Whenever you plan on spending thousands of dollars, half a year of your life, and receding from almost every facet of your life and communication, it’s good to audit why you’re doing it. This article is about why I personally want to hike the Appalachian Trail, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I suspect that other people may share one or more of these reasons as well.
I want to be faster, stronger, smarter. I will be… The two thousand mile hiker. Over the past four years in college, I have taken leaps and bounds in my development as a person, and I want to keep making those strides in trying to become a better human being in every sense of the word. To become stronger, wiser, and more worldly. To challenge myself and develop.
Going from a town of twelve thousand to a city of twelve million was a cultural challenge about as hard as moving to another country in a lot of ways. It most certainly was like moving to an entirely other world. Then spending a year in the Middle East, in which culture was so different from my own in many respects. Graduating from NYU and intellectually challenging myself throughout those four years to expand my intellectual abilities, especially my ability to think critically. Trying to grow emotionally and deal with myself and my own problems that I diagnose and examine in my own ways. Trying to become more empathetic and more understanding. Striving to communicate better and better with people both like and unlike me and hear their stories, stories that are all a part of the larger story of being human.
All of these things I’ve worked on, but more importantly, want to continue to work on. It’s easy to graduate from school and feel like you’ve hit some sort of benchmark for personal development, but it really means nothing. This intense period of metamorphosis and growth I want to continue throughout my life. As Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be Perfect is to change often.” In that spirit, we adapt as we grow and change, trying to become best suited to the changing landscape and world around us. And the Appalachian Trail is the next step that I need to take to continue to become a better person, and to develop a better understanding of the world around me.
To See More of the World and Continue to Explore. More Naturally
Going to six brand new countries, New York City, and uncountable numbers of other smaller trips, my wanderlust has definitely been cranked to an 11. I want to keep being a rolling stone for the moment and running into the weird, exciting, and serendipitous as I will or won’t. You never know what life is going to toss at you, and you never know where it’s going. So I want to rise up and run flat out towards the horizon and find what’s out there. This quote from Robert Penn Warren from All the King’s Men describes the great going west, but it fits my feelings exactly for what is bubbling in my gut and speaking to me whenever my mind strays towards the trail:
For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire.
I want to light out for the territories and see what there is to find. Fortune, glory, solitude, understanding, new friends, new trials, new adventures, new failures. The Present. The Future?
With that in mind, the best way for me to live my life right now is to ride the wave of energy and optimism that fuels me towards wherever the road leads. To be open to new places, experiences, people, and to try and gain a better understanding of the world around me. The Appalachian Trail fits perfectly into the path I want to walk in life, and will take me places I probably never thought I’d go.
One of those ways and places is as familiar to me as the back of my hand, though. Throughout my childhood, I spent a lot of time running around outside in the woods around my home in Kentucky. I’m also an Eagle Scout and spent twelve years in the Boy Scouts, climbing, hiking, backpacking, swimming, and having every sort of outdoor adventure you can imagine. And I loved it. I haven’t really spent as much focused time on the outdoors recently, however, and now it’s time to reforge that tether to the natural world around me. New York City isn’t exactly known for its flora and fauna, so it’ll be good to get back into the natural world and drink deep from that pool of natural and communal energy. I also want to purge some of the pressures and stresses of life from my mind and being.
I want to find myself waking up and going from dawn to dusk without hearing another human voice, car, or ring tone. I want to disconnect from society, technology, and to be by myself in nature in solitude. There’s been a lot going on, and it’s good to take time to reflect and see how your inner self has settled or shifted. Get the chance to reach into yourself and see what reaches back out that wasn't there before, or what has hardened and is reforged stronger than before.
Or maybe what’s exactly the same. Any way you look at it, it’ll have been a success and I’ll have explored the world and myself a little bit more.
If I’m Going to Go, I’m Going to Go All The Way
One writer who’s really influenced me, and my development towards a better approach to life, is Charles Bukowski, and especially his poem “Roll The Dice.” From the time I saw that poem, a line runs through my head every day since I’ve read it:
“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.”
Now that I’ve begun this journey—though I may not yet be on the trail, the journey is most certainly begun—I know that sign at Mount Katahdin is where I’ll be able to understand the answers that I’ve found. I understand the importance of the now, and of enjoying and experiencing where I am. I know that every step of my journey will be just as important as the first and the last, and that every piece of the journey will reveal new things to me every moment I walk it. Yet there is also great pride, and achievement, and meaning in completing the task that you set out to accomplish. And I know that, although I’ll receive new words and answers along the hike, from the first step on Springer Mountain, it’s only with that final step to the summit of the last mountain that I’ll truly have the cipher to take apart the code that surrounds the answers that I’ll have developed. Until I complete what I set out to do, and what I want to do so badly I think about it every day, I won’t really understand what it is I’ve done, and what it was worth.
Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and although other people receive what they need to in a variety of ways and variety of means, I know that I won’t. Let me be clear: this is not a prescription, or a judgment on anyone else, or any sort of authoritative statement on anything other than my own personal assessment of my own feelings on my hike of the Appalachian Trail. I know that there are others who probably feel this way, but that’s for each individual hiker on the AT to examine for themselves. And a question that they’ll have to answer every day that they wake up to the nylon inside of their tent, look towards the eastern sunrise as they boil water for their breakfast, and every moment from then on until they lay their head down to sleep, and do it all again the next day.