I am rather fond of moments where I feel like the only human on earth. Riding just far enough down a forgotten logging road, driving hundreds of miles north of the farthest north American city and then setting off on a routine hike, placing my feet where no human has ever stepped before. To conquer the useless. To feel so small that my problems shrink alongside my sense of self (importance). To be somewhere where I do not need to see myself as a triangulated being reflected off other humans but instead can let my sensory organs be direct inputs to a brain that simply soaks them in.
In these slivers of time where one can perceive themselves to be alone, there is a sense of endless possibility that is absent where your backstory is known and your name is crystallized. And being alone is nearly the polar opposite of feeling lonely in a crowded place. It is deeply difficult to feel alive when one can predict how things will unfold, even if this comfortable routine makes it easier to stay alive.
I thrive on back roads and in dive bars, where I can observe anonymously and participate without consequence. Here, there is a certain resignation in existing that cannot be found where the freeways are eight lanes wide and ‘self-worth’ and ‘net worth’ are used interchangeably. We are not promised happiness, we are just handed consciousness without so much as an instruction manual.
This truth seems to be embraced while jingling bear bells or drinking Rainier beers far more warmly than it does in the buzzing brunch restaurants that have been copy-pasted across the country’s hippest enclaves. Assimilation in one venue is conspicuousness in another; a saccharine enjoyment is necessary at the latest curated eatery and cloying when you desperately want to feel understood. Of course, the collective invisible hand is demolishing the old buildings that make our hometowns what they were and replacing them with cheap, modern buildings which look much the same as the ones in Denver’s RiNo and Austin’s SoCo and Nashville’s 12So.
It is pushing us along, so that the pitter-patter of paws on hardwood floors is not actually made by our childhood dog, but instead a haunting auditory hallucination, an expected memory that no longer materializes. It is slapping us around in our sleep, so that we wake up feeling sore and weak, no matter how strong we may be. The hand does not ask if you want to see a dead body dredged from a river on your bike ride or if you want to wake up one day and realize that most everyone you thought you might marry someday is now engaged to someone else or if you were ready for another year to be two-thirds over, for everyone you love to be two-thirds a year older, for your checking account to be two-thirds a year emptier.
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This is why I like to disappear, to feel every ounce of red blood cells and grey matter converge at the tip of my fly line and tippet, landing delicately on the water and enticing a cutthroat trout to take a bite. Feeling that tug and the momentary neuron blast where everything inside of you process whether it’s a log or a large fish—then the trembling handshake as the trout agrees to a duel—allows the mind and body to converge on a single point in a river, up a canyon, somewhere that looks more impossible and more appealing the further out you zoom on the map.
The disappearing act forces you to put your thoughts in a centrifuge in a noise-cancelling vacuum and distill them and listen to them until you are aware just what they are. Feeling like the only human on earth provides space to know your internal monologue rather than to drown it out with raucous noises or rote conformity or transactional tasks. Disappearing lets the thoughts trapped up high to percolate downward, to be thought rather than swirl in the nebulous ether, a wordless purgatory enforced by distraction and fear.
It is why I when I zoom out on the map I feel a siren song calling me towards the Aleutian and the Kiribati Islands. It is why I ride my bike with a maniacal alacrity, even when it is just for an hour after work. This rare room for thought is what drives me to fish and what calls me to drive to wherever I can, just to have a single clear moment on a dirt road in Kansas or in a bar in Maine. It is why I like to disappear.