The original Blade Runner movie made a deep impression on me when it was released in 1982, especially the last few seconds, when the protagonists escape from the dark, rainy, urban disaster zone of future Los Angeles into sunlit forests and mountains — the only glimpse of nature in the 1-hour 57-minute film. Thus I was very curious when Blade Runner 2049 showed up in theaters a few weeks ago.
The timing was fortuitous, because I’d recently read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the 1974 classic by Robert Pirsig, which opens with a motorcycle trip into the fresh air and sunshine of the countryside, an attempt to escape a lifestyle increasingly shaped and dominated by technology. Or perhaps, as the novel’s protagonist muses, it’s not technology itself but some kind of force that gives rises to technology: “something undefined, but inhuman, mechanical, lifeless, a blind monster, a death force.”
Dread of technology is not recent. A copy of Walden tucked away in the protagonist’s motorcycle saddle-bag calls to mind Henry David Thoreau’s warning that “men have become the tool of their tools.” For Thoreau, dependence on technology was a form of enslavement, and his famous observation that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” seems to be the implicit premise in both Pirsig’s novel and the tech noir genre to which the Blade Runner films belong.
Of course, we need technology to survive. Pirsig adds that without it, “there would be no possibility for beauty in the arts,” as the words “technology” and “art” both refer to the process of making things…. But the fear remains: that technology has taken on a life of its own, that it is reordering human existence according to mechanical rules, that the end result for us will not be the light and beauty of nature, but rather despair and the grim urban decay through which the blade runner stalks his prey.
The fall foliage this year has disappointed, possibly due to warm temperatures persisting into late October, but on the drive up to the Catskills, the maples growing high atop the Shawangunk ridge were glowing in such exotic shades of yellow, orange, and red — and creating such a kaleidoscopic effect that it took a conscious effort to focus on the winding road.
It was time for something new. I could hardly count the times I’ve done the 8-mile loop from Balsam Lake Mountain (BLM) to Graham and back, starting and ending at the Dry Brook Ridge parking area. OK, I’ll try: three times this year, once last year, and a long time ago I took my son Philip, then five years old, on approximately this route for an overnight camping trip. I’ve also come at Graham/BLM from Doubletop, which entails a difficult bushwhack across a steep divide; most recently in August 2016 as part of an aborted attempt to thru-hike the 35, and once the year before.
Studying the map, I’ve discovered a different route connecting these three peaks, one that circles around into a valley to the west through which the Hardenburgh Trail runs — an area I’ve never seen before….
With 232 Catskill climbs under my belt, I’m 55% of the way through the Grid. I wasn’t able to put much of a dent in September, only 43% complete — there were too many conflicts, like the SRT Race and and a trip to the Adirondacks — but October is coming together nicely with 74% done and plenty of time left in the month.
With a week off from work and the weather turning unseasonably warm for late September, I decided to forsake the Catskills and head to the Adirondacks, with the goal of climbing a few more of the 46 high peaks barefoot. Three days and almost thirty miles later, I returned with six peaks bagged, bringing the total to 17, and an even deeper appreciation for this lush, wet, rugged, steep, fragrant, unnerving, spectacular wilderness.