Religious Studies graduate student Austin R. Pick and his wife, Shauna, spent the summer of 2012 hiking the 220-mile John Muir Trail in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. Their twenty-four-day trek took them through an inner journey as rewarding and challenging as the outer journey. Austin's writing has appeared in Pleiades, Metazen, and Adbusters, and he was a contributing editor for the travel guide Along the Path: The Meditator's Companion to the Buddha's Land. His essay about their journey is currently featured on the National Parks Traveler website.
Excerpt of Traversing The Range of Light: 24 Days On The John Muir Trail
A journey through the wilderness challenges our fixed notions of things. Though neatly demarcated on our maps, it becomes evident that mountains have no exact beginning or end, but emerge from the complex contours of other forms. The trail itself is often nothing more than a thin strip where others have walked, and will inevitably shift to accommodate rockslides and fires, floods and fallen trees. The tidy concepts and categories that we lay over the land seem increasingly inadequate in light of the ephemeral solidity we experience, and this gradual recognition actually changes the way we think, the way we see. I may call it the Buddha's body while you call it God's Country, but the ineffable totality of the wilderness nevertheless quite wonderfully eludes our conceptual grasp.
For me being out in the wild is ultimately an education in humility, rendering us at once insignificant and inextricably connected. Our role as astonished and delighted witnesses is acknowledged in many of the place names themselves, echoing the impressions of those who've come before us: Cathedral Peak, Evolution Basin, Sapphire Lake, The Hermit, The Citadel, The Black Giant. In the backcountry it becomes clear that our National Parks safeguard a sacred terrain, and our limitations are revealed to be ones of awareness and appreciation, rather than simply the endurance required to walk.
Read Austin's full essay, currently featured on the National Parks Traveler website.