self. Truly, “The Road Less Traveled”, for their destination is the same.

7 or 8ish AM: Arrival has become me. I stop, breaths become easier. I look, the surroundings refine me. Small as I am and vast as the views are, comprehending the incomparable, a levity infects me. The body feels too small as the mind takes all things in. Silence and stillness exist in the purest form here. I sit down to stew in my own mortality, to appreciate this singularity. This present moment that will never exist again.

Saturday, sometime before noon: Sitting on the mountain top, my body temperature drops and I become cold. I don the blanket I have packed for this journey. Tea time. I take my tea pot from the pack and put some black tea into its filter basin. Black tea with vanilla and almond, with addition of cinnamon and a hint of apple… It is fall you know. I boil some of the water I brought to my sojourn. Staring over the side of this natural monument I am inhabiting, I can’t help but fill with glee as the Champlain glistens as the sun casts life energy upon it. I sit until my tea is ready, in a steadfast contemplation with no direction. No subject, no start, no end, just a flowing thought, inherently resolute in its very nature. My tea has steeped appropriately.

Saturday: It is not a Spartan drive, merely self-accountability. Maslow’s hierarchy had been fully satisfied and my innate animal wished not for further exposure, it wanted not for depth. Maslow’s hierarchy does not, however, account for the needs of the soul. A whole new thirst, increasingly more prevalent in this day and age. A world riddled with suicide and depression, new needs are rearing their head each day and how is one to know and identify them all? I find a grass roots approach often solves all my needs. Back to the basics if you will. I did not want to hike the mountain. Two bad knees and a bad back left over from my tenure with Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children leave me loathsome to do that which I must. A man once told me that there is something wrong with people who hike alone. I was hiking alone when he told me this… Immediately he stutter steps to add on “ you are military though, when you do it, it’s different.” Military has nothing to do with it. It is an opportunity to seek self. As though I had escaped humanity itself, I was reborn into the present and carried down that mountain with me, more than I had at the start. Had I not held myself accountable to what I had said, I would have missed that opportunity.

Between then and now: Accountability… we all struggle now and again but remain accountable. Accountable though, to a human standard. I was late to my own timeline and missed the very intended precipice of my journey. Intentions aren’t everything though…