Something felt off. My instincts tugged at me, urging attention. Sure, I was on a trail, but was it the right one? Lost in thought, rehearsing a speech that might never come to pass, reality hit me like a left hook. A quick glance at my GPS confirmed my suspicions—I had missed a left turn two miles back. The logical choice would have been to swallow my pride, turn back, cover the extra distance, and return to the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). But, as a thru-hiker, I was notorious for avoiding extra miles like the plague.

Why? Because, let's face it, thru-hikers are lazy shits. So, in this moment of being "lost," I made the impulsive decision to venture even further off course. Time to take a left and bushwhack through the dense, quaking aspen and conifers. Time to figure it out on the fly.

Just nine years ago, the idea of being lost in the dense woodlands of Montana—or any of America's vast wilderness, for that matter—would have been unimaginable to me. Back then, I was as citified as they come. I ran lively bars, drowned my sorrows in excess, grappled with relationships due to my depression and insecurities, and all too frequently questioned whether I had the strength to keep going.

Yet, here I stood, many years removed from those moments, feeling profoundly different, yet still lost. Despite my uncertainty, I pressed onward, holding tight to the hope that my chosen path would eventually converge with the actual course marked by dirt, rocks, and tangled roots I was meant to follow. Perhaps I should have harbored far less confidence in my supposed expertise as a mountain man. It would have been a moment to pause and question the wisdom of my impulsive decision, but there I was, forging forward, trusting in Mother Nature to guide me.

These exact moments were the ones my actual mother would worry about, voicing her concern with a weighty, 'I don't want to know.' It was during these instances that the sense of being lost took on a tangible and disquieting weight.

It's important to clarify that I don't embark on these off-the-beaten-path journeys lightly—or, shall I say, off the correct path. I veer in these directions with caution, a keen eye for detail, and a heightened sense of awareness. Not to mention, there's a whole lot of praying to Mother Nature to guide me safely. That prayer usually goes a little something like this: "Mama, I promise I don't think I'm bigger than your creation. I'm hoping you'll steer me in the right direction. I promise I'm trying to do good things with this hiking of mine..." and so on.

While being lost in the wilderness is certainly not something to take lightly, it doesn't compare to the profound sense of being lost I've experienced elsewhere. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, in the chaotic nightlife of bars, surrounded by friends and family who would've stopped everything to help me if I just had the courage to ask and admit that I was lost, I've felt far more deeply adrift. So, in these moments, far from the life I once led, I feel I’m never truly lost in the same way I once was.

As I ventured into the trail-less forest, my mind drifted to memories of past turbulence, and with a leap of faith, I plunged forward, aiming for what I hoped was the trail leading southward in the right direction.

Not long before embarking on this hike of the CDT, my father shared a story with me, one from the past that I have no recollection of whatsoever. As he recounted it, I could sense his discomfort, as if the memory itself was a weight he was hesitant to bear.

Late at night, the unexpected sound of the doorbell cuts through the silence, waking my father. Quickly throwing on his robe, he's filled with confusion and a growing sense of worry. As he moves towards the door, the air seems to thicken with unease. Peering through the clear glass, the sight of flashing lights and vague silhouettes adds to his concern. "Could something have happened to one of my boys?" he thinks, his heart racing with the possibility.

"Hello, Mr. Cody. We're here for a wellness check on your son Jesse. Is he home?" the officer asks. Convinced it was me he'd heard returning home not long ago, my father replies with a mix of relief and bewilderment, "Yes, yes, he's upstairs sleeping. Has he done something wrong?"

The officer then explained that they received a frantic call from a woman—the woman I was "dating" at the time, though the specifics elude me due to the haze of narcissism and heavy drinking that clouded that period of my life. The frequency of these incidents blurs them together in a regretful fog.

After calming a bit, she recounted the events to the dispatcher—the aftermath of our bar argument, all too familiar and distressing. As tensions escalated, I lost control, blurting out a desperate threat of suicide before fleeing, leaving her behind in a state of worry and panic. It was her call to the police that brought them to my childhood home, my father now confronting the officers in hopes of ensuring my safety.

When one of the officers requested to check upstairs, the details eluded me. In that moment, relying solely on my father's narrative, I found myself grappling with the uncertainty of what transpired upstairs. Regardless, past experiences had taught me the routine: any hint of self-harm meant a one-way trip to the hospital's psych ward for 24-hour observation. This wasn't my first unfortunate rodeo.

