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.
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