Epiphany’s Epiphany – The lost lesson of IChing

Epiphany gave me my Epiphany- The lost lesson from I Ching.

Long and green, the Appalachian Trail is one of the more demanding trails you can choose to hike. I learned the hard way not to carry too much and those extra luxury items are sometimes just extra weight. Weight that if you choose to carry it, must be fantastical, because every step you take, it will add to the stress on your body.  But if that item is worth it. If you are so happy every single night because you love sitting down with a mug of tea reading war and peace, then by all means.  And if you love carrying extra food, because you want to enjoy longer lunches or dinners, then so be it. Enjoy. It’s your hike, and no one will tell you not to bring along all the food you want.

And if you are hiking along, and as you cross a road, decide that you can just hitch into town, grab a bite to eat, and then…. skip a 30-mile section of trail and hitch a little further south to the next road crossing… well now. You’ve stumbled on one of the most controversial conversations I’ve been part of.

Enter in, the most important thing I’ve learned in my entire life.

Appalachian Trail Marker and a Blaze used to mark the trail.

This begins on the second day on the trail. As I was leaving Katahdin I met a girl who, like most of us, had not a clue what was about to happen to us. Over the next few days, I would see her on and off, and she was with Sharon the night Sharon and I met. My fourth night on the trail. In fact, I kept running into this girl the entire way. Until my second to last day on the trail. The whole time she was waiting for her moment. For something to happen, that she would all of the sudden realize her purpose in life. Or the meaning of life. She was constantly looking for her Epiphany. But her epiphany did not come.

We did not hike a lot together, but when we met she and I would have some of the best conversations. They would be about many different topics from intuition to religion to spirituality. Schooling and finance. Love and hate. And what I always appreciated was her candidness. Easy to chat with. Even disagreeing on topics was fine. There was only a friendship with our difference of opinions. And it was her candidness that allowed this most important realization.

The next factor that plays into how this conversation was set up has to do with religion, in a weird sense. Maybe better to say that it has to do with beliefs and a little to do with justice and fairness. I’ll give you first an example.

Let’s say that if you spend 10 hours a day working out, for 5 months,

then you will be given a reward and a medal. Congratulations and recognition for completing such a hard task, and it is something you’ve wanted to aspire to for a long long time. And then you do it. You quit your life to work out and develop yourself and as you do, you get recognized for completing this grueling life and rewarded for doing so. Not that this is why you are doing it, but it is just a side effect. And a good side effect. Makes you feel good when someone pats you on the back for your hard work. Enter in your roommate, who, while they are indeed doing the same task, working out for 10 hours a day, after about 2 months in they stop. They decide to only work out 1 hour. The other 9 hours they decide to do something else. Then a few days later the same thing. Then a week later again. And then 3 times the same week, but they are still getting the recognition and reward for grinding the 10 hours a day for 5 months. And on the progress chart, they are right there beside you, and at the end, they finish the same as anyone else that actually did the 10 hours a day.

For me, this was a little hard to swallow,

and something else also starts coming to light, which makes the feeling even worse. It is more of a spiritual feeling. One of respect. Because as you continue to hike along, the trail becomes very special to you. It doesn’t feel good to be walking along and come across trash that someone has left on the side of the trail. It feels good to do a little trail maintenance here and there, moving a small tree off the trail that has fallen. Picking up trash when you can. There are little moments all along that touch your heart and challenge you. The commitment you make to this endeavor is not small. And all your time and energy being invested into this chapter of your life is special. It does not feel good when you hear or see someone taking the trail and disrespecting it.

As I was hiking along, not too far from the end, I had holes in my shoes. I had already been through about 5 pairs of shoes, and my next pair was at a post office not far from the trail. I could hitch there and back to the trail before the post office closed. Then I could still make it to the shelter that night. In my move to get to the post office before they closed I was hustling to the road when I came to a shelter where two friends were taking a break. Chatting for a bit, I exclaimed I couldn’t stay to chat and off I went to get my new kicks.

After a few odd hitches and a man on the side of the road popping his bb gun off over his house, (which led me to my funniest hitchhike to date), I got to the post office and back to the trail finishing out my day. New shoes and socks are the best things ever.

The two I ran into earlier never showed up to the lean-to that night.

Such is the trail. Fast forward two days, as I’m hiking along I run into the same couple again. Chatted a bit. Seemed like something was a little off but they didn’t say anything. Didn’t really think much of it, but they avoided a few questions about the other day. No worries. Off I went. Two days later I pass them again. This was getting curious. This time I asked how they got in front of me. Was odd how I passed them three times now and still, they had no thought as to how it could happen. Until now we were almost at the end and the next time I passed them I definitely knew something was going on. That is when I got the story.

My two personal rules I set for myself were first, never take more than two days off in a row. I set this knowing that I wanted to keep up the movement. I know I could get lazy if I took too many days off. I managed to keep that even dealing with an infection and a knee problem encountered earlier. The second rule was that I don’t skip any trail. The reason I was hiking the Appalachian trail was to hike the Appalachian trail, not to skip it just to get to the end. If I start skipping bits here and there, that can quickly get out of hand, and next thing you know I’ve skipped a few hundred miles. I knew it was something I would regret later.  I took this to the extreme.  Not skipping any little bit.  I had to connect my footsteps, and if it wasn’t the actual trail, it didn’t matter.  Something that changed entirely on the CDT, but that is a whole different blog section.

