To most, it is a logical question. Why indeed would somebody want to spend months on end walking, day in and day out, towards an almost unfathomably far destination. On such a trip, the destination cannot be the sole reason for hiking. Reaching Katahdin is too distant of a goal to sustain the mental fortitude required on a journey such as this.
If you talk to thru-hikers about their daily experiences on the trail, many responses would include pain of some sort or another, whether that be blistered feet, aching joints, or pinched shoulders under the weight of the pack straps. If some hikers deal with nearly constant pain throughout their hike, what on earth keeps them going, covering more ground everyday? I was fortunate, in this regard. I suffered very little in the way of chronic pain or injuries throughout my three months on trail. The question remains, however. Even without pain, why did I want to be out there?
Oftentimes, the reason for a hiker to walk on on a particular day was nothing more complicated than a desire to reach the next town and indulge in some well-deserved ‘town food’. This, however, doesn’t explain why we are out there in the first place; why we are in such a position that the most attractive thing imaginable is a juicy burger, onion rings, and a beer (my personal go-to fix).
Hikers’ motivations are as varied as the hikers themselves. Some find themselves on the trail because they desire self-discovery. Some want to challenge themselves physically, to push themselves to their limits to see how much they can take. For me, it was the simple desire be outside and to go on an adventure.
When I’m outside for extended periods of time, particularly when I’m alone, I’m able to slip out of the mentality constructed over the course of living in modern society. Alone in the woods, with nothing to do but walk, allows me to calm my mind, to step back and allow myself to be filled with nothing but the smell of a fresh breeze and the sound of stones crunching beneath my feet. It is a unique state of tranquillity bordering almost on meditation. My mind is empty of active thought, and yet I feel more alive than in any other place. Far away from my house, there is nowhere I feel more at home than in the mountains.
The first real novel I can remember reading, back at the fresh young age of six, was The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien. The (simplified) tale follows a person in whom is awakened a desire to abandon his mundane everyday life in exchange for a journey full of trials and obstacles that must be surmounted in order to eventually reach his destination.
Since the time of reading that novel, I have been attracted to that concept. To leave behind the constraints (and comforts) of ‘civilized’ life and take the path less trodden. In my eyes, adapting to the barebones life on the trail was not about lowering my standards of living, but about raising them. Changing my perception of what is actually needed to live.
Life becomes wonderfully simple when all of your worldly possessions are strapped to your back, and the only goal you have on a daily basis is to walk a little bit farther. It’s a concept that’s hard to grasp from a typical urbanized perspective, where life is cluttered by a myriad of appointments, errands, and chores. Life in that context becomes a constant rush, an everyday scramble to do everything that has to be done.
Stepping onto the trail translates to stepping back from those responsibilities which seem so important. After spending time hiking, the idea of these activities starts to become meaningless. When you begin to live without the amenities you used to think essential, you realize the opposite was true, and that all you need to live well, for any length of time, is a snack in your pocket and a trail beneath your feet.
To those who have lived the hiker lifestyle, the question instead becomes:
‘Why not hike?’.
- Noah ‘Goat’ Korne