Forty years ago, I spent a glorious six months under the sun and stars. We (my Pacific Crest Trail hiking partners and me) slept on the ground every night except one and employed the tent only when common sense dictated. Our playgrounds were the deserts and mountains of California and the spine of the Cascade Range through Oregon and Washington.
That experience shaped my life forevermore — the way I feel about nature, about myself and about the fundamental decentness of others whenever and wherever adventures lead.
A common perception about hiking long distances with others is that it’s a mostly communal activity. My experience has been contrary — the group may be walking the same path, but most times you are traveling alone by necessity or design. That solitude is precisely what makes the communal aspects of the hike work. If everyone was attached at the hip for 2,000-plus miles, the trip would be punctuated (if not destroyed) by sniping, petty arguments and resentments. Turns out, the time you spend with yourself is as essential to your well-being as is the sharing of meals and discussing the general arc of the adventure at the nightly campsite.
Spending every day hiking across national forests and wilderness areas is a privilege that I cherished then and even more today. What I had discovered was that stripping away all the distractions of life simplifies everything. It’s just you, the footpath, the terrain, and the at once blissful and calming silence. Nature’s silence. Only the ensuing forty years would reveal how rare a treat I had enjoyed and how essential to my well-being it would remain. The yearning to be on the trail, among the trees, and ideally away from human generated noise, keeps me vital and never ebbs.
That yearning led me to where I write today. Two years ago, an exploration of western Maine yielded treasure — 6.5 acres of mountainside forest bisected by two beautiful streams. We set about having a modest post and beam cabin built on a hill, and I do believe I’ve achieved Nirvana. The only sounds here are the breezes through the hemlocks and pines and the gentle strains of the stream below. And the stars are simply stunning.
It took me a long, long time to find this campsite, but I am thrilled that I did. From here on out, my health and writing can only thrive. For it seems that nature’s plan and mine have thankfully intersected for good.