All Around Us…..

One of the things that has been both surprising and pleasant now that I’ve been telling people about Ian’s and my plan to hike the AT is that I’ve found out that there are a lot of really interesting people around me, often where I least expect. I imagine some of the reason this is happening is that maybe I’m now more sensitive and aware of people who have had big adventures. I think the other is that when you share your plans, people are more willing to open up and share their adventure and their dreams with you.

I already mentioned meeting two thru-hikers – one in an AMC hut (OK, maybe that was to be expected) and one in an art frame store (definitely not expected). At the beginning of November I was on one of my scout troop’s monthly camping trips and met another individual with an extraordinary tale.

I already knew this person. Willy is a scout leader in another troop and was at summer camp last year at the same time as my troop. I already knew he was an extraordinary individual in that he had helped establish a new troop in an inner city neighborhood. He wanted to make a difference and to do it in a place where there was unlikely to be any other opportunity or support. Most suburban towns have a scout troop or two, and a wealth of volunteers. It’s sometimes harder to find the committed volunteer leadership in less economically advantaged neighborhoods. Anyway, Willy was there at summer camp with a group of new scouts from his young and growing troop, and I was very impressed with his commitment and dedication.

Then this month, my troop was out camping and we were taking a hike through the woods. As we walked down the trail we were following, we ran into Willy and his troop, who by chance were camping in the same area. We spent a little time at each other’s campsites talking about our experiences and our plans.

I mentioned to Willy that Ian and I were planning to do the AT in 2015. Lo and behold, it turns out that Willy did a hike of his own – but one that definitely was different from the usual. He hiked from Kentucky to Massachusetts, doing a lot of road walking, and carving out his own route. When I asked him why he started in Kentucky, he said, “that’s where I’m from, where my family is.” When I asked him why he came to Massachusetts, he said, “I didn’t know that was where I was headed, but when I got here, this is where God told me to stop and this was where I needed be and what I needed to do.” I started seeing him in a whole new light.

Willy did several thousand miles of walking, on his own route, with only his dog for company. He knocked on doors when it got dark and asked permission to set his tent up in someone’s yard. Sometimes people were less friendly and chased him off, but others reached out and helped him out – usually when least expected and most needed. I’ve read stories and watched documentaries about the AT “trail angels”. I always thought of it as something that was kind of an established practice because of the AT. It was inspiring to see that “angels” are not limited to the AT. In fact, its good to know how much you can depend on your fellow man wherever you are – even when you are off the beaten path.

Willy gave me one more piece of advice that I am going to take to heart. He said that I shouldn’t spend too much time focusing on the ultimate destination, that it was important to take things one day at a time. He said that when you are down and discouraged, that’s not the time to think that you have four more months to go or a thousand more miles to walk. That kind of thinking only helps to magnify the discouragement If you take each day as it comes and focus on that next step – that next mile – you are less likely to get overwhelmed. I think this is what Ian calls this “the Dory Principle” (from the movie Finding Nemo – “Just keep swimmin’ Just keep swimmin’…”).

I know Ian and I have picked the AT as our particular challenge. We are really looking forward to meeting our fellow hikers and becoming acquainted with the trail community. We’ve heard wonderful things about it. My conversation with Willy helped to indicate that that sense of community and awesome people are all around us – all the time. All you have to do is look and ask. Now that I’ve started to notice, I’m going to keep looking and keep asking.

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