Ignorance and Impulsiveness: Prewritten Post-Trail Reflections
These questions are just as much a request for my future self as they are a questionnaire for my past self. I sat on this blog post, waffling between sending it out into the ether and not posting it at all because it is some of my most cerebral, scoff-worthy writing. However, these questions begged to be written; they are a textual manifestation of my emotions. They erupted from my fingers.
Just five minutes ago I grabbed a dog treat, flipped the three light switches that illuminate my backyard, and stepped into the crisp air. “Come, Finn,” I shouted. As I waited for my puppy to come pattering outside, I stared at the shorn tree to my front, the dymondia strewn with concrete slabs below, the modern home to my back. I listened to the clink of my dog’ s collar as he jogged toward me, the rush of an airplane above, the screech of tires behind me. And it all hit me. The sheer ignorance of my journey. The impulsivity of it.
And, preternaturally compelled, I darted to my room. I needed to write. I still need to.
Dear Sam: Did your ignorance inspire you?
One year ago, when your Pacific Crest Trail plans were but a dream, you took the first steps toward that goal: You signed up for a running race to the top of Mount Baldy. And you were woefully unprepared. In fact, two miles into the seven-mile climb, you turned to a stranger and said, “I didn’t know how hard this was going to be—I still don’t—but if I did, I wouldn’t have registered. How much worse can it get?” You laughed. And It got much worse, but you made it to the top (and all seven miles back down).¹
The PCT was the same way, wasn’t it? How many times did you remember that it was so much harder than you expected? How many times did you laugh in the face of that ignorance? How many times did you cry in the face of pain? How many times did you want to quit with every fiber of your being but somehow kept walking? How many times did you fear discomforts before you came to accept them? How many times did you remember that, despite the pain, your journey was one of privilege? How many times did you crest a mountain just to forget the physical and mental toil that it took to get there? How many fleeting moments were infinite?
Dear Sam: Were you productively impulsive?
Thirteen days before you left for the PCT, after walking up and down approximately 5,700 stairs, something otherworldly compelled you to pull to the side of the road and go for a run. Instead of fighting it, you just ran. And 12 days before you left for the PCT, after taking your dog out to pee, something compelled you to write this very blog post. Instead of fighting it, you wrote late into the night. And three days before you left for the PCT, you decided to take the leap and post this piece of writing. These experiences just felt right.
You followed your compulsions on the PCT, I hope. How often did you take advantage of the absolute freedom? How many times did you curse at yourself for neglecting your impulses? How many times did your impulsions lead you awry? From how many of those experiences did you come away glad that you followed your gut? When did you turn back, even when you wanted nothing but to move forward? How often were your impulses perverse? How often did you shout, just because you could? How often did music turn you into a dancing fool? How often did your impulses lead you to Canada? How often did they lead you home? How often were Canada and home one and the same?
Dear Sam: Live.
In East of Eden, Steinbeck writes, “During the dry years, the people forgot about the rich years, and when the wet years returned, they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.” Don’t forget the dry years, and don’t forget the rich years. Remember it all. Have the most amazing journey. Embrace the freedom. Embrace the grit. Embrace the people.
Impulsive ignorance is dangerous. But harness that danger—be knowingly ignorant and productively impulsive—and you’ll find pure joy, Sam.
¹ What they don’t tell you about Run to the Top of Mt. Baldy is that, once one gets to the top, they have no option but to run back down. Tough luck.
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