Well I’ve been home now about 2 weeks and it has been pretty nice. Shelter from the wind, rain and cold, all the food I can eat, water at the flip of a faucet and I don’t even have to worry about carrying it! No primal fear of waking to the sounds of footsteps around your shelter in the middle of the night while you’re alone and probably miles and miles from the next closest human being.
I think we all forget how easy and safe we have it here in this country. Even the poorest of the poor can get into a building if their life depended on it. A building. It’s so simple, a hollow cube or stacks of cubes that separate out there from inside. How I occasionally wished for a building to appear on the AZT and the PCT when the wind was too much or the rain was so cold. Just to be in still air and dryness. I remember a talk with Carrot on the PCT last year when we knew we were about to be in a hotel. “Can you believe there are such things as cubes where it doesn’t rain and they’re filled with warm dry air?” Or something along those lines. The point is, until you can’t have one when you want one so badly, I don’t think you can appreciate how wonderful a building is.
That being said I also think that to get too used to this warm, cozy, safe way of life robs us of our sense of wonder and what it feels like to really live and be alive in the world. Coming down from Mt. San Jacinto on the PCT I learned what it’s like to be really, really thirsty. To be so thirsty your mouth is sandy feeling and you start getting wobbly and start to see things in a slightly warped reality and know there isn’t a drop of water in your water bottles to help. Just keep walking until you get to the water. Nothing else in the world matters. Then finally getting to quench that thirst when we reached the water fountain at the bottom of the decent there was a wave of emotion in me I’d never felt before. Almost like I wanted to cry, but with elation and appreciation. Appreciating that water exists and will make me be okay. Also when you’re hiking anywhere and get somewhat thirsty, water tastes like the most delicious nectar of the gods. It’s so satisfying. I never want to drink water at home, I want juice, milk, etc. but out in the wild you want water. Besides some nasty ass stagnant water sources, water that’s flowing in creeks, rivers and springs tastes so much better than tap water.
Food is another essential to life that becomes maybe more than anything else, a driver on a thru hike. Everyone loves food, if they didn’t they’d be dead or very sad. The first couple weeks of thru hiking I’m not usually that much hungrier than normal until it hits… Hiker hunger. It’s so big it’s got it’s own terminology. Maybe it’s when my tiny amount of stored fat has been burned away and my body needs food NOW. I can eat almost twice as much as I normally would be able to stomach and I want weird things like lots vinegar on French fries. Also even ordinary food begins to taste way better.
The thought of this burger at Paradise Valley Cafe made me push my first 30+ mile day on the PCT with my buddy Dust and I almost passed out a mile from the place because I was saving my appetite for it and ran out of energy.
I remember thinking just before I started the AZT when it was in the negative degrees here in Ohio frequently, how frail an individual human is without all our ingenuity. A lone naked human without any tools would certainly die overnight during winter in Ohio. Yet I look out the window of my car during work and see deer, geese, raccoons, coyotes, squirrels and all kinds of little birds going about their daily lives in sub zero temperatures like its no big deal. Just think about all the places humans wouldn’t be able to live without our making shelters or fire or wearing other animal’s skins! Most of the globe would be human free other than the tropics! Humans have spent the vast majority of their existence as nomadic tribes, walking wherever the animals they hunted walked. We got so good at walking we could literally follow an individual animal so long that it would collapse from exhaustion. Check out this neat link. Persistence Hunting. Walking long distances and seeing the world in which we live is engrained in what we are. To me at least, sitting in an office doing computer work as a career, something you plan on doing for decades, sounds absolutely miserable. The urge to just up and leave I know must be in anyone in this situation. This article from the onion cracked me up. Health Experts Recommend Standing Up At Desk, Leaving Office, Never Coming Back.
We were hunters and foragers. The frontier was everywhere. We were bounded only by the earth, and the ocean, and the sky. The open road still softly calls. – Carl Sagan
Thru hiking brings out the highs in life that we are programmed to crave. The joy of looking at a beautiful landscape, the joy of quenching your thirst, the joy of eating food, the joy of reaching a mountain top or high pass, the joy of being safe and sound in a shelter, the joy of seeing all the other animals and plants enjoying the same things I’m listing here, relishing the opportunity to exist, and most of all the joy of doing all this with people you care about. It makes you really appreciate things you might have taken for granted. It’s humans being human. This is what drives me to keep hiking, and I have no intention of stopping.
1 year ago today I started my Pacific Crest Trail thru hike at the Mexican border. I quit my job, moved out of my place in North Carolina and set off alone on the 2660 mile path through the wilderness. But I wasn’t alone for long. It’s out here that I met some of the craziest, funniest, and most inspirational people I know. We all were thrown into situations that would test our resolve and overcame. 4 months later we walked out of the forest in Canada with robot strength legs and a hunger to explore more of the world, often by foot. It’s been a blast watching everyone go off on their own adventures since then. In October I got to join Twinkle for 40 miles of his Appalachian Trail hike. Crazy guy did PCT and AT back to back. So jelly.
Then just this March and April I thru hiked the Arizona Trail. 800 more miles under my belt for a grand total of 3500 miles backpacked in one year. That’s farther than the distance from New York City to London. It amazes me how far we can go and how much we can see in just one year. I miss all of you who made this 1 year period so great. There are too many of you to list but you know who you are! Until we meet again!