Perhaps the officer was a familiar face from my high school days or a friend of one of my older brothers. However, contrary to expectations, ending up in a psych ward was not my fate. Whether there was any conversation or if the officer, perhaps recognizing me, chose to show leniency upon finding me sound asleep, remains a mystery. It's conceivable they made a note of the encounter at headquarters, but for that night, the issue remained unaddressed. It wasn't until many years later, prompted by my father, that the incident resurfaced.

I'm unsure whether this moment was a cry for help or a deliberate attempt to upset and worry my partner. At that time in my life, my expressions of suicidal ideation took on various meanings. Most times, I felt claustrophobic, as if the walls were closing in on me from all sides. Pressed against these walls, I had never felt so lost. This sense of loss felt overwhelming, yet admitting it seemed impossible. I feared being ridiculed for my struggles with mental health. The truth is, this fear was unfounded, but my mind seized upon the feeling of being lost and used it to torment me. It whispered that there was no help for this loss; it was my destiny, my way of life, with no hope of finding direction elsewhere.

The woods, the trail, and the trek told me something differently. Escaping the confines of the bustling cities and their chaos, or perhaps my own chaos, and diving into the wilderness provided me with a challenging journey. It led me to discover my ability to manage these darkest of thoughts, which felt like a tornado spinning relentlessly in my head. Mother Nature, a therapist in her own right, broke me down to build me back up.

She believed in me long before I ever believed in myself. Continuously, she sent me signs, guiding me towards the surroundings where I belonged. She never relented in pointing me in the right direction until I found myself treading the first of many great trails of America.

Part of the deal was understanding that even in these surroundings where I belonged, I would still feel lost more often than not. That's the price of undergoing a complete breakdown of oneself to rebuild into the person you aspire to be. Once I made the leap into the journey of hiking, I soon found myself embracing the sense of being lost as an integral part of the experience. It planted the seed of understanding that there is no progress without wandering through pathless passages, without getting lost along the way.

These paths have been companions on my journey for several years now. Some are meticulously groomed, allowing me to traverse without the constant worry of veering off course. Others challenge me, demanding I earn my way back to what I consider ‘home.’

Yet, in the spirit of Bob Dylan’s documentary, I’ve come to embrace the concept of ‘No Direction Home.’ There’s a certain appeal in not having a fixed direction, in being lost, because sometimes, that’s precisely where I need to be. It’s in those moments of uncertainty and disorientation that I am stripped down to my core, only to be built back up with new layers, each one stronger and more resilient than the last. This cycle of being lost and found, of breaking down and rebuilding, has become a vital part of my journey, teaching me that the true path home isn’t always a physical one, but an ongoing process of self-discovery and growth.

As I emerged from the dense forest I had ventured into just an hour or so before, I found that I was not unscathed; the thick vegetation had left its mark on me in various ways. Cuts and scrapes adorned my legs from navigating through species like Devil's Club and Hawthornes. These were the scars of a morning lost in Montana.

I took a seat to remove countless hitchhikers, also known as stickseed, from my clothes—a timely and tedious task. After tackling the chore, I lay in the grass for another half hour, letting off steam from the ordeal. I found myself pondering whether turning back and retracing my steps to get back on the correct trail would have been less time-consuming and troublesome than my decision to embrace the ruggedness of being a 'man of the mountains.' Most likely, the answer would have been yes.

As I lingered by the side of the correct path, my moment of rest drew to a close. It was time to resume my journey southbound, inching ever closer to the US/Mexican border, still months away. A faint chuckle escaped my lips as I contemplated the many more moments of being lost that awaited me, along with the inevitable trials and tribulations.

But I had learned that being lost was not the end; it was a chance for transformation, for resilience. With each scrape and memory of past struggles, I had unearthed strength I never knew I possessed. And so, I embraced the future with open arms, ready to confront the challenge of venturing into the unknown, knowing that on the other side awaited illumination, wisdom, and a deeper understanding of myself.

Lost now signals not despair, but rather a journey always evolving towards clarity, enlightenment, and growth.

Link to Jesse's powerful episode on HTR: Lots of Layers

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