The never ending trail
About a week ago I was near crater lake and went hiking on a portion of the pacific crest trail (PCT). I expected that the snow will have melted by June. Instead, the forest floor was covered by nearly a meter of snow and we had to walk through snow, and follow small markers posted on the trees in order to keep on the trail.
We went about four or five miles into the trail. At every step we needed to keep looking up on the trunks for the blue diamond-shaped signs which marked the PCT. Instead of looking down at our feet, we had to look up and observe every obstacle.
For six hours we were fully immersed on the trail. It felt infinite. At every step we had to pay our fullest attention to the forest, because if we didn’t, we would have ended up lost. This was not a heavy season, in fact at some parts of the trail, the only footsteps in the snow were ours.
I wondered what would it feel like to be hiking on this trail for days. Day after day, everything around is forest. No other people to worry about and no Internet. I’d wake up in the forest, walk all day in the forest, camp in the forest. I’ll repeat and repeat and repeat. I would forget about the rest of the civilization.
A trail head by the road would become just another marker on the way. There might be cities, campgrounds, rivers close by, but they are not part of the trail. They wouldn’t exist for me, and I wouldn’t even be aware of what I’m missing.
And maybe that’s the point. A trail like the PCT, more than two thousand miles long, would take multiple months to finish. This seems physically painful, but even more devastating mentally. I watched the movie “Wild”, based on a true story, and the heroine started on the PCT without any training or wilderness knowledge. And yet, she was able to complete it, while other more experienced hikers gave up. She had a strong emotional decision to continue. It was a hard moment in her life and that trail was the way forward. Physically it was not a life-and-death, but mentally, it was.
An extreme situation tests the limits of our emotional decision. I ran a marathon, but I was not fully prepared physically. At mile 22 I was done. I couldn’t move any more. I hit the wall. But I had determined to finish because I wanted to know how does it feel to be able to finish a marathon. So I kept going, often walking, but I still finished. I finished because I made a strong emotional decision to finish, not because I was in a great shape.
People who finish the PCT, would cover a marathon-sized distance every day, for months. Their emotional decision is a lot stronger.
On an endless trail, it is not possible to half ass the way through. If anyone does, you they’d get lost, or slip and die.
I think that the never ending trail is a good metaphor for life. I might be just following the marking signs, or might have an idea of where the trail will go but don’t know the exact route. Or I might decide to step away from the path. Either case, might as well enjoy every step and not rush through it.
To fully go through it requires a strong mental dedication. In the absence of grave personal shocks, where is the motivation source? I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that I can find motivation in life itself. Remembering that every trail has an end eventually, and making the most of the way.