For those of us fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to experience the variety of four seasons per year, the resounding favorite season somehow usually ends up being the one that involves loads of sunshine, blue skies, and massive greenery.
In northern New England, summer passes by in about three months, stopping for a brief hello, and then on to better things. Fortunately, autumn is quite enjoyable, and sometimes spring is too, if you don’t mind the mud and rain.
There is joy that comes from experiencing this evolution yearly, but the lack of greenery throughout most of the year does take a toll for the nature lovers. Although there are things to do outside in the winter, most humans tend to hibernate in our own way. It gets dark so early, and winter sports are expensive, so it is a period of solitude and reflection for many.
Personally, nothing can replace the warmth and the sheer beauty of summer on the East Coast. It is so fleeting, yet so lovely, because it lasts just long enough to get a little bored, a little used to it, and then there is the magic of the turning leaves to lead into the eventual monotony of winter, which a few months of summer can even trick us into thinking it won’t be so bad this year.
It is the briefness of summer, along with a heady freedom from school obligations, that makes it so beautiful in this region. And during the summer, a favorite past time of many is taken up: long-distance trail hiking.
The Appalachian Trail follows the mountains for over two thousand miles spanning south from Georgia to Maine in the north. Many attempt to thru-hike the entire trail over a three to five month period beginning in April at Springer Mountain, GA and wrapping up at Baxter Peak in Maine before it gets really cold.
Timing is everything when attempting a thru-hike, and I have been fortunate enough to know a very good friend of mine who is on his way south to begin the trail as we speak. Attempting a solo hike of this sort is not out of the way for him, but doing so at the age of 22 and having only previously hiked the trail a few states in the north is definitely unusual for most.
This puts me in the perfect position to join him at any point before September or October. My main obstacles are debt and experience. My friend Justin has been intelligent enough to keep himself out of debt his entire life. He also has a job that will take him back when he completes his journey, although I don’t know that he will want it afterward. The trail has a way of changing a person, as one might imagine.
Although I will need to train to hike twenty miles a day before I hit the AT, inexperience is a detriment only in that it makes a costly trip to take. Besides having enough money to purchase any food, supplies, or materials that I need on the trail, gear is a large investment that cannot be taken lightly.
The trail goes quite high and low, and all four seasons are definitively found. Winter conditions exist in the same span as beautiful summer weather. Elevation can change rapidly, thus having the proper gear is imperative. This means no skimping for cheaper gear, as you want to buy it once and have it last.
I trust Justin in that he wouldn’t let anything happen to me on the actual trail, but I have to determine financial stability and equipment myself, just as he did.
The trail enables us humans to get a taste of life without modern conveniences. The only shelters to be found are going to be small and only prepared by volunteers for a limited number of hikers. They fill up fast, and are spaced apart by miles. It can easily take a few days navigating between.
There are showers and other amenities in the towns that lay nearby, but you wouldn’t expect a hotel off the trail, during prime hiking season, to be cheap or readily available.
The journey is one of deep introspection and getting in harmony with nature. Carrying your life in a 30L pack for months at a time is a huge undertaking, and not to be considered lightly. One can only truly know what they are made of when they hit the trail, and not before, contemplating from a cozy warm bed as I am right now.
I cannot say for sure that I will get on the trail this summer, as I cannot say whether or not Justin will succeed in hiking the entire thing. It is an endeavor like any other, requiring hard work, commitment, and loads of self-discipline.
Justin has inspired me to set goals above and beyond mundane thinking. So, what will you do this summer?