Tales of the trail

“I’m as big as a smurf!”

In all honesty, I don’t know where that particular phrasing came from. Though I’ve always described my height as three apples high, generally the words “big”and “smurf” don’t go together. Yet out it came on the trail as I cleared some low branches and found a few extra steps to help me up steep passages as Sarah and I navigated our backpacking trip on the Laurel Highlands Trail.

Luckily for me, Sarah found it funny. She also was entertained by my impromptu singing and played right along with my slightly off-center comments. (Example. Me: “My pants aren’t falling down today. I wonder why that is?” Sarah: “Because you remembered to buckle them.” Me: “Point.”) For the record, Sarah said she knew I was a little off-center when she asked if I wanted to do this trip with her. Which was a good thing, especially since this was our first backpacking trip together. While we’ve become friends over the past year, it’s one thing to hang out in Chestnut Ridge Park and have coffee afterward. It’s another thing to venture into the shelter latrine holding hand sanitizer to your nose to choke back your instinct to vomit. I’ve had some great trips with friends. I’ve had trips that have tested friendships. And I’ve had trips which have created and strengthened friendships. I’d like to think this is one of the latter.

Signs that this was a good trip on the friend-meter:

1. No one cried (except a few tears from laughter at the graceful passage over a fallen tree.)
2. No one bled.
3. No one bought an overpriced cowboy hat for entertainment.

In addition, we created a host of inside jokes which would be moot to bring up here, since the explanation of such jokes can never really replicate the original situation in which they were deemed so funny you had to stop hiking for a moment to catch your breath. We shared life stories and more than once I thought “No way, you too?” And so entered another moment of realization that the person I am hardest on, the one I judge the most, is me. As I let go of that, I find that I spend the majority of my time with people who appreciate my sarcasm and non-linear thought and tolerate my medley of The Monkees greatest hits.

In preparation for this backpacking trip, I made a conscious effort to let go of expectations. Too often I enter something really cool by putting pressure on myself. The question goes like this: How can I quantify this experience to prove that it was worthwhile? Because we’re all looking for results, right? Indications of progress. Of getting better. Of time well-spent. But I remembered one of my favorite phrases, a book title actually. The answer to “How?” is “Yes!” I left the “how” questions behind. I entered the woods not seeking my inner poet or outdoorswoman or athlete. They are always with me if I just give them the opportunity to make themselves known. With a resounding yes to the adventure of the day, to taking whatever came on the trail, to being present and utterly myself, I no longer needed to quantify what I got out of the experience. Truth is there is nothing to prove. There are only trails to explore and friends to share the journey with. And that is all I ever really needed.

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