My Appalachian Hiking Adventure
I grew up in Washington, D.C., and spent my childhood summers in and around Shenandoah National Park, doing a lot of hiking on the Appalachian Trail that runs through the park. I’ve always toyed with the idea that someday I might become a through-hiker — someone who hikes the entirety of the 2,190-mile trail from Georgia to Maine. The trip generally takes about six months, and only one in four hikers ultimately make it the whole way.
Similarly, my dad has always talked about trying to hike the 107 miles of the trail that runs through Shenandoah National Park. He’s now in his early 70s, which seemed to me to be a good time to get started on such a goal. As I’ve become a city girl who likes to have the occasional adventure in the woods rather than live there, I figured attempting just the 107 miles would be a good goal for both of us.
We’re doing it the easy way though. Instead of camping out on the trail, we’ve organized family and friends to drive us to and from the trail each day. It’s a project management challenge comparable only to some of the most complex campaigns I’ve launched over the course of my career, but it’s been worth it. And, since neither of us have time to commit to doing the whole hike at once, we’re planning to hike 20 to 30 miles each June over the course of the next several years until we get it all done.
We started last year, and this past June we completed the second leg of the trail. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
1. I need more time to not think.
It’s hot in Virginia in June, and we were averaging 10-mile days with some pretty steep inclines. Here’s what happens when you’re working too hard physically to get up a mountain: you can’t think about too much other than putting one foot in front of another, and maybe how cold the beer is going to be at the end of the trail. I had no ability to do anything about the usual stressors that nag at me. It was like a spa treatment for my brain. I couldn’t strategize recruitment efforts for the 2018 Tide Risers cohort, contemplate a coaching client’s issues, or make arrangements for after-school activities for the kids. All I could do was keep track of our mileage, make sure we had enough water to get us through the day, plan our breaks and snacks to keep us energized, and chat with fellow hikers.
2. My devices have stripped me of some interesting abilities.
When I was younger and didn’t have a smart device constantly strapped to my wrist, I had a pretty good sense of how long I’d been hiking and how much further I had to go. Now that I rely on my devices to track my mileage, I seem to have lost that ability to sense the distance I’ve traveled. It reminded me of my brother-in-law, who is the head of a secondary school, and has an almost preternatural ability to know exactly what time it is at any point in the day or night. It’s quite useful for him as he runs a pretty tight ship professionally. I’m not sure how relevant my distance-measuring skill might be for my rather urban existence now, but it concerns me that it seems to be gone. What else has been lost to the devices?
3. I have benefitted in multiple ways from government investment in infrastructure.
Our hike along the Appalachian Trail was made possible, in part, by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was one of the programs created by President Frederic D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Thousands of people were put to work by the U.S. government at a time when they had no other opportunities for employment. These people and their families benefitted from a steady paycheck, and generations of Americans have benefitted from the parks ever since.
My grandfather was in the CCC, and he was sent from his farm in South Carolina to clear trees to create hiking paths in Utah. (As the story goes, he thought this would be easy enough work as he had been clearing trees on his farm most of his life. He reported, however, that the trees in Utah must have been made of different wood; they were not so easy to fell.) So, I have benefitted from FDR’s New Deal twice over: it has given me a lifetime of fantastic wilderness treks, and it supported my family during a time of very limited economic opportunity. Imagine what the United States could do now if we chose to make a comparable investment in our workforce and our infrastructure.
4. This land we live on is worth conserving.
Obvious, right? Maybe not to everyone. Cuts to the budgets of the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency directly threaten our ability to maintain our nation's parklands. Perhaps if our elected representatives spent more time appreciating the natural wonders of our nation, they would show more concern for saving it. Visits to national parks have increased significantly in recent years, however, which may bode well for our future.
Above all, these hikes remind me to never underestimate the benefits of adventure. It’s too easy for all of us to get stuck in our routines. We do a lot of work at our Tide Risers UnstickHer sessions to move ourselves out of whatever loop we seem to be settled in so that we can move forward professionally and personally. One great way to help get our gears in motion is to take on an adventure that is out of the ordinary. For me, it’s trading in my heels for hiking boots and pursuing the goal of completing the 107 miles of Appalachian Trail within Shenandoah National Park with my dad. For you, it might be something different. We’d love to hear about it. Please tell us how you adventure in the comments below!