So often, we live our lives in relationship to our expectations. When life meets the expectations that we set, we experience a sense of synchronicity, a knowing that all is as we expected it to be. We create scenarios in our minds based on what we believe to be true and we often live ahead of ourselves in anticipation of the expectations that we seek.
And yet, life rarely presents itself in the ways that we create in our minds. On the trail, expectations become part of one’s daily conversation. Hikers traveling in opposite directions are eager to inform each other of what lies ahead. As we listen to these anecdotes, we prepare ourselves mentally for all that is to come, creating images in our minds to help us predict the unpredictable. Traveling Southbound, as we are, the passes only get bigger, higher and more dramatic. Tales of skinny catwalks with thousand foot drops, altitude sickness and long stretches of lose rock loom ahead of us, threatening to push us to our physical and psychological limits. We lay awake at night imagining ourselves laying breathless by the side of the trail or plummeting to our deaths over the edge of a sheer rock cliff.
Still, each day, presents itself with fresh eyes. When I allow myself to be present with what is actually happening, rather than what I imagine to be true, I am filled with wonder at how different each moment is from what I have come to expect it to be. We have become trail strong. We have our own truths. We climb the passes slowly, but steadily, stopping frequently for water, electrolytes and Jelly Bean breaks. We greet descending hikers letting us know that it is “not much farther” to the top, knowing that that is a nicety that we all tell each other in order to summon the strength to keep moving forward. We travel miles over switchbacks, baking in the hot Sierra sun and are greeted on the other side with breathtakingly expansive views stretching far into the horizon. Waterfalls beckon to us from Evolution Valley and granite domes sit like Kings alongside the trail, calling to us from thousands of years of history.
Allowing ourselves to see what is, rather than what might be, is a moment to moment to practice. And when we suspend our expectations, the truth of each moment can be spectacular. As we forge on towards our second resupply at Muir Trail Ranch, I allow myself to take in the sheer immensity of all that we are experiencing. Sara sets an aggressive downhill pace, with which I genuinely struggle to keep up. The trail stretches out for miles ahead of us after Selden Pass with endlessly blooming wildflowers flanking our trails and feet. Sara picks the different colors- purple, blue, yellow, pink, orange and white. She skips and sings as she collects flowers into small bouquets that she will later use to decorate our tent and campsite. In this moment, there are no expectations. Just this. Just now.
As we near Muir Trail Ranch, I am slowly pulled away from the moments in front of me and find myself once again living in the anticipatory halls of my mind. As with our first resupply, I am looking forward to new foods to add to our menu. I am eager to make contact with my friends and family, to let them all know that we are now two full days ahead of schedule and feeling strong. I compose text messages in my head that I imagine sending with pride. I make lists of things that I want to buy at the Muir Trail Ranch store to ease some of our trail cravings. I am so caught up in my anticipatory expectations of our second resupply, that I pay little attention to the hand-scribbled sign on the MTR trail marker that reads forebodingly, “Hikers not welcome, don’t bother.”
After the long, hot descent to Muir Trail Ranch, fueled mostly by our hopes and expectations, we finally arrive at the little resupply station to find…nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but certainly nothing that we were expecting. Muir Trail Ranch consists of one table, an awning, several hiker buckets where people dispose of things they no longer want, a “store” that sells fuel and Band-Aids and a horse stable, guarded protectively from bears by a mangy barn dog. No flush toilets, cell service or general store. No wedges of parmesan cheese that had filled my fantasies for miles. Muir Trail Ranch is in fact nothing more than what it actually is- a place for us to collect the resupply buckets that we had sent prior to starting our journey.
Expectations are the authors of our lives. We live our lives in relationship to those expectations. And when our reality fails to match those expectations, we suffer. Because Paul and I had built up so much hope for what we expected to find at Muir Trail Ranch, we both suffered an emotional letdown more painful than anything that we had yet experienced on the trail. We had waited for days to be able to make contact with our friends and families. We had talked about the supplies that we would replenish. Perhaps we’d even get a bottle of wine to celebrate our midway point. But in the end, what we got was the oatmeal, mashed potatoes and dehydrated beans that we had sent ahead of time, never knowing that by the time we arrived, we would give anything for something new.
Sara had no such expectations. So when we arrived at Muir Trail Ranch, she was delighted with the bags of discarded peanut M&Ms rescued from the hiker buckets. She was thrilled to meet fellow hikers who were frantically trying to fit another week’s worth of food into their bear canisters and who, like us, tossed foods they could no longer stand to eat anymore. She relished the shade under the awning and talked at length with an old lady who was visiting the ranch for her 30th year in a row. And that mangy barn dog? He turned out to be the highlight of her entire trip.