"My name is Abbi, but I am also known as Otherworld. I am a curious girl."
That's from a note written to me. The adjective "curious" gave me pause, because it can be read two ways. It merited some delving into.
Just from her statement, we can surmise that Abilene "Abbi" Bushong is probably not a librarian or a DMV clerk. On the other hand, someone who tells us she is called "Otherworld" tends to make us squint in skepticism.
Abbi is OK with that. She works hard to be different, and if we don't understand why, well, I don't see her grieving over it.
Abbi grew up in Lakeside, daughter of a stable family in a middle-class groove. She went to Valhalla High School, graduated from San Diego State University in outdoor resource management, and is 28 and single.
If that were all there was to it, we'd be talking about someone else.
When we met, I was ready for someone with purple hair. But instead I shook hands with a slim woman slightly over 5 feet tall who has a jaunty manner and open smile. I could say she's petite, but that sounds too dainty. Rather, she's bantam, like that tough little rooster that struts around the barnyard.
When we drive through the Sierra and see a hiker in the distance, or admire the redwoods near Mendocino and stop roadside to deeply smell the mustiness, we think, "Man, I'd like to live here."
Yeah. Abbi's with us on that. But unlike us, she doesn't get back in the car and drive away. She stays.
And the "otherworld" she accepts as a "trail name" is not the liberation statement of some throwback trust-fund hippie chick in a granny dress and beads. It's her way of saying that the world she cherishes is something other than a window table at Mister A's, a corner office at B of A or a Lexus with leather seats.
She rejects any "hippie" similarity.
"The thing is, with hippies, they are known for doing drugs. That is not me. I'm an educated environmentalist, someone who's very aware and conscious and who feels peace and love and happiness and experiences all that in the wilderness and natural places.
"The world that we live in is so chaotic and overwhelming. The wilderness is a place where everything just makes sense, and it's just so simple."
If you could design a perfect life, what would it be?
"It would be walking every day through the woods forever. Life is hard for everyone. You can either be at home living a regular life and dealing with your challenges, or you can be in the wilderness living a totally different life than everyone else."
There may be a subliminal reason, as least partly, for why Abbi turns her back on much of the social structure the rest of us cling to tightly.
"I was always bullied, from second grade until the day I graduated from high school."
Why would anyone bully you?
"Because girls are freaking mean. They didn't feel good about themselves, and they had to use people who seemed weak to make themselves feel better.
"I've always been different. I've always gone against the grain. Maybe I was a dork in some people's eyes.
"I tried really hard to fit in. I tried all these different identities in my school. I tried to be what people would not make fun of. Then I just gave up because it didn't work, and I finally embraced myself."
After graduating from SDSU in 2013 and "wanting to be free," she invested six months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone, starting at the Mexican border and following the spines of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Range mountains for about 2,300 miles. She was forced to stop within sight of Mount Rainier, 300 miles south of Canada, due to an early winter. That good judgment may be why she's with us today.
Returning home, she broke off the engagement to a man she had been with for five years.
"Our relationship had been built upon me and my insecurities. I had just kind of thrown myself at this man and loved him for no real reason. That was how I had felt about myself. I didn't feel like I was worthy. On the Pacific Crest Trail, I discovered my worth and I discovered my strength."
I guess you could say he got kicked to the curb.
He might say you used him.
"No. He helped me learn about myself. I didn't use him. I love him very much."
He was a steppingstone.
"Everyone has steppingstones. He had a dream that I didn't share. He was like, ‘Let's go buy some land and get married and I'll work and, you know, build a house, and we'll do all this.' That's not what I wanted."
This past summer, she hiked 1,200 miles along the Canadian border east to west from Glacier National Park to the Pacific with her new guy.
Then, when her boyfriend decided to take the train home, she biked all the way down the coast to San Diego alone. Tack on 1,800 more miles.
"I camped every night. I packed all my gear on my bike for five weeks. I never stayed in hotels. Together with the hike, I spent over four months sleeping on the ground."
I ask about personal safety, being a woman along in the wilderness. I learn this is no flower child.
"I had no problems, but I carry pepper spray and a knife. Oh, yeah. If I'm hiking at night, I always have my knife and my pepper spray in my hands. I even sometimes practice motions so that I'm ready to do what I have to do if necessary.
"There are bad people who want to hurt you, and you need to be prepared to protect yourself as a woman."
She made it back to Lakeside safely, and will tell you that SUVs are scarier than grizzly bears.
"We are natural beings," she says. "But we create this fabricated world and incorporate all of these artificial things into our lives. All it's creating is waste."
Abbi is also a slice-of-lifer who lived for two months on a group farm in Baja California, what we would have called a commune back in the day.
When she's not traipsing mountains, Abbi spends winters as a ski-lift operator at Mammoth Mountain, where her '96 Nissan Maxima will shortly take her. She enjoys the skiing, and the job keeps her close to nature and helps her save up a few dollars - very few - for her next adventure.
She rents a small apartment in Mammoth and splits the $800 monthly rent with her boyfriend. She will earn $10 per hour operating her lift, which is an increase of 20 cents from last season.
She says she can live annually on a pittance, an amount one of those money-seekers she rejects might call chump change.
"Money for me is something I don't need very much of. If I were traveling constantly, I could live on $4,000 or $5,000 a year. If I am living in one place, maybe $8,000, because I need to pay bills. That changes when I'm just walking through the woods, because all I need to do is feed myself."
She augments her slim budget with food stamps. Her medical coverage is Medi-Cal.
That leads me to ask how she might respond to someone who says, "Abbi is a healthy, educated woman who should not be on welfare. She should be earning her own way."
"I would say, ‘I make $9.80 an hour. How else am I going to have insurance? I may be rich with life, but I'm not rich with money.'
"I would say, just because I'm not sick and unhappy doesn't mean I don't deserve help when I'm only being paid [a little more than] minimum wage."
In describing her mission, Abbi embraces self-denial, but she doesn't sound deprived.
"I choose real life experience over material things. I cook for myself and never eat out. I spend very little money, and when I do, only on things that I absolutely need. Everything else goes toward an adventure. I don't have a computer or a smartphone. I use libraries to access the Internet to write my blogs at trekkinlady.wordpress.com.
"All I can say is that simplicity is the answer. Whatever that means to you, simplify your life."
When Thoreau wrote his "different drummer" advice, he didn't intend to create a cliché. But he did, and we have to remember that a cliché becomes that by overuse, and that's because people see truth in it.
Putting it another way: We take our lives in different directions. Most of us join the herd because we are herd animals, if I may say it that way. However, a few of us wander off and trade cars for trees and condos for mountains.
Both ways can work, but the envy seems to be only one direction.
Tuesday: You can't step lightly enough for a rattlesnake.
Fred Dickey's home page is freddickey.net. He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes ideas at [email protected]© Copyright 2015 The San Diego Union-Tribune. All rights reserved.