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On Adulthood and Hiking

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Why does anybody ever hike?

There’s a comfort that many of us can get lately, these past couple hundred years. We walk outside for fun, not because we have to.

We don’t need to go out. Nobody’s telling us we have to go outside. For most of us in the U.S., we don’t thrust our feet into gnarled boots and drink bitter coffee before creaking outside to our own field in the frosty predawn to twist corn off stalks, over and over and over again until it’s done, in order to eat. We don’t need to taste our front yard for its cool mineral ping, in order to gauge its suitability for wheat or beans. We don’t need to feel a gnawing in our bellies about weather this season.

Now many of us have indoor jobs and grocery stores. We don’t have to go outside.

So why do we?

For me, it’s to dissolve the clutter. People clean out their homes and I clean out myself. I hike so I can feel clean.

I hike so I can discover.

I hike, now, so I can rethink what it means to be an adult.

Six years ago I was twenty-one and I was in love.  Nothing could tarnish it.  I was just besotted with the whole world. It was a honeymoon phase. Even its imperfections were lovely.  The world was alive, was throbbing with aliveness, with oceans and creatures and trees and whooshing sand and clouds and flowers and snow and people, people who grinned and wept and chattered in all different round and jagged languages, and my feet and my knees and my butt and my head were on the world except when I was in an airplane or a paraglider or a sea.

In the way that a lover becomes a student of the person he loves, in the way that he learns her food and her body and her God and her teeth, I became a student of the world and all the people in it.  My first identity was learner.  Please teach me, I said to the grass, to the raptors, to the weary man who stamped my passport in Dubrovnik, to my cousin Christopher in West Texas.

 I didn’t care what I learned. I knelt at the feet of each place I came to and allowed it to crack me open with unabashed faith that it would pour itself inside me.  Always, it did.  As long as I did my part—as long as I knelt at its feet and allowed the world to crack me like an egg, the world gurgled into my soul.  I was an extension of the world, grown up like a tree with feet. I was a human among humans, an animal among animals, a star circulator among star circulators.

Then these things, these regular things, happened. I graduated college. I worked in food service. Some people were cruel and some people were kind. I worked in conservation. I got skills. I went to graduate school. I lived in Austin and Nashville and Lubbock and New Mexico and Wyoming. Jobs were not all they were cracked up to be and were more than I ever expected.

I inhabited my adulthood.

For me, that meant that the feeling of openness, of connection, has simmered in me since I left the Bosphorus Strait, six years ago. It emerges in staccato conversations with close friends, a slash of red lipstick, a quiet trip to Nepal, seasonal outdoor jobs.  It seeps out over sweet drinks near an expanse of Austin sunset water.  Or in reading a smart book, or the scrawled comments of a professor I admire. Or alone, close to dawn, above secret New Mexico mountain mist.  Then the creativity, the freedom, the boldness, bubble into my surprised consciousness.

But over time, it has bubbled up less and less. I attribute this to inhabiting my adulthood too much, or the wrong way.

How do you come to terms with having already come of age?

Adults, it seems, are meant to be steady. We, especially those of us in academia, are meant to be sure. Many of us must be financially independent, caretakers of other creatures (dogs, children), voters, activists, artists, teachers, careermakers. In all of that, somehow, I began to feel that in order to masquerade as a successful adult, I needed to close in myself what I had so earnestly and lovingly surrendered to be cracked open before.

I think I’ve been doing it wrong. My perception of adulthood has become as follows:

Adulthood seems to mean I must be sure.

Adulthood seems to mean I must have a ready opinion on everything, including things I’m still thinking about.

Adulthood seems to neglect silliness.

Adulthood seems to bypass magic.

Adults seem to really think impossible things are impossible.

Adulthood seems to mean that sounding smart is more important than most other things.

If all that is adulthood, y’all can keep it, thanks.

But I don’t think it is. I think adulthood may be something more robust and vibrant than I’ve been giving it credit for. It’s time to reevaluate my perception of adulthood.

There are great things about being an adult, especially a single college-grad twentysomething adult: the freedom to choose your apartment or your partner or your career or whether you’ll have a dog; the ability to go after your dreams; the freedom, on a Saturday morning, to choose to wake up at ten and eat Froot Loops and watch Orange is the New Black for three hours, or choose to drink five cups of black coffee and then run ten miles in your local forest. In fact, this is a uniquely glorious time of adulthood.

So I’m going to take my very adult freedom and hike the 500-mile Colorado Trail this summer, in, perhaps, a quest for adulthood. I start this week.

An adult uses a map.

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(Photo courtesy of the the Colorado Trail Foundation)

I want all those old, hastily-stapled cracks in my soul to reopen. I want the world to gurgle in once more, however it chooses. I am too small to choose, I’ve found. As one person in one body, I am too limited to choose what to let in and what not. Instead, the world ought to. The trail ought to. It’s the master.

1 Comment

  1. So excited for you and your journey. You can do it! It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! Can’t wait to see how it goes for you!

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