Transformed by the Trail
Nine days after my thru-hike culminated at Mount Katahdin, I am still struggling to articulate what it meant to me. Those 145 days were the most enjoyable, yet difficult, of my life. They were the most relaxing, yet the most thrilling. I didn’t just grow or mature; I was transformed. I doubt I am even aware of every influence the trail had on me, but here are some of the ways the Appalachian Trail affected me.
1. Newfound self-certainty
I already talked about this in my last post, but it merits inclusion here because it may be the most drastic change of all. Even strangers noticed: midway through the White Mountains in New Hampshire, a staff member at one of the huts (which are actually really nice lodges that sometimes give thru-hikers free leftovers) said he could tell I was a northbounder (rather than one of the southbound thru-hikers who only had 2-300 miles under their belts at that point) because of my confidence, my surety. The day after we finished, I stayed at a campground outside Baxter State Park with four other hikers in The Herd, my trail family. Most of the other campers were just there to go whitewater rafting. A staff member asked us if we had just finished the AT, to which I responded, “but we showered! How could you tell?” He just said, “you have the look.”
2. A different view on manners and morality
Before my thru-hike, I cared way too much about reputation, about appearances, about what other people thought of me. In part because of my newfound confidence, I really don’t care what other people think about me any more. In Oscar Wilde’s novel A Picture of Dorian Gray, which I read on the trail, the point is made that “society … feels instinctively that manners are of more importance than morals.” The trail was changing me from the start, but when I read that quote, I understood the change: I now care less about appearing good, and more about actually doing good–even when it is embarrassing. Because of the AT, I am less likely to put my napkin on my lap while I eat, but I am more likely to give money to a homeless person. I probably won’t wash my car as often, but I also won’t be driving as aggressively. I care more about strangers, but less about what they think of me.
3. An appreciation for silence
I also mentioned this change in a previous blog post, but I am happy to say that this change seems to be sticking with me, despite my return to the noise and busyness of regular life. I’ve been going running without the assistance of headphones, an endeavor I found miserable (if not impossible) before my thru-hike. When there is a lull in a conversation, instead of trying to fill the space and “avoid awkwardness,” I now stop to think instead.
4. Content to be badass, rather than beautiful
I used to hate it when men called me “tough” or “a badass” or “a beast” or “hardcore,” for I wished they would just find me beautiful, attractive, etc. instead. I didn’t try to be someone I’m not, but I definitely tried to downplay my “badassery” in an effort to seem more feminine and less threatening. Looking back, I think the deeper issue was that I was way too occupied with wanting to be beautiful.
All of that changed on the Appalachian Trail, for two reasons. First, I actually felt as “tough” as people used to say I was: I was hurdling obstacles that I wasn’t sure I could hurdle, and I began to respect myself in a way I never had before. Second, I stopped thinking as much about my physical appearance. Once, there was a mirror left in a shelter and someone asked if I wanted to use it. I responded, “no thanks; I came out here to avoid mirrors.” By the time people were commenting on how I had lost weight, I no longer cared how much I weighed. After years of fighting myself, I am finally content, and even proud, to be more badass than I am beautiful.
5. Technology lost its grip on me
A few days before I embarked on the AT, I was rushing to finish the second season of House of Cards on Netflix. With about eight episodes left, I thought I would just sit in bed and watch them all when I got back. Well, I’ve been home for a week and I have yet to watch TV in bed, because I just don’t want to anymore.
6. Goodbye to materialism
Escape from materialism was a main reason I set out on the AT in the first place. I had found myself caring too much about stuff, and wanting things I couldn’t afford. I strove to live simply, to better appreciate the things I have, and that’s exactly what happened. Once I had to carry everything on my back, I stopped wanting extraneous belongings. I definitely didn’t travel ultra-light (I ended up carrying things like a tambourine just for fun), but the desire for more clothes, more jewelry, better technology, a nicer car–that desire left me.
The AT changed me for the better. I didn’t know it was possible to be as happy as I was out there, and I am so incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to walk this path.
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I just saw your photo, you are beautiful Mariposa!
I agree with simon. Really.