UPDATE: After this post was published, I received an email from Dan Pearce. He writes: “John, I respect your post. You did get some things wrong. Lynton was not a ranger. He’s a business owner who volunteers for Search and Rescue. And since you basically called me a liar, here’s the exact communication.”
What followed was a Facebook post from Lynton to Pearce which is unquestionably authentic in which Lynton does, indeed, categorize the hike exactly as represented in Pearce’s press release. I’d like to apologize for falsely assuming from Pearce’s press release that Lynton was a ranger and also point out that my incorrect assumption renders my skepticism regarding comments attributed to Lynton completely baseless.
I’d also like to apologize to you, Dan, for this error as well as to thank you for bringing it to my attention.
It’s been just over a week since the Internet was abuzz with the latest news from fellow Babble writer Dan Pearce. According to a self-written press release, the blogger behind Single Dad Laughing and a few of his friends experienced a mountain mishap when they mistakenly veered off of a trail they’d intended to hike and instead found themselves on one that was unmarked. They took this unmarked trail some six miles to the summit where Pearce experienced dehydration, fatigue and leg cramps which ultimately “caused him to collapse and go into shock.” A few hours later, Pearce’s day hike concluded with a dramatic mountaintop rescue executed by helicopter.
Cecily Kellogg wrote about the episode twice here on Babble. The first piece was a recap of what happened, the next a response to “tough questions” which her initial piece had raised with tough questions being a euphemism for outrage.
But outrage accompanying news involving Pearce is nothing new. And as I scrolled through the comments on Kellogg’s pieces, I wasn’t surprised to find that most of the commenters thought Pearce was lying, another common theme, as it’s always skepticism which fuels the fires of outrage that lie smoldering in the wake of his many contentions.
I don’t know much about Pearce. His writing doesn’t appeal to me, so I never stop by to read. And I believe that disconnect is why I’ve always been unaffected by whatever news it is he’s recently made. Which is why I was so confused that this latest bit of news affected me so. Until a friend helped me realize it was because Pearce had hijacked one of my truest loves hiking. “And that’s your thing,” my friend concluded.
And my friend’s right. Hiking is my thing.
It’s impossible to pinpoint the number of miles I’ve hiked, but if I’m throwing out a guess, I’ll go with 1,000. And I don’t say this to come off all Billy Badass, but instead to suggest that I know a thing or two about the mountains. And from the perspective of a hiker, this bizarre tale boils to down to two things: skepticism and respect.
First, the skepticism. There were many elements of Pearce’s self-written press release that I found hard to believe, but none more so than when David Lynton, the forest ranger to first reach Pearce, said “That was the hardest hike I have ever done.” In such a situation, a ranger would be much more likely to categorize the hiker (as in, “Thank God he was okay.”) than he would the hike. The only purpose categorizing the hike serves is to glorify Pearce.
Regardless, experienced hikers aren’t quick to get out a blue ribbon and award it to any one particular trail, along with a plaque that reads “Hardest Hike Ever.” So I’d not expect to hear that kind of superlative from a mountain man who’s seen it all. It sounds more like the words of, well, a blogger. Particularly one who butters his bread by pulling on heartstrings.
From what I could glean, the hike was certainly a tricky little number to be certain, but I also come from a world of back-to-back-to-back 17-milers while carrying a heavy pack. And most (if not all) forest rangers are well versed in that world. So even if a forest ranger were prone to offering up “hardest-hike-ever” quotes, I can assure you that the recipient of such an accolade would not be the three-hour day hike that took down Dan Pearce.
Which leads me to another point of skepticism. It’s hard for me to believe that Pearce would actually pass out from a day hike. Oddly though, this is also exactly why I believe Pearce’s overall story. (Not every detail, mind you.) Because I don’t believe a person would make up something which casts himself in such an incompetent light.
I mean, first, there’s the whole getting-lost bit, a rookie mistake if there ever was one. But were I he, the embarrassment of getting lost would pale in comparison to the shame of knowing that my lack of planning, my lack of knowledge and my lack of physical conditioning turned a day hike into a search-and-rescue expedition that likely cost tax payers thousands of dollars.
So yeah, I believe the overall story. Why would Pearce cop to such ineptitude if it weren’t true?
And that’s where respect comes in and why, ultimately, this story flew all over me. Pearce’s decision to romanticize his embarrassing failure in a platitude-laden, self-written and self-aggrandizing press release (which described him as a “famed blogger”) showed an astonishing lack of respect for the mountain that had just chewed him up and spit him out.
And one thing I learned long ago is that you must never disrespect a mountain. Which is why my hiking buddy and I spend hours analyzing topography, mileage, water sources, weather patterns, shelters, and campsites before we ever settle upon the itinerary of one of our bi-annual Appalachian Trail backpacking trips.
It’s that respect, in fact, which compels me to temporarily trade my complex but comfortable life for a simple, arduous one a decision I’ll both praise and curse as I hike up and down 3 to 5,000-foot inclines covering 15 to 20 miles a day armed with nothing more than 35 pounds of essentials, the clothes I’m wearing and a desire to lead a more meaningful life.
And I’ve logged enough miles to know that I’m not the one in control. The mountain is. For it decides when to deliver me unspeakable joy. Just as it decides when to bring me to my knees with mocking condescension, serving effective notice of my relative insignificance to the world above which it so majestically looms.
The mountain has made me cry tears of joy as often as it has tears of anguish. And once, it even made me cry tears of grief, only the trunk of a sympathetic pine keeping me propped up after a brutal uphill stretch one that occurred toward the end of a tough day and teamed up with the release of endorphins and the recent passing of my sister to leave me a sobbing mess, crying unexpectedly, uncontrollably even, cries that were melancholy but beautiful and in perfect sync with the metronome of tears that drip-dropped, drip-dropped, drip-dropped upon the dry and dusty leaves that paved the trail on that unforgettable October afternoon.
The day I experienced my transcendental goodbye to Holliday. The goodbye the mountain had kept secret from me. The goodbye the mountain had arranged.
Shit, y’all. I’ve stumbled across countless metaphors while walking through the hills, and I’ve picked up every one of them, tucking each safely inside the place where my essence resides so that I might refer to them every now and again while walking through my life. And I revel in sharing them with the people I love, and sometimes even with my readers.
But not to celebrate me. To celebrate the mountains that haunt me like a beautiful ghost. Because it’s my way of telling them that I love them. That I appreciate them. That I fear them.
And that I respect them.
Toward the end of his self-written press release, Pearce says: “I can’t wait to get back up there. I’m going to conquer that mountain. I’m not going to let it conquer me.”
And that’s the part where I came undone. Because Dan seems to think he’s the one charge. And his ignorance — his arrogance — is beyond disturbing.
Because it’s never once been about the hiker, y’all. It’s always been about the mountain.
And any true hiker would know that.
Read more of JCO Multiplied: