Children Wandering in the Wilderness
Now that I’m past the 2/3s mark, past 1500 miles, and almost to the final quarter, I have taken a lot of time reflecting on how I interact with the Trail and the people on it. I’ve also been out here long enough to confront the things I’ve done and left undone from my career in the Army. Walking in the wilderness has been critical to that transition. I hope to finish these by next few hundred miles with that weight out of my pack and a better sense of wonder as we move into autumn…but hopefully not too far into winter.
Trails R Us: Where a Kid can be a Kid
There is a lot of adulting that goes on during an AT thru-hike, and there should be. It can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. It can be dangerous if you ARE prepared! You are responsible for your own safety and welfare, so you need to be able to plan and forecast, kind of responsible person attributes. But what if we approached daily hiking and our interactions in a more childlike way?
Children have a great way of being honest and displaying wonder when they see new things…things that we see as common. I’ve started actively trying to appreciate the common things I experience on the Trail. The crunching leaves. The dew on the grass. Squirrels. Finding fun in a creek crossing. Eating candy every day whenever you want.
Maybe approaching the experiences, good and bad, with a child-like sense of newness and adventure our overall attitude would be better. Why do we get upset at a creek fording when as kids we used to run in the creeks? OK, I’ll grant that the raging torrents are not the time to act like a kid. But splashing in puddles used to be fun! Looking at the stars with wonder at the expanse of the universe.
We can approach our interactions with people as children, too. Kids are honest, open-minded and can be very empathetic. The only person to ask me why I’m hiking was a 12 year old. I think we could learn more from others if we approached the initial encounter with people like a child. Be more curious and less of an expert.
Some of you may know where this concept comes from. Others maybe are unfamiliar. It comes from Mark 10:15 when Jesus says to the disciples, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” For me, the AT is about as close as you can get to heaven on earth. I honestly enjoy the parts people claim to loathe like the “green tunnel” or “Rocksylvannia”. If you come out here for long enough, the AT will have a spiritual impact on you…if you let it. Act like an adult, fight the AT, and second guess everything along the way is the path to missing the point of a long hike. Start every day with surprise and wonder and this place will change your life.
Healing in the Wilderness
I started hiking the AT almost 4 months ago with the intention of decompressing from the Army. I’m probably most of the way there, and it took 3 months. There is something about being outside for a long time that can be therapeutic. You can minimize distractions. Certainly carrying everything you have forces you to consider what you really need. At the end of the day, it ain’t much! Why carry extra weight?
I have done a lot of thinking about things I have done and left undone, intentional or by accident. A good friend of mine suggested that for many of these scenarios I’m likely being too hard on myself, and he’s probably right. That’s all in the past, and we make bigger deals of our “mistakes” than others do. Time in the wilderness has allowed me the quiet solitude to reflect on my actions and positively decide how I will be better moving forward. Without the months outside, in the cold or heat, rain or dust, windy or still, I would have missed the opportunity to consider the past and would still be carrying that weight. But I dropped it somewhere in the Shenandoahs. My pack is lighter, only carrying what I need for the rest of life’s journey.
The Bible is filled with many accounts of people going into the Wilderness for various reasons. In all accounts (at least the ones I’m familiar with), the journey is difficult, but they all come out better people.
Since basically day one of this trip, I have been hiking almost always alone. There are usually people around, but we are not hiking together. For the first time since New Hampshire, I can say I’m hiking with a small group of SOBOs. I’m glad I found this group! Really quality guys with a similar outlook on the Trail experience. “Step” started out as a thru-hiker but is now supporting SOBOs with pancakes, coffee, snacks, and shuttles. Maybe more importantly, he provides emotional support, too. Great guys along the last few hundred miles!
Virginia! What an absolutely beautiful state! It’s been a little dry, making water collection difficult, but the weather has been amazing and the views gorgeous. I’m just going to post a bunch of pictures below as evidence.
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