I decided to hike the Appalachian Trial soon after I completed my master’s degree. I was single and had endless options and directions for life lay out before me. Because I had so many possibilities I staggered not knowing which way to commit to. I knew I was not moving forward in ay direction as a result and I was as frustrated as my parents were about that. I was unsettled and something needed shaking but I couldn’t tell what needed the shaking or how to do it. A friend from my college days in Mississippi called me up and told me I needed to go on a hike with him. I had never been on a hike and I thought, “sure, what else am I doing with my time?” He picked me up in his car and drove me to Georgia where we began a 30 mile walk
I didn’t know how to prepare for a hike and I didn’t give it much thought. So in my blue jeans and other cotton clothing, a borrowed backpack, tent, and sleeping bag from WWII surplus, we began our excursion in the mountains of Georgia.
As we walked for several days in the woods I discovered how out of shape I was and that hiking is beautiful scenery surrounded by long moments of boredom. I didn’t know what to fill my mind with in the silence as I walked. But we pressed on and I discovered I liked the uncomfortable silence and the burning in my legs. I also came to see that the mountains in north Georgia are a beautiful place to spend time in. I was raised in the Pacific Northwest with soaring trees and sharp jutting rock mountains. The forest in Georgia was gentle whispered to you. I felt like I could take a deep breath of warm clean air that would go down like a refreshing sweet tea.
At one moment on the trail I was separated from my fiend Jerome who had a sore knee that slowed him down. There was rain coming down through the trees and a haze blew through the hills. I was alone in the wet afternoon but I heard a woman’s voice singing a beautiful haunting song. The words weren’t clear but I could bake out the tune and hummed along. When I would stop walking to try and locate the direction of the voice it went silent. I repeated this several times. Only as I walked did the comforting voice sing to me.
When I got to the shelter we were going to spend the night I shed my wet jeans and sweatshirt and snuggled into my sleeping bag to wait for Jerome. When he arrived an hour later I asked him if he heard anything in the woods. With a sheepish hesitancy, he shared about this mysterious voice he heard while walking but would go silent when he would stop to look around. It was the same tune I had heard. We never knew what to make of that voice in the woods but my mind raced to try and make sense of it.
I have always taken pride in my ability to adapt and to any environment I should encounter but in the woods I quickly learned that I was an amateur hiker who didn’t belong yet in these woods. I felt like I should go back to my backyard and practice for a month before trying this again. My friend Jerome told me this trail that we were traversing continued on through 14 states ending in Maine through some of the most beautiful scenery and some of the most difficult hiking areas on the east coast. It was called the Appalachian Trial. My curiosity was caught. As I look back now, I see that that was the moment I decided to take my directionless life and point it north.
I think I made the decision for several reasons. I wanted to see the beauty. I wanted to get in better shape. I wanted to get past the boredom and see what I could hear if my ears could be retrained to listen to life and not what I plug myself into. But most of all I think I wanted to know where the voice came from and if it was God singing to me.
I began a one year extensive preparation period where I read books and articles related to hiking or anything relevant to history and geography of the places I would experience. I took a journal with me on the hike and every week when I would get off the trail to re-supply my food in a town, I would photocopy my journal and mail it to my mom. She would then email it out to family and friends to follow my adventure. That was a little scary first off to let my own mother read my journal and even more important, if I wanted to quit, I felt I would look the fool. On April 4, 1999 I began my hike.
Just before I left a friend wrote me a note to encourage me.
May your blisters turn to calluses
May your moans turn to songs
May your poncho be your pillow
As you’re walking all along,
May the copper heads bite the bears
As bears squash their heads
May you always be guided
As by the Lord your God
Countless people asked me how I was going to accomplish this challenge I had in front of me, my standard response became: everything is in walking distance if you have the time.