Lessons from the AT
After spending five months on the trail, it is amazing how well I know my body. I have been physically pushed to the limit and know my strengths and weaknesses. I know I can push myself to hike 33 miles a day if motivated and that I need to be in town at least once a week while backpacking to avoid having a nervous breakdown. I have never been so physically critiqued and reviewed before hiking the AT as well. After many conversations with various gear reps, I now know that my torso is unusually long and that my toes are short for the length of my feet.
Besides being more physically aware of my body, I have learned other lessons as well and I kept a running list of new insights I learned along the way at the end of my journal.
While on the AT, some lifelong lessons I learned are as follows:
The world isn’t as scary as we are made to believe
Some of the most popular questions from day walkers was centered around safety on the trail. It seems like there is an innate fear of the wilderness and the unknowns that lie there. People are scared of bears, being alone, and other dangers lurking in the woods. There is also a great fear of dropping out of life and attempting a thru hike. Although there are some legitimate fears to these things, they are never as bad as we imagine to be. Bad things can happen, and will happen, but they are hardly ever as dramatic or death defying as our imaginations have us believe. It is the process of conquering these fears that will make you stronger in the end.
You are stronger than you think
When people find out I am allergic to gluten, almost everyone’s reaction is that they could never live a gluten-free lifestyle since they love bread, pastas, and beers too much. In reality, I know that if they were diagnosed with the same intolerance that they would find a way to make it work, much like I have done. Humans are amazingly resilient to adversity. The same goes for trail life. Never would I believe that I could repair gear in the woods, hike 23 miles in the pouring rain, or successfully deal with mice attacks, but sure enough when push came to shove, I always found a way to deal with each crisis. When it comes down to it, we can all overcome adversity and find amazing strength within ourselves.
The simple life is the good life
Since being back from the trail, I have spent way too much time on my laptop, phone, and other electronics. It is so tempting to fill in time with distractions. However, it was a nice break not to have so many distractions on trail. People are truly amazing and its so much easier to understand them and hear their stories without having so many distractions around. I think it builds more authentic relationships by being present and attentive with others.
God is faithful
Countless times on trail God has shown his grace and mercy. I could see him provide in impossible situations and I was thankful to have so many people praying for my safety back home. From being provided food on trail when my own supply ran out to having a shelter spot out of the rain when spirits were almost broken to being off trail when illness hit hard, God has always provided. When times got rough, I would sing Bob Marley’s “Don’t worry about a thing” song and recall Deuteronomy 31:6. Being in God’s creation for the past five months was a gift in itself to remember that nothing compares to the beauty God provides.
Community is a beautiful thing
On the trail, I spent more time with strangers than I did with some people I have known for years. We ate together, struggled in rainstorms together, and strategized mountains together. I was almost always with people for the majority of the day, singing, laughing, planning, talking, and relaxing. I loved all the time I spent with my fellow hikers since it enabled you to truly get to know others. Chores were more pleasant and struggles were easier to overcome when done together. I felt protected in my community and knew that I was well looked after since we were a team driven by a similar goal. We helped each other with missing gear items we needed, food when we were hungry, and shared the joy of treats carried from town. Whoever said that joy is multiplied and sorrow is halved when shared with others was spot on. From people I met only once on the trail to people I spent days on end with, you have all touched my heart in a special way.
Being flexible and present is key
In my everyday life, I am a planner. I like to make time for every little thing so that I don’t have to miss anything. However, sometimes I would let my planner run my life which left my tired and burnt out. I missed having down time and decompressing from a long day. The trail was a big struggle for me since I wasn’t able to be a planner if I tried. Some days I would plan for x miles, but then rain would come or I would find a view too beautiful to pass. The AT taught me that we can never plan for the future because you can never control all the unplanned variables that will happen along the way. Our map would show us views along the trail, but how can you ever know how it will impact you personally until you are there, standing on a rock outcrop, overlooking the world below in a beautiful sunset? Life on the AT was always better just going with the flow and enjoying moments for however long we wanted without the added stress and pressure to conquer x amount of miles each day. No matter what happened, we always found a spot to lay our heads down to sleep, even if it wasn’t a place we would have ever imagined at the start of the day.
Simple beauty is best
I have always been captivated by the natural beauty in the world. From the changing colors of the leaves to the rushing water of a gurgling brook, nature always takes my breath away. Besides simple beauty in nature, trail life always taught me to enjoy the simple beauty in myself. On the trail, I didn’t have make up, rarely showered, and quite often woke up a crumbled mess. I wore borrowed clothes for laundry and watched as my body transformed into a more muscular build. However, my other trail hikers were amazing and would constantly remind me that I was still beautiful, just the way I was. And I think they are right- I loved the rugged beauty in myself and the world around me. I saved countless hours not worrying about how I looked and could instead spend that time admiring the world around me. I love the concept of embracing my natural beauty and not spending countless hours “perfecting” my beauty to meet the ideals of others around me. Instead of worrying about how we looked, we worried more about how we felt. I loved the simplicity of that and hope to keep things simple back home.
Every day needs to be accepted for what it is
There were good days and there were bad days, for sure. I know I spent a majority of my time avoiding rain, one of my biggest fears on the trail. However, sometimes a perfect day would turn gray and soon enough rain would be pelting down on me. Sometimes I fought the rain and vowed that I would make it to camp dry, which never really seemed to happen. Instead of wishing for a beautiful weather day on the trail every day, it was always best to embrace the good and the bad. Instead of fighting the rain, some days you just needed to slosh through the trail-turned-river and appreciate the beauty of the rain. Although I hated waking up to snow one day in Georgia, it ended up being one of my favorite days hiking as the forest turned into a wintery wonderland. Some days we wouldn’t make the mileage we wanted, but would find ourselves stealth camping next to a gorgeous waterfall instead. It is easy to find things to be disgruntled about, especially when the day doesn’t meet your expectation, but instead the trail taught me to toss out expectations and to just embrace whatever life brought me that day.
Anything can be accomplished, one step at a time
When I first heard of the AT, I thought it was absurd that people would hike 2189.1 miles. It seemed like an unattainable number of miles, but I figured I would try and see how far I got. At Springer Mountain, I didn’t think about the long term goal of Katahdin, but instead focused on smaller goals. For instance, I would focus on the next trail town or even the next shelter on the trail. Most nights I would look at the map and look for one or two highlights to be excited about the next day. Sure enough, my mini goals added up until I reached Katahdin to finish the trail. The trail reminds me that it is nice to think big, but to find mini goals to help me realize my dreams.
I am, in fact, a Mountain Lady
There were so many days of doubt and despair. I remember being completely out of my element the first night on trail. I had hiked 1.2 miles off trail to a shelter in the pouring rain, wasn’t sure which night chores I needed to do first before the sun went down, and woke up at 2am with two mice in my pack. I was ready to give up before my adventure had even started. However, I was able to persevere through that hardship and many others that followed on the trail. I found a strength in myself that I didn’t know was there. It is easy to give up when times get hard, but then we would miss out on the beautiful times as well. From the trail, I felt like I found the things that called me to the trail in the first place- an affinity for nature, a minimalist mindset, communion with God and nature, a respect for solitude, and inner strength when times got rough.
I am thankful for the lessons that the trail taught me and am eager to see how it will impact me in the future. What lessons did all you all learn from the trail?
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