Saturday, February 06, 2010

How the energy of others helps you keep going

Someone asked me how you get used to trail life at the beginning of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I said that you are helped by all the energy of the people around you. They thought this was too external a reason to have.

I don't think people hike the trail for external adulation. It came as a surprise to me that so many people were so encouraging and admired what I was doing.

At first when I was out there I did not even think about how long a hike it would be. I just focused on getting to Warner Springs and all throughout I only worried about whatever scary thing was just ahead. In Section A, that was Scissors Crossing.

By saying that the energy of the others fed the internal fire, I was trying to suggest that you are helped in getting used to it. The trail is a totally social thing. This surprised me. I thought I would be alone in the wilderness. With all the other people hiking the trail and being supportive in town, it made it so there was no adjustment at all. Maybe it's primitive, but it helps. You go out for your own reasons and you find that there are lots of people with the same reasons (wow, other people are like me??) and lots of people who wish they could do what you are doing. It certainly made me feel better for quitting a good job and walking into a completely uncertain future. And it also helps when you still haven't quite figured out how to set up the tent or the ground still feels too hard to sleep on.

The fire in people's eyes is there at the start. I saw it in the northbounders when I did a section hike near Idyllwild around the kickoff. I saw it in the southbounders when I was in Oregon, too. I felt sorry for the southbounders that they had to meet me when I felt the fire had burned out of me. I felt sorry for people in town who wanted to see that fire in me, too. I tried not to be too much of a downer. I realized after a while that many of the people who helped me and wanted to meet me had the dream to do it too, and I didn't want to dissuade them. I was giving them more than they were giving me. That energy goes both ways, I guess is what I'm saying.

Even while I was feeling quite burned out, there were moments when I would see a vista laid out behind me, or realize how freaking long the trail really is, or like the day I crossed the log on the Suiattle River and realized I had made it through every scary thing thrown at me, and I would be completely moved at what I was capable of. As the hike went on, these moments became more private and I became more protective of the experience, not as willing to share it with other people who weren't also hiking the trail. I did not want anyone to admire me because no matter what they ever said to me in admiration, they never understood. Their admiration almost cheapened the experience.

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