Everything was beautiful, and everything hurt
One might think that with 69 day of hiking I would have had plenty of time to think of how to best describe my initial 1/4 of the Appalachian Trail, and yet I am still unsure how to even begin. I keep falling back on a spin-off of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five quote “everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt”- the Appalachian Trail has been amazingly beautiful, but with its trials- at some point everything hurt.
Everything Was Beautiful
A boss had teased us before our departure that our walk would consist of going “oh, a tree! another tree! more trees!” and while I can’t argue that he was entirely wrong,the trail has been so much more than trees! Starting in Central Virginia in the spring made me fall in love with my home state again, we were graced with seeing a bald on our first day and the cool breeze and blossoming tree after ascending our first mountain (with entirely too heavy packs) seemed like the best reward I could imagine. It seems as though there are breath-taking views every day, that make me wish I were a better photographer, painter, writer so I could try and capture the moment and share it with others. I catch myself grinning as I feel a child-like thrill at seeing the scurrying of squirrels or chipmunks or hearing an unknown bird sing. When I begin to feel complacent that we are simply walking through woods the trail will suddenly divert us through farmlands or a small charming town that I would otherwise have never visited. It is almost a magical experience for me, finding a clear stream to get cool water from or feeling a refreshing breeze all have become some of the greatest sources of pleasure for me- and more than I could have wanted.
While I have generally been “a people person” and enjoyed the company of others, being on the Appalachian Trail has deepened my appreciation for my fellow humans. I think that walking the trail has renewed my faith in people, that deep down we are all genuinely good- or at least I am learning to see and appreciate all the of the good that has always been there. I have met fellow hikers who are hiking the trail despite injury or illness with smiles and no complaints, trail angels who offer rides or cold beverages because it brings them joy to help others, and have received phenomenal amounts of love and support from friends and family. Chances are people have always been this amazing, but separating myself from the traffic and general madness of “normal life” has helped me to not take these small acts of kindness for granted.
As phenomenal as the trail has been over all, there is a reason that not everyone is doing it. Especially in the initial weeks I think that I experienced new and excruciating pains I had not deemed possible. The bottom of my feet felt as though a particularly irritated school house nun had repeatedly whacked them with a ruler. My knees felt like I had somehow aged them 30 years and they creaked and groaned whenever I unsteadily bent them to retrieve my incredibly heavy pack. I had to decide between whether I wanted to feel as though my packs waist band was slowly chipping away at my hip bones, or to have the weight and pressure balanced on my shoulders until they felt as if they would crack and cave in. While I have lessened my pack weight (whoo!) there are still daily aches and pains that I have come to accept as part of my dues for being a full time hikers. General foot soreness is common place, and the occasional odd blister appears when one of my toes decided they have had enough of this- thank you very much.
except… Not everything was beautiful
Stunning as most of the trail has been, I will admit that there are times when I wish to avert my eyes and my heart hurts. To the “trash-holes” (you can guess how I came to that name…) I don’t understand how anyone can come out into the wilderness to enjoy it and then leave garbage behind. What’s more, given some of what I have seen and where it has been left it may even be fellow hikers who are the culprits- something I would never have fathomed before beginning my hike. Though as disgruntled as I become when I see wrappers in the wild, I also get to see the other hikers who pick up after strangers- and I get to feel as if I am contributing in small way to being a steward of the trail and giving back through packing it out.
but to be fair, Not everything hurt
While I may still wince and groan pulling off my shoes at the end of the day, or make a face when I smack a voracious mosquito that is now pulpy and engorged from dining on me- not nearly everything hurts. I am finding that for every small pain I seem to encounter on the trail, it gives me back so much more satisfaction that I would definitely take the same deal- any day. The heat may be brutal and I think that I have never sweat so much in my entire life, and then I discover gallons of water left by trail angels on particularly dry sections of the trail. To make a pun- the trail has it’s ups and downs.
I still don’t feel as if I have done an adequate job of describing my experiences so far, but perhaps hiking some more will help! I have adored my introduction to the wonders and people of the trail, and have no doubts that I will continue to be challenged and fall even more in love with it.
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