When it comes to trouble on the trail, there are two choices: Be upset or deal with it. You can plan a lot of things on the trail and then there is the unexpected. In other words, Life.
Our two cans of fuel did not arrive with our resupply. We could survive on beef jerky and trail mix for a few more days if we had to, but we’d already grown tired of these foods and we were eager to dive into the new varieties of dehydrated dinners that were jammed into our bear cans. Had this been our first resupply, it is likely that we would have defaulted to our “traditional” responses- to be upset, panic, angry, wonder what in the world we were going to do. But the trail strengthens you in unexpected ways. It strengthens your body, your mind, your resolve. Having experienced the trail magic and generosity surrounding the pinworm saga, both Paul and I felt confident that we could get the support that we needed on the trail when it came to a lack of fuel.
Within minutes of departing from our mule-facilitated resupply, we encountered two hikers who appeared to have been on the trail for several weeks. We told them about our lack of fuel and they immediately handed over a half-full fuel container. Perhaps it was their compassion and intrigue around a 6-year old hiking the JMT, but I like to think that they would have handed over the fuel anyway. People like to be generous. It fuels the heart and the soul.
Over the course of the next two days, we collected 2 more fuel canisters from fellow hikers and given the fact that we were ahead of schedule, we now had enough fuel to keep us going for the remainder of the trip. We wanted to extend this generosity to others and found ourselves offering extra food to fellow hikers who had tried furiously to pack 10-days worth of food into one bear canister- unsuccessfully. The barter system is alive and well on the trail. Sara found herself the happy recipient of candy bars, electrolyte chews, jolly ranchers and extra jelly beans. People were delighted to give her treats on the trail in exchange for nothing more than a gap-toothed smile.
These mini-crises on the trail offer the amazing opportunity to connect with others. Talking with other people, asking for help, hearing their own stories. These are the moments that connect us to each other, that allow us to see ourselves in their eyes, to know others more intimately. In our regular lives, we so rarely ask for help. Vulnerability is not a characteristic that we show in abundance. Our lives often revolve around being self-sufficient, fighting uphill battles alone and forgetting that the world is ready to offer its support if we let it. The trail is the great equalizer. Unexpected things happen all the time, often forcing us to shift course, adjust and come up with a new plan. And we cannot do it alone. When we open ourselves to the help and support of others, unexpected things happen. Human connections are forged, trail friendships evolve and suddenly we become aware that we are not, nor have we ever been, alone.