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Thru-hiking didn't change my life

The Long Trail, June '22

By Shea DunlopPublished about a year ago 2 min read
Filtering water, not a thought behind those eyes

I’m staring up the rocky slope of Jay Peak, adjacent pines dotted with the occasional white brush stroke. The soles of my feet are numb from incessant pounding despite my shoes long since assuming a loving mold to my feet. My pack straps dig into my shoulders and hips, a constant reminder of the necessary 25 pounds on my back. A Canadian hiker greets me as he descends, “Bonjour — are you called Legacy?”

The former apprehension in my eyebrows melts away at the recognition. I reply enthusiastically, “Yeah! How did you know?”

A fellow thru-hiker had sent word with the Quebecois to let me know he’d be waiting for me at the peak. Heartened, I begin the final major ascent of my pilgrimage with a slightly less weary, “Up,” than usual under my breath.

After three weeks of trekking from the Massachusetts border, so close to the Canadian wilderness, you’d think I would have something more insightful to say than naming the task currently at hand. Alas, I’m here to share the unexpected enlightenment I experienced while backpacking: I’m just an animal trying to meet my basic needs.

In our world of encroaching technology and 40+ hour work weeks, it’s increasingly easy to forget about the real “real world.” Even if we all want to do better (be on our phones less, be more productive, etc.), how often is that want more than a passing fancy? Do we ever truly change? When all that’s stripped away, what’s really left?

I found myself naming tasks and objects almost caveman-like. “Up.” “Rock.” “Stick.” “Walk.” “Dirt.” I’d thought all the thoughts there were to think in my own head. Only the tasks and the woods were left. Even when I got to camp, my thoughts stayed pretty quiet, urging me to meet those basic needs by cooking, filtering water, and laying out my sleeping bag to rest. Then I’d sleep. And do it all again the next day.

Coming back into the fake “real world” has been less life-altering than you’d think. For a few days, I didn’t want to look at my phone, but now I’m back to spending an hour on TikTok and then feeling slightly nauseous. I’m anxious when I don’t quite clock 40 hours. I go to the gym a little more than before, my body used to the motion. But overall, I don’t think hiking the Long Trail changed my life — it just showed me the bare bones of living.

nature poetrysocial commentary

About the Creator

Shea Dunlop

Short stories, anecdotes, and niche interests.

Searching for the meaning of life or maybe just $4 to get an everything bagel with cream cheese.

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