We have been reminiscing a lot lately. The crisp air of a New England morning, our first week as a thru-hiker covered in mist, rain, pain, and extreme joy. A childlike glee that had found its way deep into our hearts. Everything was new, everything was exciting, each footstep was not about covering distance but instead about exploring this world slowly and consciously. There is a saying out there in the thru-hiking community, a saying that can be applied to other trail systems, but was born and grew on the grandfather of them all, the Appalachian Trail. I know this is our second article about the AT in a week, but honestly it is where our mind is currently, and where we feel the passion to write. Anyway, the saying goes something like, "Once you reach Katahdin you will be a different person than the one that started in Springer, Georgia." We remember reading that in the first log book we ever signed, on top of the southern terminus of Springer Mountain, and wondering what was in store for us, even being a little skeptical about how a "walk" through the mountains could change us. Yet, change us it did, and change us it did in ways we never could have imagined.
What could have brought a Southern Boy to be standing in the Canadian Rockies???
When we began the Appalachian Trail back in 2016, it was an adventure, a journey, a few months to experience the world, outside of our bubble of life. That is all it was supposed to be, that is all we set out to do, simply hike from point A to point B, have some laughs and memories along the way and then go back to our own "life bubble" filled with work, friends, and a white picket fence (we didn't actually have a white picket fence, but you know how the saying goes). So, we took our first steps into this beautiful journey, and haven't stopped stepping yet!
What changed? Well as we slowly made our way through state after state, a subconscious feeling and thought began to revolve around inside of us. It wasn't tangible, in fact if you would have asked us on that hike, if we would be where we are today, we would have laughed, made a quick joke, and asked you to join for some miles on our journey as we continued North. Internally, we would have believed the thought not even feasible, to do this year after year after year. Honestly, if you would have asked us even on Katahdin, if we wanted to do another trail it again would be a quick laugh and a pretty resounding, No. So, how can we say we changed when on top of Katahdin, we still had no thoughts of the PCT, CDT, PNT, IAT, AZT, etc... no desire to reach for another trail system, only a desire to go back to "real" life after a wonderful journey. Well look back to that hiker on top of Katahdin in 2016, and look past the hearty chuckle and the quick jokes, and look deep into their eyes. You would be able to see that even if we were saying something on the surface, something had changed deeper inside of us. If you stripped away that conscious thought and reaction and dove into who we were becoming standing on that summit, you would able to see that we had deeply and internally changed, even if we ourselves did not know it yet.
Absolutely no idea it would impact and shift our life so much, but went along for the journey anyway, continuing to go along for the journey.
The hike, the people, the community, the journey, the trail, day after day after day had become an internal part of us. So, while we say we changed when we reached Katahdin, it is not the change that you imagine. It is not the change of personality, not the change of conscious thought, not the change of vocabulary, not the outward appearance that you associate with change. Instead it was the type of change that when you are without, you quickly realize that it had become an essential part of who you were. There was no giant epiphany, no moment that we can define, that brought about this internal shift, yet it came about nonetheless. In fact the change that is not a conscious thought but instead one that takes step after step, mile after mile, day after day, are the most powerful, because it is not fleeting nor temporary, but instead your breath, your movement, your joy.
It would be difficult to describe the journey to you that brought about this change. Yes, we hiked for 6 months, yes we hiked the Appalachian Trail, yes we made amazing memories amplified and shared with trail family that we love to this day. Yet, we also just walked. Footstep after footstep through mountain after mountain. We walked through pouring down rain, we walked through extreme bouts of Baboon Butt, we walked through a drought in the Northeast where our mouths remained parched everyday. We walked through forest after forest, through stream after stream, through valley after valley. We walked through the deep south which felt like the north in Georgia, we walked and bounced along the state lines of North Carolina and Tennessee, we walked and sang the Virginia Blues in the state of Virginia, and then we walked some more. We walked and blinked and West Virginia was gone, we walked and tasted Old Bay through Maryland, we walked and hopped foot to foot through Pennsylvania, and we continued to walk. We walked through New Jersey with bears as our neighbors, we walked through New York with deli sandwiches in hand, we walked through Connecticut and danced, we walked through Massachusetts with many a northeastern wave, and we walked. We walked through Vermont as our feet were captured by mud, we walked through New Hampshire as awe filled our bodies/minds with astounding views, and finally we walked through Maine, knees broken, but spirits high as we arrived on top of Katahdin. Simply, we walked.
Simple, walk from Point A to Point B...
How can a simple walk bring about change? Well, even though that is the concept and that what you do day after day, along that "walk" you think, you laugh, and most importantly you see. You see the world slowly and fully the way it is meant to be experienced. Your eyes see the woods in front of you, but see deeper into what they represent. They represent how much the world has to offer, when you slow down, and take that moment to laugh with your friend, take that moment to talk to a stranger in a beaten down Pontiac along the side of a road, take that moment to feel freedom and peace in a way you never believed possible. It is to easy to get caught within the confines and definitions of what life "should" be, instead of what life "could" be or actually is. So, as we stood on top of Katahdin, our minds and thoughts had not yet caught up to what we knew now as instinctual. Life was meant to be experienced, life was meant to be slowed down, life was meant to be what we now had the opportunity to let it be and we clearly could see, not what it dictated when our vision was obscured.
As we celebrated on top of Katahdin and our knees rejoiced with not having been fractured, we also were immensely sad the journey was over. The trail family that had fully become our family at that point would now splinter back to our everyday lives. Life would go on, the mountains would still be there, but our path was now back to the white picket fence. We were not only okay with this but more than ready for this, or so we thought. A day or two after we had climbed down from the wildest and truest journey of our lives, we were fully immersed again in the quickness of life. We reunited with our friends and family, and went back to work. We laughed, we embraced, we were happy we believed. Yet there was now also a hollowness in us that we could not place. The laughs and joy were heartfelt but they were also lacking. Not lacking in the joy of togetherness but lacking because we ourselves were lacking an internal piece of ourselves. The Appalachian Trail, and the Trail itself in all that it means, had grown step after step to be a part of us, and now it was arising to show how deeply it had grown. A week or two back in "real" life and we knew then without a doubt we would do the next trail, the PCT. Yet, again even though our eyes had been open and our hearts broken, our vision was still obscured somewhat. The next hike would be just that another hike, only another adventure to go on, another joy to experience, not yet a life. It would take years to become our life.
No longer a missing piece, but filled with grace, joy, happiness, change, and Trail!
Deep change does not come instantly. Deep change is not felt quickly. Deep change can only grow and build with thoughts after thoughts that appear trivial and fleeting. Moment after moment that is felt instead of known. Only through day after day, month after month, and finally year after year, where the change is no longer a change but has become what you are. Where change is so small and so inconsequential each day until it becomes massive and life altering. That is the change we speak about. Change that unbeknownst to us, was happening each moment and each footstep. So, while we stood on top of Katahdin at the summit of our first thru-hike we had a fleeting thought of change, a fleeting feeling, but it had not yet become a truth, an unquestionable part of who we were. The saying goes, "Once you reach Katahdin you will be a different person than the one that started in Springer, Georgia." Yes, that is very true in a sense, but now the question becomes, "Will that change be fleeting and a moment, or will that change become a part of you so undistinguishable from yourself that it is no longer change, but purely who you now are?"
With Katahdin in our minds, and the world in our eyes, and change that is no longer change but instead simply who we are,