Bent Into Shape

Ten years ago, I dropped out of college at the end of my sophomore year. I found myself crashing on the couch at my best friend’s house. I couldn’t go home to face my family, face my mistakes. I was full of the pride and arrogance of youth, or as some would say, full of piss and wind with nothing to show. Several years would pass before I thought I learned the obvious lesson before me.

Now, with 700 miles behind me, I can say that I believe I have learned the first lesson the trail has to teach about life in general, that same lesson I didn’t learn before: the humility to know that you are small, fallible, and easily broken.

For many people, myself included, I had this notion that it would be a tough endeavor, but that I was sure to conquer the trail. I had no pretensions about the physical difficulties of life on trail, but there was no way to prepare myself for the constant mental battle of each day.

Every day is a struggle

This is a truism for every single day for everyone who has ever lived. Struggle defines our lives, gives it shape and meaning. But coming from the “real world”, with all of its static consistencies, from reliable water to healthy, varied food to a home that I don’t have to carry on my back, I haven’t had to experience such a struggle on a primal scale, by my own choice.

I have had fantastic days on trail, where miles melt beneath my feet, nothing aches and the food I bring to eat tastes great. I’ve also had days where I’ve felt like a dumpster fire, where each step is like on a bed of coals, I can’t stand my food, and I’m chafing where the sun doesn’t shine. Each of these days are battles that I, and every other hiker, have fought on trail.

Those bad days, the ones they tell you not to quit on, they’re the ones you remember, the ones you love to trade with other hikers, because those are the ones where you learn about your own limits. You think you may have conquered the trail, but the truth is, the trail conquers you. You bend to the shape provided.

Give and take

As tough as it might sound, this bending isn’t a matter of total coercion by the trail. In fact, the majority is by choice, the same way you choose to hike over two thousand miles. The battle each day is learning your limits and where you can push them to finish out the day, and more importantly, where you can’t push them. To not bend would be to break, and that’s just not an option I can allow for myself.

The trail teaches you to mine your soul for the ore to forge your own iron will. This ore is different for everyone. For me, it has been the shame of past failures, of every time I’ve given up at the first steep climb. It’s why I’m out here, to finish what I start.

In the heat of the desert, I learned to hammer my will into shape, and now, I will let the heights of the Sierras hone its edge. Or perhaps, iron shall meet stone, and break.

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