June 26, 2024

Path through blooming rhododendron
Rhododendron blooming. Three Ridges, VA

In answering a question on Reddit, my emotions were triggered with someone’s response that they wanted to push past their comfort zone, walk more miles, when their knee hurt after 8 or 9 miles of walking. What I wanted to reply was this:

It sounds like your body says, “this hurts now, can you please rest me”? Are you open to the idea that working WITH your body, loving it as it is, gradually healing and strengthening it with gentle walks, could give you a different connection to the trail, to yourself, to Nature? Could there be a way to be on the trail that fulfills a purpose besides competition, physical stress + pain, pushing?

It always saddened me as an AT ridgerunner in VA that soooo many hikers were fighting the trail, demanding their body to push through injury, being annoyed with trees and hills, and focusing only on how many miles they had walked that were never enough. I couldn’t figure out why they were there except to achieve some physical goal that was someone else’s idea and some requirement that was coming from outside of their own heart. What if the AT is a blank canvas on which we each get to paint our own fulfillment?

Here’s what Benton MacKaye, the founder of the idea of the Appalachian Trail said about the purpose of the trail:

“The Appalachian Trail indeed is conceived as the backbone of a super reservation and primeval recreation ground covering the length (and width) of the Appalachian Range itself, its ultimate purpose being to extend acquaintance with the scenery and serve as a guide to the understanding of nature.” -Benton MacKaye

How about walking the AT as a place of pilgrimage and Inner Journey? What if we could find a way to measure and quantify fulfillment or joy or personal transformation?  Does anyone ever count the number of times they have meditated or gone to church, as if it was the number of times one participated is the measure of fulfillment??

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