Recently I read a book entitled Appalachian Trials, which was written by 2011 thru-hiker Zach Davis. This book is a bit different from most long distance hiking books in that it is less about the hike, his personal experiences and suggested gear and more about how to prepare oneself mentally for some of the things one will experience over the course of a few months spent away from society as most of us currently know it.
For the most part when people think about doing stuff like this (myself included) they picture mainly the positives they will experience, that first step, the people they will meet, all the time they will have to gather their thoughts or escape from the pressures of the modern world. People will envision the beautiful views of picturesque landscapes from the peaks of mountains as well as the encounters with the majestic creatures of the forest and of course the sheer elation of the moment we have, against all odds, achieved our goal and reached the summit, crossed that finished line and start to celebrate. We don’t sit around pondering the aches our bodies will feel after hiking 15-20 miles a day with 30lbs strapped to our back, the nights spent on snow covered mountains where the cold seems to permeate our very being and those miserable days spent hiking through horizontal rain pelting our face for hours as we fight to hike another step against the incredible wind. Most importantly, for all the hours/days/weeks/months (and in some cases years) we spend pondering this piece of gear versus that, trying to shed every little ounce we can while still being able to carry all that we both need and want to bring along, we never sit down and ask ourselves what do we do when that inevitable moment of doubt creeps into our minds. That moment when we are at a low point in the hike, probably drenched, cold, starving, alone and in pain, when we start to question the point of this crazy endeavor and start to think of the warm, comfortable bed, the easy access to all the comforts we could ever want and most importantly the number of loved ones in close vicinity to where we came from and probably intend to return when the hike is through.
If we reach that moment when we ask ourselves “Why the hell am I doing this?” and we can’t quickly come up with answers, then we have allowed the trail to defeat us. This is when people quit the trail (about 75%) and many of the people that manage to continue on and push through this due to sheer willpower and stubbornness (which many of my friends will tell you I am full of a great deal of the latter) may finish but won’t actually enjoy the journey, only the destination.
I don’t want to fall into either of those categories. I want to be part of the few that not only complete it, but also love it thoroughly, not just as a fond memory while looking back but as I continue to put one foot in front of the other.
It is for this reason I have decided to take Zach Davis’s advice and write a list of the reasons, both major and minor, of why I plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail from start to finish a little bit less than two months from now.
- Physical/Mental Challenge: I have always enjoyed trying to see the limits with which I can push this body and mind of mine. I started young with marathons, completing my first one at 16. Back then I thought that was attributed more to a physical toughness and readiness but now I realize it’s 99% mental. Then I started doing Tough Mudders and Spartan Races as well as long distance bike races. I was never actually competing to win, just to finish and thus far I have always been able to drag my body across that finish line. By the way, if you want to see inspiration do a Tough Mudder, Spartan Race or similar obstacle course race, the teamwork and camaraderie is incredible and you will see incredible feats that will push you on.
- Get In Shape: I would be lying if I were to say that getting in shape had nothing to do with this. I am at that awkward age where I still have the incredible sweet tooth of a child but the slowing metabolism of someone in their mid-30’s but now coupled with both a lack of time and seemingly motivation to exercise consistently which has caused me to be in the worst shape of my life.
- Nature: I don’t think this really needs an explanation but I’ll give one anyway. Nature is incredible. I am anxious to see the starry skies away from the lights of NYC. I am anxious to immerse myself in the wilderness, the clean crisp air, the smell of pine trees and spending the entire Spring walking through the blossoming fields. It will be beautiful to watch as the foliage around me goes from barren to full bloom as I hike my way north. Experiencing the beautiful views from the mountaintops and bathing in the streams.
- Meditation: Something I know I should do more often but with so many distractions (Damn you YouTube!!!) it is often very hard to convince myself to take the time to do this more often.
- For A Cause: I want to use this opportunity to help raise both money and awareness for a cause both Maria and I believe in. I am currently working on setting up a donation page with a program called Every Child is Our Child, which is run through the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. This is a program, which helps children in Ghana who were orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. I will give more detail once we have set everything up, but if in the meantime you would like to donate to the cause or gather more information here is a link to their programs page. Every Child is Our Child
- Trail Magic: I have read the stories of the legendary Trail Angels that offer their yards and houses to weary (and let’s face it smelly) hikers in need of a shower or a warm bed. Sometimes they randomly leave food and water at shelters, nice little treats after a long day of hiking. I wish to experience this kind of good-natured love towards strangers that we should all be so inclined to show on a daily basis and hopefully I can emulate that and add it to my own life.
- Introspection: I was a bit of a troubled youth (but then again who of us wasn’t) I spent half of my life battling depression and suicidal thoughts. It took years of me spending time alone, looking deep inside myself trying to find what was wrong and what was missing. Why was I so depressed when there was really nothing wrong with my life? This was the main point of my doing the Camino de Santiago and that time alone, not contacting any of my friends or family forced me to spend pretty much the entire time deep in thought and allowed me to delve deeper into my mind than ever before and figure out how to deal with anything and everything that had been bringing me down. In recent years I seem to have forgotten that your mental well-being is something that needs to be constantly worked on. I have become complacent in this post-depression version of myself. I have an amazing partner, a great job, incredible friends and little reason to complain in life so I’ve spent practically no time with my own thoughts trying to continue my path to self-improvement. The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” does not apply to the self. We should always be striving to improve and become the best version of ourselves that we are capable of and I plan to find ways to improve myself while out there.
- Find Motivation: Does anyone else feel like they are wasting too much time? Whether it be watching television, playing video games or searching the Internet, you know there are a ton of more productive and more fun things you could be doing with your time. That is me on a daily basis. I feel like so much of my time is wasted and I have lost the motivation to do the things I really love, like be in nature, work on music, write and spend time with people. Having minimal contact with technology for 5 months will be a good thing for me.
- Half-Gallon Ice Cream Challenge: Having an excuse to down a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting is more than enough of a reason to walk 2,200 miles.
- National Hike Naked Day: Not sure how much I’ll participate in this one yet (damn you mosquitos, ticks and skin cancer…you always ruin everything!) but I imagine the feeling of freedom being naked in the woods must be incredible.
These are some of the reasons I plan on doing this hike. I’m sure there are others I can’t think of right now and some I won’t even discover until I’m out there but there will be plenty more blogs to follow.
P.S. To any readers out there that plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail or finding out more information you should check out Zach’s page Appalachian Trials. There is a wealth of great information about the trail there.