What’s a free life?
…or why am I hiking?
I want to be honest with you. People around me don’t ask me stuff like “Why are you hiking?” or “Are you running away from something?” They just seem to accept it, some are really impressed and others just don’t care. I, on the other hand, ask myself even more: “Why am I hiking? What makes me wanna walk for such a long distance?” The only reason I can find lies in my culturally influenced past.
But what has a childhood in a small village to do with long-distance hiking?
I was born and raised south of Hamburg, Germany in a village with only around 300 souls. Living in such a small community makes talking to elderly people a common thing. The old people around me often talked about “die Hampudels” which is a lower german word for “Hobo.” Tramps, who were walking from farm to farm, where they offered work for food (and of course booze. There was probably less romance in this life than we would like to see). Even though it must have been a hard life, these stories fascinated me, as they brought a hint of a free and boundless life with them. And I could shock my parents by telling them I want to be a hobo when I grow up :P. No wonder, my parents make jokes about this these days.
About craft and a free life
Another formative part was the so-called “Journeymen”. I remember the first time I saw one. We were sitting in the school bus and the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. A strange-looking guy dressed all in black entered and could ride the bus for free?! I told my mother about it and said, that the bus stopped for a Hampudel. But she was skeptical and said that it was probably a “Journeyman”.
Journeymen are craftsmen – and women – who still travel around Germany and the world these days. You become a Journeyman by finishing an apprenticeship in a craft and you have to find a guild that accepts you. Then you take an oath to travel the world for 3 years and one day to master your craft. You may not accumulate property, drive a car (hitchhiking is allowed), or settle down during this time. For this, Journeymen have always been considered free, even in the middle age, when serfdom was common. For hundreds of years, it has been said that a Journeyman does not have to take his hat off to anyone, as he is his own master.
How awesome was that! No wonder I thought about it for a long time when I did my apprenticeship as a roofer. Unfortunately, I was too scared and let that chance pass. My friend Molly, on the other hand, was brave enough and was a Journeyman for more than three years. Without money, he even made it to the Burning Man Festival! Just by the help of others.
So if you see any Journeymen in the U.S. don’t hesitate to help them, offer them a bed, or even better: Work. You won’t regret it, as they have many good stories to tell you!
How long-distance hiking came into my mind
Two culturally influenced experiences in my life, in both cases, I was fascinated by the fact that there are people who prefer a free, unattached life to a “normal” one. Well, I didn’t want to become homeless, and I let the chance pass to become a Journeyman because I started studying. So it is obvious that long-distance hiking quickly moved into my focus.
In 2018, I did my first big hike, the “Camino de Santiago” in Spain. My goal for these 500 miles was to sleep in a tent whenever I could and to use a maximum budget of 10 € per day. Going this way gave me my first glimpse of the free life that had always fascinated me.
Four weeks of freedom in Spain
Well, that’s easy. Everything I needed fit into my backpack. People were friendly and enthusiastic about my life in the tent. Several times I could have cried with joy in moments of complete idleness. I was out of the fast pace of everyday life. No lawn to be mowed, no door to be repaired, no project to be finished on time. Just me, my free heart, and my backpack. Oh and my feet of course. Thanks guys!
Unfortunately, these 4 weeks went by much too quickly and I had to go back to my desk. Money can buy you freedom, but it’s not the freedom I was allowed to taste during those 4 weeks in Spain.
I’ve been wanting more ever since and I know I can find that taste again on the PCT and also let Annika have a taste of it.
Thanks again for reading this text. Let me know how you liked it, as it is a bit far off the typical hiking topics. I also thought about using the word “Hampudel” in this text, but I think it is intuitively easy to pronounce in English. If you feel like it, send me a voice message on Instagram (@django_hikes) and let me know how you think it’s pronounced! I’ll send you a voice message back.
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