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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Other Than Ordinary: Short Thoughts On A Long Hike

"The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences."

— Chris McCandless

Every year, thousands of folks from Maine to Georgia set out on hikes along the Appalachian Trail. The length of planned hikes span the entire spectrum of a couple hours to a couple months – and that is just the way it should be. This is because one of the coolest things about the trail is that it is as long as (if not longer than) you want it to be and just as short – with everything in between. A wilderness experience exactly fitting to your comfort level is at your ‘toe’tips, and does not have to be limited by your age, physical condition, or prior experience.

So, just like all those other folks, I too just returned from an ‘extended stay’ hiking trip on the AT myself – and decided to write a little reflection on the experience. (I love writing in this regard because it seems to enrich my experience by contemplating it and then trying to describe it to other people.)

Not to worry, this won’t be another treatise decrying the materialistic nature of today’s society, the information overload that we experience daily, or some self-pining for the ‘simple life.’ Those kinds of comments are too common and in my opinion obvious and alienating.

On the last day of the hike, in the rain and wet, I kept asking myself one simple question, “why hike at all?” Seriously, why do people anywhere go out and seek solitude, remove themselves from the comforts of home, and push their own personal envelope to challenge themselves?

I could only come up with one answer: because it’s something other than what is ordinary.

Let me explain.

I read an inspiring book quite a while back by Donald Miller called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. Like most books, it seems your brain remembers a couple key points (if you are lucky) and then also whether or not you enjoyed the reading. Well, I definitely did, and the point which I remember was the encouragement the author expresses to live your life as a story – one that is worth telling. So, in my own words - don’t be satisfied with the ordinary.

There are so many things in my life which I do because they make sense and they are comfortable – and I’d be surprised if I was alone in this regard. Now don’t get me wrong, I think most comforts we seek daily are good, it is just sometimes nice to push yourself in the opposite direction, to purposely test your mettle and ‘man-up’ to your own little challenges here and there. To add some flare to your story!

I think this quote from the book kind of sums it up:

- “Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.”

Well a hike on the AT is anything but the easy life!

So that’s it. As you are out on the trail smelling like bad Chinese food, your legs are feeling like you just completed a marathon, you are sweating as if you were sitting in a sauna, you are also all the while smiling because you are challenging yourself in ways that will certainly kick your story up a notch.

And so, just like I realized on this particular long hike, I will continue to search for ways to something other than ordinary – and I hope anyone who reads this will do just the same.

As always, thanks for reading. AMDG J

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