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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Appalachian Beginnings

            If you’re involved in the world of hiking, like Robert Redford / Nick Nolte movies, Bill Bryson books, and / or are savvy to natural places in America, you might have heard of something called the Appalachian Trail. Currently, it’s a 2,190-mile journey according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, who also answer other questions people would want to know on their site.

            Recently, Dan “Knotts” Binde claimed to have set a fastest known time for the trail, doing it unassisted in 53 days and 23 hours, which is about 3-4 times as fast as the usual hiker does it. Some people are arguing this because he isn’t able to submit enough evidence due to technological difficulties on the way, though he does have a fair bit of photos and people who saw his recognizable self along the way. Whether he officially set the record or not remains to be seen, but the fact that he has so many hiking accomplishments shows how tough and disciplined he is to the journey, which is my point in noting this hike here.

            If you should be inclined to hike the trail, you don’t begin at step 1 of the trail. Instead, you hike there on some sort of approach trail for a decent length of time. One way to do this is from Amicalola Falls in Georgia, which adds 8.5 miles to the hike. You could also do all or some of the Benton MacKaye Trail or get to the top of Mount Springer like I did in a way that drives a 6-mile dirt road, which is in relatively decent condition, to get to a 1-mile section of the Amicalola approach into the beginning of the trail. When you arrive at the trail, there are a few markings in the form of 2 plaques, but there is no grand Yellow Brick Road stopping off so to speak. The ending for most people at Katahdin in Maine is much the same way. There is a 4.4 and 5.2-mile hike to the top of that mountain, which is the tallest in Maine.

            I’ve been on some of the Pennsylvania trail, and I can say I know what it’s about. It’s step after step of sweating it out through trees and over rocks. It’s all the way from northern Georgia to northeastern Maine. That’s a haul. It’s through the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, and Smokey Mountains of North Carolina as well as a lot of other mountains, rocks, and trees. It’s endless walking and climbing up and down. There are some roads, streams, rivers, and paths, which need to be crossed. There are people and dogs to encounter through summer heat and spring rains, but there are lonely days of empty repetition as well. There’s exertion and exhaustion. There are campsites and backpack meals. At some places, there are wooden camping enclosures and outhouses. When there aren’t, there are places for tents and trowels to dig cat holes. There are post offices to send yourself supplies, and there are trail towns to get hotels and hostels as well as meals. There’s a fair bit of weight to lose along the way (maybe I should consider a long stretch to get rid of my gut). In the end, there’s a lot to learn and endure along the way, but that’s any journey. The only difference is that people tend to stink a little more after this one, which is more of a problem to hotel owners than hikers.

            And that’s the metaphor here. Life is a journey, but it doesn’t happen along a defined line of time that goes A>B>C>D>E. In reality, step one of the AT could be F, and it might finish at step S, but there are other events that go from A>Z and that's the point of life.
As John Lennon and a former student named Jess Rivera said, “Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans” (or in her case, something like I needed to be more spontaneous in how I took in life along my grand summer travels). For those of us with disabilities like I have with my Parkinson’s, that journey didn’t begin with diagnosis or the first tremor. Dopamine production slowed down a while before that for me to get to the 60-80% point of neuron loss that caused the tremors to start, so yeah, there was a list of points in the journey, but everything up to that point was preparation for things in much the same way that a thru hike began with training, packing, flights, taxis, and whatever else. Whether it was always a bomb waiting to go off matters not. The fact is I'm here now in the same way I was always meant to be on the trail at the beginning of the month (though I wasn't there to thru-hike).

No matter who we are, we’ve had fantastic endings to our journeys like I believe Mr. Binde had. We’ve journeyed and trained like he did to become something in some way by being on the journey from place J to place K. Maybe that was tech school, and maybe it was college and / or the military. Maybe it was something like my 8-year marriage anniversary that happened on August 15th or my 46th birthday on August 26th

No matter what it was, there were good days and bad days as well as the endless step after step repetition of days. There was sleep / wake up / eat / get down to the business of work / poop / / maybe have some fun / unwind with mindlessness / sleep / repeat. Eventually, we came to mile markers and destinations. We saw the medallions, vistas, and waterfalls along the way. Sometimes, we saw deer, bear, snakes, turkeys, and other beautiful critters. We had our experience and hiked our hike. We became who we were going to be, and we succeeded in spite of injuries and strains while we caught our breath while propping up trees. Like baseball players in a long season, by this point in the year, we are giving 100% while playing at much less capacity than we had at the beginning, let alone when we got conditioned to full strength. It's the nature of the beast.

Nevertheless, we moved on. We pushed forward doing the best we could with what we had in the tank. We had a goal in mind, and we were going to live it out to the fullest, which is what we do, no matter who we are or what obstacles we have going against ourselves to get to point Z. For that, we’re doing OK, even if we’re not 100% OK. Like I said, it’s what we do, and it’s how we keep each other going, whether we’re a person, like me, who has Parkinson’s or we’re a 60 mile a day thru hiker on a never-ending mission to keep ascending, traversing, and descending to show accomplishment and meaning.
Again, that’s the metaphor of life for each and every person in the world.
As for the reality, it’s all about being on top of our mountains and journeying to the next awesome accomplishments. No matter what, remember that it’s all about hiking our own hike and that slow moving is still moving. You’ll never get there unless you start.