“When I get home, I’m going through my closet and getting rid of everything. I have so much clothing and things I don’t need.” I had paused outside of the little shop at Abol Bridge to say hello to several thru-hikers I’d met in the 100 Mile Wilderness of Maine. They had begun their hikes in Georgia earlier that spring, and now that their journey was almost over, their attention was turning to the things waiting for them back at home. As their thoughts came tumbling out, I simply listened. Their moods went from pensive, to somber, to nearly maniacal when a few decided to push on to Katahdin Stream Campground after an already long day. “Ah hell. Eff it. What’s another ten miles, anyway?” “So it might storm on Katahdin. Ha! Bring it on, ’cause I’m going up there and finishing this either way!” And with that, the hikers charged down Golden Road with long, determined strides.
I was reminded of my third-to-last day on the AT last summer, just after crossing Long Pond Stream and heading up Barren Mountain. I heard a rumble in the distance and convinced myself it was a large truck on a logging road, but as the rumbling grew closer, I accepted my fate in being drenched in yet another thunderstorm. Looking back on my many encounters with storms throughout the hike, my prior reactions included A) screaming like a schoolgirl, B) throwing my hiking pole far away from me at every flash of lightning (as if), C) sprinting across an overlook aptly named Thunder Ridge (not recommended), D) hiding under a large rock (don’t do this), E) dancing around puddles as if I could delay the inevitable in my feet getting wet. I would yell at those storms, taunt them, or even sing to them at the top of my lungs–unconvincingly–about how unafraid I was. On my 50th day in, the impending storm still put a little fear in my heart, but I was a different hiker then, hardened by the two thousand plus miles I had traveled by foot to get to that point. I no longer felt the need to yell, sing, or cry. Without breaking stride, I whipped out my rain jacket, put it on right over my pack, and simply kept hiking- a stoic in a storm.
To go back to the musings of the nearly finished thru-hikers: even at a young age, forays into the wilderness have taught me how little I actually need. There has always been a bit of shock coming home at how large my bedroom is, let alone my home, in comparison to my little tent that kept me sheltered and warm at night. I have a closet and dresser full of clothing, when I got by just fine on two outfits plus a few outer layers for keeping warm and dry. Every time I move or do a deep clean, I agonize over what to keep and what to let go of, whereas when I’m on the trail I don’t think about or miss those material things at all.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, now that I’m home, I can’t help but obsess over perfecting the space I’m in, the things I wear, what I eat, and how I look. Perhaps it’s that the mundane, everyday routine isn’t as satiating as purpose-driven physical movement in natural spaces, so I look for other ways to fill myself up and feel whole again in ways that are easy to control or understand. No doubt there is great appeal in the simple, focused task of forward movement when “real life”, i.e. career and relationships among other things, are hardly simple at all.
Now at a crossroads in my life, there is not one clear path ahead, which might be the most agonizing thing of all. It is easy to forget the simplicity of life on the trail, so in some sort of effort to manage how I spend my time and energy, and gain some clarity in what in the world to do next, I wrote down a list of the things that matter to me. It ended up not being a long or complicated list, nor did it have to be.
The waves of figurative storms over the past year and a half have felt unending. The first impulse, just as in the many storms encountered on the trail, has been to cry, protest, or hide under a rock and wait for them to pass. Those emotional whims haven’t disappeared, nor do they have to, but perhaps part of growing older or wiser is learning to accept what’s come to be and keep on toward the things that hold the most meaning to you anyway. When confiding with KT, or Raven, on these things on our backpacking trip, she reminded me of the saying (attributed to Robert Frost), “The only way out is through.”
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