Thru-hikers are masochists. They have to be. What other personality trait could coerce them into thinking it’s actually preferable to spend 5 months more or less in a constant condition of suffering when they could, easily, instead choose to be cradled in a society wholly created to foster an illusion of non-stop comfort with bouts of occasional pleasure? Life isn’t like that as we all know too well, but we expect it to be, and suffer emotionally when it doesn’t live up to that expectation. But thru-hikers expect months and months of super condensed suffering, followed by months and months, if not years or an entire lifetime, of super condensed psychological suffering in trying to integrate an experience that has ruthlessly changed them into someone who no longer finds society relevant.
So what exactly does such a time rich in injuries, super human exertions, fear, isolation/loneliness, bug bites, broken relationships, infections, diseases, sorenesses and inflammations, torn muscles and identities, hungers and thirsts, sleep deprivation, financial drainings, and the complete letting go of sanity offer us? Much. But one enduring gift I’ve recently come to appreciate is that feeling good is no longer even in the top ten on the list of requirements necessary for me to make a positive decision in my life. I’m okay with some suffering. Especially if there is a wallop of incredible benefit to it. In my pre-trail days, I’d NEVER let myself get hungry, would rampage through my day with great irritating aggressiveness if I’d slept less than six hours, nauseousness would send me straight to bed, a surge of unpleasant emotion would catapult me crying to my most available friend. Now, peripheral discomfort is barely even noticed, and acute suffering is accepted, and for the most part, gracefully moved through. I’ve learned through persistent immersion hardwiring how to revel in beauty, even in a moment that contains suffering, and to not let the pain drain me by emotionally reacting to it. Not being comfortable is not even a valid “condition” in my psychology anymore. And that indeed creates an enormous amount of freedom.