Long Distance Hiking as a Soul-Searching Journey

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People decide to undertake a long distance hike for a multitude of reasons. They may want to escape the rat-race for a while and immerse themselves in the wilderness in order to find some inner peace. They might be motivated by health concerns and hoping that the rigors of the trail will help to get them in shape. Hikers envision coming off the trail thinner, stronger (physically and/or mentally), more focused, less intimidated by life’s challenges because they’ve already faced a giant challenge head-on. Long distance hiking can be approached as a soul-searching journey as well, a sort of quest (as much inward as outward) that helps you to redefine yourself and your world.

Anyone who has followed my Edge of the Known series knows that I revolve my fiction around the premise that we create our own reality - whether the particular medium is contemporary, metaphysical, fantasy or speculative fiction. For a period of about eight months - from October 2018 to June 2019 - I embarked upon a prolonged wilderness adventure in order to, among other things, deepen my belief in this guiding philosophy and test the depths of my own faith in it.

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The broader picture of your life can be difficult to see when you’re standing right in the middle of it. Daily tasks and responsibilities tend to keep your mind focused along certain narrow channels. Sometimes the best way to get some perspective about your core life issues, as well as your deepest dreams and aspirations, is to distance yourself from your normal routines for a while. Long distance hiking allows you to leave your familiar world behind. As the sounds of civilization recede behind you, you begin to hear your own inner voices more clearly.

For most hikers, the payoff of a mountain climb is the view from the summit. An extended period of time spent in the wilderness can give you a more metaphorical “view from the mountaintop”. Situations in your life that may have seemed convoluted before will often appear much simpler, clearer, once you’ve managed to achieve a degree of physical and emotional distance from them.

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Modern society is, generally speaking, goal-oriented. It teaches people to wrestle with their challenges. As a result, people often concentrate so hard on their problems, seeking resolution, that they can’t hear the deeper voices of inspiration. The wilderness, in myriad ways, encourages you to quiet your mind. You look for water or shelter, decide whether to keep pushing yourself or take a rest. Life is reduced to its barest terms. As a result, your mind settles into a simpler rhythm. With so many of your normal concerns temporarily on hiatus, you find space to ask more fundamental questions: Where do I see myself heading? Do I like the path I’m on, or is it time to choose another? What do I want to hold onto, and what do I want to let go of?

There’s probably no better environment in which to do some soul-searching than the wilderness. A long-distance hike can become a prolonged meditation about where you’ve come from and where you want to go. Ironically, the farther you travel away from the life you’ve known, the clearer you’re able to see it for what it is. Distance brings perspective. Circumstances like work, friendships and relationships can come into clearer focus because you’re not so busy reacting to them day by day. Hiking brings you to open physical spaces that, at the same time, lend themselves to a certain spaciousness of mind. You have an opportunity to weigh the bigger questions of life, questions that have to do with your fundamental values, passions and aspirations.