Ten Things I Learned on the Appalachian Trail

My husband, the Boy Scout, has a dream of completing the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, an approximately 2175-mile hiking trail in the eastern United States.  It can be completed, from Georgia to Maine, in about six months, if you don't stop.  As a section hiker, who completes 50 to 75 miles per trip, he thinks he may be done by 2035.

If I want to see him on summer vacations anytime during the next 26 years or so, I figured I better start to love hiking, too.  So I ventured out on a short (27-mile) trek with our family in Georgia.

I was not completely certain about this trip, but how hard can a few day-hikes be?  Besides, there was a Spa Day waiting for me at the end of the trail.  Guess what?  Three day-hikes can kick your ass and make you doubt all of your abilities.  But, in the end, this trip taught me a few things about myself, about life and about the value of extra effort.

1. Can't see the forest for the trees.  To quote Robert Frost, the woods are lovely, dark and deep and you can easily trip and fall over tree roots and rocks if you aren't paying close attention to your footing.  This can prevent you from seeing the overall beauty of the area.  It is okay to stop, catch your breath and catch the breathtaking views.

2.  Strength comes from within.  And sometimes from your quadriceps.  This was as much a mental journey as a physical one.  I never thought of myself as an athlete, but I am one. Mental strength saves the day when muscles are trying to stop you in your tracks.

3.  There are no tears in hiking.  Except when there are.  Wear sunglasses and no one will know.

4.  It is okay to have help.  Hiking poles are your friends.  You will have tighter triceps from using them.

5.  It is impossible to train adequately on flat terrain.  No stair machine allows you to walk downhill on top of rocks.

6.  Refill your water whenever you find a clear stream.  But always use a purifying agent, no matter how clean it looks.

7.  It is not a race; it is a journey.  It is okay to be the last one into camp, as long as you get there. When you have the car keys, they will wait for you.  But when you are hiking with family members who scramble like mountain goats, it is hard to remember.  See #3 about wearing sunglasses.

8.  Things are not always as they seem.  Not every black, fur-bearing animal that charges you on the trail is a bear.  Sometimes it is a Labrador Retriever who wants his ears scratched.

9.  Climbing above your comfort zone will not kill you.  You may wish you were dead; maybe pray you were.  But perseverance pays off.

10.  The Summit is worth the effort.

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