What Sticks with Me from this Journey (September 18)
This trip lasted five months, but I feel as if the trip was a small lifetime, so full of new sights, friendships, and adventures. What a rich experience! These are some of the things that stick with me from my time on the Appalachian Trail.
One of the beautiful things about the trail is the opportunity to meet other hikers who are also sharing your same journey and goal. And though you are brought together by the same journey, the people you meet come from all kinds of backgrounds- from recovering drug addict to retired army colonel to Brazilian resident to hikers from my own home county. I’m thankful for all the people I met along the way. When you hike and chat with someone for a day, you can cover a lot of ground- both literally and conversationally. Over the course of the trip I felt both challenged and inspired by different personalities, perspectives on life, faiths, values, experiences; it was a real opportunity to see how people choose to live, and literally walk in their footsteps at times. And what a setting for sharing a similar lifestyle and getting to know other hikers. Often after parting ways with another hiker I would think about different things we had talked about or funny things that had happened. I thought of the times we had laughed together, and it made me laugh again in the remembering. The trail offers a great chance for connection with other hikers, despite differences in past lives.
It is almost impossible to hike the Appalachian Trail and not be touched by the countless trail angels along the way. Trail angels are such a unique part of this trail. Often the time they spend with thru hikers is as fulfilling for them as it is for the hikers they are helping. It was inspiring to experience trail magic and feel encouraged by them.
It was also inspiring for me to write for “the trek”. This was a good way to process the trip and the experiences that meant the most to me along the way. I feel glad that family and friends were able to follow along, and it was neat to share with anyone else who was interested. It meant a lot to me when a reader was able to relate to something I wrote and let me know they were following my story.
Hiking the trail opened my eyes to so much. For one thing, I hiked through states I had never set foot in before. Now I’ve seen much more of the East coast, and experienced it in such a personal way. The rugged beauty I encountered on the trail, especially in the final month, was more than I ever expected to see. I’ve also learned much more about the common plants and animals along the trail- things like the name and call of the Hermit Thrush, where wild blueberries grow the sweetest, how the Spring Beauties bloom up in the Smokies in April. I’ll always have a fondness for the gentle creatures along the trail, that turned up again and again along the way- the Eastern newt, especially after a rain, the Banana slug, all over the path in Maine, the Ruffed grouse that I heard everywhere, beating a deep drum bass in the spring. The common millipede that was so tough to avoid stepping on all the time, and made such a nasty crunch when squished. The giant black snake, so long and foreboding, but harmless. Again and again I saw these things along the trail, like old friends reappearing. I think when I see them next, on future hikes, they will remind me of this trip.
Another thing I thought about out here was how important it is to be kind to yourself. For me this often meant being honest about struggles that came up, whether feeling lonely, feeling guilty about feeling lonely or bored, wishing I would have said or did something differently…even on the trail there are things that can become sources of disappointment, shame, doubt, guilt or just negative thinking. (I guess because we’re still human out here.) Even though I know I always feel better when I face something, I often had to make an effort to do that…some days I hiked miles in a bad mood, until I was finally honest about what exactly was bothering me. In the end, it was often helpful to join the ranks of my fellow hikers who I had observed talking to themselves! Sometimes talking through something on the trail was the best way to get it out, accept that it was okay to feel that way, and then try to put it behind you. This is all part of the unique nature of the trail- fewer distractions, the ultimate setting for a journey of self reflection.
So this has been a true adventure, both of self-discovery and time spent alone, and time spent hiking with others. In the week following the trip, there were times that I really missed some of the people I met on the trail. Chuck Palahniuk wrote in his novel “Invisible Monsters”, “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known”. This is so comforting to me, this idea that somehow, something inside me has been influenced and changed by the hikers I’ve met. Maybe I will think and feel and relate differently now, than I would have, had I not met those people. So in a way, they will be carried along with me, just as I often felt I hiked with different friends or family along with me, in spirit. Dad was kidding around and said, “When are we going to write the entry about what we’ve learned on our hike?” There is a truth in that- the trip wouldn’t have been the same if I couldn’t have shared it with people back home, especially my family.
Thanks to all who have followed my trip! I’m so lucky to have been able to go on this hike, a true adventure of a lifetime.
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