The AT Calls Me…Collect

Final preparations are under way for this year’s trip on the Appalachian Trail.  My excitement is building. The food is packed or mailed ahead.  My gear has been checked and double checked. I leave Monday afternoon for Erwin, TN and a possible 9 days on the trail.  I get tons of questions from friends about my trips, but again and again one question seems to reoccur and dominate…”Who’s going with you?”.  The response is still the same, ” Just me.”(Please insert the sound of mental tires screeching to a halt on a wet pavement at this point, thank you)

That is the moment. You know the one. That awkward, strained, pained look as they try to appear calm and normal. Instead, they actually have a deer in the headlights stare as they try to figure out what to say (and not look dumb).  It’s as if they cannot fathom that someone could even consider walking though the wilderness alone.  Have you gone mad?  Alone?

Then I get the second question…”Aren’t you afraid?”  “Of what?” The second unplanned pause barges into the room here as they try to pull themselves together. Afraid of what you ask?  Uh, hmmm, uh, you know…uh, scary stuff…in the scary woods…uh, in the dark…out there…stuff.

Looking into the wide eyes of my friends I see fear for my safety. I see concern for my well being. Mostly, I see incomprehension of such a “fool hearty” act that reasonable would never do.  They cannot see themselves doing this so why would anyone else want to?  In most cases they do not say these things but their eyes do.  I just smile politely.

Folks, the truth is that bears are just like big shaggy dogs, the dark is no darker there than here, and the boogie man is scared of backpackers. They smell bad.  No worries.  Backpackers do not fear adventure, they embrace it. Only then do they know how alive they are inside.

George Eliot was noted to say,

“Adventure is not outside man; it is within.”

When I am asked why I go out into the wilderness I have to respond, “To go within.”. 


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