I kinda missed Valentines Day completely, which is fine because everyone is always railing against it for being a hallmark holiday. Whatever, whatever. But I did want to take the time to write a post about one of the reasons we are hiking the PCT that Valentines Day has got me thinking about: love. Love of nature in this case, love of backpacking, and hiking and being outside.
I keep writing these why posts that are all about why a thru hike is right for me. When I think of why I think of the deep seeded personal bullshit that thru hiking is going to impact. How is it going to change me? I think many people thru hike for these reasons. They feel that there is something wrong with their life as is and maybe taking a long walk in the woods will miraculously fix it. And other people scoff at that idea, but I actually think that is a completely legitimate reason to take to the woods. When I think about why I am always thinking of all the mental and physical challenges I will have to overcome. Some part of me has shied away from saying one of the most obvious reasons I want to go and hike: because nature is beautiful and it makes me feel happy.
I mean, duh. But I don’t say it enough and I don’t point to it as one of the major reasons that we want to hike another long trail again. It is a serious privilege to get to spend that much time in nature, to walk through different habitats at such a slow pace and to see the seasons change in real time. You learn or rediscover such basic things about this earth when you walk each day.
When I was working at ACE I came to understand the moon for the first time ever. As a Washingtonian I have always lived in these heavily forested areas, the moon was a privilege, an old friend that showed up every once in a while above the trees, and sometimes came out during the day, a faint sliver in a blue sky. But most of the time the moon was hidden by clouds or I was sleeping inside. When I moved to the desert the moon was no longer an old friend, to moon was a rowdy neighbor, a midnight partier, waking up the coyotes and bathing everything in a cool white light. I learned that the moon not only waxes and wanes, something I had never gotten to see up close and personal before, but it also rises and sets and different times and in different places. The moon is full of so much movement in the desert, it dances across the sky, as where in the northwest it hides behind the clouds and the trees and tugs at the waves.
Or when I was on the AT and I finally learned to love spring. In the northwest I had always hated spring, touted it as my least favorite season. Understandably spring in the northwest is probably the rainiest season. While other places are starting to warm up and flowers are blooming and people are wearing shorts occasionally we are still in raincoats and any flowers that are blooming are being bombarded by raindrops. Spring is just a medicine we have to swallow in order to get to summer, a truly magical time. When I lived in Salem, OR, which is marginally dryer than Olympia I got a little glimpse of how spring could be a nice season, but I still anticipated the heat of summer. And then I hiked the AT. When we started hiking in April everything was still dead and brown. How strange to be in a world of deciduous trees and plants, where everything seemed gone, frozen by winters icy grasp. It was depressing. But slowly green started to appear. Tiny buds were forming on the tips of twigs. Butterflies were starting to swoop amongst the trees and birds were starting to wake us with their songs. Up on the tops of mountains everything was still slumbering but when we descended down a ridge into town you could see things come alive right before your eyes. At lower elevations spring was in full bloom, flowers on every plant and leaves shading you from above. It was magical and warm and the weather was pretty good. I can see how, after a long winter surrounded by plants that look dead, those first weeks of spring must be pure bliss.
These realizations and many more make me want to spend more time outside, where secrets feel like something I have always known, I just forgot for a little while. When I am outside, far away from towns and cars and crowding I feel quieter, more inspired, cleaner, more connected. I love the desert and the woods in that way that none of us can put enough words too, that we could all probably write about forever and ever. I feel recharged at the end of an exhausting day. When I wake up with the sun I feel in sync with the world around me. My senses are heightened but my eyes can never take everything in. There is an excitement in my belly all the time that fuels me to want see what is around the next bend. There is an urging in my soul to keep walking. With the PCT approaching living outdoors again is becoming more and more of a reality, and I have started to get these terrible pangs of longing for it. There are these clarifying moments where my whole body will just ache to be out there already, standing at the top of a mountain or nestled in a valley, scared by a rattlesnake or stunned by a view. When we are hiking there is this feeling I get when we suddenly pop out into the open to an incredible view, it is this feeling that my lungs are bottomless and that I am trying to suck everything into my body, to hold it there and to try to absorb some of its beauty. Why do we have two more months before we get to leave?
Like I said, I could probably go on forever about why I love nature and why that makes me want to hike, and maybe that is why I never write about it. Because I hope that it is a given and I know that many of you feel the same things so why even bother writing them down. The feeling we all have inside us is truer than any blog post is ever going to be. So just know, that happiness you feel when you are in the woods, I feel that too, and I think it is reason enough to up and hike for five months.