A Lesson for each Trail…

A lot of people hike the same trail in any given year, but we all have different experiences doing it. We go through the terrain at different times of day or under different weather windows, allowing what we see or experience to be wildly different from one another. One person may be lucky enough to hike a high pass in good weather, while another has a frightening and life endangering experience in a storm. One might walk through a certain landscape in the heat of mid-day, while another is treated to a spectacular array of colors at sunrise. We also have different encounters with other people and animals, depending on our timing. I never saw a mountain lion on the PCT, for example, while several other hikers had frightening encounters with them. Timing determines whether you encounter a kind person who offers you a piece of fruit or is open to giving you a ride into town. We also make different choices along the trail, such as how many miles to hike each day and how much weight we carry, which can greatly alter one person’s experience from another.

I think that many of us learn similar things from hiking long trails, but I also believe that, since we are all unique, have different personality characteristics, and make different choices, that each person will be presented with similar challenges again and again until the person has been shown they they have accepted that particular lesson. My journey on the PCT this year was definitely made a lot smoother from my previous experiences on both the Appalachian Trail and the Colorado Trail. The lessons that I learned on these trails served me well on the PCT. I thought I would share the most significant lessons I learned from each of the trails I have hiked.

On the Appalachian Trail, I learned that human beings are the most dangerous animal on the trail. This lesson was presented to me over and over again, from the very beginning of the trail, to well after it was over. I was a magnet for the most psychotic people on the trail. Although I loved the life of a thru-hiker, these bad people experiences ruined the trail for me. I wondered over and over about why these experiences happened to me and seemingly not to others and finally concluded that it was a lesson I was meant to learn. I had to learn about keeping boundaries and not so easily allowing others into my energy field where they could easily manipulate me.

On the Colorado Trail, I learned to be happy wherever I was and not to look forward to being anywhere else (town while I was on the trail, or the trail while I was in town), because my happiness was not waiting for me in a different place.

On the PCT, I learned that there is no need to worry about anything. I learned that if you stick to your path and your boundaries and not grip and try to control things too much, but allow and open instead, that everything will naturally fall into place. Things will always break and you will never not be in need of something, but help is always out there somewhere. It may not come in the form that you wished for or from a person you hoped would provide, but it will come from somewhere. The trail provides. The universe provides. We are all connected.

What I love about thru-hiking

My return to “civilized” life hasn’t been as difficult as it was after the AT, but lately, I have begun to feel quite lonely and unproductive, and therefore a bit depressed. I felt like I was on a thru-hiker high last week and was proud enough about my accomplishment that I didn’t care that no one else around me knew what I had just done. I was going to write this post on that “high”, but now, I must write about it from the perspective of missing what the trail does for me, and what I can’t seem to find in “real life.” I have yet to have any friends from Boston visit me and I have not yet made a visit to my yoga studio, which is 45-60 minutes away, because my body is not ready for that kind of intense practice yet, and I have to conserve gas money. After my first home practice of yoga, I can 100% confirm that you need open shoulders, open quads, open groin muscles, and open feet to do backbends- neither of which I have at the moment! My knees are quite inflamed (making even child’s pose painful), and it really hurt the tops of my feet to roll over them transitioning from upward dog to downward dog. For five months, I used only a select group of muscles, all of which have become extremely tight, and all of the unused muscles have become very short. It does feel good to begin to open and stretch, though! Anyway, here are some of the reasons why I love thru-hiking!

I love having a long term goal that gives me a reason to wake up (reasonably early) each day and get moving, and one in which I make visible progress each day. I feel most productive when thru-hiking.

I love the feeling of being “filled-up” (with love, gratitude, happiness), that I feel each time I leave a resupply stop and get back on the trail.

I love the feeling of stepping on the trail and feeling like it is my home.

I see more sunsets (and even sunrises) than I ever do in regular life.

I love having instant friends in other thru-hikers. There is no warming up to each other, no wariness in getting to know one another as there often is in the city. In the wilderness, we have a common bond in that we are all doing the same thing, with the same goal. There is no hesitation in helping one another out. When someone is in need of something, a fellow hiker will almost always immediately step up and help.

You meet a lot of people who have stepped outside of their comfort zone and said YES to life- to really living. To being challenged. Previous to my thru-hiking experiences, I have only met people who insisted I stay in a job that I did not like- for years and years and years. They knew of no other options for me. Thru-hikers are a breed of people who do not live in fear. They know that freedom exists outside of the 9-5 world and build their lives around these journeys. It is inspiring to be around.

You realize that the less you have, the happier you are. I believe that when you don’t cling to possessions, or other people, or other people’s opinions of you, you allow more of the world in and therefore have more.

I love that people think I am much younger than I am when I am hiking! I also feel much better when I am thinner. It is amazing to see the difference in all of our faces from the moment we started the trail, to a couple of weeks in. We all have a glow, a palpable sense of happiness on our faces. It reminds me of the before and after photos of people who have attended a month-long meditation retreat.

I love that you can eat whatever you want on these long hikes and still not gain weight (although, I must admit that I did not lose as much fat as I wanted to on this journey, even when it hurt to eat food!).

I love the feeling of well-deserved rest! In regular life, I can sleep forever and still not feel rested! More sleep doesn’t feel good. On the trail, I don’t sleep nearly as much as I do in regular life, and yet function just fine! And when I finally do get a chance to get a bit of rest (rare!), it feels amazing!

I love that I never feel lonely nor depressed on the trail.

I love that I can be active for 12-13 hours every day.

I love seeing interesting wildlife and beautiful landscapes on a regular basis.

I love the feeling of reaching the summit of a mountain.

I love that every day on the trail is unique.

I love being in open spaces.

I love living in tune with the rhythm of nature.

I love that I feel completely content lying on a piece of dirt with no screen around me.

I love that I am in charge of making my own decisions in every moment.

I love the confidence I build with each mile hiked.

I love that people get inspired from what I am doing.

I love encountering kind people who are willing to help.

I love that I can easily remember specific details about any given day on a trail.

I love remembering funny things that happened with other hikers that continue to make me laugh.

I love the feeling of really being alive!