What haunts me about the Appalachian Trail

Some great thoughts on haunting memories.

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English: Entrance to Spooky Woods in Dalbeatti...

If a ghost is a memory that will not fade, then the Appalachian Trail is my own personal phantom.  It haunts me in all the good ways a significant life experience can.  If it’s a good thing to be visited by a spirit of achievement, then the AT is certainly among the finest one could ever envision.

I am haunted by the approach trail at Amicalola Falls, Georgia, which felt like a rite-of-passage backpacking to the start of something superb, difficult, daunting, and mysterious.

I am haunted by Springer Mountain Shelter, where I first dropped my backpack on the first evening of many I would spend hiking the trail.  I remember the rugged reliability of a wooden refuge created by so many hands, by so many trail and maintenance clubs, who literally poured out their love in sweat and effort so that I might have a place to rest…

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How Do You Classify Hiking

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What is hiking?

Trend? Activity? Passion? Hobby? Lifestyle? Diversion? Recreation? Necessity?

I was listening to a podcast on hiking called The First 40 Miles. They were discussing how  to classify hiking in your life. As I reflected on their conversation, I began asking how hiking is classified to me. Something I’m learning in life is it is very difficult to classify anything in one genre. What I mean by that is many things in life are both/and rather than either/or. For me, hiking is a both/and. It falls into a variety of categories and hardly fits fully in one. When I began hiking, it was a mere hobby. To walk in the woods, to see and see what there is to see. It was to get out and recharge my battery where living in the middle of the city was sucking every vital percent of energy that I needed. It was my alone time. It was my peace and quiet. It was my solitude. It was my chance to get closer to God by experiencing his creation in a raw way.

So can we classify hiking. Can we describe with one adjective? Can we give it one label? I don’t think so. Here are some of my thoughts on classifications for hiking that was brought up in the podcast.

Is it a trend? Not with me it isn’t. But what I have noticed is that I never saw anything related to hiking or backpacking until I started doing it. I thought I was the only one. Then as soon as I began sharing my escapades on Facebook and Twitter I started seeing everyone else doing it. I began seeing almost every faith meme with a mountainous scene and a backpacker in the background. All my friends started sharing their hiking trips. I told my wife that I thought I was starting a trend. She humored me. A good friend of mine said I was starting nothing. He called it Frequency Illusion. In other words, I didn’t see it till I started doing it. Then I began seeing it more. I don’t think it is a trend.

Is it a lifestyle? I don’t think so. My life doesn’t revolve around hiking. I don’t make a living from hiking. I don’t even get paid to hike. I actually normally pay to hike. I buy food, gear, and fees. I may think about it constantly. I may study maps every chance I get. I may stay on AllTrails.com too much and read the forums at Whiteblaze.com, hammockforums.net, and trailjournals.com. I may watch Syntax77 and Shug Emery (The ole shug in the third person) religiously. I probably wear beige convertible pants and synthetics a little too much but hiking is not a lifestyle. Ok, maybe it is a little.

Is it an activity? Of course! If it involves moving around, breaking a sweat and planning, I would say it is an activity. My knees hurt when I hike. My back hurts when I carry my pack too long. My back hurts when I have to sleep on the ground. My feet hurt with too much mileage. My head hurts from the straining walk. But camping is joy. I’m contemplative by the fire. I’m restful in my hammock. I’m laughing with my friends. I’m thankful filtering water. I’m content after filling my belly with rehydrated food. I’m creative when using my knife to carve. Hiking is very active.

Is it a diversion? It can be. It definitely is a diversion from work. When I’m in the woods, the last thing I think about is my occupational responsibilities. It’s a diversion from my pain in life. It helps me escape my problems momentarily. When I’m in the woods, I have new problems that I enjoy, like how far to walk, where to set camp, where to filter water, getting my chores done before sundown. What really matters are my immediate needs and not my life’s troubles where worrying helps none.

Is it recreation? Of course. Hiking is fun. Scratch that… Camping is fun, hiking is work. But hiking can be fun too when you’re walking through the woods and see the many things that God has created and man has left behind. I’ve seen some interesting things, like old cars, trains, farm equipment, house foundations, barns, structures of many types. Hiking can sometimes feel like work but can’t most recreations? Fishing takes work. Hunting takes work. Playing ball takes work. Recreations of all types have an element of work. But recreation is fun because it is work we enjoy. It is attributed to Confucius as having once said do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. I love backpacking so it is not considered work to me, just a labor of love.

