Andrew Terrill

The outdoor diary of a writer, photographer, and wilderness wanderer

Time Travel Is Possible

Time travel is possible. Yes, it really is! Don’t believe me? Okay, well, consider this…

I escaped for another night out this weekend – up in the James Peak Wilderness beneath the Continental Divide. The forecast called for strong winds and up to three inches of snow, so I packed a tent, figuring I’d need every extra layer of protection I could carry. Arrival at the trailhead confirmed the wisdom of this choice. The large parking area east of the James Peak Wilderness is one of the world’s windiest spots, and Sunday afternoon was no exception – winter was blowing an absolute hooley. Pushing the car door open was a struggle, and once out in the maelstrom I marveled at how little of the falling snow was actually reaching the ground. So fierce was the wind the flakes probably weren’t going to land until they reached Kansas.

The forest provided marginal shelter, although the pines all tossed and churned like long stems of grass in a swishing summer meadow. I’d planed to snowshoe to Forest Lakes and camp high, but the stinging spindrift and thuggish wind suggested a less-exposed location would be smarter. Camping in the Rockies in January can be challenging enough – there was no need to make the night extreme.

With daylight fading I found a beautiful spot out of the worst of the wind, stamped down a platform, wished for a moment I was going to build an igloo on top of it, but then threw up my trusty tent. The tent was the same one I’d used on my long walk across Europe, and pitching it in snow once again reminded me of the long winter of 1997-1998. Then, snow had fallen in October and had lasted through to July, creating a winter that had felt endless. For a fleeting moment, I was back in it, not camped in Colorado but in the Bohemian Forest, and not sleeping out for a single night but engaged in an 18-month adventure. For the few seconds it lasted, it wasn’t a bad feeling.

As darkness grew, snow began falling in earnest, but the wind eased up, and a hush fell over the forest. The gentle murmur of flakes landing on my shelter faded as layers built, until I thumped the roof and walls to dislodge the weight and the murmur resumed. I dined – mushroom tortellini and sautéed vegetables in a roasted red pepper bruschetta – read a little, and then got to work on my book, The Earth Beneath My Feet.

The editor currently working on it, Alex Roddie, had identified a couple of key passages that would benefit from re-working: turning exposition into live action to engage readers more fully. Alex’s brilliant insights are helping take the book to the next level, and I was more than happy to follow his suggestions. Pen in hand, I began writing, struggling at first to create sentences that moved the story forward, but eventually falling into a groove. I was helped by my situation: camped in a snowy forest inside the very tent I’d slept in all those years earlier. The appropriateness made me smile. Knowledge that some of the story was going to have been written in a wilderness camp would only add to its value!

Camp in the Thuringerwald, central Europe, February 1998.

Afterwards, I slept well, waking only occasionally to shake the tent free of pressing snow. Warm in my sleeping bag, I dreamed of other places: mysterious German woods, lonely Czech forests, wild locations with frost-encrusted tors and ice-encased pines, untrammeled environments far removed from the modern world. Fast asleep, I traveled in delight through a Europe few people truly know, becoming ever more immersed in it, and the fulfillment I reclaimed in my dreams lingered long into wakefulness once the new Colorado day began.

The old forests of Central Europe in late December, 1997.

It was a new day, and still snowing hard. What could be better? Breakfast was hot weetabix, three mugs of steaming coffee, and then I resumed work on my book.

And that was when the time travel took place…

The familiar tent, the fresh snow, the wild forest, the alone-ness, the night of dreams about a walk taken 24 years earlier, the writing… it all came together, grew in strength, and finally overwhelmed me. In an instant, I wasn’t just writing about my big walk – I  was back on it, reliving all the hopes, fears and emotions. Days of travel now lay ahead. No, months, and thousands of miles. Whole mountain ranges in fact! The challenges, the possibilities, the uncertainties, the sheer promise of it – the journey thrilled. As I traveled back in time, the cold-cold January morning was transformed, thawed by the immediacy of an adventure that had been – and now was again – more meaningful and fulfilling that I’d ever expected it to be.

Ridiculously happy, singing at the top of my voice, I cast aside my writing, suited up, and stepped outside. More snow had fallen overnight than had been forecast, and more was wafting down: white feathers spiraling gently. Overnight, trees had been whitened, shapes simplified and smoothed. The pillowy softness made it an entirely different forest from the brutal wind-blasted environment it had been the previous afternoon. Entranced, grinning inanely, I wandered about, taking photos, thinking about the thousands of miles I’d walked to reach this point in time, and also the thousands of miles still to come. It wasn’t 2021 any longer, or even 1998. The two dates had merged to create something new, as though the gap lying between them had vanished. Or perhaps the numbers had simply lost relevance. Whatever, the merging of two moments in time lit a fire of happiness that warmed my spirit.

Reality, of course, eventually resurfaced. It was still 2021, and my family was expecting me home at noon. I packed away camp, and set off through the downy forest, but the warmth and happiness remained. It stayed during the short walk out, grew even stronger when I bumped into a long time social media friend I’d never met before, survived the drive home, and still shines a day later as I write this.

It’s extraordinary, this happiness I carried back – extraordinary and deep set. It defies easy explanation, and for a better attempt at it you’ll have to read both my books! But to put it simply, it’s an emotion that has built up over the years. It’s a cumulative thing, formed by countless experiences that have all come together to create something more powerful and enduring than might be imagined. In essence, it is happiness based on time travel, on understanding that what occurred years ago hasn’t gone but remains available, to be dipped into and relived at any moment, forever on hand to enrich life. All those days, weeks and months in nature, all those moments of awe and wonder, all those tens of thousands of miles, all those experiences… they’re still present. For sure, I try my damndest to live in the moment, but sometimes when the past returns and hits full force ‘living in the moment’ can take on an entirely different meaning.

Time travel is an extraordinary thing. Perhaps even worth a try, if you haven’t tried it already?

Morning view from camp, the forest softened by overnight snow. 1998, or 2021? Does it even matter?
Pillows of softness.
Happiness, despite the fact I was heading out.
The way down – soft, steep and fun!
A kindred spirit, met on the trail.
Time travel leads to soaring exuberance. Worth a try?
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