The Way Is Made By Walking…
That’s the title of a book by Arthur Paul Boers that I’ve been reading alongside of my Appalachian Trail pilgrimage this year. The book is about his experience on the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain. As he tells particular stories about that journey he also weaves in christian lessons on spirituality that I found meaningful and analogous to my own pilgrimage discoveries.
On Sept 1, 2023 I packed all I would need to live in the woods for two weeks and started hiking on the AT right where I left off last year. Mile 545.6 near Atkins, VA.
About 5 minutes into the hike, I felt as though something was missing. My arms were swinging back and forth and it felt strange that I didn’t know what to do with my hands. That’s when it dawned on me that I left my trekking poles leaning against the gas station where I was just dropped off by a shuttle driver.
Thankfully, that was the only time I left my trekking poles behind during this entire trip, which is an improvement over previous years and trips.
Less than two hours into the hike I noticed the 1/4 marker meaning I had finally hike the first 25% of the AT from Georgia to Maine. By about noon my clothes were already drenched with sweat, so at a road crossing, I stopped to eat some lunch and spread out my shirt, socks, etc to dry out a bit. My goal for the first day was to hike about 16.5 miles to the Knot Maul shelter but when I got there, I realized the spring (water source) was dry and I was completely out of water for the day. So I hike a couple more miles to a stream crossing and setup campus at the Lick Creek campsite.
This first day of hiking and the scarcity of water should was setting the stage for one of my biggest hardships and lessons on this year’s hike: hydration.
Thankfully, at the previous shelter, I encountered a couple of day hikers who were about to head back to their vehicle, so they shared an extra water bottle with me. In fact, there was still a bit of ice in it which was a nice bit of “trail magic” early on in the hike.
Trail magic refers to any generosity than one can benefit from while hiking a trail. Often, it comes in the form of snacks and cold beverages left in a cooler near a parking area…or perhaps even someone parked at a road crossing inviting hikers to take a break and enjoy any kind of food or drink.
So on Day 1, some trail magic and then finding a creek to camp near at the 18.5 mile mark brought much-needed relief after the first full day of hiking. A pilgrimage like this is a great place to learn the significance of small acts of kindness and provision. And this is something I want to incorporate into my daily off-trail life. What small acts of kindness can we engage people with that might help lighten their load or encourage them in the midst of their difficult journey?