So when did this journey begin? The plan was to start in the spring of 2019. But as I found out it’s so much more than just a hike. Many months ago I was visiting at Rivermont Presbyterian Church. Pastor Clay Thomas was answering my questions about the Presbyterian Church. I veered off topic mentioning my plan to retire and thru hike the entire 2200 miles of the Appalachian Trail.He listened as I explained all my research and planning. I revealed my reasons for going as well as my hopes and expectations. Up until that point I hadn’t taken a single step on the trail and the start was still more than a year away. I expressed my frustration about the long lead up to the actual hike. After a few minutes Pastor Clay replied “Sounds to me like you’ve already started”. For some reason I hadn’t thought of it in those terms. Yet immediately it became very clear. The Trail as it will be called from here on out had already begun to change me in ways I hadn’t perceived.
This part of my journey began with the decision to retire. Or more precisely the thoughts of retirement. I began thinking about it at around 60 years old. Up to that point I had not once thought of hiking the Trail. Two of my sisters had recently retired as well as two coworkers. I looked around the shop and it occurred to me I was the second oldest person in the room. Though I didn’t feel old I must admit I did feel older.
I purposely started to think about if and when I might leave my job and begin a new chapter. It seemed prudent financially to work another 3 years. As I debated if I could retire, the question of what I would do in retirement proved more interesting. I began making lists of things which added joy and happiness in my life. One thing seemed to stand out over all the others. The time I had spent hiking, camping and backpacking. Being in the outdoors had always provided a sense of adventure and challenge. It was a wonderful bonding experience with my two daughters, my brothers and close friends. It provided a peaceful time away from the fast pace of everyday life. The peace of mind I felt was magnified the longer and further into nature I ventured. It was followed by a feeling of belonging. Belonging to the earth, not just a witness to but a part of creation. What was it, that I wanted most?
A longer trip was what I wanted and needed. The Trail by now had become a magnet pulling me towards it. Would I be able to do this hike at 66? Having no guarantees I decided the time was now, I was anxious and afraid. Not only about the hike but I was leaving the workforce, and a job I had performed for 22 years. I would be leaving friends and coworkers. It’s was a difficult decision. On the other hand I had been working for 50 years. I weighed all the pluses and minuses but in the end I took a leap of faith that God would provide. I was going!
That was months ago. Since then the process continues. My mind began walking the path I had traveled. How did I get where I am today? I saw some missteps as well as successful ones. Sorrows as well as joy. Proud moments and regretful ones. I felt the need to dwell on these and process their impact upon me and others around me.To do this requires time and solitude apart from distraction.In hiking The Trail I have no choice but to wake up each day moving ever forward. I can choose to get off the trail yet I cannot stop the hike.
I view this six month walk as part of a much longer hike. That longer hike is simply put, my life! Each day takes me step by step from one place to another. Decisions, good and bad influence the direction of the hike yet the journey always starts where I stopped the night before. Life like the trail is linear. By putting one foot in front of the other miles are covered , amid a constantly changing scene. Strangers met along the way become friends. Some for minutes, others weeks or even months. A few forever. I’m confident the Trail will provide all of these things and more. The promise of a very special journey. A pilgrimage for mind,body, and spirit.