Last weekend, I finished the 8th and final section of my 270 mile End-to-End hike of the Long Trail, in Vermont. Of those 270 miles, I hiked about 230 miles by myself, beginning on May 23rd and ending on October 12th, 2008.
- Long Trail Southern Terminus to Rt 9. Northbound: October 11-12, 2008. Solo.
- Rt 9 to Rt 11/30. Northbound: May 23-26, 2008, NY/NJ AMC Trip.
- Clarendon Gorge to Rt. 11/30. Southbound, June 6-7, 2008, Solo.
- Clarendon Gorge to Middlebury Gap: Northbound, June 26-29, 2008, Solo.
- Middlebury Gap to Appalachian Gap: Northbound, July 18-20, 2008, Solo.
- Jonesville to Appalachian Gap: Southbound, August 1-2, 2008, Solo.
- Jonesville to Johnson, Northbound, August 22-24, 2008, Solo.
- Journey’s End to Johnson: Southbound: September 11-14, 2008, Solo.
Whether you complete the trail in one year or over many, it is customary to send a summary of your hike to the Green Mountain Club. They issue you a certificate of completion and award you with a complementary club membership. Your name is also published in the spring edition of the club magazine, with the names or the other 200 or so people who complete the Long Trail each year.
Compiling that summary from my past trip reports brought back a lot of memories for me and made me think about what I had experienced and learned on this trip.
If I were to sum it up, the single most significant thing I took away from hiking this trail was that "it is what it is." You can't control what the trail throws at you and when you let go of worrying or being frustrated about unexpected obstacles, you feel like a great burden has been lifted from you. You develop an unflappable calmness that carries over into your daily life. This feeling, which buddhists call equanimity, combines the ability to be in the moment with the understanding that obstacles are often transient and impermanent.
To put this in context, it rained about 50% of the days that I hiked on the Long Trail. At first, I perceived this as an inconvenience, but about half way through, I realized it was something I had absolutely no control over and that there was no use getting upset about. Rain, mist, being wet, whatever: all these were passing states and sensations that were no better or worse than sunny weather or being dry. I learned to simply accept them and get on with my hike.
As a lay buddhist, I've known about equanimity for many years, but never imagined that I'd be able to experience even a glimpse of it. Hiking the Long Trail solo gave me the personal space to take that first step, and that has been the trail's greatest gift to me.