Hikers are dreamers by nature. It doesn’t matter if you’re out for an afternoon or a five month trek; one of the great allures of walking a trail is the freedom to let your mind wander at will. And the more you enjoy this, the more likely your thoughts are to reciprocate to the act that has allowed such opportunity. I can remember many afternoons spent on the Pacific Crest being lost in daydream of future hikes and fantasizing over which long trail I would turn to next. It in no way diminishes the appreciation of the path that you’re on, but instead reflects the fundamental desire to forever explore.
In the eyes of a long distance hiker, the checklist is clear. You’ve got the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide; a trifecta of backpacking known as the American Triple Crown. Each represents the journey of a lifetime in its own right, but once you’ve poured your soul into one, the others strengthen their call. I, like many of my peers, dream of joining the ranks of those kindred spirits who have achieved this coveted glory; to claim completion of the Triple Crown. I’ve finished the PCT, and have hiked the northern half of the Appalachian Trail. In 2009 I was preparing for an attempted thru-hike along the Great Divide until unanticipated financial deficiencies curtailed those plans. It waits for me still. In time, the quest will resume for that elusive title.
Meanwhile, however, life goes on. One of the great lessons my wife/ hiking partner has taught me, (though at times she’s had to deal with a very reluctant pupil) is to prioritize the big picture, and take other opportunities as they come. While hiking is very important to us both, the past few years she has put a heavy emphasis on this notion she refers to as “being responsible.” On the surface, the concept can seem counterintuitive to someone with the nonconformist outlook that lives in every long distance hiker’s heart. It’s hard to argue though when she presents her rationale. Cris wants to make a positive impact on the world. She wants to devote her life to helping those less fortunate. She wants to use her passions to bring about social change, and she sees potential in me to do the same. I love her for that. Add to this our hopes of soon starting a family, and we’ve come to the agreement that at this stage in our lives, thru hiking will have to wait. It’s not that we don’t both aspire to keep working toward a dream of one day sharing that Triple Crown, but for now we must remain dedicated to building a life that also has room for other goals.
So does this mean we’ve resolved to stop hiking? Not a chance! Though it may be a few years until we can set out on a several thousand mile journey again, we still hope to get out and log a few miles, every chance we get. And with that, I’m excited to announce, a chance will soon be gotten…
Next month, if everything goes as planned, Cris and I are going to load our packs and head down to Arkansas to check out a little known gem called the Ozark Highlands Trail. We’ll be doing this over my spring break, so having only five days to work with we will only be able to do a portion of the total route. This will be a different kind of hike for us. Without aspirations of completing the entire trail in one shot, we plan to slow down and just enjoy it for what it is. I plan to focus a lot of attention on photography, and look forward to exploring the enchanted streams and hollows of an unfamiliar realm. (And of course, it will be nice to be known as Gesh and Junkfood again.)
If anyone reading has any advice or experience with this trail, I’d love to hear what you think. Otherwise, I’ll be posting updates with further details as things approach, and can’t wait to share stories of this latest adventure with you all. It might not be a thru-hike, but should still be a rewarding trip. It feels good to have my mind wandering again, and to answer that call to forever explore.