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  1. #1
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    Default Brief Essay-- Thoughts?

    Brief essay from a fellow thru-hiker. I can relate to it, but also pull back a little. Thoughts?

    Long distance hikers use the term on trail with the kind of significance that a lawyer uses on trial, the kind of anticipation that a sports announcer uses on base, or the kind of trepidation that an actor uses on tenterhooks. To be on trail is to put oneís ego on trial, to load the bases for a grand adventure, and to embrace a state of continual, albeit blissful, agitation.
    Except that itís not. To be on trail is to go for a walk, on a footpath, through towns and fields and forests. To be on trail is to acknowledge all the times one is off trail, romanticizing the former and subjugating the latter. Just as we change our clothes, shedding cotton in favor of nylons, so too do we shed our civilized mindsets in favor of wilder ones. Or we pretend to. We hype ourselves up. And if we do so successfully, is there really any difference between the pretending and the palpable, between the real and the hyper-real?
    Before my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, I shaved my head for the first time. I bought new clothes. I sold my car. These were all practical decisions, in my mind. I hardly gave them any thought. But was I even aware, on some level, that they were also part of playing pretend, of hyping myself up for a grand adventure? I was not. And thatís precisely what made those rituals all the more effective.
    More than nylon and wool, I cloaked myself in a fabric made of dreams, stitched with threads of significance, anticipation, and trepidation. Soon, I would be on trail, and that cloak would soften the edges of my mind during my first night alone, during my first moment of doubt, during my first clash with danger. That cloak would become the most essential piece of gear in my pack. It was indestructible, intoxicating, and comforting. Those who started the trail threadbare, who couldnít play pretend in earnest, or who couldnít place themselves inside the myth, those people failed.
    Johnny No Ropes failed.
    Sailor failed.
    Gandalf, Two Weeks, Homer, and Caboose failed.
    Footsie, Strider, Skid Mark, Brillo, Ahab, Magnito, Marlboro Red, Refried, and Santa all failed.
    75 percent fail. But the 25 percent who succeed might seem like a statistical anomaly at first. They have nothing in common. They arenít necessarily the fittest. They arenít necessarily the most experienced. They arenít categorized by a certain age range, gender, or tax bracket. They include sober hikers and hikers who werenít sober for a single step of the two thousand miles. They include first time hikers and forty year veterans. They include Christains who preach at shelters each night and hedonists who shamelessly feast on every worldly pleasure they can find along the way, including having pizzas delivered on trail and booking prostitutes in small town hotels. But they arenít an anomaly, are they? Sure, theyíre a motley crew, those successful few, but they also have one less obvious trait in common. They all know damn well how to make pretend.


  2. #2
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    I don't really get it.

  3. #3
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    I thru-hiked SOBO in 2011. The experience was wonderful, and I think about it almost every day, 10 years later.
    What I thought was interesting was the idea that the "magic" of the trail isn't really about the trail itself. We create the magic for ourselves and as a community. We collectively buy into an experience, and those who fully buy in are rewarded with a sense of magic. I can relate to that.
    What I don't like is the suggestion that this experience has very little to do with the trail itself. Is there something truly special about the trail? I'd like to think so, but this suggests that's what special is the way we imagine the trail and imagine our journey on it.

  4. #4
    Registered User NY HIKER 50's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Roper View Post
    I don't really get it.
    I don't either it's rambling

  5. #5
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    rambling. it's just walkin'

  6. #6

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    The writer seems to be saying that we have to shed the constraints of modern living and prepare to enjoy the lack of structure that one can find on the trail.
    " A good proofreader/editor, if they are doing their job properly, will really annoy an author!"

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by madfarmer View Post
    Those who started the trail threadbare, who couldnít play pretend in earnest, or who couldnít place themselves inside the myth, those people failed...
    I think there are as many psychological reasons for completing a thru-hike - or not completing one - as there are potential essays to be written.
    I was self employed once, but it proved too stressful. My boss was a jerk and my employee was a slacker - I didn't know whether to quit or fire myself.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by 4eyedbuzzard View Post
    I think there are as many psychological reasons for completing a thru-hike - or not completing one - as there are potential essays to be written.
    Haha, nice!
    Well said. I might have to steal that line.

