For at least two years now I’ve considered creating a second blog, which I would write anonymously about topics divergent from hiking. At the moment I have some thirty published posts hidden from public view, and another fifty-five in the drafts folder. Literally an entire website’s worth of material, which I’ve held back either because it has nothing to do with hiking, or I don’t have the balls to publish it under my name.
At the outset I knew I wanted to write something more than the dry “I walked fifteen miles, it rained, then I ate a pizza” bullshit, banal trail blog. Half the writers over at Trail Journals cannot even decide what tense to write in, and it fucking kills me. A careful review their end user license agreement revealed that any journal they hosted could be deleted for something as simple as profanity, a standard of censorship I just couldn’t jibe with. So I purchased a domain and started writing here instead.
As time went on and I actually began my hike, I realized that for me, traveling hundreds of miles on foot feels like a miniature lifetime within a lifetime. The emotional side of it captured me early on, and later, on my second hike, the spiritual side had started to bloom as well. I cannot fathom how you can walk across fourteen states without being very deeply moved, questioning at least three major paradigms, or making changes when you get home. For many hikers though, these elements just never enter their minds. As Pterodactyl, a class of 2016 trail angel told me last year “people come out here thinking it’ll change them, but it’s really just a road trip!” When my buddy Shaggy started spouting the spiritual benefits of his hike to some fellow patrons of an ice cream shop in Connecticut back in 2016, I felt an inner cringe, probably in line with Pterodactyl’s assessment. As time has passed however, I find myself somewhere in the middle of these two views.
The trail is what you make it, and the reasons and experiences are as unique as the hiker who embarks on day one. The one question non-hikers never ask is why. Why do you want to walk 2,200 miles up the east coast? What do you hope to accomplish? Hikers ask this question of each other all the time. Seven’s “Hiker Trash Videos” on YouTube are almost exclusively such a question and answer series. Perhaps my favorite response to this question is my friend Sprout’s. I remember well the morning she recounted this to me. We were quite groggily manning our stoves, nestled in a tight circle of tents. It felt like a neighborhood of six among a larger village of forty nylon houses. I realized for myself then, that hearing stories like her’s are one of my reasons for hiking the trail. People are so goddamn interesting, and on trail it’s easy to be open and open others.
Ram Dass said that we spend most of our conversational energy verifying that we each have our costumes on correctly. On trail, thru hikers don’t need to waste words on such things, we know, we’re kin, and we speak to each other’s hearts. That morning with Sprout was beautiful for me, because it solidified that such interactions from my previous hike were not just some isolated fluke. They happen every year on every long distance trail.
My reason for hiking, from day one, was to become a better person. I had no idea what that would look like, how that would happen, or if it would happen, but that was my intent. Asking questions, and getting answer’s like Sprout’s have become an integral part of that process. I had no idea how social the trail was before my first hike, but without a doubt the people are my favorite part of the whole experience now. Sure, I remember some sunsets, but what strikes me is that I can usually write a roster of everyone I was with at the time. It’s probably because trail people are my people.
It probably explains the funk I’ve been in, I’ve been pretty isolated from my tribe lately. The last time I saw trail family was in January. Monk was in town visiting some of his hiker friends in Roswell, one of whom is sadly dying of cancer. I received his call while staring out the glass of a fourth-story hospital waiting room window. A massive storm was blowing in from the west, and I was grateful to be dry in a way only the trail-worn can. We arranged to meet a few days later face to face. To my amazement and elation, it actually happened. This was the second time I was able to see him post-trail. We hiked a few miles, and then retreated to a Subway, where we talked down fill-power, the merits of dumpster diving, and many other subjects only hikers understand, for hours. He encouraged me to pursue Zen, a sect of Buddhism I have many fears and reservations about. As he usually does, Monk offered me an entirely new perspective on strict sittings and getting whacked with a “keisaku.”
I need to check up on that guy, he was supposed to start the PCT next month. His goal is to complete the Triple Crown by his 50th birthday. My hope is that any COVID-derailed plans will result in him spending more time with Sprout. The two have been dating for a while now, and I cannot fully express how happy this makes me. When two of your favorite people decide to date each other, it’s like getting three favorite people. Sides of them emerge which were previously hidden, and it makes me want to root from the sidelines, waving some kind of Valentine version of those giant foam fingers.
Mudita is a curious thing. Writing that last paragraph made me happier than anything else has in weeks.
The past five months really have taken their toll.