Day 12: Time and the Trail

Think back to what you were doing last Thursday. It doesn’t matter what it actually was, and my point isn’t that it was likely reasonably predictable. It’s more that last Thursday probably doesn’t seem all that long ago — there’s been an intervening weekend, and now the week has started again.

To me, right now, last Thursday feels like it was three months ago. Staring at an Amazon package-tracking receipt, I suddenly realized I had no idea where or what last Thursday had been. And then, once I started trying to figure it out from my records, I realized it felt like ages and ages ago.

Time compresses and expands out here. Nowhere else have I ever seen “feeling good” turn into “feeling bad”, and then back to “feeling good” again, as fast as on the trail. You can be climbing a steep slope in the hot midday sun, sweating like crazy, smelling terrible (because this is the fourth day in a row you’ve been doing that), feeling like the next destination is impossibly far away…and then, ten minutes later, you’ve taken off your pack for a rest break, you’re sitting in the shade, drinking water and eating trail mix, looking out at the desert, and all is right with the world again. It’s incredible. (And, yes, five minutes after you put your pack on and start hiking again, everything’s miserable once more, too.)

This morning, we were ascending a steep grade under the hot sun, sweaty and smelly, and it was terrible. Midday, we were inside at the amazing Paradise Valley Café, eating truly enormous hamburgers with milkshakes and pie, and all was right with the world. This evening, as we hiked out, my hips hurt again, we were overtaken by obnoxious hikers, and our next destination seemed much too far away, and it all seemed miserable. But then, right now, snug in my sleeping bag as I write, looking up at the stars periodically (and there are so, so many out here), everything is, once more, perfect.

I think this is maybe the reason I love hiking (and, more broadly, travel in general) so very much. It has a magical way of slowing time down, of, in its essence, giving you more life — more time to feel, more things to feel, more to notice in the world. It’s not all pleasant, but that’s hardly the point, is it? We have so many things on a day-to-day basis that are all dedicated to making us feel pleasant, and yet all of those, put together, often just make it feel like time is flying, and last Thursday blends right into today. Maybe it takes massive blisters, way too much weight in water, hot sun, and far too much body odor in order to slow things down and really make us feel again.

None of this is remotely to saying it’s hiking, itself, that’s special, or to cast aspersions on whatever it is that you do day-to-day. We all have those things (very much including me), and we all have those magical things that make time slow down for us. Rather, take this as a celebration: a celebration of those things that do make time slow down for us — that give us, in essence, more life. For they’re truly beautiful.

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2 responses to “Day 12: Time and the Trail”

  1. John Carter Avatar
    John Carter

    I love reading your blog and especially looking at your photos. Don’t forget to take photos during the tough times too. Capture those times when you’re feeling low and terrible. It tells part of the story.

    1. Andrew Avatar

      Thanks! Yeah, I’m definitely trying to capture everything that the trail is, both good and bad. Because it’s not just about spectacular scenery or blissful zeros…it’s about the total experience, and remembering the hard times is just as important as remembering the easy times.

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