  9. #9

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    No one who went out on a hike "failed". They got out there.
    For a couple of bucks, get a weird haircut and waste your life away Bryan Adams....
    Hammock hangs are where you go into the woods to meet men you've only known on the internet so you can sit around a campfire to swap sewing tips and recipes. - sargevining on HF

  10. #10
    Registered User JNI64's Avatar
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    " Nothing beats a failure but a try"!

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by rhjanes View Post
    No one who went out on a hike "failed". They got out there.
    But if they planned on doing a thru hike and didn't complete it, then they failed to do a thru hike. Kudos for trying, but the fact is they failed to compete a stated goal, pure and simple.

    Trying to figure out why so many fail is difficult, there are many reasons. If one can avoid injury and running out of money, then it's all in one's head. The psychological part is the hardest to get a handle on, since there is no physical metric to go by. An ability to adapt to changing situations and a strong determination to push on no matter what is likely a big factor in what separates those who finish and those that don't.
    Follow slogoen on Instagram.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by rhjanes View Post
    No one who went out on a hike "failed". They got out there.
    Even if one "fails", one learns something that will contribute to a more successful future endeavor, whether it be a thru-hike, or something else.

    While we all have adhere to certain norms & rules/laws in society, hiking allows us the opportunity to shed many of the artificial constraints we have to deal with in modern life.

    I was going to point out that the writer misspelled "Christians", and should but some space between the paragraphs, but then I would be guilty of trying to constrain the writer to my standards. HYOH!
    " A good proofreader/editor, if they are doing their job properly, will really annoy an author!"

  13. #13
    4eyedbuzzard's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slo-go'en View Post
    But if they planned on doing a thru hike and didn't complete it, then they failed to do a thru hike. Kudos for trying, but the fact is they failed to compete a stated goal, pure and simple.
    Yep. Count me in.

    Trying to figure out why so many fail is difficult, there are many reasons. If one can avoid injury and running out of money, then it's all in one's head. The psychological part is the hardest to get a handle on, since there is no physical metric to go by. An ability to adapt to changing situations and a strong determination to push on no matter what is likely a big factor in what separates those who finish and those that don't.
    Wet and cold and boredom and homesick and just tired of hiking after however many miles come to mind. Completing the goal obviously wasn't as important as originally thought.
    Last edited by 4eyedbuzzard; 09-04-2020 at 19:21.
    I was self employed once, but it proved too stressful. My boss was a jerk and my employee was a slacker - I didn't know whether to quit or fire myself.

  14. #14
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    I look at some of my own post-hike ramblings and wonder what I was thinking at the time. It's like deciphering notes you wrote about a dream or a late-night revelation.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by rhjanes View Post
    No one who went out on a hike "failed". They got out there.
    Perfect!

    Failure can be a subjective thing in many pursuits and likely necessary prior to success. Many people attempt a thru hike, some several times, before they finally make the full trek. I would not call them failures, anymore than I would call Edison a failure having had hundreds of failures before creating the first working light bulb.

  16. #16

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    Fail/and failure have subtle meanings. Technically, if it was indeed your goal to finish a through hike, you may have failed at that goal, but that's a pretty specific subset of hikers. Not everyone starting the trail had the ultimate goal to finish. Their goal may have been to make the attempt, or to go until they ran out of money, or got bored, or got injured. Either way, failure to finish does not make you a failure.

    Painting the 75% who start and fail to finish as failures, is seriously a jerk move. It's not a clear cut moral/willpower thing that separates the finishers from the non-finishers. There's an element of luck/injury/genetics/fitness/wealth/boredom/etc. Willpower is only a small part of it for most people.

    Text based communication is tough, I try to figure out their intent when they use words like fail/failure, and keeping it all in context.

  17. #17

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    I know the mention of his name brings scorn, but Bill Bryson's quote from his shuttle driver seems to sum it up for many of those who fall short: "It wasn't what they expected." And in effect, that expression depicts Bryson's own experience. He pretty much admits such in his first day description of hiking up the Approach Trail.

  18. #18

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    "It wasn't what they expected."

    Indeed. A lot of navel gazing to make that simple point. I've always said "When it's not fun any more it's time to go home."

    And I wouldn't give a rat's derriere whether anybody/everybody viewed it as a failure or wanted to award a gold star 'participation trophy'. Needing that sort of validation suggests there's an issue with self esteem.
    UL, because nobody ever asks "How can I make my pack heavier?"

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