Your Mileage Will Vary

Previous Walk It Off post:  Everybody’s Different

Tagg’s Rule #2: Your Mileage WILL Vary.

It is perhaps the most understated and, at the same time, most understood rule out there. It is closely related to the rule about everyone being different. Not all of us are going to be yo yo hikers or back country peeps. Different people will have different capabilities and not everyone who goes out expecting something Gets that something while out there. It’s something I worry about on the trail and something I see a lot of lately.

This entry and rule are for everyone who’s ever read a book or seen a movie or heard a story and thought to themselves “Hey, *I* can Do That.” This is for all the Strayeds out there who thought that all that’s needed for finding oneself is to go drop a few thousand dollars at a gear store and hit the trails, brimmed with the expectation of doing something that will make the annals of humanity and be preserved for all time in idol worship. This is just your warning sign. Nature has other ideas..

I am not going to throw this out there as a “You Shouldn’t Go Out There” sort of message. I’ll leave that to my mother-in-law. What I will throw out there is that going on those epic hikes and memorable and writable moments is the end result of a LOT of work, planning, and then sheer guts and will. And you know what? Not all of us have that. You know what else? That’s all right. Your Mileage Will Vary.

For me, taking the walk of the whole PCT is like going to an elite military school like Rangers or SF. Yes, it’s elite. Yes, it will make you very quickly and intimately familiar with your limits, and more importantly how to live with them and sometimes how to get around them. And for every hundred people who go, only about five or six actually Graduate. Epic hikes are like elite schools in those regards.

Now let me tell you two truths in life. One, failing SF school does not mean you’re a bad soldier or a terrible infantryman. And by the same token, just because you drop out of doing the PCT or other major hikes does not make you a bad hiker. Yes, each of us have limits. And yes, going on the trail is a great place to go out and meet those limits, shake their hand, and learn to live with them. Not everyone Can be those fabled legends. And that’s all right. If you hit the rain and the cold and you say to yourself “Eff this, I’m Done” don’t feel badly about it. Go down the hill, grab yourself a hot bath and a soft warm bed and start out again when you feel like it.  Point of fact, when Bryson was writing “A Walk in the Woods” the main reason he found that people quit the AT was, and I quote “It wasn’t what I expected.”

Second truth: The most dangerous thing you can take with you on the trail is an expectation. As much as you think life on the trail is going to be about whatever book you read or whatever movie you saw, it’s not. Your time on the trail is going to teach you YOUR lessons, not someone else’s. If you walk out there and don’t find what you read in the book or saw in the movie, it doesn’t mean you did it wrong. It doesn’t make you a failure. There is no standard for the accomplishments of the trail, there’s what you can do and what you learn and what YOU enjoy and what YOUR pace is. Can we cue the chorus now? Your Mileage Will Vary.

In fact, this is one of the most important lessons you will learn when you’re out there. Your limits, your mileage, and that critical point of when you turn back. It’s something my wife learned first, and I’m proud of her for it. We’re sensible about hiking because you have to be. The alternative is a potential horror story that has the “There, but for the grace of God, went I” theme to it. It’s not a matter of shame. It’s a matter of sense. It can and usually does save your life. The fastest way to get yourself lost on your trail is by trying to follow someone else’s. Your trail is your own. Explore it with equal parts enthusiasm and caution, and there’s a damn good chance you’ll actually get a lot out of it.

Back a few entries, I gave Strayed a hard time for skipping out on most of the PCT. She stopped in Portland and didn’t do most of the Sierras due to snow. But she stopped in Portland because she found what she was looking for on the trail and she was done. She didn’t need to do any more than that. Her mileage was up. And I admit, I shouldn’t have gotten harsh on her for that. She found what she needed. If you come at it with a bit of sense and a bit of exploration, so will you.

Bonus truth: If you think you failed, ask yourself the first best question you can; “Am I alive?” If you are, good. Because if you’re alive, then there’s a good chance you learned something from it. Just because you got a trial by error doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you had something to learn, and with a bit of reflection on it, you’ll find where you made your mistakes and correct them. Learning is counted as a success out in the woods. The only real failure is dying.

Next Walk It Off post:  You Will Carry Your Own Weight