I’ve been trying to boil down this experience to a life lesson. I think I’m getting there. Or at least, trying to learn what the universe is avidly attempting to teach me. I think, it’s about expectations.
Countless times, I’ve ruined things for myself by expecting too much of something before it happens. Other times, I’ve found so much more connection and gratitude for being alive by letting everything go. By waking up in the morning and feeling thankful, since waking up each morning is not a guarantee.
Each town I heard of set a kind of precedent in my mind. People would rave about Etna or Drakesbad and then I would get there expecting to be blown away. It would turn out just to be a quiet town, and the brewery a humble cafe with beer, and because I was anticipating more, I’d feel let down. Then, if I should expect little, if other hikers and locals were saying, “Good luck with that one.” or “Don’t hold your breath.” I would turn out to be so pleasantly surprised.
I compare the old with the new, as well. The energy and support I had for the AT vs. this one. That’s stupid too. For many reasons. This was my second thru-hike and family especially was probably a lot less afraid of what could happen to me, and more confident in my abilities. California, Oregon, and Washington are nothing like Appalachia and it’s important to appreciate both trails for what they are.
Cheryl Strayed wrote a good book, “Wild” about a hike on the PCT. So many people in the hiking community are p.o.-ed because “She didn’t really hike the trail.” To me, that’s just dumb. She never claimed to have achieved a thru-hike. It’s a really raw and honest account of what she went through in coping with her mother’s sudden death when she was a young woman. If you have to hold her up to your own set of standards before even giving her a chance, you’re missing out. You could have learned something beautiful from her.
The biggest lesson came at the end of the trail. I walked for months dreaming of this end. Of walking into my old restaurant in Seattle and saying “I walked here from Mexico” in Spanish to my Mexican friends. Of celebrating so proudly and feeling so much at the end of the trail. Yet, I stood at the Canadian border feeling unmoved. Not unappreciative, just subtle. I dreamed of the last couple weeks of this trail being the happiest of my life. Having Eric by my side, taking my time and soaking it up, feeling so lucky and proud. Yet, there are so many things in life you won’t see coming. Like your sisters cancer diagnosis at age 29, for example.
But truly, that’s life. To bleed is real, and you won’t be able to do so when you’re gone. I know the answer to each moment must be yes. I know you can’t expect the sun to go on shining or your legs to go on walking. So you’ve got to be grateful. As often as you can think to, be lucky, be blessed, and notice your wealth.
Expect less, appreciate more. Be alive!