I have had a real, specific purpose for the last six months. I have woken up each day and tried to get closer to Canada via foot. I have checked water reports and maps and my GPS, I have shopped for food and gear for the effort, I have lived and breathed mostly on a foot-and-a-half-wide trail.
I loved the simplicity of it all. I loved having such a structured, focused driving force. I loved the clarity of my life. I knew what to do at all times: whatever it took to walk to Canada. When I was unsure of my next few steps, I could take out an app and wander in the woods until I found my way again, until I was back on the PCT.
But now I’m not on the trail. Now I am back in the “real” world. Now I am bombarded with endless possibilities, an untangled web of life directions, so many choices. The path is not clear. My way is obscured by money and advertising and social expectations.
I feel more lost and alone and afraid than I ever did on trail, even during those few weeks when I thought my world was collapsing around me and I would never have a true connection with another human because I was madly feral from life in the woods on my own. I can’t help but wonder, when I’m walking down a crowded street or looking at my phone for the tenth time in a minute, why I am here, why I am doing any of this.
It seems insane to work for the weekend, to patiently wait for someone to fumble for their wallet while paying, to stand still while a light tells me not to walk. It seems crazy to rely on this made up economy to get my basic needs met. It is unfathomable to respond politely when the barista asks, insincerely, how I am.
“How is this life?” I want to scream, while skinny dipping in a local fountain or digging a cathole in the dirt of a concrete-cramped city tree. “Where is the meaning?” I want to ask that teenager nodding out in the middle of downtown Seattle. “What is my purpose?” I want someone, anyone to tell me.
Because I am having a full-blown existential crisis while quietly strolling down 4th Avenue, haphazardly smiling at faces appearing in my line of vision. And I am vibrating with an unbelievably confusing mix of anger and sadness and endless joy while responding “I’m having a lovely day, and you?” paying for my spendy cappuccino.
I texted Rainbow Dash, “I’ll get used to it, I assume.”
“Maybe. Maybe not!” she replied.
And that is the scary thing about leaving for adventure. Maybe everything will go back to how it was before, but maybe, just maybe you will find out that your entire world has shifted while you were away.
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.