Words by Jesse Cody
While I sit in a Maine lean-to listening to the stories of Appalachian Trail north bounders (nobos) and south bounders (sobos), I let my mind filter through it all, like my own thru hike was yesterday. I can relate to the “present” they speak of: food, hitching, Walmart, “What’s tomorrow’s climb?” and “What’s to happen after this great hike of our lives?” For a man who never seems to want to stop talking about his hiking, I find myself just listening. How many times have such topics been mine??? For me, the question that constantly stands out is “What’s next??”
For now I feel like a proud grandpa hearing these younger hikers tell their stories that I once told with other hikers as I sat in a lean-to much like this one.....
It’s amusing to hear this verbal arm wrestling match, “I went through it in a thunder storm.” “Well I went through it as it hailed and rocks crumbled.” I sit back taking it all in with a subtle smirk on my face. I get it boys and girls. We are all doing or have done unimaginable things. Why so? That’s our own little precious challenge we’ve heard within ourselves: to feel the need to conquer such testing trails.
I don’t truly understand what hiking has meant to me until I’m in this thoughtful moment. We sit nine deep, hunkered down under a tin roof. We protect ourselves from the rain, smoke a little green' and indulge in the hiker life. Some are going the AT distance, while I and a couple of hiking veteran friends are out for a few days, physically and mentally giving what our bodies miss and crave.
What dawns on me as I listen? I ask myself when is it time to get another one of these treks going? When am I ready to get back to what I’m supposed to be doing? Isn’t building the brand, spreading the message all about actually doing it? If I really want you to listen, won’t you listen best while I walk? While I hike? While I climb? While I stumble? While I rise above? When I open up?
These questions all come back to what I’ve been saying all along. There was a time not so long ago I couldn’t set up a tent or grasp the concept of sleeping in the woods. Why, I even shaved my face . I googled how to tie stylish necktie knots. I thought I had to stay ahead of the curve on what’s trendy. I needed the newest model of everything. Most nights were for drinks-drinks that lead to laughter but also anger. I encountered questions about who I was and why life was so fucking stuck. I still have nonstop questions. I still get frustrated with myself. I still have no clue at times how to get this life to where I want it. Much like these new hikers I sit around, I still ask myself what happens after. What’s next??
Then for a brief moment I remember just a few years back I was a lost soul with no path in front of me. Content with life being something that was truly a life I wasn’t meant for. Then I headed out. I strapped my pack on, with my life inside it-maybe for just for a few days or maybe for months at a time. Whether it’s raining or the sun is blazing, or bugs surrounding, chest burning, feet numbing from the cold, the trail is where I belong. I see a path. I don’t know where it's taking me, but I know I’m hiking it until it gets me to a place the path and I agree I am needed.
My life is about caring about what I can fit into my pack and seeing how far I can travel with just that. Off trail I’m a black tee and jeans kind of guy who likes to sport a brimmed cap. I don’t care what I wear, what I drive, certainly don’t buy shaving cream any longer. I’m a hiker. It’s the most real I’ve ever felt.
The rain has cleared. The humidity is oppressive. The bugs with wings are like a music festival of out of control dancing around my head. The climbs are a challenge. No switchbacks in the mountains of New England. We climb straight up here. I’m climbing. I’m panting. I’m driven. I want it like a sailor wants the sea.
The tree line grows smaller. The trail goes from roots, dirt and moss to large boulder rock. The mountain top balds are appearing in front of me. My feet march. My calves burn. My feet are tender. I feel at my best. When I mount the summit, I stop. I unclick my pack straps, let my pack fall and I breath. My head falls back. With eyes closed, I know I’m here. I know this feeling well.
There’s no rush to push on. It’s time to pull my water bottle out. Some food. Time to sit. The clouds are in all forms. I see a thousand different shapes. The sun is burning warm. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll get to the bottom when I get to the bottom. In a pinch, my tent can go up anywhere.
What’s on my mind. This is what I’m best at. Not just the hiking but how I use it as my platform, my stage. I have a million ideas, too many to write. I know what I want. Like an actual hike it takes time. It takes commitment. It takes an understanding of the damn ups and downs...... the damn ups and downs.
I hope to find my way to scream out, “Get behind me everyone and enjoy the journey!” I’ll get you there. Just keep hiking while I do. Work, save, hike. Work, save, hike. Be ambitious regardless of your surroundings and most importantly don’t stop talking about what you want out of the rest of this life. Tell everyone that will listen, especially those who believe in you.
This Maine trip gave me just the spark I needed for my next hike. I will see you soon Colorado. I’ll take my first steps from Durango and trudge my way 500 plus miles to Denver. Up, across and over 10 to 13,000 footers throughout, I''ll grip my hiker hunger poles and let them become my second set of legs. I'll have them guide me like a swift gazelle roaming the grasslands.
As I write all this, I lie on my screened in porch in the woods of Maine. There’s no smell better than those of this pine wooded place. It takes me back to my youth when a common phrase in our family was, “You smell like a Maine!” once we came home back to the city. My paw speaks of possibly selling this place someday. I better start saving. It’s played quite the roll in my rebirth. It’s been the place I first set up my tent for an AT test run. It’s were I and my AT hiking family stayed just before our last push to Katahdin. It’s been home base for many day hikes in Grafton State Park. And it’s now where I had my reunion with two of my good friends I met while hiking out west just last year.
My phrase is heard and lived throughout this rebirth: “Hike the Good Hike”. It echoes as I write this. I watch the humming birds feed just outside the porch. I listen to the Avett Brothers sing of the ups and downs of life. My head rests on the pillow, head back, eyes closed. I’m taking it all in. I’ve been here before…..
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Taking care of your physical health is obvious when it comes to outdoor activities; if you’re injured, there is a set limit to how much you can physically do (and a much lower limit for how much you should do.)
Though we don’t always pay attention to them, mental health and emotional health are equally as important. Pay attention to the voice inside your head that is telling you to come down. You will not summit today. That is OK.
I’ve made the choice to dedicate my life to my passion, and that doesn’t come without sacrifice. There are more days than not that not having a wife, a family or an established career can eat away at me. I experience a lot of loneliness because of my choices. I’m 45 years old, and there are days I wonder if I’ll ever have a different response to the questions people ask me. Sitting on a mountain top, tent flap open, sun going down, a majestic aura all around me fills me with inconceivable joy, but it also has its moments of aching solitude.