Sunday, May 25, 2014

The phrase ‘real life’

     Then New York was, well it was New York. The busiest place in North America overrides the senses and the mind. Millions of people, traffic, noise. I’m fond of that place, but after a few days there I had a realisation that this wasn’t simply another city that I’d become adept at ‘just passing through’, rather it marked the end of my Thru hike.

      There was a mental conflict. Between stress and simplicity, and reality and over-ambition. Life on the trail is not stress-free by any means, but it is simple. You’re on your own for the most part. Inevitably that means a lot of time in your own head, with nothing but your own thoughts (or very loud music in an attempt to drown them). You don’t have many choices to make or people to answer to. Decision making is often selfish and it’s easy.

      It’s a blessing and a curse. Being solo has a strange effect on idea-generation and confidence. It’s not like a brainstorming session where everyone throws their hat in the ring. There is no risk of mediocritising your own thoughts by watering them down through a but-they-mean-well people filter. There’s no pessimism. The ideas, the motivations, the next moves are all 100% pure.

      But here’s the conflict – maybe that purity leads to a false sense of how realistic, or valid, those thoughts actually are. They are untreated, untested, without feedback. To get a true sense of how realistic they are, we need feedback. It’s there to lead to things that are at least a bit grounded and semi-achievable. Is realism the enemy of optimism?

    On the trip, and especially when reaching the wonderfully awesome ‘zone’ – that place where hours of hiking puts you into a meditation-like state – creativity and clarity flowed. Next steps seemed obvious. Projects were formed. It felt possible that single-handedly, mountains would be moved and maybe, at last, a secure horizon wasn’t far away. But a week or so after finishing – all goals, all creative thoughts, all positive thinking, halted. I hit a wall. Unable to concentrate. Unable to make stuff. Unable to have decent conversations. Unable to follow up on those ambitious ideas. After such an epic time away that had ended in being glad to make a dent in ‘real life’, what had gone wrong?

      In the two weeks following the final day of hiking, I began questioning how removed from reality some of the next moves generated on the trip might have been. And I couldn’t stand that. Being conscious of the realization that maybe all the ideas, the concepts, the guarantees, were nice in theory but potentially worth little. So I ran in an effort to ignore it. Screw reality. For a while it seemed like the best thing to do was to keep moving, stubbornly grasping on to the ways picked up over the previous year, forming new ideas and ignoring the potential that they might merely be worthy of getting knocked over. 

    Upon hearing about the bumpy transitions back to normality that others had experienced, I thought it would be nothing, but now the opposite seems obvious. Of course there’ll be transition pains. How would there not be, I understand I was only out there for two months but two months of something can really change and do a lot to a person.

     In these most recent days, a desire to stay put for a little while has become appealing. To embrace the long-forgotten noise and bustle of normality and to remember how to crack the productivity puzzle in conditions that unlike ‘the zone’, don’t make it as easy. Day by day the transition glitches are getting less. It’s been a while now but finally the better ideas, and next moves are rising to the top of the pile. They’re surviving feedback and getting stronger, and the pieces of the puzzle seem less scattered than just a fortnight ago. One of the things that has survived intact is making something epic from the stories collected over the trip, and those wheels are now starting to turn which is exciting.
The phrase ‘real life’ is as vague as ever, but it’s certainly providing an adjustment.

     I've got forty eight hours left before I head back to Florida. The plan so far is to get into the doctors office and make sure this ankle is healing. I do plan to get back on the trail, I miss it dearly but I do not know when exactly that will be. My trail friends are thinking some place around Harper's Ferry. But for now my journey ends early but will continue once again. 

-Sean Knowles


  1. Its nice to be able to see what actually goes through goofy Sean Knowleshead , this blog is so well written and I am so proud of all you have accomplished Seany :) I can assure you that even though 2 months may not seem like a long time to people living their day to day lifes to a traveler ( especially a secluded place like the trail) it can completely transform you. I know you'll be back on the trail as soon as you can, and hey maybe ill come along.
    Wishing you all the best from Germany :*

    1. Thanks Nicole! Miss you a lot! hope Germany is treating you very well and you are having lots of fun! <3