I’m just past Birmingham on a rainy bus ride to Atlanta and about 24 hours from setting my feet down on the Appalachian Trail for a three week hike. I’ll be carrying everything I need for at least 166 miles of this historic trail, the oldest of the really long trails in the United States. The 2185 mile AT winds through the Appalachian mountains from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. When you consider that hundreds of people will complete the entire trail in one continuous thru hike this year, the two trips I have planned this summer seem like a quick jog to the corner store in comparison. That said, it is far beyond the 3 and 4 days trips I have done before, and the effort necessary just to plan for my trip has already taught me a lot about the dedication necessary for longer expeditions.
Luckily, though I am a solo hiker, no one really hikes alone. My wonderful family and friends make it possible with their support, willingness to drive me around, prayers, advice, Patagonia and REI coupons, good vibes, and listening ears for the past few months. Extra thanks go to my parents who are managing my resupply mail drops and put up with the explosion of dehydrated food, ziplock bags, camping equipment, and daughter that has been our house this week.
So why am I doing this, of all things, with my summer? Personally I think taking a walk in misty blue mountains in the forest with the greatest diversity of flora and fauna on this continent ought to be explanation enough. But it probably isn’t. The truth is I started dreaming about this trail regularly since I first read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson with my dad when I was 15. We camped in the Smokey Mountains a lot and before long we took our first 3 day AT hike together. Since then, I’ve taken a couple more weekend hikes on different parts of the trail. I’ve read the memoirs of other hikers. I’ve talked about a thru hike as a bucket list item with countless friends. I even wrote my admissions essay for seminary at Boston University about the theological implications of Bryson’s book. And now, in my last summer before graduation, is the right time to stop dreaming and get started.
I’m sure my many motivations for hiking this summer will surface over the course of the blog/hike, but I’ll leave you with my main reason to get away from my regular routine. It’s a bit of a cliche for BU School of Theology students, but I’m listening for the sound of the genuine out in those woods. Howard Thurman, one of our most quotable alums, said that within each of us there is the sound of the genuine that most defines who we are and what we ought to be doing with our finite littler lives, but one must get still enough to hear it. We have to put aside all the noise of the world and listen deeply to what is welling up from within. I need to only do one thing for a moment. I need to listen deeply. The sound is calling me down to Georgia. Amen.
“There is something in every one of you that waits, listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself and if you cannot hear it, you will never find whatever it is for which you are searching and if you hear it and then do not follow it, it was better that you had never been born…
You are the only you that has ever lived; your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all of existence and if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls… ” – Howard Thurman, read on for more of his address