Appalachian Trail Happiness: Acceptance is the Way
My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations ~ Michael J Fox
Tonight an excerpt from my soon to be published book, Appalachian Trail Happiness.
When you set out to do a long-distance thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail you know a few things in advance. You know it will be hard, you know you will be dirty and wet and smelly. You know you’ll likely lose some weight. You also know that that you will go through some form of transformation, you’ll change in some way, maybe many ways. One of the things that hit me while hiking in Vermont and Massachusetts was that the trail teaches you acceptance.
You see when you are out on the trail, life is simplified to the basics, food, shelter, the weather. The simple fact is that many of the things you deal with each day are completely out of your control. On the trail you have to accept the topography, whether you will climb big hills, do sharp descents, walk over rocks and in mud, or on heavenly flat trails, you just have to walk. I’ve taken to not asking hikers I pass going the other way about the trail ahead, it doesn’t matter. I know the profile and the distances from the guide I carry, but whether it will be hard or easy is first a matter of opinion, and secondly it doesn’t matter. No matter what the trail holds, we’re going to walk it, so what’s coming really starts to not matter, it’s just another hill man. You have to accept the trail for what it is and even more importantly find happiness in not only smooth descents, but in the hard climbs and the rocky trails. If you can’t get to this point, the trail can be a very hard place indeed. And in the end this is an absolutely perfect metaphor being happy in life.
The other big thing on the trail that you have absolutely no control over is the weather. We all know that we will get rained on while we are on the trail. However, sometimes it can be a bit daunting. Starting the trail in early March it rained, sleeted or snowed 12 out of the first 14 days on the trail. It was a bit much, it almost broke me, I hadn’t quite gotten to the point of acceptance yet. During my week on the trail in Vermont we got wet and basically stayed at least damp the rest of the week. When it rains a lot, the humidity stays up, your gear stays wet, it’s unpleasant but it is what it is and you will have weeks like this on the trail so you just have to come to accept it.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t take precautions, I blue blazed Albert Mountain in bad weather because of a bad knee and my poor descending skills. I’ve stayed an extra day in town or delayed returning to the trail to miss a day of bad weather. But once on the trail I accept what’s coming, this attitude has made being on the trail a much happier experience. Being wet, tired, smelly, climbing big hills and hard terrain is all part of doing a thru-hike and with that acceptance comes a level of happiness that sustains you on the trail.
The real trick in life is to find ways to take that level of acceptance and transfer it to life in the default world. Can you learn to accept that you’ll be cut off in traffic, that pipes will break, the cable will go out and that the package that you paid extra to have arrive on Friday isn’t coming until Monday. If you can, maybe, just maybe, we can be as happy in our default world lives as a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. ~ Rev Kane
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