Leave the world behind. No more than you absolutely need. Disconnect from technology and noise. Take on an assumed name. Bond instantly with strangers and form a temporary community based on a shared experience. Rely on trust and instinct. Get pleasure from the small beautiful things in life like an amazing view, unexpected kindness from a stranger, or finding M&Ms deep in your backpack….
In the last couple of years I have started to hike and take multi-day backpacking trips. To be clear, I am not athletic and I am definitely not the picture of health. However, I love it for many of the same reasons that I love travel and think it is important for everyone to try at least once.
The hiking community is a different culture. There are different “norms”, different “rules” and different conversations. Your life will intersect with people you may not otherwise meet and yet there is an instant bond and sense of community.
Additionally, you will learn something from everyone you meet on the trail. It may be new trail skills. It might be about their “real life” and job – I once met a mortician. In my “real life” I had never met a mortician (nor have I since). So spending an evening chatting was fascinating.
Different things are important on the trail. Nobody cares about status, income, or material things (except maybe if you have an extra Snicker’s bar or the newest water filter). The trail is filled with people of all ages, occupations and backgrounds.
Life on the trail is very simple. Eat. Walk. Sleep. Repeat. There are no distractions and no outside noise. You feel fit and connected to nature. If traveling with family or friends, you have unlimited time to connect. And there is unlimited opportunity to think and commune with yourself, with God and with nature.
It becomes crystal clear how little you really NEED to survive. Hiking is back to basics and when you return to life it gives you a new appreciation for luxuries in life like showers and a critical eye for necessities like electronics, gadgets, clothes etc….
And finally, it gives you a new appreciation for your own strengths and abilities. The rigors and challenges of the trail give a new confidence that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to.
A multi-day hike does not need to be the entire 2160 miles of the Appalachian Trail. You don’t have to quit your job and spend months in a tent. Most of these lessons can be learned in a week or even a long weekend. But I warn you now, once you start, you might be hooked.
Some of my favorite spots to start on the East Coast include Shenandoah National Park or North out of Damascus Virginia.
Books: Three Hundred Zeros by Richard Blanchard and Becoming Odyssa by Jennifer Pharr Davis are two of my favorites. To be reminded that anyone can do it and how little you really need, read Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery. And of course two of the most popular, Wild by Cheryl Strayed and A Long Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.