Every backpacker remembers that day when everything seemed to go wrong. I'm not talking about that day when the weather was foggy, and you missed out on that perfect view. I'm talking about the day when your eyes weren't even open yet, and your first thought was, "Shit, my air pad deflated."
But hey, you're a trooper, so you decided to soldier on and meet the day. Step one: sit up. "Fuck me, why does [insert any body part] hurt?" Next, you reached for your socks — "Ahh yes, I almost forgot about that puddle I stepped in last night" — you bite down hard and slide those wet, ripe socks over your feet and then shove them into your equally wet shoes.
Ok. Now you're awake and ready to hike. It can only get better from here.
It was a day of big climbs and hand-over-hand rock scrambles. It didn't take long before you skinned your knees and scrapped your hands. But at least it was hot, and your socks were drying. Mile after mile, you keep pressing on. Then it hits you; that morning, you placed your tent stakes and gas can on that rock so you could pack them last – but you never packed them at all. You cursed the day and threw your pack to the ground as you futilely looked around for a fellow hiker to consult. Finally, you checked Guthook's elevation profile for the ten-mile hike back to camp, but the hiker math doesn't check out. You picked up your pack and continued walking forward. That was the moment when you lost focus on the ground and rolled your ankle on … nothing. There was nothing there. You just forgot how to walk for a second. You screamed and cursed to push back against the flash of pain.
You wondered what you were doing out there. We invented air conditioning and couches. Why would anyone do this? Why are you putting yourself through this torture? And then, just as you thought of going home, dark clouds rolled in, and seconds later, the skies opened to unleash a downpour. The thought of your nearly dry socks becoming self-contained puddles again is almost enough to make you cry. I take that back; we both know you cried.
It's one of those days that will break you if you don't have that one weapon wielded by the hiking elite.
Backpackers endure misery by choice. We invite it. It's what we call Type-2 fun, and most people call insanity. At face value, it's an activity that any sensible person would want to avoid. But not backpackers — and certainly not the ones who can successfully thru-hike.
Long-distance hikers finish trails because of that weapon that differentiates them from those who never try and those who try but fail. We too bitch and moan, scream and curse, and pray it all ends. But before the frustration breaks us, we look up at the sky, offer a defiant smile to the hiking gods, and laugh.
To experience pure joy, you must be in a situation that also allows for pure misery. You cannot have one without the other. The mundane life cannot provide those extremes because the ordinary is predictable. Do you want the memory of maintaining eye contact with a day hiker while squatting over a cat hole and then laughing with your friends about it until everyone is crying? If so, you must also be the person who had a sudden and urgent need to run off trail and frantically dig that cat hole. You must also be the person who unhooked their sternum and shoulder straps mid-stride but forgot about the hip belt. Finally, you must also be the person who only made it a few yards before you had no choice but to start digging.
Those memories carry over and last a lifetime. The views are great, but it's the laughter with our friends that we miss the most when we leave the trail. It's the reason retired athletes say they miss the locker room more than the game. It's the laughter and camaraderie that you can only obtain when you strip away everything else and are with a few friends who can relate.
Relatable is a word you read a lot in comment sections if you follow a meme page. It means, "I feel this!" or "Yes! This happened to me!" It implies that the post had that special thing that made you remember a moment. Whether you realized it or not, the meme allowed you to relive it and reconnect to the trail.
When I created the @hiker_royalty Instagram account, it wasn't because I wanted to amass followers. It certainly wasn't because I imagined sponsored meme contests or even all the new people I would connect with from around the world. At the time, the simple truth was that I didn't realize how much I missed the trail. I was craving the joy as well as the misery. I needed it to be a part of my life again, even if it was only for a moment.
Three months after completing my thru-hike, I was swiping through Instagram and scrolled onto a picture of Mufasa talking to Simba on Pride Rock. I immediately thought to myself, "I bet he's telling Simba that the 0.6-mile side trail to the viewpoint isn't worth it." For those few seconds, I wasn't on my couch. I was back on trail with the people I'd come to love like family. In that moment, I remembered.
So, I made a meme.