I’m becoming obsessed. I hiked a part of the North Country Trail (NCT) yesterday with the Chief Noonday Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. The NCT is a 4600-mile long National Scenic Trail that runs from Lake Champlain in New York to North Dakota. Only 8 people have thru-hiked the whole thing, but this trail is a great place to get people active in their own communities along the route. The chapter I hiked with yesterday is one of the many chapters that adopt sections of the trail for trail work and maintenance and that encourage locals to get out and hike. Each of the numbers on the below map denote a local trail association. You can go to this web page to find out more.
I love having one of these National Scenic Trails in my back yard. This one is still under construction, and I hear that there are still many sections of road walking. We had breakfast together yesterday before the hike and there was much chatter about how difficult it is to create new off-road sections to replace road walk sections. But these organizations are working very hard to get ‘er done.
On the way to the hike (1 1/2-hour drive) I caught up on the thru-hiking podcasts that I’d missed over the last few months. I find it so interesting to listen to these tales and updates from the hikers who live the thru-hiking lifestyle. It is its own culture, and these folks have a unique approach to life. The rest of us structure life by the “college, work and retire” plan, but they opt for a 6 months-on working, 6-months hiking schedule year over year. Work is a means to save money for a non-working span of time. Most don’t own homes or nice cars nor do they care to.
I listened to a podcast yesterday about spirituality and the trail. Thru-hikers can achieve the Triple Crown which consists of completing the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific-Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. Scarecrow, a Triple Crown winner, was one of the guests who talked about their spiritual experiences on the trail. In the loneliness of a long-term outdoor adventure, they have time and the open heart to experience the “Sublime”. In the middle of the wilderness with only a tiny bit of their possessions on their backs, they face the elements, the splendor, the rawness and an unimaginable connection with our creator.
One hiker said, “after about 1800 miles on the trail, you become a part of the earth.” That resonated with me, and I have to say I began to obsess about it a bit. What would it be like to shuck all that is – the worry about retirement, the day-to-day rat race, the mortgage and all that is inherent in this lifestyle – for something different? Or what if I could find a way to actually retire a bit and work this same 6 months on – 6 months off schedule? Then again, what if I tried a thru-hike and hated it? What would it be like to be alone in the woods on my own Hero’s Journey at this point in my life? What if … this fantasy could become a reality?
As inspiration for my quest this morning, I looked up some hiking blogs. I found this article about an 81-year-old Memphian who hopes to hike the Appalachian Trail this year. Last year, he became the oldest person to canoe the Mississippi River from the source to the sea. His story made me hope that I can stay in shape like that and have lots of time left to try out my dreams. I just need to keep dreaming. The opportunities may manifest in ways I can’t even imagine.