Our thru hike didn’t really end until we changed out of hiking clothes. Our first days off the trail were spent in California visiting my brother. We were still hikers, we still had desert dirt on our shoes, my feet still ached when I got up in the morning, and we were still in the wilderness mindset. We weren’t really a part of things yet, so it was easy to just go along for the ride. We enjoyed the better part of a week cooking up storms in my brother’s kitchen, eating the things we’d been longing for, and relaxing with the family.
We arrived in Seattle the day before Thanksgiving and made our way out to Mud’s place on Thanksgiving morning. Not without getting some food, of course. As we stood in line at the grocery store buying some frozen pizzas and potatoes, the man behind us asked us if we were hikers. Yes! We are hikers. Even in this big city where it’s raining and not at all thru hiking season, we’re recognized and approached by strangers interested in our trip. This would be the last time.
And then I found my jeans. I changed out of my hiking clothes and put my pack in a corner. Now, no one knows I come from the mountains. I no longer draw attention to myself in every public situation. I don’t expect friendly strangers to approach me anymore with strings of questions about the trail. But the biggest change that came with putting on jeans was that now, we’re not just along for the ride through civilization. We have to drive.
Things like food and shelter are not as simple as before. For my sleeping arrangements, rather than looking around for a flat spot on the ground, I look around for a cheap spot on craigslist. I have to think about things like background checks, credit scores, loans, and getting to work on time. I am surrounded by food and endless opportunities to eat. I have to make decisions constantly. I have to conform to social norms and expectations. I have to fit into the box.
I go through the motions, pretending to fit in because it’s the best way to survive the winter. But I know a secret about the world that others may not understand. I’ve seen something bigger than most people even know exists. There’s a world outside of the culture we live in and it is wide open, beautiful, unrestricted, painful, joyful, pure, and unbelievable. It renders cultural norms and conventions meaningless. There is a freedom beyond imagining when we just break out of the patterns we perceive to be life.
As I try to integrate what I learned on the trail into my life in the city, I am reminded that the two worlds are actually one. Every now and then I can see a glimpse of the Cascades, snowy, white, their sharp peaks silently smiling down on us from afar. Jobs, money, houses, daily routines, that’s just the tip of the iceberg of this world we live in. The rest, the magnificence, the trail magic, is always there if we just remember to look for it.
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