Winter time. The time many hikers plan, prepare, and get ready for the next trail, adventure, route. The time many of us ask the question, what next? Yet, there is a deeper thread to this question if you but chose to look past the initial feeling and thought. After spending multiple years on and off trails, the question of what next, becomes secondary, becomes a thought that arises without any prompt, but instead becomes your normal. Of course you will be adventuring next year, it is what you do. It is a question without being a question, because well it is your life. So before you know it, the next adventure is planned, the next hike, the next year on trail. It feels as if you made the decision, when all along it could have been a subconscious pattern. When looking back at the planning, you wonder, did you consciously chose a year full of hiking again, or was it what you are pre-programmed to do? So, instead of the question that we ask ourselves every year of, what next? We now are asking ourselves the question beneath, the question at the root of our pre-programming, the question that leads us to wonder, the question of, can we stop?
Can we just walk away into the sunset, are we even capable?
Can we stop hiking if we wanted to? Can we live a "normal" year if we so wished? Can we break a pattern that we love, but a pattern that we begin to wonder if it is our choice, or a habit? Honestly, we have absolutely no idea how to answer these questions. We think we could stop if we so desired. We believe it is our own free will that continues to inspire us to pursue adventure. We find our most comfort, joy, and happiness out in the freedom of this world. Is this because this is where we have spent the majority of our time, or because these are our true feelings? Humans adapt to the situation they are placed in, as a species we have an incredible ability to become who we need to be in our surroundings. Always remaining true to who we are morally, thoughtfully, and personally, but adapting to the stimuli of the outside world. Are we only adapting to our new normal? Or are we choosing, in every thought, action, and moment what continues to propel us forward, continues to let us grow?
It is the month of January now. We are looking down the barrel of another year of adventure. Beginning March of 2022 and possibly spanning to the end of March 2023. Another full year living life on trail. It feels as if this planning happened in but a blink. One moment we had vague ideas of what we wished 2022 to be, and in the next, we are now breaking down maps, planning permits, puzzle piecing in itineraries and estimated time frames to domino into one another. Honestly, looking back at the moment from vague ideas to planned itineraries, we can truly say it does not feel like we made the conscious choice. We are thrilled, excited, and extremely happy with the choice that has been made, yet it does not feel like we made it. It feels as if a force outside of our control took the reigns of our mind and auto-piloted us into this new year. What is slightly frightening is we didn't even notice it happening in the moment. It went from maybe, to happening without our will.
We have been hiking for 6+ years now, over 20,000 miles, spending the majority of our time on trail, or working towards trail. We have grown individually, grown collectively, we have been taught lessons we never could have possibly anticipated out in a footstep at a time. Yet, is there a time that to continue to grow there needs to be a change? Let us bring you back, back to the month of October, back to Minnesota on the North Country Trail. We had been on trail since February of 2021, accumulating miles day after day. Months of hiking, months of walking across this beautiful country. Outwardly and inwardly a wonderful journey, yet if we zoom in and listen closely to the conversation being had between my partner and I, we will hear a interesting story.
Do we want yellow water and hot sauce for our daily diet?
Is that what we truly want?
Or is it what we are just "used" to now?
Trail will teach you a lesson everyday. Everyday there is something new to learn about this world, yourself, and others. Yet, as with anything, a certain "stagnation" can be felt when repetitively doing a activity day after day, month after month, year after year. It is here my partner and I began to dive deeper into our feelings. We both have been hiking consistently for years, both living life on trail and life off trail for trail, we had both been growing individually as well as together as partners. Yet, all of a sudden, it felt like our growth individually had hit a ceiling. It felt like to continue to grow individually which in turn would grow us collectively, would require change. The growth we had experienced on trail everyday for so long, felt as if we both had "accomplished" the intangible thing which we never had even sought. The intangible emotional, spiritual, personal growth that is found within yourself when hiking. We begin to talk and wonder if to grow, we now needed to change.
So, we began fantasizing about a year "without" hiking. Well ,a year without the extreme time being consumed by long distance trails. Instead a year of travel, a year of smaller hikes, a year of being connected into the trail community, while not tackling massively long trails ourselves. We not only fantasized about it, but felt our emotions swell with knowledge that this was the right choice. To grow we needed to experience a "different" type of life, while continuing to revolve our life around the outdoors. To hike 200-300 mile trails, to have our first summer outside of a thru-hike in more than half a decade, to let us learn the lessons of life from a new perspective. A new pattern woven from the pattern we had found ourselves within.
Now, we find ourselves looking down the barrel of possibly another 6,000+ mile year like the year of 2021. Not only 6,000+ miles but potentially even going further and hiking well over 7,000+ miles. So, instead of scaling back it seems we went in the complete opposite direction and increased our time that is going to be spent on trail. How does 2+2=5 in this scenario? It doesn't make any sense, we chose to scale back, we chose to act differently, we chose to seek growth in a similar way of life while being new for us both.
Our mind rationalizes that somehow it still remains different. Two of our hikes beginning in March will bring us into May. So only, two months spent on trail. Then, instead of instantly transitioning into another hike, instead we will take two months to do trail magic, explore, and road trip around the West Coast. Then near the beginning of July, fully encompassing ourselves in the trail community with a large hike, a large hike that we had all but vowed not to do again for a while. Bringing us into the month of October where we hope to once again transition directly into another trail. A "small" trail, less than 1000 miles, but a trail nonetheless. Afterwards to hopefully travel overseas to begin yet another hike, through the winter in the United States, while it is summer elsewhere.
2022, what are you? Are you the same? Are you different? What are you?
It sounds like quite a lot of hiking doesn't it? Yet, it feels as if we did change...somehow. The way with which we are going to go about hiking is going to be different. Yes, we will still cruise miles but our thought has now once again reverted to the pure adventure and not the miles inside. We have been living in a pressure vacuum of harder miles, quicker miles, for far too long, and letting this burden go, feels, well it feels freeing. Then focusing on travel and community for a break during our first summer "off trail" in years, also feels new. It feels like we have found a newness inside the same? Honestly, it does feel like we have changed much while keeping the baseline the same. The perception, the choice, the mindset, the adventure in front of us feels like a new way of life.
Can we stop? We do not know. We have tried and believe we "succeeded" in change. Yet, a very "small" scale change that outwardly may seem to be the same. It may be counterintuitive that more miles and more trails also means less complete consumption by trail, but that is what it feels like right now. By, living life around trail and not constantly consumed within trail feels different for us, feels new, feels like growth.
Is this the answer? Is there an answer?
Can we stop? Are we the ones that are deciding our next moment, or is it pre-programmed into our lives at this point? That is not yet a question we have been able to answer. It will probably take many more steps, many more moments, and many more trails to define. Who knows, maybe we will never even define it, maybe we will always be left questioning. Yet, maybe even asking the question is an answer. Maybe, even being able to get to the point that we can recognize that there is a difference between choice and auto-pilot is growth. Maybe, by looking and feeling our way through this question every time we have our sights set on the next trail, next month, next year is in a way its own answer. Maybe the answer is defined by our actions and not by our too complicated thoughts. Maybe this is what we want. Maybe this is what we need. Maybe, the answer is not a simple yes or no, but a constant consciousness that we must harness. Maybe the question is the answer.
With complicated feelings and simple actions