The AT Balance
On a large scale, life on the Appalachian Trail is freeing since all I have to do everyday is get up and walk. On a smaller scale though, there are countless decisions and challenges to be made too. It’s overwhelming at times! One such decision is how to spend time during the day. Yes, you’re walking but your mind is free during this (unless it’s difficult terrain, then it’s busy trying not to step on a rock weird or walk off a cliff). There are endless choices to entertain your mind: talking to others, talking to yourself, listening to audio books/podcasts/music, praying, listening to the sounds of nature, making phone calls, etc. I’ve had to learn how to balance these options and try to give attention to each one. It’s important to me to be intentional about my time. I like books since they’re a great escape from a hot day or teach topics that I’ve been curious about for awhile. But too much makes my brain muggy. I like talking to fellow hikers, they’re truly fascinating people, but I also like to walk in silence so I can reflect and pray.
When I am in silence, I let my thoughts wonder and do deep thinking. There definitely has been self-reflection on past mistakes and present day flaws. The trail can become long and difficult at times, bringing out the worst in people. It’s good to acknowledge when that happens and grow from it. On the other hand, self reflection needs to be balanced with self love. Yes, I’m an imperfect human but I’m also strong and resilient for doing this crazy adventure. My body is doing incredible things it hasn’t done before so I should love it and provide the care, energy, and rest it needs to keep going.
I’ve had to learn the balance between exciting moments and difficult moments. Some days, the trail overwhelms me with beauty - nature is awesome, mysterious, and sometimes quirky. The usual stressors of work/school or non-stop business of a thousand errands are absent. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is a special opportunity and typically, a once in a lifetime experience. But it is also mundane. Some days, I don’t want to hike. My feet hurt. I’m smelly. I desire a real toilet. It seems like an endless cycle of waking up, walking all day, going to sleep, and then repeating the cycle. In reality, it’s having the sum of exciting and difficult that makes the trail so meaningful. I wouldn’t appreciate the easy hiking days (weather, terrain, or mood) if I didn’t survive the difficult ones. Half of my favorite memories are dealing with the bad days. It’s a six month journey... it’s not going to be all sunshine and it’s not going to be all rain.
There is also balance found between loving those on and off the trail. The hiker community is truly astounding. I wasn’t expecting how quickly friendships form nor how fast word of mouth travels on a narrow dirt path. The hikers closest to you, the ones you hike day and night with, are called your tramily (short for trail-family). Some tramilies last for only part of the trail and some for the entire extent. There is also the extended tramily of hikers you commonly see and leap frog with (meaning you might be together or one group ahead of the other for a few days).
It is important to love fellow hikers since we’re all going through similar struggles and hard terrain. A tramily can pick you up on slow days, cause smiles on the dark days, and laugh with you on the bright days. However, you can’t forget about your family and friends off the trail that support and love you just as much, even if they aren’t physically next to you. Talking to my family often helps them better understand what I’m doing... I don’t have to summarize the entire trail at the end but rather communicate throughout it so I can explain how I feel in the moment. Overtime, they will hear about multiple moments and get the full picture without me trying to do that for them all at once. Family and friends have supported me with words of encouragement, letters and phone calls, resupply boxes, and surprise visits.
And now, 2,000+ miles done, I have to learn a new balance. The balance of wanting to enjoy the end of the trail and wanting to be home already.