Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trailheads and the promise of Infinite Possibility

A trailhead is simply the point at which one steps onto a specific trail from their previous location. You can step from pavement to trail, from grass to trail, or even from trail to trail, at a trailhead. No matter the circumstances of the transition, however, there is some intangible promise that lies in that moment.
I have stepped up to probably thousands of trailheads in my life. Every time I have accepted their promise and gone onto the trail. And I can't say that I've ever been disappointed. You see, in that unassuming junction where a dirt path reaches a delta of civilization, there lies the promise of Infinite Possibility. You cannot see more than a few feet down the trail. You cannot know what lies ahead. You cannot know what the climbs are like, what the weather is, how many logs you will climb over, or how many heart-stopping wildlife encounters there will be before you reach the end of the trip.
This tantalizing risk is what fuels the addiction.
Sure, you can scour the topos and check NOAA religiously. You may even have hiked the route before, but the truth is, you cannot know what lies ahead on any given day. Your hike may be short, sunny, and replete with sightings of cute deer and squirrels. Or it might have a hailstorm resulting in you getting lost above treeline, bailing down a ridge and stumbling into a grizz and her cubs. Or anything in between. Bluebird mornings turn to lighting riddled nights and vice versa.
Recently I was talking with someone who grew up in another country and he mentioned the risks of everyday life. He commented on how "boring" American life is. We are relatively safe, our government transitions peacefully, we don't have to worry about our next meal. He then drew the connection between our safe society and how many "adrenaline junkies" are Americans (or from other stable western nations) versus from less stable countries. The less risk and adventure in daily life, the more people will seek it out in other ways. That clicked in my brain. Of course!
Obviously not everyone seeks adventure and has to feel risk to feel alive, but I do. Quite frankly my past life (what seems like 7 lifetimes ago) was very safe and stable. Well thought out and without real risk. Perhaps that's why the first car I had saw 100mph at least a dozen times. Perhaps that's why at some point I realized that I felt dead in that life and left it behind to hike, to run, to roam. Although I've never felt I was a product of this society, in fact, feeling like I very much do not fit, I've found that perhaps I am more a product of it than if I did "fit". The more I think about it, the more I find that I am a counterweight to the ordered life.
Not everyone will find freedom on a trail like I do and I understand that. There is nothing wrong with a safe and orderly society, and I certainly wouldn't want to live in a less safe one. I love and value living in a time and a place where I am safe and free to follow the trails and explore the paths I want to. We are all parts of society in different ways. Some make it safe. Some further learning. Some champion human rights. Some protest. Some are misfits. Some are leaders.
As for me, I will always accept the promise and lure of a trailhead.
I will be the adventurer.

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