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Re: Attitude and happiness

Date:          Thu, 29 Feb 1996 07:56:32 -0600
Reply-to:      at-l@patsy.hack.net
From:          jrowen@pop500.gsfc.nasa.gov (Jim Owen)
To:            Multiple recipients of list <at-l@patsy.hack.net>
Subject:       Attitude and happiness

Seems like the 96 thruhikers are starting to sign off.  I guess we'll lose
the rest of you over the next month, too.  I was sorry to miss Andy, but I
was on the way north to the AT by the time his message came in.  If anyone
sees him on the Trail, tell him I wish him a long, gentle downhill run all
the way to Katahdin - NOT!!!   Seriously, if that's what the Trail was,
none of us would finish it - we'd be bored to death before Damascus.   Tell
him I wish him an interesting walk.

I made the mistake of reading my Trail journal last week - and I realized
that I missed something on the last ramble through the rocks.  I touched
much too lightly on something called attitude.   So what I'm gonna do is
give you 'pieces' of two days of my journal entries and then tell you how
it really was for me. For those who aren't interested - this is the time to
use the "Delete" key.

Tuesday 28 April 92 - stayed at the hostel last night - very little sleep -
too many grunts, groans, snores, farts, etc.  Bed springs too soft so I
threw the mattress on the floor.  Left in fog/rain.  Hail started at the
2000'  level, then turned to snow at 2500' and never stopped. The bald
(Beauty Spot) was beautiful - cold (20's), snowy (4" - 6") & windy (20-30
knots) - but still wet, so my feet were wet. Camped at the spring at Deep
Gap at 1330.  Took 45 minutes to set up the tent - my fingers were frozen.
Socks were frozen when I took them off.  Toes not quite frostbitten, but
close.  Right knee hurts from the downhill yesterday, left elbow, knee and
ribs hurt from the 3 falls today, both ankles hurt because of the rocks
(the trail's been rough and slippery), somehow jammed a finger on my right
hand, my toes hurt (from being frozen), I'm sore all over, I've been
rained, snowed, hailed and sleeted on for the last 4 days, my boots, tent,
socks, gloves, clothes, pack, food, maps and matches are wet and I'm 3 days
from a shower, a laundromat and a hot meal that doesn't consist of noodles
or mac & cheese or spaghetti.  And my attitude is one notch above whale

>Friday 1 May 92  - I'm feeling good right now.  I'm at the motel in Roan
>Mt, had a shower and dinner (and ice cream), made a laundry run and got
>the mail.  And all this after a six-pack of beer while we were waiting for
>Jersey John. I've finally managed to dry out my clothes, socks, boots,
>tent, gloves and matches - again.    And I've got enough pain killer in me
>that I don't feel the sore muscles from hauling the pack up and down
>5000-6000 ft mountains for over a month.

OK - there was more to it than that, but that's all you get.   This wasn't
my "low point" on the Trail - there's nothing in there that's not "normal"
thruhiker complaints - rain, snow, aches and pains, hunger, cold, heat, wet
socks, heavy pack, etc.   But there's another, more important part that
isn't there - partly because I wasn't (and may still not be) accustomed to
writing about emotions.   And partly because I wanted to whine a little.
Yeah,  we all do that sometimes.

There's a BIG difference in my attitude on those two days.   And the only
difference in my situation was that on May 1st I was warm, dry, fed and
didn't hurt(much) or stink (at least not noticeably).   The point is that
my happiness centered around "little" things - a meal, a laundromat, a
shower.   I didn't need a BMW or expensive clothes or a big house or TV or
(pick your own poison).   My "comfort level" had decreased to this point in
just a little over a month on the Trail.

By the time I got to Kent, CT my "comfort level" had decreased even
further.  Happiness became a supermarket, a laundromat and a pint of ice
cream - no shower, no soft bed, no meal, no mail.

Many days, happiness became something even smaller - like the view of
Katahdin from Rainbow Lake, or watching the stars march across the sky the
night we camped on Pleasant Pond Mt, or taking the boots off after a 15 or
20 mile day, or the smell of dinner cooking, or miles of mountain laurel,
rhododendron and azalea blossoms in Virginia, or a moose feeding in South
Pond in Maine.  It was even, at least in retrospect, the sight of the bear
at Ethan Pond Campsite eating our food.  It was the people - thru-hikers,
Trail angels, week-enders and maintainers that I encountered.  It took me a
long time to realize that happiness on April 28 was the softness of the
rain as I left Nolichucky,  it was standing under the overhang at a Forest
Service signboard and watching the forest floor turn from brown to white as
the hail carpeted the ground, it was the dark, pregnant clouds that raced
across Beauty Spot dumping snow as I came out of the trees and it was the
gradual warming of my toes after I camped at the spring at Deep Gap.   And
it was the sunlight on the snow and the red spruce the next morning as we
crossed Unaka Mt.

How do I know those things are happiness?  Because they're the things I
remember today.  I don't remember the pain.  The rain is only a
counterpoint to the sunlight - and it carries its own kind of beauty.   The
hunger has been satisfied many times over - too many.  But the things that
remain, the things I flashback to every day, the things that draw me back
to the Trail - and to other trails - are those things that provided the
small moments of happiness or beauty or love every day.   And those moments
are sweeter and clearer because of the the pain and the rain that
surrounded them.   In 92 we used the expression "Life is good".  It's an
expression of the happiness, the contentment that comes from the many small
sources of beauty and pleasure that one encounters, not only on the Trail,
but in everyday life.    For those who thruhike this year, I hope life is
as good for you as it was for us.

Some of you don't yet realize that I wished the rain on you, do you ?  Just
remember -  life IS good - even on the bad days.

After 4 days of rain/hail/snow what will your attitude be?  Will you be
brave, clean, cheerful, optimistic, etc?  Probably not - I wasn't, why
should you be?  But I realized that it was OK for me to be miserable,
lonely, cold, tired, wet, hungry and sore.  None of those would kill me.
All of them are finite - they don't last forever.  And they make the
happiness more poignant, more complete and more memorable when it does

I just realized that I've said the same thing a couple different ways here.
And I could say it 5 more ways, but if you see it, you see it.  If you
don't, you don't.   What is it?   Simple - look for the good in every day,
every situation.  And you'll find it.   There's no day of the AT that I
remember as being "bad".   There was something good or beautiful or happy
about every day out there.

I won't tell you that I had "fun" out there - but I was happier than I'd
been in a lot of years.   And I still am.   I hope it's that way for you,
too.  But that's your choice, because only you control your attitude, and
therefore, your happiness.

Go for it,
Jim Owen

I just joined this list 2 days ago and I must say that so far I am 
really liking it. This was a great letter Jim. I am hiking the 
Pacific Crest Trail this year-- so this letter really spoke to me. I 
understood what you are saying perfectly. I too feel that life is 
good- even off the trail. Yes I do have bad days, but they make the 
good days seem even better. Maybey I will print out this letter on a 
small sheet of paper and bring it along with me on my PCT trek. Good 
words of advice!! Thank you!

Ryan Christensen