As I prepared for the Appalachian Trail, my first long distance trail, folks seemed oddly fascinated. A 2,150 mile long hike along the Appalachian Trail; how neat!
Later, I set myself in motion to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. A lot of people were curious as to why I was taking another hike of this magnitude. Hadn't I gotten it out of my system? I tried my best to explain myself.
Between hikes I have served as a youth leader, environmental educator, and trail maintainer. I have achieved great successes in these fields.*
Now, with the Continental Divide Trail looming before me, nobody is questioning my decision to put my life on hold for another five month trek. The odd fascination and novelty that accompanied my first hike has all but washed away. I get asked, "why?" much less frequently. But, I am not certain I have adequately been able to explain myself.
Rather, I imagine what has happened is that the most generous people among us have written my passions off as a unique quirk. The less-than-generous have declared me an ambition-less wanderer.
So be it.
I hike because there is an unfathomable amount of beauty in this world.
Beauty that has a natural right to exist in and of itself. Screw economics, trade, technology, industry, media, and all the other "useful" aspects of modern civilization -- because that is all a facade shielding you and I from the true meaning and importance of our world.
Long distance hiking is a way for me to, if not "tear down the wall", at least move behind it and live beyond its influence. For five months I will experience true beauty, raw personal connection, pure altruism, and the ever so easily forgotten fact that we humans are nothing compared to Nature.
To see changes in our world's natural geography under your very feet. To see the seasons change, and with these changes, changes in the local flora and fauna. To truly understand the meaning of a day and the incremental changes in each day's length. To be left in awe at the beauty and power of nature.
These things, if experienced more regularly by a larger portion of the world's population would radically change the perspective of the people, and in doing so, the course of human history. People would change the way they view their natural environment as well as their perception of their fellow human beings.
I cannot force anyone to open themselves to these experiences. In fact, with a population as large as ours, doing so would rapidly diminish, if not destroy, such natural sanctuaries. (Less babies - more wilderness!) I can, however, commit myself to continued and purposeful exploration of what wilderness does remain in order to both satiate my appetite for beauty and to see things as they truly exist.
* I've also let a few people down throughout my career as a trail crew leader. I sometimes find it difficult to offer myself an honest self-assessment of my leadership capabilities, one without weighing too heavily on single instances or scenarios, both good and bad. All I can be sure of, is that I have put my time and effort into sharing my experience and knowledge. And that much is good.