Mental Gymnastics While Thru-Hiking the AT
The issue of mental fitness for a thru-hike has taken on a new perspective in the last week with the news of the suicides of both a fashion and an entertainment icon and the jarring prognosis for an esteemed newsman whose image and words are identifiable by all manner of Americans.
A trip into town and unlimited internet brought me up to date on the unexpected and shocking deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, and Charles Krauthammer’s terminal cancer diagnosis. It’s all a bit much to bear in one extended sitting and the ceaseless commentary by the prognosticators only increases the weight. There is a certain therapeutic element in writing about the incomprehensible and that is what is motivating these additional words.
Some have opined that our society is at fault, at least in the first two cases, due to its insatiable appetite for both success and downfall. And it is possible that our political environment has become so toxic that we are numb to misfortune when it visits an adversary. While on the trail a couple of days of bad weather can seem like a show-stopper. And this year on the Appalachian Trail we have had plenty. It’s easy to become self-absorbed when your needs become so primitive.
Five hundred miles into the journey and I wonder if my capacity for compassion for others is growing or just turning increasingly inward. My pastor once talked about the tendency to fill our lives with short-term and immediate pleasures to provide instant relief from the cares of the world. It remains to be seen if thru-hiking provides a temporary escape or a fundamental change in my approach to life.
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