[editor’s note] I am hesitant to post the following essay from good friend Jack Borgo only because I hate to be the second best writer on my own website. I spent the previous weekend in my old stomping grounds, Madison, WI, to watch my football team disembowel the #8 team in the country, and more importantly, to catch up with old friends. Jack was the first person that I met up with. Little did I know he was leveraging my friendship merely to further his writing career. Just kidding. Not really. In all sincerity, Jack, thank you for the kind words. Your enthusiasm for the great outdoors was an inspiration in my undertaking. And, please, keep writing.
Last weekend I was reunited with one of my closest friends, Zach Davis (aka “Badger” to his trail-mates, “Good Badger” to his readers and “Undeliverable Address” to child-support collectors), at our former education/inebriation grounds at the University of Wisconsin. Though excited for 48 hours of bad beer and worse decisions, I was also pensive.
I knew and loved the pre-trail Zach Davis; a perpetually witty, easy-going Chicago sports fanatic who preferred a coffee-shop and laptop to “wilderness”. This Zach was so ill-equipped for time in the woods that if you asked me to list his Top Skills Essential to Survival in Nature, “an affinity for bandanas” would have been #1. Despite this outdoorsy ineptitude, when Zach told me that he had decided to hike the A.T., I knew his determination and love of exploration meant inevitable success.
However these conversations, coupled with postings on his blog, were also unnerving. For 5+ months Zach would trade his Apple for the Appalachian, baristas for bears. He was embarking on a potentially transformative journey…did the beginning of Badger mean the end of Zach?
Would he emerge from the woods as a stereotype existing somewhere between Haight-Ashbury community organizer and Bill Maher fan club president?
Would our conversations about fantasy football be replaced with discussions about Jerry Garcia’s chord progressions?
Could he eat non-organic food?
I’d seen this happen before to high school friends who’d taken an internship in Teluride, Colorado, Bozeman, Montana and other environmental enclaves, returned home and despised any activity that didn’t involve “stompin pow” or “shreadin gnar”. Cynicism toward their prior norm seemed to be an unavoidable side-effect for those who went spelunking in the outer caverns of their comfort zone.
All these thoughts bounced through my head as I walked through the Wisconsin Union’s patented copper doors – was I going to be reunited with a friend or be introduced to someone entirely new?
As I turned down the hallway towards the terrace I saw Zach, clad in an unlicensed Michael Jordan T-shirt and sporting a beard that can only be described as neo-Gimli (is the A.T. on the road to Mordor?). After a hug and quick volley of wise-ass comments my apprehensions vanished – this was still the old Zach.
We continued to talk over pitchers of Spotted Cow, sharing the finer points of discretely defecating outdoors and I realized that while the Appalachian had shown Zach parts of himself and humanity he may have not known existed, these experiences didn’t change his essence. When presented with something monumental he embraces the wonderment of it, rather than exuding disdain towards the ordinary. This perspective is what differentiates his voice and his blog from the usual hiker’s fare.
Over the next two days I watched Zach field a menagerie of questions from individuals spanning the entire sobriety spectrum. Listening to responses to queries such as, “What did you miss most?”, “Did you get laid on the trail?” and “Can you rub your beard on my face?”, one thought kept circulating – I can’t wait for the book.
[editors note] Thanks again Jack, you rock. You can be first in line for it here.