One Year Later

Last Wednesday, August 22, marked my one year anniversary of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. 

In it of itself, that is maybe worthy of a Facebook status.  This post is dedicated to reflecting on where my life, or more accurately, my mindset, has since gone.

I’m Back

When Michael Jordan made this proclamation in 1995, it was without question the two sweetest words any Chicago Bulls fan could possibly hear (and equally as bitter for the other 29 teams – suck it Karl Malone/Patrick Ewing/Reggie Miller/Shawn Kemp).

When I say I’m back, I mean it in the – holy fuck what kind of routine have I fallen into – sort of way.  When I say I’m back, I mean I’m back to working 60+ hour weeks.  I’m back to living in my inbox.  I’m back to sweating the bullshit – the same person who actively acknowledged that everything is the bullshit.

I knew I wanted to write this post – although I hadn’t a clue about which direction to take it (disclosure: that’s my usual formula).  Just before I sat down to open up the faucet of thoughts, my earbuds (which were attached to my iPhone) snagged onto my belt and subsequently yanked my phone onto my bedroom’s hardwood floor and smashed the screen into 100 pieces.  This was after a full day of mundane, administrative tasks and thankless chores (commonly referred to as “headaches”).  Needless to say, if there was a face within arm’s reach, it would have been punched.  The shattered iFriend coupled with the carousel of task oriented thoughts began pushing my internal PSI near the “WE’LL DO IT LIVE” meltdown zone.

It then occurred to me, if you were to take a Polaroid of the August 22, 2012 Zach Davis and contrast it to the 2011 version, it’s clear that much has changed, and I’m not just referring to the majestic fire beard.  The serene, unshakable, and eternally optimistic Badger has been replaced with his easily annoyed twin.

The trail hasn’t bestowed me with the gift of unconditional and unwavering joy.  But it has offered me a worthy consolation: perspective.

When confronted with a challenging day, the pre-trail Good Badger believed that life’s events were out to get him, or at the very least, were unfolding unfavorably.  Like magnets, bad events would seem to attract one another until I was a moving manifestation of Murphy’s Law.  The mental radio was playing 40 stations at once, gradually building into a cacophony of angry static.  And that angry static was the medium through which life was observed.

Today the angry static still has a way of finding this radio, but unlike before, I’ve located the “off” switch.  I’ve learned that life isn’t the DJ; I’m the one laying down the tracks.  And the only way to change the song is to stop singing along, but instead listen objectively.  The space between the radio and the radiohead is the happy medium.

To un-radio-metaphor the above: life doesn’t cause your unhappiness, you do.  My iPhone shattered and immediately my internal monolog responded with, “FFFUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCKKKKK WHY FUCK SHIT FUCK NO SHIT NO FUCK WHY”.  After the mini-internal tantrum, however, I was able to remind myself, that 1) it’s not my health (other than perhaps a slight myocardial infarction) 2) it’s not the health of a loved one, and 3) I HAVE AN IPHONE TO BREAK.  The screen on my pocket laptop is now a little harder to read.  They’re called White People Problems because they’re not real problems.  Nobody should feel bad about my smashed iPhone display, myself included.

The moral of the story is that my greatest take away from the trail – that real happiness is a mindset, not a set of conditions – is occasionally forgotten.  I still get pulled into my own bullshit factory.  But unlike before, I now have the road-map to find my way out.  And although it may take a bit to discover that I’ve strayed, this GPS is shatter-proof.


Sidenote: I will be speaking at the REI in Charlotte, NC next week.  If you can, come say hello.

  • Pam

    I don’t even know you and I like you.  Great post.  Great perspective.  Congratulations on figuring it all out!

  • Jwilson487

    Hey Badger,
    Fuck work and go hiking!  Just a thought from your good friend MoFo!

  • Such a seemingly profound moment could have all been prevented at the cost of a $12 iPhone case 😉 There’s a universe out there where Zach wrote an entirely different post! 

  • The strange part was that I did have a case.  It’s not the heavy armor of an otterbox, but a case none the less.  This is the same phone that made it through rain, sleet, and hail on the AT and has been dropped on the same hardwood floor no fewer than 15 times. 

    It’s time had come….

  • I always like where you’re head is at MoFo.

  • I have very in life figured out (I can make a pretty mean omlet).  But regardless, thank you Pam.  I like you too. 

  • Zach, I have a friend who has said the same thing for years.  He had a mentor that he would meet with every Monday morning at 6am to share breakfast and some thoughts on the week to come.  At one of those meetings my friend rifled off 15 “problems” and his mentor responded with the simple question “How many of those could be solved with just a bit more money?”.  My friend replied that all could.  His mentor then replied with “Then, you have no problems”.

    I’ve held onto that for years and shared the story hundreds of times.  It’s one of the places I find perspective.

    Great post Zach.

  • Great story Tim.  Those subtle reminders are often all it takes to regain perspective.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Guido Schüffelgen

    Nice to read something from you again.

  • Guido Schüffelgen

    I think i missed it: When do you do the PCT? Next year? 

  • Guido Schüffelgen

    I think i missed it: When do you do the PCT? Next year? 
    Nice to read something from you again.


  • Brad

    Times like this, you should go for a walk. 😉 

  • Seamus Roberts

    I stumbled upon your blog while ravenously consuming info about The Trail. It’s always a pleasure to come across fantabulous writing in unexpected places. I’m willing to bet that your sense of humor saved your ass many times on The AT. I’m currently in the very early stages of planning my own thru-hike. I have no idea how I’m going to pull it off financially, but I’m going to give it all I got. Part of me thinks it can’t come soon enough and part of me realizes that the sooner it happens, the sooner it’ll be over. In the meantime I’ll totally make your book part of my How to Survive The Trail library. Cheers and happy hiking!

  • Thanks for the kind words, Seamus. A sense of humor on the trail certainly goes a long way. Laugh or cry; and there’s no crying in backpacking. Obviously that’s not true. Crying is awesome, but laughing is less embarrassing, even when laughing at yourself.

    “Part of me thinks it can’t come soon enough and part of me realizes that the sooner it happens, the sooner it’ll be over.”

    If the “it” that you’re referring to is an adventurous lifestyle, make it so it never ends. The AT is merely one venue for such a life 🙂

    Good luck on the Trail!

  • Senex

    I think that living and making a “pretty mean omelet” .might be walking down the same road together. Peace.

  • Jenny

    Wise words! I actually came across this while searching for an app that will help me discover events going on in my location. Reading about the author, I was then intrigued that you have hiked the AT. I am a nurse about to move to Boston on a travel assignment and have plans to thru-hike in 2015! Super excited! Glad I “ran” into you, I’ll have to check out your book! 🙂

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