Returning to the beat of my heart on the AT.
The Appalachian Trail.
It has survived. It gave me the strength to as well. Saving me in the thick of it, encouraging me when I returned to it. It is a constant.
Reflecting back on all of the trips I have taken, covering much of the AT in Virginia, I realized the strength I drew from it. Overcoming challenges out there was teaching me about life, obstacles, and survival.
Earlier this year I had the great opportunity to go on an outdoor adventure. The week before the trip, I got out my old hiking pack and sorted through its contents. I hiked a lot in my old life. It was one of the things during the chaos of an abusive relationship, that I remember fondly, mostly. I remember the first time I saw a natural waterfall. My anxiety on high alert, I can still hear the growing rush of the water crashing on the Earth below, snow melting by the second, moving the ground and dirt and rocks, into this majestic flow of beauty. So powerful it could down trees and cut right through rock, the water has a way of unearthing the life below the surface, shifting everything around and finding all the more water along the way, harnessing its power. Surreal and fantastic. Symbolic really, and I was intensely drawn to it, the way it's movement calmed my mind and soul.
I remember hiking in boots too small that created blisters so bad that I was donned with the trail name “Blisters”. They were my size, these boots, but I learned quickly, hikers need a half a size bigger on their journey usually. Walking through tears streaming from the pain because he would never have allowed me to slow his hike down, I almost stepped right on a snake. Boy did that wake me up and shift my focus! He came running for that, to get credit for saving me of course, (since I was such a mess I wouldn’t ever be able to help myself, I was conditioned that way, by him). But I also remember being behind, so far in fact, that I felt I was the only one out there. Symbolic, again. What I was amazed at instantly, was that there in the woods where I could have disappeared and no one would have known, was that I was not scared. Now sure, the concern of being eaten by a bear, is forever present in the woods, but more like I felt I was not alone. I was no longer as lost as I felt daily.
I discovered, I actually was not alone out there. Long before, having abandoned my religious roots, I had had the feeling of being disconnected from my Faith. But out there, It found me. Every step, each inhale, all of the deafening quiet, I was NOT alone. I was in fact, surrounded by all the beauty, the life of the woods, the clarity in my mind, the full connectivity in a “disconnected” way on the AT. It was glorious. For a few hours, I walked to the beat of my heart. There was no anxiousness, fear, desperation, just my heart beating, feeling more alive than ever. I processed life and was away from the terror that existed in my day-to-day. Just for those moments, I was free. I was instantly smitten with Nature and the amazing trails and paths that the AT provided. I felt like the AT was saving me, reminding me, guiding me.
While looking through my pack, I came across a few words I’d written years ago, I managed to stick in a pocket and forget about until now. As I came off the Appalachian Trail, at least 11 to 13 years ago, and most likely headed straight for a pizza joint, (because who doesn’t crave carbs after a 13-mile day?!) I scrawled out the following on the most perfect postcard I had purchased in the town. On the front of the card is a sketched picture of the Town Inn in the small city. On the back:
“And above all things have fervent love for one another; for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another; as good stewards of the manifold GRACE of God.” ~Peter 4:8-10
(how serendipitous to me, my life and how I choose to live #BELOVE)
Inside I wrote: “There are so many life thoughts and quotes driven by the trail, path, and woods. This weekend was a reminder, as the ideas of ‘life’s path’ floated through my brain. I am never closer to my Faith than when I am in nature, and this weekend was exactly where I needed to be. Grateful heart.
- Even when the path is hard to see there are always guides, signs, and reminders to help open your eyes to the right way.
- You can branch off the path, but you will be guided back without fail. Wandering is not lost, as the saying goes.
- Even if you do not reach the end, your journey is what matters. It is where the living is.
- Sometimes your path takes you off track a bit, you must see it through to find all of the beauty in life, it is there just beyond the comfort zone.
- Take time to enjoy all that surrounds you.
- Obstacles may be just the test you need, to make you stronger, better.
- Not everyone has been through exactly what you have, but we have all faced struggles and challenges on this path of life.”
Now, in the thick of that time in my life, to find this now and know that back then I was still okay on a fundamental core level, gives me a belief in my own strength that just sets my heart on fire. To find myself on the trail, to know that I was in immeasurable pain, mentally and physically and socially, financially, as a parent, woman, lover, my life raped daily down to nothing of myself, and I still managed to be this human… WOW! It spawned from that hike on the AT. And, it continued every trip back, including the most recent one. I planned my own hike, I provided my own supplies, I walked alone again, stronger, freer, safe, alive. Something to be proud of for sure, but more so, to propel me to advance this human condition of acceptance and adventure and love and growth as far and deep and wide as I can, because I can! I have the Appalachian Trail to thank for this feeling, these ideas, my sound mind in the middle of nowhere, providing me with a back-to-Nature, back-to-soul foundation, and overcoming my tragedy. I am grateful for the survival that was rooted in me out there, in the silence of reconnecting with my soul. The AT set the foundation for my strength to build upon, to propel forward with, and now, in turn, to help others by sharing my stories and write about others.
Touched by real trail magic!
Note - I submitted this article to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy magazine myATstory.org and will be asking for votes if I make the cut! Stay tuned, and thanks in advance!
::geeks out a bit, bad anxiety! bad!::