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Monday, March 3, 2014

Why I Hike...

Forester Pass
Many times, while I was southbounding the PCT, I was asked: Why did you decide to do this? Why would you walk that far? The more I thought about these questions, the more the list of answers grew.

Starting with the physical, a nice tangible place to start, I like how hiking makes me feel. The blood pumping, the breathing, the sweating, the endorphins running though my brain. Some people describe it as a runners high, but imagine what the feels like to feel that good for three months straight. Sure, things get hard, mosquitoes swarm every patch of exposed skin, you get cold in sub freezing temperatures and slightly above freezing rain, sand fills your shoes, blisters colonize your heels, the wind whips at your body, springs run dry and you have to save yourself from sliding off icy sidehill in an ice axe self arrest. The list of challenges is immense, but it's all worth it. At the end of the day you feel accomplished, fit, ready to take on any challenge that might come your way. You feel like you are doing what humans are meant to do and you've never felt so alive and engaged with the world.

I wrote an earlier post about walking and our connection to the land.

When I hike, I feel connected to our ancestors. Moving with the seasons, running from weather, finding water and making my way to the next food source. It seems so basic and it is, but it makes me happy on a deep visceral level.

And I just love the act of walking. Plain and simple. It's our brains, legs and hands that have kept us alive for these thousands of years. We're not the fastest animals, we can't breathe under water, we can't fly, but we do have incredible endurance that surpasses most other creatures. It's quite logical that we would love walking. But so many people don't and that leads to challenging physical and mental states. I really feel like I am at the happiest and achieving the best version of myself when I'm hiking.

And of course there's the beauty of the earth. I though a lot about a song that my friend Nereyda de la O wrote called "Beauty is Everywhere." I was walking amongst the Three Sisters in Northern Oregon when the immensity of this notion hit me like a herd of elk. I was overwhelmed, how could I ever absorb all the beauty if it was everywhere? I would always be missing something incredible; and it's true, I always will. But then, as I passed Obsidian Falls, transcendence happened, I realized the infinite optimism of this song. I realized that there would always be something to look forward to, always new beauty to experience and new adventures to be had. I felt very comforted by this idea. The pressure released and I entered a far more peaceful state.

Near Obsidian Pass
On my hikes, I get to see the sun rise and set everyday. I get to hear the birds wake up in the morning and owls calling through the night. I get to see the snow melt and the spring flowers emerge. The daily gifts are endless and the surprises consistent.

I also love hiking because you meet incredible people at their best. People who have decided to live their dreams and confront their fears. These are people that I often feel close to very quickly and the sense of community and family is incredibly strong on the trail. Almost every hiker is willing to chat and share. Also, the fact that there is immediate common ground in experience leads to a wonderful basis for conversation and friendship.

You also get to meet your heroes and they're almost always friendly wonderful folks. People like Bink, Odyssa, Anish, Snorkel, Swami, Trauma, Lint, Dirtmonger and Billy Goat. Famous in the hiking world, these superstar hikers are nearly unknown to the general public. This anonymity creates a dynamic of hiking only to impress yourself, challenging yourself to be your best and pushing yourself in order to grow and learn. It would be crazy to hike only in an attempt to be famous.

Since my completion of the PCT, I've reflected on how far I've come in the last couple years. Two years ago, I was seriously struggling through a broken relationship, physical ailments and a general discontent with life. I wasn't really excited about anything that was happening in my life. In this floundering state, I sat down to write down a list of everything I could do in that moment. When I wrote the words, "hike the Appalachian Trail, " everything changed. I suddenly had a life dream to look forward to, a goal and a focus. My problems quickly faded into the background, and when I finally hit the trail in June, I was already in a very good place.

On October 28th, I completed the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain in Georgia. After I descended to the trailhead past Amicalola Falls, I met one of the most inspiring people I have ever encountered. His name is Jack Fussell.

Jack weighed approximately 270 lbs., ten years ago. At that point, his doctor told him that he was going to die from bleeding ulcers if he didn't get in shape immediately. Over the next several years Jack worked hard to lose weight. He began running the stairs at Amicalola Falls and setting goals. Last year at age 62, Jack ran all the way across the width of the United States in order to raise money for Alzheimers research. He now weighs 155 lbs. Jack is a true inspiration.

In our conversation, we discussed the journeys we were on and what brought us hope and joy in our lives. He told me that his mother said there were three keys to happiness:

1. Something to Do
2. Someone to Love
3. Something to Look Forward to

These elements have been quite powerful for both of us. Right now, I'm looking forward to hiking the Continental Divide Trail and completing the Triple Crown this summer.

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