There Ain’t No Rules In The Woods

Less than two months ago, I was Nayt Boyt or Mr. Nate. I was a substitute teacher and worked at a bakery. Life went by without my thinking twice about most things. When I got on the Appalachian Trail, everything changed.

Now, I am Firewalker. People don’t call me Nayt. I have a new name and a new identity. Out here, I am not just some person who keeps to himself, the Nate Boyt who has a job and a car. I’m not some college graduate on his way to a career and family. I am Firewalker. I am a hiker, and the woods is my home. People who I have never met care about me out here, and we don’t put up a facade. We don’t have to. Everyone is expected to be real out here. There are no statuses. People have a vague idea about age, but everyone is a hiker. Everyone is valued more for their ideas and outlook on life.

I have met a hiker who has taught me quite a lot about life, and one thing he always says is: “There ain’t no rules in the woods.” While it may not be syntactically correct, the concept has proved to be true. This may sound upside down, dangerous, or confusing, but it really is not. Before hiking, there were so many rules and expectations that were, well, expected of me. I’m sure you can think of some of the obvious ones: speed limits, being on time for work, maintaining a healthy diet. It goes much further. There are so many social expectations that no longer apply – for instance, being polite. People are still very polite out here, but it is acceptable to simply leave a social setting or disagree with someone. We police each other out here. And it works well. I feel safer about my person and belongings than anywhere. You can be honest and scarcely judged for it. You are free to do what you like.

This may sound like mayhem, but it actually turns out beautifully. A great example is food. In the woods, diet is more ruleless than anything. In fact, you are encouraged to consume as many calories as possible through Honey Buns, Ramen, and whatever means necessary. The funny thing is when we get into town, we crave healthy food. Sure, hikers often go get a few burgers or multiple pizzas, but I am seeing just as much opting for strawberries and salads. Everything is like that. Without the expectation, it is real and meaningful. We eat the healthy food because we really want it, not to fulfill some abstract expectation. This is extremely satisfying.

The same lack of expectations are found with socializing, partying, luxury living. There are plenty of options while hiking, but almost all of them are very easy to avoid, if it’s not your cup of tea.

And speaking of cups of tea, I’m going to go have one.

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