People always ask.
Why would you CHOOSE to carry a 30 lbs pack in the woods, alone, for days and days, with bears and strangers and “just add water” food, without a roof or a shower?
Sometimes I answer this by talking about the inspirations behind this trip. There was the summer I worked at Tree House Adventure Camp (and lived in a tree house all summer). There were the epic family vacations canoeing in Canada and hiking in the national parks. There have been the Macalester College Outing Club trips every spring break. This last year we were backpacking in the Smokey Mountains, NC, in unexpected snow. One night, we didn’t reach the shelter as planned, and ended up pitching a 4 person tent on the side of a snowy mountain in the dark. All eight of us smooshed into the tent and then prayed all night we wouldn’t slide down the mountain. It was sometime during this trip that I knew I wanted to hike the A.T.
I think the most accurate answer to this “why” question is actually, simply, because it feels good. My body loves the smooth and steady exercises, and my brain does too. The birds are my alarm and the sun my clock. I wake up around 5:30, break camp around 6:30, hike until it’s too hot, around noon. Then I take a long lunch break or siesta until 2:00. Here I’ll take off my shoes and socks (that’s essential), I’ll read for awhile, see how far I’ve gone that morning, and then see how far it is to the next shelter or camp site. Once I’m rested, I hike until I get there. I make dinner, set up my tent and my sleeping bag, brush my teeth with my toothbrush (which has half its handle cut off to reduce space), put on my one clean shirt, and crawl into my tent just as the night settles in. This outline is very flexible, but it provides me enough structure to keep my body and my brain moving steadily along, healthy and happy.
This trail is my element. I sleep deeper than ever before. I wake up more alive than ever before. I eat food more reverent than ever before. I jump into more rivers and meet more interesting people than I have anywhere else.
Becca sent this poem to me by Mary Oliver entitled “Wild Geese.” It has been The Poem of my hike.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
So that’s why.
Thanks for your love and support everyone,