Reflecting back on my 2014 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I have had opportunity to replay some of the deeper lessons learned along the way. I love to laugh and even poke fun at myself as I look back on my ignorance and the humorous lessons provided by the hiking experience. For instance, it was not long into the hot days of summer that I realized the mosquitoes actually like DEET. It was shortly after my arrival in Maine, the last state on the hike, that I came to the conclusion that moose only visit the ponds in New Hampshire for 10 minutes a day at 3:30 am.
But on a more serious note, I discovered some significant insights walking 2,185 miles in the woods. For example, I discovered that my solitude intensified my relationships. This might sound a bit paradoxical that solitude intensifies relationships but let me elaborate what I mean.
Walking alone on a trail for hours each day provides many opportunities to think and reflect. I purposely did not take any electronic music or books to listen during my thru-hike. I found myself in long periods of introspection, meditation and worship. For me, one of the greatest benefits of experiencing this walk in creation was an awareness of the absence of important relationships in my life.
The old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” began to emotionally resonate with me as I spent time repainting mental pictures of family and friends that were living life hundreds of miles from my narrow path through the forest. The smile on my wife’s face that still makes my heart skip from across the room; the way one of my sons plays his guitar; the special talks that I enjoy with my daughter; the laugh-splitting ability my eldest son possesses when story telling; or the uncanny similarities between my youngest son and I; all these pictures and many more began to flood my mind and there was a deepening of my appreciation and admiration for those closest to me. I prayed for them; I wept tears of joy and gratitude because of them; I walked back in time with them reliving decades of memories. Isolation intensified the horizontal relationships of life.
Not every day, but on some mornings, my time of prayer expanded into an incredible time of worship, praise and thanksgiving. It was not unusual to begin praying for my family, friends, and colleagues and find myself almost overwhelmed with thoughts and images of their significance in my life. One day I looked at my watch after enjoying a refreshing time of praying out loud for my mental prayer list to find that I had been praying for over three hours!
Isolation also intensified my vertical relationship with the Creator. There was something special about praying audibly as I hiked the trail. I typically pray silently because, obviously, God does not need to hear my voice as He knows my thoughts. But I found it meaningful for me to speak out loud the thoughts that formulated in my head. There were times when I felt like Jesus and I were walking side by side or, even better, that I was walking in His footsteps as I followed Him through the canopy. Occasionally I would shout and sing at the top of my lungs as I thanked Him for His goodness, faithfulness and presence with me.
Interested in knowing more about my hike? Check out my ebook (Hike it Forward) on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=hike+it+forward)