X, Why, Z

Resting after a tough climb out of Breckenridge on the Colorado Trail. I was certainly asking myself, “Why?” up this mountain.

Now that CDT preparations are in full swing, I have trail-talk on the brain at all times. I have pristine spreadsheets that calculate our pack weights (both under 10 pounds, woo hoo!), our daily calories (around 4200), and our resupply plan (25 resupply boxes). We have all our maps and GPS coordinates worked out, we’ve decided on our primary route (barring any wildfires or droughts), and most of our gear has been purchased or placed in a pile, ready to be packed.

Basically, I’ve figured out what we need to hike the CDT, along with an action plan for how we go about doing it. The last question, which often gets overlooked until I’m 800 miles into the trail, huddled under a tree in the middle of a lightning storm in Colorado, is, “Why am I doing this?”

Matt and I recently watched a TED talk about the characteristics that successful people and businesses have in common, and how they inspire action. It explained that most people who sell a product or an idea often present their product/idea to a prospective buyer with details about what they’re selling and how it’s great for the buyer. They rarely explain why they’re in the business of selling such a product, thus missing the most important piece in selling an idea or a product. The speaker repeated this phrase several times, which summed up his talk, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
After watching the TED talk, it got me thinking about the trail. I thought back on all the questions I’ve been asked over the years about thru-hiking. The majority of questions in fact have to do with what thru-hiking is and how it’s done with all the logistical pieces that are involved with obtaining food, water and other supplies. But the question I love the most, because it really makes me think, and the question I believe inspires most people to be interested in thru-hiking and other adventures, is “Why do you do this?”

Growing up, my family didn’t do outdoorsy things. We vacationed on the beach and the extent of our park experiences didn’t reach beyond the local parks where I played soccer games. Yet, I still liked being outside; I just didn’t know there were such things as national parks or long-distance trails. On the other hand, Matt’s family took trips to the Grand Canyon, they drove all over the country for vacations, and Matt’s world of possibilities was much larger than mine when we met. Though I didn’t have the knack for brainstorming on life’s adventures that Matt did, I had the love for a challenge and the ability to push myself, and I was one hell of a project planner. If I didn’t have that drive to push myself, believe me, our ship would have sailed long ago and I wouldn’t be writing this.

I love a challenge that pushes me both physically and mentally, a challenge that makes me face my innermost thoughts and feelings, a challenge that demands self-honesty yet doesn’t promise the Hollywood version of success, where everything works out for the best by the end of the movie. I didn’t say I was successful at facing challenges; rather, I like taking them on so that I can see what kind of person comes out at the other end. Every time I’ve thru-hiked, I’ve liked myself more and more by the end of it, even when I know I still have a long way to go in becoming the best person I can be.

So, why thru-hike? Because it fits the bill perfectly of offering a challenge so great, on so many levels, from the planning of such an adventure, to the actual walking of the distance, and finally to the post-trail digestion of what it all means to me. It is for these reasons that I hike, and it’s not on the pretty days on the trail that I remember the reasons, when the sun is shining and the walking is easy; it’s when the rain starts to pour and I have to react to what Mother Nature has thrown at me when I truly appreciate the reasons why I hike.

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