On the evening of the 22 September 2009, two years after I walked the
entire length of the Great Transect, I sat for a while in a bar in Pescadero
with my neighbour, the writer, journalist and author, Thomas McCarthy. The
bar was packed, and the crowd was excited and eager, but not at all drunk. In
the corner furthest away from us was a large group of college students, mostly
under 30, playing pool. Across the room from us was another bar. I asked
McCarthy where he was sitting. He told me that he was working on a novel; he
had been trying to write for two years, and this was his first opportunity to
write publicly. I assumed he was sitting in the same corner. I didn’t really
know him or have any idea who he was, and I asked this question because
“writers”, I thought, could be people who write books, or people who had
I was wrong: he was a writer, but he was also a journalist, and the
writer is not an alien species one can find in the bar, and therefore the
writer is not the writer, and therefore the question is not meaningful.
The bar was packed, and the crowd was excited and eager, but
not at all drunk. In the corner furthest away from us was a large group of
college students, mostly under 30, playing pool.
The author, a man called Thomas McCarthy, was sitting across the
room from me. I sat down in a chair at a table near where he was sitting. We
talked about different topics until it was late in the night, and the bar got
too loud for conversation; the crowd began to drink whiskey and wine; one
young man, a regular, began to hit on the author, and a female friend of mine,
a writer called Julia, came over to talk to both of us. The author
explained that he was writing a book, and they had asked him where he was
staying during my “Transect”.
“I was working on the Great Transect,” he said. He told me that he
was not sure he was going to write a book, and that he would write about
“That’s all?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “It might be a trilogy.”
The author would eventually write a book called Last Chance, with
a female co-author, about his experience in the Great Transect.
We left the bar in a taxi and sat on the curb. The author told
me that he had been working on the Great Transect for a year, and that he had
walked the entire distance. I asked him why he hadn’t done this before. He
said he hadn’t thought about it. He told me that he was just there, that he
had wanted to do it for a year, and then he would decide how he wanted to do
it. He wasn’t planning to write a book about it. He told me he had not even
started writing the book yet.
I told him that I was planning to write my Great Transect; I just
didn’t know how I was going to do it. He told me not to worry, that the
experience would be with him all the time, that he would write whatever he
wanted. I told him that I wasn’t writing a Great Transect book but just
writing about the Great Transect, and I wanted to write a book where I
contributed everything I could.
A month and a half later, it was late afternoon on the first day of
the 2012 spring equinox, the first day of Earth’s new season. The ground
was still frozen and my shoes were still wet from walking the Great Transect,
but I had a clear view of the sun’s face and the blue sky above the peaks of
the Sierra Nevada mountains. I stood at the crest of the Sierra’s
mountains looking down a valley that runs north to south for over five miles.
The valley dropped into a flat sea of snow-covered pines, and for a while a
cold wind was blowing and snow was coming down in drifts. To my right was
the beginning of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (south-south-east) and to my
north, the west. It looked like a green velvet sea, but the snow was covering
the tops of the pines, creating a kind of glassiness that caused them to look
like greenish-grey skeletons.
As the day went on, the wind picked up. The sun began to shine
through the snow-covered branches of the trees, and the sky grew lighter.
By late afternoon, the snow fell down in heavy drifts, and I walked a bit
further along the valley to the east, out of the path of the wind.
As I walked along, I heard the sound of raindrops on the snow, and
this brought to mind the spring of 1984, when I walked a part of the Great
Transect, and heard raindrops on the snow at the same time, two years after I
walked the entire length of the Great Transect. I knew then that the two
events were connected to each other, because I was walking on the same day
that I heard and then saw a raindrop on the ground. I also knew that a raindrop
on the ground was a raindrop on a person’s back when I walked along the
valley’s floor, and that people walking along the valley floor are now
walking on wet asphalt in New York City.