Its been two weeks now since my friends and I reached Springer Mountain, officially ending my 2014 hiking adventure. The end of the trip really rushed up quickly on me. I was still enjoying myself, but mentally, I was prepared for it to end. It was started to get consistently cold, very cold. The days were getting shorter, with roughly 10-11 hours of daylight that you could use to hike. Those aren’t the easiest elements to hike in, yet I was still enjoying the rhythm of the trail and the connection with the mountains, the woods, and the sky.
I specifically remember our last night in North Carolina, climbing out of the NOC to a great view high on a mountain overlooking the surrounding hills. Arbor and I had made it a personal challenge (as we usually did with large climbs) to go as fast as we possibly could, reaching the summit and gaining the 3k+ feet relatively easily. We debated the merits of camping on the tower or continuing ahead. If we camped at the location, we would need to do 30 miles the next day. If we moved on, doing 6 more miles, we would only have 24 remaining. Scudz arrived roughly an hour after us, and quickly made the decision that we were NOT going to hike 30 miles the next day, as she was dealing with a stomach bug and did not think she would be able to do it. We all agreed, and moved on, knowing we would be hiking through dark to make it to where we planned to camp that night. The three of us dipped down the ridge then right back up. As the daylight hours began to wane, we climbed up on the narrow wooded ridge. The sun set behind the mountains to the west, painting the wavy clouds orange as it dipped beneath the now blue mountains. Nearly every night we were witness to this beauty, but it never lost its awe. The three of us pointed, looked, and shared smiles as we continued.
Soon the colors faded and the stars began to show above. We reached a small outcropping of rock with a view down into the valley. There were lights below, a town where people were still on the move. I could see car lights up and down the mountain. The city was alive, moving and full of people going about their busy lives. We stood and stared in silence for several minutes, watching the mountains. The warm air from the valley began to blow by, and all I could feel was calm. When will my life ever be this simple again? I thought to myself. When life is simple, I’m happy. I’ve been happier the past seven months than I have ever been in my life. Yet all I have is the belongings that I can carry on my back.
I was the first to break the silence as we stared into the distance.
“Soon we’ll be one of them, down there.” I said to Arbor and Scudz, “And I’ll be looking up at the mountains, wishing I was back up here, with y’all.”
We stood in silence a bit longer before pushing on. The air was heavy with our thoughts. We had less than a handful of days left, and the sight of the city below was a reminder of what our lives are off trail; busy. It wasn’t the most dramatic or stunning moment on the trail, but it is one that I will hold with me more than any other. I knew at that moment what I needed in life, and just as importantly what I do not need in my life. These thoughts will reverberate in my future, shaping the years to come. Simplicity is the key. I jotted down some notes that night as I curled into my sleeping bag, things I wanted to remember and make sure that I took care of when I was off trail. These were spark words; all I needed was these words, and I knew exactly what it meant and how to apply.
Simplicity. Downsize. Mobility = freedom, Take the opportunity & don’t look back
Its about living the lifestyle you want. I’ve had experiences that have taught me what it feels like to be alive. I need freedom, and I need to put myself in a position to take opportunities and have the experiences that I crave. I can’t be scared to take chances. I need to reach for what I want. I don’t crave a life that fits the societal norm. Right now, it just doesn’t align with what I’m looking for. Settling down in a location, having a new car and car payments, buying a house, having a dog, holding a steady girlfriend (far fetched when I’m constantly leaving), and thinking about making a family. None of those are on my mind right now. I know of friends, family, and coworkers who go that route without putting much thought into it. Will it really make me happy? Am I doing this because its what I see others around me doing? Those are things I try to think of in every decision I make. Maybe someday I’ll be ready to join in the madness, but for now, I’m going to do me. I’m going to explore, I’m going to push myself, and I’m going to see whats out there. I’m going to have those experiences, those opportunities for growth.
Some times I have trouble explaining this to others. I can tell when someone thinks I need to ‘grow up’ and start conforming. The song below by one of my favorite bands, Fleet Foxes, sums it up better than I can myself. “All my life I will wait to attain it.” What do you want in life? It can be anything you make it, you’re in control. The best thing you can do for yourself is to Love your life.
“I know someday the smoke will all burn off
All these voices I’ll someday have turned off
I will see you someday when I’ve woken
I’ll be so happy just to have spoken
I’ll have so much to tell you about it
In that dream I could hardly contain it
All my life I will wait to attain it
There, there, there
Wide-eyed walker, don’t betray me
I will wake one day, don’t delay me
Wide-eyed leaver, always goin'”