July 25, 2017
Is “connection” something that comes to us or something we choose to acknowledge? When the woman walking with me this week said, “I know I’m connected to God, but I just don’t feel it! Maybe when I feel that connection, I’ll feel more confident out here.”
As I walked through the magnificent forest, then out into an open field, I pondered her quandary. “What if we are connected, no matter what, and at any moment we can say, ‘this is what being connected feels like at this moment?'” I wondered out loud. I invited her to walk for the next twenty minutes reflecting on the notion that being connected is constant and foundational. Simply noticing how that feels is the feeling of connection at that moment. I believe that we can choose to ignore, deny, or deepen that connection whenever we want.
Having said that, I realized that there are many specific connections I can feel while walking the trail. There’s connection to the Earth and the support of the ground. There’s connection to the air, with it’s wind, weather, heat and cold. There’s connection to plants, reflecting on the various qualities of growth that resonate with my emotional, spiritual, and physical growth and metabolism. There’s connection with other people, how our journeys cross, coincide, compare, contrast, or not. The list could be quite long, and a long walk allows for leisurely reflection on the idea of connection.
This quandary was one of many that Diana brought to me as we walked our 26 miles together. Here are a few others:
Pacing, I realized, while coaching her with my Meet the Mountains Technique to easily ascend each mountain, is not only a helpful skill and practice, it’s essential for a joyful walk of a long trail. Discovering our own body’s rhythm of breathing and stepping that supports us to walk up any slope tirelessly, I’m convinced is the foremost skill to master before considering walking any appreciable distance on the Appalachian Trail.
Unless one has an acceptance and ease with climbing, and descending, mountains, a walk of the AT would be grueling every day! By contrast, developing from within a physical rhythm, just like perfect timing in an engine, that we can sustain throughout the day regardless of the terrain, makes going up mountains, walking on level ground, or descending mountains a joy. If we’re not struggling for breath, burdened by a heavy pack, or straining our muscles every time the trail ascends, we can pay attention to our surroundings!
Gear. Diana also helped me appreciate the value of scrutinizing every single piece of gear, choosing the smallest, lightest, and fewest versions of items I carry with me! I know that I started where she was when she came with me this week, following the advice of an outfitter salesperson and investing the smallest amount of cash possible. I remember my first backpack trip when I thought I needed a roll of masking tape. I have no idea why. I just remember being glad that we had mistakenly taken a longer way to our first campsite, happily discovering that we were close enough to our car to dump a bunch of unnecessary items, including the tape, the next morning!
That’s why I was glad that I had planned her first night out to be a single one, with a night off the trail before we went out for another night. That gave her the chance to reevaluate choices, leave a few things behind and find smaller bottles for toiletries. She helped me remember that it took me many short trips to pare down, try different things, replace heavy things with lighter ones, and sew some of my own gear to settle on the reliable and repeatable pack of gear that I now carry, fifteen years and 10,000+ miles later. I still don’t know that I would have invested early on in the best quality, lightest weight gear that I carry now! It makes a big difference in my enjoyment, though!
Thanks, Diana, for walking with me to remind me of what it’s like to be a new hiker. I was there once, too! Keep walking, and learning, and adjusting! Stay aware of connections – and come back again soon!