I was discontent. Employed in a vocation I loved (radio broadcasting) at 30 years of age, with friends and a place to live, in a town I grew up in and loved – yet I was discontent. I wasn’t sure why. My colleagues even threw me a super birthday party at work; I felt surprised, humbled, and happy. Something else was stirring. It felt like someone had come into the interior of my life and was rearranging the furniture while I followed them around shouting “No! No!! Don’t move that! Don’t throw that out!” Good luck with that. The rearranging kept happening.
Until the following year, when I read a book.
Driving to Charlotte, NC, to a backpacking outfitter, I wandered the store. I was just looking. Plenty of new gear; packs, boots, stoves – all the wonder-toys hikers and backpackers drool over. I wasn’t looking to buy, just looking to dream.
On the way out the door I stopped in the book section. I saw guidebooks, how-to manuals, and a few personal experience backpacking memoirs (compared to today!).
I picked up “Appalachian Hiker II,” by Ed Garvey. I took it home and devoured it, looking for an empathic experience of what it would be like to backpack a long-distance trail. Until that time I had only engaged in long weekends in the Carolina Blue Ridge, Linville Gorge, and Shining Rock Wilderness. I was testing myself. Often I backpacked alone, since no other friends I knew either enjoyed hiking or had the same flexible schedule I had. I digress.
Garvey’s book put the hook in me. By the time I closed the cover I realized that his reality could be mine. Almost without thinking, I began to work toward taking the same journey from Georgia to Maine. I bought all the A.T. Guidebooks. I began assembling gear and saving money.
In the spring of 1985 I told my employer “I’m going to take a hike.” I meant it. I left for Springer Mountain in Georgia in mid-April and began walking to Maine.
Over the years I have thought about the real “why?” of hiking the trail that propelled me to go. After all, I left employment, a home, family, friends all to do…what?
My reasons for hiking the Appalachian Trail go like this:
- I felt I had “hit a wall” in my profession. The job I was in seemed to offer little room for advancement and openings elsewhere were sparse. Digging deeper I found…
- I wanted “a change.” I yearned to understand what my discontent was, and felt the trail would give an answer. Then there was, even deeper…
- Adventure! After all, what I had read in Ed Garvey’s book was enticing. There were colorful characters on the trail, wild scenery, unexpected surprises around every bend. But, the real, rock-bottom reason I hiked the trail, these many years later, is…
- I wanted to go someplace wild and have the force of nature strip away everything in me – to give me a baptism which would hollow out my emotional and psychological insides, refine my physical outside, and prepare me to be filled with whatever was to come next in my life.
Those months on the A.T. and the visits back in these intervening years, have accomplished this. They have made me someone I would never otherwise have been had I chosen to stay the course I was on, and the discomforts and hard growth which have resulted from that choice I would not trade for anything.