...Give a month at least to this precious reserve. The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.
‐ John Muir
Sometimes I wonder what people think of me, especially since I got back last fall. I'm not living at home. In fact, I sold it. I no longer have a car. Sold that too. I gave away a bunch of my clothes, sold a lot of the things I shouldn't have bought in the first place, and packed away the rest of my belongings into plastic storage bins. I realized yesterday that I no longer have any dress clothes good for church and funerals—just T-shirts, shorts, toe-socks, and my shoes are bright red trail runners. I will need dress-up clothes again.
Since late-October of last year, I've been living at my parent's house. In reality, I live out of two dresser drawers. I wear the same few sets of clothes and the same pair of pants everyday. When I'm not working, I weigh gear, cut straps and tags, and weigh it again. I smile to myself for saving half an ounce. "Ounces are pounds" echoes cheerfully in my head. "Yup", I think to myself and then I reach for the next piece of gear.
My mind wanders back to the trail many times a day—every single day actually, without exception. Not an hour goes by that Peanut, JD, Donkey & the Wog, Roi, the Canadians, or A-Game don't traipse through my thoughts. They smile, waive or give the thumbs-up, and keep walking down the trail. I wonder if they're also stuck in a memory loop like I am or if they've moved on with life. I wonder if they think I've moved on and don't think about them anymore. I hope not. I know the trail can hold different meanings for different people. Some can hike it and then get on with life. That isn't what happened to me.
I'm afraid you won't understand. You think you will, but trust me, you won't.
Now that I've been home for a while, I've noticed the cliché phrases repeated to me while standing in half-circles and holding paper coffee cups at family events, or during friendly cart collisions at the grocery store. They ask what I've been up to, I tell them in a sentence or two, and then comes "Life's too short" and "Seize the day, ya know?" again and again and again. "You're so lucky" and "Wish I could do that someday."
You should, I think to myself. We all should.
During those interrogations as to my recent whereabouts and goings-on, I never know quite how to respond to the most common question: "So, how was it? Did you have fun?" It's like asking someone the same question about his or her life. How would they even begin to answer? I always think the same thing: I'd love to explain it to you, but I'm afraid you won't understand. You think you will, but trust me, you won't. I smile to myself and rephrase the thought to You don't get it, man! You weren't there! Then my mind wanders to the tough days, the sound of my shoes on gravel, rain, the night, and then to my companions who helped me along the way in more ways than they can ever know or I will ever understand. There is longing in that moment, but there is also something more...
I want dirt and grit under my feet again. At least, that's what I've been saying out loud. I'm starting to think there might be a deeper reason for going back to the trail—something that I just can't seem to express in words, or even thoughts, just yet. I just feel it. It's more than just having trail under me, more like trail and... something. I don't know—it's like I've seen something and can never unsee it, or like I've been somewhere and simply have to get back there, or like I've held something precious, and all I want to do is hold it again and forever.
I used to think it and there was trail with a capital "T". Dirt, dust, mud, snow, rock, whatever. As long as it was trail, I'd be fine. Considering how often my trail people traffic through my mind everyday, maybe the dirt and dust was just the setting. Having started out alone, the trail eventually gave me several daily companions along the way, finally concentrating the solution to just two at the end. I miss them. When I was with them in the wilderness I felt alive. Invincible. Immortal.
Suddenly, my daydream of the trail snaps and I'm in the dairy section again.
"So how was it? Did you have fun?" She is staring at me, head tilted and waiting for me to answer.
"Oh, yeah, it was fun. Had a real great time."
"That's great to hear. Wish I could do that someday."