Recently, while rock hopping over potential timber rattler homes, I listened to Cal Newport speak on the Rich Roll podcast. Therein he described solitude as the absence of other human input entering your brain. In other words, a space where all thoughts are completely your own.
Listening to a podcast? Not solitude. Reading a book? Not exactly solitude either. Listening to music, or angry rattling reptiles? That counts.
It’s a beautifully succinct description, and the fact that it even requires definition is telling. We are less and ever less freely able to find solitude, even when walking completely alone along a ridge line.
One profound shift since my hike in 2016 has been the prevalence of Instagram use among hikes. The hard copy trail registers located in every shelter are barely written in anymore. As one Class of ’99 hiker told me.
“Your generation doesn’t even know what to do with those anymore!” As I flipped through the pages of one.
I do know though. I miss the art and poetry they once contained. I miss the messages of love and support hikers used to send to each other. I miss the heart break and release of men mourning the loss of their wives. I miss the veterans speaking about finding peace again. I also miss the jokes and Teddy’s privy reviews.
There is a wonderful aspect to putting a face to a name you’ve seen in the trail logs, entries dated just ahead of you, for months. A simple joy unintentionally undermined by Instagram and social media in general.
Maybe I’m being a curmudgeon. I do believe there is a disparaging affect to being so instantly connected out here though. It seems quite antithetical to the pace of trail life.
Part of my love of the trail is that there are no Jones’s. There’s no politics, and quite rarely religion for that matter. The trail is where I go to ladle the primordial soup of ideas, endlessly bestowed on less distracted minds. Tapping into that wellspring becomes damned difficult with The Trek celebritizing the guy you started on Springer with. Suddenly, the Jones’s are back.
This trail is one of the last bastions of REAL human contact left to us. People are what make the AT memorable, the people you’ve shared air and food with. The people you like and follow, because you genuinely enjoy their company, not their fucking selfies.
I am no less affected. Sad that I have to make a conscious effort to curtail my Facebook and Instagram use out here, but there it is. Little squares on my telephone stealing the peace of hard-earned views. I sat on Pulpit Rock in PA tonight, suddenly stressed that three people were texting me at once. I turned that shit off, took in a breath, and became aware of the breeze on my skin. I watched the lights in the distance come into better view with the receding sunlight.
I almost threw my phone off the cliff then and there, but alas. I have a blog to write. Maybe if I stop posting to Facebook and Instagram, I’ll even have content for it!