Becoming Superhuman on The Appalachian Trail
Nearly two years ago, I eagerly turned the pages of a book titled, “The Last American Man” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Within the confines of this gold mine, there was a short passage that alluded to the transformative powers of a thru-hike. It essentially stated that the sun, filtering through the trees on the Appalachian Trail changes your body chemistry. I was at a point in my life where I was spending 50 hours a week trapped inside the walls of a cubicle. I thought that if the sun could alter me, the artificial light in my cubicle must have been turning me into a pile of slime. If I remained shackled to a desk, I might have morphed into a corporate hunchback, permanently at the disposal of the “You’ve Got Mail” bell. It was in this moment of clarity that I knew I had to witness the metamorphic powers of the trail for myself.
Thru-hikers choose to begin their journeys for tons of reasons but I found that nearly everyone I encountered on trail was in pursuit of some type of personal revolution. The desire to change seemed to be a common thread among those called to leave the beaten path. Many of us began a thru-hike for the physical challenge. We wanted to know if we were capable of walking over every single peak between Georgia and Maine. Others navigated the wilderness in search of direction because their previous lives had robbed them of their emotional compasses. Current circumstances were simply not enough to satisfy their ambitions of ruling the universe. But the ultimate connection that nourished those inclined to thru-hike was the determination to advance – progression in spite of a sedentary society.
A contemporary pilgrimage, the Appalachian Trail promised to dissect our understanding of what it meant to be human. As we progressed we left behind the simple-minded expectations of society. Deodorant and bathing became optional. Our physical selves became meaty, sloughing off years of stagnancy. We even started to look a little bit like Michael Phelps. To our surprise, we were soon flying over mountain ranges at 4mph as if we were Superman himself.
On town days we would gaze at our reflections, trying to determine when our calves doubled in size. Then we’d marvel at the smell of clean laundry and shampoo. We placed material things like extra stakes and Sawyer syringes in hiker boxes along the trail until all that remained were the bare essentials: our propensity to believe and a stubbornness that motioned us forward. The longer we hiked, the more the magic of the trail reminded us how silly a thing it is to be locked inside of someone else’s expectations. By the time we reached the end of our journey, we surpassed our limitations by accepting them.
Perhaps it was the hiker community that changed us. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded clowns encouraged us not to take ourselves too seriously. We gave one another the courage not to be different, but to be ourselves. The trail helped us shed our preconceived notions like cellulite. Though the causes and conditions of each thru-hike varied in hue, the desire to leap into the absurdity of the unknown bound us together. In the belly of the wilderness resided a metamorphosis, inclined to improve humanity one step at a time.
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