During the toughest parts of my hike - whether it was my innumerable blisters, freezing rain or severe dehydration - I always thought about what I would be doing if I decided not to take that first step, to quit everything and go hiking. And I laughed. If you had been hiking along side me, now and again at the worst times you could have caught me laughing. Laughing at how amazing it was that I was there, in that moment, hundreds or thousands of miles hiked since Mexico in the middle of a thunder storm above the protection of the treeline instead of stuck at work, doing something I tolerated but did not enjoy. I realized now I laughed because my days had turned from a metaphor for Sisyphus - everyday going to work, checking off a to-do list and returning right where I started the next day into having an established goal - hike north - that took me through unthinkable beautiful new places to meet incredible people. At the end of the trip I was ecstatic to be finished, to have finally made it all the way without injury or weather or some problem that would take me off trail. Finally my feet would stop hurting and I could eat real food! At the same time reality loomed ahead.
Now I'm back at work pushing the boulder up the ravine every day and I'm not laughing. Instead I am often filled with bliss at recollecting some random experience from hiking. I get stuck at a traffic light and think of a weird hitch hike to town. Bored on the subway often means thinking about the mountains of the north cascades or the sensation of ice cold water in a parched mouth drunk straight from a tiny spring high in the mountains. All the while everyone asks how I'm "adjusting" to "real life" and I never know what to say or whether they'll understand it if I did. I think this must be the opposite of post traumatic stress syndrome. It's a shame there isn't to be a word in our vocabulary for it - maybe that speaks to some structural deficit of our culture? What do you call an experience so vivid and long lasting the repercussions cause spontaneous bouts of happiness and satisfaction long into the future?
I recently read some advice from some famous author on how to be happy. In a roundabout way the author recommended figuring out the types of experiences you like to have and workings towards having them more often. If that's the case, this is something that will have to happen more often than once every 28 years. The only question is how to do it.