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