I was lost. The foliage was extremely beautiful yet devastatingly unhelpful in telling me where I was. How had I managed to make a wrong turn? I’d been on this trail so many times. I was in Seoraksan National Park, about a two-hour drive from the high-speed crowds of Seoul. The name roughly means “colossal snowy mountains” – the kind that command awe of their sublime stature. But to me, they felt like home.
While South Korea was a foreign country to me, a temporary place to stay for work, I would come to these mountains to hike the same few trails, comprised mostly of rocky steps, several times a year. It became a comforting place to clear my mind, and whenever I had to make a big decision, I inevitably found myself saying, “It’s been a while since I went to Seoraksan.”
Suddenly, Seoraksan felt appropriately intimidating and humbling. And then the very next thought arrived unbidden: “I’d better enjoy this. I won’t be back for a long time”
This time I was with two friends, but even with company, it was easy to fall under the heady hypnosis of my own pace. My feet carried me with the confidence of muscle memory, and all the while my mind was running through an anxious oscillation of a life-altering conundrum: “Should I move back to the US? Should I stay here?” I made and remade mental lists but there were no answers. Both choices were attractive and unattractive in equal amounts. They were just two diverging paths.
Caught up in this dilemma, I’d rushed past all the signposts – ones I thought I didn’t need anyway. Eventually, I slowed down and took a breather to survey my surroundings. It gave me real pause, because the view seemed more panoramic than I remembered. I felt that I could clearly trace the line of every crack and fissure that made up the craggy shape of the mountains. Suddenly, Seoraksan didn’t feel like home at all. It felt appropriately intimidating and humbling. And then the very next thought arrived unbidden: “I’d better enjoy this. I won’t be back for a long time.”
I wasn’t lost for much more than 20 minutes. Retracing my steps, I soon found the right way and met up with my friends again. Sometimes we travel for the familiar, but I was being naïve. You can never really know the mountains; that’s part of their awesome nature. But people are different in that way – just when I think I know nothing about myself, I realize exactly where I am.