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Twenty-Seven Lessons from the Path

The Appalachian Trail near McAfee Knob

I took a break from my work to go hiking on my old friend the A-T. As I walked, I realized how much of my daily practices have been influenced by a lifetime of travel, camping, and exploration. These lessons fit with the mundane daily needs of a hike, but they also have implications that go far beyond. Some stick quickly. Some I practice continually. Others directly contradict each other, but they are all useful.

  1. If you don’t set out on the journey, you will not encounter hardship, but you will also never discover anything.
  2. Do your best to prepare. You will not be able to think of everything ahead of time.
  3. If you bring too little you might not have enough. If you bring too much, you might not be able to continue.
  4. Handle the basics. You can go without shelter, water or food for a while, but not indefinitely. As you get more tired, hot, cold, hungry or thirst, you will become more clumsy with both your body and your mind. Adjust accordingly. What might be a great idea at one time, could be deadly at another.
  5. Often the beginning of an amazing path looks like hardly anything. the best ones can be really hard to find. Maybe it’s just a little cut through some shrubs, or a track on the side of the road. Keep going, it’s just the beginning.
  6. Walking the same path on different days or with different people is a different experience.
  7. Not everyone is headed to the same place. Helping people get to their destination is kind. Making them come to yours is not.
  8. We can walk alone or share the journey; bring a single person or travel with many; take one single step together or walk thousands of miles. Sometimes we split up and come back together. None of these choices are right or wrong. But it is you and your companions’ choice to make.
  9. You will pass people and they will pass you. Some will leave before you. Others will come after. Some want to go where you were, others are headed in a totally different direction from a completely different place. It is not a race.
  10. Sometimes the path is rocky, sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes swampy, sometimes dry. Learn to navigate them all safely.
  11. You can change your mind as you go; whether that’s companions, trail, or destination it doesn’t matter. You won’t get the time back, but you will keep your lessons. Sometimes the lesson is to make that change.
  12. Pay attention to what is directly in front of you. Otherwise, you may end up in a bad way.
  13. You will fall down. Make sure you aren’t seriously injured, then keep going.
  14. Learn how to care for minor injuries. It’ll stop them from becoming major.
  15. Keep your head up and pay attention to the view. Otherwise, what’s the point?
  16. If you’re too focused on the destination, you miss out on where you are.
  17. If you get lost, backtrack and find where you went off course. It’s still a part of your journey.
  18. Blazing a new trail is hard work. It’s not always neccesary. But if the trails you can find aren’t going where you need to go, it’s the only way. If you do a good job, it will be easier for people to go to new places than it was for you to get there in the first place. If you were wise in your placement, it will open up new routes. People will build trails off of yours. You will probably not be remembered, but the trail will persist.
  19. Maintaining trails helps those who follow. If everyone does it, there’s very little work. If no one does it, there’s a ton.
  20. Find a pace that you can sustain. It will be different on different days.
  21. Sometimes the best decision is to stop and rest for the night. Sometimes it’s pushing on to completion.
  22. Rest days are as important as push days.
  23. Ascending is harder work than descending.
  24. The view is amazing. Enjoy it. You wouldn’t get to have it, if you didn’t deal with that hill.
  25. Descending is more uncomfortable than ascending. You still have to come down.
  26. You might be permanently hurt or killed. Even the best plans and the most alert traveler can be surprised by changing conditions, a hidden pitfall, local fauna, or even just a tree root. but, you can just as easily be hurt or killed if you never leave at all.
  27. Adventure is always waiting. Sometimes it comes to find you. Often you have to get out of what you are used to, and where you are comfortable to find it. If you are lucky enough to hear the call, go.

Like any of these in particular? Got any of your own? Please share!

Late spring in the Appalachian Mountains




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Thia Griffin-Elliott

Thia Griffin-Elliott

Transfemme/nonbinary polymath with experience in the arts, chemistry, oceanography, nonprofits, web development, and marketing. Pronouns: They/Them/She/Her

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