Upon completing an adventure as elemental as a thru-hike of the 2,189 mile Appalachian Trail, much can change within oneself. My trail name is Clarity because the purpose of my pilgrimage was to find it. As one who worked multiple jobs for 15 years, life was always so muddled with fast-paced goings-on that true simplicity and jubilation were often hidden in a corner. Family, life, health had to be fit into my schedule around my job. Though life was still good, it was definitely stressful and less satisfying than, I have since learned, it could have been.
While on the Appalachian Trail, walking at a snail’s pace through life, day after day, perspective on importance changes. Simplicity brings joy in moments such as the indescribable jubilation of finding a random chair at a view or a shelter. My, how a plastic chair can bring on a smile! The simple joys on trail are infinite! The sunshine peeking from behind a cloud after days of rain lights up one’s entire life when living in the elements…literally and figuratively. Candy after a long day of hiking (my vice was Sour Patch Kids!), a cooler of fruit or sodas stowed in the woods by an empathetic soul, a sky full of twinkling stars with no city lights to conceal them, watching the graceful flight of a hawk as he sails carefree through the sky, the beauty of silence on a mountain summit, an invigorating hot shower, an unexpected swimming hole at the base of a crystal clear waterfall, the taste of a hot slice of pizza, or that first step into a trail town after a week in the woods. And the people. Trail folks are not judged by how we look, the clothes we wear, or even our pungent smell after days without that cleansing shower. People accept one another for who they are, where they are, how they are. And strangers step up to help with myriad random acts of kindness. Where is that nonjudgmental attitude of acceptance in society? Simple pleasures, so often overlooked in societal life, all become more pleasurable when life is broken down into necessities. When “needs” take the place of “wants”, life is simplified. Life is free. Life is good. The trail taught me this.
Now 7 months after finishing my hike, I find myself getting lost in the busyness of real life again. It hit me today as I was brushing my teeth in front of the bathroom mirror. On my “Life is Good” T-shirt is the word “simplify” and a picture of a plastic chair. For now, bide my time, enjoy a new career, live a Monday-Friday life as fully as I can. Ride the undulating waves of busyness and make little memories along the way. Remember lessons from my A.T. journey. The rain makes the sunshine more special. The constant rocky terrain teaches us full enjoyment of that trek through an occasional grassy pasture. Thirst creates a feeling of discovering a valuable treasure when we finally stumble across that delicious mountain spring or mouthwatering blueberry bush. As real life grabs a hold of me once more, I must remember, the stress now will bring complete peace when my next season is upon me. Experiencing and knowing each polar end of something brings more life to its opposite.