When I was 8 years old, I took an overnight backpacking trip with my brother, a few of our friends, and our dads. My memory of this trip is pretty hazy, but I do remember that the first night we were out, it rained. Hard. Mercilessly, the hand of God wrung the heavens like a soaked sponge to squeeze every last bit of water out. All. Night. Long. Our borrowed tents shed water about as well as a collander. I woke up in puddles.
This is my first experience with the Appalachian Trail. I have no idea which section or how long we hiked. Images of throwing a football with my friend back and forth over the NC/TN border on a grassy summit and endless, sweaty climbs shift into focus every now and then.
What I do remember vividly is my fascination that this walking path started in Georgia and traveled through the mountains all the way to Maine. As an 8-year-old, I had no context to the scope of this trail, but I was extremely curious. That curiosity and intrigue has stuck with me ever since. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the birth of my dream to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.
As I grew older, I continued to take more and more section hikes along the NC/TN/ and southern VA sections of the AT. With every climb, vista, rainstorm, and blister, my dream grew steadily and rapidly. I first seriously said the words “I am going to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail,” ten years ago. Two years ago I set plans in motion to make that dream a reality in 2017.
Thru-hiking the AT has been a long time dream of mine. This dream will not die. It’s as if I have to, need to do this. The desire is so strong. I can’t say exactly why, but I do believe that living out our dreams allows us to live richly, fully, and joyfully and that vivacious living impacts those around us in ways we may never know.
I feel most alive when I am in nature. It’s hard to explain this. Standing on an exposed ridgeline with howling winds that knock me over, plummeting the windchill to zero and sculpting ice in my beard, moves me in ways I can’t describe. The sheer power of God’s creation overwhelms my senses and I feel infinitely small, yet simultaneously larger than life. And it’s not just the extreme that moves me in these ways. Even short walks in the park or an afternoon hammock nap make me truly alive. I can disconnect from the noises and distractions that plague my mind. It gives me the mental space to actually notice and appreciate the beauty in the small. I want to spend five months hiking the AT because I want to feel truly alive.
The AT will be really, really hard. And I need to be challenged. There are some aspects of this adventure where I feel like I’m in way over my head. How do you physically walk that far? How do you plan for something so grand? How do I spend so much time alone? How do you get the money? I will be doing things I’ve never done before: Hitchhiking, asking total strangers for extra food, doing laundry in my underwear in a public laundromat, being more physically exhausted than I thought possible, overcoming fears.
Fears? Yes, I have fears. What if I don’t finish? Is that a failure? What if I never shake loneliness? What if I get caught in a thunderstorm? What if a bear comes into my camp at night?
Bears can be scary, but sitting on the sidelines watching your dream pass by is way scarier.
I want to feel alive, to learn to live fully. I want to accomplish something that seems incredibly daunting. I want to learn, to grow, to embrace what life throws my way. I want to live out a dream. I want to meet God.