Friday, May 20, 2022
The Hiking Hermit - After two years in the woods, it's time to come back...
Footprints in the Wilderness:
Over the past twelve years, I've come to understand how transformative hiking in wild places can be.
There's the pure joy of being in the place, in the moment. There are the well-documented health benefits, both mentally and physically. And there are the connections, to people and to nature, to wild places and what they mean to people, to new and vivid ways of understanding the world and our place in it.
I began this experience climbing a 20,000 foot moiuntain in South America back in January 2010 after more than two years of whipping myself into shape. That was a bucket list achievement, but it didn't feel like an end.
I was in top physical form and never felt better. I wasn't going to go back to being a couch potato. In order to retain the clear health benefits I was experiencing, I started hiking trails around a big reservoir near home. The hikes grew in length and in purpose. By fall of 2011 I had decided I was going to try to hike the entire Appalachian Trail both ways in a calendar year. I (finally) have a book coming out about the experience, to be released in a couple months.
The AT hike was truly transformative for me in a multitude of ways; and I've met and witnessed the transformation of many other fellow hikers who were on the trail with me. Many of them have turned to a hiker oriented life style as a result. Their whole lives have been infused with new and wonderful purpose, finding a way to do what they love for a living, giving back to the trail community what they have gained.
For me, the transformation sent me on an even greater hiking quest than the AT. I undertook to hike to the doorstep of every one of nearly two dozen places that I've called home throughout my life--making a physical connection to them all on foot. I hiked over 20,000 miles in the process, reaching places like coastal North Carolina, Key West Florida, the upper peninsula of Michigan, and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado--all connected by a continuous trail of footprints. Finally in fall of 2019 I accomplished that goal just in time for the world's sad transformation brought about by Covid.
In part in response to Covid, and in part simply following my gut, I then chose to walk away from society and the mess that it had become. I settled in the woods, sort of like Thoreau did at Walden Pond, and began another transformation--more of a spiritual one but also a very practical one. I gained an understanding of who I was and how I fit in to the great scheme of nature--from the tiny filaments of fungi helping to feed the roots of trees, to the cosmic filaments sprawled across the universe connecting clusters of galaxies with one another stretching through all known time and space.
It has taken two years of combined contemplation and decompression, but the transformation now seems complete. I begin to feel that it is time to return to society, acting as an ambassador from the Wilderness, in order to help other people find the kind of deep serenity and purpose that I have found.
In this video, presented as a rambling discussion as I hiked on a hot day in the woods, I share my thinking about some of the ideas I have that can help people find their own transformation. It's just the germ of the process--the very first stage. I hope to more fully organize and flesh out what I will offer--what I will do--in future talks. Stay tuned.