Sunday, December 21, 2014


One of the greatest gifts I've received from thru-hiking is an understanding of how simple life is. When you carry all your possessions on your back all day and unpack and repack all those things every evening and every morning, you find that a lot of things that you once thought were necessary really aren't. Even something as simple and useful as a chair makes no sense to carry 14 hours a day and sit in for 1 hour a day. Eventually, all the unnecessary things in my pack got left behind. And I discovered great freedom in that simplicity.

A similar effect happened to my mind. Thoughts and feelings that were too heavy to carry were left behind too. And there was even greater freedom in that kind of simplicity.

After months of this, I became attuned to the sound of the breeze in the trees. My attention span grew to hours. I watched the sun cross the sky each day, and the moon wax and wane. Eventually I could even feel the seasons change.

Then I came back to television.

My first impression of advertising was how loud it is. It's rude. It grabbed my attention like someone's life was in danger. But it was for nothing. Worse than nothing. The purpose of advertising is to create demand for products. Think about that for a minute. Create demand. Demand for necessities doesn't need to be created. Ads tell us we won't be happy without their stuff; that we won't be beautiful without their products; that we won't be likable without their help; that there's something wrong with us.

It's all a lie.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Picking up the pieces

By now it's clear that a lot of my blog posts are about things that go on in my head. Many of these ideas came to me during thru-hikes where I have lots of time to think.

And that's no accident. I was drawn to thru-hiking because it gave me time to think. Many people want me to write a book about my big hikes. But they'd probably be disappointed. They want to read about my "great adventure," but what I experienced first and foremost was what when on in my head.

I was really messed up when I first started thru-hiking. A 10-year relationship ended and I thought that I had failed. To maintain a positive self-image all those years, I'd told myself a lot of lies. I was so emotionally constipated that I honestly didn't know how I felt. I couldn't trust anything I'd decided in the last 10 years because so much had been her idea, including me becoming a Christian. I also wasn't sure about my career choice as a silicon valley engineer. I was burned out. Backpacking was a childhood interest that I could trust as my own, so I took a leave of absence and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.

It was a good thing that my dad came along on that thru-hike. His presence helped distract me from the potential avalanche of raw feelings that would have overwhelmed me. And I really enjoyed getting to know him as a person.

For a long time, thoughts and memories danced randomly through my brain. But which were mine?
Like Descartes, who based his pyramid of thought on "I think, therefore I am," I started with a quote from the Bible. "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." John 8:32

It surprised me that I started with the Bible, because as I said earlier, becoming a Christian was my girlfriend's idea, and thus on the list of the most questionable aspects of who I really am. But it made logical sense that sorting out the truth might be a good place to start.

I was not ready to handle truth, so I started with lies. I knew that I had lied to my girlfriend, telling her things I thought would make her happy. "Sure honey, I'd love to do that." But when it later became clear that I didn't, she was hurt. That led to guilt. Guilt led to more lies and more hurt. Unwinding that loop of lies allowed me to realize that I wanted that relationship to end! I was not a failure; I was free!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gratitude and Happiness

Significant rainfall has finally come to central California. Today I was standing under my umbrella, waiting for a traffic light to change when I had a flashback. It was raining hard and I didn't want to get wet, so I was impatient for the light to change. But the short delay gave me an opportunity to step out of myself and live in the moment. I realized I was enjoying the rain! And the joy triggered a memory.

The minimal shelter of my umbrella reminded me of the small poncho-tarp I used on my Calendar Triple Crown. It too was very small. Both are just big enough to keep me dry.

In my home or in my car I expect to stay dry. But the abundance of shelter allows me to take it for granted. Under a small open shelter, however, the rain is within reach. The line between wet and dry is right there and that small patch of dryness, just large enough to get a good night's sleep in is suddenly very rare and precious. It's like someone who barely survives a close brush with death. The fact that their life could have ended moments ago makes them appreciate the life they have right now, right in this moment. And that appreciation is the very definition of gratitude. Whether you believe life is a gift or just a fortunate happenstance, gratitude for that life is the key to happiness. We need only recognize that what we already have is of great value.

It's a lesson the trail taught me years ago, but I managed to forget in my too-comfortable life. I'm glad the feeling came back today!