When I began the trail, I knew that I would miss the regular physical contact that I had with people in sedentary life. Everything from high fives, fist bumps, hugs, and handshakes – I would miss it all. Little did I know how strange and how hard it would be to feel love without that simple physical contact. Disclaimer – you might want to read up on the 5 love languages if you’re slightly confused about what I am talking about.
A simple Google search should suffice. While on trail, besides ticks and bears, the thing that hikers fear most is Norovirus – imagine having a stomach bug for three days and not being able to eat anything while losing it all. Being a virus, it is spread through human contact with anyone or anything that is infected or has come into contact with it. For this reason, among others, you don’t shake hands, high five, fist bump, give hugs, and you make sure to actively avoid contact if possible. Being someone who feels love through those simple interactions, it was so strange for me to not shake people’s hands when I met them or to congratulate people with hugs or high fives.
It felt was as though I was being isolated from people even though I was in close proximity with them every day. The good news is that physical contact isn’t the only love language. I found myself trying to love others and to be loved in ways that were not my primary languages. Whenever someone did trail magic, not only did I feel overjoyed, but there was a deeper sense of appreciation and gratitude that made me feel cared for and loved. If someone threw my bear line for me, I would feel the same thing – something deeper than service and gifts.
I see how the other love languages are more active in my life and think about how the trail isn’t just teaching my legs how to do big miles, or my brain to spend time in silence and though, but that it is changing me. It is changing the way that I can be loved and how I can adapt to be loved in almost every situation. As someone wise once wrote, “these three remain – faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love”.