Why, yes, I did already do a thru-hike. The AT rocks. I highly recommend it. And no, I did not get the thru-hiking bug out of my system. I'm afraid it is an incurable affliction. Which is wonderful.
Truth be told, I never had any intention of another long distance hike after the AT. When I summated Katahdin, I was in "check it off the life list and move on" mode. Done, and done.
But a funny thing happened when I got off trail. I found that I didn't look at things the same way. Things that used to bother me so much didn't phase me anymore. And other things that I never thought about were now things I felt passionately about.
Sometimes we are lucky enough to have experiences that change our entire outlook on life. And sometimes we are blessed enough that the change in our outlook is for the better. That's how I felt after the AT.
Plus I just missed trail life.
Imagine, if you will: no TV, no cell phone, no Facebook, no 24 hour cable news, no endless chatter and interruptions. Just you, the scenery, your feet, and your fellow hikers. On the trail, I found that we talked less, but we communicated more meaningfully. I didn't know anyone's profession, religion, political party, income, or address. Heck, I didn't know anybody's real name! But I knew more about people's true selves; their dreams, their hopes, their loves, their fears. Something magical happens when you slow down enough to really listen to somebody else.
I admit, I struggled a bit with this after returning to "the real world". We all seem so distracted and hurried all the time and we never really seem to listen to one another. Our interactions are selective; serving to get us whatever information we need for the next item on our to-do list. Our Facebook posts deteriorate to complaints, rants, or imposing our own agendas. And when we shut down and stop listening to one another this way, it can feel really lonely.
I was rarely lonely on the trail.
The other thing the trail provides is lots of time to think. Admittedly, I mostly thought: "I'm hungry", "My feet hurt", and "I'm tired." But sometimes, in between beautiful scenery and fantasizing about all-you-can-eat-pasta-bars, I thought some pretty deep thoughts.
This time around, I'm channeling those thoughts to answering the question of how to create that experience of slowing down, listening, and relating to people on a deeper level in the midst of all the distractions we encounter every day.
Why don't we all ponder that for a while? I'd love to hear your thoughts.