(Be sure to check out Part I)
It’s amazing how much you can learn and grow if you’re open to it. I think so many times we let those opportunities pass us by because we’re either too comfortable to get off our butts and make a change, or we’re too busy to even notice the growing experience right in front of us. I learned quite a bit over those two days and 25 miles of the roundtrip traverse of the Black Mountain Crest Trail.
You are more capable than you think you are.
The night before the hike, I drove up to the parkway to get a view of what I was about to get myself into. Staring up at ridgeline as the sun set behind the hulking mass I thought, “There is no freaking way. Even from here, it looks insanely steep.”
Of course I knew that it was possible, and by this time the next day, I would be at the top of that intimidating bulk looking back to that same spot. But still.
So many times we see a monstrous task ahead of us, and think, “No freaking way.” I would be lying if I said I don’t ever think the 2,189.8 miles of the AT is impossible. Who walks that far?
But it totally is! It’s all about mindset. Mentally, I’m breaking down the AT into small 4 day hikes. Short trips that I’m used to taking from town to town. Sure, I’ve never hiked for 5 consecutive months. But at one point in my life, I had never climbed a 14,000 foot mountain, or carried filmmaking equipment through the chaotic streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone, or backpacked solo, or had a bear run full speed straight at me (it wasn’t charging, and was 150 feet away, and quickly diverted. SO cool to see).
With the right mindset, hard work, and determination, we can tackle the (im)possible head on!
Listen to your body.
Our bodies are smart. They know what’s up. There were a few times when my body was physically burned out. I needed a break, some food, a seat. But silly me said, come on feet, come on legs, there’s no view here. So I trudged ahead. Quickly, I noticed myself becoming mentally fatigued as well. “The next hill is so far away. It will take too long to get there. My feet hurt. Damn trail.”
Eventually I gave in and listened to my body, even if that meant spending a lunch break at a not very scenic spot. But who cares? The overlook isn’t going anywhere, and when I do get there I’ll be able to enjoy it more because I feel energized. Our egoes can be our worst enemies.
After a quick lunch break, I felt 100% better. I figured out how to listen to my body and that made a huge difference.
This applies to everyday life as well. So many times we rush through life. We’re stressed, we’re busy, we push and push and push. We live the American way. We sense our bodies becoming tired, and as our body goes, so our mind goes.
I’m not saying don’t work hard. Hell, I’ve worked extremely hard to set myself up for hiking the AT. Just pay attention to your body, and take a break when you feel weighed down or tired. You prove nothing by toughing it out.
I will feel very alone at times.
And that’s OK. It’s going to be tough as hell, but it’s what I need in my life right now. That also made me realize it’s OK to have support.
I’m not sure why, but up until that moment, I subconsciously was trying to do it all on my own. What is there to prove in that? Absolutely nothing. If people want to support me in any capacity, I should, need to embrace it.
I need to surround myself with people.
People who will encourage me, talk with me, listen to me vent. If someone wants to hike for a few days, that’s great. If someone wants to meet me and have lunch, let them. Those miles aren’t going anywhere. But a community of support goes further than anyone can imagine. And that’s a life lesson for me, not just one for the AT.
And even with a community of support I may still feel very alone at times, but God is with me.
The moment I realized this, I was climbing the side of the mountain the morning of the second day. The trail was so steep, I was grabbing roots to pull myself up. Ten steps later, I was higher than the top of that same tree.
I stopped to catch my breath. I turned around and I was standing in a spot where the trees parted and the valley opened up before me. It was so beautiful, and I wanted to share that moment with someone.
But it was just me.
All of a sudden, a wave of loneliness rushed over me. Out of nowhere. I’ve never experienced anything this intense.
I thought, “If I’m feeling this now, how am I going to spend five months like this?”
With turbulent thoughts I looked over the valley.
The interplay of sun and clouds cast dancing shadows on the trees thousands of feet below. A dog barked, the sound carried upward by the curve of the mountain. Trees stood stubbornly against the test of time, testaments of strength and perseverance. Birds sang melodies unknown to any man. A gentle breeze stirred the grasses to waltz and kissed the tears that began to stream down my face. God was with me, and always will be.
I am a filmmaker. I am an adventurer. I believe in children. My friends are obsessed with my beard. I am obsessed with beer. I want to embrace and fully live this life I’m blessed with. I want to be known as someone who loves deeply.
On May 16, 2017 I set out on my dream, the adventure of a lifetime: a 2,189.8 mile trek of the Appalachian Trail. I want to push people to live their dreams and pursue their passions.