Every year thousands of people attempt to hike 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. Only one in four will complete the journey, but each and every one learns something along the way.
My husband, John, began his attempt in late January, but the IT band in his right knee cut his journey short at 362 miles. He had his own reasons for going deep into the forest. Everyone on the trail does.
I had planned to join John on the trail for day hikes and brief overnighters. Like John Muir, conservationist and mountain muse, I “go to the forest to lose my mind and find my soul.” Unfortunately, a large kidney stone had other ideas, felling me for more than three months.
Luckily, I am better now and I’ve spent the last few days with John providing support, moral and otherwise, for two of our children hiking the trail. Both just graduated from college and entering the deep woods appealed to them. Tiana’s journey will last two months and cover a good section of the trail, while James plans to traverse the entire trail. I can’t help but wonder what the trail will teach them.
I’ve met a number of hikers in the last few days from all over the country and around the world. A couple from Australia popped their head in our camper door yesterday morning to say hello. Three days ago amid a drenching rain, a man from Germany earnestly assured me that I had saved his life simply by driving him and his companions to a hostel eight miles from the trail so that they could sleep under a roof. A gentleman from Ohio couldn’t believe the southern mountains were still chilly in late May and a man from Texas refused to give up on his dream of completing the grueling trek despite having dislocated his shoulder in a bad fall.
So many people searching for something in the woods. Each and every one will find something — though it may not be what they expected.
The ever-wise Muir said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” He had it right. There’s something about the woods that touches our deepest selves.
The forest soothes and frightens. Being enveloped in its lush, cool greenness acts as a balm to our spirit. At the same time, the woods are foriegn to the comforts of our modernity and frightening in their amorality. They beckon us like the sirens of myth, and like Muir, we must go.
Here’s wishing all the adventurers on the AT from Georgia to Maine, happy, safe trails.