We celebrate not the trail, but the wild places it passes through. – Ray Jardine, PACIFIC CREST TRAIL HIKER’S HANDBOOK, 1996
My initial backpacking forays were a bit comical. I became temporarily lost, carried way too much gear, and often the wrong type at that, had to get a tow after one early winter backpacking trip (Pro Tip: A rear wheel drive, 1989 Mustang LX is a terrible car for getting out of a parking lot that has about six inches of freshly fallen New Hampshire snow) and made other stumbles along the way.
But I loved it.
For a person who grew up in the suburbs of Rhode Island, the White Mountains of New Hampshire seemed wild and remote and untamed.
I loved spending time in the wild places.
It was beautiful, simple and rewarding.
Spending time in the wild spaces felt like coming home.
When I went through the long distance hiking portion of my life, the draw was to spend time in the wild spaces. The trails were a medium to experience them.
When I look back at the long distance hiking portion of my “career” the moments I invariably think of tend to be ones where I was immersed in the wildness: Lonely campsites, wide open spaces and ridges that stretched for miles.
The social aspects of these long hikes brought their own memories, but truthfully most of these friendships blossomed more so after the long hikes.
Which is to say, part of the reason why the long trails have less interest to me is that the long trail experience increasingly seems to be about celebrating the trail itself and the lifestyle around it. The long trail experience is less about the wild places the trails travel through.
The Sierra, the Winds, The Whites, Maine….all places I’ve seen because of the long trails.
When I look back at my long trail hiking experience, it is being able to travel through the wild places for weeks on end that I miss.
Not so much the trail experience itself. I miss what the trail experience was able to provide
I do not miss the times in trail towns. And I am thankful I just missed, while hiking, the modern drama of the traveling circus of the very connected trail community.
There will be a time again, hopefully sooner rather than later, when I’ll have weeks to again explore the wild places as opposed to just days.
Previously, I’d think about what trails I could do in a set amount of time.
Now I realize it is not so much the trails I want to see, it is the wild places the trails travel through.
Being an alphabet soup hiker does not hold as much allure to me…even if I had a block of time.
Oh, there are still trails I’d love to hike end to end.
But they are trails or routes where the “hiker community�? is only apparent after the hike. Perhaps in-person over a beer or maybe even online. People to share experiences and stories after the journey is completed.
Something like the Camino celebrates the trail itself and the journeys on them. And, if I were to be honest, perhaps the more well-known hiking trails in the USA.
And that is fine. And it is good.
But it is not for me. Or at least not the main reason for me.
As a friend said, he and I are both dinosaurs.
But I want to continue to celebrate the wild places…and using the trail for something that ties them together rather the goal in itself.
Here’s to the wild places. May I see them more in the years ahead.