Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Joy of an Inner Circle

It's time for Blissful Hiking to take to the trail and hike, and what better place than to traverse the trail that I undertook some six years ago with my then teen son (which we completed in September, 2007). As I begin my three week adventure on the Appalachian Trail from the Approach Trail north, I thought I'd share this excerpt from my upcoming book - Mountains, Madness and Miracles (preorder available right now from Amazon) and our first day on the hike.Oh, the value of a hiking inner circle!

I'll see you back here in a few weeks with doubtless more adventures and insights to share!

 Excerpt- Mountains, Madness and Miracles - 4,000 Miles Along the Appalachian Trail

I shoulder my pack that seems to be gaining weight the longer I stand there. I take up my hiking poles, whisper a prayer, and begin the Approach Trail. We walk but a half mile when Paul Bunyan falls behind. Calling to him around a bend in the trail, he ignores our plea to catch up and hike as a family. He claims he will take this at his own pace, if at all. I try not to let doubt creep in, even as I struggle with sudden pains erupting out of nowhere in my foot and knee. It appears everything is in rebellion. 

Dread washes over me. What am I thinking, in all honesty? How can I possibly do some trail from Georgia to Maine? All the plans, the preparations, the dreams, are about to come crashing down in defeat on day one—before I even arrive at the official start of the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain.  

            We complete the mile up the Approach Trail to the top of Amicalola Falls. There I take off my pack and struggle with the feeling that I’m making the worst mistake of my life. I can hear it now when we arrive home in defeat. The sympathetic looks mixed with “I thought it would be too much.” Or other sentiments meant to comfort but act as barbs instead. 

I turn to see Paul Bunyan stumbling up the trail. He throws down his pack in an act of surrender. I can tell from his face what he’s thinking, and it’s not looking good. . .

The son
You got that right. And this is what I’m thinking. I’m not going any farther on this stupid thing. Man, I can’t believe how steep it is. I’m not cut out for this. This is a joke. Maybe if I lag behind, we’ll stop and rethink this plan. 

At this point I’m still wondering what’s going on and what we’re doing. It all seems weird to me. Maybe we’ll get to the top of the mountain and say, Okay, let’s go back down and maybe head out again tomorrow and see what happens. This will only be a one or two night thing. It can’t go on for weeks. No way.   

            Sigh. It looks like we may be turning around here at the rest room, atop the waterfalls that gives the park its name. One mile on the Approach Trail and we are throwing in the towel, before we even see the first white blaze. The unthinkable is about to happen. We are going to head home in utter defeat. Oh God, how can this be?

            Suddenly a man clutching a cigarette appears from around the rest room, his head wrapped in a bandanna. He introduces himself as Flint. Immediately I recognize the name from a hiking website on the Internet. His wife contacted me a few days before via the site where I’m keeping my online trail journal. She mentioned her husband’s plan to start March 5 and that his name is Flint. I already have a connection to the trail! 

Our hiking inner circle that first day on the Approach Trail
The next moment we’re joined by Dr. B, the man we met at the arch where we exchanged pictures. We all begin talking about the hike. . .and then we begin hiking together. I don’t think any more about giving up or that Paul Bunyan lags behind. We’re officially part of a hiking circle that will become the mainstay of long-distance hiking—a league of fellow hikers who hold to some wild, farfetched dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.    

            Not long into the hike I realize the value of that inner circle. When we come to a trail intersection, Dr. B and Flint wait patiently for Paul Bunyan to catch up. They refuse to leave him behind. They acknowledge him as a vital member of the group. They take their time, enjoying a slow, relaxed pace on a fine spring day. And with that patience, Paul Bunyan seems to have more energy. 

The doubts are taking flight. We are not going home after all. We are on our way north by way of a trail.

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