Every trail starts new. You stand at the terminus looking northbound, southbound, eastbound, westbound, any direction that begins your journey. You may have had this feeling before by doing another trail, but you are about to experience the journey that is unique to this trail, this moment, this time that you find yourself in. You may be more physically prepared or less, your mentality may be strict and structured or it may flow like the streams, you may look around and see only sand, grass, trees, and wildlife or you may look around and see other hikers bubbling with energy. No matter how you begin a trail there are a million different factors that accumulate to that moment. Yet, the moment to get to that terminus, the day before, the week before, the months, before, even the years probably have a billion moments and decisions that brought you there. For some it may have been "easy" there was no question what they were going to do, but then for some it may be difficult they had to work through the what and more importantly the how. It all leads to that beginning. It all accumulates at the signpost, terminus, obelisk, everyone is now on the same path. The way there may have been drastically different, but the way through will be the same. What lays ahead is footstep after footstep, mile after mile, resupply after resupply. There is only one direction now and that is forward. No going back, well unless you dropped a M&M that is worth going back for, but the journey has begun. All will follow the path ahead the same but also wonderfully different.
The terminus is the ever changing one you always carry within yourself.
There is a saying out there that the only similarities between long distance hikes are the distance themselves. What exactly does this mean? Well it does not mean the miles will be the same, does not mean the climate will be the same, does not even mean you will be the same. It means that on a long distance hike the similarities begin and end with them being of a set distance. That can be 500 miles, 1,000 miles, 2,000 miles, 4,000 miles and yes even 8,000 miles. Yet, you are walking through the desert, the forest, the mountains, why is there not more similarities? It is because each hike is special each hike has a different light, a different feel, a different taste, and that all stems from your inner self.
Without getting to philosophical we do want to say however that, yes if you tried to physically say there would be similarities you are correct. You carry the same heavy pack. You may use much of the same gear. You may have physical habits from previous hikes. Your body will still feel the miles and strain of a long distance endeavor. You will still become ravenous as a Midnight Racoon all the time and maybe just as rabid. You will still experience the elements whether that is wind, rain, snow, heat, extreme cold. You will still feel physically tired. You will still feel physically light. Your feet will still hurt at times. Your shoulders will still strain and tighten. Your layered scars like an onion with all different hues upon your hips will continue to be added to. You will feel thirst. You will feel hunger. You will feel exhaustion. All of these and more you will continue to feel. The base feeling is similar but the experience through them and through the trail will continue to always be different.
When hikers are fed means happy raccoon.
When hikers are hungry.... too graphic of an image to display!
What is so different about one trail to another? Well, how long do you have, we could literally go on for pages. Yet, the most consolidated answer that defines and lets you work through each detail yourself is simply, you. You are the difference. You are the similarity. You are the filter and balance with which all stimuli outside and inside get fed through. When you experience another long distance hike, you may already be beginning in a new mentality. A mentality of I have been here before, I know what lies ahead in part. You know the physical aspects of the journey ahead as well as parts of the mental. Yet, as the journey continues your mentality will filter these stimuli in different ways. A pain that may have crippled you one trail before is now just a nuisance that can be fixed with Town Pizza. A thought or a low that brought you to the depths of yourself on a trail prior, you may be able to recognize and traverse those deep crevices of your mind quicker. A rain storm will always be unfortunate, yet now you may see the laughter and the happiness in the drops that fall upon your body. Taking joy in the bath that you have needed for days, and that your entire hiking family has continued to express to you in much colorful vocabulary and phrases. A piece of gear that fails you on a trail prior may have brought you to your knees to cover your shame if the tear was in an "arid" place, yet now you walk forward unburdened and unabashed for the world to see the resilience of your spirit and the fullness of your character as well as person. No matter the moment it will be always different, because you are different in that moment.
It is hard to define what we mean that every moment you are different. You may take stock of yourself even while reading this article and say, well I am still me, how am I different? It is not your character, your values, your inner you that is different. What we mean is by being you and experiencing you only as you can, the moments that are filtered through yourself will always be different. Filtering a moment such as rain through a mind that has had nothing but sunshine and laughter and companionship for days is a beautiful experience. Filtering a moment such as rain through a mind that has had nothing but hypothermia, mud, and more rain for days can be a depressing experience. Yet, again the decision will fall to you. You can take that thought and that moment and while not being able to change it, you can change your thinking. It will be difficult, it will be beyond difficult, because you will be changing a response internally. It has taken us years before trail and years and thousands of miles on trail to have our initial response be one of joy and one of laughter, when experiencing the difficult and the extreme on and off trail. Part of it can come from that is who we are just internally and as a person genetically happy, so we had help there, but there was still work to be done in honing this and letting it completely become effortless and subconscious. The physical path in front of you is just a defined physical aspect to your journey, the majority of the journey will be inside of yourself.
The physical aspect is only a small portion, a catalyst for the inner journey.
We have tended to go back into the philosophical, but honestly it seems the only way to describe this. Each footstep is a difference even inside of Deja Vu. You may feel you have been there before, stepped that same step, seen that same view, thought that same thought, yet it could not be more different because the person that stands there now was different than the previous version even in the miniscule not the vastness of definition. As humans we always continue to grow and adapt, that is a beautiful part of what makes us human. You will always be you, yet what made you and continues to define you are the moments before that continue to form the moment ahead. It is a cycle of growth and change that is never-ending. Recognize this, live in this, revile in this, it makes you beautifully you.
Our first physical terminus of the year 2021, starts in a few days.
Yet, our inner terminus of a billion moments continues...
So, as we began this article we had thought we were going to define each trail system we had done and the moments that were immensely different but so familiar. We thought we were going to define walking through the Appalachian Trail. We thought we were going to define climbing the Continental Divide Trail. We thought we were going to define bushwhacking the Great Divide Trail. Then as we continued down this thought we realized that was way too narrow of a looking glass. A looking glass that could see any and all trails at the same time would be too narrow. A looking glass that could see the entire world too limited. Instead we turned that looking glass from outward to inward. That is where the unfathomable happens, that is where the endless occurs, that is where the limitless takes place. That is where each moment is a galaxy unto itself. That is where the difference and similarity combine into making the one and only, you. That is where the terminus truly begins.
With vertigo from looking in too deep,