The story I got from the couple was just that they were getting worried they were taking too long, and hitching was an easy way to get some miles. Trying to hitch would take time and here and there they would get lost trying to find the trail further down the next road. It was taking them longer to hitch than it was for me to just hike it.

After I hiked on, I thought about it a lot. And it bothered me a lot.

Why be out here and hike the trail if you’re not going to hike the trail? And this was something I had been working on for months. What it meant to me was something I couldn’t describe. And for someone to not respect it..why did this bother me?

And then I ran into Epiphany again.

As we had conversations about a lot of topics, this was one that I was certainly ready to get off my chest. I ran into her again on the trail and I had explained the situation. After hearing my rant and taking it in she quickly countered with her own story.

“Well, I rode a train on one section of the trail. Hopped on a bike for a bit. Canoed another section. You didn’t catch me!” she said.

Was I trying to catch people? Was this just my ego coming into it? Why did this bother me so much?

“I’m not trying to catch people. I’m just wondering why people are hiking the trail if they are just going to skip it?”

This journey had meant a lot to me, and for others to not take it as serious was hard. But over and over in my head “you didn’t catch me” rolled around. Years later it is still in my head, to this day, reminding me of what happened next.

I continued down the trail. More beautiful landscapes. The leaves were now fallen. Fall was here and leaves crunching constantly beneath my feet. And as the moments on the trail happen, I was having another one.

I began the realization that my hike was mine, and I could choose to do it any way that I wanted.

I could hike north to south or south to north. I could try to run it, or I could take 10 years and do a little bit each year. I could carry a backpack, or have it shuttled to another town. I could be a vegan on the trail (although now that I was healthy again I was eating everything in sight), or consisting only eating Snickers bars. I got to choose how I wanted to hike my hike. The point was, I was learning about myself either way, and it was my choice how to do it. The thought of choices hitting me was sobering, almost as much as the run-in with the high-security prison inmate I had experienced months earlier.

If two people set out to accomplish this task, even if they walked the exact same path at the same time, they would still have two very different experiences. And they should. And they should be able to without judgment from the other.

The realization hit. I was guilty of judgment.

I was judging someone else’s choices that they made, and how they decided to hike because it didn’t line up with my own beliefs of how I wanted my hike to be. They were not hiking the way I hike, so they must be doing it wrong, and I was right. But why did I need to be right? What happens if there is no wrong way to hike….. Wait…what was that. What happens if there is no wrong way to hike???? Enlightenment. That’s what happens.

As it so happens this all hit me the second to last day on the trail.

I was finishing the next day barring any big calamity. Some of us joked about how far from the end you could get to and still crawl your way to the plaque on Springer. I was having the biggest Epiphany of my life. Something that a few others were yearning for. I wasn’t looking for it, but it found me anyway. The realization that there is no wrong way to hike the Appalachian trail. And that was the beginning. The analogy grew bigger and bigger quickly until I realized there was no wrong way to do almost anything.  There is no wrong way to go through this life. It is my choice how I wanted to do it. And so it is their choice how they want to do it. The explanation of why I felt this way about it came many years later hiking on the great wall in China, a completely different post. But in the meantime, I had let all my judgment go, and suddenly felt at peace.

I did not expect how quickly I would come to understand how strong I adapted this outlook.

Mind, body, and spirit.  When one changes, the others have to follow.  If you get physically healthy, your mind and spirit will follow.  If you improve you mind, your body and spirit will follow.  I had reduced my baggage I was carrying.  Literally.  My mind and spirit had no choice.  They had to follow.  Have you ever cleaned your bedroom and found that it helps put your life in order??  Its a lot like that.

The day after finishing there was much celebration.

 

Springer Mountain the end of the Appalachian Trail.

Some had families coming to hike the last bit with loved ones they had not seen in months. Stories were being shared. Food was being eaten. Rest at last, and scary thoughts about what was next… and you also visit the visitor’s station at the trailhead and fill out your long distance hiker card.

 

It is just a card that you fill out that says you hiked the Appalachian trail and adds you to the book of names. You get recognition for hiking the trail, and as it so happened, the couple was there with me when we were filling them out.

There was a small table with some pencils where you can sit and fill out your card.

“I’m not sure I should fill this out” I-Ching had said to me. She knew that I knew she had skipped sections.

“You really should fill that out,” I told her. “You just had an incredible adventure. You just walked an amazing amount. You traveled for months and a great distance to get here. If for some reason you feel bad about skipping, then someday go back and do it, but what you did to get here was nothing short of amazing, and you deserve to fill that out.”

I felt every word of what I said.

There are more efficient ways of doing things. There are times where safety is important. Sometimes there is an easier way. But when it comes to the broader picture, there really is no wrong way to hike the Appalachian trail or to go through this life. “Hike your own hike” is the best motto I’ve ever heard to describe it. “and let others hike their own” I added to remind myself of this.

 

Linked stories

The funniest hitch ever

Sharon and my not broken heart

Farming the Great Wall of China

High-security prison inmate and the moment we shared

The story of Pegleg and Smokey the Bear

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