Entry 62: Lessons from the AT

Photo by:  Ryan Haas

Photo by: Ryan Haas

Location: The Appalachian Trail, North Georgia

We all have that dream somewhere in our subconscious of quitting the daily grind to disappear. Most of us will never act upon that thought. I’ve always tried to suppress it by making the evenings and weekends my playground. My brother however, gave in to the subconscious a few weeks ago by quitting his job and taking a month away from the world to hike the Appalachian Trail.

I visited him to hike for a few days not long after he started. As always, I took more away from my trip than I brought. The AT gave me an opportunity to reflect while acting as my mentor for a weekend.

Lesson 1: Pack Smart

My personal tendency is to have more than I need, more to eat, more to wear, etc. Yet, these “needs” always take greater consideration when there is 18 miles between you and setting them back down again. When I found Ryan he had already been hiking for 5 days. His first act after greeting me was to empty his backpack of the superfluous. Items such as spare notebooks, bandanas, and headphones clearly did not make the cut. Each choice made sense to me, but I did not truly grasp the reason until I started to carry my own pack. Because I was only hiking for a weekend my pack was much lighter than Ryan’s. Nevertheless, the things that could be labeled as unnecessary only continued to grow as the miles passed by.

There seems to be a grey area, between needs and wants in life. Everything that falls into the grey is immediately categorized as a need. These needs act as added weight that hold us back, weight that sometimes only becomes evident after years of gathering dust. By continuously focusing on what we carry it is easier to distinguish what our needs are.  

Lesson 2: On Going Alone

You can, in fact, you should at times.

Going alone will give you a lot of one thing, silence. Silence is a scarce commodity in our world. Though it sometimes makes me uncomfortable, I also envy the time that Ryan has to reflect. Silence has a way of wrapping itself around you, saturating your mind with thoughts and memories.

There is an Arabic Proverb I love. It says, “Only speak if what you have to say is more beautiful than silence.” This applies to both the silence and the noise. Noise can be beautiful. When friends come to invade your silence, enjoy the beauty. Let friends fill your mind with stories and frivolity. In return you can share your own noise or you can choose to give them some of your silence. The AT offered both to me as I wandered down the 2,181-miles ahead of me.

Lesson 3: The Up and Down

The AT follows the ridgeline of the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia all the way to Maine. While hiking, you will constantly go up and down. Such is the nature of mountains. I learned not to be sad about going uphill because it meant I would soon be going down. In the same way, I realized that the longer I enjoyed the ease of a downhill path the more likely I would soon face the alternate and equal challenge of an uphill battle.

Life offers the same battles. There will be times of hardship and times of ease. When the hard times come, anticipate the downhill and how it can be used to fight the next battle.

The Verdict

I cannot claim expertise on long distance hiking; I only claim these small lessons that the Appalachian Trail will quickly offer to anybody who comes to learn. The great gift of nature is insight. The more time you give to nature the more it will give back.


If you wish to keep up with Ryan’s hike you can visit him on his Instagram and on his personal website, both of which will soon be filled with greater insights than I have to offer from my brief time on the AT.