I thought a lot about finishing the hike during the last few days before Canada. I expected to miss the fresh air, the tranquility and the exercise. I expected to miss the regular interactions with other hikers and the unwavering company of my closest trail friends. Add to this the fact that being out on the trail teaches a certain amount of adaptability. Whether it’s trail closures, hunger, tiredness, injury or just whims, a hiker will learn to go with the flow and reschedule, sometimes dramatically. I anticipated the same reaction on my return to the UK. It would be different to the trail, of course, but I’d adapt. How hard could it be? It’s my home, after all, and I’ve lived here for a while with no crippling issues.
The reality is, however, very different. I wrote in my last entry from the trail about my suspicion that the day to day details had most likely obscured any wide angle view. I had a vague notion that I would continue to reflect in the days and weeks to come and new lessons would present themselves once the trail had been left many miles behind. What I didn’t realise was how much I’d need the contrast and not just the time to process the task of returning. I needed the exposure to the routines of the people I’d left behind. I needed bus schedules and train station tannoys. I needed to read the ingredients lists on chocolate milk in the supermarket. I needed job application forms. Car travel. Chickens. Hell, I needed Starbucks. Everywhere I looked I saw a world I didn’t recognise. Kettles, curtains and cars all seemed so foreign. Before I left for the trail, I felt like I lived in the world. Maybe I didn’t fit so well, but I was living within it. Now my place in it has been erased. Of course, it’s more likely to be me that has changed. I didn’t notice on the trail. I didn’t feel like I’d changed all that much when I reached the Canadian border.
I think it’s a question worth asking. Free of the normal constraints, who would we be? The trail isn’t the only way to figure this out, of course, but it’s helped me to at least start thinking about it.
Society imposes its rules on us all, and the trail just takes us away from society for a little while. Living with just what I could carry, enough to get me through the mountains alive and healthy, I learned I don’t need much. So now, so much seems to me like excess. Food waste, packaging, or changing my clothes daily. Living in such close proximity with other hikers then saying goodbye potentially never to see them again; receiving such generosity from other hikers, trail angels and the residents of trail towns I learned to turn strangers into friends. Hiking up huge mountains in a mood, and then hiking up mountains with a smile on my face, I learned that the mountain is still there and the miles still have to be made so I might as well be in a happy place and enjoy the challenge. I can choose. I think the biggest shock to the system coming back to civilisation has been seeing so much anger and negativity. People whipping themselves up into a frenzy over something they aren’t going to try to change, succeeding only in making themselves and sometimes those around them more and more upset. I’m sure I can’t claim immunity from this phenomenon forever, but I hope I will be able to carry the awareness with me. The wherewithal to notice when I’m getting bogged down in the small stuff and the confidence to decide not to engage any further.
Suffice to say that I’ve not yet become comfortable with civilisation. I’m still not sure where to put myself or how to fill my time. I’m not fully able to explain what I want to do, all I know is that it has changed. I’m more confident now that a nice normal profession isn’t what I’m suited to. I’m going to struggle with regular hours, with repetition, arbitrary rules imposed from above, and dress codes. I’m less willing than ever to settle for something that others deem prestigious but in which I see no impact. I need to see improvement and growth and positivity. I’m not sure where this leaves me! An impoverished circus performer, perhaps, when Bird finally learns to fly.