The Beginner’s Mind on a Through-Hike

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The Beginner’s Mind on a Through-Hike

By: Arielle Parris

“The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless.” – Shunryu Suzuki

A year ago I was frantically planning for the Pacific Crest Trail: a trail that spans the length of the United States, 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. I had never done a through-hike. I had never carried more than three days of food at a time. I had never hiked more than 23 miles in a day (and that one time was terrible!). But I had dreamed of doing the whole hike for three years, and my start date was fast approaching.

The one thing I had in my arsenal to keep me from becoming too worried about my lack of know-how was a previous trip. I bicycled across the country four years ago, and knew that the only way to train for an endurance trip of such great magnitude was to start. Learning about the trip happens as you are doing the trip.

That idea proved correct. As I started walking, I started learning. As I started making mistakes, I started forgiving myself. I had no idea that wool socks would make my feet blister, and so I simply changed my socks. I had no idea that the food I chose wouldn’t taste good on trail, so I picked new food. I had no idea that 14 miles would be all I could walk at first, so I hiked shorter distances than planned.

I learned to listen to my body and to be kind to it. I learned that I was much smaller in the world than I had realized, and one footstep could turn into a great distance over time. I learned that my heart could expand to love the entire universe while watching one sunrise. I learned that I could cry because I was so happy. I learned that I could feel compassion for others because I had compassion for myself.

Being a beginner allowed me to let go of all sorts of preconceived notions and live in the present moment. Being a beginner made it okay to be wrong. Being a beginner allowed me to feel love for myself and for the rest of the world. And being a beginner caused the boundaries of the possible to break.

Now, one year later, I am sitting in the same coffee shop in Seattle where I sat while planning for the Pacific Crest Trail. I have completed a through-hike. I have carried 11 days’ worth of food. I have hiked 40 miles in a day. I have made my dream a reality.

And yet, I am still a beginner. I am dreaming of my next big trip: a through-hike of the Continental Divide Trail, a trail that spans 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico through even tougher terrain. I have never had to use maps and a compass to find my way without a trail. I have never dealt with avalanche conditions. I have never tried to drink water ruined by cow patties.

But I know I will learn how to do all of that and more on trail. I know it is okay to be a beginner. I know that compassion follows. And I know that the possibilities are endless.




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