Earlier this year, I did a 600 mile section of the Appalachian Trail. Even now, six months later, I continue to reap the benefits of being out on a long hike. Here are some of the reasons it was so great.
Can You Do It?
A big hike is scary, and you will not be sure if you can do it. And, in fact, you might not be able to do it. But you won’t know until you try. This is the kind of thing that is scary because there is uncertainty about success; which is the best kind of scary. The kind of scary you should lean into and find out the answer. And in the process, learn something about yourself.
Time seems to move faster and faster every month, but when you are on the trail, time moves slower. Much slower. When you’re done, it feels like it went very fast, but when you are actually hiking, it feels like you will be hiking forever. Sometimes this feels boring, and sometimes it feels fleeting. But in all cases, going slower means you can really feel that you are moving forward.
Faint Signals Amplify
After a few days, all of the initial mechanics of hiking start to fall away. You stop being terrified of the wilderness, and start to accept your surroundings. That makes way for all of your worries and fears to come to the surface about your life in general: will my kids turn out to be jerks? Will I get promoted? Will I lose my hair?
After a bit, those worries and concerns also start to fall away. Then, you’re left with the space in your brain and your heart to listen to the fainter signals. You can drop into a meditative state more quickly and fully, and stay there for hours.
That’s when the real questions start coming out. What am I happy about in my life? How do I want to spend my energy? What are the unifying themes of my life? How can I make my time here the most impactful it can be? Who do I love? What actions should I take to fulfill my goals?
When you think about your time in high school, it’s pretty easy to anchor events. If you remember who was there, you can estimate pretty accurately when something happened because people graduate; and certain classes had certain classmates.
As you become an adult, the month-to-month level changes in your life start to settle down into a more regular routine, punctuated by moments of memorable activity (like life events such as getting married, having a kid, going to the ER, going taking a big vacation).
There is no life event quite as big as taking a big hike. I can tell already that in the coming years, I will think of my life as phases “before the hike,” and ” after the hike.”
If you have a chance, take it. If you don’t, make it.