I want to talk about the AT a little bit and what I learned from it. As you know now, hiking the AT gives one lots of time to think about many deep questions. One of which has been; Why is the AT so significant to so many people? The AT changes those who complete the long journey in many different ways.
While talking to other hikers, I have noticed a common thread of conversation emerge. In the beginning of the hike, everyone talked about food and gear. Everyday, all day long, those were the most common topics. It was fascinating to see how people were equipping themselves for the long journey ahead. The creative meals were also fun to talk about. However, these topics are rarely brought up as of now. Everyone is content with their choice of gear that they are carrying. As for food, there is really no more way of spicing things up. We eat anything and everything and that’s all there is to it.
The new common thread of conversation that I have noticed emerge the last couple months is, People. We are always talking about funny stories revolving around hikers. All of us look forward to every morning and every evening because that is when we get a chance to hang out and spend time with each other while cooking and eating. Those moments of conversation when hanging out at the campsites mean the world to us. There is a sense of camaraderie and genuine interest in sharing each other’s company. I see it as a unique sub-culture/community. What is interesting is that people of all ages and from all walks of life can simply sit down and share a few laughs. Age, gender, financial status means nothing to us. Those are all social barriers that have come down.
Many of us wore masks before coming out on the trail. I’m talking about masks that hid our true selves. We wore those masks in fear of what others may think if they found out what we were truly struggling with. The masks that many of us wore when living our lives outside of the AT tended to hide our struggles, disappointments, and fears. We tend to put forth a front of constant happiness and joy in hopes of being liked. Many of us feared rejection from those around us if we let them know of our present issues. Many of us thought that “If I’m not always happy, then others will think something is really wrong with me.”
On the AT, we learned to take those lousy masks off. We all have rough days whether it’s due to significant foot pain, plowing through miles of rough terrain (mud or rocks), getting all our stuff completely drenched in rain, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, or simply feeling mentally/physically drained. The neat thing about the AT family is that it’s letting other’s know of your current struggles that helps greatly with issues of the day. Keeping it all internalized does you no good. The other hikers totally get what you are going through. However, we do not live and dwell in negativity. That does no one any good. People that are simply open about their joys and struggles have a very unique bond that I like to call “Family”. The family totally gets you and helps bring one out of that state of misery.
The AT family is what makes the Appalachian Trail so special. Initially I thought it was all about nature, but it really is not about the mountains, the views, or the trees. It’s people that make the AT so special. Many hikers have never had a real family at home. They never had a real solid network of friends at home. The AT has given them a taste of this and this is why many of them are dreading Katahdin. They fear the loneliness that awaits them back at home once this adventure is over. They fear the life of false identity that they have created among their peers. They fear putting on that old mask that has been off for so long. I am telling these hikers that it is an excellent opportunity for them to share with the world what it truly means to be happy in life. Happiness is found in living for others. A life surrounded by a genuine group of family and friends is worth living.
But there is much more that can be said about the life lessons that the AT teaches. Everyone learns something different about themselves and others out here. The AT is not a vacation destination. This is a trail that hammers on its victims relentlessly until the end product is better than the initial one.
Best wishes, God bless!