Nov 112015
 
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I guess I’m back? Back for a guest post here on aGathering after being a regular contributor in the early days; and back in New Zealand after an incredible journey thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. For the unfamiliar, the AT is a 2,189.2 mile walking trail that spans from Georgia to Maine along the eastern side of the USA. I spent 162 days (March 20 to August 28) on the trail in search of… well quite recursively the finish of that sentence. It was a full-on mid-life crisis for this 45 year old man, experienced at 2 miles per hour instead of 102 mph on a loud Harley or in a fast convertible.

Now that I’m back, most people ask me if I found what I was searching for and want to know what I learned along the way. The answer to the first question is Yes. The answer to the second question follows below.

(1) Getting there faster does not bring you answers any sooner.

I started my hike in good physical shape; much better than most of the people I met in the first week or two. I was moving pretty fast relative to the crowd and walked 29 days before I had a day off. At that point the AT was very much framed in my mind as a physical challenge and my solid early pace had me looking to test my boundaries. I reached them in the form of tendonitis. I found more limits later in the shape of mental fatigue and loneliness. The good news was that I had a lot of time to reflect along the way and I realized (for myself anyway) that I needed just that: more time to reflect along the way. My conclusion? There is no “there.” The footprint you leave at your destination is the same size and takes pretty much the same effort as the each of the 6 million that preceded it. The value of the journey is in the sum of each step around or over obstacles, in tandem with friends and exploring the unknown.

(2) Going Back is not the same as turning around and taking a step forward.

I was very careful along the way to minimize any “bonus miles.” Meaning I did not get lost, take the wrong trail or walk in the wrong direction for any notable distance (which is more common that you might think). There was one occasion in North Carolina, early in the trail, that I found myself walking towards the lady whose tent was near mine at camp the night before. I was an early riser at that point and knew nobody had passed me, so it was unlikely that she was headed the wrong way. We compared maps and iPhone GPS data long enough to convince me that I had made a 180 somewhere and had a 500 meter bonus. But since I had no idea I was retracing my steps, each one was still fresh and the scenery headed the other way was unseen from that perspective. Many times in life we’ll come to a cliff face like McAfee Knob (shown in the photo) or a less scenic dead end. If we grumble and pout and consider the path behind us as no longer able to teach, then we are truly going backwards. But simply turning about-face and continuing forward on a journey of learning is a very different thing indeed.

(3) Life is not about impressing people, its about inspiring people.

My 162 days of simplicity, tears, pain, reflection and perseverance will have little if any impact on your life. Heck, even my three pontifications here will only transfer as much energy as your own resonant experiences will allow. Don’t be impressed by my physical accomplishment; be inspired to jump off the societal merry-go-round that dictates a definition of success. It can be done, it has been done. Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams and face your fears, but be warned that you may find yourself chasing your fears and facing your dreams instead.

ISO

p.s. Daily photographs and thoughts can be found at www.trailjournals.com/iso

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  6 Responses to “Five Months at Two Miles Per Hour – Dave Slaten”

  1. Dave, wonderful to have you back and to read your lessons. We all take big journeys in life. Some walk for 162 days and others make big scary changes. What a privilege to be able to do both. I look forward to the opportunity to “chew the cud” when we have the opportunity. Question now, is what will you do differently now that you are back? My daily challenge is to to fall back into old habits …

    I love your articulation above and very much appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us. I am especially attuned to your story as my youngest daughter is walking the Camino in Northern Spain at the moment and plans to continue from Santiago to Lisbon when she has finished. She too has hit the tendonitis problem … I look forward to seeing if she has found the proverbial ….

    Wonderful image too. Great to hear from you!

    • Bruce, I’ll look forward to that good conversation. Your pondering of what lessons carry to the day-to-day are shared by me and every other long distance trail hiker. I’ve done well to avoid old habits as yet. The Camino is often discussed on he AT, and referred to as the only long distance trail where you can gain weight! I wish your daughter the courage to look deeply within for her answers. And I can share a method of taping the common tendonitis if needed.

      • That chat may be sooner than you think … I think Megan’s budget means that she is not putting on the weight unless she is fed by others – that is one of her bits of baggage. I am looking forward to hearing a 19 year olds version of a long walk, which I believe has become a bike ride while the foot heals – the other option was a donkey – they are the only three ways they allow pilgrimage on the Camino. Would love to hear about how you strap that tendonitis – she has it in the arch of her foot.

  2. Well done that man he deserves a nice malt whisky. An interesting tale of discovery perhaps or saving money in the mid life crisis and not buying a fast car or motorcycle, either way I am sure you had highs and lows as anyone would on such a journey. You have ventured and hopefully discovered a part of yourself you did not know was there. Anyway you had fun met some interesting people I am sure. Thank you for sharing. We should catch up and I will buy you a nice dram.

  3. Hi Dave. I enjoyed following you on trailjourneys. Interesting to read your lessons learnt. It has always interested me that when we narrow our attention to one task that simplicity seems to let the mind find space to address other things. We have just come back from NH and probably drove near some of your trail. will be great to catch up.

  4. Welcome Back Dave. Your post set me thinking over my life and all the changes I have experienced along the way – some great some not so good. I think I have had regular mid life crises since my mid 20’s ~ ~ ~ . Now my answer to your question has become for me to enjoy the journey, slow down and take time out to enjoy those people around me. We must meet up again soon for another drink and catch up. I am also using John’s mantra “No more yes, It’s either Hell yeah or no” to aid my journey.

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