While reflecting on the journey and composing posts, I feel it’s not too early to share some of what I’ve learned from my backpacking experience, especially since I still draw upon those lessons to this day.
Lesson: You’ll Be Surprised How Little You Really Need: Aside from essential equipment and food, I discovered during my hike that I could get by with much less than I imagined. And while I didn’t saw the handle off my toothbrush, I found that lots of things had multiple uses. As a result I ended up hiking with 45 pounds instead of 65. More about the specifics in future postings.
Lesson: The Appalachian Trail Hiking Experience Is People-Oriented: Accessibility and popularity make the A.T. a much more travelled footpath. You’ll meet long-distance hikers, thru-hikers, northbound, southbounders, day-hikers, multiple-week hikers, and folks out for a stroll. This will not be a monastic sojourn.
Long-distance Backpacking Is An Emotional Cauldron: Being in relationship with others while engaging in the common goal of hiking great distances will surface just about every emotion, from elation to frustration, loneliness to sheer joy. Sometimes even the closest of trail companions may rub you wrong – or you them – so hiking solo for a time might be wise.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail Will Not “Fix Your Life”: People come to the A.T. for countless reasons – to “find themselves,” to escape losses of many kinds, to “get reoriented” after becoming unemployed. The trail gives time to think, reconsider, and take a breath from the “outside world.” Some have called the A.T. “the real world,” and it does feel like you never wish to leave it. But the Appalachian Trail is a bridge to another experience. Few people
manage to “make a living” of hiking. If you feel this way perhaps seeking employment as a ranger or seasonal ridge runner might be the way to go. Above all, give yourself time to enjoy the experience; deeper decisions will come later.
Hike Your Own Hike: This wisdom predates my trip, and is perhaps the most useful of all. You will meet people on the Trail and in life who are certain they have the key to your happiness, whether it’s how you should hike the trail or what you should do with your life when you’re done. Ignore them. Don’t hurry because others are “speed hiking,” don’t allow envy to rule you just because so-and-so “did the trail” in 61 days (or less!). Everyone – everyone – will have an opinion on food, gear, pace, towns and motels, restaurants, and supply points. Hike your hike your way, make your own choices. It’s OK to consider what you hear, but don’t let it influence you unduly. You may regret it later.