Total Miles: 2216.8
I wonder about the world. Not the world of nature we’ve had the luxury of escaping to these past 4 months, the other one. The one hikers semi-jokingly refer to as the “artificial world.” Detachment from the cares and strictures of that world is a feature of thru-hiking, not a bug, but roiled by a pandemic, that detachment has grown exponentially.
I don’t miss the never-ending news cycle, nor the drivel of commentary that passes as news. I don’t miss our collective obsession with social media, nor what it has done either to our interest in one another or to our attention spans. I don’t miss the dehumanization of whomever wears the stripes of an opposing political party. I don’t miss the neglect we show to our friends, our families, and our loved ones in the name of the misguided American work ethic.
What I do miss is knowing how those friends, family and loved ones are coping with a world that has been turned upside down; a world that—to the trees, rivers, and mountains of the trail—hasn’t changed one iota. More importantly, I miss knowing how it has changed them and their perspective on that world and on their own lives. Thrust into new normals without a sense of when those new normals might safely be discarded is very nearly the definition of disorienting, but within every challenge lies opportunity.
What is it that I value? Seems simple enough, but I’d be surprised if most of us would be capable of answering it both thoughtfully and honestly. Usually, stealing time away from society (think: hiking for months at a time) is the rare opportunity to ponder a question like that, an opportunity that is out of reach for many or at the very least may seem so.
And therein lies a “gift” of the pandemic—when everything you know, every daily habit you’ve formed, and every routine has been upended, what is it that you learn about you? Rarely does the world provide a good hard shock to the system as this. If it hasn’t realigned your priorities yet, it should.
I usually have to take a good long walk in the woods to force myself to ask the big questions and to evolve towards a better self—for me, my friends, my family. That’s a choice. The pandemic certainly may not have been chosen, but the tragedy foisted upon all of us presents the same opportunity once its outer layers of interruption and inconvenience have been peeled away. All without the pesky need to walk a single mile in the woods or spend a single night in a tent…