In the book AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, David Miller writes, “answering that you want to do a thing because you have always wanted to do it seems somewhat circular, but it’s as common as any other explanation.” This has been my shorthand justification for hiking for a while. Even though he’ll accept the circular explanation, I think I should express something more concrete. So, thanks Zach for the format, and thanks to Allison, Sarah, Michael, Raylynn for showing me that all the cool bloggers are doing it. I present my lists:
I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…
- Over a bottle of whiskey (how all the best plans are hatched), my friend Leon and I recently discussed doing a joint Master Cleanse. During the conversation he told me, “you seem to be the kind of person who likes to do unreasonably difficult things for no particular reason.” While this statement is circular as well, a lot of my reasoning boils down to an innate interest in weird and difficult things.
- Secondly, I expect the trail to be an absolute adventure. There will be ups, downs, goods, and bads. I expect to be challenged frequently and faced with beauty constantly.
- Third, if not now, when? I imagine the Appalachian Trail is like having children or breaking up with someone. There will never ever be a convenient time. However, while I am young with fairly few strings this may be the least inconvenient time.
When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…
- Hurriedly pack up my life and head across the world for graduate school. Seriously. But really, I will be ready to handle any seemingly stressful situation with poise and perspective. Here’s how I imagine my first day abroad: “I have to figure out accommodations/transit/school/this country right now all on my own?!!? Well… at least I can do it while dry and without fear of lyme disease. Win some, lose some.”
- Have a wealth of memories and new friendships, I can’t wait to meet you all!
- Be a stronger, more independent person.
If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…
- Feel disappointed and embarrassed. I’ve been planning this for years, not finishing the hike would suck. However I will…
- Try not to be too hard on myself. I rarely fail at long held objectives, but when I do I tend to get really down on myself. Instead of a downward spiral into depression, self-pity, and doubt, I will…
- Try again someday.
There! There are my lists! However, in my mental preparations as of late I have found myself wandering off onto the same mental tangent again and again. Perhaps this is a fourth list for Zach to consider for Appalachian Trials 2.0:
-What do I want to get out of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike?
In reading about the trail, you come across the phrase “hike your own hike” (HYOH) frequently. In Appalachian Trials, Zach does subtly urge you to make this fourth list when he discusses blue-blazing and slack-packing: “There is only one person you need to consult with about the meaning of a thru-hike, and that is you.”(pages 65-66 for those following along at home.)
As you’re preparing for your thru-hike, determine what HYOH means to you. What will it look like when you are successfully hiking your own hike?
Zach uses a college metaphor to say why hiking is not like getting a degree; you know exactly what you need to do to graduate with a degree, but you don’t know exactly what defines a true thru-hike.
The opposite is true too. The hike is a little like college, If you only focus on finishing the degree you miss a lot of opportunity for growth and advancement. There is a lot beyond the degree (or Katahdin as the metaphor would have it) to successfully and fully experiencing college (the trail). You get out of it what you put in to it.
So here is how I’ll be hiking my own hike and how these aims will affect my daily decisions. If I finish the trail having accomplished these goals I’ll consider my hike successful.
#1: Be smarter when I finish the trail than when I start: 5 whole months of time to think with few distractions or obligations? Imagine that!
This informs my daily actions by:
- Bringing and using technology. I want to listen to podcasts and audiobooks while walking
- Blogging/journaling. Writing helps me collect and organize my thoughts.
- Learning and listening from my fellow hikers.
#2 Be a more outgoing person: I can be shy around new people. It’s a habit I want to kick.
- Opting for shelters over my tent when it’s a reasonable choice.
- Voicing a different opinion if I have one.
- Engaging in conversations I might otherwise avoid or ignore.
#3: Seek Independence: I’m sure all you solo hikers have had this same conversation about a bazlillion times–
“You’re going with a group right?”
“WHAT?! You’re crazy, bring a gun”
I want to know I can handle this challenge and be self-sufficient. I don’t want a hiking partner for the sake of it.
- Not feeling an obligation to any hiking group if styles/speeds/or personalities don’t match up.
I still want be unplugged from the world, and have a certain degree of “me time,” and even would love to find some people that I hike a bunch of the trail with. However, they aren’t my top priorities and if a decision has to be made it will be helpful knowing what I value most out there.
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