I feel overwhelmed often as I am living this life, the trail life. People always ask me why I would choose to walk every day, why I would choose to live outside, be filthy, push my body and mind to the point of discomfort and exhaustion. They want to know why I would choose to be poor, to be alone. They ask where I go to the bathroom, how long I go without showering and what I do in the rain. They scrunch their noses when I tell them about packing out my shitty toilet paper. They look confused when I tell them that I weep when I am looking at beauty that I cannot comprehend. The truth is, this is becoming more what I understand every day. After hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I felt I had to return “home”, to the trail. Being out here day in and day in and day out is a privledge that I try to pay respect to.
The challenges I curse are a blessing and even as I am cursing loudly I am trying to be thankful. I awaken each morning looking forward to putting one foot in front of the other, excited to see what the day will provide. I get frustrated at times because when I am tired things begin to look the same, the mountains are blue and green, I am in a tunnel of vegetation. Rhodedendrons seem to welcome me at every summit. But with each exhale as I climb, with each little stream of sweat that pours down my face, each inch of dirt under my nail, I am reminded of my freedom. I am grateful for that freedom and I try to unwrap and untangle it. All of the feelings I experience on a daily basis feel like a mass welling up in my chest. Like the most intense and confusing love. I feel blinded at times and I have to stop and listen and try to pay attention to only small things so I can come back. I am consistently enveloped and safe in the embrace of the ever moist forest. My feet traverse over a trail of rock, root and decomposing leaves and pine needles. Sometimes as I count my steps I get lost in the most beautiful memories. I can hardly believe those memories are my life, that I have been blessed enough to see the places i’ve seen, loved the people I’ve loved and been loved by. Sometimes pain fills my heart, and I am forced to feel all of it, to the point that I cry, to remember it and re-live it is to accept it. And I feel it melt away as I push onward, and I am so grateful for my surroundings for taking it away from me and allowing me to be lighter. Out here it’s ok to love so much it hurts. It’s ok to give thanks almost every second, and it’s ok to be angry and to yell. And when things don’t seem to be the way I want them to be, it’s just because I’m not the way I want me to be. And I am lucky, because I just have to keep walking amongst these trees, and these green and blue mountains. And i am filthy, and I am poor. But I am always awake. And I’m learning.
The Appalacian Trail provides an intimacy I haven’t yet felt. It forces me to face aspects of myself I have been avoiding for so long. It shows me the smallest of treasures. It demands me to slow down and pay attention to the smallest details. Even as I look into the faces of the people I meet, I take more time now to watch their mouths move, listen to the tone of their voice, make communion with their presence. The birds wake me up in the morning and I often wipe my eyes and take in my world before first light. I can smell the dank dampness always, and climb out of my wet sleeping bag and stretch out, preparing to uncover something new. Cool breezes usually motivate packing and walking…and steamy sweat coats me as I watch the sun rise through the dense trees or on the horizon depending on where I slept. I can hear everything at this time. The light is so subtle. This is one of my favorite times. All of my senses are heightened and my body is warming up. Miles slide by quickly. In a sense this is like going to church for me. It is here, in these quiet moments in the trees, on the ridge, that I pray, that I give thanks, that I feel gratitude.
I’m now about 275 miles in. I am so happy to have so many more miles to walk. It’s not always easy, I am not always aware, and I am certainly angry at times, but i am always, always humbled.
There are many things I haven’t talked about. I have a wonderful hiking partner named Stephen (Yogi) Newman. He has become such a great friend and teacher. I’m so lucky to have met him. He is a constant reminder to keep moving, to laugh and to experience everything. He helps me to relax, he points out what I don’t see and he is selfless and giving. He’s also extremely frugal, which is what I need to learn. I enjoy my days with him and am so grateful to share this time however long it lasts, with him following behind. I have met some of the most interesting people, on the trail and in the towns i have passed through. Most people it seems want to give. They want to share stories, they want to share food. it seems that everyone wants everyone to succeed, to feel good, to be fed. Each town I move through provides it’s own little satchel of a memory to carry and unwrap as I climb back up into the dense trees, into the wet greenery of home. I’m living in the biggest compost pile on earth. It’s remarkable to be a part of such constant decomposition and rebirth. This really is the most beautiful place of worship.