As our final days on trail dwindled down to minutes, we faced a decision: our trail identity would cease to be, and we had to decide who would emerge in its place. The two people who started the trail five months prior on the Mexican border endured thousands of miles on unforgiving terrain through the Rockies with a healthy dose of ups and downs, emotionally and physically. So returning to our former selves was out of the question, but we did not find our answers until we returned home. Unbeknownst to us, crossing into Canada was not the closing of our chapter on the Continental Divide Trail -- it was the beginning of a new chapter.
What we learned on trail far surpassed anything that we learned in school. Don’t get us wrong, we honestly love learning so school was always a welcomed outlet. However, there is something to say about the vulnerability, strength and growth you experience when you spend months outdoors. You learn about yourself in a capacity unlike any other. And believe it or not, Those lessons stick with you even when you are navigating the real world.
You gotta believe. What you put out into the world comes back to you. The trail provides for those who respect the trail. This is important both on trail and off trail, and though a simple mindset --positive thinking leads to positive outcomes--it is certainly a difficult one to live out. This lesson is best told with a story:
While on the Pacific Crest Trail, Ethan and Wild Bill found themselves walking twenty five miles through Oregon lava fields with only one water source at the beginning of the day. With only a quarter of a liter left, they came up on water source they had been depending on, and it was bone dry. Being the positive hikers that they are, they were hopeful of finding a source of water and decided to hike into the night to avoid dehydration. However, after walking another mile, they stumbled upon a quickly flowing pink stream. Without hesitation, they began filtering and filled all of their bottles with the icy cold water. They set up camp a few hundred feet away. A hiker walked up to them wondering where they had gotten all of the water. He must have missed it, they determined and lead him back to where they had filtered. Oddly, the stream was gone and the wet silty soil was the only proof of the water. After much thought, they concluded that a glacial pocket of water on the Middle Sister had opened and flowed for only the few moments they passed by. “You gotta believe,” Wild Bill exclaimed.
The moral of the story is be friendly, stay positive and the trail will provide. You just gotta believe.
Trail Family. On trail your trail family is made up of fellow hikers as well as anyone you meet along the way. These interactions may be brief, but they have potential to become significant. Sometimes the most unlikely people will open up to you. Be receptive to these conversations, from the ones that last five minutes to the ones that last five hours. It is important to know when to let your guard down, to never make assumptions and to always understand that we are all in the middle of our own journeys.
Hiker Midnight. In a world of deadlines and schedules, it is easy to feel as if time is inescapable. On trail, you follow the rhythms of the rising and setting sun. You are not chasing times, but instead, the first snow of autumn (if you are heading North). You take to time in its primitive, most natural form, and feel absolutely liberated. Unfortunately, we do not have the secret of how to adapt this practice to off trail duties, especially when adjusting back to a job and well...society. But, this brief sabbatical back to a world guided by stages of sunlight taught us the importance of experiencing life at a different speed. What would you try to accomplish in a day if 9pm was your midnight?
Hike your own hike. The idiom of thru-hiking vernacular is “hike your own hike” or “HYOH”. You hear it so many times that sometimes you find yourself shrugging it off with an eye-roll. That is okay, we have done that too. However, this is arguably the most important lesson of all. Worrying about what people are doing will not get you to your end goal. Plus a well-made decision yesterday, may not be the right one today. There is no wrong way, only a right way for you, and if anyone tells you otherwise, tell them to take a hike!