On purity and hiking my own hike

It was a shuttle ride back to the trail on my 2015 thru-turned-section hike that caused me to question my purity. I overheard a hiker ask the following question: “If a shuttle picks you up on one side of the road and drops you off on the other, did you miss a part of the trail?”

When I stepped out of the shuttle, I stopped for a moment to consider the thirty feet of pavement I missed. Should I walk back and forth across the road to preserve the incorrupt purity of my thru hike? Then I remembered I overshot a switchback a few days earlier and missed some official trail before finally stumbling back upon it. My hike was already an abomination, so I kept hiking and never looked back.

The journey is the destination

One reason I hike is to get away from the schedules, routines, and demands of modern life. Visiting wild places gives my soul room to breathe and re-energizes my will to engage the world. Yet even the parks and forests I cherish, wild as they seem, are designated and defined by the very society they stand against.

The AT is no different. Every mile of trail is meticulously blazed. Each campsite, outcrop, and shelter is documented in guidebooks. Don’t get me wrong; I’m thankful for all of the work volunteers put in to ensure the AT is well maintained and easy to follow. But one of the consequences of any trail’s development is that it becomes easier to make the trail an end in itself rather than a means for deeper exploration of ourselves and our world. It becomes tempting to reduce the experience to a feat to conquer, miles to knock down, and peaks to bag, instead of an occasion to appreciate the fullness of the journey in each step.

One journey, many paths

In 2017, I am breaking propriety. Like most thru hikers, my journey will begin at Springer and end at Katahdin. However, in the spirit of HYOH, I have decided to hike the first two hundred miles to the Smokies on the Benton MacKaye Trail, joining up with the AT where I left off in 2015. This alternative route, which a few AT hikers choose to take each year, will allow me to experience new trail while still fulfilling my dream to hike continuously from Georgia to Maine.

Admittedly, my decision is easy because I have already hiked the section of AT I will bypass. When I reach Katahdin, God willing, I will still be a “2000 miler” able to boast that I have “completed the AT.” But my hike won’t be a thru hike of the AT in its purest definition, and honestly, that doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’ve learned that the value of any journey doesn’t depend on where exactly I plant my feet, but how I go about doing it.

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Comments 1

  • Darrell Barrett : Mar 11th

    Great article. I agree. If we subject ourselves to someone else’s ideas, then we can become a slave either to them, and risk letting legalism destroy our joy and peace.


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