Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Appalachian Trail: Reasons

Today I'm flying to Georgia, to the beginning of the Appalachian Trail (AT).

Why am I doing it?  Why am I hiking the AT?  I have been asked a few times.  I usually give some vague answer because I hadn't really given it the thought it deserved.  Here is where the idea of walking the AT came from.

It goes back six years.  In 2011 I did my first Camino de Santiago.  The Camino would be the most challenging thing I'd ever done up to that point in my life.  The Camino challenged me physically and mentally and changed me.  It taught me that I liked to walk long distances and it taught me the satisfaction of achieving a demanding goal.  They say that once you complete the Camino you don't want to stop walking.  There is some truth to that.

I didn't want that feeling to stop.  Five years ago I began putting together a plan for further challenges.  I set dates a year later in 2013.  The plans included three goals:
  1. Do the Camino again in 2013.  My first Camino always felt incomplete - partially because I skipped a couple days on a bus and I skipped the sunset at the end of the Camino.

    I set out on my second Camino on a slightly different route and I finished it without skipping any part this time.  I reached the end in Fisterra, sat on the rocks near Faro Fisterra, and watched the sun go down.  The sunset was what I'd missed the first Camino.  As I sat there I felt the feeling of completeness that I missed the first time.  It gave me the feeling I was searching for.

  2. Do RAGBRAI in 2015.  Even though I wasn't much of a bike rider I decided to do the ride across Iowa.  I trained for it and in July 2015 I biked over four hundred miles from the Missouri River, across Iowa, to the Mississippi River.  It was tough but I managed it better than I'd expected.  I was satisfied with how I'd done it even though I decided that I didn't really like riding a bike long distances.  I was a hiker not a biker.

    Despite not enjoying riding, I did feel satisfaction as I pulled into the destination town each day.  When I dipped my tire into the Mississippi River it almost felt like the sunset at Fisterra.
  3. Thru-hike the AT in 2017.  The AT, for me, is the ultimate challenge.  Nearly the length of four Caminos and without the support infrastructure that the Camino has, it is a challenge both physically and mentally.
So one of the reasons I am doing the AT is the Camino-born need for a physical challenge, a challenge like I have never attempted, and the feeling of satisfaction I will feel once I have reached Katahdin Mountain.

But, the physical challenge is only a part of what is motivating me.  There is the spiritual.

My Camino began as a physical challenge but over time and miles it morphed into something I'd not anticipated.  Days walking drives your thoughts inward and you find yourself exploring all the thoughts buried deep in your mind.  You are forced to acknowledge things about yourself.  It changes your perspective.  It is a very spiritual experience.

Before my Camino I didn't know what I really was searching for.  I thought it was purely a physical challenge but I was only partially right.  I found the rest of the answer on those rocks on Cabo Fisterra.  The accomplishment I felt as the sun set was the spiritual healing that I'd been seeking all along.

But nothing is permanent.  The last year has taken its toll on me.  I can feel that I am askew.  I'm coasting.  I'm not engaging like I once did.  I feel a little lost.  Spiritually I feel beaten down.  So, I am hiking the AT in the hope it will fill the role the Camino once served.  I walk into the forest to receive spiritual healing.  I look to the wilderness trail to straighten my path so I can renew my purpose, engage with me so I can engage with life, and heal my spirit so I can move on.

I would like to end this post with a poem.  It is a repost of a poem written by one of the Wife's students (originally posted May 03, 2013).  It truly encompasses how I feel when I'm hiking.

There is a freedom in walking

by Sara Zaleski

There is a freedom in walking

A freedom not shown to those who wait

A freedom that allows life to be lived

That gives meaning to this world.

It is a freedom to learn life lessons

To experience breathing as never before

And accept love and seeing as new,

It is a freedom to find peace where it lies

and to take in the mystery of existence.

There is a freedom in walking.

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