It’s just a walk in the woods

Call it what you want—a pilgrimage, a lifelong dream, the best or worst decision of your life—but at the end of the day, a thru hike is exactly what Bill Bryson says it is: a walk in the woods.

Sure, a thru hike is a pretty big deal. Many of us leave our jobs and homes to spend half a year in the woods. A thru hike also demands more than the average hike: determination, commitment, preparation, and dare I say, a little bit of luck. But it’s still just a walk in the woods.

I’ve been a hiker most of my life, but this is something I am still learning. Too often, I define my hikes by their destination—reaching a summit, a waterfall, a certain number of miles—only to ignore the steps I take to get there. Hiking in Florida has helped me appreciate the finer subtleties of nature, but I still have much to learn.

Long distance hiking is a metaphor for life. Some days are bright and sunny and the miles come easy. Others are cold and rainy and it’s all you can do to get to your sleeping bag to prevent hypothermia. Either way, the main task is to put one foot in front of the other. There’s nothing remarkable about that. But do that about five million times and you might find yourself standing on Katahdin.

As I ponder what I hope to get out of my upcoming thru hike that begins in just thirty five days, I know one thing for sure: it’s not about reaching Katahdin. It’s about walking and living step by step, moment by moment. I have missed so much of my life by living in the past or anxiously anticipating the future. I don’t want to miss any moments on the trail.

Spiritual teacher Thích Nhất Hanh writes:

When the Buddha was asked, “Sir, what do you and your monks practice?” he replied, “We sit, we walk, and we eat.” The questioner continued, “But, sir, everyone sits, walks, and eats,” and the Buddha told him, “When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating.” (from Living Buddha, Living Christ)

It is my hope on this journey that I can learn to be conscious of each step and live deeply in each moment, for the present moment is all any of us really have. Perhaps, if I string together enough of these moments, I will stand atop Katahdin later this year.

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