Long distance backpacking turns us into children. Every day is exciting and new. I’ll hike well into the night under my headlamp because I don’t want to sleep yet because I’m stoked about what might be around the corner! Then I lay in my bag exhausted eager about waking up early.
Back home I can’t wait to go to bed in the evening and it’s not as thrilling to get up with the sun.
I guess when we become adults we decide being unconscious is better than living.
Out in the woods my imagination runs wild with the animals I may wander into, and the experiences I may endure.
Back home, the imagination app on my brain blends in again and I forget I can use it.
Much like the gym membership I pay for every month.
“What’s your favorite color?” a child will ask.
“Green.” A stranger will answer.
“Mine too, lets be friends.”
On longer trails, hikers become instant friends over a story in passing. You’ll go days without seeing each other after the single exchange, and when you cross paths again weeks later it’s like you’re old elementary school friends joyfully telling each other about what happened in their absence, maybe even share some of your favorite snack.
Hot Legs and I met Brian and Julie walking north on the JMT, about twenty miles from the Muir Trail Ranch.
We hiked into the evening, a favorite time of ours. Less heat and crowds, more sunsets and wildlife.
Brian and Julie stood off to the right of the route cleaning up camp before they retired into their tent which was already fixed in the middle of their site.
“Wow you guys are out late!” Brian chimed in through a smile in his short beard. He was about 5’8 foot with brown hair and a medium build.
His wife smiled and greeted us.
We laughed while we shared our hardships and discoveries with our two new friends. They also headed north with the plan to finish in Yosemite. Both were upbeat and vibrant beings with the same optimistic vibes we we pumped out.
“We should all meet at Vermillion Valley Ranch tomorrow!” We decided.
They agreed if they could make the miles they would love to grab a beer with us, and we said goodbye.
The next afternoon, Hot Legs and I veered left off the JMT on the Bear Ridge route which ended on a road by Lake Thomas A Edison, where we hitchhiked with a young couple to Mono Hot Springs. We stuffed our faces full of Elk Burger at the restaurant on site and through back some suds while I simultaneously tried to help a strange drunk patron pull a fish hook out of his ear, because why not?
I was unsuccessful but he bought me a drink so we’ll call it a win. After we paid our bill we left the joint turning down the front steps into the parking lot.
“Hey, is that Brian?” She asked with squinted eyes in the direction of the outdoor seating area.
I eagerly spun around.
He was far enough away that it took me a moment to process.
“Yeah it is!”
“Brian!” We yelled with familiarity.
He immediately turned and spotted us.
“Brian!” We waved excitedly.
“Hey!!” We wailed and thru our hands into the air.
In a hast he dropped what he was doing, exited the restaurant and rushed to join us in the lot.
“Brian!” We both shouted as he quickly jogged towards us and embraced both of us in a big family hug.
He pulled away and smiled.
“I’m not Brian” the man said through a flirtatious grin.
My smile morphed in joyful confusion. What did he mean he wasn’t Brian?
I examined his face closer.
It wasn’t Brian.
Hot Legs and I gawked as Fake Brian giggled, and darted back into the eatery.
Turns out on the trail we were also more likely to take candy or hugs from strangers.
Just like children.