A few random reflections during my section hike on the Appalachian Trail. Section hiking the AT in long 150 mile+ segments gives you a lot of time to mentally explore your everything while pushing yourself physically. Recently I completed my second section hike from Springer Mountain in GA to the Nantahala Outdoor Center in NC , yippee one state down! I’m now over 298 miles down, or 300 including the approach trail, of the 2,190 miles it will take to complete the journey. I can’t wait to get back on the trail. It really has become a very important part of my overall well-being. The AT has become such a part of my life that I long for it almost every day, and it’s influenced my life in many ways. To bathe in nature is one thing, to live in it self-supported for days, or weeks, is a whole other spiritual level of adventure. Ok, enough already, what did I learn?
17 months ago, when I walked away from a successful career, I didn’t know what I wanted in my future. What I did know then, is that I wanted out of a career that was taking a mental and physical toll on me. I honestly believe that the sheer amount of stress was one of the keys to triggering my Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s only now that I’ve realized that it really was one of the best life choices that I’ve ever made. When I “retired”, I did something very uncharacteristic of me. I took a risk, I chose to feel the fear, to leave a safe life, and to do it anyway. But then, there was the trail.
I’ve learned so much on my second section hike, over last year’s thru-hike attempt, that I feel like I’ve got it dialed-in. Dialed-in so much that I honestly think that I could have gone all the way this time, that is, if I started a little earlier. I’m so much more confident, and comfortable with the un-comforts and unknowns of trail life, that I practically skipped up the trail every day smiling all the way, even in the 3 days of pouring down rain. The suck didn’t suck as much, the suck made me appreciate even more the beauty of the good days. And that the suck just meant that a great story was evolving. Wet, cold, hot, hungry, thirsty, lonely, tired, dirty, smelly, snakes but no bears yet, it didn’t matter because to experience any one or all of these things meant that I was alive. I chose to live, to cry, to laugh, and to do it all, fully, in these moments, knowing and trusting that everything was going to be alright.
I’ve learned to be a lot more flexible on the trail, to hike without a minute-by-minute, day-to-day plan other than putting one foot in front of the other towards knocking off some miles. I’ve learned to hike hard when it was easy or that it’s ok not to, and just enjoy the serenity. I learned to hike slowly when it was tough, no longer did I time my miles and watch the clock, and why was that even important in the first place, it’s not a race. I learned it was ok to start early or late, to take more breaks, to keep hiking late into the day, and let my body or mind tell me when it was time to stop. Or when to push myself, because if you stop pushing yourself, you’ll never know what you are fully capable of. Yay, I crushed a 20-mile day, and I didn’t even start until around 1 pm. it was amazing!
I learned to not pack my fears, and that having less in my pack is such a freeing experience in more ways than one. I’m between an ultralight backpacker and lightweight backpacker classification with a base weight of just under 14lbs. This is everything in my pack, the pack included, that is not worn or a consumable item like food or water. Having less stuff to manage means more time to dream, reflect, ponder, wonder, explore, or sometimes to just think of nothing. Some call that meditation. LOL. Less in my pack also meant less wear and tear on my body as I glided up and down the trail pain-free. Less stuff meant fewer camp chores and less to manage, which meant more time to socialize when I had the chance or to just relax. I met so many awesome and interesting people along the way…I actually hiked with Jesus (ok, that was his trail name), and I met a few trail angels along the way. My heart was filled with love.
As of now the target date for section hike number 3 is August 7th, so stay tuned for the details as they develop.
…”knowing and trusting that everything was going to be alright.” Kudos to you Mark! We’re stuck in a society that believes security and safety must look a certain way, then we all go through life afraid to take risks. Keep sharing your adventures!
Thank you Jeni for the comments and your insight is spot on. The word “risk” has held me back in so many ways and working towards shifting this mindset to adventure is not easy. I’ve got so much to relearn still. Thank you for following.