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Section hiking the Appalachian Trail

section hiking the appalachian trail

A buddy and I are section hiking the Appalachian Trail. We’re approaching the 500-mile mark, and by the time you read this, we’ll be headed north out of Damascus on a mission to click off 65 more.

Yep. Every year Chammy and I trade our complicated but comfortable lives for simple, arduous ones. We hike up and down 3,000-foot inclines, covering up to 20 miles a day, armed with nothing more than 40 pounds of essentials, the clothes we’re wearing, and a desire to lead more meaningful lives.

Section hiking the Appalachian Trail

Hours are spent consulting our maps to analyze topography, mileage, water sources, shelters, and campsites which we then reconcile against the weather forecast before we even decide upon an itinerary.

It takes almost as long to organize our backpacks. The last thing you can afford is too much weight, which means many of the things I might have wanted get left behind.

That’s OK, though. You get by better with only the things you need.

*  *  *

Along the trail, I’m sure to experience a gamut of emotions. Exhilaration at cresting a two-mile incline. Wonder while witnessing the beauty it’s afforded. Relief at the onset an easier stretch. Despair when it turns on a dime and leaves me weak-kneed and breathless, questioning my ability, and by extension, myself.

But I know if I can just fight through that despair, I’ll be rewarded with the exaltation of arriving at the campsite I’ve dedicated the previous 11 hours to reach. The place where I’ll rest and replenish, just so I can experience another collage of emotions the very next day.

section hiking the appalachian trail

The “h” tree that prompted the tears for my sister, Holliday.

The trail has brought me tears of joy. Anguish, too. And once, it even brought me tears of grief, only the trunk of a sympathetic pine keeping me upright after a long, brutal incline. An incline that teamed up with 15 miles of endorphins and the recent passing of my sister to leave me sobbing unexpectedly. Uncontrollably.

Cries that were melancholy but beautiful and in perfect sync with the metronome of tears that drip-dropped, drip-dropped, drip-dropped upon the dry, dusty leaves that paved the trail on that brisk October afternoon.

*  *  *

Throughout the years, we’ve camped out in every condition imaginable, usually by ourselves, occasionally with others and once with an interloper, or so I learned when I awoke to the rhythmic rustling of leaves accompanied by intermittent pops of breaking wood. Loud pops. Too loud to come from twigs, but rather from thick, fallen branches being snapped in two by something heavy. Something strong.

One of our companions was still beside the fire reading by the dim glow of his headlamp when he suddenly found his stare fixed with that of a bear. One that was climbing the tree from which we’d hung our food.

Our companion jumped to his feet, grabbed his trekking poles and banged them together over his head as he slowly backed away. The bear scampered down the tree, but not before clawing through the tarp, our food bags dropping like candy from a piñata, landing with a series of dull thuds upon the damp, dark ground.

We huddled around the coaled-up campfire and decided to re-hang our food from a tree further away and remain there until morning, as opposed to hiking through the pitch-black night, carrying backpacks loaded with the very food our unwanted guest had been seeking. There was no chance he’d be back.

At two in the morning, we learned we were wrong, the trespasser telling us so with similar sounds to the ones he’d made earlier. As we scurried from our tents, he rustled into the mysterious night, scared off by the loud noises we were making in hopes of eliciting just such a reaction.

My friends and I quickly broke camp and began hiking toward a road that was two miles away. We walked closely and in a single-file line to the rhythm of our quickened heartbeats, our heads on a swivel, thin and shaky beams of light emanating therefrom, one of us banging a pot for effect.

We pitched our tents a little after three and slept under a leafless oak on a grassy plane that paralleled the few and faintly-striped spaces of a desolate parking lot.

I’ll never forget how beautiful that tree looked as it basked in the soft morning light just four hours later.

*  *  *

section hiking the appalachian trail

If you’ve ever hiked the Appalachian Trail, then you’re familiar with the white blazes painted on the trees along either side. The six-inch-by-two-inch affirmations that you are, indeed, still on the right path. During a 19-mile trek, those blazes blow by like mile markers on the interstate.

Sometimes, especially when my mind and body are weary, it feels like the hike I’m on is my entire life; each white blaze, another day; and the trail, God. Until I reach His camp, there’s no point in stopping, even when I feel as if I can’t take another step.

So onward I’ll go. To finish my hike. The one I spent so much time planning. But no matter how well prepared I am, I’m not the one in control. The trail is.

Me? I’m just a hiker.

PS — even though I’m away this week, there will still be some great stuff on aVy’ this week thanks to my buddy @VolRumorMill who will be providing some skinny on the Vols recruiting class, so be sure to swing back by. 

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By the way, here’s a video I made of one of our recent trips if you’re so inclined.

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