Sunday night I drearily opened the door to my family’s dark house, parents slumbering and unloaded my backpack across the doormat, kicked off my repugnant sandals and let out a sigh. It feels damn good to be done with the John Muir Trail.
I’ve never taken a journey like that before. I’ve never gone away for three weeks and the intensity of the vacation was augmented by having no cell service, none of the usual people to talk to. It was just me, my bud Max and the people who were walking the same trail. Looking back I would have brought more and better food and tried to pick up another book along the way.
The trip was grueling, more than I expected, more than Max expected. I thought, initially, of it being somewhat of a chill, cakewalk-like experience, “How hard can it be? It’s just walking a lot.” I quickly got slapped that not only would the physical strain of walking with 35 pounds on my back for 10 to 15 miles a day be another mountain for me to climb, but that mentally I’d have to get over my attachment to being home. I needed to get away from the comfort of being able to just float around at home and see my friends and family at my will. It was a reminder of how privileged my life is, being able to do what I want when I want.
That disconnection from my usual life of comfort was the main struggle I found, and also we found that the amount of food we brought for the last 11 days was not enough. We couldn’t eat whenever we pleased. Our stomachs shouted angrily at our brains asking why the hell we didn’t bring more delicious energy bars or more tortillas with our brains quivering just yelping out sorries and punching itself with regret. I think I lost five pounds. We just dreamt of food all day and night during the last half of the journey.
Now I’m back, after 22 days out on the trail…
It’s weird. Not to make this seem like my whole f**king mind has been hiked into nirvana and somehow everything feels different of something, but I definitely have a bit of a different perspective on home, on comfort and suburbia.
On the trail, everyone greets each other with wide eyes and a jolly mouth eager to connect. Here in San Ramon, at most, it’s an acknowledgment of existence, with some exceptions. I also have that feeling that since there is so much to stimulate me all the time I need to be doing something constantly, I need to be getting things done and I can’t waste any time. This is so contrary to the feeling I had in the high Sierras.
Max and I would sit around doing f**k all for hours and go to bed early, we just hiked and camped and ate. That was one of my biggest takeaways. I was so damn fine with not needing to do anything. I didn’t have to listen to something on the trail or talk all the time or take pictures of everything; I was just living.
And I suppose I can and should just incorporate that into my home life. I should, but there’s that tug, you know? There’s that small little presence that tugs on the end of your shirt and tells you there’s something to get to, that you need to stop ‘just’ living and starting giving proof of it. It’s just tougher to sit contently and do nothing here. Out there in the great high altitudes with the looming mountains there it’s the opposite.
When the domineering mountains sit over top your vision there’s a push towards silence, towards just experiencing it. Like a zen master, they’re just hitting you with a stick and telling you to meditate on life and take it in. I need to get back to meditating here at home, this is where it’s needed.
The trail made me nostalgic and content. It made me tired and energized. It made me completely unconnected with the world and more connected than I’ve ever been. What an odd paradoxical adventure of struggle and joy. I left Whitney Portal that Sunday with tired eyes and an eagerness to get back. But as I shut the door and entered back home a chunk of me instantly had a desire to get out there again. I let out a sigh of relief and with it a hidden bit of unexpected sadness. Whitney was calling again, telling me that if I wanted to be really content, to just live, I’d have to walk along that windy 14,000 foot ridge again.