Appalachian Trail Emotional Cairns along the Trail

Every introduction needs an intro.

Before I introduce myself and talk about the motivations behind my 2019 Appalachian Trail thru-hike attempt, I will start with a deep reflection about the Appalachian Trail and the hikers who once walked its long miles. I will examine and pay tribute to not only the trail’s wilderness splendor, it’s mind-boggling distance and construction marvels, but pay homage to the sacred emotional cairns left along its vast expanse.

Appalachian Trail Emotional Cairns

During my much-needed shakedown hikes among the trees with white paint swatches along Georgia’s AT section, I scrutinize the long-distance trail yawning before my tired legs as a sacred monument to previous hikers; their spent emotions, cultivated sentiments born of the trail, and life-changing experiences.  For nearly a century, hikers trudged by foot along the green-tunneled wilderness path, each special journey, individual hiker, and motivations unique, yet their collective similarities coalescing the travelers into a tight-knit community. Throughout countless gut-checked journeys; mental anguishes, exposed war wounds, the rebuilding of lives, first steps to a stronger self, self-discovery, painful injuries, suicides, deaths, the birth of dreams, new loves, and yes, the end of aspirations mark every inch of the sacred trail.

One cannot help but be drawn to the landscapes of mountains and trees as we meander its miles, and believe they bore witness and recorded within their eternal energy the screams of hikers in different forms of pain or feral howls of pure joy. The cold, bubbling springs tumbling from hilltops washed away tears of disappointment and sorrow while dry summer dust soaked up the beads of sweat from triumphant hikers reaching their goals. The precious land lovingly maintained by various parks and trail clubs, not only memorialize successful thru-hikes but the rocks seem to cradle imprinted energy from broken hearts of failed thru-hikes and also reborn delight from reconnecting with the wilderness and humanity.

It is effortless to get caught up in how many miles one can cram in one hour, the monotony of camp chores, and the tedium of dealing with life on the trail. The rinse and repeat routine can lull one’s senses into mindless motion. However, when you trip over a root, slip on loose gravel or groan in the bone-chilling rain, take a moment to think about the hikers before you and what burdens and pain they cast to the trail. We are all interconnected in the glorious thing called the human family. Each hiker starts a thru-hike with a reason, a cause, demons to address, a past to reconcile, a charity to support, or the desire to do more in life. Take a moment to reflect on the lives and hikes rebuilt by the support from the hiking community, trail angles, and uplifting moments from Mother Nature herself.

It is humbling to think about the invisible Appalachian Trail emotional cairn left along the way, and it is with great pride and courage I gently place mine upon the pile in two months, paying tribute to those underneath mine. Isaac Newton once said, “”We see further when standing on the shoulders of giants”. Us thru-hiker aspirants look to the giants of previous thru-hikes. Next up, read about my own motivations and reasons to hike the Appalachian Trail on 2/10/2019.


Appalachian trail emotional cairns


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Comments 3

  • TicTac : Dec 1st

    In the first sentence of your post you said: “I am sure “Appalachian Trail emotional cairns” is an intriguing title, but I will explain.”
    I have read and re-read your post looking for the promised explanation of your term: “emotional cairns” but am still baffled. Is it possible you mean the emotional cairns are purely metaphorical?
    And later in your post you said: “We are all but giants standing upon the backs of others, even when we try to join the ranks of thru-hikers. ” I will suggest alternatively that we (thru-hiker aspirants) are merely peons standing unsteadily upon the backs of giants, endeavoring to join the ranks of thru-hikers.

    • Michele "Artemis" Rosa : Dec 1st

      I clarified the “giant” sentence to reflect more of the quote from Isaac Newton as his meaning reflects mine. Standing on the back of a giant is the giant lifting up those who want to be giants…giving a lift to others not quite giants. The word “peon” would only inflame the “us vs them” (thru-hiker vs the rest) mentality. I want inclusively lift up others. Thank you for reading and great feedback!

  • Nadine : Dec 16th

    Michele —
    You’ve got this! I’m 51, single mom of three teen girls (youngest is 12). My dream is to thru hike the AT. Posts like yours are gold nuggets in my pouch of inspiration!
    I haven’t read everything you’ve written on the Trek, but plan to when I have time. Your husbands words to you (in another post, when he was washing the car) brought tears to my eyes. How generous his support of what you need to do! You’re a lucky lady!
    I’m not correcting or analyzing your words, but Words are powerful, as you know. When you write about your “thru hike attempt”…I wanna read about your upcoming thru hike, sans “attempt”. Bc YOU WILL SUMMIT KATAHDIN! Look at all that you’ve already done in your short life! Take your time. Be safe. Celebrate every summit like that first one! Hike and hike and hike. Much love and strength to you and your family!


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