About two years ago, my friend and I set off to trek the John Muir Trail, a 211-mile stretch that scales over the domineering passes throughout California's Sierra Nevada mountain range.
For me, it was a massive jump from the only other trips I had done, adventures that never took more than a weekend. For my friend, Max, he had more experience having done 60 miles in a trip or two before. The 22-day escapade that lay ahead of us was an entirely new tier of challenge.
Now, two years later, I still remember the trip with nostalgia and can see its effect on my mindset and approach to most of what I do.
For readers who are seasoned thru-hikers, you already know far beyond what I learned on my trip. For those less experienced with backpacking and extended natural excursions, I would to share a little bit of what I learned throughout my three weeks trekking through the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Hopefully, it will inspire you to make the trek yourself or at the very least seek out a deep experience in nature.
The Strength of the Mind and Body
I remember feeling a twitching pain in my right knee on the third day of the trip. We were on our first high pass, under the presence of Cathedral Peak in Yosemite Valley, and as we descended to some of the most pristine, meditative lakes I have ever seen, I felt worthless. Only three days in and I was cracking. In the tent, I thought about the embarrassment of returning without completing the trail...what a failure I would be—so I just hoped that the pain would quietly recede.
But it hung on like a burrowing tick and I limped with 35 pounds on my back through canyons, meadows and passes for the next 60 miles. Eventually, I wrapped it to subdue the inflammation and was fine. I wish I figured that out sooner. The growing number of blisters on my feet didn't seem to go away though...
In the latter half of the trip, we soon discovered (with extreme regret) that our food supply was understocked and excessively bland. For the next 10 days, we dreamt of pizza and donuts. Max and I would talk about gorging ourselves on a veggie burger when we got home almost every night.
With less sustenance than you would want merely going to work, we had to conquer icy, 14,000-feet passes over and over again. This light starvation was hitting us hard and it was quickly accompanied by a drought of stimuli.
I recall being so damn bored. I often think of myself as a spiritually strong, independent person, one with a strong foundation in quietness and introspection; I was unaware how much I honestly desired novelty and interaction. Being in solitude with Max as my only companion got old quickly. I soon hungered for not only more sustenance than our meager dehydrated packets of food but also for engaging discussion and more complex tasks than walking.
And while I was walking, mostly smiling at the pristine beauty surrounding me and partly aching to be home in bed, we came across hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, the more than 2000-mile trail that overlaps the John Muir Trail.
They were joyous and content. They had accepted the commitment of more than three months on the trail and were ready to make the most out of being suffocated in the natural environment. It was beautiful.
Approaching the end, Mt. Whitney, I saw myself within reach of a coming triumph over my modern tendencies. I had almost won a slight victory over the hefty plates of food and overstimulation that modern society celebrates. How humble I did feel before these adventurers committed to walking a beastly amount more than I already had.
The body and mind are much stronger than you might think. Read one bit of John Muir's writings and listen to how the mountain man operated. He wrestled with monstrous cliffs with almost none of the technology we have today and writes about eating little more than toast to sustain himself. We are able to do the same; our minds may convince us otherwise as we squirm to escape discomfort, but we have more than enough power to persist through mounds of adversity.
Take a trip out to the woods, a long one if you can, and brush up against your body and mind's limit. You'll find the limit lies far beyond where you might think.