The Ribbon of the Appalachian Trail

On the AT list I subscribe to, a hiker, one who didn't complete his thru-hike, has been asking what gets thru-hikers through the hard times and enables them to hike all 2,160+ miles from Georgia to Maine (or Maine to Georgia). We all have our answers, and he wonders if phrases like "live in the moment"--phrases that show up a lot in our "answers"--are merely platitudes.

It's hard to explain why some people make it and some people don't. One wise hiker simply says that we're insane, and another that we're just too stupid to quit. That may well be true. I definitely kept hiking out there when it would have been much smarter for me to quit. But I couldn't quit. I'd set out to hike the whole thing, and by golly, I was going to hike the whole thing.

So anyway, this is what an AT hiker by the name of Sloetoe wrote in response to the thread. I liked it, so I'm posting it here.

What does it mean to "live in the moment" here? It means to recognize that the trail is a ribbon laid out over a marvelous landscape, a wholescale geologic slideshow, done in realtime, just for you. Hike faster, and get a sense of this ribbon, and look at the forest instead of individual trees; look at the changing ecological bioms, instead of the singleton scenes captured with a rest stop; hike a mountain range, instead of an incline, and feel with your feet how this mountain fits into the greater tapestry. How does your body react? How does the water taste on this side? Is the wind different? How different do the woods smell? A thousand things to notice, a thousand answers to questions unasked, but if you don't hike the ribbon, you won't have a clue.


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