Opening Statement

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach
~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

Training Hike - Wildcat Canyon Regional Park - Mezue Trail looking NE
On my training hikes, and as I prepare logistics for the trail, my mind comes back again and again to the question, "why are you doing this hike?"

Why? That simple, single syllable carries with it an entire world view.  It demands a reason that makes sense. A reason that is productive. A reason that is efficient.

Making sense and being productive and efficient are useful concepts for understanding part of life. They help us be practical and effective. But not all of life can fall under the spell of goals and achievement.

While we think we dance to the tune of rationality, research on decision making tells us that we spin right or left based on our emotions—deeper impulses that can't be expressed easily in words.

I love the outdoors, and who doesn't love an adventure?  But, for me the deeper, resonant reason to hike is captured in this stanza from Gerard Manley Hopkins:

As Kingfishers Catch Fire (excerpt)

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Less poetically, the reason for hiking the PCT is to be myself most fully, to express my own inner life and nature through this outer action. And, perhaps equally to enrich my understanding and experience of life, or as a friend advised "channel your inner Reese Witherspoon," referring to her portrayal of Cheryl Strayed in "Wild."

Why?  To be myself.

After that, there are many simpler reasons:
  • The exhilaration of being in wilderness, especially at high elevations
  • The excitement of an adventure
  • The fitness resulting from 8+ hours a day of hiking
  • The knowledge gained of the trail, towns, and backpacking
  • The enjoyment of audio books on my "to read" list
Finally, I needed a good reason to retire.  After 33 years at one company I had a good professional position, had many good relationships, and could easily have continued there for several more years.  I needed a compelling reason to make a change, something more engaging than the daily challenges in a large company, and hiking the PCT gave me just the right motivation.

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