A Different Kind of Trail Magic – A Fairytale Awaits.
Around this time last year – after all the gear had been bought, and all the logistics had been organized (or so I thought), I began to mentally prepare myself for 6-months of life in the woods. While doing so, I stumbled upon an article outlining a few reasons why hopeful thru-hikers would ultimately end up packing their bags and heading home without having climbed Katahdin. One reason that stuck with me was the idea that potential hikers romanticize the trail from the comfort of their homes only to be disappointed with the reality of the situation once they are actually experiencing it all. I’ve never been a very sentimental or spiritual person – and I certainly had never considered myself to be a romantic – but in 2015, I deliberately and purposefully chose to live a life in which I would be forced to fully immerse myself in nature and experience Mother Nature’s passion and fury – and I found myself starring in my own little fairytale.
I’m not going to lie – my LASH was full of unrelenting bugs, sobbing in my tent, poison ivy all over my inner thighs (ugh), multiple bouts of pink eye, accidentally peeing on my shoes (constantly), missing toenails, freezing my ass off, unexpectedly encountering human shit (the worst), and meeting humans who treated their trail-dogs like crap. (This is reality, the trail absolutely sucks sometimes, prepare yourself for it).
I acknowledge that spending an extended period of time away from the comforts of home can be trying – God knows I’m not looking back at my hike through rose-colored glasses. But despite all those situations that were less than ideal, stripping my life down to pure necessities and embarking alone into the wilderness allowed me to see things through a different set of eyes – it was a much needed breath of fresh air.
Remember when you were a child and were so full of wonder and awe and curiosity? You can find that on the trail. Or really, it will find you – if you let it, that is. Before my hike, I had been so distracted by the normal routine of society that I had never even given myself the chance to see the magic found in ordinary little things. The trail teaches you to slow things down and truly see the beauty that surrounds you.
The feeling first came to me in little bursts – I was absentmindedly walking along with my first trail-friend when we suddenly looked up and saw a blooming cherry blossom tree. Spring had begun her slow awakening, and we were truly and authentically full of joy. The next time I felt it, I was hiking alone through a misty fog when I looked down and realized that all the little seedlings had start to sprout at once. Sure, I missed out on a few notable views due to the fog that day – but the rain was helping the forest to come alive – and it was an absolute privilege to witness it.
From then on, I consciously opened myself up to accepting the surprising little wonders the trail had in store for me. I often imagined myself as a Disney princess, as if I were the main character in my own magic storybook (mostly when I was alone, in foggy weather – for some reason, foggy weather has an eerie yet dreamy feel to it). Each day, my quest was to navigate the wild woods and survive against all odds. It was thoughts and stories like these that helped get me through rough up-hills and encouraged me to remain up-beat no matter the circumstances.
The magic is out there. The romance is waiting for you. It’s not an everyday thing – and you may need to wade through days worth of emotional turmoil to feel it, but it will ultimately be worth the struggle. It won’t present itself to you as a bed of roses (though, you will find the trail picturesquely littered with flowers petals in the Spring, and spectacularly colored leaves in Autumn), but I promise one day you will realize you were always a witness to it.
- It’s realizing that we’re hiking to elevations upwards of 5000 feet and are, quite literally, walking through the clouds.
- It’s in the mystery behind trail names – the fact that we only know people as they exist in that moment.
- It’s being in your own little world, to suddenly raise your head and look directly into the eyes of a moose standing 10 feet in front of you. You’re immobilized, in awe of her sheer size, as she takes in the sight of you and then continues on her way.
- The magic is in those hours you spend all toasty warm in your sleeping bag as you listen to the rain pitter-pattering against your tent.
- It’s the moment when you finally see Franconia Ridge (and basically the entirety of the Whites) – when you look at your trail-family with a big goofy smile plastered across your face and repeatedly ask “Is this real life?”
- It’s being caught in a torrential downpour (on the day when you’re conveniently slackpacking without your raingear, of course) – you may find this to be an unpleasant situation (at the time, I did), but I find romance in the fact that we are forced to experience Mother Nature’s crazy, wild, untamed passion. You are at her mercy, and it humbles you.
- It’s setting out alone one morning, before your trail-family even wakes up, and hiking amongst the stunning golden glow of sunrise.
- It’s finding an ordinary, unsuspecting puddle filled with thousands of tadpoles and reading the log-entries of your friends 100 miles ahead. You may never catch up, but it may help you feel closer to them.
- It’s turning the corner and finding a black bear with her two baby cubs – as if nature is letting you in on a little secret and saying “I trust you”.
- And mostly, it’s learning to appreciate the simple joys of life that we had once taken for granted – the changing of the seasons, using your imagination, spending time alone with your thoughts, or making it through those rough, rainy days.
So stop chasing so many miles, tell your trail-family you’re gonna hike solo for a few days, pretend you’re a fairy princess, pay attention to your surroundings, and let the romance find you. Try to forget about all the bullshit and soak up as much of this crazy, beautiful trail as you possibly can. The feeling may be fleeting, but acknowledge it when it does come along and hold on to those moments.
If all else fails, I suggest hiking in a dress and listening to The Avett Brothers on repeat.
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