How to Live After the Long Hike is Over

Postings of hikers perched on monuments, tops of mountains, and trail endings pop up in the on-line hiker magazines and blogs. The season for long distance and thru-hiking in the northern hemisphere is coming to an end. Hikers ask themselves, “what next, how do I live?”  Some go back to jobs, others enter school or training, most return to what is called “normal” life. The daily grind of taking care of home, family, self and surviving economically. The state of elation, the sense of accomplishment, the pace of living at two miles an hour on the trail meets with the reality of changing weather, living indoors, the senses bombarded by messages on the screen, the pace of life at sixty miles an hour. No wonder hikers suffer from post-hiking depression and live in a constant longing for the expansiveness the trail gave them.

The Essence of Living at Two Miles an Hour

This year I turned 70 and hiked 7×70 miles on the trail. I did it in sections between April and the end of September. I bathed in the spring and summer light 24/7 for six weeks. The first hike of the season after a long winter was a hike of coming home to my delighted self. As summer progressed I found adventure, tested my skills and endurance, and relished in relations formed on and off the trail.

When I hike the distance, I become a time traveler. I find myself in an unknown world where I depend on experience, a world where fear is a quiet shadow driving me to a one-pointed focus on what’s right in front of me, a world where the essence of living stares at me, from the bright sun and the cold dark, from gathering clouds and precipitous rocky paths, from the snowy slopes I traverse and rushing rivers I cross. On my last hike I wanted to say goodbye to summer and the delight in living it gives me. Instead I caught the essence of living life at two miles an hour.

Closing The Gates of Summer

On the first day of my last hike of summer I linger and listen to the deafening silence while I feel the wind rush cool over the now blond grasses. I see the wind climb into the spare oaks dotted in the landscape and lift their branches. My body only knows one thing: “Move.” As I walk on, the yellow silence creeps into my flesh. At night fall when crickets sing, I recall the blond expanse and know: the landscape gives me my soul and I am richer for it.

On the second day of my last hike of summer the wind is my companion, strong and cool. My step is strong and carrying isn’t an effort. I’m walking in the expansiveness and the colors meet me, while my legs move without accomplishment. I listen to a symphony in a solitary pine tree standing on the rim of the plateau, sounding like rushing ocean waves. When I close the next gate on the trail, this tree will go on making heavenly music for nobody….

On the third day of my last hike of summer I wake to 39F temperatures and shiver as I crawl out of my warm down nest. I am grateful for the sunrise and its promising warmth. When I woke in the night to relieve myself I thanked the bright starry milky way I alonewas seeing in this empty place. I walk on among bright blooming rabbit bush. Each time I shut a range-land gate behind me I close another gate on summer. I’m walking into fall and winter as darker clouds chase the white ones in the sky. Witnessing the sunrise hesitant this morning, the afternoon light fade earlier, I know that I belong; belong to the seasons of life.

On the fourth day of my last hike of summer a grey cloud cover provides warmth. The weather forecast dealt me a soft hand as a very light drizzle announces the possibility of more rain. Closing the gates behind me, I hike south through burned and cut forest. No bird song, no undergrowth among the neat rows and duff of pine needles. Not until I climb higher and enter a snag forest, do I hear birds singing, do I see critters scurrying, and find the remnants of summerflowers. I know nature has to die to offer life for new cycles and diversity of species.

On the fifth day of my last hike of summer I hesitate, standing in my wet shoes, wet socks, with a rolled-up wet tent. Yesterday’s afternoon torrent rain followed by a freezing night brought snow to the mountain above me. Is it time to go home or will I reach for another day of effortless walking, another day of being in the companyof changing skies, moist forest and towering snowy peaks?

The wise one in me accepts a ride into town.

A Recipe for Living

I go home smiling. I know I belong to a bigger world than my house, garden and street show me. I know that I belong to nature’s seasons of life and that the seasons will turn me. I will do my life focused on what is in front of me, mindful of the shadow fear of survival in daily decision making, in making me live well another day. What I won’t do is get caught up in over consumption of distractions, in overloading of my senses and stuffing of my natural instincts. I will remember the Tibetan saying: Eat half, walk twice, smile triple and love forever.

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