Quit Trailing Off and Come Back to Center: How the Appalachian Trail Taught Me What I Needed to Know in Just 200 miles
The Appalachian Trail, one of North America’s most beautiful and scenic hiking trails, covering over 2,000 miles, weaving through 14 different east coast states, is a journey and an adventure of a lifetime. It’s a journey and a trip that one must feel from within. Just like any path, it too is sacred and divine in its own right, if you have the heart and trail legs for it.
My journey along the Appalachian Trail taught me many great life lessons in a very short amount of time. Lessons on letting myself be the leader, knowing when to merge and when to part, trusting time and nature, and reclaiming my own happiness and curiosity along my life path.
I must admit that hiking the Appalachian Trail in its entirety or in sections was never part of my life plan. Yes, I enjoy a lengthy day hike every now and then or a spontaneous weekend backpacking trip, but living in the forest for a month has never been a goal of mine. The driving force for this hike was love. Or was it fear?
Since I had started dating my boyfriend, hiking the AT had always been a goal and dream of his. Before we started dating, he talked about the trail. In the middle of our courtship, the trail was still in his plan. When he asked me to jump on board, my go-to answer was always, “Nope. I support you fully, but that is just not my thing”. I kept true to that answer up until two months before he was leaving. All of a sudden, I felt a shortness of breath, not ready to let him go, stressed by how fast time had passed, and not knowing where I would be if he left and I stayed behind.
I changed my mind. I like to think I followed my heart, but that I may never know.
I decided to go with him. With no camping or backpacking gear, I decided to spend almost all of my savings for everything I would need. With countless trips to REI, shopping and researching equipment, and hundreds of e-mail threads to my boyfriend discussing gear, weight, ounces, incessantly weighing out pros and cons of every single purchase, I finally had everything that I needed. I was ready to venture off with just a backpack, live a simple life, and be happy. This was my lesson in knowing when to merge.
My experience on the trail was not easy. I imagined the trail to be contemplative, mindful, a bit desolate, and something more spiritual. I imagined my days filled with ample time to read, write, practice yoga, and make love. In reality I found myself feeling rushed, expected to hike many more miles than I comfortably wanted, with poison sumac on my butt, and a urinary tract infection that lasted for days. I found myself unhappy, lonely and separated from my boyfriend, and I seemed to cry or feel like crying a lot with no safe place to go. I was in one of the most beautiful forests that was just revealing it’s beauty as spring time was just beginning to show herself, but something was not aligned and I felt deeply unsatisfied. How could this be? I had just worked so hard to make this happen for myself. I thought this was what I wanted.
After 200 miles on the trail, experiencing both highs and lows, I confidently decided to step off the trail, to follow my passion, and my true path no matter where that path would lead me. I decided to not be guided so much by external love or fear, and to listen to myself. I decided to find my own happiness, no matter what, even letting go of a relationship, and once again embarking on a new trail alone. After I left the trail, life was simple again. I guess sometimes living with just a backpack can have it’s own satchel of complications.
This is when I learned to radically let go.
What I found was bliss, love, and my innermost center.
And more love.
There is a distinct feeling when one is on their true path. It is a feeling of unfolding, of great excitement, and of true wisdom. It is a feeling of inspiration and great confidence, moments where instant manifestation is available, and new growth, faces, and opportunities appear abundant. The true path and knowingness feels fertile and supportive of life. The true path has infinite surprises and gifts to show us. The unique journey we all have yet to uncover lies in a moment’s choice to choose to listen to our internal compass, and allow ourselves to be guided by our own divinity.