It’s hard to believe the day is here and in just a few minutes, we will be flying off to Atlanta and making our way to a hostel near the start of the Appalachian Trail. One of my worries – and believe it or not I have a few! – is I will focus so much on finishing each day’s hike that I will miss being present on the trail.
It’s a well ingrained habit of mine to focus on what I want to accomplish, and one which keeps me stubbornly persistent in reaching goals. It has a flip side though and that is to be ignorant of the present while pressing onward to the finish. I’ve been working on balancing both for years, and a recent hike with my young neighbor reminded me it’s rather easy to live in the present if you simply allow yourself.
I took Collier, five years old, on her first hike to Enchanted Rock a couple weeks ago. My original plan to hike with a full backpack for about five miles was quickly tossed aside when her Mom, UnMi, said she could go on a hike with me. My new goal was two-fold: spend an hour and a half with my thirty pound backpack on my back while hiking as far along the trail as Collier wanted to go. She was so much fun, and it was an insightful hike.
Not all young hikers, or grown hikers for that matter, are fun, but Collier was full of wonder and curiosity, excitedly spotting moss balls which became the ends of fairy wands on a dry grass stalk, or looking for insects and minnows in the little streams we passed. She had never been to Enchanted Rock before and was delighted to climb the boulders near the high point of the trail, so we could see how high we had climbed. Best of all, she was sensible about climbing and didn’t skitter to the edge of the rocks like I thought she might.
We stopped for a snack on a wide open expanse of rock and Collier created nature art with the sticks and leaves she found. The girl is full of creativity and it was interesting to see all the new ideas pop into her head as she created things from all that was around us. That’s when I realized how much fun it was to just be in the park absorbing everything different about where we were, how it looked, and how it felt.
In one of those moments, I locked in the reminder to enjoy my Appalachian Trail hike more vividly and in the present moments. Some of those moments (okay, many) will be uncomfortable or downright miserable. I don’t care. As my AT hiking partner, Karen, said, “I’m looking forward to the good parts, the bad parts, the excitement and the misery.” Watching Collier’s delight with the world around her as she hiked without wondering how far to go or when we would finish, I resolved to hike like a kid more and like a goal oriented zealot less. Let’s see how well I do. Tomorrow is Day 1 of the AT.