[pct-l] Hiker trash lifestyle

Jeffrey Olson jolson at olc.edu
Sat Sep 6 18:29:56 CDT 2008

I must admit I want to move into the hiker trash lifestyle.  In May of 
1973 I graduated from college six days before my 21st birthday.  I 
couldn't legally drink while in college.  I got a 66 VW camper in June, 
1973, and spent the next couple years living from place to place, party 
to party.  My base of operations was the bay area, but I spent time in 
Boston  and Kansas City.  I always knew I'd go to grad school and "get a 
real career." 

I think I missed an opportunity back in the 70s - my 20s.  I had no 
driving purpose that coalesced what meaning there was in my life.  I was 
a product of the 60s, growing up in the bay area, being 16 years old 
when I discovered the Dead and Airplane and Quicksilver and Hot Tuna.  I 
lived from one party to the next, one woman to the next, and as I got 
older, they were fewer and fewer.  There was all this turmoil - the 
Vietnam War, Nixon and his resignation, the onslaught of Punk. 

If I'd've been aware of the hiker trash lifestyle, as well as it's 
defined right now, in 2008, I think I would have found my purpose in 
life, or at least for my youth.  I might not have gone on for the MSW at 
39, and finished my PhD at 49.  The hiker trash lifestyle has an elegant 
coherence that I think scares most of my peers - parents and 
grandparents of today's 20 somethings.  To attempt a long distance hike, 
and complete a major part, if not the whole thing, is life-changing. 

It is easier when 23 to hike a long trail than 33 or 43 or 53.  I say 
that because to even contemplate the possibility means that something is 
"off track."  It is expected that a 23 year old will spend some time 
off-track.  Most boomer parents had at least a fleeting thought, if not 
a year or two, where they indulged in an alternative lifestyle or set of 
goals and objectives - that now seems "off-track." 

The power of the lowest common denominator for us is incredibly 
powerful, and mostly invisible.  At 56 I am in a social position where 
it is part of my job to think about, talk about, and critique our 
social, unconscious allegiance to the lowest common denominator.  I 
won't go into what the lowest common denominator is - I think that it's 
pretty obvious for most on this list.  That said, I've looked back 
enough to know what I want to do before I am unable to do it - hike... 

The hiker trash lifestyle is incredibly attractive.  In my mind it's 
pretty close to the life I lived out of my bus in the early 70s - lots 
of free time, time to think, time to meet other people, time to meet 
"the" woman, time to spend to think, meet other people, and be open to 
finding the love of my life...

It's a lifestyle that has a center.  Whether 23 or 53, the center is the 
same.  The call is "being-on-the-trail."  The reality is living life to 
support being-on-the-trail.  The center isn't necessarily balanced or 
harmonious or healthy.  But its a center.  One foot in front of the 
other.  For day after day, week after week, month after month.  That I'm 
a little quirky and my social persona is a little rough is just part of 
the lifestyle.  I'm constantly trying to juggle the illusory, perhaps 
bullshit straight world with the hiker trash world of being-real and 
really, really present. 

I know which is most real for me - the hiker trash world.  Go back and 
read Paul Magnanti's thoughts on his long-distance hiking experiences.  
His words are nicely evocative and chordal. 


I think the bottom line is that the hiker trash lifestyle is far more 
satisfying for a couple years than avoiding it and slipping into the 
world of the lowest common denominator.  Even if each of us knows we 
can't do it every year for the rest of our lives, we know that if we 
don't do it for a couple years, don't follow the call, don't hike, we'll 
get fat and lazy and stupid.  TRUTH...  Skittles...  You're a writer. 

I'd love to hear the stories of hikers who've lived the hiker trash 
lifestyle for a couple years and what you did when you re-entered the 
straight, bullshit world.  How did you - how do you make it mean anything? 

Jeffrey Olson  (Jeff, just Jeff, said to the cadence of "Bond, James Bond.)
Martin, SD, 

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