A single footstep becomes two. A single mile becomes thousands. A single trail becomes many. A single goal becomes a life. A life becomes a home.
Honestly, I am having a very difficult time encompassing my thought around how to write this post. Writing for me has always come easily and the words seem to hit the paper before I even manifest them in my mind. It has always been write first, think later, but not so now. The irony that writing a book is "easier" than writing a simple post is not lost on me. I have a massive form of writers block for one of the first times in my life, and have an inkling of an idea behind the "why."
I began this post over and over again for the last hour, with powerful words that were saturated in meaning. I began this paragraph with humorous jokes that deflect from the reality of the deep emotions that are intertwined within this announcement. I had began to speak of life, purpose, identity, conflict and peace. I deleted every single beginning because it did not encompass my complexity of emotion. Every single sentence felt inadequate to introduce this post because while each told much, they told very little.
This may be it, this may be the only way to begin. To begin within failure to express the entirety of the feelings. By failing to convey what this post means to me, may be the only way to accomplish the full truth. If I was able to capture the words in a succinct and distilled version then the emotions would become limited. To limit the emotions would be to not tell the truth. Only through failure of a beginning and an introduction can I accomplish the truth of a story.
Without any more heavy metaphors of thought, I wrote a book. A book that was over two years in the making, and if one believes such things, over seven years since that very first step on the Appalachian Trail. A story that was told in the moment within each literal footstep of distance and time and a story that is now told with each proverbial step of the written word.
Many of you are probably familiar with the National Scenic Trails, but for those of you who are not they are as follows:
A group of trails that the similarity begins and ends with the simple activity of walking. Each trail is its own world, each trail has its own flavor, each trail has its own identity.
The Appalachian Trail will bathe you in camaraderie and trail culture. The Pacific Crest Trail will have you swept off your feet in romantic wanderlust. The Continental Divide Trail will have you feeling as feral as the remoteness of the land you traverse. The Pacific Northwest Trail will be lonely, and if you are blessed enough, filled with love. The Ice Age Trail will be flat farmland filled with cows, corn, mosquitoes, and a deep sense of pride from every local. The Arizona Trail will whisper the nothingness of desert travel that becomes everything. The Natchez Trace Trail will teleport you through history and the deep south. The Florida Trail will have you swimming through swamps and falling in love with a state shrouded by a societal stigma. The Potomac Heritage Trail will have your soul travel along the banks of an endless canal. The New England Trail will turn you into a rock climber and less a hiker as you are sandwiched between private property. Finally, the North Country Trail will crush and destroy every definition of your prior self in its endless length to make you find another version, one could hope a better version of yourself, that you never dreamed possible.
This book is the story of these trails individually and as a whole. A story of a goal never sought but ultimately found. A goal that drove a life for years and a goal that was pursued with a consumption of every breath and every second. A goal that became a life, and a life that became a home.
A story of finding the single word that defines a person and cascades into every action. A story of love found in a life and love shared with another. A story of obsession with the next trail, the next mountain, the next journey. A story that is incredibly complex in its changes, but incredibly simple in its application. A story of walking.
This is the telling of what it means to live a life in pursuit. Whether that pursuit is the next hike, the next challenge, the next necessary failure, the next accomplishment, whatever comes next, it is the story of living a life constantly in pursuit.
You will notice the chapters do not just jump directly from trail to trail. While this would tell you of the hikes and the moments along the National Scenic Trails, it would only tell you a fractional percentage of this life. I called the moments the "in-between" as during the progression of this book, and the progression of life, this time "in-between" changes just as much, if not more than the trails themselves.
"They were a band-aid in the form of a beautiful fairy tale. Bewitching band-aids that gave me a false sense of peace. When the band-aid was on, I knew who I was, I knew my world, I knew my desires. It was only when these band-aids I had been calling trails were ripped away did my wounds fester and bleed. Only when I stopped treating them like a cure and started treating them like a trail could I heal."
-Excerpt from "The Continental Divide Trail"
To understand the times "in-between" you have to understand the times on trail. They are not separate from one another but intimately intertwined in their similarities of mind and their incredible differences of body. Life "on trail" and "off trail" have very different daily choices, daily struggles, and daily feelings but are all part of the same equation. The same complex equation that builds and creates a person, a purpose, an identity, a life in pursuit.
"I no longer chased the end because there was no end. There were trails ahead, there were beginning and endpoints along these hikes, but hiking itself never had an ending. It was a very freeing feeling but a bit complex. I had become addicted to the "terminus feeling" and I no longer found it. My tolerance had outgrown my consumption, and I needed something harder to get my fix. I needed the day, the moment - I needed to immerse myself in every breath, and only then could I find fulfillment."
-Excerpt from "The In-Between Part 3"
"Disconnection is a sorrowful reality of this kind of life. In pursuing a relentless connection to myself, the trail, and other hikers, I found myself disconnected from friends and family, a disconnection that was not of my choosing. It is yet another unseen line that becomes challenging to navigate. To gain, you must also lose. Stepping over one side of the line means giving less of yourself to the other side."
-Excerpt from "The In-Between Part 5"
"She could exist in my subconscious and emerge during moments of clarity in my heart, but I had to accept her absence. The trails I hiked would always be mine and mine alone to explore. Dwelling on the longing, missing, and pain of her being away would have been unbearable.
-Excerpt from "The In-Between Part 10"
The book could not have been written without the trails as a foundation but it is only when the lessons learned and the life found are built upon does it become a story. Hiking will always be my truest joy but not because of the activity. Endorphins, beauty in the natural world, and clarity of thought are all benefits of walking large spans of distance, but do not lay at the heart of why every trail is so special.
Every trail is special because it gives you the opportunity, if you decide to take it, to become more. You have the choice but you must consciously make it. A trail can just be a place to walk and can just be a trail, but if you chose it can become a life. A life filled with meaning and love in yourself, the land, and others. A life overflowing with the possibilities to always find more. It can be more, life can be more whether it in "on trail" or "off trail", you just must make the choice.
To the people in this life that continue to make it special, thank you. To the trails that are technically lifeless but somehow breath, move, speak and have the power to create a life, thank you. To the bushwhacks, snow capped peaks, river crossings, and endless deserts, thank you. To my family on and off the trail, thank you. To the National Scenic Trails, thank you. To every single one of you reading this, thank you.
Ryan Bunting (Constantine)