My good friends Northstar and Shutterbug recently posted “Five lessons from the Trail“. I loved their post. The content rang exactly true for me. Inspired by their example I decided to add a few of my own.
First, here are the first five (by Northstar and Shutterbug):
Senses awaken in nature. People are good. Hike your own hike. Fewer possessions is freeing. Wilderness is home.
To these I would like to add …
Joy is our natural state. On the trail life is reduced to its most basic necessities: water, food, sleep, shelter, safety from the elements and natural beauty. Because our minds are freed from having to handle what Northstar and Shutterbug call the constant jumble of sensory information, we are open to tackle deeper and deeper levels of thought. Because the trail is so long, at some point we run out of things to ponder, analyze, consider or solve. When that happens, the void that is left seems to immediately be filled with a sense of joy and peace. So, at our most basic level, underneath it all, this must be our natural state.
Life is a mirror (you get what you give). I have experienced this more than once on the trail: If I approach the road in a joyful and optimist state, I wait for a hitch less than five minutes; if I approach it with a bad attitude, it will be a long while before I get picked up. The kindness and generosity we received as hikers I believe is in direct correlation to our own state of open-mindedness. The opposite is true also. Fear attracts scary situation. People who feared bears had bear encounters. I started the trail worried about poisonous plants and managed to get poison oak on one leg and poodle-dog-bush on the other. When I became grateful for the cortisone cream two generous hikers gave me, the oozy mess cleared up over night.
All you need is love and gratitude. Somewhere in the first few hundred miles of the trail, I became so frustrated with my UV water purifier and so jacked up on iodine that I stopped using any sort of water treatment. Instead, I held the water to my heart and told it, sincerely, “I love you, please don’t make me sick, thank you”. If you have read some of my previous posts, you know that the method proved excellent the whole trail, including with that one batch of “bear pooh water” (see “I believe in angels”). Inspired by my success, I also used this method as sunscreen (I love you Sun, please don’t burn me, thank you), bug-repellent (I love you spider, please stay off my tarp, thank you) and holographic deck (I love you trail, could I get a shady spot, mosquito free, by some water, thank you). Seriously, it works. Try it for yourself.
Freedom is an intrinsic quality. Before I left, a good friend told me that the PCT would likely be the one place where I could find enough space to accommodate my humongous need for freedom. All former thru-hikers I have met mention “freedom” as the greatest gift they received from the trail. All that fresh air, clean water and open space seeps into your soul and sticks. I think freedom is always in us, but sometimes our vision of it is clouded. Once we touch that quality within us, it remains wherever the end of the trail finds us. Some of us continue to wander, travel, explore or hike; others return to former lives and jobs from an expanded perspective. In all cases, you can take the hiker off the trail, but not the trail out of the hiker.
Laugh it off. Never mind great truths and life-changing discoveries; we know nothing. Any labeled identity we create for ourselves will be destroyed as soon as it’s uttered. I once wrote on this website that my feet hurt, the next day my feet stopped hurting. I once wrote that I preferred solitude, the next day I found myself hiking with a small group of fun people and loving it. I once was very upset at the thought of no-longer being a “thru-hiker”. I think we all feel that way. That is in part why we seek the company of other thru-hikers post-trail. Am I still a hiker if I’m not hiking? Who cares! Each experience is worth its weight in gold. I think it’s important to not take ourselves too seriously and as Dacia so eloquently put, to get out of our own way, learn to surf the wave, revel in the power of it, and let it all come together.