Monday, September 15, 2008

Hiking a trail, he found his own path

by JEFF HAWKES, Intelligener Journal Staff
Reprinted from

One thing hiking the entire Appalachian Trail gave Ted Houser was time to think about how he wanted to live his life.

And when he reached the misty top of Maine's Mount Katahdin last week after walking 2,176 miles from Georgia, Houser, 32, had come to a decision.

He decided he'd sell his van.

Doesn't sound all that profound. But selling the van would leave Houser with a motorcycle, a bicycle and a feeling that he's taken a first step toward a simpler, less energy-dependent lifestyle.

Houser, who quit as manager of Glick Audio and Video to hike the famed trail, always had a heart for healing the planet, but his time in the woods clarified his thinking.

For four months, all that he needed he carried on his back.

He had found joy and satisfaction in paring down his needs, being immersed in nature, having time to think about things that matter and being in the moment with the hikers he met and the friends who joined him for parts of the trail.

He survived on peanut butter, and he found he could get by with one pair of underwear.

Keeping it simple

The trick now that he's home is to integrate what he valued about life on the trail into his everyday living.

Selling his van and getting around without a heavy vehicle is one tangible change Houser's making. Selling a bunch of stuff he had in storage during his time away will be another. And finding work that doesn't disconnect him from meaningful time with family and friends will be another.

"I want to focus on what I do in the world rather than on the wealth I amass," said Houser, voicing a desire expressed by many in what's come to be known as the voluntary simplicity movement with its ethos of less is more.

"All the stuff we have requires energy and decisions from us, even when we're not using it," Houser said. "If you have a boat, you have to think about insurance, think about whether you're using it enough, think about selling it before it depreciates.

"But when I was on the trail, when all my stuff (not counting food and water) weighed 17 pounds, I did not have all these decisions to make," he said. "My choices were simplified — who to hang out with, where to go."

Houser said he didn't feel deprived or impoverished by the limited choices.

Rather, he felt himself growing stronger, more self-reliant, more attentive to the sky, the landscape, the workings of his body. He was changing, maturing, living.

An investment in a Playstation 3 is lame by comparison.

Going the distance

Life on the trail isn't a perfect model for simple living, of course. Most of us have to get up and go to work. To take his respite from the rat race, Houser had to save.

And now that he's back, he's looking for a job. He once worked in the disaster-relief field and thinks that work, rather than sales, is where his passion lies.

But the trek certainly opened his eyes to the deception of consumerism, the trap of always wanting more. Would that more people had their blinders removed.

Houser recommends everyone take an extended detour from the routine. While the rigors of the Appalachian Trail are not for everyone, Houser said it was just what he needed to test himself and get a fresh perspective on who he is and what he should do.

A week after cracking open a beer on top of Katahdin and savoring his achievement, Houser is missing his routine of getting 21 miles in before sundown.

"What I miss is the simplicity of my daily life," he said.

"The tasks that I had on that trip were so basic that I did not have to make many decisions day to day. But already I can feel the stress, the stress of options, creeping in. I miss the simplicity."

No comments:

Post a Comment