3 Incredible Life Lessons Learned on the Trail to Embrace During This Time of Isolation

As we settle into a new normal imposed on us by the coronavirus, the general consensus is that everybody is getting restless. Staying at home is nice, and I am incredibly grateful to have a safe place in the world to be bored while people risk their lives and die daily. My heart goes out to the families who are hurting now.

Last week, after a long day of working from home and feeling cooped up, I decided to go for a walk on a rather obscure section of The Great Allegheny Passage Trail near my house. It was such a beautiful day, and, as you can see below, you couldn’t ask for a better day to go for a walk.

Great Allegheny Passage Trailhead Near Meyersdale, PA

While I was walking, I was flooded with the memories of the last time I was on that section of trail and was instantly taken back to 2015. I was riding high on momentum built over a few years of an upward spiral in my life. During my hike, the first lesson occurred to me:

1. Happiness is often found in the last place you left it

You know that feeling when you have been sitting in the dark for a long time and then you are forced to go outside into the sunlight? That’s how I felt. When you’ve been sad and struggling, happiness can feel foreign to you in the same way that sunlight can be blinding.

As I walked through this section of the trail, memories flooded back to me of the last time I was there. The past few years have been tough, so remembering a happy time after you’ve been struggling for so long can be a very sobering feeling.

Despite feeling dazed by the light, I had a moment. A new moment. A moment where the struggles dropped away and I was in the zone. It made me realize that happiness is something you can pick back up at the places you last experienced it.

If you’ve been struggling around in the dark, wander toward the light. Do something that you know made you happy, and it’s entirely possible that you will experience that happiness again.

2. There is obscure beauty all around, you just have to look for it

We are living in the time of social distancing. I am trying to abide by the guidelines given to us by our leaders. I would not have went to this particular section of the trail if it were a popular trail destination.

I’m getting to be somewhat of an expert of leaving the house for hours at a time without stopping anywhere or interacting with anybody. For example, I pack a lunch box with bottles of water and some snacks. I make a thermos of coffee. I have a gallon jug of water and some travel soap to wash my hands. I even have some toilet paper in the trunk in case of emergency.

In this case, I was on a section of trail that’s way up in the mountains. You have to drive a decent distance from any town to get to it, so it makes it a more obscure section of the trail. People tend to grab the low-hanging fruit when it comes to trails and parks, and this section of the trail requires more planning before embarking on it.

I walked about a mile and a half in one direction (and then the same distance back to my car), and I didn’t see a single person. But I did get to walk along a peaceful stream and cross several pedestrian bridges. At the end of the mile and a half, I got to behold this beautiful farmland view:

Farmland View from the Great Allegheny Passage Trail near Meyersdale, PA

There are countless views like this all around you everyday. All you have to do is take the time to notice them. Slow down, look around, and take a breath. Life can be so fast paced that we forget the beauty that is around us. Like Ferris Bueller once said, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

3. The simplest things in life are the most fulfilling

I discovered the trail during my first summer off as a teacher. I was fortunate enough to have a few summers where I didn’t have to work to make ends meet. It’s interesting the ways you fill your day when you don’t have to work or have any obligations. Many of you may be experiencing that now.

One of the things I stumbled into was minimalism and one of my favorite blogs: Mr. Money Mustache. By the end of that summer, my funds were low, so living a minimalist life was more of a necessity than a challenge. But I spent the summer delving into things I’d never had the time to experience before.

That summer turned out to be one of the happiest times of my life. It was that happiness that I was tapping into when I remembered it last week. The reason for this was because I was focused on the simple things in life.

β€œIt had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B.

It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.”

― Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

I had fun challenging myself. I challenged myself to climb a mountain. I challenged myself to cook more food from scratch. I challenged myself to spend less than $100 a month in groceries. There’s something to be said for baking your own loaf of bread (instead of buying it) or accomplishing a goal (such as climbing a mountain) for the sake of personal growth rather than making money or advancing your career.

If there’s one thing you can do for yourself in this time of mass boredom, it will be to expose yourself to the sheer satisfaction that carving out your own life can bring. We are so used to paying people to do things for us, and I believe we lose a lot of the value that life can bring us in doing so. Anybody who has ever grown a garden can vouch that those vegetables taste so much better when you grow them yourself.

Learning to Live Life in a New Way

So, in conclusion, the trail has been it’s own form of learning for me. The trail has been my teacher, and my teacher has shown me what life is like when you strip away the bullshit and get down to the simplest aspects of life.

The trail doesn’t care about your job or your divorce or the guy who cut you off in traffic. The trail doesn’t expect you to do anything other than show up and put one foot in front of the other. And if you put in real time on the trail you’ll learn a very powerful truth: that the faith to move mountains is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend climbing them.

Keep the faith, peeps. This is all just temporary. The trail is temporary. Your struggles are temporary. So, latch up your shoes and get to steppin’.

If you enjoyed this post, check out my new memoir: The Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Memoir of Hope for the Depressed and Grieving