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[at-l] Thruhiking - Change (part 1) (was - life after AT)

By popular demand (I actually got 5 votes in favor) I'll go
ahead and post this stuff again.  There are 7 messages in
the series and I'll try to post one every couple days.

The reason this came up was last weekend at Harpers Ferry -
I realized when we got home how much WASN'T said even
though we talked nothing but "Trail" for 12 or 14 hours.
I also realized that some of the people who are on the list now
weren't here last year.  And some of them will be leaving in a
month or so to start the Trail.   And  then Michael  & Karen
asked the same kind of question - so it's just possible that
someone "might" find something of value in my ramblings.
Here we go again.

This first post was prompted by a question by someone on
the list (Hi Jeff).  As I recall, the question was about what
kind of changes a thruhiker could expect to experience.
The following was my answer.

Walk softly,

Jeff -

Seems like no one wants to answer this one, so - I'll give you the
nickel tour.  But you're gonna get some philosophy along the way.

Lets start with the fact that we ALL change - constantly - whether
we want to or not, whether we know it or not, whether we like it
or not.  Any experience that takes 4 - 6 months, where you spend
time alone with yourself, where you overcome obstacles and
situations that you've never encountered before, where your
physical, mental and emotional resources are tested, where you
live with the intense joy and pain that you'll find on the Trail,
where you're stripped of most of the artificial trappings of
civilization, where you learn your own strengths and weaknesses,
where the level of your commitment to a goal is tested - WILL
accelerate the change process - and may change the direction
of the process. So - if you don't do the AT, you'll change, and
if you do the AT, you'll change.  The real questions then become -
How much will you change?  and - How will you change?

How MUCH will you change ?  That's not predictable on an
individual basis.  On a generalized basis, it fits a bell curve
with some people being affected very little (the near end of
the bell curve), some people (like me) becoming totally
addicted to the Trail and to hiking (the far end of the bell
curve) and most people falling somewhere in the middle.
Where would you end up on that curve?  Nobody can answer

So HOW will you change?  Nobody can tell you that, either.
But there might be some clues in this excerpt from Larry
Luxenberg's book "Hiking the Appalachian Trail":

        "After more than two thousand miles on the trail, you
        can expect to undergo some personality changes.  A
        heightened affinity for nature     infiltrates your life.
        Greater inner peace.  Enhanced self-esteem.  A quiet
        confidence that if I could do that, I can do and should do
        whatever I really want to do.  More appreciation for
        what you have and less desire to acquire what you don't.
        A childlike zest for living life to the fullest.  A refusal
        to be embarrassed about having fun.  A renewed faith
        in the essential goodness of humankind.  And a determination
        to repay others for the many kindnesses you have received."

What's the best that can happen to you?  You could become a
better person.  You could fit Larry's projection of the changes
the Trail produces.  You could learn the lessons the Trail has
to teach -  about happiness, about beauty and peace and love,
about strength and persistence and God and friendship and .....
more, much more.  When I got off the Trail I wrote down some
of the lessons I learned.  Sometimes when life doesn't make
sense, I go back to those lessons - they help.  Another excerpt
from "Hiking the Appalachian Trail":

        The thing that shines through the most this time is the peace I learned.
        I found a peace within myself that I always knew or felt was there
        but did not know or understand how to get it out.  The AT has
        really changed my life forever.  I am a more loving person because
        of it.   No matter where my life takes me I'll always be waiting to
        hike the AT again.
                John Hess, 1984 trail report to ATC after his second thruhike

OK, so what's the worst that could happen to you?  Well, you
could become like me - and my partner and my friends.  I think
the following verse says it well:

                There's a race of men that don't fit in
                A race that can't sit still;
                So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
                And they roam the world at will.
                They range the field and rove the flood,
                And they climb the mountain's crest;
                Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
                And they don't know how to rest.

                        Robert Service, Poet of the Yukon
                        from "The Men that Don't Fit In"

There's a risk in walking the Trail - you might become
something more or maybe just different, than you would
if you don't walk it.  Some people can't tolerate that - or
maybe they're not ready for it.  Personal opinion is that
this is one of the reasons people get off the Trail.

Is it worth the risk for you?  Only YOU can answer that.
If it really concerns you get a copy of "Hiking the Appalachian
Trail" and read the chapter on "Life After the Trail".  If it
still concerns you, get back to me and I'll give you names
and numbers - there are other people who would be willing
to talk to you.  I can tell you about the far end of the bell
curve, and I can tell you what I know of other people's
experience, but if it's a real concern for you, you need
to get their exeriences first hand.

OK - what's the bottom line?  When you finish you'll be
different.  Your family and friends probably won't understand
you, they won't have the shared experience or knowledge or
emotional context of the Trail to allow them to understand.
For some of us that can be really tough - but it's not
impossible to live with.  It will require some more
adjustment on your part (more change).

The job is another world - a thruhikers life tends to
be pretty basic, and the BS associated with a job can
be really tough to tolerate when you get off the Trail.
Again, it's a matter of adjustment - on your part.
You really can't expect the rest of the world to change
to fit the Trail world.  Can you handle it?  Of course you
can.  If you can handle the Trail - you can handle the world.

The caveat on all of the above is that this is my thinking,
my experience, my viewpoint, my philosophy.  You don't
have to accept it or believe it.  Also, I can't talk about
long section hikes - only thruhiking and weekend section
hiking.  Maybe someone else can fill in that part.

One more excerpt that fits with my personal philosophy -
        "If you haven't had an intense experience on the trail,
        you missed something"  -  Mike "Hago" Harrington.

Good luck,
Jim Owen
Bald Eagle, AT-92

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