If you’re reading this blog you may be considering a hike of the John Muir Trail. Good for you! There’s an adventure out there, waiting for you in the woods.
I’m looking forward to getting out there, again, too. There isn’t another complete thru-hike in my immediate future, but I intend to spend at least a little time in the Sierra Nevada next year.
Here are some things I miss most about hiking in the Sierra, in no particular order:
1. Meeting other people. The trail seems to bestow on all hikers the license to strike up a conversation with just about anyone you meet along the way. Talking to other hikers on the trail and campers near your campground is great fun, and I always seem to learn something.
2. The lack of distractions. A solo hike in the Sierra Nevada is like an extended period of meditation. It may take a few days to clear the mind of the echoes of your life back home (the fact that it takes DAYS should tell you something) but, once you do, you really start to experience the trail in a new way.
3. The scenery. Like art students who tune their aesthetic sense by exposure to the classics, each day in the wild will train your eye to better appreciate the environment around you. At first you will find beauty in the big things (the waterfalls and granite monoliths of Yosemite, for example), but soon you will start to see nature’s magnificence everywhere you look, from the contrast of green moss growing on redwood bark, to the tortured root structures of overturned trees, to the music of an unseen stream near the trail.
4. Life at the edges. You will encounter lots of transitions on the trail. Some are physical, like the strip of land between the forest and the barren areas above, the meadow between the trees and the shore of a lake, or the top of a pass, as you move from one watershed to another. Other edges are temporal, like the hour before sunrise or the hour after sunset. And some are almost disorienting, like days that begin in a campsite and end with a shower and a night on a mattress. Change is good, so the saying goes, and it is no truer than when on the trail.
5. The quiet. Not all of us live in noisy places, but most of us do, whether the clamor comes from the city outside, or the cacophony of the technology within our homes. My first night on the trail, this year, I was camped well past the Half Dome trail, and well off the John Muir Trail. I was alone, there was no wind, and there was total silence. Robert Browning once wrote that silence is, “When you set your fancies free.”
Good hiking, Ray