Is it a passion? Without a doubt. I’m passionate for hiking. I think about it all the time. I read about it all the time. I study about it all the time. I give a lot of time and effort to hiking. If I could analyze my personal battery life, I’d say hiking takes up a major percentage. It is just something I can not get enough of. I remember the first long trail I finished. When I sat in my car, all I could think about was getting back out and heading back to the trailhead and doing it again. It felt wrong to be driving. I needed to be walking. It felt wrong to be in my house. I needed to be hanging my hammock. It felt wrong to be cooking on the stove. I needed my cookpot and a campfire. Everything about not being in the woods was wrong. I’m passionately passionate.

So, can it be classified in one category. I think not. Hiking truly is a culmination of many things. Thats why I believe it is so illustrious. It draws you and keeps a part of you. It gives you something in hopes that it may draw you back. It will make you work for the pleasure but the joy will come effortless. It may be simply putting one foot in front of the other but ultimately it is deeper than that. So deep that it can not be summarized. It must be experienced to fully appreciate its complexities.

You Got Funk

1-Body-Odor

The first time I tangibly learned that hikers get stinky was a sixty-mile hike I went on a few years ago. However, my realization did not come at the end of the hike. It came fairly quickly. The second day kind of quickly. I was on the trail with four other guys when one of them re-injured his foot from a previous recreational activity.  Eight miles into the first day he was beginning to feel the pain causing him to pause occasionally to rest his foot. As the next day came, he chose to continue because he believes going forward far outweighs going backwards. A few miles into our day, his foot began to lock up again so when we found signal on our phone, he gave his wife a call and cashed in his Get Off The Trail Free card. When she arrived, she was very courteous to us however, she was sure to let us know very kindly that we reeked of an unpleasant odor. He left the trail and I continued on in my stench for five more days.

Another occurrence was a trip I took with a friend for an overnight hike in the heat of summer. We hiked a twelve-mile loop; a very fun and rewarding time in the woods. When we reached his truck, I changed my shoes as always. My hiking boots are for hiking only. He didn’t have much to say for the first few miles. We reached an Amish store where we found a great turkey sandwich and Birch Beer (root beer) for lunch. When we got back in the truck, there was a foul redolence of sweaty feet that permeated the cab. It was a horrid smell that deserved more than the two windows of aeration.

You know what else stinks? Your soul? That is until it was washed in the blood of Jesus, (Imagine Billy Sunday just preaching your sins away as you read that). Seriously folks, we stink to God. That’s why when we worship (responding to who God is and what He does in our lives), we are like a pleasing aroma to Him.

2 Cor. 2:15 (NIV) – For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

That means only God can wash away our stank. Maybe you ask how we acquired such a funk. I’ll tell ya; the world baptized us in funk. We were born into sin. Not to get all crazy on ya (maybe I have already talking about sin and all) but we were born separated from the holiness of our creator. When we exited our mommy’s womb, we breathed in a stank. That stank covered us and that stank has been molding us since birth. There’s only one way to get rid of that stank.

I’m sure you’ve experienced stepping in a pile of mess once in your life and there was no getting rid of that stank so you threw your shoes away. Maybe you attend a gym and you gym clothes reek from a stench that makes the washing machine immediately quit working. That kind of stench doesn’t go away on its own. There has to be some serious purging. Disinfection is not going to work on them clothes nor will any disinfection work on your soul. That’s why the God tells us we have to be made a new creation.

2 Cor. 5:17 (NIV) – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here.

No power in Heaven or earth can dispel your stank. It’s got to go. I’m surprised my friend didn’t throw my boots out the window. I’m surprised my other friend’s wife didn’t but a no entrance sign on her car door. I was carrying with me some stank. Until I found Christ, I was spiritually carrying around some stank. And I would venture to say unless you know Christ and follow him, you stink!

Walking Off The Spiritual War

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After having an hour long conversation with a friend about a tough situation he is going through, we decided we needed call it a day. We talked on our way to our trucks yet I parked further away than he did in a different parking lot. He offered me a ride to my truck but I replied without even thinking, “No, I need to walk off the war.” Immediately I thought about Earl Shaffer and his reason for being the first person to uninterruptedly walk the entire Appalachian Trail. In 1948, Earl Shaffer told a friend he was going to “walk off the war” to work out the sights, sounds, and losses of World War II.

