Thru-Hiking and the Human Condition

When I started traveling it was a quest for new experiences, and to see through fresh eyes.

To honor freedom, aspiration, emotion, growth, and mortality.

To revel in beauty unbeknown to my previous self and to propel forward in a sea of change. I’ve been paddling for a little more than two continuous years and I’m about to have what I know as the most recent version of my world drop out from beneath me. Again. Before I start the Pacific Crest Trail on March 23, I’ve got a lot of flexibility. And when I complete it I have no genuine obligations to return to.

It is both wildly liberating and terrifying. Right now I have an opportunity many long for and may never experience. My life is open-ended and I am completely free. Some days it takes work to appreciate that for what it is. I can make anything happen in these coming months as long as I muster the courage to embrace the free fall rather than running from it. This freedom is what I craved so many days on the inside looking out. The days that led up to when I first gave notice at the job I had held for seven years. The hours I would daydream about the person I wanted to become. It’s been an uncommon and challenging evolution, and I regret very little.

As I write this I consider what I might do to get back to the root of authentically experiencing my humanity. How might I honor the ideals I strive to better understand?

I won’t engage in drinking culture. I spent a lot of my early 20s doing just that and I’ve found that as I reflect on the experiences filling those years, those memories are confusing to decipher.  Would I have felt like I wanted to date that person or would I have walked away sooner? Would I have done more with my spare time? Would I be in a different place with my professional work? While I say I regret very little I am still apt to wonder. And I won’t undermine my abilities with alcohol any longer. (If you meet me on the trail, remind me of this. Because drinking whiskey is still fun.)

What else will I bring with me to the trail, aside from some ballin’ ass gear?

I want to work on being more open with others. I’ve always struggled with truly feeling my feelings and a willingness to accept less than perfection. If I continue to engage in perfectionism, it will kill me slowly. I know this and it is one of the few things I legitimately fear. I will use the months hiking the PCT to put myself in a situation I might not be all that good at. I will be uncomfortable and I want to firmly grasp and learn from that feeling. I know people will read this and say some Insta-bullshit:  “Embrace your flaws. That’s where your beauty lies.” And I agree with that bullshit, to some degree. But agreeing and putting into practice are two varying worlds, the latter dramatically more transformative than the former. That’s where the trail comes into the equation. It’s time to learn how to be OK with less than perfection.

I’m going to force myself to  write. Every. Damn. Day. I want to document this metamorphosis for the benefit of my future self in hopes I might glean some retrospective wisdom. If some good blog writing comes as an added bonus I certainly won’t complain. I’d love to share if you’re drawn to read.

I’d like to create empathy for the human experience. I’m not asking for sympathy; oh Jesus, no. In fact I’m pretty bad at asking for support. But what I’d like to ask of you is that in reading you keep not only an open mind, but more significantly, I ask for an open heart. I’m not that thru-hiking blogger who wants to tell you all the specs on their big three, and I don’t know a damn thing about how many grams my base weight is (yet). What I want to create is a conversation that recognizes that the human condition is an experience of struggle. I am going to narrate my imperfections and ask that you share your own. I want the real stuff, no filters.

That being said, I’ll shoot it to you straight. I’ve been tired lately. I’ve spent a lot of the past several months trying to work on my internal stuff, and with the changing of seasons and all the new about to come, I’m frequently on the verge of tears. Just a step ahead of sadness. It’s always on my heels. And I know it’ll soon catch up to me.

It’s a strange and unique experience to anticipate a breakup, nonetheless to plan one. Three months. Ten weeks. Then six. Now one.  A countdown to predictable trauma. To know that the person I spend nearly every waking (and sleeping) moment with will soon be gone completely guts me. I think about all the incredible moments we’ve shared since we met. Skydiving over Zion. Backpacking slot canyons. The beach in Miami after 30 degrees below in Wisconsin. Dogsledding joy. The list could go on.

I’ve seen more glorious places with this man in the last year than many people will see in a lifetime. I don’t take that for granted. He’s taught me to devote more to developing my strengths, and to truly believe in them. For God’s sake, he taught me how to backpack, people. The thought of his absence fills me with straight-up anguish, and I know I won’t love anyone just like this again. It’s been a uniquely open-hearted sort of love. My heart can’t take it.

It’s time to take a break from all that romantic love stuff and focus on loving myself. So I guess I’ll consider this a personal pact. No matter who I meet or how wonderful they may seem, how lonely I feel or how much I crave intimacy, I will devote this next year wholly to myself. I’ll walk on, one step at a time over thousands of miles. I’ll walk from Mexico to Canada next year, trying to get back to myself.  And I’ll keep saying, “Everything will work out OK.” Because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right?

And for now, I’m OK with OK.

Photo Courtesy of Adrian Carrio.
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