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[at-l] Thruhiking - Change (part 2)

This installment is out of order chronologically, but it was a
followup question to Change (part 1) by a prospective thruhiker.
This set of questions got real up close and personal.    The
answers got even more so.

His questions were :
>1) how did your hike change you emotionally/mentally?
>       what have others said?
>2) did you hike while married and if so, how did it affect
>        your marriage? again - what have other hikers said?
>My wife and I have a strong relationship and she is supportive,
>but I know I will worry about her (back home) a lot. I'm
>concerned that this will adversely affect my hike. Any thoughts?

My answer follows - I've edited it somewhat to protect the guilty.
Y'all won't get the next installment until Monday - I  may not be
near the computer again until then.

Walk softly,

When I first read your questions, I had no idea how to answer them.
I had to think about it - I'm still thinking. Good questions!!

I'm going to start with a number of caveats -
1/ I'm one of the "fringe" people whose life changed drastically,
        and what happened to me is not the norm.
2/ This will be my personal opinion, experience and observation.
        There's nothing scientific or even necessarily logical about it.
        And that's more than passing strange for someone who spent
        most of his life making Spock look emotional and illogical.
        But then, people aren't logical, are they?
3/ Advice is worth what you pay for it - and this is free.
4/ I won't guarantee you'll like everything I have to say.
5/ As a thruhiker I am, by definition, insane and therefore
        cannot be held responsible for anything I say.
6/ I may wander off in strange directions
7/ I'm not going to explain anything in any depth.

So let's start with your first question -
First, all of what I previously quoted from Larry Luxenberg's
book applies to me. I think it applies to all thruhikers to a greater
or lesser degree. Just for reference, here it is again:

>After more than two thousand miles on the trail, you can expect
>to undergo some personality changes. A heightened affinity for
>nature infiltrates your life. Greater inner peace. Enhanced
>self-esteem. A quiet confidence that if I could do that, I can do
>and should do whatever I really want to do. More appreciation
>for what you have and less desire to acquire what you don't.
>A childlike zest for living life to the fullest. A refusal to be
>embarrassed about having fun. A renewed faith in the essential
>goodness of humankind. And a determination to repay others
>for the many kindnesses you have received.
                        Larry Luxenburg "Hiking the Appalachian Trail"

So what other changes did I experience?  Let me count the ways -

I think most thruhikers re-order their priorities - the way we
use our time and energy, what we want out of life and what
we're willing to do to get it. In my case, personal survival
became a priority. The Trail gave me the time, inclination and
ability to look inside myself and I found someone I liked - me.
When I got back, I wasn't willing to bury that person in the life
that I'd lived before the Trail. I learned that the level of anger
and paranoia that I'd lived with wasn't necessary, desireable
or even normal.

I learned to trust God. One of my Trail lessons was that God
knows what He's doing. There were too many really improbable
"coincidences" for me to believe otherwise.

I learned that there are times to seek change - and times to
rest and assimilate past changes.

I became restless and curious - there's more of the world
than I can see in what's left of my life. I want to see as much
of it as I can.

My reactions/habits changed. My reaction to emotional pain,
disappointment, etc changed from anger or brooding to -
"Let's go to hike it out".

I learned that happiness is here and now. Not yesterday or
tomorrow or something material or a future event, but what
I am and what I have right NOW. I don't have any other time.
There isn't any other time.

I became softer - more people oriented, more tolerant, more
loving and much more open. Before the Trail you'd never have
asked those questions, because I wouldn't have given you the
opening to ask them. I occasionally revert.

I became harder/tougher. Physically yes, but also mentally
and emotionally. I learned (again) that physical and/or
emotional pain is sometimes the price for what you have to do.
Emotional pain is far worse than physical pain, but I learned
(again) that it won't kill you - even when you wish it would.

I learned (again) to listen to that small, still voice inside that
tells me when I'm headed in the right direction - or the wrong
direction or when a situation isn't right, or when someone's
lying to me, or when it's time to change plans, or stop for
the day, or .......... I learned that my sense of timing is better
than I ever imagined - as long as I'm listening to that voice.
Part of it is what some people call "sixth sense". But it's
more than that and I'm not going to try to explain it in this

For those familiar with Meyers-Briggs Personality Type
testing, I was an INTP before the Trail. I was tested 3 times
in the 5 years before the Trail. After I came back I was
tested again - and I was an ENFP. There was a distinct and
definite personality type change. That's not supposed to happen.

There were physical changes as well - my sense of smell,
for example, became much sharper and my tolerance for
perfumes of any sort was diminished. I can't use scented
soaps or laundry detergent, I can't be in the same area as
anyone who uses heavy perfume and I can smell things that
other (civilized) people aren't even aware of. I became a lot
less civilized, a lot closer to being 'wild'. I like it that way.

I'm not sure this is what you were looking for. But for better
or worse, I did change and I think it was for the better. All
of the above have had profound effects on my life. And I'm
happier now than I've ever been before, although that doesn't
mean there isn't room for improvement.

You're right - I have talked to a lot of thruhikers, and a lot
of them have experienced the same general kind of changes.
But everyone is different, everyone experiences different
changes and different degrees of change. And we all deal with
the changes in our own ways. Just remember that I'm on the
far end of the bell curve - there aren't many of us who were
affected to the degree that I was.

I just read through this and realized how long it's gotten, so
I've split it and you'll get it in two parts. But you probably
won't get the second part until next week. My lady's coming
back from Atlanta today and I WILL pick her up - snow or not.
It's been a long, lonely week without her.

Walk softly,
Jim Owen
Bald Eagle, AT-92

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