I can not imagine what he may have experienced as he fought over seas in WWII. It had to have been tragic enough that he felt the need to get out of his surroundings and be alone for a few months walking in the woods in order to cope with his PTSD. However, what I can understand is my own experience of war, a spiritual war. That spiritual war is one fought spiritually yet transpires physically. Ephesians says,

“ For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers,

against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and

against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (6:12)

There is a war every christian must engage in. It is a struggle, a conflict, a strife. We do not just fight but we wrestle as some translations put it. This fight is an effort or a strain. It is not an easy walk in the woods. It is a struggle similar to taking on an eight mile, straight-up-the-mountain, hike with hardly any switch backs with your backpack filled to capacity after leaving your resupply. By the end of the first mile, you feel like scrapping everything in your pack and getting to the top where, hopefully, camp is at.

However you know if you do that, you will loose your much needed supplies to get you through to the next resupply. The mental and physical struggle is difficult to bear. With every step, you question your original idea to get out an hike. You question is it worth it. You consider a phone call home is easier. You weigh whether quitting is noble.  Still you trudge along, knowing that you will make it. You just need to make it.

In the same sense, as my friend and I talked, I fought the battle in my spirit to say what was needed to say so that he understood and possibly his life changed however minuscule it may have been. I wanted him to feel encouraged and our spiritual enemy to feel defeated. I wanted to know that what we discussed would make him feel a little closer to God. Although he asked some very good questions, I didn’t have all the answers. And even if I did feel that I had an answer, I may not have said anything discerning that he may not have understood the depth of what it took to grasp the manifold wisdom of God.

So I prayed. I fought spiritual fire with spiritual fire, my spiritual sword against the enemy’s spiritual sword. I fired spiritual bullets towards the enemy while he fired back. It was a war. It was a battle. It was a struggle. It was a wrestle. We licked each other. Wounds were made. Blows were landed. We stood on the battlefield spiritually clobbering each other.

I do believe I got the upper hand. But only momentarily. There will be another fight. Even still as we parted ways, I had to take a minute to walk to my truck. I had to rest from a hard fight. I had to lick my wounds, think about what was said, what should have been said and what should not have been said. I had to assess the fight and decide whether it was fought well or fought poorly. I had to decide to put it in God’s hands and know that I was a good servant of His word. The walk to my truck was a slow hike full of deliberation, meditation and rumination.

I had to walk off the war.

Hiking Abram’s Falls

Recently I took a trip for my birthday to the Great Smoky Mountains. I had two objectives: Hike on the Appalachian Trail and visit the Titanic exhibit in Pigeon Forge. I succeeded in visiting the Titanic. It was amazing in itself but even more so because I received a free entrance since I am a teacher.

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I wasn’t so lucky in my other objective. Minor details held me back from making it to the AT so the alternative was just as good and gave me the opportunity to mark some things off my bucket list.

My wife and our friend are great photographers and they wanted to go to Cade’s Cove so I decided to join them at the Cove and hike back to Abrams Falls. It was a great 2.5 mile hike back and the falls didn’t disappoint (just the hipsters who wouldn’t get out of the way of a great photo shot).

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The hike was a slightly easy walk (for those who hike) yet the sign called for a moderate to difficult hike. It had a couple of ascents going but the ascents coming back were far greater. The trail is wide to accommodate for groups of hikers in which there were plenty of those. The weather was perfect; cool enough to sweat from a good workout.

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The falls aren’t that large but there is definitely a meditative experience. Gallons of water falling just a few short feet or thousands of feet, either case tends to make one sit in awe and contemplate the meaning of life, the reward of the walk or the   challenge of the return. Some folks sat eating fruit and I smelled the sweet smells and desired some myself. There was a rock perfectly positioned in recliner form to sit back with your feet propped up and watch the falls. It was a highly desired perch so I didn’t sit long to give others the opportunity to experience the natural recliner.

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The walk back proved a little more difficult since the climbs were a tad bit steeper. I not only gained entertainment from the hike but those who were walking towards the falls asking me how much further as well as my judgement on every single tourist who has absolutely no inkling of proper hike wear. Blue jeans, flip-flops, flats, hoodies. Then others went to extremes wearing outfits you’d think they just finished running a marathon with all their spandex. It was definitely fascinating.

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After I returned from the Falls, I went just a half mile over to Elijah Oliver’s cabin. I met a couple who lives in the area and likes to get away from “life” and hang out at the Cove. They were a very nice couple. One of the reasons I love hiking is you always run into some very nice folks who like to talk. I like to listen So it works.

So that’s my day hike. Hope you enjoyed.