In the words of the famed naturalist John Muir, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” For me and many others, these words resonate loudly to the very core of our being. In the current Covid world we find ourselves in, now more than ever the pull of nature and the desire to be out on the trail ring louder than ever.
I have been planning a thru hike of the John Muir Trail for a number of years. But due to various challenges life has thrown my way in recent years, those plans have yet to manifest. 2020 was my second attempt at making reservations and securing permits to put everything into motion, but Covid put the brakes on that pretty quickly as it continues to re-write what normal looks like for each of us.
Despite the obstacles presented by Covid, I have found many positives in the forced downtime. A simpler way of living and the opportunity to pause and reflect on my life. But more importantly, time to focus on what I want my life to look like from this point forward. It has taught me how special and fragile life is and the importance of being flexible with its uncertainties. It has re-emphasized the fact that there are larger forces at play in the world outside of ourselves and that ultimately, we are just along for the ride; how we respond to it all determines our happiness.
After a year of restrictions fueling an increased desire to be outside and a surplus of accrued vacation from last years abandoned JMT hike, I made alternate plans this year. Instead of trying to force my JMT hike to happen, I have opted for something a little closer to home; an extended section hike of the Appalachian Trail.
I will be hiking the AT through the state of Virginia, from Damascus to Harpers Ferry. A total of 555 miles, or one quarter of the entire Appalachian Trail. Virginia is home, I was born there and spent the first half of my life in various parts of the state. It’s where my love of nature and hiking started. Over the years I have hiked many miles of the AT in Virginia, but only a weekend at a time. This time, I will be connecting all of those past trips together into one continuous hike across the state.
This journey is much more than just a long hike in the woods. I will also be symbolically connecting the dots of my youth as I pass through parts of the state where I grew up. It’s an opportunity to take a complete inventory of my life. A chance to reconcile and make peace with the events, decisions and people I have allowed to cause me strife and angst. A time to reflect on the places and events that shaped my view of the world and led me to where I am today. And an opportunity to recognize and appreciate the love and sacrifices of those no longer in my life. This hike is about letting go, reconnecting to myself and creating new beginnings. I can’t wait to get back on the trail.