Thru-Hiking: The Pinnacle of Minimalism
It’s pretty bad.
Married 20 years, happily, six children, oldest graduating this spring, undergoing a job transition, no ability to step out of responsibilities and life.
But I can’t stop thinking about, dreaming about thru-hiking.
Somehow I’ve hit 44 and not experienced the hobbled back, the bad hip, the blown out knees that everyone else my age seems to have. I am blessed with good health for my age and I want to use it.
I want to roam, to see what’s beyond the next hill, to enjoy this beautiful wild world we live in. To feel nature all around me, to experience self-sufficiency, to meet people on a journey themselves and to share life with people who are grateful for the company around a fire or shelter, who don’t see how you are different from them, but how you are the same.
I have been trying to quantify this itch, to figure out why it’s hitting me so hard. I hope if I can understand it maybe it will lessen because the truth is I am not going to walk away from everyone who needs me right now.
My latest theory is this: thru-hiking is an expression of minimalism. Here’s why:
The stress, activity, bother, pulls of a million different things is not comfortable. Minimalism as a movement seeks to simplify – to take away the stuff so that we can be satisfied with what is most important. Throwing away masses of clothes, toys, furniture, downsizing the home, throwing out books (Marie Kondo-style – what blasphemy is this new false teacher on Netflix!?!) is all an effort to eliminate distractions and stress that is weighing on all of us.
The modern life – if you are “doing it right” involves work, home cooking, raising children, shuttling them to extracurriculars to round out their formative years, working out daily, making time for your spouse, maintaining a social life, and then somehow, somewhere, fitting in meaningful hobbies. Add all that up and there’s no way you’re sleeping more than 4 hours per night.
No wonder we’re all stressed out. Because if we are sleeping more than 4 hours per night, something on that above list isn’t getting “done right”. And that means accepting we are failing at something.
But thru-hiking… Just think about it. 3-6 months with nothing but a pack on your back, clothes on your body and shoes on your feet. Going somewhere. Feeling every mile. Letting nature wrap you in her arms… or occasionally slap you with a storm, or challenge you with a mountain… with no TV, no media bombardment, no political concerns, just you and the path you have chosen. There is no more minimalist you can get (although I do have that one friend who is now taking people to the woods of Wyoming to learn how to survive with nothing but the clothes on your back and a knife… but he’s nuts!)
And hence the dream continues. If I was going to do a sabbatical, as much as I would love to write a book, I think I would rather do this. The Pacific Northwest Trail… or the Great Divide Trail… or the Pacific Crest Trail.