Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.Simone de Beauvoir
Change is not easy.
Most of us would prefer to keep things right where they are. We’d rather not, thank you very much, risk change that might bring on unsettling feelings of having no clue what we’re doing, or worse, having to start all over again. Kind of like when you choose that card in Monopoly – go to jail, directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
When I started walking the Pacific Crest Trail last July, it was all about survival of my spirit. If I could just get out of town for a few weeks and start walking again, I might clear my head and maybe the drastic changes happening in my life that were making me sit bolt upright in bed every night in a state of panic, would just go away.
I bought a one-way ticket to Bellingham, Washington and planned to carpool with a trail angel who organized a caravan of rented vans. She ferried thirty hikers to the trailhead at Hart’s Pass. I was surprised by the number of us and soon learned that there was only a handful actually starting the trail. Most of the hikers were what we called “flippers,” hikers who needed to change their intended route because moving forward was impossible.
The metaphor in that bleak moment of my life was not lost on me. Circumstances beyond their control forced them to reckon with the situation, make a decision, and act. Not everyone was happy or comfortable with what needed to be done, but they figured things out and finally placed themselves over a thousand miles from where they left off.
The solution was never a guarantee. For some who flipped from the impenetrable Sierra to Oregon, they came into deep snow that slowed progress to a post-holing crawl. Those who came further, to Northern Washington, likely made the best choice, even though the weather was iffy. But there was no way to know for sure when they made their decision.
I met lovely Melinda and Henry at the home of Karl and Heidi, trail angels with an enormous house and enormous hearts. I was so taken with this young couple’s can-do spirit and sense of adventure, the shocking obstacles they overcame to get as far as they did, and their humility in realizing thru-hiking is a personal and private choice, in many ways. One not always embraced by everyone.
I was particularly struck with their newfound knowledge of how little they actually matter in the large scheme of things. And I mean this in a kind way, not cynical or despairing. It might be a good thing to realize that all the striving and trying to be liked in our lives is such wasted energy and is completely useless when backpacking.
On the trail, Melinda was applying for medical school. In her interviews, the committees she spoke with had no context for what she was doing taking a half year to walk the PCT. Henry quit a very stressful job in criminal justice and seemed to be burning out, but was surprised how easy it was, to simply go.
Wilderness can make us feel very small, as can our bosses and colleagues going on with their own lives and barely missing us while we’re gone. While there is sadness in that realization, I think it also frees us to be who we truly are in the short time we’re given on this earth, to discover what makes us tick and gives us joy. In essence, to be Blissful Hikers.
I never saw Melinda or Henry again. They either decided to skip the extra thirty-one miles north to touch the Canadian border and just headed south right away, or they walked so much faster than me, I missed them entirely.
But that is the nature of thru-hiking – people come in and out of our lives, oftentimes right when we need to meet them, sharing a piece of themselves that makes an impression and teaches us something. For me, it was about finding out what really matters.
And also to laugh a lot on the way to finding that out.
The Blissful Hiker hits the airwaves…well, the internet, anyway…a new podcast!
The Pee Rag ❤︎ Unfiltered Tales of the Blissful Hiker.
Long distance backpacker and essayist Alison Young reveals the truth behind the unglamorous – but fulfilling – life of a full-time-pedestrian.