I was sitting at lunch the other day with Wagonmaster Mike Nomad, discussing a theory I’ve had for years: the timelessness of our annual event. Over the past 9 years, I’ve only been able to be there for the whole event 4 times. Each time, it’s been an immersion into a different world.
“Time dilation,” we agreed upon. Perhaps it’s quantum physics at its finest, the atomic-level effect of a very big lake on time and space. At the Big O Hike, time stretches. Walking, by its very nature, draws time out like taffy. As you walk and talk with friends – or stroll alone – time is fluid. Sunrise brackets the beginning of the hike, but when the hike ends is up to you. In between, there’s no need to look at a watch. What’s the hurry?
Hanging out in camp, chats with friends make the hours vanish in a blink. An inversion of the walking pace. No frentic activity, which is why the Big O Hike appeals to me. I wear no watch. I like immersing in an unawareness of time.
And yet, the dichotomy: to hike the hike takes time, and awareness of time, and alarm clocks. It means rising before sunrise and being spot-on time to load the cars for the morning shuttle. It means showing up at the 7 PM meeting. It means falling asleep earlier than everyday life, or staying up late and paying the price with morning wooziness.
The pace of 9 days stretches, too, as if we’re in an island of time outside the normal flow of the universe. People come and go, but we stay on task.
At some point, however, we’re out of time. The hike is done. It’s hard to break away from camp, from friends, and return to the slipstream that is our busy lives. As I drove home last night, I saw the mess on the Turnpike and decided to follow the lonely back roads that I know so well from my hikes on the Florida Trail. Under starry skies, they helped transition me over a few hours driving back into the timeslip of urban life, where cars whiz past on the freeway. Still, it’s that slow pace I love, time spent at the speed of my feet.