Insane in the Membrane… Why the AT?
The number one question I think that thru hikers and future thru hikers get, is why we do what we do. Why in the world would any sane person spend six months in the woods and traveling on foot? See from my standpoint, it would be insane not to.
What Planted the AT seed?
When I was fourteen, I joined a youth group called “The Outdoor Kids.” Our mission statement was along the lines of, “get kids off their phone and outside.” While that is definitely a simplification, it is exactly what we did. The group took trips to camp on abandoned islands. We would go white water rafting, snowboard, and hike. We even went to Universal every once and a while as all Florida residents do. Our mentor who ran the group wanted to give us experiences we would never forget, especially for those of us whose families couldn’t normally afford to provide. Thanks to this group, I remembered how much I loved to adventure. I participated in every meeting, and every trip I could afford. All in hopes of rising in our ranking system and becoming “Grizzly.”
Do it for the rank!
We had this whiteboard with everyone’s names on it in four sections. Everyone started out as a Squirrel. Squirrels were first years who came to meetings but not on trips (even free ones). I can no longer remember the middle ranks, but the top dog rank, was Grizzly Bear. There were only two people on the Grizzly section of the board because there was only two very specific ways of getting there. Either you get one million views on a video for YouTube, or thru hike the AT. Now, I had never heard of the Appalachian Trail, let alone thru-hiking… but I was determined to make it to Grizzly.
On technicalities, I did reach the rank… thanks to a music video I happened to be in. However, that was not satisfying to me. I knew in my heart of hearts I would never truly be a Grizzly Bear unless I conquered a true Grizzly feat. The Trail remained in the back of my mind for YEARS. I always told those close to me that I wanted to hike it one day, like a far off dream. Then, this year, I was taking a stroll around my favorite little man-made lake in town with a fellow traveling friend of mine. We spoke of The Camino and I exclaimed to her how much my desire to embark on the AT had grown since I was young. She replied with, “Why don’t we hike it together?” At that very moment, my mind was made up. I knew it wasn’t probable that our lives would align for us to hike it together, but I knew that didn’t matter to me and that I was going to do it alone if I had to. (Which I am)
“A proverbial moon, for me to place my own personal flag atop.”
Throughout the planning process, what the trail meant to me changed monthly. At first, I saw it as a physical and mental challenge. A proverbial moon, for me to place my own personal flag atop. Then, as life caught up with me and new obstacles arose, it morphed into this safe haven. When I was at work and could only think of my recent breakup, or how I had wasted the past two years working inside every weekday, the thought of being surrounded by trees with swollen feet and the sun (or lack thereof) on my face brought me calm. Even now, with recent events testing me, I feel the pull of this goal keeping my feet continuing to cross one in front of the other.
I have somehow come to love a trail that I do not personally know. My feet long to caress her curves in the most thoughtful way possible. My soul yearns to be unattached to years and years of accumulated possessions and social constructs. While these are things I see for myself via the Appalachian Trail, I hold fast to the knowing that no matter how much I read or prepare, I won’t know the true effects of the trail until I’ve hiked it. So, here is to hopes, but no expectations… and finally attempting to become Grizzly.
Photo Courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/slobirdr/
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