Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Zero-Mile Mark

Zero-Mile Mark

(1) The official point at which a measured trail officially starts.

This is another way of saying the spot where a trail begins, sort of.

This point may or may not be the trailhead.

Figuring out if the trail is measured from one end to the other, or from in the middle somewhere to some other point not the end, or how to get on the thing, or if it actually matters or not is your own damn problem.

Some people like to play games.

Some of us just like to hike.

(2) Your hiking partner who always calls to bail right before the time you agreed to meet to start your hike.

This is the kind of person who if he was doing a thru-hike, would do nothing but zero days.

And would have a story prepared ahead of time for every single one of those days.

He's got stories.

Endless stories.

All kinds of stories about where he's been, what he's done, who he knows, who knows him, all his connections to the rich and famous.

All people you have heard of.

Whom everyone has heard of.

That's the point.

But you've never heard any of them connected with backpacking, or even day hiking, or even walking around the block, but Zero-Mile Mark is a close personal friend of each and every one of them without exception, and is telling you this secret story about Famous Person X, who does not want it to get out that they do something as dirt-poor ordinary and sweaty and low-class as backpacking because it would ruin their image, and Zero-Mile Mark really shouldn't tell you, but finally gets you worn down so far you're almost ready to strangle yourself just for something to do other than listen to this guy go on and on, so he drops the name.

Maybe one name, maybe a bunch of names.

Britney Spears.

Bill Gates.

Michael Jackson.

The Pope.

All secret backpackers.

All intimate friends of Zero-Mile Mark, but he can't really say more than that, and you have to keep it quiet, OK? He shouldn't have said anything.

So he starts to talk about gear.

His eight backpacks, and which one is best and which one isn't the best, and which one attracts more chicks, and which one is more gnarly-manly looking, and then he goes into waterproof-breathable jackets and tells you everything you didn't want to know about Expanded PTFE Membrane vs. EVENT Laminate vs. Entrant GII XT Laminate vs. Nextec vs. Membrain vs. Sympatex vs. Conduit vs. Omni-Tech.

And a whole bunch of others. All of the others.

And how he's going to buy a new jacket made of this stuff, as soon as he figures out what exactly the best stuff is, if he can find a jacket that fits, which is always a huge problem given the size of his pects, not to mention getting the right colors, which is a whole nother class of mental exfoliation for him to get into.

And at first you fight to keep all this out of your brain because you know it's all made up, aside from the brand names, and maybe them too, and if it gets into your brain it will only stick there like used chewing gum, or like when you're learning a language and get a word wrong the first day and then you can never change it back to what it really is, and here is this guy shoveling this stuff straight into your head, and fighting it as much as you can fight it, you still finally have to give up and let it come in through one ear and roll around and dribble out the other ear if possible.

But despite that, some of it sticks to the inside of your head and you're never quite the same again anyway.

So when Zero-Mile Mark says the two of you really should do a shakedown trip next week to get all sorted out and tuned up for the upcoming season you say Sure, and set a date, and a time, and you know that's the end of it, and all you have to do is be certain that your voicemail is working because as close as he's going to get to hiking is calling you six seconds before you're due to roll up in front of his place to pick him up, and telling you he's got a sore toe, or his wife is scared about it, or the dog's hemorrhoids are flaring up again.

Now if you could figure out a way of never seeing him again, well and good, but he is your boss, so...

(3) An arbitrary point where you decide to start something.

Because every good story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end, you have to pick the beginning or you have no journey, and hence no story to lie about.

Because beginning sounds so ordinary you choose to make it big-scary and call yours the zero-mile mark.

Due to an unusually felicitous conjunction of forces (and possibly due to a plot hatched by those really behind everything that happens) the zero-mile mark is also the zero-kilometer mark, the zero-furlong mark, the zero-parsec mark, zero-light year mark, the zero-fathom mark, the zero-league mark, the zero-Smoot mark, the zero-verst mark, and the zero-li mark.

In fact, no matter how you slice it, zero is always zero, which seems like an incredible coincidence unless you understand that the entire game is rigged, after which it all becomes much simpler.

No need to go backpacking then. Just lie and say you did.

Tell them how you slid one foot under the fence at the border, touched foreign soil on the far side, and then turned about-face and relentlessly slogged for months and months, suffering all sorts of indignities and starvation until you reached that other, equally pointless border and slid another of your body parts under, over, around, or through the barrier there, and then go home and buy or rent someone else's photo collection to show off at parties and family gatherings.

Works every time.

Meanwhile, instead of doing all that nasty and sweaty hiking you could really be off to some civilized beach, contentedly napping in a hammock and being brought drinks by a flock of sweet agreeable things with what is called "loose morals" as they quaintly used to describe a tendency toward agreeable fun. And so on.


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Me? Learning to count backwards while chewing and walking gum.