Today, ten years ago, I took my first step on the Appalachian Trail. It started the trajectory to the hiker I am today.
When I set out, I barely spent more than a few days on the East Coast. I could count on my fingers the number of nights I had spent out under the stars—and most of them were car camping.
Whatever possessed me to go on that long adventure? Why did I want to hike the Appalachian Trail?
Thinking back on it, it almost feels like I had no choice. Like there was this thought inside me that urged me to set off, not knowing what “thru-hiking” really meant.
Recently, I was forced to revisit those feelings of desire, confusion, and excitement that dominated my psyche as I set off on the Appalachian Trail.
When I wrote Long Trails: Mastering the Art of the Thru-hike, it took me back to a mindset of being an enthusiastic beginner.
It’s not a position a lot of experienced hikers drive themselves back into willingly. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable to be reminded of a time when we were less knowledgeable than we are now. It’s hard to admit to others that we all start somewhere. What I sought in that book was to give answers to questions that I didn’t even have the language to ask before I started thru-hiking.
Reflection is uncomfortable.
I realize now I had very little idea what I was doing. But I jumped in and came out all the better.
But during that reflection, I realized:
I’m not sure that today, I would have the same courage to make such a bold move.
The easy thing to do on my Appalachian Trail-aversary is to think back on how silly and unprepared I was on that first long hike. It would be perfectly cliche to give that past-self some advice on how to hike better.
But instead, I will use this Trail-aversary to let my past-self give my current-self the wisdom that only comes from doing something for the first time:
1) I still have the same strength and courage that I had ten years ago when I set off on the Appalachian Trail
2) Don’t let fear and experience prevent me from making bold moves.
3) May I not be afraid to make friends along the journey.
4) Take advice when I need it, and especially when I don’t know how to ask (or don’t think I can ask).
5) Push myself to do things that I haven’t done before. Do things that I have no proof that I even can do. Go so far outside my comfort zone that I don’t even have the language to describe to others what I am about to do.
I was much wiser ten years ago than I want to admit.
Happy Trailaversary to my past, current, and future-self.
Wherever you are in your hiking, may these lessons from my past self ring true to you as well.