Appalachian Trail (AT) Happiness: Pre-trail Changes
You need special shoes for hiking — and a bit of a special soul as well. ~ Terri Guillemets
I’ve been asked a lot why I would want to undertake a 2200 mile walk, spending 6 months living in the forest. People have a tendency to focus on their fears, animals, loneliness, getting lost or on the physical aspect of the task. Surely all of these items merit thought and consideration but they are details, challenges along the way, they are not the main thing. Mallory got it pretty right, at least for me in his famous answer about why climb Everest. He’s famous for saying because it’s there, but this is the whole answer and although not as quotable makes a bit more sense.
People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use. ‘There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for. ~ George Mallory
The answer that I have settled on in addressing this question is that doing an Appalachian Trail thru-hike is an adventure, adventure is transformational and I want to live a transformational life. Sounds good but what the hell does it mean? To me it means this, the times in life when we change are the times when we stretch ourselves and push beyond our self-imposed boundaries to find something bigger and better in ourselves. I know what I’m talking about, this is not my first rodeo I have done this before.
My last great adventure was trekking in the Himalayan Mountains. Our goal was base camp on Mt. Everest, we were diverted by a freak snow storm, but we spent 14 days over 14,000 feet, I personally got above 17,000 and several members of the group did an 18,000 foot pass. Prior to that, I’d never been over 12,000 feet, had never done a multi-day trek and sure as hell never had to dodge Yaks on a trail. The trip changed me in several significant ways, I came back much calmer and less reactive. I was certainly more confident, and even far more hungry than I had been before for more travel and yes, more adventure. I wrote about this trek in a series of posts on the blog under My Himalayan Travelogue.
The Appalachian Trail thru-hike is a huge undertaking, even compared to the Himalayan Trek I did. We’re talking 6 months of living out of a pack, walking over 2000 miles. This means dialing in every aspect of how I will be living. I’m 14 days from leaving and I don’t feel prepared even though I’ve done an immense amount of research, a lot of training and have talked with a lot of veterans. I know some of what will happen will be a total crap shoot, I’m sure I’ve made some big mistakes and will have to make changes on the fly. This is all part of how adventure stretches you. The other thing that has occurred with the preparation for this hike, including quitting my job, selling my house, moving across the US, having most of my plans utterly blown up, is that some of the transformation has already occurred.
I have already become calmer than I’ve been in years, I’m certainly less reactive. Now don’t get me wrong I’m far from the Buddha or some Zen Master level of calm, but I’m on my way. The closer the date gets the more and more I’m thankful for every shower, every hot meal, for little things like ice, I really like ice in my drink. I’m thankful for clean tap water that I don’t have to drip several drops into and wait 20 minutes to drink. It’s really nice to be warm at night in bed, a lot of simple things we all take for granted are already becoming precious to me and increasing my level of gratitude. As I’ve written about here before, expressing gratitude makes us happier. And although there have a been a series of speed bumps, as I wrote about in the post This was NOT the Plan, I’m still a pretty happy guy right now.
So the transformations have already started, now all I have to do is walk the 2200 miles and see what else happens. A lot of steps, 5 million they estimate, and a lot of happy days to come my friends ~ Rev Kane