Though the first carried more miles, the second day of the hike was totally and unapologetically uphill.
When you ascend, hiking becomes the zen of endurance.
First, you are stripped of all the pleasures of hiking. Your excitement is boiled into lactic acid. Your love for the trail is baked, hardened and dehydrated into thoughts of laying down in the sun until the heat shrivels you into an unconscious raisin.
Try as you may to put on your “isn’t hiking just a slice of heaven?” face, strangers passing you on the downhill stride can only see your “PLEASE GOD, HELP ME OR ******* **** ME” face.
As much as hiking really is a small slice of heaven, there is no denying the living-death of taking 10 straight miles to the knees under the chaffing hell of a 50 pound sack in the relentless sun.
But when you’re back in an office, sitting on your cushy little ergonomic chair, you long for the sweat and the torture that forces your mind to the ankle deathtraps of mountain terrain. To the deep valley behind and below you, and the crystal basin at the foot of the granite Giants.
The worst thing you can do is ignore the pain—that makes it relentless. Instead you focus on the pain until you become it. The only thing left is the moment between each step, when you remember why you are here and what it is worth. Every time your foot touches dirt, it leaves twice the footprint. One on the mountain and another in your memory where you will safeguard the misery of your ascent and hold on for dear life. One day, when your knees are too weak and your body can no longer table your pack, all the pleasures and joys of the trail that you once thought dissipated in the steam of uphill toil will come rushing back with the magnified strength of every year between you and the present you once knew and respected enough to actually live.
And if you didn’t, if you let it only be pain to get through and not to focus or dwell on, then that is what it is and will always be. A dull memory of pain, dark and somber and incomplete.
Wrote this after a backpacking trip to Yosemite Valley. It's accompanied by a photo, which you can see here: http://www.theplaidzebra.com/how-to-embrace-the-zen-of-hiking-with-purpose/