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Day 30: Casa de Luna to Sawmill Campground

Trail miles 478.2-498.2

June 1, 2019

Thru hiking is a strange endeavor. From a certain perspective, it is extremely selfish. I voluntarily give up time I would otherwise devote to school, work, or family to walk nearly all day nearly every day for many months.

My time is my own, and I use it to think of things that are important to me. But often, the most important thing is getting up or down the next hill, which sometimes requires me to empty my mind and simply walk. What does all this empty time do to my brain? At times, I find that I am more present in a moment’s pleasure or pain. Other times, I discover myself far away, adrift in a space of memories and aspirations.

My walking takes place on a path routed and built to accommodate horses, and I use maps produced using GPS data. Navigation is therefore trivial. The scenery is stunning, the friendships burn hot and bright, and the rhythm of the days thrums in time with the sunrise and the changing seasons.

I feel a consistent sense of accomplishment when I retire to my tent each night to check which pages of the map I walked across that day. And I feel a thrill as I leaf through the next few pages to check my water sources and camping options for the coming day.

Not long ago, a twenty mile day seemed huge. Today I hiked 15 miles before noon, took a two hour lunch break, then breezed through the final five miles to camp, feeling fresh.

A stretch of 100 miles no longer sounds like a daunting week’s hike. It sounds like 5 days of food: 25 bars for breakfasts, a pound of peanut butter and 15 tortillas for lunches, some noodles or rice and five tuna packets for dinners, and a few pounds of snacks to fill in the gaps.

My food often makes me wonder about my environmental impact as I walk this trail. Because I am pushing my body more than I would in normal life, I am eating far more than I ever have at home. Moreover, the packaging I use on the trail is wasteful, and far exceeds what a normal person needs in daily life. Nearly everything I eat comes individually wrapped in plastic and foil. It couldn’t stay fresh otherwise.

On the other hand, I don’t use much water. My showers are infrequent at best, and I’ve been wearing the same outfit, unwashed, for the better part of a week. The water I drink on the trail comes mainly from springs and small streams, and I treat it myself, by passing it through a filter, rather than relying on a municipal water treatment plant.

Although I travel mostly by foot and although I carpool in towns when I hitchhike, my travel by car to start the trail and my transportation when I eventually go home are fuel-intensive and cannot be construed as necessary in any way.

In fact, no part of this trip is necessary, which returns me to the thought that thru hiking is a selfish endeavor that utilizes a large number of resources I would not otherwise need.

But an obvious counterpoint to this argument is that the experiences I have on the trail may shape me into a more environmentally conscious person who takes a greater interest in protecting public land and wilderness areas in my life off the trail. And by sharing some of these experiences, through my writing and my pictures, perhaps I can foster these same intertwined senses of inspiration and responsibility in other people.

The effect that my time on the trail has on the rest of my life is hard to fathom now, and the changes it is inducing in my outlook are far from complete. But once in a while, it feels important to take a longer view of this trip and ask myself again, “Why hike?”

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