On Being a Lifelong Learner
Mid-stride, my mom stops on the trail. “What’s wrong?” I ask, and begin examining her backpack, looking for ways to adjust it for added comfort. She turns toward me with a gigantic smile on her face. “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just taking it all in.” We stand there for a minute, discussing the vibrant blossoms lining the trail’s corridor and the sweet fragrances that float by on a gentle breeze. Her eyes sparkle as if she is seeing the forest for the first time. She’s bursting with unspoken enthusiasm and wonder, and I feel it rubbing off on me.
Until a week ago, my mom had never been backpacking. The two of us have camped together numerous times and done plenty of hiking, but she’d never set off for a couple days in the woods carrying everything she needed on her back. My mom is really good at a lot of things – she’s a master teacher, an infectious leader, and a beacon of positivity. She didn’t need to venture out of her comfort zone to join me on this journey. She knew that I’d be happy hanging out off the trail in small town Virginia, drinking milkshakes and catching up. But she did. And she did it because she understands the importance of trying new things, even when they seem a little scary.
Our days in the woods together are a highlight of this adventure (and honestly, of my life). We laughed, acted silly, and talked for hours. I watched as she fell in love with springtime in the mountains, and she watched as I interacted with my trail family. I taught her how to treat water and she taught me how to build an incredible campfire. We ate breakfast and drank hot chocolate in my tent, and we sang songs as we hiked north. There’s nothing more I could’ve asked for – it was perfect.
At 31 years old, I occasionally find myself thinking that I can’t or shouldn’t do things because I’m “too old”. My mom reminded me last week that it doesn’t matter how old we are; that being a lifelong learner means taking every opportunity to try something new. As it turns out, my mom loves backpacking, and we’ve already begun planning another adventure together in western North Carolina this fall.
After saying goodbye to my mom, I set off from the town of Bland into the gorgeous mountains of southwest Virginia. The terrain I hiked this week included dense forests, expansive balds, and rock features called Dragon’s Tooth and McAfee Knob (the most photographed spot on the AT). I’m blown away by the beauty of Virginia and the kindness of the people here.
With the exception of one fast moving thunderstorm, I’ve experienced no rain for 14 days. This is hard to believe, as it’s usually very wet in the southern Appalachians this time of year. I’m certainly not complaining, but I have found myself wishing for a quick rain shower some days to cool things off a bit. With the sunny weather comes warm temperatures, which has definitely added another element of difficulty. Throw in the fact that water sources in Virginia are more spread out than I’ve become accustomed to, and you get a recipe for dehydration. I didn’t do a very good job of taking care of myself early in the week, and I had a couple tough days. I quickly learned my lesson, though, and will carry at least one full liter of water with me from now on, as well as Gatorade powder.
Despite the tough days, I continue to fall deeper in love with this journey. It isn’t always blue skies and wildflowers, but I am incredibly happy out here. Even the “bad” days are good.
I am writing from Troutville, VA. I’m about to head over to a local brewery to meet a few folks from my “trail tribe”, then I’m traveling (by car) south to Damascus tomorrow morning for Trail Days (a huge festival that celebrates the AT and thru-hikers). I’ll return to the trail on Sunday.
If you’d like to write (y’all know I love mail!), my next post office stop will be in Front Royal, VA. The address there is:
C/O General Delivery
Front Royal, VA 22630
*Please hold for AT thru hiker
Peace be the journey,
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