A Happy Hiking Anniversary
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
The Appalachian Trail
So today Facebook hit me with one of those anniversary reminders, it was three years ago today that I posted an image from the Len Foote Hike Inn. This was the place I hiked into the night before I started the Appalachian Trail in 2015. I was met there and hiked into my first day by a good friend. We had a great night talking and a wonderful morning hiking to the literal fork in the road, Jim went down, I went up to mile zero and the beginning of a wonderful adventure that I wrote about in my book Appalachian Trail Happiness.
Three years feels like a long-time this morning, coming back to default world after being so free for a year has been a hard slog if I’m being honest. But happily I’m only four months from being back on the road again. I wrote last week about my upcoming adventures to Mexico and Machu Picchu.
What I learned about myself on the Appalachian Trail
I learned a lot on my time on the Appalachian Trail, long-distance hiking is one of those things that forces introspection and analysis of your life. The trail impacted me in some not so surprising ways, it deepened my love of the forest. It made me a much better hiker and taught me that even in my 50’s I could take on a serious physical challenge. But first, it taught me how resilient I am mentally, being challenged is such a good thing for you. Sure it’s frightening, but taking on a challenge and overcoming it builds so much inside of you. I’m a better person for taking on the challenge that I did three years ago.
I also learned some practical things, I’m calmer than I was before I hiked the trail. Something about living outside of all of the niceties and protections of our normal society teaches you not to be so jumpy. Not that I didn’t have my moments on the trail, a six-foot rat snake will make you jump. As will the rattle of a rattlesnake when you step to close to it under a pine tree and even an acorn slamming into the tarp over your hammock at 4AM after you’ve been convinced there’s a bear outside your camp.
Changing your life
The biggest thing that my time on the road taught me was that time on the road wasn’t just a fantasy. Sure, it was terrifying at some level, uncertainty always is, change always is, but it showed me that if you plan well and have the courage to make the jump you will get rewarded. I talk about this with people all of the time. People quite honestly are both fascinated and envious of the freedom that results from living life this way. And then, because people have to have a reason to justify not following their own dreams I often get the question. Are you married, do you have kids? When I say no I get the same standard response, oh that’s why you can do these things, you’re lucky. I find this response interesting, I’ve always said humans have two superpowers, rationalization and denial. People want to live a life outside the box, to travel or chase other passions that they possess. But society frowns on people living outside of the approved script it has written and our great weakness is that most of us truly fear being viewed as outsiders. So they have to justify why they don’t.
The idea of being seen as different, having someone call us bad parents or bad people, having the people we care about be disappointed in us has far too much power over us. The fact that the opinions of others weigh so heavily on us so often chains us to unhappiness. It takes courage to break those chains, but courage leads to freedom.
Chasing your dreams
I do want to address that question I get so often. First there are plenty of married couples who do the sorts of things I do, who live the type of life they want to live. Two of my favorite people on earth fit this bill. They met when both were single and working as traveling health professionals. Now married, one has completely changed careers to follow his passion and they are currently living in Sitka, Alaska for their latest adventure. They are two of the best and happiest people I know.
I also have two friends who with their son are currently taking a sabbatical year in New Zealand. Neither of them work in education where a sabbatical might be part of their normal career path. What they did, was simply what you have to do in order to do these sorts of things. They planned, they saved and now they are giving their young son an unbelievable experience, the type we all wish we could have had as a kid. They are not alone, a lot of people take their family on a gap year.
I write about these two examples for a simple reason, they shoot down the immediate excuses most people put forward as to why they can’t chase their passions. I don’t do this to put down anyone for not doing, I do this to show you all that it’s possible. One of the main reasons I write this blog, why I write about my stories and the things other people do is to help you see that you can do it to. My most sincere hope is that living vicariously through what I do isn’t just entertainment, but also inspiration, a seed that grows into a desire you can’t deny and that it causes you to plan, to save and to chase your dreams and have many happy days my friends, because I know you can. ~ Rev Kane