Thru hiking: a Hedonic Reset


Lifestyle inflation is often insidious.  Events like entering the workforce, receiving bonuses, and getting promoted come with infusions of extra cash, and there are so many ways to spend it.  Increased spending may be driven by social expectations, by changing life circumstances, or simply by opportunity to purchase.  Lifestyle inflation isn't necessarily bad - you may up your housing expenses to meet the needs of your growing family, or to reduce your time wasted commuting.  However, if your spending always creeps to match your income, you won't make much progress in saving for long term goals.  Lifestyle creep does double damage to the pursuit of financial independence by also increasing the amount of money you need to support yourself long term.   Closely tied to lifestyle inflation is the concept of hedonic adaptation, in which new things and experiences that initially bring us pleasure quickly become normal.  Chasing the temporary high of a new shiny thing on a regular basis requires gradual escalation, and often increasing expense.  If we 're always chasing bigger, newer, more expensive things, we'll spend more money with progressively less return in happiness. 

For me, thru hiking has been the ultimate hedonic reset.  I go from a comfortable urban existence to a life stripped down to its essentials, every possession carefully considered and fit into a small pack.  I have only intermittent and fleeting access to fresh foods, hot showers, and comfortable beds.  Experiencing this voluntary deprivation turns the things that I take for granted into luxuries.  On desert hikes, I've had to travel up to 40 miles between sources of water.  2.2 lbs per liter may not sound like much, but it adds up quickly on your back.  I have to ration carefully, balancing the need for hydration with the extra weight of every liter slowing me down.  When I do finally reach that next source, it's often an algae-choked tepid cow trough from which I laboriously filter my next ration of water.  After a few days or weeks of this, returning to civilization and getting fresh, drinkable water on demand from the tap seems like an incredible luxury.    Although readjusting to modern comforts after a hike takes little time, the experience has helped me evaluate what's important and try out of the box ways of saving money.  This was a big factor in my choice to live in an RV after hiking the PCT.   I'd just spent 4 of the happiest months of my life living out of a 27 square foot tent - a ~350 square foot trailer was a big step up in comfort!

The voluntary nature of deprivation while thru hiking and the general sense of happiness and well being that I experience  are important.  Knowing that I am choosing the struggle helps maintain a sense of perspective and responsibility for my own attitude.   It's easy to react with pessimism and internal negativity to external circumstances.  On a thru hike, it's abundantly clear that many of the negative things we encounter are either intrinsic to the experience (like foot pain from walking 2,000 miles) or entirely outside our control (like extended bad weather or forest fires).  Sometimes your attitude is the only thing that can be changed, and while this sounds like a tired clich√©, embracing it has made my life better.  My last 3 days of the PCT were objectively a pretty miserable experience.  Forest fires and a tight timeline to finish had separated me from my friends and a cold front had hit northern Washington.  It was just above freezing and either raining or snowing constantly, I saw nobody for 72 hours, and I chose a bad campsite on my last night, leading to a flooded tent and soaked, frigid gear.  As I soldiered through the final miles with tired legs and numb fingers, I was able to reflect on my hike and accept that my current discomfort was temporary and largely outside my control.  I'd chosen this life for a few months and was still grateful to have had the opportunity to make this trek.  While I was ready to return to the world of hot showers and sleeping in beds for a while, I knew that there would be more long hikes in my future.  Having the opportunity to simply walk and think for months on end gives plenty of space to contemplate what does bring happiness on trail and in life.  I love thru hiking for the sense of community and camaraderie with the people around me, for giving me a simple goal that requires hard work to attain, and for the opportunity to be physically active and in nature for many hours per day.  It's the ultimate slow travel, watching landscapes change at the pace of 3 miles per hour. 

It's spring, and time to shed the excess trappings of normal life for a few months in the woods.  In a few weeks I head to Springer Mountain to hike the Appalachian trail.  I'll spend 4 months being dirty, tired, hungry, and inexplicably happy.   The Adventure Budget has a small number of future posts lined up, with more to follow from the other side of Mt. Katahdin. 

My 14 oz tiny home


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