Hiking. Some may say it is an escape from reality. I have always considered it an escape to reality.
Some people are drawn to the Trail for the physical challenge, similar to a Yoga asana practice. It is a way to test our physical and mental abilities. A way to prove that we are capable, independent and strong. Some are drawn by the beauty of Nature. Scenic vistas, mountain streams and the wildlife. And yet there are others who view the Trail as a vehicle for healing and self-discovery. A way to find purpose in life and heal injustices and scars of the past. A place to find acceptance from others and more importantly, to find acceptance of ourselves.
I have lived within a 3-hour drive of the Appalachian Trail my entire life. My first experience with backpacking was on the AT when I was in the Boy Scouts. The section of trail through the Three Ridges Wilderness area of Central Virginia will always have a special meaning to me. That early experience planted a seed in my psyche that continues to grow today. Being on the trail and spending time in nature has always been therapeutic for me, long before I knew what therapeutic meant. Despite the physical demands the trail can require, I find being on it to be mentally relaxing. Life becomes simpler. You become more focused. Some may say that it’s an escape from reality, but I have always considered it as an escape to reality. The trail has a way of showing you what is really important in life and the longer you are out there, the clearer it becomes. Being on the Trail is a place where I have always felt most comfortable. It’s a place where I can be me.
Despite growing up in close proximity to the AT and section hiking it countless times over the years, I have never considered hiking it in it’s entirety a possibility. But that perspective has begun to change the past few years, in large part to the numerous thru hikers I have followed on YouTube. Many of them could almost be considered trail mentors. They share gear reviews, tips and tricks and lessons they have learned from their on Trail experiences. They have greatly enhanced my skills and I am a better hiker because of them. But the ones that I am most drawn towards are the ones who share their life experiences and detail the reasons WHY they are on the trail and how those experiences have changed them. Many are there due to significant life events or because they have a desire and/or need to make radical changes in their lives. Their stories have had an impact on me that I cannot yet explain. But they resonate with me on a deep level.
In addition to the YouTube vlogs, I have read numerous memoirs of past Thru hikers to learn more about their experiences. There are common threads that begin to emerge from their stories. Regardless of their individual circumstances, many of them describe what is known in the hiker community as ‘Post-trail depression’. Even though I have never been on a long distance hike like the ones they describe, I have been on countless shorter trips over the years and the feelings they describe are similar to the ones I have after a trip. It is more than just missing the experience of being on Trail. It is a deep longing to be there, combined with a decreased attachment to the material possessions of our ‘normal’ lives. It is not something that can be easily described or explained to those who have not experienced it first hand. I don’t know if Post-trail depression can be clinically diagnosed and if what I experience would even qualify. But I do know for certain, the desire to return to the Trail is very real and it’s pull on you is strong.
During my research on hiker experiences on the Trail, I discovered the organization HIKE for Mental Health and instantly knew I wanted to become involved in some way. Hiking has always benefitted me on many levels and its transformational effects are well documented for so many in the memoirs and vlogs that I have read and followed. For me to be able to contribute to such a great cause while doing the things I love the most is a true win-win for everyone.
I have been inspired by the hikers that have come before me and want to contribute and give back in some way to the community that has become such a big part of my life. My website is one way that I hope to do that by sharing my experiences on the Trail, on the Yoga mat, and in Life. I hope to help inspire and motivate future hikers the way that others have inspired and motivated me. You don’t have to be a Thru hiker and log thousands of miles to benefit from what the Trail has to offer. All that is needed is a desire and a bit of knowledge to get started. I hope to see you on the trail!