Friday, April 25, 2014

116. Shifting Expectations - Northbound Introduction

This is the introduction that I wrote for Michael "Dumptruck" Wilson's book, Northbound. I realize that those of you that purchased the book will have already read this piece, but I wanted to share it with everyone. Some individual prints and other photographs by Michael are still available for Northbound at Michael's print shop, 


The Appalachian Trail is a backpacking footpath that starts at the peak of Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine. It passes through 14 states, and has a total elevation change approximately equivalent to ascending and descending Mount Everest 18 times. I would love to tell you how many miles long it is, but by the time you finish this sentence, it'll be at least another 2 miles longer than it was when you started reading.  Through the incredible, industrious hard work of local trail maintenance crews, the trail is being consistently rerouted for the health of the ecosystem - and for the health of the poor souls that have to drag their sorry hiker butts up and down all those mountains.

When Michael Wilson and I hiked the trail, it was 2,185 miles long. What I find fascinating is that, even though I now know better, I continue to qualify the trail mostly in regard to its physical specifications.  By using mileage and distance language to describe the trail, though, I am pigeonholing the act of hiking into an achievement, a goal to be accomplished. When we began the trail -- rubbing shoulders with the other strangers who also got it into their heads to be willing, wandering smelly hobos for 6 months -- we had the false understanding that the trail was about the act of completion. 

It's hard to pinpoint the moment I understood that hiking the trail was about experience, not achievement. The experience was qualified not so much by the mountains (though they were arduous and beautiful), the distance traveled (though it was hard-earned), or the injuries (though they were plentiful, painful, and often slapstick). The real experience came in regard to being able to look away from the distance, and instead see the horizon reflected in the eyes of hikers. People who you may have met only an hour before, but who you didn’t have to explain anything to, because they already knew.

They call the Appalachian Trail "The People's Trail." It belongs to no one because it belongs to everyone. It belongs to every person who can make ridiculous faces to lift the spirits of a downtrodden companion, or reach out their hand and pull a stranger up a rock scramble. It belongs to stewards of nature. It belongs to you, and it belongs to me.  It belongs to us. 

In that spirit, I would ask you permit me to start over again, and introduce the real Appalachian Trail to you:

The Appalachian Trail is a backpacking footpath that starts where it starts and ends where it ends. It passes by countless beautiful, unique individuals, and has a total perspective change equivalent to ascending to the satellites to see the world as a tiny blue dot in a vast universe, and descending down to the size of an ant to stare up at the underside of blades of grass. I would love to tell you how many people there are that will change your life, but by the time you finish the trail, it will be more than you could possibly count. The end points haven't changed any time recently, but with the incredible, industrious hard work of every single person who sets a foot on that trail, the community is constantly changing. It breathes and shifts, every year creating a new and intricate web of connecting souls, for it, too, is part of that complex and beautiful ecosystem. And we're still just dragging our sorry hiker butts up and down all those mountains, laughing all the while, every breath bringing us closer to each other, and closer to ourselves.

Clever Girl

1 comment:

  1. Still brings tears to our eyes! Love, Mom and Dad