I am planning to section hike the Appalachian Trail in 2013 and 2014. This is a new goal, one I have never seriously considered before this year. Why now? At one time, I had hoped my thru-hike of the AT in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last May would prove a life altering experience. It proved to be just another hike, though it did open the door to this possibility. To that extent, it revealed something new in me. A willingness to forego ease and creature comfort long enough to perhaps purge some of the accumulated poisons from living in a dense, excessive society. Couldn’t I retreat to a cabin in the woods for the same escape? Yes, but an unrelenting sense of isolation seems to hover over that option like a tomb. I feel isolated enough. Just being alone isn’t the answer. In many ways, it is the problem.
In recent months, I have felt enclosed, trapped, buried alive. The desire to break out and engage the world far from my usual routine claws at me from inside. Where should I go? A simple change of address changes nothing else. No single place will suffice. I just want to be in motion. What should I do? This is not a time to repeat or revisit. This requires something different — achievable but challenging, risky but not inherently dangerous, independent but not solitary. To walk the Appalachian Trail among fellow sojourners, each sharing a common intent spurred by individual motivations, seems the perfect solution given my love of these mountains.
For some reason, I felt the need to slap a ‘purpose’ on the hike. A trip of this magnitude should have a practical outcome, a physical manifestation, a ‘deliverable.’ In keeping with my Smokies quest, I thought I might observe, document, and research the trail’s natural history for possible publication, until a simple Google search revealed a well-developed presentation of this premise in book form. I regrouped to apply the same work chiefly toward my own improvement as a personal nature journal. Soon, even this pretense crumbled; it was becoming clear that my trip should not be burdened with ANY preconceptions, goals, or outcomes.
Through much thought, argument, and angst it seems the best approach may be to step outside all constraints and surrender — open up, let go — then quietly examine whatever may be revealed. Free the experience to be what it will. This idea provides a mechanism for fresh perspectives, change, and new beginnings, an opportunity to enlighten if not instruct, and time to think.
The allure of surrender has taken hold. Walk, eat, sleep. Follow a carefully set plan to traverse the miles and survive in good health. Beyond that, simply float with eyes, ears, and heart open to receive. If there is something meant for me along the trail, it will find me, take root, and begin to grow. Rather than strive and fret over an effort that may not be right, why not be still and allow the unbidden a chance to appear, like a gift? All I must do is be watchful and willing to nurture what I am given. Through paper, pencil, and camera I can embrace, explore, and embody this gift.
Nothing is pure; even such simplicity presents a conundrum. Is not the act of surrendering to receive in itself a preconception, a goal with an anticipated outcome? Is my trip now burdened with this expectation? How will I feel if I should return home empty handed? This is the dreaded question, what if nothing happens? If 2,000 miles on the AT turns out be just another hike, opening no new doors, exposing no new possibilities, what then? Will I not be in the same position as before with one less option? If nothing comes…no gift…will I be all right? It is a frightening thought.
I suppose fear shadows everything we do in this life. It is an undeniable counterpoint to hope. Unchecked, it becomes a defeatist mindset producing enough doubt to immobilize the best intentions. To be so governed is to give up. I determined long ago to never give up. In March, I walk forward from Springer Mountain, frightened and hopeful.