I’m not a terribly spiritual person. I’m definitely not a religious person, although I was raised as a Protestant Christian. I’m very logical and have a fairly scientific view of things. This leads to questioning lots of the aspects of religion and spirituality. I guess at this point in my life I have evolved my views of God away from the traditional human-form all-powerful being that created everything and has control over everything to a more amorphous ‘forces of nature’ conglomerate.
At times, I might wonder “why me” when things seem to be going badly for no reason but I also don’t expect any answer or explanation beyond a string of unfortunate coincidences. For me, hiking is an opportunity to commune with nature for a brief time, which is about as close to a church service as I get these days, unless it’s for a wedding or a funeral. I just don’t believe in a force controlling our lives at an individual level. Lately, however, things have happened to question that, at least a little.
I’ve been contemplating the Appalachian Trail for quite a few years now. I originally wanted to thru-hike it at some point, and maybe I’ll still be able to do that, but I’ve come to the acceptance that my chosen career path, family, and lifestyle won’t likely accommodate a four-to-six month vacation on the trail. At least not until I retire.
A couple of years ago I made the decision that I could section hike the AT and manage to work that into my life, which opened up the possibility of completing what I wanted to, but within the constraints I had to work with. As I mentioned in a previous post, my goal is to section hike the AT sequentially from South to North to replicate the order of experiences a thru-hike would produce.
This year, I had almost no chance to get out and hike over the winter. I definitely had a serious case of spring fever and my wife suffered with moodier days and waspish responses on “down” days, through no fault of her own. At some point this winter, my resolve to hike the AT seemed to strengthen and I had decided that I would start training this year to prepare for some serious section hiking. Eventually, I even got to the point to set a plan and start my actual hike in 2020.
My wife doesn’t like the idea, entirely. She knows that I’ll be gone for a week or two at a time, leaving her alone to take care of our daughter who will turn 6 near the end of next summer. She’s been very supportive though and I appreciate that. She actually suggested the blog to me and the idea stuck, so all of you reading this can thank her (or blame her) for it.
My work schedule finally opened up in April and the weather cooperated and I finally got out for a hike, which I already wrote about in my “Building the Plan” post. That helped significantly with the spring fever issue. My mood lightened and the clouds parted, leaving me with a much sunnier disposition. I was eager for the snows to melt and the hiking trails to dry up and get past the “shoulder” season between winter and spring in the Whites. Whether directly attributable or not, the improvement in my mood from this short hike also seemed to confirm the decision that I would start section hiking the AT in 2020.
Next came the AMC 4000 Footer Club’s annual meeting where I was one of many being recognized for completing one of the various lists in the prior year. Between the atmosphere at the meeting, the memories of all the summits reached, and the various stories told about what those achievements meant to people, I realized that the urge to hike the AT had become even stronger.
This past weekend, I hiked toward North Kinsman. It being May 4th and also being a Star Wars fan, I somehow wanted to share “May the 4th Be With You” day in some small way with the hikers on the AT, but as I chronicled at the time, I didn’t reach the summit and instead was satisfied with a far better result than expected, even if it didn’t achieve the arbitrary goal of reaching the summit. Instead, the route I took home passed through Kinsman Notch and I stopped at the parking area for Beaver Brook Trail. I got out and walked a few feet up the trail, officially putting me on the AT for a couple of minutes that day. I know it seems absolutely silly to do such a meaningless act, but for some reason it meant something to me in that moment. A reinforcement of my decision to do what I was doing.
Last week I also started jumping in head first to research backpacking in general and specifically the AT. I haven’t been on a backpacking trip in more than 30 years, back when I was in the Boy Scouts. I needed to relearn what to do and realized that lots of things have changed over those three decades. While doing that, I ran across a free backpacking seminar that was being put on by the Outing Committee of the Maine Chapter of the AMC.
That seminar was last night and was well done. It certainly wasn’t an in-depth tutorial to backpacking, but covered all the basics over the two hours. It wasn’t meant for long thru-hikes, but geared toward an introduction to one-to-five night backpacking trips. Regardless, the basics are the same. Thru-hiking primarily requires planning for resupply as the major difference. There were close to 20 attendees and it was split about 2-to-1 women-to-men. Everyone had different reasons for attending the class and a few, like me, had goals to hike the AT, although I seemed to have much more concrete plans than the others did at this time.
Leaving the class and heading home, I realized that I was much closer to getting started than I realized. Right now, to start getting out, I need a pack larger than my day pack and a shelter of some sort, most likely a tent. I have everything else I need for a short backpacking trip. That piece of knowledge seemed to further solidify my desire.
Now, looking back at the past month or so, I have started to wonder: Why does everything seem to be reinforcing my decision to hike the AT? Was the timing of the backpacking seminar just random coincidence? Why do I feel so comfortable blogging about myself when I am usually a pretty closed-off person to strangers? Everything seems to be leading me in the singular direction toward the AT.
At this point I’m still a skeptic on fate and destiny but, the logical, scientific approach leads in both directions. You can question where the evidence is to substantiate the existence of God, Fate, and other metaphysical beliefs. However, when a sequence of things happen which seem to be too coincidental to be random, you can also question whether you’re being given the evidence you’ve asked for. The key is not to close yourself off from any potential answer.
For now, if Fate is real, and I’m meant to thru-hike the AT, maybe a solution will present itself. In the meantime, I’ll continue my plans to section hike it with the firm belief that it is the right decision for myself and my family at this time.